I argued my case. "I know I have about 4 or 5 days already earned. By the time we get back to Norfolk, I'll have incurred the other couple days. Please Burke, I really want to spend more time with her."
He looked at me from his chair. "Master Chief Anderson's niece?"
"Yeah." I affirmed.
"Don't you already have someone back in Norfolk?" He countered.
Boy, was this going to be tough to dance around. Burke and his ethics. Take the good with the bad. I shrugged my shoulders. "It's a little complicated."
"Relationships are." He replied. Things weren't looking up at all. This is when he let out a heavy sigh. "But," He continued, "far be it for me to get involved in other people's personal affairs. I'll pass your request through the chain of command."
I let out a breath of relief. "Thanks." I conveyed.
"I'm sure I can get Chief Gonzalez to sign off on it, and he can probably get Mr. Booty to do the same. Since you'll be staying at Master Chief Anderson's home through the duration, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be approve. I'll let you know the final word on Sunday, okay?"
"I really appreciate it." My jubilation was showing. I headed for the door to leave his office when he sounded off for the final word. "Carroll." I stopped and faced him. "If you ever need to talk to me about anything, my door is always open. You know that, right?"
The look of concern was written on his face. I thought about what he said. "Yes, I know this." I told him, then closing the door behind me.
We hit our port in Greece, but I didn't leave the ship that first day. I had fire watch the second day. On the third day, I went with Hrisko to hang out at the USO. We had lunch and walked around for a few hours before going back to the ship. We pulled out and were now heading back to Naples. Saturday morning, we were called to the hanger bay for 7AM emergency divisional muster. This was unusual. We normally never mustered while out at sea. There were rumors of an incident that occurred the second night in Greece about some fight that broke out in a bar between a group of S-3 personnel and some Marines. I noticed some of my friends with cuts and bruises so I could only imagine if they were involved. Since it didn't concern me, and I wasn't one to ride the wave of rumors, I had up to this point disregarded it. However, the situation was now going to officially be addressed.
None of the sales office personnel attended. The muster was headed by first class petty officer Say and 2nd class petty officers Burke and Penix. First class petty officer Say was in his early to mid forties. He was the quiet type. Hardly saying a word. Penix was in charge of the PX on this cruise. He arrived shortly before our departure. He was a good guy and he and I had spoken to each other here and there. We weren't close friends or anything, but he was from a town just outside of Columbus, Ohio, where I was born, so we had that in common. A couple of Buckeye fans.
"Listen up!" Penix shouted. "Quiet down. Now, we had an incident in Greece. A fight between some squids and jarheads in a bar. They tore the place up pretty bad. We know that some of our guys were involved, and we know who they are. The owner of the bar is really pissed off about it. He filed a complaint with the Captain and in return, contacted the sales office. Needless to say, they aren't too happy about it either. Here's the deal, the owner is willing to drop any and all charges in exchange for reimbursement for the damages. The Marines in question will be contacted and required to pay half of the damages. Our guys will pay the other half. Total damages are estimated at 2,800 dollars. That means we have to pay 1,400 dollars. The sales office is offering immunity. They don't care who pays the money, but you have until zero hundred hours Sunday night when we hit port in Naples to come up with it. Failure to do so will result in those responsible to have their liberty cards pulled, and you will face the Captain. Once you get the money together, turn it over to me and I will turn it over to the sales office, no questions asked. You got it? Good! Dismissed."
None of the guys in the berthing were happy about it. Shortly after muster broke, Hrisko approached me. "Cannonball wants you to meet him in the laundry."
"When?" I asked him.
"ASAP" He answered.
I made my way through the passages and to the hatch that led down to the back part of the ship's laundry facility. When I entered Cannonball's section, of which he was in charge of, I saw him sitting at his desk. "What's up Cannonball?" I greeted.
He was one of the guys involved. He showcased a busted lip. "Carroll, we need your help."
