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My mother was a saint. At least that’s what she strove for. However, her saintly endeavors often tended to impede on the rest of us. Take the current crisis at the beginning of our family vacation. How do I explain this?
We always took a vacation in the springtime, usually the week before the local schools took their spring break. My siblings and I were home schooled, so we could really take a vacation whenever we wanted, but my parents were fond of structure. So that was our yearly routine. We would go to my aunt’s beach house in southern California. It was a large, beautiful house that sat right on the semi-private beach. She had a few neighbors, but they usually stuck to the portions of the beach directly behind their houses. They would have at least one or two drunken bonfires that my parents would never condone and which kept us up until all hours of the night the weekend before we left.
Typically, we all flew out together from New York on a Friday. That year, however, my mother had to stay behind until Saturday because one of her friends was out of town and had no one to stay with her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother overnight. My father, younger siblings, and I silently thought this was a blessing in disguise because my mother had deemed that first Saturday of our vacation as our own personal family holiday during the Lenten season. She called it Charity Day. It was a day that we would go to the homeless shelter in the town where my aunt lives to spend time helping and feeding the poor. We complied without complaint, knowing that it was the Christian thing to do, but really, why did it have to be on the first day of our vacation? That year, however, my mother did not fly in until after 9pm on Charity Day, so she made us promise to at least partake in frequent acts of kindness, as she would do the same, hopefully in the process helping someone truly in need. We walked around town as a family, but did not encounter anyone in need. We figured it was charity enough to treat each other with kindness. I did not give Rachel, my 14-year-old sister, so much as an angry look that day, although she often needed one. That is why I didn’t understand why God found it necessary to curse us in the form of my mother’s idea of charity this year.
I was playing a board game with my aunt and sister when my parents got home. My little brothers had already gone to bed.
“Julie!” my mother called.
“We’re in the dining room!” my aunt answered.
“Just put your bags down there,” my mother whispered to someone. Dear God, did she pick up a stray? My father entered the dining area first, his face blank as I tried to search for answers. I stood from my chair, bracing myself for the worst.
My mother finally entered, holding onto the arm of a woman who was dressed like a soldier. She was young. “Andrews” was embroidered on her name badge. I could only take in random details since this was not the kind of stray I was expecting. I was still waiting for clarity. I looked hard at my mother.
“Glory, Rachel, Julie, I’d like you to meet Lieutenant Angela Andrews.”
“Please, call me Andie,” the female soldier replied, trying to maintain her confidence. The girl’s voice had a subtle raspy-ness to it. We all just stared between her and my mother.
“Andie, this is my sister, Julie. This is her house you’ll be staying in for the next week.”
“What?” I barely choked the word out, but it was loud enough.
“Glory, be polite.”
“What do you mean she’ll be staying here for the next week? She’s a stranger. You can’t just bring strangers into our home. How do you even know her?”
“Glory. That is not the Christian attitude. Andie is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. This is her last week on leave, and she wanted to spend it on the beach. She has no family or friends around here. She was just going to stay in a hotel.”
“Which I offered to pay for.” My father finally spoke up.
“Robert, it’s not about money. It’s about companionship during her last week before she returns.”
My father lowered his eyes to the table.
“Um,” the female soldier began. “I really don’t want to be an imposition. If everyone is not comfortable with a stranger’s presence, I completely understand.” She turned to my mother. “Really, the solitude of a hotel room will do me good.” She nodded her head and turned to go.
“Leiutenant…Andie,” my aunt stood up. “You are most welcome here, and we will, all of us, certainly give you the utmost hospitality during the last week before you are to return to the war. Won’t we, girls?” My aunt’s husband had been killed in Desert Storm before I was born.
I looked to my sister for support. She was smiling brightly at the newcomer. I turned away.
My aunt grabbed hold of her guest and steered her back toward the hallway. I heard her say, “You’ll be staying in the girls’ room. It has two double beds, and Glory and Rachel can share.”
I followed the group as they made their way upstairs, making sure they wouldn’t mishandle my things, and searching desperately for an excuse to get rid of this person. I was still irate, but once Aunt Julie and my mother both made up their minds, there was no stopping that force. I have learned over the years that it’s better to stay silent with my mother than to raise a fuss.
I followed the stranger from a few stairs below, keeping my distance, but also examining her, knowing that it would be good for my survival if she should try to kill us. I was on my guard. Of course, if she was really a soldier, she could probably kill us all very quickly and easily. Still, I needed to be aware of her.
She had shorter hair that came just below her ears. It was dark and a bit wavy. My parents would never allow me or Rachel to cut our hair that short. They would never allow us to wear pants either, even if they were baggy like hers. They still showed off the shape of her rear end in a rather enticing way. It was a good thing I wasn’t a man, or I might have been tempted with impure thoughts. In my family, the women are to always wear long skirts and loose enough clothing that does not show off our figures. We have to be modest. Men have to be modest, too, obviously, but women do not look at men in the same way men look at women. If we can help them to not be tempted, we should. Of course, this Lieutenant Andrews was masculine enough to turn off just about any man, in my opinion. She was not very feminine at all. Except for her face. And her hands. And then once we were in the bedroom and she took off her over-shirt and stood in her T-shirt, I saw that she did have a rather feminine shape to her. But I still didn’t understand why my mother would allow such a woman into our vacation home.
