It would be an understatement to say that I missed my wife. I’d tried to put her out of my mind so that I could focus on my missions and not be distracted, but all that did was fuel my thoughts. I would wonder what she was up to and if she was thinking about me as much as I was thinking about her. I’d tried to reach out to her several times right after I deployed but she evaded my calls. I gave her some space, thinking that is what she wanted. I waited a couple of weeks and then tried reaching out to her again.
I tried calling her cell phone, it immediately went to voicemail. I tried calling our home number, it had been disconnected. I had an excuse for that – Lauren was technically stationed in Langley but had been working in Newport News for the last few years. With me being gone, I guessed she had gone up to Langley to work on the project she’d been recently given and disconnected the phone since no one would be in the house. I had it all figured out in my head. But when her emails bounced back to me, I knew it was more than that. Now I realized she wanted to avoid me entirely. I couldn’t help but think that divorce papers would be delivered and I was shocked they’d not shown up as of yet. She might not be in love with me, but I was still head over heels for her.
I had fallen in love with Lauren Harrison the very minute I saw her. I always thought the notion of love at first site was ridiculous, but it hit me like a lightning bolt when I saw her in the desert of Afghanistan. We were both assigned to the same base camp, she was doing intelligence work, I was in the infantry. I had applied to get into the SEAL program and was anxiously awaiting news as to whether I’d been accepted. She was at the end of her required service and was trying to determine what direction she wanted to go in. I immediately asked her to dinner, she politely turned me down. Her excuse? The camp wasn’t conducive for a romantic interlude. Who uses that word? It made her even more adorable and just made me want her even more. I mean, she was right, it wasn’t like there were five-star restaurants on every corner for me to wine and dine her with. But it didn’t stop me, I kept asking her out, she kept saying ‘no.’
Each time I’d get ready to go out on a mission, I’d tell her goodbye and that I’d see her when I got back. She’d smile, it would propel me through whatever hell we’d face while clearing IEDs or insurgents within a local village. One day, I came back, she was gone. I was told her team had been called back to the states. I had no idea where she was stationed, we had never discussed those details. I didn’t believe in fate, I figured that was the last of Lauren Harrison I’d ever see. Fast forward two years and I was back in Virginia. I had just finished my SEAL training, the CIA was coming in to give an intelligence briefing. The primary speaker was a guy named Simon Harrison. I secretly wondered if he was related to Lauren, but had no intention of asking. To my surprise, when I entered the room, Simon was standing at the front of the room next to Lauren. He had his arm around her, and my stomach sank.
I began to wonder if she turned me down all those times because she was married. But the more I looked at this Simon guy, he looked quite a bit older than her. Not that there was anything wrong with that, I just didn’t see her as being into older guys. I was in the process of beating myself up and over analyzing everything when my buddies pulled me into my seat, and the presentation started. Simon introduced himself and then his sister, Lauren. I swear I let out the loudest sigh and everyone in the room stared at me. Lauren’s eyes met mine, when she smiled, I believed in fate.
I made my way to her after the briefing. As she was speaking to another officer, I bent down, placing my lips at her ear and whispered, “I believe you owe me a date.” I could see her visibly shudder at my words. There were plenty of restaurants in the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area that would fit her requirements for a nice dinner, all she had to do was say ‘yes.’ To my surprise, she did. One date led to another, within a week I was ready to buy an engagement ring. I actually waited to propose, six months to be exact.
We’d been inseparable since. Well, except for when we’ve been deployed for work. But when we were not on some mission, we were together. Our friends thought we were crazy because we spent so much time together. But we loved one another, after all these years, we still acted like newlyweds. Until a few months ago. That’s why the lack of communication was so devastating. I just wanted her to talk to me – she could yell and scream, but I just wanted something other than silence.
