Thursday, July 12, 2012

Before the Always, Part Cinco

 Lydia sat next to Jimmy in the biology lab.  They looked at the dead frog sitting in front of them.
“Same as last time?  I cut, you take notes?” Jimmy asked.
Lydia’s face turned pale.  “Uh, yeah.”  She grabbed her notebook and pencil out of her bag.  “This is so much worse than the worm.”
Jimmy looked up and saw how pale Lydia was.  “You gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, fine.”  She shoved the tray with the frog in it closer to Jimmy.  “Just keep that over there, please.”
Jimmy got out the cutting tools and grinned.  “So, not going to be a surgeon are you?”
“Not on your life.  I can’t even see how my mom is an ER nurse.”  She wrote the heading for her notes on the blank page.
Matt Morgan sidled up next to Jimmy.  “That’s not why she’s so pale, ya know,” he whispered in Jimmy’s ear.
“Man, don’t get that close to me. I don’t even like you.”
Matt nodded toward Lydia.  “Ask her where she was last week.”
Jimmy threw down the scalpel.  “I know where she was last week and it’s none of your business.”
“Jimmy?” Lydia asked.
“Could you maybe keep that scalpel away from my notes.  It smells disgusting.”
“Sorry.”  He grabbed the scalpel and continued slicing the frog.
Lydia heard whispering behind her from a few of her cheerleader friends.  When she turned around to ask what was going on, they stopped and wouldn’t make eye contact with her.
“What’s the big secret, girls?” Lydia asked.
“Nothing,” Jenni sang.
“I don’t even see how you could sit next to him after what he did,” Matt said.
“Brown,” Matt mumbled.
“A baby’s a baby no matter what,” Alexis remarked crossing her arms.
“I’m confused.”
“Turn around, Lyddie,” Jimmy said.
“Did I miss something?” Lydia asked her friend.
“Yeah, a whole week of school and a whole cheerleading squad and football team full of gossip.”
“And I guess I’m the hot topic, huh.”
“Ding, ding, we have a winner.” Jimmy made a slice down the center of the frog.  He opened it up and looked inside. “Ready to diagram.”
Lydia looked over at the open frog and pulled a face.  “Why did I even take biology?”
“Maybe so you could figure out how the whole reproductive system works. Apparently, you need a refresher course from seventh grade,” Alexis snapped.
“Don’t listen to her,” Jimmy said.
“No, I want to know what the latest gossip is on the new girl,” Lydia said.  She threw her pen on top of her notebook and turned around.  Jimmy grabbed her arm to stop her before she made it all the way around the stool.
“No, you don’t.”
Lydia wriggled out of Jimmy’s grip.  “Yes, I do.”
“What have you guys been saying about me?”
“Nothing.”  Alexis glanced over at Jenni.
“You’re lying, Alexis. What rumor is going around this week? I can’t even be gone for a week and you still talk about me?  Why am I the one that always gets the butt end of the joke?  I asked what you heard and I want to know what you know.  So, tell me right now.”
“Jimmy got you pregnant,” Alexis blurted out. She covered her mouth with both her hands.
Jimmy dropped the scalpel on the table.
“Far from it,” Lydia snapped.  “I don’t think helping Jimmy pass geometry is code for Jimmy knocked me up.”
“I don’t think you want to hear the rest, Lyddie.”
Lydia raised her eyebrows. “There’s more?”
“They think you were gone because you got rid of the baby,” Jimmy grumbled.
“They what?!  I can’t believe this!  I would never- I’m not.  You don’t know anything about me-that’s just plain mean!”  Lydia stood up from her stool and ran out of the room.
Jimmy slammed his palms against the table.  “I told you guys to leave her alone!”  He turned to the cheerleaders and football player behind him.  “Stop making up stupid things that aren’t even true.  There’s good reason she hasn’t been at school last week and having an abortion is not one of them!”  He wiped off his hands with a paper towel and ran out toward Lydia.  She hadn’t made it very far. She stood against the wall next to the open door.  Tears pooled in her eyes.
She looked up at Jimmy and bit her lip.  “I’m not a tramp, Jimmy.”
“I know.”
“I’d never do something like that.  Ever. My mama can’t have any more kids.  She’s had three miscarriages and I would never do that even if I did end up pregnant.  Which isn’t going to be until I’m married, anyway.”
“I know.”
“Why do they hate me?”
“Because you’re new.  Because you’re different.  Because you’re the prettiest girl they’ve even seen and they can’t stand the fact that you can walk into a room and have every single guy drooling all over you.”
“I don’t try to look like this.  That’s just the way I am.  And sometimes, it gets me in trouble.  A lot of trouble, like the other night-“
“I know.”
