“Morning mom – Happy Thanksgiving!”
“How’s my sweet boy this morning? Happy Thanksgiving to you too.” he heard her voice and smiled. He should have called over the years and regretted it. Now, he was here and they would be celebrating again without him. He took a deep breath and sighed.
“Actually, I could use some help. Do you have a few minutes to talk? I just don’t understand women and Lily’s perfect but…”
“John,” his mother’s voice chided through the phone. “It was your first date. You are a stranger, what did you expect? You didn’t think she’d fall into your arms and profess love, did you? We girls need time, attention and understanding. You might be completely in love with this young girl, but she may still be processing all this attention from you. If I know you, you probably pulled out all of the bells and whistles, didn’t you? I helped you with your science fair projects and homework, remember? You can’t fool me.” The phone got silent for several moments before she spoke again. “She is going to see you again, isn’t she, or were you too intense? Like I said, I know you and you’re a force to be reckoned with when you want something.”
“We are supposed to meet and spend the day together,” he admitted, glancing at his watch. “And yes, I was trying to impress her. Mom, I think I love her.”
“I’m happy for you, sweetie -but you didn’t tell her that last night, did you?”
“No, I didn’t breathe a word. I mean, I know it’s too soon and we’ve only just really met but I feel like I know who she is on the inside, the real Lily.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she interrupted. “Word of advice: be yourself. Don’t mention love or she’ll hightail it out of there. Have fun, laugh with her, hold her hand and enjoy the fact that you are there building a relationship with a woman you care for. This isn’t an attack or a raid, you aren’t in Afghanistan anymore. You are in another foreign territory that can hurt you worse if you love her already. Be patient – remember your scripture and draw guidance from it: love is patient, love is kind.”
“You’re the best. Have I told you I love you, Ma?”
“Not today, but a mother never tires of hearing it. I love you too, sweetheart. Now, have fun with Lily today. Be yourself, John, and let her fall in love with who you are.” John murmured his thanks and reassured her that he would call again soon. Hanging up the phone, he texted Lily a simple message to tell her he would bring coffee and be there soon. He hurried and got into the shower, dressing casually for the day. She mentioned the parade, football game and that she’d cook something, so he assumed it would be the two of them only.
Be yourself,his mother had said. If he was himself over the last few years he would be laying in a bunk, in camo, and steeling his heart against the pain of missing out on life. He wanted a normal life more than anything in the world right now and he could see that when he looked at Lily. It was crazy, insane and beautiful at the same time. He could see walking the mall with her, opening Christmas presents with her, sitting beside her at church or coaching some sport for…
John felt hot tears of thankfulness spring to his eyes and let out a massive sigh staring up at the ceiling. Radar licked his hand and shoved her cold nose against his arm; she knew he was overwhelmed. He’d never dreamed of children before, but now, he felt like he was being gifted a second chance at life. He honestly yearned to hold a baby, knowing that it had some small part of him inside that would carry on. He’d fought for so long against even thinking of something so emotional, that he could barely fathom being someone’s father, much less part of a family. He wanted to build a life and create a home – a home with the woman that had reached deep into his soul and reminded him what life was like, what it could be like if he chose to pursue it.Please God, don’t let me mess this up,he prayed silently.
Stopping at the grocery on his way to Lily’s home, he ignored the chaos of people getting last minute things swirling around him. He focused on his goal: he wanted to surprise his girl with flowers and coffee. He saw several holiday bouquets staged in empty pumpkins to be used as a centerpiece, but it just wasn’t it. He found a bright coral bouquet of roses and smiled. It reminded him of her, vibrant and wonderful. Grabbing two cups of coffee, he drove to the older part of town and saw the quaint tiny houses that had so much character. Beautiful, little homes that had personality.
