A Sister's Devotion
The docks of New York City were clustered with great crowds of people. All across it, various young men as young as eighteen to as old as mid-to-late thirties were getting ready to board a great ship that would take them across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, where they'd would receive their army encampment stations. The date was May 17th, 1943, and the latest batch of newly drafted, able-bodied American men was being shipped out to fight in the 107th division against the Nazi army. All across the docks, the new recruits were busy saying goodbyes to their families. The all hugged and kissed their parents or sweetheart's goodbye, and patted the heads of their siblings or even their own children. Everyone knew that there was a good chance that this would be the last time that they would ever see them again.
At the back of the docks, a last minute arrival was pulling up in an old, rusting Sedan. A young man with dark brown, matted hair already dressed in his beige army uniform stepped out of the car's front passenger seat, a large, burly duffel bag slung over his left shoulder. He reached into his pocket for a moment, and took out a vintage, silver pocket watch. He flicked it open, and read the time as he slammed the car door shut behind him before shoving the antique accessary back into his pants leg for safekeeping. There was a patch on the shoulder sleeve of his uniform depicting three half triangles pointing upwards, revealing his rank as Sergeant.
As the driver of the car, a middle-aged, balding man with blonde hair stepped out and nodded to the new recruit, the young Sergeant turned and opened the back right passenger door.
"Come on, sis, we're here," said the soon-to-be-soldier.
"No! Get back in the car, Trent!" called out the voice of a young girl still hidden inside the vehicle. "You shouldn't have to go!"
"I don't have a choice, James. The draft demands it. Now please, come on out so I can give you a proper goodbye."
"Why should I?" snapped the voice again. "You're going to abandon me here anyway whether I say goodbye or not!"
"Now, Jamie, be reasonable," said the older man this time, trying to calm down the situation as best as he could. "You're more than old enough to understand that that's unfair. It's not your brother's fault that the war has demanded all able-bodied young men to enlist."
"Yes, Mr. Harkins," meekly said the female voice.
"Glad to hear you're willing to be reasonable, finally," Trent said. "Now, are you going to come out and smile and hug me – your only big brother – goodbye, or are you going to send me off to war with your arms crossed and a scowl plastered on that cute face of yours?"
There was a brief pause, and then finally a loud sigh could be heard from inside the car followed by what sounded like a shaky intake of breath.
"I-I'm coming out," said the girl finally, her voice now very obviously filled with suppressed grief.
And indeed, moments later, the hidden girl finally stepped out of the car; a small plush panda tucked under one of her arms as a sense of comfort. She was a tiny thing, only reaching up to Trent's waist in terms of height. From looking at her, you'd never guess she was actually ten years old, what with her small stature combined with the fact that her mousy brown hair was pulled back into two low pigtails by two white ribbons, and her face still clung onto her childhood baby fat, making her two light brown eyes look very big on her round face. All together, she looked as though she could pass for being eight or nine years old very easily.
"There now, see?" said Sergeant Trenton Harper, smiling gently as he patted his sister's head. "That wasn't so hard now, was it?"
Jamie Harper said nothing in reply. She just hung her head and willed herself not to cry. She didn't want to see her brother leave. In her mind, this was unfair. He was only nineteen, barely past the required recruitment age to go and fight in the war against the Nazi soldiers. And even though the draft demanded he go, it was still wrong, because he was all she had.
Trent seemed to sense that Jamie still wasn't fully accepting of this whole situation, and set his hand on her tiny shoulder before turning to face the man who had been kind enough to drive them to the harbor.
"Would you excuse us for a few moments, please, Mr. Harkins?" Trent asked politely. "I'd like a chance to say goodbye to Jamie properly."
"Of course, take all the time you need," said Harkins with a nod.
"Not enough time to say everything, I'm afraid," said Trent with a sheepish grin as he looked down at his pocket watch again and checked the time. "The ship is gonna leave soon."
"Well, in case I don't get the chance to say it again, good luck to you son," said Mr. Harkins, thumping his hand on Trent's shoulder in farewell, "and be safe, you hear?"
"I will," said Trent with a nod. "You and your wife will take good care of my sister, won't you, sir?"
"Swear it on my mother's grave," Harkins promised. "She'll be staying with us as an extended guest only. So long as you're still okay, no one'll be adopting her on my watch."
"Thank you, sir," said Trent, and with one last final nod in farewell to the kind man, Trent gently steered his sister off to the side, slightly away from other people who were saying their own goodbyes.
As soon as they were alone, the tears Jamie had been holding back finally began running freely down her face, and she wailed rather loudly as she dropped her panda toy, and flung both her arms around Trent's body.
"I don't want you to go, Trent!" she sobbed, clinging onto her older brother with all her strength. "Please, stay here with me!"
"Jamie, you know I can't. I've been drafted. I have to go."
"But… if you die… I won't have anyone!" she said. "I'll be all alone! So please, Trent, please don't go!"
Slowly, Trent got down on his knees to her level, and gently patted her head. He knew this was very hard for his sister. Hell, it was hard even for him. He knew that if something were to possibly happen to him while overseas, his sister really would be an orphan then.
