Welcome to the trial-run/first edition of a new blog series titled Pinterest Stories! :D If this post and its companion (coming next week) are well liked, this series may become a monthly or bi-monthly happening.
So what is Pinterest Stories? Basically it's this – whenever I come across story prompts are other inspirational things on Pinterest, the possibilities begin running through my mind. I have this desire to write short stories (which have been apt to turn into longer stories, but I'm trying to keep this at/around 5k). I have completed one of these such stories, and I have another nearly done. And I thought, "hey, why not share these on the blog?"
A major request in the blog survey awhile back was for more short stories. So here ya go... :)
I didn't expect anything unusual when I came home that day. Just another day when the bills outnumber my income, when the pension we receive from my deceased husband isn't enough to cover groceries, much less the mortgage.
After doing my father-in-law’s bookkeeping and spending a shift waiting tables, I picked up the kids from their grandparents’ and swung by the grocery store. It wasn't even dark by the time we got home, but I was really to keel over. And I still needed to fix supper and get them to bed before collapsing myself. But it was Friday night and that meant two days of rest and stress-less housework stretched out before me. At least when I was working at home, I could be with the kids.
People often questioned when they thought I couldn't hear them, and others were blunt enough to express their concerns to me directly. That I work too much, that I'm wearing myself down, that I never look happy anymore. But my reply is always the same. I only work enough to keep the bills paid, I'm not wearing myself out, I'm fine… And I would brush it off, always trying to avoid the happiness question.
Because there would only be one answer – the bare truth. That I find happiness in my boys, my family, and my God…but happiness doesn't mean the same since he left.
I stepped up onto the porch with an armload of groceries and two little boys trailing me. Almost-three-year-old Christopher Jr. jabbers about something his grandpa told him, while Titus, at seven, does his best to help me with the groceries.
I didn't even notice that the front door was slightly open until I reached it. I felt my eyes grow wide at the realization. Someone has broke in on us… But the question was, were they still in there?
“What's da matter, Mommy?” Christopher wanted to know, tugging at my skirt.
“Um, nothing, sweetie,” I assured him, depositing my groceries in the lawn chair. Thinking fast, I grabbed the two bags form Titus’ hands as well and placed them beside mine.
“Titus,” I laid my hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I want you to take your brother back to the car and wait there until I come for you, okay?”
“But why, Momma?”
“Just do it, please? I'll be out there in just a minute.”
Titus’ eyes met mine – as grey as his father’s had been. “Okay,” he murmured, no longer questioning me. I watched as he grabbed his little brother’s hand and led him back toward the car in the drive.
Knowing the thief could appear at anytime, I stuffed my car keys into my pocket – thinking I can set the alarm off and arouse the neighbors should the need arise.
With timid steps, I pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside. Nothing looked to be disturbed in the entryway. I took a couple quiet steps and stuck my head into the kitchen to my left. Everything looked untouched there too.
Could I have forgot to lock the door? No. I was certain I did. And even if I hadn't, I knew I shut it tightly.
Heart pounding in my chest, I stepped over the creaky middle floorboard and peeked around the partition wall and into the living room.
And immediately ducked back out.
Someone was in there.
A man. Alone. Sitting on our couch and facing the opposite way. He didn't appear to be disturbing anything, but that didn't solve the mystery of his presence.
Summoning courage from somewhere deep within – or Someone – I again turned to look into the room.
The man hadn't budged from his spot, where he seemed to be looking down at something. But what?
My curiosity getting the better of me, I tiptoed around the corner and into the room, wishing I'd left my shoes outside. The man was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his chin on his clenched hands. And he was studying our family pictures sitting on the coffee table.
My temper flared and I wanted nothing more than to yell for this intruder to get out of my house. To get rid of this person who’s wrongfully invaded our haven. But the picture frames caught my eye and I paused to see what he was seeing.
The one of the right portrayed a beautiful and happy family. I was in the center of the picture – happy, smiling, great with child and held in my husband's arms. Chris was grinning his boyish grin and wearing that uniform…that uniform – the same one he was wearing when he was killed two months later. Little Titus stood beside us, just happy to be in the golden sunlight.
