Unraveled, p.14
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       Unraveled, p.14

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
 
Page 14

 

  "Bos too busy with AnnMarie to run every morning," Noah complained, before sucking down an electrolyte pack.

  "Got one of those for me?"

  Noah pulled out two more from the pocket of his running shorts and handed them out.

  I pushed the entire contents of the pack in my mouth and slid the crumbled plastic into my pocket. "That true, Bo? You wimping out?”

  "God didnt make a girl like AnnMarie so she could wake up alone," Bo replied, his mouth still around the opening of his energy supplement.

  "So shes sleeping with some other guy this morning?"

  "Fuck you. Shes at the house, and Ill be showered and back in bed for some morning delight before shes even awake. ”

  "Or she and Grace will be making breakfast with Finn," Noah suggested.

  "Man, I hope it’s peach French toast. That shits the bomb. " Bo and Noah knocked fists together.

  “I’m surprised they allow you to eat French toast. ” I ruffled Noah’s hair, which wasn’t easy to do given we were about the same height.

  He knocked my arm away. “I can have one piece. ”

  “So this is the good life outside the Marines? Hot girls making you breakfast? Hook me up. ” I forced out a laugh because joking about casual encounters with girls was normal. Wanting Sam, regretting marring the connection we’d had was something I barely understood myself and wasn’t ready to lay out in front of the guys.

  "What am I? OKCupid? Close your own damn hook ups. " Bo slapped his empty pack in my hand and ran off. Noah laughed like a loon and followed. Fisting the garbage, I gave chase and eventually ran Bo down close to the house and tackled him in the grass. I shoved the empty electrolyte pack down his shirt.

  "I always knew you wanted me. " He made kissy faces at me while I play-punched him in the face. Our fight was interrupted when the front door opened and Noah and Bos girlfriends were standing there—awake far too early but dressed in tiny shorts and tank tops. Goddamn, summer was my favorite season. I mustve stared too long because Bo slid a glancing blow across my chin.

  "Stop staring at my girl, motherfucker. "

  "Cant. Shes too hot,” I said just to screw with him. Noah had sprinted up the steps and spirited Grace inside rather than expose her to my lecherous gaze, I guess.

  "You gotta learn some manners," Bo growled.

  I swung to face him and put up my fists. "Yeah, wanna try to teach me some?"

  He crouched into a fighting stance and we started circling each other.

  "You coming in to have breakfast, or would you rather piss all over each other in a show of real animal dominance?" AnnMarie called from the door.

  "Im going to knock this fucker on his ass and then Im coming in for breakfast," he called back.

  "You get hit in the mouth, Bo, and we cant do those things we talked about last night!" She stood on the front stoop, hands on her hips. I made the mistake of turning to look at her and Bo took the opportunity to smack me right in the chin. I let him have the blow though, because I wouldnt want anyone looking at my girl either. But so he didnt think I was going to let him hit me any time he wanted, I kicked his Achilles heel and when he stumbled, I jumped over him and ran up to her.

  "Leave him and run away with me, sunshine. "

  She just laughed and pushed me away so she could run over to him. He lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around him and gave him a kiss so hot I felt the temperature rise about ten degrees. I frowned and turned to go inside because the sight of Bo and AnnMarie wrapped around each other turned on a different kind of hunger—one that French toast wasn’t going to satisfy.

  After some damn good French toast, I cornered Adam before he could take off to his music studio above the garage.

  “So man, about Sam Anderson,” I started.

  Adam shook his head. “You outta be careful with her. She’s fragile. ”

  “Are you warning me off? Because I don’t poach. Ever. ” Although for Sam—no, I didn’t. I’d step aside if Adam had a thing for her.

  He fiddled with the headphones around his neck, looking uncomfortable. “I like her but I don’t think she’s a good person to get involved with. ”

  “Is that the nice way to say she’s a bunny boiler and I should stay away or my dick may end up on the roadside?”

