Unraveled, p.30
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       Unraveled, p.30

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
Page 31


  I threw up my hands. "What do you want out of me? You said there were better things for me than just the Marines. You and Pops got in a fight about it at Christmas, and made Mom cry, so now I’m telling you I’m getting out. I’m going to get a degree, maybe go into law. ” Maybe I’d be the lawyer Sam didn’t want to be. At this point I had no other plan but to win her back.

  "I told you that because you were looking like you were at a crossroads. I wanted to make sure you thought long and hard about whatever decision you made. "

  I gaped at him. "I thought you wanted me to get out. "

  "Hell, no. " He stood up and began to pace, his hands folded behind his back like he was barking orders to an unseasoned recruit, which is what I was acting like. "I wanted you to know that the Marines werent your only option. That because we have a little more money now and I have a certain position, that youve got other choices. The Marines were good enough for your grandpa and me but we didnt have much. I know that there was a lot of pressure on you to enter the Corps because your older brothers decided against it. I wanted you to have an out. "

  I sank back in my chair. "I dont know what to say. "

  "Think about your service again," Dad recommended. "I dont want you making a hasty decision because you thought that’s what I wanted, but youll have to do it on your own time and you’d better hurry before the boat fills up. "

  Boat space—or space in the Corps—was limited, particularly with the troop drawdown and the government tightening its belt on the defense budget. Ponder too long about your future options, and they’d be decided for you.

  At my sigh, Dad came over and squeezed my shoulder. "But no matter when you make your decision, there will always be room for a good Marine like you. Im proud of you, son. "

  Oh man, if you only knew. I swallowed and stood up, saluting my dad. He knocked my arm down, and drew me in for a hug. "Looks like all that thinking took a lot out of you. Let your mom coddle you for a bit. Itll make her feel good. "

  I spent the day with my parents and then drove over to my brothers garage and they took me in without question. Unlike my dad, my brothers knew immediately what was wrong with me and it wasnt that Id been wrestling with a decision about my future. "Girl troubles, huh?" said Luke, my oldest brother, but that was it. I tooled around in the garage doing odd jobs, running errands and learning a bit about custom painting, silently stoking my pain into hardened determination. Then it was back to Camp Pendleton.

  My bruises were mostly healed by the time I got back to base but my CO still called me in. “Am I gonna hear about some Marine breaking shit in bars and generally making the Corps look bad?”

  “No, sir. ”

  “I’d better not,” he harrumphed. “Where’s your reenlistment papers then?”

  “I’m not reenlisting, sir. ”

  CO Dailey looked alarmed and then narrowed his eyes at me. “You better tell me what happened out there. ”

  “Nothing important, sir. ”

  “If it ain’t important, then why the hell aren’t you reenlisting? If it’s a tiny bar fight, then we give you an Article 15 and call it a day. With your record, that ain’t gonna hamper you. ”

  “No need for a non-judicial punishment, sir. Nothing will reflect poorly on the Corps, sir. ”

  The CO stared at me for a long time hoping I’d cough up some details but I stood rigidly at attention, giving him nothing but the stony face I’d learned in boot camp.

  “Go on then, get out of here. ”



  ADAM’S CREW CAME IN THE night I returned from England.

  “You look good,” Eve commented.

  “Do I? Because I feel like shit. ”

  “Okay, I was lying to make you feel better. You look like you went on a bender in Reno and are still hung over, rather than a ten-day vacation to jolly England. ”

  “The Reno description is pretty close to how I feel. Besides England isn’t very sunny. Lots of rain. ” It had mirrored my mood.

  “Sorry I pushed you on soldier boy. ”

  I didn’t bother correcting her. Gray wasn’t even around to appreciate it. Oh Gray. That stupid asshole. I hated and loved him at the same time.

  One by one Gray’s friends came up to the bar to tell me how much he missed me.

  “How come he’s not here saying it?” I said curtly.

  “Because if he’d stayed around till you got back, he’d be absent without leave, court martialed, and kicked to the curb,” Bo shot back just as curtly.

  That shut me up, but I wasn’t interested in hearing reasonable things about Gray Phillips so I made Eve serve them the rest of the night.

  They were persistent, though. Bo and Noah showed up the rest of the week I worked, and while they didn’t talk to me, I got the message. Gray missed me and he was showing me through his friends.

  And it was working. Even Eve was impressed.

  “He’s got good friends. You can tell a lot about a guy by his friends. ”

  It was true, but I wasn’t ready to forgive him. Eve just wanted me to get over it. We hadn’t made any extra tips because I didn’t want to kiss anyone but Gray, not even Eve.

  When Bitsy, Mom, and I came home from England, I went with them. I wasn’t ready to go back to the condo, where now it was filled with my memories of Gray. At first my mom wanted to kill Gray—or at least file a police report—but then I explained that it wasn’t him but some other dude who’d hit me and that I’d hit him first. She dropped it after that.

  But she frowned whenever she saw me in her house, and unlike after Will died, she started making comments about how little birds pushed out of the nest should learn to survive on their own. Her most recent comment was about how older sisters were supposed to be good examples for their younger sisters.

  “Am I screwing you up, Bitsy?” I asked, dragging myself out of my bedroom about noon one day, wearing hobo overalls and not bothering to brush my hair.

  “Nope. I’ve accepted that you are pathetic and weak and I’m the stronger sister,” Bitsy said airily. I winced but she wasn’t wrong so I just shut up and ate my cereal. Tired of my moroseness, she jabbed me with her finger. “Why’d you guys break up?”

