(NOTE: This is my sixth entry in the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project. Looking back over the finished product, I find that this one reads as if it is the ending chapter of a longer story.  Hmmm...)

Debbie was tucking Scottie in for the night when I got home. I didn’t think she’d heard me come in; I made practically no noise, and she kept her back to me as I stood watching her from the hallway outside his room. She sang that lullaby I’d taught her not long after he was born. The one my mother used to sing to me, a lifetime ago. 

Two lifetimes ago, as it turned out.

But she’d known I’d been standing there the entire time. She’d sensed my presence somehow. After everything I had been through, you might think I would have expected that much, at least.

“You’re home,” she said simply.

“I noticed,” I answered as she walked past me. I stepped into my son’s room long enough to bend down and plant a quick kiss on his little forehead, then turned and followed Debbie into our room. She stood before the mirror, brushing her shoulder-length blond hair just as she did every night before she went to bed. She was wearing that long flannel robe I’d bought her for Christmas two years before  - an odd choice of bedclothes for mid-June, it seemed to me, but I didn’t care. I was just glad to be home again, to be standing this close to her.

But she didn’t seem quite so glad to see me. Or at least that's how it felt. She stepped away as I moved towards her, my arms outstretched in the hopes of getting at least a welcome home hug, and continued brushing her hair. “So,” she said with next to no emotion in her voice, “did you find whatever it was you were looking for?”

I sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor. “No,” I admitted. “I didn’t.”

Two or three minutes passed in utter silence. I didn’t know what to say, and it was clear she wasn’t in a very talkative mood. 

Finally, though, she turned and faced me. A single tear was trickling down her cheek. “So it was a wasted trip, then? You left your wife and son for nearly half a year for nothing?”

“Not quite,” I corrected her. I looked up and gazed deep into her eyes. “All right, no - I didn’t find what I was looking for. If you want to know the truth, I’m still not all that sure I ever knew what I was looking for in the first place. But it wasn’t a wasted trip. It couldn’t have been for nothing, because I did find something. I found myself. I learned some things about myself I don’t know that I ever would have known otherwise… including a few things I might have been better off not knowing.”

She took a step closer to me then and placed a hand on my shoulder. I wasn’t ready to try to explain just what I had gone through; I didn’t know then if I ever would be. But she could tell, somehow, that I’d been affected deeply. That I’d been hurt. I guessed she felt sorry for me. Once upon a time I would have been angry at her for that; at that point I would have taken any reaction I could have gotten from her, even pity.

“And there’s more.” I rose back to my feet, but didn’t move closer for fear of driving her away again. “I learned a few new things, but I also was reminded of a few things I already knew.”

“Like what?”

“Like how important life is. Like how much I love my wife, and my son. Like how empty this world would be if I didn’t have the two of you to share it with.”

At long last she smiled, faintly, and finally leaned close against me. “I’m glad,” she said as she lay her head against my chest. “Because I was reminded of something while you were gone, too.”

“Really? What’s that?”

Debbie gently pulled away from me and took a short step backward.  She reached up and unfastened her robe, letting it fall to the floor. Beneath it she was naked; her freshly-brushed hair tumbled about her shoulders, and she seemed younger, somehow, than she had before I had set out on my journey. Her body was alive, and inviting. 

Lord, she was so beautiful.

I was home.

“I love you, Kent Talon” she said, and she smiled happily despite the tears that came to her eyes once again. “I love you more than life itself. And I plan on spending the rest of my life proving that to you. If you let me, that is.”

"If I let you…?" I took my wife into my arms and kissed her, long and deep. Then I picked her up and carried her to the bed. 

“Now I lay me down to sleep…” I said with a smile, and we both laughed as we fell together onto the mattress. I covered her entire body with kisses as she helped remove my own clothes. Soon enough we were making love as we had not since the night we were married. 

And it was at that moment that I finally realized that I had found what I’d been looking for, after all.

And with that matter now permanently settled, the planets returned to their usual orbits and life began a gentle slide back towards as near to normal as it’s ever liable to get for a guy like me…

(Copyright 2013 by John Allen Small)