“He’s such a jerk!  First he tries to-“ Lydia shuddered.  She couldn’t even think of the right word to say to explain.  “And then he comes over to my house-“
“Lydia?”  Jimmy rubbed the back of his neck.
“Warski had a personal escort.”
“Who’s Warski?”
Lydia’s eyes grew big.  “How do you know him?  I didn’t even tell you what he looked like.  I didn’t tell you his name.”
“He was bragging at last week’s game.”
Lydia thought about what her dad had said to her when Brett had left.  “You’re the guy,” she whispered.
Lydia shook her head.  “Nothing.”  She looked up and smiled at Jimmy.  Then, she wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug.
“It’s not even game time,” Jimmy teased.
“That wasn’t a good luck hug.  That was a thank you hug.  It was I think I’m ready to be more than friends hug.”
“Yes, really.”
“I don’t want to push anything on you after what happened last week.”
“Let me make this a little more clear for you.  In the words of a friend, “Screw  geometry, I need a date with you!”

Between work, cheerleading camps and football camps, Lydia and Jimmy didn’t get a chance to go on an actual date until that fall.  Everytime they tried going somewhere, a friend or more friends would tag along and it would just become a big party.  Jimmy put his foot down and finally took her to the back to school carnival.  They did have something to celebrate.  Lydia had beaten Jenni Newton out of  being cheerleading captain and Jimmy was still captain and QB1 of the Riley Warriors.
Lydia gave her daddy a quick kiss goodbye and then ran out to Jimmy’s new truck.  It was an early graduation present from his folks.  She stood at the passenger door in a white tank top and a pair of cut off shorts.  Her hair was pulled back with the Warrior colors ribbon that all cheerleaders wore.
“I’m guessing you didn’t try to look like the hottest girl in the county?”
“I was listening to a Dierks Bentley song and got inspired.”
“Country singer.”
Jimmy held his head in his heads.  “Just when I think you’re perfect, you go and spring something like that on me.”
“Lyddie, just because we live in a small town does not mean that every guy drives a pick up truck and listens to country music.”
“Well, could you open the door to your Silverado and let me in, country boy?”
Jimmy walked over to the door and opened it for Lydia.  He made sure she was in and then got in the other side.  He turned the key and hit a few buttons on his stereo.  “All right, Lyddie, you’re about to get schooled in some good music.”
“Green Day.”
Lydia rolled her eyes.  “At least it’s not Metallica.”
Jimmy looked over at Lydia and grinned.  “That’s disc two.”
Lydia playfully punched Jimmy in the shoulder.  “Just drive, Jimmy Brown.”

Jimmy pulled into the field across from the carnival.  He shut off the truck and looked over at Lydia. “Rule one, no one is tagging along with us.”
“Got it. Rule two, you have to go on every ride I ask.”
“Um, I’m not sure I like rule two.”
“Don’t make me use my pout.”
“No, Lyddie.  Don’t you dare-“
Lydia gave the biggest pout she could and batted her eyes.
Jimmy wagged his finger at her.  “That’s not fair.”
Lydia ran her finger up his arm.  He felt chills.  “Nobody said anything about playing fair.”  She opened the truck door and jumped out then put her hands on her hips. “Are you coming or not, QB1?”
Jimmy stared at Lydia and her sly grin.  She was beautiful.  Thoughts ran through his head that he should not have about the girl standing in front of him.  They hadn’t even kissed.  They hadn’t even been on an official date, but she was everything he wanted in a girlfriend.  Funny, smart, provacative when she wanted something.  He’d lay awake at night thinking about her.  It was the only thing that made him smile besides football.
Lydia tapped her foot and kept the grin on her face.  Jimmy was thinking about something.  She could see his thoughts in the green eyes that sparkled back at her.
“What, Jimmy Brown?”
Jimmy kept the boyish grin on his face.  “Nothing, Lyddie Baker.”  He walked up to her and hooked his arm around her waist.
“Claiming your stake, are you?” Lydia teased.  She reached up and tousled his sandy brown hair.
“Well, its better than asking you to tattoo property of Jimmy Brown on unmentionable places of your body.”
Lydia shoved his arm away and turned to point at him.  “Don’t you dare think that I’m a piece of property, Jimmy Brown.  I’ll rip you apart limb from limb if you ever think that I belong to you.”
“Lyddie,I didn’t-“ Jimmy shook his head.  He tried to get a word in edge wise, but Lydia kept ranting.  He finally put his hands up in the air as a gesture of surrender.  His grin was wider than usual when he looked at Lydia.
