Eternal Flame

Eternal Flame

A Story by Cari Lynn Vaughn

Penny gains a new pen pal who is in the service. Over the years Penny and Jack grow close. Dare she hope that what they feel is an Eternal Flame?


Part 1: War and Peace

Penny Lane Yates wanted to help the world some how. Since she was merely 14 years old, it was a particularly difficult task. After reading about world events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, Perestroika and Pollution Prevention Act, she was eager to do her part.

Unsure of how to contribute, she asked her mother. Her mother suggested she reach out to her teachers. After class one day she approached her English Teacher Mr. Constine. She said, "I want to know what I can do to help," she blurted out.

"Help with what?" he asked, a bit puzzled.

"I want to help people or the environment or both. I don't know. There is just so much happening in the world today and I want to do my part."

Mr. Constine smiled and leaned back against the front of his desk. "Oh, I am sure there are lots of things you can do. You can volunteer at any number of places here in town. I think the nursing home would let you come in and visit or your could be a Big Sister."

Penny made a face. None of those sounded particularly appealing.

Mr. Constine saw she was uninterested in his suggestions and asked, "What kind of things do you like to do?"

"I have been reading all about peace movements and environmentalism. I am great at writing and thought maybe I could write about one of those topics. The problem is, I don't know where to publish such a thing."

"At one time you could have published an article in the school Newspaper, but with budget cuts, that was one of the first things to go. You could write a letter to the editor of our town paper."

"I suppose that is a start," she said.

"Perhaps you could research magazines that would pay for an article like that. There is no guarantee it would get published if you submitted an article though."

"I think I might check that out. Do you know of any groups that are cleaning up trash or creating a march on Washington?"

"No, but you could always be the one to create the group and lead it."

Penny sighed and made a face. "I am not sure I could get anyone to join. I really don't have a lot of friends and the ones I do have aren't interested in the same things I am."

There was a brief silence as Mr. Constine though. Then his eyes lit up. "My Cousin is in the army. He just shipped out to Kuwait for Desert Shield. He is always complaining about not getting any letters from friends and family. I am about the only one who takes the time to write him and even I don't have time to do that as much as I would like. I think he might enjoy a pen pal."

Penny smiled, "That might be interesting. I could learn about what it like in another country and what is like to be in the military."

"Sounds good. Let me get you his address," Mr. Constine said. He went around his desk and dug into his bag. He pulled out an envelope he'd just addressed and was getting ready to mail. He'd planned on stopping off at the post office after school that day. He jotted down the address from the envelope onto a blank sheet of notebook paper and gave it to Penny.

"Thanks," she said as she took the paper from his hand.

Penny glanced down at the paper. It said, Sargent James "Jack" Greyson PSC 1234, Box 12345 APO AE 09204-1234. She nodded and bid Mr. Constine goodbye. Penny didn't have much time to get to her next class before the bell rang or she would be late to her Home Economics class. That night when she got home she pulled out her notebook paper and decided to draft a letter. She realized that she knew nothing of Jack Greyson, so the best thing to do was ask all the questions that came to mind and then tell him a bit about herself.

August 30, 1990

Dear Jack,

My English Teacher Mr. Constine gave me your address. He said your were his Cousin

and that you could use a pen pal. My name is Penny Lane Yates. I am in 9th Grade and I want to

help make the world a better place.

My school schedule is Gym, Biology, General Math, Study Hall, Lunch, English and

Home Economics. What subjects did you take in school? What was your favorite subject? I

think English is my favorite. I am looking forward to taking Art next year. I wanted to take

Choir, but I was too chicken to audition. What does your schedule look like in the army?

Right now I live in Experiment, but someday I want to travel the world. I love reading

and writing. Some of my favorite authors include CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, L Frank Baum,

Madeline L'Engle and LM Montgomery.

Did you grow up in Gamble's Mill or some place else? How old are you? When did you

graduate High School? What are your favorite authors? Mr. Constine did tell me anything about

you--just that you were in the Army. What made you want to join the army?

Your Pen Pal,

Penny Lane Yates

Penny walked down to the local post office and mailed the letter. Days turned into weeks and she still had not heard from him. Penny was beginning to think that either her letter never made it to him or that he wasn't interested in having a pen pal . Frustrated, she began drafting an article on recycling and researching places to publish it at. She'd all but given up on Jack when a letter arrived for her.

September 25, 1990

Dear Penny,

I was delighted to hear from you. Sorry it took so long to respond. I see your letter was dated August 30th, but I didn't receive it until September 20th. It had to go to my base first and then be forwarded to where I am at in Kuwait right now. The whole process is pretty slow.

