I sat on the sand and let the moonlight glide over me like honey, while the wind played with my hair and tickled my skin and somewhere down the beach a baby cried with me. I listened to the whooshing of the gentle waves against the shore. I looked back at our duplex and wondered what Mitch was doing. We should have been enjoying the moonlight together; instead we hadn’t spoken since we’d arrived.
Mom had asked me before we left if I was going to stay with him; as if that was such an easy decision to make. I just didn’t know what I was going to do.
I missed his smile so much; it had been so long since I’d last seen his face light up with one of his all encompassing, here comes the sunshine, smiles or heard his laughter.
I’d brought him here every year for the past four years. I don’t know what I expected; a miracle maybe? Maybe I thought that if he was reminded of how happy we’d been here he would want to be a husband and father again. Our son was going to be seven this year and he didn’t know what it felt like to be held by his father. I didn’t know what to say or how to act around him anymore. Anything I said set him off and he’d sit in his room and I wouldn’t see him for days. I’d spoken to him about counseling, but he told me it was his business, to leave it alone. I missed him so much; I wanted my husband back, but I didn’t know what to do to make that happen.
We’d arrived five days ago; mom and dad had kept Mitchie for us. I’d brought him to the duplex and now instead of spending a nice leisurely dinner with my husband holding hands or just talking, I was sitting out on the beach at midnight by myself.
• • • •
“Why do you keep bringing us back here?” he’d shouted. “Do you want to remind me that I can’t walk out on that beach with you anymore, is that it!?!?”
Tears started streaming down my face, “No! I just…I wanted to remind you of how happy we’d been here,” I shouted back at him. “I just want you to remember how we met and how much we loved it each other, but you’re so wrapped up in feeling sorry for yourself. You’re so selfish Mitch!!” I’d started sobbing loudly, holding my stomach with one hand and the other on my chest to ease the tightness.
“I feel like I lost you when you lost the use of your legs and you don’t have to tell me that I’m being selfish as well, I know I am. All I want is what we had before, but I guess we’re never going to get it back. I don’t want to give up, I want to keep trying to save our marriage, but it’s no good if only one of us is fighting for it. I’m just…I’m done.” I’d turned and walked out the front door. I hadn’t known where I was going; I’d just known I had to get away from there for a while. I’d come back later and start moving my things to the other duplex. I’d ignored him as he called my name.
I’d been sitting out here since 8:00. It wasn’t quite chilly out, but neither was it warm. I knew I needed a light sweater, but I felt like a total wuss for having lost control and having screamed at Mitch. I kept trying to understand what he was going through, but I couldn’t and I was too afraid to ask him about what had happened over there. It’s not as though he usually answered me when I asked him questions anyway. Lars had tried talking to him right after he’d come home, but he hadn’t opened up to his little brother either.
I heard a muffled giggle and a masculine voice say, “Suzy, you just get more beautiful every day,” followed by a sigh and then a very passionate kiss.
I lay back on the sand with a sad little smile and rolling over on to my side I allowed the tears to flow and gradually dozed off into sleep.
I loved this resort area and had been coming here since I’d started working for Hughes Systems Analysis. I programmed computers, created software and analyzed and upgraded systems and helped new up and coming companies choose and set up computer systems that worked best for them. It really helped that my type of work paid extremely well, because two years ago instead of staying at one of the huge resorts again, I’d bought my double duplex and now rented the right half out to vacationers year round and the left half was always available to friends and family.
At the beginning of the month I’d rented out the right half to the Johnson family from Colorado and we’d already become fast friends. They had another eight days to go on the first vacation they’d had in years. I was supposed to be on vacation, but the company I’d been visiting on the island had allowed the owner’s son to play computer tech and I’d been trying to fix what he’d done.
I’d arrived home after 9:00 p.m. three days running and Milly Johnson had insisted on making dinner every night. Together we’d decided she’d cook breakfast and dinner for the remainder of the week and Saturday and Sunday I’d make breakfast and lunch and we’d grill out together for dinner.
I woke up extra early on the Johnson’s last day to say goodbye and to make sure they got to the airport on time; I arrived home and decided to lay down and catch a few more z’s. I’d finally fixed all the problems with the computer systems at Driscoll Supplies, with the understanding that if that happened again, they were on their own. I’d also had a nice long talk with the owner’s son and he’d applied to one of the colleges. He was going to learn how to program and fix computers and I’d promised to help him in any way I could. I was smiling as I drifted off to sleep.
I was clumsiness personified; unless you put me in front of a computer then I was as smooth and coordinated as a champion ice skater or professional dancer. My family teased me mercilessly, because I was constantly falling over everything and anything. Sometimes there wasn’t anything there and I still tripped over it! Yeah, I know that didn’t make sense, but that’s the way it was.
After my nap, I finally felt rested enough to start my vacation and decided that I’d start my day off with a nice long run. I opened the front door and shot through it without looking. My glasses went in one direction; my towel in another and my forehead hit something really hard. I bounced up pretty quickly (I’d had plenty of practice after all) and stopped abruptly at a crunching sound.
I was nearsighted and blind as a bat without my glasses. “Dear Lord please tell me that crunch wasn’t my glasses?” I prayed out loud.