“I’m sorry.  Okay.  I just want people to know not to mess with you.  But, I can see now that you can fend for yourself.”
Lydia nodded her head once.  “That’s right, I can.  Don’t you forget it!”
Jimmy grabbed Lydia again in a bear hug.  They were barely inches apart.  He could feel the warmth of her bare legs up against his jeans.  Lydia yelped at the surprise of his boldness.
“I’m trying to be a gentleman, Lyddie, but when you yelled at me and told me off, all I could think was how beautiful you are when you’re angry.”
“Oh, please.  That’s an awful line.”
“It’s the truth.  Your face turns a beautiful shade of red, your eyes get the biggest I’ve ever seen and I can’t stop staring at your mouth the way those words come out.  I just want to kiss you, so I can taste those words.”
“Sweet talk gets you nowhere, Jimmy.  Not on the first date.”  Lydia turned and walked towards the carnival.  Her hair flipped in her ponytail as she walked.
“A guy can try, can’t he?”  He followed her and almost ran into her when she stopped.  He looked up and saw who she was watching.  Brett Warski was standing at the kissing booth.  The sign on the booth said Kiss a Cutie $1.00.
“Lyddie, we’ll have more fun over here.”  Jimmy grabbed her hand and tried to move her towards the rides, but she wouldn’t move.
“Lyddie, c’mon.”
“How could they let him do that?”
“Lyddie,  you can’t always stop something you know is going to be a bad idea.”
“He’s , he’s-“
Jimmy grabbed her other hand.  She had gone from the fiery girl to the girl who felt vulnerable.  The weak girl that she hated and he knew she hated that.  She couldn’t stand for him to see her cry.  She told him once that she had felt like a stupid girl when he saw her crying for the first time at the field house the night of the attack.  Her dad had always told her to fight back and she failed.
“Lyddie, he’s not going to hurt you when I’m around.”
“How do you know?  You’re not Superman.”
“Because if he lays a hand on you, I’ll rip him apart limb for limb.  I’ve done it once and I’ll do it again.  Whatever it takes, Lyddie.  I’ll protect you, whatever it takes.”

The image kept flashing across her mind like a football replay.  The planes crashed into the buildings over and over.  She looked over at Jimmy and saw the look of anger and yearning to do something about it.  He had.  He enlisted with Stokes after football practice.  She couldn’t stay at cheerleading practice any longer because her smile wasn’t there.  Her happiness was far gone.  She walked into her living room and saw her daddy watching the television coverage.  Lt. Baker had the same look in his eyes.  Lydia stopped and stood in the front of the television.
“Not you, too, Daddy.”  Her eyes shone with tears.
“Me, too?  Who else, sweetheart?”
“Jimmy, Daddy.  Jimmy enlisted with his friend, Stokes.”
“What branch?”
“I thought I taught him better than that.”
“His dad was in the Army.”  Lydia looked off to the side.  “I don’t want him to go.” Then she looked at her dad.  “I don’t want you to go, either.  You’re retired, remember?  You told Mama you’d stop and we’d have a normal life.”
Michelle walked in from work.  She looked worn out.  Her scrubs were wrinkled and she had dark circles under her eyes.  “Everybody and their brother wanted to donate blood today.  I thought I was going to have to work a double shift.”  She looked over at the TV and then at her husband.  “I know that look, Danny Baker.  The answer is no.  No, you’re not going.  You promised me.  Twenty years and done.  Remember?”
“That was before the United States was attacked by terrorists.”
“No, Danny.  I’m not going through that again.  They need younger guys.  You’re past your prime, honey.”
Danny stood up.  “ I am not.  I still workout everyday.  I could take them down with my bare hands if I had to.”
“Oh, please.  Your bark is worse than your bite.”
Lt. Baker put his hands on his hips.  His face had turned into a scrunched up mess.  Lydia hated that look.  She knew that there was a fight that was about to happen and she couldn’t take that right now.  She stood staring, waiting for the inevitable.
“I have plenty of bite left, Shelly, don’t you forget it!”
Michelle ran her fingers through her hair.  “I’ll never forget it!  I’ll never forget the call I got!  I’ll never forget the babies I lost!  Don’t you pin that on me, Danny.  Don’t you make me out to be the bad guy, Leiutentant.  Not now!” 
Michelle turned and headed for  the stairs.  Danny grunted and ran after her.  “Shelly, honey, come back here!”
Lydia got between the two of them.  She had a hand on each of her parent’s arms.  “Stop it, just stop!”  She looked at her parents one at a time and then fixed her eyes on her mom.“Stop fighting!” Lydia yelled.  “Please.  I want Daddy to stay here, too, but I’m not going to yell at him to stay.  I’m not going to give him a guilt trip about it.  He’ll stay.  He promised.”  She looked back over at her daddy.  His eyes were glued to Michelle’s face.  He wouldn’t look away from her.  “He has to stay.  He has to stay, so he can talk Jimmy out of it.”