I grew up in a town not far from Experiment. It is called Blue Ginger. I was born in April of 1966, so that makes me 24 years old. I graduated in 1985 from Hunter High School.

I joined the army because that is all I have ever wanted to do. I have been a warrior for as long as I can remember. My family went to a church that didn't believe in going to war. They were conscious objectors, but I think fighting to protect your loved ones is important.

I don't remember all the classes I took in High School. I enjoyed History and Band the most. I played a number of instruments in band, but I can also play piano and a bit of violin. I love to read as well. I don't have a favorite author really, but I like Louis L'Amour, Zane Gray, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, WEB Griffin, Tom Clancy, Robert Heineken and Richard Adams. Recently I have discovered Lee Child.

My schedule in the army is pretty simple. We get up at the butt-crack of dawn and do PT. That is Physical Training. After we run however many miles and all of that, we can have breakfast. After breakfast we go wherever we are assigned. Lately we have been spending hours setting up camp, unloading supplies and preparing for whatever comes next.

Tell Cousin Don thank you for connecting us. I look forward to reading more letter from you. I am enclosing a Polaroid a friend of mine took. I am the one in the center. My friends Dean is on the left and my friend Tom is on the right. If you could, please enclose a photo of you with your next letter.

Your Pen Pal,

Jack Greyson

Penny smiled as she re-read the letter. Then she took a look at the picture that had been enclosed. Three men were sitting in front of what looked to be a some sort of Military Vehicle. They were in Desert Fatigues. The one in the center, Jack, wore a hat and glasses. He also sported a light brown mustache. The expression on his face was exhaustion perhaps. Penny wasn't sure. Oddly, he looked familiar to her, as if they had met before. She couldn't figure out where they might have crossed paths. It occurred to her that maybe they were going to cross paths in the future and that he'd become very important to her. It was like a future version of Deja Vu.

Penny drafted a letter to him during Study Hall the next day. When she got home from school she got an envelope and addressed it. Before she sealed the envelope she dug through a box of photos and picked one of her. She chose a snapshot of her standing on a friend's porch in an outfit she had been proud to assemble that Summer. She stuck the photo in the envelope and then she ran to the Post Office. She supposed her Mom might have had stamps, but it never took just one. It was better for her to know exactly how much postage was due rather than guess. She didn't want it coming back to her.

She waited and waited for a return letter. Everyone was preparing for Halloween. He friends wanted her to dress up with them and join them in the Halloween parade. Penny's friend Katelyn wanted to dress up as Hippies. Reluctantly, Penny agreed. The two of them found some bell-bottom jeans and brown blouses. They got peace sign earrings and painted their faces. It turned out to be pretty fun even though the parade made Penny cold and tired. Reminding herself that Jack had to endure much worse, she was able to get through the long march.

The parade took place on Friday the 26th. Jack's response to her letter arrived on Saturday the 27th. He told her about growing up poor with five brothers and sisters. He told her about his parent's divorce and basically being on his own throughout High School. Then he complimented her on the picture she sent of herself. Jack called her "Beautiful" which made her smile. No one had ever called her beautiful before. A few guys at school said she was cute, but that didn't count. Jack's compliment had her practically floating on air.

When she sat down to write him back she found herself telling him all about growing up poor as an only child. While she couldn't relate to having any brothers or sisters, she could relate to not having much money. That is one thing the two of them shared. It felt good to not be embarrassed by the tiny apartment she lived in with her Mom and not to be embarrassed by her lack of name brand clothes. At the end of the letter she causally mentioned dressing up as a Hippie in the Parade.

It was near Thanksgiving when she got a response. Jack was not in a good mood. His letter much more negative than his previous ones. She supposed that it was difficult being away from family on the holidays even if he didn't directly say it.

Jack did, however, go on a rant about Hippies. Although it wasn't directed at her, it kind of hurt her feelings anyway. "I never tell people I am in army. Why? Because of all the hate toward the military the Hippies spread. When I meet people and tell them I am in the Military, they back away from me and act uncomfortable. A couple of people even called me "baby killer" once. I hope I never run into another Hippie. Now when people ask what I do, I tell them I am in Crisis Management for the Government. And it is true. The army is all about managing conflict."

It had never occurred to Penny that anyone could hate on the army so much. Yeah, she preferred peace to war, but she didn't blame the soldiers sent to fight and possibly die in those conflicts. Penny blamed the government for sticking their noses where it didn't belong. She didn't think it was fair to blame people like Jack who genuinely seemed to want to help the world just as she did. She and Jack just had two very different approaches in accomplishing the same goal.

