Updated date:

The Girl in His Kitchen - a Short Story

Author:

DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.

old-is-new-lost-is-found-a-short-story

I can walk home from here

When the plane carrying him home took off from Kimpo Airport near Seoul, Korea, Pete Olsen was ready to leave the Land of the Morning Calm. He’d toyed with the idea of re-enlisting but chose instead to leave the Army and use his GI Bill to go back to college, a little older, wiser, and better prepared.

Pete didn’t cheer along with the others when the 747 carrying him and a couple hundred of his comrades in arms home from Korea took off. A few hours later, when the plane took off from Japan after a short layover at Yokohama, Pete didn’t join the others in cheering that departure either. Several hours later, when the plane touched down in San Francisco, Pete cheered. He was the only one doing so.

Danny, who’d been in Pete’s squad, looked at him like Pete had lost his mind. “Why are you cheering now, man?”

Pete turned a huge smile on Danny. “Because I can walk home from here.”

Pete didn’t walk home from San Francisco. After an overnight stay and a day spent at the Oakland Depot to out process from active duty, Pete climbed onto another plane and flew home to New Hampshire via Newark, New Jersey. In Newark, the layover ended when Pete boarded a twin-engine puddle jumper for the low altitude flight to Manchester, New Hampshire. Alice picked him up at the airport. It was a lukewarm reunion. His mother never liked Pete joining the Army and hadn’t quite forgiven him for staying gone almost two years all the way off in Korea.

old-is-new-lost-is-found-a-short-story

Lost luggage

Pete’s duffle bag did not make it from Newark to Manchester with him. The lady at the airline counter assured him his bag was on the next flight - the following day - and he could pick it up the next afternoon.

“You can drive your father’s truck down tomorrow,” Alice told him. “I’ve got some errands to run.”

“Why can’t I drive my car? You guys did get it out of storage, didn’t you?”

Pete’s mother sighed an exaggerated sigh. “We’ve been terribly busy at the inn, Peter. Your father figured you could get your car out and back on the road once you got home.”

Pete knew his mother really meant she’d told Pete’s father, Thomas Olson, to leave the car in storage for Pete to take care of it himself. He shook his head and got into his mom’s Subaru.

On the drive home, his mother brought Pete up to date on all that had been going on at the Broadview Inn his family owned on Lake Winnipesaukee's shoreline. It once belonged to Alice’s father. Grandpa Willie had owned quite a bit of land along the lake at one time. He’d sold off the parcels on either side of the inn before Pete was born for quite a tidy profit.

old-is-new-lost-is-found-a-short-story

Inheritance

That’s where most of the money in Pete’s inheritance came from. Now, the land owned by Pete’s family consisted of eight acres, six of them surrounding the inn, one around his parents’ house on the south side of the inn, and one around Pete’s house north of the inn, all right on the water.

Until the end of June, Pete’s house was rented out as a vacation property. July would have been a premium month to rent the house out, but Pete’s return home meant he would be moving in. His mother didn’t like that development. She wanted Pete to move back into his old room and let the rental income from his house go uninterrupted. Pete wasn’t about to do that.

Pete had never lived in “his” house. It had been Willie’s house until he died. Willie built the house for his bride, Erma, when they were married in 1935. It was just north of the big family home that eventually became the nucleus of the Broadview Inn. Erma passed away in 1964 when Pete was only three years old. He barely remembered her.

His parents’ built their house in 1959, the year they were married. That was the house Tom and Alice brought Pete home to from Lakes Region Hospital in June of 1961.

Pete started out helping clean rooms at the inn when he was ten-years-old. As he grew, he moved up to busing tables in the restaurant. Pete eventually worked as a dishwasher, a waiter, a cook, or anything else that needed doing. He earned enough money for a limited social life, limited more by the lack of spare time than spare cash.

Still, he’d managed to have a girlfriend in high school, two actually, but not at the same time. Marjie, his first girlfriend, went out with him freshman and about half of sophomore year before breaking up with him to date a senior.

The "Dear Pete," letter

Stephanie Powalski was the girl he’d dated all through junior and senior years. They shared the special bond of having been each other’s first lovers. It happened the night of the junior prom in one of the vacant cabins at the inn.

Pete and Stephanie promised each other when they graduated from Gilford High School that they would keep their relationship going even though she received a scholarship to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He would be going to Plymouth State, just 20 or so miles north of home. Their promise lasted almost until mid-terms.

Pete was returning to his dorm when his RA told him there was mail for him in his box. Hoping for a letter from Stephanie, Pete was pleased to see there was one. All that pleasure evaporated when he opened it and read it.

Dear Pete,

I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll just come right out and say it. I’ve found someone new. He’s a student here at Duke, and I think I might be in love with him.

I know you’re probably hurt and upset, but please don’t be angry with me. I didn’t mean for this to happen. It’s just that Derrick and I seem so right for each other.

What you and I had was great for high school, but it’s time for both of us to move on to more mature relationships. I hope we can still be friends.

