Leap of Faith
Chapter 19: Bus Stop
HUGE, Marine-Viking sized thanks and hugs to yo-diggity-yo-yo, a real life Marine wife, who kindly agreed to read this over before posting to tell me if it was anywhere near accurate. She said it was darn close and wants you all to know that you will need a Shamwow! to get through this chapter – not just kleenex. The info about the getting in formation before departure, and Sookie’s reaction to watching it, was pulled from her words in an email about her own husband’s deployment.
Kleenex, and possibly cocktails, at the ready? Now I’m shutting up.
I let her sleep in the sun for a while, and woke her with a kiss.
“Lover, let’s get up and go to the store.”
“How long did I sleep?” She rubbed her eyes and arched her back.
“A little over an hour.”
“Oh man. I’m sorry.” She sat up, still not fully awake and stretched.
“I like watching you sleep.”
“Yeah, it’s like watching paint dry.”
I sat up, wrapping my arms around her, and running my nose along her neck as I breathed in the sweet smell of her hair. “I could watch you, watching paint dry. Everything you do is interesting to me.”
“Mmmm.” She shivered as my nose skimmed her neck.
I sighed, sitting back and releasing her. “We need to hit the store and then head home. Sound good?”
“Yeah. I can’t wait for you to cook for me.”
Laughing, I stood and helped pull her up. “You’ll be waiting an awfully long time.”
We went to the grocery store, and she loaded the cart with everything she needed for dinner. She had asked me what I wanted, and I’d decided on steak and baked potatoes with green beans. I watched her grab some ice cream and add it to the cart with a smile.
When we got back to the apartment, she unloaded the grocery bags and got right to work, cleaning potatoes so they could go in the oven. While she was busy in the kitchen, I looked over my gear for the thousandth time, making sure I had everything. I figured I would pack as much as I could now, so that when we got the official word, I didn’t have to worry about it. Coming back into the kitchen, I saw that Sookie had the beans in a pot and the steaks on a grill pan.
I watched her, moving with grace, as she wiped off the counter and got together plates and silverware. She smiled, stepping over to me and giving me a long, slow kiss.
“Mmmm. That’s nice.” I wrapped my arms around her, feeling the curves of her breasts mold to my chest and her soft hands running down my back to rest on my ass. I took over the kiss, moving my lips along her neck, down one side and up the other, moving back to her mouth. There was a beeping noise, a timer going off somewhere, and it cleared my head enough for me to realize that I backed her up against the refrigerator, pressing myself into her.
“Potatoes.” She managed to say through her heavy breathing. “And I have to turn the steaks.”
I took a step back, and she moved over to the stove. There was a splatter screen over the meat; it made me smile. I would have never used the thing on my own; I wasn’t even sure where it had come from.
“We’re almost ready. Can you set the table?”
“Sure thing.” Grabbing the dishes and utensils, I set them out at our places and grabbed napkins from the holder for each of us. I picked up the salt and pepper off the counter and set it between our places, then headed to the fridge to find butter and sour cream for the vegetables and A1 sauce for the steaks. Sookie always said that if it’s a good steak you shouldn’t need steak sauce, but I had grown up using the stuff, and it was a habit I couldn’t break. Moving some things around in the fridge, I realized it wasn’t in there.
“Did you get A1 today?”
She raised an eyebrow at me. I fully realized now why that look pissed her off so much when I did it.
“I’m going to run down to the bar and grab some.” She rolled her eyes as I laughed and headed for the door. “If it wasn’t just downstairs I’d make do without it.”
I cut through the bar area heading to the stock room to grab an unopened bottle. Moving back through the bar, I nodded at Bob, one of our long time bartenders, and the television screen over his head caught my eye. Bob had the TV on CNN, as usual, and it showed a live press conference from the White House. The closed captioning running along the bottom of the screen translated the Press Secretary’s words. “Due to the dramatic rise in attacks on American Soldiers and the staggering death toll, the President has decided to increase the American presence…” I didn’t need to read anymore. It confirmed the rumors we had been hearing on base, and it meant that I was definitely shipping out sooner than later.
Walking back into the apartment, I tried not to let on to Sookie that anything had changed. Honestly, it hadn’t, but I felt more of a sense of dread than I had before running downstairs.
