Man, I haven't seen these guys in years. It's gonna be great to finally get back together with 'em; it's been nearly 13 years since we were out there, flying air superiority missions over Russia. I pulled into the parking lot and put on my winter coat. It was that time of the year again, everyone's in the Christmas spirit, and with it came the gifts, laughter, and fun, which I sorely missed.
The year was 2035, and my old Air Force buddies were having a Christmas party at a local bar. I had only stayed in contact with one of my former squad-mates since the war with Russia, 13 years earlier. James Macmillan was his name. He spoke with a stereotypical Scottish accent, being a second-generation American citizen. We had been the best of friends since our junior year of high school. He invited me to this party on December 17th, and there was no way I could say no to my best friend.
December 17th. That date has a significant meaning to me, but I'd rather not remember why. Something had happened on that day, years ago (and not just once, either) but it was too painful to think about.
As I stepped into the bar, everyone stopped what they were doing, looked up at me, and unanimously broke into a round of applause, like I was some sort of hero. Wow, it seems they really missed me.
“Hey, hey! There's the fighter ace himself!” James remarked, “Why don't ya come have a seat over 'ere?”
“Whatever you say, Jim. I'm no ace, just got lucky a couple times,” I replied as I sat down next to my brother-in-arms.
We went on with an ordinary conversation: sports, politics, etc. Gradually the topic shifted to the war, and what our lives were like before fate happened. Like any war veteran, we each had our fair share of stories.
“So, what's your story?” One of them inquired.
“Uh, I don't think you guys would really want to know,” I replied.
“Come on man, I think it'd be cool to hear what you've got to say,” my friend, Dave, said.
“No, I'm serious, I really don't want to talk about it.”
“Please, man. I haven't talked to you in 10 years.”
“Are you sure? Do you really want to know what I went through? This is a painful thing for me to talk about. But, you know, maybe it's time for me to get this off my chest. I can't hold in my emotions forever. And I'd hate to let a friend down. ”
“It all started back in '21. I was 25 years old, fresh out of the Air Force Academy with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, at the top of my class, too. My life was going great,” I began, my buddies listening intently to this rarely spoken-of chapter in my life, “I felt like I was invincible. And I had plans. Plans to do a lot of cool stuff.”
“Hey, Taylor,” Dave interrupted, “didn't you have like... a Camaro or something too?”
“Yes, Dave, I did. A 1969 Z/28, with the small-block 302 and the 4-speed transmission. It was stolen a week after we were sent to Europe. The only thing left was the Z/28 emblem from the front grille. I had taken it off and kept it with me as a reminder of home. I considered getting rid of it, but I have held on to it all of these years, in hope that I find my car some day.”
“Where was I? Oh, right, plans. I was gonna change the world, or so I thought. I wanted to be an astronaut. I had someone, backing me up every step of the way. She was the best girlfriend a guy could ever have. She was hot and feisty, yet cute and sweet at the same time. She was incredibly smart, too. I swore to myself I was gonna marry her someday. But, for whatever reason, she decided I wasn't worth her time anymore. On December 17th, she left me. Ah, that's it. That's the memory I tried to erase, but now it's come back to haunt me again. I still remember the last thing I ever said to her, 'No, please don't leave, I... I love you.' I haven't talked to or even seen her since. That year was the last 'real' Christmas I'd had up until now. 13 years, 3 of which were spent literally freezing in the Russian winter.”
“Wow, that's some pretty depressing stuff. I see why you never told any of us about this,” Dave responded quietly, everyone nodding in agreement.
“Yeah, but that's not the end of it, either. After my heart was broken and my dream shattered,” I said, trying not to get choked up, “that recession hit and I lost my defense contractor job at Boeing. I had absolutely nothing. Then, as y'all know, China declared war on Russia, and our brilliant president decided he wanted a piece of the pie. You know what they say, 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia', 'course this is Eastern Europe, but same theory. We ran into the same two problems Napoleon and Hitler did: logistics, and the Russian winter. Our boys on the ground were doing great until uh... December 17th, 2023. They tried to get to Moscow before winter hit, but they didn't make it and were completely screwed. Then some genius had the great idea to send a squad of F-15s to attack some random towns. Seriously, F-15s. They should have retired those things 20 years ago! Flying nearly blind over hostile territory, in a 30-year-old jet. What could go wrong? Jim and I, we were the only ones that made it out of there alive. Barely. We were shot down just outside of St. Petersburg. A whole lot of bad stuff went down after that. Jim knows exactly what I'm talking about.”
“My friends,” James said, “What Taylor and I went through over there, nothing can describe it. Every time I think about that day and the weeks after, it send shivers down my spine, and I realize that God and John Browning are the only reasons we made it back to Germany without spending 50 years in a prison camp or being crushed by a Russian tank. You really get to know a man when you're alone with him, with nothing except a pistol and the clothes on your back, for three weeks.”
“After we found each other,” I continued, “I knew we had to get away from there as soon as possible. Trust me, you do not want to be taken prisoner by the Russians. Actually, after we had been on the ground a week, we were almost captured by a bunch of Russian soldiers. They went on a patrol right through our little camp we had set up. I can't believe they didn't find us. If they had, we'd most likely be dead. A Christmas miracle, I suppose. We spent the next two weeks walking west. January 7th was the day we were rescued. I was about to give up hope, when we came across the Army's First Infantry Division. When I saw them coming to help us, I literally fell to the ground and cried tears of joy. I had never been happier to see the ol' US Army. They fixed us up, and we went back to flying combat missions. Then, the war ended in a stalemate and we got sent back home. I guess that's the end of my story.”
“Wait, dude, I wanna know what you did after you came home,” Dave said.
