"Look! It's a girl!"
I felt my cheeks flush as the cry spread across the barracks. But I held my head high. I wasn't about to let a bunch of boys deter me from seeing my Howard.
The rush of soldiers, running toward me like roaches away from a light, nearly changed my mind. I rubbed my palms nervously against my dress and looked around for a safe direction to flee. But the first boy reached me and screeched to a stop, holding out his hand like a gentleman.
"You're Howard's girl, aren't you?"
He caught my eye as he spoke, but it was his words that paused my flight. Howard's name has some sort of power over me, like a password into my heart. It has always been that way, since I first had a crush on him in the third grade. So, instead of running, I slipped my little white hand into the big one suspended in front of me.
"Jameson Whartead, but you can call me Jamie." He introduced himself, shaking my hand at the same frequency as you would shake a doorknocker.
The rest of the boys reached us. I held my head even higher, feeling like a fawn surrounded by wolves. But my mind grasped at the name offered.
"Jamie..." I pulled my hand free of his grasp. Suddenly the face in front of me connected with a series of wild stories. My imagination quickly settled that this was the man who pranked every single soldier in the barracks. "I believe Howard mentioned you in his letters."
"Sure he did! Howard and I are best buds!" His grin spread from ear to ear, and from the twinkle in his eyes, I knew I wasn't mistaken in his identification. He turned from side to side, nodding at the other boys. "In fact, we're probably all in Howard's letters." He threw his arm over my shoulder and spun me to face the crowd. "There's Robert and Walt, Cranky and JimBo, Liam and Kenneth,..."
The names were familiar, and I felt myself relaxing. The faces surrounding mine were friendly. These were Howard's boys. The ones I had heard about every week. They were young, these boys. If it weren't for the war, most of them would still be on their mama's farm or settled down with a sweetheart just down the road from where they grew up. My heart yearned for them, wishing I could bring some taste of home to them.
"Howard will be back an-y min-ute," Jamie drew the words out, punctuating them with promise. "Now you just sit down over here, and we'll keep you company until he gets back."
Two boys offered me their arms, and I took both of them. "Thank you, boys." I smiled shyly around the group. "Now tell me about yourselves."
"Oh, you don't want to know about us." One of the boys pulled his cap off and placed it sideways on his head. "We ought to tell you what a swell chap Howard is."
"I already know that. But you can if you like." I took my seat, and the lot of them swarmed into position around me, close enough to suffocate a girl. But, somehow, I didn't mind anymore. They were as dear to me as my own brothers.
Because they were Howard's now.
My Howard's boys.