***Chapter Twenty***
Word Count: 4,417

“So, what do you want to do with the rest of the day?” she asked.

“You’re the one who wanted to do things. I’d be perfectly content going back to the room and not leaving again until I have to tomorrow morning.”

“I know that, but I have to be able to tell people I did something besides have sex with you all weekend?”

“Why?”

She shook her head. She knew he was kidding. Of course the idea of spending the rest of the night in bed with him wasn’t a bad one. She just felt as if they should do something considering it was their first whole day together since last summer, and would likely be their last whole day together until this summer.

“Come on,” she said. “You can’t tell me the looks on some of those parents’ faces at the Children’s Museum weren’t priceless.”

“Yeah, sure for you because they were looking at me, not you. They probably thought I was there to scope out their kids or something.”

“They were not. It was very obvious you were there with me not for any other reason.”

“Yeah well, still.”

“You said you’d never been to one before.”

“Well, sure, you asked. I didn’t realize you were going to take me to one here and now. I figured you were just asking a general question.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Nothing to be sorry for. It was sort of fun.”

“How hard was that for you to admit?”

He chuckled softly. “I admit if I had to choose between spending my time there or the Museum of Art I’d probably choose the Children’s Museum.”

“Really? I didn’t think you thought the art museum was that bad.”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “The other one wasn’t bad, but the Children’s Museum is more hands on, you know? I don’t know. Plus, well, it was kind of cool watching some of those kids getting into the exhibits and stuff.”

“It was,” she admitted. “I just thought it’d be something different. If I’d known you were coming I could’ve thought of something a little better.”

“You did fine. Back to your question about the rest of the night. I don’t know. We could certainly go back to the room.”

She’d paid for a room for the night when they’d decided to go into Indianapolis for the day. He’d offered to pay, but she insisted she could. It seemed only fair since he’d paid for practically everything already to this point in their relationship. He’d even paid her parents back for the plane ticket when she went down to visit him last December and they hadn’t asked him to.

“That’s fine.”

“Well, if you really want to do something. We could see a movie. Or I suppose go swimming. There’s an indoor pool.”

“Yes. You’d do that?”

“Sure. Why not?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I wasn’t sure you would want to, so I didn’t mention it.”

“Would you like to swim? Do you even have a suit?”

“Do you?”

“I have shorts.”

“I brought one in case.”

“You just want to see me half naked.”

“True.”

“I swam with you at your parents’ lake house.”

“Yeah, but that’s not…”

“Public? Yeah, I know. I’ve gotten used to people staring. They eventually stop or they don’t, it makes me no difference anymore.”

“Good.”

“I mean I didn’t do it to myself, obviously. So, whatever,” he shrugged.

She knew it was a pretty big deal for him to get to this point, though. She tried not to let it show, but it still made her so angry and sad inside that he’d lived like that.

“You know,” she said. “You haven’t said when you want to get married.”

“You didn’t ask. You said yes that was the most important part for now.”

“You know when you want to?”

“Well, I’d like to tomorrow, but I know that won’t fly with your parents. So, you talk to them and tell me what they say.”

“Well, they’d want it to be in June.”

“Of course they would,” he said. “Presumably, next June?”

“I’d still be in school.”

“Yeah? So, I’d get off-base housing before we got married, you could spend the summer and breaks with me there and finish school here.”

“You don’t want me to live with you?”

“I do. You know I do. I also know that after three years of school not all of your credits may transfer and you’ve worked hard to be done in four years. We’d see one another on breaks and the occasional weekend I’m sure. And if I was to get deployed again, at least you’d be close to home for holidays instead of down there.”

“I was thinking about this summer.”

“Getting married this summer? Your parents would not go for that, Princess, even I know that.”

“No, not getting married this summer. I was thinking about going down there and finding a job.”

“Really?”