It wasn’t fear of going, or anxiety over what I would be doing, but I was going to leave a piece of myself with her when I left, and the clock was ticking down on our time together. She was dishing out our food, and looked up to smile at me as I came through the door.
“Nothing. What are you talking about?”
“Don’t even try it. I saw your face. You’re hiding something.”
I took our plates over to the table. “Come sit down and I’ll tell you.”
I should have known that I couldn’t hide anything from her. She had changed in that sense. I had blindsided her once before, and she would never let that happen again. She took her seat at the table, put her napkin in her lap, and waited.
“It’s not that bad, you can eat.” She gave me an ‘areyoukiddingme’ look and I sighed. “There was a press conference on the news downstairs. The President is sending more troops to the Middle East. It means the rumors are probably true, and we’re going to leave right away. And it probably means that I’ll spend a lot of time in the middle of nowhere, not at a major base. They know that Recon Marines don’t need a lot of creature comforts, so they tend to let us spend a lot of time in the field. Plus, if you hadn’t noticed, a lot of the guys don’t play nice with other kids, so they like to keep us off on our own.”
She listened quietly, without showing much reaction. “And exactly why is he sending more troops?”
Damn. She nailed it. And she’d kick my ass if I lied. “Because there have been more attacks on American soldiers.”
She nodded. “That doesn’t scare you?”
I put a hand over hers. “No, Bird, it doesn’t. The numbers that make it back here are not reality. By the time the press and the President get wind of the news from over there, everything has changed.”
She pulled her hand away and began cutting her steak. “You had better eat your dinner while it’s hot.”
I had no idea if that meant she accepted what I said and was okay with it, or if she was simply done with the conversation. “Sookie?”
She looked at me, exhaled, and smiled. “I cooked you the perfect steak. Don’t ask me to reheat it in the microwave and ruin it.” I opened my mouth, about to tell her how much I loved her, and she stopped me. “Don’t. I’m working really hard at keeping myself together. So, just. Don’t.”
I nodded and looked away from her eyes; I knew they were filling with tears. “This is a really great steak,” I told her, even though it suddenly tasted like cardboard.
We finished dinner, making meaningless small talk, and I felt like a total dick. We’d been having such a great day, and I had to go and fuck it up. I knew that she was going to lose it at some point, but I had been trying to put it off as long as I could. We cleaned off the table and did the dishes together, I could feel her calming down, but knew that whatever it was, sorrow or fear, was just below the surface.
While Sookie went to the bathroom, I went to sit on the couch in the living room. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, thinking. Cal was usually a wreck the first couple days after we deployed, and I’d never understood it. I always thought that the hard times would come later, when you really missed the woman you left at home. I should have known better, thinking back to how destroyed I had been when I went to Basic Training. This was seriously twisting my guts in knots, and I didn’t want to let her see it.
Apparently, I dozed off. I woke up to Sookie settling in my lap and putting her arms around me. It was still early evening, and we were supposed to watch a movie, that was our original plan. Then she started running her hands over my chest and nuzzling her nose against my neck, and I had no desire to watch anything on the television. I ran my hands up her back, sliding one into her hair and one around to cup her breast. She moaned, and I nibbled my way along her jaw until our mouths were connected. Sliding my tongue between her lips, I felt the hem of my shirt being lifted, just before her hands began gliding up my chest. I pulled away long enough to get my shirt off and she did the same.
Bending my head, I traced the lace along the swell of her breasts with my lips and tongue, while my fingers worked the hooks on her back. The straps slid down her arms, and I pushed them down and off, never taking my mouth off her skin. I turned our bodies, laying us down on the couch, and propped myself up over her, feasting on her breasts, nibbling the skin on her stomach until I reached the hem of her shorts. Kissing her belly button, I teased her with my tongue, opening her pants and sliding them off her hips, along with a scrap of black lace that passed as underwear.
Stretching out on the couch, I settled between her legs, keeping my eyes on hers as I tasted her. I took my time, running my tongue through her wet folds, circling her clit with my finger. She rocked her hips against my hand, panting and crying out when I slid two fingers into her. I pumped my fingers in and out, stroking her with my tongue, groaning at the heavenly taste that was Sookie. She moved her hips faster and faster, calling my name. I could feel her muscles tightening around my hand and when I sucked her clit between my teeth, she came in a rush, arching her back off the couch. I lapped up her juices, feeling like I’d never be sated.