It'd been a little over a year now that the two of them had survived the car crash that took their parents from them. It'd been very hard on Trent and Jamie, Jamie only being eight-and-a-half and just a few months short of nine at the time and so sad to have lost her mother and father both at once, and Trent being emotionally hurt by the loss as well as now way in over his head. As he was over the age of eighteen when their parents died, he did not need to be sent to the local orphanage, and as Jamie's only living family, that placed her in his custody, keeping her from having to go and live there either. It'd been a hard adjustment for the two siblings at first, having to go on without their parents with Trent as the head of the family now as he struggled to balance his time between completing his final year in high school, spending time in his school's baseball team so he could hopefully earn a college scholarship at the end of the school year, working double shifts at his part-time job at a local bookstore in order to pay for expenses, and taking care of Jamie.
Jamie herself hadn't had an easy transition to just living with her brother either. She'd always been a kind, friendly little girl around her peers. She was indeed quiet around others, but she did try to be nice to her classmates in school even though she didn't really have any friends. After their parents died, however, the kind, friendly little girl Trent knew his sister to be turned completely withdrawn. She was still nice to people if they spoke to her, but she really didn't even try to make friends anymore. The only reason she spoke up on her own accord in school was to answer questions. She was a smart girl, and her grades weren't too bad. Her teachers, despite being worried about her emotional state, all agreed that her grades remained unchanged at several B's and occasional A's.
That made Trent's forced departure all the more difficult between the two siblings. Although they'd always been close before, their parent's deaths had brought them even closer over the past year. They only had each other, and if Trent died in this war, Jamie would be all alone.
"It won't be forever, Jamie," said Trent. "You'll be going to the orphanage only temporarily because the law dictates you have to, but I swear that Mr. Harkins has already made arrangements for you to stay there only as a guest, not as an official orphan up for adoption."
"Unless you die," Jamie added at once.
Trent paused at those words. "If… if something does indeed happen to me, then yes. I can't change that. But even if I do… know this: I'll always be with you. Just like Mom and Dad are always with us."
"It's not fair!" Jamie protested, burying her face into the shoulder of his uniform as she hugged him tightly. "Please, don't go!"
"Jamie," said Trent, pulling away from her slightly so he could look her in the eye. "This isn't what I want to do, but it's what I have to do. Take a look around," he paused, gesturing to all the young men that were either still saying goodbye to their loved one's or beginning to board the ship. "Every man here is doing what they need to do so we can end this war, and that includes me. You, however, need to stay here and do your part to end this war, too."
"My part?" said Jamie, her teary eyes gazing at him questioningly. "I don't understand. What's my part?"
"Supporting me," said Trent, giving her shoulder a squeeze. He reached down, picked up the stuffed panda that Jamie had dropped, and put it back in her arms as he continued. "You need to let me go so I can protect our great nation, and be waiting for me here with little Pannie here, ready to tackle me with a great big loving hug for when I return. Can you do that for me?"
Reluctantly, Jamie started to nod, but then frowned and stared at Trent curiously.
"If you have to go so badly, why can't I go with you?" she asked. "If it's so important for you to go, can't I go to? I can help you defend our country, and protect you when bullets start flying!"
At her words, Trent openly laughed. "Sorry sis, but I don't think the 107th Infantry would appreciate me having my little ten-year-old sister tagging along for the ride."
The ship behind him suddenly let out a blasting honk; the signal that it would be leaving within five minutes time.
"Alright, I must go now," said Trent. Jamie started tearing up again at these words. "There's no need to cry, I'll be back before you know it."
"You promise?" Jamie whimpered.
"Cross my heart," Trent said, making the motion against his chest. "And I also promise to write to you."
"You will? Really?"
"Of course, and you better believe I'll be wanting letters from you, too. Think you send me letters back?"
Jamie earnestly nodded.
"Send me your address, and I'll write to you, too! Every day! I promise!"
"I'll be looking forward to them."
Again, Jamie whimpered, and then completely flung herself into Trent's embrace one last time. Trent didn't protest. He, too, wrapped his arms around his little sister, and hugged her tightly.
"Be safe, Trentie," Jamie whispered.
"I will, James, I promise, and besides," he added, smiling brightly as he took the pocket watch back out of his pocket and showed it to her. "I have Dad's pocket watch with me. So long as I have this, I know Dad's protecting me, just like how he'll always protect you so long as you have Pannie with you."
Jamie smiled, and hugged Pannie to her chest. Her panda bear had been a present to her from her late Dad, while Trent's pocket watch had been a family heirloom in their family for many years, always passed down from father-to-son.
"I love you so much, big brother."
"I love you, too, little sis. With all my heart."
Kissing her cheek, Trent got to his feet, shoved his father's silver ornament back into his pocket, collected his duffel bag, and nodded goodbye one last time to Mr. Harkins who had started to approach before making his way toward the gangway doors of the ship. As he was about to board, he turned, and waved goodbye to Jamie one last time before vanishing inside the ship.
Jamie refused to leave the dock with Harkins until the ship left port. She stood with him in the crowd, waving goodbye to the ship as it sailed off across the Atlantic. As the two made their way back to the crowd so Harkins could take her to the orphanage, he tried to console the poor girl.
"Don't worry too much about your brother, Jamie," he said to Jamie as they climbed into the Sedan. "I saw how much he loves you when you two were saying goodbye. There's no force on earth that can keep him from coming back home to you."
"He won't have to," said Jamie, her panda on her lap as she buckled her seat belt.
At her words, Harkins turned around in his seat, and stared at her incredulously. "What'd you say, Jamie?"
"He won't have to," she repeated.
Mr. Harkins grew very concerned by what she just said. As he started up the car and drove away from the docks, he tried to keep his voice steady.
