In the Past
(this work belongs to Brynn Paulin and cannot be duplicated without permission)
“Rhaya, what’s this picture?”
I glanced at it then looked away. “Sometimes when I’m upset, I just shut up.”
“Jake was making me feel better…trying to get me to talk.” I didn’t want to speak now, but I knew this wasn’t going to get dropped. “He was the only one who didn’t expect things from me back then.”
I glanced in the mirror. Ten years had passed in a flash…except for those long moments over the past five years when I’d missed Jake. But I would never tell this woman, Susan. In two days, she’d be my sister-in-law. She didn’t need to know her baby brother, Curt, wasn’t my first true love. He was more like my ‘I like you a lot and my biological clock is ticking’ love.
“What happened to him?” Susan asked.
I took a deep breath, fighting the pain that usually accompanied talking about him. “That was just before he went into the military. His transport crashed five years later. Land to air missile in Iraq.”
“He was special?”
I’d married him when I was eighteen. Though we’d barely been together because of his constant deployments following 9/11, it had been four years of bliss before the tragedy.
I turned the page of the photo album. More pictures of Jake. Rather than keep turning, I shut it. “But life goes on, right? The living have to keep living. And I met your brother a year ago.”
“How long did you know Jake?”
What was this with the third degree? “Fifteen years. Since I was seven. He lived one street over and his family’s backyard butted up to our backyard. Our families did picnics and fireworks and stuff together. Hung out in lawn chairs at twilight. That sort of thing. His parents still live behind mine.”
She glanced out the back slider to the shadowed house behind us. My parents were in Florida until tomorrow afternoon, and I was staying at their house since my apartment had been closed up in preparation for moving in with my husband-to-be. Not for the first time, I wondered if it meant anything that all my stuff had gone to storage rather than his house.
Could it be I wasn’t quite ready for this change in my life?
Susan gathered up the pile of photos we’d selected for the board being made for the rehearsal dinner. “I think these will do. See you tomorrow night.”
“With bells,” I replied dryly. Realizing my mistake at her sharp look, I smiled. “Nerves. The rehearsal’s making me nervous.”
“It’ll be fine,” she assured. “Before you know it, you’ll be an old married lady like me.”
As I closed the door behind her, I hoped it would be that easy. It seemed I’d had a constant knot in my stomach for the past six months. Tension, fear, gnawing dread…I didn’t know. I only knew I didn’t really love my fiancé. It wasn’t a secret from him that I was only in deep like. Of course he had his own secret, one that included his friend Brian.
I was making a terrible decision.
Shaking my head, I headed back to the kitchen to clean up. Curt was just bi-sexual enough that he’d committed to making a family, but my sex life was looking sparse for the next sixty or so years. Whatever. I could find fulfillment elsewhere.
I had just finished gathering up photo albums when a brisk knock came on the front door. Susan must have forgotten something. Wearily, I tried to put on a happy face. My smile fell at the sight of a slightly bedraggled man outside the front door. No, he wasn’t bedraggled…just gaunt. Drawn. His clothing too loose and his frame too thin. Dark shadows colored the skin beneath his blue eyes.
“I object,” he said in a deep voice that had colored my life for years. My fingers tightened on the door for a moment then, suddenly, my blood was throbbing through me and my vision blurred. My mouth worked without words escaping as the world fell away.
* * * *
Jake’s face loomed over me as I woke. Somehow in his diminished state, he’d moved me to the couch. My gasping breaths were sobs as my hands touched him everywhere then finally dragged him to me. We kissed frantically. There was no tentativeness or unfamiliarity in our caresses. Somehow, impossibly, my husband was here in my arms.
“How?” I finally asked between kisses. It was several more minutes before, I repeated, “How?” I had to know before I lost myself in him. Though I wanted nothing more, five years of sorrow wouldn’t be forgotten.
Understanding, Jake sat up. He pulled me onto his lap. Sadness filled me at the feel of his bones beneath my legs. What had they done to the robust man I’d married? In my soul, I knew I’d fix him. I’d heal the hurts of the past years. He’d heal mine. We’d been destined for each other since the first time we’d met, a joint firefly hunt in the backyard.
He sighed, his hand stroking my hair. He’d always loved it. I’d cut it short the day I was told he’d died. Thankfully, it had grown out to nearly the length it had been when we’d last been together.
He just continued to touch, and I didn’t interrupt as he thought.
“Sadam still has some hangers on,” he finally said. “They’ve had me since…the crash.”
“But…how is it I didn’t hear of you being recovered. Of you not being…dead.” I’d almost ended up with two husbands! An unintentional polygamist. It could have been disaster.
Worse, I hadn’t been there for him. I should have been at the hospital after they’d rescued him.
He made a face. “The military publicize they made a huge mistake? I haven’t been able to reach you. Somehow, you managed to slip off the grid temporarily.” He shrugged. “Working from home, moving here with your parents. The powers that be finally allowed me to talk to my mom and dad. I found out you were right across the yard—I can’t stay. My ride’s out front. I know things terrorists don’t want let out and other things the military doesn’t want released.”
“What! No, Jake—”
“They’re hiding me. Sorta a military version of witness protection.”
I shook my head, horrified that he was here, and I was going to lose him.
“Come with me,” he urged.
My hand squeezed his, and I gave him the only answer I could. As we always had, we understood each other without words spoken. We sat in silence, arms around each other, contemplating our futures. The knot of dread unraveled in my middle and for the first time in six months, I knew everything would be okay.