Authors: Sophie Monroe
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Military
To Love a Soldier
To the men and women who selflessly serve for our freedom, and the family they leave behind.
Sitting at my kid-sized table in my pink dress with tulle and a bright pink bow, I looked up at the tall, broad man across from me. My Prince Charming. My knight in shining armor. My daddy.
“Would you like another cookie, Daddy?” I asked.
Looking at me with a twinkle in his eyes, he smiled warmly, small lines forming at the corners. “Yes, princess, I’d love one.”
Taking a chocolate chip cookie out of the package, I placed it on the small, white china plate with little, pink flowers that he’d brought me back from one of his many tours of duty. At six, I didn’t understand too much of what he did. I just knew that he was in the Navy, and it was his job to help keep us safe from bad people. With his job, he had the tendency of being away on missions for weeks, sometimes even months at a time, and I would miss him.
I stood up and walked around the table, climbing onto his knee. Wrapping my hands around his neck, I hugged him close. He
always smelled good, like expensive cologne. His dark, almost black hair was never out of place, and his smile was my favorite. Mommy thought he was the most handsome man she had ever met. She told him that all the time. While he was home, we were a happy family of four. My older brother, John, tried filling Daddy’s shoes while he was away, but it wasn’t the same.
“Daddy,” I said, pulling back
so I was eye level with him.
“Please don’t leave again.” I started to cry. “I just got you back.”
He pulled me close and kissed the top of my head. I knew he hated seeing me cry and I tried hard to be brave, but it was tough. I just wanted to have a normal family, where my dad was home every night to read me bedtime stories and tuck me in.
“I wish I didn’t have to, princess. This will be the last time that I have to go away for a while. I’ll be home before you know it.” He placed me on my feet and adjusted the tiara that was sitting on my head before wiping away the tear that was sliding down my cheek. “Come on, Lizzy. It’s time to get cleaned up and ready for bed.”
After brushing my teeth and putting on my nightgown, I climbed into my bed and placed my head on the pillow. My dad came in and sat next to me, telling me a story about a princess that lived in a castle a long, long time ago. Before I knew it, my eyelids were fluttering. He kissed the tip of my nose before shutting off the lamp on my bedside table and closing the door behind him.
He left that night after I was asleep
, as he usually did to make it easier on my older brother and me. Normally, he would call to check in, but we knew this time that it was going to be different. He told us before he left that they were worried about something called interception and that communication was going to be cut off for a bit. Mommy looked concerned, but she was trying to be brave for us.
A week passed with no word, so we went on with our day-to-day routines. John and I went to school, my mom worked part-time at the local hospital, and every night, we’d sit down at the dinner table and talk about our days. It was normal for us. My mom was the rock. She was the glue that held us all together.
If she was scared or worried, we never knew it. This time was different, though. Mom seemed to be growing more anxious with each passing day.
After a few weeks, I started spending most of my nights tucked away in John’s room. As far as brothers go, he was the best. Sure, he annoyed me
and we had sibling tiffs, but he always made sure that I felt safe and was cared for. It was a sunny Saturday morning, and we were sitting on the couch watching cartoons while Mom made our favorite bacon pancake sticks when the doorbell rang. We weren’t supposed to answer the door, so we waited until she came and opened it, revealing three nicely dressed men in uniform. Stepping outside, she closed the door behind her. John pulled me close and put my head to his chest. I didn’t know what he was doing at first, but then I realized he was muffling her cries. It took a few moments for my six-year-old brain to realize that those men were here because something terrible had happened.
The smoke alarm sounded, letting us know that our breakfast was burning. My entire life was going up in smoke, so the irony was cruel. “He’s gone, isn’t he?” I asked John, who was trying his best to be brave.
He didn’t reply, but nodded and I knew. There was just this feeling that we both knew he wasn’t coming back. Who was going to teach me to ride without training wheels? Who was going to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day? Who was going to have special tea parties with me? All these questions I shouldn’t have to be thinking about.
John shifted me off to the side and went into the kitchen to turn off the stove off.
After what seemed like an eternity, our mom came back inside. Despite her best efforts, her swollen, red eyes held the evidence of her tears. She came over wordlessly and pulled us into her arms.
“I love you both so much,” she sobbed. Pulling away to look at us, she asked, “You already know, don’t you?” We nodded in unison. “Daddy was a hero
and because of it, he’s gone to be in Heaven. Don’t worry, he’s going to watch over us every day, but it’s just us now. We’re going to get through this,” she said.
