A Soldier’s Lost and Found Bride
By Felix L. Perry
The young sister kneeled at the Alter. Her hands were serenely folded in prayer. As I sat and glanced back I couldn’t help but be amazed at the purity that seemed to emanate from her face framed in the black and white of her nun’s habit. In the soft light of the early morning church she seemed almost angelic and I wondered again if I were doing the right thing by coming to her like this. I glanced again just as she opened her eyes and smiled at me and my heart melted like a young boy with his first crush. In a way I was for though I had just turned forty and I knew she was only thirty-six, we had loved each other for eternity, she just didn’t know it yet.
It had been twenty-one years since my number came up and I proudly put on the uniform that Uncle Sam said would make me a hero in my countries eyes. Boy was he wrong. Shelly was barely a girl at thirteen with pig-tails and freckles and though she was well developed to me she was the munchkin next door, that trailed after me and often became a pest, but deep down I never knew how much I cared for her. That last day with my bags packed and waiting for Mom and Dad to drive me to the base for transport I sat out back on the porch looking up at the old oak tree. The parts of the old tree house that still clung to it drew my attention, so many memories were made in that tree house, I saw my first Playboy magazine, drank my first beer and smoked my first cigarette up there in that rotting pile of boards. As I looked something got my attention in the shadows of the open window and curiosity got the better of me, climbing the rungs I poked my head inside the door.
“Shelly? Is that you?” I asked as I made out the outline of my favorite young neighbor next door.
I could tell she’d been crying and climbing up and into the tree house I put my arm around her in the crowded space, it sure seemed bigger when we use to come up here as kids I thought to myself.
“Hey sunshine, why are you crying? You in trouble with your folks or something?”
She pulled away from me for a moment and touched my cheek and through the glistening teardrops on her cheek she tried to smile.
“I’m crying cause I am afraid I’ll never see you again Phil, I can’t bear the thought of not having you, I love you, I know you think I am just a kid but I do love you, always have and always will.” And with that she pulled my head towards hers and our lips met. I didn’t expect this but as we tasted each other’s lips my response was immediate and as our lips parted I tasted her tongue flicking inside of my mouth as sweet as the licorice she’d been eating before I entered the tree house. She had always had a yen for red licorice as long as I had known her, sort of her own comfort food to go. I did try at least once to pull away but the desire grew as she took one of my hands and put it on her boob that she had sprung free of her blouse. It wasn’t huge but sweet and tiny and her nipple sprang alive as soon as I touched them.
She eased herself down onto the old mattress that had been there for years and pulled me down with her. I knew I should have stopped her but I was lost in the moment and when she took my other hand and guided it into her panties I was gone. We didn’t make love that day so much as steal each other’s virginities in the heat of the moment. Afterwards I sat up ashamed and embarrassed of what I had done and almost couldn’t bare to look at her but she took my hand and when she spoke I listened…
“Phil don’t you dare get yourself killed over there. I love you and I know you may not love me now but I know someday you will and when you come home I will marry you and be your wife. That is a promise. In the meantime, (she said as she took a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket) here is our new address where we are moving to and you write me every day. I will wait for you Phil.”
With those words still hanging in the air and me still dazed from what had just happened she kissed me once more and with tears still glistening from her eyes she slipped by me and was gone before I had a chance to reply. Shortly after I heard my mother calling and knew it was time to go, so straightening my uniform I hurried down from the tree house not noticing the tiny slip of paper falling from my pocket onto the floor. I lowered the old wood storm flaps over the window and door as I said goodbye to both my youth and my virginity. It would be a long time before I would ever see that old house again.
Vietnam was all of the horror that was imagined by those that didn’t go and then some. Day after day, week after week, month after month we fought in the jungles and carried out our dead for that long flight home. It was only after I got on the plane and started thinking about Shelly and the sweet gift she had given me that I reached for her address and frantically went through every pocket to no avail. Unfortunately the ensuing days allowed no time for letter writing and when I did write home the answer came back that Shelly and her family had moved without a forwarding address. I was for the first time in my life heart broken, why hadn’t I known all along that I loved her, was it only the sex, no I knew that it was the smile on her face that I craved and the warmth of her arms.
