18 years old
I WAS BORN IN A SMALL TOWN THAT CATERED to farmers or men that worked in the mines. The town I grew up in was so small that there wasn’t a ‘wrong’ side of the tracks. Everyone that lived here was a poor family that did what they could to get by and raise their family right. We all worked together and it didn’t matter what a neighbor needed. I can remember nights spent at a farm down the road helping to make sure that their cattle were taken back into the barn because they’d gotten loose. I learned to work hard from the time I could walk; we all did.
There were only two ways to get out of here; join the military or go to college. I couldn’t see myself sitting in some dingy office for countless hours a day. It would slowly drive me insane and I’d hate the life I was living. So, my only option to get out of here was to join the military. My parents weren’t thrilled with my decision, but I was eighteen and had the right to make my own mind up. When I told my younger sister Elizabeth, she didn’t handle the news good at all. That was the longest period we ever went without speaking. But, she was destined for greater things, like getting out of here and going to college to make a name for herself.
From the time I was a young boy, my dad had been grooming me to take over the ‘family business’. I’m not exactly sure what that entailed because I never really saw him do anything. Sure, he helped the neighbors work on the farms and made sure there was enough money to pay the bills and keep our ancient truck running. He was as strict as they come and made sure that I knew my manners, worked hard, and knew that I was to help him on the farms surrounding our run-down house. Nothing I did was ever good enough for him though.
The day I graduated from high school, I didn’t bother waiting around to walk across the stage. There was nothing here for me. Instead, I walked two miles into town and stopped outside the recruiter’s office. It took a second for me to make sure that this was really what I wanted to do. From there, everything happened at lightning speed.
It was just a matter of time before I went back to the office to wait for the bus to take me to basic training. My paperwork was filled out, I passed the initial fitness exams, and took the ASVAB test that was required to join the service. The day I left, my dad refused to even come to see me off. He said I was abandoning the family and didn’t need to get out of our small town. There was enough here to keep me busy until the day I was buried. My mom, on the other hand, didn’t want me to leave. Elizabeth and my mom were there to see me off. They both cried until I didn’t think they had anymore tears to cry. They’re the ones that I’ll miss here. No one else but them.
My mom did everything she could to try to make my life easier. Dad wasn’t always an easy person to live with; everything had to be his way and if it wasn’t he could be an ass. Elizabeth and I always had a snack when we got home from school, help with our homework, and she’s been my biggest supporter. Her food was to die for and that’s what I’m going to miss when I’m eating MREs. But, it’s time to grow up and get out of this town. Too bad I didn’t realize then that it would be the last time I’d ever see my parents alive. Maybe I would’ve spent a few extra minutes with my mom or had a long talk with my dad about why I was joining the service. Instead, I couldn’t wait to get on that bus and get out of this town. That few minutes could’ve been better than the hug that lasted a few seconds and the last words I chose to say to my mom. I didn’t tell her I loved her like I should’ve. It was basically just a ‘goodbye’ and ‘I’ll see you soon’.
I wasn’t even out of basic training when my dad passed away from a heart attack. He was out helping one of the neighbors when he collapsed. Since the ambulance had to come from the next town over, they couldn’t save him. Within six months, my mom passed away. I’ll forever say that she died of a broken heart. Mom loved my dad with her whole heart. And even though he was a hardass on me, he was gentle with her. They were childhood sweethearts and my mom didn’t know how to live without him. You could easily see the love that my dad felt for her every single time she walked in the same room as him. Or, if we were at a party, the way his eyes continually strayed to wherever my mom stood talking to the other neighbor women.
Elizabeth was almost eighteen when my mom passed away and a friend’s parents said that she could stay with them while I was in basic. They would make sure that she went to school and graduated before leaving. I guess it’s a good thing that she’s graduating soon and then goes off to some fancy college. She was always the one that had the brains in the family. It sure as fuck wasn’t me.
For me, basic was easy. I’m used to getting up at the crack of dawn and busting my ass from sun up to sun down. There was one guy, Jeremy, that was my equal. We went through basic and became inseparable. Our superiors knew that we worked good together and decided that where one of us went, the other one went too. I even went home with him if we had a leave because there was nothing waiting back home for me anymore.
