***Part Twenty-One***
Word Count: 4,050

She’d exceeded the distance she’d driven away from the Chicago area hundreds of miles ago. This was also the furthest south of Illinois she’d ever been, barring a couple of trips to Disney World when she was growing up. For those trips, though, they’d flown into Orlando and stayed there, not venturing away from their hotel and the Disney area.

She’d stopped more than once just to get out of the car and walk around for a minute, grab herself a Diet Coke, and use the bathroom even though she wasn’t desperate to use it. The air always did her good. Overall, though, it was a nice drive. She was hoping John would be able to drive back with her, but she wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get the leave time or not.

It wasn’t a bad drive, but it was long enough that she almost wished she’d taken her friend Ashley’s offer to drive down with her.

Almost.

When she pulled up in front of the address John had sent her with very precise directions on how to get there once she got to Jacksonville, she was very glad Ashley wasn’t with her. She wasn’t sure why three months seemed too long after she’d gone seven months without seeing him before then, but it seemed like forever. She didn’t want anyone else around them for the evening anyway. She knew since she was here she’d be meeting people. She was looking forward to it. Just not tonight.

She’d left super early (for a college student anyway), practically the middle of the night, to be sure that she got here before he’d have to leave for the night. She hated that thought immensely, of being this close to him but not being able to spend the night with him. She’d make do, though, seeing him during the evening for a little while after he was done with his duties was better than the nothing she’d gotten to this point in their relationship.

The garage door opened almost as soon as she pulled onto the driveway and she pulled her car into it. It was a two-car garage and there was another car parked in it. It belonged to John’s friend she knew.

She got out after turning her car off, not even bothering to get her things from the trunk. She could do that after he had to go back. He closed the garage door almost as soon as she’d turned her engine off.

God he looked incredible standing there in the doorway waiting for her. He seemed to think she looked pretty incredible, too. His hair was shorter than it had been in February and the four days’ worth of facial hair was gone, of course. He hadn’t shaved before leaving her because she’d admitted to him she kind of liked it, but she knew he would’ve had to as soon as getting back to base. The Marines didn’t allow facial hair.

She slid her arms around his neck as he slid his around her waist, drawing her to him for a kiss. Not that he had to convince her. Both groaned as he slid his hands lower along her hips. Hers slid lower along his neck to his shoulders and chest. She reached for the hem of his T-shirt, sliding her hands underneath it as he drew her skirt up along her thighs.

“You always wear skirts,” he murmured, finding her ear.

“You like me in skirts.”

“I know, but one of these days you’re going to think I have nothing in mind but having sex with you right away,” he said, working the zipper on his jeans open.

“I wouldn’t want you to have anything else in mind right away,” she said as he gathered her to him.

“Really?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

She breathed in deeply as he found her neck.

“Because after months again if you didn’t want to fuck me I’d worry.”

He pressed her against the wall next to the door and slid inside of her deeply. She cried out as she stretched around his length to accommodate him. He always felt so incredibly tight sliding inside of her for the first time again after so long. She knew he liked the feeling as much as she did.

“You know I want to.”

“I do. I just like when you show me you want to.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” she said, though it sounded more like a hiss than an actual word just then because he was hitting a very good spot inside of her just then.

He chuckled a little.

“You like that there?”

“Yes.”

“Me, too,” he said, hitting the same spot again, causing her to finish. He wasn’t too far behind her. He rested his head against her shoulder and she chuckled softly at how fast he was breathing just then.

“Hmm. What’s a matter? Did I wear the Marine out?”

“No, Princess, I can just never get enough of you.”

“That’s good.”

“I think so,” he murmured, setting her down and smoothing her skirt down around her once again.

“Me, too.”

“Hi,” he said then.

“Hi.”

“I’m glad you made it safely.”

“I think you demonstrated that already.”

“Oh, that wasn’t a glad you made it safe thing. I do have an I’m glad you made it safe thing, too. That was an I missed the hell out of you thing.”

“It was?”

“Mm hmm.”

“I missed you, too.”

“That is very good to know. How did finals go?”

“Good.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. I think I got a B on one of them, but I had an A in the class, so I could afford a B on the final.”

“Good.”

“So, you want the tour? Want to get your bags?”

“I’ll do that after you have to go.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“Well, that’s part of my I’m glad you made it safe thing.”

“What?”

“I don’t have to go back tonight.”

“Shut up!”

“I checked out, left the number here, as long as I’m at formation tomorrow morning as expected we’ll be fine.”

“That is the best news I’ve heard all day.”

“Still want to wait to bring your stuff in?”

“No,” she said and he chuckled at that.

He headed into the garage with her to collect her things. She didn’t have that much stuff, but since she was going to be here for three months she had more than just a weekend’s worth.

