Unraveled, p.31
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       Unraveled, p.31

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
Page 32


  "So youre just going to go back to him after he did that totally douchebag move?"

  "It was a douchebag move. Like in the pantheon of douchebaggery, he would be at least on the royal court. "

  "So you recognize this but youre still going?"

  "Eve, I’ve spent my short life playing it safe. And I still got burned. I lost my husband and my heart currently feels like it was trampled by a rhinoceros. I cant hurt like this any more. So Im going to take a chance. It might be the stupidest thing I do, but at least Im doing something. Im not waiting for life to come to me. Im going out and leaping across the cavern and hoping somebody is there to catch me on the other side. ”

  "And if there isnt?"

  "Then I fall and I get back up again. I go out to San Diego, and I tell him Im going to give him another chance, and if he fucks up then I leave him. But at least Im giving myself a chance at happiness. ”

  Eve looked at me with sad eyes, and she shook her head.

  “I know you dont agree with me, but what’s the worst thing that can happen to me? The worst thing has already happened—I lost him. The best thing is that he realizes what a mistake hes made and he trusts me. But whatever it is, theres a connection between the two of us that I hadnt felt since I was with Will, and God, I know what a lucky bitch I am to get that feeling, to have that soul-deep connection with someone, not just once, but twice. Im going to pursue that until its dead and beaten into the ground. I could be a total fool for giving Gray another chance. But Ill be a fool who exhausted every avenue in front of her, and when I look back on this moment, Ill never wish Id tried harder. Ill never say I wish Id done something different, which is what Ive been saying since Will died. I wished Id moved to Alaska with him. I wish Id married him the first time he asked me, right out of high school. I wished I wouldve been more enthusiastic about his dreams instead of selfishly thinking about mine all the time. Im going to do this, Eve. "

  Stunned in to silence by my monologue, she said nothing. Then she gave me a rueful smile and a small, one-armed hug. "Go get him, tiger. "



  BACK AT THE BASE, MY days simultaneously ran together and refused to end. Every night I went home and worked on the afghan, or BG as I called it, because I was a Marine and we only ever referred to anything by its initials. BG stood for Big Gesture but could’ve also stood for Big Garbage, since that piece of shit looked like yarn that had been chewed up and vomited out by some large animal. Hopefully when I showed it to her she would realize it meant that I was placing her first in my life and that I was trusting her with my damaged heart, the one that I realized I now wore outside of my body, exposed.

  I slept, ate, exercised, trained, worked. Whatever calling I thought I had here was missing. Id left all my ambition and my soul at the feet of one girl. But she hadnt stomped on it. Id been the one to grind all that we could have had into the dust with my size thirteen boot. Ironically, I was better suited to serving now. The fear I’d once had watching over these guys was nothing compared to the fear I’d had watching Sam fall out of the sky or the fear that burrowed deep in the back recesses of my mind that I’d never win her back. Those were real fears. The fear of leadership wasn’t even close.

  "Marine, you are one sad sack. " Captain Dailey looked up at me over his long, hawkish nose. The bushy, beetle-shaped eyebrows were furrowed together, forming one long, hairy snake over the tops of his eyes. I stared at the row of fur in fascination, waiting for it to crawl off. I was back in his office to hear yet another lecture on the glory of the Corps.

  "Yessir. " I snapped off a knife-sharp salute. You said, “Sir, yes sir,” even if your commanding officer told you to suck his dick.

  "I havent seen your reenlistment papers. " I guess he’d conveniently forgotten I’d already told him I wasn’t reenlisting.

  "No, sir. "

  "Whys that, Marine? Youre too soft for us now?"

  "No, sir. " If anything I was more hardened and determined than ever. My goals had shifted but I wasnt revealing that to the captain.

  He stared at me, trying to wait me out, but Id learned a few things in my seven years of service and the mantra that they should never see you sweat was one of the important ones. Show a weakness and theyd needle you forever under the guise of making you a stronger warrior.

  Maybe that was how you created a better Marine, but I wasnt convinced that trying to find someones weakness and exploit it always made good sense—but I knew better than to tell the CO my thoughts on the matter. Instead I stood with my heels together so that I stood straight as a tree and as unmoving as a steel post. My arms were glued to my side, fingers pointed straight down. I could have been a plum line, my bearing was so perfectly erect and straight. Id practiced this pose for years watching Dad and Pops. Id stood in front of the mirror and saluted. I’d had the best salute in boot and was even praised for it, when they werent busy spitting obscenities in my face and mocking me for being a hard charger.

  My dad had never forced me into this. I had been happy I was going to fulfill the dreams he and Pops had of one of the Phillips boys carrying on the tradition. Id even had those dreams myself. Of Carrie and I having a son whod be in the Marines. And maybe hed be an officer, and itd be a proud moment for both of us where wed choke back manly tears.

  Being a Marine had been what Id wanted to do for as long as I can remember and now I was going to give it up for a girl. But it all felt right to me.

  Captain Dailey sighed and thrust his short fingers through his non-existent hair. "At ease, Marine. "

  I let my body relax, shoulders dropped, grateful for the rest. I folded my arms behind my back.

  "I dont understand you, Phillips. Youve an exemplary record, a high tolerance for bullshit, and a sterling family history in the Corps. You’ll probably make gunnery sergeant in record time. Whats out there in the civilian world thats worth throwing this away for?"

  I hoped the question was rhetorical because I didnt have a good answer. If pressed, I was going to lie and say college but I was afraid my lack of enthusiasm for sitting in a lecture hall with a couple hundred snot-nosed teenagers who thought it would be funny to make pew pew pew sounds when I walked by would be all too evident.

  Captain Dailey didnt need an answer. He paced in front of me for ten minutes, giving me a lecture on the glories of being a Marine.

