Bob slid his chair back and the wooden legs made a screeching rub against the deck. He cringed and looked to see if Catherine had noticed. She hadn’t. She was in the kitchen now, pouring another drink. Two weeks ago Bob had put the finishing touches of stain on their new deck, and Catherine had been on the warpath about it ever since. No one was allowed to walk on it the first week. It took Bob three days of being ‘caught’ out there in the morning before she finally came around to using it herself. He wanted to be confused over why she was so obsessed about the deck, but he knew why. They both knew why. The deck was the most tangible thing she would soon have of him.
Catherine returned with two more margaritas and handed one to Bob in silence. She sat slowly in her chair, careful to make sure it didn’t move by mistake. He watched her closely as she downed nearly half of her drink in one, long gulp. He took a short sip of his own. They were each on their third and the alcohol was well in effect.
“Beautiful weather,” Bob said. He nodded to the trees that blew in the warm wind of a late summer. Leaves of golden fire flutter in the air and found their way to the ground.
Catherine paused and took a breath, an action she typically made before speaking, but she remained silent. He saw that she was crying again, but the tears were less now. That was good. Well, better. It was nice to be able to talk to her again. The deck project was the result of a storm of tears he had never seen before. Bob was surprised when he was given orders for a third deployment in Iraq. He figured Catherine would be furious. Or cold with resentment. He had no idea it would hit her so hard. He built the deck to keep himself out of the house while she kept herself in it and cried the days away.
Before them, on their small plot of land in rural Illinois, the trees swayed and swayed.
“This will be the safest tour I do. You know that.”
Bob took another drink, a longer one this time. “Christ, I won’t even be going on patrol this time. It’s practically a desk job.”
Catherine’s face tightened and she nodded again. She took a small sip of her own.
But Bob knew and Catherine knew. It wasn’t about safety or fear; it was simply about time being taken, lives being suspended yet again. He set his drink on a small glass table and stood. He walked to Catherine and took the hand of his wife. She initially resisted, but then stood along with him. He held her close and she held him back in that warm autumn wind. He cried and she cried. The sting that they felt was the same as it had always been. Those final hours together in their last day were always hours of cherished torment.
Bob’s third and final tour was uneventful. His six months were extended by multiple weeks on two different occasions. The horrors of war continued on, but the thing that kept him awake on those late nights was always that final look in Catherine’s eyes. And when Catherine couldn’t sleep, she spent some time alone on her new deck.