I was restless. It made sense, it just bothered me, especially since this will be my last time in a comfortable bed for a long time.
I had my hand beneath my head, my other hand laid across my stomach as I stared up at the ceiling.
“You’re gonna come home right?”
Helen’s voice was small, fragile even. It was pitch black in the room, the only light source being the moonlight shining in from the window. I was leaving for boot camp come tomorrow morning so of course, I was wide awake, so it didn’t bother me when she spoke.
My gaze stays on the blank ceiling above me. This is possibly the last time I could see it, and that churned my stomach. I lick my top lip slowly as I struggle to find my words.
“Of course.” She’s the second youngest in the family at eleven years old. She didn’t quite understand any of it, or what me leaving even meant. She just knew I’d be gone for a long time and honestly, I wanted to spare her of any further details.
The kid was born into the Depression, so she’s never known anything other than barely making it each day. Especially in a big family like ours, it’s hard to get enough food majority of the time. But apparently, it’s getting better so I can relax a bit knowing when I’m gone it’ll be easier to feed everyone. Even if it’s just one less person, it means a lot.
“Even the teachers have been talking about the war.” She sniffs quietly. “It’s really dangerous out there.”
I bite my lip, inhaling deeply through my nose. “I know it is.”
“That’s why I’m doing it.”
She turns to me and props herself up on her elbow. “But you could get hurt..” She furrows her eyebrows, her freckled nose crinkled up. “Why would you want to get hurt?”
“It’s not that I want to get hurt.” She tilts her head. “It’s that I’d rather get hurt than let the people I care about get hurt.”
A comfortable silence settles around us. It seemed she was just stunned by my words.
“I wish I was that brave.” The corner of my lips tugs up into a faint smile. “You’re only eleven, you gotta be seventeen to volunteer.” I turn my head to where her bed was pressed against the opposite wall to see her sat up with her legs crossed, messing with her teddy bear.
“Even if I was old enough I couldn’t do it.” She murmurs sheepishly. “And you’re jumping out of an airplane?” I sigh and nod slowly. “I’m gonna learn how to.”
Her eyebrows briefly twitch inwards as she looks back down at the teddy bear I had given her. It only took me three months to save up, but I did it. She’s cherished it ever since I gave it to her when she was five.
“What if your parachute doesn’t work?” I let out a heavy breath as I sit up. I stand up from my bed and walk over to hers. I sit down on the edge of the bed, resting my hand on her back. I lick my lip as I search for the right words without upsetting her.
“We’re not gonna think about that.” I rub her back. “Ok?” I look into her bright green eyes.
She nods. “Ok.” I smile dryly, trying my best to make it look believable. She returns it, but hers was far more genuine. “You’ll send me letters right?”
“Of course I will.” I nod. “I’ll tell you all about how beautiful Europe is.” Her smile widens. I lean closer to her. “And how many Germans we’re killing.” She giggles and I grin.
“Let’s lay down and get some rest ok?” She grabs my arm quickly before laying down. “Can you sleep with me?” The poor thing was embarrassed to ask, but I saw how scared she was. I hated to leave her.
I look into her eyes at the fear that glimmered in them. “Yeah..” I whisper and nod. “Yeah, I’ll stay.”
“Here.” Helen offers her teddy bear towards me. “He always comforts me when I’m scared.” I smile softly. “That’s why you need to keep it, he’ll keep you safe while I’m gone.” She nods slowly and pulls it back against her chest.
“Ah!” Sammy shouts and jumps into my arms. I chuckle as I hug him back, ruffling his curly brown hair. He smiles as he looks up at me. “I love you.” I gently punch his shoulder. “I love you too.” His smile took up half of his face, it was so big. It’s calming to know at least one person can smile today.
I haven’t seen a whole lot of that lately, but of course, Sammy has my back.
“Alright, Remi, come on let’s get movin’,” Johnny pressed. He was antsy to get going. We were going earlier than necessary for some reason that he wouldn’t explain to me.
“Good luck out there.” Eugene smiles weakly and hugs me. He’s only a year older than me, so naturally, we’re close. The poor thing would’ve been out there already, but once he did the doctors found a condition with his heart so now he’s a 4F. He thinks it makes him ‘useless’ or ‘not a man’ but there’s nothing we can do.