I looked on warily as my mother and aunt showed their guest around and helped her get settled in. Finally my mother said, “Well, Andie. I know you must be tired, so I’ll let you get ready for bed.”
“I can’t thank you all enough,” she said with a sigh and a smile. “I’m just going to take a shower.”
When she had gone, my mother turned to the two of us. “Now, I know what you’re thinking. I know she is not the type who could easily fit into our family circle. But today is Charity Day, and I had no other opportunity to help out anyone in need. When she told me that she was all alone, well, my heart went out to her, and I was touched by the Holy Spirit. I trust the two of you will soon be as well.”
“But Charity Day has turned into Charity Week,” I spat.
“Amen to that.” Sometimes it seemed as though my mother thrived on self-imposed suffering.
“I already like her, mom,” my sister said. In that instant, I broke my Charity Day resolution not to give her dirty looks.
“That’s the spirit, darling. Now you be a good influence on your sister.”
When it was clear the stranger was not going away any time soon and that she would be sleeping across the room from me, I couldn’t help but argue. “Am I the only one thinking with a rational head in this house? Does this ‘woman’ even know she’s nothing but a charity case? Who would accept such an offer to intrude on some strange family’s life?”
“Now you listen, young lady.” My aunt was in my face in an instant. “You are going to make her enjoy her last week away from the horror of war. She’s got enough to worry about without adding some spoiled brat to her list. I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
In that moment we heard the bathroom door open across the hall, and our guest traipsed into the bedroom wearing nothing but a towel. Thank goodness my father and young brothers were still downstairs. Considering that my sister and I have barely seen each other in our underwear, this was shocking to all of us. All we could do was stare.
She closed the door behind her when she entered and noticed our horrified looks. “Oh, excuse me. I didn’t bring my pajamas into the bathroom with me.” She hesitantly made her way through the group of us four women and over to her bag. As she perused through it, my mother shot me a warning glance and finally cleared her throat.
“Tomorrow is Sunday, and as I told you, we are a devout Catholic family. We would like it if you could join us for Mass.”
“I would love to come.” She turned around with a smile. She seemed much more feminine to me in that instant. It was the first time she had genuinely smiled since she’d arrived. I could tell all her previous smiles were only polite. “I haven’t been to church since I was a little girl, when my parents were together.”
So, her parents were separated. Probably divorced. That could explain some things. I stared at the towel, anxiously hoping that she wouldn’t suddenly drop it to get changed. Surely she could pick up on our collective discomfort at her state of undress. Her eyes flickered over to mine, and her gleeful smile altered slightly. She held her towel tighter and looked down. I looked away and caught my sister’s smiling eyes. I could feel the blush start at the base of my neck and creep its way upward, no matter how much I willed it to stay at bay.
“Well, the thing is, Andie,” my mother continued as she stepped toward the girl, amazingly not seeming to care about the towel situation, “at this church they require women to wear skirts. If you don’t have one, you can borrow one of ours.”
“Oh.” She paused for a moment and plastered on the polite smile in place of the radiant one. “I’m s…I won’t wear a skirt. So that’s okay.” She waved her hand dismissively. “You guys can go on without me. I won’t mind sleeping in.”
“You won’t wear a skirt?” my mother asked. Good, now she might begin to regret her choice. Her choice that affected all of us.
“No. I mean, it’s just not me. And if I’m going to appear before God, I won’t be anyone but me.”
“Surely you want to look your best for the Lord?” My mother tried to laugh it off.
“Nancy,” the girl answered, “I am grateful that you have invited me into your home, and I am looking forward to a wonderful stay. But I could never deny who I am for the sake of making others feel more comfortable. Especially when it comes to God. I know you can understand that. Thank you for inviting me. It’s a lovely gesture, but I simply can’t do it.”
“Oh, that’s alright then,” my aunt stepped in. I breathed a sigh of relief at her pleasant tone that broke the tension. “Andie, you just get to bed. Girls, you too. Andie needs to sleep in tomorrow anyway.”
“Absolutely.” The smile returned to my mother’s face. “Let’s go, Julie.” They finally left, and the girl took her pajamas to the bathroom to change.
I didn’t sleep very well that night, but my sister did. She snored every time—not too loudly, but loud enough for me to know when she was asleep. The girl, Andie I guessed, did not shift all night. I could never tell if she was awake or asleep, so I barely moved, either. I didn’t want her to know I was awake. I glanced at the digital clock all night, but time moved slowly. I knew I would be tired for Mass since we had to get up at seven a.m., and I still hadn’t actually fallen asleep at 4:30. But I never thought I would be so anxious for my alarm to go off on a Sunday morning.
I decided that sleepless night that I might as well try to be courteous to …Andie. (I didn’t want to acknowledge her nickname, but it would be too obvious if I were the only one using her given name—Angela.) Maybe I would never have to say her name at all. Maybe I could avoid her all week. Besides, Luke was arriving tomorrow, and he would provide a distraction.
For the first time I thought of Luke as something more than a nuisance. He could actually, potentially be useful for once. Sure he was the cutest boy in the home schooling group, but there weren’t exactly that many to choose from. Luckily, my parents wouldn’t allow Luke and I to officially date, though his parents would have loved it if they did. They said that he and I could date once we started at Kingdom College in the fall. They said I had to complete at least one year of college before I got married, and Kingdom College could not be more conservatively catholic. Almost everyone in my home school group had gone there, and they had all taken the path of immediately getting married and having children. I should have been grateful that Luke was interested in me because if I had to consider any of the other boys, it would have been…not good.
