Hero of War (part 22)

Private Lloyd came by to visit me one last time before the troop departed. His face was less sunken than before and the bags under his eyes had lessened. He talked to me for a few minutes, just some habitual small talk about the weather and base conditions, before handing me two letters.

“One of them is a letter to my parents, just letting them know I’m okay; would you mind delivering it for me? The last two I sent got lost in the mail.” It was in that moment that I saw the true youth and innocence in his face. He is only two years older than me but, up until now, he had seemed much older, much more detached than I could ever be. This is the first time I feel a really, personal connection to him.

It’s the first time I’ve seen him as a friend instead of a replacement for my brother.

“Sure,” I say with a forced smile to relieve him of his anxiety. I look down at the letter, rubbing the edge slightly with the tip of my finger to remind myself of the texture of paper. The address dictates a city I don’t recognize but the zip code is only a few hundred digits ahead of mine so I know he can’t live too far away.

The second letter catches my attention. It’s addressed to me, my name written in a handwriting I recognize instantly as though it also belongs to me.

“The second letter comes from Sophie.” He pauses, giving me a moment to process. “She-uh She gave it to me when she joined, asking me to send it to you if something happened to her.” He looks up at the ceiling, revealing the whites of his eyes. Despite his best effort, a few tears roll down his cheeks.

He misses her too. I hadn’t realized he’d cared for her. The entire time I had only thought of my own grief. I had never considered the feelings of other troops members.

Guilt finds a space in my chest, weighing me down, trying to push me deeper into the bed. It replaces my amputated leg, morphing to become a part of my body. The guilt of letting Sophie die and the guilt of my selfishness mix into cement.

Lloyd stands, locking gazes with me. His eyes are calm and dry. “I’ll miss you here, Adam. I hope we can meet once the war is over, back at home.” With that, he smiles and leaves.

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