I don’t think any of us
really registered the news. We sat there together and mourned the loss of the best man I would ever know, my knight in shining armor.
That was the day my mother died inside. The heart wrenching cries she thought we couldn’t hear never ended back then. Days rolled over to long nights
, and we listened to her in such pain. John tried to take the role left vacant by my father and he did the best he could at such a young age, but how much can an eight-year-old boy actually do?
Occasionally, my Dad’s buddies would stop by to help my mom with anything they
could. They’d always take us kids out to eat and catch a movie. It was a nice break for us, but they unintentionally made it hard by always bringing up what a terrific person our father was and what a loss it was to all of them. Those visits always made me love and admire my father more each time, but at the same time, they made it hurt so much more that he had left us.
I missed how he would do anything I wanted, from playing with my Barbie dolls to sitting between my stuffed bear and elephant sipping fake tea out of a tiny cup. It brought a smile to my face and occasionally a lonely tear when I recalled that specific time of me in my little dress and tiara. It reminded me that the past is never far and that some scars never heal, but slowly fade.
Closer to a New Year
It was late October in Hilliard, Ohio, a large suburb north of Columbus and I had just turned 21 at the beginning of the month. It felt like another year had passed, and I hadn’t accomplished anything significant with my life. Most of my friends seemed perfectly content with either being settled down or partying it up at the bar. I felt like I was on a carousel, going around and around with the same scenery, same cycle, and no change in sight.
My life consisted of my boyfriend, Brady, whom I hadn’t slept with yet and was beginning to seem like he’d only be
nice to me when he wanted in my pants, along with the endless boredom of a minimum wage job, and school.
To be fair, it wasn’t all Brady’s fault that I wasn’t ready to sleep with him. I wasn’t a virgin, but the previous guys I’d been usually bailed shortly after and I was tired of the games that went along with sex. It had all started when I was six, when I’d had my first heartbreak. My father had left our family. Okay, to be fair it wasn’t by choice. As a military man, he seemed to be away from
home most of the time anyway. I found out later from my mother that he’d been on a special Navy team that conducted operations, and she had never known what or where they were. All I knew was that he was called a “frog.” I didn’t even know his first name until I was older, when my mom finally shared more information with me. The most I ever got out of her was on the night she got really drunk. The night my brother, John, enlisted in the Marines.
Since we’d lost my dad, my mom worked two jobs, days and nights, just to make ends meet raising two kids by herself. Since graduating high school, I only had a few friends I’d stayed close with and, of course, there was my brother. He had left five years ago for the military, though, so we don’t get to see him much. Sometimes we would do video calls when he got a chance, but he’d been on active deployment, leaving him unable to make contact. It left my
mom and me in constant concern.
To help my mom out, I worked in a jewelry store at the mall. Since I couldn’t get any scholarships and my mom certainly didn’t have the money to help me with tuition, I started working right out of high school. No matter how many attempts I made for any sort of financial assistance, I kept getting turned down and turned away from the system. Rather than giving up all together, I had started taking part time courses at my community college and kept working to pay my way.
I met Brady at the mall. Although he worked there as well, I had never seen him there. Not until one day about six months ago when he’d come into my store. It was a slow day, and I was so bored that I was cleaning diamond rings for the second time that week. I looked up to see a man in his mid-twenties pacing around the entrance of the store. He seemed nervous and kept looking away every time I would look up at him.
It was rather cute how uneasy he seemed. I immediately thought he was
exceptionally good looking. He was average height with a great build. One of his arms was covered in a tattoo sleeve, which I found incredibly sexy. His face was chiseled, with a strong chin and well-cut cheekbones. It was also adorable how his dirty-blonde hair seemed to be perfectly kept. I figured there was a lucky lady somewhere out there who was about to get a new diamond, along with an extremely nervous proposal.
He finally found the courage and entered the store, heading straight to me at the ring section. “Hello, sir, what can I help you with today?” I asked.
He took a deep breath and gained his composure. “I’d like to get a nice gem for a special lady.”
“Okay, you came to the right place.” I let out a small laugh, gesturing around at the selection in front of me. “What does she like?”
He looked into my eyes and paused. Then, he smirked. “I don’t know yet, but I’m hoping you’ll tell me eventually.”
