The Story begins HERE.
The truth is, by the time the Imperial Marines had proffered their invitation to join them, Jacinta had already put me behind her.
I was sixteen years old; she was fifteen. It was the last week of the summer before my final term of secondary school, a whole four years before the call of the Emperor’s Own. Golan Heights Military Academy had just approved my application and after excitedly giving the news to my parents, I hurriedly commed Jacinta.
“Just got some great news, Jacci!”
“Oh? What is it?”
“I’ll tell you in person,” I said. “Are you home?”
“I’ll be there soon.” I then hopped on my hover-rod and flew the thirty minutes to her beachside home.
Jacinta was waiting for me by the family pool when I touched down on the sand beneath the home’s large-timbered deck. She was spread across a lounge chair, wearing a sundress, white and spotted with the images of plump, red tomatoes. She was lying under a wide umbrella painted like a sunflower and reading from a data pad. She put the pad down and reached for a drink when she saw me climbing the steps.
Reaching the deck, I paused briefly to admire her sun-browned beauty. Shapely calves protruded from the knee-length dress. Her legs crossed at slender ankles and ended in small, doll-like feet with pink-painted toenails.
The dress exposed perfect, sun-kissed, rounded shoulders from which a long neck curved gracefully to an oval shaped head. Large, bright, honey-brown eyes regarded me warmly over a slender nose and full-bodied, pink-painted lips which smiled at me even as they sipped from a straw. Between shoulders and calves, the empire-waisted sundress highlighted her figure which was well on its way to womanly proportions – nay, to womanly perfection!
I didn’t stand there admiring Jacinta for too long because her mother was also regarding me from the air-conditioned comfort of the glass-enclosed sunroom at the end of the deck. I waved hello to Jacinta’s mother and she returned the gesture. I then closed the distance between Jacinta and I, bent over the hand she offered in greeting and kissed it.
“Hello Jacci, my darling. How are you?”
“Eagerly awaiting your good news, Zephyrinus my sweetheart.”
I gestured to the lounge opposite hers. “May I sit?”
She nodded. “I made us a fresh pitcher of sweet tea. Would you like a glass?”
“That would be great,” I said, sitting down.
Jacinta swung her legs around, rising to a sitting position. From the small, frosted glass-topped table between our lounge chairs, Jacinta picked up a pitcher and tumbler and poured me a glass of the iced drink.
“To good news,” I said raising the glass for a toast.
She smiled, picked up her glass and clinked against mine. Jacinta took a sip. I drained my glass in half a dozen swallows. After the short flight under a late summer, but still scorching South Carolina sun, the drink was immediately refreshing.
Suddenly, surprising me before I could put my glass down, Jacinta guessed my news. “Golan Heights has accepted your application, haven’t they?”
“That’s right,” I said, grinning wide despite being denied the opportunity to spring the news myself. “This time next year I will be a GHMA cadet.”
“Congratulations. I’m happy for you,” she said with a small smile that didn’t strike me as particularly all that happy.
“Thanks,” I responded somewhat guardedly.
Jacinta’s smile disappeared and my grin followed it into the awkward silence that suddenly yawned wide between us.
After several uncomfortable moments, I had to ask, “Is something wrong?”
She took her eyes off of me and looked out at the horizon for the length of a long breath. At the end of the exhale – or was it a sigh – she turned back to face me. “I’m happy for you Zephyrinus, I really am. It’s just… I’m just not happy for us.”
“I… I don’t understand…”
That same small, sad smile returned for a brief moment before she suddenly advised, “You should find yourself another date for the Michaelmas Fair, Zeph.”
My jaw dropped and a beat afterwards I said, “Now I’m utterly confused.”
Jacinta and I were eleven when we first met at a diocesan picnic. We hit it off immediately and had grown close over the years. Raised with a proper appreciation for the sacramental nature of marriage, as we both were, the budding relationship remained innocent even as our teenage years heightened certain interests in us.
We knew that it was different for the young on other worlds and even for some living on Earth, but Jacinta and I were true believers, both of us lovers of Holy Mother Church. We took to heart Her every admonishment to lead chaste lives. Neither one of us would dare soil the other with illicit premarital relations.
We were also blessed with a like-minded network of supporters, an ever-present chaperonage of parents, older siblings, priests, nuns, and assorted relatives who buttressed and safeguarded our resolve to remain chaste wherever we might go. While certain thoughts unavoidably visited me upon occasion, no serious temptation presented itself to us. Alien as the notion might be in certain quarters, Jacinta and I were resolved to preserve our virginity until marriage.