"I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean."
"He won't have to come back home to me," Jamie explained, "because I just made decision."
"A decision?" said Harkins, unable to hide the worry from his voice.
"Yes," said Jamie, actually smiling as she nodded to him. "I've decided that I'm going to where my Trent is stationed. I'm going to join the army and help him!"
There was a definite pause. Then Harkins openly chuckled.
"Ah, that'll be mighty brave of you," he said, very much amused by her words. "Gonna go join him overseas? Kill them Nazi's?"
Jamie scowled at his words. "I'm not kidding! I'm gonna help him!"
"Sure you will," said Harkins, still chuckling under his breath. "You're only ten, Jamie. You're nowhere near the recruiting age!"
"I don't care what you say, Mr. Harkins!" Jamie snapped as the Sedan pulled up in front of New York City Orphanage. "I'm going to help Trent! And all of America! I'll make it overseas! I'll make it to Germany! Just you wait and see!"
Harkins just grinned as he and Jamie got out of the car and started up the pathway to the main entrance of the building. His newest ward's dedication to her loving older brother was certainly admirable, but her antics of wanting to help him were most definitely amusing.
"Whatever you say, Jamie," he said as opened the door and ushered her inside. "Whatever you say…"
The alarm clock blared loudly on the nightstand beside Jamie's bed. Jamie groaned in frustration at the interruption in her heavenly slumber and wearily opened her eyes. It was eight-thirty. Breakfast would be served for herself and all the other kids in the orphanage in half-an-hour. Fighting back a yawn, she sat up in her bed, rubbed her eyes, and yawned as she got up and went over to her closet.
It'd been a little over a month now that Trent had gone off to war and had been forced to leave her in the care of the New York City Orphanage, and ever since then, she'd had the same reoccurring dream of the day he left. It was becoming somewhat annoying for her to view it every night while she slept. It was almost as though the dream was taunting her somehow, telling her that it would continue to bother her unless she manage to fulfill the promise she'd made the day he'd left.
She would join the army and help Trent and the rest of America. Somehow. Some way.
Dressing quickly but silently and pulling her hair back into her usual two low pigtails tied with white ribbons, Jamie grabbed her wallet that had been filled only the night before with her weekly allowance, and stuffed it in the pocket of her dress, as well as a few pieces of stationary and a pen, before quietly opening the door to her room and peeking nervously out into the hallway. Ever since she first came here, she'd been the target of many bullies in the orphanage, what with her adamant determination to join the military and fight in the war. She'd been tormented more times than she could count, and this morning she really just wanted to go downstairs, quickly scribble out a new letter to Trent before breakfast started, and scarf down a small apple as she tore out of the building to mail her letter before the bullies came down for breakfast. Maybe if she was lucky, she might even be able to sneak out of the building for an hour or two without the Harkin's knowing. Try her luck once again at getting a medical exam at one of the army recruiting offices located throughout the city. Other than leaving for a couple minutes to mail her letters to her brother, she really wasn't supposed to leave the orphanage unsupervised.
Tiptoeing down the hall to the staircase, Jamie silently stole down the stairs, glancing over her shoulder after every couple of steps to make sure none of the older kids had her creeping down the hall. Better to be paranoid, in her opinion, than be cocky and get easily surrounded and beaten up.
She got lucky. It didn't seem like any of the other kids were up yet. Just her. She made her way to the dining hall, a little more bounce in her step knowing she'd have some time to herself this morning before the daily torment began.
She poked her head through the doorway, just as one last precaution. Thankfully, the only people up were Mr. Harkins and his wife Julia, and one other sixteen-year-old boy that had his own part-time job as a newspaper boy at the nearby paper stand. The sixteen-year-old was already on his way out the door with an apple in hand, and only briefly nodded to Jamie as he passed by her on his way out. Jamie nodded back to him, even smiling and waving goodbye. She had nothing against that particular boy. He was among the group of kids in the orphanage that was too old to care about her odd tendencies about wanting to join the army. Granted, there were a couple of older kids that did think her antics were down right stupid and hilarious, but the majority of the kids that cornered her were among the age group of twelve to fourteen. Anyone younger or older than that was generally a neutral party, but still avoided her as they either thought to be extremely weird, or they did not want to be targeted by the bullies from doing nothing more than simply wanting to be her friend.
"Morning, Jamie," said Mr. Harkins, nodding warmly in her direction as she walked in. "Bacon and eggs?"
"Just an apple, please, sir," said Jamie politely. "I just want to write a quick letter to Trent and go and mail it before the other kids get up."
"Nonsense!" chirped Julia Harkins, quickly bringing a plate and a set of silverware to Jamie's table as she sat down. "You're a growing girl! You need a filling breakfast!"
"Not at the expense of being taunted," Jamie countered. "Please, ma'am, just an apple will do…"
"You've skipped breakfast for three days in a row now," said Mrs. Harkins rather sternly, "and I know for a fact that I didn't see you in here at dinner last night. Eat, or else you're not leaving this room."
With a sigh, Jamie pulled the plate and utensils to her and tried to scarf the meal down as fast as she could.
"Whoa, slow down there, Jamie!" urged Mr. Harkins. "You'll choke!"
"I'm in a rush, sir," Jamie said between bites. "I want to go and mail a letter to Trent."
"You can do that after breakfast," said Mrs. Harkins firmly. "You're so tiny! A healthy diet will help you grow!"