And the one on the left was last Christmas. Me with my arms around two handsome, grinning little boys. Boys without their earthly daddy to love them and raise them. I hadn't felt like having our usual yearly pictures taken until then. Nothing was the same without Chris here.
I returned my attention to the man on my couch. Maybe he's homeless and just needs a place to get out of the weather… But I think the covered porch would’ve been sufficient, opposed to breaking into my home. He had not noticed me yet, so I decided I would have to say something and make my presence known.
In walking forward while not watching where I was going, my hand collided with a ceramic vase on the small table behind the couch. The vase crashed to the floor and shattered.
At the sound, the intruder jumped to his feet and whirled around. Finding me there, he stopped and stared.
And I stared back. The uniform made me wince – the same way I had with every serviceman I had came in contact with since he’d been gone. Do they have families that will be broken apart? I always found myself wondering.
I studied him closer, noting the way the uniform hung on his tall but thin frame. My gaze continued climbing until I reached his face.
I took a step back, shocked. No, it can't be. That's not possible. He's dead… he's… Reeling from the familiarity, I forced my eyes to return to his. Grey eyes…
“Hey Julie.” He spoke my name so tenderly, watching me as if he was afraid I was going to pass out or throw something at him or something.
“No…” I shake my head. “I don't know who you are, but–” My voice broke, as he continued to watch me, the scattered glass shards separating us. Could it be? Could it really be?
“Chris?” I somehow got the word out around the choking lump in my throat.
He nodded, giving me a little smile, eyes wary. “Yeah, sweetheart, it's me.”
A million questions raced through my mind. I bit my lip, holding in the tears and starting towards him.
“No, wait. The glass.”
Glass? I looked down at the brokenness glistening across my clean floor. Oh yeah. Forgot about that.
Chris moved along the length of the couch and I followed, meeting him at the opposite end. He paused a foot from me, reaching out his hand toward me, hesitating.
Oh, don't hesitate. I smiled at him best I could through the emotions and tears that seemed to have paralyzed my facial muscles.
Before I even knew what was happening, he'd wrapped me in his arms and pulled me snugly against his chest. My right arm went around my husband’s waist – my husband! – and i brought my left hand up and clenched the fabric of his shirt in my fist.
“Chris…” I murmured, my frame racked with sudden sobs.
“I'm here,” he whispered, his kiss brushing my forehead. “I'm finally here.”
I buried my face in the front of his uniform, breathing in his presence. “You w-were missing and then w-we were told you were…probably dead and…I mean, it's been…nearly three years…and…” I finally brought my blubbering to a stop. He probably couldn't even make sense of it.
“I know.” He shifted his arms around me and, for a second, I thought he was releasing me. Unwilling to let this embrace end so quickly, I tighten my hold on him. No, not yet…please… My worry was for naught when he merely held me closer.
Until then, my confused brain had held onto the silly idea that this wasn't even my husband. That this was all a joke. That he would let go and disappear from me again. That the magical moment would end and I would be back to the grieving, single mom with two little boys depending on her. But no; this is him. Chris is the only one who's ever been able to read me like this, to know when I need comfort and affection. Oh, sweet Jesus, thank You…
I lifted my head from his chest and leaned up to kiss him, and he kissed me back, brushing his thumb under my eyes. Drawing back, I gazed into his eyes, finding tears there too.
“I love you.”
Another choked sob escaped me at his endearing words. “I love you too.” I finally summoned the courage to ask him what I was dying to know. “All this time…where have you been?”
I felt him tense against me. He didn't answer right away, pulling me to him again. “Prisoner.” He whispered the single word against my hair, starting a tingle down my spine.
Images, grotesque and flithy, flitted through my mind. “…what?”
Chris shook his head, pressing his cheek to mine. “Never mind. We can talk about that some other time.”
“Okay.” Right then I would've agreed with anything he said. “How long have you been here, then?”
He kissed my nose and pulled back, hands pressed to my back. “Not long. I hitchhiked from the airport, planning in my head what I would say to you and how everything would go. Felt kinda stupid when no one answered the door.” He grinned, and what remained of my heart turned to mush.
I laughed, tucked under his arm. “So then you broke in.”
“Hey, I didn't break in. Key was in the same ol’ place.”
