Saying goodbye to Noah was hard enough; saying goodbye to Wes and Noah at the same time was almost more than Ayzlin could handle. She was very thankful that her father and Noah's parents were both there so that when the boys were off on their way, she wasn't the only one falling apart.
She returned home and worked a regular schedule at the garage. What to do when Noah came home plagued her frequently; she'd waited a long time to be the owner of the garage and be one of the city's best mechanics. She thought about opening a new garage if she did move to Carolina with Noah, but then if he made the decision to re-enlist and make a career out of his duty with the Marins, she would have to leave that garage too, possibly after just a couple of years. Ayzlin didn't want to make any decisions without Noah, so she put what to do with the garage on the backburner and focused on the wedding. Like almost every girl, she had a clear idea of how she wanted her wedding to be. Her father was quite the trooper; he went with her to every wedding appointment, whether it was the caterer or the dress shop. She was very thankful to have his support.
The first letter from Noah came in just a couple weeks after their deployment started. He told her how much he missed her and that things were relatively boring so far. He gave her a hard time about the few letters he'd already gotten. Ayzlin had written him a letter a day beginning the day he left, and apparently the guys in his unit liked to give him a hard time for it. Wes wrote her and told her to save her newlywed vibes for when the unit got back Stateside - and told her that he loved her and missed her too, of course.
She had just managed to stop a very messy oil leak on an elderly woman's car when Donny called her to the front.
"I can't take phone calls right now, Don, I'm covered in oil from head to toe."
"All right," Donny yelled back. "I'll just tell Noah that you'll give him a call later then."
She was at the front desk faster than Donny could even laugh at his own joke. She grabbed the phone from his hands, leaving a nice handprint on the receiver and squealed.
He laughed on the other end. "Hey, babe. How are you doing?"
"I'm missing you. How are things over in the sand?"
"They're picking up," he admitted. "But I miss you a lot."
"Everything's okay, right?"
"Yeah, babe, everything's fine. It's just really good to hear your voice."
Ayzlin sat on the stool and hugged her arms around herself. "It's good to hear you too, sweetie."
"Hey, Wes wants to talk to you real quick and then we've got to go, okay?"
"Okay. I love you."
"I love you too baby. I'll talk to you soon, okay?"
"Sounds good. Be careful."
"I will. Here's Wes."
Wes's cheerful voice came on the line, and she talked to him for about as long as she was able to talk to Noah. He explained to her that they hadn't slept in a couple days and needed to get some sleep before a new mission they had that night. He passed along messages for their father, and then had to end the conversation. Ayzlin went back to work, a smile on her face for the rest of the day.
The blow came halfway through the seven-month deployment. Ayzlin was sleeping hard and almost didn't hear her phone ring in time to answer it. She recognized the number as similar to the ones Wes and Noah had called her from before, so she scrambled to answer it.
"Hello? Wes? Noah? Are you there?" Static filled the line, so she cursed, afraid the call would drop before she could speak to anyone.
"Ayzlin, it's me." Wes's voice finally came through and she let out a sigh of relief.
"I was afraid I'd missed the call," Ayzlin told him. "It's good to hear from you, big brother."
"Don't tell me that yet," Wes told her. Concern gripped every nerve in her body; she hadn't heard that tone from her brother ever before.
"Wes …" She didn't know what else to say. Tears filled her eyes as she feared the worse.
"Ayzlin, we came back from a mission a few hours ago. We ran into some insurgents, and there was a lot of gunfire. We all kind of got spread out, but a few guys didn't come back."
"Wes, I want to talk to Noah," she cried. "Please, let me talk to him."
"I'm sorry, Ayzlin."
"Don't do that. Don't tell me that my husband is dead, Wes!"
"Right now he's only missing in action," Wes sighed from the other end. "We went back and searched and there were no bodies, so there is still hope, okay?"
Ayzlin didn't know what to say. Her breathing got heavier and faster, and her heart raced. Wes tried his best to calm her, but it was hard to do being so many miles away.
"Ayzlin, listen to me. We are going to find him, okay? We still have time before we consider … other possibilities."
"Okay," Ayzlin told him, trying to take deep breaths and calm down. "Wes, just promise me you'll tell me as soon as you know something."
"You know I will. Keep your chin up, little sister. Like I said, there is still hope."
Ayzlin told him she would remember that, and then he had to go. She never did fall back asleep that night; every time she closed her eyes, thoughts of Noah alone and hurting somewhere clouded her mind. When her alarm finally sounded, she slapped it off and said a silent prayer that he would come back to her.
The months went by with plenty of letters and as many calls as possible from Wes, but no word from Noah. Wes never mentioned it and Ayzlin didn't ask. She knew that her brother would never keep the worst news from her, but for some reason, she thought that if she didn't ask, she couldn't hear what she didn't want to know - that with every day that passed, it was less and less likely that her husband was coming home to her.