"No excuses," said Mrs. Harkins, waving her finger in Jamie's face. "Finish your plate, or else you'll be excused from tonight's field trip to the World Expo."
Knowing there was no way she could win this battle and wanting desperately to join the other kids to tonight's field trip to the World Exposition of Tomorrow, Jamie just nodded and cleaned her plate, eating at a respectable pace this time. As soon as she was finished, she pushed it away, took out the pieces of stationary and pen, and began to hastily write out her letter.
It's been very boring here at the orphanage lately. Like I said in my last letter, all the kids here think I'm weird, as I'm still trying to enlist in the army and join you overseas. I know you told me in your last letter to stop going into recruiting offices in the city and asking to take the health exams, but I can't stop myself. I want to help you Trent, and all of America, too! I'm going to join your platoon very soon, be it as a soldier or just as a helper around the army encampments, just wait and see!
Other than that, there's not much to tell you about what's been going on here. The bullies are still tormenting me, with Nick and Becky as the ringleaders of the group. I swear, the other day when I was walking back to the orphanage by myself from the store when I was buying some more stationary so I could write more letters to you, they and a bunch of other kids jumped out of nowhere and pulled me in an alleyway and took turns hitting me. I still have the bruises. My battle wounds, you might say…
I miss you Trent. Mr. and Mrs. Harkins are nice enough to me, but they're both a bit dimwitted about all the bullying going on here. They've caught the other kids teasing me on several different occasions, but they're both oblivious to the fact that they've beaten me up more than once. I know that if you were here, you'd show them who's boss! You'd get right up in each of their faces, scare them senseless as you warn them not to so much as ever look at me again, and be the best protective big brother I could ever want, and I could never ever want another brother, because you're the best big brother in the world! No one else could ever replace you! So don't die out there, Trent! I need you to come back home to me!
Write back soon, Trent! It's been over a week since I got a letter from you! I need to know that you're okay! I know you said Dad's pocket watch would keep you safe, but I want more reassurance than that!
Smiling fondly at the finished letter, Jamie nodded to herself as she grabbed the blank envelope, and scribbled down the address of her brother's army encampment. She stuffed the letter inside, and sealed it off with a lick to the sticky part. She made to stand and exit the dining hall from the main entrance, but noises from the hallway caught her ear. The other children were waking up, the bullies most likely among them. She'd have to leave discreetly through the back door in the kitchens.
She slipped quietly out of the dining hall, and unnoticed by either of the other Harkins, as they were now bidding good morning to the other kids, snuck stealthily past the old, grumpy old man who was the cook, and slinked out the back door into the alleyway behind the orphanage.
As soon as she was outside, she took a deep breath, enjoying the crisp air and the morning sunshine on her face. It was truly a beautiful day, perfect for taking a morning stroll. If she was lucky, maybe she could stay out all day, avoiding the other kids until it was time to go to the World Expo.
With that thought in mind, she smiled to herself, and set off down the street to find the nearest mailbox. Dropping it happily into its metallic opening, Jamie skipped away from it, her smile still plastered on her face. She didn't want to go back to the orphanage yet. She was in too good a mood to allow it to be spoiled by the others, but the question remained of what she could do in the meantime. She only had about ten dollars worth of saved up pocket money in her pocket. The Harkins would surely give her and all the other kids at least ten dollars more later that night before the Expo to spend on ride admissions and junk food, and she wanted to save it till then in order to pay for more things.
She looked around herself and considered her options. She really didn't want to head back to the orphanage yet, and going to the playground from here required bus admission, which she was not willing to spend, as was the admission to the local movie theatre. What could she do in the meantime?
Her eyes fell upon the Army Recruiting Office right across the street, and a grin spread across her face. It'd been over a week since she'd last tried her luck at trying to get into the army. She had more than enough time to try again right now. There was no force on earth that would keep her here in America while Trent was fighting for his life at this exact moment in Europe. Even if it meant one day just packing up her meager belongings in the orphanage and sneaking aboard one of the war ships that periodically shipped off from the harbor, she'd get to Europe. She'd help her brother, one way or another.
With her destination she mind, she smiled, skipped merrily across the street, and entered the recruiting office.
"O'Connell, Michael," called out the voice of the doctor in the recruiting office toward the line of men sitting in chairs reading the newspaper in only their pants as they awaited the results of their health exams. A young man toward the end of the row set aside his paper and stood up upon hearing his name before going toward the back of the line of young men waiting to speak with said doctor
"Kaminsky, Henry," called out the doctor again. Again, another man stood up from the row, and joined the end of the line.
In the row, one young man had his nose buried in his paper, and upon reading the latest article about the war in Europe, he sighed and turned to the young, short and skinny blonde man sitting beside him.
"Boy, a lot of guys getting killed over there," he muttered quietly to the blonde. It kind of makes you think twice about enlisting, huh?"
"Rogers, Steven," called out the doctor, and the young blonde man set aside his paper and stood up.
"Nope," he told the man over his shoulder before stepping forward.
Before he could take more than a couple steps though, the door to the recruiting office opened, and he saw a little girl of maybe eight or nine enter. She looked around curiously as the door closed behind her, and to Steve's complete surprise, her eyes locked with his. She stared at him for a moment, but then smiled, nodded kindly to him, and looked away as she approached the front desk in front of the door. He was genuinely surprised to see a little girl in here, but then again, it really wasn't any of his business as to who she was or what she doing there. For all he knew, she was visiting her mom, who was one of the volunteer nurses here, or maybe she was selling subscriptions for Girl Scout cookies. Either way, he was much too nervous as to whether he'd at last passed his health exam to worry too much about her.
