Disclaimer: Just own the plot, not the people. etc.
Author's Note: Ok. I really want to write some very long note but I won't. I'll save the apologies for the historical inaccuracies and explanation of cultural references for the end. But right now, I would like to thank Liv and Lu of GW for reading this before it was even finished and helping me out with it! And to thank friends of GW in general for encouragement because I tend to be hard on myself and then never finish anything...
Anyway, I did put a lot of work (and research, believe it or not) into this and I hope it shows to some extent (like I said, I know there are inaccuracies but for the sake of fiction I may have messed with time a little bit to get all the events to work). And the poem I wrote for this was also meant to be written in the 60's style but probably didn't end up that way (the part in italics; the other poem quoted in this belongs to a real poet). And this story was rated M for the same reason most other fics are rated M (sexual scenes, violence, mention of war, etc.).
I hope you all enjoy!
(Early February, 1967)
"Aw, shoot," he mumbles to Black Star as they near the army office. "Protestors. And they look real earthy, too."
His friend shrugs. "Just a lot of girls. We'll get around 'em easily enough." And sure enough, he does, but Soul is not so fortunate.
A petite dusty-blonde approaches him, and she's equally a piece of his typical nightmares and wet dreams all at once. Her hair is loose, iron-flattened and goes just past her shoulders, not reaching the long green skirt that cascades onto her bare feet on the ice-edged sidewalk. The green offsets the emerald eyes glinting in the dim light of a clouded day, the viridian fields in them as far-reaching as her legs. Not tall enough to meet him eye-to-eye, and he's thankful. She's a lot like an exotic snake, as far as he can tell: beautiful, but poison-fanged beneath the surface. He heaves an immense sigh.
"Sir, have you been drafted?"
He turns away, afraid he will melt in her searing glare despite the chill. "You could call it that, or not."
"Are you aware of all the things you will see in that red-coated world?"
"I s'pose I'll find out." He tenses. He's cornered prey. "Can't be scarier than you bunch of hipsters. Can I get through?"
She grabs him by the collar, pulls him too close to her face for comfort.
He presumes it's a friend of hers that starts to scuttle toward her for fear of a full-out brawl at what he guesses should be a peaceful protest. "Please," she whispers.
The blonde holds up a hand, and her flower-child community quiets. He realizes they're like trained police dogs the way they back right down and do not interfere, and he cannot blame them. She's a green-eyed monster. "You know, lady, relax. Go stand outside city hall or somethin'. What the fuck you here for, anyway?"
"The most vicious of soldiers are those that were once citizens. War begins in the eyes of civilians here and this is where we attempt to end it before it begins."
He rolls his sanguine-soaked stare. "Nice poem. Let me go now, crazy woman."
She snorts. "Don't patronize me based on my gender alone! I am as much a human as you are, if not more so!"
"I ain't! I just want you to let me go!" He squirms in both the pressure of her fisted grip and her glare. "You and your vagina can do whatever you want! I don't give two shits."
"Mocking me?" she hisses, and he hopes the spit that sticks to his wind-burnt face is not some sort of skin-melting acid.
He shouts when she pulls her free hand back, as if raring to punch him square in the nose. He squeezes his eyes shut and prepares for the impact, but she stops right before she makes contact. Her hand opens and a daisy falls to his feet instead.
She laughs, releases him, and twirls away, her skirt fanning out like the full-grown flower. "Make love, not war!" She winks and then skitters down the street, still chuckling, after her fellow anti-war platoon.
He gazes slack-jawed as they fade as fast as the sun in these bitter winter days, and he feels the same chill he does when he no longer feels the sun on his back on the street.
"Yo! Soul, what are you still doing out there?" Black Star peers at him from the shadow-splintered doorway.
He picks the corner-crumpled white daisy from the frost-splattered cement and shoves it in his back pocket out of sight. "Nothin'."
(Late February, 1967)
Soul discovers she's Maka Albarn. And she's far more than just a common household name. She's eighteen, like him, but unlike him, far more ambitious. She attends university for English and intends to be a teacher, though he's not sure a school in sight will hire her with all the anarchist-type slurs she unabashedly spews to any lending ear. And her record that's almost gotten her booted from her school on multiple occasions.
A few townspeople have spread her legends as he asks. She painted "Howl" lines on an overpass, tried to set a sergeant's expensive cherry-red Cadillac on fire, stood up on a table at a well-known restaurant and did an impromptu speech on the dangers of war to the youth of society, citing herself as an example, and supposedly assaulted a man on the street for a sexist comment he made toward her.
Some tell her stories with pity, the families that are also against the war or knew her mother abandoned her at a young age. The ones who know her father is a lieutenant in the war who has not been able to come home in years. They say she's so bright, but so woefully misguided.
Some draw her with disdain, crying for attention in her lonely world.
He's not sure who to believe, but he knows he wants to meet her again. He's taken by her spirit; she's a living work of art to him.
And he hates himself for it.
Her flower sits on his chipped windowsill, a fixture as permanent as if etched there the same way she stuck herself into his memory.
(Early March, 1967)
Snow flutters down and lands on her shoulders, wets her straightened hair and curls it at the tips the further down the street she walks with her sign. Her long skirt grows drenched at the edges and feels like an unbearable extra weight. She stops for a short moment to fix her motley headband then carries on. Her bare feet rubbed raw by the slush unsalted by the city she pads on and holds the message high: "1, 2, 3, 4 - we don't want your fucking war!"
