Major Kevin Baxter: Legacy of Service
Major Kevin Baxter, aged 104, late of his Majesty's Royal Marines, died Sunday, passing peacefully in his sleep. Major Baxter leaves behind a legacy of service to his country, beginning in 1939 when he answered his country's call to arms. Despite losing his wife to German rockets, Major Baxter served with honor and distinction throughout World War II, until injury removed him from the front lines near the end of the war. After the war he turned his skills and experience to training men. He trained men for 34 years until retiring in 1979.
Major Baxter is survived by his Grandson and Great-Grandson.
The rain is a chilling winter mist which stings any exposed flesh it can find with sharp needles of sensation. It falls, no end in sight, upon the world of green grass, barren trees, and the marble and granite reminders of mortality which dot the Royal Marine Cemetery at Young Hill. Soaking the grass and ground, the wet cold slowly seeps through leather and wool, numbing the feet of those gathered even as the Reverend numbs their souls with words of placation.
Standing apart from the others gathered here today, a young man watches the funeral. A dome of black canvas held in one hand shields his head from the rain's icy daggers, but nothing shields his ears from the empty words, or his mind from his own thoughts. His black suit forms a matched set with his overcoat, and umbrella. And mood. He only half listens to the good Reverend; his thoughts are with the man now waiting for his final reward, and his own sense of loss. Too soon, he wants to say, but he bites it back with a silent, bitter laugh. The other mourners - what few there are - would laugh in his face. More than a century on this earth, and it’s too soon?
The young man resists the urge to shed tears. It's not difficult, in this place: tears seem somehow inappropriate here. Perhaps it’s the place, the young man muses. Young Hill is full of men who - the stories say - died without regret serving their country. Men - and women - who shed no tears before doing what must be done in the name of King and Country. We shed no tears for them because they died without regret. The young man isn’t naive enough to believe, but the weight of legend in this place doesn't care whether or not he believes.
Or perhaps, the young man thinks as he looks at the casket, it isn’t the place, or the legend. The one who now resides in the casket carried his share of regret, certainly. More than his share, the young man knows. But he never allowed regret to divert him. He faced his future without fear, never letting regrets bind him to the past. Even at the ripe old age of one hundred-four years, when days ahead were overwhelmingly outnumbered by days behind, he never flinched from his future. You don't shed a tear for a man like this, the young man thinks. You do what he would do, and look it in the eye.
A gentle touch on his shoulder pulls the young man out of his own thoughts. The Reverend intones his final words for the departed. The young man turns his head. Seeing the woman there, a semblance of a smile passes his lips. She returns the gesture, her hand on his shoulder reassuring. She’s pretty, thin, dressed in a black dress and raincoat. Her long hair is a sandy blond. He preferred when it was auburn. She has no umbrella, but steps close to share the young man's, twining her hand softly in his. The close warmth of her touch threatens to break his reserve, but he welcomes it.
Kevin notices her the moment she enters the lecture hall. It isn't because she's pretty, though certainly she is pretty. She's thin, with delicate features, long auburn hair, soft eyes, dressed in jeans and a sweater. But as she looks around, searching for an empty seat, the thing Kevin most notices is how young she looks.
The girl spots the empty seat next to Kevin and begins to walk down. She looks a little nervous, which makes her seem even younger, but her eyes search intently and her face is cheerful. Kevin tries not to stare, but knows he's made a mess if it when she glances his way. She takes the seat by Kevin, and smiles at him.
“Hi,” Kevin says, trying to sound confident. “I’m Kevin. Kevin Baxter.”
“Jenny,” the girl says as she offers her hand. “Jenny Sanders.”
Kevin takes her hand gently, but is surprised when she seizes his in a firm shake. His unprepared fingers mush together a moment and he feels a little embarrassed to have treated her like a girl. Trying to cover as he reclaims his hand, he gives her an appraising look.
“You look pretty young, Jenny,” he observes.
Jenny nods. “I’m sixteen.”
“Really?" Kevin tries not to seem surprised. "Are you auditing the course?”
Jenny shakes her head. “No, I’m a student.”
Now Kevin raises a brow. This is a 300 level science course Kevin's not certain he's up to.
“Oh,” Kevin cleverly says. “So... are you like really smart?” He winces even as he asks such an obvious question. But she only nods.
Kevin turns his attention to the front where the professor is just entering. But then he leans over to whisper to Jenny.
“Then can I cheat off you?”
Her only reply is a warm chuckle.
They remain like this, silent and still, for the rest of the service. The woman releases the young man’s hand only when the young Royal Marine presents the folded Union Jack to the young man. The young man takes it, and offers a small smile of thanks to the bearer's salute, this small proof the old man's contribution is not forgotten. The young man clutches the flag to his chest as the service ends with gunfire. Rifles fire the first warning shots, alerting heaven: Major Baxter storms one last beach.
The service ends. Those here for duty depart first, followed soon after by those who have come because it was appropriate. Very soon only the young man and woman remain, looking at the grave, not talking. The grave is open, waiting. The pair simply exist in this moment, sharing stillness, each saying a last goodbye while ignoring the weight of their own shared past.
Kevin glances over at Jenny. Oblivious to the effect she has on him as she reclines on his bed in her skinny jeans and snug tee shirt - an effect Kevin's struggled to deny for months - Jenny studies for her final in Molecular Biology. Kevin works on his computer science project. In a month they'll both have bachelor's degrees.
