“Their love would just be a memory being slowly buried by the sands of time.” 

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No amount of time could heal the wounds to her heart, her soul. Mark said he’d never leave—so there was no need to say goodbye. He lied. He did leave—and no matter how long Victoria waited, he wasn’t coming back.

Their last kiss was passionate, powerful, like the world stopped spinning just for them. He knew this would be their last kiss—would be his last time staring into her perfect green eyes. And deep down, she knew this too. Even if she would never admit it to herself.

Mark held her tight. She smelled of vanilla and her chestnut brown hair tickled his neck. She held onto him as tightly as she could. As if holding onto him would keep him from going—like the universe would recognize their love and not separate them. She sobbed silently with her head buried in his chest—her tears soaking into the fabric of his jacket.

His hand caressed the small of her back and he kissed the top of her head softly. Her hair was warm from the sun, but her skin felt cold as ice; she was shaking gently in his arms. He couldn’t tell if this was from the cold or if she were crying harder. So, he just pulled her in tighter, wrapping his arms completely around her—protecting her from the cold—from the world. Just like he’d always done.

The Earth began to spin once more as Mark pulled away from her. He looked one last time into her eyes, now red and tear filled. She tried desperately to hold onto him, but she knew no matter what, she had to let him go. This day had been coming for a long time.

It took everything in her being to hold it together as he walked away. All she had to do was be strong until he got onto the bus. If she could do that, she just knew he’d be okay. Just a moment longer. Hold it together. Just a few seconds longer she thought.

Then the images returned. The flashes of an American flag draped over a coffin. The sun glinting off all those white tombstones: her brother, her father, her grandfather. Three times she watched a casket lowered beneath the Earth. And three times it was the result of war. Now, Mark was heading to fight. As soon as he got on the bus it would be over. Their love would just be a memory being slowly buried by the sands of time.

Just hold it together. This was all she could say to keep herself calm. And he must see her calm before he got on the bus or he would always be distracted over there—always worried about her instead of himself. This is what would cause his death. She felt this deep down. “Just hold it together,” she whispered to herself.

Mark rose up to the last step of the bus and stopped. He took one last look at Victoria. Her slender figure standing like a beautiful marble statue in the distance. He couldn’t make out her face through the falling snow, but she looked poised, confident in her stance. Mark smiled and waved one last time. Then it happened.

Just hold it tog—

Victoria couldn’t do it. She tried so hard to keep it together, but it was like fate had a different plan for her. As he waved, her legs quaked beneath her. She knew her strength only had to last for one second longer and he’d be okay—but she couldn’t do it. Her knees buckled. It felt as if everything inside her, all the emotion and fear she felt broke loose. The dam holding everything back had given way and it all came rushing out. She dropped to her knees and cried.

Mark’s smile faded as he saw this. His focus shifted to her, to her well-being. He was gently pushed into the bus from the man behind him. This was the last time Victoria would ever see him until he was beneath that flag—until his coffin was lowered to rest.

For the rest of her life she was riddled with guilt. She felt it was because of her he didn’t come back. She couldn’t hold it together, so he was distracted—couldn’t focus on what he needed to do. If she just held it together for one second longer, he might have made it out of that jungle in Vietnam. He might have returned to her safely. If only she could have been stronger. If only she held it together. If only…

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