Liz trudges behind her against her will and better judgment. Clad in far thicker jackets and proper footwear she struggles less but acts as if she can barely move another step. "Ugh, Maka. What's the point of protesting today? No one is even out here!"
She shrugs in response. "Just for fun."
Liz huffs and crosses her arm. Her loyalty gets her far, she realizes, as far as possible into the cold and sleet. The price she pays to be friends with a crazy woman is higher than what her latest unrequited suitor paid for her pearl necklace.
Liz stops and squints toward the white-puffed distance. "Actually, looks like we're not as alone as we thought." Her slowly-unraveling smirk unsettles Maka's stomach. "Here comes your handsome soldier-lover."
"Ok, for that, let's go back." Maka grabs Liz's hand and tries pulling her in the direction of home base, but it's like pulling an obstinate stallion's reigns. She does not budge, and actually puts her hand up and waves him over.
"Liz! Are you kidding me?" she nearly shouts as he starts to stride in their direction. "Traitor!"
"Oh please, you've done nothing but talk about him since that day at the army office."
"Talk about how much I despise him!"
"Which in Maka-language, means doe-eyed love." She snickers. "Now, I will take that offer of yours and go back. By myself. Have fun!"
"Wait, no! Please!" Maka clutches tighter to her friend's peacoat sleeve, but it's no use. Liz knows her physical strength and utilizes it far too often.
She attempts to chase her friend but it's too late: she turns wide-emerald-eyed to him and he's standing in front of her grinning. Now the hunter is hunted, she thinks.
He extends a too-tanned hand. "Maka Albarn? Soul Evans."
She scrunches her nose, but takes his hand and shakes it stiffly. "Nice to see you again."
He smiles and releases their grip. "Too true." Before she knows it, he's disappeared again, his hair and the snow the same shade of alabaster. She wonders briefly if he was born from the storms in this part of town, because he comes and goes like one.
She opens her hand and a book-flattened crocus sits there where his fingers once were. On one violet petal was a neatly-scrawled phone number.
She smacks herself in the face with her picket sign and catches up to a smug Liz.
Her friend grabs the flower from Maka's chapped palm. "Please tell me you're going to give him a chance! How sweet is this?" She shakes it in her friend's grim face.
Maka snatches it back, and shoves it hesitantly in her oversized right sleeve. "Too sweet for my tastes."
"You're going to call it."
"That's why I'm angry."
"I always knew you had a sweettooth!"
(Mid March, 1967)
The night isn't long but it's warm. The scent of snow from just a few weeks before lingers like an unspoken warning that this may not be the permanent beginning of mild heat. He swears he still sees frost lining the few maple leaves he brushes as he walks through mud and grit to reach the dock they promised earlier in the day to meet at. Light humidity swells at his neck and is tolerable until he finds her standing at the start of the mildewy wooden dock, in one of her usual long multi-colored skirts and staring out at the murky water. The starlight that drizzles like strands of pale gold silk through the canopy highlight her blonde hair and offsets her viridian gaze. She reminds him of a lighthouse, and he's just a lone boat guided by the light she seems to send to him. He wonders if this infatuation might capsize him before he reaches her safe haven.
She does not look at him but asks, "What are you staring at?"
Soul chokes on the air. "Nothin'." Red deeper than his eyes pulses at the surface of his cheeks. "Just got something on my mind in your direction."
She snorts. "I'll bet."
He grins. "Your confidence becomes you."
Maka crumples her skirt in her hands to pull it away from the mud sucking in her exposed feet. "You barely know me."
He shoves his hands in his pockets, unable to remain still. "After a few weeks of phone calls and a near-punch to my face, I feel I know you well enough."
She laughs. "I'm not sure you do. And I certainly don't know you too well. So let's get to know each other, okay?"
Soul meets her intense eyes. "What does that entail?"
Her mischievous grin makes the acid church in his stomach and it burns away the butterflies. "You ready to find out?"
"I guess - wh-what are you doing?" His entire face burns.
She rolls her eyes. "What does it look like?" She removes her shirt painfully slowly, and then her skirt and undergarments and she's bare as a newborn before him and he can't escape now. "I like to get to know everyone in their most natural state." She restrains laughter at her own idea of a prank.
"I'm not going to do it." Soul turns away from her, though the image will never leave his head now.
"I'm not asking for sex, I am asking you to take your clothes off and jump in the lake with me. As friends."
"I don't swim naked with my friends."
"Then you're missing out." She pulls off her headband and runs down the dock into the obfuscated lake water.
She's right, he realizes as he watches her swim in circles from afar. He is missing out. Though only on her. He sighs, and peels his clothes off the same way he rips off a bandaid: only to get it out of the way. And he waits until she's distracted by the web of stars to jump in. He's determined to remain as mysterious as possible, until the very last moment. Certainly not because he's self-conscious.
"So, soldier," she says as she floats like a water lily, "tell me some of your favorite things, and I'll tell you mine."
"I'm not a soldier," he mumbles. He kicks his legs to stay afloat, and wonders how she does it so effortlessly. "What kinds of favorite things?"
"Well, I know from our talks that you have an older brother, that you have no pets. But tell me more about you. Start with your favorite color." Maka moves closer to him, and as a reflex he backs an inch away, though that encourages her to encroach further in his space.
Her eyes catch him off-guard again, and he replies before thinking. "Green."
She smirks. "Red."
He challenges her. "Favorite flower?"
"Hmm. Maybe the crocus."