As the fighting progressed I never stopped dreaming of her and counted the days till I could go home and start searching for her. I told myself when I did find her I would never let her out of my sight. I would marry her and I dreamed of all the ways we would make love, I was often temped on furlough R & R by the young momma sans who traded sex for cash but the thought of my own sweet Shelly was enough to send me back to my barracks and making love to my hand picturing Shelly naked and smiling in front of me. It was during the last four months of my tour that my platoon was pinned down and myself and a few others were captured when we finally ran out of ammo. We didn’t think we would live to see the light of day but prisoners were fast becoming bargaining chips at that stage of the war and so we were marched off to the swamps and lice ridden camps to subsist on maggoty rice and the lack of even the most basic humanity respect. Still I held my head up and as Shelly walked and danced for me in my dreams I knew I would make it home.
Myself and the other boys who shared our private section of hell were some of the lucky ones. As we hadn’t been in captivity for too long, if you considerer four years after the war was supposed to be over not too long, so we were some of the final prisoners to be set free after many financial and diplomatic arrangements were finalized. Altogether from the time I shipped out till my return to stateside I had been gone for over six years and for five of them I was considered MIA, my parents never gave up hope. I spent another six months recovering in a VA hospital from wounds, infections and other ailments before the US Army pinned a few medals on me and congratulated me on my new freedom. Still I was not free for I was still a prisoner of Shelly who I now knew I would start searching for. I wondered if I were crazy and thought to myself she is probably married with three kids by now to some accountant but deep down I knew she wasn’t.
It was to my relief surprisingly easy to track Shelly’s where about. I remembered she had a really close girlfriend from childhood and digging out the old school yearbooks I found her name and with a little more digging managed to find an address for Sherry Olson, that was her name, and then a phone number which I didn’t waste any time calling. The phone was picked up on the third ring and I spoke uncertainly afraid of finding out answers I didn’t really want to hear.
“Sherry? Sherry Olson?” I asked.
“Yes this is Sherry, who’s calling?”
I soon explained who I was and why I was calling her, and waited to see what information she could give me, hoping beyond hope that she would at the very least have a phone number for Shelly.
“Gosh Phil, yea I remember you, we even had a prayer meeting after you were reported Missing In Action, Shell came down for it and everything, she…”
“You know where she is?” I asked cutting her off in mid sentence.
“Well as I was just about to tell you, she cried for the whole three days she was here and then all of a sudden she packed and told me she was heading home to Maine. I felt so bad for her. Anyway we talked two or three times over the phone but she never really got over you and then the last time she called she said she had some really exciting news.”
I waited with bated breath afraid of what the news might be, had she met someone while I was wasting in that Vietnam prison and married him I had to know…
“Go on Sherry what was her news?” I asked trying not to let the fear I felt over run all my reason.
“ Well Phil don’t know how to tell you this but she said she’d been called to be a bride of Christ and would be entering training and religious studies in a few weeks, that was last fall, and I think she should be almost done in about a week or so to take her final pledge. I am soooo sorry Phil.”
She must have taken my silence for disappointment for she quickly added: “Hey Phil, you know I am not seeing anyone right now, how about we get together for a drink or something…”
I didn’t have to guess what the something was that she hinted at for her voice left no doubt as to her intentions.
“Gee Sherry, I would really like that but first I would like to go see Shelly and just put an end to how I feel first. Can you give me the name of the convent where I can find her, Kittery wasn’t that the name of the town in Maine, you said?”
