Look Homeward Angel



 

The call came on the warmest day of summer, which was ironic really, since the news meant he’d be moving to the coldest part of the country.

“Alaska?” Deborah wrinkled her nose when he told her, and he immediately regretted even considering leading his new wife so far away from her family. 

But then her features softened, and a huge grin stretched from cheek to cheek. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska! Do you think we’ll see penguins?”

Although Rip knew for a fact penguins lived at the South Pole and not the North, now hardly felt the time to quibble over minor details. He took his bride in his arms and studied her carefully. Deborah always wore her emotions plain as day across her face. The only answer he needed to make this decision was the look in her eyes, and that look was…

Full of love and nothing else.

“I know what you’re doing.” She laughed. “Yes, let’s move to Anchorage. It will be like an adventure.”

“You’re really sure?” he asked once more. “I could get a job here in Texas. We could stay near your family.”

She planted her hands on either side of his neck and brought her forehead close to his. “You are my home. Not Texas. Not Alaska. Not anywhere. Wherever we can be together, that’s where I’ll be happiest.” She smiled, and her tone became playful. “Besides, the Army is such an important part of who you are, and this Cold Weather and Mountain Warfare program thingy sounds perfect. Maybe I can take up knitting. Seems we’ll need lots of extra thick socks where we’re headed.”

And by January of the next year, they found themselves living in a tiny apartment just a  few miles removed from the base of Fort Richardson. Alaska proved itself to be every bit as cold as Texas had been hot.

“Look at that moose!” Deborah shouted as they drove the last few miles in their several day journey to this strange, new home. “He’s just walking across the road without a care in the world. Can you believe that? Hey, Mr. Moose, where you headed?”

She collapsed back into her seat in a fit of giggles. “Oh, Rip. Isn’t it just as you’d imagined it would be? It’s like a winter fairy land. I half expect Santa to show up with his reindeer and welcome us to the neighborhood.”

Rip smiled and bobbed his head. While his wife was charmed by their surroundings, Rip felt fear clench hold of his heart. 

The ice, the snow, the below-zero wind chill, it all brought back the memories he’d tried so hard to forget. Freeze-locked guns, enemy fire raining from the skies, blood seeping out from fallen soldiers staining the snow red…

There would be no rest for him. Each night starting with the first in their new home, he’d wake up screaming. Deborah did her best to comfort him by offering a warm glass of warm milk and stroking his hair until he fell back to sleep, but the night terrors persisted.

Night after night, he watched his friend George fall before him; he tried to work the ice out of his legs, to run, but he was stuck in place as the bullets flew toward him. Any second now, he’d…

He woke up gasping for breath. 

“Hush, hush,” his wife said from across the room. Suddenly, the overhead light flickered to life, revealing the starkly decorated room they had yet to make their own.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“It’s five in the morning.” She returned to his side, sat down next to him, kissed his forehead. “Take the day off, spend time with me,” she urged. “We’ll take a long weekend.”

He hesitated, but Deborah was quick to justify her request.

“I think it’s time we saw just how many good memories are here too. Let’s have an adventure, Rip. After all, we’re a bit overdue for something fun.”

The way she smiled with such earnestness as she awaited his answer was more than enough to convince him of her plan, but before they could get started, Rip had a plan or two of his own... He pulled Deborah back into bed kissing her with an urgency he so often had when it came to his beautiful bride.

“Well, this is certainly fun.” She giggled as he helped her out of her pajamas and into his arms. They made love quietly, then slipped off into the predawn light to begin their next great adventure.

* * *

Deborah had been ready for this. She knew living once more among the snow and mountains would trigger Rip’s shell shock, but she also knew they could get through it together. That’s why she’d spent so much time in the library and on the phone with various travel agents prior to their big move—and she’d done it all in secret, of course.

Now the long weekend was stretched before them, and she knew exactly how she wanted to spend it. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, either.

“Where to?” Rip said as the engine of his truck rumbled to life. 

“That’s the best part.” She knew if she showed her excitement, he would soon follow suit. “We’re taking the long road to Fairbanks!”

Rip shot her a quizzical expression, but she was not to be deterred.

“Don’t worry, it will be fun, and fun is just what we need right now. I have it all planned out. It will be lovely, I promise.”

He leaned in to kiss her on the cheek, then pulled out onto the main road. Sometimes they needed words to communicate; at other times, just a glance said the world. Today she felt the words of another would suit them best. She fiddled with the knob for the radio. Luckily, it only took a few moments to find exactly what she had been looking for.

Nat King Cole’s smooth, angelic voice danced across the airwaves and into the cab of their truck.

Rip smiled and swayed to the beat.

When the chorus arrived, Deborah belted it out loud and spirited and completely off key.

“Oh, my lovely, little lark whose song is sweet only to me.” He laughed, and Deborah jabbed him in the arm but then joined in.

“Sing it for me, Rip. Just like you did that first night, lying out by the cliffs as the sun dried our clothes. Don’t you remember?”

He reached across the seat to hold her hand. “And then that second night when we arrived for his concert only to find we’d missed it by a day. I thought you were crazy when you suggested we drive to the next venue.”

“Don’t forget the one after that too!” She squeezed his hand. “You needed a little crazy in your life. Still do as a matter of fact.”

“Always will. Forever.” He took his eyes off the road for a moment, took her in, then began to sing in his strong, beautiful voice that easily rivaled that of their favorite singer.

