After four long years, it still looks the same to him; blue and inviting. Sitting on top of the hill, it overlooks the once green, rolling hills covered in bright wildflower fields. The late December snow is covering up that beauty.
The sun is shining bright through the clouds, casting a beautiful beam of light on the front door; like a beacon from Heaven.
He looks down at his clothing, torn and dirty. They didn’t give him much after releasing him. He straightens his jacket and adjusts the rucksack on his shoulder. Breathing in deep, he makes his way up the road. Just a little over a mile and this journey through Hell will be over.
He notices his heart is racing with excitement and nervousness, quickening with each step he takes. Four years is a long time, what if…
“No, Paul! Don’t think that!” he scolds himself, “You’ve come too far to start that shit.”
He’ll never forget leaving this place for that bloody war. He scowls at the memory of being captured and living in that prison. Of course, the other options were far worse, and he says a silent prayer of thanks that he is still alive. He will never able to thank the German guard who helped him escape back to the British army. He didn’t know German. He still hoped the smile on his face had been enough to break the language barrier between them.
A gust of wind forces Paul back to the present and he tightens his jacket. Looking up, he notices the sun has gone behind a cloud, leaving the countryside dark and gloomy. A feeling of doom falls across Paul and he quickens his pace. He must push on, only half a mile to go.
He use to imagine the moment he came home, lying in the foxholes in France. Each scenario played out differently and Paul always seemed to imagine the worst. But the one thing that never changed, and what always kept him going, was her.
A smile spreads across Paul’s face as he thinks of her. His darling Ava, with her wild red hair and her bright blue eyes. Those eyes could bring Paul out of whatever heartache he is feeling at the moment. He wishes everyday to bring her the pleasures she so deserves.
It broke him when he told her he had joined the army. Her bright blue eyes filling with tears as her little hand slapped him across his face. It felt like a mosquito bite against his cheek. It would’ve been a funny moment had he not crushed his angel’s heart.
He had no choice though, her father needed to see that he was good enough for her. How joining and fighting in that war would do that, Paul never did figure it out. However, he’s coming home a survivor and with quite a few extra shillings in his pocket, so he prays that would be enough.
He’s at the bottom of the hill where the blue house stands. The gravel driveway, lined with snow on either side, is the only thing standing between him and his world. He can see the brown roof tiles and the chicken coop he built in the back yard. He runs his hand through his dark brown hair, an ill attempt to clean up. He hopes she recognizes him with the beard. Paul opens his mouth to call out for her, but his mouth is so dry from dehydration and nerves. He’s shaking as he takes that first step up the way.
A dog, lying on the porch, lifts his head up and barks. He gets up and runs towards Paul, tail wagging. The shaggy grey beast leaps onto Paul, pushing him onto the ground, licking his neck and barking happily to the sky. Tears fall onto Paul’s face as he hugs his old wolfhound. At least Murphy recognizes him.
“Murphy! What are you barking at, you crazy old dog?”
That voice. He has played it over and over again in his head. He closes his eyes and listens for the voice again. Please let this be real.
He feels Murphy being pulled off him.
“I’m so sorry, sir! He means no harm.”
Paul’s heart skips a beat; she’s standing right there. Once he opens his eyes, he’ll be home. He’ll never have to wonder again how she is. Never again have to dream of her face, as he lies in the cold dirt, clutching a gun. His life can begin again.
“Sir? Are you ok?”
He can’t bare the wait any longer and he looks up at her. Her face is worn but still breathtaking. Her wild red hair is tied back and her small, outstretched hands are dirty. He glances at her hands and smiles. He’s waited so long to touch them. They are rough now, as he accepts her help, but still so small.
“Ava?” He croaks. His voice is even foreign to him; he hasn’t talked in weeks.
“How do you know my name?” Her blue eyes, still bright and full of life, eye him warily.
“It’s me, Paul.” His stomach is in his throat now, she doesn’t recognize him.
Her hands fly to her mouth and she takes a step back. She shakes her head in disbelief. “Paul,” she whispers.
He looks down and shuffles his feet, nodding; he didn’t expect her to step away.
Suddenly, her lips are on his and her arms are wrapped around his neck. He immediately wraps her up in his arms and presses his lips to hers.
The world stops at that moment and there’s nothing else that matters. He’s home and she’s here, just like he always imagined. The sun decides, then, to appear again; that beam of hope draping across his world.
He pulls away and cups her face, her beautiful, tear stained face.