She’d surprised him, she could tell. She’d thought about a lot of things while he was deployed. Not being involved with him was not one of the things that ever entered her mind. Being closer to him when she had the chance to be, though, that entered her mind a lot. What if something happened? He’d told her there was always stuff going on. What if smaller stuff (whatever that meant exactly and she knew he could never actually tell her what it meant) turned into full-blown war somewhere and he was gone again. She doubted there was a time-limit on deployment for that kind of thing. He could be gone until his enlistment time was up.

“Yes.”

“There’s lots of stuff in some of the coastal towns south of LeJeune along the way down to Myrtle Beach. I’d be able to see you every weekend without using leave.”

“Really?”

“Yup. As long as I check in and out and leave a way to get a hold of me in case I’m needed.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, well, I knew last summer it wasn’t really a possibility so I didn’t try to convince you too hard.”

“Like I’d find a job that gave me weekends off.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. You’d have weekend nights off and mornings, too, I bet.”

“Could you find out for me, like where I could stay and stuff?”

“Sure. I can do that when I get back. I could talk to a couple of my friends and see if they’d be willing to rent you their spare bedroom or something.”

“Then we’d never be alone.”

He chuckled. “I could still sleep with you.”

“True. You’d be okay with that?”

“Three months of sleeping with you every weekend? What’s not to be okay with?”

“I don’t know.”

“You wouldn’t be?” he asked.

“I would be, you know I would be. It’d still be strange, I think, in someone else’s house.”

“Well, they’re not your parents and I don’t think I’d ask someone like Dan who has kids.”

“Right, I know. And, yes, sleeping with you every weekend for three months would be very nice.”

“It would be.”

She wasn’t sure that could be a bad thing, too nice. She’d get used to it and then she’d have to come back here and seeing him when she could. Then she was right back to what she’d been thinking about when he was gone, though. Whatever time she got with him was better than no time. Phone calls were nice. She loved talking to him, because she felt like she was getting to know him in a way. He wasn’t a great letter writer. He wrote to her, but they were usually short so she wouldn’t be able to say he never wrote to her. She understood that. Being able to see him every weekend, though, without worrying about getting behind on homework or the fact that the weekend visit to see her was taking away from his accumulated leave time, and a potentially longer trip to see her. That would be very nice.

That made her think about when he mentioned getting married. Their situation was already going to be unconventional. They’d have to get married around his schedule regardless because she’d be done with school before his time was up. He was re-enlisting anyway, unless something drastic happened in the next two years to change his mind on that.

“So you want to get married next spring?” she asked.

“Claire, honey, whenever you want to get married. If you want to wait until you’re done with school that’s fine with me. Like I said, you said yes that was the most important part. If being married and separated for most of the first year would be problematic for you I’d totally understand that. We’d at least have the summer together.”

“You hadn’t thought beyond asking?”

“Not really, no.”

That didn’t really surprise her. She wondered if he’d even been to a wedding before. Surely he had to have been to one at some point in time, but she supposed maybe not. Not everyone went to weddings as kids. Her parents brought her, but she’d been to weddings where she and her brother were the only kids there.

“You know my parents are going to want to put an announcement in the Tribune.”

He sighed softly. She could just imagine what he was thinking. His parents could see it and know that he was not just alive and well but getting married.

“Is there any way you can convince them not to? I mean, do they know about my parents?”

“I can talk to them. It’s just…”

“It’s how it’s done, I know. Please tell them how hard I’ve worked to drop completely off their radar and I’d really like to keep it that way.”

“I will.”

“Should I be home with you when you tell them?”

“What?”

“Well, I don’t know how it works. Am I supposed to ask your dad first?”

“No, I mean, I suppose you could have, but no.”

She watched his thumb as he slid it over the diamond.

“Should you be wearing this before you’ve told them?”

“You don’t want me to wear it?”

“I’m asking a question. I don’t know how they’ll react. I don’t want them mad at me.”

“They won’t be mad at you and I’m not taking it off until the day of our wedding.”

“Hmm. Why then?”

She laughed softly, sliding her hand out from under his to hold his. She laced her fingers through his and squeezed his hand.

