It had been two months since the ambush; Chris was settled into an apartment on the base of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He had initially transferred to the Naval Hospital on base but had been quickly discharged since he didn’t need daily care. His injuries had healed, but now it was time for the intense rehabilitation on his leg. The wound had been more severe than he had let on to Carter; he didn’t want her to worry, and there was no use scaring her if this thing they had was not going to continue. She had stayed with him for the first few days after coming back to the States. She had some leave time accumulated, and they felt sorry for what she had gone through so she didn’t need to rush back to work. She stayed in his hospital room and barely left his side; he worried she would get sick of him. He had to admit it was great spending time with her. They got to know each other more and made the decision that they wanted to see where a relationship could go between them. They each felt the other had an ego and an attitude problem, but somehow there was no friction.
Carter decided, after a week, that she should go back to Quantico. She thought it might be good for her to work and keep her mind occupied while he concentrated on his therapy. She did not want to be in the way. What she did do, however, was drive down every weekend; a ten-hour round-trip visit. Chris had tried to get her to cut the trips to every other week or try to catch a flight, but she wouldn’t hear of it. He had concerns about her being too tired and pushing herself too much; she said the drive helped clear her mind and let her focus on him when she arrived. He realized it would not do any good to argue with her.
Before the ambush, the Marine recruiting officers were courting Chris and trying to get him to reenlist. He was a good Marine with a stellar record and an asset that they wanted to hold onto. He had six months left, and they wanted to wrap up his commitment before time was up. He didn’t have a wife or kids, and he wasn’t sure if he would be ready to slip back into civilian life. He had his papers ready to sign and deliver when the ambush took place. Now he was rethinking his position; brush with death will make you reevaluate your priorities really fast. He had Carter to think about now; the more time he spent with her, the less he wanted to go back to the front lines. He had known her for two weeks when the ambush happened and in that time, she had completely turned his life upside down.
He checked his watch; it was Friday so she was on her way to see him. It was 2:00 and she wouldn’t be there until 5:30 at the earliest.
Carter was driving down I-95 and had just entered North Carolina when her phone rang. It was her friend Roxie. “Hey, sorry I didn’t get to see you before I left.”
“Well that is why I am calling; I wanted to wish you luck. Are you nervous?”
“Terrified Roxie; what happens if I have been misreading the signs, and this isn’t going where I think it is? You know I’ve never had feelings for anyone like this, and I can’t help but feel that this is in my head.”
“Carter you need to quit second guessing everything; you act as if no man could ever love you or would want to be with you. For someone who is so damn sure of herself at work and has no trouble telling people where to go and what route to take you have no self-confidence. Besides, he said he had feelings for you and you two agreed to date and see where it goes. If he didn’t like you or have feelings, he wouldn’t let you visit him every weekend.”
“It isn’t like he has a choice Roxie; he’s stuck on the base and can’t drive for long distances yet so he can’t escape.” Her nervous laugh was meant to make light of her fears.
“Right, he can’t escape, but he could tell you to quit coming down there, or he could stop answering the door!” Roxie paused for a beat to let that sink in. “Get out of your own head; you have nothing to worry about; he likes you, and you like him, and you need to just move it to the next level.”
“Roxie I would believe you, but the most we have done is kiss and snuggle on the couch. We sleep in the same bed but there is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, sexual or romantic about it.”
“Have you ever tried to make the first move? You know, show him what you’ve got?”
“Yes! I have tried to initiate a few things, but he always stops me. He isn’t interested, and that is why I think he doesn’t really like me that way. Maybe I am just not his type.” As an analyst, she had a tendency to over analyze everything and her relationship, or lack thereof, was at the top of the list.
“Well, what you need to do is approach this like a problem from work. Be direct and matter of fact, ask him what his intentions are and where this might be going. Maybe he has a self-confidence problem as well, and that is why he has been slow to make a move. So, tell me you are at least prepared if this moves forward; do you have a sexy little number to wear?”
Carter began to softly laugh, “Well, I hope he likes red; I went back and bought that set we saw in the store the other day.”
