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       Collateral, p.1

           Ellen Hopkins

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  Author’s Note

  Ugly in Black

  Poets Write Eloquently

  Loving Any Soldier

  Of Course, If You Ask

  Too Late for Me

  We Talk for an Hour

  I Never Met Him

  Still, to a Point

  In the Meantime


  Meaning Imagined Cheating

  January 2007

  I’ve Never Been Much of a Flirt

  Something Special About That

  I Had to Envy

  It was Kind of Fun

  So, Somehow

  Ended Up

  With a Kiss

  My Bank Account

  Game Well-Played

  Tickets Purchased

  I Save the Question

  Every Soldier’s Story

  Celine’s Story

  So He’s a Pog

  The Music Stops

  Easy Flirtation

  My Beginning

  At Least

  Neither Did I Ask for Specifics

  That Kind of Love


  When I Woke Up

  Clutter Always Bothers Me

  That Kind of Foreplay


  Darian Lives

  They Say Military Wives

  She Glances at the Others

  I’m Half-Worried

  We Make It Safely

  She Is Serious

  As Kids

  Laughter Snort-Chokes

  The Great Thing

  I’m Afraid to Ask

  It Took Me

  We Spent Our First Sunday

  The Short Exchange

  All Resistance Weakened

  The “My”

  Size Definitely Mattered

  I Am, by Nature

  Not Only Was he There

  The Spaghetti

  I Was Up in Time for Class

  At the Time

  A River

  I’ve Never Considered Myself

  I Can’t Bring Myself

  Her Family?

