“TEN MINUTES REMAINING.”
“Lily, stop. I get it. You’re scared and I am too. You are right. When you meet me, you might not be interested in me. We could be completely different and don’t have the right chemistry together, but I know in my heart that if I don’t try this I will always regret it and wonder why,” he said honestly. “I have faith that we were meant to meet somehow. I have a second chance to live the rest of my life how I want to – and the first thing I want to do is see if you smell like chalk or white out.”
“You do?” she squeaked.
“I absolutely do,” he breathed softly. “And if the chemistry is there, don’t be upset if I try to kiss you. I’m warning you now because as I look at your photo I can’t imagine seeing that smile and not trying to do just that.”
“I understand,” she whispered, staring at her computer screen where she’d frozen the video. His smiling face was staring at her and her face flushed with emotion. Gosh, she would just melt if he kept his words and turned out to be all of this and more! “And if the chemistry isn’t there?”
“Then I still want to hug my best friend and say thank you for getting me through and finding the person I used to be. Don’t be scared. Remember, have faith. I want you to know me and I want to know you. Still got your pen?”
“TWO MINUTES REMAINING.”
Lily obediently wrote down a name, address and phone number as fast as she could, her hand shaking because she was afraid they’d run out of time again. In her mind there was a timer ticking mentally, playing the Jeopardy music aloud. “I’ve got it. Who is that?”
“That’s my mother. If you want to know what kind of person I am or how I grew up, if you need proof in order to know that I’m not some insane serial killer out to get you. Call my mother -but heads up- she’ll want to send you photos and talk for hours. She’s got a good heart and I was her only kid,” he said tenderly and felt a little guilty. He needed to call her too; it had been far too long.
“ONE MINUTE REMAINING.”
“John!” she said in a panicked voice. “I hope the calling cards get their soon. I mailed you another surprise too. Do you guys celebrate Halloween there?”
“Sweet Lily, you don’t have to do anything. Just be you. I will call you next Tuesday, if I can-“and the phone line went dead. John got up from the table and was relieved there was no one else waiting. He quickly bought another calling card and slipped back in the room.
“Hello Mom? It’s John,” he whispered, feeling the tears fall freely at his mother’s voice. “It’s been too long and I’m so sorry to call this late. I’m coming back to the States, Mom, but I need your help with something and I don’t have long to talk,” he began, wiping his eyes and smiling with sheer happiness.
* * *
Lily stared at the phone. She hated how their calls ended, leaving her feeling such a sense of loss and yearning for more. Looking at her computer, she played the video again, this time with sound. Sipping on her now cold cocoa, she stared at the screen mesmerized, drinking in every aspect of him that she could. She played it repeatedly. Admiring the way he walked towards the woman giving the interview, the tilt of his head, even the way his sunglasses rested on his hair. She marveled at the small smile he gave the camera when he talked. John knew she’d see this video … and it was all for her.
“My name is CPO John Griffin from Afghanistan and I wanted to share with you how very important your letters are to our troops. Many of our men fight daily for their lives and dream of the little things from home. A photo colored from their child, a lock of hair from their infant, the sound of your woman’s voice so you can sleep peacefully at night.
These things are infinitely precious and more valuable than all the money in the world. Just knowing we aren’t forgotten, simply having a reminder of what we are fighting for, helps us through it all. So, take the time to write your service men that are gone. Tell them you think of them and how proud you are of them. They are willing to give up their lives for you and would happily do so; it would only take five minutes of your day to let them know it’s appreciated.
I’d like to give a shout-out to the children of Tyler, Texas for writing to my group – and I’d like to tell my friend, my beautiful Lily, that I think about her all the time.”
Lily watched as he took a step back and the reporter continued talking, giving out addresses and how to reach servicemen that were deployed. It was a wonderful tribute and plea for people to write to them. She wished she’d have done it sooner, truthfully, but then she might not have met John. Rewinding the video, she paused it and took a photo of the screen with her phone. She felt silly doing so but needed to be able to see his face. She set it as the wallpaper on her phone and smiled.
Lily was sipping on her second cup of coffee as the students had their heads bent down, focusing on the test she’d handed out. They would be dismissing early. The Tyler Rose Festival every year brought hundreds, if not thousands, of people to town mid-October. It was a massive event complete with a parade and a pageant where they named the queen. She loved it because you could purchase the most beautiful bare-root roses she’d seen. That was where she’d picked up several of her bushes in the back yard. She planned on going to the vendors again this year, but she was searching for something different- something special.
She’d told John of the festival in detail, or as much as possible on one of their brief calls. He claimed that he loved to hear her talk and she’d yammered on for the entire twenty minutes before the call ended. He called her weekly now and she tried her best not to panic if the call came in on Wednesday or Thursdays instead. Apparently, there was quite a line on Friday nights for the phone and it was nearly impossible to use. He admitted that he’d not known it was there because he simply didn’t call anyone. He’d retreated into a shell, hiding away from the world, and now he felt like he was ready to be free.
The speaker in her classroom crackled loudly. She idly wondered which one of her students had forgotten their lunch today since it was so early. She rarely got pages in her room, ever.
“Miss Hogan, you’re needed in the office for a moment.”
“Can I come between periods? We are doing a test right now.”
“We’ll just send them down to you instead. Not a problem.”
Lily stared at the speaker on the wall curiously; she glanced at her students to see if anyone’s face was expecting something. Their faces looked to be as curious as hers, and then she saw them. A massive bouquet of roses arrived at her doorway, held by Maria, since it was her in-service period.