"Daisy." His smile is serrated.
"What kind of woman do you like?"
"Is that a trick question?"
Maka thrusts one hand into the water and pulls out a wriggling catfish and flings it at his face and he nearly loses his balance.
"The fuck? How did you grab that so quickly?" He grimaces and pulls a piece of seaweed from his eyebrow.
She kicks a little closer to him after he finishes thrashing. "Because I believe I am a part of nature. The fish is me and I am the fish. And," she says, drawing closer, "you are me, and I am you." She runs a hand up his arm and cups his blush-dusted cheek.
Soul sucks in a sharp, muddled breath.
She sinks into the water again. She swims around his feet in circles. He closes his eyes, tries to sense her soul swimming along with the slippery catfish and sleeping bass. It's easy; hers is huge, almost suffocating with the weight of it.
He throws his arm down as she did earlier, and catches her hand instantly despite the black-thickness of the water.
Her mud-mired feet soil the hardwood flooring of her empty house, the only evidence of life it appears to him as he follows her over the threshold.
She strides into the checkered-floor kitchen and pushes herself onto the counter beside a fruitbowl, and tosses him an apple while she grabs an orange and slowly starts to peel the skin, like it's a puzzle.
He sits on the counter across from her, beside the still-dripping sink. He longs for the cacophony of crickets and peepers because now the silence that sits between them is only filled with the hoot of a barn owl too far off for his comfort.
She crosses her legs and tears another portion of the orange's outside, and the citrus smell stings his nose and reminds him of her hair. He wonders how many oranges she must eat in a day to start to smell like them. He smiles to himself, then says, "How did you know I like apples?"
Her smile softly spreads, reminds him of red moth's wings. "I assumed because of the color of your eyes."
"So you live here alone?" He spotted a picture of her with her father earlier, but dares not mention him directly for fear of upsetting her.
Maka sighs and plays with the rinds of her orange. "For the past three years, yes."
His foot-in-mouth gets in his way. "Was your father drafted?"
She shakes her head. "Volunteer soldier. He did it three years ago, to help me save for school."
"Do you miss him?"
"Oh, every single day. But I know he's alive and well. I feel it. But somehow it upsets me that he fights for my education. And knowing thousands of other soldiers have similar reasons. They don't fight for this country. We were never threatened by Vietnam, only by the domino effect. That's why I hate this war. There's no honor in it." She meets his eyes. "Why are you going to be a soldier?"
He shifts uncomfortably as he notices the sad glaze to her normal firefly-like eyes. "I'm not. I failed the physical."
"Then what will you do with your life?" Her question is inoffensive, innocent, but somehow he's not sure how to respond.
"I honestly don't know. Do all I can to displease my parents."
"Like making friends with a well-known war protestor?"
He's glad to see her smile again. "I mean, that's a pretty good start."
(April through mid-May, 1967)
Their friendship unravels nearly as slowly as she peels her oranges. Oftentimes, he waits outside her protest group to walk her home, and the two sit in the same counter positions eating the same fruit and speaking of family and friends and histories and secrets. Fears, desires. They also love to argue. She reminds him angrily that not all war protestors smoke ganja and sit in a circle making philosophical statements as he imagined, and he reminds her that not everyone born with a silver spoon in their mouth wants to make it in big business.
When she loses an argument, she balloons her cheeks and stomps her feet but deflates in just a matter of minutes if only because she finds his gloating smirk so attractive. When he loses, he walks home silently feuding but comes around again the next night to admire her while she studies, because he finds it so fascinating, and he loves to hear her read him poetry and short stories. And he gets smarter around her, talks better, feels more educated. He does feel like an intruder in this empty home but as weeks pass he starts to decide he likes her bed a lot more than his own.
She decides she likes him there more than not, the only time she's relieved not to have her overbearing father around.
She loves to listen to him talk - about anything at all - because she knows he does not do it often. She can tell by how he hesitates when he tells her stories, as if he's never told them before. Like they're new to him. He gets shy and scratches the back of his neck or stuffs his hands in his pockets even while he lays beside her under the sheets.
She surprises herself with her restraint, and admires his. She feels their attraction but never acts on it even when the tips of their fingers brush. In this blossoming era of "free love" she's normally brash about her feelings, but with him, she holds back. Maybe because she knows if she let this happen they would become something more, something permanent and cemented; love. The very thing she fears because of how she saw her father fall apart in the wake of it. Especially with him unsure of the path he intends to take in life. Especially since he once thought to be a soldier, one of her enemies.
"You were allowed to live here on your own, even when you were a minor?" He crunches his apple, and juice spurts from his mouth.
She glares at the spot he makes on her floors. "No. I lived with Liz and her family until not that long ago."
"Surprised you two get along. She seems really different."
Maka laughs. "She is, but she's like family. And I think she's more against the war than I am, to be honest."
He arches an eyebrow. "Really? Why?"
Her smile breaks apart. "She lost the one she loved to the war."
Soul steps across the sticky floor and wraps her in his arms.
"You should meet her," she whispers as tears drizzle onto his shoulder. "She's the bravest girl I know, because she keeps going even though I know it's killing her. This war doesn't just kill soldiers, Soul. It kills the ones that get left behind, too."
He says nothing, just holds her tighter until she cries herself to sleep, and he tucks her safely away in bed. He's a million miles away.
