Saturday, June 23, 2012

MC 10 (pt. II)

"This is surprisingly nice."

"Surprisingly?"

Margaret sounded offended. That wasn't what he meant though. Turning his head a little, he offered her an apologetic kiss. When they pulled apart, he reveled in how weird it was how different that first post sex kiss felt. It was as if every kiss prior to this moment had felt chaste and lackluster, at least compared to the electric feelings leftover from the one a moment ago.

Should've been a lit teacher instead of chemistry, there, English.

"I just meant that I expected to feel much more on display," he explained.

Margaret snorted. They were still in his bed, curled up and laying together. She was idly tracing patterns on his chest. "That's because you are conspicuously clothed, while I'm still in the nude."

Despite himself, Finn chuckled. "Being under the covers hardly counts as being clothed."

Margaret made a displeased noise in response as she continued to trace. Slowly, her pattern tracing finger made its way up his chest, across his left shoulder, lingering when it got to what remained of his arm. He been able to avoid the questions when his shirt came off earlier, and she saw his shoulder and stump for the first time. Now, he braced himself for the endless barrage that he knew was about to start.

She continued to play around with his chest and waited ungodly amount of time before she finally asked. "These are from the IED, huh?"

She pointed to the number of overlapping scars on his chest and shoulder and stump. Even all these years later they were still thick, raised, ugly. But at least they had finally faded from an angry red to a benign white. That's Finn told himself anyway.

He nodded and tried to keep his face blank, but he was actually taken aback by her directness. "Most are from shrapnel."

"But some are from surgery too?"

Nobody ever guessed that one. He raised a questioning eyebrow. Margaret blushed and mumbled something about Google.

"Yeah, this one," he held up his stump and pointed at a long scar on the bottom with his other hand, "is from surgery to kind of...uh...clean things up."

Margaret nodded as if she were very familiar with such things. Finn watched her carefully. "Is this freaking you out?"

"No!" She practically yelled the words. Looking down, in a low voice she admitted, "I'm more afraid of freaking you out."

Finn laughed. "You're not serious."

Margaret leveled a look at him that said she most definitely was.

He smiled as relief flood over him for the third time that night. The first time had been while he watched her face as she slowly removed first his shirt and then his pants. Finn had watched her carefully for any signs of discomfort or disgust, but he hadn't found them. Instead, he'd seen an intense longing and desire dance across her face.

As she ran her hands slowly across his bare chest and then wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down on top of her, she'd whispered to him how much she loved his body. The words were soft and throaty and interspersed with urgent kisses. She'd pulled him closer, softly instructing him to enter her, and wrapped her legs around him. The end of his leg barely touched the top of her thigh. He had expected her to recoil at the mangled sight of it -- her little attraction be damned -- but instead of flinching, she'd smiled approvingly and used one of her own hands to actually pull his leg closer to her as she came. It might have been an awkward position, but he didn't care. With that one gesture she had made him feel sexy and wanted and like a man.

That had been the second time he felt relief, and the third was now, as she tenderly kissed one of the many scars crisscrossing the stump of his arm.

He pulled Margaret closer to him. She was silent, but he could feel an unspoken question lingering in the air. She'd given him so much tonight, he supposed it was time to reciprocate. Nudging her, he probed, "You're dying to ask, aren't you?"

There was a guilty look on her face. "You have no idea."

Finn laughed heartily. "It's not all that exciting." Margaret gave him a doubtful look. Then, he paused, unsure of how to go on. It'd been a long time since he'd talked about that time in his life and suddenly, he wasn't sure he wanted to bring it up after all.

But, then he looked at Margaret. Gone was the guilty, expectant look. In its place was an ardent concern mixed with a genuine and enamored expression that easily revealed that she knew what a big deal it was that he was sharing this with her. That captivating look was what spurred him to go on.

He shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he tried to concentrate on the facts, the good memories, and Margaret's face, rather than the pain. "We'd been sent to the southeastern part of Afghanistan about eight months before I got hurt. We were charged with counterinsurgency--that's collecting intelligence," he clarified with the smallest of smiles. "But we also were supposed to be assisting local governments."