If my parents had their way, I would be married the summer after my first year of college, but I tried to keep the thought of marriage far from my mind. Hopefully by the next year I would be ready. Hopefully there was a huge maturity jump from 18 to 19 years old because I wouldn’t even consider all that marriage entailed at that moment in my life. I’d known lots of girls who were married at 19 and even earlier. Luke had not so much as held my hand, and I preferred that he didn’t touch me. I needed to start liking him. I needed to start enjoying his presence, and eventually his touch, and eventually…Stop. Thank God impure thoughts were a mortal sin because that gave me an excuse to not think about making love to Luke. I would just take things as they came.
In the middle of my musings, Andie began to stir. She sat up and got out of bed. It was 5am on the dot. She did not head to the bathroom, but instead reached into her bag and pulled out some clothes. I could just barely see her with the help of the lights outside. Without a second’s thought, she stripped off all her clothes. I was stunned. I couldn’t form one coherent thought, only beginnings of thoughts. I’ve never seen…Her breasts are…Doesn’t she know I’m…What is she…Her shape is…I should close my eyes.
But I didn’t. I forced them to not bug out of my head and opened one very slightly. She was not looking at me; she was focused on changing. My blood raced through my veins as I broke out in a sweat, but I was frozen in place. I could have been a statue, and it was a good thing because the other alternative was to run out the door. I watched her. Of course I would watch her. It’s hard to miss a naked woman standing right in front of you. It’s her fault for not playing it safe and going to the bathroom to change. But she probably thinks I’m asleep. Rachel’s snoring might have thrown her off.
In truth, she was only naked for a few seconds before she put on some very skimpy shorts and a sports bra. Finally she put on her shoes and socks and walked out the door, presumably to go running. She never made the slightest sound.
Once she left, I allowed myself to move and to breathe. That was a new experience for me.
“So tell us about your family, Andie,” my mother said after we prayed and started eating dinner. Andie had been gone most of the day while my family enjoyed the beach in our modest summer clothes. So everyone had a million questions for her.
“The only family I have is my mom and my dad. They got divorced when I was eleven.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” my mother proclaimed.
“That’s okay,” she answered and looked at my mother, amused. “It was eleven years ago. I lived with my mom, and I would see my dad every other weekend.”
“Where are you from?” Aunt Julie asked.
“Syracuse.” Not far from Rochester, where we live. “I spent my first week on leave visiting my parents and then decided to fly out here for some relaxation before I head back.”
My dad spoke up. “So you’re 22. When is your time in the Army up?”
“I’ll be done in a year and two months. Next June.”
“What’s it like in Afghanistan?” my 10-year-old brother asked.
“It’s very sandy and very hot, but I’m in a good regiment and we keep each other sane. We even have fun on occasion.”
“Oh, that’s good,” my mother breathed.
“Have you killed anyone?” my 8-year-old brother asked.
“Samuel!” my mother gasped.
“I haven’t had to yet, buddy. I hope I won’t.”
“I hope they end the war,” my sister said. “It’s not doing any good.”
“I hope they end it, too,” Andie said.
“Why did you join the military?”
“Andie, you don’t have to talk about all this if you don’t want,” my mother said.
Andie grinned. “It’s okay. I understand that you’re all curious. I joined because I didn’t have much of a choice as to what I would do with myself. My parents didn’t have any money to send me to college, and I didn’t want to get into debt with student loans. I’ve also always been a tomboy and curious about what the military would be like. I liked the idea of camaraderie and the feeling that I’m making a difference.”
“Well we are very grateful to you for your service,” my aunt said.
“So you’re 22,” my mother began as my father did. “Do you not have a boyfriend or a fiancé?”
Andie laughed. “No, ma’am. That’s the furthest thing from my mind right now.”
My mother’s polite smile disappeared. “Why is that?”
“I’m just not interested. I’d rather do some living before I settle down.”
I slept better that night, mostly because I was so sleep deprived from the night before, but when I heard Andie’s blankets move in the early morning, I opened one eye once again. She would apparently jog every morning at 5am.
I had yet to speak a word to her, so my plan of ignoring her was going fine. Even though we never spoke, every time she looked at me at dinner and while we did the dishes last night it was as if we were already close friends, as if we knew things about each other that no one else in the house did. I always looked away, but I was glad that she at least saw me. We didn’t speak, but I wasn’t invisible to her. That made me smile on the inside, though on the outside I remained stoic. Rachel was much more talkative and playful with her. They joked and laughed a lot. I could tell that Rachel was already starting to look up to Andie. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Surely my parents did not see Andie as a positive role model, even if they did respect her.
That morning my body reacted differently than it had the previous morning when it was as if I had broken a fever. No, this morning I felt a stirring between my legs, but as soon as I did I clamped both eyes shut. It was strange because I knew what was happening even though I had never felt that before. How could the first time that I was sexually aroused be when I was looking at a woman? But she was naked. What else was I supposed to feel? It was good, I told myself, because now I knew I was capable of such a feeling. Maybe now I could feel that way toward Luke. Well, maybe eventually.
Luke was set to arrive around noon. I would devote most of my time to him. He would enjoy that.