She and her father flew to Carolina for the homecoming. Her heart was a divided house; excited to see Wes coming home, but completely devastated that she wouldn't see Noah come home, too. While they waited with the rest of the crowd for the Marines to filter out to their awaiting families, she was overcome by emotion. The Peters stood not far from where she stood with her father. They waited for almost ten minutes before Wes and one of the other Marines Ayzlin knew fairly well stood in front of them. The other Marine handed Noah's mother a folded flag and Wes hung Noah's dogtags around Ayzlin's neck. The other Marine explained to all of them that they had gone back to search the area where Noah and the other Marines has last been seen, and the only thing that was found was Noah's tags.
Mr. Peters held his wife up as she collapsed in his arms. Ayzlin started sobbing as well and both her father and Wes had to hold her in order to keep her from hyperventilating; her worst nightmare was coming true. It was supposed to be a happy reunion time with Wes coming home, but the devastated part of her heart was winning out over her happiness.
She laid awake in her hotel room that night, once again unable to sleep. There was a soft knock at her door, so she got up to answer it. Wes was standing there, a pack of cigarettes in one hand and a six pack of beer in the other.
"I know you quit smoking, but I picked it back up over there," he explained. "I couldn't sleep either."
Ayzlin motioned for him to enter the room. They sat on the balcony and smoked and drank. Wes told her stories from being away that didn't include Noah. She listened intently to all of them before a lull of silence reigned over them. Ayzlin drank back the last of her beer, and Wes finally spoke.
"I think his parents are going to do a memorial service since there's no - since we can't really bury him," Wes told her.
Ayzlin nodded. "I just keep thinking of that weekend in San Diego. I told him how much I loved California and he asked me to move there with him. I don't know, maybe he was kidding. But if I had taken him up on that offer, or even if I had … I don't know, if I hadn't been so hellbent that it was just the one weekend - I just keep thinking that we would've had more time together."
"You can't beat yourself up over that, Ayzlin. It's not what Noah would want, and you know that. He talked about you all the time over there, you know. He couldn't wait to come back and start a family with you. I know that may not be what you want to hear right now, but what I'm trying to say, is that Noah only wanted the best for you - that's all he ever wanted for you. So don't blame yourself for any of this, okay?"
"Yeah, okay." Ayzlin pulled another cigarette out of the pack and lit it, blowing the smoke out into the Carolina night air. She thought back over the days she shared with Noah and prayed that somehow, someday, it would be enough.
The memorial service was scheduled for a Thursday afternoon. Traffic was quiet as the driver navigated them to the church and pulled up to the front. The church that Noah's parents attended was beautiful; the heavy oak double doors led right into a spacious sanctuary. Ayzlin couldn't imagine it being filled with all the people that knew Noah, but then again, the men from his unit who were coming would make up at least half of the guests in attendance. Wes opened the car door and stepped out onto the sidewalk before turning and offering her his hand. She was wearing the same black dress she had worn all that time ago back in San Diego when she first met Noah, and her hair fell in limp curls over her shoulders. She tried to hold her head high as Wes walked very formally up to the church, Ayzlin's hand tucked into his elbow. The steps that led up to the door were suddenly very intimidating and Ayzlin shrank back from them. Wes stopped next to her, seeing the scared look she had on her face.
"We can't change this, Ayzlin. I'm right beside you. One step at a time."
He took one step forward slowly and she made her feet move to match his pace. It seemed like it took hours for her to get up those stairs, but she made it. Two other Marines in dress blues - just like her brother and every other Marine who would be in attendance - opened the doors for her, standing dutifully by as the widow of their fallen comrade entered the building. Ayzlin glanced behind her and saw Noah's parents. She still didn't feel right about walking in front of them, but Mrs. Peters had insisted. She caught Mr. Peters's gaze and he nodded for her to continue. She looked down at her feet and took a deep breath, then resumed walking with her head held high.
The front of the sanctuary was crowded with a myriad of flowers. An American flag covered a large table in the middle of all of the flowers, below Noah's military picture. Ayzlin stared at the whole thing for a few seconds after she sat down and Wes was seated next to her. It was all very beautiful - calming even. She didn't start crying until she looked at the picture of Noah and realized that she would never look into his eyes and know things were going to be okay ever again. Wes put an arm around her and she tried to control herself as the rest of those who were here to remember Noah filtered into the sanctuary. Finally, the doors at the back of the room were closed and the sunlight no longer poured around them. Chills covered her arms, but the tears did cease.
The preacher took his place at the podium and started with a prayer. Ayzlin went through the motions, but she felt like every eye in the place was boring into the back of her head, feeling sorry for her, pitying the poor girl who was a widow before she was a mother. Her jaw tensed as anger filled her entire being and she had to remind herself that if anyone felt that way, they were wrong. She was, in fact, lucky. She was lucky to get to be the woman who held Noah's heart. She was lucky to be the one that Noah had truly spent the rest of his life with. She was lucky to know what all of his little looks meant and to know each different smile and mood.
