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Maybe It Was Memphis
The summer night was beautiful but she couldn’t appreciate it with a date who wasn’t taking any hints that he was not going to come inside with her.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you to your door?”
“I’m sure. Good night, Jeffrey.” She used his full name to make her point because in the South that meant you were truly done with someone.
“Alright, Carolyn. I’ll call you.”
She wanted to tell him not to, but he was already back in his car and probably heading to some honky-tonk where he’d charm some floozy into bed with him.
Carolyn opened the wrought-iron gate and headed up to the old house she’d inherited, a lovely three-story built by her great-grandfather for her great-grandmother after he’d gotten home from World War One, a war she’d waited through for him.
As she heard the creak of the front-porch swing, she skidded to a stop as she saw her brother’s best friend, John Calloway sitting there looking way too good in the moonlit night.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” She came up onto the porch in front of him. “I thought you were out with my brother.”
“Place was too noisy, and I wasn’t in the mood to yell over a bad band. Did you have a nice time at the club?”
That made him smile and laugh just a little, a sound that made her smile, too. She’d known John since her brother had brought him home last Christmas from their final round of Army Ranger training. John was from a small town in Mississippi he said he didn’t want to go back to as he didn’t have any family there, but he was still a good Southern boy. And he was also damn good looking: tall, muscled but not overly so, his dark hair military-cut short but thick, and his eyes were like the dark green of a hidden pond.
“So, what happened?” He asked.
“Oh, my date completely ignored me to talk with his buddies and all the other women under forty ignored me while they were shooting daggers at me thinking I was going to steal their husbands. I would have rather sat on the porch with you.”
She took a step closer to him, then she decided to take the next step with her words.
“I know there is some ‘rule’ that a guy’s not supposed to have anything to do with his best friend’s sister but that’s not a law you have to avoid breaking. I’m a grown woman and I can take care of myself.”
He stood up and she tilted her head back slightly to look up at his beautiful face. “You know what I want to do most with a man? Slow-dance with him, have him hold me where I can hear his heartbeat and feel his arms around me.”
“I can do that. I’d love to slow-dance with you.”
She took his hand, “Inside, in my room.”
John couldn’t believe he was doing this, but he wanted to be with her so much tonight. She looked like the sweetest vision in her soft white dress with little red flowers on it, a dress that left her legs and arms bare and made him want to run his hands over her smooth skin.
She led him to her bedroom upstairs then closed the door behind them. She bent down and took off her sandals.
“Take off your boots and socks.”
He did as she went over to her desk and plugged in her iPod to her speakers. The first song came on and they both smiled as it was “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis.
“About us?” He asked as she came into his arms.
“Are you a lonely boy far from home?”
She laid her head against his chest they listened to Ms. Tillis sing about moonlight and a love so soft and sweet. Then she looked up at him, “I know you and Bryce ship out in three days….”
“We can make the most of whatever time we have.”
She laid her head against his chest again and he swayed her with his arms as he wrestled with his feelings. This was no flirtation or one-night stand for him, or at least he didn’t want it to be for just one night. This was two people finding each other with no time to savor the feeling of falling in love.
She went still in his arms and lifted her head away from his chest, he slowly bent down and as her eyes closed, he touched his lips to hers. Her arms wound up around his neck as he kissed her slowly, drawing every second out between them.
“Are you sure? Because I want to be with you.”
Carolyn felt her heart soar at the look in John’s eyes, desire and heat, and something more, a word she was hesitating to use… love. But that’s what they were going to do here, make love.
Clothes came off slowly until they stood naked in the moonlit bedroom then he picked her up and laid her down on her bed. He touched her with a gentleness that said more than words ever could, pleasure slowly building between them.
The music faded out as they found release together then he held her in his arms as she fell asleep to the sound of his heart beating under her ear, a heart that would only beat for her.