“Because you’ll put the wedding ring on that finger during the ceremony.”

“Oh, yeah, I suppose.”

“I’ll talk to them. They’re not going to be mad.”

“Disappointed?”

“No. I mean, I’m away at school and you’re away for months at a time. They’d have to realize you may not wait until we’re all together.”

“They were pretty cool last summer, I was surprised,” he said.

“They were,” she admitted.

She was surprised, too, honestly. They hadn’t purposely left them alone, but they hadn’t ever gone out of their way to impose on them either. Her mom and dad went antiquing one day while they were at the lake house for a couple of days, leaving Claire and John alone for hours. In Shermer they hadn’t been alone for quite that long at a time, but her parents had never said anything when Claire woke up in her room and went into John’s room to lay down with him every morning. His door stayed open and nothing happened between them with her parents at home. They seemed to know that, too, and had left them alone for the most part.

“You’d really want to be married and not live with me all of the time?” she asked.

“No, I don’t really want to do that, but I don’t want to put it off either just because of that. I mean, theoretically I could get deployed again so you’d be alone anyway. If I were to get sent to Japan and went without you I think my time there would be shorter than if you went with me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I think someone told me that, but that was way at the beginning and I admit marrying you wasn’t on my mind so I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what he said.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Now, if you could transfer down by me somewhere your senior year and be assured that all of your credits would come with you then by all means. I just don’t want you moving down there to be the reason you’re stuck going another year. I want you out there teaching those kids as soon as you can be.”

“Earning a living, you mean?”

“Well, yeah, someone’s got to pay off this ring,” he said with a soft laugh.

“I still can’t believe you bought it. It’s beautiful.”

“Yeah? I’m glad you think so.”

“That means you’d wear your formal uniform again, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. You looked nice in it.”

“I think you’re biased, Princess.”

“I am not. I don’t think other Marines look gorgeous in their dress uniforms.”

“That is very good to know. Wait. How many other Marines have you seen in a dress uniform?”

“None,” she said with a soft laugh.

“Hmm. We’ll have to fix that.”

“How?”

“Well, they have balls. I never thought about going to one, but if you wanted to come. At least I wouldn’t have to pay your parents back for your ticket down to see me this time.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess I’m asking if you’d like to come down for the ball LeJeune has every November.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Yes, really. I was gone for the last one obviously so asking you to come down was out and I was at school when there would’ve been one the year before that.”

“You really want me to come?”

“Well, yeah, if you can’t or don’t want to I’d completely understand. You’d meet some of the guys I talk about anyway and their wives or girlfriends.”

“I’d love to and you don’t have to pay for my ticket.”

“Claire.”

“No, don’t be ridiculous. I can pay for my own ticket.”

“I’ll get the dates for you when I get back. I think it’s somewhere around the first weekend of November. Maybe Veteran’s Day weekend, but I’m not sure since I wasn’t here for it last year.”

“Okay.”

“You’ll have to buy a dress.”

“Yeah, I figured. A formal one?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“I can go shopping for a dress.”

He chuckled softly. “Yeah, I didn’t think that’d be a hardship for you. Me, on the other hand.”

“You could go shopping with me.”

“I don’t think I’d be good company.”

“Hmm, I could make it fun for you.”

“Shopping for a dress? I don’t see how that’s possible. Besides I didn’t think I’m supposed to see dresses beforehand.”

“Just my wedding dress.”

“Oh,” he said.

“I mean, you know, if you were with me and we find a store with a dressing room that’s not busy…”

“That’s very naughty, Princess.”

“You said you’d like to in public once.”

“Well, yeah, preferably not somewhere where I’d actually get arrested like at a mall.”

“They wouldn’t arrest us.”

“I was kind of thinking a movie or the backseat of your car. Or if you came to down there this summer, somewhere along the beach late at night.”

“You don’t think they’d arrest us at a movie theater?”

“I think as long as we didn’t get caught, a dressing room would be risky.”

“Isn’t that the point?”

