What’s your favorite season? Mine is actually Fall, but after a dreary winter, I’m always ready for Summer!! I live near the beach, so that also makes this season attractive.
Although summer doesn’t technically begin until later this month, it feels like Memorial Day is an unofficial kick-off to the season here in the US. And while many of us celebrate with beach days, bar-b-ques, or camping trips, it’s a time we’re supposed to remember those members of our armed forces who have given their lives while serving. Generations of my family have served – all the way back to the American Revolution. And I’m married to a career Navy guy. So, while I was among those who enjoyed the long weekend on a camping trip, I was also remembering – and being grateful.
In honor of the holiday, I wrote a very short story about a Navy SEAL called Up In Flames. It’s posted on Wattpad, but I thought I’d share it here as well! I hope you enjoy it!
Up In Flames (copyright M.E. Montgomery May 2017)
“Come on, Gav. It’s time you break out of your rut. Loosen up and get your ass out there.”
I rolled my eyes at my friend’s efforts to get me to go a neighborhood picnic. I didn’t know my neighbors well, except Josh who lived a couple of blocks over. Of course, to meet them, one would have to do more than leave the house at 0500 and not return until 1900 or later. Most of my neighbors had families to come home to. I only had bare walls, a few pieces of furniture, and a bunch of broken dreams waiting on me.
I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
Josh sighed, and I pictured him rolling his eyes. “It’s Memorial Day, dude. Hamburgers, hot dogs, beer, fireworks. You know, red, white and blue? Those things you serve for? A day to kick one back for those brothers of honor. It’s a holiday. Use it for more than burying your head.”
As SEALS, we rarely found ourselves with nothing to do, and now I had four days of liberty and nothing to do. “Look,” Josh said, “Just come out for a couple of hours, grab some food and beer, and then you can come back here and sulk or work out, or whatever the hell you do when you’re alone.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “And it will get you off my back?”
I sighed and grunted.
“What’s that?” Josh sounded like a kid who just got his mom to agree to take him to the ice cream parlor.
“I said ‘fine,’ you dick.”
“Great. I’ll see you there. 1800. And bring that smile that makes you a babe magnet with all the single ladies.”
I hung up on him. Glancing at my watch, I had three hours before I had to play nice.
Josh was right. I’d always been a fairly serious guy, but I enjoyed hanging around with my buds.
Then Courtney happened.
She made me laugh and was my soft place in an otherwise hard world I experienced through my job. I knew I was a lucky guy when she promised to be mine forever. When Court wanted to move from our on-base apartment into a house, I agreed, liking the idea of having some to call our own. We found a house in a great neighborhood. It needed some TLC, but mostly things we could do ourselves. Together, we stripped wallpaper and repainted rooms. I dug up overgrown flowerbeds in the front yard and planted new ones with colorful knock-out roses. It took a lot of work, but we loved the result.
A two-month deployment came and went; I was excited to finally have someone to come home to. The house felt warm and welcoming, but I Court wanted more. Sometimes I wondered if I was just a means to an end rather than a partner in life. She constantly complained about the amount of time I had to work. It frustrated me since she knew this before she married me, but I reminded her that the separation and combat pay allowed us to fix up our home. A couple of months later, another arduous deployment engulfed my world. After months of strenuous and dangerous surveillance, I again looked forward to coming home. On arrival, my brothers were embracing their loves and kids. But Court wasn’t there. The times for our arrival had changed a couple of times, so thinking she didn’t get the update, I called her…
“Gavin, what a surprise! Where are you?”
“I’m at the base. Today is homecoming.”
She didn’t speak for several seconds. “Oh. I didn’t know. I’ll be right there.”
She hung up, and forty minutes later she pulled up to the hangar. I swept her into my arms, kissing her soundly as I swung her around. This is what home felt like. Driving home, she chatted on about a new job she had and all the extra hours she was working. I hoped that meant a pay raise which would help us finish the house, maybe even contract some of it out. Instead, I came home to an overgrown front yard and a missing shutter. My hackles raised, but I didn’t want to make a big deal as soon as I came home. We ordered in for dinner, and then I scooped her up and carried her into the bedroom. I wanted the real thing of what had filled my mind while “taking care of the need” to get through the deployment. We made love, but as we lay there together covered in sweat, something felt different. Had I changed? Had my fantasies seemed more than what was real?
A week passed, and I had to be honest; something had changed. She avoided intimacy and spent more time at work than at home, which seemed odd given how needy she used to be. One night, Jessica, Court’s best friend, came over to meet her to go out for a girl’s night, but Court was over an hour late and still not home. I finally joked to Jess that maybe Court was out with her boyfriend. Jess didn’t smile back. In fact, her face paled, and she looked guilty as hell.
My stomach clenched and nausea threatened. Jess left, and I sat on the couch that faced the door, waiting. Thirty more minutes had passed before Courtney came home.
