Source: Welcome to the Lakes
"When I see a dogwood, I think of you.
Of the college that shaped us, the times that tried us and the love that relieved us."
A fist had made a canvas of his left eye, and swirls of disturbing shades of blue, purple and pink were rising to the surface. She waited patiently on the worn leather couch and let the realizations role over her. This wasn't the first time a stranger's fist would connect with his face. In fact, in the life he had chosen, it was likely to be a very routine incident. And how willingly he chose it. He would put his face and his body and his mind and his heart in front of strangers seeking to hurt him, to kill him, to destroy him. And he would do it willingly. Willingly. He would put it all on the line to protect...all of this. To protect the freedom to have rowdy college nights and young loves and fist fights and friendships and laughter and everything in between.
He came in gruffly and shut the door with a bang, collapsing on the couch next to her. His whole body was rigid and she could feel and see the tension running through him.
"Thanks for waiting," he said quietly, placing his hand on her knee.
"Of course," she whispered back, intertwining her fingers on top of his. They sat in silence for a few minutes until she added "I think you need some ice."
"No I'm fine."
"I think you need some ice."
He shook his head, and she saw his jaw clench tight. So she just sat there and rubbed his shoulder until finally he looked over and said "I think I need some ice."
She nodded and waited for him to return with a clumsy handful of ice in an old towel rag. She took it from him and tied the rag ends together so the cubes wouldn't fall out. He reached for it, but she pulled back and pushed his hand down.
"Let me," she said. Ever so gently, she raised it up to the injured eye and let the cooling ice cubes lightly touch the raw bruise. She bit her lips, remembering the revelations of earlier. Grateful, eternally, for the lesson he had taught her about a soldier's sacrifice.
He looked her closely in the eye. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because I won't always be able to."