“So I thought Dad was joking when he first told me.” She shakes her head, red hair flying out around her like spray from a fountain. “I don’t know why – his face was SO serious. Like he was scared my husband was already dead.”
I sit across from my best friend at my dilapidated makeshift dining table. The last time I saw her so vulnerable was the day she came to me with a blue tipped stick in her hand. I had known less about what to do than she had, but the flicker of hope in her eyes beneath the fear had convinced me to stand by her. What I remember most as I stare into her troubled blue eyes is that same flicker.
“And you haven’t heard anything since?” I ask now, resting my elbows squarely on the table and leaning forward. I ignore its groaning protest. Despite its much battered appearance, it hasn’t fallen yet. I pray every day that it continues to stand.
“Three weeks, and he hasn’t called back.” She lets out a sigh and follows my lead. The table protests again, but a sharp kick to the folding leg keeps it from collapsing. Maybe it will hold up until she leaves. I hope so. “But a bomb went off near where he called from – Sadie told me that. I’m sure that’s what cut him off.”
“But no one’s seen him since?” I can’t help asking. Call me nosy, call me crazy, but I have an obsession with questions. And, judging by the way my friend is glaring at me now, I know it cut deep.
“Oh, people have seen him.” She laughs bitterly. “But he hasn’t called.”
“Four weeks ago, you didn’t want to talk to him.” I have to point out that she had been avoiding his calls. Ironic, really. Now she wants to talk – when he doesn’t.
“Four weeks ago, this was a routine deployment.” She shakes her head, this time in disgust, as her hair flies out again. “Nothing dangerous, outside of your typical war zone intrigues.”
I have to choke back a bitter laugh as I continue to stare at her. Until that last phone call, she hadn’t wanted to talk to him. She filed for divorce AFTER he left. Now, she wants to talk?
“You haven’t read the email, then.” Somehow, I manage to get the words out. He sent it to me, too, and asked me to make sure she doesn’t get hysterical. Since she hasn’t gotten there yet, I can be sure she hasn’t read yet.
“No.” She shrugs. “And I can’t, Libs.”
Left unspoken is what I already know – that she won’t have hope. And that hope? It has to be one of the most important things in her life right now. Hope that her husband will come home alive. Hope that her daughter is well and happy. I know it is what gets her up in the morning and gets her it through the day. She is right. She can’t read the email now. It will destroy her.
“You would know more about what’s going on,” I offer weakly. I don’t think she’ll buy it. She’s already made up her mind not to read it.
“But do I want to know?” She leans forward, settling her elbows on the table again, and my table groans in protest. Hold on, baby, I can’t help thinking. Hold on a little bit longer.
“I’d think so, the way you’re obsessing over it.” I don’t bother to move right now, out of fear that my table will fall. “Just read it.”
“Maybe later.” She gets up from the table, and I breathe a sigh of relief when it doesn’t fall. Here’s to hope…
“Whatever.” At this time point I shrug and get up, too. I miss the warning signs until it’s too late, and can only watch as the table clatters to the floor.
From the doorway, my so-called friend laughs. “Well, at least there’s more hope for my marriage than your table.”
She slips out the door before I can pick up my napkin holder and throw it. My sigh as I survey the damage is one of resignation. She is right, though. My friend has more hope for her marriage than I do for my table. As long as she acts on it instead of divorcing her husband, I’ll live with this worn out table. Despite its brokenness, it gives me hope for the future, too.
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