***Part Sixteen***
Word Count: 2,741

August 1985

Dear Claire,

So, I told you that Iíd write to let you know that I arrived safe and sound. I have. It occurred to me after I left from base and had time to really think on all of this that I should apologize to you. Iím sorry that I laid all of this on you. I honestly hadnít given much thought to things like my bills needing to get paid in the event I was ever gone. I know it might seem like too much, but I appreciate everything youíre doing for me. Itís a lot to ask of you, but I wouldnít if I didnít trust you. And, yeah, maybe I should work on trusting more than just you, but I guess itís one of those things built into the way I am. I just donít do that easily. Itís hard for me to trust someone who doesnít know everything about me as you do and I donít lay my past on people. Guys suspect, of course, but other than one or two itís not mentioned. Their wives or girlfriends certainly donít know. On the other hand, a positive to that, is Iíve learned to stop giving a shit what anyone thinks of what they see when Iím without a shirt on or wearing shorts.

I thought long and hard on who I would have asked if I didnít have you, and the only person I could come up with was Jamesí mom. Sad that I trust his mom over my own, I know, but I really donít know who else I would have asked. All I know is if I didnít have you I probably wouldnít have the friends I do have on-base because youíre the one who made me realize that friendships can be kind of nice.

If I didnít mention it while there (I think I did), thank you again for going to Sheilaís with me. Regardless of how in the past you claim the misunderstanding to be, it was still real nice of you to do. I was glad to see her and hear that sheís okay. Iím still not entirely sure I trust Don, but I can only hope knowing what I went through she wouldnít lie to me. If you think about it when youíre home over breaks, stop by and see her and the baby once in a while just so I can be assured sheís really okay. If you canít, or donít want to, I get that. Sheís not your concern, and really shouldnít be mine. I just know somewhere along the line my parents were like they were, you know? Young with a baby they probably thought they were going to love.

Seeing little Ericka got me thinking. Do you want kids? I mean, not like tomorrow (at least I hope not tomorrow). Iíve never asked and I realize weíd need to be married first. It just got me thinking. You held her and you had this look in your eye. Iíve been told itís normal, women like babies. It sort of gave me a momentary bout of panic, though. Do you have doubts about having them with me because of how I was raised? I wouldnít blame you.

Anyway, Iím going to sign off now before I get even deeper than I meant to. I had nothing but time on my way here to think. Thinking about you was much better than thinking about the big unknown that I was flying over here for. Iíll get this in the box so I can send it on its way to you. I was going to wait to send it (whatís in the box with the letter not the letter itself) until Iíd been here a couple of weeks, but I was told there may not be another chance for a while. Weíre kind of on twenty-four hour standby. So, Iím sending it now. Iím sorry if it seems odd Iím sending something to you when I just got here, but I saw these and thought of you. And, well, the next time I see you if youíd like to wear the wearable item and little else I wouldnít complain.

Oh, and for this month only, would you please not look at the credit card statement when it comes? Just pay it. If you do look, donít get mad at me, I took some cash out so Iíd have some money in addition to these purchases. Still, it sort of takes the surprise out of buying you something when youíre the one sending the check into the company later and have an idea of how much cash I had on me.

Love,
John

P.S. In case I donít get another letter off to you, drive safe when you go back to school. And try not to let that sorority house living interfere with your studying. Iím counting on you to keep making that Deanís List so you can teach all the future kids (ours included one day) of the world.

Claireíd been more than a little surprised to have a box waiting for her when she got home from her day at the club with her mom and friends. Everyone was doing what they could to distract her from the fact John had left and she wouldnít see him let alone even talk to him again for months.

Sheíd known it was a possibility, but she never dreamed heíd be shipped off somewhere when there was no war going on. He mentioned things always going on and that made her wonder how much danger he was in.

Her dad hadnít been too pleased that Claire was now responsible for the things John had put her in charge of. He thought it was too much pressure when she had school and him being gone to worry about. Really, though, what difference would it make if she was responsible for paying a couple of credit cards or not? Sheíd still worry and probably get distracted from school to some degree. At least this way she felt as though she was helping him beyond writing him letters she wouldnít even be sure he got. Heíd agreed eventually, realizing she was an adult and she just would have gone somewhere else to get another notary to witness her signing the documents.

She set the letter down and looked inside the box. It showed how much she missed him already that she chose to read his letter before even looking at anything else. They werenít wrapped or anything beyond some tissue paper. There was a beautiful (absolutely, positively gorgeous) silk scarf that was the most amazing blend of emerald green and purple sheíd ever seen.

The other thing obviously wasnít meant to wear, but it was something she could put on her wall at school. It was a decorative plate that looked like it might have been hand-painted.

Both things probably cost him a small fortune never mind how much it cost him to mail the box to her, and was likely why he was asking her not to look at the statement.

Heíd been gone over a month now, from visiting her anyway. She wasnít entirely positive when he left for wherever in the Mediterranean he was. Heíd told her when he left Chicago that he likely wouldnít be able to call her until he was back. Sheíd expected it, but was still disappointed she didnít get a good-bye phone call. Judging by the postmark on the box, heíd mailed it over two weeks ago. She had no idea if regular letters took that long to get there, she hoped not.

At least she had getting ready to go back to school to distract her. She was going to live in her sorority house this year. Her dad wasnít completely thrilled she was going that route, but sheíd decided dorm life wasnít for her. She suspected her parents werenít in favor of the idea because it meant John would have somewhere to stay when he visited her that didnít require them staying at a hotel for privacy.