(Late June, 1967)
Maka finally manages to get him to come along on a rebellious adventure. They're going to egg a lieutenant's car. And he hopes as runs after her in retreat, with pebbles cutting the bottoms of his feet, toward her house - their house? - that they still talk about this moment in thirty years.
That they're still together in thirty years.
"You're so rad," he says with laughter.
(Late August, 1967)
"Oh, Wesley, is that you?" His mother's voice is lilted, excited, like a dog waiting for its master to return. It's not a voice for him, and he knows so because it lowers when she trots to the door and sees a younger version of the son she wishes for instead. "Evening, Soul." Her smile is brief and then she retreats to the reading room, some rare novel or another sitting on the table, untouched.
He follows her, unsure why. His feet sink deep into the red plush carpet, makes his skin itch, his muscles twitch with the stress of being in such an ornate mansion that he no longer feels he is a part of. He prefers the threadbare couch of Maka's house, the carpets worn with bare, muddied feet and halls echoing with laughter instead of the eerie crackle of a flame. "Not excited to see me?" He contains the anger. Thinks himself to be a jar and seals the lid with his sharp teeth digging into his bottom lip.
"Soul, you're here every single day. Your brother hasn't been home in over a month and promised me he would visit within the next few days. He's just always so busy in New York with all those jazz concerts he puts on, you know." She rolls her ruby eyes and pretends to flip through the pages of her antique book.
He figures Maka must have already read that a million times, at the very least, and smiles bitterly to himself. "Mother, I haven't been home in a while, either."
Her eyes drift down the page. "What?"
"I've been sleeping over my..." He hesitates, then decides to go for it, "I've been sleeping over my girlfriend's house almost every night."
She slaps the book shut, and he swears he sees plumes of dust pop out from between the worn binds. "You have a girlfriend? Why haven't you told me?"
"Because you don't care, that's why."
"Of course I do!" She gives him her full attention. "Invite her over for dinner tomorrow evening. I want to make sure she's a suitable match for you."
He knows she means that she wants to make sure an Evans boy can be seen with her in public, and retains a smug smirk. "Fine. I'll bring her over around five."
He's glad he can read between the lines of his mother's words, much better than she reads the solid-printed lines on the pages resting on her too-polished mahogany table.
She decides to play along, because it sounds fun. She will more than voluntarily pretend to be his girlfriend, and the worst kind to those of the upper class she knows not much about. Maka puts on her longest green skirt and most oversized, baggy tan shirt and brightest headband. She clutches her favorite book of poetry to her chest and entwines their trembling fingers as they stand at the door and wait for his mother to reveal herself at the door, all forced smiles and sparkling jewelry.
She reminds herself not to stare too hard at her "boyfriend" in his finest suit, and returns the air kisses on each cheek his mother gives her. Maka knows she's trying her hardest not to stare at her weatherworn outfit, her ironed hair that she does not even try to tame.
"I'm Leslie Evans, Soul's mother. It's nice to meet you..." The question hangs between them.
"Maka. Maka Albarn." The teen grins. "Pleasure to meet you as well."
Leslie leads them to the dining room table, which to Maka is too big for a family of four. It's even emptier without Soul's brother or father, both away on business in New York. She sits across from Soul, and she clonks him on the foot with her too-large boots. He bites his tongue, and returns the stomp. They continue this game for a while in the strained silence between the three of them.
The butlers place their food in front of them, a food with a name so fancy Maka is not even sure she could pronounce it, let alone dig into it. She yearns for a good old-fashioned hamburger and a buzzing beer, but gently picks at it.
"So, Ms. Albarn," his mother says with a smile so sticky-sweet and sickening she thinks of her thirteenth birthday, the one where she stuffed herself with too much red velvet cake, "what are you studying at the college?"
Maka plays with the folds in her book's tattered cover. "English. I would much like to be a high school English teacher." She takes a long, impolite gulp of wine, and Soul follows her lead.
Leslie clears her throat. "But what are you actually studying in class, for example?"
Maka pushes her nearly-untouched plate aside and places her poetry book on the table. "Would you like me to give you an example?"
"Oh, sure! I do love literature."
"Then you will really like this one," she says as she flips to her favorite page. "I guarantee it."
They laugh as they walk to her home, or their home in his mind, having to stop in their walk every so often to clutch their sides as they think of the memory.
"Her face!" Soul says with another chuckle. "It was so priceless. Her eyes were about as right wide as our fine-China plates."
Maka smiles. "I do know how to pick the right poem for every situation. 'America when will we end the human war?'"
"'Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb'."
They wander into her small, comfy house and his muscles no longer twitch with the stress of false grandeur and overdecorated hallways. He breathes in the scent of fruit, some stale cologne from him. He likes that their smells are mixing under the same roof, that their lives imprint on each other like inky fingerprints.
The bubbles from the wine still sit in his stomach, and hers. He smells it on her breath when they relay the memories to each other in the proximity they create on the sunken couch, and she smells it on his. Wine worth enough to feed a poorer family. A guilt floods through her and pushes out the effect of the alcohol. She takes in the choir of crickets outside, a flicker of light from a firefly. She will miss the warmth of summer, the background it gives.
He gets brave, and tugs on one of her longer strands of dark-blonde hair to get her attention. She turns to him, eyes intense.
"What is it?" she whispers as he plays with the piece, ties a bad knot in the end.
"You know why I gave you a crocus in return for your daisy?"
"No. Honestly, I don't."
"A crocus is the first flower of spring."
She waits, eyes alight like the phosphorescence of the bugs outside. He thinks her eyes could outshine even them.
