Monica could tell something wasn’t right as soon as her hand made contact with the door knob. She was walking home from returning some books to the library–reading had quickly become her new favorite pass time–when she found her front door unlocked. With two women living in the house by themselves, the front door was never unlocked. Something wasn’t right.
She opened the door quietly and peeked her head in to see if Nina’s cloak and hat were hanging in their place by the entryway. They were not. Monica began to feel a tightness in her chest. The door hadn’t been forced open, so maybe Nina had somehow forgotten to lock the door on her way out. It wasn’t likely, Monica knew, but she was doing her best to avoid panicking.
Straightening her shoulders, she moved noiselessly into the front room and inched cautiously toward the hallway leading into the kitchen at the back of the house. She had yet to hear any sounds to indicate the presence of an intruder, but she realized the silence could just mean someone was hiding in wait for her. That made her heart quicken even more, and her hands began to tremble.
As her eyes made their way slowly around the corner into the small kitchen, she noticed something that made her heart sink. The back door was wide open. It wasn’t her imagination anymore. Something really was wrong!
Feeling fairly sure that the intruder wasn’t in the kitchen, she rushed to the kitchen window and peeked into the backyard. The door to the small workshop was standing open as well. That brought her to a halt.
Could it be? It wasn’t time! Surely not.
A mixture of anxiety and dread started to churn in her stomach, as she stood at the window and tried to decide what to do. Finally, deciding to go on the offensive, she rushed to the backdoor and locked it shut in one sweeping motion. She then doubled back to the front door and did the same with it.
Feeling a bit safer, she walked with renewed composure back to the kitchen window and waited to see who came out of the workshop. She looked through the window, and the door was shut! She blinked and looked again, then heard the handle of the backdoor being wriggled back and forth.
The door had a small window in it, and she could now see the silhouette of the intruder through the ivory curtain that hung over it. Monica’s heart was pounding again, and she grabbed the biggest knife in her kitchen. She crept over to the window and jerked the curtain aside holding the knife out in front of her face.
She screamed, “Get out of here, you…”
In the place of a stranger’s face, which she was expecting to see, she found a pair of bright, very surprised blue eyes and a familiar red beard. She could feel the blush of embarrassment on her cheeks almost before she realized who her mysterious intruder was.
“Olly! What are you doing home?!”
Monica’s husband looked back at her through the square window pane and his surprise slowly turned into a roaring laugh.
“Mind putting your weapon down and lettin’ a man into his own house?” He asked light-heartedly. He always managed to make everything better with his warm, contagious laugh.
Monica threw the knife aside and swung the door open wide. She stepped back to let Olly through, but he covered the space between them while she was still mid-step and completely enveloped her in his arms. She was taken aback, but found herself returning his embrace with complete abandon. She hadn’t been hugged like this in so long! In fact, she hadn’t had any human contact since the last time she…
The hug ended abruptly as Monica stiffened into an upright position, and pushed hastily away from Olly. She saw the confused pain of rejection cross his eyes, but pretended that all was normal, as she smoothed her hair back into place and put on a polite, plastic smile.
“How are you home already? We weren’t expecting you for another month.”
She was not ready. She hadn’t finished preparing her emotions for this. She hadn’t even begun clearing things up with Nina. How was she going to handle this? What would she say? Would Nina come in and reveal the truth before she had a chance to sort things out in her own mind?
She felt his eyes on her, but looked out the kitchen window into the backyard. “What were you doing in the workshop? Are you already planning to leave again?” Despite herself, she could only hope as much.
Monica knew she was being unduly harsh with her aloofness, but at the moment it was her only guard against coming completely undone right there on the spot. She managed to bring her eyes up to meet Olly’s, but knew instantly it had been a bad idea. She wanted to cry desperately, but she remained quiet and turned to face the kitchen.
“Can I get you something to eat? You must be hungry…” She reached for the bread drawer.
His reply came slow and steady. “Monica, I came home to stay.”
Her hand stopped, and she turned slowly to look at him. “What?”
“I’m home to stay. I’m done. I won’t be leaving you and Nina anymore. I’m…retired.”
She felt sick, and her voice started to rise. “Retired? Have you gone mad! How do you expect to retire when we’re broke? Are you dumb? We’re broke! Why would you quit your job when we don’t have any money? What really happened? Did you get fired?”
She was ranting now. “You can tell me, Olly. I can handle it. God knows I can pretty much take whatever you throw at me these days. Just say the word, and I’ll be fine, but don’t you dare lie to me one more time, Oliver Swarth! That is one thing I cannot handle! I can take being left alone like a widow for years. I can take raising a child with just enough money to keep us from freezing in the wintertime. I can even handle knowing that you travel all over the world throwing away what money you could have brought home on who knows what or WHOM. But what I cannot take is one more lie!”
Now the tears came and they somehow felt comforting. She buried her face in her palms and wept openly, alone.
Until she felt strong arms pull her close. She tried to push away, but Olly wasn’t letting go, and part of her didn’t want him to.
“Monica, I want you to listen to me,” his voice was tight with emotion. “You are right. I haven’t been completely honest with you over the years, and I am so sorry that I have hurt you as a result. I have been an idiot.”
Where is he going with this? she thought to herself.
“I wish you would have told me how tight things have been for the two of you. You always seemed to be doing well enough when I was home and you never told me you were struggling.”
She pulled away, slowly this time, and looked up a him. “You were never here long enough to listen! Besides, it’s not like you’ve ever had a lot of money to spare. I guess I just knew that if that’s how much you gave me, that’s how much there was. You never asked if we needed more, Olly.”
He nodded–just nodded. All of the bitterness she’d build against him was slowly beginning to rise to the surface. Was he really this blind to himself? Did he really not understand what he’d done to her–to them? Calling himself an idiot was an understatement!
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” he finally said, shaking his head.
“What wasn’t supposed to happen like this?”
“Mon, we’re not broke.”