I was worried about her and didn’t think I could call her brothers to ask how she was. They would be closing ranks around her and keep me at arm’s length for sure. I had not shared any of the turmoil with Lauren with my family. I thought I should break down and do that before it got any more out of hand. This wouldn’t be an easy call to make, mainly because my mom was not Lauren’s biggest fan. She would try to spin the entire situation so that it rested solely at the feet of my wife and I couldn’t let that happen.
See, my mom was happy at first that I found a woman to love that would be able to handle my military lifestyle. A woman who was accepting of the dangers of my job and had a strong enough constitution to handle it. Mom just wasn’t as enamored when she realized that Lauren had an equally dangerous job and it meant that we would be two ships passing in the night sometimes. Crazy deployment and mission schedules meant that we weren’t always going to be home together at the same time for holidays and that when we were home together, we’d make the most of it. Meaning, we didn’t want to travel to see anyone and didn’t want anyone to travel to see us. We wanted our alone time. Mom always wanted to blame this on Lauren. She never accepted that most of the time, I decided to be alone. Mom also seemed to forget that I’d visit when Lauren was deployed, so I didn’t have to be by myself. It doesn’t fit the narrative my mom tries to weave at all times so it would get swept aside. I understand it, she loves me and has blinders on where I’m concerned. It’s just that if I’m going to tell her about this, I need her to understand I’m a bit of the villain, too.
When the call connected, mom was as enthusiastic as ever that I was calling. Despite the fact that it was 7am and she was probably working through her first cup of coffee. It was mid-afternoon in Afghanistan so I’d been dreading this call all afternoon and had my alarm set for the earliest I could call her. We talked about mundane, run-of-the-mill items before I finally cleared my throat and dove in head first.
“Mom, you haven’t talked to Lauren by any chance, have you?”
“Well, no, I’ve not talked to her in quite some time. You know I don’t really speak to her when you’re deployed. Why, is something wrong?”
“You could say that. When I announced that I’d be serving my final six months overseas, Lauren wasn’t pleased. We argued a bit, as retribution I signed up for an additional tour. When I left for Afghanistan, we weren’t speaking.”
“Since when did you get so vindictive? So, you’re not retiring in a few months?”
“No, I’ll be over here for eighteen months total before I go home. Lauren won’t answer my calls, her email account seems to have been disabled. I’m afraid she’s going to divorce me.” To my astonishment, my mom wasn’t jumping on the bandwagon to vilify Lauren. Instead, she acted as though she felt sorry for her. “I’m actually worried because I want to save our marriage, if she won’t talk to me, well, it makes it seem like it’s a lost cause.”
“What about calling her family? Won’t they give you some information? I mean, you get along with all of them, right?” I could tell that now Mom was trying to find a way to make this right.
“I have a feeling they’ll close ranks around her and keep me in the dark. Look, I just thought you should know what was going on. I couldn’t keep this from you any longer.” I was losing the battle with trying to stay strong. Admitting to my failure with Lauren was not easy and knowing I wasn’t even getting a chance to fix it, well that cut even more profoundly.
“I’m sorry, Chris. Do you want me to try and reach out on your behalf? I mean, it’s worth a shot, right?”
I snorted a laugh, it wasn’t manly, but I didn’t care. “No, don’t bother. She’ll see right through it if you get ahold of her. I’m afraid she’ll just light into you, and that wouldn’t be fair. Just let it be, but thank you for asking.”
~ * ~
We were called in for a briefing, this was never good news. Usually, these get-togethers were to let us know of increased activity of one type or another in our area and to put us on high alert. Two weeks ago we were brought in to talk about an increase in activity near the border. We weren’t being sent out, just being put on alert in case something happened.
As I walked into the tent, Hernandez motioned for me to come and sit next to him. Benny Hernandez was one of my closest friends on the team. We’d served on SEAL Team Eight together since the very beginning. He was a groomsman in my wedding, I trusted him with my life. He was also the only person, other than our CO, who was aware of what was going on with Lauren.
“You got any clue what’s going on?” Benny asked as I took my seat.
