Andy played with his dog tags. She lifted her chin on his shoulder. “What are you thinking?”
“That I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world,” he said.
“Me neither. This is nice.” She paused. “I sometimes get myself in trouble when I get real lonely. I remember the words of this movie once, ‘Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.’ I can attest that strangers are not always kind.” Andy propped her head on her palm and admired Earl, his earnest gray eyes and dark shaggy hair. She traced her finger along his mustache. “What about you? You seem like a loner like me. Were you a born loner or did it come with life?” Earl shifted his eyes to her. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want, but I want to know you better,” she said.
Staring into her eyes he knew without a doubt she was something special. She could be his home. “Their names were Harry and Brice. They called Harry, Hank. He was a short freckle-faced kid from Alabama. Brice was an all-star pretty-boy from Huntington Beach. They were the weapons officers, and I was the pilot. My job was to not get shot down.” Tears flooded Earl’s eyes. “I failed.”
Andy wiped his tears. “That sounds like a real tough job. I’m not sure many people can succeed let alone fly a plane.”
“I killed them and yet I somehow survived,” he cried.
Words of condolence came to her lips, but she did not let them escape. She instinctively knew he needed to come out of this alone. She simply smiled and remained silent holding him tightly.
“And you know what the worst part was?” he asked wiping his tears.
“What?” Andy asked sweetly.
“When I finally returned to the States I found out the Beatles broke up. I mean what kind of shit is that?” he replied with a grin.
Andy stared at him and laughed. “Yes, that was indeed tragic.”
Earl propped himself up on his elbow and brushed back Andy’s hair. “I knew when I got back everything had changed. Nothing would ever be the same again with me, the country and the world. The age of love had ended and now we are left with a void.”
“That’s funny coming from a military man. Most I met were not familiar with the word love, just a lot of anger.” Andy rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. “Are soldiers born killers or is it instilled in them?”
“Training. You can’t be a bleeding heart when you’re sent to kill people. The love has got to end and if it doesn’t, that love will kill you and you will be haunted your entire life,” said Earl.
“Why did you go?” she asked.
The reasons were not clear, but from what Earl could remember the reasons blended—duty, responsibility and the draft but then it came to him clearly. “I love to fly. I am a pilot or was a pilot.”
“You could have flown anywhere why Vietnam?” she asked.
“Yeah, I could have been a commercial pilot, maybe a crop duster or one of those guys that flies banners and writes ‘I love you’ in the sky,” Earl replied with a laugh. “I think it was the Phantom-4. It is an amazing plane and the power in that engine is incredible. There is something about soaring in the blue sky but the best was flying at night and being up there with the stars. They were always there to guide me and the constellations became my friends—Orion, the Dippers, Pegasus and my love Andromeda. I suppose I grew oblivious to what was happening on Earth, which is ironic since I am now stuck here.”
“What are you going to do now?” she asked.
“If I can’t live in the sky, I chose the edge of civilization. Whenever I got close to the center, I retreated back to the edge.” He turned to her and caressed her face and hair. “People on their own are good, humanity has a lot to be desired.”
Andy laughed. “For me it’s always been the opposite. I find people to be cruel. There is safety in numbers.” She paused. “Isn’t it great we found each other? We can bring each other back to middle ground.” She paused. “If of course you want.”
Earl had lived in isolation for some time giving up on ever finding his home and a place he belonged. The idea of living with another frightened him, but then if he were to come out let it be with a beautiful woman. “Of course.”