Skylar Fontaine, of New Orleans, was devastated when she learned that her Marine boyfriend, Gage Moak, wouldn’t be able to accompany her to prom. So, she enlisted the help of her boyfriend’s brother, 2-year-old Clay Jr.
“I had seen a child Marine costume online somewhere and I thought it was absolutely precious,” Fontaine, 18, tells PEOPLE. “I mentioned to his grandmother that it would be a great idea to take some pictures and send to Gage. It came together so perfectly!”
On prom day, March 16, Clay Jr. dressed in the little Marine uniform and smiled wide as he posed for photos with Fontaine, who was dressed in a royal blue gown with gold detail.
“We all teared up. It was emotional — his parents, my parents, me and my friends,” the teen tells PEOPLE. “We all got emotional.”
Clay Jr. didn’t actually go to the prom, but Fontaine says the little boy was excited to take the pictures before the big dance.
“He kept saying, ‘Cheese!’ and it was so funny,” Fontaine recalls. “He said, ‘Bubba is on a submarine!’ Because he doesn’t understand yet that he’s a Marine. He absolutely was the perfect stand-in.”
Fontaine says the photos eased the pain of missing Moak, whom she says is 1,000 miles away at Military Occupational Specialty.
“It surely gave [me] a sense that he was home, even though he couldn’t be,” Fontaine says, adding that she has shared the photos with Moak. “He’s a family man and he’s sentimental when it comes to that. He thought it was amazing. I briefly mentioned to him it would happen, but he didn’t know it would be that cute!”
Fontaine says she hasn’t seen Moak since January, when he was home for just 10 days after graduating boot camp. She says she was “upset” when she learned Moak wouldn’t be home for prom, but she makes “the best of it.”
“It was his dream to become a Marine and I will make sure I stand at his side,” Fontaine tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been at his side throughout the entire process of him becoming a Marine and because of that, we share a special bond. He is upset he cannot he here in general to watch his siblings grow, experience my milestones with me, and see his family and friends.
“It hurts him to not be here with his family. I know he must be homesick, but he makes the best of it.”
Fontaine says she expects to see Moak again at the end of the summer. But, until then, she has the sweet photos to hold onto.
“Even the smallest gestures are so important to me,” the teen says. “Before [Moak] left to join the Marine Corps, I didn’t really cherish the little things as I should. Having him away taught me to do that. Having a loved one in the military really changes your priorities and perspective.”