Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 68
It usually works. The most dangerous part of our trip is over, and miraculously no one was injured. Now we’re training some Afghans with the rest of our time left here.
“Speaking of training at Kirtland,” another guy says. “You remember that chick fighter pilot with the F-35? Who did the close combat support training?”
Most of the other guys nod or mumble— a few aren’t even paying attention and others make jokes alluding to the tampons in the pink plane— but I try not to look like I’m paying too much attention, although of course I’m all ears. Why’s he talking about Monica ?
“I heard she’s out on disability, or retiring or something,” he continues.
What ? I think. Disability? Is she okay?
“Whoa,” says another guy. “That’s kind of weird. She seemed super into her job. She liked to act tough and brag about being a chick in a guy’s world, that kind of thing.”
“I know, right?” the first guy says. “That’s why I found it so surprising. I guess it must be a health issue, or I can’t imagine why else she would suddenly want to be done.”
“Maybe a mental health issue,” someone else jokes. “I bet she’s a real basket case.”
Harlow glances at me, and I shoot him a defensive glare in return. He’s been worried about my night terrors and what he calls my “depression” lately, but I keep reassuring him that I’m just fine.
“You talking about Carrington?” asks Tim, another guy in our unit, as he walks over from the supply truck with some rope and tarps.
“Yeah, just speculating on why she’s out on leave,” someone says.
Tim wipes sand out of his eyes and says, “I heard she got knocked up.”
“Whoa,” says a chorus of guys, in unison, and one says, “I didn’t even know she was married or anything. Who knocked her up?”
Yeah , I want to ask. Who knocked her up?
I suddenly feel dizzy, and I take a drink of water from my canteen. Harlow’s still looking at me kind of funny, so I try to act as normal as I possibly can. But I have to admit this news has thrown me for a loop.
“No idea,” says Tim, with a shrug. “And it’s all just speculation I heard through the grapevine. Apparently some commanders were talking shit when they got drunk while planning joint mission training. The funniest part was that some of them supposedly said they’re sad to lose her and how she’s a great pilot who was very helpful during trainings, blah blah blah.”
There are jokes about how a guy in a skirt could do a better job, and how maybe she could bring her baby on the airplane and breastfeed it while she flies. Womens’ lib, and all of that.
Some guys even said that this is why women shouldn’t be allowed into the military; they just leave as soon as they get knocked up. I’m feeling a little less wobbly, so I bend down to pound a stake into the ground, hoping I look inconspicuous, even to Harlow.
“I don’t know that she’s announced a pregnancy or retirement or anything like that,” Tim continues, “But I think the speculation was started because the timing of it is fishy. She’s using her sick leave, and someone said something about maternity leave, and someone else said word on the street is that she’s putting in her resignation papers. All signs point to pregnancy, but who knows. There’s no official word yet.”
He shrugs as if to say, “Oh well,” but I’m still rather incredulous.
Monica can’t really be pregnant, can she? I think. I’m sure she would tell me. But what if it isn’t mine? Or what if it is mine, but it was all part of some ploy that Monica had, as a way to have a baby and leave the Air Force?
That doesn’t really make sense, and I wouldn’t suspect it of Monica, but I feel foolish and confused. I suppose I don’t really know her that well, even though I thought I did.
I’m determined to sneak off to the phone room as soon as Chad is back, before Harlow or any of the other guys take their turns. I’m not sure how I should go about it, but I know I need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.
Chapter 30 – Monica
I’m setting up the nursery when my cell phone rings and an unknown number— just a string of a bunch of random numbers, really— appears across the screen. My heart skips a beat. This is the same way it looked the other couple of times that Ramsey called me.
I had just framed the one picture I have of Ramsey and me— a selfie on the beach, which we took with my cell phone— and had decided where to hang it. I imagined myself telling the baby about his dad one day. Except that I haven’t exactly thought that far ahead yet, to figure out what I should say, or when, or how the baby-turned-child might react.
“Hello?” I say, my palm feeling sweaty on the phone.
“Monica,” Ramsey says. “It’s Ramsey.”
It feels so nice to hear from him, but he sounds distant. Not just physically—geographically, which of course he is— but also emotionally. Maybe he’s just bummed. Or maybe he’s not as happy to be talking with me as I am to be talking with him.
“Are you okay?” I ask him.
“Yes,” he snaps. “Of course I’m okay.”
His tone suggests that he wants to add, “I’m calling you, aren’t I?,” but he doesn’t. And I want to say, “You are at war, you know?,” but I don’t.
It’s strange that so many things remain unsaid between us, after those times we spent talking so late into the night, or over dinner, or while walking on the beach. I’m beginning to wonder if any of it was even real, and if it even meant anything… other than the creation of the baby, of course, which certainly wasn’t planned, and which Ramsey doesn’t even know about.
I think about telling him right now, but it sure sounds as if he’s depressed or something. I don’t want to burden him if it would make things worse instead of better.
