“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
- Emily Bronte
The midday sun was unbearable. I was coming up on the final mile of my weekly 5K, and grateful for the fact that it was almost over. Even though it wasn’t healthy to run like this, unprotected from the sun in just a T-shirt and shorts, my skin took well to the heat. In a few hours, it’d be covered in a dusky glaze that intensified my complexion.
Circa Survive blasted in my eardrums as I cut through the neighborhood. They weren’t my cup of tea, but I realized they had a good tempo to move to whenever I needed to pace myself better on these runs.
That and it reminded me of my beloved.
Sensible, and unassuming, the green Kia Soul was parked curbside, as it always was those days she didn’t work at the library. I knew her routine like the back of my left hand, maybe because it was my personal alert that I had ten seconds left in my run.
Yes, I could calculate to the second how close she was to my front door.
My legs kept steady rhythm, barely stopping as I tossed the item from my hands. The ornate bouquet landed perfectly against the windshield. I was thankful for this, as I didn’t have time to adjust it, nor did I want to risk being seen.
I wish I could be there. I’d love to see the look on her face, the blush in her skin as hope radiated from her once-gloomy grey eyes. The beautiful smile of happiness spreading over her expression, as she illuminated with the glow of being loved and in loved, as she’d once hoped for.
She loved surprises. This would be the sweetest gift ever.
But eventually, she’d realize the truth. It was just a parting gift to ease the blow.
Parting being such sweet, sweet sorrow and all.
Chapter 1: Natalia
Time eeked by slowly as the day drew on. At 4:28 PM, I was free to leave, however the retreat would begin at any moment. I never wanted to be caught outside for that, especially on days like today.
It wasn’t that I didn’t respect my country, or the flag of the United States of America. I was a proud military wife, and I supported everything our personnel did to protect our freedom. My problem was I was in California, it was the middle of summer, and triple digit heat didn’t make standing in the sun pleasurable for any period of time.
Avoidance of swamp ass aside, my skin also burned easily. Living Twenty-nine Palms, California meant beautiful yet cruel summers for me. I needed to shower often, and then spend just as much, if not more time, applying and re-applying sunblock to protect my fair skin.
“Hey, can I check these out?” The young Black woman in front of me smiled as she lifted her elbows to show me the small stack of books in her arms. I smiled in return, standing up arms outstretched to relieve her arms.
“Of course. May I have your card?” I observed her as she dug in her pockets for her library card. A look of shock came across her face as she realized she didn’t have it.
“I left it in the car. I’ll be right back with it.” She turned, her lithe body sailing toward the door, just about to exit when the trumpets for retreat began to sound. The music abruptly stopped her in place, and she paused carefully before sliding back ever so slowly, turning on her heels to move out of view in case Marine Corps police were watching. (They never took kindly to anyone shirking their duties to salute the flag and pay respects.)
We made eye contact as she gracefully whisked herself over to my desk. I winked and whispered, “Give me your base ID, and I’ll look you up. Your secret’s safe with me.”
“Thanks,” she whispered back. “No disrespect to the founding fathers of our country, but it’s just a tad too hot today. I would burn to a crisp standing out there.”
“With all due respect,” I lifted the heavy duty 110 SPF sunscreen sitting on the desk to my left, “You have no clue what it means to be burned to a crisp. I get severe sunburn, and I go through at least two of these babies a month.”
“I didn’t know they came that high,” she remarked. “My daughter’s skin is extremely fair, so I purchase Coppertone Sport in SPF 80.” She gestured to a young girl facing away from us. Although I couldn’t see her face, I could tell by the generously sized ringlets loosely pulled up and away from her face that she was of mixed heritage.
I smiled widely, nodded in acknowledgement, and paused to check the woman’s ID. “She’s pretty,” I offered, swallowing my envy. I loved Jordan to death, but he was almost eight years old. I was ready for another child, and I really wanted a daughter.
I bit my lip as I checked out her books. They were a mixture of books on parenting, fertility, and conception. One or two were romance novels. “What an interesting selection you have here.”