My survival hinged on his love in a way I couldn’t appreciate until he’d left. The days were only days. Time served. Tolerable only because, once past, they would bring us closer to being together again.
I glanced at the clock, the only object of interest in the otherwise lifeless room that I shared with an absent roommate. Late afternoon light came in through the bay windows. They were an exceptional feature for the room, but the old campus was filled with houses like mine and rooms like this one that had hosted the youth of New England’s elite for decades—centuries actually.
Being here nearly by myself the past couple days had been strange. An unusual calm fell over places that were otherwise filled with the hustle and bustle of students and faculty. The rare quiet, combined with the void of coursework, had made missing Cameron almost unbearable. Of all the days of missing him, today—with no purpose and no distractions—had been the worst.
I wanted him back with a gnawing hunger and was silently counting down the minutes until he would be. A persistent fear fed by my own insecurities and the break in our recent communications kept interrupting the fantasy of having him in my arms again. Would he still feel the same way for me after all this time? From the stories I’d heard, few people came out of basic training the way they went in. I had nothing but a handful of letters and a few abrupt phone calls to reassure me that he would return to me as the same Cameron I remembered.
Over the past couple weeks, I’d spent less time missing him and more time worrying. But when all was said and done, I was the first and only person he wanted to see when the Army granted him leave. Since then, I’d held tightly to our shared memories when the apprehension of losing what we’d had together took hold. I quietly prayed enough would be left between us, enough time together, to keep us solid through the commitments that would keep us apart for weeks more.
I startled at a sudden knock. Only one person could be at my door. I checked the clock again. He was early. I hadn’t expected that. I got up from the bed, tossing my book to the side. My heartbeat sped, and I straightened my white sundress, my one decent looking dress. I tugged out my ponytail and let my hair fall loose down my back. I fussed a minute longer until he knocked again. Energy and excitement coursed through me, and I took a deep breath before opening the door.
There he stood, almost too gorgeous to be real. I released the doorknob and found my other hand, twisting my fingers in tremulous anticipation. He looked different. His familiar blue eyes bore into me, but the Texas sun had darkened his olive skin. He appeared at least twenty pounds lighter. The strong lines of his jaw and cheekbones were sharper. Between that and his nearly black hair trimmed into a short crew cut, he looked older. I should have expected changes in his physical appearance, but an irrational worry tempered the flood of emotion that rushed over me at the sight of him.
Did he still feel the same way? Could he have changed this much on the inside too?
Struggling for the right words, I opened my mouth to speak. His lips quirked into a small smile, setting off a relieved one of my own. He stepped in and caught my fidgeting hands in his, rubbing his thumbs over the white of my knuckles until I relaxed. The warmth in his eyes melted away any lingering doubts. I exhaled a shaky breath.
“Come here,” I whispered, still afraid to break the silence and unable to do justice to how overwhelming being in his presence again was.
I stepped back, pulling him after me. He followed and once inside curved his arm around my waist, tightening his hold until we were firmly chest-to-chest. My body molded to the hard lines of his. My breaths came fast, my entire body responding to his closeness. His gaze locked me in. He traced my lips with the pad of his thumb, his smile fading as he did.
“I missed you so much, Maya. Every day…”
Out of habit, I hooked my hand around his nape. I mourned the overgrown locks that would have tangled between my fingers, but none of that mattered now. Changed or not, he was here. His heart, the heat of his body pressed against me. This was all I’d wanted. My love in the flesh. It all felt like a dream. Maybe I’d wished for him so hard and for so long that somehow he’d come true. The separation had been almost unbearable. I couldn’t—wouldn’t—consider how we’d face it again.
“I can’t believe you’re really here.” My voice wavered.
He feathered his fingertips over my cheek, calming me. I released a tentative breath. I went to kiss him, but before I could meet his lips, he stilled me, gently cupping my cheek.
“I love you,” he whispered, his soft breath dancing on my lips.
My heart twisted, a bittersweet ache pulsing through my chest with each beat. We’d written it, said it so many times, worn it out. The profoundness of those words from his lips, now, nearly knocked me down. My entire being warmed from the inside out. Possessed with a fervency to prove how much I felt it too, I lifted to my toes and kissed him. Our lips met, then our tongues, tangling, teasing, and tasting.