This is the final submission for my "Diary" series. Thanks to all who read, voted, gave positive and/or constructive negative feedback, and of course to Random Librarian for his editing.
X -- Healing Wounds, Invisible Scars
"I can't believe how fast you can run with that thing," Luke huffed, pumping his arms in rhythm with his stride. He always maintained focused when he ran and rarely talked, but he had to commend Clint's ability to run as fast as he did with his prosthetic leg.
Clint panted, "Took me a while to get the hang of it. Took longer to go from the rubberized track to the street. Remember the first time we went on a run?"
Luke wheezed out a small chuckle, "Yeah; we were running away from a burning helicopter, getting shot at, and completely disoriented with our location. And that was seconds after waking up from my unconscious state. Nothing like getting shot at to take a full minute off of my annual 1.5 mile test, had I stayed in..."
"Speaking of which," Clint said, "I think I might have a contracting job lined up out of Lewis-McChord."
"Really? Army or Air Force side?"
"Air Force. Out of the Wing. The commute will suck, though. Traffic on the interstate is awful around here. Take a right when we get to this intersection," Clint said, pointing up ahead at the crossroads.
As Clint and Luke turned down the road, Clint asked, "So, did you call Kaylee yet?"
"You won't let up, will you," Luke said, exasperated.
Clint smiled, "I promised I'd take you in, but I didn't say anything about refraining from sticking my nose in your business. I know I've never met Kaylee, but I know she doesn't deserve what you're putting her through. Especially if she's as amazing as you've described her."
Luke clammed up for the remainder of their run. He knew Clint's tactics; apply steady and deliberate pressure, and odds were he wouldn't let up any time soon. All he wanted to do was purge every single thought and memory he had of Kaylee, whatever it took to get her out of his mind. Before he went insane.
Maybe it was time to move on.
He could smell the perfume on her neck. He remembered that wonderful fragrance... it was the same kind she wore in high school. Even while half asleep he suspected it was a dream when he felt her press her skin against his. The mixture of emotions -- excitement from finally having her back coupled with the sorrow in knowing he would soon wake up and she would be gone forever -- weighed heavily on him. He didn't want to wake up. Ever.
All it took was a few blinks, and as he was teleported back into the bedroom. Kaylee had vanished into thin air.
It was dark, but he saw the silhouette of someone standing only a few feet away from his bed. His arms, stretched over his head, felt numb. He tried to sit up, but his wrists immediately met resistance. The sound of metal against metal rang out. Had he been handcuffed to the bed?
"It's about time you wake up, you selfish prick."
It was the sound of the sweetest voice in the world, but in a not-so-sweet tone.
The sting across his face instantly brought him back from dreamland.
"THAT's for making me look from Mexico to Canada just to find you, you bastard!" Every word Kaylee shrieked was through a stream of tears. Leaning down, she aggressively took his face in her hands and leaned down to kiss him. Her lips and tongue danced with his, just as passionately as she ever had before, her tears smearing against his cheek.
"That," she said with a considerably meeker tone, her bottom lip quivering, "Is because I thought I would never see you again."
Trying his hardest to catch up, disbelieving the evidence before his very eyes, Luke gasped, "Kaylee?" So she hadn't vanished into thin air after all.
The sting on his face had caused an adrenaline surge, but her follow-up kiss drained it away completely. It was possible he had never been more confused in his life. Looking up at both his wrists, he asked, "Kaylee, what's going on?"
"Get used to it," Kaylee smirked, sitting on the bed next to Luke, reaching up to jiggle the cuffs. "I'm taking you home with me, like it or not. And if I have to chain you up every night for the rest of our lives to keep you from attacking me, guess what?" Kaylee leaned down as if she was going to kiss him but she paused, her lips inches away from his. She was so close he could feel her breath on his skin as she seductively whispered, "I'm willing to make that sacrifice."
Tussling his hair with one hand while placing the other on his naked chest, she exhaled and softly said, "Luke, you have a lot of apologies to make. But I do too. I'm so sorry for my part. I shouldn't have... turned away from you. You know... after what had happened. I've regretted that moment every night since, and I've have had a lot of empty nights in my own bed to think about what I did."
Luke said, "You don't need to apologize. You were scared, and after what I did..."
Kaylee interrupted, "It doesn't matter if I was scared or not; that's not the point. I will always take the bad with the good, despite your promise to leave me." Tearing up again, but trying to sniff back her tears, she said, "I knew you were going to leave that night, but I thought you were going to be back the next morning, at the latest. You put me through a nightmare! Living these last nine months, not knowing if you were dead or alive, has been pure torture. Not knowing..." her lip quivered.
"Kaylee, I'm extremely sorry. I never meant to hurt you -- I would never dream of hurting you. Believe it or not, I left to prevent you from hurting. I'm still not so sure it's a good idea for me to go back with you. You have so much potential in your life; you are beautiful and sweet and could have anyone you wanted. No one would ever love you more than I, but despite my best intentions I'm afraid my love is not enough. All I'm doing is dragging you down. I dragged you down in high school, I dragged you down when I joined the military, and I dragged you down when I came home. You're life would be so much better without me in..."
Interrupting again, Kaylee snapped, "Oh shut up! That's not true and you know it. You've done more for me than everyone else in my entire life combined. You've loved me like no one else has. It's time you wake up and finally see that! Twice I've thought you died, and this time you simply vanished, which is just as bad if not worse."
Kaylee sniffed, "I haven't seen you in nine months, and the last thing I ever did to you was... flinch... afraid of what you had done. And I will always regret not being strong enough in that moment." Her eyes narrowed, reflecting an immediate mood swing, spitting out her next words venomously, "But that was no excuse for you to run away."
Luke sighed, uncertain of how to respond. He still wasn't sure what to think, "Kaylee, how did you...I mean..."
Reading his mind, Kaylee said, "How did I find you? Expensive software, worthless detectives, and a boatload of money. In the end it all came down to traffic cameras. After hours and hours of watching footage from traffic cameras across nearly all of Northern California, I finally caught your Black Challenger heading North on I-5.
"After doing some math..." Kaylee stopped herself and glared at Luke after an amused smile crept up on his face, "And yes, I did some math and if you never tutored me I probably couldn't have figured it out and never would have found you. So, your fault. So, after guessing your speed and the time you probably left -- and allowing for a ginormous 'deviation', meaning I had to watch more grainy non-HD film than I ever thought possible -- I finally caught you on camera heading North on the I-5 around Eugene. And then Portland. So I thought to myself, 'who lives up this way? Why would Luke possibly be heading up to Washington State?' At first I thought you were heading for Canada. Like you couldn't live in the same country as me anymore. But then I remembered something big: Clint lives in Seattle."
Luke grunted. Sensing his displeasure, Kaylee said, "You should know Clint lied to me, every time I called up here. He said he didn't know where you were. He's a pretty good liar, but then again, I am too," she winked. "Takes one to know one, I guess." Kaylee smirked, looking up towards the ceiling and acting as if it wasn't a big deal and said, "So I told him we were getting married right before you left, just to soften him up. Make him feel guiltier." Luke looked shocked. "So I used my powers for evil. Sue me," she giggled shamelessly.
"He even lied to my face when I pulled up, demanding to see you. It wasn't until I pulled out the marriage card that he weakened. You'd be proud of him; after he told me where you were, he said, and I quote: 'I'd trip an old lady for Luke; you have to understand he made me promise and I seriously owed him. So go easy on him.' So, yeah, compared to what I wanted to do, you did get off easy with a little slap.
"So, I'm revoking your promise to leave me. That's not how the story ends. Hopefully you got this little hissy-fit out of your system and are ready to come back with me. I promised I would be by your side, and we would do this together. I'll be there for you to talk to me, to lay your head in my lap, to cry on my chest if that's what you need."
