This week for Fiction Fridays, I’m super excited to begin a guest post series from my new friend Rachel Sinclair. She is a talented writer and God’s light shines through her work. I’ve really enjoyed working with her as we’ve gotten her wonderful story ready for you, and I think you’ll enjoy it too! It’s also a very fitting theme for this week as we celebrate the price people have paid for our freedom. For more on Rachel, check out her bio at the end of the story.
I didn’t tell them; I cried.
I sat on Katherine’s unmade bed and buried my face into her pillow. It smelled like her. After awhile it got chilly enough that I made myself get up and close her window. A couple of orange and yellow leaves had blown in. I picked them up, along with an empty pack of cigarettes, and threw them on top of her overflowing trashcan.
Her room was a wreck. She was a wreck. And now I was a wreck.
I knew I had to tell them, but I didn’t know how. I replayed the scene in my mind for the millionth time, analyzing every detail.
“Laine, come sit on the bed and promise not to scream when I tell you this.”
I braced myself and sat on the bed. I had thought that there was nothing she could say that would surprise me. I was wrong.
“And don’t go run and tell Mom and Dad either. Hear me out. Promise?”
“Okay,” I closed my eyes. “What is it?”
“I’m leaving for the army.”
I stared at her, blankly.
“I’m leaving,” she repeated. “I enlisted. I’m taking a bus to Ft. Jackson in South Carolina.”
I sat in silence, trying to decide if she was telling the truth.
“Look,” she shoved papers in front of my face. When I skimmed the pages of information, which all looked legitimate, I began to get hot. What if this was real?
My mouth grew dry and my mind went blank. I tried to think of what to say. “You… Kat… Katherine you can’t join the army.”
“Why not?” She took a long swig from her energy drink and threw the bottle on her unmade bed.
“You’re on drugs.” It was the first thing that came out of my mouth.
She shook her head and swallowed the soda. “I use. I’m not addicted. There’s a difference.”
My head was spinning. There was no way she was going to make it. She would need self-discipline, and for Kat— she wouldn’t last a day. “You can’t drink. Do they let you smoke? You’re not even twenty-one. Are you legally allowed to smoke? What if you can’t handle it?”
“I don’t know.”
Her answer for everything.
Then it occurred to me. It didn’t really hit me yet, but the thought was there. She could die. Our country was at war. She could really die.
I began fuming inside. It was times like this that I thought I hated Katherine as much as I loved her.
“You don’t think about anything! You’re the laziest, most selfish, most apathetic person I know. Do you know what this is going to do to Mom? We all thought you couldn’t get any worse, but this is going to kill her!”
Katherine’s face hardened. She looked at me with a deathly stare. She bit her lip before yelling out a string of curse words. “You don’t get it. I’m already killing her! She’s going to worry about me either way, but now she won’t be able to see me.”
“And you decide to leave now? Her cancer came back two months ago, Katherine. She has enough to worry about! Now she and Dad will be consumed with thinking about you all of the time. They’re going to—”
“You don’t have to tell me what they’ll do. Mom will cry. Dad won’t care. He’ll be happy.”
I tried to think of a good response. “No, he will care.” Even I didn’t think I sounded convincing.
“He won’t, and you know it. I could care less what he thinks.”
“Then why are you doing this to Mom? Haven’t you hurt her enough? Why can’t you do anything right?”
“Laine!” Katherine’s voice was like a dam that was about to break. Her eyes opened wide and her face turned red. I saw her arm coming and instinctively lunged away from her. I knew she wouldn’t really hit me, but I didn’t like testing her. Instead, she punched the bed three times and cussed.
“You don’t understand. I’m trying! For once in my life, I want to do something right! You’re right—I’m lazy. I ruin everything. Right now I’m wasting my life, and although this might be a shock to you, I don’t like it. I want to change, and being in the army will force me to. I can’t do it on my own, but they can make me. I want to do something noble. I want to make a difference. I want to protect our country.” She stopped, and I thought she was done, but she said softly, “I’d like to make Mom proud.”
I sat there in silence, stunned.