"The family has asked that Corporal Wes James, Noah's best friend, speak in Noah's memory. As we listen, let us remember those who still serve and fight for our lives and their own overseas. Corporal James, the floor is yours." The preacher took a seat in the pew across the aisle from where Ayzlin sat, and she watched him shuffle his notes before turning her eyes up to Wes.
"Like the preacher said, Noah and I were best friends. We were best friends in a way that you can only understand if you're a military man though. We don't make promises to be there on each other's wedding day, although seeing Noah marry my little sister was one of the happiest days of my life. We don't make promises to have a night with the guys every other weekend, although Noah and I had plenty of great nights with the guys. The kind of promises you make when you're both Marines are the kind of promises you don't make in front of other people or tell other people about. You make promises to look out for each other's parents, each other's wives, each other's children, if you're sent to war and you don't come back. When you make those promises, you mean them, but you don't ever expect to have to actually carry through on them."
Ayzlin watched Wes take a deep breath and wipe a tear from his eye. Her own cheeks were stained now, and she knew they weren't going to stop for awhile.
"Noah Peters was the best man, friend, and Marine I've ever known. I know that he loved his parents very much, and I know that he loved Ayzlin very much. Before I finish up, I just want to read this poem I found." Wes unfolded a piece of paper he had tucked under his dress blues blouse and laid it on the podium. His voice wavered slightly as he started reading, but grew stronger by the word. "So many fates are left unknown, and so many rumors that abound; so many families ask the question, 'When will the answers be found?' So many years have come and gone, sometimes, hope is hard to keep. There's some that feel there's none and in some, it's buried deep. The pain is in not knowing how to put loved ones to rest, w there is no way to prove they have passed the final test. But, no matter what the answers, we can't let this cause alone until, each and every one of them is found and brought back home."
Wes folded the piece of paper again and tucked it back under his blouse. He turned to Noah's picture and saluted firmly before taking his seat next to Ayzlin. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. The preacher got back up to the podium and thanked Wes for his words, and then continued into a eulogy of his own. Ayzlin felt her composure slowly slipping out from her fingertips and thought she was going to have a breakdown.
Suddenly, the doors at the back of the sanctuary were opened and the warm sunlight surrounded her again. Everyone turned to look at once; another Marine stood in the doorway, in dress blues just like the others. A murmur started to build between everyone, trying to figure out who it was; Ayzlin only had to look down the aisle for a few seconds before she knew who it was standing there.
"Noah," she breathed. She was out of her seat and running to the back of the church before Wes could decipher what she had said or where she was going, let alone stop her. Ayzlin's sobs only built until she was standing in front of him, hands feeling his face and eyes searching for anything that would give him away. "Is it really you?"
Noah removed his cover and held it nervously in his hands. Joyful tears overflowed from his own eyes as he nodded. "Yes, beautiful. It's really me. I'm here."
Ayzlin jumped into his arms, and Noah happily embraced her. She pulled back and kissed him, and the tears never stopped. She begged him never to leave her again and chastised him for scaring her. He whispered in her ear how much he loved her and that he planned to never leave her again. Everyone else had caught on by now that it was Noah who had actually interrupted his own memorial service; Wes pushed through the crowd, clearing a way for Noah's parents to come through and see their son. Ayzlin peeled herself off of her husband and threw herself into her brother's embrace. They cried together until it was Wes's turn to embrace his friend.
It was hours before the church was emptied. Everyone wanted to see Noah and hear his story. Ayzlin didn't care how he had come back, she only cared that he was back. She had her second chance to be with him and she wouldn't dare waste it.
As they laid in bed together that night, Ayzlin couldn't stop kissing him. Noah chuckled and pulled her to him.
"Why don't you just seduce me already?" Noah joked, but Ayzlin shook her head firmly.
"I just want to kiss you," she explained before claiming his lips again. Noah obliged her for a few minutes before finally laying his head beside her.
"I thought you'd never forgive me," Noah whispered to her. "But I couldn't stand the thought of you moving on to someone else."
"Never," Ayzlin promised him. "Loving a Marine may not be the easiest thing I've ever done, but it's certainly been worth it."
Noah smiled and allowed her to kiss him again. He'd certainly be to hell and back overseas, but here with Ayzlin, he knew he'd found Heaven.
Credit: The poem Wes read is 'POW/MIA' by Del 'Abe' Jones.
A/N: If this is the first time you read this, I hope you enjoyed it! If you're reading it again after the editing I've done, I hope it was still worth the read.
Because of some issues with the laptop that has all of my updates on it, I'm editing what I've already posted from another computer. It's actually something that I've meant to do for a long time, and now seems to be a good opportunity.
For anyone who has read my story Lost Without Each Other but hasn't had a chance to check out the updates, it is now edited AND in print on . To find the URL, go to my profile and click on Webpage. I really appreciate the support!
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