She took a deep breath and said, "If you want to leave me down the road because you get bored with me or because of my bitchy attitude, fine; I understand. But you don't get to leave me because you think you're protecting me in some backwards kind of way," she said, looking into his eyes.
"Get it, mister?"
Luke was about to protest, until she held a single finger to his lips. She raised an eyebrow and lowered her chin, as if daring him to defy her.
Caught in her unrelenting gaze, Luke bit his tongue and thought hard. She was hard to say no to; she always had been. After taking a deep breath, he reluctantly nodded.
But reluctant or otherwise, it was still a yes. Kaylee almost squealed with joy.
"Um, Kaylee," Luke asked, looking up at the handcuffs and giving a slight tug to get her attention.
Kaylee pulled out the key, but instead of unlocking the cuffs she cruelly dangled it in front of him. She sighed, "You want this, do you? Well."
She gently raked the key across his chest, trying to look at him seductively but a giggle escaped as he sharply inhaled. She bit her lip and slid her hand down his chest and past his stomach, stretching over him until her hair lightly brushed against him. Kaylee told him, "You're coming back home with me but before we drive back, I think I'll keep you like this for a little while longer, after all you've put me through. Too bad for you..."
It was obvious that Luke had missed Kaylee. Despite that, he was reluctant to immediately head back to California but at the same time he wasn't about to let Kaylee leave without him. Kaylee could tell that he was still conflicted and held a lot of pain over what had happened. She tried her hardest to soothe him, constantly reminding him that she wasn't going to leave. In turn, Kaylee made it clear that he better not think of ever leaving her again.
Luke wanted to fulfill his promise to Clint to help finish the fence; Kaylee completely understood. She was more than supportive, especially after realizing how much Clint had helped him after he left California. Besides, it didn't matter where they were; it only mattered they were together.
She stayed by his side almost the entire time, conversing and catching up on the last several months as he hammered the boards into place. At one point, after suspecting Luke was probably too busy to socialize, Kaylee left and headed towards the house. Luke quickly popped his head up and set his hammer down.
He looked so sad, Kaylee thought; almost like a lost puppy. It broke her heart, but at the same time it was adorable. "I'm just going to make up some lemonade for you two; I'll be right back," she smiled. It took him a few seconds to break eye contact and return his focus back to the fence.
He does miss me, she thought to herself, smiling from ear to ear all the way back to the house.
"My wrists are still sore, you know," Luke told Kaylee through the speaker system, one hand holding the steering wheel and the other rubbing the opposite wrist.
"Don't be such a baby. You did it to yourself," she replied from her BMW; she sounded snotty -- and meant to -- but was grateful he couldn't see her actually smiling. "You're lucky I didn't cuff you to the steering wheel. Oh, and by the way, before I forget: When we get within an hour of your parents house, we need to stop so you can buy them flowers. Like enough flowers to fill up the living room. Especially your mother and Faith."
Luke winced and sighed, "I know."
He remained quiet. Kaylee bit her lip. Maybe she was being a little hard on him. He deserved it, but still. "I'm glad you're coming back home with me, cowboy," she purred. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too," he said sincerely. "You're falling behind again," he reminded her, looking in his rear-view mirror. "Can't keep up with American muscle, can you?"
"Oh, shut up. If you get a ticket for speeding, Mr. Leadfoot, I'm not stopping for you. Then we'll see who makes it back home first. Besides I could take your Challenger if I really wanted to. Whatever happened to my snail-paced slow driving boyfriend?"
She could hear his laughter as he replied, "Maybe he has a lot of pent up energy."
Kaylee smiled. Oh, I like the sound of that, she thought to herself.
"So how many babies are we going to have," Kaylee asked Luke out of the blue, her back straight and butt sticking backwards in the downward dog position. She made yoga look so easy. Luke, also in the same position except with bent elbows and knees, nowhere near Kaylee's perfect form, just about fell over. "Kaylee, are you insane? You told me this yoga stuff is supposed to be relaxing."
"Of course it's relaxing. And peaceful. Especially now that we're back home. Besides, it's also helping to stretch and heal your shoulder. You need to keep it strong."
Luke told her, "Well, the doctor did say, despite his initial analysis, I almost have my full strength back. He thinks I'll be back at one-hundred percent if I stick to his physical therapy routine."
Kaylee sighed, "I know, that's what I keep telling you! That's why we're doing this!"
Luke blinked, "Maybe we should just lift weights instead; it's much simpler and less embarrassing."
"Time for crane," Kaylee said, ignoring Luke's comments. She simply stepped forward, placing her hands on the ground, knees on the back of her arms, and slowly raised both feet off of the floor.
She made it look so easy. Luke shook his head, reluctantly following her lead. Carefully he raised one foot, tried to stabilize his wobbling body, somehow managing to lift his other foot off the ground. He held it for four seconds before toppling over. Kaylee still maintained her motionless form, as if she were a statue. "You still didn't answer me," she cooed breathlessly without moving a muscle.
"Um, we're not exactly married, Kaylee," Luke said, trying to get back into the crane position.
"You're no fun," she whispered, coming out of crane and sitting down cross-legged, grabbing for her towel and water bottle.
"Well," Luke said, following her lead and sitting down, "Why don't we focus on getting you through class first. Are you still sure you want to be a counselor?"
"I am," Kaylee said. "Trust me; I've had plenty of time to think about it. It's been floating around in the back of my mind for a while. First, it's a noble profession, and I want to do something meaningful with my life. I want to help people." Luke nodded in support. "Also, when I have children some day," she added, deliberately staring Luke down with narrowing eyes, "And after I've done this for a while, I should be able to work my hours around their school schedule. Wouldn't that be nice?" Luke quickly turned his eyes away. "So, I'll get my psychology degree in a few years, then hopefully get a job somewhere around here."
Kaylee thought for a moment, and then asked Luke, "At least, I assumed I'd look for a job around here, unless you had something else in mind?"
Luke smiled, "It's hard to predict the future, but I wouldn't mind staying in the area. It makes sense until we finish up school. Seattle was nice, too; I wouldn't mind ending up that way either. I haven't thought about it much, to be honest."
Luke hesitated before asking, "What about when I start classes? Do you think I'll do ok in seminary? I keep feeling like God is calling me towards the ministry... but a guy like me?"
Immediately Kaylee jumped on Luke, "Don't sell yourself short! You're an amazing man. You've been to hell and back. You've cheated death more times than I can count."
"I know, I know," Luke interrupted. "But there's more to it than that. I truly believe our prayers, along with help from my counselor, have helped me get my rage under control. But sometimes it manifests, and it probably always will. I swear more than I should, especially when I get angry. The funny thing is I never used to."
Luke winced, "I've... done worse than that. Much worse! You know that, Kaylee." He struggled with his words, blurting out, "I've... killed people, for crying out loud! There should be some kind of law about accepting people like me into ministry."
Kaylee didn't flinch. She reminded him, "Well, so did Moses. Heck, Paul killed Christians before he was saved. Besides what you did was much, much different! You were defending your country; you know that! If there's one thing you've taught me, it's to trust God and his plan, ask for forgiveness, and if you feel He's calling you on a certain path, then you'll be alright as long as you trust and follow Him."
Luke took a deep breath. "Maybe your right. It just feels like there are people better than me that should be doing this. I'll always carry these invisible scars. Scars that no one will see, yet they are with me. And I can't help but wonder if they should prevent me from ministry."
A serious look surfaced on Kaylee's face. "We both have many invisible scars, and in fact some of them are matching. Not all, but we've shared some of the same wounds. So, while I can't imagine half of the horrors you have been through, I can relate to the other half. And remember, a scar is a wound that has already healed and is nothing more than a reminder of our past. It doesn't dictate our future. If anything, a scar is an experience we can learn from."
