No Turning Back

"It's not too late to turn back. No one would call you a coward." Karyn Dannerby rested her chin on her boyfriend's chest, her violet eyes locked onto his brown ones, her straight auburn hair laying gently on either side of her face.

Chris held her, peering down the street, waiting for the bus. "I would."

Karyn rolled her eyes and took a step back. "Why does signing your soul to the army make you a man?"

Chris pushed the straps of his camouflage backpack farther from his neck and ran a pale hand through his course brown hair, his eyes roving over her drawn face. "We have been through this, Karyn. I don't really want to go, but it's my duty as a man to protect those I love, and if that means protecting my country…"

"But it doesn't have to!" She watched her voice quiver pathetically in the air between them.

Chris sighed. He brushed Karyn's cheek with the back of his hand. "I will come back for you. We can elope, and then I will be fighting to protect you, Mrs. Leston."

The breaks of the hulking white bus shrieked in protest behind the couple, and the narrow door folded in on itself, inviting the new recruit aboard. Chris grabbed Karyn's face with his hands, kissed her, and offered her one last considering look before he gathered his luggage and climbed the stairs.

"I love you, Karyn."

The door unfolded, sealing him inside as the bus pulled into traffic. Karyn watched the bulky whiteness until it was only a speck of lint against the gray fleece that concealed the sunrise. She dropped to the curb, cradling her knees in her arms. Across the street, a small dingy cross tilted under the weight of a wreath of faded purple chrysanthemums. Someone had stenciled "Ryan" on its arms.

She picked at one of many holes in her blue jeans, which had been the victim of a Chemistry accident. Light droplets, wrung from the fleece above, dampened Karyn's hair and clothing. She shivered, her eyes fixed on the cross while Chris' words replayed themselves in her mind: "I will be fighting to protect you." And he could die doing it.

Chris would be home in four months, but she would not be there waiting for him.