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*Author’s Note: My apologies for such a long absence. I hit a brick wall after the last story I published and couldn’t even stand the thought of sitting down to write.
Trying to say the same thing differently some 200 times isn’t easy. But because of the countless emails I received asking if I was okay and ever going to write again, I dusted off the story that was closest to being finished and wrapped it up. If it seems a little truncated, that’s the reason why. I gave it a modest once-over to catch any glaring errors, but didn’t go through it with a fine-tooth comb. I always miss little things here and there, but this isn’t academia and I’m never going to seek perfection in stories I write for free. Most readers understand that as they pay as much to read unlimited stories each month as we get paid to write them. 🙂
I’m still burned out and not sure when I’ll get the bug again, but I did want to give those of you who enjoy my tales something to tide you over. My thanks to all who took the time to let me know you miss my stories.
“What? Oh, sure. I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
“One more period and we’re done,” her fellow teacher said with a smile.
She told her that sounded great, but what she was really thinking was that it only meant a reprieve of a few hours before she had to come back and do it all over again.
She took a deep breath and steeled herself as she walked into the room and looked around hoping against hope he wouldn’t be there. But he was always there. Since the start of the second semester he’d never missed her class.
She saw him staring at her as she searched for him and looked away.
“Ms. Caulfield. Lookin’ good today,” he said quietly as she passed by.
She ignored him and told the class, “Okay, everyone. Let’s get started.”
“Yeah. Let’s get started. You and me, Ms. Caulfield,” he said, that sickening grin on his face.
She’d written him up several times but being the son of a state senator meant he was basically untouchable. He might be kept out of her class the rest of that hour, but he’d be back the next day, and she was at the point where she was seriously considering quitting. It wasn’t just him as he, too, would pass. It was a confluence of things this particularly annoying student only made worse.
Cheri (pronounced like Sherry) Caulfield had loved teaching from her first day. She’d been 23 years old and right of the University of Washington in Seattle. She landed a teaching job at the high school where she’d grown up on Whidbey Island and where she’d gone herself and loved being back as a teacher in every respect.
The year she turned 30 she was coaching the cheerleading team, and that’s when she met someone who not only swept her off her feet but turned her life upside down and inside out.
Nathan Caulfield was a Navy pilot stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Nate flew the MH-60 Seahawk, a twin turboshaft engine, multi-mission helicopter based on the US Army’s UH-60 Blackhawk and a member of the Sikorsky S-70 family.
He was handsome in his own right, but the first time she saw him he was in his dress white uniform and reminded her of Tom Cruise’s ‘Maverick’ character from the move Top Gun. Except that Nathan was six feet tall without elevator shoes. A friend of a friend had invited her to the officer’s club for lunch, and that’s where the handsome aviator first saw her and introduced himself as though her friend wasn’t even there.
When she told him that was rather bold of him he only smiled and said that’s how he lived life.
“Boldly and unafraid.”
He smiled at her then said a little more quietly, “And you better get used to it.”
“Oh, really?” she’d replied, rattled by his good looks and bravado.
“Yes. Really. The future Mrs. Nathan Caulfield needs to become accustomed to the way her husband takes care of business.”
She made a kind of snorting noise and rolled her eyes, but he not only didn’t stop, he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.
“The Navy Ball is next month. That leaves you more than enough time to find a dress. Just make sure it shows off that hot body of yours when I come to pick you up.”
Cheri tried to sound annoyed and offended, but in less than two minutes she gave him her number, and that Saturday night she gave herself to him. A year later they were married.
That had been 11 years ago, and she’d happily and dutifully followed him to two different duty stations and endured three six-month deployments as well as numerous other shorter stints when he was home. But she’d never regretted her decision for a moment until the day she came home from work with a migraine headache that made her so ill she had to stop the car and throw up on the side of the road.
She was so out of it that it took her brain a minute to make sense of the noises she heard coming from their upstairs bedroom. Nauseous to the point of barely being able to walk she made her way up the stairs one at a time as the noises grew louder; the unmistakable Escort Küçükköy noises of lovemaking.
And that’s when she saw him. In bed. With the wife of another pilot who’d been their best friends.