She sat up on her knees and slowly started to unzip her yoga jacket, "I was going to show you this later, but maybe now is the right time. I want you to know what I think of you."
She peeled her jacket off, revealing a white t-shirt underneath that said, 'Not every girl is lucky enough to find the man of her dreams... but I'm dating one.' A red heart surrounded 'I'm dating one'.
"I... don't know what to say," Luke said. "You truly humble me, Kaylee." He scooted over, placing one hand on her cheek and leaned in, giving her a deep, passionate kiss.
Kaylee moaned and took his head in her hands, kissing him back with just as much fervor.
"Oh, Luke," she whispered softly. "You know," she said as seriously as she could while wearing a smile, "The other t-shirt is on backorder. Wait until you see that one."
Luke, already blushing, asked, "What other t-shirt?"
Cocking her head to the side, she said, "The one that says, 'Not every girl is lucky enough to find the man of her dreams... but I've married mine."
Scratching the back of his head, eyes cast downward, a small smile crept up on his beet-red face.
XI -- One Last Question
"I don't think I've ever seen the drive-in this packed," Kaylee told Luke while reclining the passenger seat, watching car after car pull in and park.
Luke nodded in agreement and said, "Actually I'm surprised, too."
Kaylee asked him, "What movie are we seeing again?"
After a brief moment of hesitation, presumably trying to recall the name of the movie, Luke answered, "Well, it's something of a romance."
She thought it was odd he didn't remember the name, but casually dismissed it. It had been a long week for both of them. Kaylee considered herself lucky that the college administration allowed her to make most of her classes up, given the extenuating circumstances, but with a full eighteen credits the last thing she wanted to do was think. It was just nice to simply relax with her boyfriend.
Boyfriend... she smirked at herself, realizing how much she had downplayed that term. Luke was so much more than that, but there wasn't a word in the English language to truly explain how much he meant to her.
"You look tired. You're not going to fall asleep, are you, baby," Luke asked her.
Kaylee laughed, "No promises."
"But I heard it's supposed to be really good."
"Well, I'll try hard to stay awake. Just don't play with my hair or rub my forehead or else you'll put me right to sleep," she giggled.
Luke paused, and then asked her, "Well, can I at least put you on my lap before you crash?"
Kaylee slid onto his lap without hesitation and purred, "Ok, cowboy; that I can do. Gladly!"
The drive-in screen went dark and a hush fell over the crowd. Luke said to her, "I think the previews are over. Ready for the movie?"
She smiled, nodding in reply.
As the screen came back to life, a vintage countdown clip appeared, working its way backwards from number ten before momentarily going black again.
Kaylee, a little perplexed, whispered in Luke's ear, "That was different; it doesn't normally do that. Did they change ownership here or something?"
Without so much as a blink, Luke shushed her.
Suddenly, a voice boomed across the drive-in, "Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight's movie isn't just a regular Friday night romance movie. Tonight's movie is the ultimate story of true love, great sacrifice, gradual healing and peaceful restoration."
A bright blue sky progressively came into view on the big screen. The view panned down slowly to a brown brick high school surrounded by trees; the flagpole in front of the school with the Stars and Stripes waving in the wind was the central focus on the screen.
"This is where the beginning of our story takes place," said the narrator as the opening music dramatically began to play.
"Wait..." Kaylee said, taking in the scene. Suddenly it clicked. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped as she could've sworn she recognized her old school and asked, "Luke, isn't that Remmington High?"
Luke didn't respond.
Inside the high school, students walked the halls actively, many of them hustling as if they were running late for their next class. The screen cut to several overlapping scenes, each one featuring the students of Remmington High. Some of the students were shown in front of their class, solving equations on the board. Others were featured in the chemistry lab, mixing various solutions from one beaker to the next. Another scene showed the Mustangs playing their rivals in soccer while another showed a small group studying in the library.
As the scene switched to a Friday night football game, the camera zoomed in on the cheerleaders -- one cheerleader in particular.
Kaylee gasped, "Luke! Oh my gosh, that's..."
"Kaylee Reed," the narrator announced as the young cheerleading captain rallied her girls, "Freshman and head junior varsity Mustang cheerleader, the desire of every male and envied by every female at Remmington."
"LUKE! What's going on," Kaylee shouted at him. "Is that Aaron's voice? Is he narrating the movie? Luke..."
Luke tried to stifle a smile, focusing his attention on the screen. "Shhh! You're ruining the movie. I love watching that girl, the way her hips move as she does her cheer. That's my favorite part."
Dumbfounded, Kaylee watched intently, wondering why Luke wasn't as surprised as she was. It was like he knew what was going to be on the movie screen.
The camera quickly swept across the football field as the Mustangs scored another touchdown. The voice behind the camera said, "Dammit, Luke, I missed their touchdown thanks to your cheerleader fetish. I'm never gonna be good at this filming thing."
The younger Luke told him, "Well, technically it's not a cheerleader fetish, it's just one girl..."
The camera continued to pan between the cheerleaders and the football game as the movie narrator said, "Adored from afar by Luke Patton, Kaylee had no idea just how much he would turn her life upside-down."
Luke stood against at the rail, fidgeting and nervously adjusting his glasses as he tried to find the right words to say. He was grateful the cheerleaders were watching the game, their backs towards him. It gave him a little time. Summoning up all the courage he could muster, he sputtered, "Uh, h-hi, Kaylee."
Kaylee turned around with a puzzled look on her face as the nerdy kid with the messy hair addressed her. Confused, she raised an eyebrow and said, "Uh, hi?"
Luke opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Kaylee was still baffled, but at least a small smile crept up on her face.
"I'm...," was all Luke could get out.
Kaylee smiled, "Um, right. I hope you enjoy the game... you." As she started to turn around, he shouted, "Luke!"
A goofy smile crossed his face, "I mean, my name is Luke. I think you're doing an amazing job, by the way. You've nailed every move so far."
Kaylee awkwardly laughed and told him, "Thanks, um, Luke. See you around." She quickly turned around. The cheerleader next to her took a quick look at Luke and whispered something in Kaylee's ear, laughing. Kaylee's face turned red; she laughed and shook her head.
Horrified with her freshman-self onscreen actions, Kaylee gasped. Her hand covered her mouth as she recalled what Cindy whispered to her -- "The only thing he wants to nail is you!" And Kaylee's reply of "Never in a billion years" made her not only feel extremely guilty, but part of her actually wished that a billion years had actually passed.
The narrator continued, "Luke knew he could never have an angel like Kaylee. He was simply from a different world. Still, he had no idea that his hard work, intellectual level and ability to understand mathematics better than most teachers would wind up pulling Kaylee into his world."
The camera shifted scenes; Luke had become the focal point. "No way! Kaylee, as in Kaylee Reed? Dude, I can't believe you're going to be tutoring her! Say something for the camera," Aaron excitedly told his friend in hopes of getting an amazing response on film.
"Aaron, put that thing away," was all Luke gave him. "I'm trying to study."
Aaron asked, "What did she say? What did she do? What was she wearing?"
Luke said, "Ok, you want the truth? She's insecure, but she puts on a front like she has it all figured out. That's why she comes across as a spoiled brat. I feel sorry for her because she chooses to be one.
"But she's absolutely gorgeous. I've never seen a smile like hers -- ever. I mean, when she wants to, she can brighten up a room. I'm telling you, Aaron, she might even be the most beautiful girl in the world. Hey, I said put that thing down. You're not actually filming this, are you?"
"No, of course not," Aaron said as the scene came to an end.