“Sweetheart, I can’t do that.  When a man makes up his mind to join the Army and he signs the papers, there’s no turning back.”
“Jimmy enlisted?” Michelle asked.
Lydia nodded her head and a tear dripped from her nose.She looked over at her daddy. “Don’t go, Daddy.  Please.”  She let go of her daddy’s arm and wrapped her arms around his neck in a tight bear hug.  Michelle looked at her husband with longing eyes.
“All right, all right.  If my girls don’t want me to go, I won’t.”
Michelle stood on her tiptoes and kissed her husband on the cheek.  “I knew you’d come around.”
Danny mouthed “I’m sorry” to his wife. “Okay, I need to go to the garage.”  He peeled Lydia off him.  “There’s too much estrogen in this house for me right now.”

Jimmy sat at the kitchen table sipping a glass of water.  “I enlisted ,Dad.”
“What took you so long?” Dale asked.
“Gee, Jimmy, that’s great.  I’m glad you see things my way now.”  Jimmy stood from the table and threw his glass in the sink.
“You’re not going to get that far if you talk back to your sargeant like that.”  Dale put his bottle of beer to his lips and took a drink.
“I’m never good enough for you.  Don’t you see that?  Everything I do, I’m not good enough for you.  It’s like I’m some kind of screw up because I’m not exactly like you! Well, guess what, Dad?” He slammed his hands down on the table. “Believe it or not, I am like you.  I care about this country.  I care about the people in it, especially Lyddie.  I made her cry because I told her I enlisted.  I just want to protect her. Like you did with Mom.  Why can’t you be happy about that?  Why can’t you be happy that I’m finally following in your footsteps? “
“What about football, Jimmy?” Dale asked.
“I’m not good enough to go anywhere in football.”  Jimmy walked towards the living room.  “I’m pretty sure those were your words.”
“You were all conference last year.  That says something.” Dale took another drink.
Jimmy stopped and turned around.  “How do you know that?”
Dale sat the beer on the table.“People talk about you.  You’re gonna make it to state this year.  That’s what all the papers say.”
“I’m done with football, Dad.  I’m walking across that stage in May and then putting on the Army way of life.”
“Jimmy, don’t do it.”
Jimmy rubbed his temples.  “Too late. I already signed the papers.”
“They’re going to put you through hell.  They’ll break you and make you out to be the worst possible person you’d ever want to be.”
“I need discipline.  Isn’t that what you told Mom?”
“You’re angry, son.  You’re angry at me and you take it out on everyone around you.  The Army can’t help you with that.”
“Don’t I have good reason to be angry?  My own father hates me!”
“I never said that, Jimmy.”
Jimmy walked back over by his dad.  “It’s what you think, isn’t it?  I’m not good enough.  I can’t do anything right in your eyes.  I’m a screw up.  A dumb screw up who only knows how to throw a ball.  And that’s nothing in your eyes.  Nothing worth anything.”
Dale closed his eyes.  “Jimmy, don’t talk to me like that.”
“What are you going to  do about it, old man?  Sit and sulk about it like everything else?  Brood over what happened in Vietnam and blame the freakin Viet-Cong.”
Dale rose from his chair. He poked his finger into his son’s chest.  “You don’t know what happened over there, so don’t you dare try to pin anything on it.  People were beaten, raped, running in the streets with their dead children.  You don’t know anything about what it was like.  Anything.  And I’ll be damned, if I listen to some teenager tell me what he learned in those biased history books.  Look at me, son.  I’m a wreck. You want to know why?  It was the US Army.  They made me this way and I can’t let that happen to you.  I can’t look your mother in the eye if it does. You get out before you even get started.  Do you hear me, Jimmy?”
“I’m not quitting.  I don’t quit.”
Dale fell back into his chair.  “The one time you ever listen to me and that’s what you remember.  Don’t quit.  Never back down.”
“The only good piece of advice I’ve ever learned from you.”
“I knew it would backfire on me some day.”
A moment of silence held between the two men.  Finally, Jimmy spoke.  “Dad, did you . . .did you do any of that stuff?”
Dale took a pull from his bottle of beer.  “What stuff?”
“The stuff you just told me.”
Dale took another pull from his bottle.  “No comment.”
Jimmy looked around.  “It’s just me and you, Dad.  Mom’s not here. Just tell me.”
“Some things are better left in my head than out at the kitchen table.”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Understand?”
