News that Honor Caswell was back in town had been swirling for weeks like the outer bands of a hurricane lifting the interest of those who knew him. Of those who knew him, there were two groups, the ones who knew him all his life and through high school until he joined the marines and those who knew him through Granny Rose who talked about him all the time and put him on the prayer list every Sunday for some reason or another or no reason at all except that he was so far away, living in California and she hadn’t seen him in years.
Granny Rose raised Honor and his two sisters as her own after his mother died when he was ten. His dad raised him too, but with his schedule and work hours, he couldn’t fulfill the daily responsibilities of parenting, like getting them to school and cooking dinner, so granny took over and there was no one who could say anything about it.
Of all people in town, Chelsea was least excited about his return. That is to say, she was dreading it. He left all those years ago and he should stay away was how she felt, although she wouldn’t say that out loud or let on that’s what she though. Her official stance was indifference and that’s how she played it right up until she spotted him sitting alone at a round table in the back of Shorty’s Tavern the second Wednesday after he arrived.
To those who didn’t live in Holly Shelter back when Honor lived there, they might never know that Chelsea even knew him, much less that she’d promised her life to him at one point.
Chelsea and Honor had dated all through high school. She’d given him everything: her attention, her loyalty, her virginity. She was devoted to him in ways that other girls their age wouldn’t consider as they dated around and dreamt of moving off to a big city to meet a more cultured man. That was the goal when Chelsea was graduating high school: to go off to a big city and make a name for yourself then come back, only to visit, with a big rock, a couple kids and a hot shot husband in sunglasses. Chelsea wanted none of that. She had no desire to move away from Holly Ridge, no desire to marry a city boy, no desire to do any of the things her peers wanted to do.
When Honor told her in May of his senior year that he’d enlisted in the marines, she felt shocked and betrayed. They’d been planning a life together, marriage, a family. And that life was meant to happen right there where they grew up. But Honor had a different idea. He would travel the world, learn discipline and be a hero.
My name is Honor, how can I not pursue a career in the marines? He told her as if she should have known all along that this was his fate.
Honor Richard Caswell, named for his great grandfather who lived and died for this country. His mother was a hippy who named all her children nouns: Faith, Honor, Joy. She died when Honor was twelve, Faith was sixteen and Joy was nine. Chelsea was with him through all of that. Classmates, then friends, then lovers. Then, if things had gone her way, partners and spouses. But things didn’t go her way.
Honor went off to boot camp promising he would love her forever and be back to marry her. Chelsea never believed it. The day he told her he was enlisting, her heart broke like a wave crashing on sand and she was never the same. She wrote to him without hope or excitement and his letters became less frequent until months went by without one, and then, like a strange artifact washing ashore, she got one last letter. It was a hard letter for him to write, he said, but met someone and was marrying her and they were having a baby.
You would never know, from seeing Chelsea in the days after she read that letter, that anything had changed in her life. She grieved his loss long ago and this letter was just the final inevitable sign that she expected.
Almost out of spite, or revenge, Chelsea married what seemed like the next man to come through town. His name was Jason and their marriage lasted less than a year. He was a drunk, and violent, and couldn’t keep a job. They never had children.
Honor came back once before, years ago, with his wife Kristi and daughter Penelope. They stayed for Christmas and Granny Rose was over the moon with excitement. Chelsea kept her distance. She didn’t even go to church for the Christmas service because she did not want to see him, or his wife and child. She did not want him back in her town the only place she knew and she couldn’t wait for them to leave again. She wanted him to leave and never come back. She never wanted to hear his name again.
And now he was coming back, maybe for good.