The drive went by quickly as they listened to the radio, shared their favorite memories, and flirted the way only newlyweds so drunk with love can. It was past noon when they reached their destination in Fairbanks. After a late breakfast at a small diner very much reminiscent of the ones they’d frequented back home in Texas, they made their way to the Chena Hot Springs.

If someone had told Deborah she’d be donning her bathing suit in thirty-below weather, she’d have told them they were crazy. Yet here they were, preparing for a relaxing soak in the exposed winter air. But that wasn’t all she had planned for them…

“Remember the night you proposed to me?” she asked.

“And you ran away?” He laughed, then looped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in tight to his chest. “Sorry, not my best memory.” 

His slippery skin felt so good against her own, making her even more excited about what she planned to suggest.

“Hey, I came back! I said yes! But before then, when we…” Her eyes darted toward the water below.

“Oh no, Deborah. You couldn’t possibly—!”

His protest was cut short when she slipped her shoulders under the water and eased out of her swimming costume. She handed it to him in a tight ball. “Your turn,” she whispered.

* * *

As the day marched on, Rip felt the grip of his shell shock ease loose. If ever there were a cure for what ailed him, his sweet, kooky wife was it. Didn’t matter the ailment, either. Deborah was good for his soul, plain and simple.

He often wished he could be as devil-may-care as she, and, much to his surprise, found himself getting closer and closer to joining her there. She’d suggested the naked dip, but it was he who’d found the isolated spring where they could make love within the ancient waters. 

The day passed far too quickly, but then again, every day with Deborah did. Luckily, they still had forever stretched out before them.

Her eyes glinted with thinly veiled mischief as they surveyed the surrounding mountains. She pointed to a vast lake on the horizon. “Remember cliff diving? We should go—”

“No.” 

“You didn’t let me finish,” she pouted.

He sniggered and motioned for her to continue.

“We should go cliff diving next. What do you say?”

He laughed even louder. “Exactly what I was going to say earlier. If we dive now, we’ll both break our necks. The lakes are ice this time of year!”

She blew a raspberry. “A technicality!”

Rip drew Deborah into his arms and kissed her forehead. “What else do you have planned for us?”

“Well, I can’t exactly say it the right way, so I’m going to spell it once, and then you just have to accept that I’m going to mispronounce it, okay?”

He kissed her again, pulling her to him, and feeling his desire surge for a third time that day.

Deborah bit his lip playfully then pulled away. “Hey, don’t distract me. It’s hard enough to spell, let alone say. We’re going to take a nice hike and see the I-N-U-K-S-U-K-S. Or as I prefer to call them, the In-nuk-nuks.”

“The In… nuk-nuks?”

“Precisely! C’mon, I’ll show you what I mean.”

They returned to the fitting rooms and put on their long underwear and warm sweaters once more.

“It isn’t far from here,” she said. “Take my hand. We’ll walk it.”

“So the inuksuks,” Rip said, figuring out the pronunciation of the strange Inuit word.

Deborah shook her head. “No, I told you, we’re going to call them the in-nuk-nuks, because I can’t say it the other way, and I don’t want to feel silly all by myself.”

He laughed, just as he always did when Deborah was near. “Okay, the in-nuk-nuks.”

She nodded. “Good. Continue.”

“What are they?”

“They’re kind of like little baby Stone Henges. Do you remember studying Stone Henge in school? These are the ones the Eskimos make. They’re a bit shorter, but there are so many more. Look!” She pointed in the distance. “See it?”

“Ahh, yes. Neat. What were they built for?”

“All kinds of reasons, really, but my favorite is as landmarks. They were built to show you the way.”

They stood for a moment, two small figures amongst the vast, imposing winter landscape.

“Wait there,” Deborah instructed, placing a hand on each of his shoulders and pushing down to root him in place. “And close your eyes.”

He did as he’d been told, remembering their cliff dive once again. He’d obeyed, but had still found a way to chance a peek at her exposed form in all its untouched glory. Now he listened as her feet slapped across the field. 

When at last she spoke again, her voice sounded very far away. “Okay, open up!”

She stood beside the inuksuk with a hand on one of its many stones. 

He smiled and began to jog toward her, but she waggled her finger wildly at him. 

“Not so fast! Stay right where you are, and I mean it!” When she saw that he’d complied, she continued. “Like I said, the in-nuk-nuks were built to show you the way. And, Rip, darling, I know sometimes it’s hard to let go of the past, especially when there’s so much you regret, but as I tried to show you today, the past is also chock full of beautiful memories too. And all those memories, both terrifying and terrific, are gone. We’ve already lived them. Listen to the in-nuk-nuks. They know where to go.” She opened her arms wide, inviting him in. “Come to this guide post. Come to me, to our future together as lovers, as husband and wife, and as… parents.”

He couldn’t move, though it was not for ice encroaching upon him, but rather, a creeping warmth that started at his heart and flowed outward. “What did you say?” he asked, just to be sure.

“Rip…”

He could see her eyes sparkling with the beginnings of tears, felt the same joy prick at his own eyes.

“We’re going to have a baby.”

And he was off. Never had his legs moved as fast as they did on that day to bring him to his wife and their child within her—his entire future in one neat, little package with blonde, curly hair and the world’s most gorgeous smile. They stood there embracing for a long time, whispering declarations of love, stating their dreams for the future, and just basking in the grandness of being together.

At last the northern lights joined them, glowing green and proud against the night sky and marking a beautiful new chapter of their lives, one Rip couldn’t wait for them to experience together.

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