She was supposed to be married in those shoes. She slipped them on, slowly. She dreamed of dancing in these shoes, of making promises she intended to keep. Instead she stepped out of her car and onto the dirt driveway. Her heels stuck in the mud as she made her way to the house.
It was a surprise. He picked it out as a surprise, as a gift to bring her home to. They’d fix it up room by room, painting the walls and refinishing the floors. They’d raise their children in that house. Their children would play in the backyard and she’d plant a garden of sunflowers and tomatoes and they’d live the unwritten parts of fairytales.
She leaned against the door, pushing it open. The house was empty and dusty, an unfinished product. She tried to forget the look in his eyes when he got the letter, when he scrubbed up and shipped out to boot camp. With the draft pushed to thirty-five, with the war in Russia spreading over Western Europe and the expanses of Alaska they knew it was coming. She fell into his chest and cried and cried her tears coming down like the rain.
He didn’t want to move the wedding date, didn’t want to disrupt their carefully carved out plans.
“I’ll be home before you have a chance to miss me,” he said, kissing her on the top of her head.
It was raining then too, when they came to the door. She knew before they even opened their mouths. They stood there silently as she collapsed, weeping his name over and over. It took her three days before she could talk to anyone, before she could call her mother and tell them the news. He came home in a box and she put him in the ground. It wasn’t until after that she found out about the house, about the house he bought for her.
She left muddy footprints in the hall as she moved from room to room. It was perfect. The bones of the house were exactly the kind she wanted, each room in the right place. It was as if he was there with her, meeting her step by step.
She pushed open the door to the bedroom and forgot to breathe. This room was finished, the hardwood floor polished and the wall painted a soft gray. The queen mattress on the floor was done up with dark blue sheets. They were dusty, but soft and inviting. She pulled them back and slipped off her wedding shoes and folded herself into them. His side of the bed was so empty, too empty. She buried her face in her pillow and missed him, as she had done every day since they’re last goodbye. Soft lips and sad smiles.
The fireplace even had wood in it, the mantle painted white. She could see it there, a little yellowed against the dusty white.
She couldn’t get to it fast enough, feet cold against the floor. Her hands were shaking as she carefully peeled back the envelope, as she took out the paper inside. His handwriting. His words.
On our second date you tricked me into Ikea, into the maze of masculine demise. I followed you because you are beautiful and kind and knew how to make me laugh. When we stood and looked at the bedroom set- you know the one- I knew that someday I’d share one with you. I knew that I was going to spend the rest of my life with you.
I hope you’re not angry that I bought the house. I saw it and couldn’t help myself. I had that same feeling in Ikea, knowing that I’d follow you anywhere. Knowing that I’d follow you here.
This is it. This is the beginning of the rest of our loves. Ready, set, go.
She felt a rush of cool air. There were no open windows, no doors undone. “Mike,” she whispered. He’d follow her anywhere.