They hadnít gotten a whole lot of time together when heíd been here. Sheíd expected that. Her parents had to at least suspect they were having sex, though neither ever said anything to her. She wondered about that sometimes, the fact that neither of them had to this point talked to her about what she might be doing to not get pregnant. They didnít want to think about it. She got that, but if she ever had a daughter in this same situation sheíd be sure.

She pulled out her stationery and a pen, sitting on her bed to write him another letter. Sheíd written him a few already. She wrote him a little bit every day and then every three or four days mailed a letter. Some days she wrote more than others, but she always wrote something, even if it was just to tell him she was thinking about him at that moment. She read his letter again before starting on hers to him.

Dear John,

Thank you so much for the scarf and the plate. Theyíre both beautiful, the scarf especially. Iím sure you knew that Iíd love them both, though. For someone who claims not to have good taste, you did exceptionally well. (And, yes, I think I can arrange to wear it when you get back. Wherever you want me to wear it even.)

I know you wonít be able to tell me where you are, but I hope wherever you are itís nice. Both weather and people. I wonder about that, you must be at a base or something. You said the Marines are kind of part of the Navy. I know thatís not how you explained it, but thatís what I got out of your explanation anyway. So, maybe a Naval base? I shouldnít try to figure it out, but I hate not knowing. Of course wherever you are I hope itís nice, too, from a safety standpoint, but I try not to think about the fact you may not be safe. It makes me feel better just assuming youíre over ďthereĒ drawing something or someone important with absolutely no possibility of encountering any danger.

Mom and I played tennis this morning. I did all right, but she won as she usually does. I never really paid attention to how good she was until this summer when Iíve needed to keep myself busy so Iíve taken her up on her offer to play. Sheís no Martina Navratilova or anything, but sheís really very good for someone who doesnít like to play in front of people. It makes me wonder if she hadnít had me and Christopher if sheíd have been able to play for money.

I had a dream last night about you. I know I shouldnít say anything specific, so Iíll just say it was about our last night at the lake house. You can imagine the rest. If not, well, Iím writing down the details of the dream for you so you can read it later. It was a very nice dream, except I woke up missing you. Then, I do that anyway, but I hated the fact you werenít here. Even your time on leave here, waking up to you just at the house not even in bed with me was nice.

Dad says Iíll be back at school soon and things will get better. Heís right, I know that. I canít wait to get my room set up. I liked Amy, donít get me wrong, but Iíll have my own room! I just wasnít made to share such a small space with someone for long periods of time. Itíll be so nice not to worry that Iím studying too late and keeping someone awake. Or that I canít talk to you the way Iíd like to because sheís there when you call.

My brother is meeting us at the club for dinner tonight. I actually only came home to change and get ready for dinner when I saw the box waiting for me. It was a nice thing to come home to! Iíll wear the scarf tonight. I have a dress that itíll look absolutely divine with. Thank you again! I hate that you spend money on me, but you already know that. (And okay, I donít hate it, but I hate that you seem to think you need to. You donít.)

You asked about kids. I almost didnít answer because I wasnít sure you really want an answer. I know my life wasnít the same as yours, but I have doubts, too. Neither of us had the best examples, I guess. I always said in high school when their fighting and games got real bad that Iíd never have them. That was before I fell in love with you, though. So, yes, I would have them, but only if you wanted them, too. I wouldnít want you to have one because I want to or you think I want to so we should. I think kids should be wanted from the beginning or itís kind of a screwy way to even begin. (Yes, I know accidents happen like with Sheila so please donít think Iím saying people like her are bad parents. Iím not, just that it has to help the situation wanting them from the part of trying for one.) In a few years when Iím done with school and everything, and weíve actually had time to spend together for a while yes, I would.

Is that the answer you wanted? Iím not sure. Maybe you were hoping Iíd say no. As to doubts about you being a father. I have none. You told me how you handled the situation with Jamesí sister. If you had any part of your parents in you, you wouldnít have been so calm about it. You also agreed to let me handle the egging of my car situation even though we both suspect it was her. (And, no, nothing else has happened since that night, so maybe she got over her frustrations and has moved onto someone who isnít my boyfriend.)

Anyway, Iíll write more tomorrow as I always do.

Love always,
Claire

It was sort of ironic that she got something from him today, because she had been shopping this week for things to send him. She couldnít send him cookies like she had in the past, but she remembered the things he talked about liking best and she was working on putting a box together for him. She remembered, too, the practical things like eye drops, Chap Stick, socks, and boot laces sheíd sent him that at the time seemed super silly but heíd commented more than once on their usefulness and that useful things werenít bad.

She had no idea when heíd get the box. She hated that part the most. All of the edible things she bought like nuts and Pop-Tarts were good forever, so she wasnít worried about them spoiling or expiring, but she just hated sending him something not knowing if he even got it.

She folded the letter up, putting it in the envelope with the other letters from the past couple of days and stashed it in her nightstand drawer. She didnít think her mom searched her room, but Claire wouldnít put it past her. Though what her mom hoped to find, Claire wasnít sure. She hadnít smoked pot since high school. She didnít really drink much. She certainly wouldnít keep either thing in her room if she even had it on her. She kept her birth control pills in her purse, which her mom seemed to respect the privacy of. Claire never suspected her mom of searching through that. An unspoken rule between women, she supposed. You just didnít touch another womanís purse, no matter what.

Five more months. She could do this. Her brother had asked her if she wanted to do it. Claire hadnít even thought of the possibility of ending things with John. His getting deployed wasnít his fault, certainly not something to break up with him about. It would be a long five months (she was hoping it was five and not six, but sheíd heard him say six or seven months), but it wasnít anything hundreds of other women hadnít gone through.

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