Penny explained that in letter and then shared the news that her letter to the editor had been published. She enclosed a copy of the Newspaper Clipping. She also shared with him how she was looking forward to Thanksgiving and seeing all her Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. Mostly, she explained, she was looking forward to time off from school.

About Mid-December she received a short response from Jack.

December 15, 1990

Dear Penny,

Sorry this is short. I received some bad news from back home that I have to deal with. In addition to that, things are ramping up here. You might not hear from me for awhile. I assure you that once things wind down, I will let you know how I am doing. Enclosed is a paper with Celtic and Nordic Runes. The symbols are for protection. I hope you have a happy holiday season.

Your Pen Pal,


Penny was happy he had responded and she thought the runes were neat. Something about the letter made her uneasy though. She was worried that war was coming and that she might never get to meet Jack in person.

Over Christmas Break Penny spent time with her friends and family. She also wrote some short stories. Mostly she read ad and watched TV. Her anxiety grew as news coverage showed more troops heading overseas. There was speculation that the so-called peace keeping mission was going to turn into an assault.

The new Semester started at school. Penny tried to throw herself into her studies, but it wasn't easy. In English Class they were reading The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane and comparing it to the Vietnam War book Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers. This just made her think of Jack. She could only imagine how awful it must be to not only see your brother in arms fall, but to be forced to kill others as well.

She hadn't heard from him in over a month. She shared her concerns about him with his cousin Mr. Constine.

"At the moment I don't know any more than you do, Penny," he sighed. "But if I hear anything from him, I will let you know."

"Do you know what the family emergency was that he mentioned?"

"Yes, unfortunately I do. Our Uncle Fred died last month. It was unexpected and tragic. I am sure Jack took took it pretty hard since he wasn't there to help Fred."

"I am sorry to hear that."

"Me too," Mr. Constine said. "You'd better get going," he added as he looked up at the clock and noticed the time.

Penny thanked him and took off as students began filing into the room. She was half way down the stairs when the bell rang. She was late to Home Ec, but nobody seemed to notice. Penny slipped into her seat and wished she could reach out and hug Jack.

On January 17th the news announced an air assault on Kuwait. Penny knew that if Jack wasn't involved in fighting yet, that he would be shortly. She felt like her breath stopped with that announcement. She felt so hopeless knowing her friend could be in danger.

Despite knowing she wouldn't get a reply most likely, she sat down to write him.

January 20, 1991

Dear Jack,

I know you probably aren't able to reply. I am not even sure you will get this letter, but I had to do something. I realized after your last letter how much I look forward to hearing from you and I hope that someday we can meet in person. I hope that after things end in Kuwait that you have some leave time. Maybe you can swing by Gamble's Mill and visit me and your cousin!

Your Pen Pal,


Instead of sending it, she kept it for a few days and added another note. A few days turned into a few weeks. There was still no word from him and on the news she heard that a campaign by land was taking place. He was in the 1st Division and had no doubt rolled out with the rest of his men. She wasn't sure how to express her anxiety.

One day, after a particularly difficult day at school, she decided to write him about what had happened. Penny had a difficult time telling her mother these things since her mother didn't have any helpful advice about dealing with bullies.

February 17, 1991

Dear Jack,

Today was a rough day at school today. The decided to tryout these new tests. We used to do the California Achievement Tests, but now they are switching to the Proficiency Test. Anyway, our schedule was all rearranged to take these tests. I got to be in a room with a bunch of people I normally don't see in my everyday classes. The test itself was okay. I think I did well on everything except Math.

After the test we had some time to kill. Two boys and a girl behind me were talking. I turned to make a comment and they began making fun of me. They called me ugly and said I was weird. I know I shouldn't let it get to me, but what they said really hurt. I never know how to deal with it. After the bell rang, I ran to the bathroom and cried my eyes out. I was late to my next class.

It isn't like this is the first time it has happened. There is a boy in Study Hall that keeps putting gum in my hair. I have to sign out and go to the library every day to keep him from doing it. I have had kick me signs put on my back. It just isn't fair.

I know it seems like a silly thing to complain about when you are facing life and death. But I was wondering how you dealt with bullies in High School. Hope you are safe and sound. I will be thinking of you.

Your Friend,


Penny put the notes in an envelope along with the paper she wrote comparing and contrasting The Red Badge of Courage with Fallen Angels. It was snowing, so she didn't get to the post office for a few days. She had her Mom drive her. They swung by that Saturday morning after a trip to the local library.

