Damn, it felt good to be home. After nearly six years of training and back to back deployments, Kevin Murphy was glad to be home. Still, everything was both familiar and different. He drove past stores and homes that he recognized, but some of the people were different. A small town like this in the middle of no-where Tennessee was like that, people either drifted in and stayed for good or they kept ongoing. But a few things had changed. A few new stores had been added, and some others had disappeared. When he pulled up onto the gravel driveway of his family home his mom and dad rushed out to greet him, his momma-bear smothering him in hugs and kisses while his papa-bear gave him one, vice-like hug, before stepping back to look Kevin over.
“Kev, you’ve grown son. Look at you all filled out. I barely recognize you,” papa beamed with pride as his eyes roved over the many medals and ribbon racks pinned on Kevin’s left breast pocket. He’d worn his dress uniform just for them, but Kevin couldn’t wait to get changed. He was here on leave after all and couldn’t wait to settle down, grab a beer, and watch some shitty b-rate sci-fi movie with his papa like he always had. No early wake-up calls, no late-night shifts, no guard duty and no need to shave for twenty days.
After settling back into his old bedroom, Kevin jumped down the stairs and found his mom already on the phone, gabbing away with friends and sharing the good news of his arrival. With a wink she turned her back to him, and Kevin immediately knew that she was already planning some gathering. Rolling his eyes and shrugging Kevin stepped past her to settle on the sofa in the living room. The entire house had been decorated for the holiday. Lines of lighted garlands dressed the surface of every counter, the windows were laced with strings of lights and snowflake motifs, the tree had already been strung with ornaments, and beneath were several boxes of presents wrapped in colorful foil with giant ribbons. If he knew his momma at least one of those would be a hideous sweater she’d expect him to wear at least once. As he sat there, gazing around the room, the jet-lag finally hit, and he was soon snoozing away as his mom quietly planned their annual family party.
Stretching so high her back popped, Holly stepped out of the airport and into the waiting taxi. Her mom was working and couldn’t come to pick her up, but Holly was okay with that. It would give her some quiet time to unpack and do a little thinking. She had to decide what she was going to do with her life now that her Peace Corps contract was over. Two years in Uganda helping children to learn to read and write, she considered becoming an English teacher but worried about how she would pay for tuition. Her mom told her not to worry about that, to follow her dreams, but Holly still wasn’t sure if teaching was her dream. Traveling was undoubtedly a part of her dreams though.
The taxi drove through winding icy streets lined with trees bent and broken by snow. Holly couldn’t help but feel a little depressed, after being gone for so long she’d become used to sunshine, and her skin held a gentle tan that made her hair and eyes stand out all the more. With each bump in the road, Holly grew more tired. It had been a long flight. She was starting to nod off when her phone rang.
Fishing her cell out of her bag, she answered it, “Hello? This is Holly Jacobs,” she said as cheerily as she could. The voice on the other end of the line surprised her, “Oh, Mrs. Murphy…how are you?”
Holly was surprised that Mrs. Murphy knew her number, but the older woman quickly explained that she’d seen the girls’ mother at the market earlier that day and had learned that Holly was expected back today. Mrs. Murphy just knew she had to call Holly, “It’s Kevin, he’s home for the holiday! The first time in six years and were hosting a little get-to-together. You’ll come, right?”
Holly bit her lip; she hadn’t seen Kevin Murphy since he’d left her six years and four months ago if she remembered correctly. It was right after high school graduation. Holly had been dating Kevin for nearly two years, and she knew they were destined to be together; she could feel it in her heart. And so, it had shocked her, and everyone else, when a week before he left for Army boot camp, he broke up with her. Holly remembered all too well the tears she’d shed.
She’d cried for weeks. Her jaw clenched at the memory as tears began to push their way past her eyes, but at the same time, her heart fluttered with the chance at seeing him. It’d been six years. What did he look like? Was he married? Did he have kids? She wanted to ask those questions but chose not to.
“Mrs. Murphy, I don’t know. It’s been six years, and I don’t think that’d be a good idea. Besides I -”
The older woman cut her off, “Of course Kevin would want to see you, he wants to see everyone. He’s only here for a few weeks before he had to return. Dear, I think you should see him. Maybe finally clear the air up between you two?”
Holly pressed her lips into a line and then sighed, “Alright, I’ll come. Text me the deets, and I’ll be there,” she said. Mrs. Murphy was right. If anything, maybe she could finally talk to him and understand what happened all those years ago. Was it me? Was he really not in love with her as much as she was him? She’d had a few boyfriends since then, but none of them seemed to last. Was there something wrong with me? Her most recent boyfriend had lasted for nearly six months before he, too, broke up with her. Maybe she didn’t deserve love. Either way, she thought that perhaps talking it over with Kevin might give her some much-needed answers. After six long years, she would finally get some closure, and then maybe she could truly move on and accept her lot in life.
It wasn’t long after she’d hung up that her phone dinged with the time and date. It was tomorrow night. So soon? I hope I can muster up my courage by then, she thought with a yawn. As soon as she made it home, she collapsed on the sofa and fell asleep, exhausted.