***Part Fourteen***
Word Count: 2,907

'Hello,' she said.

"Best sound I've heard in so long I can't even say," he said.

'What?'

"What she asks. Your voice is what."

'When did you get back to base?'

"Night before last."

'Oh,' she said.

"I had some things to do here and when I got done to the point I knew I'd have time to actually talk to you it was late."

'I know," she said. She was frustrated, though, he could tell.

"No one ever said this was easy what we're doing."

'I know that, I do. I'm not mad. It's just hard for me to understand sometimes because your boss is rather vague yet very pushy at times. You know?'

He chuckled at that. "Are you all settled in back home then?"

'Yes,' she said.

"Good."

'Dad's still saying no,' she said.

Her dad had said no to her going anywhere with him this summer, even another trip down to see him. John had sort of expected the answer, but he was sort of surprised to hear three weeks later he was still saying no. She'd been pretty confident he'd change his mind after some time to think about it.

"I sort of figured he wasn't going to change his mind," he shrugged. He wouldn't if it was him.

'They want to meet you.'

"I'm sorry?"

'I think the implication is basically no more trips to see you until that happens.'

'Christ, it's not as if I'm kidnapping you or talking you into eloping."

'That would certainly solve the problem.'

'Which?"

'Either.'

"Well, I'm not going to jail for kidnapping, that's for sure."

'And the other?'

"I hadn't thought that'd be an option."

'Why not?'

"Because of whom you and your parents are. You know, daddy's little girl gets the big wedding with the white dress and a million guests you'll never see again in your life if you've seen them more than once before that day."

'That's the only reason?'

"Well, you being not so far away might help."

'There is that.'

"And one of us has to finish college."

'There are colleges in North Carolina. Some within a hundred or so miles of Camp Lejeune."

"Yeah, well, it's important."

'What you're doing is just as important, John.'

"We need you to teach kids so they have more choices open to them than I did."

'You had teachers, most of the same ones I had.'

"Yeah, none who gave a shit to find out anything about me. Promise me, Princess, you won't be like that."

'What?'

"You ever meet someone like me; don't step on them even more."

'I wouldn't.'

"I hope not."

'So, it was two weeks this time?'

"Yes, very glad to sleep in my bed last night."

'I bet.'

"You in it would've been nicer."

'It would've.'

"Did you go out last night?"

'For a little while.'

"Hmm. No keggers?"

'I didn't feel like drinking.'

He was quiet for a minute or two, replaying their conversation so far.

'Are you still there?'

"Uh, yeah."

'You got quiet.'

"Just thinking."

'About?'

'You're not trying to tell me something, are you?"

'What do you mean?'

"Needing to meet your parents, eloping, colleges down here."

'Well, no, I mean, yeah this summer going somewhere won't happen. The next leave you get, though, if you meet them this summer they can't use that as an excuse.'

He was quiet again.

'John?'

"So, you're not pregnant or anything?"

'What?'

"You heard me. You're not drinking. I pay attention when we talk, believe it or not, and you've said a few times you haven't been in the mood."

'You think I lied?'

"What?"

'I told you I was taking my pills.'

"They're not a guarantee. I know that. I've heard of accidents happening even with that."

'Then there was something else going on. They forgot a day or they were on some other medication or something.'

"What?"

'I'm not going to explain it beyond as long as you don't miss a day, which I haven't. Ever. Not once. It's as one hundred percent as you can get.'

"As you can get."

'John, I'm not, I promise. Well, I guess I wouldn't know yet from seeing you last month, but I swear I just miss you. Is that a bad thing? It's been over two weeks since we talked. So, yeah, I've thought about what it would be like to be that close to you that I could see you on weekends.'

"I couldn't stay with you unless I had leave."

'It'd be better then what we have now.'

"Claire…"

'You don't agree? You'd rather have me states away?'

"I do, but as much as I hate to admit it, your parents are right."

'Wow. You want to meet them?'

"I'd rather go through boot camp again to be honest, but it's the logical next step. If it were me, if I was your father, I'd want to meet me, too. Because he has to be thinking that what you're thinking is a possibility. If you've told them I plan on making a career of this that means it wouldn't be just college you'd be moving away from them. I'd want to meet the guy that my daughter was contemplating hauling her ass across the country for, too."

'That has nothing to do with where I go to school.'

"Claire, what is with you?"

'What do you mean?'

"Why is this bothering you now all of the sudden?"

"It's not.'

"Don't lie to me. Whatever you do, we are, I don't want you to ever lie to me. The truth may suck, but we need honesty."

'How do you have so much time to talk today?'

"I'm at a friend's off-base house."

'Oh.'

"Princess, I love you."

'I love you, too.'

"I'm not going anywhere. You know you're the only person I've ever said that to, right? Ever. Maybe once upon a time I said it to my mom, but it's been years. You get how significant that is for me to admit that to myself let alone you?"

