“God, I thought you’d never come back,” he said when he stopped kissing her outside the base. It was a nice kiss, but not one of their better ones after not seeing one another for a while since they were still on base property. No one was watching them but he always behaved differently when they were around here versus at Mark’s house or when he was visiting her. Sometimes it was difficult for her to get her mind around the fact he had this completely different, separate, life from her where he behaved completely different than he did around her.
She’d gone back home in August to get everything in order she needed to. Her parents weren’t at all thrilled with the turn of events, but she suspected they expected spending the summer with him would result in her transferring a year earlier.
John and Mark had made some sort of arrangement for the school year. Claire wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but she knew she wasn’t paying them rent any longer. Evidently, his wife wasn’t overly happy where she was. She was going to give living in Hawaii six more months and if she still wasn’t thrilled with it she’d come back to the house. If she decided to stay, they’d put the house on the market and Claire would be able to use it on weekends until it sold. She was able to use it on weekends now, too. There was no cable at the house anymore since they were only going to be there a few nights a week. John was still going to pay the utility bills, but they didn’t amount to much. Mark and his wife liked the fact the house wasn’t standing empty for months at this point. They didn’t get much mail or a newspaper delivered to the house. Once in a while mail came for them and Claire always sent it on to them. Most of it was junk mail, she could tell by the return address on the envelope but just in case.
Claire couldn’t imagine what wasn’t to like about living in Hawaii, but it wasn’t her place to judge. She could see herself pretty happy some place like Hawaii, though. She’d loved it the times she’d been there. Japan she wasn’t as sure about. Then being so far from her parents and her friends would suck. Hawaii wasn’t someplace you could drive from, and she knew the flight from Chicago was eight hours so obviously it was longer than that from North Carolina.
She hadn’t been able to get here last weekend because she’d wanted to get her bearings on-campus. She’d gone there a couple of times over the summer and walked around to familiarize herself with buildings, but now that she was there and had a class schedule she’d wanted to again. As it turned out John had been in the field anyway, so it had worked out well. He hadn’t known he’d be gone for a full two weeks when he went.
She had one class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and didn’t have class until ten o’clock on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which meant she would be able to come here Tuesday and Thursday nights if they wanted her to. She knew he could get in trouble for being off-base during the week too often so she didn’t want to push things. Once in a while, though, it would be nice. Whether she went there during the week, she’d get there Friday and not have to leave until Monday morning. Since she would have to get him to base bright and early oversleeping wasn’t going to be an issue.
She’d been able to avoid dorm living by getting a room at the sorority house. She was amazed at how quickly things fell into place.
At home she’d seen Sheila and her daughter Ericka, asking her if she’d be a bridesmaid and for Ericka to be their flower girl. Sheila had been so genuinely surprised that Claire was glad she’d made the decision to include John’s friend in the wedding.
“I missed you, too,” she said, kissing his neck. She missed him more than she wanted to admit even to herself. It scared her how easily she fell into seeing him as frequently as she did. Sure, she hadn’t seen him every day. Sometimes he couldn’t get off-base during the week, but very rarely did two days in a row go by where she didn’t see him at least for a little while. After two years of hardly seeing him at all, missing a day or two was something she could deal with.
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t believe me?”
“I’m not sure I do.”
“John,” she said. “You can’t be serious? I hated being home every day I was there.”
“Relax, Princess, I was teasing, but it’s nice to know you were maybe as miserable as I was.”
“You at least had things to keep you busy.”
“That is true. I doubt somehow that you lacked for things to keep yourself occupied, knowing you likely won’t be home again for a while.”
“Yeah?” He asked and she could tell he wasn’t sure if he should believe her. “You’re not just saying that so I’ll feel better.”
“No, she really is. Ericka is adorable. She has a car now. Sheila does, I mean, obviously her daughter doesn’t.”
“Yes. She really seemed okay. She was surprised to see me without you obviously.”
“How old is she now?”
“No,” he said. “I know how old Sheila is considering she’s the same age as we are.”
“Oh, Ericka? I don’t know, I didn’t ask. I’m a horrible judge on those things. Eighteen months or so? Wasn’t she born in January?”
“That sounds right, yeah.”
“It made me think about us.”
“Yeah. You know, kids.”
“You didn’t stop taking your pills, did you?”
“No! I wouldn’t do that.”
“Good. You at least need to be done with school first.”
“Even for me to be pregnant?”
“You say yes in front of the priest and you get to your senior year and then we’ll talk about that.”
“Really? You’d be okay with that?”
“Yes. Well, maybe. I think a lot would depend on where I’m at, too.”
“You wouldn’t want to wait?”