She was now 41 years old, divorced as of one week ago, and no longer enjoying her job. It wasn’t just this one boy. He was quite possibly the worst she’d ever dealt with, but being very attractive herself, she was used to having high school boys flirt with her and even crush on her. And, at her age, it was flattering in an odd sort of way. Just not with this…cretin.
But since that day, a day she couldn’t get out of her mind because of the moaning and screaming coming from her bedroom, she no longer found teaching to be pleasant. In fact, there were times when it seemed unbearable, and this was one of those times.
Eddie Markham was 18 and a very attractive boy. But to her he was just a boy. She hadn’t had to deal with him the first semester, but when she came back after the winter break, Eddie became the thorn in her side from hell.
It got very cold in the winter, and Cheri loved wearing sweaters, but Eddie had made that unbearable, too, often referring to her ‘sweater puppets’ or telling how he loved watching her bounce when she walked.
She’d tried everything from writing referrals to talking to him one on one, ‘adult-to-adult’, but he was too immature to play that role and only got more direct when they were alone. At wits end after having the principle explain why he couldn’t expel the senator’s son, she begged him to move the boy to another class. But Eddie had mentioned to his father that Ms. Caulfield was the best teacher he’d ever had, and any attempt to move him would result in a call directly to the school superintendent.
Cheri had no idea how to handle the situation, so she endured the comments and made it through another day. But the following morning she did something she’d never done in all the years she’d been teaching. She called in sick when she wasn’t. Not physically anyway. But she was sick…of teaching…so there was some truth in it. She had the maximum number of sick days a teacher could accumulate and took one them hoping the time away might help her clear her head.
Sleeping in wan’t an option. She was so used to waking up at 5:45am every day that even on the weekends staying in bed until six was unusual. Add to that the stress that caused her to lie, and it was hopeless.
So after a long, brisk, morning walk, Cheri ate breakfast then began trying to mentally sort through what was going on and why it was affecting her so much. For all his other issues, her former husband was a problem solver and he always said there was a solution to every problem.
She could hear him say after listening to her talk about some complaint or concern, “You may not want to admit it or do what’s necessary, but there’s always an answer.”
By 11 o’clock she was no closer to finding an answer and decided to go back outside and see if perhaps sitting near the water might help. The New River ran through the city of Jacksonville which separated two Marine bases: Marine Corps Air Station New River, a helicopter base, and Camp Lejeune, an infantry base. She heard that the Marine Corps was unique in that it fought as kind of self-contained, air-ground task force called a MAGTF which was pronounced MAG-taff. These two bases epitomized that concept.
There was a beautiful place she loved near a restaurant called Captain Bob Beck’s Marine Cafe, and she wanted to go sit on or near the beach and see if a change in venue would do any good.
It was chilly outside, and with no Eddie Markham to deal with, she pulled on a dark-blue sweater she loved over a white blouse. She then stepped into a pair of jeans and some comfortable shoes, and after brushing out her shoulder-length blonde hair headed for the water.
It was 51 degrees outside and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. And to her delight there was no wind blowing and no need to wear the coat she’d brought along just in case. There was plenty of room to park and only a couple of people on the beach where she wanted to go.
But once she got near the sand the thought of walking in it didn’t appeal to her so she looked for the bench she was knew was nearby and headed toward it. As she walked, she noticed the two people who were there were holding hands, and that image sent a stab of pain into her heart, making her even more acutely aware of her current situation.
As she took a seat, Cheri felt a sense of calm wash over her, and the emotional boost made her feel a little more optimistic. Her eyes closed, she took a deep breath of cool air then slowly exhaled before going back to her earlier pursuit.
Nearly an hour passed as she tried to take her ex’s advice on something else. He said that even large problems had solutions if one just broke them down into smaller pieces. Each sub-problem could then be examined on its own before looking at the re-assembled whole. But try as she might, she found herself Mecidiyeköy escort no closer than before.
She’d had her eyes closed for a good ten minutes hoping it might help her focus. When she realized it wasn’t doing any good, she opened them, and out of the corner of her eye she saw something that startled her.
She reflexively winced and let out a little yelp as her amygdala sent out a warning. When her cerebral cortex took over and told her it was no threat, she put her hand over her chest and spoke to the ‘threat’.
“I had no idea anyone was there,” she said as she glanced over at ‘it’.