“Good girl! Maybe he just needs to see you in sexy clothes to get the full effect. You do know that camo and khaki do nothing for your skin coloring, right? I am sure when he sees you rocking that red set he will not be able to resist you.”
Carter wrapped up her call and told Roxie she would give her the lowdown as soon as she could. She was making good time on the trip but still had a few hours before she would be at the base; this gave her plenty of opportunity to practice what she wanted to say.
When she was an hour outside of Jacksonville she called Chris, “Hey handsome; I wondered if we could do something a little different tonight? I should be there in about an hour and thought we could go out to dinner instead of eating in.” There was silence on the other end of the line and at first, she was afraid that he had hung up, “Chris, are you there?”
Another pause and then he finally spoke up, “You know I am not really up for going out. I’ve had a long day, and you’ve had a long drive. Why don’t you just stop and pick up our order and maybe we could go out another time.”
She didn’t know how to respond; his lack of desire to go out to dinner was also a crushing blow to her self-confidence. “Sure, whatever you want Chris.” Without saying another word, she disconnected the call. She immediately began cataloging her visits to see him and realized they had never left his apartment. She would bring dinner on Friday and for the weekend they would cook. From time to time, she would go to the store, but they never went as a couple. It was hard not to think that he didn’t want to be seen in public with her. In her mind, she knew she was irrational and potentially immature, but she could not help it. She felt like the writing was on the wall, and she had been electing to ignore it; maybe it was time to pay attention before she humiliated herself any further.
She dialed the number for the little Italian restaurant near the base entrance; well there was fast food, but she liked the idea of a real meal that would still be hot by the time she got to the apartment. She had become friends with Jimmy, the owner, and he could recognize her voice when she called. She never had to order, she just had to say how far out she was, and dinner would always be ready when she pulled up. Tonight she did request that he add a bottle of wine; she was going to need it.
She pulled up in front of the apartment and grabbed her purse, overnight bag, and of course dinner. Luckily the items were just bulky and not heavy; plus he had a first-floor apartment so there were no stairs to maneuver. As she approached the door it immediately opened; Chris was standing in there in a pair of loose-fitting jeans with an oxford shirt that was untucked and not buttoned all the way. He looked so sexy with mussed hair, and he was growing out his beard since he was no longer on active duty. He instinctively reached for the bags to help ease her load. “You should have honked, I would have come out.”
“Its fine; no big deal I am capable of carrying bags you know.” She was trying to keep from being hateful, but she was sure he could hear a tone in her voice.
He began unpacking the dinner, “I see you bought a bottle of wine, what’s the special occasion?” He was trying to remain light in his tone. He sensed her anger when she hung up on him earlier, and it was evident when she made the comment about the bags. She was not in a good mood, and he had to tread carefully.
She began opening and closing the drawers in the kitchen; making sure to slam them appropriately. “I need a drink, it has been a rough day,” she said emphatically. “Don’t you have a damn corkscrew?”
“No, I don’t, but you are in luck because this bottle is a rare vintage with a screw cap!” He smiled, trying to keep the mood light.
She didn’t react; instead, she reached into the cabinet for two glasses and walked over to the table. Chris poured the wine and set the bottle down; she immediately picked it back up and topped off her glass. She then sat down and took a long draw from her glass and then began to eat her dinner.
~ * * * ~
The attitude she displayed was not normal so he knew that something was really bothering her. He had a feeling it had to do with his declining the offer to go out to dinner. So her attitude coupled with a significant amount of wine she was consuming made it quite clear she was upset. He knew he should keep his mouth shut; getting into an argument with a woman is never a good idea, but he could not help himself, “Do you want to let it out?”
She snapped her head up and looked at him, “Let what out?”
“Don’t play dumb Carter it doesn’t suit you. You are obviously angry with me so do you want to yell at me and get it out? Would it make you feel better?” He just looked at her for a moment, and he could tell she was trying to process what he was saying. “Because I can take you yelling at me but I can’t take the silent treatment or the bitterness when you do speak.”
She took another drink of her wine and then put the glass down, sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Is there a reason you don’t want to go out in public with me? I mean, are you embarrassed to be with me? Do you wish I didn’t come down here? We never leave your apartment; we stay in, and that would be okay if we were having sex like bunnies, but you don’t even touch me. I am trying to figure out what in the hell is happening here.”