“I would like to wait. I haven’t lied about that. My thought process originally was for us to have some time to be together before kids. Actually together not letters or long distance phone calls and the occasional weekend or week together. You being so close for the next couple of years could certainly help me change my mind.”
“It could, huh? I couldn’t?”
“Oh, I imagine you could, too, yes.”
“Hmm,” she said.
“We have to at least be married first, Claire. I’m not doing that.”
“I know,” she said.
“And you’ll have a job to think about, timing your maternity leave with your school schedule at least that first year. There’s also my reenlisting and the potential for me to get shipped off somewhere else. Would you want to have a baby in Hawaii or Japan if I got sent there for a while? I mean, they have babies there, but you’d be so far away from your parents. That’d bother you and them. Rightfully so.”
“You have thought on this.”
“Well, sure. I listen to what other people say, I store it away. You don’t want to give a school any reason not to want to bring you back, like having a baby months after starting a new job.”
“And if we were able to time it for summer time you’d get way longer than six or ten weeks.”
“Teachers get jobs during the summer sometimes.”
“You wouldn’t need to do that.”
“Nope. I think I’ll make Corporal this year yet.”
“Yes. Maybe. Nothing’s definite, of course, but I’ve heard whispers that I’m on the right track for it. Certainly by the time we’re married I should make it.”
“That’s good, right? I mean, they know you want to re-enlist and everything, so they know you’re not just biding your time for the next two years.”
“Were you able to find a dress while you were home?”
“Yes,” she said.
That had been one of her projects while being home. Find a dress for the ball. She and her mom had spent more time than he probably wanted to know about finding the perfect gown for the ball in November. The saleswoman where they’d ended up buying the gown knew exactly what kind of gown Claire would need for the event she was going to. It wasn’t high school prom or a night at a club. And while their ball wasn’t the main one held in D.C. every year, it was still the Marines and she was going to be a reflection on him: good or bad. It was the reason she’d spent hours looking for the perfect one.
She and her mom had kind of had fun. Her mom told her she’d had more fun shopping for this gown than she had any of Claire’s high school dance dresses. She’d explained it was the first time that Claire was wearing a gown for a man, not to be seen or have attention on her. She’d never thought about it that way before, but she had a point. Every one of her dresses for high school dances were for her. This one wasn’t, couldn’t be. Sure, it was flattering and beautiful, but she’d bought it with John and his situation in mind, not with becoming Homecoming or Prom queen in mind.
“I brought it with me today. I’ll keep it in the closet here so it won’t get crushed. My room is much smaller than it was at the other house.”
“Sorry,” he said.
“No, it’s okay. Smaller room versus seeing you every weekend? I’ll give up the bigger room, especially since I’ll only be sleeping there four nights a week.”
“I love the sound of that.”
“Me, too,” she said.
“Are we stopping for dinner?”
“I thought maybe we could stop and pick up some groceries.” She was looking forward to time with him, wherever they were. She just hated that he felt he had to spend money on her all of the time. Eating out all weekend, every weekend would get expensive. When she’d lived at Mark’s house for the summer they hadn’t eaten out much at all. Maybe it was more permanent seeming, her having a house with a kitchen to cook in.
“You don’t want to go out?”
“Maybe we could buy something at the store that doesn’t require much cooking. Frozen pizza? Or maybe they’ll have some of that rotisserie chicken I bought that one day.”
“That was pretty good,” he said.
“Unless you want me to cook something.”
“It’s up to you. I assumed you’d want to go out somewhere.”
“I hate you spending money on restaurants.”
“Yeah, well, sitting at the house all weekend, every weekend is going to get old for you I bet.”
“Not for you?”
“No, it’s a break from the base, George, and a bed that isn’t that comfortable. I know you think you’re still learning how to cook, but anything you cook for me and just me, well, and you, is far better than the assembly line stuff I get on base.”
“Well, maybe next weekend we can go out. This weekend I’m fine with just you.”
“Fine with it, huh?”
“I have an idea,” he said.
“Why don’t we drive toward Myrtle Beach, find a restaurant with seating outside and eat. We could take our time eating, then maybe take a walk on the beach.”
“You just want to have sex with me on the beach.”
“That would definitely be a positive.”
“I’m not agreeing to have sex with you in public.”
“How about in your car on the beach?”
“I’ll take maybe, Princess. Drive south.”
“You know, that idea I mentioned a long time ago about a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no one around but us and some water…”
“Would you be up for that for a honeymoon? Or did you have something more exciting in mind?”
“I don’t know what you want. We haven’t talked about it. I imagine we could go somewhere outside the States if you wanted. I have a passport and I have more immunizations than you can imagine after my deployment.”
“How long do you think you’ll get?”
“Well, as a bonus to you living nearby now I won’t have to take nearly as much leave time as I took to visit you so I could store it up. I’d have to find out, but a couple weeks could probably be swung.”