“No, those were mine,” a deep voice responded.
Looking around at the blurry deep rich greens, bright blues and yellows I asked awestruck, “Is that You God?”
A loud guffaw was quickly muffled and few minutes later a voice still choked by laughter said, “I’m Mitch Michaels and I believe these are yours.” I felt the hard wire rimmed glasses as they were placed in my hand, but the only thing I was actually focused on were the double M’s in his name. Of course the next thing out of my mouth was totally unintelligent. “Ooh chocolate!”
I always found a reason to associate everything with chocolate; to my undying embarrassment, at my last presentation to Nasquk and Assoc., one of the employees had asked a question, but his name, Crispin Pounds, had thrown me off balance and all I could think about was a Mounds bar. I’d had to excuse myself long enough to eat the chocolate bar I carried in my bag. I still couldn’t think of that day without wanting to sink through the floor.
A shout of laughter and the top of a curly, blondish brown head was what met my eyes once my glasses were on.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Gurgles and gasps of laughter and shaking shoulders were all I saw for minutes until he brought himself under control.
Finally with one hand on his stomach and the other wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, he’d straightened up and looked into my eyes. My dark brown eyes met his golden brown eyes, which were surrounded with a darker brown and out loud I thought, “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
He snorted loudly, “How can someone so gorgeous think of candy all the time?” he asked.
“Ah, not just any candy; it has to have chocolate somewhere in the mix,” I blurted out. He started laughing again.
Apparently, Mitch had forgotten to bring a sun umbrella for his little sister and instead of going all the way back to the hotel for it, he’d scooted both of them over in front of my duplex and they’d made themselves comfortable in the shade of my coconut palms, which happened to be right outside my door.
Over the next two weeks we came to know each other very well. He was from Portland, Oregon and had two siblings, his brother Larsen, who was at Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and his little sister Lanie. Their parents had been gone a little over a year and had been only children, so the three of them were all that was left. He was on reserve status with the army for now since there was no one else to take care of Lanie.
I found we had things in common; he was a computer programmer, and like myself, loved to cook and run. He started running with me every morning. He’d carry Lanie on his shoulders, when she wanted to tag along, and sometimes she’d sit in front of the condo with Mae and Carl (they were the duplex’s caretakers when I was gone), while we jogged up and down the beach; the good thing was, he didn’t fall over everything so he was able to help me up…a lot!
He seemed to go into shock when I showed him all the pictures of my family and there were quite a few of them. I’d made doubles of all the ones I had at home in Chicago when I’d decided to buy this duplex, that way I had all my pictures here whenever I came to the island for work or just to vacation. There were ten of us, including mom and dad and I was the youngest.
We found ourselves hanging out together for breakfast, lunch and dinner and before that first week was up we knew that something special was happening. We couldn’t be sure that the romance of the balmy tropics wasn’t playing with our senses so we attempted to play it cool. Every night before we went our separate ways, we’d walk barefoot under the moonlight just talking and of course there was lots of laughter, usually me falling on my face as we walked said beach. Those nights were magical, even if for some reason he started tripping over his own feet. I loved how he looked, his hair and eyes glowing in the moonlight and I teasingly called him my fairy king; he’d called me his hot chocolate princess and we’d both blushed. One night after a particularly embarrassing fall, he helped me up and didn’t let go of my hand and before leaving me at my door he’d held me and kissed my forehead. He’d said, “I never really noticed the moon before, but you’ve made it a thing of beauty.” I’d had to work really hard to keep my sigh back.
Two weeks after our meeting I took Mitch and Lanie to the airport. I’d fallen in love with him, as well as his little sister and it was so hard to see them go. I held on to her trembling little body as she sobbed and clung to my neck and Mitch had held on to the both of us. I cried all the way home.
After my two months were up, I cleaned up both sides of my duplex and set a ‘For Rent’ sign on the right half and met with Mae and Carl to make arrangements for weekly cleaning until I returned; this was the first time I hadn’t looked forward to going home.
I’d been back in Chicago for three weeks and I had never been so miserable in all my life. The company started sending me chocolate flowers and chocolate covered fruit baskets and finally the boss came into my office and asked me out right if I was thinking of leaving. I just cried while he awkwardly patted my back.
I arrived home that evening tired, miserable and out of sorts. I walked into the kitchen and right into Mitch’s arms. With his hands cupping my face he told me he’d realized that it wasn’t the weather in Portland that had him feeling so miserable, but the fact that he missed me so much. He’d known that I wouldn’t want to leave my family, so he’d applied for a job at Hughes Systems and had moved himself and Lanie over, lock, stock and barrel. I just held on to him and cried; mom cried with me and dad coughed and claimed he’d gotten an eyelash in both his eyes.
We waited a year, at mom and dad’s request, before getting married. During that time Mitch and his family learned what it was like to be part of a huge family and they loved it. We made so many wonderful memories and thought that our wedding day was the happiest day of our lives, then five months later we discovered we were expecting and Mitch held me and cried with happiness.