Once I wrote down the name of the Convent and phone number that Sherry spelled out for me I said goodbye with a half promise, which I had no intention of keeping, that I’d look her up when I got back from Maine and my business with Shelly. After hanging up the phone I looked at the old clock and decided too late to call and besides I knew I had to see and talk to her face to face. If she was really going to be a nun and no longer loved me I would only know if I saw it in her eyes as she told me. I went to bed and dreamed of Vietnam and then finally of Shelly and making sweet love to her in a tree house. Morning came too quickly and I was up and packed before the sun was completely up. My army training gave me a built in alarm clock.
So here I was sitting in a choir loft looking down onto the most beautiful angel that I had ever known. As she knelt there with folded hands praying from her soul all I could see was her naked breasts and the smile on her face the day we shared losing our virginities. God was I going to go to hell for the thoughts raging in my mind or the desires I felt for this now fully grown women? I had showed up at the convent and I told them I was an old friend of Sister Shelly but they said she was not considered a sister yet until after her ceremony. My uniform with the chestfull of ribbons must have made a good impression for the elderly nun at the desk told me, though she said she wasn’t supposed to novices weren’t supposed to have any male visitors other them fathers and brothers. She did smile though and whispered that if I happened to go to the Chapel and say a little prayer the one I was looking for may just miraculously appear. She smiled at me as I quickly stood and headed for the door. Nowhere I was sitting in the loft with my fingers wearing out the edges of my uniform hat trying to find the nerve and right words to approach this woman who had completely occupied my dreams for so many years.
I closed my eyes for a second trying to find the answers. When I reopened them I almost let out a shriek of dismay for she was gone. Dejected I sat back in the pew knowing it was over. Without being able to see and talk to her she would no doubt take her vows that afternoon and that would be that. A teardrop rolled silently down my cheek and I couldn’t even find the strength to wipe it away as another and another raced after it. With eyes closed I did not see or even hear anyone approaching but when I felt the soft touch of fingers covering my tear stained eyes and the soft breeze of her voice in my ear. I almost exploded with happiness.
“Guess who?” the words seemed to float on the air. Taking those warm delicate hands in mine I stood and turned in the narrow confines of the pew to see Shelly smiling at me, the smile that had kept hope alive through the hell I had endured in the war.
“Phil is it really you? I can’t believe it. I thought you were killed in Vietnam and I would only see you when I got to heaven. Oh Phil you don’t know how many times I cried for you or how much I prayed for you to return to find me.” Her sentences rushed out of her like the bark of a machine gun, rapid fire and non-stop.
Standing there looking into her eyes I knew that I loved her and as she talked I guided her never letting go of her hands to the outside of the pew knowing I had to hold her in my arms.
“ I love you Shelly, I hope I am not too late but I…” his sentence was cut off as they reached the end of the pew and came together in the aisle and her lips were suddenly smothering his with her kisses. The passion was as strong as it had been in that tree house so many years before. The salt sting of tears co-mingling and rolling over two sets of lips spoke of what was to come. In the shadows of the choir loft they lost all track of yesterday and today as love and lust fought for domination of the black robes she wore as an initiate of the order she, up to a few short minutes ago, committed herself to be forever a part of.
Panting she stopped and pushed him away for a moment and looking up into his eyes his heart stopped beating fearful that she might be coming to her senses to tell him it was too late. Instead, slowly and methodically without taking her steady gaze from peering into his eyes she removed the black and white habit and again he saw her golden locks as they fell around her shoulders. They made love there slowly and lovingly in the empty chapel and afterwards with her laying in his arms he happened to glance up to see a statue of the Virgin Mary and to him the icon seemed to be smiling down at them as if to give her approval of love so long denied and now realized.
“Phil if you are going to ask me to marry you, this would be a real good time to do it?” she asked as she tossed the habit behind her into the empty church.
Shelly I have waited from the day we made love in that tree house to say this to you:
“Will you marry me?” and her answer was sealed with a kiss.
As they walked from the chapel a senior nun made the sign of the cross and smiled.