We were all waiting to greet Luke in the living room. Andie was teaching my little brothers a card trick on the floor, which captured everyone’s attention. I waited near the door. I thought it was strange that my family was taking such a liking to this woman who was the opposite of what my parents wanted me and my sister to be and the opposite of who they wanted my brothers to eventually marry. Perhaps my mother was affecting kindness for Charity Week. That was the only explanation.
I greeted Luke at the door. “Hello.”
“Hi, Glory! It’s good to see you.” He stepped toward me as if he was going to hug me, but I stepped back. He knew better, so he just smiled sweetly at me. We weren’t allowed to date, and we weren’t allowed to touch if we weren’t dating, so…
Sometimes I didn’t mind my parents’ rules so much.
That evening as mom and dad sat out on the deck with Aunt Julie, and my brothers played football in the sand with Luke and Andie (and occasionally Rachel), I went up to my room early to read a book. Our room had it’s own balcony on the south side of the house with comfortable chairs, so I decided to read out there. I made a habit of isolating myself when I was surrounded by a lot of people. The funny thing was that then I would feel sorry for myself because I was so alone. But I read my book with my brothers’ happy yelps as background noise. It seemed Luke and Andie were already getting along as they called out plays and bantered over each other’s skills.
“She’s beating you, Luke!” Samuel shouted. “And she’s a girl!”
“She’s a soldier! It’s not exactly a fair matchup,” Luke replied genially.
As I struggled to concentrate on my book, I heard my mother announce that it was the boys’ bedtime. Soon Rachel and Andie were bursting through the door of our room and laughing.
“I’ve got to take a shower. I’m covered in sand and salt water.” Andie gathered her pajamas and left the room.
I came back in from the balcony. “What’s so funny?”
“Jacob ran face-first into the screen door. He thought it was open” Jacob was our five-year-old brother. “He was running at full speed and went to jump up the step. Andie said he bounced off of it like a trampoline.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s fine. He started to cry, but Andie picked him up and told him how funny he was. He started laughing when he saw everyone else laughing.”
Our guest came back with damp hair, wearing a white tank top and boxer shorts. My sister and I had already changed into our pajamas that consisted of nightgowns that went below our knees and full-length robes. “So are you ready?” Andie reached into her bag and pulled out a deck of cards.
“Yeah! Glory, we’re going to play cards before bed. You should join us.” The two of them spread out on the floor, and Andie looked up at me expectantly.
We played euchre, and every once in a while I looked over at Rachel to see if she noticed Andie’s cleavage that was showing. She didn’t seem to. It’s not is if it was busting out of her shirt, but it was there.
“Your turn, Glory.”
It was the first time she said my name. She had been living with us for two days, and we had not said one word directly to each other. When she said my name, I don’t know why, but I was surprised that she knew it. And the way she said it made me happy and comfortable to be near her. I existed beyond passing, yet meaningful, glances. I couldn’t help my slow grin.
Andi was unmatched in our first game. She easily won almost every hand. “Are you the best at everything you do…Andi?”
She smirked and met my eyes for a moment. We were talking to each other, I couldn’t help but notice. I smirked back.
“Um…I don’t think so,” she answered.
“What’s something you’re really bad at?”
“Let’s see…I’m bad at…singing.”
“Really?” Rachel asked.
“Yeah. I never knew I was bad at singing until I took music as an elective in high school, and my teacher said I was off key whenever I had a sight-singing test. Since then, whenever I think I’m singing really good, someone will point out how off key I am.”
“Sing for us!” My sister jumped to her knees.
“Haha. No way.”
“How about if one of us,” I indicated my sister and me, “wins the next game, you have to sing us a song.”
Andie turned surprised eyes on me. “Isn’t gambling a sin?”
“What a great idea, Glory!” My sister clapped. “Ooh, do we get to pick the song?”
“Wait. I have to decide what I get if I win.” As Andie lay on her stomach, she leered up at me pondering the punishment she would bestow. “If I win…Glory has to say the f word.”
My sister laughed uncontrollably while I looked incredulously at Andie. “Hey, my other option is to have you skinny dip in the ocean, so take your pick.”
“But that’s vulgar language, and we only want you to sing a song.”
“Well then, Saint Glory, in the name of Charity Week, you better play your cards right.”
“How do you know about Charity Week?”
“I told her,” Rachel said nonchalantly.
“Hey, it’s not as if I didn’t know I was a charity case here. It’s just funny that you guys have a whole created holiday for that express purpose. And a name for it, even.”
She and Rachel chuckled. I tried not to be mortified that someone knew about my mother’s invented holiday.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. All families have their traditions. And I’m lucky to be a part of yours.” She smiled at me. “You all are awesome. Even your boyfriend seems like a pretty nice guy.”
My sister couldn’t seem to stop laughing at everything Andie said. “He’s not my boyfriend,” I corrected her.
She appeared genuinely confused. “He’s not?”
“No. I’m not allowed to have a boyfriend until I got to college.”
“But he wants to be her boyfriend,” Rachel supplied.
“He’d be stupid not to.” Andie seemed to regret her words immediately as she tucked her head down to look at her cards.
Did she mean it? “What do you mean?” I couldn’t help but ask. It’s not as if she knew much about me.
“I don’t know. I mean, you guys are home schooled, so, slim pickings, right? He’s just lucky that you’re gorgeous. Or unlucky, depending on whether you like him back.”
She said all this so casually, yet I couldn’t believe what I had heard. She thinks I’m gorgeous?
