Carter walked into the Roadhaus Eatery and took a seat at her regular corner table. She was meeting her father for lunch and for once she arrived before he did. This restaurant was near her office, and it had become a weekly date to have lunch and catch up. She ordered a drink and a basket of homemade pretzels with dipping mustard and waited. A few moments later he walked in the door and marched towards the table.
He leaned over and kissed his daughter’s cheek, “Sorry I am late, I didn’t keep you waiting long did I?”
She had to admit that it was quite odd to have him be so concerned with punctuality. She knew it was a holdover from the military, but he never used to worry about those things with her. “No, I just got here and ordered the pretzels. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I was just working on a few things, and I completely lost track of time. I have to admit that I figured you would be on the road to see Chris. Isn’t he being discharged tomorrow?”
“I am leaving right after lunch; I didn’t want to cancel our date.”
“So, are you going to get to meet his family? Will they be there tomorrow?”
“No, he told them not to worry about coming down. Since it isn’t really a ceremony he didn’t want them traveling so far to see him give an autograph or two.”
General Gray relaxed in his chair and crossed his arms, “He doesn’t want you to meet his parents yet does he?”
“Well thanks, I never thought of it that way. Do you think I should be worried, I mean does this mean something?” He didn’t respond; he watched his daughter fidget with her napkin and placemat; things she did when she was nervous. She moved the salt and pepper shakers around and rearranged the silverware as well. “Are you going to say anything? Come on, I need you to be a dad and give me advice when I need it.”
“Ok, I can do that, but you aren’t going to like what I am going to say; but, of course, that will be nothing new.” He smiled as he said the words and hoped that she knew he was teasing her. “Carter, didn’t you tell me you were horrified when I went to the hospital and met him? You were angry that I inserted myself into your relationship when you weren’t really sure there was a relationship?” He watched as his daughter stuffed a pretzel dipped in mustard into her mouth. After a moment, she began to slowly nod her head. “And didn’t that make you mad because you were afraid I would intimidate Captain Evans and ruin any chance you might have?” Again, she slowly nodded her head. “Isn’t it quite possible he has the same feelings? Maybe he does not want to have his parents jeopardize your relationship and not having them there is his way of protecting it.”
She swallowed hard, “Okay, I guess that makes sense, and I didn’t even consider it like that.”
“Well that is because you are emotionally invested, and you are scared; it is natural. But please tell me you two didn’t fight about whether they were going to be there or not.”
“No, we did not fight about this! I asked him about it but didn’t argue the point.”
“Honestly, it is too early in your relationship to meet his parents. How long have you two been dating?”
“Two months, give or take,” She said as she went back to fidgeting with her placemat.
“Carter I am afraid you are rushing things. I know, roll your eyes and think I am horrible.” He said with a smile, “But the two of you need to take your time and get to know one another before you put us parents in the mix. This is a big deal to live together after a short time; just go slow sweetheart.”
She could tell the sincerity in his voice, and when she looked up his eyes were caring and sweet, “Geez, you almost sound romantic; who are you?” She gave him a grin.
“I know, suddenly I have become a softy because my daughter appears to be happy. It’s a good look on you.” He grabbed a pretzel from the basket, “And if you are wondering, I will hang back as well. No need in me putting my nose in any further than I already have.”
“Thanks, but I still want you to find him a job; so you can butt out after that.”
~ * ~
Chris had a restless night; the idea that this was the end of his military career was almost too much to take. He had actually moved to the couch so that he would not wake Carter. While he knew he was making the right decision, he could not help the sinking feeling in his stomach. He padded into the kitchen deciding to make coffee; if he can’t sleep, he might as well make sure he stays wide awake. The clock on the stove said it was 5:30 and his discharge appointment wasn’t until 9; it was going to be a long morning. His mind was wandering while the coffee brewed and it took a minute to realize his phone was ringing. He ran into the living room, his phone was on the table near the couch. He was able to connect the call right before it went to voicemail.
He answered and spoke softly, “Hello.”
A gruff voice answered, “Good Morning Captain Evans, this is General Gray. I am hoping that I did not wake you.”
Chris was shocked, why was Carter’s dad calling him? His mind began to race, and he worried something had happened, “No sir, I was awake, but I left my phone in the other room. Is everything okay?”
“No son, everything is just fine. I didn’t mean to worry you I just figured you were an earlier riser since most of us military folk are even when we aren’t on active duty.”
