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(this work belongs to Brynn Paulin and cannot be duplicated without permission)
“Where is he?” Maddie asked after she’d stopped in the kitchen to greet her in-laws.
“In the field. By the back fence.”
Maddie nodded. It was where she and Spencer, her husband, had often spent time when they’d been dating. It seemed decades ago now, when in truth it was only eight years since they’d married. He’d drawn away since she’d been deployed overseas. In a nightmare, almost worse than the war, he’d stopped communicating. He didn’t answer the phone or email or regular mail. There had just been silence.
When she’d called his parents to assure herself nothing had happened to him, they couldn’t explain his distancing. In fact, they seemed genuinely perplexed that their son who loved Maddie so much would sink into “radio silence”.
The wind whipped at her dress as she crossed the field. After sickening disappointment when he hadn’t met the plane, she’d stopped at their apartment to change before heading over here. It had been spotless, almost as if he hadn’t been living there.
In the distance, she saw his tawny hair as he sat in the dried grass. Her heart thumped with excitement at seeing him, yet ached with the pain he’d dealt her. Why, Spencer? Why did you do this?
He didn’t move as he sat there. He didn’t even jump as she crouched behind him and gave him a hug. One hand came up to cover one of hers, but he kept staring into the distance, disconnected save for the distant touch.
She didn’t bother with “I missed you”, “I love you” or anything long-parted lovers might say. “What’s wrong?” she asked. This wasn’t the man she’d left behind.
“I couldn’t tell you,” he said quietly. The dull, sadness permeating his words penetrated to her soul. His fingers tightened on her. “It was just too hard to not say it, to pretend… Not when you were over there and had bigger things to worry about.”
“Pretend what?” she asked desperately. Fear twisted with the pain.
He shook his head and she shook him.
“I’m sick,” he said. “Cancer. But they think I’ll be okay—”
“What!” She crawled in front of him, hysteria clawing up her spine and into her throat. “What?” she demanded. “How could you not tell me this? What the hell, Spencer!”
She trembled with all the rampaging feelings that tore through her, and he reached out and pulled her into his lap. She curled against his chest, comforted by his strong arms around her. He kissed her temple, her shoulder, her neck.
“I couldn’t,” he whispered. “I needed to be strong while you were over there. Then… well, I knew you’d know—you’d hear it in my voice—so I figured pissing you off would be better. If you’d gotten hurt because you were distracted by worrying—”
“Distracted by anger is so much better? And for your information, jerk, I was still worried,” she added softly. She kissed his jaw then pressed her forehead into his neck. “What kind of cancer?” she asked.
“Gastrointestinal. In the small intestine. They think they got it all. I’m doing radiation.”
“And your parents don’t know? Spencer!” Her husband had gone through this and not told her? Not told anyone? She cursed the military for activating her reserve unit. She should have been here for him.
“My doctor’s very hopeful about my prognosis,” he assured her.
“You better be doing all you can to get better, mister,” she rasped, her throat tight with reaction. “I did not live to come home and live without you.”
His arms tightened and he leaned backward, until they were both laying on the grass. He held Maddie cuddled to his side. She closed her eyes, inhaling the scent of the field and his spicy cologne.
“It scared the hell out of me,” he told her. “Still does. I couldn’t imagine how helpless you would have felt being over there and knowing.”
She closed her eyes. Her face pressed into his shoulder.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here,” he told her. “I felt close to you.”
She smiled. This was their field. Their place.
“I think we should build that house here that we’ve always talked about,” she said. “Lord, knows your parents would be thrilled. They’ve wanted that for years.”
“Are you sure? It’s not the city.”
“I’m sure,” Maddie answered, surprised at how this conversation had turned around. “I’d be with you. That’s all I’ve really wanted.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t meet the plane,” Spencer said suddenly. He pushed her onto her back and rose over her. “I better stick around for awhile, huh. I have a lot of ass-ness to make up for.”
“Damn straight, mister. Don’t ever clam up on me again.”
“I’m so glad you’re home.” As he lowered his head and their lips met, the grass of the field swayed around them. The peace of the place sent a healing balm through her raw emotions. She and Spencer had a lot to deal with, but right here, right now, she had no doubt everything would be just fine.
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