“I’m still not sure that’s worth enduring you trying on dresses, because I know you, Princess, you’re not going to choose the first one you try on.”

“I could!”

“You could not. You might like the first one, but you’d try on at least five or six others before deciding for sure.”

She sighed softly because he was right, especially a dress for something like that. God, she’d have to research what to wear. Somehow she didn’t imagine any of her high school dance dresses were suitable for a military ball.

“I’ll make a deal with you.”

“Okay,” she said.

“You take me with you one day when you know you’re not going to be there for two hours I’m game.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You know, like maybe going there for that reason not to really buy anything. And maybe somewhere where neither of us is known, so I don’t know where that’d be. Here in Indianapolis, I suppose. Or I guess any mall in Chicago that’s not near Shermer.”

“And you don’t have an opinion on my dress?”

“No, because I know you already know the things I’d tell you not to do.”

“Not to do?”

“Yeah. Nothing bordering on illegal showing.”

She snorted.

“You’d be surprised. It’s a military ball but some of these guys bring their girlfriends who don’t have a clue what that means I guess. So, they dress like they would to go out for a night clubbing. You know, hair teased a mile high and their tits and ass barely contained. Sorry,” he said.

“Oh,” she said.

“I know you won’t do anything like that. So, no, I have no opinion beyond I want you to look gorgeous. That’s a given, so whatever you choose I’m good with.”

“So nothing exposed. That’s it? No color preference? Long or short?”

“Claire, I don’t know. You have way more experience in this stuff than I do. Your thing last spring was the first and only thing I’ve gone to. You cut your teeth on this stuff. I trust you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have mentioned you coming. Hell, I wouldn’t have asked you to marry me if I didn’t think you would make a good impression for me.”

“Funny that, right? You worrying about what kind of impression I’d make.”

“I’m not worried in the slightest. I’m just saying, I know you wouldn’t embarrass me or anything.”

“I certainly wouldn’t deliberately.”

“You couldn’t even if you tried, Princess. If you want to send me a picture or something before you buy a dress I’d tell you if I like it or not, but really your friends would be a better judge than me anyway. You said you have one whose boyfriend is in the Army or something, you could take her along. As long as you show up and have clothes on fitting a ball I’m good.”

“Hmm.”

“Relax you have months. I’d much rather you worry about this summer and your plans for that. It’s a dress, you can find a new dress anytime.”

“Says you!”

He chuckled and brought her hand to his mouth to kiss it.

“You’ll be fine, Claire. Don’t worry about it. What did we decide we’re doing with the rest of our night? Swimming? A movie? Dinner somewhere?”

“I don’t care. Whatever you want to do. You’re the one who’s been gone for the past seven months. If there’s a movie you want to see we could.”

“I can see a movie when I get back to base.”

“You could, but not with me.”

“There is that. Well, let’s find out what’s playing then.”

They found a Chuck Norris movie, John almost passed on it but Claire insisted she could sit through it. She hadn’t been away from everything for months and months so surely she could sit through an action movie. It wasn’t bad when all was said and done. They went to a nicer place to eat afterward. She would have been happy with pizza, but he seemed to want to make up for the movie. She wasn’t going to complain about good pasta.

The next morning came too soon as far as she was concerned, she knew he felt the same way. They slept a little but not much. He could sleep on the plane rides back and she would be able to go back to her room and sleep the rest of the day if she had to. She had a little bit of homework to do, but most of it was reading so if she didn’t get it done until tomorrow she’d just have to fake her way through class that she read the material.

Just like the last time he’d visited her she sat with him at the airport until he actually made it onto a flight.

“God I hate this part,” he whispered.

“I know you do. I hate it, too.”

“It’s not even the getting on the plane that I hate. I mean, I know I’ll see you again in a couple of months probably. It’s the tears. I think about them the entire way home and I feel so guilty that I’m doing this to you.”

“It’s my choice! I don’t have to do it.”

“I know, and I tell myself that, but it doesn’t make me feel less guilty, Princess. I hate seeing you cry and I hate being the cause of it no matter how necessary it is.”