"My life was a winter. It was cold, no one wanted it. But when you touched my life I felt more alive. Awake. You were my first sign of spring. You were one of my first hopes."
Her cheeks blaze, and she bends her head and hides behind her hair. "I think I've been reading you too much poetry."
"Or maybe not enough." He laughs, a nervous titter. "I don't think I'm good enough with words yet. I'm still a guy of action." He gingerly places his hand under her chin, pulls up her head so their eyes lock. And then he leans forward and pins his lips against her own for a short moment, then pulls away, but stays close. Hopes silently for a return.
She grins and kisses him back far more fervently, and while their tongues tangle she slowly pushes him against the arm of the couch, straddles him and keeps her blush the entire way out of embarrassment at her dominance. She wonders if he realizes now how long she's been holding back on him.
She loosens his silken tie and he easily removes her shirt. Soul grins between kisses at her lack of bra, runs a smooth hand down her back until he reaches the top of her skirt, and tugs it just as rapidly down. She kicks off the rest of it impatiently, removes his suit jacket and unbuttons his shirt, then presses a hand along his sculpted abdomen, up his firm chest and stops at the side of his face. Shy again, she hides herself by working her mouth along his neck, and he groans and starts working on his belt buckle.
Maka tugs off his pants and lets out a surprised squeak as he abruptly flips their positions, trapping her beneath him. She admires the muscles in his arms, the sharp edges of his teeth. Appreciates them much more as his right hand lands on a breast and his mouth on the other. Maybe he's been holding back, too, she figures for only a brief moment as he nibbles gently on her sun-salted skin.
She moans and reaches into his boxers, runs a hand up and down his growing member, and feels him slow down on her as she does so.
Soul slides a hand down to her white-cotton underwear, fingers the sensitive spot hiding in the slit and revels in her heavier breathing, her flushed expression. He buries his mouth in the crooks of her neck, runs a tongue along the bottom of her ear. She continues to stroke him through the material and he does all he can not to break right then and there in her grip.
She closes her eyes and shouts quietly into the night as she comes under his deft movements, his skilled tongue.
In her warm haze she removes her own underwear and then his, giving him unspoken permission to move forward.
Soul kisses her deeply again, their tongues as matched as their fingers when they held hands earlier that night. Their bodies meld just as well as he sinks inside her, and he can't help but think that this it, this is who he is supposed to be with for the rest of his life. She fits him perfectly, he thinks as he moves back and forth within her. He kisses her again as she moans as he hits a certain spot, feels their chemistry burst in their pumping hearts. He wonders if too much love between them will cause them to just shatter and drift apart. He moves quicker and quicker until he comes, and she smiles as he kisses her again and again in the afterglow of their moment.
He wishes he were better with words than actions, sometimes. Because what he really needed to tell her was that he lied, that he did pass his physical exam all those months ago and he's leaving tomorrow to go to the very war she hates. He needed to tell her that he lied so he could get as close to her as possible before she got as far from him as she wanted when he finally confessed. He needed to tell her that he would always love her, even when she hated him more than their government, more than bombs and her bare feet on snow. He's afraid of war but he's more certain he's going to lose her than his own life, and that scares him more than air raids and assault rifles.
And she needed to tell him as she fell asleep in his arms that the reason she really hated the war was because her father was declared a Prisoner of War a long time ago. Because she has no hope for people that leave her. She believes only in people she can see, can feel. Because once a person she loves goes missing, they don't ever come back. They lay dying somewhere in a red-dusted ditch.
There are selfish soldiers, it's true, and there are also selfish protestors.
She almost expects to find a note instead of him the next morning. She knew him well enough at this point to know he was battling guilt with her and knew it certainly wasn't the sex. They had both wanted that. But what they both didn't want was his departure.
Words are not my talent, as you know (though they are yours). And somehow I almost wish for a moment we were in opposite situations because you could think of the perfect thing to say. But we're not. We're very far apart now (I think; geography's not my strong point, either).
I have never felt more alone in my life, because the chances of you forgiving me are pretty slim. And though I don't want that, I understand it. Hate me the rest of your life but please don't ever forget me. I'll think of you as much as I can (but not if I have to hold a gun; you and guns don't mix, though I can't say the same of your violent streak). I'll make sure if I die that you're my last thought. Maybe if you are I'll get to be a ghost and follow you, ensure your happiness for the rest of your life because that's what I want more than anything.
Because I love you. That's it.
I should have failed the physical. And now I'm sorry that I didn't. I'd fail it now. My heart is so heavy it weighs the rest of my body down. A soldier with a broken heart is not a very good one.
She does not cry. Not in this moment. She walks painfully slow to the chipped drawer to the side of the sink, and pulls out a pack of her father's favorite cigarettes. He and her Uncle Stein used to smoke them on the porch in the summer. She would make them iced tea and sit between them and listen to them talk about how poisonous love could be.
She believes it now.
She lights it up, inhales, and wonders how many she would have to smoke before she disappeared altogether.
(Mid July, 1957)
She's eight. She sits in her father's lap and tries to read the lines on his palm, and he lets her. He just hopes she can't read them properly, can't read that one day he'll leave her and he might not be back, even though he's all she has.
"Maka," he says as she draws another invisible line across his palm.
"Yes, papa?" She looks up at him with those viridian eyes so big they could swallow him whole, and he nearly drowns.
"Men are terrible. Don't ever trust them. They love you and leave you." He puts his hand on top of her head.
