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archive:stories:home.fil

The Following story is by Francis W. Porretto Horse Feathers BBS

"The Homecoming"

   She had settled somewhat creakily into the good chair only a

few minutes earlier, with a book, half a glass of brandy, and a few dark thoughts about the kind of God who'd not be satisfied with having invented war, but just had to go on to produce arthritis. She made a particular point of enjoying the brandy slowly and thoroughly; she had been laid off just that afternoon, and her next brandy purchase could be a considerable time hence. Lose the greater comforts, she thought, and the lesser ones come to mean all the more. Lose the lesser comforts and where will you be?

   There was a knock at the door.
   This  was  not an area where people casually dropped  in  on

their friends without calling or late at night, let alone without calling and late at night. She took a long moment to make up her mind; the knock was repeated. Reluctantly, she laid the book aside and answered the door.

   David was there.
   The  shock  of  seeing  him  without  forewarning  left  her

momentarily paralyzed. She had sent him off to the war four years ago, not at all ungrudgingly. After eight months, his letters had stopped, and she had moved several times, not always leaving a forwarding address. She discovered at that moment that she had assumed he was dead.

   He  looked weatherbeaten,  weary beyond mere fatigue of  the

body. His uniform was heavily blotched by sweat stains. He was wearing sergeant's stripes; the set on his right sleeve seemed about to part from the fabric. From his right hand hung the large canvas grip he had taken with him four years ago. It too was weatherbeaten, and it appeared to contain much less than it had at his departure.

   "When did you get back?"
   "Four days ago."
   "Are you on leave?"
   "I'm  out."  His eyes  dropped.  "They're  just  discharging

anyone who wants to go. I got mine four days ago."

   "How did you find me so fast?"
   "I  looked up Carrie Hardwicke;  she told me.  Linda,  may I

come in?"

   She stepped aside silently and gestured him inside. When she

had closed the door behind them and turned toward him again, he had positioned himself in the geometrical center of her tiny studio apartment, obviously uncomfortable, the canvas grip still dragging at his arm. He had the anxious, submissive look of a man who expects to be told to be on his way in a loud, authoritative voice, at any moment.

   "Did you want me not to be able to find you?"
   "No... I didn't expect to see you again. It's been more than

three years since you wrote last."

   "They  stopped  accepting  letters from us more  than  three

years ago. I can't remember the last time anyone in my unit got a letter. They kept having mail call into the second year, but after a couple of months of none of the guys getting anything from anyone he knew, we all knew it was only for show. They didn't want us to know how bad it was getting, I guess."

   There were tears forming in his eyes,  and he was struggling

for control of his voice.

   "You lost, didn't you?"
   He nodded.
   "They  haven't gotten around to admitting that here  yet.  I

don't know why, it's so obvious. Come on, buck up, you didn't lose it all by yourself."

   His tears had started to fall,  and he couldn't look at her,

or wouldn't.

   "David, why?"
   When  he finally answered,  his voice was a whisper,  almost

inaudible.

   "Because it was such a waste."
      She held out her arms.
  1. ————-
   "I wonder where we go from here."
   "Are you sure you mean 'we?'"
   She  propped herself up on an elbow and looked down at  him.

"Yes, I'm sure. Do you have some objection?"

   "I  wasn't  even sure you'd be willing to talk  to  me.  You

don't know how long I stood at the door before I knocked."

   Her brow furrowed. "Why on earth?"
   "I remembered how much against it you were. I remembered you

saying, 'Why can't they defend themselves? Why do we have to go over there and bail them out time and again?' I took four years we could have had together and I poured them into something you didn't even approve of, and I left you here to fend for yourself!"

   "Shhh,  I have neighbors.  Yes, I was against it. But I sent

you, didn't I? Once you'd decided, did I punish you for it? Did I deny you anything?"

   "No."
   "I  think  you're  ashamed  that you lost."  He  started  to

speak, and she laid a hand gently over his mouth. "I told you that I loved you, and that I'd stand behind you so long as you did what you thought was right. I didn't have to agree with you about the war to keep loving you, and I thought you understood that. Or didn't you believe me?"

   He  was silent for a long moment.  "I wasn't sure.  I had no

idea how you'd react when I turned up again. But –"

   She hushed him again.  "I don't need to ask whether you  did

anything over there that you're ashamed of now; I know you better than that. So tell me: has losing changed your mind about whether it was right to go in the first place?"

   He didn't answer.
   "I've  found  two new scars on you;  you've  obviously  been

wounded at least twice. Both well-healed, too. When did you get them?"

   "One's about three years old, the other's about ten months."
   "So  twice at least you had enough conviction to climb  back

into the tank after almost getting killed." .pa

   He scowled absently. "It isn't like I could have just caught

a plane home, you know. There were men in my company that took a dozen hits and went back into the line. You might say we were short on alternatives."

   "David,  along with being unwilling to admit it when they're

standing for a principle, most men are lousy losers. I've known that for a long time. But I'll let you in on a little secret: most women are a lot worse, and thank God for that."

   That puzzled him. "Why?"
   "The reasons we fight.  Almost all men will fight for  their

ideals, whether they admit it or not. Most women will only fight to protect the people they love, and we'd rather die than admit defeat. But losing that kind of fight usually involves dying anyway."

   He  grinned  up at her crookedly and  not  entirely  without

humor. She warmed inside to see it; his grin was prominent in a wealth of her memories.

   "We could have used you."
   "I  think  not,  but it's a moot point.  As for what we  are

going to do, I'll withdraw the question until we've both had eight hours' sleep." She lay down and pulled his head to her breast. "Or more. Neither of us has any reason to get up early tomorrow."

   "Linda, I love you."
   "I know. Now sleep."
                                           Francis W. Porretto
                                           
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