"God, you're very tan," she said after their brief kiss.
"Two weeks in the field will do that to you, Princess," he said.
"That was weeks ago, though."
"What can I say? I stay tan, I guess. Plus I do things outside on weekends. You know basketball and stuff. It hasn't been real sunny, but we try to take advantage of it when it is."
He stepped out of the way of the people coming out of the gate behind him so he could kiss her properly.
"Hi," he said when they both finally had to take a breath.
"I missed you."
"Me, too," he said.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said cautiously.
"John, I can see it in your eyes."
"We have two weeks to talk about it."
"Yeah, about that. Why two weeks?"
"Well, I had sixteen days to use up."
"You could have saved them for later, though. You're going to be back to zero again and won't have any when I visit you before going back to school."
He'd finally gotten her off the idea of transferring schools, thankfully. Not that he wouldn't want her close by, but this was the Marines nothing was set in stone. Not even the base he was assigned to. As it was, he'd been right in discouraging her to do it. He'd spend the next while feeling horribly guilty of her being there by herself if she had.
"Princess, I will explain it later, I promise. Let's get out of here so your dad won't worry any more than he has to. I did what I thought you'd like best. Okay?"
"Sure. You want to go to my house right away?"
"What are my other options?"
"We could get something to eat. I do have to call my dad and tell him where we're going, though."
He chuckled. "Of course you do."
"It's late," she said. "He worries about me driving down here."
"I know. Next time I'll try harder to get a flight into O'Hare so it's not so out of the way."
"No, it's fine. He just wants to know when we leave and where we're going so he has an idea of when we'll be home."
"Something to eat sounds good then."
"Okay then," she said, taking hold of his hand.
She went to the bank of pay phones to call her dad while he waited for his duffle to come in at the baggage claim area. He had nothing with him of importance this time so he wasn't as worried as he had been coming up here in April with his dress uniform. There was nothing in his duffel he couldn't replace easily and fairly cheaply.
They went to a pizza place he loved, and she knew that, too. He hadn't been able to go in April with James and Samantha because it wasn't practical to get there from Midway and then back to the bus terminal downtown.
He grabbed her hand when she started to sit on the booth across from him.
"Nuh uh," he said.
"I didn't think you liked sitting next to me."
"Whatever gave you that impression?"
"I don't know. I tried to before," she shrugged.
"Different, I guess. I knew we'd go back to our room and be alone. I know I'm not going to get much time alone with you this time. So, I want you as close to me as I can get you while I can have you there."
"Oh," she said, sitting next to him.
They ordered a pitcher of Coke when the waitress approached their table almost as soon as Claire sat down. He was really dreading the conversation they'd have to have, but he couldn't put it off. If he did, she'd get mad at him for not telling him right away and he wasn't going to leave her with her mad at him on top of everything else they'd be dealing with.
"So, commenting on my being tan. You've gotten some sun, too, and I know you don't tan easily so that means you've been working at it."
"Sure, at the club. Mom and Dad have been trying to keep me busy or distracted I guess. Dad hasn't invited me to go golfing with him in eons. Mom doesn't like tennis. She's good because she played when she was younger into college, but she says she always feels as though people are watching her there. I've gone to the beaches downtown a couple of times, too."
They gave their pizza order to the waitress when she came back with their pitcher of Coke.
"And now I get to keep you busy for the next couple of weeks."
"There is that. Mom and Dad asked if you'd want to go up to our lake house while you're here."
"Whatever you want. I have nothing to do."
"Yeah, but if you wanted to spend our time downtown or something."
"Claire. I'm here to see you. If we go downtown or swim in a lake makes me no difference."
"Are you going to see your friends?"
"Tony and Kevin, probably not. I got a letter from Tony when I sent him my address in January, but I haven't heard from him since. Kevin I think sent two, but it hasn't been since March I don't think. They're not doing things I should be around anyway. You know?"
"Do you miss it?"
He shrugged, taking a sip of his Coke. "I guess a little, but being out of my house I don't need it like I did. It's not something I can even think about doing anyway, so there's no point in missing it."
"What about James?"
"School's out and he hasn't changed his hours yet at Ward's to anything but the weekends and evenings he's been working so lunch probably tomorrow or something."
"Do you need my car?"
"You could come with, you know. I have nothing to hide."
"No, but he's your friend and I'm sure you'd like to see him without his sister or me along for a change. I don't have to go along like I can't be away from you for a couple of hours or so of your two weeks here."
"All right. Well, I'll ask him in the morning, he's probably willing to pick me up."
"Well, that's a little more complicated."
"Well, turns out Don's kind of a possessive asshole," he said.
"I told you there were some … stories floating around about her."
"Yes, but he had the paternity test done and it was his."