"Except you, papa, right?"
"Not even me, Maka. Not even me."
But she did. She trusted them both.
(Early October, 1967)
She sits on her campus courtyard and writes nonsensical poetry. It has images and visions and no life, no spirit. She writes, numb, unthinking. She writes about red eyes that remind her of the changing leaves and sharp teeth, the kind that remind her of the monsters she thinks live under her bed with the dust bunnies and mismatched socks she no longer bothers to wear.
Maka writes out of order, does not line any of her stanzas up and normally ends up scribbling it out in frustration, because no matter how much she can't forgive Soul, she can't stop thinking about him and it kills her. Because she knows she loves him, too, but she'll never be able to say it. Even if she sees him again, she won't be able to say it. Because she's supposed to be mad.
But she can't be mad and love him. One has to win out and her heart always gets her head to cave in and she hates herself for it even more.
She pulls out another cigarette and lights it up, watches the smoke twirl around the loosening leaves and spin straight into an invisibility in the jay-blue sky.
She's about to reach for another tar-stick when a manicured hand halts her. Maka looks up and meets Liz's eyes, that remind her of the sky. So much more refreshing than under-the-bed monsters and bleeding, dying leaves.
"Liz," Maka murmurs.
Liz takes the packet of cigarettes and tosses them into the nearby lake. "What are you doing to yourself? Why are you smoking now?"
Maka's eyes glaze over, and she can no longer meet her friend in the eye. She is a world away. Farther even than Vietnam on the other side of the world. "When Soul and I were hanging out one day after I got into another fist fight, he said, I hope you don't pick up anymore bad habits. If you do, I'll stop you. You've got more than enough." She laughs, but it's as empty as the words scrawled hectic on her notepad. "I figured if I started smoking, he would come here himself and rip this cigarette right out from between my lips. And maybe kiss away the taste of ash."
Her long-time friend sits down next to her. "When Kid died, I had the same idea." She clutches Maka's hand tightly. "I thought, I'll get myself into a whole mess of trouble again. Do what I used to do: pickpocket, steal and resell to live. I thought he'd save me again. Just like he did the first time. But instead, I just had cops after me. Wanted signs. And Patti came and got me out of that dark place. And that's when I realized: I didn't have him anymore, but I still had others. I still had hope." She sighs, tears pinpricking. "I know you love him. You will for a long time, too, I promise. But he's not gone yet. He might come back. But even if he doesn't, we're all still here. Remember that."
Maka starts to sob, too. And it feels good, because she has not done it since he departed, or since finding out about her father. She hugs Liz to her chest and cries into her friend's hair.
"Thank you," Maka whispers over and over. "Thank you so much. You're so strong."
(Early December, 1967)
"Miss Albarn?" Sid calls from his old wooden podium as she passes.
"Yes, Professor?" She turns and gives him her full attention.
"I'm having an open mic night at the school cafeteria tonight, and I was wondering if you would be willing to read a piece of yours?"
The grip on her tattered brown-leather bag tightens, like it's the thing that keeps her upright. "I am honored by your invitation, sir, but I've always been very private about-"
"You showed me."
"Because you appreciate the art, sir."
"So why not read it to a larger group that I promise will appreciate it?"
Her eyes swerve from his. "Okay, but I will only contribute one short one."
"Those are your best." He winks, grins. "You tell so much with very few words."
She thinks of how much she talked to Soul, but how little she actually told him. "Thank you, professor."
The cafeteria at night is lit only by the full moon that the panes on the windows fracture. The glass-cut blocks of lunar light that drop through hit her hard as she steps onto the cement-cold floors beneath the folded-back cafeteria tables. She can see one stool with a microphone in front of it, and all the other goers sit bow-legged on the floor.
She wrests herself away from the scene only to be lightly shoved back into by Professor Sid standing only an inch away.
"You're up first," he says, his eyes encouraging in the milky fluorescence.
As Maka pads to the stool the acid in her throat rises but cools as she turns on the seat and views a welcoming audience of only a few other faculty and some genuinely interested students.
She pushes the microphone away, realizes she won't need it and takes a lancet-sharp breath as she slides to her designated page. She crosses her skirt-coated legs and smiles thinly.
"Hello, my name is Maka Albarn and I am going to read you a very small poem that I wrote to make some sort of peace with myself, and someone else I once knew."
A few in the audience smile, give nods.
Her smile widens.
"I see and know
these bottles of red
wine have a fine,
aged taste (aged by
more corked bottles of
bitter flavor) but
when I taste from
them I instantly am
is as sour as the
letter he left me and
When they clap, she laughs. But what makes her smile the most is when she spots Liz as her gangly friend stands in the background, whistles for her and makes her feel like she just spoke to an audience of ten thousand.
"Soul, what are you doing?" Black Star's mouth hangs wide open.
He sighs as he removes all the bullets from the gun that weighs down his shaking hands too heavily. "There's someone back home I'm tryin' to impress."
"By getting yourself killed? I don't see the advantage in that. How can you get some neckin' as a dead man?"
"Sweet Jesus, Black Star. Does anyone even say necking anymore?" The bullets, gold like necklaces and money and all sorts of far less dangerous objects fall to the ground instead of into flesh as they were wont to do. He sighs, buries them in the reddish dirt like seeds. Soul wonders if they'll grow into something more beneficial to society, but knows bullets just often create a whole bunch more. "Anyway, I believe in peace, too. It's not just for me. It's for the whole world."