With her hands pressed up against her face, Kaylee peeked through her fingers, her eyes glued to the screen. She was fully aware that several hundred people in the drive-in were watching the same exact 'movie' that she was; it wasn't possible for her face to be any more red.
As the scene shifted to the school courtyard where Luke and Aaron sat on the bench, Aaron once again behind the camera, the narrator said, "With an incredible amount of patience, Luke dedicated all of his free time to tutoring Kaylee. As challenging as it was, he enjoyed every single minute studying with the Mustang cheerleader.
"But Kaylee also buckled down and studied hard. Once on the verge of failing math and chemistry, she took a gamble on Luke -- he was her last resort. Kaylee passed her midterms with flying colors, and in both math and chem she earned a 'B'!"
The drive-in erupted with cheers causing Kaylee to blush intensely. Smiling ear to ear, her eyes watering, she couldn't take her eyes off of the screen. Kaylee glanced over at Luke. He had already been looking at her and flashed a very uncharacteristic devious kind of smile. Luke affectionately reached over and put his arm around her shoulders.
The movie continued with Luke and Aaron in the school courtyard. Aaron pointed the camera at Luke and asked him, "So how do you feel now that midterms are over?"
Luke shrugged, "Fine, I guess."
"Fine? That's all you have to say for my documentary?"
"Um... really fine?"
Aaron sighed, unimpressed with his lackluster response. "Dude, you're killing me. I know these tests aren't hard for you, but say something at least. Most people are ecstatic that midterms are over, like they can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
"There's not much to say. I took them, I got an A on all of them," he said casually. "Well, here's something, now that I think about it. Actually I did a lot less studying and preparation for midterms, probably the least amount of my life. I pretty much only had time to study for my college classes."
Aaron sounded surprised, "That's not normal for you, Luke. Why?"
"Probably because I've focused most of my time tutoring Kaylee. Probably more than all of the other students I've tutored combined. As a result, I stayed up later catching up on my own homework, but I didn't put in as many hours as I normally would."
Aaron snickered childishly, "I bet you 'tutored' her. Way to go, Luke! How was she?"
Luke rolled his eyes, "It's not like that. She wouldn't give me the time of day if I asked to kiss her high heels." He narrowed his eyes and looked down and to the side, engaging in deeper thought, "Don't get me wrong, though; she's a nice girl whenever she stops thinking about popularity and social circles. Lately she's reminded me more of that carefree first-grader I used to be friends with. She puts up a front so she can be one of the popular girls, but deep down you can tell she is kind and giving and compassionate. Kaylee's really a sweetheart."
"Then why is she with that douchebag, Brad, over there? I'm sorry, I mean 'Bradley', the more feminine version of the name Brad," Aaron said, swinging his camera to the large senior on the other side of the courtyard with his arm draped around Kaylee. The camera swept back to Luke, capturing a great look of disappointment on his face, almost wincing as if in pain. He couldn't take his eyes off of Bradley and Kaylee; they looked so happy together. Aaron's question didn't seem to sink in.
A bunch of "Aww's" and "Ohh's" echoed throughout the drive-in as Luke seemed to win over the hearts of the majority of the female audience. Kaylee would have slumped further into her seat if Luke didn't stop her. "I don't remember doing that... I hate that part," she pouted with a guilty look on her face, but she held Luke's hand tighter.
"Just keep watching," Luke calmly told her, even though he seemed a little awkward watching that scene himself.
But onscreen, she seemed so happy; she was talking and laughing with Bradley, Audrey, Cindy, and Mick.
"Well, I guess now that midterms are over, things are back to normal. No more tutoring, no more Kaylee. At least until finals come around, huh, Luke?"
Luke shrugged, "It seems that way. At least my body will be less sore from now on without her Nazi-style boot camp. Well, it's great to see her so cheerful; she obviously didn't fail any of the classes she was worried about. I'm happy for her." A slight upward curve arose on his lips, breaking the crestfallen look on his face, despite his head hanging low.
Aaron got quiet for a second and lowered his camera. "Dude, I hate being the one to tell you, but you know she's using you. Right?"
Luke didn't respond.
"I mean," Aaron continued, "she's not in our league, man. And there's nothing wrong with that. You're a good guy, man. Just don't get your hopes up about her. It'll never happen, and I'm telling you as a friend. A girl like that... she's not from our world."
Luke gave him a delayed nod, "Maybe. You're probably right. I know at first she started out using me, and that's fine, but I just can't quite tell if she was or not at the end. She probably was, but only subconsciously at least. I mean, she definitely reciprocated, buying me clothes and taking me to the gym. The human mind can be a tricky thing. Did I tell you she apologized to me once?"
Aaron was shocked, "Really? For what?"
Luke smiled, "Long story."
The narrator continued, "But was Kaylee really using Luke for her grades, or was the angel -- as Luke called her -- developing feelings for the Remmington Mustang recluse?"
The scene shifted once again. "So what did you get for Christmas," Kaylee exclaimed, obviously on Christmas morning a few years past. This time, the view of Kaylee was somewhat distorted; the camera didn't appear to be focusing directly on her as she was only halfway in the frame and a little out of focus. The audio was much clearer.
"This phone, for starters," Audrey said, fumbling with the buttons. "I love it, but I can't figure out how the camera mode works. What about you?"
"Oh, the usual stuff from my parents," she calmly said. Her voice quickly turned into a squeal as she told Audrey, "but Luke got me the most adorable stuffed yorkie! He even bought a little plaid collar for him with a cute silver name tag!"
Kaylee came into view of the camera; Audrey must have set it down, unknowingly recording her best friend. Audrey asked, "That sounds adorable! So what did you decide to name it?"
Kaylee blushed, "Luke named it, actually. As kind of a joke. He even inscribed on the tag, 'Veruca', and on the back, 'Since you always wanted a sister, here you go. Just like her big sister, Veruca is beautiful, playful, loving, and SPOILED.'"
The audience laughed. "Rotten... spoiled rotten. But I couldn't get all of the lettering to fit on the tag." Luke whispered, unable to contain his smirk. Kaylee punched his shoulder.
Audrey laughed hysterically, "Veruca, as in the spoiled brat with the rich dad in Willy Wonka? I guess Luke does have you pegged. And he has a sense of humor!"
Clearly embarrassed, Kaylee ran her fingers bashfully through her hair and said, "Even when he sees my flaws, he understands me and accepts it. He called me Veruca a long time ago and I had no idea what he meant or who that was. I was furious when I Googled it two weeks later and realized I was being insulted, even if it was in a playful manner. I would have torn his head off if I weren't so worried about chasing him away. He's lucky my grades were still suffering."
Audrey laughed again, "Even back then I think there was something deep down inside you that wouldn't let go of Luke! Don't even try to pretend it was for your grades."
Kaylee sat down at the table and didn't say a word. Instead she placed her chin in her hand, wearing a smile from ear to ear, seemingly daydreaming thoughts of happiness.
Squinting through a tiny slit between two fingers, yet unable to take her eyes off of the movie, Kaylee exclaimed, "I... remember that! I had no idea Audrey recorded that!"
Audrey and Kaylee vanished as the scene slowly faded into black.
The music slowly morphed into a somber tune, foretelling that the entire movie was about to change. The narrator solemnly said, "Their recent discovery of how they felt about each other wouldn't have a chance to blossom."
An American Flag against a backdrop of a blood-red sky slowly waved in the invisible wind. "Now an adult in his own right, Luke joined the United States Air Force." The flag faded away, replaced with U.S. fighter jets soaring across the sky.
The screen flashed with miscellaneous back-to-back images. The night sky exploded in bright green as flares deployed from a C-130, the scene filmed through a night vision lens. Bombs dropped on enemy targets with precision guided by crosshairs. Artillery filled the night sky with tracer fire guiding a steady stream of ammunition. Soldiers fired while being fired upon. Missiles launched from the underbellies of pair of F-22 Raptors. A flight of HH-60 Pave Hawks deployed Special Operations forces fifty feet down the cable and to the desert floor within seconds; other Spec Ops soldiers simultaneously laid down cover fire from the door.