“I went home and tried to live a normal life, but I just couldn't do it. I hated having a desk job. My passion was for flying. I've been trying to find my car, too, but I never have been able to. What also sucks is that, every Christmas, I'm reminded of these two events, so I haven't really been able to have a 'real' Christmas ever since, but I have a slowly-fading hope, that maybe some day, I'll be able to find my Camaro and my girl.”
After the party, Jim and I talked for a while outside. He invited me to go to dinner with him and his wife the next day. He said his wife was bringing along a friend, who I might like to meet.
“Okay, I guess I could try meeting someone new,” I replied., “I'll go with you, it's worth a shot.”
I sighed as I got into my truck. You know, maybe it's time to give up. 13 years without any luck with either problem. Maybe I need to move on. My mind says I should, but my heart isn't sure if it's the time for that yet.
When I arrived home, I noticed a note on my doorstep. Curiously, I walked over and picked it up.
“Don't give up hope. What you seek is closer than you think,” is what it said.
That's really strange. Why is that here? What could this mean?. I gave the note no further thought that day, but deep inside, it reignited the flame of hope.
The next night's dinner date went fairly well. I had a good time with my best friend and this new girl. She seemed like a nice girl, and was exactly my type, but there was something missing. I felt no real love towards this woman. The 'spark' wasn't there. My mind wandered back to the note on the door, and I realized that I could love no one else. There was only one person that I could ever truly love, and she had left me over a decade earlier.
Feeling slightly depressed after dinner, I returned home and was about to go to bed, when the phone rang.
“There is a package on your doorstep. Open it immediately,” stated a deep, unknown voice.
Indeed, there was a package on the doorstep. There was a date on it: December 17th, 2021. What's the deal here? Why would somebody taunt me with this date? Oh well, I guess I'd better open it and see if there's anything inside. I opened the box, and inside was a second note, and a Chevy Super Sport logo from... 1969!
“Turn on the radio and set it to 93.3 FM,” is what was written on this new note. Hmm... that's my favorite station. This is pretty weird.
Wanting to find out what the big deal was, I turned on my radio, already tuned to the classic hard rock station. “Why Can't This Be Love” by Van Halen was playing. “Wait a second... that's our song! We always used to listen to them, and this song reminds me of her every time I hear it,” I thought aloud, “I don't think today could get any stranger.”
I glanced out the window, and I couldn't believe what was happening. There was a truly surreal feeling as I watched a blue and white 1969 Z/28 pull into my driveway. There was no front emblem on the car. I turned the radio off and went to go sit down for a minute. No way, there is no way this is happening. That's my car out there. My car... it's back. What if she...
I didn't have time to finish my thought, as there was a knock at the door. I hesitated, wondering if I should answer, it felt like the outcome of the rest of my life depended on this very moment. I knew I had no choice, I opened the door, and there she was. She looked as though she hadn't aged a day since I last saw her.
“Hello, Taylor,” she said.
“Why... how did you... what are you doing here?” I stammered, “I... I'm so glad to see you. Where have you been all these...”
“Slow down sweetie, I'll explain everything in just a minute,” she replied, “why don't we go for a drive?”
“Oh, yes, I'd love to.”
I was ecstatic. My Camaro and my girl, both returning on the same night. I quickly hopped into the driver's seat, and I immediately felt right at home. I listened to the rumble of the engine, felt the cold of the leather seat, and a surge of power and joy as she sat down next to me. I switched on the radio. The name of the song was “Caught Up In You” by .38 Special. How fitting. An awesome 80's love song, in an awesome 60's car, with the girl of my dreams.
“Okay, I know you've gone through a lot over the last few years,” she began as we cruised down the road, “I know you feel like I abandoned you. But it was all for a good reason. I'm probably not allowed to tell you this, but a week before I left, I was contacted by the CIA. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse. They wanted me to work for them, as an intelligence officer in Eastern Europe. What you said to me the day I left, it has stuck with me ever since. I loved you since the day we met, and I couldn't wait to return. I was supposed to come back the day you deployed to Russia. I knew you weren't gonna be at home, so I decided to continue my work. I kept an eye on you ever since, like a guardian angel. That mission you and James flew, it did a lot of damage to the Russians. When I heard the news that you two went missing, my heart was broken. I thought for sure you were dead, but my heart had a little piece of hope that said you were still alive.”
“Wow, I can't believe it. I had no idea. I thought you were dumping me,” I said, dumbfounded.
“Of course not, silly. The day you were almost captured, I had some knowledge of the Russian army movements in that area. For some reason, I had a feeling that something bad would happen if I didn't do anything. I persuaded your commander to send a mission to try and stop the Russians. It looks like it worked. They stopped a tank division from rolling through there. And you're clearly still alive.”
“That's amazing,” I responded, “It really was a Christmas miracle. But why didn't you return until now?”
“I wanted to come back sooner. I really did. But, as fate would have it, Congress ordered my team to stay over there for an extra 9 years after the war to spy on the Russian government.”
“But what about the 10th year?”
“I spent that whole year looking for your Camaro. I knew that this car meant a lot to you, and it made me really sad to find out it was stolen, but I found it! It's, as far as I know, exactly the same as you left it.”
“How did you find it, and who told you it was stolen?”
“That's another story, for another time, dear,” she stated, “Now, let's go home and have a real Christmas.”
“Oh, I love you.”
“I know you do.”
With my dream girl by my side, and my dream car in my driveway, I had the greatest Christmas of my life. It was the happiest day I'd had in a long time. My heart had healed and all my desires were fulfilled. Thus, from December 25th, 2035 forward, I was no longer a lone Airman.