Dawn slowly crept into her bedroom and woke her up, a smile blooming across her face as she opened her eyes to see John sleeping peacefully beside her. They’d made love twice last night, both times long, slow, and sweet. And now he was sound asleep while she was awake, so she decided to let him sleep.
She got dressed and went downstairs to start breakfast but found her brother instead fussing with the coffeemaker. It amazed her that he could do things with guns and stuff she didn’t want to but faced with common household appliances…
“Let me.” She quickly got the coffee going as he sat down at the table.
“Where’s John? He wasn’t in his room.”
Carolyn turned to face her brother, “He’s sleeping in my bed and do not say a word until I say you can speak.”
She sat down across from him, “He spent the night with me. And that so-called ‘rule’ about guys being with their buddy’s sister is total bullshit so don’t start on that. And last night was special.”
She got up and poured two cups of coffee, then she sat back down with their coffee. “Now you can speak.”
“I think you said it all, little sister.”
“Good.” Then she looked up as she saw John standing in the doorway. She wondered how much he had heard but she wasn’t going to ask. “Good morning, John.”
She got up from the table. “I’m going to fix breakfast now.”
“I’ll help.” John said as he came into the kitchen.
“And I’ll watch.” Bryce said with a smile.
John turned back to face him, “Really, bro?”
Carolyn came up beside John, “Obviously you haven’t tried to eat his cooking. Which is why I only let him set the table.”
They all laughed at that and all she could think was that everything was going to be alright.
Over the next three days, they made the most of their time together. During the day she hung out with her brother and John, having fun and goofing off. At night her brother would go out and she and John would slow dance, talk, and make love.
Then early in the morning after fixing them breakfast one last time, she stood on the sidewalk as John and her brother loaded up to drive to their base in Kentucky. They’d ship out from there to Afghanistan, right into a war. It was hard enough watching her brother leave but now she had two men to worry about, and love more than anything.
“I know you two will look out for each other, but I’m going to tell you to do so anyway. And when you get there, let me know what you need so I can start sending care packages.”
Bryce hugged her tightly then let her go, “I’ll give you and John a moment. You can even kiss him goodbye if you want to.”
She smiled as John pulled her in for one last hug. She closed her eyes as she took one last listen to his heartbeat, then she lifted her head from his chest and reached up and whispered in his ear, “I’ll wait for you.”
Then she let go of him before he could say anything to her. She watched them drive off until she couldn’t see them anymore, then she walked back towards her house, all alone now.
Over the next five years, the war in Afghanistan raged on though largely outside the awareness of the average American. Communication with John and her brother could be sporadic at times, and with no talk of what they were doing day in and day out. Visits home became farther and farther apart and both John and her brother changed in subtle ways each time they were home, hyper-aware of things, leery of crowds, loud noises, and struggling to talk about their feelings.
Carolyn just tried to give them the space they needed while trying not to burden them with her own struggles. She had discovered a love of fixing things and rehabbing old houses, working hard to get her contractor’s license along with licenses for plumbing and electrical work. She struggled to build up crews she could really on and not bash some sexist asshole upside the head with a hammer when he tried to do the ‘good ‘ol boy’ Southern charmer routine on her.
She and John hadn’t made any formal commitment to one another but every time she did go out with her friends, no guy could compare to John. Because when John came back to her, they picked up where they left off. They sat outside on the porch swing, slow danced in her bedroom, made love like there was no tomorrow.
Late Summer 2021, Afghanistan
John listened to the a/c unit in their room moan and groan like it was dying as he opened up his laptop and booted it up. He’d been trying to answer Carolyn’s last email for three days but with preparations for the withdrawal ramping up fast personal time was at a premium.
“Hey, man. Got a minute?” Bryce asked as he walked in and sat down on his bunk.
“Sure.” John set his laptop down and turned to face his best friend.
“How do you and Carolyn… how have you two kept it going despite barely spending any time together?”