“I’ll send you all the pictures I can get.” He smiles and nods. He’s always been a huge history nerd, so I knew he’d appreciate the pictures.
“And make sure you come back home to us yeah?” Russell pulls me into his big arms. “Yeah, yeah, I will.” My embrace was nothing compared to the strength of his arms. He’s an athlete, so he’s bigger than most of us. Except for Adriano. No one is bigger than Adriano.
“Send letters as often as you can alright?” Ma reminds me. “When I get the chances.” A crooked smile tugs onto my lips. I grab my bag, and Johnny pats my shoulder as we head out of the house.
Johnny takes my bag from me and tosses it into the back of the truck. I look back at the house, sighing softly. This house has been the only thing I’ve known for seventeen years. And now I’m about to be on a completely different continent fighting a war where I can’t just cry for my mom.
“Well, are we goin’ or what?” I turn my head to look back at Johnny. He chuckles. “Get in the car.”
“Yes, sir.” I tease as I walk over to the car. He smiles for a moment, but it quickly disappeared. I could tell it wasn’t genuine, and the fact that I was actually leaving was setting in.
The drive was silent for at least ten minutes after we had started from home. I couldn’t bring myself to break it first. I couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling that he was mad at me. I mean, the tension in here could be cut with a knife.
“You know you’re a fuckin’ dumbass right?” He keeps his eyes secured to the road ahead. I nod slowly. “Yeah.” He bites his lip and nods. “Good.”
The first genuine smile I’ve had in a while appears once I spotted where he was pulling in. The old diner looked exactly the same as always, even though it’s been forever since I’ve last been here.
“Why are we here?” I look at Johnny after I had gotten out of the car. He smiles, his hands tucked in his pockets as he walks up to the diner. “Are you coming or what?” He glances back at me.
I chuckle and shake my head before catching up with him. “I figured since you won’t be having any good food anytime soon I could at least treat you to your favorite place in the world.” He winks at me as he holds the door open. “That is very much appreciated.” The diner was much cooler than the warm weather of Philly outside.
“Ah! There’s my favorite girl!” I instantly recognize the thick Greek accent booming through the small restaurant. I smile bashfully as the woman hurries over with outstretched arms. Alena is an older Greek woman with a huge heart. She basically treats every person that walks in like her own child.
“Remi, my moro, how have you been?” She excitedly hugs me. I chuckle as I hug her back. “I’m good how are you?” She cups my face after pulling away. “Oh that doesn’t matter, you look thin! We have to fix that!” She gently pats my cheek before turning to Johnny to hug him. I smile softly as I rub my cheek.
“I heard you’re heading out to the military?” She guides us back to our table. “Yeah, uh, we were just heading that way.” I glance back at Johnny. “I’m treating her to some good food before it’s just army noodles.” He chuckles as we sit down.
“Well, you came to the best place.” She smiles warmly. “The usual for you two?” Johnny nods. “Uh, could I get extra fries with mine?” She laughs and rubs my shoulder. “Of course, moro, we have to spoil you before you leave yeah?” I chuckle and nod. “I’m just cherishing it.”
“As you should be! I’ll be back soon with your drinks ok?” We both nod and she hurries off to go serve some other customers. I was surprised there weren’t many people here, it’s usually packed.
“Extra fries?” I take a breath causing him to laugh. “I don’t wanna hear it right now.” I shake my head. “I honestly can’t blame you, I’d do the same goddamn thing.”
“Yeah..” I muse, staring down at the table. “You read the article?” I look back at him. He nods. “Airplanes? You not only decided to fight in a war but jump out of a fucking airplane? You’re actually the biggest dumbass I’ve ever met.”
“It pays fifty dollars extra to be a paratrooper, ok? It’ll help the family out.” I struggle to explain to him that it is actually a good thing to be doing. “And you might not even make it out of the airplane.” He quickly shuts me down.
“Then the family gets 10,000 dollars.” I sigh as I place my hand on the table. He looks away, biting his lip.
“Are you not scared, why is our family the only thing on your mind?” He shakes his head slowly, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “I’m terrified, Johnny.” I look into his dark eyes.
“But, knowing I might be helping our country seems to blind me.”
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