Ever since the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and therefore forced America to join the war by enforcing the draft, he and his friend James 'Bucky' Barnes had instantly tried to enlist. Bucky had passed his health exam with flying colors, but he had been instantly rejected. He had too many health problems. The army didn't want him, but Steve wasn't going to let stupid rules tie him down.
There were men across the sea right now risking their lives. He was only twenty-five. He may be small and skinny, but he believed that he had no right to be doing any less than them. What was he supposed to be doing while those in the army laid down their lives? He should be doing the same as them.
Eventually, it was his turn to speak with the doctor, and he stepped up in front of him as the doctor shifted through his medical records.
"Rogers…" the doctor trailed off as he flipped through his paperwork. "What'd your father die of?"
"Mustard gas," Steve promptly replied. "He was in the 107th Infantry. I was hoping I could be assigned–"
"Your mother?" the doctor interrupted, not interested in listening to the details.
"She was a nurse in a TB ward," Steve explained. "But she got sick, couldn't shake it."
The doctor nodded absent-mindedly as he skimmed through Steve's medical files. The kid had more health conditions than any of the other men he'd already seen put together: asthma, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, simusitus, frequent colds, high blood pressure, easily fatigued, heart trouble, his own admitting that he'd shared a household with someone with tuberculosis, and it seemed that one of his parents had had diabetes… the list just went on and on.
After a long pause of scanning the list, the doctor finally looked back up at Steve and shook his head.
"Sorry, son," he told Steve.
Steve sighed. "Look, just give me–"
"What'd you mean I can't enlist?! You need all the help you can get, right?!"
Steve cut himself off as he, and every other head in the room whipped around. The little girl he'd seen enter the building was addressing the receptionist at the main desk, her hands on her hips as she glared furiously at the woman. The receptionist gulped, not really sure what to say to the child, and when she at last spoke up, her voice failed to have any sort of authority or anger present.
"Look, I'm sorry, but we can only accept people over the age of eighteen, and you're–"
"That's garbage!" the girl snapped, her two mousy brown pigtails flailing about wildly as she spoke. "It's because I'm a girl, isn't it? Well, that's not a problem!" She turned toward the waiting room. "Somebody bring me some scissors!" she shouted. "I can look and act like a boy!"
"Little girl, I'm sorry," said the receptionist, "but I can't allow someone your age to take the exam."
"You have to allow!" the girl snapped. "Because unlike the last couple times I've come here, today I'm not leaving until a doctor says I'm deemed fit to go to Europe!"
Steve stared. This girl was demanding to be enlisted? And this wasn't the first time she'd done this? He really wasn't sure what to think.
The receptionist gulped. She could tell that this child wasn't going to take no for an answer. She'd have to try another approach.
"Listen, I'm sure you must think it's wonderful, going and fighting for your country," she said managing the best smile she could. "But it's truly dangerous work. If you really want to help the war effort, you should go and help your friends collect scrap metal, or help your mother volunteer at the Red Cross–"
"I don't have any friends, and my mother is dead!" the little girl retorted. "And I'm certainly not going to wheel around a red wagon collecting metal when my big brother's in Europe laying down his life!"
"Well, I'm sure your brother wouldn't want–"
"This isn't about what my brother wants!" the girl retorted, and by now she was beginning to shout. "This is about me wanting to help the only family member that I have left! Now, let me see a doctor!"
Again, the receptionist gulped, clearly unsure of what to say to her. That's when another doctor stepped in, and grabbed one of the girl's arms.
"Listen, kid," said the doctor in a firm voice as he dragged her back toward the entrance to the recruiting office. "This whole act of you wanting to be a soldier was somewhat amusing the first three times you came here demanding to be recruited, but our patience with you is running thin. Go play somewhere else from now on, 'kay?"
"I'm not playing, though! I need to become a soldier and help Trent!" the little girl screamed as the doctor opened the door, and pushed her outside before shutting it firmly and locking it. There were several bangs on the door for a moment, as the girl was obviously hitting the door very hard so as to be let back inside, but then they stopped, and everyone heard the kid growl in angry frustration before loud footfalls resounded to tell them that she was at last leaving.
For a little while, everyone in the recruiting office was completely silent as they tried to process what had just happened. All the young men awaiting their physicals were somewhat accustomed to hearing kids on the street say that they planned to join the army when playing soldier, but never had they'd seen a child so adamant about joining that they'd marched right up to a recruiting office and demand to be enlisted.
Slowly, Steve turned back to the doctor who'd been reading him his results.
"Wow…" said Steve slowly, his thoughts still centered on the little girl.
The doctor just shrugged. "It's not really so much as a 'wow' around here anymore to the rest of us…" he muttered.
"What do you mean?" asked Steve, very much puzzled.
"You heard my colleague. That girl's been coming here at least three times a week for the past month now, all but demanding to see a doctor so she can go and fight in Europe. She's always insistent that she needs to get to Europe, as that's where her older brother's stationed, apparently."
"She's been here that many times?" Steve couldn't hide the surprise from his voice.
"Yeah, it's gotten old fast. Now, back to you…" The doctor checked Steve's results again. "Sorry, you're ineligible on your asthma alone."
