IF I PERISHED...
Divinity Day, 15 N.G.
Fireworks exploded over the Hudson River beyond the Weehawken Cliffs, lighting up the cloudy mid-autumn sky in a sparkling glow of red, white, blue, and gold.
It also cast a glittering shine into the eyes of Jesse and Sarah, leaning arm-in-arm against the metal railings on the edge of the precipices, admiring the patriotic light show.
With boot camp deployment two days away, they were nervous that this might be their last propitious moment together.
And they weren’t alone in their trepidation. The crowd of nearly a thousand gathered at the cliffs, nine-percenters and pryvies alike, carried a palpable sense of fear. With the new conflict beginning in a day, the feel of optimism and excitement on Divinity Day celebrations was nonexistent.
Jesse and Sarah, meanwhile, attempted to keep serenity within themselves.
“Happy birthday,” Sarah whispered into Jesse’s ear before implanting a soft kiss on his earlobe.
“Thank you,” Jesse murmured back as he looked into Sarah’s eyes. “For the hundredth time today.” They shared a smooch, then returned to watching the fireworks.
When they concluded, Jesse and Sarah remained at the cliffs as the crowd dispersed, and stared at the smoke dissipating.
“Are you meeting us at our house before taking the hoverbus to Philadelphia?” Jesse asked.
“I think so,” Sarah replied. She sighed as she turned her attention to the glowing lights of the Manhattan skyline as the smog disappeared.
Jesse sensed his girlfriend’s fear. “I know,” he stated. “I’m scared, too.” He then wrapped his arms around Sarah’s stomach and looked at the lights with her.
“It’s funny,” Sarah acknowledged, “how we take this view for granted. When we look at the Needle, we forget our troubles, don’t you agree?”
“I do,” Jesse said. “It fills me with a sense of composure that no dosage of harlowcane could induce.”
“Do you think we’ll ever see the skyline again?”
“I’m not sure, but I will fight like hell to protect you.”
Sarah smiled and replied: “I know you will.” They shared a kiss. “I will protect you too, but I wanted to ask you a question.”
“Would you want to get married tomorrow?”
Jesse unwrapped his arms from Sarah and shot her a stunned glance. “You serious?!”
“Yes,” Sarah fired back with a sternness in her expression.
“Well, I… wow… I didn’t expect that.”
Sarah gently pulled Jesse close. He could whiff her minty breath like a puff of smoke, which always calmed him. “Jesse,” she whispered. “How do we know we will survive out there? We may die on day one. If I perished, would you live the rest of your life regretting the fact we didn’t get married?”
Jesse closed his eyes, breathed heavily, then planted his hands on Sarah’s shoulders. Deep down, he realized why Sarah was asking such a question, but he still was not in the mood to be guilt tripped.
“Babe,” Jesse said. He constructed his additional response in his mind. “You know I love you, and I completely understand where you’re coming from. But you can’t be afraid to die out there.”
“I’m not afraid of dying on the battlefield,” Sarah quivered. “I’m more worried about losing you.”
The tears forming in Sarah’s eyes tugged at Jesse’s heartstrings. He realized arguing was a fruitless option, but he now felt a deeper obligation to Sarah than he ever had before. He nodded at her as if to say he understands.
“I’d die if I ever lost you, too,” Jesse replied, and they embraced tightly. “I’ll tell you what,” he continued. “After boot camp ends, let’s revisit this a little further. Deal?”
Sarah kissed Jesse on the cheek and cheerfully agreed.
They then held each other tightly and then absorbed the skyline view.