“Yeah, you’ll tell your shrink what happened, but not your own son.  I get it.  I’m still not good enough.”

“Daddy, what’s infantry?”  Lydia sat at the family computer searching the internet for anything army.
“Guns, sweetheart.  Is that what Jimmy signed up for?”  Lt. Baker sat on the couch watching a late night football game.
“I don’t know.  He just said that he’d be around infantry, but he didn’t say infantry exactly.”  Lydia clicked her mouse over the word infantry.  Her eyes scanned for information that would be helpful.  “That’s front line stuff, isn’t it?”
“Yes.”  Lt. Baker walked over to Lydia and put his hand on her back.  “I don’t think Jimmy would sign up for that.  He’s too smart to be the grunt with the gun.”
“Can you be a mechanic in the army?”
“Maybe that’s what he meant.”  She clicked on tank crew and found some information that said that the tank crew helped with the infantry division.
Lt. Baker put his hand on her shoulder.  “Sweetheart, you’re going to make yourself sick worrying about him.  Why don’t you just ask him what he signed up for?”
“I don’t want him to know, that’s why.  He doesn’t like it when I’m upset.”
The doorbell rang.  “If he cares anything about you, he knows you’re upset all ready.”  He went to answer the door.  Jimmy was standing on the other side.
“Hi, Lieutenant, is Lydia here?”
“Yes.”  He nodded toward the living room in the direction of the computer.
“Thanks.”  Jimmy walked over to the computer and saw the images on the screen of the Army website.  He grabbed the back of the office chair and spun Lydia around.
“Stop looking at that.”
“That’s not going to give you any information you need.”  He knelt down so he was at eye level with her.  He stared into her eyes and saw that they were filled with worry and fear.
“I didn’t do this to hurt you, Lyddie.  I promise.  Those people attacked my country.  The tried to hurt me.”  He rubbed his thumb against her cheek where a trail of tears appeared.  “They tried to hurt you.  Nobody hurts my girl.  You know how I feel about that.  I’m doing this to protect you.  I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“I’ll be fine, Jimmy.”
Jimmy raked his fingers through his hair and looked at the computer screen again.  “I should have been more clear on my MOS.”
“You’re what?”  Lydia scrunched up her face.
“C’mon, Lyddie, you’re dad’s a marine.  You know what MOS means.  My job.”
Lydia swiped away the rest of her tears. “Oh, yeah, I wasn’t thinking.”
“I’m going to be working on the tanks that the infantry use.  I’ll be in no combat zones most of the time.  There is only a very slim possibility that I will ever see combat.  I’ll be safe.”
“You’re a really good liar, Jimmy Brown.”
Jimmy held Lydia’s face in both his hands.  “Lyddie, please don’t be mad at me.  I have to do this.  Okay?  I have to prove that I’m not a screw up.  I can’t have you mad at me, too.”
“Who said you were a screw up?”
“It’s not important,baby.”  He kissed her forehead and pulled her up out of the chair. “C’mon, let’s go for a walk.”
“It’s too cold for a walk.”
Jimmy pulled Lydia close to him and wrapped her arms around his waist.  “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you warm,” he whispered in her ear.
“Daddy, I’m going out with Jimmy,”  Lydia called into the kitchen where her dad was loading the dishwasher.
“Back by ten.  It’s a school night,” Lt. Baker reminded his daughter while standing in the doorframe.
“And not a minute more, sir,” Jimmy added with a smile on his face.  He saluted and walked out the door with Lydia.

After Jimmy dropped Lydia back at home, she ran upstairs toward her room.  She was going to walk into her room when she heard sobs coming from her parent’s room.  She pushed the door open and saw her mom sitting on the edge of the bed with her arms wrapped around her middle.  Her body shook with each sob.  Lydia looked up and saw more coverage of the 9/11 attacks.
“Mama, are you okay?”
Michelle sucked in a deep breath and wiped her fingers under her eyes.  “I’m fine, sweetheart.”  She looked over at Lydia and forced a smile.  “I just had a long day at work, that’s all.”  Michelle looked up at the television and dropped her head in her hands.  “Who am I kidding?  Lydia, come in here a minute.  There’s something I need to tell you.”
Lydia eyed the television.  Lydia shook her head.  “Daddy’s not--“
“No, Lydia.  I hope not.”
“He promised, Mama.”
Michelle motioned for her daughter to come sit next to her on the bed.  “I need to tell you something, Lydia.  I’ve lied to you and now that this has happened,  I need to tell you because it’s eating me up.  It’s why your daddy and I fight all the time.”
“What are you talking about, Mama?”
