Chris woke up and realized he was alone in the bed; he felt the spot vacated by Carter and realized it was still warm; this meant he had not been alone for long. He eased himself out of the bed and went to the dresser to get a pair of boxers and jeans. He left the bedroom and headed towards the kitchen and he noticed she was bopping around in a pair of panties, a pair of socks and his oxford shirt. He didn’t say a word. Instead, he just leaned over the bar and admired the view; she was oblivious to him standing there.
She finally turned and jumped when she saw him there, “Holy crap! How long have you been there?”
“Long enough,” he smirked, “I didn’t have the heart to interrupt your little show.” He tried to stifle a heartier laugh, “I have to admit it, I like your moves and in case you are wondering, you look good in my shirt.”
She threw a kitchen towel at him, hitting him square in the face. “Stop it! I decided to heat up the dinner from last night since we never did eat it. I am sure you’ve worked up quite an appetite.”
“I’m starving! So…um…how are you feeling?”
She walked around the bar, and he turned to face her; she wrapped her arms around his neck and reached up to kiss him. “I am tired, and my shoulder hurts just a little,” she gave him a wicked smile, “I think I have a little bruise or something. Do you know anything about that?”
“I am sorry about that, I guess I got a little carried away.”
“Don’t you dare apologize, I liked it,” she wiggled her eyebrows at him. “I am pretty sure we burned off enough calories to not feel guilty about this pasta dinner but in case you do feel guilty, well I think I could be persuaded into exercising after dinner.”
A smile spread across his face, he leaned down to kiss her again, “Oh, I am pretty sure I’ll feel guilty.”
Carter released her arms and went back to the kitchen and grabbed the food from the oven. She took it over to the table and went back to the kitchen for the wine and silverware. She finally sat down at the table, “Okay, I have been thinking about it since I was up and you were still sleeping. I hate to ask this but are you really ready to leave the Marines? I am not trying to start a fight, believe me, I just know that you identify with your service, and I don’t want you to regret leaving it for me just like you don’t want me to regret leaving my job for you.”
He put down his fork and looked at her for a long moment to formulate his response. “I can’t stay in the Corps if I can’t be in combat. I don’t want to stay and ride a desk just so I can say I am a Marine. I’m realistic about this, I’m not going to recover and go back to the war zone. Right now I am offered an out, and I think I need to take it,” he said as he took a bite of his dinner.
She reached across the table and grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze, “I just want you to be happy.” She let go of his hand and moved it back to her lap.
“I know, and I appreciate the fact that you are helping talk me through it. I think it would be an adjustment and will probably take a little time to get used to. You don’t just stop being a Marine after twelve years. But I think it will be for the best, and I think if I have you by my side it will make the transition easier.” The smile that crossed his face actually reached his eyes, and Carter felt like he was sincere.
“Okay, I can make a few calls for you. I am sure we can get the ball rolling on this. I am not going to pressure you, Chris, please know that. However, I will do whatever you need me to do to help.” She gently pushed her plate back and crossed her arms on the table. “So, where were you stationed before your tour in Afghanistan?”
“I was stationed at Yuma, Arizona. Guess if they are going to send you to the desert they might as well train your ass there!” He said laughing, “I was there about six months before they sent me over on this last tour. I lived in a furnished apartment on base; primarily because I own nothing! I didn’t think it was a good idea to have a house, car or furnishings because I had to be realistic that I might never come home.”
“Chris that is incredibly sad. So, if you move to Virginia you have nothing to take with you?”
“Well I have some clothes at the apartment, and I have the stuff I had at the base in Afghanistan. My buddy Frank got everything shipped over to me. But no, I don’t have much. I don’t really have very many clothes other than uniforms.”
“Well, I can help you with shopping. I seem to recall you complimenting women on their ability to shop and get coffee.” She couldn’t resist getting in a little dig about the phone call she overheard that first day at the camp.
“Yeah, I was angry, and you aren’t going to let that go are you?”
“Probably not; like any good girlfriend, I will lock it in the vault and use it when it is to my advantage.” She let out a belly laugh, and Chris could not help but enjoy the way her eyes danced when she smiled. “So, I need to know more about my boyfriend. Where are you from originally?”
“Boston, actually a suburb called Sudbury. I love Boston and have long said that I will move back there someday to raise a family.”
“That sounds nice; you must have had an idyllic childhood then. So tell me about your parents and any brothers and sisters.”
“My dad is a dentist, and my mom is the director of a children’s theater. I have a brother, Scott, and two sisters, Carly, and Shanna. My parents are divorced, dad remarried, and I have two little stepsisters, Lili and Ali and a stepbrother, Bobby. I wouldn’t say it was idyllic, but I was a happy kid and loved where I grew up.”
