Editor(s): Lon Sarver
Cover Designer(s): Siol na Tine
Cover Art Credits: Photos by Curaphotography & Beckyabell at Dreamstime.
Production Editor(s): Erika L. Firanc
Length: Short Story (4,000 Words)
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Serialization Date: January 22, 2017
Archive(d) on January 29, 2017
Tags: m/f, military, Short Story, soldier
Content Labels (What they are and why we use them)
She hadn’t changed much from the woman of his memory. Besides some crow’s feet and laugh lines, and some deckle edge wrinkles around her lips, she was the same old Billy. It was odd, seeing her this way, her shiny side covered over with pain. Loneliness shone through her like a bulb, and he supposed it the worst; Charlie had been an only child, and his dad had been dead before Randy came into the picture, in third grade. Billy had never remarried.
She looked up, wearing a strained grin that was for Randy’s benefit. “Your mom came by last week. Brought a pie. Peach.”
Randy returned a perfunctory smile of his own. “She bakes a helluva pie.”
“Ate the whole damn thing.” Her eyes sunk back to her lap. “Comfort food, I guess. But….”
“It’ll do that to ya’. Loss, I mean.” And it did; Charlie wasn’t the only of Randy’s missing friends.
“Yeah. Last thing I need is pie, though.”
Randy appraised her without meaning to do so. She was alright for a woman looking at fifty, could probably get by with a pie or two. He thought of telling her so, but it seemed wrong. “Said he loved you,” Randy said instead. “Charlie did.”
Her head raised up again, her face already crumbling. Her eyes misted and she melted into him as she had outside, really bawling now. Her hand squeezed his as if shocked. He wrapped his free hand around her shoulder, bedding her in his clavicle.
Ironic: this was like his knee, almost exactly.
Randy had been eleven or close, over at Charlie’s for another Friday night, the two up to no good out in the woods, when he’d hurt his knee. They’d been playing army, with orange-capped versions of the M16s they would be issued not ten years later, and Randy had slipped on a mossy shelf of rock, his left knee meeting the rock’s sharp. Randy had freaked, not from the pain, but the sheer disaster of it, all the blood. Charlie had walked him back, their arms tangled over each other’s necks, with Randy crying in full audience of Charlie and, later, Billy, who’d had the sense to send Charlie off. Once inside, Randy had been unable to stop his sobs, first from the injury, then from embarrassment of his inability to stop. She’d set him on this very couch and held him to her chest, soothing him quiet just like he currently was her. Life is a circle, another army lesson.
She cried no less than twenty minutes, soaking a lapel. When she at last quieted and came up, she looked a little better—puffy and dopey, as if roused from sleep, but better. “Oh, Randy,” she sighed, blushing.
“No, it’s fine,” he said, reading some embarrassment.
She still had his hand, and gave it another squeeze, giving him what tried to be a smile. Her eyes sharpened behind their glaze of tears, as if just recognizing him. “Do you remember when….”
“I skinned up my knee?”
She smiled, now genuine, showing teeth. “Yeah! Funny, huh?”
“Yeah.” Her brightness faded as fast as it had arrived.
A silence then, this one uncomfortable, tense. Their eyes found each other and locked, and something passed between them, too big for words. In a movie, it would’ve preceded a swooning kiss.
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