Michelle put her hand over Lydia’s.  “Do you remember when you were in second grade and I kept you home for a week?  You weren’t sick and I wouldn’t let you out of my sight?”
“That was a long time ago.  I don’t remember.”
“You’re daddy was gone, sweetheart.  It was during Desert Storm.  Now, do you remember?”
Lydia nodded.
“I had got a call that week.  You’re daddy-“ Michelle took a deep breath and squeezed Lydia’s hand.  “You’re daddy was missing in action.  They found him a few days later beaten up and bruised.  They patched him up and sent him back out there.”
Lydia got up.  “Why didn’t you tell me, Mama?”
Michelle stood up and walked over to the TV.  “I couldn’t, sweetheart.  You thought your daddy hung the moon.   You still do.  Everytime I tried to tell you,  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t because I couldn’t face the thought of him not coming home.”  Michelle looked at the screen that showed the towers being plowed into by the airplane.  “And now, this happened.  I saw the look on your daddy’s face.  He says he won’t go, but I know better.  He wants revenge.”  She plopped back down on the bed next to Lydia.  “I can’t go through that again, Lydia.”  Her eyes filled with tears.  “I can’t, sweetheart.  And I can’t watch what’s going to happen to you and Jimmy.  You’ll end up bitter and depressed like me.  You’ll end up hating everything Jimmy’s about.”
“Mama, don’t say things like that.”
“I’m not going to lie to you anymore sweetheart. Your daddy and I agreed we’d never tell you what happened, but I can’t let it go.”
“You’re just worried.  Everybody’s worried.  Nothing’s going to happen.  Daddy said he’ll stay,  he’ll stay.  I  believe him.”
Lt. Baker walked by the bedroom door and grabbed the door jamb.  He saw the tears in Michelle’s eyes.  “Shelly, what’s wrong?”  He walked over to the bed and stood in front of her.
“You’re doing it again, Danny.  I know you are.”
“What, honey?  What am I doing?” Lt. Baker knelt down in front of her.
“Promise me, Danny.  Promise me you won’t get talked into going over there.”
“I told you I wouldn’t and I meant it.  What do you want me to do to make you believe me?”
“Promise me, Danny.  The US government still owns you.  I can see it in your eyes.  Just promise me you won’t go.”
Lt. Baker grabbed the flesh on his arm where his tattoo was and pushed the words over so Michelle could see them.  “Do you see this?”
“It’s a cover up for the scars of Desert Storm.”
Lt. Baker put his hand on the side of Michelle’s face.  “What does it say, honey?”
“Semper Fi.”  She swiped away the tears with the back of her hand.
“Right.  Always faithful.  Always honest.  When I give you my word, I mean it, Shelly.  I won’t make you worry again.  I retired, remember?  I’m a civilian.  I’m not going back.”  He looked over at Lydia who was staring at the TV.  “Lydia, can you give us a minute, please?”
“Yes, Daddy.”  She got up and walked to her room.  She could hear her dad apologizing to her mom on her way out.  When she walked into her room, she stared at her phone before picking it up and dialing Jimmy.  After four rings, he picked up.
“Don’t do it, Jimmy.”
“Do what, Lyddie?”
“Leave after graduation.”
“I have to, Lyddie.  I signed papers. I committed myself to the Army.  I can’t take it back.”
“Then, maybe we should just take a break for awhile.”
“No, Lyddie,”  Jimmy whispered.  “No.”
“We have to, Jimmy.”  Lydia felt the tears falling from her eyes.
“Why?  What have I done?”
Lydia pinched the bridge of her nose.  “It’s not you, okay.  It’s, I don’t know.  Everytime we’re together, I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach and I don’t know what it is.  It’s like when you get anywhere near me,  my stomach twists and flutters and then when you leave me I feel so empty.  I don’t know if I can have the empty feeling all the time when you’re gone.”
“Lydia, are you afraid I won’t come back?”
“I’m not afraid of anything, Jimmy Brown!  I just need time to think!”
“Lyddie, we just barely started dating. Don’t do this.”
“I have to, Jimmy.  I’m sorry.  Goodbye.”  Lydia hung up the phone.
“Dang it!”  Jimmy threw his phone at the wall and pounded his fist on the wall.

Jenni looked over at Lydia on the sidelines and smirked.  “Heard you and Jimmy broke up.  Tragic.”
Lydia put her hands on her hips with her pom poms still in them.  “We didn’t break up, we’re just taking a break from each other.”
“Whatever.  More playtime for you, I guess.”  Jenni grinned at Lydia.  It wasn’t a joking grin, but more of a sneer.
“Still, Jenni?  You’re throwing around rumors about me still?  Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?”