Chris released the breath he wasn’t aware that he had been holding. His heart rate began to slow down, and he started breathing normally again. “Yes sir, you can’t get the military regime out of your system very easily.”
“That is true. Although it is not the reason for my call, I am going to assume that my daughter did arrive safely last night?”
“Yes sir, she arrived safely and is actually still asleep right now. Would you like me to wake her for you?”
“No, no let her sleep because I called to talk to you,” General Gray took a moment before continuing, “Captain, I do regret that we did not have an opportunity to converse at length when I stopped by your hospital room.”
“Well to be fair sir, I think you were really there to find Carter. I do believe I owe you an apology though for overstepping my bounds.” Chris walked over and sat on the couch, propping his leg up to get a tad comfortable. “I hope you know I meant no disrespect that day.”
“I know that, and you need not worry I do realize you were just trying to protect her. While I was not angry at your words, I am still a little shocked at how bold and unafraid you were to speak up. Quite honestly it was refreshing – most people are afraid of me.” He chuckled softly as he said the words; he didn’t think he was that intimidating but that damn title did scare the crap out of some folks. “Look, your brashness and your military record are really what is prompting me to call you. I understand you are preparing to move to Quantico; Carter told me that you would be moving in with her within the next few days.”
Suddenly Chris sat up straight on the couch; even though he could not see the General he felt he needed to be standing at attention for a talk like this. “Yes sir, following the discharge appointment this morning we will be heading back to Virginia.
“I am sorry that the Marines will be losing a fine young man such as yourself, but I do know that Carter is looking forward to your move. Your move is why I am calling, you see I have a very good friend who works at the Pentagon and has a need for a few civilian contractors. I realize it will be about an hour drive from where you will be living, but I think it might be a nice opportunity for you if you don’t mind the commute.”
“You are calling me with a job opportunity? General, I’m surprised and, of course, honored that you would think of me.”
“I know you have some additional rehabilitation, and there is an opportunity for that at an onsite facility. I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of speaking with my friend, and the job is yours if you would be interested.”
“I would be interested; I am just caught off guard. I honestly did not anticipate this.”
“Well, I look at this way, son, you’re dating my daughter, and I want her to be happy and for that to happen you need to feel settled. She has been quite worried about you, and this will go a long way in easing some of her concerns. Plus, it will provide you with an opportunity to use your military knowledge for the greater good, and I believe that will go a long way in easing some of your concerns related to civilian life.”
Chris had to admit that this man was dead on; he was nervous about what his life would be like. The idea of working at the Pentagon was not something he had ever considered. The only downside was the fact he would most likely be a desk jockey, and that was one of the things he wanted to avoid if had stayed in the Marines. “Sir, I appreciate that you have considered me for this. I will admit that I have been struggling with what I will do following my discharge; this can ease my worries.”
“I will text you the information on how to contact Major Edwards; he will be expecting your call next week. Good luck and I look forward to seeing you again, son.”
“Thank you General; I look forward to seeing you as well.” Chris hit the end button on his phone and sat in stunned silence. A job offer was not something he had anticipated just yet. This would allow him to hit the ground running, so to speak.
~ * * * ~
Chris was pacing back and forth across the living room while waiting for Carter. He had so much pent up energy and could not sit still. In his mind, he kept going through the conversation with General Gray and how fortuitous it was to have come on the day he became officially unemployed. As much as his mind raced, his body was giving out. The fact that he had a little sleep last night was not helping him, and he knew that it would be a long drive to Virginia.
“You are going to wear holes in the carpet and will have to replace it if you don’t stop.” Her voice shocked him, and he was startled, “sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. “ She walked over to him as he had stopped pacing for the time being. He was wearing a light gray suit and she noticed that his maroon tie was slightly askew. She reached up to fix it and the collar on his shirt, “I know you are nervous, but it will be okay.” She then kissed his cheek and took his hands in hers.
“Yeah, I want to be able to say this is no big deal,” he leaned forward and kissed her and then squeezed her hands, “I have a few major life events happening at once, and it is overwhelming. I mean I am leaving a job, moving out of state, and moving in with my new girlfriend. Good grief that is a lot of change for a 24 hour period of time.”
“I know, and I understand. I am going with you today for support, but if you would prefer that I not go, I totally understand.”
“No, I think I need you there to keep me in check.”