  He snorted at this and gave me a reluctant smile. “No, it’s a nice way of saying that I don’t think Sam knows there are other men in this world. Lost her husband in Afghanistan a couple of years ago. In the three years she’s worked at Gatsby’s, she’s never even looked twice at another guy. Not before Will died and not once after. Think she’s still in love with her dead husband. That kind of fragile. ”

  That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but then it also didn’t really match up with my experience with Sam. Aside from the fact she still had a metric ton of shit of her husband’s in the condo, she didn’t seem like the poor, grieving widow. She’d certainly done more than look at me. I could still feel her hot mouth on mine and the flutters of her tongue as it tasted and explored. Those weren’t the actions of a grieving widow. But Adam’s warning put me off from contacting Sam, so I allowed myself to be pulled into a day of drinking and lounging by the pool, trying to pay attention to AnnMarie and Grace’s girlfriends.

  Later that evening, I settled at the far back lawn, trying to get away from the noise and crowd. Crickets chirped in the copse behind me and the sun had dropped down behind the horizon, reducing the heat of the day from muggy to slightly steamy. The crowd had thinned, and only a few hardcore folks were still drinking. One of the roommates had fired up a grill and Bo had directed me to sit on the opposite side of the pool, probably so he and Noah could lay into me. A little drowsy from the travel, sun, and liquor, I couldnt muster up any I care emotion at that point. A mosquito buzzed around my head and I nabbed it out of the air before it could settle on my skin for a snack.

  "Nice move, Mr. Miyagi. "

  "Thats Master Miyagi to you. "

  Bo dropped down in a chair next to me and handed me a hamburger hot off the grill. Noah followed with the beer.

  "Not complaining, but are we having a private party because youre finally going to confess your love for me?" I took a bite of my hamburger. "Dont need to say it. I knew you had a thing for me since boot camp, when you kept staring at my shorts. "

  "You had a label on them. "

  "My mom did it to be a smart ass. How many times I gotta tell you that?" I cuffed Bo lightly across the back of the head.

  "As many times as it still produces a rise, Id guess. " This pithy observation was from Noah.

  “What happened to the Widow Sam? She drove up and you guys took off but you came home in a real snit. What gives?”

  I just ate my burger and ignored the question.

  Bo tried again. “Okay, Widow Sam is off limits. How about the real deal about you leaving the Corps?”

  “Don’t call her that,” I said flatly.

  “Huh?”

  “Don’t call her Widow Sam. She’s a person, not a character. ”

  Bo raised his eyebrows at me and then turned to Noah and said in a stage whisper, “Another one bites the dust. ”

  Rather than rising to Bo’s bait, as Noah called it, I tried changing the subject. “You’ve a nice place here. Think this is where youll stay?"

  "Nope. AM wants to go to grad school at the University of Chicago. "

  "How about you, Noah?"

  "Dunno. Go to Chicago too. More opportunity there. "

  "Thats a first, you following Bo instead of the other way around. "

  The crickets made more noise than the three of us as Bo, Noah and I ate in silence. Finally, because he had less patience than a three-year-old at Christmas, Bo blurted out again, "Are you in trouble?"

  “No," I sighed. “I just have a lot on my mind. ” And I didn’t want to talk about it even with Bo and Noah, two of my oldest friends. I cast about for something to tell them, somethi
ng that they would believe so I wouldn’t have to put into words feelings that I didn’t really understand myself. “My ex is sniffing around and I didn’t want to spend my entire leave dodging her. ”

  "Your ex isnt still with the LT?"

  "No. They broke up after she had the syphilis scare. "

  "That was a janky thing to do. " Bo reached for another burger from the stack Noah’d brought over. "You do know that she was an asshole, right, and not just for cheating?"

  "Because she tried to pass on the syphilis without saying anything?" The talk of my cheating ex and her STI was making me lose my appetite. "What’re you eating, Jackson?"