“I try to tell her she’s pretty all the time,” Rachel said, “And that she could have any guy, even outside the home schooling group. It’s obvious she doesn’t care about Luke in that way.”
“Rachel! I do care about Luke.”
“No you don’t. Any time he tries to touch you, you push him away. Do you even want to kiss him? If you don’t, that means he can’t become your boyfriend.”
“Whatever. I like him. If I spend more time with him, I’m sure I’ll want to kiss him eventually. Maybe we shouldn’t have this conversation in front of a stranger.”
That stranger spoke up. “I don’t think it works that way, Glory. If you don’t want to kiss him or be near him, you can’t force yourself. You’ll only grow to resent him. Don’t you think he deserves someone who doesn’t have to pretend to love him?”
“Don’t worry about me,” I snapped. But I looked at her lips as I thought about whether I would ever want to kiss Luke. Could I? I almost wanted to kiss Andie in that instant, and I felt that feeling again—like I was aroused. My body was confused. I was supposed to be feeling this way for Luke, but maybe suppressing my feelings for so long was doing strange things to me.
Andi noticed the look I was giving her. I tried to convey disdain, and I might have been successful since she looked at me cautiously and sat up.
Just then my mother entered without knocking. “Goodnight girls. Oh, Andie, do you not have a robe? Glory, let her borrow your extra one.”
“I’m fine, Nancy, but thank you for your concern.”
“Glory,” my mother persisted.
I fetched my blue robe from the closet and handed it to Andie. “Okay, well make sure you girls don’t stay up too late. Say your prayers!”
After she left, Andie held the robe in from of her. “I’m not going to wear this. I don’t even think I can fit in it.”
“You are a bit more muscular than Glory.” Rachel thought she was so funny.
“What’s your mom’s deal with modesty anyway? What I’m wearing are normal people pajamas. Are you guys offended by what I’m wearing?”
“No,” we both answered.
“And you’re both girls. But I guess I’m just a bad influence.” She winked at Rachel and threw the robe on her bed.
“Is my clothing so disgusting that you can’t bear to wear it? Is that it?”
“Yeah, that’s it.” She teasingly pinched my leg, and I squealed and jumped about a mile in the air. “Geez, sorry, freak out!”
The two of them were laughing at me again. “Glory doesn’t like to be touched. Even when we’re sleeping in the same bed, I have to stay on my side.”
“Rachel, do you have to tell her every little private thing about our family?”
“Sor-ry. Gosh.” Rachel turned her focus back to the card game. “You’re going down, Andie. Get those vocal cords ready.”
Andie won the game easily, which meant we lost, which meant I had to say the f word.
“What’s the big deal?” I asked. “It’s just a word.”
“Yeah, a word you’ve never said!” Rachel piped up.
“If mom knew what kind of bad influence is staying in her daughters’ room…” I admonished.
The two of them looked at me expectantly and I could feel a blush starting again. “Wait,” Andie said. “I’ll supply the sentence. It’s no fun if you just say the word.”
“Hmm…” She gazed at me, inspecting me. “How about…”
“Andie,” I said. “Why don’t you just shut the fuck up.”
“Whoa!” They both clapped and cheered, and I felt strangely proud of myself.
“Wow, you said it so naturally.” Andie sighed and looked at me dreamily. “That was hot.”
I spent the next day walking around the village with Luke. Of course, we couldn’t be by ourselves, so my mom made us bring my brothers along.
The whole time, I tried to imagine hugging him, what it would feel like to be in his arms. I would look at his lips and imagine myself enjoying kissing him. It was extremely difficult, and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. It had been so easy for me to imagine kissing Andie’s lips the night before. And Luke kept giving me these longing gazes. He really was sweet.
As I tried to fall asleep that night, all I could think about was that Andie was sleeping only a few feet away from me. She had been staying with us for three days, and I had come to the conclusion that my mother did actually make the right choice in bringing her here. Everyone loved her, but my mom was starting to become a little pushier as far as her expectations for Andie went. Andie took my mother’s requests in stride because she was grateful to her after all, but I could never see her doing something that was against her nature just because someone wanted her to do it. I could never imagine her not being true to herself. In that regard, I admired her. I wish I had the choice to always do what came naturally to me instead of always bowing to my parents’ wishes.
Rachel was snoring as usual. She was definitely more of a free spirit than I was, but because I was the oldest my parents’ heaviest expectations weighed on me. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I disappointed them.
The clock ticked on. My gaze would not leave the silhouette of Andie lying peacefully in her bed. She had over a year left in the Army—in Afghanistan. How could a woman survive all that? Would she survive? My fear when I asked myself that question was overwhelming. I felt the pressure of tears in my throat, even though I hadn’t cried in over four years. I didn’t want Andie to die. I wanted her to stay home and be safe.
She was safe in that moment, and I willed that moment to last forever. “Keep her safe,” I breathed silently, over and over. Wasn’t she scared? She had to be. Yes, she’d been in the Army for three years, but she still had to be scared. Right then, I wanted to make her not scared. I wanted to climb in bed with her and hold her. I wanted to feel that she was safe, and I wanted to be the one to keep her safe. I wanted to feel that intimacy with her.
I had never wanted anything more in my life, and I was frightened of these unexpected and unwanted thoughts. I thought about other things beside Andie until I fell asleep.
“Tell me about your necklace,” Andie said as we sat on the shore with Rachel wading in the water with my aunt and mother. Andie had been in the water, too, but she joined me after a while.