“All right then. Let’s have a look around at your home away from home for the next few months.”

“I still can’t believe you know people who will just let me live here.”

“Well, I told you, he’s been transferred to Hawaii and his wife elected to go with him. She may not stay because I think I’ve mentioned it’s pretty expensive to live there. It’s just the two of them, though, so she sort of looked at it like an extended vacation if she chooses to come back here ahead of him. So, you’re kind of helping them out by staying here. Someone’s here at the house so it’s not sitting vacant. You’re paying them rent so they’re not having to pay the mortgage outright. I don’t know what they’ll do after you leave. I told them since I’ll have the keys if they need me to come check on it a couple times a week or whatever I can.”

“Right, I know. It’s still very nice of them.”

“They like you.”

“They don’t know me.”

“They know me and they know what I’ve told them about you. They like you.”

“Well, I’m glad. I like them, too.”

“You don’t know anything about them.”

She chuckled.

“They’re letting me live here instead of at a hotel or a cheap dive of an apartment. I like them.”

The house wasn’t very big since they had no kids and weren’t planning on having any while Mark was in the Marines. It was a nice house, though. Clean and well cared for, even the carpet looked nice.

“So this is your room. You could sleep in their room I guess if you really wanted to, but I didn’t think you’d want to.”

“No, that’d be weird.”

“Yeah, a little,” he agreed.

They both set her things down near the closet. She’d put her things away tomorrow since she’d be alone all day. God, he’d have to leave so early.

“And you can really stay here tonight without getting in trouble?”

“Yes. I should maybe not every night during the week. There’s some issues about taking up a bed that the government is paying for but not really sleeping in it, but I figure three months they can handle my not bunking there every night.”

“Oh,” she said. “So does that mean we can do something?”

“We can do whatever you want. We could’ve anyway. What did you have in mind?”

She pulled her keys from her purse, handing them to him. “Show me around?”

“Yeah? Really? That’s what you want to do with your first night here?”

“Yes. That’s what I want to do my first night here. I want to see where you live. If you want to call someone and see if they want to meet us for dinner we can do that, too.”

“You surprise me, Princess.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“What? You had visions of me not letting you out of bed until you had to leave tomorrow.”

“Kind of.”

She frowned slightly. “Really? I’ve only been here once and it was when you’d first gotten here. Neither of us had a car. I’d like to see what you’ve told me about in your letters.”

“Relax, Claire. It’s fine.”

“No, I mean if you weren’t going to be spending the night here maybe, but you are.”

“Claire. You’re fine. It just surprised me is all. We can go wherever you want, and yeah, I can call a couple people to meet us for dinner or something.”

“Good.”

“You need to call your parents.”

“I know,” she said. She’d sort of forgotten, so she was glad he thought about that. They would’ve been worried sick if she didn’t call to say she’d gotten there safely.

She had a good time, she hoped he knew that. He seemed not so sure about that. Certainly, his friends were different than hers but considering John hadn’t had friends in high school she was glad to meet people who he cared to get to know.

They’d driven around, him showing her places and things he’d talked to her about the past couple of years. He showed her things she would need to know like where to buy groceries. They’d met three of his friends at a place for burgers. He assured her on the way home that she wouldn’t always be the only woman when they did things like that. Last minute, one of the guys who’d joined them had kids and other things like that. She got it. She didn’t mind.

It was weird to be lying in bed with him like this. Tomorrow he’d wake up and have to go to base and carry on with his normal day. She’d have to try to find a job. Her parents would help her if she needed it, but she wanted to find a job. She didn’t want to live on her own and rely on her parents even if it was only three months.

“What are you thinking about, Princess?” he asked from beside her. She thought he was sleeping. They’d gotten back to the house before eight o’clock and had gone to bed right away. The need for sex wasn’t even the driving force behind that. He had to be up before the sun came up and she’d been awake since about midnight. She hadn’t slept real well the night before either not used to going to sleep at three o’clock in the afternoon.

“Tomorrow.”

“You’ll be fine. I left you directions to everywhere you might want to go. And as long as you can remember how to get here to the house you can go anywhere you want.”

“I know. That’s not what I’m thinking about.”

“Oh?” he said, turning onto his side. “Is there something wrong?”

“No,” she said.

“Why are you whispering?”

She laughed at that. “I don’t know. Habit, I guess. I’m not used to be completely alone with you and I know you’re trying to sleep.”

“You’re sure you’re not having doubts about coming here now that you’re here? I wouldn’t blame you, really. You’ve never been this far away from your parents and Chicago for so long.”

“No, that’s not it.”

“What then?” he said.

“I’ve never had a job.”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t know what I can even do.”

“Oh,” he said.

