Our weekly short stories are here to draw attention to up and coming storytellers
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There’s an old adage at Fort Bragg that goes something like—
“There are two kinds of women on base, women who were born here and women who were left here”
Now for the most part this expression holds true. Most military relationships are strained. You’ve just got so many variables that can disrupt the way things work. Constant deployments, affairs, neglected children, the list goes on. In a sense it all works in a cycle. Soldier deploys, soldier goes home, he feels lonely, so he brings his high school sweetheart back to base, the soldier deploys again, the wife has an affair, the soldier returns home, everything is just fine, wash rinse repeat. This may sound biased, maybe even sexist (and let me assure you it happens on all sides; no gender or sexual preference is the exception) but women and adultery on Fort Bragg go together like moonshine and squirrel hunting.
Now every now and again that said cycle will get broken up in several ways, all of which never end well. Normally divorce follows, families are torn apart, separated parents fall into deep fits of depression. The military can become unbearably lonely when you’re haunted by good things you’ve lost. The things you’ve thrown away can be as equally troubling. There are certain troubling instances where the end of love and life meet at a crossroads.
Special Forces, the pride and joy of Fort Bragg North Carolina. Why any women in their right mind would decide to cheat on a government trained elite combatant is beyond me; however, these occurrences are commonplace as ill advised as they may seem. Which brings us to the story of Sergeant Lemonade.
If I could ever show you a more picturesque example of an American couple than Mr. and Mrs. Walker, it would have to be eerily Stepford. Ben Walker enlisted promptly after undergrad school. He was a cheerful young man with a sunny disposition towards life, he was earnest, hardworking, quiet fellow. Valerie was an intelligent woman, graduating from MIT, she spent her time on a YouTube series encouraging young girls to get into computer programming. They fell in love with each other’s work ethic, they found that this complemented their dating style and the rest is really quite transparent. Two young careerist in a relationship, what could have possibly gone wrong? Well stick around for awhile and I’ll tell you.
There’s a special kind of yearning. Unique in that you desire…almost crave something that you’ve never experienced; yet, you know so vividly. You can ignore it, deny it, fight it…no matter what you do, it feels as if your life just isn’t complete without it. I would assume that all of us have felt this way from time to time, if you haven’t, I hope the feeling never comes to possess you. If you’re already afflicted then I hope the object of your desire doesn’t double as the tool of your demise, as was the case for Valerie.
The couple had just come back from a weekend at Myrtle Beach. It was a cool week in Summer, calm mornings and balanced afternoons blended into mild nights filled with laughter, the smell of beer and cigarettes populating any bar you’d approach. The burnt orange sky getting swallowed by the night, it always looks as if there’s a cloud of dark smoke that just spreads itself over the land, the nights in Fayetteville always feel like they can keep a secret, they night always feels like it’s listening.
While the rest of the town was enjoying their four-day weekend, Ben was preparing to go on some unit training for a few months. They never enjoyed being apart; but Valerie was always understanding of Ben’s military career. She loved that about him, what women wouldn’t love that about a man? He looked good in his uniform; heck, he made the uniform look good. He was a solid six feet tall, with dark hair and beautiful light green eyes that rested in a young handsome face. Valerie hated seeing him go; but she did love watching him change into his uniform, something about it made her feel safe. Valerie walked over to Ben and asked—
“Doesn’t your commander want to spend some time with his wife?”
Valerie teased Ben while she started to help him pack. She continued her playful rhetoric.
“Promise me when you get to that point in your career you won’t be such a hard ass”
Valerie gave Ben a sexy smirk while she gave his buttocks a firm squeeze. Ben returned her smile and gave her a long deep kiss before replying.
“Hopefully by the time I get to that point we won’t have to be on deployment schedules so there won’t be any real reason to be a hard ass.”
There was no denying that they were always anxious anytime Ben had to deploy. You never really get used to the cycle. Your commander gets the call from DC, normally at 2am in the morning, and within 12 hours you and your mates are standing around the Battalion parking lot with full battle rattle; just waiting on a plane to take you to God knows where for some ungodly amount of time. Luckily, training wasn’t as intense as all that. Still, Valerie seemed more worried than usual about Ben’s trip.
The next morning Valerie woke up early, in the hopes of having morning sex, she always had a healthy sexual appetite, Ben however was too occupied with his slumber to respond to the tender kisses she was placing on his neck, a sensual invitation. Disappointed but graciously understanding Valerie just trotted along to the shower, to entertain herself before she went off to make breakfast.
Saturdays are always peaceful around base. There’s no cadence going off at 6:45 in the morning, traffic is greatly reduced, and ranges tend to be unoccupied. It’s as if a certain type of life has left and another one took its place. Valerie was in the kitchen. Potatoes O’Brian, buttery scrambled eggs and bacon could be smelt throughout the house. All accompanied by the blanket scent of coffee and menthol cigarettes (a habit she had picked up from her Father).
“Glad to see you up baby! How did you sleep?”
She asked Ben as he came lightly jogging down the stairs.
“Oh! Like a baby, sorry I didn’t get up with you earlier, I was knocked out.”