Three months before our son’s due date, George, Mitch’s best friend was killed by sniper fire in Iraq. Without talking it over with me Mitch had himself taken off reserve status and put on active. He’d attempted to explain his reasons to me, but I was so angry and afraid that I wouldn’t listen.
Six days after our son was born, Mitch was shipped out. I’d had a difficult birth and was still in the hospital.
I held on to him and cried, “Take care of yourself my fairy King. I love you!”
“I’ll be back before you know it my hot chocolate princess,” he’d responded.
I sat in the wheelchair and watched until the car that carried him away from me had disappeared from sight.
I was so lonely in spite of having all my family around. The few months he’d promised stretched out and became three years. I’d faithfully written to him seven times a week and had mailed letters out every other day. Sometimes I received replies right away; sometimes it was weeks or even months before I heard anything.
The three years he’d served he’d been back home two times. The visits had been brief and uncomfortable. He hadn’t smiled or talked much; his eyes cold and hard. The worst part of it was that he’d treated me like a stranger and he hadn’t touched or held either Mitchie or myself once. Our walks on the beach in the moonlight seemed light years away.
June 15, into the first month of what would have been his fourth year I received a visit from his commanding officer. My heart stuttered and he caught me before I hit the floor.
“Lieutenant Michaels isn’t dead ma’am, but he is paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors say he’ll never walk again. I’m sorry. He’s at Walter Reed in Washington and will be ready for release in a couple of weeks. If there’s anything I can do for you please let me know.”
I waited for him to leave and then I cried for hours holding Mitchie. I cried for us, for me, but mostly I cried for my husband. I was happy he was alive, but I wasn’t sure he would be. I wanted to leave right away to be near him, but Mitch said he needed to rest and he’d see me when we came to pick him up.
Two weeks later, Lars and I drove down to Walter Reed to pick up my husband, but he only allowed Lars in the room and refused to see me. Lars had argued with him, but to no avail. I’d waited patiently until he’d been loaded up in the van and tried speaking to him, but he hadn’t responded. He finally spoke to me the night we arrived home. His temporary nurse had helped him get in bed and was out for the evening. I finished up some paperwork I had and had kissed Mitchie goodnight and made my way to bed. I’d climbed in bed after my shower and with relief I’d laid my head on his chest and put my arm around him.
His body stiffened then, “Get out. I’m not sharing a bed with you,” he said quietly.
Three days later I ended up moving all my things into the second guest room, but I refused to give up and chattered the way I used to. I tried pretending everything was normal, but after I’d bent down to kiss him and he’d turned his face away, I called Lars. With his help and the company’s we’d been flown to St. John. Every year, when I’d reached my limit I tried again and hoped that this time a miracle would occur, but I’d come to the realization that this would be the last time. I’d taken my vows seriously and I would love him until the day I died, but inside I felt like I was already dying a little each day and pretty soon I’d be worthless as a mother and a daughter. It was time to let go.
I woke up to the sun in my face and the start of a nasty sunburn. The ground beneath my ear was soft and warm and it had a heartbeat. I sat up abruptly and looked down into Mitch’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup eyes. “How did you get out here? Are you okay? Are you hurt?” I was panicking and tears were running down my face as I ran my hands over his face, arms and chest and suddenly I realized he hadn’t protested once.
“First off, since you never came back I called Mae and she and Carl came down to help me look for you. Second, I’m okay and when we found you I didn’t want to wake you, so I had Carl carry me over here, so I could lie next to you.” After a short pause, he said quietly, “Can I ask you a question?”
I’d been struck dumb, he hadn’t spoken so much in the last four years and all I could do was nod.
His eyes were wet as he asked, “Do you still love me? Can you still love me in spite of these useless legs? I won’t be able to kill bees for you or take spiders out of the house and I won’t be able to change light bulbs for you or run down to the corner store for Snickers Bars and when you run and fall down I won’t be able to pick you up. Can you look past the wheelchair?” The last question was gruff and the tears were falling down his face.
I almost punched him! I was so angry. “You…I…you stupid idiot!! How can you ask me any of those questions?” My eyes were sparkling with tears and anger.
“I can kill my own bees and spiders and I was changing my own light bulbs before I met you. And I’ll miss that you can’t run on the beach with me and your helping me up after one of my idiotic spills, but it’ll be okay as long as I know you’ll be waiting for me when I get back. “
My bottom lip started trembling and I turned my face away as the tears I’d been holding back flowed freely down my face, “I love you so much and I never stopped; I can’t. My heart hurts when I think I’m gonna lose you. I always thought only cheesy books said stupid things like that, but it’s true. You’re part of me and you always will be.”
His big warm hand turned my face back to his and he kissed my forehead and eyes. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a jawbone of an ass and thank you for not giving up on me. I don’t know how I’m going to make it up to you for the last four years, but I’m going to try. I promise.” His head lowered as he gently kissed me.
“Hey boss, I’m going to town to buy some groceries…boss, boss! Oh they’re finally kissin’ again Mae. Put the sun umbrella over them. We’ll be back in an hour.”We never even noticed they were gone.
This was written for Bluebell Books Twitter Club: http://bluebellbooks.blogspot.com/2012/03/short-story-slam-week-21-march-14-25.html
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