Her house was at the end of the road and he knew it immediately. It was dotted with English ivy along the stone wall and a massive climbing rose that encapsulated an arbor beside the house. It looked like an entrance to heaven with the red brick path that had aged over the years. Her home was perfect, just like her. Some people might see it as needing updating or overgrown, but to him it was just as God intended, creating a haven or sanctuary of beauty.
Pulling into the driveway, he saw that the front door was opened, the screen allowing a breeze through the home. He could smell cinnamon sweetness as he stepped forward to the stoop.Spicy cinnamon apples,he thought and felt his mouth water at the thought of them. Rations were edible, occasionally they’d get something really tasty – but this smelled divine. She’d mentioned waffles and he was picturing them covered in cinnamon apples with melted butter in place of a sticky syrup. He gave a small rap on the screen door with his knuckles and felt his heart surge at seeing her.
Lily’s hair was in a ponytail and she was dressed very simply. A large football t-shirt came to mid-thigh and he saw she’d worn leggings. He marveled at the shapely form and found his heart hammering as the thought of instantly holding her or touching her burst forth in his mind.Slow it down, he thought,listen to your mom and be yourself!Don’t go charging in and push her if she isn’t ready.
“Good morning,” she told him happily and spotted the roses. She accepted them with a shy smile. He loved the faint blush that tinted her cheeks and would give anything at that moment to read her mind. “C’mon in, I just turned the TV on and waffles are almost ready. Are you hungry?”
“I wasn’t until I got a whiff of whatever you are cooking. Is that apples?”
“Oh yes, my mother and grandmother loved fried buttery apples on waffles – have you ever tried it? It’s quite a treat and takes a bit of time, but when they are cooked up just right? They are spectacular and better than any of that canned stuff,” she said confidently and walked back to the kitchen. He found himself staring as she walked and squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to be on his best behavior. He knew he loved her but lusting after her, would not win her heart.
“I remember having waffles with apples at IHOP when I was a kid. I don’t think I’ve had them since. I can’t wait to try them,” he told her truthfully and brushed his shoes off on the entryway rug. “I brought you some coffee.”
“Perfect. I’m glad you decided to spend the day. No one should be alone on a holiday, don’t you agree? Kick off your shoes and get comfy. I’ll finish up and if you want, Radar can play out back. I had bought a few dog toys to mail out, but then…well you’re here now,” her voice dropped off and he instantly kicked himself, knowing it must have been hard for her as well to have no word.
“I’m so sorry, I should have called,” he began and walked behind her to the kitchen, only to see her lovely face wince, just before she turned away. He felt a burning sickness in his stomach suddenly knew what had been wrong last night, what she’d been holding back. “Lily?” he began and reached out to touch her shoulder, only to see her duck away.
“Breakfast is almost ready, just a moment more.” John felt his heart hammer as her voice didn’t have the same enthusiasm as before; he’d messed up and she was hurting. He’d hurt her by not calling.
“Have a seat and I’ll bring it to you,” she mumbled, making him feel like a complete louse. He grasped her on both shoulders and turned her around, his face cupping her chin as he looked at her. Sure enough, he saw the surprise in her eyes and the hurt, the betrayal, the simmering temper boiling just under the surface. Good, he wanted that passion. That meant she cared.
“You’re right,” she burst out bluntly, a fat tear slid down her cheek. “You should have called and I didn’t intend to spend the day being upset with you after such a beautiful, perfect evening but you could at least sound like you cared, like you missed me or regretted hurting me. I thought you might have died when I didn’t hear from you for weeks on end. The silence was killing me,” she stormed, getting onto her bare tiptoes and poking him in the chest. “You called as much as possible -and then suddenly nothing! What was I supposed to think?”
“I had so much to do to get my life in order, to come home…” he began and was interrupted quickly, almost making him grin at the spirited fury that made her eyes crackle with rage.
“Iwas part of your life, wasn’t I? I could have helped you prepare to come back or you could have trusted me with at least knowing you were okay.”
“I know I am, because that is what friends do! They talk, they help…”