"What will you do when we go into their goddamned camp? I'm only concerned for you."
He shrugs, runs a hand through his hair and muddies the white. "Hit them over the head with the thing, knock 'em out."
"Don't come cryin' to me when they cut your dick off and you can't yield the benefits of your crazy stunt. I'm not giving you mine, even though it's fantastic."
Soul groans, thinks of more pleasant body parts like Maka's chest to restore some of his masculinity. "I really hope this isn't our last earthly conversation."
His best friend laughs raucously, like some wandering jungle bird. "I wouldn't mind if it was. At least it was a good one. You won't forget it even in death." He pats his friend on the back and that's it. Their leader calls them forward and briefs them on their camp invasion. There is some evidence that they are holding some American soldiers hostage and it's their job to get them out.
Even if it means they all die and become the red dust that settles on their skin.
"Soul!" he hears someone shout. "Go on ahead and try to find those prisoners while we keep these guys busy!"
He is surprised he can hear the order over the gunfire. He rushes forward toward the tents the enemies vacated when they surprise-assaulted their hidden camp. He keeps a good grip on his gun even though it's empty, hopes just looking like a threat is enough to keep the assailants at bay, believes in the words of a flower girl while he gets tangled in all kinds of weeds.
Soul peers into as many as possible, and finally finds them: three American soldiers as much bone as they are skin. "I'm an American!" he whispers. "We're here to take you home."
Two of them get up and nearly jump for joy as they bolt past him and toward the dying crossfire. The third barely moves. He's taken too many beatings to even stand properly, looks like a pale canvas only colored with blacks and blues. Soul was told that it wasn't worth it to save soldiers like this, but he's become more human than that lately. He hurries over and lets the fallen soldier lean on his stronger shoulders.
As Soul slides out of the tent he gazes straight into the eyes of an enraged enemy who wields a shimmering machete. He sees his fellow soldiers in the background heading his way but there's not enough time to save them both; he cast aside his bullets and rid of his trump card. He throws his fallen comrade to the ground and takes the slice for him, collapses and tastes nothing but blood, thick blood, until it all goes black but all he feels is crimson.
He wants to shout, but he cannot. No words or even heart-curdling screams release themselves from his desert-dry lips. An agonizing pain runs from one hip to a shoulder, like his entire body was slivered in two. He's coming apart, and nobody out here in this country will take the time to put him back together.
There is a moment of consciousness that is less long than his vicious dreams stocked with pointy-eared demons and immense machetes. And in that moment, he thinks of Maka. Once he sinks back into sub-life he won't be able to voluntarily conjure her image so this moment is all he has.
And he spends it on her.
A tear trickles down his face, he screams to no avail again.
So this is the life of a soldier. This is what he chose.
(Early Febuary, 1968)
A few days, weeks, or maybe months later – he can't be sure, he comes to a clear-minded consciousness still fogged by stinging, simmering pain from one bone-tip of his body to the other.
He takes in a long breath like a drag of a cigarette, puffs it out. Goes through the motions to make sure he's still human: flexes callused fingers and toes, blinks his eyes and moves his head. Counts to ten. Clears his throat. Tries not to cry when the minor movements send a riptide of pain from outside to in.
"I see you're finally awake," an unfamiliar, smoked voice murmurs in the background.
"Ah," is the only response he manages to make. But his thoughts mill about in the millions in his head.
"Good." He blows out a ring of smoke quite intrusively into his affliction-crushed face. "There's someone here to visit you. An old buddy of mine, actually."
Soul slowly rubs one eye. "Do I know you?"
"Your body does." The man grins.
"I'm Dr. Stein." He clutches Soul's free hand and shakes it, then waves and walks out the door to let the visitor in.
He wants to be knocked out again, but is pleasantly surprised at the visitor. The weakest soldier he saved at the camp. He grins, though the smirk is small and cracks open his parched lips.
"I'm glad to finally meet you conscious, Soul Evans." The man smiles brightly in return, and Soul is glad to see he's clearly been eating and sleeping again with no beatings or torturing in between.
He tries to sit up, but fails. His shoulder screeches at him. "Sorry, it's a little hard for me to move."
The man nods, and sits by his bed. "I am just happy to know that my hero is going to live."
"I'm really not a hero-"
"You are!" the red-headed man shouts. "I owe you my life. I, Spirit Albarn, owe you my life."
Soul gapes. "Albarn?"
He smiles. "Yes. The Albarn family owes you so much." He sighs dramatically. "Is there something I can do to repay you?"
"Definitely. Mind if we fly home together?"
The older man looks perplexed, but obliges. "I'd be honored, Soldier Evans."
(Late March, 1968)
Maka stirs in her bedroom to the new spring chorus of birds in the tree that stands guard by her window. She yawns, stretches, and moves to her vanity to begin the long process of untangling her knot-nested hair.
The birds are normally her only company, but this morning she hears a faint, almost hesitant knock on her door and treads carefully down the stairs.
"Who is it?" she asks from the safety of her wooden door.
"My precious Maka has already forgotten me?"
She practically whips the door open at the sound of his womanly cries. Neither of them moves as she takes him in, assesses to make sure no part of him is a ghost, because that's how he's felt to her for so long. Invisible. But this is him, for sure. Tears in his sky-blue eyes to match the ones pouring hot and burning down her own salted skin.
