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It Started With A Letter

Zara Scottsdale was easily the most selfish human being on the planet, and I was blessed to be her sister. I loved her, don’t get me wrong, but if it came down to it, Zara would always choose herself over anyone else. We tried to instill a sense of community, duty, and selflessness in her but didn’t take. I used to believe some people were simply born without the ability to see past themselves, a genetic malfunction if you will, and that explained Zara’s behavior.

For the most part, our family accepted Zara’s inability to do good for others as a character flaw that was overshadowed by her other, less annoying personality traits. For example—okay she was basically a one-woman wrecking ball all the time, but she was my sister, so I loved her in spite of herself. However, that didn’t mean I had to like her all the time.

Case in point, the summer I did the unthinkable. The summer I became my sister to save the heart of a man who’d fallen for her charms, those she used to lure men in only to break their hearts once she knew she had them in her grip. You might wonder what would possess me to take on my sister’s persona, but once you read the letter, you’ll understand. You might have done the same in my position.

The first letter came on the first day of summer break, after my first year of college, Zara’s third. My mother dropped the mail in neat piles on the kitchen counter and shouted for both of us. “Girls, you’ve got mail!”

We reluctantly entered the kitchen, neither of us in a particularly good mood since we’d already had half a dozen arguments and it wasn’t even noon.

“Zara, it looks like you’ve received something from overseas. Do you know someone serving?” Mom asked while my sister flipped through the pile. Zara ignored our mother and opened several other items before turning her attention to the internationally posted piece. She examined the postmark, an FPO from Kandahar. She ripped open the envelope and read the letter inside, not even bothering to finish it before she crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash without another thought.

My mother glanced at me over her shoulder and shook her head. “She’s such a brat sometimes. Honestly, Penelope, I don’t know how you two turned out so different from one another.” She sighed and poured a cup of coffee, then took her mail to her office.

I picked up the empty envelope and read the soldier’s name printed neatly in the upper left corner. Captain David Holloway. The name was familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place a face to it. I pulled the crumpled letter from the trash and read it. My eyes stung with the tears I tried to hold back as I read his words.


Dear Zara,


I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I’m the soldier you met at the bonfire last summer. We went to high school together, but I was a year ahead of you. I wanted to tell you that I’ve thought of you often, especially the dance we shared at the bonfire. I shipped out the next morning, and you’ve been the only thing on my mind, the only thing keeping me sane.

Everyone keeps telling me you’re not a nice person, but I don’t believe that’s true. How can the beautiful girl I danced with, the one who had me laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, the girl with the bright green eyes, how can she be anything but amazing? I don’t believe what they say. I think you got a bad rap in school. I think they’re just jealous.

We don’t get a lot of downtime here, but every chance I get I listen to that song. It helps me fall asleep. I have to play it loud to block out the sounds of artillery some nights, but I guess that’s what I signed up for.

I’ll be stuck here for another four months, and I wish I’d had the nerve to write to you before now. It would have been so nice to hear from you. But I’m a coward in that respect, probably because I’ve never met anyone as beautiful as you are. Why on earth would you be interested in someone like me?

I should wrap this up for now. My watch starts soon, but I do hope this letter finds you well, Zara. It will be a couple of weeks before you’ll receive it. I understand if you don’t want to write back, but I’ll wait for you just in case you do.


Sincerely, David


My sister had officially crossed a line she couldn’t return from, and I had reached my limit. I would no longer tolerate her insolent behavior. I stomped up the stairs with the letter in hand, pushed her bedroom door open, and stood in the doorway, disgusted.

“Can you at least have the decency to write to him and tell him you’re not interested?” I spat, very much unlike myself, the calm and mouse-like little sister of Queen Zara.

She barely lifted her head from her phone to respond. “I think he’ll get the hint when he doesn’t get a letter. Close the door on your way out.”

I ignored her and walked up to her bed. “He’s in a warzone, Zara. Get your head out of your butt for a minute and think about that.”

She sighed loudly and put her phone down. “He knew what he was getting himself into when he signed up for the Army. It’s not my problem he fell for me.” She checked the polish on her nails, then got up and walked into the bathroom to retrieve the bottle.

“You have time to paint your nails, but you can’t write out a few sentences?” I asked, confused about my own feelings. I didn’t know why I was the least bit shocked by her actions.

