The teapot shrilled, and I stood up and collected the cups from the shelf. The empty coffee container sat forlornly on the counter, with its logo facing me as if it was hoping I would fill its contents with the coffee ground.
"I'm sorry," I said, despite knowing it couldn't hear me. "I want to drink coffee so much, but we have to ration it. So until the war is over, you're going to stay empty. Besides, tea's okay once you get used to it."
I placed mint leaves in each cup and poured the beverage in them.
"The mint makes it smell better," I muttered.
I sat in my place at the table and sipped my tea, watching my mother's drink steam across the table. Her shift ended ten minutes ago. The office sometimes kept her late, but I hoped she'd return from the office by the time her tea turned cool, to ease her stress.
The front door opened, and I stood up, smiling.
"Hi, Mom. You're just in time to drink tea and eat cookies!" I made my way to the living room.
"They sure kept you late, huh-" My breath caught in my throat.
"Hi, Jane, did you miss me?" My brother stood in front of the radio, grinning. He wore the same crooked smile I missed, and his uniform was pristine.
"Thomas!" I shrieked and flew at him, wrapping my arms around him. "You're home! You're home!"
He swung me around, and we laughed between tears.
"I missed you so much!" I cried. "Both Mom and I missed you! Are you alright?"
"I've never been better," Thomas said, and he pulled away. He glanced around the room, focusing on a recent picture our neighbor took of Mom and I. "I've missed this place. Where's Mom?"
"Still at work," I said. "But she'll be so happy that you're home."
"Yes," he said quietly. "I hope so." He hunched his shoulders, not looking at me.
"What are you talking about? Of course, she will," I said, feeling a pit in my stomach. "You've been away for months. She'd been terrified that you were killed or captured, or-"
"I've fought in many battles," Thomas said. "I've seen so many horrors." He clenched his fists. "I killed men twice my age, and I killed boys. But not for one instance have I ever thought I'd die myself."
The bad feeling intensified. "You're alive," I said, trying to push it down. He didn't move. "You're home. Thomas, please come sit down. I'll make you tea. We'll wait for Mom to come home and surprise her."
Thomas shook his head.
"I wish I could see Mom one last time. I wish we were little again, and play games before Dad died. I wish there wasn't any war."
He finally turned toward me, and my chest seized up. Blood trickled out of the corners of his mouth. His uniform was wet and sandy, and his eyes looked so cloudy. He smiled sadly against grey skin.
I couldn't move. I could only stare at Thomas in horror as he walked toward me. Tears spilled down my cheeks.
He hugged me again, squeezing me tightly. I smelled salt on his collar.
"I love you..." he whispered.
"I-I love you too," I choked out. Tears dotted my vision.
I felt something warm and wet on the front of my dress. Trembling, I pressed my hand there and raised it to my face. Blood covered my palm. I looked over his shoulder and saw a small part of his back was red.
"I love you so much..."
I sat up on the sofa, breathing deeply. I pressed my hands to my face, feeling sweaty cheeks and salty tears. My heart pounded. I looked at my hands, turning them around. They were clean.
It was just a nightmare, I thought. A horrible nightmare. Thomas is fine. He's in England. He sent us a letter two weeks ago.
"Jane? Are you in here?"
At my mother's voice, I wiped away the tears and grabbed the nearest book off the shelf. I flipped to a random page as Mom walked in, hiding one hand behind her back.
"Are you alright, honey? You look a bit red," she said, her voice raw. I looked up.
"Oh, yeah. I stubbed my toe," I said.
She nodded, and I noticed her red eyes.
"Mom, are you okay?" I asked. She bit her lip, tearing up. "What's wrong?"
She held up a piece of paper from behind her back. It was a military telegram. I dropped the book.
"Mom?" I stood up. My hands started to tremble. "What does it say?"
Without a word, she handed it to me and turned away, clasping her chest.
THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR SON LIEUTENANT THOMAS P. TAYLOR WAS KILLED IN ACTION ON JUNE 6TH 1944 ON THE BEACH OF NORMANDY LETTER FOLLOWS THE ADJUTANT GENERAL