  "It is an honor to be a Marine. We have the smallest number of men compared to any other military branch but we are the first to be called out. We stand constantly ready and can be shipped out in twenty-four hour notice because the president knows that we are always ready. The Marines were called on first to lead the charge into battle. The Marines were the first to orbit the moon. John Glenn was a Marine. John Wayne wanted to be one. The Marines are first, ready, able. Our fighting force is so fierce that the Germans called us Teufels Hunden. "

  He was really worked up using the German word so I threw him a bone. "Devil Dogs, sir!"

  "Thats right. Were the Devil Dogs, the first to go. . . " His steam was running out. Last to know. I finished the saying in my head.

  He walked around and dropped heavily into his chair. "We need men like you, Staff Sergeant Phillips. Not just because of your record or your family legacy. You care about what happens to the other men here. You wear your leadership lightly and those under you know it. Think about it. Theres always going to be room in the boat for you. "

  "Yes sir. " I saluted.

  "Dismissed. " He waved a weary hand at me.

  I walked as fast as I could without making it seem like I was running. Captain Daileys speech was one Id heard before in a million variations but it still struck me hard. I did love the Marines. I loved, in a non-sappy, brotherly way, the guys I slept beside in the sand for days without a shower.

  Id still stay close to those men. I stayed in contact with Bo and Noah and theyd been out for two years. Id keep coming back here to Camp Pendleton
to check in with old buddies. Id be a Marine for life, even after I got out. No one would think less of me. I just had to convince myself of that. It was all worth it. Letting this go so that I could be with Sam.

  Later that night, I texted her as I did every night.

  Almost bit my tongue to prevent from laughing when a poolie (new guy for you Army folks) got my rank wrong today. Theyre supposed to greet every individual higher in rank than them with a salute and acknowledgement of rank. A lot just use "good morning, sir" no matter what time of day it is but this one said "Good morning, Gunnery Sergeant. ” It was dusk. I patted him on the shoulder but I could hear a Lance Corporal chewing him out. I havent heard back from you about my flying up to see you. I’m still working on getting some days off.

  I debated telling her I was coming regardless but figured that sounded too threatening. I’d been texting her so that I was constantly in her thoughts, not so that I could creep her out. Of course, it was possible that she deleted my texts before even reading them. Or that she’d blocked me and I didnt know it. Could she do that?

  I grilled myself a hamburger and washed it down with a bottle of Miller, and then took another bottle into my small living room. I flicked on the television to ESPN, picked up the instructional book Id bought a week ago and the mess of yarn and needles. I was trying to knit the blue section of the flag with the white stars—the part that had stumped Sam—only doing it so that the stars were knitted into the pattern instead of added later. Intarsia was what Sam had called it. Fucking impossible is what it was.

  Id started and ripped out the section what seemed like a thousand times. Itd taken me a week just to figure out the basic stitches and how to get the tension right. Id had to remind myself that I could do amazing things with weapons and tanks and even excelled at fine motor skill dexterity tasks, but holding two needles in one hand while threading yarn in and out was about the most complicated fucking thing Id ever had to do.

  What I currently had going was a lumpy mess with loose stitches creating a misshapen thing that looked like a geometry test gone wrong. There were no right angles, only waves of misstitched edges. But at this point, I wasnt ever going to finish if I started over, so I just went forward. Itd be the ugliest part of the flag, but somehow Id gotten it into my head that if I presented this to Sam, shed fall on her knees in joy.

  In fact, Id dreamed of that moment more than once. In my dreams, the stupid thing was perfectly created, but that didnt matter as much as Sam hugging it to her chest and then stripping down to her birthday suit and begging me to take her hard. Or sometimes I imagined that our reunion would start with my face between her legs. Either way, it ended with me doing her for hours as she gasped out my name in time to my thrusts. Unfortunately, since it was only a goddamn dream, I woke up with messed-up sheets, a hard-on, and an aching heart.

  Weirdly, knitting actually made me feel closer to Sam. I imagined she was knitting at the same time that I was. Although given our two-hour time difference she was probably sleeping. Still, I felt some kind of kinship. I cant say that I understood why she liked knitting, but I hoped the effort would make her understand how much I loved her.

  A knock interrupted both the Padres game and my futile struggles with the yarn and wooden poles. I stuck those under the sofa cushion. I didnt need that kind of hazing out on a training mission.

  "Whats up—” My greeting died in my throat as I gazed at the figure of my ex-girlfriend. The one whod cheated on me with the local Marine recruiter. The one who nearly passed on her STI, had I not caught her in the act. Yeah, I had zero to say to her, and I let the door close.

  Too quick for me, Carrie shot through a narrow opening and into my apartment. I needed to get into one of those condo units that had a security door in the front, like Sams place. I grabbed the door and held it open so she was clear about where I wanted her to be. Outside.

  "Scuttlebutt around base is that you met someone. "

  "Get out. "

  She ignored me and started to walk around the room. I could see a stray bit of yarn peeking out from the bottom of the cushion and panicked. Slamming the door shut, I strode over to the couch and sat on top of the cushion, hoping one of the wooden needles didnt stab me in the ass.

  "What do you want?"

  Carrie wandered around, putting her hands on my things. I wanted to get up and shove her out the door. It was like she was touching things and trying to put her stamp of ownership on it. Made me angry and annoyed. The only females Id ever want in this place were Sam and my mom.

  "Just wondered what you were up to. You havent been out with the guys. "

  "Dont know why youre keeping tabs on me. " I crossed my arms and hooked one ankle over the opposite knee. It was weird that she knew what I was doing.

  “I still care about you. " Carrie sat down next to me, so close I could smell the perfume and feel the heat off her body. She looked rail thin. I tried to move away but was stymied by the arm of the couch.

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