“It’s called a Miraculous Medal.” It had an image of the Virgin Mary on it, and around her was a prayer: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
“Is it miraculous?”
“It’s said to be. Our Lady appeared to a French nun in the 1800s and requested that she create this medal for the faithful to wear. There were a lot of miracles that happened to the people who wore it.”
“I noticed that everyone in your family wears a different medal.”
There was a pause as we watched the other women hold up their skirts from the water.
“Are you waiting for a miracle, Glory?”
“For what? No, I just wear it as a reminder of my faith, to always hold true to my convictions. It’s so easy to fall out of grace in this world.”
“So you wear your medal to remind yourself what you believe? You can’t just remember?” She smirked, and I smirked back.
There was another short pause.
“Do you ever get scared when you’re in Afghanistan?”
“Scared? Not really. Like I said, I have a lot of friends over there watching my back.”
“But anything could happen at any moment.”
“I know, but I’m not really afraid of dying.”
“Because I don’t have much to live for. I’m very unattached in this life. I think I would only be afraid of dying if my death would damage someone else’s life—like a loved one or something.”
“Your parents would be sad.”
She laughed. “Maybe a little.” As she gazed out at the ocean, I watched the color of the water reflecting in her thoughtful blue-green eyes. Then those eyes met mine.
“I would be really sad if anything happened to you, and so would everyone in my family. So…make sure you don’t die.”
She chuckled. “I’ll see what I can do.”
When my mom and aunt returned to the house, my sister ran up on the beach and splashed the two of us. The front of my white shirt got soaked. “Rachel!”
I ran after her as Andie laughed behind me. Of course she had to run right back into the water. I figured I was soaked already, so I jumped on her and we both went under. “Glory!” Rachel gasped when we came up for air.
“It serves you right.”
Once we got back on the beach, my shirt was completely see-through, but I felt exhilarated. I didn’t care if Andie saw me like this. But Andie diverted her gaze to anywhere but me.
“You’re bringing out the worst in her, Andie,” Rachel said. “She never breaks composure. I try to get her to dance with me sometimes, but she only dances the waltz.”
“Shut up, Rachel.”
“Hey, I know how to waltz,” Andie said.
I was still trying to catch my breath when Andie asked mockingly, “May I have this dance?”
“No,” I said and started to walk away. She grabbed my hand, and I yanked it from her grasp. I turned around and got right in her face, noticing for the first time that we were about the same height, and that her eyes were that much more striking the closer I got. “Don’t touch me,” I growled.
“Glory, you don’t have to be so afraid of everything all the time,” she said just loud enough for me to hear.
“Don’t pretend to know anything about me.” The anger that arose within me was inexplicable. There was no reason for me to be angry, but between my sister and Andie, my ire was rising rapidly. I felt the sting in my throat again as Andie looked into me and I returned the look.
Before the tears could reach my eyes, I took off for the house, running as fast as I could in the sand. I flew to the upstairs bathroom that belonged to us girls. I locked myself inside and stared hard at my reflection in the mirror.
When I was younger, entering my teen years, I would have intense arguments with my mother almost every day. There were many things that we disagreed on, things I felt the need to speak up about for my own sake. The trouble was that a true argument with my mother consisted of her screaming over me without ever listening to a word I said. It would also usually end in a threat of punishment if I didn’t shut my ungrateful mouth. My frustration during these tirades almost always brought me to tears, and I hated crying in front of her. I didn’t want to appear weak every single time. It got to the point where whenever I started to feel like I would cry, I conceded the argument, locked myself in the bathroom, stared hard at my reflection in the mirror, and willed myself not to cry. I would examine every red splotch on my eyeballs and blink the redness away. It wasn’t long before I became almost incapable of crying.
I stared at myself, but it was to late. The tears were already falling, and the worst part was that I couldn’t understand why. Why couldn’t I be normal and have normal fun like everyone else? Because someone was starting to see through me, and it made me uneasy.
I was able to avoid Andie for the next couple of days because she and my parents took the boys surfing. We would all eat dinner together, and I would retire to my room earlier than everyone else as they stayed downstairs to play games or watched a movie preapproved by my mother. We were only allowed to watch certain movies, which had to enforce family values. For some reason, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was on that list, even though it contains premarital sex. But a lot of the other home schooling families praised it, so we just pretended that part doesn’t happen in the movie.
On Friday night, we cooked out on the grill. It was also the first night that my aunt’s neighbors had a bonfire. It wasn’t too rowdy yet, and it added to the jovial atmosphere. After we ate, Dad cleaned the grill, Luke tossed the football to my brothers, and Andie shared a bottle of wine at the table with my mother and aunt. Rachel sat with them, and I sat apart, watching my brothers as they had the time of their lives.
I also listened in on the conversation at the table. “So there has to be some eligible bachelors in the Army.”
“Nancy, would you stop?” my father implored.
“Yes, ma’am,” Andie answered. “There are many eligible bachelors in the Army. Would you like me to put you in contact with them?”
My mother didn’t know how to respond to that question, so she ignored it and plowed on. “Well, if none of them seem right for you, I know a very handsome young man who helps out at his family’s farm. They are very well off. I could give you his email address, and the two of you could be in touch as you finish your tour.”
“No thanks, Nancy. No sense getting into that mess. I could never be a farmer’s wife.”
“You’d be surprised at what you could do.”