'I know.'

"Do you?"

'Yes.'

"I'll put in for leave as soon as I can get it. If your parents are still all right with my sleeping in your brother's room, I will take them up on their offer. Beats them wondering where I'm sleeping."

'If they aren't?'

"Well, I don't know then. I'm not going to stay at James' house."

'Good,' she said softly.

"Is that what this is about? Samantha? Did something happen I don't know about?"

'No,' she said, not sounding convincing at all.

"Claire."

'Someone egged my car.'

"What?"

'You heard me.'

"I was afraid she'd do something stupid, but I don't think she'd go after you."

'She's already done some pretty stupid things, John. I don't know if it was her, but I was at a party and mine was the only car egged.'

"Do you want me to call James?"

'No, if something else happens I'll take care of it.'

He chuckled softly. "Are you sure?"

'Yes, I kind of want to meet her anyway, but I won't if nothing else happens.'

"All right. Anyway, that would mean I'd have to get a room elsewhere if your parents won't let me stay there."

'I hate the idea of you spending money. The hotel last month and one here. The times you've gone to one so we could talk privately.'

"I don't regret any of it. This is a military base, Princess. Motels renting rooms by the hour aren't difficult to find around here." Getting there wasn't always easy, but he managed to find ways so far.

'Hm, they are, huh?'

"The only reason I know that is those phone calls to you. Speaking of which."

'Yeah?'

"You being home, they should be easier, yeah?"

'I suppose.'

"No Amy to worry about anyway. I'll try to get away next weekend again."

'Okay.'

"And I'll put in for leave on Monday."

'It'd be nice if you could be home for Fourth of July.'

"Too much of a chance of running into one of the Bender's. No thanks," he said, afraid she'd mention that. He enjoyed the carnival Shermer had every year over the Fourth of July the same as anyone, but it wasn't the place to go when trying to stay off someone's radar.

'I suppose.'

"Sorry."

'The ring!'

"What?"

'Another thing you've spent money on.'

"That was one hundred percent necessary. I have nothing else to spend money on, Princess."

'Necessary?'

"Had to make it perfectly clear you're spoken for."

'You don't have anything.'

"I'm a guy, sweetheart, guys don't wear rings."

'What if we were married?'

"Then, yeah, I guess."

'Really?'

"That surprises you?"

'A little. Some guys don't wear them.'

"I'd have to take it off sometimes, going into the field or whatever, but I'd wear it."

'What if I want you to be spoken for?'

"Princess, I love you, is that not enough?"

'It is it just seems unfair.'

"I'm not getting your name tattooed on my body."

She laughed. 'That's good. I don’t want you to. I like your body just the way it is.'

"You do now?"

'Yes, but you know that.'

"I do."

'I'd like it better if it was lying next to me right now.'

"Next to you?"

'Well, assuming we'd just be waking up.'

"Ah. Are you facing away from me?"

'Yes," she whispered.

"Well, then next to you could work just fine."

'It would.'

He chuckled. "If I stay with you will your parents ever leave us alone? Or let us leave the house, un – what's the word – chaperoned?"

'I'm not sure.'

"Do they need to know where I'm staying if not with you?"

'Huh?'

"I need to meet them, I get that. So, going to see you and not telling them I'm in town isn't an option. I thought of it initially as a possibility. Get a room downtown somewhere, maybe you could tell them you were doing something with your friends down there. They're asking to meet me so getting it done now is best, I get that. That doesn't mean they need to know I'm at James' house or a hotel, right?"

'Honestly, if I had a choice?'

"Lay it on me."

'I'd choose no sex and seeing you as much as I could.'

"Well, check with them then. Like last month I'll have no idea when I'll know it's granted. Now because I'm not being specific as I was for your thing in April, maybe they'll just grant me something right away. I don't know. And Fourth of July, I imagine that's a pretty popular holiday for guys to want off. You know if I can get my leave in the next couple of weeks, you coming here for the Fourth would be possible."

'We'll have to see. And you'd be okay with that?'

"Okay with what?"

'What I just said. No sex.'

"A few days of that for the possibility of them letting you come with me somewhere next time or here next month. Yes."

'Thank you.'

"You really weren't sure I'd be okay with that?"

'I don't know.'

"Christ, Claire, if all I wanted was sex, no offense, but I could save myself a whole lot of emotional entanglements here. I want you; I plan on a little over three years from now being able to wake up next to you the rest of my life."

'I know.'

"Do you? Do you really?"

'Yes.'

"Besides, there's always your car."

'What would you have done if I'd said I was pregnant?'

"God, I really don't want to hypothetically talk about that, but I guess I would've been a long-distance father."

'That's all?'

