Chuckles filled the night, and I held out my hands to her, raising from her crouch in a flurry. I’d pissed her off, which was good since I didn’t want her thinking about anything that had to do with her attack.
Payton dropped the keys into my hand before walking to the passenger side. Payton drove a sweet little Mazda R-6; it looked cute and spunky, which fit her personality perfectly. I dropped my bag into the trunk, and slammed it down. Payton was already in the passenger seat, and I pressed the button on the side of the seat, moving the seat back as far as it could go before I got inside the car.
I’d learned my lesson already. Short people sit about two inches from the steering wheel. I’d tried to drop in once, as I would do in a normal car, and only once. I promptly knocked my chin on the steering wheel and banged my knees on the dash.
“It’s only at the Gregg County Airport. I’m catching a flight with a troop who is shipping out on a C-130. You can be back in bed by six if you hustle.” I said as I pulled out into the deserted street.
“I’ll stay with you until your flight leaves.” Payton whispered.
I hated that she was so upset. It might not have been the best idea to sleep with her before I went off to places unknown. If I had a caring bone in my body, I would’ve never even started this, but I’m a selfish bastard. I wanted her. I had her. I was keeping her. Simple as that.
The ride to the airport was a silent one. If I was honest with myself, I didn’t want to say anything that would make her cry any harder than what she was already silently doing. She was trying to keep it concealed, but I grew up with a little sister who cried all the damn time. I knew what crying looked like, let alone sounded like.
I reached over and held her hand for the entire trip. A few sniffles escaped here and there, but other than that, she was strong and didn’t try to make me feel bad about leaving her like some of the men I’d known had had done to them. When you leave, having a hysterical woman on your hands doesn’t make it any easier. Going away to war doesn’t sit well with any man; we need our women to be strong, to be the one person we can lean on when we need someone to support us.
The mammoth C-130 dominated the runway as we walked up to the gates. There were women saying their final goodbyes to their men, children weeping as they waved their mom’s or dad’s goodbye, as well as parents giving their babies one last hug before they sent them off to war. If you’ve never been to a deployment send-off, it’s a chilling sight to witness.
Realistically, you know that at least one of these boys won’t make it home again. Will it be the one kissing his very pregnant wife? Or will it be the one being hugged by his dad? It could be the one that left his girlfriend in tears. One just prayed. All you could do was have hope.
The send-offs are sad, almost like a pall hangs over the room. I’ve been through two deployments in my lifetime. This will be the first time I’ll be leaving a woman I loved waiting for me to come home. This time I’m leaving so much more. My sister. My brothers, the men who watched my back, and kept me safe and breathing. My niece and nephew. Payton.
That’s what was so hard. I had so much to love, and leaving them behind, knowing I wouldn’t see them for an undetermined amount of time, made something deep in my chest ache.
A shout disrupted the quiet, and the soldiers responded instantly. Some disentangled themselves from their crying children. Others walked sedately to the plane; no one there to see him or her off. Some gave one final kiss to their wives and girlfriends. We watched as the men lined up in perfect unison just outside the ramp that led to the back of the plane. The families watched on with pride, sadness, and love in their eyes.
One by one, the soldiers made their way to the plane. The massive C-130’s engines roared to life, and there was nothing left to hear but the beautiful sound of that monster running. It would be responsible for taking these men and women into a battle zone. It would also bring them home, dead or alive, and that was what had everyone worried.
I heard Payton’s breath hitch beside me, and I turned and watched her struggle to hold it together. She looked scared to death, and I hoped everything worked out; that I would come back to her. It broke my heart seeing her fight this battle. She’s gone through so much this past year, and she was about to lose the only lifeline that was able to help her battle the nightmares.
I gathered her up in my arms and gave her one last thorough kiss. Her body melted against me, and I longed to take her back home and use her for hours, until both of us had no strength left to move. Regrettably, duty called.
“If you need me, all you have to do is call. Same number. If I can’t answer, I’ll call you back as soon as I can. Make sure you call me; I’ll know if you need me. If I don’t answer, call James, and even Sam, Gabe, Jack, or Elliott. They’ll be there for you just as I would.” I told her before kissing her one last time.
She nodded, but kept silent as she watched me toss the duffle over my shoulder. The rifle still in my right hand, I looked into her eyes to gauge her control. Her chin was set at a stubborn angle; her hair was in a crazy disarray around her head. She was still wearing my Pepsi shirt, but had on her jeans and the ugly ass yellow Crocs she always wore. There were no tears, which I was grateful for since crying women gave me hives.
A sudden commotion at the gate of the airport made me lift my eyes from Payton’s ugly shoes. What I saw made me want to groan and curse. Ember’s ugly piece of shit car was barreling down the side road that ran up to the parking lot of the airport. Tires screeched as she came to a halt in the fire lane, and practically fell out of the car, running to me. She looked like she just ran out of the house in what she was wearing, which was a threadbare tank top and tight shorts that showed off way too much skin.
“Jesus Christ, Ember. Don’t you wear any fucking clothes?” I ground out once she reached me.
“Don’t you curse at me, asshole. Why would you just leave like that! I was supposed to take you. I wanted to see you before you went!” She screeched, but immediately started tearing up, but refused to let the tears spill over.