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The date was May 11, 1986 when they first met and when first grade was almost over. It happened over in the cornfield during an innocent game of hide and seek. Billie was ‘it’ and counted to twenty while all of the kids made their way through the yellow maize each finding a safe and secure spot to hide while Billie found everyone else in their class. They’d been in the same class all year but neither one of them paid any attention to the other until that day in the corn.
She had found the perfect place to hide. A solid green wall of stalk had concealed her from the sight of anyone attempting to find her so she crouched down and waited. When she heard Billie yell, “Ready or not, here I come!” her heart began to race. She kneeled down in the dirt and started to listen for anything that sounded like approaching footsteps. And then, after five minutes of silence, she heard them. She backed up deeper into the shadows of the stalks. Careful not to make any loud noises, she thought she was safe until she tripped over something solid and breathing lying on the dirt, causing her to scream and rush into the open sunlight.
The breathing creature sat up and groaned and that’s when she knew that it was a human boy. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, she did not know what to make of him. He sat in the dirt for a few moments, looking at his surroundings before he crawled out of his shady sanctuary, and it was at that moment she knew who he was.
His name was Jack. She had seen him around the farm a few times whenever he came by to drop off medicine for her mama (his family owned the land right next to hers and her mama was always sick). His hair was dark brown, almost black and he had two little orbs of eyes to match and when he smiled, the freckles on his face became noticeably more visible. “Hey there, Lily,” he said to her with a grin, his thick Tennessee accent hanging on with each word, “I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten ya.”
She blushed and looked down at her pigeon feet, twisting her fingers in the bottom of her lace dress. “That’s alright,” she answered shyly, “You was sleeping. I shouldn’ta bothered ya.”
“That dress is real purty on ya, Lily,” Jack said, showing a toothy smile. It was now his turn to blush and have pigeon feet.
Everything was silent for a moment before they both heard approaching footsteps from somewhere nearby. “Ah-hah! I found ya!” Billie yelled, appearing from behind a stalk of corn.
“No you ain’t! I wasn’t even playin’!” Jack yelled back at him.
“Well then, Lily, you’re it!” Billie said and then yelled out, “Everyone, Lily’s it!”
Jack looked back at Lily who’s head was now looking directly at the ground, refusing to look up with a steady stream of water coming out of her eyes. “You okay, Lily?” Jack asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.
She looked up at Billie who was now unsure of what to do and then she screamed, “I don’t wanna be it!” then ran off.
Jack glared at Billie and then shouted, “Why you makin’ a girl cry?” and then raced through the corn after Lily.
Eleven years later…
“Lily, wait up!” Jack hollered as he made his way through the cornfield, on the lookout for her dark hair zoom past the corner of his eye, but so far, he was having no such luck.
“Gotta catch me first!” she answered. At the moment, she was more like a spirit than an actual person since all that could be seen or heard was her voice and her footsteps.
He quickly turned the corner thinking that she had changed aisles when he wasn’t looking and when he burst through the wall of stalks, he saw her. Then again, her bright red-checkered shirt didn’t hide her too well in a field of yellow corn. He had just about caught up to her when she turned herself around to see if her was still following her and revealed the thing that she was holding captive: his hat.
He had almost given up (there was no way he could catch her) when she suddenly tripped over her own feet and fell to the ground. He ran up to her and once she stood up, they were face-to-face, only centimeters apart. “Now,” he said with a smirk, “gimmie back my hat.”
She returned his smirk and said, “Uh-uh. There ain’t no way you’re gettin’ this hat back. Not until you apologize for stealin’ my strawberries.”
“Awe, come on, they were so good,” he said, attempting to reach for the hat in her hands, but she quickly put it behind her back and began to back away so he couldn’t reach it. Jack then ran behind her and, before she could say or do anything, yanked the hat right from Lily’s hands and placed it on top of his head as if he had just won a war.
Lily let out a large sigh and began to walk out of the cornfield with Jack in toe. “You still gotta apologize for eatin’ my strawberries,” she declared.