“What would you have me say? Sorry, I don’t remember you, but don’t get killed?” she asked, then sat at her desk to touch up her nails. She couldn’t even be bothered to speak to her own sister, to give me her full attention, why did I think she would grow up enough to write back to Captain Holloway?

“No, Zara, but something nice wouldn’t kill you. Just thank him for his kind words and for his service and tell him you’re not interested in a long-distance relationship,” I offered, giving her the easiest thing to write without writing it for her. But it was Zara I was talking to, so I knew what came next.

“Then you write it, and I’ll sign it,” she said, blowing her nails dry.

“Why can’t you just write it?” I yelled, tossing my hands in the air, still clutching the letter.

“Because I don’t feel like it. Can you leave now? You’re boring me.” Her couldn’t-care-less attitude had ticked me off for the last time.

“You know what? Screw you, Zara, and your little dog, too!” I shouted, gaining her full attention for the first time since I entered the room.

“Excuse me?” She stood, towering over me. She was already four inches taller than me, but the three-inch heels made her a towering monster. She usually intimidated me, but one thought of the innocent guy she’d tangled in her web then left for dead was all it took to light a fire I didn’t realize I had inside me.

“Yes, excuse you. Excuse you for being an ungrateful brat all your life. Excuse you for never knowing a day of hard work. Excuse you for being a witch to the core, and a foul excuse for a human who will probably die alone with a hundred cats!” I left her room as she asked, slamming her door so hard I heard one of her picture frames crash to the floor.

I was appalled, to say the least, but heartbroken more than anything. I didn’t know him, but I knew what he was doing. I knew where he was. I knew what he needed. All he wanted in the world was someone to take his mind off the things he was experiencing, the horrible sights and sounds he would endure for many more months before returning home, safe and sound.

I wanted to give him a reason to push on, but I knew to turn him down would probably hurt him. I debated my options for an hour before settling on a course of action. It was shortsighted. It was stupid. It was, without a doubt, the least responsible thing I had ever done in my life. I pulled a sheet of paper from my desk drawer and began penning a response. I had the best of intentions, but before I knew what I was doing, I was in over my head.

I probably should have been honest with him from the beginning, but I feared even an ounce of disappointment could be fatal in his position, so I did what any idiot would do. Instead of merely telling him the rumors were true, my sister was a horrible person, then offering to be his pen-pal in her place, I took the coward’s way out and forged a response from my sister.


Dear Captain Holloway,


I’m glad to hear you are doing well. I’m probably not as kind as you give me credit for, but I do appreciate your kind words. I remember you from the bonfire, and I remember our dance. You were quite the gentleman, and I’m glad I could make you laugh.

You shouldn’t be so nervou., I’m just a girl. The things you’re doing are far more important than anything I do here, just remember that when things seem like they can’t get better. They will. Before you know it, you’ll be home. Back in Kentucky, listening to horses instead of gunfire.

I can’t imagine what it’s like there or what you have probably seen, but I can tell you this—when I’m scared I always think of home. My mother, my sister, my brother. And when it’s difficult to move on, to put one foot in front of the other, I remember something my brother said to me a few years ago (he’s wise beyond his years, that one).

“We’re all in this world for a short time. We’re born, we live, we die. It’s what we do in the middle, the living, that’s what matters. When your back is against the wall, remember you only get the one life, so fight. Fight hard and fight long. Fight until you get back home.”

So please, fight until you come back home, David.


Sincerely, Zara


I knew when I sealed the envelope, it was a mistake, but my desire to make him feel wanted in a time when he was probably desperate, overrode my good sense. Before I could change my mind, I drove straight to the post office and sent the letter, paying extra to make sure it got to him as quickly as possible.

If I had known the roller coaster I was getting on, I might have gone with my original plan and told him the truth about my sister. But in reality, deep in my heart, I thought he would get over his idea of who Zara was and the letters would fizzle out over time. Instead, his letters only grew longer. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a world I didn’t know existed. By the time he returned to Kentucky, I had fallen hard. I’d fallen for the man my sister rejected, and as I stood in the airport the day he came home, I knew it was my turn to be rejected. He would take one look at me, realize what I’d done, and he would hate me forever.

When all was said and done, Captain David Holloway returned home a hero, changing his life forever. But it was what happened before that, that changed my own.

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