“Could we do both?”
“Yeah, the cabin in the middle of nowhere for a while and some place more exciting? Or somehow combine them?”
“Hmm,” he said. “I’ll have to look into that. That could be doable. Maybe find something that’s within driving distance from stuff to do while still being quiet.”
“I never knew you really wanted to do that so badly.”
“What? You on a beach? What’s not to like about that thought? I thought every chick wanted to recreate the scene from that Burt Lancaster movie.”
She laughed softly. “I’m impressed you know about it.”
“I’m not a complete dolt.”
“I never said you were. It just doesn’t seem like the type of movie you’d watch.”
“Oh. I caught it on TV once I think. Mom liked it.”
“Yes, it was one of the few times I can recall her sitting still for almost two hours without refilling her glass or bowl.”
“She did that in front of you?”
He scoffed. “Princess, after a while she didn’t pay me any attention so she did just about anything you can think of someone should not do in front of a kid.”
“You know, I think I can’t get shocked or surprised anymore with you and yet you still manage.”
“Sorry,” he said. “It is what it is.”
“I guess at least she wasn’t shooting up in front of you.”
“No, never saw her do that. I saw her do a line once.”
“Uh yeah,” he asked, clearly wondering what else he’d be talking about.
“Did you ever think of calling the police?”
“On my parents?”
“No, they would’ve dumped the shit and I would’ve gotten punished for being a snitch. Can we talk about something better?”
“Well, how about a wedding date?”
“Sure. You and your parents decided on one then?”
“Yes. I think so. June 20.”
“Mom and I decided on the dress for me, too.”
“Decided on it?”
“Well, yeah, I’m having it made.”
“Expensive? Not really hugely more expensive than some outrageously priced factory assembly line dresses.”
“Whatever you want, Princess.”
“Well, I figure you’re going to look very nice I should do the same.”
“I think you’re underestimating how you look to me every day, but I get it. So, the dress and a date I guess it’s really official.”
“You thought I’d change my mind?”
“No, but until now it was more of a hypothetical. A commitment without a formal time or place in the future.”
“Well, we don’t have to get married in June.”
“No, that’s fine. It doesn’t matter to me as long as you’re there.”
“I will be there.”
“I put in a request for a couple of days before and the week after Christmas off. I have a ton of days to burn by the end of the year. I figured maybe we could go somewhere. We could drive down to Florida somewhere or up to New York. Wherever.”
“I’d like that a lot, but I should go home for Christmas. And you should think about coming there with me.”
“I assumed you would go home. I was going to fly up there for Christmas Eve, then we could fly back together on the twenty-sixth. Or fly wherever we want to go on the twenty-sixth.”
“My parents would probably want to see us for more than a couple of days.”
“I guess I hadn’t thought about that. You want me there with you?”
“You know I do.”
“All right, I guess I could talk to James and your brother and stuff.”
“Yes, that would be a good time to do that.”
“We could go somewhere for New Year’s Eve. Or fly back here and go somewhere from here.”
“We wouldn’t be able to sit together, though.”
“For that flight, I’d actually get a real ticket and not fly on standby.”
“That would be nice.”
“I agree. I’ve never flown on a plane like a normal person.”
She laughed at that.
“What? It’s true.”
“I know, it’s just funny. You were flown to Italy.”
“I know,” he said. She knew enough about his deployment to know that’s where he’d spent the bulk of his time. She didn’t know anything more than that, but he’d told her that much.
“So you’d really do that? Spend a week or so up there with me and my parents?”
“Sure. I did it last year before leaving. I don’t dislike them or anything. They’re nice enough to me. I guess I should get used to doing that. I just don’t think of it first because it’s foreign to me, wanting to include family in anything.”
“You don’t have anyone?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Cousins. Grandparents.”
“I do, sure. Mom and Dad weren’t some science experiment grown in a lab or something.”
“Well, I know that.”
“I have cousins. I wouldn’t know any of them if I passed them on the street, though. Maybe their parents I’d recognize.”
“I’m just curious.”
“It’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it. I was just curious. You’ve never mentioned anyone ever.”
“Because they don’t matter to me. My parents at least sort of have an excuse for their behavior. Their parents, their brothers and sisters – they don’t have an excuse for sitting by and letting happen what happened.”
“No, of course not.”
“So, I don’t spend my time thinking on them.”
“But your cousins weren’t at fault.”
“No, most of them were within a couple of years of us older and younger. I haven’t seen them, though, since,” he shrugged. ”I don’t know. Junior high. Maybe.”
“I just wish you had someone to have in the wedding who mattered.”
“I do, Princess. You. I don’t need anyone else.”
“Thank you for saying yes.”
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com