Kevin smiles to himself, recalling how they became study partners. I glanced at your term paper. You need my help, she announced to him one morning. That was it. They've studied together ever since. Kevin doesn't have a problem admitting the girl has been more help to him than he's been to her. She soaks up knowledge like a sponge. He looks at her, at how her breathing affects her br--
Jenny's eyes flick left, catching Kevin. She smiles at the way he glances away then returns her attention to her book. Kevin tries to concentrate on his project as he muses. Friendship with Jenny has always been easy. It was easy to like her, easy to find a comfort zone with her, easy to just... be with her. Kevin is attracted to her, though he tries to deny it. But more than that, he really likes Jenny.
Jenny seems equally at ease with Kevin. Their friendship has been easy. Now, Kevin's begun to worry. His attraction to her is growing. He doesn't want to risk the friendship by saying anything. He doesn't want to lose what he has with her. And some part of him is aware the girl isn't even eighteen yet. He's four years older than her, and that terrifies him. He's deathly afraid of becoming That Guy, that if he shares his feelings, Jenny will respond only because she feels pressured, or because she thinks she should, and not because of anything she feels. He's afraid she'll--
"Kevin, you're daydreaming again." Jenny's remark cuts through the dorm room, pulling Kevin's thoughts back from the brink.
"Yeah. Sorry. I was just thinking about..." He trails off, not wanting to admit to what he was thinking about, but too caught out to think of anything else.
"Just say it, Kevin." Jenny looks at him over her book, her eyes reassuring. "I won't run away. I won't think you're perving because I'm a month short of eighteen and you're an old--"
"Hey! Twenty-two isn't old!"
"It's ancient," Jenny says, eyes now dancing with humor for a moment. Kevin laughs. But then Jenny's looks gets serious. "But I mean it Kevin. Just tell me."
He tells her.
“I didn’t think you would come,” says the young man. They walk the meandering pathways of the graveyard, neither in a hurry to leave. The young man’s voice is a pleasant sound, lightly accented from years of living abroad. The young woman smiles at the sound of it, but frowns at the thought.
Of course I came, she doesn’t say. She wants to tell him, he should have expected her. He should have known she would come, today of all days. No matter what lives in the past. But she knows. As much as his body reacted to the memory of her, as welcome as her touch was in that moment, she knows his words really meant, you should not have come. She wishes otherwise, but understands. So she remains silent a moment, before she looks up at him and says says the only thing the circumstance will allow.
“I’m sorry, Kevin.” Her accent makes him smile, her pure Midwest, Iowa farm country, just like the day they met. You could drop her into darkest Africa for twenty years and she would emerge undiluted Iowan. But he also hears the regret in her voice. It tells him she’s sorry for many things. Part of him, still angry, thinks with bitter satisfaction, you bloody well should be. He doesn't say it. Doesn't have to.
They continue to walk in silence for a time. There are so many things the young man wants to say. He loves her. He hates her. He forgives her. He will never forgive her. He thinks of her every day. He remembers lazy afternoons, in his dorm room or hers, studying, eating pizza, looking at her, too shy to say what he was feeling, seeing her smile. He also remembers her last betrayal, her cold, calculating ways. Something had to be sacrificed, and that something was his heart, his trust, his innocence.
He loves her.
He hates her.
“I have something for you,” she says gently.
Suddenly he can’t bite back the anger. “I don’t want it,” he snaps.
The words bite. She doesn’t blame him. In spite of this moment they share, she knows she's hurt him too deeply. Of all the bridges she’s burnt, the one leading back to him is the most completely gone, and the one she most regrets.
“This isn’t from me. It’s from him.” She keeps her words gentle. “He asked me to keep it safe, to bring it to you when he passed.”
He stops on the path, looking at her. “My great grandfather... gave you something. Why?” Why her? What was between them? She reaches up a hand to cup his cheek, speaking quickly.
“Kevin, for all that I’ve done... all the pain I’ve-- I only ever wanted to...” she trails off, shaking her head, stepping back and looking away. “It’s true, you know. About the road to hell.”
She goes quiet for a while, facing away from him. Part of him wants to reach out, to comfort, to reassure her. Another part wonders if this is another manipulation. But before he can decide, she turns back, lifting her gaze to meet his eyes. He sees the resolve in her expression.
“Kevin, I’m sorry. Not for what I did: that was necessary. I will always do what’s necessary, no matter who it hurts. Like the Major did. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a better way. I tried. I never wanted to hurt anyone, least of all you. I looked, but there was no other way."
“The needs of the many,” Kevin says quietly. She nods. Then steps forward, lifting the old leather satchel.
“One day soon,” she says as she looks him in the eye, “I promise a full accounting between us. She lifts the vintage WWII bag holding it towards him. “Today, let me give you his legacy.”
She doesn’t plead. She barely asks. More a polite demand. But there is an urgency under her voice he can’t refuse. So he nods and reaches for the bag.
A short while later, they make their way to his car. He doesn’t offer her a ride, and she doesn’t ask. He places the bag in the passenger seat, then gets in his car. He glances in his mirror as he drives off, sees her watching him go. He feels his own regret then. She was supposed to be the one.