But that's about the only thing that's stayed the same… I quietly observed the way his face changed as his eyes roamed the room.
“I didn't mean to scare you,” he said, squeezing me back to his side. “I figured I'd take a look around, make sure you still lived here, and then wait for you outside.”
Arms around his waist, I tilted my head to catch his expression. “And…?”
“And then I saw the picture frames,” he finishes softly. He looked back at me, eyes melancholy for all he's missed. “We have two boys now?”
My breathing hitched. He doesn't even know our youngest. I nodded, unable to imagine how he feels right now – unable to give a title to my own confused emotions.
“His name is Christopher,” I whispered. “He's almost three.”
Our son’s namesake repeated the shared given name, shaking his head. “I don't know what to say… Tell me about him.”
“That could take awhile.” I smiled, resting my cheek against Chris’ shirt still damp with my tears. “He talks enough to make a saint’s head hurt, and Titus…” I trailed off as a wave of realization swept over me, jerking my head up. “Oh my goodness, the boys!”
Chris’ arms fell away from my shoulders. “What's wrong?”
“The boys,” I began again. “I thought someone had broken in, so I sent them back to the car.”
He visibly winced. “I'm sorry, Julie, for scaring you like that.”
“You don't need to apologize.” I hugged him again. “I'm going to go get the boys, okay?”
Chris nodded, forcing a nervous smile. “It’ll be awkward for awhile, but I'd like to see them.” He cocked his head to the right. “And I'll, uh, clean that glass up so no one gets hurt.”
I figured that was just something to do before being reuniting with his boys – meeting one for the first time – but I just nodded. Kissing his cheek, I reluctantly released my hold on my husband. “Don't go nowhere.”
He grinned, but it didn't reach his eyes – his eyes that didn't meet mine. “Don't worry; I'll be here.”
I moved away from him and across the room. I was nearly to the doorway when Chris stepped forward and grabbed my arm. “Julie, wait.”
I turned back. “Yeah?”
He glanced down at our entwined fingers and released my hand, as if distancing himself from me.
My eyes jumped from his hand to his face. “Chris, what–” But he cut me off.
“Three years is a long time. If it would be easier for you and the boys to not make this adjustment, I'll leave right now, and you won't hear from me again. The boys don't even have to know.”
My heart dropped to my stomach at what he was suggesting. Oh Chris, don't… But I fell in love with him all over again knowing he would do whatever I asked in this situation – that he would sacrifice raising his sons if it was deemed in their best interest.
With staggering steps, I moved back across the room to him. “Don't you dare walk away from us again.”
I was hardly through speaking when he tugged me back into his arms, cupping his hand against my hair. By that time, my tears were replenished and spilling down my face again. I pressed my face into his shirt, my heart still hurting from his words. Could he really walk away so easily?
“We need you, Chris.” My words are muffled against his shirt. “I need you, the boys need you. We need to be a family and–” I halted, shoulders trembling.
“Sshh, don't cry. That's all I need to know. I won't bring it up again…promise.”
Promise… The word brought unbidden memories flooding into my mind. My mind flashed back to the airport where Titus and I said goodbye to Chris before deployment. I had confided in him the night before that I was worried, scared for his safety. When he released me for the final time and shouldered his bag, I knew he was thinking of those words.
“I'll be back,” he had said, smiling at me. “I promise.”
“I’m not sure how good you are at keeping promises,” I whispered in the stillness of the living room.
He continued to hold me and didn't answer, but I knew he heard me. I winced, recalling the harshness of my words.
“I'm sorry, Chris.” I pulled away and sought out his face. “I didn't mean that the way it sounded.”
“I know you didn't.” He leaned in and kissed my cheek. “I'm sorry for all you've been through.” A darling twinkle brightened his eyes. “And I did come back.”
I grinned, leaning back into his shoulder. “You're only two years late.”
A moment of silence passed before he spoke again.
“Go get our boys.”
This time when I drew back from his embrace and started across the room, his face was serious. But his eyes met mine, and when he smiled at me so did they.
Hope you enjoyed! Check back next week for part two, along with the Pinterest image that inspired this story! :)
P.S. Yes, I'm aware that I have one-million-and-thirteen comments that haven't been replied to. I'll get to that...soon. XD