  God, what to tell Bitsy. “I think he got scared and then I got scared back. ”

  "Because you didn’t want to move to San Diego? So youre making him choose between the career he loves and you? What is it that youre giving up here? A knitting group?" Bitsy gave me no quarter.

  “My family. ” It was a weak argument, and I knew it.

  "Youll always have us. Its not like Mom and Dad wouldnt pay for you to fly back every month if you wanted to. "

  "What are you going to do in three years?" Yes, I was changing the subject.

  “Chicken,” she said softly. “One thing I liked about Gray was that you smiled a lot when he was around. Anyway, be a sad sack. I don’t care. I’m going to go to medical school and be a transplant surgeon. Save lives. " She flexed her fingers.

  “I thought you were going to law school?”

  “No way!”

  I reached across the table and patted her arm. “That’s awesome, but does Mom know this?”

  “Of course,” Bitsy said, annoyed.

  Then I laughed and couldnt stop. Bitsy stood up and stomped around the kitchen. "Whats so funny?"

  "Oh, Bitsy. I love you. You are the absolute best. "

  Whatever expectations people had of Bitsy, she didnt care. She made her own path. If my fifteen-year-old sister could do that, couldnt I be brave enough?

  I MOVED BACK INTO THE condo. The sheets still smelled like Gray, and I cried the first time I washed them as if I were cleaning him out of my life. I couldn’t forget about him; he wouldn’t let me. At first, I received phone calls and then voice mail messages. I deleted his entry from my recent call list and binned the messages. After a week of silence from my end, he began texting me once a
day, at the end of his day.

  Initially, his texts made me angry and I deleted the messages without even reading them. In the second week, I began reading them and was surprised at how ordinary and conversational they were. It was like a diary entry of how he spent his days. And he ended each “conversation” all the same—late at night, right before he went to bed—he sent me a three word message.

  I love you.

  As July wound down, I started to prepare for classes at Central. When I thought about the fantasies I’d cooked up about Gray and me together on campus, my heart ached so much I actually had to rub my chest, but no amount of medicine was going to ease the pain. I attended two more painful lunches with Carolyn and David. Tucker came to both; he had been extra nice since the Gray incident. I was just glad he’d never brought it up.

  When classes started, none of them interested me. I was both bored and extremely busy. Eighteen credit hours were too many for me, even though I’d quit bartending. Making friends with eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds was painful. The seniors were the only people my age, but I didn’t have anything in common with them either. Rather than go drinking with them, I would find myself down at Gatsby’s where Eve still worked. Sometimes I’d see AnnMarie or Grace or Bo or Noah around campus, but I avoided them as much as possible. I didn’t want to be around reminders of Gray.

  I missed him though, so much. I missed his body next to mine. I missed his smell. I missed just talking to him. I’d never really given him a chance to explain and the distance from it all made me reflect on how maybe I couldn’t believe everything Ethan Drake had said to me. After all, he threatened to lie about what had happened between us, which had been a big old nothing up until I hit him and he returned the favor. But whenever I got to that point, I remembered Gray apologizing so profusely. What did he have to apologize for if he hadn’t meant to test me? That was a question that would only be answered if I talked to him.

  And as every day passed and I ached all over for him, I could feel my defenses weakening and lowering. His persistent contact in spite of my stubborn silence made my insides mush. I started looking forward to his texts and wished he’d message me more often. Like five or ten times a day. By the end of the third week of classes, I’d made up my mind.

  “Hes texted me again,” I told Eve. “He has since I got back from London. Every night, two texts for over two months. ” I was a little awed by his dedication.

  “What do they say? Like sexy stuff or I miss you stuff? Or I’m a huge dickhead and I’m sorry stuff. ”

  I nodded. “All of it but mostly everyday texts. Today I received ‘Hey got caught about two steps from commissary during colors. Sux. ’” I read it off my phone, then I tucked it away and played with the beer Eve had served me an hour ago. It was warm and tasted horrible.

  “Whats that mean?”

  “If youre outside and they play this particular song, you cant move. You have to stand at attention, but if youre indoors then you can move about. ”

  “So like Simon Says, only military style. ”

  “Kind of. What do you think it means?”

  “That the military likes to play games?”

  “No, not colors, the texting,” I said impatiently.

  “Dunno. Hes weird, remember? We told you to stay away from him. ”

  “No, you told me to pursue him and then you high fived me after I told you Id experienced the whole head-thrown-back, screaming orgasm thing, then you told me to stay away from him. "

  “Yeah I guess I did say all that, but Ive always maintained he was weird. Your dates were like out of a Field & Stream magazine. Hunting, fishing?”

  “Don’t forget the skydiving. ”

  “Yeah, the one date that ended with a near-death experience followed by a run in with a druggie who called you names and hit you. ”

  “I think I share too much with you,” I muttered.

  "He’s a rebound guy. It’s easy to get over them. ” Eve hummed “Summer Lovin’. ”

  "I don’t think I can. I love him," I admitted. Tears were forming and I picked up the soggy beverage napkin to dab them away.

  Her humming stopped short. "No. "

  "Yes. "

  "Youre crazy. Hes your rebound guy. Now you can hook up with someone more permanent!” she cried.

  "Why does he have to be the rebound guy?"

  "Because thats how it works. You always have one person in between relationships who hits the reset button. "

  "The reset button on what? My feelings? My vagina? I think after two years Ive been officially reset. "

  Eve looked at me uncertainly for a moment and then rallied. “I’ve got this great guy—” I waved her off.

  “I think I’m a one man kind of girl. I know what it feels like to be in true love. It’s not just the longing for a body next to you, but his particular body. It’s his smell and his touch you miss. It’s his laughter and his sense of adventure. ”

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