Yours,

Steph

Pete never wrote her back, and she never wrote again. For several weeks he didn’t do much of anything at all. The consequence of that was him failing two classes, getting a D in a third, and barely pulling C’s in the other two. Realizing that it would take a miracle to recover from such a dismal term, Pete withdrew from school and went home with his tail between his legs.

To Manchester and back

When Stephanie came home for Christmas Break, Pete wouldn’t return her calls. She showed up for dinner at the restaurant with her folks one night, and Pete wouldn’t go out to the dining room and say hello. He never learned that she’d broken up with Derrick two weeks after sending the letter and had hoped she and Pete could patch things up while she was home.

Pete’s first full day home from the Army, he borrowed his dad’s F-150 4x4 and drove to Manchester to pick up his duffel bag. The truck technically belonged to the company. That is, it belonged to the family corporation that owned the Broadview Inn.

Arriving at the airport a bit early, Pete had to wait for the flight from Newark to arrive. When it did, his duffel bag was the first one unloaded. The ticket agent at the counter went out on the tarmac to retrieve it for him. Pete shouldered his duffel bag and headed out to his father’s truck.

When he got back to Gilford, he didn’t head straight to the Broadview. Leaving I-93 in Concord, he took New Hampshire Route 106 up past Loudon to Belmont. In Belmont was a barn on a retired farm. The owner, a retired Navy Petty Officer First Class, operated a barbershop in a converted garage attached to the old farmhouse. To supplement his retirement pay and what he made cutting hair, he’d converted the barn into storage units. In the third of four units built on the left side of the barn was Pete’s car.

old-is-new-lost-is-found-a-short-story

Whose car is parked in my driveway

The car was another bequest from Pete’s grandfather. Willie was the only grandfather he’d ever known. The car Willie left Pete was what Alice called her father’s mid-life crisis mobile. It was a black 1967 Chevelle SS 396 convertible with a red interior. Pete had loved riding in the car with his grandfather when he was a little boy. Later, after Pete got his license, he loved dropping the top and cruising through Weirs Beach on a summer evening, Stephanie sitting beside him, checking out the crowds along the strip.

The Chevelle, it had been sitting in storage for two years, ever since his last long leave at home before shipping over to Korea. When he finished basic training, Pete had taken a few days of leave to visit home and pick up the car. He’d made it from Gilford to Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, in five days. Pete took longer driving home 20 months later to take in some of the sites along the way.

His best friend Warren, whom Pete had known almost all his life, had helped him prep the car for long term storage. Unfortunately for Pete, Warren enlisted in the Navy shortly after Pete left for Korea and was cruising somewhere off Italy's coast when Pete got home from the Army. But Warren left a detailed list of instructions on what to do to get the car back on the road. Pete figured it would only take a couple of hours once he got started.

After checking on the car and telling the barber he’d be back in the morning to get it running and out of storage, Pete headed for the Broadview. He frowned when he saw a car in the driveway of his house. He pulled in behind the car and parked.

Mother or burglar

After grabbing the duffel bag from behind the truck's bench seat, Pete cast another unhappy look at the car in his driveway before climbing the four steps to the back door. His keys hung from a carabiner on his belt loop. Pete deftly unhooked it and started to fit his house key into the lock. To his surprise, the door swung open. Pete bit his lip as he considered this.

Pete’s first night in his grandfather’s house, now his home, he’d slept much better than he thought he might. While he’d not felt fully rested when he woke up, Pete didn’t believe he’d been tired enough to forget to lock the door. Certainly, he’d pulled it closed even if he’d forgotten to lock it.

Thinking that Alice might be showing the house to a potential vacationer, Pete felt aggravated that she would do that, knowing he was serious about living in the house. The idea of a burglar being in the place never crossed Pete’s mind. As it turned out, it was neither his mother nor a burglar.

old-is-new-lost-is-found-a-short-story

You're not a hallucination

Sitting at his kitchen table was Stephanie. He hadn’t seen her in nearly seven years, but he recognized her right away. She looked older, tiny creases had appeared around her russet-brown eyes, and her cocoa-brown hair was longer than Pete remembered, reaching past her shoulders. Otherwise, she looked just as fit and trim as he remembered.

Pete stood in the doorway, staring at Stephanie. He couldn’t quite believe she was sitting there in his kitchen.

She sat there looking back at him with a nervous smile on her face. “Well, aren’t you going to say anything?”

Pete squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them again, Stephanie was still sitting there. “Apparently, you’re not a hallucination.”

Stephanie’s tentative smile became an impatient frown. “No, I’m not a hallucination, Pete. You’re not imagining me.” Her smile returned. “Though, I suppose I should be flattered that if you were going to imagine a lady sitting in your kitchen, it would be me.”

Pete dropped his duffel bag to the floor. “What are you doing here, Stephanie?”

She reached up and smoothed her hair with a shaky hand. “You haven’t seen me in seven years, and those are the first words that come to your mind? Not, hello, how are you, what have you been up to?”

Pete took a deep breath and rolled his eyes. “Hello Stephanie, how are you? What have you been up to since the last time I saw you? Why are you in my kitchen? Come to think of it, how did you get into my kitchen?”

As Pete continued to stand just inside the door, Stephanie framed her reply.