He told me the story of what went down that night. He, Neil, Torok, Taco, O'Brien, and Keplinger (Kaps), were the ones involved. It all started when Neil showed his ass again. I should have known. The problem? They put together their money, but still came up a little short. About six hundred dollars short. "You're the only one I know who could possibly help us."
"Let me guess." I took a stab. "You want me to chip in the rest?"
"Just a loan dude, just a loan. You will be paid back, with interest. You got my word. Payday isn't until a week after we hit Naples. You'll get your money then. I swear."
"That fucking Neil." I lashed out. I then looked at him. "You got the other 800?"
"Right here." He pulled it out to show me. "We put it together right after muster. You were the only one we could think of that could put up the rest until payday. Carroll, I'm a third class petty officer, I can't be busted for this. I can't go back to being an E-3 pay-grade again."
I liked Cannonball. I also liked Torok, Taco and O'Brien. Kaps I didn't know all too well. He and I never hung around in the same circle to this point. As for Neil, if it were just him then maybe I would have said no to the loan. He was the one that needed to be taught a lesson. "Hand it over." I requested. "I'll front you the rest of it. I'll give it to Penix tonight to give to the sales office."
"I owe you, dude. I owe you big time."
"Let this be a learning experience." I said. "Next time Neil starts shit with someone, don't help him, just let him get his ass kicked."
I took the cash and kept my word. I turned it over to Penix. He appeared a little mystified that I would bring it to him, but he didn't ask any questions. The situation got resolved. When Sunday rolled around, Burke came into the shop shortly after closing. As always, I was the last one in there. I liked to hang out after everyone was gone so I could write my poetry in my book(s). He was smiling ear to ear when he handed me my leave request. "I'll be honest with you," he said, "I wasn't sure you would get it approved, I was just trying to be optimistic, but after what you did for the guys, Mr. Booty signed off on it. You got your seven days."
I was overjoyed!
Looking back, it's easy to see how the universe was working for me, even if I couldn't see it then. Burke convinced me that my selfless act took a 50/50 request and turned it into a hundred percent. The sales office did everything in their power to protect its guys. The last thing they wanted was for us to end up standing before the Captain. When one of their guys demonstrated this same character trait, they rewarded them. This was my reward.
When I woke up Monday morning, not only were we back in Naples, but I was now on vacation for seven days. I hit the first liberty boat out of there, packed up and roaring to go. When I got to shore, I called Sevina. She showed up shortly after. I thought we would be staying at her Uncle's place again, but I thought wrong. Instead, we went to Rome for a few days to visit the Colosseum, Laz. (I think that's how you spell it) It was a beautiful sight to behold, and I had the greatest time ever. It was so romantic. I was caught up in it all.
We had fun throughout the day, and the nights? Well, they were filled with passion, the reckless abandon type. We didn't end up at Capri again until Friday morning. Robert had a lady friend visiting for the weekend so it turned into a couples weekend more or less, filled with boating, dining out, and long walks on the beach with Sevina, and love making on the beach with Sevina. (That took place my last night on Capri.)
We never ran out of things to talk about. (No, I never told her about Lori and Bernie) I was in paradise, or at least, that's how it felt. I learned quickly though, that paradise is nothing but a state of the heart. Laying on the beach with her that last night, I made a fool of myself. Reality soon crept in. It did so in the form of my aspirations seeping through some inadvertent words. "You should come spend some time with me in the states."
We were laying down when she rolled halfway on top of me. "What?"
I stared up at her, looking eye to eye. "When I get back to Norfolk." I explained. "I'll get a place and you can come see me if you like. You have been to the states before?"
"Well yes, but ..."
"But what?" I prodded.
"To come visit you or to stay?" She wanted to know.
"I don't know." I mumbled. "Either or. You come to visit and maybe you stay."
She rolled off of me and sat up, her knees to her chest, staring out into the ocean. "Carroll, I thought we had an understanding of what was going on."
That didn't sound good. I sat up next to her. "What is going on?" I delved.
She ran her hand through her hair before turning to me. "I like you." She told me. "That's as far as it goes."
