Cold War Warrior, The Jake Michaels Story #19, Homecoming
Picked up at the Airport
Dawson and Becca caught their flight for Bradley International, via Atlanta Hartsfield an hour before Jake’s flight to Wilmington via Atlanta and Raleigh. The Kuypers were long gone. They’d driven down from Boone and headed north as soon as the graduation reception was over.
When Jake finally did arrive in Wilmington, he was surprised to see who was at the airport to meet his plane.
“Franklin, what are you doing here? Where’s Mandy?”
“Mandy, uh, she asked me to pick you up,” Franklin told Jake. “Geez, man, the Army sure whittled you down.”
“PT and road marches will do that to a guy,” Jake replied. “Why did Mandy ask you to pick me up? Why couldn’t she come?”
“She’s probably at her apartment getting ready for your big homecoming,” Franklin reasoned. “Let’s get your bags and head on over there.”
All Jake had was his one carry-on with the civilian clothes he’d worn to Fort Jackson and his duffel bag stuffed with his uniforms. He was wearing one of his two Class A uniforms.
Jake lead the way to the baggage claim area. “Has Mandy got some kind of welcome home party planned?”
Franklin shook his head. “I don’t think it’s anything like that. I didn’t get an invite if she is.”
His duffel bag came around on the conveyor. Jake hoisted it onto his shoulder.
“Lead the way,” he said to Franklin.
Fifteen minutes later, Franklin pulled into a parking space near Mandy’s apartment. Jake saw his truck parked next to Mandy’s car.
“I hope Mandy’s been driving my truck once in a while. I’d hate to think it’d been sitting here all this time.”
Franklin said, “I’ve seen her driving it now and then.”
He got out of the car and opened the trunk for Jake to grab his duffel bag.
“If you need anything, Jake, anything at all, you just call me, okay?”
“Uhm, sure, Franklin, thanks. And thanks for picking me up. You gonna hang around a while?”
Franklin begged off. “I’ve got to get going. Big paper due tomorrow and it’s not going to write itself.”
“College is keeping you busy, then?” Jake asked.
“More than you know,” Franklin said. He held out his hand. “It’s good to have you home, Jake.”
Jake shook Franklin’s hand. “It’s good to be home, even if only for a couple of weeks.”
At the Apartment
Jake stood outside Mandy’s door for several minutes without knocking. He’d left his key to her apartment with her when he’d left for Fort Benning. A nervous feeling grew in the pit of his stomach as he stood there looking at her door. Jake’s hand shook when he finally knocked.
“I’m coming,” Mandy called from somewhere inside the apartment.
Jake could hear her running to the door. Then came the sound of the chain and deadbolt opening. At last, the door itself swung inward.
Mandy stood in the doorway and looked at Jake for a long second before tears started rolling down her cheeks. Jake dropped his duffel bag and reached out for her. To his horror, she turned and walked into the apartment, leaving the door open for him to follow.
Jake picked up his duffel bag and entered the apartment.
“I was hoping for a bit more of a welcome home than you turning your back on me and walking away,” he called out.
Mandy came out of the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Jake. I just…I don’t know…I…”
She began to sob and ran to the bedroom. Jake set his bags on the living room floor and followed her.
“What’s going on?” he asked when he found Mandy on the bed crying into her pillow.
Mandy raised herself on her elbows but didn’t look at Jake.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t cry until after I told you,” she said through her sobs.
“Until after you tell me what?”
Mandy rolled over and looked Jake in the eye. “Until after I tell you I can’t marry you, Jake. Over these last eight weeks, I’ve thought a lot about it, about us, about me leaving here and following you to Washington. I can’t do it, Jake. I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t love you, I do. But I’m not enough in love with you to give up everything and move across the country with you.”
Leaving the Apartment
Jake stood at the foot of the bed staring at Mandy, feelings roiling inside him. She stared right back.
“I had a feeling something like this was coming,” he said when he felt he had control of his emotions. “Your letters lately had none of the feelings of the ones you sent when I first got to Benning. The way you answered my questions about how things were going with the wedding plans should have been a dead giveaway.
“Then, when Franklin picked me up at the airport instead of you… I should have just gone to his house and never bothered coming by here at all.”
“Is that all you’ve got to say, Jake?” Mandy asked, her face growing redder. “You’re not going to argue with me or try to convince me I should go with you?”
“Do you want me to?” Jake shot back. “Is that why you did this? You want me to beg you to come with me. I thought I’d made it clear that more than anything I want to marry you and have you with me for the rest of my life. You just told me you don’t love me enough to want to be with me for the rest of my life. You didn’t seem to leave any room for argument.”
Mandy rose to her knees on the bed. “Are you saying you’re not willing to fight for me?”
Jake snorted. “I’d fight for you, yes. But I’m not going to fight with you.”
“Then this is it,” Mandy said, falling back onto the bed. “This is the end for us.”
“Unless you come to realize you do love me enough to make a life with me wherever the Army sends me, then, yes, this is the end.”
Several long seconds passed with neither of them saying anything. Jake broke the silence.
“If you’ll give me the keys to my truck, I’ll go see if I can stay with Franklin.”
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© 2019 DW Davis