I stood, kicking off my pants and slid along her flushed body, teasing her with kisses along her stomach and chest. My erection pressed into her belly and I kissed her, nibbling her earlobe, swirling my tongue in her ear, before finally taking her lower lip between my teeth, assaulting her mouth with my tongue. She ran her hands down my back, pausing to grab my ass before sliding a hand between us, stroking me. Her touch was amazing, her soft hands on my hard cock. I pulled my hips back and she aligned me with her entrance, creating that overwhelming desire to bury myself in her that I always felt when we were together. It never changed, the feeling that I had to be inside of her, sliding in and out, stroking over her most sensitive spot and driving us both wild.
Pushing in, I could feel her body stretching until I filled her. We both sighed, and I held still for a few seconds, taking it all in. The feeling of her body tight around me, her hands on my ass, the smell of her sex and perfume mingling with my own scent, and the sound of her breath and my pulse in my ear, pounding a tattoo that ordered me to move.
Drawing back, I pulled out until she held only my tip, and stroked in slowly, taking my time at loving her. She pulled at my hips and thrust against me. My control snapped when she started begging me to move. Her voice in my ear sent me spiraling out of control and I pushed into her, hitching her legs higher and grunting like an animal as I thrust. After a few minutes Sookie was scratching my back and crying out, “Ohgod, ohgod, Eric, ohgod.” I gripped her hips, changing my angle and drove forward, feeling her spasm around me, as she bit down on my shoulder. I had been close, and the bite brought me to the edge. I kept moving, losing myself in her, and came, baring clenched teeth and groaning.
“Jesus. You’re fucking amazing.” I muttered after a few minutes. Pulling her into my arms, I rolled us over so she was on top of me.
She giggled and put her hand up to play with my hair. “You’re fucking amazing.”
I laughed, rubbing my hand up and down her back. “We’re both amazing. You okay?”
“I’m fine, great really.” She climbed off of me and reached for my hand. “Bed.” I wasn’t about to argue with her about that.
We made love in the bedroom until we could barely move. She had finally broken down crying, threatening to kill me if anything happened to me. I promised her that I would be careful, which sadly, was the best I could do, and made love to her sweetly, chanting “I love you,” with every stroke of my hips. When I woke up, we were a tangled mess, she was still stradling my waist with her head buried in my neck. I reached over and turned off the alarm, she stirred, muttering that I should go back to sleep. I sat up, carrying her with me and she sighed, rubbing her eyes. She looked at me sleepily, and I smiled, moving her hair off her face. “Shower.”
“Mmm hmm.” She was still half asleep.
I carried her to the bathroom and turned on the shower, kissing her awake while the water warmed up. We got good and dirty in the shower, and then cleaned up. She sat on the end of the bed, watching me put on my cammies. I tied my boots, and glanced up to see her wiping her face.
“I know. Put your boots on. I’m fine.”
Walking over, I crouched down and hugged her. “I’m just going to work. I’ll be back tonight. Then I’ll know more.”
“I know. I’ll be okay.”
I kissed her forehead and left without another word, afraid that if I stopped to look back I’d never leave.
I climbed back in bed after Eric left and cried, huge sobs, that racked my body. I fell asleep exhausted and didn’t wake up until lunch time. I did mundane things, laundry, checking email, paying bills online, things that didn’t require much thought, but needed to be done. I had a sinking suspicion that I was not going to get very much done in the next few days. Finding some photopaper in Eric’s desk, I printed a few wedding photos.
In the late afternoon, my cell phone rang. My heart fluttered thinking Eric was calling to say he was not in fact coming home, but it was Amelia. She let me talk, and cry, and told me about her latest escapades with Tray. She promised she would be around in the next few days if I needed her, telling me she was just a phone call away. I sighed. I was going to be very alone. I thanked God that I would have Thalia and Soph nearby.
Dinner was in the oven when I heard Eric coming up the stairs. He gave me a shy smile and came over to envelope me into a hug.
“Hi. Did you have a good day?” He looked tired.
“I did. I went back to bed, it was nice. What about you?” I hadn’t moved out of the circle of his arms.
“Yeah, same old, same old. We ran, worked out, cleaned and prepped a lot of gear, then started packing stuff up for transport.”
“When do you leave?”