On March 4th Penny heard there was a cease fire in the Gulf and she was able to finally breath. It was like she had been holding her breath for over two months. It was a relief. She realized that it would take a while for the troops to come home, but she felt that Jack was probably out of danger. This was confirmed by Mr. Constine at the end of March. He'd heard via the family grape vine that Jack was okay, but he didn't know much else. At the end of April there was finally a letter for her from Jack. She took the letter in and went to her room to open it.

April 19, 1991

Dear Penny,

Sorry it took so long to get back to you. As I am sure you saw on the news, we were called into action. It didn't last very long, but it was intense. Obviously, I made it out okay. I didn't get physically injured or anything. However, it really messed with head. It may be a while before I feel like myself again. I have decided to stay here and help load up supplies. I will probably get back to the states in July. Hopefully I will have some leave. I certainly deserve some! And I would love to visit with my Cousin and meet you.

To answer your questions.....I got in lots of fights at school. I figured if I picked the biggest and baddest bully and kick his a*s. then no one else would dare bother me after that. I am guessing that is not an option for you. You don't have to punch them though. Just dig up some information on them. Find out something they really don't anyone to know and use it against them. If that doesn't work you can always get some boy to beat them up for you. Ha ha.

Thank you for your papers. I found them interesting. I haven't read either book, but perhaps if I get some time, I will pick them up. I haven't read anything in months and I really miss it.

Well, I have a lot of work to do. I will try to write more later. I just figured you needed a quick note to let you know I am still alive.

Your Friend,


May 1, 1991

Dear Jack,

It was wonderful to hear from you. I am glad you are okay. There really isn't much news to tell. 9th Grade is nearly over, thank goodness! I am not looking forward to 10th grade though. Graduation seems like a lifetime away.

I have kept busy reading and watching movies. I have watched Navy Seals with Joanne Whalley Kilmer, Narrow Margin. Russian House and Mermaids. I started reading Future Shock by Alvin Toffer. Have you you heard of it? Right now I am listened to Bach while I am writing you. I like classical music, but I also like stuff like Mariah Carey. What kind of music do you like?

I went swimming at the YMCA here in town with some friends a couple of weeks ago. It was a lot of fun. I love swimming. I dream of swimming in the ocean someday and maybe even learning to SCUBA Dive. Next week I am going to the State Park to go canoeing with my Uncle, Aunt and Cousins. I am really looking forward to that too.

Your Friend,


PS I am enclosing a poem we read in English Class. It made me think of you. Mr. Constine says it is about how war is like the end of the world and stuff.

The Second Coming

WB Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

June 7, 1991

Dear Penny,

Is Penny short for Penelope? You have never said. Anyway, thank you for the poem. It meant a lot to me. There are times it feels like the world is falling apart--that I am falling apart. WB Yeats knew something about War I would say.

To answer your questions: I love Bach and classical music in general. I listen to what's on the radio as well. I like Guns N Roses, Bon Jovi and Poison too. One of my current favorite songs is "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips.

I've not heard of Future Shock. What is it about?

I don't swim much, but I have gone swimming in the ocean. It is pretty cool. My friend Tom was a Navy Seal when it was still called Underwater Demolition He said if we made it out of Desert Storm alive that he'd teach me to SCUBA Dive. He is planning a trip to the Bahamas in the next year or so.

Sounds like you haven't traveled much. I've been all over. I lived in three different states while growing up. When I was 19 years old did basic training in Georgia and then was station at Fort Riley, Kansas. The first time I was deployed it was South Korea. As you know, I was in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well. I am heading back to the States here shortly.

Your Friend,


Shortly after she got the letter, Mr. Constine pulled her aside. He told her that Jack was going to be in town like July 6th. The two of them were planning to meet at the dinner downtown catch up. Penny was invited if she wanted to come. Mr. Constine suggested that she run it by her mother first to make sure it was okay. He gave her his phone number and told her to call him or have her mother call him and let him know she was planning on being there.

Her mother had reservations about her 14 year old daughter having lunch with two grown men. She gave her Mr. Constine's phone number and told her to call him.

"Mom, it is a totally a public place and it is only lunch. No big deal! You can come if you want to."

Her Mom shook her head and took the phone number. Later that day she called Don Constine and spoke with him at length. When she was satisfied, she gave her permission.

Penny spent The 4th of July with her family. She watched fireworks and went to the festival downtown. Her and her friend rode all the rides and gossiped over guys. She told Katelyn that she was finally going to meet her pen pal in person.

"The dude you showed me a picture of?" Katelyn asked as they shared a funnel cake, or as they called it in Gamble's Mill, an elephant ear.

"Yes, the very same."

"He's hot. You going to f**k him?"