Chris began to laugh; a slight chuckle at first and then a full belly laugh. “My God Carter; do you even hear yourself? Please tell me you are kidding because this can’t be why you are all piss and vinegar tonight.” He watched her carefully for a reaction and her expression never changed. “Shit, you are serious!” He threw his napkin on the table and pushed his chair away.
Carter watched as he got up and walked toward his room. To walk away he should be stomping and walking fast but he wasn’t. Instead, she noticed he was moving slowly and that his limp was more pronounced. It also did not go unnoticed that he had braced his hand on the wall to keep himself steady. She was jolted back to the moment when the bedroom door slammed. Suddenly she began to feel sick; why had she not noticed the limp before? Was it always that bad? She couldn’t move she just sat there in stunned silence.
Was this why he didn’t want to go out? Had she been so wrapped up in herself that she flat out failed to notice something this important? She was obviously a horrible girlfriend, and she needed to apologize. She got up and cleaned up the remaining dinner items; not much had been eaten so she closed the containers and put them into the refrigerator for later. She moved at a slow pace; it gave her time to form her apology, and it allowed him time to be alone. Once the mess was cleaned up, she walked down the small hallway towards the bedroom. She didn’t knock, she just quietly opened the door to find him sitting on the side of the bed with his back to the door. He was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. She sat on the bed next to him but did not touch him.
She took a deep breath and quietly began speaking, “I am sorry for being so concerned with myself; I am an idiot Chris, and I should not have been ugly to you. You did not deserve that, and I was out of line.” She dropped her head and waited to see if he responded. When he didn’t say anything, she rose and headed toward the door.
“Tell me, Carter,” his voice was low, “When exactly did you regret what you said? Did you feel sorry before or after I walked away?” He turned and looked at her, “I don’t need your pity.”
“My attitude is why I am sorry and the fact that I was hateful to you because I was stupid. I don’t pity you, Chris.” He had looked away when she started talking, and he did not attempt to make eye contact with her. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I would mess this relationship up, or whatever the hell this thing is between us. For what it is worth, I am sorry. I’ll get my stuff and go, just give me a minute or two.” She continued walking toward the door, and it was evident he was not going to stop her.
She wanted to cry but was willing herself to not let a tear fall. She would never consider herself emotional, but this hurt. She compartmentalized her emotions and picked up her bag and purse. She had just opened the door and was preparing to walk out the door when she heard him clear his throat behind her; she figured he was just making sure she was leaving. “I don’t think you should go; it is a long drive, and you just got here.”
She didn’t turn around, she was not sure she could take looking at him. She stood arrow straight and softly answered, “Still trying to look out for me, eh? Well, it is okay I’ll get a hotel room in Jacksonville tonight and will take out first thing in the morning and be home by lunch. You need not worry; it won’t be your concern.”
“Let me try to say this again; Carter, I do not want you to leave.”
“Well, I am not quite sure why you expect me to stay. This is over Chris, and it is better to just let me go and be done with it. I promise I have no hard feelings.” She took a step when she heard his voice boom.
“Did I say I want this to be over? I don’t want you to leave, I don’t want this to be over, and I want you to come back in here and shut the damn door.” He watched her carefully to see if he could gauge her reaction to his words. “I can’t put all of the blame on you for tonight; please stay and we can talk about it.” He was pleading with her to stay.
Carter dropped her shoulders in defeat and slowly backed into the apartment and shut the door. She didn’t turn around to look at him. “What do you mean it isn’t just my fault?”
“Look, I get why you came to the conclusion you did about what is going on or not going on. But I haven’t been entirely honest with you about my injuries or my recovery. I owe you my own apology and an explanation so will you please stay so we can talk about it?” He waited a minute to see if she moved, but she didn’t. “Carter, I am not ready to throw in the towel. I know we haven’t known each other that long, but I care about you too much to just end this over a stupid misunderstanding. I think it is evident that we both hide our emotions; guess it is just a side effect of military life.” He chuckled softly trying to ease the tension.