“I’m glad to hear from you,” I tell him. “How are things?”
“They’re fine. We just arrived at a stable base where we will probably stay throughout the end of our deployment. Just doing local training, at this point.”
I feel relieved, knowing that it means the dangerous part of their mission is over.
“Of course there’s no phone number that rings through here, but I have an address for you, if you want it.”
“Sure,” I say, taking out the first writing utensil I can find— a marker that’s part of a kids’ toy that Becky wanted to share with the baby. I also pull out some labels I’ve been using to organize the bins of clothes by month.
He tells me the address, and I write it down, excited that he’s giving it to me. I figure that has to mean something . Maybe he’s in a better mood than I thought he was. Maybe he is calling because he misses me. Maybe I should tell him about the baby.
“I’m sure that being over there is kind of hard sometimes,” I say, trying to test the waters. “But I just worry that your…”
I hesitate, knowing I shouldn’t say “PTSD” on the phone.
“…that you might be depressed,” I finished.
“I’m not depressed,” he snaps.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean depressed. More like, stressed, or anxious…”
“Of course I’m stressed,” he says. “I worry about my mom. I worry about the safety of my unit, including Harlow. But you tell me not to worry about other people, and only worry about myself. So I’m sure you don’t want to hear about why I might be stressed.”
“Yes I do,” I tell him. “I didn’t mean…”
I trail off. There’s no use. I should not have started down this trail.
“Well, how are you?” He asks. “What have you been up to?”
I squirm in the rocking chair, looking at the framed picture of us that I had just hung in our baby’s room. The baby he doesn’t know about. He doesn’t know about anything that’s going on with me, and I’m not sure if I should tell him, or how. It doesn’t leave me much to talk about.
“Are you seeing someone?” he asks suddenly, his tone sounding angry, or annoyed.
“I’m just wondering. If you’ve been seeing someone else.”
“No,” I tell him, even though now I’m annoyed.
“I know it’s none of my business,” he says.
How dare he want to know if I’m seeing someone, after he told me he didn’t want a relationship? After he laughed at the thought of letting his family know we had anything to do with each other? The nerve!
“Why are you being so weird?” I ask him. Realizing that could sound really bad, I clarify. “So… cranky?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, as if I should know. “No reason, I guess.”
There’s an awkward silence and then he says, “Well, others are waiting to use the phone…”
“Of course,” I say. “Thank you for calling.”
I want to ask when he can call again, but I don’t think the question will make him too happy. And if the next call is like this one, I’m not sure there’s any point.
“You’re welcome. Goodbye.”
“Stay safe. Goodbye.”
After I hang up, I think of all the things I wish I could have said.
I miss you.
I’m thinking about you.
I’m having your baby.
I love you.
But that call didn’t go the way I thought it would. Nothing between Ramsey and me has gone well since that last day at my house, right before he left.
I look down at my stomach, which is finally starting to protrude a little bit. I rub my just appearing baby bump and say, “I love you, baby boy.”
Perhaps it’s time to give up on the fantasy, and concentrate on the reality.
Chapter 31 – Ramsey
I hang up the phone, angry at myself for how the call went, or maybe angry at myself for calling Monica at all. That was not at all how I wanted the phone call to go, but then again, what had I expected? That she would tell me I was going to be a father?
Before the guys started talking about possible pregnancy rumors, I had been excited to call her. I had wanted to tell her that I missed her, or at least that I often listened to the soundtrack of our visits together.
But then everything about the pregnancy gossip threw me off. Of course she isn’t pregnant, I think. Or if she is, it certainly isn’t my baby. I’m sure she would tell me. Right?
My head's a mess, but as I start to walk out of the phone room, I see Harlow walking in.
“Oh, hey, there you are Ramsey,” he says. “I didn’t know you were here. Did you already call Mom?”
He looks a bit upset, and I realize he wants to talk to her together.
“No not yet,” I tell him. “I…”
He stares at me, waiting for me to finish my explanation.
“I came here to call her, but then I realized we should call her together, so I was actually heading back, to get you.”
“Awesome,” he says. “I was going to call Whitney while I waited to figure out where you’d disappeared to, and then I figured we could call Mom and Jensen and Riley together, once I’d found you.”
How nice of him. I feel bad for having to outright lie to him— it’s not something I usually do, although I’ve clearly omitted some information— and for not thinking of him when he had obviously been thinking of me.
Monica tells me not to worry about others so much , I think. But I feel bad when I don’t worry about my brothers. I guess I’ll start by not worrying about her, then.
I try not to smile at the thought, but it makes me feel better. All of a sudden, I have an urge to do something else that should make me feel better, too.
“You know what, Harlow?” I say. “I’ll give you your privacy while you talk to your fiancé. I’ll be back in a little while so we can call the family.”
“Okay,” he says, with a rather confused look on his face. Then he shrugs. “Thanks.”
