By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the series and a family tree, here.
Meredith sat back and leaned her head against the sofa. She closed her tired eyes and yawned. David was still reading aloud one of the letters his great-grandfather had written to his mother as he trained for his deployment to Belgium.
They had spent the better part of the day organizing and sorting the jumble that comprised Meredith’s collection of memorabilia. David had insisted on making a photocopy of each precious document so as not to damage it with the oils from their fingers or a careless tear of the delicate paper. She had been grateful for the distraction and equally grateful that after her emotional collapse earlier, David hadn’t expected her to talk about it. Nevertheless, the events of this morning hung over them like a shroud, casting a gloom over what should have been an enjoyable project.
“David,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. “Let’s take a break and I’ll fix us some tea.”
He looked over, blinked and shook his head slightly to clear it. “Sorry. What time is it? I’ve totally lost track.”
“It’s nearly four,” she replied, rising. “Let’s stop for a while.”
“All right. I’m almost finished anyway,” he said. Clearing his throat, he continued, “…and please, if you are able, send extra socks and underclothes right away, for it is likely that we’ll be moving out soon. The weather is quite cold. I imagine it’s worse at the Front. If my letter to Ada doesn’t reach her before this one to you, reassure her that I have written and send her my love. Your affectionate son, William.”
“Ada? That’s your great-grandmother, right?” Meredith asked, filling the kettle and switching it on.
“Yes. They hadn’t married, yet.”
Meredith raised her eyebrows. “Really? How on earth did they find time to marry during the war?”
David shrugged. “I guess they squeezed in the ceremony when William was home on a short leave.” He grinned wickedly. “And he managed to get her pregnant before he left. They must have spent the whole time in bed.”
She turned self-consciously to the boiling kettle. “Ha. Well… yes… I suppose so.” Keeping her back to him, she pulled two mugs from the cupboard and placed a tea bag in each.
Oblivious to her discomfiture, David continued, “Young love. Isn’t it grand? They had no idea what they were in for, did they? I wonder if they would’ve done things differently.”
“Probably not,” she sighed. “Have you never been in love, David?”
His smile faded. “Of course I have.”
Meredith silently cursed herself for doing to him what he had so kindly avoided doing to her. Pouring water into the mugs, she said, “Well, then you know perfectly well that you don’t think clearly when you’re in love.” She paused. “Lemon? Milk and sugar?”
“Just sugar, thanks,” he replied. “And your absolutely right. You don’t think clearly.” Under his breath, he added, “I know that all too well.”
“I’m sorry, I should’t pry,” she said, handing him his tea.
“It’s alright,” he said, accepting the mug from her. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’m divorced, Meredith. For about seven years, now.”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated.
David rose when she retreated to the kitchen and followed her. “Meredith, you don’t have to apologize. I’m sure the subject would have come up eventually.”
“Here,” she said, handing him the sugar bowl. “Well, we don’t have to talk about it now. I know you’d like to keep going with the letters, so…”
“No,” he sighed. “Enough. Meredith, let’s clear the air, shall we?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, not meeting his eyes.
“No? You haven’t noticed the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the corner? Because he’s been staring me down all day.” He took the sugar bowl from her and set it back down. “You’re hurting, Meri. Talk to me.”
She hung her head, started gnawing on the cuticle of her right thumb.
He began again, “Look, I know we’re just getting to know each other but after what happened… I mean, it’s not like I don’t know…” He cursed under his breath. “What I’m trying to say is… you don’t have to be embarrassed. We all have a story.”
“I’m going to need something stronger than tea,” she muttered.
He went to the sideboard and splashed two healthy shots of the single malt into their mugs. After returning the bottle to the sideboard, he said, “That should help.” He gestured to the living room. “After you.”
Meredith savored the warmth from the tea, the extra kick from the whiskey. She returned to the sofa where their combined collection of documents was spread out. Sitting heavily on the cushion, she closed her eyes while David straightened up the mess. He shut the binder, returned all the original letters to their envelopes, retied the bundle with the ribbon that had bound them for so many years and tucked them safely in the shoebox they had been stored in. He stacked the untouched scrapbook on top of the binder to be perused another time. A small scrap of paper —a faded newspaper clipping— floated to the floor. Meredith picked it up when it settled near the foot of the sofa. She gently straightened the edges where it had creased and set it next to her cup, using the delay to collect her thoughts.
“I met Rob at the university,” she said quietly. Slowly, the whole story came out. How she and Rob had worked together, how he had charmed her during wine-soaked conversations about books and art. They’d spend rainy afternoons beneath the blankets, drinking strong coffee and reading. He’d made her feel like the only woman in the world, at least in the beginning.
“Things went on, never changing. I kept hoping… for something. Some sign that we were taking the relationship forward.” She nervously twirled a lock of hair. “It never happened. A few times I tried to talk to him about it. He’d always change the subject. Or he’d say something like ‘Don’t I show you how I feel, Meri?’ or ‘Don’t spoil what we have’.”
“Making it your fault,” David remarked.
“Right. Like I was asking too much of him.” She sipped her tea and set the cup on the table in front of her. “I tried to break it off. He’d come over with flowers, wine.”
“And you’d give in,” David said.
She nodded. “And things would go right back to the way they were.”
“Oh, Meredith, you deserve so much better.”
“Do I?” she asked, sarcastically. “I’m weak, David. Maybe I deserve exactly what I get.”
“I don’t believe that for a minute,” he said gently. He reached over and took her hand between both of his. “You had the strength to leave, right?”
“Ha! But the first time he shows up on my doorstep, look what happens.” She took the clipping and started turning it over in her fingers. “God, I hate myself sometimes.”
“You were manipulated, Meri. You said it yourself —you don’t think clearly when you’re in love. He took advantage of that.” He paused, frowning. Meredith was no longer paying attention to him. “Meri, what is it?”
She looked up at him, wide-eyed. “When did you say William and Ada married?”