“You missed Jess. She waited for you, but you’re late,” I commented, staring over my third bottle of beer.
She shrugged. “Oh, I forgot. I’ll call her.”
“It seems you forgot a lot of things while I’ve been gone. Like the fact that you have a husband.”
She froze in her tracks. “What do you mean? I haven’t forgotten.”
“Oh, were you remembering me every time you were out screwing your boyfriend? That’s a threesome I’m sorry I missed!”
“Gav, I–” Her face showed her guilt. My heart shattered.
“Save it, Courtney. Did you ever love me?”
“I…I…it’s just been so hard, and you’re gone all the time.”
“Serving our country! Making a living! It’s called honor, and apparently, you don’t have any.”
She didn’t look up from the floor.
Tears slipped down her cheeks. I didn’t know if they were real or fake, but I didn’t give a shit. “Get out! Go back to your boyfriend!” I shouted, throwing my beer bottle across the room. She grabbed her purse and fled. Our only communications after that were through divorce lawyers.
Shaking my head, I pulled myself back to the present. I kept the house in the divorce, and I was still determined to turn it into what I had envisioned, minus my cheating wife. I found refinishing the kitchen cabinets, replacing light fixtures, mirrors, and sinks very therapeutic. Now that the weather was warm, I could focus on the backyard.
I changed into a grungy pair of shorts and a ratty t-shirt, grabbed the tools I needed from the garage, and headed outside. Soon, I sweat soaked my clothes from digging out scraggly bushes along the back of the house where I planned to install a patio, complete with an outdoor grill and fireplace. Taking a break, I ditched my shirt and sucked down half a bottle of water and began pouring the other half over my shoulders when I saw a huge fireball coming from the yard next door, followed by a high-pitch shriek.
“Danny, get back in the house,” the voice yelled, followed by, “shit, shit, shit!”
Alarmed that my new neighbor whom I hadn’t yet met might be hurt or in trouble, I darted through our respective gates and came to a short stop as I saw what looked like a blonde goddess doing a rain dance around a bonfire. She darted around a fire pit where logs blazed larger than the fireplace called for, while she dripped the surrounding grass with a hose; dripping being the operative word as the water was more of a trickle than a full stream.
“Are you all right?” I called. She jumped at my voice, her hand holding the hose jerking to her chest, treating me to a rapidly growing personal wet t-shirt contest. It was impossible not to notice the thin material clinging to her rack. Her boobs weren’t all that big, but definitely perky. Certainly enough to gain the attention of my dick.
“Oh, crap! Who are you?” A pop from the fire regained her attention.
“I’m your neighbor. It looked like you could use some help.”
She smirked. “Well, if your idea of help is just standing there, I got this.” She returned to watering her fire, allowing me to view a nice ass sitting atop gorgeous, toned legs.
I couldn’t help but be amused. She appeared to be as sassy as she was beautiful. Observing no real danger from the fire, I darted my eyes to the space where the hose met the faucet on the side of the house and saw the problem. I tightened the connection to reduce the amount of leaking water and followed the green tubing and straightened out a kink. I heard another shriek. The sudden surge of water had doused the wood in the fire pit, which was now a steaming, smoking pile of wet wood.
I hurried to turn off the faucet.
“Well, that didn’t go as planned.” She came over with her hand extended after wiping them on her shorts. “I’m Kelly, your hot and now wet neighbor.”
I grinned and took her offered hand. “Really? It usually takes a little more effort on my part to make a woman reach that state, but hey, I can work with that.” I watched as her puzzled looked evolved into understanding.
Her cheeks turned bright red as she covered her mouth with her remaining hand. “Oh, my god, no! No! That’s so not what I meant.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I’ve never been so embarrassed.”
I squeezed the hand I still held, which felt warm and soft in my much larger one. I didn’t even know this woman, and already I found her charming, something that puzzled me as I’d avoided women since Courtney. “Don’t be. I shouldn’t have teased you before I even introduced myself. I’m Gavin, by the way.” Strange that I didn’t feel like letting go of her hand. “It’s my fault. I should’ve come over and welcomed you before now, brought a plate of cookies or something.”
Cookies, Gav? Really?
Her eyebrow raised. “You bake?”
I grimaced. “Um, actually, no. If I tried, I’m sure we’d have had a similar heated introduction, so I guess it’s how we were destined to meet.” I finally let go of her hand, but only because I didn’t want her to think I was some kind of freak. Although, she was definitely checking out my shirtless chest.
A high-pitched voice sounded behind me. “Mom, are we still gonna have a cookout?”
Both of us turned to face the little towheaded boy dressed in a Sponge Bob t-shirt and blue shorts. That’s when I noticed the front of my shorts were soaked, leaving my junk a bit transparent. Shit! No good way I could cover up. And if there was a kid, there was probably a husband. It figured.
“I’m afraid not, honey. I’m sorry. I kind of messed up.”