I walk back to my tent and remove my laptop from my knapsack. Opening it up to my MP3s, I delete the songs from Monica’s and my soundtrack, quickly, before I can change my mind.
“What are you up to, Ramsey?” asks a member of my unit, squatting next to me. “Got any good movies on there?”
“No,” I tell him. “Just some music. And I have to go meet Harlow in the phone room.”
I shut the laptop and head back to Harlow, before anyone can ask any more nosy questions. On my way, I realize I’ll still need to delete the songs from my phone and tablet.
Oh well, at least it’s a start. A step in the right direction, of erasing our music like I want to erase the memory of us. Even though there is no us— and never was.
When I get back to the phone room, Harlow is still talking to Whitney.
“I’ve never known him to be homesick, but…” he’s saying, but he stops when he hears me come up behind him.
“Oh hey Ramsey,” he says, with a fake, cheerful smile. “Whitney wants to say hello to you.”
I shoot him an annoyed glance, not sure whether I want to confront him about what I overheard. I decide to just take the receiver he’s holding out to me.
“Hey Whitney,” I say. “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay,” she says. “Sure missing my fiancé, though.”
“I’m sure. But don’t worry, he’s safe out here, especially now that we’re mostly doing training.”
“I’m grateful for that,” she says. “And that he can call me more often now. It was quite difficult before.”
Her voice breaks a bit, and I genuinely feel sorry for her.
“And how are you doing?” She asks me.
“Oh, I’m great,” I say, turning to give Harlow a big, fake smile of my own. “Just peachy.”
“Well, okay,” she says, not sounding very convinced. “But I just wanted to tell you, that…”
“If there’s something you need to do— or, someone you might need to talk to— just do it. Just go for it. Life is short, and you can never predict the future, you know?”
I don’t know how she always seems to know what’s going on with me.
“Thanks, Whitney,” I tell her. “But life’s pretty predictable for a guy like me. I get deployed, I come home and train, I get deployed again. That’s all there is to it. Plus my family, of course. Harlow, and you now, and Jensen and Riley, and Mom.”
“If you say so,” she says, and I can hear the teasing doubt in her voice. “Well, take care Ramsey. I look forward to seeing you again, after I see Harlow again of course, so I can drag him down the aisle as my captive for life.”
We laugh, and then Harlow says more “I love you”s and “I miss you”s to her before hanging up.
“Okay, so let’s call the others now,” Harlow says, obviously in a rush to talk about something different than what he and Whitney had been discussing earlier.
I shrug and say, “Sure.”
I’ve decided to let it go, for now. I know that Harlow and Whitney just care about me.
We call Jensen and Riley’s house, and our mom picks up.
“Boys? Is that you?” she asks.
“Hi Mom!” We both say at once.
“I was hoping that was you!” she says.
Harlow and I exchange surprised glances, and he places his hand over the receiver and whispers, “She sounds pretty good!”
“Hi guys!” We hear Jensen and Riley chime in from the background.
“You have perfect timing,” Jensen says. “We just got done eating.”
“How’s everything going?” I ask.
“Pretty good!” says Jensen. “Although all my wife ever seems to want to do is make wedding plans with your wife, Harlow.”
“There’s nothing wrong with living vicariously through my soon-to-be-sister-in-law!” she protests.
“All the more reason to want to re-live it,” Riley says.
“How has Mom been doing?” I ask.
“Really well!” Jensen says. “I think she likes having some female company around the house. And she has been following all the house rules.”
“Hey!” Mom protests. “I’m right here! I can hear you.”
“Sorry, Mom,” Jensen says, “but it’s hard to get privacy around here. Who’s fault is that?”
“Boys,” Mom says, with obvious pride in her voice. “I’ve been going to daily meetings for almost three months now. I get another chip in less than a week, and Jensen and Riley are coming with me.”
“That’s great!” I say, and Harlow and I exchange yet another shocked look.
I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, mixed with failure. I was always the one to take care of Mom, but she seems to be flourishing with Jensen and Riley better than when she was staying with me.
I guess I can’t always control everything, I think. And it’s good to relinquish the reins and let someone else try for a change. I know I should be happy that things are working out so well for them in my absence. And I am. It just feels… different.
“How’s the mission been going?” Jensen asks.
“It’s over,” Harlow says. “Mission accomplished. Now we’re just hanging out with the locals and trying to teach them to take over what we do.”
“That’s great,” says Jensen. “Glad everything went well. How’d my new boys do?”
“They’re all first-rate,” says Harlow. “Good job. Except for one. Umm….”
“Baker?” Jensen guesses.
Harlow and I look at each other and nod.
“Yeah, him. I can’t even remember his name, because everyone calls him Pipsqueak. I have no idea how he even got through training.”
“It certainly wasn’t my doing,” says Jensen. “I was against it. But he’s the grandson of a general. There were some political strings pulled, with connections that went way over my head.”