"Papa!" she shouts and jumps into his arms, and he swings her around in circles until they both are sick to their stomach but too overjoyed to even notice. "Papa, I could never forget you! I can't believe this. I can't believe you're home." They stop twirling but she refuses to loosen her hold on him. He smells just like he used to, and his heartbeat seems the same thrum.
"Well, I am glad you haven't forgotten me. But I do hope you can forgive me." He pulls away, leaves his firm hands on her smaller shoulders and stares into her eyes. "I owe a man my life and I promised him something you might not like."
"What is it? I am sure I won't mind since he brought you home, papa." She puts one hand on one of his and smiles. "I owe him my life, too."
"That works out then! Because he asked for your hand in marriage and I had to say yes."
Her eyes sadden, but her smile does not dim. She supposes she'll have more time to protest it later after reuniting with her father. "Okay. Where is he now?"
Her father stretches out an arm toward the end of the driveway where a soldier hobbles toward them on badly-made crutches. She follows his point and her heart jumps out of her chest and onto the ground.
"Soul," she whispers.
"Papa is going to let you two get to know each other. But only on this porch and within my view, of course!" He pats her on the head and enters her home, their home, to readjust.
Maka sits on the porch swing and waits for him to approach. She knows she could at least help him struggle to her side but does not bother. He's caused her pain and now she allows him to wallow in his.
Soul almost falls up the steps but finally makes it to the porch, and sits down with a cushion between them. She stops swinging, and waits for him to speak first.
He puts his head back, closes his eyes. "I'm sorry, to start."
She gazes in his direction, her expression unusually unreadable but edged with agitation and some, he hopes, relief.
"And I meant what I said in the letter. That I love you."
"Okay," she says, still shocks at the words. "But how do I believe you when you kept something so big from me? If you really do feel… that, then you need to prove it."
"How can I do that for you?" His eyes rim with pleading.
"Engagements last a year, right? You've got a year to prove you love me. If you've proved it properly, I'll walk up that altar behind you, and that means I love you, too. If you've failed, I won't show up at all. Take it, or leave it now and forever."
He smiles, chuckles. "A second chance. Thank you."
Maka lets a hand flutter and then land on his. "I owe it to you for my father." She starts to cry again. "Thank you for bringing him home. And Soul?"
He looks back to her again.
"Thank you for coming home, too. You're a piece of shit, but I missed you more than anything." Her sobs increase, and she fights to wipe them away before they land. "Piece of shit. Piece of shit." She bites her bottom lip, but she cannot contain it. She leans over and hugs him tighter than even her own father, and cries into his uniform. "Stupid."
"Maka, loosen up. I'm aching."
"Good!" she shouts into his shirt. "I was, too!" She sniffles again. "Shit-Eater Evans, that's what you are."
He laughs and rubs her back. "Ok. Shit-Eater Evans it is."
(March 1968 thru Early March 1969)
He does what he can to win her back. Everything he can. He sings to her (badly), and writes her (bad) poetry. He makes her laugh and takes her skinny-dipping in the lakes again, and cooks (terrible) food for her and listens in at her open mic presentations in dank cafeterias and watches her poems rise to community fame.
He stands with her at protests, helps her make her signs. He takes off his shirts at anti-war ceremonies so the world can see his scar and know that it is only one among thousands. They leave their town speechless and some affronted.
He rubs her aching feet and picks out a pair of (nice) moccasins for her despite how much she still urges to walk completely bare on the roads.
He tells her of how he saved her father not using a single bullet. He sneaks in through her window at night because of how overprotective her father is (sometimes he wishes that enemy had at least cut off Spirit's leg instead or something). She does not let him sleep next to her for a long time, but he's okay with that. He just enjoys how close they are. He just wants to see her. He just wants to breathe in her tangerine-scented, emerald-eyed presence.
And all year he works in the garden outside her house, growing something she's not sure of. She allows it, and while he busies his hands in the soil and plants seeds that aren't bullets, they talk and catch up and cool down.
And finally when the flowers shoot up she smiles. Daises blossom. And written on the petal of one, she notices, is a (badly) written question:
Will you marry me?
She laughs, and cries. He finally gets to kiss her again. There, and at the altar. She meets him there in bare feet and with the daisies in her hair.
Author's Note (Part II):
"Flower children" and "hippies/hipsters" (yes, the word "hipster" was initially used to describe hippies) as we usually imagine them when we hear the words weren't part of the popular culture of America (there was a large population of them in Europe evolving around this time) until around 1969 (Woodstock kind of brought them out to the public, in a sense). And not all hippies were apart of the groups that lived together in vans and did peyote/weed/etc. Some were just all about peace in a time of war (and most, unlike Maka, were pretty peaceful about their protesting). My grandmother to this day is a hippie - and she proudly stands by it (she's got an incredibly large John Lennon painting over her fireplace, and rainbow walls). I also sought some help from my fiction-writing professor I had who was a veteran (where the descriptions of red dust came from - he said it was everywhere when he went). Howl is a poem by Allen Ginsberg which was extremely controversial at the time (temporarily taken off shelves). If you're interested in the 60's, I say go ahead and read it. It is, however, very lewd and graphic in nature and not for the faint of heart. Many lines in the poem depict anti-war protestors doing what they do best. I quoted another of his poems in here (the one Maka read at the dinner table) named America which is also as graphic though maybe not as much so.
I could say a lot more, but I'm honestly not sure what I else I could say. I hope you enjoyed it! I wrote it with good feelings in mind and I hope you left this story with that sort of emotion. :) Thanks for reading!