Monday Fiction: In the Past
Welcome to Monday Fiction. Stop by every Monday when I will give you a super-quick romance read of 2000 words or less. Enjoy!!
Before the story, just a peek at the week ahead:
Monday: Monday Morning Fiction: In The Past
Tuesday: March Book Recs
Wednesday: Guest Post/Writing Tips with Dakota Rebel
Friday: Month in Review
In the Past
(this work belongs to Brynn Paulin and cannot be duplicated without permission)
“Rhaya, what’s this picture?” Susan asked.
I glanced at it then looked away. “Sometimes, when I’m upset, I just shut up.”
“That’s Jake. He was trying to make 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. The last ten years had passed in a flash, except for those long moments over the past five years when I’d missed Jake with all my soul. But I’d never tell this woman. In two days, Susan would be my sister-in-law. She didn’t need to know her baby brother, Curt, wasn’t my first true love. He wasn’t my love at all. He was more like my “I like you a lot and my biological clock is ticking” friend. I was his “I’ll help you have a baby, but I really just want my family off my back” friend. Not exactly a match made in heaven. Marriages had been built on less.
“What happened to him?” Susan asked.
I took a deep breath, fighting the pain that always accompanied talking about him. “This picture was just before he went into the military. He was eighteen; I was sixteen. Five years later, his transport crashed. Land-to-air missile in Iraq.”
“He was special?”
I’d married him while he’d been on leave right after I’d turned eighteen. Though we’d barely been together because of his constant deployments, it had been three years of bliss before the tragedy.
I turned the page of the photo album Susan had pulled out. More pictures of Jake. Rather than keep turning the pages through my memories, I shut the book. “But life goes on, right? The living have to keep living. Now, I’ve met your brother.”
“How long did you know Jake?”
What was with the third degree? “Fifteen years. Since I was six. 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, probably looking at to the shadowed house behind us. Jake’s house. No matter how long he was gone, it would always be his house to me. 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 into storage rather than to his house. Could it be I wasn’t quite ready for this change in my life? I needed to figure this out, and quick.
Susan gathered the pile of photos we’d selected for the picture board being made for the rehearsal dinner. “I think these will do. See you tomorrow night.”
“With bells,” I replied dryly, my words tinged with sarcasm. 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. I’d had a constant knot in my stomach for the past six months. Tension, fear, gnawing dread… I didn’t know what it was. It was time to move on. I couldn’t live in the past anymore. Sure, 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. Any baby we made wouldn’t come about the conventional way.
I was making a terrible decision.
Shaking my head, I headed back to the kitchen to clean up. Curt had committed to making a family, but my sex life was looking sparse to non-existent for the next sixty or so years. Whatever. I could find fulfillment in other avenues of life.
I’d 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 familiar blue eyes.
“I object,” he said in the deep voice that had echoed through my life for years. My fingers tightened on the edge of the door for a moment then suddenly, my blood throbbed through me so fast, so loud I couldn’t hear anything else. My vision blurred. I swayed, my mouth working without words escaping. Then the world fell away.
* * * *
Jake’s face loomed over me as I woke. Somehow, despite his diminished state, he’d moved me to the couch. My gasping breaths were sobs as my hands touched him everywhere I could then finally dragged him to me. We kissed frantically. There was no tentativeness, no 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 the answer 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 too prominent beneath my legs. What had happened 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 moment we’d met, a joint firefly hunt in the backyard. Maybe, we’d been destined even before that.
He sighed, his hand stroking my hair. He’d always loved it. I’d cut it short the day I was notified of his death. 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 the silence.
“Iraqi militant group,” he finally said. “They’ve had me since…the crash.”
“But…why didn’t hear that they’d found you? That you were alive? You’re not dead!” I hugged him tight, unbelievably grateful to have my husband again. To think I’d almost ended up with two husbands! An unintentional polygamist. That could have been disaster.
Worse, I hadn’t been there for him. I should have been at the hospital after they’d rescued him. Been immediately at his side—
“The military publicize they made a huge mistake?” He made a face. “I haven’t been able to reach you. Somehow, you managed to slip off the grid.” 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 again—but I can’t stay. My ride’s out front. I know things the 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. They didn’t even want me to come here, but I had to see you, before you…”
Before I married Curt. Jake didn’t have to say it. The pain in his face spoke loud enough.
I shook my head, horrified that he was here, but I was going to lose him all over again. No! Life couldn’t be this cruel.
“Come with me,” he urged.
Go with him. Just leave. Leave everything behind?
“Our parents?” I asked.
“They’ll talk to them. Explain. And it’s not forever. Just for now. I know you have your life now…different from mine—”
My hand squeezed his, stopping him. There was no question. I gave him the only answer I could. As we always had, we understood each other without words spoken. He knew my decision without me saying it.
We sat in silence, arms around each other, contemplating our futures. He nodded, smiling softly, and together, we stood. The knot of dread unraveled in my middle, and for the first time in six months, I knew everything would be okay. My soul mate was right here. I could give up everything, but with him, I’d be whole. That was all that mattered. He was my past. And my future.