With those words, they walked out the door and towards the car. The trip from the apartment to the base office was short, only five minutes. The car barely had time to warm up before it was time to turn it off. When Chris exited the car, Carter was there; she slid her hand into his. A simple gesture that conveyed her love and her support at the same time; she gently squeezed to see if he was ready. The words were unspoken; he began to move towards the building entrance.
He was led into a small room where the table was prepared with stacks of documents. The guidelines for his discharge were outlined as per protocol and then the autographs began. He had to sign several stacks of original documents that were countersigned and stamped as official. He was given a copy of the material along with a small laminated card for his wallet that gave his discharge information. This would be valuable when questions would come up about his service; for car loans or home loans, etc. Carter sat quietly in the corner while Chris ended his career in the Marines.
The entire process took twenty minutes. Chris stood and saluted the Officer, who had been helping him, and it was over. The Officer, knowing this had to be a difficult situation, quietly left the room to allow Chris and Carter a few moments for the impact to hit. Chris had his back to her and for once, she noticed his shoulders slumped, and his head was down. She slowly walked up and put her hand on his shoulder. Then the unexpected happened, he turned and embraced her, and she could swear he was crying. She said nothing, as no words could express what he needed to hear. Instead, she held him for a minute and let him come to terms.
He stood up and cleared his throat, “Yeah, sorry about that I guess I got a little emotional.”
“It is okay, there is no need to apologize. I kinda like a man who is strong enough to cry.”
“Well I have been known to cry watching a commercial so get used to it,” he smiled and tried to make light. He was a little embarrassed to show tears but thankful that she understood. He picked up the envelope from the table, “Are you ready to leave ma’am?”
She stood straight and saluted, “Yes sir!” She took his hand, and they walked out to the car.
After opening the car door for her, he leaned down and captured her lips in a kiss. He was hungry for her but restrained himself since they were in the parking lot. “I forgot to tell you that your father called me this morning.”
Her eyes grew large, “He did? Why?”
“Seems he has a lead on a job at the Pentagon that he thought I might be interested in.”
“Chris that is fantastic! Why didn’t you mention it sooner?”
“Well, I was a little preoccupied with everything.” He leaned down and kissed her again, “You wouldn’t have known anything about this now would you?” He already knew the answer, though. It hit him a short time after hanging up with General Gray; he did not have enough of a relationship with the man for him to help find him a job. He knew the General had to be doing it because Carter asked. He figured she would do this, and it should make him mad, but it didn’t. In reality, he would have been more upset if she had not tried to help him; how convoluted was that?
She tried to keep a straight face, but it was no use, “I might have asked for his help in finding something.” She hung her head, sure that he was going to be angry.
Instead, he put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to his, “That was sweet of you and thank you.”
She was confused, “Wait, you’re not mad at me? Not angry that I meddled and stuck my nose in your business?” She stepped back and put her hands on her hips, “Really, you are okay with it?” This is truly not what she had anticipated.
He could not help but laugh at her; she was worked up because he wasn’t worked up. “No, I’m not mad and why would you think I would be?”
“Because I was meddling and I thought you would think I didn’t believe that you could find a job on your own, and I just wanted…”
He put his finger on her lips to quiet her, “Baby, I think it is sweet that you were looking out for me. You cared enough to ask your father for help, and I cannot be mad about that.”
She sighed heavily, “Well that was not what I expected.”
He leaned over and kissed her and said, “I like being able to surprise you.” He stood back and watched as the smile formed on her lips, “Are you ready to hit the road?”
“Yes, but, this time, I have the surprise.” He tilted his head, and his question was unspoken, “With all of the changes you are going through, I thought that it might be nice to decompress and not think about the military, the move, or your new surroundings. So we are booked for a romantic weekend at the Oasis Suites in Nags Head.”
“Wow, you booked us a romantic getaway?”
“Well, not really. It was actually my father’s idea, and he made the arrangements. Nags Head is only a slight detour on the way home, and he thought the privacy and seclusion might do us some good.”
“I like the way your father thinks, but I have to admit it seems odd that he would do this for us.”
“I believe he is confused as to whether he should be supportive or protective right now. He felt it might be best to go the supportive route for the time being.” She said with a wry laugh.
“Well I am happy he is supportive, and I don’t know about you, but I am ready to take advantage of a romantic weekend.” Chris got in the car and before they could drive off he said, “You know I feel blessed that you were assigned to my camp and would sincerely regret it if they had listened to me and had reassigned you. I never considered that I would find love in a war zone.”