She turned to look at him and noticed he was standing behind the couch and holding on to the back of it for support; she could tell he was struggling. But he didn’t move, not until he noticed that she was putting her stuff down and walking toward the couch, then he walked around and took a seat. They sat on opposite sides of the sofa and did not look at one another initially.
A few minutes had passed, and the silence was beginning to get uncomfortable. Chris had his hands folded in his lap and just stared at them; he wasn’t really sure how to start this conversation. Finally, he decided to just say it, “My leg wound was more severe than we initially believed. I never told you the truth or that I am battling constant pain. I don’t make it any better for myself because I won’t take any of the pain pills. The therapy is helping some, but I have good and bad days; on the bad days, I have a lot of trouble walking. The doctors can’t tell me if it will get any better.” He took a deep breath to try and steady his heart rate before continuing. “I don’t want to embarrass you so I want to stay here where I can pretend that everything is perfect. I don’t want to go out in public because of my leg not because I am ashamed of you. And I’m not you know, ashamed of you.”
She moved closer to him on the couch, “Everything is not perfect in this apartment if you aren’t truthful with me. Why couldn’t you just be honest with me?”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t want to be with me if you thought there was a chance that I wouldn’t be, – you know, me.”
“But you are you,” She edged a bit closer. “You are no different than you were when I met you except the bravado you displayed on that first day. But in here,” she reached over pressing on his chest, “You are the same man I fell for. If I didn’t want to be with you, I wouldn’t drive down here every weekend.”
“So, this injury and my recovery or lack thereof doesn’t bother you?”
“It bothers me if it bothers you but my love for you isn’t dependent on whether you walk with or without a limp. You think so little of me that you believe I would be that shallow?”
He opened his mouth to say something and stopped himself. He gave her a quizzical look, “Did you just say what I think you said?”
A smile formed on her lips, “So you were listening to me.” She was now sitting right next to him; she reached over and pulled his face towards hers. “Yeah, I have fallen in love with you. I didn’t set out to do that you know, and I have always wondered if I was capable of being able to love someone. Did you seriously think I drove down here every weekend because we are friends?”
“Well, I figured you felt a sense of duty since you saved my ass,” the smile on his face and the gentle laugh showed his sense of humor was still intact even if the conversation was not funny.
“Oh, my sense of duty is not that strong, Captain.” Carter moved and straddled his lap, looking him straight in the eyes, “I am sorry that I was insensitive and selfish. I was only thinking of myself and didn’t realize what was going on and had it in my mind that you were ashamed of me. But you have to know that no matter what hurdles we have in front of us, I love you. You know I did have a plan for this weekend, and it certainly did not include us fighting.” She began to gently rock back and forth on his lap and could see tell that he was enjoying her movement. “Please tell me that I am not hurting you right now.”
He breathlessly answered, “Um…no…not hurting me…shit!” He put his hands on her hips to hold her in place, “So, this was your plan?”
She began laughing, “Well, it was part of the plan; I seriously hoped this would lead to something else. I wanted to talk about us and moving our relationship forward; I did not plan on the fight. She rocked forward and captured his lips, kissing him softly. “Are you up for that?”
“Um…I am up for something, just not sure it is talking,” he snickered.
“Good because right now I am not actually interested in talking,” she rocked forward again and kissed him, letting this kiss linger a bit longer than the first. “But I suppose we do need to have a serious discussion.” She gently eased herself off of his lap and stood in front of him. “I am going to freshen up and change and then maybe we could talk. Does that sound okay?”
Chris nodded in approval and watched as she walked down the hall to the bedroom. He had to adjust himself because she about sent him over the edge when she was rocking on his lap; he had denied himself touching her whenever they were together. He ached to touch her when they slept next to each other for the past two months. But he exercised self-control while she was there and took care of his urges after she left. He was brought out of his thoughts when he heard her walking back down the hall; he looked up to see her before him in red satin lace trim pajamas; the shirt open to show off the lace bra underneath; he knew this meant she had panties on to match!
His breath hitched, “Holy hell Carter do you think I can talk to you while you are wearing that?”
She gave him a devilish smile, “Well the alternative is that I could lose the clothes altogether.”