"Yeah, true, but I'm not sure he ever stopped believing those stories could be true. I don’t think they are, but even I have to admit she does some pretty stupid things when she's as trashed as she supposedly was at the party in question. Anyway, she moved in with him because her parents for whatever reason were okay with her living at the house pregnant but they didn't want a baby in the house again or something. He's kind of a dick about letting her see anyone who's not female. She has no car and she's not working, so seeing her is kind of out of the question unless I somehow get his approval."
"With a baby? Really? What's he think she's going to do?"
He chuckled. "Make another one? I'm really not sure. He and I never really got along, I don't think he believed we were never a thing."
"What if I went with you?"
"You'd do that?"
"Well, you'd like to see her, wouldn't you?"
"And the baby?"
"I don't know much about babies, but I'm curious I guess. Yeah, I'd like to see her, too."
"That's normal. She's your oldest friend. It's okay to be curious."
"I just wasn't expecting you to be cool with it."
"I know it's not yours."
"Yeah, but the three of us have a bit of a history or whatever it is that you want to call it."
She shook her head, leaning into kiss him. "Not anymore we don't."
"I'll give you her phone number then, you can call her in case Don answers."
"She can't even talk to you?"
"I don't know! The couple of letters I sent her after she moved in with him I sent to her parents' house. He's nuts, I'm telling you. It drives me crazy she's staying, but not being here in person I can't really talk her out of it. And maybe he's not doing anything wrong, but controlling someone's every move and keeping someone away from anyone else isn't a good thing."
"Well, I don't know what to say. She chose to live with him, and you're right you can't really talk her out of it if she wants to be there. It doesn't sound as if she really has anywhere else to go either. I'm just glad you're not like that."
"It's not easy."
"How do you mean?"
He took her hand, kissing her fingertips, grazing his thumb over the opal on the ring he'd given her. "You have no idea how hard it was for me not to say 'yeah, fuck it, let's elope' when you brought it up last month."
"But that's not because you don't trust me and want to stop me from seeing my friends. People I've known all of my life."
"No, but it's very much a base need I have not to let you slip through my fingers."
"I believe you, Princess, but things are about to get a little more complicated than they have been to this point."
"What do you mean?"
"It's the reason I took the full two weeks I had available to me this trip."
"Okay," she said.
"And it's the reason I absolutely did not want you to transfer colleges on a whim."
"I'm getting deployed."
"I know you heard me, Claire."
"But we aren't at war with anyone."
He chuckled. "There are always things going on. I'm going with a unit that requested me because of my Illustrator and photography skills."
"But you're not a Combat Photographer," she said.
"No, but I've been taking photographs every second I can, even in the field I pack it with me. It's a valuable tool, because sometimes drawing a picture isn't always feasible but I can snap a picture, develop it, and then draw it from the still photo later. I'm an Infantryman so I can handle myself if something happened so I'm not someone they have to worry about."
She turned away from him then, not her entire body but her face. She focused on the pitcher of pop that was closer to her than it was to him right now.
"Claire," he said.
"So, what does that mean?"
"I'm gone for six or seven months."
"Yes, but that also means when I come back I'll have over a half year of leave time banked. If we can arrange it to where you come see me over your spring break, I might be able to work it to where I get weekend passes instead of leave time and I'd still have leave to spare later."
"And in the meantime?"
"You can still write to me and send me your packages. I'll get them, it'll just take a little longer for me to get them than it does right now."
"When did you find out?"
"About a week ago when they granted my leave and suggested I take the full two weeks I had banked."
"I'm not entirely sure. Somewhere in the Mediterranean. That's all I'd be able to tell you anyway."
"Even if I was your wife?"
"Even if," he said.
Their waitress chose that moment to set their pizza down on the table. He assured her they didn't need anything else. She no doubt saw the tears in Claire's eyes and probably thought he was breaking her heart or something. Maybe he was, he didn't know.
"We knew this could be a possibility, Claire. I told you there were no guarantees I'd be anywhere for any given amount of time. That was why I did not want you switching schools. Even if I wasn't deployed, I could have been transferred to a different base."
"I know, I get it."
"There are some other things, too. Can you talk to me?"
"Yes, kind of important things. But I need to know you're not mad and can actually talk to me."
"I'm not mad. It scares me, but I'm not mad."
"I survived my parents, Princess. You're not going to get rid of me that easily."
"I know, it's still scary. There's something more…dangerous about it."
"People can die on our own military bases stateside."
"Yes, I'm aware of that."
"Your dad I presume has notaries on his staff?"
"Of course," she said.
"I have papers I need you to sign."
"Yeah, this is where it gets complicated or at least weird. I don't have anyone else I trust, you understand that, right?"
"Yes, I know."
"And while I've made some friends they aren't people I trust and I certainly wouldn't trust their wives."
"I'm going to make you a joint account holder on my checking account."
"I don't have many bills. I have no house, car, or anything like that, but I have a couple of credit cards I'll need you to make payments on."