He laughed. “Lily, come on. We been best friends for eleven years and after all this time, you still get mad at me whenever I eat a strawberry. You know, one day, you gonna miss me and wish that I was back here eatin’ your strawberries.”
“I doubt that,” Lily answered bluntly, “you leave for three—four months at a time and don’t even bother callin’ and I don’t miss you then so I pro’ably won’t miss you now. Besides, you ain’t plannin’ on leaving soon. Right?”
Unfortunately, Jack couldn’t answer her question. Once they reached the perimeter of the cornfield, a loud noise suddenly echoed throughout the field that seemed to come from the dirt road a little ways down from where Jack and Lily stood. They both assumed it was nothing and began to head back towards Lily’s house when they saw the truck drive by. But this truck wasn’t a truck that was normally seen around these parts. It wasn’t carrying food or animals. It was dark green with a giant hooded back with a yellow logo on it and they both knew that this wasn’t good.
“Hey, uh, Lily, I have to go,” Jack suddenly said and turned around and ran towards the truck as Lily stood there in utter confusion.
As the rooster crowed that next morning at 3:15 like it always did, Lily rolled herself out of bed. She was used to getting up this early to milk the cows, feed the chickens, and whatnot so when the rooster crowed that morning, she didn’t complain. Yet, this morning was a little different than most mornings.
She got dressed in her usual farm attire, grabbed some buckets, and headed out into the foggy morning. She walked to the front of her property with her buckets in hand and approached the cows when she saw something odd in the distance. It was a person with a rather large backpack walking down the old dirt road and as she got closer and closer to the person, something inside of her was sounding an alarm. She knew that person.
“Jack!” she yelled, dropping the buckets in her hand and running up to his silhouetted figure. He stopped dead in his tracks and looked over at her but did not respond. When she finally approached him, she could finally see that he wasn’t wearing his normal clothes. Instead, he was wearing a dark green outfit with a matching hat. “Where’re you goin’?” she asked him.
“Lily, what are you doin’ here?” he replied, walking over to her.
“Answer my question,” she demanded, “where’re you goin’?”
“I’m goin’ away for a while,” he responded. He knew that if he answered her right away, she wouldn’t like the answer that she received, so he dodged the bullet.
“Why’re you leavin’?” Lily asked, ignoring the fact that he didn’t answer her first question fully.
He sighed and placed a hand on her cheek but soon took it off before he said, “You remember that truck that drove past here yesterday?” Lily nodded. “That was an army truck. I’m joinin’ the army.”
Lily’s eyes widened with a mix of horror and sadness. “But why you joinin’ the army? We need you here on the farm.”
“Lily, if you guys actually wanted me to stay, you think I’d be leavin’?” he asked. She could not believe what he was saying to her.
“You think I don’t need you?” she asked feeling the tears come into her eyes, “Would I be standin’ here beggin’ you to stay if I didn’t need you?”
“Lily,” Jack said sternly, looking her square in the eyes, “I didn’t have a choice.”
Now she let the tears fall. She knew that there was nothing that she could do but she had to try. “No one’s forcin’ you to leave, Jack,” she stated bluntly.
He tried again to place a hand on her cheek and this time he left it on there. “I need the money, Lily. You know that my family can’t afford for me to go to college. This is the only way that I can go. I’ll only be gone for a few years. I’ll come back. I promise.”
She knew that it wasn’t true but she couldn’t bring herself to believe that it could be true. All she’s known was he leaving for months at a time and not write to her. Yet, she also knew that if she didn’t admit this soon, she’d never believe it. She swallowed that lump in her throat that was keeping her from saying anything and said, “You ain’t never gonna come back here no more.” She couldn’t take it anymore. Just the sight of him made her feel worse and worse so she ran.
She ran through the cornfield so he couldn’t see her anymore and when she thought he wouldn’t say anything, he yelled, “I’ll come back for you, Lily. I promise.”
She didn’t care. She continued to run through the maize, wishing that he’d come running through the field wondering what kind of idiot would make a girl cry. Just like old times.