The letter in the mail might have well have been a signed death certificate.
It wasn’t, but it was somehow worse. The letter for her wife’s call to active duty was a short, somehow formal yet blunt note; it stated the where, when, and how with an almost coldly indifferent wording. Her wife acted thrilled to be chosen, pinning the letter up in their bedroom and chattering excitedly over breakfast about it; she was scheduled for departure in a few weeks. But no matter how loudly she boasted about being more than ‘tough enough’ to handle military service, she couldn’t quite keep her true emotions wrapped up totally. Sometimes, her spouse would catch her crying softly on the porch, head in hands, or displaying affection more than usual.
No one mentioned anything, and the days of waiting turned sour. More then once, one of the women found herself sick with dread, misery, or a painful mixture of both.
Finally, on the night before her flight, the soldier buried her face into her wife’s shoulder and sobbed. No words were spoken, though the tears they both blinked away after pulling apart shouted volumes.
On the morning of the trip, neither spoke as they wrangled her sparse luggage onto the proper belt, and together watched the plain blue suitcase roll further away. The boarding was announced overhead, and the couple glanced at each other desperately, each waiting for the other to save them both.
“You should go,” the civilian woman said, fingering the fringes of her hair nervously. Carefully, her wife kissed her forehead and stepped back, looking at her spouse like she was something she wanted to commit to memory–before it was too late. Trying hard not to cry, the first woman tilted her head up to accept the touch, then turned to leave before she started wailing. “Wait,” the young woman in fatigues called back, a sad smile on her face. “I wasn’t done yet.” With slow, thoughtful movements, she embraced her wife for the last time, pulling off the cameo cap to reveal a face full of sad yearning. “That wasn’t a proper goodbye…” She trailed off, and sighed. She drifted even closer and traced her fingers on her neck, appreciating the shallow curve of her throat, the tiniest glow from the overhead lights shining onto her skin. She wanted nothing more than to not leave at all, to pull herself closer to this angel who had fallen in love with her and she with her. She wanted to get so tangled, so thoroughly lost in the others’ beauty, the gentle slopes of her body, that come morning they would wake up and not know who ended where and the other started.
But there was no time for that, now.
Slowly, she pressed her face into the other woman’s shoulder, breathing in that faint scent of her perfume and the trace smell of her skin, feeling like there was all the time in the world between them but none to spend together; carefully she placed a small kiss on the curve of her neck. She kept moving down slowly until she reached the collarbone, tracing the subtle lip of bone until her lover shivered gently.
Deliberately, she raised her other hand to frame her lover’s face and nudge the hair out of her eyes, smiling slightly. Then she spoke. “I love you.” The sentiment pulsed in the air between them, filling the air until the spouse felt her eyes tear. Before she could respond, the woman of her dreams turned and began walking away, toward what the other felt was certain death.
“I…” The words strained her throat with her Herculean effort; she knew if she didn’t say it now she’d never get it said. “I love you, too,” she hiccuped at the others waning silhouette.
Then the airport throng shifted and blocked her sight completely, leaving her empty handed and with a rapidly dying warmth on her neck.
“Forever and always,” she whispered to the terminal. But no one heard it, least of all the one who it was for.
Rachel Candelaria, Age 15, Grade 10, Brooklyn Preparatory High School, Silver Key