Linwood hates changing schools. Hates how the teacher makes him stand in front of the class and introduce himself — like the other kids don't know what it's like to move from base to base. Hates how there's always something he doesn't understand because it wasn't taught at his last school. Hates how no one wants to play with him — usually right until it's time to move again.
But his dad reminds him that he goes where he's needed, and his mom is too busy unpacking and packing to listen to him complain, so he spends most of his days sitting outside, kicking clods of dirt around the playground, pretending that he's not there. It's not like anyone'll notice him, except as that kid with the funny name.
All that changes when he's nine. It's another base, another school, another standing in front of the classroom, taking a deep breath and saying "My name is Linwood Porteous the Third. I was born in Washington DC but I've lived in Florida, Nevada, Italy, Ohio, Virginia, Panama, Germany, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Texas and now Louisiana. My dad is a Sergeant in the US Army Corps of Engineers, and my mom stays home and takes care of me. When I grow up, I want to join the Army like my dad."
All the other students ignore him, but there's this girl in the third row who's looking at him, her brown eyes big.
She comes over to him at recess, when he's found a new clod of dirt to kick around. "Is your name really Linwood?" she asks.
He sighs. "Yeah."
"That's a weird name." She looks down at his feet and sees the clod of dirt there. "I'm Jolene," she suddenly says. "I can get us a soccer ball — wanna play?"
And that's how it begins. Jolene's mom works with JAG, and her daddy died in a helicopter crash when she was a baby. It's been her mom, her big brother and her since, and they've lived in nearly as many places as Linwood.
She likes Louie-Bloo Raspberry Otter Pops instead of Little Orphan Orange, and wants to watch Return of the Jedi instead of Star Wars, but except for those two, they like all the same things, from grilled cheese sandwiches to kickball to Hot Wheels.
Jolene’s over at his house every day after school, since her mom has to work, and it’s the best place Linwood’s ever lived.
They last six months in Louisiana, and when they leave, Jolene gives him her address. "Write me letters," she says. "Like Leigh in Dear Mr. Crenshaw.”
Miss Anderson had been reading them the book in class, and Linwood nods. “‘Kay,” he says.
“You won’t forget, right?” she says, her eyes wide. “‘Cause Arizona’s far away.”
He shakes his head. “Naw. I won’t forget.”
She looks away for a second, then impulsively wraps her arms around him before running back to her house.
The letters aren’t regular — maybe every few months or so — but they’re sent, first written in rough scrawl and covered in stickers, then, as the years continue, neater, tighter, and filled with postcards, flyers, and other bits of paper.
Jolene sends movie ticket stubs and Star Wars trading cards - only the duplicates, of course. Linwood sends candy wrappers when he's overseas and stickers from quarter machines when he's not.
Jolene starts calling herself Jo, and Linwood picks up the nickname Pooch, and their letters are addressed appropriately, despite Linwood Porteus Senior teasing him incessantly every time a letter arrives.
They talk about school, and things they’ve seen on TV, and where they’re living. Sometimes they talk about fights they’ve gotten into. Sometimes they talk about trouble their parents are having. Sometimes they get into arguments, long and furious letters passing back and forth with no extras.
But they write. And they keep writing.
The Porteous family moves to San Diego right before Pooch starts his senior year. Jolene’s family had been living there for a few years, and even though it’s been nearly ten years, they fall right into place like they’ve been living next door to each other all this time.
Pooch finds a Chrysler LeBaron older than he is, a rusty beat-up clunker that he slowly fixes up every weekend that fall, out on the driveway with his dad, old 70s’ soul coming out of the radio.
And every Saturday, Jo’s over at the Porteous house, sitting on the front step with Pooch’s mom, listening to the radio, drinking sweet tea, and watching Pooch’s brother and sister running around the front yard.
Pooch is going to join the Army right after he graduates — something he’s thought about since he was knee-high, and Jolene’s looking at local colleges — nothing fancy, not with her family’s budget.
So they don’t date. There’s no reason, because Pooch is going to be in the Army, and Jolene’s going to go to college, and they’ve done the long-distance friendship thing for so long that it just seems like it’ll continue that way, letters passing across states and countries.
Something changes, though, in the way she looks at him. And the way he looks back.
Their first kiss is after the Homecoming Dance, walking back to Pooch’s car.
“Hey,” she says softly, her eyes shining.
“Hey,” he replies back.
She smiles widely and leans against him, stretching up to kiss him softly.
After Prom, they don’t rent a room in a hotel, but get into Pooch’s fully restored LeBaron and drive up into the hills, the radio tuned to the late-night slow R&B station, both of them looking out over the road and the stars.
They find an empty turn-out on one of the higher hills, a quiet space lit only by the stars. Pooch stops the car and turns to face her.
“Jo, I...” he stops. “You’re the whole world to me.”
Jolene smiles, and reaches across to take his hand. “I love you, Linwood.”
“I love you too,” he says. “Which is why...” He reaches into his coat pocket. “I wanted to give you this.” He holds the small box in his hand, presenting it to her.
Jolene takes it and opens it slowly, gasping as she sees the ring inside. She looks up at him, her eyes wide. “Linwood, I—”
He shakes his head, wrapping his hands around hers. “I don’t expect you to say ‘Yes’, and I don’t expect us to get married right now, but I want you...” He paused. “I want you to know that I love you. And...after you finish college, if you still want to...” He gets the ring out and holds it up to her. “I’d really really like that.”
Jolene smiles, and takes his hand, sliding the ring onto her finger. “Yes,” she says softly. “Yes.”
He pulls her close for a kiss.
This The Losers story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at http://www.dymphna.net/fanfic/. And you can feedback her at firstname.lastname@example.org.