This is a continuation of Chapter One posted yesterday. T-14 days.
“Do whatever it is to make your mom stop crying,” Bo advised. “If mama isn’t happy, ain’t no one gonna be happy.”
“Maybe.” The sad truth of it was that someone was going to be unhappy and because I cared about both of them, that sucked. Hoping to change the subject, I said, “You fuckers better have something good planned for me every day.”
“We said you could come stay with us and hang out, not that we’d be your cruise directors.”
“All I want to know is whether AnnMarie and Grace are bringing some single friends over. I’m a Marine on leave. I need some special attention.”
“AnnMarie’s neighbor’s got a thing for guys, I’m pretty sure.”
“Yeah.” My interest was piqued. Both Noah and Bo had been single in the Corps and for two years after they separated. The minute they’d moved up here to go to Central College, they’d each hooked so tightly to a girl neither could move without the other feeling it. I hoped it wasn’t something in the water. I didn’t need or want that kind of complication. But hot girlfriends usually meant hot single female friends and that was all good in my book. “Hot? Good personality? What?”
“He’s bi-curious, according to AM.”
I groaned. “Sorry, Gray don’t play that way. What about AnnMarie’s roommate? Seem to remember that she had a tight ass and body.”
“Do you know any single women?”
“I’m not a pimp either.”
“That was your fantasy, wasn’t it?”
“How did you end up with such a classy piece like AnnMarie?”
“Dunno but if you fuck it up for me, I’d have to kill you.” His words could’ve been taken as a joke, but he was dead serious. That was another thing that just didn’t make sense in my world anymore. Bo had once been the biggest skirt chaser in our platoon. It didn’t matter if the girl was big, small, or Martian, he’d do them. Now all he could talk about was one chick. And if that didn’t set a lad’s mind spinning, I did’t know what would. It confused me because all I knew of women was that they’d cheat on you the second your back was turned. I learned that lesson early on and that cheating girlfriend had been my last.
“You’ve discovered my evil plan. I’m here to lure your girl back to San Diego with me.” I rolled my eyes. He knew, like all the guys in my platoon, that I didn’t believe a relationship with a woman could ever survive repeated deployments or a twenty-four-month unaccompanied tour to Okinawa or some other overseas duty station.
“You still believe in the no-relationships-while-serving thing?” This time, it was Bo rolling his eyes.
“It’s not a thing. It’s a truism. Semper Fidelis only matters within the Corps. Feel free to fuck your brother’s girlfriend, sister, mother, so long as you’re true to the Corps.” The bitter taste of infidelity always sat on the back of my tongue no matter how many times I tried to swallow it away.
“Thanks, Oprah. I’ll let you know when I need more relationship advice.”
“Just pointing out that the odds aren’t much better outside the Corps, if that’s one of the reasons you’re thinking of not re-enlisting.”
“Does Noah have to suffer your Dear Abby musings?” Noah Jackson and Bo were my kind of Marines. They fought hard and didn’t complain but knew how to have a good time when we weren’t busy picking sand out of our asses.
Noah was the more serious of the two and I’d thought he would have made a career of it, but his ambitions were different. He wanted to build an empire and you couldn’t do that on a military salary, no matter how much combat pay you received. We’d both signed up for every possible tour we could in all the most dangerous places. My burning ambition was to have as much adventure as possible. Unlike Noah, I didn’t need to own the world to be happy; though these days, I wasn’t exactly sure what I needed.
When I was ten, Pops had given me a knife engraved with Semper Fidelis on the blade. He’d retired after thirty years in the Corps and my father had made it to twenty. But neither of my two older brothers were interested, and so it fell to me to carry out the tradition. After years of hearing whispered stories of bravery and honor and brotherhood, I couldn’t wait to wear the dress blues, white gloves and carry that damn sword.
Because I enlisted during a war time, I got to do things that had meaning. Since the troop draw down, I was felt…unmoored, to borrow a Navy term. As if I was standing on ever-shifting sand. People I knew for a long time were changing. All around me, guys were settling down, picking out furniture, and going to flea markets on the weekends. They did couples things like showers and shit like that, and while I didn’t want to go to those damn things, I felt like everyone else was moving on and I was just stuck, spinning my wheels like some stupid ground hog that should be put of my misery.
Every time I had gone to sign those re-enlistment papers, though, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. On one side, I had Pops and my commanding officer, Captain Billings, warning me about how boat space was shrinking and that even for an exemplary Marine like myself I could be squeezed out if I didn’t hurry my ass up. On the other sat my dad, who sang an entirely tune—that I should get out now while I still had time to go to college, find a job, settle down.