Margaret snorted. "I bet that went over well."

"Actually, it did."

He felt a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth as he began to recount the fond times. “We were on the same side," he told her. "Both of us were fighting the Taliban -- just for different reasons. Our duties were really outlined as helping with police raids and other governmental tasks. But then we were also charged with doing stuff like helping reconstruct a blown-up hospital. We distributed handouts. Food staples, crayons and coloring books. A ton of that kind of stuff." Finn shifted and propped himself up so that he was leaning back against the headboard. “It was strange, but great. I mean here we are: a bunch of gruff army grunts pretty much acting like the fucking Peace Corps!”

He laughed lightly, shaking his head. There were a lot of things--decisions, missions, mistakes--he hadn't agreed with during that tour, but his time in the Patika region of Afghanistan had been a career highlight.

"So, we stayed there for ohhh...I guess about eight, nine months? Yeah, it was about nine months, I guess, before we actually phased out of there.” Finn paused and he actually felt the his expression darkening. He looked down, collecting himself, and tried to decide where to go from there. When he looked back up, he looked straight ahead at a small coffee stain on his wall. How the hell did that get there? he wondered, briefly, before going on in a low voice. “We got complacent playing Mother Teresa though and forgot the real reason we were there.”  

“What do you mean?”

“We were soldiers,” he told her simply. “Our job was bigger than coloring books.”

She nodded in understanding.

"When we finally did phase out of there, we went back to real life at the FOB: patrols, counterinsurgency, and a lot of dull downtime." Finn shook his head, mostly at himself as he remembered. "You know that there are an estimated 10 millions landmines that have been planted in Afghanistan in the last decade?"

Margaret silently shook her head. Finn smiled sadly. "Well, thanks to a soccer game, organized by yours truly back in 2007, now there are only nine million nine hundred and ninety-nine."

"Shit." The word seemed to slip out of Margaret's mouth without her meaning for it to.

Finn shrugged, trying to act nonchalant even though it still hurt so many years later. "So now you know my secret: I was felled by a game of soccer," he joked, trying to lighten the mood.

He let out a heavy breath that he didn't realize he'd been holding as he finished. For a moment, they simply laid there, wrapped in a silence as heavy as a wool blanket, before Margaret finally threw it off. "You're lucky this was all that happened."

The statement was like a punch in the gut. But, it wasn't like she knew. How could she? Shutting his eyes and taking a deep breath, he told the part that hurt more than losing his arm and leg, the part that haunted him everyday: that five more of his men had been felled by that soccer game as well. Two of them hadn't recovered.

The story and the startling revelations it brought hung in the air between them. He waited for Margaret to say something -- anything -- but she never did. Finally, he spoke up instead. He nudged her with his short arm. "Resounding silence is never a good sign."

"Sorry," she apologized hastily. "I'm just thinking."

Finn cleared his throat. This was going to be awkward, but something told him that it needed to be addressed. "Now, you know...," he began, but trailed off. He really didn't want to say this--he shouldn't have to say this -- but, she was a reporter. Never can be too careful with them. Girlfriend or not. When he spoke again, a moment later, it was in a firmer voice. "You know you can't put any of this stuff in that article you're trying to write.

"Funny. You know, I usually try to leave the pillow talk out of the columns."

"What about other kinds of talk?"

Margaret narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

"Mags, I can't be your boyfriend and subject. It's--"

"Why not?"

Finn looked at her incredulously. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Why not?"

"Yeah, why not?" Margaret repeated, sitting up. "I can separate professional and personal."

At that, he burst into laughter. He gestured at their naked bodies. "Clearly."

A small hint of an unwanted smile began to pull at the corner of Margaret's mouth. She gave him an annoyed look. "Fuck it. You're right," she sighed. "There goes my chance at getting out of the Pets & Pests column."

"There'll be another chance," Finn laughed. He kissed the top of her unruly curls. Why was this self-preservation making him feel guilty as hell? "Hey! I know," he said brightly, trying to alleviate some of the awkwardness and guilt he was feeling. "Why don't I introduce you to some of my students and you can write a story about them?”