My cheeks flushed. “Wow, that was actually a first for me.” I let out a chuckle. “I’ll give you that one.”
He smiled. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to offend you. I just wanted to meet you and say something I hoped you’d remember. My name is Brady.”
“Well, hi, Brady. I’m Liz. It’s
nice to meet you… I think,” I joked back.
Things went on from there and Brady and I started dating. Everything went well for the first few months of our relationship, but I had promised myself that the next guy I dated would wait before we took that next step. We were compatible in so many ways, but the whole sex thing was a constant issue. Just recently, for my 21
birthday, we’d hung out at a local bar, where he insisted on buying me drinks all night and was even more insistent on taking me home.
It still didn’t happen.
I was surprised that he called me the next day since I didn’t go home with him. I was beginning to think that it had turned into a predator and prey game for him. For my birthday, he got me an inexpensive, gold chain from a teenybopper store at the mall. I’m sure he got a mall employee discount, too. I had to pretend to like it, even though I couldn’t stop thinking to myself,
Did he forget where I work?
, it seemed like Brady was growing increasingly frustrated with the no sex situation. Still, I felt like I wasn’t ready to take that leap just yet. Not wanting to have any regrets afterward, I needed to feel I was making the right decision. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a proposal, but I at least wanted it to have meaning. Deep down I knew we would be sexually compatible, yet I still hesitated.
The day before, he had invited me and a few friends to a house party some of his buddies were
having, so I said yes. Clearly he was hoping I’d get drunk and he’d finally get to have sex with me, but I was drunk on my birthday and it still didn’t happen. Not wanting to throw away what we were building, I knew I was going to have to give in sooner than later. . There were a few times I’d almost given in to him because I wanted to feel that connection, but something kept holding me back. The little time my father had to raise me showed me how a real man should treat me, like his princess. I wanted Brady to want to be my Prince Charming and sweep me off my feet, and he wasn’t doing very much of that lately.
“Lizzy,” my mother called from downstairs. “I’m leaving for work and Brady just pulled up. Have fun and be safe tonight, honey. I love you.”
“Thanks, Mom, I’ll see in the morning!” I called back.
Quickly putting on the final touch on my eyeliner, I ran downstairs to meet Brady. Opening the door, I saw him standing on the porch.
Damn, he looks good and smells delicious. It’s going to be hard not giving in tonight.
His eyes widened
, as he looked me over from head to toe. “Hey, Liz,” he greeted, “you clean up nice.”
I reached my hand out and lightly tapped his shoulder for being an ass. “I just finished getting ready. Can we get something to eat before we go to the party? I’m starving.”
“What about your friend? Is she still coming?” he asked.
“Yeah, Riley said she’d meet me there later.”
“Okay, we could’ve gotten free sandwiches, but the mall closed early today. Something about leaky toilets.” He shrugged and grimaced.
Sometimes guys were so oblivious, “um, I was thinking of maybe someplace a bit nicer than the mall food court.” I rolled my eyes and bit my tongue, so I didn’t say something I’d regret.
He let out a long sigh, “where do you want to go? You know I have bills to pay and can’t afford to spend my paycheck on you?” I knew he wasn’t saying it to be an asshole, but it still managed to set me off.
“Wow, real nice, Brady! Whatever, we’ll just get pizza or something.”
“Come on, I was just kidding! Let’s just go then,” he said, rushing me out the door. We got into his 1984 Dodge Rampage. Out of everything, this was the worst part. It was so embarrassing being seen in this beat up, old truck. I knew he didn’t have money, and I was in no position to pass judgment, but I still couldn’t help but be embarrassed in it. It was older than we were for crying out loud.
We got in the truck and headed down the road. “So, do you just wanna go to Carmine’s? I promise I’ll splurge on whatever you want.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I grumbled, trying not to let it ruin the night before it even started.
“Whoa, can we forget the last 10 minutes and just try to have a
n enjoyable night together? I’m sorry.” He reached over and took my hand, giving me a pleading look.
fine. You’re right, though; let’s just forget it and try to have a good time.”
I had never
actually seen Brady apologetic. Maybe I had been too harsh judging him lately. I guess his behavior it was pretty typical for a guy to be on a quest for sex, and since I hadn’t given it to him, he was been acting out. Either way, I still couldn’t help my attraction to him.