The helicopters hovered over the desert sand as the narrator announced, "Luke Patton would leave Kaylee before they even had a chance to explore their feelings and adoration for each other. Luke found his way across the vast blue ocean and into a foreign land, and on the other side of the world as Kaylee. His nation called and he answered. Luke would serve and defend, fighting enemy forces and risking his life for his brothers and sisters in arms. He would face the greatest tragedy of all, witnessing the fall of his brethren. Shot down over enemy territory, he ran for his life, narrowly escaping the clutches of the adversary. For weeks, the United States Armed Forces launched the biggest search and recovery operation in history. They were unsuccessful."
The screen went black.
"All that was found were his dog tags. Luke Patton was declared dead."
Kaylee's eyes flooded over causing mascara to run down her face. She looked over at Luke, noticing his head pointed towards the movie screen but his eyes settling below it, deliberately focusing elsewhere to avoid the painful memories.
A KC-10, a military tanker and cargo jet, appeared against the backdrop of a bright blue California sky. The narrator said, "But there was still hope. After evading the enemy for weeks, Airman Patton found a way to reach out to his rescuers, reminding them he was still out there."
"He suffered injuries but his heart still beat strong. He was alive. And soon, he would be brought safely home."
After the jet landed and pulled up to the red carpet, the door opened and out came Luke, one arm waving to the crowd while the other remained in a sling. He was immediately greeted with an emotional, tearful embrace by his parents and sister.
The entire audience began to cheer, both on-screen and off-screen, celebrating Luke's return. Several car horns echoed throughout the drive-in parking lot. For Kaylee, it was like celebrating his return all over again. Watching him come off of that plane a second time was enough to make her heart skip a beat. Kaylee smiled as she watched the events unfolding, reaching over to Luke's hand, already on her shoulder, and squeezed it tightly.
"Luke Patton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions of heroism and the Purple Heart for his sustained injuries from enemy forces," the narrator continued. "The impact he made against terrorists who would seek to find a way to destroy the United States was nothing short of devastating. He served his country proudly, destroyed enemy insurgents, and protected those he loved.
"Now, finally, he was home. And he was safe."
The tone of the voice turned somber as the picture once again faded to black, "But his war was not over."
Kaylee held her breath, dreading what was coming next. She was afraid. All of the best and worst moments of her life were highlighted on the movie screen for all the world to see. Why was she being tortured like this? She could barely control her emotions -- good, bad... all of her emotions.
The scene shifted to an erratic and unsteady video camera shot. Just along the edge of the screen, Luke and Kaylee stood in line at the drive-in.
Kaylee instantly recognized the drive-in; it was the very same one she was at right now. She felt like sobbing, remembering what would soon happen. In her mind she could hear the car backfire a split second before it happened onscreen.
The thunderous sound was enough to cause the camera to shake. Luke jumped, but immediately tugged Kaylee's hand and pulled her downwards, covering her body with his as he crouched down low. He wrapped both arms around her tightly in a protective bear hug.
"STAY DOWN," he yelled at Kaylee, shielding her with his body. Down to his core Luke was shaking but he held his position firm, protecting Kaylee. He was reaching for something along his waist, desperately grabbing for something that wasn't there.
Everyone in the line stared at the couple. Most were frozen with shock, but a few were laughing.
Kaylee gritted her teeth, her eyes puffy and red. It hurt watching, reliving that painful moment once again. If Luke were not with her, she would have bolted from the drive-in.
He could obviously hear her sniffing and see her tears. Luke pulled her gently towards him until she settled onto his lap, caressing her head as it fell back into his chest, looking away from the screen.
Luke squeezed her tightly, knowing exactly why she was hurting, and said, "I'm ok, honey. That's in the past. Haven't I been getting better?"
She paused, sniffing. She nodded her head, still buried against his chest.
"Are you ok? Will you watch the rest of the movie with me?"
Slowly picking her head up, she nodded.
"Good. You don't want to miss the next part. Do you want to stay in my lap?"
Again, she nodded, turning her attention back to the screen.
"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder manifested within Luke in an ugly way," the narrator explained. "The horrors of war had finally caught up with him at home. Every night his head filled with nightmares and every day things that seemed insignificant, like crowds or loud noises, were enough to traumatize him."
Kaylee desperately tried to get through to Luke. Moving in closer, her nose within inches of his, Kaylee desperately placed both of her hands on his face and raised her voice just enough to get his attention, "Luke, Luke, Luke! Look at me, baby."
Luke dropped back down to his knees, still shaking and confused. He momentarily glanced at Kaylee; it was as if he didn't recognize her.
One of the onlookers laughed, "What the ---- is his problem?" It was obvious which key word had been bleeped out.
"Holy ----, are you seeing this," another chuckled.
Grinding his teeth, Luke tried to look around but Kaylee held his head in her hands, gently but firmly, refusing to let him look away from her gaze. Tears began forming in her eyes, his suffering almost too much to bear for her, his mind clearly stuck in a foreign land.
As calmly as she could, she cooed, "Luke, look at me, no one else. Stay with me baby. I'm right here. You're radiant angel is here... remember me? Stay with me, please..."
His head didn't move, but his eyes were darting all around him, gradually beginning to center. Soon, he found Kaylee's eyes.
The beast was starting to leave him; Luke was returning. As his awareness came back, a look of embarrassment and shame crossed his face. It broke Kaylee's heart. "You have nothing to be ashamed about," she whispered to him, kissing his lips.
Luke's eyes watered and he cast his eyes down. Kaylee gently took his chin and raised his head. "You're a hero, Luke. Even before you went overseas, you were always my hero. I mean it; you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about."
She wouldn't let him avoid the issue. "Luke, I love you, and that's all that matters to me. Do you love me, too?"
After a brief pause, Luke nodded his head in acknowledgement. She wasn't sure if he believed her, but she still smiled through her tears as she witnessed his confidence returning little by little. The emotion running through her was intense, but she knew it wasn't a fraction of what Luke was feeling.
"Of course I love you. I... I'm sor..."
Kaylee cut him off, "Luke, you do not need to apologize for that. There is nothing to apologize for."
Again, Luke reluctantly nodded.
"We're working through it. You'll get better in no time."
Kaylee stood up, coaxing Luke to do the same. She threw her arms around him one last time. "We can go home if you like; we don't have to stay for the movie."
Luke shook his head, quietly whispering to her, "We can stay."
Watching the affair unfold onscreen, Luke smiled while running his fingers through her blonde hair. "My turn to ask. Now that our movie star couple appears to be doing better, do you want to stay and see what happens next?"
Kaylee giggled weakly, wiping away the few remaining tears and nodded, "We can stay."
The narrator said, "Kaylee, the dream girl that once made fun of the young high school boy, stood by Luke every step of the way. No matter how damaged he may have been, nothing deterred her from remaining by his side. Her love for him was unconditional, and she knew he felt the same way about her. The young girl that once could have never imagined studying with a nerd was now head over heels in love with him and was willing to go any length to make sure he was safe."
Once Kaylee was certain that Luke was within arms reach of his Challenger, Kaylee stormed back towards the crowd. Her once calm and peaceful face, put on display for the sake of Luke, instantly turned into a snarl. Staring down every one of them, she screamed, "What the ---- is WRONG with you people?" Even with a very emotional but absent word, her lips were easy to read. She quickly lurched forward, snatching the recorder out of the hands of the cameraman, and threw it on the ground as hard as she could. The screen immediately went black, but the narrator added, "With love so incredibly strong for Luke, Kaylee became not only his biggest supporter on his road to recovery, but also his protector."