"Katelyn !" Penny cried in embarrassment. "Need you be so crude? And he is like 10 years older than me!"

"So," she shrugged.

"We're friends is all."

"I'd f**k him," she smiled as she tore off a piece of friend dough.

"Oh, no you're won't!" Penny declared.

"Why? Cause you want to?"

"No, I...." Penny was at a loss for words. She had never thought of him that way before. She supposed it wasn't out of the question, but she was still a virgin. She didn't want to be with him and have him take off and leave her. Penny did care about him, but she didn't feel the need to complicate things just yet. Maybe in the future, assuming they were still friends.

Katelyn gigged and then decided she needed a lemonade to go with their snack. They didn't discuss it any more after that. Instead, Katelyn rambled on about her boyfriend Joe.

It was a hot Monday afternoon when Penny rode her bike down to the Coffee Shop downtown. She locked her bike up outside and went in. She spotted Mr. Constine seated at a booth with another man. Mr. Constine had average length brown hair, but the man sitting across from him had a buzz cut. It was difficult to tell, but it looked like he had sandy brown hair and blue eyes. She approached nervously.

Mr. Constine recognized her and invited her to sit down. She wasn't sure rather to sit next to Jack or his cousin. She chose to sit next to Jack who was smiling at her.

"Jack, this is Penny Lane Yates. Penny, this is my cousin Jack," Don Constine said.

"Nice to meet you," Jack and Penny said at the same time. Then they both smiled.

"How long have you been back?" Penny asked.

"My friend Tom and his daughter picked me up on the 3rd. We had a 4th of July cookout and then I made my way up here to visit you guys."

"How long you staying?"

"Not long. I am spending the night at Don's place and heading back to Ft. Riley."

"Where's that at?"

"Kansas. Although, I probably won't be there long. Word has it that I will probably be stationed overseas again soon."

Penny was crestfallen. "So soon?"

"Yeah, that is the life of a solider. Never stay in one place for too long. I promise I will write you though."

"Good," Penny smiled.

A waitress came by and took their order. Jack offered to pay for both Mr. Constine and Penny's lunch. Mr. Constine ordered soup and sandwich, Jack ordered a BLT and Penny ordered a club sandwich. Most of the conversation was between Jack and his cousin, but every now and again Penny would put her two cents in. As it turned out, Jack did take the time to read Red Badge of Courage and Fallen Angels. He thanked his cousin for assigning them and Penny for recommending them.

After they ate, Jack took the check up to the cashier and paid. Mr. Constine left the tip and the three of theme stepped outside. Jack asked if Penny needed a ride home.

"I got my bike," she said gesturing to where she locked it up.

"One time, " he recalled, "I took a tumble down a steep hill on my bike back in Blue Ginger. I hit a rock or something and flew over my handlebars. I hit the pavement of the Laundromat parking lot and lost consciousness. Was out for like 10 minutes. When I came to, there were like three or four women standing over me."

"Ouch! Then what did you do?"

"Got back on my bike and rode off. I am damn near impossible to kill."

"Ha, that sounds like a challenge," Penny laughed.

"Maybe," Jack chuckled. There was a brief pause before he asked, "Can I have a hug?"

"Sure," Penny smiled. She reached up and put her arms around his neck. Jack put his arms around her waist and embraced her. It wasn't a long hug, but it was comforting to them both. Penny drew in a deep breath and realized that somehow Jack felt like home. She wished she could stay in his arms forever.

Jack let go and stepped back, "Ride safe."

Penny nodded as she went to unlock her bike.

Jack turned back to his cousin and the two of them walked toward Constine's car. They were planning to get a drink and head back to Don Constine's place for the night. Penny rode off in the opposite direction toward home.

© 2019 Cari Lynn Vaughn

Author's Note

Cari Lynn Vaughn
This is a story is a sort of alternate reality. It is based on a "What if?" idea. What if I had met my fiancee years earlier than I actually did? What would have happened? Would things have worked out between us? We were very different when we were younger. Would the things that drew us together be there back then? The answer were interesting to discover! :-)

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Added on December 31, 2019
Last Updated on December 31, 2019
Tags: Gulf War, Peace, Newspaper, School, English Teacher, Penny, Jack, Letters, Love, Love Letters, Pen Pals, 1991, Ray Fryling, Cari Lynn Vaughn


Cari Lynn Vaughn
Cari Lynn Vaughn

Mt Vernon, MO

Writing is not a hobby or career, but a way of life and way of looking at things. I've been writing seriously since I was 9 years old when I wrote, produced and starred in a play called "The Muggin.. more..