This story is by Michelle Murray and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Trocadéro’s tiled walkway glinted in the morning sun that rose against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. Rachel closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of roses, orchids, anemones, and flowers she couldn’t identify. Her lips formed an appreciative smile.
Visiting Paris had been a lifelong dream. It was almost perfect. Only one thing was missing. Her thoughts drifted to the past.
Richard received orders to Afghanistan, his third deployment in five years. Her heart sank at the news, but she kept up a brave facade for his sake. Once he left, her pillow absorbed copious tears every night.
She understood her concerns were a natural response for his safety. Relief washed over her like a tidal wave very day he returned to camp safely. Yet every deployment seemed like a tempting of fate and brought fresh fears he would die so far from home. So far from her.
“If I were being honest, my greatest fear is a catastrophic injury. The emotional toll would devastate us both. How would we move forward as a couple when the outdoors and an active lifestyle mean everything to us?” Those thoughts ran through her mind when Richard called her a month after he arrived in country.
Static filled the line before Richard’s voice broke through. “Hey Babe!”
“So wonderful to hear your voice.” She couldn’t bring herself to tell him how much she missed him. Hearing his voice relieved the stress his absence wrought.
“What’s going on?”
Rachel detected the note of concern. She took a deep breath before she continued, careful to choose the right words. “You know I fully support what you do. Though there are times, like our upcoming 10th wedding anniversary, where I long to be a regular couple. The 10th is a mile-marker anniversary.” She did her best to keep the petulance from her voice. Richard’s breathing on the other end was the only sound as he considered what she shared with him.
“If I miss our 10th anniversary, I will take 30 days leave when I return and take you to Paris and we’ll renew our vows. But, If I manage to return in time then I want season tickets for every major sport.”
“Oh my Gosh, Honestly? Oh my gosh.” She couldn’t conceal her joy and surprise. Excitement permeated each word. “Do you mean it, Richard?”
“Absolutely! I would marry you 10 times over.” He laughed. The couple continued talking until Rachel fell asleep.
The hustle and bustle of locals and tourists filled the square of the 16th arrondissement. A cacophony of voices brought Rachel to the present moment. Some couples walked hand in hand and others held their phones at a distance as they snapped pictures of a kiss in front of the Eiffel Tower.
A smile crossed her lips when she thought about her own dream of the iconic Eiffel Tower kiss. She continued on along the pathway around the Trocadéro square. A park appeared before her and she settled on a bench.
Fewer people roamed about the park, and the quiet offered a welcome respite from the square’s endless drone of sound. Dogs sniffed the grass and flowers as owners tugged their leash, tails wagging as others passed by.
An elderly couple locked arm in arm smiled as they made their way past her. She smiled back and a silent tear fell down her check. Memories again intruded into her thoughts as her last anniversary played out like a movie in her head.
“Happy 10th Anniversary, my love. I can’t wait to see you in a couple hours and hold you close. And babe, you owe me those season tickets.” Rachel smiled, reading Richard’s words. She pressed the save button twice, realizing too late she deleted his text.
“Dammit!” the phone slammed on the table. Her irritation diminished when she thought about Richard being home after 8 long months apart. The doorbell rang, and Rachel rushed to answer the door.
On the porch sat a beautiful orange orchid, her favorite plant and color. The loving emotion she felt settled into her heart, and she smiled at the thoughtful gift. She placed the orchid in the center of the living room, where she could view it from any vantage point. An envelope taped to the side of the vase caught her attention.
Rachel stared at the two first-class, round-trip tickets to Paris. Overcome with emotion, she burst into tears when it was apparent he always planned to take them to Paris to renew their vows. “You never cease to amaze me, surprise, and delight me. No wonder I fall in love with you more with each passing year.“ She danced around the room, her face glowing with pure joy in anticipation of Richard walking through the door.
The doorbell rang an hour later. The bounce in her step couldn’t conceal her giddiness. “Silly man, pretending to not have your house key.” Rachel rushed to the door, eager to embrace her husband.
She stopped short and froze. A military police officer and the unit chaplain stood where Richard should be. Her eyes darted between the officer and chaplain. “Strippers? Really?” Though the moment the thought registered, she recognized how absurd strippers sounded, but hoped beyond reason it was true. She stood motionless, her eyes fixed on the young officer’s face, as if not moving would make him go away.
The officer for his part stood just as motionless, and the compassion displayed on his face told her everything she didn’t want to know. “Ma’am.” He nodded, tipping the brim of his hat as he spoke. Rachel wondered why men did that. Did they even realize it? Was it as automatic and mindless as breathing for them?
The kind, deep voice of the officer broke through her mental meandering. She nodded for the officer to continue. The chaplain stepped forward and asked if she would like to go inside. She shook her head and waited for the news she feared for years.
Tears streamed down her face as she recalled the anguish of learning Richard died in a car accident on his way to her. The year weighed heavily on her as she struggled with the guilt of wanting him home for their anniversary and the pain of knowing he’d never walk through the door.
Coming to Paris was a tribute to him. She drank in the sights with her eyes, inhaled the aromas wafting along with the breeze, listened to snatches of conversations, birdsong, and the Seine flowing by. Every emotion and everything she touched, saw, and heard imprinted on her because she had to enjoy Paris for two.
Rachel rose and walked to the bank of the Seine. She removed a paper boat from her bag and knelt by the rather calm water. The boat had been constructed with Army camo paper with Richards unit in gold lettering, along with his birth and death date. On the other side were their names and date of marriage.
She slipped her wedding ring from her finger and wiped away the tears that flowed down her cheeks. Richard’s wedding ring joined hers in her hand. She tenderly placed their wedding rings inside the boat alongside season tickets for every major sport and pushed it along, sobbing “I’d marry you 10 times over too. Paris is and will always be ours. Goodbye my love.”
The paper boat drifted away and Rachel stayed until it disappeared down the Seine River.
Linda Barrows says
Sweet & sad & very well written. I enjoyed your story.