His narrow shoulders slumped. “It’s okay, Mom.” He turned and started to shuffle back to the house. “Thanks for trying,” he mumbled. I didn’t know this kid at all and couldn’t be certain he wasn’t a drama king, but he accepted her answer too easily as if he expected to be disappointed. I knew that feeling, keeping an eye peeled for an angry husband.
“I know where there’s another cookout,” I said before I could think more thoroughly about what I was saying.
He turned back, his eyes which matched his moms were wide and full of hope.
“Mr….um Gavin, it’s okay.” Kelly put her hand on her son’s shoulder.
“No, really. There’s a neighborhood gathering at the park a couple of blocks over. A few people bring grills, everyone brings something to share, and there’ll be plenty of burgers and dogs that are donated by a neighbor who owns a restaurant. Everyone who comes chips in to help pay for it, but he always turns the money back over to keep the playground in good condition for all the kids.” I stated this like I knew what I was talking about when in reality, I was only repeating Josh’s explanation to me earlier.
“Oh!” Her voice sounded more positive. She glanced at her son. “Maybe we can do that?”
“That would be great, Mom! Then I’d have someone to play with besides you.”
“Gee, thanks.” Her grin was a little twisted as she winked at me. “Danny, this is Mr…” she glanced at me.
I squatted down in front of him, to speak to him on his level…and to cover myself. “I’m Gavin.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Danny.” He held his hand out, and I shook it, impressed with his manners. “I’d be happy to walk your family there,” I offered to his mom.
Her hands twisted inside each other. “Oh, I’m divorced, so it’s just the two of us now, and I um, I really don’t–”
“Thanks, Mister Gavin!” Danny said at the same time. The boy beamed at me like I was a hero, and I had to admit that made me feel pretty damn good. Okay then. That worked for me. Something told me I wanted to get to know both of them better, though I didn’t know why. Something deep down urged me to learn more about her. The idea she was trying to do something special for her son even though it was obviously outside of her experience, spoke of a selflessness that called to me.
She still seemed uncertain. “I promised Danny we’d try to do something special this weekend and cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows–”
“And sleep in a tent! Don’t forget that, Mom!” Danny injected. He glanced up at me. “Like with sleeping bags and flashlights!”
Damn, he was cute. Kelly moved a little closer, and I breathed deeply. She smelled like sugar and sunscreen. “I hate to ask, but I don’t suppose you’re any good at setting up tents? I’m afraid with my luck it will come crashing down on us overnight. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
I was amused at the question. Did I know how to set up a tent? In my work, a tent was as good as a four-star hotel. This beautiful woman impressed me. Unlike Courtney, Kelly was willing to go the extra mile and try something she was obviously unfamiliar with. I didn’t know the story as to why she was alone, but I was interested in finding out. I leaned in and whispered, “Tell you what. I’ll help you get your campout set up and give you all the coolness credit, if you and Danny will go with me. I don’t know many people there, and I feel a little uncomfortable showing up on my own. You’d be doing me a favor.”
Her laughter lit up the part of me I thought would be dark forever. “Okay. You’ve got a deal.”
An hour later, the tent was set up, the logs from the fire pit were separated to dry, and I was on my way to a picnic with a beautiful woman and her cute son. As we followed behind Danny who was skipping ahead of us, she told me a little bit about how she had moved here after divorcing her husband. She didn’t say anything specific, but I suspected he was a son of a bitch. I found myself sharing a little about Courtney, pleased the sting of divorce didn’t feel so bad.
When we reached the park, I breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t thank me and go her separate way. When Josh bounded up to us, she took a step closer, and I loved that she trusted me. We played with Danny on the playground, stuffed ourselves with burgers, and I helped Danny set off a couple of small fireworks. The evening passed faster than I expected, and I was surprised what a good time I had. Until now, I hadn’t realized how needy Courtney had been. Kelly held her own and was attentive, but not clingy. On the way home, I carried Danny on my shoulders, wondering what it would feel like to have this all the time.
Kelly paused as we reached the sidewalk in front of our houses, while Danny took off to the backyard, whooping as he saw mini campsite we’d set up. “I enjoyed our time tonight, Gavin. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around a man who looked after someone other than himself.”
I reached for her hand, searching for the right words. “I enjoyed it, too. I’m glad you sent out those smoke signals this afternoon.”
She laughed, then bit her lip. “Would you like to stick around for our campfire? You know, to make sure I don’t use too much lighter fluid this time?”
I squeezed her hand and led her to her backyard. I told Danny a few campfire stories and taught him how to roast a marshmallow just right, while Kelly watched with a smile. The moon was bright against the dark sky, and Danny was sound asleep by the time I gave her a gentle good night kiss, but only on the cheek – for now.
A warmth that had nothing to do with the fire followed me home. Tomorrow never holds a promise, but I was ready to find love again. I might have helped Kelly put out her fire, but she’d lit a new one in me, and I couldn’t wait to fan the flames with her.