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The Day He

Went Away

Life was roses. I was happy. I had my dream job. I’d finally fallen in love with the man who’d been waiting for me since he was a boy. Soon his four years in the Army would be over, and we’d be together forever. My perfect life was squarely in my palm.

And then it was snatched from me.
The harshest, cruelest truth became my reality.
And I turned into a shell of my former self.

Then a stranger arrived, wearing Army fatigues and closely cropped dark hair.
Fulfilling a promise to his comrade-in-arms brought him to my front door. 
And the focus of his promise, it turned out, was me.

His mission was simple:
Care for me.
Heal me.
Bring me back to life.

But what started out as an uncomplicated mission is quickly turning personal.

He came here to take care of me.
But neither of us expected how much he’d need me, too. 
And we definitely didn't expect these feelings.

My broken heart knows how wrong it is.
We’ll fight it, harder than we’ve ever fought anything.
I’m afraid to win, and I’m even more terrified to lose.

Of all his missions, I may be his most dangerous.


“Let’s go, hungry man.”

I peer out at the house. The sign on the white wooden front door makes me pause. Kate’s outdone herself this time.

We climb from the car. “Really?” I ask.

Her sigh is loud. “Whiners eat outside.”

“I gathered that from the sign.” I eye the big block letters written on a piece of poster board.

She pushes past me and bounds up the three stairs, impatient as always. Sometimes it’s annoying, but I secretly like that about her. Kate knows how to get stuff done.

She turns back to me. Her legs are tanned and toned in those white shorts. And that red tank top… Damn. She’s poised at the top of the stairs, watching me.

“Hungry here.” I try to look impatient, but mostly I’m embarrassed because she’s just caught me admiring her body. I’m usually much stealthier than that. Must be all the time we’ve spent apart. I’ll have to hone my skills while I’m here.

From where she’s standing at the top of the stairs, she’s only a little bit taller than I. And she’s smirking. She’s being playful.

No, she’s not.

Holy shit.

She’s flirting. Kate Masters is flirting with me.

I watch the spark fade from her eyes. Practical, rule following Kate has taken over. Whatever’s going on inside her, she has control over it again.

Disappointed, I watch her turn and grab the door handle.

“Come on, if you’re so starving. And seriously, don’t whine. Because I refuse to eat in the sun.”

I follow her into the brick house, halted immediately by the line that reaches back to where we’ve just entered.

Long picnic tables fill what I assume used to be the living room. Little wooden tables dot the room to our right. The walls are stuffed with memorabilia and newspaper articles from Arizona sports teams. I’m about to go to Afghanistan for ten months. I really don’t want to eat crappy food while I’m here. I should’ve asked Kate to take me back to her place and cook for me. I’ve been craving her chicken noodle soup.

I lean into Kate. “Are you sure about this place?” My voice is low. I doubt they’re serious about that whining stuff, but you never know.

“Well”—Kate cocks her head to the side—”I heard from a friend of a friend that this place is decent. And it finally passed its last health inspection, so we’re in the clear there!” She wipes her brow, ramping up the drama.

I look down at her, my eyes narrowed. A mistake.

The citrus and vanilla scent of her perfume rises off her skin, swirling into my nose and making her joke a distant memory.

Her freckles captivate me. They run across the bridge of her nose and fall off either side, steadily decreasing until they fade out completely. She thinks they’re a flaw, but she’s wrong. Those freckles are a beacon of hope.

Somewhere in there, childhood Kate still exists. The Kate who lay in the grass, devouring books and writing her own stories. That was before she believed being Master of Everything was the only way to make her dad proud. Her freckles are more than just a facial feature. And they’re incredibly cute.

The longer I stare at her, the more I lose my grasp on reality. Kate doesn’t put any distance between us like she normally would.

I want her.

Her face grows soft. Below her chin, her chest rises and falls, faster and faster. I’m not breathing at all.

We stand like that for what feels like a full minute, communicating without speaking. It’s something only couples who’ve been together for a long time can achieve.

But we have been a twosome for a long time. I know her on the most basic, barest level. I can pick out her mood just by looking into her eyes. Her favorite color is green, even though she tells everyone it’s pink. The tiny scar above her left eyebrow is a remnant from the night of our thirteenth birthday when she snuck out of her parents’ house. I cleaned her wound by the light of a street lamp. My Katie girl.

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