"You have to finish school, that'd be doubly important then. I've thought about it. Every letter I got from you for a while after you were here I half expected it."

'Wow. Really? You thought I'd lied?'

"No, but I don't know how it works exactly beyond it's a pill and you take it. Princess, I hear stories. My recruiter, my drill instructor, other Marines, I'd have been a fool if I didn't at least think about what I'd have done if I'd gotten that letter from you in January."

She laughed. 'John, honey, I will take it every day until we decide I shouldn't. Together. I swear. It's a little trickier at home, but I imagine Mom and Dad would rather see I'm taking it then not.'

"You've never called me that before."

'I've thought it lots of times.'

He could tell she was nervous about having said it. Why, though? "That I'm your honey?"

'Yes,' she said, sounding cautious.

"And you think I could possibly act as if I'm not spoken for?"

'No, I know you do. I trust you. I wouldn't want you to meet my parents if I didn't. I just wish you had something like my ring.'

"You think of something not a ring and I'd wear it."

'But you'd wear a wedding ring?'

"Yes. Not right now, I mean, not just to wear one I wouldn't."

She laughed. 'I wouldn't do that.'

"That's good, Princess."

'I can talk to my parents' today.'

"Okay."

'I'll send you a letter Monday with their answer. I really wish you'd reconsider Fourth of July.'

"My parents and their so-called friends like the beer tent and it's too risky. Even if I didn't see them, there's a chance I'd see someone they know. I've dropped off the earth to them; I don’t want to risk it."

'I get it.'

"I know you try, but you won't ever completely. They probably think I'm dead by now, and I'd prefer it stay that way."

'Where's your friend?'

"They went out for breakfast, I think."

'They?'

"Yeah, he's married."

'Oh, I guess that explains the off-base house. I'm glad you've been making friends.'

"I'm not great at it, but I am, too."

'Well, they obviously trust you.'

"I guess. By the way, they mentioned if you come down here again you're welcome to their spare bedroom. So, you can tell your parents that if they ask where you'd stay down here if I can get up there in the next few weeks."

'I guess you do talk about me.'

"Only just about every waking moment that's not dedicated to Marines business."

'You haven't sent me any pictures lately,' she said.

He didn't always have time to send her drawings, but he had been taking tons of pictures of everything since buying a camera in December. He sent her pictures whenever he sent her letters usually there was a sketch or something in there, too, but what time he had to draw went to what he was assigned to draw.

"I've been busy, Princess. I have three rolls to develop. I'll send some."

'Drawings?'

"You get pushy sometimes," he teased.

'Actually I have a better one.'

"What?"

'A request. I have a couple pictures of us from the dance. I just got them before I came home. I was going to get copies made.'

"Okay."

'That's what I would like a drawing of.'

"Us?"

'Yes.'

"You sure about that? I've got some excellent bird pictures on these rolls."

'You think I'd rather have a drawing of a bird?'

"You can get a drawing of us anytime."

'I'd have one already if that was true.'

"Fair enough."

'You'd rather draw the birds?'

"Then draw myself, sure, but all right."

'Thank you. I'll get copies made and send them to you.'

"There'd better be something very good in the letter they're sent with if you're going to make me do that, Princess."

'Hmm. Like what?'

"Remember that cabin on a beach I want to take you to?"

'Yes.'

"Tell me what you'd like to do while there."

'That's all?'

"All?"

'That's easy is all I meant. I can do that? It's okay to send you a letter like that?'

"Yes."

'But you said…'

"At school. It's a bit different now. More freedom makes guys mess with other people's shit less."

'If you're positive.'

"You're worth any teasing anyway, but you do that and I'll draw you any fucking thing you want."

'Anything?'

"Yes."

She laughed then.

"What?"

'Nothing. I'll wait to make that request until I've had practice writing like that.'

"Hmm. Okay?"

'Put it this way, dirty letter deserves a dirty picture.'

"I told you in October I still wanted to draw you!"

'Not of me, honey.'

He paused. "Oh."

She laughed again.

"I'm not a self-portrait expert."

'I didn't say what I wanted you to draw.'

'Princess."

'I'll tell you when I'm ready. You said anything.'

"When your parents' won't open your mail?"

'Yeah, that, too.'

"All right, if I have to wait I have to wait."

'Thank you.'

"You don't have to thank me. I love you, so I don't think there's anything I wouldn't do for you."

'Besides get my name tattooed on your body, you mean? I feel the same way.'

"I know. The fact you're willing to write that type of letter says so."

'Tell your friend thank you.'

"I will."

'Should I send some money to help pay for the call?'

"No."

'You're sure? We've been talking for a long time.'

"I've got it covered."

'Okay. Next weekend?'

"Maybe sooner since I don't have to worry about waking Amy up anymore."

'That is a bonus. I love you, John.'

"You, too, Princess."

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