"And, well, if something happens to me you need to have access to it. I'm also signing Power of Attorney over to you, which means you can do those things for me. Pay my bills, file my taxes if I were to be gone that long. But it's also for my health. If something happens to me you'd be in charge of the care I receive, whether they keep me on life support and stuff. My service and burial if that was necessary."
"Claire, we have two weeks. I have no one else. If we don't talk about this and you don't sign these things, my parents would get the call. Do you understand that? Everything I've worked toward would be for nothing. They'd have access to my money. Forget my money, I don't really give a shit about that because it's not like I have a lot. They'd have access to my body if I was in a coma or something. You're already the beneficiary on my life insurance policy so I don't have to change anything there."
"What? Jesus, you didn't tell me that."
"Well, I don't plan on dying, but you need to know these things. I don't have any belongings except a boom box I bought a couple of months ago and a few other things. Nothing of any consequence or that's worth anything, but anything that's left in my barracks you'd get and could do whatever you want with."
"Don't talk like that."
"I have to! I don't like thinking it, but I have to. Really, you just need to do the signatures for my bank account so they have your signature on file and your name obviously. And the power of attorney, but I brought everything so you'll have copies. If you want your dad to look them over."
"No, that's not necessary, I just don't like thinking about it either. And I can be your power of attorney?"
"I was told yes. It could get muddy if my parents caught wind of anything and contested, but as long as you and the Marines do your jobs and keep them in the dark it shouldn't be an issue."
"They'd take me to court, wouldn't they?"
"Yes, but if I die, Claire, you take whatever money's in my account and put it somewhere. Give it to your dad or your brother to hold onto so my parents can't get it. I don't have a lot, but it's enough I don't want them getting their hands on it. And six or seven months away with nothing to spend money on I'll have even more."
She rested her forehead against his shoulder.
"So, a couple of credit cards? That's what you're talking about me being responsible for while you're gone?"
"That's it, and there's hardly anything on either of them. I've just been paying like forty dollars a month just to establish the credit. I'll call tomorrow and change the address for the bills to your address once we are sure your parents are okay with forwarding them to you once I go back. I won't be able to put in another change of address once I'm gone. I know it's a lot, but you really are the only person I trust. Most importantly when it comes to my parents because you're one of only a handful who know the situation completely."
"You wouldn't want me to tell them if you died?"
"No. If you wanted to send them a copy of my obituary afterward or something, if that would make you feel better somehow, I wouldn't blame you for doing that. I don't want them anywhere near me, though, if I'm in a coma and I've stated that plainly in these documents."
"If Vernon could see me now worrying about my bills getting paid and powers of attorney."
She laughed softly, kissing his cheek. "He'd have a heart attack."
"Yeah, well, I told James back in October I didn't want to be responsible for that guy's bad health on my shoulders. I didn't want it then, I don't want it now but it is kind of ironic that I'm sitting here having this conversation with you."
"You had to think, in the back of your mind, that Vernon was right."
She bit her lip, nodding a little. "You had a choice and you made it. It doesn’t matter how you got where you are today, John, it just matters that you're taking it seriously and are good at it."
"How do you know I'm good at it?"
"Because I hear the pride in your voice and it comes through in your letters when you talk about a drawing you did getting selected or praised. You wouldn't be talking about a career a year into this if you didn't like what you were doing."
"Yeah, well, talk to me again about the career thing in eight months."
"Could you get deployed again?"
"Anything's possible, probably. I don't know. I wouldn't right away, though, I don't think barring a war. Then, well, of course, I would be."
"Well, that's good at least."
"Are you okay?"
"Okay," she shrugged. "Not really. I haven't gone seven months without talking to you ever. Do you realize that? The longest was close, I guess, after we stopped seeing each other after detention but that was totally different."
"I know. We'll get through it. One thing, though."
"Mail gets gone through and read."
"All mail gets gone through to be sure there's nothing hazardous or threatening in it. I can't say that when they see it's just a letter that they read every line of text, but I think you should assume that's the case."
"I have an address, but I'm not positive of its accuracy. They gave me a number family can call to verify it once we're gone. I've included the name of the unit I'll be with and the number you should be able to call to get a mailing address for me if you don't want to wait until you get a letter from me. Be sure you reference the unit number for anything to do with me."
"Okay." She slid her hand to his, lacing her fingers through his and gripping his hand tightly. "Now I kind of wish we hadn't told my parents you were coming to town."
He chuckled softly. "It's better to get it out of the way, Princess. We shouldn't start lying to them either as tempting as it was. Besides, it's two weeks, surely we'll get some time in there alone."
"Maybe we can go swimming late or something."
"Hmm, in the water?"
"It's a thought."
"I like your way of thinking. If you have any other ideas, be sure to share them with me."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com