1009 words from the life of Carina Malikov:
Shirley arrived at my hotel room before noon. Her hair was done up in nice curls, her pearls were on, and her lipstick was brighter than any rose I had ever seen. After her time in India, her skin was deeply tanned and her body toned. She smiled and entered the room, her eyes anxious and her cheeks rosy.
He was coming home today.
She was only moral support, but it was common knowledge that Shirley was just dying to meet the boy I couldn’t stop going on and on about. Shirley, the woman of commitment she was, had already been in the Women’s Army Corps for six months when I officially met Ben Hoffmann. She had only heard about my intrigue of him through letters. Now, three years later, we were engaged to be married. I had planned and waited, and Shirley sat eagerly beside, my best friend of all of my twenty one years becoming a bridesmaid herself.
I was anxious to see him again, yes. I knew what exposure to the real war had done to him last time, but a second time around. It was known the Japs were worse fighters, relentless, never surrendering. It was impossible to know how much he had suffered, all the horrors he had seen. Secretly, selfishly, I hoped for Shirley to be able to meet the Ben that I fell in love with. There was nothing I wanted more than my best friend’s approval.
“Who gave you this much money? You, Carina, are literally staying in luxury. We are only staying here one more night and you bought the nicest damn suite.” I chuckle and watch from the bed as she pours her a glass of the champagne sitting on the bedside. I neglect to mention that the champagne actually costs extra.
“So the Indians taught you to curse did they? The Shirley I knew would never utter a word against the teachings of the Lord.” She takes a drink, her face puckering slightly.
“That Shirley did not sign up for war, sweet pea. You seem anxious. Loosen up, it’s not like I’m going to murder the sailor.” I smile, and stand to go finish dressing and applying my makeup. Shirley was always known for her punctuality, and by punctuality I mean her tendency to show up excessively early to every function she has ever been invited to. She follows me into the suite bathroom.
“That’s just what I am worried about, Shirley. Just that.” She smirks and pushes a curl behind her ear, as she takes another sip of champagne she rolls her eyes. “Don’t roll your eyes Shirley McIntire! Do you not remember that boy you ran out of town for kissing me under the slide?”
“That was third grade, Cari! Third grade! Will you please get over that! I was a child!” She testifies through fits of girlish laughter and giggles. I have a hard time keeping myself from chuckling as I apply my own lipstick, a darker red, better suited for my skin tone and my grey jacket and skirt. My pearls were delicately hung about my neck, the red string tied in the back with an elaborate bow. The pearls had been his gift to me for my twenty-first birthday. The red tie after his nickname for me: his Soviet. The lipstick promptly matched the tie. I was sure he would love it. “You look gorgeous. I sure hope I don’t have to run this one straight out of the United States.”
Shirley hands me my heels as we chuckle at the thought of itty-bitty Shirley running a sailor out of the whole damn country. My heels were on. My makeup was done. My hair was curled and pinned. It was almost time. Shirley places her hand on my shoulder, a light blonde curl falling out of place as she does so. “Are you ready? You don’t have to meet him. I’m good at excuses.”
“No. No. That will not be necessary. Of course I’m ready. I haven’t seen my fiance in a year. I am more than ready.” I nod at myself in the mirror before I lead Shirley out of the hotel room. I’ll admit it costs me quite a bit of my salary from Lewis, but I’m sure it would be worth it as soon as I had Ben with me again. Everything would be right. I just knew.
The massive ship pulls up a few minutes late. My heart hammering with anticipation that had been building up for one entire year. One entire, long, war torn year. How the world had changed in that short span. All along the docks were family, young women like myself, brothers with handicaps from birth or war, and townspeople. It was always heartwarming to watch a homecoming. Even if the ship was only going to pull away with more men and supplies than it began, I would still get to see my fiance. To me, this was all that mattered.
In truth, I wasn’t sure why Ben was being excluded from the last advance towards the Japanese. Maybe Lewis pulled some strings. Maybe the man who once ordered me into espionage was now doing some good for my life and well being. No matter what the cause of his return, I was grateful. My heartbeat accelerated by the second.
Men began disembarking from the ship. Then I saw him. Helping a man with a crutch get off the ship. A woman next to me sobbed and rushed forward. My heart hardened, jealousy clutching it, fear thinking she was here for Ben too. When she reaches the man with crutches I see that she was only here for him. She was his sweetheart. Ben sees me and holds his arms open, setting down his bags and offering a smile. Tears rim my eyelids as I move as fast as my heels would carry me into his arms. He smelled of sweat and BO, but I couldn’t care less. He was mine, and he was home.