“In a couple of years it won’t be necessary anymore.”

“There is that, and I look forward to that. I’m glad you can see it that way.”

“I do. I know it’ll get easier. We both have things to keep us busy anyway.”

He sighed against her ear as she hugged him.

“Is that why you drew that picture of me without my ring on?”

“What?” he asked.

“The picture you sent me after you were first deployed. I wasn’t wearing my ring in it.”

“You noticed that?”

“I did! I never take it off so of course I did.”

“I’m very glad to hear that, and yeah, that’s why. I mean, I hadn’t bought the one on that finger now already no, but I knew that one was going to be replaced with something more significant at some point.”

“I wondered why it was missing. I thought maybe you couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like.”

“Nope, like everything about you, I have it memorized.”

“I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you, too, Princess.”

“You’ll find out about this summer for me?”

“I will, you need to talk to your parents, too, though.”

“I’m an adult.”

“You are, but they are still paying for your school. Don’t just spring it on them and be sure they know you’re not going to leave the summer pregnant or something.”

“Oh God, I’m not going to tell them that.”

“Why not? Come on, they’re not dumb. They know, Claire.”

“I know they do, they know I know they know. I just don’t want to talk to them about that.”

“Even if it makes them feel better about you coming to stay there for three months? Not to mention getting married possibly when you still have a year left. I’d think that’d reassure them that we’re not out to do something stupid.”

“I wouldn’t say having your baby would be stupid.”

“In general, no, I wouldn’t say that either. Right now it would be kind of stupid. I don’t want to be hundreds of miles away from you when we do that unless the Marines make me be anyway.”

“I know.”

“Talk to them, Claire. They might actually be glad to know that we talk about this stuff, you know?”

“I just, God.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to have the conversation with my parents either.”

“Easy for you to say, you don’t talk to them.”

“I know.”

He kissed her again, running a fingertip along the spot on the back of her neck where he’d left her more than one hickey this weekend. She shivered slightly at his touch and he chuckled. She hadn’t seen them, but he’d told her that morning that he was sorry for making them so grouped together. She didn’t care and he knew that.

“This summer we will explore this fondness you have for my leaving them there.”

“We will?”

“Mm hmm. I’ll experiment and see if there are spots you like better than others.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I want to find out for myself.”

“A job…”

“Yeah, there is that. I guess I just couldn’t leave more than one at a time then. Or if one of my friends is willing to rent you their spare bedroom you could forego the job.”

“I can’t just live off someone.”

“You’d live off me. I’d pay them.”

“John.”

“Yeah, I know, bad idea. I like it, though, to be able to spend all that time with you.”

“You have to go or you’re going to miss the flight,” she whispered.

“I know. I’ll talk to you during the week.”

“I know,” she said.

She hated that part the worst. He’d get back, call her from the airport to tell her he got there okay, and then she wouldn’t hear from him again for days. It was just so unfair that he got back to base and had to work again right away, especially after being gone for so long.

“Drive safe.” He pulled some money out of his wallet and handed it to her.

“What’s that for?”

“In case you need to stop somewhere. If you’re too tired, stop and get a room or stop at a restaurant and get a cup of coffee.”

“I have money.”

“I know you do. Jesus, just take my money will you? I worry about you driving all that way on little sleep. I want to be sure you have options, okay?”

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to argue with you. Thank you.”

He kissed her cheek, brushing his own against the tears there as she took the money.

“Have a good flight,” she whispered.

“Yeah,” he said, gathering his bag then and walking toward the walkway.

She stood by the windows at the gate, watching the plane as it backed up from the Jet Bridge and away from the gate. She had no idea where his seat was to know if he could see her or not, but she stood there until she couldn’t see the plane there. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand before turning to leave once he was on a runway somewhere waiting to take off. She saw the look of sympathy in the agent’s eyes when she glanced in her direction. Claire offered her a bit of a smile before making her way from the gate back to her car.

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