“The Unspoken Us” (By DANIELLE NIEMUTH)
It had been almost four years, and they’d both been through a lot. For him, the transition back to civilian life had been a rough one; it was something he was trying to figure out still. Every day was a struggle, and sometimes he wondered what the point was. For her, after years of being “the strong one”, it was difficult to remember she was still a young woman and even more difficult to admit that she needed others. Through it all, despite not seeing each other in person for two years, they had never stopped talking. At times his seemingly constant references to their sexual past frustrated her to no end. After all this time was that all he thought of her? That she had been a good fuck? Why then did he keep in contact with her? Sure, they’d made plans to see each other, but those plans always had a way of falling through, usually because he’d back out last minute. Maybe she was being naïve. Maybe the part of her that knew she needed someone, hell even wanted someone, had twisted his words into something they weren’t. But there were times when he would tell her the sweetest things – that she was beautiful, both physically and as a person, that she had changed his life for the better, that she had made him want to be a better man. Such emotionally charged conversations with him had been few and far between in the beginning, but as they became more frequent, they gave her what was, perhaps a false hope, but it was hope. That was more than she had had in a long time, and she was damned if she wasn’t going to hold onto that glimmer for all she was worth.
After years of them both dancing around the subject, they finally had a straight forward conversation about the unspoken “us” that had held them together for almost four years. As she got up the courage to ask him if he’d ever thought of them making a go at a real relationship, she prepared herself for the worst. After a short moment that in her mind seemed like forever, he responded that he had thought about it. In fact, he’d thought about it several times. There was that glimmer of hope again, but as she read further, the glimmer began fading in and out. Sure he’d thought about it, and sometimes he even thought they could make it work. But even after all this time, he didn’t know. His last statement was, “As a soldier, if I don’t know, I don’t do. I wait.” That was the line that hit her, and she saw hope come into full view. At his core, he was a soldier. So what would she have to do? She’d have to figure out a way to pull rank on him.
It didn’t take much planning, really; it just took a bit more daring than she was used to having. He had been foolish enough to give her his address months ago. That combined with the birthday present she had bought him and never been able to get to him made the perfect plan. After asking him when he would be home under the guise of wanting to video chat, she prepared for the day, regardless of its outcome. Her outfit and makeup were easy enough. Her hair, however, had a habit of not cooperating when she wanted it to, but by some stroke of luck, after years of trying and countless failed attempts, on that day she got her hair to hold a decent curl. Surely the universe must be on her side! With that, she set out for the day, gift bag in hand. Her first stop was to a local bakery to pick up a birthday cupcake. That was her “excuse” for going down there. She was going to make the most of it, even if he disliked celebrating his birthday. Plugging his address into her GPS and tuning the radio to a desirable station, she began the hour and a half drive. The closer she got to his hometown, the more she began second guessing herself, her hands occasionally shaking in hesitation. It took some time, but she eventually convinced herself that this was something she had to do, and no matter what the outcome was, she would be proud of having done this for herself. She arrived at 6pm, and drove past his house, noticed the lack of lights with mild disappointment and drove back to a convenience store she’d seen on her way. About twenty minutes went by before she drove past his house again, and still no one was home. As she sat in the parking lot waiting for the second time that evening she thought to herself, “Good. Now you’ve gone full stalker mode. Surely that’s an attractive trait.”
And then he messaged her saying that he was on his way home. She felt the disappointment quickly being replaced by excitement. A short while later he sent her a second message, and she responded by asking if he was home. Knowing that he was home or he wouldn’t have messaged her a second time, she slowly drove her car back to his place and parked outside. Taking a deep breath and gathering his present and cupcake, she exited her car and made her way to his front door. One more deep breath, and she had knocked. The seconds ticked by and she fidgeted nervously waiting for him to answer. Then the door swung open, and at the sight of him, she couldn’t stop smiling. Even as she saw a moment of shocked anger cross his face while he exclaimed, “What the hell are you doing down here?” she was too excited to feel the least bit concerned. He stepped out of the house, wrapping her in the tightest hug she’d felt in a long time. Internally she breathed a sigh of relief because in the moment before he stepped out, she realized that he might just close the door on her. As his 6’4” frame smothered her in his hug, she managed to mutter, “I brought your birthday present,” in response to his question. He laughed slightly and ushered her inside, apologizing for the mess.
After changing his shirt, and shaking his head at her several times, he asked what she wanted to do. She was at a loss. What did he mean, what did she want to do? She just looked at him for a moment before saying she hadn’t planned on doing anything. As she said it she realized how silly that sounded, and he again laughed, asking if she thought he was just going to take the present and then send her home. Well no, she hadn’t thought that, but then, she hadn’t really planned or even thought about what would happen after she showed up on his doorstep unannounced. She proclaimed this to him with a bit of exasperation in her voice. Did he think this was easy for her, taking such a risk? She was reassured by another glimmer of hope, this time in the way he was looking at her, almost like he was in awe. Several hugs later, he decided that he least he could do was take her to dinner.
So off to dinner they went, sitting in silence much of the drive, but neither could keep from glancing at the other and smiling. The first minutes of dinner were spent in hesitant silence. But then they fell back into conversation, laughing and teasing each other as if it hadn’t been three and a half years since they’d shared a meal. An hour of conversation after they’d finished eating, they finally left the restaurant. He decided to drive her around town, showing her where he had gone to school and the different places he spent weekends as a kid with his grandparents. Winding through the streets lit with holiday lights, they eventually made their way back to his driveway.
As they began walking up the pavement, he pulled her against him, her cheek resting against his chest, and he placed his lips against the top of her head, holding her for a long time before pulling her face up to his for the first kiss they’d shared in two years. Her lips curled into a smile against his. This was the feeling she remembered, the one she missed. The feeling of being home in his arms. As he pulled his lips away from hers, he cupped her face in both his hands, his thumbs gently rubbing her cheeks, and he just looked at her. She could see all of the emotions passing over his face, his smile almost bittersweet, and she couldn’t help but frown slightly. Unable to muster her joyful smile again, she asked him what he was thinking. He opened his mouth to speak but stopped. His eyes closed for a moment and she felt him take a deep breath before he whispered, “I love you.” She was caught off guard, but despite not expecting him to say those words, only one thing crossed her mind, one thing that she’d felt for quite a while. “I love you, too.” He pulled her against him once more, and said, “I’ve loved you for a long time.” She simply replied with, “I know.”