“Nah, I was hoping you had an idea. Things have been eerily quiet lately, has me worried actually.” As I finished speaking, one of the other members of our team, Boyd Dawson, sat down next to Benny. “Boyd, you have any idea what’s going on?”
He leaned forward to talk in front of Benny so we could both hear him. “I’ve heard there’s a high-value target out there and we’re about to get orders to go get him.”
Benny started to look worried. These types of missions carried all sorts of risks and they hardly ever went off without some kind of hitch. “Any idea who it is?”
“Nope, not a clue. I just overheard several people talking about it when I was on my way over here. I just couldn’t hang out an listen, you know?”
We nodded in agreement and sat back as we noticed several Officers walk into the tent. Immediately everyone stood at attention before we were given the sign to take our seats. In front of us stood our Commanding Officer, Sterling Cordray, along with Vice Admiral Perry Jordan. At that point, I knew Dawson was on target with what he’d overheard. This was going to be big.
“Gentlemen,” Vice Admiral Jordan started out, “I’m here to make you aware of a mission that is being assigned to you. As you can tell, both platoons are present, it will take all of you to achieve the task that is being put at your feet.” The Vice Admiral shuffled some papers in front of him and reached for a glass of water, taking a sip before he continued. “Recently, there has been a rash of attacks on small villages within the area. These villages are left burning and most of the people living there are either brutally murdered or taken as prisoners. Through multiple intelligence agencies, we’ve been able to tie these attacks back to a single high-value target that is in the area.”
Dawson, Hernandez, and I all exchanged looks. This was very big, indeed. I’d heard about several villages being attacked. Some of the Marines here at this base had been sent out to deal with what we’d believed to be insurgents. Now we’re finding out they were the actions of one man. Before I could wrap my head around everything, one of the other guys in the platoon stood and asked a question. I didn’t hear the question, but I caught the answer.
“The actions in the village we believe were for retribution. The target has been providing security for these villages over the years for a price. Evidently, several of them had stopped paying, there had been warnings that if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargains, well, let’s just say he held to his promise. There has been chatter that several things have led him to have some concerns about the people in one of the villages he attacked recently. So, there might be something else in play that we’re not aware of. Some of the intelligence information has been sporadic lately.”
“Are there operatives in the area?” I couldn’t help myself and shouted that question out before I thought better of it.
“We don’t know that for sure,” Cordray said as he addressed me. He knew what I was thinking, because he was the only person in this tent, besides me, that knew my wife worked for the CIA and was an expert on terrorism.
The rest of the meeting went by in a blur. I vaguely recall something about having surveillance from a drone of the compound for this target. I think they said we were going to start planning an attack and testing out our plans. We’d take a methodical approach to this because we weren’t in a rush. We wanted the guy, and we wanted him alive if at all possible.
We were all dismissed, as I was preparing to walk out of the tent, Cordray stopped me. “Evans, can I have a word?”
Hernandez turned to look at me, he was concerned. “Go ahead, Benny, I’ll catch you in a bit.” As Benny walked away, I turned to look at Cordray and noticed that Vice Admiral Jordan was still by his side. This really didn’t bode well. “Sirs, what I can do for you?”
Sterling stepped forward and put his hand on my shoulder. “Look, I was honest in that meeting. We’ve got no idea right now if there are operatives out here and if so, who they are. I’d tell you if I knew something.” I nodded, I had to appreciate the fact that he was sticking his neck out like this. “Have you talked to Lauren at all since you’ve been deployed?”
“No,” I shook my head solemnly, “She won’t return my calls and her emails bounce. If we’re going after a terrorist, she’s working this case one way or another. I can only hope she’s in Langley and working so many hours that she turned off her phone and email to focus on her work.”
Vice Admiral Jordan stepped forward. “If you’re concerned that she might be in theatre, I can’t put this mission at risk and have you on this team.”
“Sir, Lauren hasn’t worked in the field for two years. I doubt they’d put her on this mission because it’d be damn near suicide.”