Suddenly, I started to get the picture. "I see." I whispered, my balloon completely busted. Seriously though, what was I thinking? That she would give up all this and relocate with me in Norfolk, Virginia? Not even I would have been willing to do that, and I have only been here for a few weeks of my life where as she was born and practically raised here. Yeah, nice going Carroll. I tried for the proverbial save. "No, yeah, I mean, sure, I know what's going on here. We're just two people having a great time together. You know, while it lasts. I was just rambling some thoughts inside a moment is all."
To her credit, she gave me that one. "I am having a great time with you, too. You're an incredible guy. I'm so glad to have met you. I have no regrets."
"Me either." I half lied. "So we're cool, right?" I asked her, placing my arm around her and her, leaning into me. "Yes," she assured me, "we're cool."
We spent another hour or so sitting there together and enjoying the sounds of the ocean waves hitting the shore before we got up and walked back to the house.
The next day, after lunch and saying my goodbyes to Robert and his girl friend, she and I made our way back to the liberty boat dock. I remember us standing there, holding her close to me, smelling her and feeling her for the very last time. That familiar knot in my stomach again. We kissed for several minutes before the inevitable. "Thanks for the memories." She whispered.
"Ditto." I replied. One last kiss for the memory books when she handed me something. "Here, a picture of me so you'll never forget me."
I took it gingerly. "Like I could ever do that." I informed her. She smiled. I smiled back.
I picked up my bag and made my way to the liberty boat and helped myself inside. I kept my eyes on her the whole time, waving at each other until she was out of sight. Too small for my naked eye to see any longer. Now all I had of her was the picture I held in my hand. That and the most empty feeling inside that I ever recall feeling before in my entire young life. If it weren't for the other guys in the boat with me, I might have cried.
For about a week after, I did nothing but cut hair and mope around like some love stricken fool. I missed her terribly. In my alone moments after closing the shop up, I would sit there in one of the chairs, writing poetry and staring at her picture. One night, Hrisko happened by. he caight me in a moment. I was writing in my book when he entered. "You okay?"
I looked up at him. Somehow, I knew he knew how I was feeling. "Yeah. I'm fine."
He sat down in the chair next to me. "I brought you something to eat." Handing over a styrofoam container. I placed it on the counter behind the chair. "Thanks, I'm not hungry."
"Writing poetry?" He asked, eluding the topic of her. I handed the book to him. "Yeah."
He started reading. "Is this about her?" (So much for eluding the topic of her.)
"The last five poems are for her." I stated.
"You know," He began, "you still have Lori."
I got to my feet. "Yeah, I guess so." I reached into my pocket and tossed him the key to the shop. "Lock up when you're done. Leave the key and the book on my rack."
"Where are you going?"
"To get her out of my system." I said.
"You're secret place?"
"Yeah." I answered, then disappeared out the door.
Everyone knew I had a secret place on the ship. That place was a hatch on the other side of the anchor room which led to a a balcony that hung on the side of the ship. Port side I think. It wasn't very big, but it is where I would go to think and just look out at the ocean at night. A quiet place to be alone. I stood against the metallic railing and stared out at the sea. I pulled her picture out. I looked at it, but I couldn't really see it. It was too dark for that. I had to use my imagination. That gave me an idea. So I tore it up into four pieces and tossed it into the water below.
Now the only time I would see her face would be in my memories. Or when I would go back and read the poems I wrote about her. Those poems were fast becoming a scrap book of memories more than anything else.
I kept standing there against that railing. The thought crossed my mind to just leap over it and drop into the salt waves below. How long, I wondered, would it take before anyone noticed me missing? I guess it didn't matter. It was about that time when it happened. I noticed, by the moons light, a family of whales emerging from the water. They were swimming parallel to the ship. One after another. Maybe they came to comfort me. Who knows? I stood there to take it all in. It was a magnificent sight to see. Nothing short of spectacular.
I wish I had someone with me to share it with.