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She stands impatiently at the Southwest Airlines Baggage Carousel. She's been waiting for this day to come for so long. She's been praying that this day would come and not anything else. She's gonna finally hold him without having to let him go; holding onto him at her leisure.
Leah leans forward and back at a rapid pace. Then, she stops, peers at the stairs thinking, 'There are people coming down, it's time' but no, it's not a large group. She releases a long breath of disappointment and goes back to leaning back and forth. This irritates the older lady standing nearby her.
The older lady, Beverly, decides to engage the younger woman in conversation "You know planes are always late, right?"
Leah looks at her and responds "I know, it's just that I've been waiting for this day to come for so long. I even took my time coming here so I wouldn't prolong my waiting experience."
Beverly smiles, "Who are you waiting for, if I may ask?"
"My husband " Leah responds.
Beverly takes an appraising look at her. If someone had asked her she wouldn't say that the young lady looked any older than 17. "Oh really? You don't look old enough to have a husband."
Leah smiles "Yeah, I get that a lot."
Beverly asks" How old are you?"
"I'll be twenty next week" Leah tells her.
"You're right, I wouldn't have given you twenty, maybe sixteen or seventeen at most."
"I got married really young," Leah says.
"I should say so. How long have you been married?"
"Two years, we got married right after graduation and before he shipped off. He's been deployed pretty much for the entirety of our marriage so far."
"Ah, a military man," Beverly says with a smile. " Well, that does make your situation a bit different. What branch?"
Leah, who at first didn't seem to want to speak to the lady, is grateful to have someone to take her mind off the tedious wait and responds "The Army , he is a Private First Class who was stationed in Iraq," she says, with quite a bit of pride.
"How long was he stationed there?"
"15 long, scary months. Honestly, it was a nightmare. I didn't want him to enlist; I wanted him to go to college," Leah tells Beverly as a distant look comes over her face.
(Flashback) March 11, 2009 setting: Audubon Park New Orleans, La
"Hey baby, I have something I want to talk to you about," says an eighteen year old, tall (6'2",) dark-haired boy named Kevin. His girlfriend, Leah, looks at him with a guarded expression on her face.
"What about?" She asks.
"It's about my college plans," he tells her.
"Did you change your mind about wanting to go to Loyola? I understand, baby, you don't have to go there if you don't wanna. I mean what's a little distance between us? College would totally rule if we were together, but hey - distance makes the heart grow fonder," she says with a smile braver than she feels.
"Well, yeah, I don't want to go to Loyola. I want to-"
"Where are you gonna go then?" She interrupts him, a little more hurt than she thought she felt.
"I'm not - I'm gonna enlist in the army," he tells her in a rush, afraid that she's gonna interupt him before he can get that last part out.
"What do you mean enlist? Why? Can't you wait until after college? Have you told your parents? What did they say?" Leah's mind is racing, trying to figure this all out. She knew that Kevin wanted to enlist but had figured he would wait until after college. They had made these plans back when they first got together two years ago.
"Well, I mean I've told them, you know and we talked about it; they've agreed to support me. I know we've been planning to go to school together for a while now, but college is expensive. And my older brother and sister are already in school, and I still have two younger siblings. My parents are struggling hard to put my older siblings in school without us sacrificing everything. It's too much of a burden on my parents. Besides, when I finish, my college will be paid for. It's a win-win."
"A win-win for who? The only person who wins in this situation is the US Military. Don't get me wrong- I support the soldiers fully. It's just that you don't know what could happen: I do. I've been through it before: both of my parents were army. The long separations, no phone calls, not knowing what's gonna happen. If when you see them again, will it be vertical or horizontal?" She spat, her voice choked with tears. "Now you want me to do the same for you? To deal with that trauma all over again? I don't think I can," she says while sobbing so hard.
"Lee. Lee. Don't cry. Please don't cry, baby. I'm sorry, I should've told you earlier, it's just that- there's no way I can afford college. I'm not qualified for any other job. Baby, I'm sorry; don't cry," Kevin feels a burning sensation behind his eyes, so he closes them and pulls Leah into his arms. " I love you so much and I need you to support me in this. Please."
"I don't know if I can; I'mma try, though. We've been together two years, and you couldn't tell me before this?"
"Baby, it took so much for me to do this."
"Let's do it then"