In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

Can he not see that she’s been crying?

 

“Sorry, Mr. Johnson. Here’s my paper, I hope it’s not too late.”

 

I don’t know if he’s trying to act tough around me, or something, but Eric’s coming off as a total dick, and I’m not about to let him shoo this girl out of the office without further explanation.

 

“I’m Eric’s wife, Natalie, nice to meet you . . .”

 

“Danielle.” A flash of a smile, and it’s gone in an instant.

 

I tilt my head to the side. “Danielle. Are you feeling okay?”

 

“Natalie—” Eric cuts in. I stick up my hand and lift my eyebrow at him. Suddenly, he gets it. “Is something the matter, Danielle?” He redirects his words.

 

“Um . . .” she starts, but her quivering chin slows her down.

 

“It’s okay, Hon.” My pulse races as I slowly recognize the unmistakable, specific, look on her face.

 

No.

 

“My boyfriend . . .”

 

Shit.

 

“He, um . . . today he leaves . . .”

 

No fucking way . . .

 

“He’s being deployed today for Afghanistan.”

 

“Jesus.” I hug the pint-sized stranger. She loses strength in my arms and cries into my shoulder. “When is he leaving?” I whisper into her hair.

 

“In two hours.” She pulls away and wipes her eyes.

 

“What branch is he?”

 

“Marines.” When she says it, her face lights up in pride. I smile back. “I’m sorry I wasn’t at class this morning, Mr. Johnson, we just—” she blushes and looks to the floor.

 

Yeah, we just . . .

 

“I’m proud of your boyfriend, Miss Kimball, but you need to understand that you have responsibilities . . .”

 

The hair on the back of my neck stands on end as I watch Danielle’s face fall under my husband’s words. He’s lost his damn mind.

 

“Eric!” I yell with such force that they both jump.

 

Eric clenches his teeth. “Natalie, this is my office—”

 

“And you’re being an ass. Come on Danielle, I’ll walk you to your car.”

 

I grab Danielle’s hand, shoot Eric a nasty look, and slam his office door behind me.

 

That was really unprofessional of me. But really nasty of him. I win.

 

“I didn’t mean to cause trouble up there,” Danielle says as we reach her car, parked haphazardly between two spots.

 

“Don’t worry about it. He’s been really stressed about the Ph.D. stuff—you know what, that’s not important. Don’t share this incident with your classmates, okay? Just go see your boyfriend off. Kiss him until they clear their throats and you’re sure you should be embarrassed because you’re the last one there. But don’t be. Don’t be embarrassed. Just kiss him with everything you have.”

 

“Thank you, Natalie.” After a quick hug, Danielle speeds out of the parking lot.

 

I don’t envy her. Not one bit.

 

With that, I slide into my car and press my head against the steering wheel.

 

Not one bit.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

“So, what’s next? What happens now?” I asked him between thick kisses on my dorm bed.

 

The past week had been non-stop dinners, kissing, and sex. Studying filled in what little blanks there were. It was like we were trying to drink ourselves full of each other before the drought.

 

“Tomorrow we say goodbye, then I train in Texas for a few weeks, then we go.” Ryker ran his nose along the outside of my ear and whispered, like he was telling me fairytale; a bedtime story that I could wake up from.

 

“I don’t want to tell you goodbye.” I blinked some tears away. He pulled his head back when they hit his cheek.

 

“No tears tonight, all right? I want to see you smile. You have a gorgeous smile, Nat.”

 

Of course, that made me smile.

 

I kept my smile and wiped away more tears. “Will you be able to call me?”

 

“I think so.” Ryker slid his hands up my shirt, dragging his lips behind them.

 

Stop talking about it, Nat. Enjoy this.

 

He just needed me that night, the September 10th Natalie, not the Military Girlfriend Natalie. I was happy to give it to him, but suddenly felt nervous—as if it was our first time. I quickly shook those thoughts away and realized I needed to capture every sensory memory of him that I could before he went off to war.

 

Fucking war.

 

“Do you have to go back to your dorm tonight?” I asked, sitting up on my elbows.

 

He laughed and pulled off his shirt, “No, Nat, I don’t have to be anywhere for the next twelve hours.”

 

“Yeah, you do.” I took of my shirt and pulled him back down on top of me, “Right here is where you have to be.” I reached between us and unzipped my pants; he sat up on his knees and did the same.

 

When he positioned himself between my legs he shook his head before kissing me. “Damn, you’re fine. How did I get so lucky?”

 

“You kissed me the second we met.” I let out a long sigh as he slid into me.

 

Ryker moved in and out of me slowly, but kept talking at first.

 

“That was ballsy of me, wasn’t it? Man,” he moaned, “you feel so good, Natalie.”