“I mean, teaching was safe, you know. I figured I could get my master’s and stuff and teach in college to make it not so stupid that my parents raised me the way they did and I want to be a teacher.”

“The world needs teachers, Claire. More importantly, the world needs good teachers. I think you’d be wasted at the collegiate arena.”

“Why?”

“Because I think you’d be good with kids, you know? Be a good teacher, make them want to keep going to school so they’d want to go to college.”

“I guess.”

“What about the mall?”

“What?”

“A job? There’s a mall. You know how to do makeup and stuff. Go to one of the department stores and see if they have makeup counters.”

“That’s a good idea.”

He chuckled softly. “You’ll find something, Claire. And if you don’t, I’ve got you covered.”

“You shouldn’t have to!”

“Why not?”

“Because that’s not your job.”

“Sure it is. I made it my job when I asked you to marry me. I mean, I gave you the idea to come down here. I knew it wasn’t going to be super easy to find a job down here, but you’re smart.”

“Thank you.”

“Start at the mall and go from there if nothing turns up. You don’t have to get a job. You could go to Myrtle Beach every day for all I care.”

“I could, huh?”

“Yeah, as long as you’re here in this bed every night I don’t care.”

“You’re not going to be here in this bed every night.”

“I’m going to be here in this bed for as many nights as I can be.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Me, too.”

“My parents want us to wait until I’m done with school.”

“I figured they would.”

“I don’t want to wait.”

“Claire.”

“I don’t. I’m not going to transfer schools unless I know for a fact I can graduate in four years, but I don’t want to wait because it’ll be more convenient for them. I mean how is our being married going to be any more or less difficult than what we’re doing now.”

“I think they’re thinking of us more than them. You’ll be done with school, I’ll almost be done and ready to re-enlist.”

“You want to wait?”

“No, I told you I want to right now, but I don’t have parents to worry about. Did you talk to them about the engagement announcement thing?”

“I did, and they’ve agreed not to do it.”

“Tell them thank you.”

“I already did.”

“Well, tell them again.”

“They understand.”

“I’m glad.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll let you get your sleep.”

“They do know I’m re-enlisting, right?”

“Huh?”

“You’ve told them that, right? I mean, they don’t think if we wait until then that you’ll be done and I’ll be out and we’ll set up house next door to them or something. Do they?”

“I’m not sure I’ve told them that, no. I mean I think I have, but I’m not sure.”

“You may want to fill them in on that detail, Claire, it may change their opinion a bit. They’re probably afraid you’re going to pick up and haul your ass down here for a year not realizing that I’m staying put. Maybe not here, but the military.”

“Right. Yeah, I will.”

“And you’re fine.”

“Huh?”

“You’re not keeping me awake.”

“I am too.”

“Well, a little, but it’s all right. I like talking to you like this. It beats a phone.”

“It does.”

“Will I get to meet George?” she asked after a few minutes.

“Yeah, I can bring him to meet you.”

“I can’t go on base, can I?”

“You could, with me with limited access. We can do that, too, one day, sure.”

“Okay.”

“We can do whatever you want. The next three months are as yours as I can make them.”

“Thank you. Good night,” she said.

“Done talking now, huh?”

She kissed him and sighed softly. “I don’t want you to be late or be responsible for getting you in trouble.”

“Thank you, Princess.”

“Do you want a ride there in the morning?”

“If you’re awake that would be great.”

“I’m sure you can figure out a way to wake me.”

He chuckled softly. “I’m sure I can think of one or two, yeah.”

“Oh and Claire?” he whispered a few minutes later.

“Yeah?”

“I’m very glad you’re here.”

“Me, too.”

***

“What’s with the purse?” he asked.

“What?”

“The purse on the counter. Why is it clear?”

“Oh,” she said. “It’s for work. It’s so they can see what's inside.”

“Why?”

“To be sure we’re not stealing anything.”

“Oh,” he said with a nod. “I guess that makes sense.”

“I remember a friend. You might remember her, Kathy Steiger. She worked at Carson’s I think and had a bag like this, too. So it must be a retail thing.”

“I see. Well, I’m glad you’re not a thief then.”

“Right?”

He chuckled slightly at that. She felt him watching her as she turned the oven off. She was not a real good cook, but she was determined for the next three months not to count on eating out every day. Three meals a day out would get hugely expensive. Breakfast was easy, she could make toast or cereal. Lunch was pretty easy, too, because she could just make sandwiches or something. Dinner, though, was a little more complicated because he was going to be coming here every night. So, she actually had to make something that resembled a meal. She’d already been on her phone with her mother twice for ideas. She’d never paid attention to what her mom did in the kitchen.