Margaret rolled her eyes. "Yeah, and I'll just write about the farmer's market and little old lady knitting circles too while I'm at it,” she said darkly. Then she softened a bit and swatted at him playfully. "It's you I want."

"And it's me you've got." Finn flashed her his best roguish grin. But as a boyfriend. Not as the object of scrutiny.

It wasn't as unpleasant as it could have been, but it still wasn't exactly a fun conversation. Afterwards, they lapsed once more into silence. The night had been full of those silences and Finn wasn't sure whether they were good, bad, or if they even mattered at all.

Beside him, he heard Margaret's breathing start to slow down and even out. As much as he wanted to let her drift off, there was something else he needed to ask. And it invariably would lead to more awkward silences. But now's the time. After all, two other much more unpleasant subjects had already been broached; why not throw a third one in for good measure? So, trying to sound as casual as possible, he asked, "So what were you doing in the car earlier?"

Margaret looked up at him sleepily. She rubbed the early vestiges of sleep from her eyes and furrowed her brow as she thought. His heart sank. Then her face brightened and she laughed lightly. "Oh, just dealing with Matthews."

Matthews...The name sounded familiar. Oh yeah.That puny looking guy she works with.  "Dealing with him?"

Margaret nodded. "He wanted to grab dinner and catch up." She explained and then grinned slyly. "But, I told him I had much better plans."

Finn smiled at her explanation, but didn't say anything.

"Why?" she asked abruptly. Now she was wide awake. He hesitated, unsure of what to say. The hesitation was a moment too long, and suddenly Margaret was pelting him with questions. "Did you think I wasn't going to come in? Or that I was having second thoughts or something?"

Spot on. As usual. But he didn't tell her that. Instead, he just sort of shrugged nonchalantly.

Margaret smacked his bare chest. A little harder than necessary. "Ouch, Mags!" he exclaimed, rubbing the slightly red spot. "What the hell was that for?"

"For being an idiot," She told him, frowning. "I really like you, Finn. So stop making mountains out of molehills."

Margaret Shields: Succinct, tenacious, and blunt as always, he thought to himself. Meanwhile, Margaret stared at him expectantly. Allowing himself a small grin, he finally admitted that he might have been being a tad insecure. "But, I've got my reasons," he added defensively for some reason. Jesus, English. Just let it go.

Margaret sighed dramatically."You leave me no choice then." For the second time, his heart sank. But she quickly went on. "I guess I'll just have to give you more reasons to believe me then." With a suggestive look on her face, she kissed his collarbone, then slowly moved lower.

As her lips brushed across the stump of his leg, Finn finally let himself relax. Looking down, he realized, in light of everything that happened in the last twelve hours, that this--that Margaret--might be one of the best things to happen to him since he had come home. With an excited, contented feeling, he smiled.


****************

Hours later, an unexpected clash of thunder shook the walls and woke her up. Beside her, Finn slept fitfully. He kept tossing and turning and his forehead was creased in troubled wrinkles. With a pang, she wondered what sort of ghosts were haunting his dreams as she quietly slipped out of bed.

The last place she remembered seeing her phone was in the car. Ugh. She chanced a glance outside. Rain was now accompanying the thunder, and it was coming down in sheets. No chance she was going out there.

Margaret bit her lip, wondering what to do. Then she spotted her purse, tossed haphazardly on the kitchen bar. She grabbed it and desperately dug around inside.

Yaaaas, she thought as she grabbed it and unlocked it. The bright electronic screen lit up the otherwise darkened apartment. Quickly, she opened up her messages and began to compose a new text. It read:

Matthews, I think we have a problem...

8 comments:

  1. Choices are not always what they seem! Great story!

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  2. Great story. Don't keep us waiting too long!

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  3. Pleeeese update soon!

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  4. Great scene. Thought for a bit we were not getting any bedroom details. Worried for nothing. What's with Mathews?

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  5. Wonderful. When will u update again
    ? Please don't leave us hanging too long....

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  6. Love your writing, can't wait for the next updated.

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  7. I feel for both of them. English, you're basically an idiot but you do indeed have reasons. And Margaret, you are a bigger idiot. Don't ever, never ever, fall for the subject or the boss. Never.
    Love the story!

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