Andie blinked incredulously at my mother. Sometimes Mom could say the stupidest things.
“I’m a soldier in the United States Army. I know what I can do. Excuse me.” Andie got up and entered the house. I noticed that she grabbed another open bottle of wine before she headed upstairs.
“I’m only trying to help,” my mother said.
My father scraped away at the grill. “It serves you right.”
As they bickered, I slipped inside. Andie sat out on our balcony in one of the two comfortable chairs with her feet propped on the railing. She sipped on her wine as she watched the neighbors’ bonfire below. I opened the screen and joined her.
“Hey,” she said with a pleasant smile. “I haven’t gotten to spend much time with you lately. I’m glad you’re here. Want some wine?”
Being Catholic, my parents weren’t too strict about me drinking, as long as it was in their presence. They were just downstairs, so I figured it would be okay. “I don’t have a glass.”
“You can drink from the bottle. I don’t mind.” She winked. “Those must be some older than college-age people down there. They’re listening to ‘80s music.”
“Really?” I took a sip of the red wine from the bottle.
“Yeah, don’t you know this song?”
“We’re not really allowed to listen to rock and roll.”
“But you’re allowed to drink?”
“And I’m listening to rock and roll, aren’t I?” I smiled.
She turned back to the bonfire. I liked how it lit her face. “This is ‘Dancing in the Dark’ by Bruce Springsteen.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of him,” I was excited to point out. “I couldn’t tell you what else he sings, but I know what he looks like.”
“Well, he is one of the greats.” She closed her eyes and tapped her foot on the railing. “I love this song.” She started to sing softly. “’You say you gotta stay hungry. Hey, baby, I’m just about starving tonight!’” She jumped up out of her chair and reached for my hand. I let her take it. Then she took them both and started stepping to the music. “’I’m dying for some action. I’m sick of sitting around here trying to write this book. I need a love reaction. Come on, baby, give me just one look.’” She was obviously trying to make me laugh with her goofiness, and it was working.
She stopped dancing, and I stopped smiling as she stood there holding my hands and leaning against the railing. “Why did you stop? It’s true that you don’t sing on key, but your voice is still charming.”
“Have you ever danced in the dark, Glory?”
I grinned. “Is that supposed to be a double entendre?”
Andie laughed aloud. “Only if you want it to be. Since when is your mind in the gutter?”
“Rachel’s right. You seem to bring out the worst in me. I had never said the f word until this Charity Week.”
“Is that why you’re being nice to me now? Charity?”
“No. Truth be told, I’m not a very charitable person. I wish I was.”
“At least you’re honest.” She still held my hands. “I guess dancing in the dark could refer to having fun and being oneself despite one’s confining circumstances. Maybe one can only be oneself in the dark because one is not allowed to show other people one’s true self.” She had clearly had e decent amount of wine.
My smile faltered a little. “I’m sorry about my mother’s attitude earlier. She has her idea of how everyone should live their lives—“
She chuckled. “I hope you don’t think that your mother’s opinions will ever influence my life. Nothing against her, but we see things very differently. The only reason she bothers me is because…because of you and your sister. You don’t have many options in life, do you? And I can see that it bothers you.”
“Only a little.” I took my hands from hers and sat back down, taking another sip of wine. “I know everything will happen one step at a time.”
“Don’t you want a say in what happens to you? Most people don’t live like this, you know.”
“I know. But my mother says that’s how we know we’re doing right. One of her favorite sayings is ‘we live in the world but not of it.’”
“I want to keep in touch with you when I’m in Afghanistan, if that’s okay. I’m also going to write to Rachel and your parents, so I know it will be alright with them.”
“Yes! I want to hear about how you’re doing over there, and I’ll be counting down the days till you come home.”
“I’m very happy that we can be friends, Glory.”
She was leaving on Monday morning. What would I do without hearing her say my name every day?
Luke had not provided a very good distraction for me that week. He was still as dull as ever in my eyes. Even Andie spent more time with him than I did. I think she felt sorry for him since I neglected him so much. I couldn’t help it. Maybe I would be homesick at college and want to cling to him. Then I could grow to love him and prove Andie wrong.
After dinner on Saturday night, we all sat in the living room and enjoyed the ocean breeze from the open windows. My father turned to Andie and said, “We would like it if you would join us for Mass in the morning, your last opportunity before you head back. Wear your camo. They’re not going to turn away a soldier.”
“I’d love to.” Andie turned and smiled at me, and I smiled back. I waited for my mother to object, but she didn’t.
The next morning, I awoke, as I always did, when Andie awoke to go running. This would be my last chance to watch her get ready for her run since she had to be at the airport very early the following morning, and wouldn’t have time for a run.
This time I refused to divert my gaze. I wanted to soak up this moment. I wanted to remember everything about her. Sure, one could call it an invasion of privacy, but she had to know there was a possibility that I saw her in the mornings. She had to know there was a possibility I was apparently borderline perverted.
But I had never known anything more beautiful in my life. How could I look away? It would have defied logic.
We arrived at church fifteen minutes early. As the ten of us made our way through the foyer and toward the sanctuary, two ushers stopped us. “Excuse me, I’m sorry but she cannot go in without a skirt.”
“Why not?” my father asked. “She fights for our freedom overseas, and you say she’s not allowed in God’s house without a skirt?” I had never heard my father speak so openly and rationally.
