The Singleton sisters consider themselves twins.
Big twin: Sara, 22.
Little twin: Lindsey, 18.
They're indivisible, except by the Army and war.
Sara, an Army intelligence specialist, deployed to Afghanistan's Kunar Province a year ago. As Lindsey finished her senior year at Sickles High School, Sara learned to sleep with the sound of mortar blasts.
She came home to Citrus Park for a visit in November, but Lindsey hadn't seen Sara since, not even after her April return to Fort Hood in Texas.
On Thursday, without Sara, Lindsey put on an emerald green cap and gown. It was her graduation day.
Lindsey couldn't get excited. People had tried to cheer her up, but only one person could do that.
"I'm really sorry," Sara had told her the day before.
The Sickles band performed. No Sara.
The ROTC presented the colors. No Sara.
Lindsey would be the last of four siblings to finish Sickles. Her father, a retired Tampa police detective, was in the audience, along with her mother, oldest sister and brother Cameron Cortez, 31, an Army recruiter who served in Iraq.
Lindsey, too, intends to join the Army.
The march of nearly 400 graduates began. The teens followed a ramp up one side of the stage and down the other.
First the honor students, then the A's, B's, C's . . . all the way to the S's.
Lindsey Alyse Singleton.
As Lindsey's name was called, as she walked to center stage, a thought crossed her mind.
The principal had telephoned her mom the day before. What was that all about?
Nah, she thought. Too good to be true.
But it was true.
Coming toward her from the other side of the platform was a slender woman in Army camouflage, carrying a red, white and blue bouquet.
The family had conspired. Sara had traveled 1,150 miles from Fort Hood.
Lindsey and Sara stopped in each other's path.
In seconds, everyone knew.
As the two hugged, teary-eyed, onstage, the hall went wild with applause and strangers came to their feet.
Lindsey didn't need a graduation gift, she said after the ceremony.
This one was enough.
"She came through," Lindsey said. "That's my twin."
Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.