After mentioning a short story, I'd written, "Cracks in My Heart," during my August interview with Linda Carroll-Bradd, I received a few emails asking where it had appeared. The story was featured in Long and Short Reviews in July 2010. LASR, at one time, had a feature called the "Thrifty Thursday" short story showcasing fiction shorts of 1,000 words or less.
Since "Cracks in My Heart" takes place in Autumn, and tomorrow is "Veterans Day," I thought today would be a wonderful day to post the story. My hero is a member of the United States Armed Forces. This is one of my favorite stories. Many thanks to all who have asked for it.
And, to all our Vets out there, a huge, heartfelt "thank you," for your service to our country.
CRACKS IN MY HEART
The red and gold leaves, blazing bright, swayed in the afternoon autumn breeze. Children romped in the tailored green grass. Patrons sat on wooden park benches, eating lunch, reading, or simply enjoying the sun’s rays.
Seeing the oak tree, its thick branches hanging over the iron fence onto the busy sidewalk, I managed a smile despite the usual tears blurring my eyes. Jeff and I had always sat on the bench beneath this particular old tree.
A low sigh escaped my lips as I slid onto the firm bench. My thoughts wandered, and it was two years ago. I felt Jeff sitting beside me, our thighs pressed together. He held my right hand, our fingers laced.
"I’m sorry," he uttered. "Our relationship has to end. I can’t go fight a war and leave you here, alone. Waiting. You deserve better."
We had only been dating two months when his notice arrived from the military.
"But I want to wait," I told him.
He shook his head. "No," he said, his tone adamant. "It’s not fair to you. You ought to have a life. There’s a guy out there who deserves a great woman like you. Promise me you’ll move on. Forget about me."
Forget him, he said. How could I forget a man so kind and honest? The man who made my heart race, my pulse rush, and my cheeks ache from grinning? Who made sitting in the park watching children play, tossing peanuts to squirrels, and hearing birds whistle a memorable experience? Forget him was like asking me to forget to breathe.
I had learned how steadfast he could be when he had a conviction in his head. He couldn’t concentrate on the hardship of a battle zone, defending his country while thinking of me at home, yearning, and waiting for letters that he perhaps would have no time to write.
And what if he didn’t come home? At all? Or arrived in a box with a flag draped over it? Or came back with a part of his body missing? Or his mind not fully functional?
Those factors were sometimes the heartrending outcome of war.
We had yet to say the words, and I wouldn’t pressure him with them now. Despite the short time the calendar said we’d been together, we loved each other.
Jeff believed you didn’t burden people you love.
I believed that when you love someone, pain was sometimes part of the deal.
"All right," I said, slipping my hand from his. Even as I felt the cracks in my heart, I wished him well. With tears stinging my eyes that day, I watched him walk away.
Much has changed in those two years since Jeff and I sat under this oak tree together. The war has ended. Some soldiers were coming home, adjusting to a life that would never be the same as before they had left. Others would never return. For those soldiers, it was their families who would be forced to make the adjustment.
I finished college and am teaching sixth grade. Some day this war will be in the history book I’ll teach from. I wonder how our side will be chronicled, and how I’ll feel every time I present the lesson, knowing that I had lived through history and what it had taken from me.
What hadn’t changed, what remained over time, were those cracks in my heart. They hadn’t healed. Tears streamed down my cheeks.
"Susan?" a male voice called.
My breath stopped. Jeff’s voice? Or was it my imagination? I began trembling. I was afraid to turn, fearing he wouldn’t be there. That his voice was all in my head and only a fantasy.
My head swirled toward the park’s front gate. His dark hair was cropped. He had dropped some weight, his jeans baggy, his chest lost in the khaki green T-shirt he wore. But the slow, leisurely smile that made me tingle inside hadn’t disappeared.
"Jeff!" I cried, swiping at my tear-stained cheeks with the back of a hand.
I jumped up from the bench. We ran toward each other, he with arms held wide open. I couldn’t help myself and threw myself against him. His arms wrapped around my waist, pulling me close and holding me tight. Jeff was gentle, yet strong, and everything I had dreamed of all these months. Only now he wasn’t a dream. He was real.
"You‘re home," I whispered.
"A week," he said. "I’ve been coming here every day looking for you." He eased back and looked at me. "I missed you so much." His eyes held mine and he blurted out the words. "Are you seeing anybody?"
I was stunned by the question, but couldn’t help the smile as I shook my head. "I’ve thought of you every day while you were gone. Sometimes, like today, I’d just come here and think of us being together."
With the back of his hand, he rubbed my cheek "I love you, Susan. I have since the day we met."
"If you love me, why didn’t you want me to wait?" I asked.
"Because by not asking, I had hope. That’s what kept me going," he said. "If I had asked you to wait, there was always the chance you’d get tired. I’d get the letter saying you had found someone else and we were finished. By not expecting you to wait, I always had the anticipation that you would be here when I got back."
"There’ll never be anyone else for me. You’re the one I love," I whispered.
When my arms slid around his neck, he pulled me closer and kissed me. His mouth was warm and soft. As he deepened the kiss, I got lost in him.
And the cracks in my heart began to heal.
Thank you to Jody at "Words of Wisdom from The Scarf Princess" for hosting last week's stop on "Magic Moment First Anniversary Celebration."
Visit Jody, http://wowfromthescarfprincess.blogspot.com
Tomorrows' stop on the tour is "Book Bliss."
Have a great week, Everyone!