  Not My Place

  The Rules Are Simple

  All Comfy in Blue Flannel

  We Both Laugh

  This Isn’t Fun Anymore

  Tired and Buzzed

  Our First Year Together

  School of Infantry


  I Knew

  Round Three

  Love Can Complete You

  I Did Get Regular Calls

  All Signs Pointed

  The Weight of Silence

  The Timing

  I’m at a Loss

  I Start to Turn Away

  The Real Question

  I Manage

  I Pace the Apartment

  Slow Burn

  In the Days

  When Cole Arrived

  As the Weeks Wore On

  Some Time Later

  An Uglier Mess Was Brewing

  I Could Barely Watch the News

  In Cole’s Case

  When I Finally Heard


  Secrets Suck

  Silly Me

  Now, This New Secret

  I Nudge Harder

  I Don’t Blame

  What Coalesces

  I Am Over the Pacific

  Spring Break 2008

  At Least

  After All That Hurrying

  For the Next Week

  We Did Pick Up

  Rather Than Investigate

  He Didn’t Wait

  By the Time

  Saying Good-Bye

  Oh, to Breathe You

  As Wilderness

  No Lei Awaits Me

  He Won’t Get the Message

  They Turn Aggressive

  I Decline

  I Consider Leaving

  Waiting for a Soldier

  It Has Been Only

  Five Minutes Ago

  Cole and I Don’t Argue

  Our First Argument

  In Retrospect

  I Threw the Phone

  By the Time I Finished

  She Was Joking

  I’d Like to Say

  Which Set the Stage

  We Made It Home Untoasted

  He Wasn’t Kidding

  After Dinner


  One Thing You Learn

  It Was the First Time

  My First Instinct

  I Was Genuinely Hurt

  People Stare

  I Leave Cole Dripping

  I Was Always

  So I Control

  The Sound of Sirens

  It Is Almost Noon

  The Grunt Code of Honor

  There’s a Nice Picnic Area

  After Lunch

  Cole Left for Iraq

  Cole’s Battalion Touched Down

  Living Conditions

  I Combed the Internet

  The Thing About Tequila

  Every Now and Then

  It Felt Anything But

  It Was a Breeze-Soft Kiss

  He Did not Apologize

  His Care Package Wish List

  Moving Targets


  That Thought

  Two Hours of Sleep

  He’s So Sincere

  He Doesn’t Elaborate

  The Door Closes

  It’s Insanely Bright

  But by the Time

  I Am in the Cab

  Lance Corporal Gleason

  I Didn’t See Him


  I Was So Looking Forward

  He Did Cough at Dinner

  It Started Out Fine

  He Left Something Unsaid

  Spence Went Ballistic

  In the Morning

  You Can Take a Soldier Out of War

  It’s a Very Long Plane Ride

  Men are Awful Communicators

  As the Bags

  I Go Straight to the Base

  I Knock Gently

  An Important Question Dangles

  Her Voice Has Risen

  When We Get to Her Townhouse

  But I Can’t Ask Her Now

  Words Have Power

  She Leaves the Calzone

  Some Secrets Bite

  Cole Had Met Dale

  Dale’s House

  That Would Change

  It Was a Memorable Christmas

  But That Was the Last Thing

  Cole’s Mom

  Probably a Valid Philosophy

  Lara Was His College Sweetheart

  I Folded the Green Sweater

  I Started to Pace

  I Was in a Shadowed Space

  I Am by Nature

  To Rage

  It Has Been a Long While

  Can’t Be

  I Haven’t Seen

  No Matter

  Bone Weary

  Being an Adult

  Deep in the Dark Heart

  I Stumble Through the Day

  Of Course He Does

  Why Is He

  I Chalk It Up

  The One Time

  A Trip to Kansas

  She Was Pissed

  I Had to Hand It to Spence

  I Have to Admit

  The Reported Statistics

  I Asked Cole Once

  All of Those Men

  War Is All Kinds of Ugly

Say Truth

  Wrong Thing to Say

  I Go Into My Room

  I Do Sleep Through

  The Rest of the Week

  I Don’t Hear

  Saturday Afternoon

  The Sudden Sexual Tension

  He’s Nodding

  The Parking Lot

  If I Really Were to Dissect

  It Was a Bad Time

  War Widows

  That Image

  We Didn’t Know It Then

  The Chasm Widened

  I Spent a Lot of June

  Cole Finally Caught Up

  Close to Morning

  Something Invisible

  Spoken Word Poetry

  He Chooses an Upscale Steakhouse

  I’m Always Just

  He’s Infuriating

  Conversation Slows


  Inside, Alone


  Sleep Studies

  Cole Was in Afghanistan

  He Took Pride in That

  Christmas 2010

  I Had Enough

  With the Xanax

  A Week Later

  I Never Saw Her Again


  Cole Is a Month

  With a Stop

  With Only Coffee

  I Would Protest

  That Feeling Only Grows

  Mom Finds Something

  Eyes Stinging

  It’s a Stunning Revelation

  The Door Opens Again

  Last Fall

  Whether from Within

  So I Was Surprised

  I Couldn’t Manage More

  Speaking of Calls


  That Was What I Hoped For

  Suspicion Breeds Bad Dreams

  Something About November

  Planning a Wedding

  I Check My Calendar

  I Hate Logic

  I Spend a Couple of Hours

  I Start My Own List

  Let’s See

  And Yet

  The Woodie is Totally Cool



  All Squeezed

  As the Time Approached

  It Was a Wound

  What Do You Say

  The Rotting Lesion

  The Pressure

  I Stumbled to Cole’s Room

  Then he Came to Me

  There Was Something Frantic


  Some Things You Do

  Seems to Be the Case

  Either Way


  I Try to Put Away

  The Disembodied Voice

  Banter As Distraction

  I Am, In Fact

  Grown-Up or Not

  I Never Hassled Cole

  It Was a Rotten Day

  There Were No Taliban


  No Need to Admit

  I Carried the Vision

  And, You Know

  It was the Admission

  Later, After

  Water Never Disappears

  For the Second Time

  I’m About to Ask

  What’s Up

  I Weave, Room to Room

  That’s Mom, All Right

  I Outline My Reasons

  I Want to Promise

  The Party Goes

  The Joke

  Dar Makes Up

  Which Somehow Brings Us

  Late Christmas Eve Morning

  When I Was a Kid

  Just Like Santa

  After Dale’s Funeral

  We Slept Together


  The Next Day

  Cole’s Reaction

  The Color of Passion

  Jumping Ship

  I Never Met Luke

  The Joke

  Rough Day at the VA

  That One

  I Have Yet to Receive

  How Could He

  I Refuse

  It’s Three Days

  That’s Bull

  January 2012

  Cole’s Growth

  As I Was Filling Out

  I Was in the Dark

  Triple Digits

  Early May

  When I Told Him

  Friday Evening

  Over Lasagna

  Anxiety Builds Steadily

  Saturday Morning

  I Stay Out All Day


  I Hang Up

  One Big Question

  Except There Are Reminders

  I Spend the Week

  Friday Morning

  Every Time

  The Apartment Isn’t Far

  Next Door

  By the Time

  School Starts

  I Didn’t Lose

  Wake Me Like Sunrise

  About Ellen Hopkins

  This book is dedicated to America’s warriors and their loved ones, whose patriotism and sacrifice cannot be overstated. Be strong. Be safe. Let love conquer the loneliness.


  Many thanks to everyone who shared their stories of deployment with me: Abi, Amanda, Amber, Ashley, Ash, Corrina, Elyse, Jen, Jenna, and Rick, plus several who shared them in passing. To all of you, and any I may have forgotten, please know how important your stories were to creating this book.