Steve sighed. This had been fifth attempt to try and get into the army, lying once again on the paperwork on where he'd been born so as to deter the army officials in knowing he'd already been rejected many times.
"Is there anything you can do?" Steve asked pleadingly.
"I'm doing it," said the doctor, picking up the rejection stamp. "I'm saving your life."
And without another word, he stamped 4F into the little square box on the lower right-hand corner of Steve's recruitment form.
With a sad nod to the doctor, Steve silently stepped out of line and headed back to the curtained-off areas so as to redress.
He pulled on his buttoned-down white shirt and trousers and shrugged into his jacket and contemplated his problem with getting enlisted. Why couldn't the army see that he needed to fight? He know that there were plenty of men just beyond the curtain that would give anything to take his place right now and stay at home instead of risking their lives overseas, but Steve wanted the exact opposite. He had no right to be doing any less than them, and although the only fighting experience he had was taking a few short boxing lessons with Bucky at a gym a couple blocks away from his apartment building, he felt that he could make a better contribution to the war effort than simply getting a job at a local factory until the unforeseeable end of the war. He wouldn't strive to do any less than them.
With a sigh, Steve checked his watch as he headed back to the main entrance. His eyes widened when he saw the time. He'd find another recruiting office in this city soon enough and apply again another day. Right now, thanks to the number of men applying today and the interruption thanks to the little girl, he was now running late to meet Bucky for a movie. His friend had been rather adamant on seeing him today, saying he'd something important to tell him about.
He wasted no time setting off down the street as soon as he left the recruiting office. If he ran to catch the bus a few streets away, he might make it to the film on time and only get a mock punch to the arm from his childhood friend from being a little late.
As he rounded the corner however, a sudden childish shriek down a nearby alley caught his attention, and he stopped in his tracks. He knew that type of shout anywhere. That was the sound of someone getting jumped, mugged, and possibly roughed up. He would know. He himself got beaten up by mere strangers at least three times a week. He couldn't just walk away now with a good conscience even if he was running late to meet Bucky. Bucky would understand, he was generally the one to rescue him whenever assholes decided to wail on him, but this time it was Steve's turn to rescue someone. He might be small and skinny, but even he could get a good whack on a guy if caught by surprise.
Very quietly, Steve stole down the alley, wanting to assess the situation fully before doing anything rash. He didn't know what was going on exactly, and if it turned out that the attacker was a rather large fellow, he'd prefer to have the jump on him.
Jamie tried to hold back a rather loud yelp of pain as Nick Ryerson slammed his fist into her stomach and she landed hard on the paving of the alleyway. Tears were threatening to spill from her eyes from the pain, but she bit hard on her tongue in order to remind herself not to let them fall. Nick, Becky, and the rest of the bullies were already laughing hard enough at her expense. She didn't want to add to the humiliation by being called a crybaby.
"Had enough?" sneered Nick as he grabbed her by the collar of her dress and forced her back up. "Or do you want more, War Girl?"
Jamie fought to keep her voice at a level tone, not wanting to sound more hurt than she actually was. "Leave me alone," she said, trying her best to sound threatening.
At her words, Becky Sanders lunged forward, harshly shoved Jamie back to the ground, and proceeded to kick her firmly in the gut. Jamie couldn't hold back a pained groan this time, and the sound just made Becky smirk.
"'Leave me alone!' she says!" Becky mocked loudly so Nick and the others could hear her. "You should be thanking us, Freak! How else are you going to prepare for the war if you don't let us train you up every day?"
Jamie had no retort to this, and just stayed on the ground this time. She cursed herself for not paying attention when forced to leave the recruiting office. Had she not have been so mad, she would have known better than to walk down the street without looking over her shoulder every couple minutes to make sure she wasn't being followed. Thanks to her carelessness, Nick, Becky, and the rest of their stupid gang had easily cornered and herded her into a deserted alleyway where they could taunt and hit her.
Slowly, Jamie forced her weary body to stand, and she glared at her attackers. They were truly a weird bullying pair, Nick and Becky. Becky was only a little older than her, twelve, and for some reason, from the moment Jamie arrived at the orphanage and before she even knew about her desire to join the army, Becky decided she didn't like her, and had taken to spilling her steaming hot bowl of chicken noodle soup upon Jamie that first night at dinner, feigning it to be a mere 'accident' by tripping over her own feet. Once she learned that Jamie wanted to join the army though, Becky had been relentless in taunting the girl at every opportunity, and had even on a few occasions thrown in a couple slaps to Jamie's cheeks.
Nick was something else. At fourteen, he generally didn't care too much tormenting the younger kids at the orphanage, and instead turned his attentions to the boys his own age that couldn't throw punches to save their lives, especially against someone as buff as he was. As soon as he had heard about Jamie's crazy antics, however, he'd left the other boys alone and instead devoted all his attentions into joining Becky in ruffing up Jamie twenty-four seven. He was also was the ringleader of a large gang in the orphanage, and whenever he and Becky found Jamie, the others were guaranteed to be along shortly to throw in their own punches on the little girl.
Jamie didn't want to say that she hated her daily bullies. Hate was a powerful word, and she didn't want to use it freely, but she most definitely loathed the pain that they inflicted upon her, both physically and emotionally.
"I don't care what any of you say!" Jamie spat, surprising herself by how strong and angry she sounded instead of physically exhausted and scared. "I will make it to Germany… I will help my older brother… Just you wait!"