“Sorry. I saw you had your eyes closed and was trying not to disturb you.”
Cheri had a strong sense of deja vu when she noticed the uniform and the same rank insignia her former husband had worn when he was a lieutenant. This guy was a Marine which meant he was a captain, but to her it was pretty much all the same.
“I was going to introduce myself, but when I noticed you were…in deep contemplation, I decided to just sit here and do the same.”
He smiled at her then turned her way and told her his name.
She heard him say it, but all she could see was her ex. The uniform, the rank, and even the pilot’s wings on his chest. He was also every bit as handsome as Nathan had been, and the entirety of what she saw grated on her. Worst of all, he reminded her of Eddie. He was quite a bit older, of course, but young enough that it made her skin crawl.
“Great. Just what I need. Another kid hitting on me,” she said dismissively as the anger welled up inside her.
“I…I wasn’t hitting on you. I was trying to be sociable,” he quietly replied, the smile gone, replaced by a look of bewilderment.
He slid forward on the bench in advance of standing up then said, “I’ll give you some space and let you have your privacy.”
He stood up, and now feeling incredibly guilty, Cheri said, “Wait. I…I’m sorry. That was terribly rude of me.”
Even though he reminded her of her husband in so many ways he didn’t deserve to be treated that way. She may have hated her husband, but she loved the military and what they did, so she asked him to please stay.
“You’re not gonna bite my head off, are you?” he asked, a little smile forming at the corners of his mouth revealing a pair of dimples that caused a shiver deep inside of her.
“No. I promise. And I also promise to be nice,” she said. “And my name is Cheri.”
“Hi, Cheri. I’m Mike,” he told her for the second time.
Trying to find a way to mend fences she thanked him for his service then told him he looked very nice in his uniform.
He was wearing the Service Alpha uniform (called Class A by the Army) which meant the green coat, green trousers, long-sleeved khaki shirt and tie plus ribbons and badges.
“My pleasure, and thank you,” he said. “And you look very nice yourself.”
She thanked him, too, then told him, “I really am sorry for what I said. I’ve been under so much stress lately, and I came out here in hopes of finding some clarity, but I haven’t had any luck.”
“This is a great place to do that,” Mike told her. “I’ve been coming here for a couple of weeks now.”
There were several moments of silence before he asked her if she wanted to talk about it.
“Oh, no. I…I don’t want to dump all of that on you.”
She looked at him, smiled, then said, “I’ve already dumped on enough.”
The handsome Marine laughed and told her it was fine.
“It takes a lot to offend me, and nothing you said even came close. Although I have to say I haven’t been called a ‘kid’ in some time. So that was different.”
His kind smile made her feel even worse, and she apologized yet again.
“I lashed out because there’s this…actual kid…who…”
Cheri stopped in mid-sentence and turned away, looking out toward the water.
“Who…what?” he asked.
“I said I wasn’t going to burden you, and you can’t possibly be interested,” she told him, trying to kind of smile as she looked his way.
“I have time, and you’re not…burdening me.”
“That’s okay. And I’m getting a little chilly anyway. I really should get going.”
“If you’d like, I’m happy to buy you a cup of coffee or hot chocolate at Bob’s.”
“Are you trying to make me feel even more guilty for being such a b…”
“You’re not…that,” Mike told her, trying not to laugh as she bit her tongue.
“Don’t you need to get back to work?” Cheri asked.
“Um…no. I’m not currently working,” he said.
Before she could ask why he told her, “Come on. Let’s go inside and warm up. I’m a decent listener, and who knows? Maybe I’ll have a suggestion or an idea to help you solve whatever’s bothering you.”
Cheri hesitated as she thought about leaving but ended up asking, “You sure?”
“Very,” he told her. “And this way, you can warm up and yet you’re still free to leave anytime you like.”
“Well…okay. In that case, I accept. Thank you,” she said as she stood up.
As they Merter escort bayan walked toward Bob’s Cheri asked what Mike did.
“I’m a helicopter pilot.”
Cheri shuddered as that sunk in.
“I…I have a confession to make.”
“My ex…my ex-husband, was a helo pilot. He was Navy, and well, you reminded me of him so much that I think maybe that’s why I was such a b…so rude to you.”