“To answer the last question first, your sister let me in. Deidre is under the impression that we’re still friends.”

Pete snorted and shook his head. “Where did she get that idea?”

“From me,” Stephanie said. “She’s been keeping me up to date on you ever since you lost your mind and joined the Army.”

“Why would she do that? And why didn’t she ever say anything to me about it? On top of that, if you were so interested in what I was doing, why didn’t you get in touch with me yourself?”

How's this working out so far

Pete judged by the look on Stephanie’s face that their meeting was going a lot worse than she had expected.

“I asked Deidre not to say anything to you because I didn’t know how you’d feel about it. After all, in the two years after you dropped out of college before you joined the Army, you went out of your way to avoid me.”

Pete bit his lip and looked at the ceiling. He rubbed the back of his neck and his chin. Finally, he pulled out the chair opposite Stephanie’s, spun it around, and sat down with his arms folded across the top.

“Avoiding you wasn’t all that hard, what with you spending all your time down in Durham with Derrick. It’s not like you made any great effort to stay in contact.”

Stephanie wouldn’t meet Pete’s gaze. Even though many years had passed since she sent that letter, the pain it caused him was still visible in his eyes.

“I don’t know if it’ll make you feel any better, but I broke it off with Derrick two weeks after I sent that letter. You have no idea how many times I’ve wished I never sent it, how many times I sat down and started to write another to apologize and beg your forgiveness. And then, when I came home for Christmas, I tried to see you, call you, but you wouldn’t talk to me. I went back to Duke, convinced we could never even be friends. I didn’t find out you’d dropped out of school until two years later when I came home on summer break and worked up the courage to try to see you one more time, only to find out you’d enlisted and were gone.”

Pete could see Stephanie was close to tears and felt himself softening toward her. He didn’t want it to happen, but for some reason couldn’t will it to stop.

“So, I asked Deidre to keep me in the loop about how things were going for you in the Army. I was worried about you. It was like you’d joined the Foreign Legion or something. And since I figured you’d tell her to stop if you knew, I asked her not to tell you. She’s the one who called me and told me you were coming home.”

You came all this way to ambush me in my kitchen

Pete looked past Stephanie out the side window toward the inn. “I guess I’ll have to have a little chat with Deidre. She had no business keeping this from me.” Then something else occurred to him. “You came all the way up here from Durham just to ambush me in my own kitchen?”

Though the question might have seemed harsh, Pete delivered in an amused tone to let Stephanie know he was no longer upset about her being there.

“No, Pete, I didn’t come all the way up from North Carolina just to see you.” Noting a look of disappointment creeping onto his face, she continued quickly. “Not that I wouldn’t have, but I didn’t have to. I’m doing my internship here at Lakes Region.”

At first, Pete didn’t understand what she meant until he remembered that she’d been pre-med at Duke. Doing the math quickly in his head, it didn’t seem like she’d been in school long enough to be an intern already.

“I can tell you’re trying to do the math, so let me help you. After I went back to Duke, I poured myself into my studies. It started as therapy to keep me from thinking of what a mess I’d made of things with you. Then, I got a grant to do a summer session, and one thing led to another. The next thing I knew, I was graduating from Duke after only three years with admittance to the UNC Medical School. You owe me congratulations, by the way. I just graduated in May with honors. I started at Lakes Region on July 1st. Today is my second day off.”

Pete was impressed. “Congratulations. Considering how much you hated doing homework in high school, that’s quite a feat. And I’m honored that you chose to spend your second day off waiting in my kitchen.”

I'm not a dream

Stephanie got out of her chair and walked over to stand beside him. “I’ve waited seven years to see you again, Pete. I wasn’t going to blow it this time.”

She reached out and touched him lightly on the cheek. Pete felt a tingle when she touched him that went right to his heart. Stephanie crouched down so she could look him in the eye. “I’ve missed you, Pete.”

Pete tilted his head and leaned toward her. She didn’t pull away. Their lips met, and suddenly the seven years between them melted away, and she was in his arms, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Pete. I’m so sorry. I never stopped loving you. I’m so sorry.”

Pete held her close and softly stroked her back. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry for being so pig-headed. I love you, too. Can you forgive me?”

Stephanie sniffed, and a weak laugh escaped her. “I can if you can.”

Pete smiled and pressed his lips to hers again. He reveled in the taste and feel of her lips against his. After uncountable moments, they parted. Pete stood and took Stephanie’s hand. She smiled shyly but let him lead her to his bedroom.

Later they lay entwined beneath his sheets, satiated and content, Stephanie’s head on his chest.

Pete combed his fingers through her hair. “Should we think about getting some dinner?”

Stephanie moaned and tightened her hold on him. “I never want to leave this bed. I’m afraid if I do, I’ll realize this is a dream, and you’ll disappear.”

“I’m not a dream, baby. I’m right here, and I’m never going to disappear.”

old-is-new-lost-is-found-a-short-story

© 2021 DW Davis

Comments

DW Davis (author) from Eastern NC on January 23, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad they wound up together, too.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on January 23, 2021:

Two totally different reactions to loss and hurt abd both very true. Good to see they got back together again.