He was always embarrassed when he didn’t put out. Valerie just gave him a subtle head shake and a smile, as if to say— ‘Eh, it was worth a shot’.
Ben understood that his wife adored him so, it made him feel guilty for being gone so often; but Valerie admired that kind of drive. Ben poured two cups of coffee and brought them over to the kitchen table, lit a cigarette and let out a long sigh—
“Valerie, I’d be lost without you, why do you make everything just…better?”
Ben walked over to Valerie embracing her while she sat down. Valerie plucked the lit cigarette out of his mouth and took a long pull before carefully exhaling away from his face. She smiled at him and said—
“You’re easy to love, so the pleasure is all mine.”
Before guiding his face down to hers for a long drawn out kiss. After they finished breakfast Ben went to go take his ritualistic pre training shower. Taking full advantage of having hot, running, potable water before having to rely on baby wipes to clean his ass until Fall. Along with his wife, dogs, motorcycle and church; a nice hot shower was something he never took for granted. Hot water running over your back, massaging you. The cool feel of polished granite on your feet. It feels safe in there; all along with the gentle white noise of rhythmic drops of water hitting the floor. It’ an easy place to think…a place to feel safe, two things every soldier should have.
0230 was the hour that Ben’s alarm clock went off. His gear and ruck already in the bed of his truck. Valerie stopped while he was lacing up his boots. “I bought you a couple of cartons of smokes” she said ask she stuffed two cartons of Newport lights into his personal bag. She went out and started the truck. Ben was taking the dogs out, trying to keep them quite as not to wake up everyone else on the block. Everyone knew when Sergeant Walker was heading off somewhere. Always at the strangest hours, unlike your typical fare of soldier who, for the most part, all had synchronized schedules.
They pulled up to the Battalion parking lot just around three-thirty am. Ben had his squad get there early so he could do one last equipment check. Valerie backed into the company garage so that Ben could quickly unload his things. Ben hoped out, tossed his things out of the truck and walked around to the driver side to sneak in one last kiss before he had to get down to business.
“Don’t be gone too long”
Valerie joked as their lips parted. Ben gave her an affirming head nod and a smirk and marched off. Coming home, knowing that you’re going to be alone for a while, can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s liberating to some extent and on the other end of the spectrum it can be terrifying. You’re free to be as comfortable as you can make yourself at the expense of being lonely and vulnerable. Valerie never seemed to be bothered by any negative side effects of solitude, she always found a way to keep herself occupied
Dawn hadn’t broken yet and Valerie couldn’t get back to sleep. She went into her makeup bag and pulled out a medicine bottle filled with marijuana. She gutted a cigarette a rolled herself a joint. She could never smoke when ben was around. He would always say “It’ll ruin my career if you get caught buying illegal drugs”, while she would never intentionally jeopardize Ben’s career, she often wondered if Ben was a little pretentious. She never considered him arrogant, it was just that she felt like he compensated for being boring by being so professional. She loved Ben; but she didn’t feel like Ben was there to love anymore.
Smoke was slowly leaving Valerie’s lips as her joint was burning down to her thumbs. The initial high had settled in well and she was finally starting to welcome sleep. It was approaching 5am and she wanted to get to sleep before the sun came up. As she walked up the stairs her phone vibrated. She had received a text from Nick, a neighbor that lived three homes down, a pharmacist that lived with his wife who was currently deployed. He asked if he could come over. Valerie assumed he must’ve saw them drive off earlier. While she had teased at intimate relationships between the two of them in the past, she really had no intention of acting on them. She admired how Nick always had something interesting to talk about, how he was always so attentive, so engaged in the moment. She found herself always gravitating towards Nick during block parties. He wasn’t like everyone else on base, not just because he wasn’t enlisted; but just his demeanor. He didn’t have the aspect of rank, deployment history or weapons qualification scores to define him. Nick reminded Valerie of civilian life, something she missed, more often then she ever thought she would.
There was a gentle wrap of a knock at the door. By the time the second one came around the dogs were already barking.
This one was a bit louder. Valerie went downstairs to greet Nick; nervous as to how she was going to deny him something she wanted so bad herself. That feeling didn’t last; because it’s hard to feel anything immediately after a chloroform-soaked rag covers your face.
When Valerie came to, she was seated in a chair with her arms restricted behind her back, she could feel another person’s wrist attached to hers. She could see out the corner of her eye that it was Nick. She tried to speak; but she was gagged, they both were. There were a group of people surrounding them, two of them were sitting on 5-gallon jugs, one of them had a glass case with what looked to be filled with dirt and the one standing directly above her was holding cheese grater. He smelled familiar…like menthol cigarettes. That’s the last thing she could recall with any clarity. Everything else that transpired was inaudible according to all sources. When police found Valerie and Nick, they were in the middle of the street with several life-threatening hematomas, sporadic patches of skin torn off their bodies and fire ants eating away at their flesh. Police said that they noticed a large amount of what appeared to be lemonade covering both. Nick died from his injuries later that evening. Valerie survived and has been put protective custody and has been relocated ever since. No has seen Ben since that morning at the Battalion.
Joshua Thomas © 2019