Last time on this story, we left Laine and Katherine’s father reading Katherine’s letter, which, Laine believes, will tell him, and their cancer-diagnosed mother, that Katherine has run away to join the army. To read part one, click here.
His face remained hard. He read the letter and looked up at me.
“Do you know what this means?”
No, sir,” I quickly replied. “I mean, I haven’t read it.”
Dad shifted his discerning eye from me to the paper. He read aloud, “Dear Mom and Dad, I am sorry. For once, I am really trying to make the right decision. I hope you will eventually understand. Katherine.”
He looked at me. “What did she do?”
I took a deep breath and looked at Mom. Her expression was filled with anxiety. Why didn’t Katherine tell them herself?
“She said she joined the army.”
Silence like a sheet of ice fell over the room. Dad’s stone face remained the same. He looked at me, then the paper, then Mom.
Mom stared down at her hands for a long time. Then, one by one, silent tears fell down her face.
As soon as Mom started crying, I felt a lump in my throat. Not for Katherine, but for Mom. She had survived so much, and now she would be fighting another war.
“Are you sure?” was the first thing Mom said, after a long, difficult silence.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked tears back to my eyes. I had to be strong with her. “She showed me some papers, and I’m pretty sure they were real.”
“Why didn’t she tell us herself?” Mom did not hold back. She sobbed, unashamed. “Where is she?”
“She said she was going to Fort Jackson in South Carolina.”
Dad folded up the letter and stood up. “We’ll see.”
“James,” Mom said. “What if it’s true?”
Dad shook his head and words tumbled out of his mouth, “I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t care. You’ve got to let go, Charlotte. We’ve raised her, she’s grown, and I’m through.” He stood up and walked to his bedroom, his footsteps pounding the worn carpet of our old house. The door slammed, echoing through the hallway.
“But she’s my baby,” Mom said softly. “She’ll always be my baby.”
I wished Mom were a baby, so I could sweep her up in my arms and rock her to a gentle sleep. I would sing her a sweet lullaby, and she would forget her troubles, knowing that she was safe in my arms. Mom didn’t deserve to go through this.
I hugged Mom, but felt nothing in return. It was like she couldn’t feel me, like she was isolated in her own grief.
I gave up and went into the kitchen to start dinner, although I knew no one felt like eating. I hated the nasty feeling inside of me that I couldn’t shake off, that I had to accept and live with. I had felt it when Mom found out about her cancer, the first time Katherine came home drunk, and again when the cancer came back for a second time.
The only thing I could hope and pray for was that Katherine wouldn’t mess this up.
Three days later, I found myself at the door of Katherine’s room with a giant trash bag. I had been sketching ideas for her room, trying to figure out something she would really like. I had no idea when she would be able to come home, but I wanted her room to be ready.
The worst part came first: cleaning it out. I started with emptying the trashcan and worked my way around the floor, dumping anything and everything into the big black trash bag. I grimaced as I picked up a molded pizza box from underneath her bed. Maybe I should’ve worn gloves.
I had been working for half an hour when I found an old shoebox with the words “Important Stuff” written on top in red marker. I set down the trash bag and stared at the box, wondering if I should open it. If it had been anyone else, I would have felt like I was intruding. But it was Katherine. Katherine had never seemed to care about her privacy, or mine for that matter. I really didn’t think she would care.
On the top of the pile was a birthday card. Inside, it read, “Happy birthday, Katherine! I can’t believe you are 16! You are a beautiful, bright, and talented young lady. I think that you will have great opportunities in the future. We love you, Mom and Dad.” It was clearly Mom’s handwriting, but at the time, Dad probably meant it too.
My heart sank, because what they said was true. Katherine had had so much potential.
I was surprised at the next piece of paper. I had nearly forgotten about it, and I couldn’t believe that Katherine had kept it all these years. It was a picture that I had drawn when I was ten years old. Katherine and I were at the beach, surfing a wave in the ocean. I had written “BFFs” in the sand. I remembered how long I had worked on the picture, carefully coloring each cloud and seashell, making sure it was neat. I was glad Katherine had kept it.
The next page wasn’t a picture, but a paper titled “I Want to Be.” It was dated 2006, when Katherine would’ve been a sophomore. At the top, her teacher had written in red ink: “96. I’m very impressed. What a noble aspiration. I wish you the best luck.”
I was shocked when I read the first line of the paper. “I want to be in the army.”
I had no idea Katherine was even thinking about the army back then! By the time she was a senior, it was pretty clear that she wasn’t going to college. Now that I thought about it, I had never heard Katherine say what she wanted to do with her life. Instead of looking to the future, it had been about getting her out of her present trouble. Was joining the army something that Katherine had really wanted to do?
I continued reading: “I am proud to live in a country where each citizen inherits freedom. However, I know that freedom comes with a high price. It would be an honor to represent my country by defending her precious freedom. It will be hard work, but I believe I can do it.”
I finished reading the paper and sat in awe. I had a swelling sense of pride for Katherine and a peace for myself. Katherine was doing something she really believed in, that she wanted.
I took the paper and went into the living room. Today Mom was sitting on the sofa, reading her Bible.
“Mom,” I said as I sat down and gave her the paper, “look what I found. Did you know Katherine wrote this?”
She skimmed the first page, and a soft smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “Yes,” she said after awhile. “I had forgotten about this, but yes.” She smiled widely, chuckling a little laugh. “Isn’t that great? Maybe this is God’s plan for her. Where did you find this?”
I didn’t really want to tell Mom about the box, because I didn’t know everything that was in it. “I found it in her room,” I said. “I was cleaning up so I can start redecorating it.”
“Katherine giving you a project,” Mom was back to her almost-smile. “She’s keeping you busy. It’s times like this when I realize there’s a whole lot more to Katherine than we think.”
I thought back to Katherine’s sixteenth birthday card. I hoped Mom was right. Katherine was determined, if nothing else. If she set her mind to something, I was sure she could get it done.
As I walked back to my room, I wondered if maybe Katherine wanted me to find her memory box.
Almost three weeks passed before we heard from Katherine. We couldn’t help but question if she really joined the army like she said. With Katherine, you could never be too sure. I was flipping through the mail after school when I first saw the letter. I knew it was Katherine’s handwriting, and she had addressed the letter to “Laine Taylor.” I ripped the seal, making sure I didn’t tear the return address. Two sheets of paper fell out. One for me and one for Mom.
I know you’ve been wondering if I actually joined the army. Now you can look at the address and have proof. The red phase of BCT (Basic Combat Training) was hard, but I have to admit that I enjoyed parts of it. They push you to your physical limits and beyond, but I’m okay. It’s hard, and they’re strict, but for once in my life, I know this is where I’m supposed to be. The obstacle courses were actually kind of fun. Blue phase gets into the guns, which is more difficult for me. But I’m learning. I’m meeting new people, some like me, some not. My bunkmate Alyssa reminds me of you. She’s sweet and compassionate. Reads her Bible a lot. I miss you, Laine. I know you’re doing good, like you always do. How’s Mom? TELL ME THE TRUTH. I guess that’s all. Take care. Love you.
I read the letter three times over before I went inside. It was such a relief to know that she was happy. I hoped that this would be the beginning of a new life for Katherine. If she could keep it up…
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.”