  With a huge shout-out to Kylie Alstrup and Mary Claire Boucher, whose stories served as special inspiration for characters you’ll meet in these pages. Thank you, ladies. And thanks to Connor and Dana, too.

  Finally, to Deb Gonzales. Thanks, m’dear. You were so right.


  With Collateral, my goals are to put a spotlight on our returning warriors and to hopefully increase interest in providing the resources they need. As more and more return home, the help they require will become harder to find, because of the struggling economy and also because of the growing anti-war sentiment in this country, which may very well be valid. But our service people didn’t take us to war, and they lay their lives on the line for our freedoms every single day.

  I have a special interest in traumatic brain injuries, and the cumulative effect of smaller, often undiagnosed traumas that can result in devastating consequences. A lot of this research is relatively new, and it’s hugely important that both military families and civilians understand the possible outcomes.

  This is not a book meant to dismiss or lessen the sacrifice of our soldiers. It is highly researched. Cole’s Marine battalion does, in fact, exist, and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over this exact timeframe. I followed them through news stories, battalion newsletters, and Facebook accounts. I also read accounts of coalition forces, watched hours of videos, movies, YouTube postings, and more. Plus, I scoured Iraqi and Afghani news sources, seeking information largely never seen in the U.S.

  Collateral illustrates war from the warrior’s POV, as well as its effects on both soldiers and loved ones and, yes, even those who live in the countries we’ve occupied. It is not a “romance novel” (though love is a driving factor), nor does it make light of the impact of war. I have the utmost respect for those who choose to serve our country, either overseas or on home shores. And, while I currently have no close family members in the service, I do have many friends there, and many readers there, and their stories speak to me.

  Within my fiction, I write the truth always, and I have to believe military families want to read the truth about themselves, and to have this truth realized by those who live dissimilarly. Civilian or military, will you like every fact you read in these pages? Probably not, but I can’t whitewash war, any more than I can prettify addiction or prostitution or abuse. Surely military families don’t want their realities scrubbed of pain or danger or love or what that love might evolve into, when war is the driving factor.

  Ashley is one of thousands of military girlfriends trying to build a future from the scraps of her present. The peripheral stories here are just as important, and the heart of them all came to me from re
al soldiers’ spouses. Some military relationships survive, and even thrive. Others simply can’t. That is fact. I truly believe military families want books that represent their daily lives, not some scrubbed version. Knowledge is power, I often say. And so is understanding.

  —Ellen Hopkins, July 2012


  As Earth returns to chaos, her women brace to mourn,

  excavate their buried faith, tap reservoirs of grace, to mourn.

  Soldiers steady M-16s, search stillborn eyes for welcome

  or signs of commonality. Ferreting no trace, they mourn.

  Few are safe, where passions swell like gangrened limbs

  you cannot amputate. Sever one, another takes its place,

  and you mourn.

  Freefall into martyrdom, a bronze-skinned youth slips into the

  crowd, pulls the pin. He and destiny embrace, together mourn.

  Grenades are colorblind. A woman falls, spilling ebony hair

  beside the blond in camouflage. Death’s doorman gives chase. All


  Even hell capitulates to sudden downpour. Cloudburst sweeps across

  the hardpan, cracks its bloodstained carapace. Hear God mourn.

  Up through scattered motes, a daughter reaches for an album. She

  climbs into a rocking chair to search for Daddy’s face, and mourn.

  Downstairs, a widow splinters on the bed, drops her head into his

  silhouette, etched in linen on the pillowcase, to mourn.

  Alone, the world is ugly in black. When final night descends

  to blanket memory, drops its shroud of tattered lace, who will




  About war, creating vivid images

  of severed limbs, crusting body fluids

  and restless final sleep, using nothing

  more than a few well-crafted words.

  Easy enough to jab philosophically

  from the comfort of a warm winter

  hearth or an air-conditioned summer.

  But what can a sequestered writer know

  of frontline realities—blistering

  marches under relentless sand-choked

  skies, where you’d better drink

  your weight in water every day or die

  from dehydration? Flipside—teeth-

  cracking nights, too frigid for action,

  bored out of your mind as you try

  to stay warm in front of a makeshift fire.

  How can any distant observer know

  of traversing rock-rutted trails,

  hyperaware that your camouflage comes

  with a built-in bull’s-eye; or of sleeping

  with one ear listening for incoming

  peril; or of the way fear clogs your

  pores every time you climb inside

  a Humvee and head out for a drive?

  You can see these things in movies.

  But you can’t understand the way

  they gnaw your heart and corrode

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