He sat on a chair at the kitchen table while she did some things. She’d had to wait to do the vegetables and stuff until he’d called her to say she could come get him. He had people who could give him rides, but people didn’t leave base every day. So it was either her get him and bring him back or not see him. That wasn’t a difficult choice to make. If she didn’t work she’d just let him take her car, but then she’d be stuck here and he wouldn’t go for that.

“One of your friend’s wives came to see me today,” she said, getting plates and stuff out for them.

“Really?”

“Yes. Um, Gloria?”

“Ah yeah. Okay. I could see her needing to buy makeup and stuff.”

“She was out of her foundation and came to get it from me.”

He narrowed his eyes at her and she realized he may not know what foundation was. She imagined he’d have no reason to beyond the few times he’d seen her put makeup on.

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, just weird.”

“It’s kind of like that, you know. I don’t know. The wives kind of support each other.”

“She was nice.”

“She is.”

“It just surprised me.” Claire hadn’t realized anyone knew she was working here so when someone asked for her by name she thought for sure they were looking for another Claire.

“Well, I’m sure Rick told his wife where you found work.”

“Because you told him.”

“Yes. That’s what we do. They know you’re here and were looking for work. They’re going to ask me stuff. Am I not supposed to tell them?”

“No, you can. I’m not mad. She gave me her phone number and said I could call her sometime.”

“Well, that’s good, right? I mean, she doesn’t work so you could have lunch with her sometime or go hang out with her at their house. They don’t live far from here so you could even walk there. I don’t know what she does all day, but I’m sure she’d love the company.”

Claire chuckled softly.

“That doesn’t surprise me. And yes, she told me I could call her for lunch sometime.”

“Good. She’s nice. Your type of people.”

“My type of people?”

“Yes. You know? Pretty well-to-do parents who probably aren’t entirely too crazy about their Marine son-in-law.”

“My parents like you.”

“Oh, I know, and I’m very glad. If they didn’t you wouldn’t be here this summer. I know this. However, you can’t tell me that they wouldn’t prefer you find a nice lawyer or a doctor who’d keep you near them. And whose job doesn’t come with a risk.”

“Everyone’s job comes with a risk.”

“Doctors don’t have as much of a chance of getting shot in a war zone, Princess.”

“I know.”

“You thought I was what, sending her to see you?”

“I wondered.”

“I wouldn’t force someone on you. I mean, I want you to get along with my friends and their wives or girlfriends, but I’m not going to do that.”

“She bought a lot of stuff, too.”

“Really?”

“Yes, it’ll be a nice commission.”

“Well, that’s good. That was nice. I’d buy stuff, too, if I could.”

“You could buy stuff for me.”

“Not from you!”

“You could. I’d get the stuff and the commission.”

“I think your manager would probably catch on to what we were doing if we did that.”

“Probably.”

He chuckled softly, sliding her onto his lap and wrapping his arms around her.

“I could really get used to this, you know that?”

“What?”

“Coming home to you at the end of my day.”

“I could, too.”

“Dinner.”

“Ugh. I need to learn to cook without calling my mother before you count on dinner from me.”

“You’ve done fine.”

“Sure with baking chicken and pasta. Neither of those things are that difficult.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m sure people could find a way to screw them up.”

“What will Mark do with the house if his wife stays in Hawaii with him?”

“Sell it probably.”

“Don’t they have off-base housing that you don’t have to buy?”

“Yes, but some wives don’t want to live in that type of housing.”

“Oh.”

“Would you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess if you’re making a career out of this I’d probably want a house that was ours. It wouldn’t matter to me so much, though, as long as it was a house with a yard.”

“A yard?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“For kids to play.”

“Oh.”

“And maybe a dog.”

“Hmm. We’re going to get a dog?”

“I’d like one.”

“Okay.”

“You don’t like dogs?”

“I’ve never had a dog. Can you honestly imagine how my parents’ would have treated a dog?”

She grimaced at that.

“No, I guess not.”

“The dog would come first?”

“I would think so.”

“It would have to be a big dog.”

“Why?”

“Because I’d like knowing when I’m out in the field for training or whatever that you and any kids here with you are safe.”

She blushed and he chuckled softly.

“What?”

“It appears you have trying to make them on your mind.”

“I always have that on my mind when you’re in front of me. When you’re sitting on my lap I find it hard to think of anything but that.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm hmm,” he said, kissing her.

“You’re not hungry?”

“Famished.”

“For food, John.”

“It can wait.”

“I cooked!”

“And I appreciate that very much. Can’t you tell?”

“Very funny. That has nothing to do with cooking.”

“It has everything to do with cooking for me. It has everything to do with all that you do for me.”

“I like doing things for you.”

“Me, too. I like doing this thing for you especially a lot.”

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