"Your brother?!" Nick mocked. Before Jamie could scramble away, Nick seized both of her arms, and held them forcefully behind her back, holding her firm so Becky and the others could take turns hitting her without moving. "He's probably dead already… Just as you soon will be!"
"You're positively insane! Keep up the crazy talk, and they'll be carting you off to the electric chair! That's what they do to all the crazy kids!"
Jamie shut her eyes as Becky walked forward with an evil glint her eyes, preparing herself for the onslaught of pain about to occur, when a sudden, unexpected shout made her snap her eyes back open, and for Nick, Beck, and all the kids to suddenly freeze up.
"Hey!" shouted a voice that sounded like it belonged to an adult man. "Let go of her!"
The prospect of being caught red-handed by an adult in the act of beating a little girl caused Nick to drop Jamie, and he and Becky immediately backed away. Jamie took their momentary distraction as an opportunity to lunge behind a set of metal trashcans a couple feet away. Regardless of whatever happened next, she wanted to stay out of the way and out of sight.
"What are you all doing?!" she heard the man say again. She didn't recognize the voice, and she hadn't caught a glimpse of him before hiding herself away. For all she knew, her rescuer was none other than a good Samaritan that had overheard either her yelps of pain or the bullies taunts and evil laughter from the sidewalk and had come to investigate. Whatever the reason was that he was here, she was grateful, but she didn't trust herself enough to look beyond the metallic cylinders to see what was going on.
Steve Rogers was actually stunned by the situation. He personally didn't know Jamie, but he recognized her as the little girl that only fifteen minutes prior had been in the recruiting office, demanding to be enlisted. He couldn't just ignore this. As soon as the little girl hid herself behind the trash containers, he put on his most threatening scowl he could. He'd never liked bullies, and that girl definitely looked as though this was not the first time that these kids had taken the liberty to drag her back here and hit her repeatedly. He may be a toothpick with little to no fighting skills whatsoever other than a few boxing classes, but these were just a bunch of stupid kids, and he was an adult. He could get them to stop just by being here.
Sure enough, upon seeing Steve standing there, most of the boys that generally followed Nick without fail began sweating. Nick himself was looking very uncomfortable, and Becky was completely still.
"Get out of here!" Steve ordered, jerking his head back to the entrance of the alley. None of them moved. Steve's eyes narrowed. "Leave!" he barked. "Now!"
The boys scrambled past him, not wanting to be threatened with the prospect of being turned in to either the Harkin's or the police. As Nick and Becky went tumbling out after them, Steve's hand shot out, preventing them from leaving.
"If I catch any of you tormenting this girl again, I will personally march you all to the police so they can track down your families," he warned. "And that is a promise!"
Nick and Becky wordlessly nodded, too scared of the prospect of being forced to a police station to retort that none of them actually had any families, and Steve released his arm, and they too sprinted away.
Steve watched them leave for a moment, wanting to ensure that they were truly gone before trying to talk to the bullied girl, who was still hiding behind the trashcans. As soon as he was positive that they had indeed ran away, he turned his attention to the trashcans.
"You all right?" he asked kindly.
Jamie didn't dare creep out from behind the trashcans or respond to the kind question. She was still afraid. This man had just saved her. He had saved her from a beating from her daily bullies. But why? What did he want from her?
Steve paused, realizing that Jamie didn't intend to answer him. Cautiously, he took a couple steps forward toward the trashcans, and kneeled down in front of them.
"It's all right," he said softly. "They're all gone now, and I'm not gonna hurt you."
There was another long stretch of silence, and Steve was beginning to think that she still wasn't going to answer him, but then a quiet voice spoke up.
"You promise?" she asked.
Steve chuckled lightly. "Swear by it," he told her.
That was enough. Very slowly, Jamie crawled out from behind the trashcans, and surveyed Steve and her surroundings for a long moment before deeming it safe enough to get back up on her feet.
"You okay?" Steve asked her, seeing her wince as she twisted her body left and right in order to shake off the pain.
"Just sore," she told him. "Probably be sporting some more bruises tomorrow, though."
After a few minutes of trying to shake off the pain, she finally took the liberty of looking at him properly.
"Thank you," she said, "for rescuing me."
"You're welcome," said Steve. "I've never liked bullies. I'm just glad you're okay, though I must say, for someone wanting to join the army, I'd expect someone who could very least defend themselves from kids like that."
"Oh, I take it you were one of the guys back in the recruiting office, then?" Jamie asked. Steve nodded. "I don't know anything at all about fighting. I just want to join the army so I can help my older brother. He got drafted and is stationed somewhere near Italy, I think."
"Ah, I see," said Steve, now understanding her plight.
"Those kids you defended me from? They think that's the stupidest thing they've ever heard. They actually consider their daily beatings as a way to 'train me up' for the war."
"You should tell your parents," Steve advised. "They could put a stop to it."
To his surprise, Jamie just shook her head. "They're both dead." She told him. "They died in a car crash last year. My brother's over eighteen, but because he got drafted, I've been forced to stay at the orphanage just down the street, and the owners? The Harkins? They're pretty oblivious to all the bullying going on right under their noses."
Her words took Steve aback for a moment. He hadn't been expecting that.
"Let me walk you back, then," he offered. He'd probably miss the first couple of scenes of the movie, and he could only pray Bucky wouldn't be too pissed off at him. "That way those kids can't jump you unless they want to get in trouble from those Harkins."
