The colors of the sunset blended together like a pool of pinkish-oranges and violet-reds. It projected a reflection onto the shimmering ocean, like a paint palette swishing and threatening to spill over. I let my feet dangle over the boardwalk, and leaned my head on my boyfriend's shoulder.
"I wish it could stay like this forever," I told him, and he shifted to look at me. He tilted my chin up and leaned in to kiss me, before looking into my eyes with his huge hazel ones.
"I know, Lexi, I know," Brayden whispered, and he ran his hands through my hair. "But I have to go."
I wanted to say no. I wanted to ask him to stay with me, and we could be more than anyone ever imagined. But that would be selfish.
"Yeah, I know," I replied, and Brayden got up, gently pulling me to my feet. "You'll be careful, won't you?" I asked, and Brayden's face softened.
"Lexi, you know I will," He promised me, his eyes glistening. I wrapped my arms around him, not wanting to let go. Burying my head into his chest, I fought back the tears that were trying to force their way out of my eyes. When I finally pulled away, I realized his face was tearstained too, and lit up by the golden glow of the setting sun.
"Hey, just in case...just in case I don't make it..." Brayden started, choking up, and I shook my head.
"Don't say that, Brayden. You'll be back, I know you will." I reassured him (and myself.)
He stared at me, his mouth briefly slipping into a sad smile. "If I don't," he slid the sweatshirt off his shoulders, "take it."
I stared at him, openmouthed. "What...Brayden, no..."
"It's the sweatshirt I wore on our first date, Lexi," He told me, and he twirled me around like a dancer, all the while the tide playing the most beautiful symphony I've ever heard.
I glanced at him. Gosh, how I loved him. He was perfect, he really was.
Finally, he held the sweatshirt out to me, determined. His blonde hair flapped in the wind. "Please, Lexi..." He pleaded.
I reached out a shaking hand and took the sweatshirt. Brayden helped me put in on. "Thank you," I whispered, my mouth dry. Brayden nodded, and looked down at his watch.
"I...I have to go," He murmured, and he blinked several times, long and hard, but studied me closely. "I don't want to forget any of this," He explained, letting out a crestfallen laugh.
I bit my lip. "Neither do I," I cried. I kissed him, savoring the last kiss I'd have with him for who knows how long. "I love you."
He grinned at me through the pain. "I love you, too," He said, and he pulled away from me, gently grabbing my hand and giving it a small squeeze. And then, he turned and started to walk down the boardwalk, and away from me. To his new life. A life of danger and fighting, but a life full of respect and dignity.
I hugged his sweatshirt closer around me, as if it would make me closer to him somehow. I was proud to know him, of course, to know he was fighting for our country out there, but I wished I had just one more day.
I never had enough time.
I picked up my sandals in my left hand and continued barefoot down the boardwalk, the sand edging in between my toes, and the cold, night air whoosing around me.
But I had his sweatshirt, and the comfort of knowing he had been in it, once. He was still somewhat close.
The sun had disappeared now, and the sky was a deep solid indigo, with white flecks of salt sprayed over it. I wondered if someday, I'd look up at that same sky with Brayden again.
I hoped that I would.