“I understand,” said one usher, “but it is our policy, and if we let one woman in wearing pants, others might want to follow suit, and the children cold get confused about a woman in uniform.”
“If she’s not going in, we’re not going in,” Aunt Julie said. “Come on; there’s another Catholic church five miles away.”
My mother finally spoke up. “But that’s not a traditional church. It will be like we didn’t even go to church if we went there.”
The second usher stepped in. “We have extra skirts in the basement, reserved for such circumstances.”
I looked at Andie. She was content to let my parents work it out, but I could see the disappointment in her eyes. I took her hand.
“Andie is leaving for Afghanistan tomorrow,” Rachel said over everyone. We were certainly making a scene, and I could tell the ushers were ready to be rid of us. “We’re going to the other church just for today. Because today is Love Day. It ends Charity Week, I just now decided.”
“Let’s go,” my aunt said, and we all followed, my mother a little slower than the rest of us.
“I’m sorry about that, Andie,” my father said once we got settled into my parents’ rental SUV. We had followed my aunt and brothers to the church. “I really thought that they would make an exception. They should have made an exception.”
My mother turned around and smiled apologetically at Andie. “I’m sorry, too, sweetie.”
The rest of that day, my whole family did their best to make Andie’s last day home a happy one. We took long walks up and down the beach, watched her surf with the boys, and relaxed on the deck. Everyone in my family and Luke were with her the whole time. She was one of us, and it was pure love, without the sense of obligation that came with charity.
Bedtime came too early. Andie would call a cab as soon as she woke up to take her to the airport. She refused to allow one of my parents to take her. I don’t know why.
As we were getting ready for bed, I told Andie I would take her to the airport in the morning. I spoke the idea as soon as I thought it.
“You think your parents will let you?”
“My parents won’t know.” I looked over at Rachel. She locked her lips and threw away the key.
Andie climbed into bed. “It looks like we’ll be able to add car thief to your list of vices that I was responsible for this week.”
“I’ll see you in the morning.” I turned off my light.
Before Andie turned her light off she looked at me for a while. I looked back at her, waiting for her to say something, but she didn’t. Finally she turned off her light and lay down. It wasn’t long before the sound of Rachel’s snoring filled the room.
“Andie?” I whispered.
“Were you going to say something to me earlier?”
“I don’t know. Lot’s of things.”
“Do you want to tell me something now?”
Of course the morning came too soon. We got ready quickly and quietly. I grabbed my parents’ keys and snuck out of the house.
As we drove the half hour to the airport, we didn’t say much. Andie did manage to say, “Thanks for defying your parents and driving me to the airport. I’m glad I get to spend a little extra time with you. It’s only fitting that you’re the last one I see and say goodbye to.”
I didn’t know what she meant with the last statement, so I just said, “I’m glad, too.”
Once we got there, she took my hand, and I walked her to the security check. That would be where we said goodbye.
Neither of us seemed to know what to say, but after a moment all I could do was wrap my arms around her and hold her. I closed my eyes, buried my face in her neck, and thought to myself, This is what it’s like. This is what it’s like. We held each other for a long time before I realized that even though it was early, there were still people walking around who could see us. I didn’t know why I always cared about what other people thought, especially at a time like this, but I did.
I started to pull away, and when I looked into her eyes there was unmistakable desire. She glanced from my eyes to my lips, and before I could comprehend what was about to happen, her lips mingled with mine, and it was the most incredible feeling that could possibly exist. Electricity shot right through me. Then I felt her tongue on mine, and I pushed her away and slapped her as hard as I could across the face. It was cliché, but I had no idea what else to do. I had to use every ounce of force in my power to not only make her stop, but to make myself stop as well. And I couldn’t very well slap myself in the face. Plus she started it.
She held her cheek, and when she looked up at me tears were forming in her eyes. “I’m not going to say I’m sorry.”
“Well you should be sorry. What were you thinking? You can’t kiss me!”
“Well I did, and it was the best kiss I’ve ever had.”
“You’ll still write to me, won’t you? I’ll write to you every chance I get. Do me another favor, though.” She was speaking through her tears, and it broke my heart. “Don’t be with anyone who you don’t love, no matter what your parents try to force on you. It’s not worth it to be unhappy. If you’re unhappy, everyone else around you will be unhappy too.
“I’ll see you in a little over a year. For what it’s worth, I’m afraid of dying now, thanks to you.” She smiled, and I started to cry. “That just means I’m going to be a lot more careful out there so that I’ll be able to come back and hold you and maybe even kiss you again,” she said as she stroked my hair away from my face.
“See you later, Glory.” She turned to walk away.
“Andie, wait.” She turned back to me as I took off my Miraculous Medal and placed it in her hand. “She’ll protect you. She’ll bring you back home…to me.”
Andie took the medal with her most radiant smile shining through her glistening tears. She had a glorious innocence about her, yet she was marching off to war.
The female TSA officer called to Andie as she approached the security check, “You sure do have a handful to deal with when you get back. I never seen anybody slap that hard, but you looked like you deserved it.”
I was mortified, but Andie laughed wholeheartedly. As she was about to walk through the metal detector, she turned to me once more. “Oh, and Glory, about the early morning peep shows…” My eyes grew as wide as the TSA officer’s in that moment, and a panic filled me. Andie smirked. “You’re welcome.”She walked through the threshold, and without consent, my mouth uttered the words, “Oh, fuck.”