There was an uneasy silence that filled the dimly lit living room, tension as thick as the smoke that trailed from lips of a man that should have been reveling in the joys of returning home.
Turmoil and distress should have been a distant thought, left behind in the barren and burned fields of a country on the other side of the world. Those woes separated from the ones he’d walked away from just a few short years before.
He should have been celebrating, starting anew with what health and mobility he’d been able to retain. Safe in the company of family and friends. Safe in the arms of the woman that’d stood beside him through it all, making great sacrifices of her own.
But, with a now empty home, and no one to intrude or interrupt the things that needed to be said; what semblance of peace he thought he’d felt upon his return had faded.
Soft static from the record player that rested across the room made it known that the record they’d thrown on had come to an end, prompting the lady of the house to stand. Nervously, she rubbed her hands down the front of her apron, taking slow steps.
“Anything particular you wanna hear? Anybody you weren’t able to hear overseas?” He shook his head, advising that she’d been making great choices all evening, to go with whatever she liked most. Soon, the soulful sounds of Gladys Knight & The Pips filled the small space. It did nothing to cut the tension.
Toying at the curls she wore, Lisa said what they both were thinking. “Coming back didn’t feel as great as it should have, huh?”
“No, not at all.”
“I saw the way you were staring all night, Gregory. And there’s this one particular type of glare you’ve tossed my way a few times. Almost as if the sight of me sickens you now.”
Putting out his cigarette in the ashtray that rested on the coffee table before him, Gregory took a long moment before he responded. “You’re as beautiful as the day I left Lisa. Prettiest thing I’ve seen in years.”
“I don’t mean in that regard.”
It’d been pounded into Lisa’s head from day one by the elder women and wives in their small community. He ain’t here, but keep yourself up for that man. He’s gonna want something pretty to look at when he comes back from all of that ugly. On that front, she was not worried, not that looks could keep a man anyway.
“I don’t know what look you mean then, Dear. If it’s because I haven’t smiled much, right now that’s just something I can’t help.”
He’d smiled more than enough. Perhaps, for Lisa, there wasn’t a way she’d be able to explain it. She’d try anyhow. “It’s as if you’re here, you’re home, but you’re not with me, not your heart.” And if she had to take it a step further, it felt as if he’d been looking at her and envisioning someone else’s face.
Gregory let out a deep sigh. “I guess I can imagine that look now, kind of like the ones you were giving, not at me but over my shoulder.” And while he couldn’t pinpoint which man it was, he felt that someone who’d entered their home tonight had in some way captured his wife’s affections.
Up until this point, Lisa had not turned to face her husband, ashamed of all the thoughts that ran through her head. She felt foolish. How could she, in a roundabout way, accuse him of cheating when she felt she’d done the same.
“I guess the only thing to do is figure out how far things have gone.”
She looked at him then, tears filling her eyes. “And if one of us has gone too far?”
“Can either of us really be mad? Could we really have expected anything different?” He didn’t, though he did hope to come home and they’d both act as if nothing happened, as if nothing had changed.
Everything had changed, and drastically.
No doubt, it was the standards women were held to that made Lisa feel more guilt than she probably should have, but she decided to go first. To get it all off of her chest.
It had only been within the last year and a half, about the same amount of time since she’d last heard from Gregory before his return. Correspondence between the two of them ending in a series of angry letters, with her last few going unanswered, and she’d begun to think he didn’t care to keep trying at such a great distance.
She’d settled with herself to just remain patient and wait, for a telegram… a call… anything. Nothing came. And then one day, into the diner where she’d been working to support herself walked a fast-talking salesman that didn’t seem to mind flirting back and forth with a soldier’s wife.
It was a bit of playful bantering, a bit of attention that she didn’t realize she’d missed and craved. It began with his daily visits, her constant refusals to entertain the ideas of a date or anything more. And then one night, angry at the thought of what Gregory might be doing a world away, she agreed to one little date.
It won’t hurt, and it didn’t. And neither did any of the others that followed. The salesman was attentive, doting, respectful. He made her feel alive, made her feel wanted and loved. And while he had no qualms or shame in admitting he was head over heels in love with Lisa, he respected that she could not fully make a life with him without proper closure. He said he’d wait for her, no matter how long it took, and he was doing just that. There’d been nothing more than stolen kisses here and there, fireside cuddles on the nights sadness occupied her emotions, and endless love letters and poems.
And while Gregory probably thought this man was in their home tonight, he was not. But Lisa wished he were. The comfort she wished for now was not from her husband, but from the other man.
For Gregory, it’d begun long before the angry letters back and forth between he and Lisa. Some drunken nights that he’d initially felt regret over. Something to satisfy the urges he felt from time to time in the different places he found himself. And then came one woman in particular. A nurse that had come to his aid within the last few moments of his time at war. Someone that offered much needed comfort, compassion. Someone that offered relief and refuge from the darkness surrounding them. Someone that offered a new sense of peace, a type of joy he hadn’t felt since the early days of his youth.
Originally, he’d settled with himself that he would return home, admit his faults and pray that Lisa would forgive him. Pray that they could work through their problems and move forward to repair their marriage. After all, they’d said for better or worse, and both agreed that divorce would never be an option.
But just like Lisa and her salesman, there’d been tender moments between Gregory and his nurse that he wouldn’t be able to shake no matter the distance. And while there weren’t as many as the ones Lisa had experienced in her new love, Gregory knew that this nurse had taken residence in his heart and she wasn’t letting go. She too had decided to wait, however long it took.
“Do you love him?”
Lisa nodded slowly. “Very much. And I still love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore. I don’t think I have been for a long time.”
Gregory looked into Lisa’s eyes, offering a bit of reassurance in a smile. “I feel like we could have resolved this a lot sooner if I hadn’t been an ass and replied to one of those last letters, huh?”
“I think I let that be the sign to let go a little, I just didn’t think I’d be in the right if I went off and did what my heart wanted. Felt wrong.”
“Everything feels so wrong, but when the heart wants what it wants-“
“Do you love her?”
Gregory looked into his wife’s eyes, making his admission. “And at first, I thought to just stay over there. But like you, I didn’t think that’d be right. Not to just leave you hanging on and waiting around for nothing.”
Taking a few steps forward, Lisa did something she never thought she would. Removing her wedding band, she placed it on the table beside Gregory’s ashtray. “Maybe these second chances at love will treat us both better.”
“I hope so.”
Excusing herself, Lisa headed towards her bedroom to pack a few things. In the morning she’d be gone, starting over.