We got stationed in North Carolina before going on our first deployment. That’s where I met the most amazing woman. Her name was Alana and for me, it was love at first sight. She had the longest light brown hair with natural golden highlights in it. Her eyes were a mix of blue and green that changed based on her moods. But, it was her heart and the way she was with anyone around her that captured me. Alana wore her heart on her sleeve and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to help others out. It didn’t matter if they were a friend, family member, or some random person she met on the street. Our first encounter will stay with me the rest of our days.
Jeremy had finally talked me into taking a break away from the base. We went to the beach so that he could pick up a piece of ass for the night. He wouldn’t have a problem doing that. He’s the type of guy that girls flock to. I’m not sure what it is about him they like, but it’s funny as hell to watch him as he picks up girls no matter where we are.
Not far from the beach is a hotel. So, we stopped at the pool first so my friend could see what girls were there before we headed to the beach. My eyes briefly landed on a gorgeous, sun-kissed goddess tanning on one of the chairs surrounding the pool. She kept looking out at the kids splashing and playing in the pool and I knew that she wasn’t going to last much longer. The girl sitting closest and her kept exchanging glances at the chaos surrounding them.
He brought a football with him that we started tossing around as he checked out the babes walking around the beach as soon as we made our way there. We’d been tossing the ball around for a while and I was getting tired of it. I’d rather go to the bar or back to base then continue to throw a football around. Before I could say anything about leaving, Jeremy was getting ready to throw the ball again. I knew he was up to something when I saw the mischievous glint enter his eyes. Jeremy dropped back to throw the ball to me and it went sailing over my head. I turned to run after it and ending up landing on my face in the sand. There was a melodic sound of laughter that floated around me as I pulled my head up and tried to wipe the sand off of my face and out of my eyes so I could glimpse the angel that’s lyrical voice was surrounding me.
Looking around, I saw two girls lying out on towels, trying to get a tan on their already bronzed skin. One was a blonde that did nothing for me. She wasn’t the one that was laughing anyway. If anything, she looked at me with such disdain that I’m surprised my entire body didn’t freeze from the ice she was shooting in my direction. No, it was the other one that captured my attention. She was wearing a skimpy black bikini showing off her dangerously long legs and toned body. A small pair of sunglasses rested on her nose until she pulled them down to get a better glance at me. I was instantly captivated and couldn’t look away from her.
“Sorry,” I murmur, sitting up on my knees, the football long forgotten. “I’m Gerald.”
“I’m Alana,” she says, sticking out her dainty hand to shake mine. “This is my friend Gertie.”
“It’s nice to meet you both. This is my friend Jeremy,” I say, never once taking my eyes off of Alana. “Can I buy you a drink for disturbin’ your afternoon?”
Alana looks at her friend and I watch them have a silent conversation. She turns back to me and stands up while her friend remains sitting on her towel. We walk over to the bar that’s sitting back on the beach behind where she was sitting. After grabbing us each a soda, we make our way to the side of the small building and take a seat at one of the tables placed on the small cement pad surrounding the small building serving alcohol and other refreshments to the daily beach-goers.
For the rest of the day, we talked, laughed, got to know one another, and had a great time. Jeremy and I walked the girls to their car at the end of the day. I got Alana’s number and we made plans to meet up again as soon as we could. One day of spending time with her was all it took for me. I didn’t even bother giving her a kiss goodbye that day. She would be worth the wait, no matter how long that was.
I didn’t see Alana again before we got shipped out. I’d planned on calling her the next day to see if she wanted to go out and get some dinner before going dancing or something. I’d leave the details of what we did up to her. But, we got told we were gonna be leaving and there wasn’t time to get a hold of her. Instead, I kept her number in my pocket and took it with me wherever I went. Jeremy said that I was insane for doing it, but I really didn’t care. Alana would stay with me forever. Even if I never saw her again. Hell, the amount of time I pulled it out and looked at it, the writing was smudged and I’m surprised I could recognize any of the writing.