It was the same sirens used throughout the Midwest to signal tornados and flood warnings. Most of the time, people only heard them on the first Tuesday of every month when the sirens are tested, but this was not the case today. Next, car alarms started blaring; then cell phones starting ringing with no one on the other end. As far as the eye could see, people were coming out of their houses, confused and stunned. Olivia slowly put a hand on Ella’s shoulder and grasped her protectively to let her know that if something should happen, she’d be there to protect her.
Someone yelled to check the TVs and everyone charged for the door. Olivia sidestepped a few people and got a look at the reports. Electronics, alarms, you name it, had been set off, starting in Chicago’s downtown loop and spreading out like a ripple effect; a tidal wave of sound that caused mass hysteria. It had gone on for miles before finally dissipating. No one could say what the cause was for sure, but the most popular theory was that the contents of the tomb had something to do with it.
“If it was a signal from the tomb; what could it be telling us?” One reporter asked a panel made up of scientists and conspiracy theorists.
“It was a warning!”
“A message to its home planet.”
“It’s asking for help!”
Similar reports flooded every news feed; false descriptions and bogus theories were coming out faster than anyone could take them in. Once again, the media was filling time, rushing to tell a story, but told more speculation than facts. It all adding up to nothing; only one thing was for certain… people were scared.
Olivia and Ella caught a ride home with a young couple they had met at a friend's wedding because the Uber rates were skyrocketing. Olivia kept thinking about how awkward it was that no one hardly saying a word the entire way. She wondered what Ella was thinking, but didn’t want to risk getting into an argument in the back seat of a Prius. The silence continued even after they walked in the door of their apartment. Olivia couldn’t take it anymore.
“Tell me what you’re thinking about.”
“What?” Ella asked softly, as if she had just been accused of something.
“What’s going on in that wild head of yours?”
Ella tapped her toe a few times and avoided eye contact.
“You’re gonna sign up again.” Her voice was faint, it cracked right at the end.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Yes, you have. You want to go run into the fire. This is just like you!”
Olivia was perplexed. “I haven’t done anything yet! I didn’t even say a word about it!”
“Since you’ve apparently made up my mind for me, maybe I will.”
Ella finally looked at Olivia, tears filling her eyes. “You were always going to go back… You just wanted an excuse.”
“That’s not fair. Jesus, for once in my life can’t I make a decision without everyone telling me what I’m going to do and why I’m going to do it!? Why does my life have to be on display for everyone else to judge?”
“Because you’re Olivia Reid!” Ella screamed, tears running down her cheeks.
“So what!? I didn’t ask for this! I only have one memory of my father; everything else I know about him came secondhand. Everyone's got a story about him, and they all tell me about it. ‘He was so brave. He was a hero.’ You wanna know the worst part of it? I’ve looked up their stories, half of them couldn’t even be true!”
Olivia dropped onto a chair as if all of her energy had just been sapped.
“He was supposed to be my hero… not everyone else’s.”
Olivia burst into tears, and Ella held her close. They kissed and the moisture from their tears could be felt between their lips. They finally cooled down and wiped the runny makeup from their faces. They didn’t say much the rest of the night, but both them had the sense that they had been brought closer together.
When Olivia woke the next day, Ella had already been up and left to pick up a few things at the nearby farmers market. She paced around the apartment for a minute, clearing the sleep from her head when her phone rang. Not recognizing the number, she ignored the call and went to brush her teeth. She found her toothbrush neatly resting in the little holder and smirked at the sight of Ella’s laying at the bottom of the drawer containing the toothpaste. Just then, her phone rang again; this time the thought entered her head that it might be an emergency. She answered and heard a stern voice on the other end.
After taking her time strolling through the farmer's market, picking choice vegetables and sauces that she loved to cook with, Ella had put things in perspective. She couldn’t control what would happen with Olivia’s situation, but she would rather be there for her either way. She didn’t like the idea of being the type of person who wasn’t willing to wait for someone she said, “I love you” to on a daily basis. The time alone had her feeling light on her feet, positive, when she opened the door; but she went numb when she laid eyes on Olivia stuffing clothes into a canvas bag. It was like the ones you see at military supply stores; the big duffle bags with the drawstring on one end. Olivia had it resting on the couch and was hustling around the room, tossing items in.
Olivia wasn’t sure how long Ella had been standing there. Her eyes were big and round, and seemed to ask what was happening.
“I just got word. They’re calling me in.” Olivia said, worked up.
“...But you’re on leave.”
Olivia continued packing. “That doesn’t mean anything if they decide to mobilize. I’m still enlisted. They want me there. I have to report.”
“It looks like they made up your mind for you.” Ella said as she sat on the edge of the bed facing away from her.
“Ella, you have to be all right with this. I’m not leaving until I know you’re ok.”
“What if you don’t come back?”
“Then move on.”
“What if you come back and I’m not here?”
“I’ll come find you.”
Ella snickered at the thought of Olivia turning into a crazy stalker ex. It just wasn’t in her nature to act that way. If anything, Ella thought, I’d be the one to go slashing tires.
“Hang on.” Olivia made her way to her closet and started rummaging around in the back. “I want you to have something.” She pulled out boxes, opened them just long enough to get an idea of its contents and moved onto the next one. “Where is it?”
“It must be something good, under all your junk.” Ella joked.
“Hah! Found it. Here.” Olivia held up a small case holding a blue ribbon, and, on the bottom, a gold star.
Ella cocked her head back. “That’s a Medal of Honor.”
“No shit! What’s it doing in the back of our closet?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why don’t you display it?”
Olivia looked at the award and back to Ella. “It’s not mine.”
“You’re a fruit loop, you know that?” She stood and took the case from Olivia’s hands.
“I want you to have it. You can display it if you want. I just… I didn’t want to always have to explain it. You know… if people came over.”
“Yeah.” Ella gave her a reassuring smile. “I get it.”
They said their goodbyes and Olivia was off to report to her base. Ella had both pride and a sinking feeling in her stomach. She put the medal next to a picture of the two of them. If anyone asked her about it, she would tell them she was just holding it. In her mind, it was Olivia’s medal; she deserved one anyway.