Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Minute Fiction: Memorial Day

Monday Minute Fiction

I'm a disabled Air Force vet married to another disabled Air Force vet. Both my grandfathers served in WWI. My great uncle died serving in WWI. My uncle served in WWII. My dad wanted to serve in WWII but was a bit too young.

In their honor and in honor of all the men and women who have served and who now serve in the Armed Forces, I offer this story.

Memorial Day

Short story by Ashley Ladd

This story may not be duplicated without written persnmission of Ashley Ladd.

Ellie circled her neck then massaged her shoulders. She adored Michael, her ten-year-old nephew, but he’d worn her out. Of all weekends to do so, Memorial Day was not the one. Of course she had a long weekend off from the day job, but she was also a vet who’d volunteered to participate in the day’s festivities.

She awoke early, took a quick shower and washed her hair. She let the cool spray wake her up and soothe her sore muscles. Playing leap frog and rough housing with the ten year old was a lot harder than she’d realized. She gave her brother and sister-in-law credit for keeping up with the tyke. She also had serious doubts about becoming a full-time mom.

Not that she had a man, so that wasn’t a consideration.

She pulled her old uniform out of its plastic cleaner’s bag and dressed reverently. Although she’d always been patriotic, she felt a lot more so in her old uniform. As she slid the last button through its hole she murmured to herself, “Has it really been 15 years since I separated from the Air Force?”

Fifteen years since she’d seen Neil, the love of her life. Seven years since her divorce from Kale had been finalized. Three years since she’d had a steady boyfriend.

She preened in front of the mirror, resplendent in her dress blues, proud to have served her country. If she was young enough, she’d reenlist and head for the fight in Iraq. “You look good.” Then she saluted herself.

Many people smiled and some saluted as she passed by on the way to the local Veteran’s Park. She nodded and saluted back. She wondered if she’d know any of the other veterans in attendance today. Doubtful as she’d lost touch with her Air Force buddies years ago. Still, she was proud to stand up for her nation, to show respect for all the fallen military personnel, for all this day meant.

But when she reached the park, the first man in uniform looked an awfully lot like Neil. Her Neil.

“Not my Neil,” she reminded herself. “It can’t be Neil.” The last she’d heard, Neil lived several states away. He’d been married and out of reach.

“It’s someone who looks like Neil,” she muttered under her breath as she crawled out of her car. “All tall, handsome Airmen look alike from a distance. It’s a trick of the sun.”

She wanted to remember the reverence and import of the day not dwell on an old boyfriend who’d long ago forgotten her, so she focused her attention on the active duty military men and women in attendance. She also scanned the crowd looking at her with respect and gratitude. All but the youngest children regarded her with awe.

Then the commander in charge of the day, Colonel Stevens, strode up to her and saluted.

She snapped to attention and saluted. “Good morning, Colonel.”

The Colonel’s smile relaxed but he squinted against the brutal sun. “Captain Borland, I’m pleased you could join us. Please come with me and I’ll show you where to stand.”

She strode by his side but her step faltered when the Colonel headed in the direction of the Neil look-alike. Of course, the man stood with the rest of the Air Force vets.

The closer she got, the more her step faltered. Her muscles protested. Her palms grew clammy. The tall man was exactly what she’d always pictured Neil to look like fifteen years later.

The Colonel stopped in front of the man. “Captain Borland, I’m sure you remember Major Randolph from Keesler Air Force Base.”

Ellie’s blood froze despite the heat of the day. Her gaze widened. Her tongue grew thick in her mouth. Finally, she returned the Major’s salute and forced out words. “It’s good to see you, Major.”

“You’re looking well, Captain,” Neil said, his gaze raking over her.

She was very glad she’d kept her figure, that she’d spent hours in the gym. It looked like he was no slouch about visiting the gym himself, either. “You look very well yourself.”

“I’ll leave you in the Major’s capable hands.” The Colonel tilted his head and marched away to tend to his other troops.

During the ceremony, she tried to blank her mind of everything but the pomp and circumstance. Sandwiched between the major and a master sergeant, however, she couldn’t ignore Neil. Not when his thigh brushed hers and shot heat through her. Not when she caught him staring at her with his peripheral vision.

When the ceremony ended, she turned to Neil, not sure what to say, what to do. “It was good to see you again. I hope life’s been good to you.”

Before she could ascertain his intent, Neil cupped his hand around her elbow and guided her to a secluded grove of trees. “I was hoping to find you here. The colonel told me he was arranging today’s festivities and that you’d signed up to help.”

Shock flooded her and she blinked. “So you live around here now? Since when?”

“No. I live in Oregon but thought I’d visit a couple old friends from my military days.”

Her heart flipped and she daren’t hope he meant her. “That’s very nice. I hope you have a good visit.”

“That depends…” Neil turned her to fully face him and he gazed deeply into her eyes.

Her breath stuck in her throat and her heart skipped beats. “On what?”

“On if you have time to visit with an old friend. If you want to see me, too.”

She gulped and the sun seemed to magnify on her. For several moments all she could do was stare back. Finally she asked, “What do you mean? I haven’t had breakfast yet. We could catch up over at the deli.”

His face relaxed as if he’d feared she’d shoot him down. “That’d be nice.” As he escorted her to her vehicle, he kept his hand on her arm. “Your significant other won’t mind you sharing a meal with an old friend?”

Chuckles pushed past her lips. “There’s no significant other to mind.” Before she got cold feet, she asked, “Your wife won’t mind?”

Neil stopped and blocked her way. His gaze caressed her face. “I have no special someone to mind. I haven’t in a very long time.”

A mixture of emotions slammed into her. Sorrow. Relief. Happiness. “I’m so sorry. I heard you were married, that you were happy.”

He slid his thumb along the curve of her jaw. Then he traced her lips. “I was married, but not very happy.”

Her smile fell. “I’m sorry.”

“There was someone else. Someone I couldn’t forget. Someone I should have been with.”

Her heart spun out of control. She was afraid to blink lest he was a vision that disappeared. She was afraid to hope lest he tell her someone else was the love of his life, that he was just passing through.

With all her effort, she kept her voice steady and her smile in place. “I wish you luck.”

“It’s you.” Neil stepped closer until their bodies almost touched. “I know it’s presumptuous, that it’s been a long time, but would you spend today with me?”

He’d come all this way for one day only? “I have today off. I’d enjoy spending it with you.”

He linked his fingers through hers and squeezed her hand. Then he slashed a kiss across her lips. “This will be my best Memorial Day yet.”

She tingled all over. “Mine, too.”

The colonel walked by and frowned. “No PDA in uniform.”

Ellie giggled to Neil’s matching lopsided grin. When he said in a low, husky voice, “Then I guess we’d best get out of uniform asap,” she broke out in happy laughter.

She tugged his hand, eager to take him home. “I guess so.”

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