Mike laughed then said, “Ah-ha! Now it all makes sense.”
“I know. I’m pathetic.”
“Nah. Just a little confused I’d say.”
“A little?” Cheri replied, laughing for the first time. “That’s the understatement of the year!”
They were at the door, and Mike paused to let her go ahead as he opened it for her.
“Thank you,” she said as she stepped past.
“Table for two?” a perky, young hostess asked as Mike removed the green hat on his head that Marines called a ‘cover’.
“We can sit at the counter if you like,” Cheri said to Mike.
“I’m actually a little hungry. You?”
“Oh. I am, but there’s no way I’m letting you…”
“Table for two,” Mike told their greeter.
“Follow me, please!” she said as she led them to a table with a view of the water.
She rattled off some specials then said, “Your server will be right with you.”
Another young girl walked up and welcomed them before asking what she could get them to drink.
Mike looked at Cheri who said, “Coffee for me, please. Black.”
Mike said, “Make that two,” and as the server walked away told Cheri he was surprised she took her coffee black.
“I can’t put anything in it,” she replied.
“Exactly! It…anything…spoils the coffee.”
She laughed again and told him she agreed.
“So what’s going on?” Mike asked in an unobtrusive kind of way.
Cheri sighed then said, “Where to even start?”
“Maybe with the other…kid?”
Mike smiled when he said it, but Cheri felt bad again and told him one more time how sorry she was.
“I promise not to mention in again. Scout’s honor.”
His resemblance to her former husband aside, Cheri had a gut feeling she could trust him and began talking then kept talking. It started with Eddie Markham then moved to her ex-husband’s infidelity and ended with her nearly in tears saying how she felt so overwhelmed and hopeless.
“That’s a lot to be carrying around,” Mike said, speaking for the first time since she began speaking. The only interruption had been when their coffee came and they placed their orders.
“I pride myself on being independent and being able to solve problems. But this is…driving me crazy.”
Cheri tried to smile then added, “Literally.”
“I’m going to assume you’ve tried calling his parents.”
“I have, but I can’t seem to get through the hired help. They have a secretary who screens their calls—at work and at home—and she promises me that Mrs. Markham will call me back, but it’s never happened. And the senator evidently thinks I’m some kind of savior to his son.”
“Just don’t quit, Cheri,” Mike said out of the blue. “Good teachers are hard to find, and you’re clearly one of them. I can only imagine how challenging it is to face that kind of…”
He nearly said, “Bullshit,” but stopped himself as she had done and said ‘nonsense’ instead.
“It’s just so…personal,” she said without looking at him.
“No one should have to put up with harassment of any kind. But let’s face it. This is a different version of ‘rank has its privileges’.”
Cheri had heard that one many times and agreed.
“I understand his father is the chair of a powerful committee. That may or may not have anything to do with it, but it could be part of the reason why Eddie feels so untouchable.”
“May I ask you a personal question?”
“Yes, of course. You’ve sat and listened to me complain for the last 15 minutes, so…please.”
“Your situation with your ex-husband. Are you still…bitter?”
Mike smiled then said, “More specifically, are you dating or even open to it?”
It hurt to hear the truth, but Cheri was still bitter. Very bitter. It wasn’t fair to lump all men together, but she’d been hurt so badly that she found it an easy way to salve her mental burns.
“I am. Bitter. And as far as dating goes I suppose I’m open to the idea. I just haven’t met anyone that interests me.”
“I hope I don’t get in trouble here,” Mike said with another smile. “But you’re a very attractive woman, and I can’t imagine there aren’t a ton of men who’d be interested.”
Before she could say there were but that none of them had ‘tickled her fancy’, Mike said, “And out of all of them, there has to be at least one worth giving it a shot with.”
Cheri was hungry but had only eaten a few small bites. Most of the food on her plate was still there with much of it having been pushed around without being eaten. She took another tiny little bite, chewed it up, then said she thought he was right.
“Would it help to compartmentalize?” he asked her.
She raised her eyebrows and kind of shook her head.
“You know, put the classroom situation in one box, the dating issue in another, the anger and bitterness in a third, and try and keep them all separate. It seems to me like you’re allowing all of them to eat at you simultaneously, and that’s just making it even more difficult to deal with.”
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