The crowd cheered.  Jenni and Lydia looked over at the  field and saw that Stokes had run for a touchdown.  They did an obligatory cheer and then got back to their conversation.
“We all know what you do before every game with him.  There’s only one reason a girl hangs out outside the boy’s locker room and you know it.  And besides, you two can’t keep your hands to yourself when you’re around each other.  Everybody knows that.”
Lydia threw down her pom poms. “How many people have you told that?”
The crowd jumped up and made a hurt sound.  Lydia looked on the field and saw Jimmy sitting holding his arm.  He had his helmet off and his face scrunched up in pain.
“You gonna go after him?” Jenni asked.  “He can’t do what he does before every game if he’s hurt.”
“Shut up, Jenni!”
Lydia looked over and saw that Coach Grayson had taken Jimmy out and put in Matt Morgan.  She knew that Jimmy would be standing on the sidelines steaming from the substitution.  The guy was always trying to take the first string quarterback spot.
“Wow, cheer captain’s a little snippy since she’s not getting any lately.”
Lydia backhanded Jenni.  “I don’t do that!  Didn’t you learn anything from last year?”
“Hey, watch it.  We’re in front of everyone out here.”  Jenni rubbed her cheek.
The game had ended and the football players had run over to the cheerleaders.  The Warriors had won again.  Matt Morgan thew the winning touchdown in the last two minutes of the game.
“Hey, Lydia, doesn’t the winning quarterback get a kiss from you?”
“Not unless your name’s Jimmy.”
Matt walked so he was standing toe to toe with her.  “C’mon, Lydia.  I know you guys broke up.”  He grabbed Lydia’s arm.  “Give me a chance.”
“Get your hands off me!”
“Watch out, Matt.  She’s a little angry right now,” Jenni warned.
“Kiss me, Lydia.  Just to see what it’s like.”  He leaned in and kissed her on the mouth.
Her eyes bugged out and she pushed him away.  “What makes you think you can just kiss me because I’m suddenly available.  I’m not easy.  I have standards.  I have a brain.  I’m not some piece of eye candy.”
“Did you enjoy it?”  Matt asked.  He pulled her into him and kissed her hard on the mouth.  Lydia struggled to get out of Matt’s grip again.  She pushed him away, but he just pulled her closer to him.  Jimmy walked by and did a double take.  He snagged Matt away from Lydia and threw him away from Lydia.
“What the heck do you think you’re doing?  She said no and she meant no.”
“She’s a free agent, isn’t she?  Ask her.”  Matt nodded toward Lydia.
Lydia looked at Jimmy and shook her head.  “I’m  sorry, Jimmy.”
Jimmy grabbed Matt by the jersey.“You keep your hands and any other body part you feel dearly about away from my girlfriend.  Or any girl for that matter.”  He looked over at Lydia.  “When are these dumb jocks going to get it through their thick skulls that you are not free  for the taking?”
“I thought you broke up,” Jenni interjected.
“We didn’t.”  He held eye contact with Lydia.  “But, maybe we should.”
“I don’t want that, Jimmy.  I just need some time.”
Jimmy crossed his arms.  “How much time, Lyddie? I’ve had offers, Lyddie, but I’ve told them no, because I’m waiting on you.  I’m waiting on you to see that I’m not running.  I’m not going anywhere.”
“What do you call boot camp?” Lydia snapped.
“I’ll come back.”  He took a step closer to her.  “You’re the one thing I’m good at.  The one thing that I thought I couldn’t screw up.  I don’t know what I did, but tell me what it is and I’ll fix it, Lyddie.”  He swiped the hair away from her forehead.  “Three weeks is too long to be without you.”
“You’re too close, Jimmy.”  Lydia whispered and took a step back.
“Lyddie, c’mon.  I didn’t want this.  And you know what the feeling is when I get this close to you. Just say it.”
“I . . .I . . .I can’t.”  Lydia pushed through the crowd of cheerleaders and football players and ran to the parking lot.  Jimmy followed after her.
“Lyddie, stop.”  He caught up with her and slipped his hand around her waist.  He felt her body shaking.  “Do you really want to be apart?”
“No.  I just- it’s my mama and daddy.”
Jimmy rested his chin on her shoulder.  “We’re not them, baby.”
“My daddy was MIA in Desert Storm and  I didn’t find out until a few weeks ago.  My mama was a wreck when he was gone.  I remember.  I didn’t know why and I just  figured it out.  She was afraid he was dead, Jimmy.  I can’t do that.”
“Lyddie, I told you I wouldn’t be in danger.”
“There’s going to be a war, Jimmy.  You’ll always be in danger if you’re a soldier in the army.”