Laughter rose up from the audience; a few whistles and even a "go Kaylee!" went up from the crowd. Luke whispered in Kaylee's ear, "That's my firecracker. And that's also the reason I'll always stay on your good side."
Kaylee bit her lip and smiled despite her red face, shaking her head in disbelief, "I thought the memory card was destroyed when I threw that camera down."
"Well, looks like someone was able to repair it," Luke said nonchalantly. He added, "See? I told you you'd want to stay for that part."
A new face appeared on the screen.
"Are you filming," Cindy asked, nervously looking at the camera and uncomfortably fidgeting in her chair despite the warm and comfortable environment containing a rich walnut bookcase and two thriving houseplants in the background.
"Whenever you're ready; take your time," the voice behind the camera said -- the same voice as the narrator.
Kaylee noticed that unlike most of the footage so far, this wasn't a high school version of Cindy; it looked like it was filmed in the present day.
"Ok, so. Kaylee Reed. What can I say about her? We were... pretty good friends in high school all the way up until senior year. Me, her, and Audrey were pretty tight, kind of like the female version of the three musketeers," she said with a smile.
"At first, anyway. We did everything together; cheerleading, drama, you name it. But," she hesitated, "we were kind of stuck up snobs. We really were; not so much Audrey, but especially Kaylee and I. So, when I found out she was being tutored nightly from Luke Patton," she said, eyes downcast on her guilty-looking face, "I really gave her a hard time for it. I mean, it's amazing how immature we all were back then -- especially me. And it kind of cost us our friendship"
She earnestly looked at the camera and said, "I really regret that. I have for years. I wish we were still friends."
Kaylee was clearly saddened by Cindy's honest confession. If her eyes were wet beforehand, they weren't about to dry out any time soon. She had missed Cindy's friendship too, and wondered why she hadn't tried to reconcile with Cindy after all of these years. Maybe it wasn't too late.
"I guess Luke helped Kaylee mature faster than I did." Shaking her head, Cindy said, "no one could have imagined what Luke would become." She quickly elaborated, not wanting to be misunderstood, "I'm not just talking about him being a hero. I mean everything about him -- who he is, the compassion he displays. Everything. I saw how he bent over backwards to help Kaylee study in high school, and he wasn't really getting anything out of it."
Cindy sighed, "I even had the privilege of... kind of... going out with Luke a few times during the rocky parts of his and Kaylee's relationship. I know, I shouldn't have, but he had turned from zero to hero so how could I resist? I'd like to think I had grown up a little by that time. Maybe not. A-anyway, Luke was the perfect gentleman both times. Although when I made him take me to that pool party, he couldn't keep his eyes off of Kaylee no matter how hard he tried. I hated that."
Her scowl turned into a laugh, "Still, he was so nice and attentive; every girl's dream. It was just too bad his heart was with someone else."
It was Luke's turn to blush. Kaylee turned to him with a smile, kissing him on the cheek. "She's right about you. Every word. Especially that last part."
Looking at the camera, Cindy smiled from ear to ear, "So, Luke and Kaylee, if you are watching, I hope you know I wish you two the best. Love you both!"
The screen quickly shifted to Clint Wayne, formerly Luke's lieutenant, standing in the forefront of a small private poolside bar.
"Airman Luke Patton; what can I say about him," Clint said with a knowing smile. "I really don't even have the right words. I mean, what can you say about the guy who saved your life? Not only that, but he risked his life to do so and nearly got himself killed. I was hit multiple times and he laid down fire, drawing the insurgents' attention off of me."
Clint paused, taking a drink from his chilled glass while he tried to figure out what to say next, "We were already evading; it wasn't like we were supposed to engage the enemy. He could have bolted, or hid, or at least fallen back to take fire from a better covered position, but he held his ground to buy time for search and rescue to show up. They airlifted me out of there, but... Luke was left behind."
The look on his face showed discomfort as he reflected back and said, "I've always regretted that. Before all of that, we at least had each other to rely on, but now he was alone."
His face changed, a subtle smile creeping up, "Still, and I have no idea how, but he made it out of there. I can't imagine what he was going through alone, but he made it out. So, imagine my surprise when several months later he calls me out of the blue, looking for a place to stay."
The cameraman asked him, "Did he tell you why?"
Clint shrugged, "No, but I could tell why. I knew why. I'd been there before."
Stoically, Clint said, "He was in a dark place and he didn't see any way out. Even people in the worst of circumstances find comfort in sleeping, or simply closing their eyes. With Luke, that just made it worse because you can't keep your guard up when you're eyes are closed. I didn't know exactly what he was going through back in California, but I was more than willing to take him in for a while."
Scratching the back of his head, he gave the camera a guilty look and said, "I was ok with it except for the Kaylee part. He told me I couldn't tell anyone he was up here; especially her."
Kaylee scowled at Luke. He turned his head away, rubbing her shoulders as if maybe, some how, it might actually take the sting away.
"I mean, I get it; he didn't want to hurt her anymore. But he couldn't see by that action, he was hurting her even worse. I told him it was a bad idea but when all was said and done he did save my life, so I was in his debt. I still feel guilty for lying." Clint looked directly at the camera and awkwardly said, "If you're watching this: Sorry, Kaylee. I know I've told you before, but I really am," as if he was looking right at her.
With a slight curve to his lip, forming a half-smile, Clint turned back to the cameraman and said, "Still, she ended up finding him, anyway. Smart girl."
Turning back to the camera again, Clint said, "Luke and Kaylee, you two deserve happiness, especially after all you've been through. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more than you two. I wish you the best."
The screen once again shifted. This time, both Audrey and Faith were being filmed side by side.
Audrey asked, "Ready?"
The cameraman must have nodded, signifying he was ready, because Audrey started speaking. Nervously waving to the camera, she said, "Hi Kaylee, your two best friends are here. I don't think there is anything we can say that you don't know. I know you and I were there from the beginning, and I think we've grown up a lot. You certainly have, no doubt. Of course, with the whole sandbox thing, you didn't really have a choice. As much as everything that happened to Luke tore me up, I can't imagine what you felt. I just want you to know how proud of you I am, and how strong I think you are. I know you've told me time and time again that you don't deserve Luke. Well, the old Kaylee... not so much. But the new Kaylee, the one watching this on the big screen; you both are so amazing and have been through so much! You definitely deserve each other!"
Audrey continued, "And Luke? I can't think of a better person for her. It's clear how much you adored her from day one, and how much you still do. Take care of my best friend!"
Kaylee sniffed as she watched Audrey pour her heart out. She couldn't have asked for a better friend.
"Kaylee," Faith said, "you might not know this, but I've always looked up to you, since I was a freshman. Well before you knew who I was."
Luke snickered, "Like you didn't know that already."
Kaylee, choked up, pretended to elbow him, "Be nice! That's your sister! You don't know how lucky you are to have her."
Faith continued, "Even when Luke first started to help you study, well before the fireworks incident, you still made me feel important. You took the time to go shopping with me, gave me fashion advice... everything! You really went out of your way to humor me, and somehow along the way I was fortunate enough that it turned into a real, genuine friendship. I just want you to know that Luke is the greatest big brother ever, and he's lucky to have you." It took Faith everything she had to resist crying. She tried to say something else, but she shook her head and waved off the camera, clearly choked up. Audrey put an arm around her.
The scene shifted to Aaron. It looked like he was at a park; a large lake served as the main backdrop.
"Careful with the camera," he said before clearing his throat and putting on a serious face for the audience. "Luke and Kaylee," Aaron said. "I don't even know where to begin with that one. No one on planet Earth could have seen it coming. The nerd and the angel. The loser and the princess. The...,"
The voice behind the camera -- this time Luke's voice -- interrupted, "I think they get it, go on."