“There’s a connection between us, and every moment we do spend together just… strengthens that, I guess. I feel like I can talk to her about anything even when there is crap I can’t talk about. And besides, she said she’d wait for me.”
“Why? She’s got her own life and everything. I mean, it’s not you’re a bad guy or not for her, or some… oh crap, man I’m sorry.”
“Christie left, didn’t she.” John saw right through Bryce’s meandering questions to what Bryce really needed to talk about.
“She’s been assigned to the evac at Kabul airport.”
Both of them knew the withdrawal from Afghanistan was probably going to be as chaotic and crazy as it was in Saigon in 1975, but here there was an added risk of suicide bombers said to be targeting the airport.
“I’ve known Christie for ten years and although we haven’t been ‘faithful’ to each other, every time I see her I just want to be with her. But she says she’s the river to my highway though and she says that’s why we don’t stand a chance with each other. Do you ever feel that way about you and Carolyn?”
John didn’t have an answer to that because he hadn’t let himself think about any kind of a future when in-country. But he knew the war was ending and he had to go home and face Carolyn, and find the words to talk about their future.
It was a gorgeous September afternoon when Carolyn walked down to the street to her house. The meeting with her latest clients was within walking distance of her house so she’d enjoyed the sunshine to and from, and the meeting was with a lesbian couple so no male egos, just lots of laughs and great ideas.
The war in Afghanistan had ended with a hasty evacuation and a terrible tragedy at the Kabul airport there, and for close to twelve hours she didn’t know if John and her brother were among the wounded, or the dead. They got out a brief message to her letting her know they were alright and would be home when they finished in-processing and de-briefing.
So many lives were now hanging in the balance of the future and the past, she thought to herself as she rounded the corner and started up the street to her house. She realized in the five years with John that they had never once talked about their future together, or if they had one at all. She had never asked about any plans he had and she wondered she would follow him around if he stayed in the Army and got re-assigned to a base out of state, or even out of the country.
Then she opened the gate at her front walk and as she turned around after closing it behind her, she saw John step out of her house. She ran up the walk to him and he grabbed her as she raced up the steps. They held each other tightly as she closed her eyes against the sudden heat of tears in her eyes. She was so happy to see him but felt almost overwhelmed with emotions, too.
Then she heard the door open and John let her go and set her on her feet as her brother walked out of the house. She gave him a hug then looked at them. “So, will you two be here for a while or…?”
“Well I was headed to the store to get a few things so we can barbeque tonight.” Bryce said.
“Then let me give you my list from my phone here.” She pulled out her phone and sent the list to his phone. “Try not to forget everything I have on it.”
“I won’t.” Bryce kissed her cheek then gave her a wink before heading down the sidewalk to his truck.
As her brother pulled away, Carolyn went over to the porch swing and sat down. John sat on the railing in front of her, looking down at the floor like he was trying to figure out what to say. Then he looked right up at her and spoke.
“Before I met you, I thought I’d just do my twenty in the Army then buy a little cabin someplace and live out the rest of my days alone. But since I’ve met you, I haven’t thought like that at all…. I’m leaving the Army. I don’t want you traipsing from base to base with me or just waiting here. But I’m sure about much else…”
She got up and went over to him. “I’ve waited for you to come home to me, to want to come home to me. And here you are. Here we are.”
He held her gently in his arms as they were face to face, and heart to heart.
“I don’t know what I want to do with myself, like, work-wise.”
She smiled at that opening, “You can swing a hammer, right? I could always use another hand on my crews, and you can work with me until you get your feet underneath you.”
“I’d like that.” He smiled at that then kissed her softly.
“All we can do is take things one day at a time.”
“I love you, Carolyn.”
“I love you, too.”
They shared another kiss, then a soft wave of heat began to rise up between them. He stood up then scooped her up in his arms. She wound her arms around his neck and said in his ear.
“Maybe it was you, maybe it was me, but it sure feels right. Now, and forever.”
Please visit Michele on her website: https://michelesayre.com