Jimmy squeezed her waist tighter so he was closer to her.  “Do you feel that?”
“What?  You constricting my airway?”
“No, do you feel the butterflies again?  The twists in your stomach?”
“Stop, Jimmy.  Please, don’t do this.  It’s too hard.”
“Say it, Lyddie.  Say what you’re feeling right now.”
“If you go, I won’t be able to breathe,” Lydia admitted.
Lydia turned around so she was being held in Jimmy’s embrace around her waist. “Because I love you.”
Jimmy bent down and gave Lydia a long tender kiss.  Lydia could feel her knees shaking.  Jimmy slowly pulled away .  “You wanna get out of here?”
“Yes, please.”
Jimmy walked her over to his truck.  He leaned her against the bed of the truck kissing her while unlocking the door.  When the door was unlocked, he opened it.  Lydia held him by the collar and pulled him inside with her.  He fell on top of her and she scooted up so she was laying across the seat.  They didn’t stop kissing.  Jimmy sat up and wriggled off his jersey and threw his shoulder pads on the ground behind him.  Lydia stared at his stomach for a moment and ran a finger along the ridges of his six pack.
“Wow, you’re ripped.”
“Why do you think I can throw so far?”  He laid back on top of her and kissed her neck.  Lydia looked around in the truck and closed her eyes. She didn’t see Jimmy kissing her, but Brett Warski’s face with that awful grin on it.  She squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her teeth.  Jimmy looked up and saw the pained look on her face. He sat up and swiped the hair away from her forehead and kissed it.  “What’s the matter, pretty girl?”
Lydia forced the smile onto her face.  “Nothing.”  She paused and repeated.  Then, she shifted her eyes away from Jimmy. “ Just go slow, okay?”
“I’ll do whatever you want.”  He leaned back down and continued kissing her neck and nibbled on her ear.
Lydia closed her eyes again.  What was she doing?  She knew better.  She shouldn’t have got herself in this position in the  first place.  She never should have blurted out she loved him.  He had her now.  What’s worse, is that she kept seeing Brett’s face and not Jimmy’s.  She couldn’t continue like this.  She wanted to scream for Jimmy to stop, but she knew it wasn’t his fault that she couldn’t keep his face in her head.  She couldn’t even remember if he had said “I love you” back.  They had just ended up making out in the seat of his truck, because he wanted to. 
She didn’t say no.  The rumors Jenni spread swirled around in her hand.  “Lydia can’t say no. She’s easier than a 2 piece puzzle.”  She covered her face with her hands.  What if somebody walked by and saw them? If she went through with this, she’d be all the things Jenni and the rest of the school thought about her.  Lydia hated rumors.  She never liked them.  They got her into all kinds of trouble.  She could say no.  She knew very well how to say no.  Just ask Brett, she thought.  Lydia wasn’t going to let those rumors come true.  She had worked too hard to save her reputation after she had left the base.  Even though Jenni kept rubbing it in her face that her and Jimmy were probably doing things in the locker room.  They weren’t.  Lydia knew better.  She wasn’t that kind of girl.  Jimmy respected her.  He wouldn’t do anything to ruin her reputation. He liked that she was a wholesome girl.  She never wanted to be the kind of girl that everyone talked about.  She hated being the center of attention.
Jimmy had made his way up to her mouth.  He kissed hers and he could tell that Lydia’s mind was somewhere else.  She didn’t want to be here.  Something was bothering her.  He slowed down and sat back up.  “C’mon, Lyddie-girl.  Tell me what’s bothering you, baby.  You’re not kissing back.  Something’s wrong.  I can see it in those big brown eyes of yours.”
“Jimmy?”  she whispered.
“What, Lyddie-girl?”  He brushed his thumb on the side of her cheek.
She covered her face with her hands.  “I don’t think I can do this.  I don’t want those rumors about me to be true.”
Jimmy kissed her on the nose.  “Okay, baby.  Whatever you say.”  He grabbed the doorframe of the truck and pushed himself out.  He grabbed his things from the ground and walked to the other side.  Lydia sat up and scooted as close to the door as possible.  Jimmy hopped into the driver’s side and started the truck.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy.”
“Hey, there’s nothing to be sorry about.  You said no, so we stopped.  Case closed.”
Lydia hid her smile.  “Thanks.”
“I don’t bite, Lyddie.  You could scoot closer over here.”  He patted the open seat beside him.  Lydia slid over so she was sitting next to him.  He rested his hand on her leg and pulled out of his parking spot.  When he got to the outlet to get onto the street he stopped and interlaced his fingers with hers and brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it.  “And just for the record, I love you, too.”