Puzzled, Kaylee blurted out, "That's your voice! Is that you filming Aaron?"
Luke shushed her, "I can't hear anything! Quiet, girl!"
Quiet, girl? Defiantly, Kaylee stared Luke down and seductively growled, "Ruff!"
Kaylee had been overwhelmed with a variety of emotions throughout the 'movie', but no other moment so far found her more amused than she was now. Finding it funny and strange and unexpected all at the same time, Kaylee tried not to giggle too loudly.
"Ok, so, that's like every fantasy come true for guys like us." He shook his head, "I don't know how you did it, but well done Luke. You give all of us underdogs hope. You know, it's like you said; girls like that aren't from the same world as guys like me and you. Then again, you've done some amazing things. I suspect you somehow broke free from that world, just to find hers and not only enter it, but turn it upside-down. You've done what no one thought was possible -- probably not even her. Congrats, Luke."
Aaron smiled, "And Kaylee? With all of that being said, I don't think you could have found anyone better."
Kaylee smiled and Luke squeezed her tightly. "He's right," she beamed.
Aaron reached his arms out to take the camera, carefully flipping it around one hundred and eighty degrees until it found a backdrop dominated with pink. Cherry blossoms gently floated down from the trees like raindrops in slow motion, gathering on the ground while Luke stood in the forefront.
Luke smiled, "Kaylee, I've thought long and hard about what I wanted to say to you. I was never good at telling you how I feel in person, so hopefully this will be a little easier for me. There is so much I want to tell you, and it would take all day. So let me summarize, but I have to start at the beginning.
"I've changed so much on this journey we call life. I owe my foundation to my parents; I was really lucky growing up. They taught me to study hard and to focus on my goals no matter what I wanted to achieve. They loved me unconditionally, and encouraged me to be whatever I wanted to be." He breathed in deeply, "And then came first grade. From the first moment I saw you, even back then, you were the epitome of perfection. And then we went out separate ways, but when I saw you again in high school, I knew my life would never be the same. I never imagined I would ever have you on my arm, don't get me wrong. But the feelings I've had for you... it made me feel alive. I'd never experienced anything like it before or since then."
He hesitated, "Do you want to know the truth? I was terrified when you asked me if I would tutor you. I knew it would not end well. I almost said no, but in the end, I couldn't do that because it wouldn't be right, and it wouldn't be fair to you. You simply needed my help studying, and who was I to deny that? I tried to be myself, even though I was crazy about you. You were with someone else at the time, and the last thing I wanted to do was butt in." Luke laughed, adding, "Not like I had a chance with you. Nonetheless, you made it much more challenging for me to focus on my own homework. You weren't mine, but somehow you made me feel stronger. Somehow, we ended up as friends. And then, to my surprise -- and everyone else's -- we became a little more than friends."
A guilty look crossed his face, "And then I joined the Air Force. You probably don't want to hear it, but you gave me the strength and confidence I needed to do that. It's a good thing, though. The military made me stronger. Of course, you remember the rest. Helicopter crash... Missing in Action... returning home. By the time I made it back to you, I had changed so much I'm surprised you recognized me. I didn't even recognize myself. I'm surprised you even wanted anything to do with me, as damaged as I was. In a way... still am.
"Yet you stayed with me, through everything. Despite showing you my worst. Even though I felt like I had changed into a monster, you never gave up on me."
Luke paused for a moment and said, "You changed, too. But all of your change was for the better. You've developed into the most compassionate, caring, loving person imaginable. One of the best parts about being in the Air Force was realizing that I was making a difference in people's lives, especially being over there in the desert. Even more gratifying was the thought that I was not only protecting them, but that I was protecting you. What I didn't realize was that even though I was protecting you over there, you protected me when I came home. When I needed you the most, you were there."
Clearing his throat, Luke took a deep breath.
The camera followed Luke as he bent down on one knee.
Kaylee gasped, eyes glued to the screen and oblivious to the fact that Luke had opened the car door and carefully scooted her off of his lap.
"Kaylee," Luke began to ask, still looking at the camera, "I can't imagine going a single day without you by my side. I want you to be a permanent part of my life. I know I do not deserve you, but my heart couldn't stand it if I never asked. I guess there's only one way to find out if you feel the same way."
Luke pulled out a black velvet box and opened it as Aaron zoomed in. "Kaylee," he said...
Whispering softly in her ear, bending down on one knee just outside the Challenger and holding the same black box featured on the big screen, Luke asked her, "Will you marry me?"
Inside was a gorgeous clear princess-cut diamond, carefully sitting upon the prongs of a white-gold ring.
Kaylee, squirming in the driver's seat, brought both hands up to her mouth and silently gasped.
After a few seconds, she wrapped her arms around Luke and erupted in a fountain of tears, squeezing him so hard he was almost knocked over.
He stood up, outside the car, holding Kaylee in his arms. She held on tightly, wrapping her legs around him. There wasn't a patch of dry skin on her face. Luke smiled and whispered, "I'll take that as a positive sign, but you officially have to answer the question!"
Kaylee, having overcome her initial shock, nodded her head against his shoulder. She blurted out, "Yes! Yes, Luke, Yes! I will marry you!"
Kaylee heard the entire parking lot erupting with cheers and blasting their car horns. Out of the corner of her eye she saw herself hugging Luke up on the theatre screen; it was a live shot.
Luke gently took her cheeks in his hand and began to kiss her. Sliding one hand behind her neck and the other behind her waist, he didn't let up. Taking a step to the side, Luke leaned his girl against the rear door while her legs wrapped even tighter around his waist. Luke had kissed her before, but never like this. She was surprised but not enough to stop her from kissing him back so passionately he would remember it for the rest of his life.
Kaylee thought that several minutes had gone by, but everyone was still cheering and Luke was still kissing her. She didn't want it to stop. There was so much she wanted to discuss with Luke; their wedding, their honeymoon, their flock of babies, and even growing old and gray together. But there would be time for that later. They had forever.
After all they had sacrificed, or at least after all that he had sacrificed, it would be well deserved.
Thank you, Jesus; thank you thank you thank you, she prayed, over and over. Looking into the eyes of the man of her dreams, after all she had done to hurt him in the past, her prayers of thanks came naturally. She couldn't live without him, and he -- for whatever reason -- wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
Maybe she didn't deserve Luke, maybe she did. But either way she knew they had been greatly blessed. Given the mountain of obstacles they had faced, there was a time she would have felt a sense of entitlement but now all she felt was thankfulness. Besides, their trials, burdens, and testing of their faith developed perseverance in them both. She was convinced that anything they might face during their marriage they would tackle together, making it no more than small, simple hills. No; actually, more like speed bumps.
After he stopped kissing her, Luke said, "I love you, Kaylee Reed."
"I love you too, Luke Patton," she replied. With a subtle smile, she said, "Next time you say it, it will be 'I love you, Kaylee Patton!'" She couldn't help giggling. Even as she put her wobbly legs back on the ground -- still leaning against the Challenger -- her heart still fluttered over him.
And she knew he felt the same way. She could see it in his eyes. She could always tell by his eyes. As she leaned forward to kiss Luke again, she noticed out of the corner of her eye a picture on the movie screen all too familiar to her. Kaylee had her arms around Luke's neck as the two kissed in a warm embrace after he stepped off of the jet, having just returned from his deployment.
"You set me up, Luke," she cooed.
Luke gave her one of his very rare devious smiles. He simply nodded. "It's not often I get to set you up. But I have to be modest and admit I had a lot of help. I had no idea how many friends -- and even friends of friends -- that you had. But thanks to social networking, Faith and Audrey did a pretty good job filling up the parking lot. But I digress; let's focus on more important issues, like when do you want to get married?"