“So, yes. I joined. I’m going.” She put the papers back into a folder and placed it in an old duffel bag.
“When are you going to tell them?”
Katherine gave a short, “Ha,” and turned to me. “That’s where you come in. I can’t tell them in person. I just can’t.” She dug through some junk piled on her dresser and handed me an envelope. “I wrote them a letter. I need you to give it to them. Don’t fight me on this; I don’t have time.”
I stared at the blank envelope in my hand. I felt paralyzed. “Time?”
“Yeah. Seth is picking me up in…”’ she glanced at her watch. “Oh, he’s supposed to be here.”
“To take you where? Training? Now?”
I looked up at her. I could’ve killed her, but out of all the emotions raging in my heart, love won. Tears filled my eyes. I felt like a puppy in a box being abandoned on the side of the road. But it wasn’t about me, it was about her.
“You could die.” The words were barely audible, but Katherine heard them. Tears slipped down my face and I tried to swallow the lump rising in my throat.
Katherine sighed and set down her backpack. She came to me and pulled me into a tight hug. I clung to her like my life depended on it. I wondered if she was crying. We stayed like that for a long time.
Finally, Katherine whispered, “Don’t be like me.”
She was crying. I wept on her shoulder, and she held me tight. We heard a honk outside, and Katherine slowly pulled away. I kissed her cheek. “Don’t die. Don’t die.”
“Relax, I’m only going to training,” Katherine weakly smiled. She took a picture off her nightstand and put it into her duffel bag. It was the picture of our family at the beach, taken seven years ago, two weeks before they discovered Mom’s cancer.
“Call me,” I said. “Can you call? Can I write you?”
Katherine simply nodded. She drew me into another hug. “I love you, Laine.”
“I love you, too.”
The car outside honked again. Katherine wiped her face and slung the duffel bag over her shoulder. Bending at the waist, she climbed out the window and into our front yard, like she always did. Katherine never used the front door.
“Oh!” she said, calling back to me. “You can change my room. Throw everything out, paint it, I don’t care. I’m starting over.” She smiled. “Be the interior designer you want to be. Bye, Laine.”
She waved, got in the car, and sped away.
So, what now? It was 5:30, and I knew Mom and Dad would expect me to start dinner.
Forcing myself off the bed, I shut the window and wiped my face with the sleeves of my sweatshirt. I went to the bathroom that Katherine and I shared, blew my nose and glanced in the mirror. I looked terrible.
I made my way to the living room and sat on the couch, the envelope in my hand.
“Hi, Elaina,” Mom greeted me, looking up from her book. She reached for the remote to turn the TV volume down even lower than it already was. A red afghan covered her legs, and she wore a long-sleeved t-shirt that hung over her tiny shoulders. Her short, brown hair fell loosely around her chin, her gray roots beginning to show. She looked ten years older than she actually was. She was thin and sickly. “Did you finish your homework?”
I shook my head. Homework was the furthest thing from my mind. “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s changing out of his suit.” She studied my face. “Do you need help with dinner, dear?”
“No,” I quickly replied. “I’ll start it in a minute. I need to talk to you and Dad first.”
“Hello, Elaina,” Dad came into the living room wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. He smiled and sat down on the sofa next to me, giving me a big hug. “How was school?”
“Fine.” I wanted to get this over with. “Mom, Dad… Katherine told me to give this to you.”
At the mention of Katherine’s name, Dad’s face fell to stone. He eyed the envelope in my lap, then glanced at Mom. I hesitated, not knowing who to give it to. I still didn’t know what was inside it. I decided to give it to Dad, since he was already next to me. I watched him open it, searching his face for any expression.
MORE ON RACHEL:
I’m a senior in high school, excited about what the future holds! Although I’m still not quite sure what that is, I’m trusting God to lead me. I love writing and performing. I’m involved in theater, where last year I played the Wicked Witch of the West! But don’t worry, that’s not the usual me. This year I’m going to be the editor of my school’s literary magazine. I love my church and am passionate about spreading the Gospel. My favorite verse is Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”