"'Kay. Thank you, sir," said Jamie with a bright smile.
"It's Steve," he told her as he walked beside her to the entrance to the alleyway. "Steve Grant Rogers. Steven, if you're being formal."
"And I'm Jamie," she said, indicating herself. "Jamie Elizabeth Harper."
And with that, the unlikely duo set off together down the street.
"So," said Steve as they started down the pavement. "Why were those kids picking on you anyway? Other than wanting to join the army, I mean."
Jamie shrugged. "They think it's fun, for one. Picking on the new girl, and all… but they also think my wanting to join the army is downright stupid and hilarious. As soon as it got spread around the orphanage that a police officer had to drive me back there almost a month ago because I refused to leave the recruiting office, they took to stalking and harassing me."
Steve couldn't help but stare. "You're that adamant on getting into the army?"
"My big brother Trent is all I have, now that our parents are gone!" Jamie insisted. "You probably even read about the car crash. It was front-page news in the local paper the next day! Trent was the one who helped me after that! He's my brother, but he took care of me! I love him, and he loves me! If he's in trouble over there, I have to be there for him!"
Steve really didn't know what to say to that, so Jamie went on.
"But the stupid army doesn't see it that way!" she grumbled. "They keep saying I'm too young! It's so stupid! I may be only eight years younger than the required recruitment age, but I know I can do more for my brother than just collecting scrap metal with other kids at the orphanage!"
"You're ten?" said Steve finally, very much surprised. He assumed she was slightly younger. Jamie nodded irritably. "Look, no offense and no disrespect intended to you or your older brother… but war isn't just a game. It's dangerous. It's not something a little girl like you should get involved in."
Within seconds, Jamie's annoyed expression turned downright icy.
"Is being a girl what's holding me back?" she demanded. "Is that why they won't let me fight?"
"Er–well, I suppose that's part of it," said Steve hesitantly. "But really, no one wants to see a kid like you die. You're just a little girl. You still have your whole life ahead of you."
Jamie huffed. She was now mad. "You're just like them!" she snipped. "My age! My age! Even if I was thirty you'd still think of something about my age to criticize, wouldn't you?! It's my own choice whether or not I choose to enlist, but I guess someone like you, a guy who'll be going to Europe in a few days, can't understand that, because the draft demands that you have to enlist!"
"I'm not going to Europe," Steve said quickly. "I'm not going to war."
At this, Jamie finally stopped her angry ranting, and stared at him curiously.
"What? But, you said back there that you saw me back there in the recruiting office. I… I thought…"
Steve shook his head at her and pulled his recruiting form out of his pocket in order to prove it to her. "Didn't make the cut. Too many health issues."
She took the slip of paper, and examined the 4F stamped in the lower corner. When she gave it back to him, he couldn't help but notice her eyes roll.
"You must be pleased," she muttered as they turned a corner.
Steve shook his head again at her statement. "On the contrary, Jamie, I couldn't be more disappointed."
Jamie stared at him. "You actually want to go war?" she asked. Steve nodded.
"I believe that I don't have any right to do any less than the men overseas. Just between you and me, today was actually my fifth attempt to join. I've had to lie about where I'm from on the paperwork so as to not get caught. It's technically illegal to falsify that information."
"Well, you're quite a hypocrite then!" Jamie exclaimed.
"Beg your pardon?"
"You have absolutely no right to tell me that I shouldn't try to enlist in the army when people tell you the exact same thing! You have no right!"
Steve stared at her for a long moment. When he finally opened his mouth to deny that he was doing any such thing, he immediately closed it. She was technically right.
"You're very smart for your age," he finally said.
"That's what Trent always says…" Jamie trailed off, her eyes suddenly looking very sad.
"Trent—that's your brother?" Steve guessed. Jamie nodded. "You're worried about him?"
"'Course I am!" she exclaimed. "If I wasn't, do you think I'd try so hard to join the army? I'll do anything for him! Absolutely anything!"
Steve smiled. She was certainly a bright, special little girl.
They turned the corner, and the iron-wrought gates in front of the large, gray building of New York City's Public Orphanage loomed into view. Steve walked her right up to the front gate.
"Thank you for walking me back," said Jamie appreciatively.
"No trouble at all," Steve said kindly.
As Jamie unlocked the gate so she could go inside, Steve suddenly clapped his hand on her shoulder.
"Now, I'm not gonna tell you to keep trying to enlist in the army, because no sensible person in the world is gonna give a little kid that advice," he said to her, "but I will tell you this: Don't ever think for a second that those kids who were bothering you earlier are right, and don't think for a second that not hitting back makes you the better person. It'll be self-defense, and if you stand up and push back, you will show them that you are a fighter, and fighters are what's needed right now overseas."
Jamie beamed at him. "I'll remember that," she said proudly. "Thank you again for everything. Maybe I'll see you around some time! Goodbye!"
And with that, she went through the gate, ran down the pavement and up the short flight of concrete steps to the front door, and hurried inside, pausing only momentarily to give him a short wave goodbye.
Steve waved back until she was safely inside, and then marched his way down the street. With his luck, maybe Bucky was running late for the movie, too.
As he headed for the corner to catch the next bus, he considered the little he'd just rescued. Jamie Elizabeth Harper… He had to admit, he liked that kid. She was obviously very quiet, but underneath that shy exterior, she was hiding a ton of spunkiness.