He kissed me then, slowly and deeply. It was sad and sweet, swelling my heart with joy, and breaking it all at once; because I knew that this kiss meant it was our last night together. He pulled back, looking into my eyes, he still didn’t speak.
“When?” It was barely a whisper, but I was not letting him out of saying it.
“Tomorrow. Late afternoon.”
Nodding, I bit my lip. “Okay.” I took a deep breath, then exhaled. “What do you need to do tonight to get ready? Do we need to pack? I mean, I know you already started, but. What can I do to help?”
He shook his head, his shoulders sagged for just an instant, but I saw it, then he exhaled. “You don’t need to do anything, Bird. I’m mostly packed, I need to grab a few more things tonight, and I’ll be all set. How long until dinner?”
“Always thinking with your stomach.” It was so like him, to think about food when all I could think about was his departure. Or maybe that’s why he said it, either way, it made me laugh.
“It’s the way to my heart.” He gave me a quick kiss and went to the fridge for a bottle of water.
“We’ve got about twenty minutes until it’s ready.”
“Alright, I’m going to finish packing, unless you need me in the kitchen.”
Shaking my head, I slapped his ass and sent him on his way. When dinner was ready he joined me. We ate quietly and cleaned up the kitchen. Without a word, we went to the bedroom, got undressed and climbed into bed. I curled up against him, running my hands along his skin, just to feel him. He spoke quietly, knowing that the important things needed to be said, sooner than later.
“I have to get up and go in first thing in the morning. Soph will give you a call to come pick you up and bring you over for the big send off.”
We talked about the car, and my driving it home, the fact that Thalia would keep paying the bills for the apartment like she had been doing in the past, and he reminded me again that it might be weeks before he could call. I tried not to cry, but it was a futile effort. My tears soaked his chest while he stroked my hair and held me tight. He wiped the tears from my face and peppered my cheeks with soft kisses, until his lips slanted over mine, in a kiss that was only a promise of what our bodies wanted to do. Finally, when I thought that I couldn’t go another minute without him inside of me, he rolled us over, his heavy body the perfect weight on mine, and slid into me as we both moaned.
I don’t know how many times we made love. It was sort of an endless loop of orgasms. I joined Eric in the shower again in the morning, only this time when I climaxed my sobs were both of pleasure and despair. The spray of the water would have masked the tears that I felt falling on my shoulder, but Eric’s eyes gave them away. When I saw his face, how utterly devastated he looked, something in me clicked, I knew that I had to pull it together, for him. I reached up and kissed his tears away and led him from the shower. He needed to know that I would be alright, that I could handle this. My tears were finished until he was gone.
He dressed and gathered his things, kissing me long and hard before catching a ride with Cal to the base. The day passed in a haze for me. I cleaned up around the apartment, scrubbing the bathroom and scouring the kitchen. I avoided the bedroom after getting up, I couldn’t go in there yet. I had no intention of changing the sheets, no matter how disgusting they were, until I left for Bon Temps, so I could keep Eric’s scent on them as long as possible.
Soph called to tell me that she would pick me up around 2 o’clock. I kept working around the apartment until I needed to shower, then simply dried my hair, not bothering with make up, and waited for her to arrive. She called from the parking lot, and I ran down to meet her. She looked much better than I did, but she’d done this before. She held my hand over the console as we drove and gave me a quiet pep talk.
“Sookie, you can do this. You need to hold it together just until they leave, and then you can fall apart. I’ll be right here for you. Shit, all you have to do is make it back to the car and you can stay there for days, alright?”
I chuckled. “I know Soph. I’ll be okay. I realized this morning that it’s just as hard on him. I can keep it in until they go and then, I don’t know.”
“You’ll be fine. We’re in this together. Okay?”
I nodded. “What are you doing tonight? I mean, you’ve done this before. Do you just go about your business?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, usually I go home and try to get back into my routine. Tonight though, if you’re up for it, I was thinking we should have some drinks. I know this great bar that’s walking distance from your apartment.” She gave me a wink.
“I think that sounds good. Thank you, for everything.”
We pulled into a parking lot full of cars and families milling around. There were several greyhound buses parked in front of the building. Soph walked with direction towards the back of the second bus.
“It’s always chaos like this. We meet behind the bus. Eric will be with Cal, they’ll find us.”