“Well, at least, you lived in one place; I can’t say the same for me. Home is wherever I was at the moment. I moved around so much and had no other family but the General. I came real close to asking him to send me to boarding school just so I could have stability.”
“Oh, I think you would have been miserable in a boarding school. Although, I have to admit I bet you would have been sexy in a school uniform.”
“Ok, I am changing the subject! I figure since we are open and honest this would be a good time to ask those burning questions to get to know one another better. So, where did you go to college and what did you study? ”
“Oh, you don’t really want to know that; no interesting story there.”
“Spill it Evans and there has to be a story, or you wouldn’t be telling me to forget it.”
Chris dropped his head and shook it slowly; he licked his lips and looked up to see her staring at him. “I went to NYU,” he watched as her eyes grew large with this revelation, “Yes, that NYU, but I didn’t major in anything that you would find interesting.”
“You don’t know that; you haven’t spent enough time with me to know what all of my interests are. Besides, NYU is a great school why would you be ashamed to tell me you went there?”
“Oh, I am not embarrassed that I went there, but you will laugh at me when I say what I studied.”
“It can’t be that bad Evans. But fine, I promise I will not laugh.”
“Fine, I was a theater major – drama and acting.” The smile formed on Carter’s lips, and there was a giddiness that danced in her eyes and he could tell she was struggling not to laugh. “You promised not to laugh!”
Carter waited to begin a response; taking deep breaths to stifle what was about to erupt. “Wait a minute, you are telling me that you aced the OTS exam, and you were a theater major? “ She watched as he nodded to acknowledge her comments. “Were you hoping to sing to the enemy or maybe perform a play for them?” She couldn’t hold back any longer and began to laugh hysterically. “I am sorry Chris; baby I don’t mean to make light of it; I just don’t see how you made the jump from theater to the military. You are a bright guy…but theater?”
“Hey just because I was majoring in the theater didn’t mean I wasn’t smart. And it is okay, I get why you think it is odd, and I have been known to laugh about it too from time to time. I got interested in theater because of my sister, and my mom is involved in the children’s theater; I wanted to pursue it. But when I was in college I had more of a pull to do something for my country. Plus I didn’t think acting would work out for me so I joined the Marines.”
She could not take her eyes off of this man; he was humble, gorgeous, patriotic, and goofy all wrapped up into one package. “I think acting could have worked for you, but I would never have met you if you hadn’t joined the Marines. You were in New York on 9/11, weren’t you? That is what made you feel the pull to do more?”
“Yeah, I was. I didn’t see the planes hit, but I was well aware it had happened. I left my apartment and could see the smoke and hear the sirens. It was frightening, and I felt like I needed to do something. A day or so after the attack I talked to a recruiter and the guy told me I should finish college first; they don’t normally do that you know. But he said I should consider OTS, and I needed a degree for that. And as far as meeting you, well I am still trying to figure out if that will be a good thing or bad thing,” he winked.
“I think we all remember where we were that day. I was in school as well, junior year of high school. We gathered into a classroom that had a TV and huddled around to watch the coverage. It was surreal, and every one of us in that room had a family member who would be sent to fight. Our entire class went and donated blood the morning after; that is when we all held out hope that there might be survivors.”
“So did you ever consider skipping college and joining right away? Or did your father even suggest that to you?”
“No, I always stood firm on going to college. It was his requirement that I serve, but I was at least, able to call my own terms. It sounds really horrible to say; I am proud of our country and the job our military does but it takes a special person to put their lives on the line for the greater good. I am not that good of a person – I would rather run from a fight, and I don’t have the instinct within me to kill or be killed.”
“I don’t know Carter I have yet to see you run from a fight. You are actually pretty good at starting them too you know.” He gave her a wicked little grin, “But you told me the story about your mother, and that was a kill or be killed situation; I do get that it is entirely different from war, though.”
“Yeah, there is a difference between an argument and a battle. I am all for arguments; I relish them as a matter of fact. But battle? No, that is not something I want to do.”
“It doesn’t make you a horrible person any more than it makes me a horrible person for saying I want to be in the heat of the battle. We are wired differently. You did serve, though, and I have to think you are proud of the fact that you did.”
“Yeah, I am proud that I did it. It is just not what I wanted to do.”
“So what did you want to do?” He leaned forward and put his elbows on the table and leaned his head into his hands, “I guess you studied what you wanted in college since you said you stood firm on that. What did you want to be when you grew up?”