She sighed with a smile, "I don't care when; just sooner than later."
"I can't promise you we won't have any problems, or that I won't keep having nightmares. I'm better, but I still have a ways to go," Luke said warily, looking at her nervously.
"I told you I'll always be by your side, and we'll get through this -- through anything -- together. Besides, I can still cuff you to the headboard so you can't hurt me. I told you baby, you're not getting rid of me that easily," she laughed. "I'll love you until the day I die, Luke Patton."
Luke gave her a knowing look and said, "You and those handcuffs -- you'd like that, wouldn't you?" He smiled, adding, "I'll always love you, Kaylee. I always have, I think. From the moment I first laid eyes on you, if I'm honest with myself. Regardless, I know I always will, for the rest of my life."
Luke's statement made her curious about herself; about when the moment she first fell in love with Luke might have been. More than that, she wondered when the moment was that she knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.
She stole one more glance at the picture on the screen, remembering when Luke came home and how she lost complete control of herself, giving him such a passionate kiss and then running away, afraid for their future.
She had her answer.
"Kaylee Elizabeth Patton. I love the way that sounds," Kaylee smiled, brushing a few golden strands of her hair out of her face as the crisp cool breeze slightly picked up.
The newlyweds strolled down the beach, focusing solely on each other despite the grey overcast sky. Her left hand intertwined with Luke's right, but she still couldn't help periodically touching her wedding band with her thumb as if she had to make sure she was still married to the most wonderful man in the world.
It must have been obvious because each time she did that Luke would give her hand a quick squeeze, as if saying, "I'm still here."
Her sandals dangled from the fingertips of her free hand, allowing her to walk carefree and barefoot in the cold sand. Every couple of seconds Kaylee stole a glance at Luke, her husband, who had become her world.
Her love for him was so deep that she wondered how she managed to keep her hands off of him -- and the other way around. "How on earth did I let you take me to the marriage bed pure? I'm not sure if that was part of my plan," she blushed.
Luke may have been blushing an even deeper shade of red. "I thought after our first time I'd never be able to walk again. Remember that scene from Bambi where his legs wouldn't work? Yeah, that was pretty much me."
"Do you regret that we waited," he asked.
She emphatically shook her head no. "Quite the opposite," she said, her face turning red. "I'm glad we waited, as hard as it was for me to be patient. It couldn't have been more special. Thank you again, Luke. You may be the most chivalrous man I know." Kaylee leaned in, kissing him softly on the lips.
Luke smiled. It wasn't the same bashful smile Kaylee remembered from when they first started dating; it was a smile of pure joy and happiness. As if he could embrace the fact that he had finally found his soul mate. "You know, I'm still surprised you wanted to go to the beach for our honeymoon. I was expecting France or Italy or something."
Kaylee laughed, "I told you, this feels... well, it feels right. Actually, I think 'perfect' is a better word. It feels perfect. Just you and I, finally reunited on the same side of the ocean. Look at how big, blue, and beautiful it is. We have the rest of our lives to travel Europe."
"Besides," she added, somewhat timidly, "with mom and dad cutting me off, and you and I wanting to start a family so soon, we need to save up."
Luke stopped walking, pulling Kaylee into his arms. He didn't look too happy. "Kaylee! Are you telling me for your one and only honeymoon, you passed up Europe just because of money? We've been married for two months now!" Luke and Kaylee mutually decided to delay their honeymoon until after she finished up her last couple classes. "We had time to save up a little more to make that happen. And you know mom and dad would have helped out..."
Kaylee put a finger on his lips, smiling from ear to ear. Luke's serious lecture didn't make her flinch one bit. If anything, it amused her.
His eyebrows furrowed and his eyes narrowed, trying to figure out what she was hiding.
"Kaylee," Luke said slowly. "What aren't you telling me?"
Kaylee giggled, biting her lip. Her laughter was adorable; it was so playful and carefree. Even though she was playing 'I have a secret' with Luke, he couldn't help but feel that everything was finally perfect. She had been through so much, and deserved to be happy.
And she was happy.
Kaylee took off, running down the shoreline as fast as she could, kicking up a wake of sand behind her and giggling the entire way.
"Hey!" was all Luke could get out, taking off after her. Despite Kaylee's two-second head start, thanks to Luke's shock, her husband took off at a dead sprint and was on her in no time.
Kaylee screamed playfully, falling into the sand but not before dragging Luke down with her.
Rolling onto her back and tugging on Luke's shirt, she planted a kiss on his lips; it was so passionate time seemed to stand still.
Luke almost forgot why he chased her down; he was hypnotized, completely captured and under her spell. He might have forgotten if Kaylee didn't give him that same look, the 'I know something you don't know!' stare.
It was driving Luke crazy; out of principle, more than anything. He wasn't one to leave a puzzle unsolved, and the look on her face was definitely a puzzle.
"What? Will you just tell me already?"
Kaylee didn't say a word. She took Luke by the hand and gently placed it on her stomach.
He patiently waited for a clue. Kaylee laughed and shook her head again. The tip of her tongue poked out between her teeth as she smiled.
"Do you need another clue," she asked him in her sweet, soft voice.
Her laughter was bordering on uncontrollable. Luke was becoming exasperated.
"What were we just talking about," Kaylee said cryptically. "Think back to only a few moments ago."
Luke thought hard. Kaylee encouraged him, nodding her head as he began to form the puzzle pieces together.
Verbalizing his thought process, Luke said aloud, "Talking about Europe... mom and dad helping to pay... saving up money... for..."
Luke's eyes opened wide, as if he just made the greatest scientific discovery known to man.
Bending down, placing his head against Kaylee's stomach, Luke exclaimed, "We're going to be... How long?? What is it??"
"Settle down, cowboy! It's still early, we don't know if it's a he or she just yet!"
Luke kissed her stomach over and over with soft, gentle kisses. Kaylee ran her fingers through his hair. Boy or girl, it didn't matter. All that mattered was that it was hers and Luke's, and they were going to start their family.
It tickled when Luke's kisses turned into butterfly kisses, sweeping his nose across her belly the way that only a father could.
Lying on her back, Kaylee looked up to the clouds, holding her husband close to her. In that one brief moment, she reflected on her entire life. She grew up rotten and spoiled, making bad decision after bad decision. She blew second chances and third chances. She was absolutely horrible to Luke; back in high school, anyway. Yet somehow, through all the pain and all the storms in her life, God forgave her. And He blessed her. He brought her through the pain, and He continued to heal Luke, little by little, every day.
This was as close as anyone could ever get to the fairy-tale ending that many so desperately wanted, but few ever seemed to get. Sure, there would be difficult times ahead of them, but there wasn't anything that they couldn't do together and with the good Lord's guidance.
She closed her eyes and mouthed a silent, "Thank you, God."
The gentle breeze picked up and a single ray of light began to break the cloud cover, shining down over the couple lying in the sand. At least it seemed like it was shining on them.
Yep, Kaylee thought to herself, Europe can definitely wait.
Everything was too good to be true. If this was a dream, she didn't want to wake up. Even though, a long time ago, Kaylee didn't initially recognize him as the man of her dreams she finally found out (and fortunately before it was too late) it was really Luke all along.
But Luke was so much more than the man of her dreams.
From the moment Luke began educating Kaylee, he gradually transformed -- in her eyes, at least -- from loser, to underdog, to hero.
He really was a hero all along; her hero. She just didn't see it at first.
But now she knew, and she would get to spend the rest of her life with him.
Could it get any better?
Gently touching her hand to her tummy, dreaming about her future with Luke, she thought maybe it could...
Sep 7, 2018 in romance