There were Marines hugging family and friends all around us. Children were crying, and Marines were holding babies, and I knew that if those families could get through this, I could too. We made it through the crowd to the corner of the bus, and I saw Eric and Cal standing with a group of guys off to the side.
Eric’s face lit up when he saw us, and he tugged at Cal’s sleeve before walking over. He gave Soph a hug and a kiss. They spoke quietly for a moment, before he kissed her on the forehead and turned to me. He wrapped me in his arms and kissed the top of my head. I inhaled deeply, taking in his scent, calming myself with each breath. He stepped back, keeping his hands on my waist and tried to smile.
I nodded. “You?”
He said yes, but shook his head no, and I thought I was going to lose it. Then he laughed, and leaned down to kiss me. I focused on the present; his hands on my waist, my arms around his strong back, and his tongue sliding against mine, as I pushed away the feeling of desolation that was sneaking in. When his lips left mine, I sighed, and held him tight.
He whispered in my ear, “I love you.” All I could do was nod. He kissed my forehead and stepped back, keeping his long arms around my waist.
We chatted with Soph and Cal, until we noticed Marines beginning to move into a group on the grass. I started to feel nauseous, my chest tightened, and my fingers dug into Eric’s side. He pulled me back into his embrace and we were kissing again, more desperately, but at the same time sweetly. Then we stood, forehead to forehead, his hands cupping my face.
“Everything is going to be fine. I’ll be home in no time.”
I nodded, and no matter how hard I’d been trying to stave off tears, I felt a couple roll down my cheeks.
“Please be careful.”
“I will. I always am. I love you, Bird. You are my whole world.”
“I love you too. I’ll be okay. Call, or email me, as soon as you can.”
“As soon as I can. Take care of yourself.” He sighed. “I love you, so fucking much.”
“I know.” I smiled; I would never get tired of hearing it. I felt another hand on my lower back, and knew it Soph, telling me it was time for Eric to go. I kissed him hard and quick on the lips. I had to say it one more time. “I love you.” I stepped back, and Soph put an arm around me.
Eric’s eyes were glassy, and if he cried, I was done for. He nodded at Cal, and then glanced over at us. “I love you ladies, take care of each other.”
Cal slapped him on the arm. “Stop hitting on my wife.”
Soph and I smiled at them, and they joined the rest of the Battalion as they were slowly organizing into a formation. We walked to another spot in the parking area, away from the back of the bus and the exhaust fumes, where we could still see our men. Eric’s eyes met mine for an instant, and I knew that he knew where I was, but his expression never changed as he moved into place. The Commanding Officers, or C.O.’s, started barking orders, and the group tightened up, exact rows forming, backs straightening, as the Marines came to attention. More orders were yelled out, but the words were clipped and I wasn’t focused on them anyway. I was numbly staring at Eric, wishing I had a lasso or something to pull him back to me. I couldn’t describe how I was feeling. It was a unreal. Standing there, totally numb and motionless, while feeling desperately frantic and knowing I couldn’t do anything at all to change what was happening.
Eventually, an order was given and the Marines began filing over to the buses. They each checked in with someone holding a clipboard and waited in line. When Eric and Cal got near the front of the line, my chest began to tighten, and my eyes filled with tears. Cal nodded, as he smiled at Soph, and disappeared onto the bus. Then Eric did the same, nodding towards me with a small smile, as he followed Cal up the stairs. I held my hand out in a wave, but I couldn’t manage a smile.
“Breathe,” I heard Soph say quietly. “Just a little bit longer. You can’t see in the windows, but they can see out. We’ll wait until they pull away, and then we’ll go.”
“How many times have you done this? This is awful.”
“It gets easier, but, yeah. This is pretty shitty.” She kept her arm around my waist and we stood, silently waiting for the buses to leave. The air valves hissed and the doors closed, gears engaged, and the buses began rolling away from us.
I fully expected myself to crumble into a heap, but I didn’t. I stood, rooted in that spot, feeling hallow, until we couldn’t see the buses anymore. Soph started to direct me towards the car, and I moved on autopilot. I think I would have been okay, or at least I might have made it to the car before I dissolved into a sobbing mess, but as we walked through the parking lot, I saw something that absolutely destroyed me. Standing a few feet in front of us, crying silently, was Amelia. The only explanation for her presence was Eric, and it was my complete undoing.
Please don’t kill me. Eric will be fine. Sookie will be fine.