Not that we were yet betrothed, Jacinta and I; but both our families entertained the hope that we would be soon. It was expected that we would announce our engagement by the coming Christmastide and then be married two or three years later. Such was the general custom for kids like us.
I, myself, looked forward to such a future with Jacinta whenever my youth-bound mind could manage to see past the diversions and studies of the present. Jacinta hoped for it too and, as I was about to learn, she did so dearly.
“What’s wrong Jacci?”
“I want to be a wife and a mother, Zeph.”
“I know,” I said. “And I thought you wanted to be my wife and mother to our kids.”
“I did. I do. I just don’t believe it’s going to happen now.”
“Why? Because Golan Heights accepted my application?”
Jacinta nodded. “If you go to Golan Heights, you’ll have to take the Vow. That’s four years of celibacy. And that’s fine, I’m willing to wait four years; but, if the Imperial Marines invite you into their ranks at the end of your time at the Heights, you will have to re-up the Vow for another ten. That’s a minimum of fourteen years of celibacy, Zeph. Fourteen! I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to wait that long. I’m just not… not for anyone.”
“There’s no guarantee I’ll get the marines’ invitation,” I said. “And even if I am invited, there’s always a chance I could wash out completely.”
“You’re not going to allow yourself to wash out,” she said. “Not if you get their invitation, which you very well might considering your drive and ambition. You’ve wanted this badly for as long as I’ve known you. I can’t wait fourteen years, wondering all the while if some knightly order will swoop in at the last moment and invite you to join them and exact an extra seven year vow. You couldn’t ask me to wait twenty-one years, or could you, Zeph?”
We stared at each other through another pained spell of silence which I broke with a sigh of exasperation before saying, “I don’t understand, Jacci. If you’ve always known what I’ve wanted, why is it suddenly an issue? Why didn’t you say something before?”
“Well, for that I am sorry, Zeph,” Jacinta said a little sheepishly. “I never said anything because I thought… that is, I hoped you would grow out of it.”
“Grow out of it?”
“Most boys play at being knights,” Jacinta explained. “But most boys start developing other interests by secondary school.”
“I have other interests,” I protested. “Sports and other stuff…”
A small dismissive laugh escaped Jacinta’s pretty pink lips before she continued. “When it became clear to me that you were not developing any seriously competing interests to all things military, I accepted that soldiering would be your vocation. And I was fine with that. Really.
“At that point I began hoping that you would go to some other academy, one which would be more likely to steer you towards the Sol Defense Corps or the Terran Security Force, services that don’t demand vows of chastity.”
“The Imperial Marines do recruit from the smaller academies, you know.”
Jacinta nodded. “I know they do. But on Earth, they mostly draw recruits from Golan Heights. The odds for an early wedding were better if you went anywhere but to GHMA.”
“I see,” I said.
“I hope you do, Zeph” Jacinta said. “I want to be a wife and a mother. That’s my vocation. I want to fulfill it as much as you want to be a soldier, an Imperial Marine or a knight.”
I nodded and turned to the horizon. The thought of my life without Jacinta at my side seemed lightyears further off than the far away line of sea and sky. It loomed closer as I began to realize just how much I had taken us for granted. I turned away from the thought and the horizon and searched Jacinta’s brown eyes for something to say.
Her whisper was barely audible over the susurrus of the surf. “I’m sorry, Zephyrinus.”
“I don’t have to go to GHMA,” I offered at last. “The Citadel and VMI accepted my applications as well.”
Jacinta flashed me another sad smile. “But you didn’t rush over here to tell me about them, did you Zeph?”
“No, not really.”
“Not at all,” Jacinta said. “They were never more than a plan B and C. Golan Heights is the better Academy. It’s where you would prefer to go. Admit it.”
“Yes, but I love…”
Jacinta shook her head. “Don’t Zeph, don’t say it. Not now or ever again.”
I shut my trap.
“If you give up your chance to go to GHMA,” Jacinta continued. “If you pass up on your chance to become an Imperial Marine and possibly even a knight… If you do that on my account, you’ll enter into our marriage with a great regret, the kind of regret that easily turns into resentment. That would be poisonous to our marriage.”
We stared at each other for a long time in the most awkward and pained silence of our young lives. At long last, all I could say was, “I don’t know what to say, Jacinta.”
“Good bye,” she said, rising from the lounge chair. “That’s really all we have left to say to each other. Goodbye, Zephyrinus.”
She paused for a couple of moments, waiting, no doubt, for me to return the fare-thee-well. When it was clear that it wasn’t forthcoming, she turned her back to me and walked away.