A fragrant breeze blew in through the open window, causing the curtains to flutter. Todd walked over to close it, but Cindy stopped him with a shake of her head. The bit of late spring wind smelled of green and flowers and distant showers; it was fragrant with the scent of life and rebirth.
James walked into the garden. Mom was back there, but he hoped he could escape and have some private time with Margret. It took only a few turns in the path and they were alone, if only for a brief moment. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, putting the flowers to shame. He smiled shyly and, trying to hide his enthusiasm, he led her over to a bench.
“We graduate next week,” he said. He felt a little silly stating the obvious, but it was a start. Margret nodded shyly. “I talked to the recruiter yesterday. They’re desperate. I’ll ship off for induction the day after graduation.”
“Oh, Jim,” Margret said. She drew closer, so they were pressed against each other, despite his mom being close. He put an arm around her and looked into her wonderful eyes. With a shock he realized that she was on the verge of tears.
He took her hand in his free hand and gave it a small squeeze..
“You knew I’d do this.” She nodded. “I don’t want you make any promises, particularly since I might be the one breaking them for you. If I don’t came back, I mean.”
“Don’t talk like that! Of course you’ll come back. For me.” She squeezed his hand. “Now you promise to write once a week when you can.”
“Of course. I just want to…”
They kissed. It was the first true kiss for both of them and James was stunned at how deeply it affected him. He wanted the moment to last forever, even if he was a little nervous that Mom might see.
After the kiss, they sat back breathing in the fragrant spring air, giving each other longing glances, just living in the moment, perhaps the last they would have together. Mother found them there, still pressed close and holding hands.
“Look, Todd, Dad’s smiling.” Cindy’s eyes were red and puffy, but she was smiling, an echo of their father.
“I wonder what he is thinking,” Todd said.
Cindy gave her brother a hug. “Of better times, I’m sure.”
They watched the old man as his breathing grew more shallow.
The town was little more than rubble. It was a hard fought battle and the Germans made sure they left total destruction on their way out. Jim’s squad walked down the street, guns at the ready. Some of the locals came out, grim, dirty faces, staring at the Americans with wide eyes. The stench of rotting corpses filled the air, a smell that made Jim get sick the first time he experienced it. Now he barely took notice. He had work to do.
They would make sure the town was secure, help them clean up for a day or two, but then they would have to follow the enemy as they pushed them from France into Germany.
A roar filled the air as a hidden machine gun let loose, indiscriminately hitting town’s folk and soldiers alike. Jim froze for a second, the memories of the constant machine gun fire as they splashed their way onto the beach, his friends and comrades being ripped apart around him, but instinct quickly took over. Jim hit the deck and rolled behind a small wall. He took bearings and tried to locate the fire. He saw a flash and took aim. Several shots rang out. The town was shrouded in silence once again. Someone else had gotten the sniper before he did. People began to move.
Jim sat, listening for a moment to make sure the coast was clear. A woman was next to him, her eyes glued to him. She was young and pretty, even though her face was covered in grime and dirt. For a moment he thought of Margret. He smiled. The woman just stared with unblinking eyes. The expression on her face was familiar. He frowned and tapped her causing her to fall over in a heap. The back of her head was missing.
Jim involuntarily jumped up and stepped back. The air was filled with the fragrance of smoke and death.
“Father is calling out,” Cindy said. “What’s he saying?”
“I think he’s calling for Mom…”
The listened to the rasping breath for a few minutes in silence.
“Bring the kids in. I think this is the end.”
Jim walked hand in hand with Margret as they strolled through the very same garden they had visited, was it only three years ago? It seemed a lifetime. The sun was shining, the roses were in bloom, the air fragrant with the flowers: it was a perfect day.
“It’s so great to have you back,” Margret said. A smile hadn’t left her face since he had first seen her.
“Yes, I can’t believe I’m at your side again.” He squeezed her hand.
She stopped and kissed him, this time not caring who saw. He melted into her arms. It was a slice of heaven.
“It’s so great that the war is finally over,” he said when they released their kiss.
“Yes, I am so happy to have you with me again.” She smiled. “Welcome home.”
Todd could no longer hold back the tears. Cindy hugged him with one arm as the other held their father’s cooling hand.
“At least he went out with a smile on his face.”
The fragrant breeze blew through the open window, the late spring wind causing the curtains to blow back, filling the room with bittersweet memories.