Gianna sat in her living room before a shoebox filled with memories and stared at an old, taped together letter. Anxiety scrambled after fear, chasing horror along the byways of her mind. How could he have done such a thing? But now she knew—for once and for all—she had done the right thing.
The screen door squeaked open. Her youngest, Janie raced into the room followed by her hyper-excited pup, tracking newly mown grass across the floor. “Mom! Guess what! There’s a new cat in the neighborhood. It’s black and white so I’m calling it Moonie.”
After dropping the letter onto a stack of family photos, Gianna shoved the box into a wooden cabinet and shut the door. She prayed that she could do the same with the images filling her mind.
Pup raced around the room, dove onto the couch, and flopped down, her tongue lolling. Janie laughed and joined her partner in crime.
In perfect imitation of a miffed prison guard, Gianna crossed her arms, peered down at the two innocents, and growled, “Think you can wander in here carrying all outdoors with you, eh? Suppose you’ll be expecting lunch, too, no doubt.”
With some kind of child’s extra-sensory perception, Janie scrunched her nose and tilted her head, listening for a hidden something.
Gianna relaxed her pose, returning to ordinary-mom.
Happy again, Janie tipped back her head and boldly proclaimed her really important news, “Dad says he wants grilled cheese, chips, and pickles for lunch.”
Gianna rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen, glad for the distraction. “Oh, yeah? He wants your favorite lunch?” She hunched her shoulders in dejection. “And here I planned on liver and gizzards with a side dish of boiled onions. Oh, gee. I never get what I want.”
Janie and her sidekick bounced off the couch and followed in close proximity, perhaps to make double-sure that mom hadn’t gone to the dark side. She even scooted to the refrigerator and yanked out the cheese package just to be safe.
The puppy lapped up a bowl of water, while Janie propped her head on her hands, sitting at the kitchen counter, her eyes following her mom’s every move.
Pushing every thought away, except how to make extra-good grilled cheese sandwiches, Gianna performed mom-magic and prepared a delicious, healthy lunch just in time for her husband to tromp in, stomping a pile of cut grass and weeds on the doormat.
Matt looked up sheepishly. “Sorry, but I had to do a lot of cutting, or we’d need a compass and a map to get through the backyard.”
A waterfall of gratitude sluiced Gianna from head to foot. She could barely get out her words. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
With a perplexed frown, Matt peeled off his shoes, padded in his grungy socks across the room, eyed the lunch spread, and shot a hi-five to his daughter.
Pup slept curled up in her corner. A perfect picture of creature comfort.
Gianna sat next to her husband, and they clasped hands as they said grace over the meal, their heads bowed. Then everyone dug in, filling their plates. Suddenly, the imaged of the torn and taped letter flooded Gianna’s mind. Choking back a sob, she ran out of the room.
The July sun finally released the day, and dark coolness settled over the bedroom as Gianna readied for bed.
Matt hadn’t said anything since she had told him to leave her in peace for a bit. She had cried for over an hour, and her eyes were still puffy at dinner time.
Matt had taken Janie to his parents’ house where they fed the assortment of dogs, cats, and hummingbirds awaiting their return from Mount Rushmore. He had simply offered a quick kiss on Gianna’s cheek and roared off with a squealing-happy Janie down the road.
Alone in the house, Gianna pulled out the old shoebox and tipped it upside down. She spread out the photographs, putting them into chronological order: her parents wedding photo, her brother’s fifth birthday party, Thanksgiving with Grandmother and Papa, her sister’s third birthday party, Christmas with Aunt Selina. Her baptism. Everyone had looked so happy, smiling so bright for the camera.
There were no photos of the fights, the drunken spells, the rampages. No copy of the divorce decree. Only the one letter. Torn into pieces. It had been taped so that the edges matched, and the words, though dim, were clear enough to read.
“I love you…”
Gianna plunked down on the edge of her bed, her gaze straying to the fireflies sparkling just outside the window.
Matt padded in and sat down next to her, their shoulders touching. “You ready, yet?”
She nodded, tears filling her raw eyes again. “He loved her. He really did. And I never knew.”
“This has to do with that box you found at your mom’s, doesn’t it?”
She nodded. “All the old photos and a love letter—from dad to mom.”
Matt didn’t shrug or murmur. He just clasped his hands, his head bowed, listening.
“I never knew them as a happy couple. I only knew the fights and all the nasty stories they told about each other. When Dad died, mom seemed relieved. She never once said a kind word about him. When she died, I only grieved for what I’d never known.”
Matt cleared his throat, pausing, parsing his words carefully. “It bothers you that he once loved her? That they loved each other—long ago? Like maybe that’ll happen to us?”
Gianna glanced over and saw a wrinkle of concern on her husband’s forehead. “No. Not that. I understand that what tore them apart is on them. It’s not us.” She sniffed back her pain and straightened. “No, what got me was that despite everything, I still believed in marriage. I dared to hope.” She took her husband’s hand and caressed the ring on his finger. “By some miracle, we did what they couldn’t.”
Matt nodded and clasped her hand in his. “Or wouldn’t.” He stood and led her to the bed, pulling the soft sheet back and letting her slide under the coolness. He leaned over and wiped away the last vestige of a tear. “What’ll you do with the letter?”
She sighed as she leaned back on the pillow, expectantly awaiting her husband at her side. “I’ll put it away. After all, they had their chance.”
Matt climbed into bed and wrapped his arms around her.
Gianna snuggled in close. “Now it’s my turn.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page