  "Pork chop. " Noah waggled the pale meat at me.

  Drawing back, I shook my head. "Looks delicious. Not. Arent you allowed to eat real food when training?"

  "Not really. Conditioning is different. I have to last five rounds instead of all day. "

  "Bet it feels like all day after you get a dozen elbows to the chin. "

  "So whats this all about anyway?" Noah asked. I could put Bo off. He was never serious about anything except his new girlfriend. But Noah wasnt a bullshitting type of guy.

  Stretching my legs out and tipping my chair, back, I sighed and gave in. "Im twenty-five. I have an associate’s degree in business admin that took me four years to get. From what I hear of other Marines, present company excepted, without a degree on the outside Im pretty much fucked. Infantry Marines are good at following orders and breaking stuff. Other than being a cop or going to private contracting, Im pretty much SOL. If I get out now, Im on the wrong side of my twenties and just entering the work force. Then there’s the whole female thing…" I trailed off. That was as much as I could get out without looking like I had a vagina.

  "So this comes down to your philosophy that you cant have a serious relationship in the service because your girlfriend slept with the local recruiter while you were deployed," Noah surmised.

  I shifted guiltily in my chair. "Not just. It’s about leading men, being responsible for their mental wellbeing and their physical health. It’s about having women like Sam waiting on tenterhooks to hear that their man is home safe and then, when they can’t bear it anymore, getting their fears dispelled by some guy at home. Nearly every guy I know has been cheated on or has cheated or is divorced or is on their second or third marriages, and those are just the guys enlisted underneath me. One thing just leads to another. ” Noah opened his mouth but I didnt stop talking. "I get it, Noah. You wanted to slap a ring on Graces finger when you guys finally got together. Instead you waited two whole years. "

  "Seemed like a motherfucking eternity," he grunted.

  "Yeah, it was a miracle she waited for you. The immaculate conception was only slightly less amazing than that. "

  Bo coughed to cover a laugh and Noah looked like he wanted to reach across Bo and hit me—but only because I was right.

  "So what are your options?" Noah asked.

  "Go back to school. Get a full bachelor’s degree in something. Hell if I know what. My brothers say to come work for them. Theyve got a waiting list about two years long. ” My older brothers run an auto body and custom chopper place in Orange County specializing in custom-made rides and 70s muscle cars. They were kind of famous for it and had always told me there was a wrench and a toolbox just waiting for me.

  "But?"

  "But. " I let the chair slam down. "I always thought Id retire, not separate from the military. How do you know that Grace or AnnMarie arent gonna cheat on you two if you arent around?" I gestured toward where the girls were sitting with the other guys who lived at Woodlands, soaking up the warmth around the fire pit, drinking something pink and fruity one of the roommates had concocted for them. "Your roommates could be buttering them up and screwing them blind when youre off at one of your fights or too busy doing stupid shit with your old pal from the Marines. "

  "You dont. You have to trust them," Noah said.

  I barked out a bitter laugh. "I didnt think my girl of four years would either but she wasted almost zero time jumping into the LTs bed while I was gone. "

  "Your biggest problem is that youre not hanging around the right women," Bo explained. Noah nodded as Bo Randolph, the biggest skirt chaser in my platoon tried to give me advice on hanging with the wrong kind of women. I couldnt believe what I was hearing. Obviously Bo either missed my amazement or didnt care because he barreled on. "If youre worried about your girl running off with another guy and all youve got is your friend with benefits who isnt cranking your chain all that much then you should be looking elsewhere. Base bunnies are on you because your salary is so much sweeter now. In your dads circle, everyone is trying to garner for favors. So you gotta put yourself in a place where you dont have those inside pressures. ” Bo dusted off his second hamburger and drained a beer. "Besides, we didnt like Carrie for a long time before she cheated on you. "

 
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JEN FREDERICK SERIES:

Woodlands