“I studied history; I wanted to be a college professor and teach history. I am passionate about it, and I always think the best teachers are those who are passionate about their subject. I had an English teacher who made me realize that.” She looked down at the table as if to gather her thoughts, “But I joined the Marines and found I had a skill set that was needed and my career path changed.”
“Would you wear cute little cardigans and have a pair of glasses with a chain on them?” He teased.
“That is a librarian you goof!”
“Oh! Sorry about that; so where did you study?”
“The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia; they have a fantastic program, and you can’t beat the location. It is smack dab in the middle of history!”
“You know you could still go down that path if you wanted. There is nothing that says you have to work at Quantico forever; you need to follow your bliss. Isn’t that was Oprah says?”
She could not hide her smile, he was enjoying this. “Yeah but I have a boyfriend who is about to be unemployed, and he expects me to support him. So I will have to wait a little longer on that dream.” She hung her head and acted as if she was dejected.
“Oh man, what a loser!” Chris teased, “Seriously, if you want to do it you should. What particular time in history is your favorite?”
“I like Civil War history; there was so much more to it than a battle over slavery, and the division still runs deep. I am also fascinated by the fact that the leaders on both sides were from the same state, but they had polar opposite views. Holy crap I am a nerd.”
“You are, but that is okay, I’ve got a thing for nerds,”” he joked.
~ * * * ~
Carter gave him a kiss goodbye and slid behind the wheel of her car for the long drive back to Quantico. The weekend had ended up being glorious; it had a rocky start, but they had ended up being able to move past it. It was hard pulling out of the drive and leaving the base; she felt like they had finally hit a point where things were easy and relaxed, and she worried that putting distance between them now could be harmful. Unfortunately, she had to get back and couldn’t stay even though it was what she wanted. She hit the highway and despite her better judgment connected the Bluetooth dialer in her car and made a call.
“Well, to what do I owe this lovely surprise, Carter?”
“Hey, I am not catching you at a bad time am I?”
“No, you know I am always happy to hear from you. But a call on a Sunday afternoon is out of the ordinary – is something wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong, but I do have a favor to ask,” she sheepishly admitted, “I am calling while I am driving back from visiting Chris in North Carolina,” she winced as she said it. While she was working on her relationship with the General; she had not yet been open with him about her relationship with Chris and had not openly admitted that she was with him every weekend.
“Ah yes, I’d heard a rumor that you were spending quite a bit of time down there,” he took a deep breath, “And no, I am not following you or checking up on you. I had a call with a friend of mine who is on the base, and he asked if you had been transferred since he has seen you so often.”
Carter began to laugh nervously, “I guess you have a built-in network of spies when you think about it. Everyone knows you so they know me. I suppose it is a little funny.”
“So how is Captain Evans? Is his recovery coming along nicely?”
She let out a sigh, “He isn’t going to be able to go back to commanding any base or be on the front lines. His injury was a little more severe than first believed.” She took a breath and tried to boost her confidence, “That is why I am calling you actually.”
“Are you going to ask me to pull strings of some sort Carter? You want my help in getting him a job?” He had to smile, his daughter never asked him for help, and it made his heart swell that this was the point of her call. He was ready to do whatever she wanted, but he had to quell his excitement over the task.
She realized it was obvious he knew what she was up to. “Yeah, I guess that is what I was going to ask. Chris was up for re-enlistment, and he has decided to get out since he can’t serve like he wants due to his injury. This won’t count as a mark against him, will it? I mean he will be identified as honorably discharged right?”
“His departure from the Corps is no different from yours. You left at the end of our active enlistment and are wrapping up your inactive duty, and it is honorable. It will be the same for Captain Evans; although, he should be medically discharged due to his injury during service. He will have benefits and in no way would he be considered anything less than honorably leaving the Corps.”
“He is going to make a few calls tomorrow and begin the process of his discharge. We have decided to live together; he is going to move to Quantico and start over,” She blurted the words out quickly before she lost the gumption to say it. “I didn’t know if you might have connections to help get him a civilian job; kind of like the one I have? I mean I know you didn’t get me my job, but you understand, right?”
He was glad that she could not see his face right now as it was a mixture of happiness and dread. He was thrilled that she called him and that she was asking for his help but unsure how to handle the fact that this was related to a man who would be living with her. This is where protective father mode started to kick into gear. “Yes, I know you got your job on your own dear. I will make a few calls and see if I can find something for him. You know when I realized that you had feelings for Captain Evans I did a little research on him. Quit rolling your eyes Carter! He is very well thought of and has had a great career and has no discipline issues. He should not have a problem finding a job; are you sure he wants you meddling in his search?”
