June 11th, 1942. We sent letters as though the words written on them would heal our broken hearts. Our feelings for each other became nothing more than what we sealed in envelopes, where our thoughts became our own and the evitable truth resting on our shoulders.
Mama always told me don't fall for a military man, and I should've listened. I remember the first time she told me, I was eight years old, convinced the boy two houses down was going to be my husband. We planned out our future in an afternoon, me a school teacher, him a soldier fighting like his Daddy did. After we spent the afternoon under the large oak tree in his front yard, I ran back home, my yellow sundress flying.
"Penelope!" Mama scolded, hitting her hands against her apron. "You were meant home twenty minutes ago! Your Daddy would've busted your chops!"
Frowning, I kicked off my flats and went into the kitchen.
"I'm sorry mama," I say, trying to sound like I meant it. "I was talking to James. We're gonna get married ma, after he's outta the war."
Stopping mid fold, she left the dough on the counter. Quickly, she whipped around and slapped me across the face. It was just enough to feel, not enough to hurt much. But it stung.
"Never date a soldier! They do you no good. Just kiss ya then leave to forget and hurt ya."
James and I divorced before we got married, the next day.
September 12th, 1942. Penny,
These trenches are damned, no human should ever walk among here. Most men here use dope to get through it. I don't, know you and ma kill me. Write soon.
He lately he's been signing with his full name, not 'Tommy' as I've always called him. Seems his slipping away, just as Mama warned me. Slowly, I rub my thumb along my own nickname. He gave me that when we meet, two years ago. The only person to ever use it. At least some things never change.
January 1st, 1943. He was supposed to come home eight days ago. He promised in his last letter. I waited for hours, lost count after eight. Figured love was timeless, didn't need to worry about it.
I left the bar around two in the morning when the bartender kicked me out. He was nice though, served me joe after he claimed I had too many drinks. Told him I'd pay him in lettuce, he simply laughed. Said I was a pretty girl, this was on the house.
I went to Mama's place because I couldn't stand the thought of going to his place without him. Or being at my place alone. She opened the door to find my mascara smudges and running, nearly dripping in sync with my tears. I knew my lips were cracked and dry, the lipsticked caked on there suddenly felt heavy. My mint green dress wrinkled at the bottom and my black shoes mudded.
"I loved him," I choked out, falling into her arms.
July 30th, 1943. Seven months is a long time not to hear from someone. Soon the days begin to blur together, it's hard to tell them apart. And with a heart on the verge of breaking, you don't quite care anymore.
Everyone around me whispers, only a few brave enough to ask why I've become a ghost. Mama says I need to get out there, fancy myself a man before they're all gone.
"He could still be out there," I say the words with no emotion, they're dead words.
"The men cam two months ago, sweetie. Said he's MIA."
I nearly shake my head.
July 31st, 1943. That night I went out with one of the only friends I had left. Sandra said I needed to get out of the house. Even if I don't want to meet anyone, can't hurt to dance with somebody.
Ironic, how your past likes to visit in god awful times but can make you still miss them. That's what I thought as soon as I saw James. He may be a man now, but I'd never forget the face of the boy who stole my first kiss.
"You a swigger now, uh?" I smirk, taking the stool next to him.
Turning to me, I noticed it took James a second to register who I was. And in that second I grew still, scared I made a mistake. I let out that breath when I notice the blue spark in his eyes, some things never change.
"She's still got moxie, I see," He chuckled, setting his drink down.
We embraced, with our memories clinging onto us.
"Don't rag on me," I say, once we let go.
"I see no rock on your finger, you still breaking hearts?" He raised his eyebrow.
"More like getting my heartbroken," I sigh, snatching his drink. After I took a swig, I went on. "Met myself another soldier-" I winked "-but this time, he left me. MIA in this crummy war."
"Christ Penelope, I'm sorry."
I simply shrugged.
August 14th, 1943. We met the next day, the day after, and again for the past few weeks. We relived memories as though they happened yesterday and consumed the information about each other's lives as though it was the only thing keeping us going. Our relationship seemed to blossom, skipping over the step of growth. At last, I had connected to someone as I had once with Tommy.
"You're one fine dame," James breathed, as we sat across from each other at the cafe. Our legs brushed against each other. "Perhaps we could finish what we started?"
"Hm?" Carefully, I sipped my tea.
"Marry me, Penelope. Let's do what we dream of as kids."
Hearing the words gave me goosebumps. My heart never shattered, I never broke as I was supposed to after the news from Tommy came. No, all I felt was empty. Then, there was James. He made me forget, and until now, that was everything. And now, those words finally broke me.
"Jesus! Didn't think it'd make you cry. Sorry! Forget I said something!" Jumping from the table, the shoved some napkins toward me, unsure what to do. This was the first time I'd ever seen him like this.
February 12th, 1944. This had been the fifth time I brushed my hair out and the third time my Mama scolded at me, saying it'd frizz. I knew better, but my nerves were getting the best of me. Never saw me much having a sappy wedding, that's all.
Suddenly, Sandra burst into the room.
"Twenty minutes ladies!"
That threw Mama into a cow.
Every minute seemed to drag out and I knew it was because of the anticipation. I'm so used to telling my kids to have patience, you'd think I'd practice what I'd preach. Perhaps third-graders rub off on you after all. Groaning, I began to pace.
Daddy kissed me before handing my hand to James. As soon as we touched I felt the spark, something I hadn't felt in a long time. We wrote vows, but I knew he sounded better. His words painted a fantasy of our life, too perfect for it to sound true. I knew if that was possible, then Heaven could be real-because nothing suppose to beat Heaven. My vows were dull in comparison, talking about cliches of meeting as a child and becoming what we are now. And even on our wedding day, I'm not quite sure where I stood.
"And for anyone who opposes this marriage between Penelope Jones and James Williams, speak now or forever hold your priest," were the last words I heard my priest say. Because immediately afterward, a man in the back stood up and said, "I thought we were going to get married."
Slowly, he grabbed his crutches and hobbled his way down the aisle. His hair was no longer long and curled at the tips, right under his ears, but buzzed. His skin no longer clear, but dark and decorated in scars and bruises. His right arm was in a cast and his left legged bandaged. His left eye had a big bruise. But god, did those green eyes sparkle.
"Tommy?" I choked out, dropping my hands from James.
"I've missed you, Penny."