“I don’t mean it like I’ll be gone forever. It won’t….I won’t be gone for long.”

James grasped a hold of Cleo, his expression pleading. Despite this, she was not budging from her earlier judgment. Her eyes glassy from tears that were yet to spill down her cheeks and vanish into the thick gray sleeves of her sweater; his heart ached. She crossed her arms along the table and rested her chin on top of them, green eyes looking back into his hazel.

“I love you, but I hate you.”

James smiled and gave her hand a squeeze, “I know you do, and I adore you for that.”

He flipped their hands open and looked at her peach-colored hand encased in his cinnamon-colored hand, the sound of gunfire ringing in the back of his mind.

Regret boiled hot inside of him as he slid his hand inside the pocket of his black jeans. The letter inside crumpled softly, not enough for Cleo to hear, but enough to let him know that this was reality; he could not let her know that it arrived.

* * *

Saturday morning came and Cleo awoke with a loud roar from James and a heavy weight landing on her back as he launched himself on her. She opened a sleepy eye and glared at James, who had a puppy grin on his face. He rubbed her red locks with his  hand before he slid off her back, picked her up and lifted her over his shoulder. He was feeling accomplished because the room was filled with laughing. Her hands gripped onto his navy t-shirt as she kicked and struggled in an attempt to wrestle him from this unfair position, still wearing a smile on her face.

With a grin, James playfully tossed her back onto the bed before he left the room.

He zipped his lips with an imaginary zipper and vanished out into the hall, making Cleo smirk as she heard a few bumps and a groan, telling her he had just slipped down the stairs. Later, Cleo trotted down the stairs, a towel in her hand. She glanced around the house at the arrivals — balloons. Balloons decorated the house all the way to the kitchen, where she discovered James at the stove.

She cleared her throat loudly to alert him of her presence.

James sighed before he slowly turned around, his expression solemn making her’s turn to surprise. He placed the last pancake on the plate before setting them down on the table.

Silently he reached into his pocket, pulled out a letter, and tossed it on the table. Cleo eyed the letter before she burst into tears and threw the soft, hot pancakes at him. Her cheeks turned red from anger as she screamed at him. After a bit, she slumped to her knees and allowed him to hug and comfort her.

Wiping her eyes she looked at him, “When do you have to go?”

James looked away and allowed a thick silence to form between them. “On the 25th,” he muttered.