“I know he is capable, and this has nothing to do with whether I think he can get a job on his own. But this is going to be a big adjustment, and I thought maybe a hand up was warranted. And no, he will probably be mad at me, but it is a risk I am willing to take. He will go stir crazy in the apartment all day, and he needs to have something to keep him focused when he is not in physical therapy.”
“Just be careful and don’t push him Carter; he will need to come to things at his own pace. You are right regarding it being a significant change. He has been in the Marines for years, and it will be an adjustment to get out.”
“Yeah, I know, and whether he is willing to admit it or not, I’m just a little scared. He is a good man, and I think the world of him. I just want to help him in any way I can.”
“I hope you know what you are doing. Just be careful, and that goes for the situation with Captain Evans as well as your drive home.”
“Thanks, I will. Once I know the timeline for his discharge I will let you know. Talk to you soon.” She disconnected the call, and she had to admit that the call went smoother than she had anticipated. It was a good feeling knowing that her relationship with the General was on a positive path. He did have a good point, though, she was meddling in what he would do when he got out of the Corps, and that was not really her place. But she was sure he would understand that it was in his best interest.
~ * ~
Chris spent the day making calls and talking to people at the hospital and in the base recruiting office. He asked questions about his continued medical care as well as how he would be discharged. He was assured by everyone that he spoke with that he would receive an honorable discharge from the Marines and would retain his medical benefits. He was also given the information regarding a few rehabilitation facilities in Virginia where he could continue his physical therapy. He was also advised that due to his injury he would not be required to be on the inactive reserves list. So, when the discharge papers were signed, he would officially be out of the military.
He was struggling with this decision; he knew it was the right decision but this was closing the book on a significant chapter in his life, and he was scared. For the last twelve years, he did not have to think about what he would be doing from day to day and his life was planned out. Well, to the extent that the Marines had a plan for what he would be doing based on what was going on in the world. This was the first time, in a long time, that he was making a decision for himself and not for the greater good of his country.
With the decision made, he figured it would be a good idea to inform his family. He thought it would be best to do a three-way call with his mom and dad so that he would only have to tell the story once. Plus it eliminated the chance that he might say more to one parent and not the other. The politics of informing divorced parents could be exhausting.
His parents knew about the ambush; the media had helped with that. He called them from the hospital in Kandahar to give them an update, and they came to visit him when he returned stateside. They arrived the day Carter had left to go back to Quantico. As much as they wanted to be there when he arrived, he had asked that they wait a week before coming to visit. His face was still swollen, and he didn’t quite look like himself; he didn’t want that image seared into his mother’s head. During their visit, he never mentioned Carter or his relationship with her. No, unlike when he was a kid and shared more than he should, he was tight-lipped about his relationships or lack thereof. It was better for him to be discreet.
His parents made it known immediately that they were supportive of his decision to leave the Marines. They were proud of him, but they had a hard time with his being gone and not having close contact with him. His mother immediately began going through a checklist for his move home to Boston. She reminded him it would be a great way to start over, and he had always said he would settle down there. Boston was his heaven, and there was no other place he could ever imagine living; the problem was that he was not ready to settle down just yet so he would not be moving back to Boston.
He tried to avoid it but went ahead and broke the news that he had someone in his life, and he was going to move to be with her in Virginia. Of course, they had questions, and he did what he could to deflect them. He declined to give any specific details about her; telling them it was still early in their relationship. He also did not say that she had saved his life; he would never be able to avoid his parents trying to meet her if he gave that level of detail. It wasn’t that he was ashamed to tell his parents about her; he just knew they would become attached once they had her name and information and it would be difficult to deal with should the relationship not last. His last girlfriend had been a favorite of his parents and when the relationship fizzled it was hard for them to accept. They constantly asked what went wrong and why he couldn’t fix it. What was worse was they still talked about her like she was active in their lives and they broke up two years ago. He did not want to go through that again; so he vowed to keep them at an arm’s length for future relationships until he was sure it was solid.
His parents were, of course, disappointed that he would not be moving home and would not elaborate any further on the new woman in his life. But they were respectful of his decision and offered their support in the new chapter of his life. His mom, one to always look for the bright side, commented that at least her trip to see him would be shorter since Virginia was a lot closer than Arizona.
~ * ~
The last few days were a blur; Chris had moved forward with his discharge, and he had to endure medical testing and complete stacks of paperwork. Everyone was pleasant and more than accommodating, but it was so much to digest and accept. Each night he was exhausted, and as much as he wanted it to be over, he was dreading the fact that it would be over so soon. His discharge would be on Friday morning; it was unbelievable that it was moving so quickly. He had called Carter and given her the news; she was going to come down on Thursday evening, and they would head to Virginia as soon as he signed his release documents.