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Casey checked into lodging and took a taxi to the dorms where she would be staying for the next six weeks. She climbed three flights of stairs hunched under the tall duffle on her back with her smaller messenger bag in her left hand, leaving her right free out of habit and she was finally to her room. She unceremoniously dropped her heavy canvas bag with a loud thud in the tiny common room between the pleather couch and kitchenette and rolled her sore shoulders. She planted her fists on the swell of her ass and leaned back, releasing a loud moaning sigh as the stretch released her tight muscles. That damn ruck was no end of trouble for her.
while stretching, her mind flashed to earlier in the day, when she was lost in the airport, and had turned around too quickly and the centripetal force of the giant bag had pulled her to the ground. While she struggled to remove her arms from the straps she kicked out her legs and windmilled her arms like an upended turtle. A nice security guard did his best not to laugh as he reached out to help her and asked,
“Are you hurt? Do you need some help?”
His blue eyes sparkled with his barely suppressed laughter.
Her cheeks flaming with shame she told him,
“No thanks. I’m fine. Only thing hurt is my pride” as she rolled to her side and pushed herself upright.
Her cheeks got hot all over again remembering her embarrassment, so she carefully slung the bag back to her shoulder without turning her body too far, and she entered the open, sparsely furnished bedroom. She sat heavily on the bare twin bed with the bag and looked around.
“Home sweet home or whatever.” She rolled her eyes as she took in the small window that only opened a crack, blocky wooden desk, chair, and wall locker, and the bleached white sheets and scratchy wool blanket. I’ll definitely pick up a cheap blanket and pillow, she thought. I can’t spend another 6 weeks sleeping under one of those like in basic training.
She laid on the cool sheets and tried to quiet her brain and sleep. But she tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable on the thin mattress while her mind whirled with memories of the last time she was here. She’d lived in a different barracks then, not as “nice” as this one. It had only been three years since then, but she felt ten years older. Back then, she was brand new out of boot camp, sporting a v shaped sunburn on her forehead and the odd mix of confidence and compliance that marked non-prior service students. She remembered her first impression of the school and the career field. They’d shown a video of the atomic weapons tests over Bikini Atoll and she was appalled. They’d told her this job was like working for the Red Cross. Now, she read all she could find on chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons instead of fearing them. Then, she’d been 19 and basically a virgin, and had dated a non commissioned officer 6 years her senior in her class- the biggest violation she could have possibly committed. Then, she deployed and “dated” another, older higher ranking guy totally out of her league thanks to the male to female ratios. After that, she’d deployed to Korea and repeated the pattern. And now she found herself here, alone.
After a fitful sleep on the thin mattress trying to avoid the scratchy wool she opened one eye, and looked at the clock- 0445. “Seriously, an hour before I have to get up?” she said to the empty room as she rolled over and covered her face with the pillow. She thought she heard movement in the small room next door, but crushed the pillow tighter over her ears and eyes.
She laid there, seething about the fact that she’d been awakened by the chanting sounds of a squad of men counting off repetitions in their physical fitness formation directly under her window. She’d need some earplugs, she told herself, visualizing it on her mental list along with the comforter and some cleaning supplies.
At 6:40, after two cycles of the snooze button, With a groan, she threw one leg out of the bed and rocked herself up using her abs into a low fighter stance beside the bed. She threw a quick jab, jab, cross, roundkick combo before bouncing on the balls of her feet and scrubbing her scratchy eyes to brush the sleep away. “Yeah, I’ll practice combos tonight,” she said to the empty room. She closed her eyes and pictured her virtual, mental calendar and counted the days until her blackbelt test- after the six weeks here, it’s three weeks till the test, so that’s 6 classes and a week of pre-testing to get ready. “I’ll definitely have to practice in here, I don’t want to be out there prancing around for anyone’s entertainment,” she scoffed, looking at the empty squad fitness pad below her room. “These rooms are so small,” she thought, using her arms and steps to measure it out- 6′ by 8′, “So, that’s maybe one kick-punch-block combo. I’ll never be able to do forms in here. And sparring is gonna be out, so that doesn’t leave much for me to practice here. But I really don’t want to postpone the test. It’s already taken this long.”
At the same time eryaman bayan escort that Casey was obstinately hiding under her pillow, JR rolled through the gates, the sun breaking the horizon in his rear view. He quickly rubbed his stubbled face while the gate guard scanned his ID. “Huh, that’s new,” he mumbled. Then again, the last time he’d been here was a few weeks before the towers fell and everything changed.
He swung the pale green, late model Toyota into the barracks, easily threw on his ruck, and took the stairs two at a time to the third floor, last door on the right, and quietly entered. The room on the left was closed, so he dropped his gear in the one to the right- which mirrored its partner on the left with a twin bed and wall locker on the left, impossibly square foldout desk tower on the right, and thin, grayish floor a few shades paler than the overwashed wool blanket on the bed. He laid down, feeling the rough wool through his tee shirt, and closed his eyes for the first time since yesterday afternoon when he’d finally left his base, at roughly the same time he would have left for the flight they had booked him. It would have taken much less than the almost 16 hours, but then he wouldn’t have had his truck and that was simply unacceptable. His mind drifted to the best fishing spots he could remember and he heard the small shower next to his wall rattle and hum. He’d only mentally catalogued three fishing spots when the water turned off. He looked at his watch- 6:50. He had 45 mins. Class started at 8, so he should be there at 7:45, leaving 5 to throw on his uniform, and 5 to walk to class.
He rocked forward out of the bed and dropped to the floor, knocking out 100 push-ups before he heard the door click shut behind his departing roommate.
After a quick shower, Casey was dressed in her stiffly starched uniform with the crease neatly dividing her two-stripe insignia indicating that she was still part of the ‘bottom three’ or ‘airbabies’ as the newly minted Sergeants referred to them. Her freshly painted black jump boots reflected the light. Her hair was tied tightly back in a tiny bun, barely manageable and held together with bobby pins to keep the shorter strands controlled. She fitted her cap over the bun, slung her black messenger bag with the symbols from
chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents over her shoulder so it split her breasts and hung over her left hip, leaving the right hand to salute, and grabbed a Diet Coke in her left.
She walked the short way to the massive brick building- positively grand looking for an Army building on this particular base of cinder blocks and shades of brown paint- where all the Chem-bio classes were held. Far apart from the other Air Force schools stationed here, hers was in its own building shared with high level Army leadership and professional development courses. She’d forgotten that this building even had its own coffee shop, because a year ago as a non-prior service student, a noob, a skeeter-wing, she’d been barred from going there and had to endure the aroma of fresh coffee while abstaining. True, back then she hadn’t developed a taste for bitter coffee, preferring a Diet Coke like she carried today. Once inside the tiled lobby filled with the service flags of all the branches and all the state flags, and paintings of staid generals in different iterations of Army class A’s, she found a spot to sit down in a corner. She shook her soda, and let the carbonation hiss out before looking at her watch to see that it was only a few minutes past 7. She pulled her travel folder out of the messenger bag, checking to see that her flight and baggage receipts were tucked in the envelope labeled in all caps, “reimbursement receipts.” She slid her reporting directions out- classroom 2B, 0800 start Monday, September 21, 2003 Just under two years since she’d deployed for what became Operation Enduring Freedom, and she was FINALLY getting to come back for a combined control center and skill level upgrade training, about a year behind schedule. “Par for the course,” she mumbled, “considering I’m currently Airman First Class of the Air Force thanks to them taking my rank when I switched to Active Duty and to fucking Wheatley ‘losing’ my below the zone package.”
Her vision traveled down the tunnel of time to last year. Her body shook slightly with the same vibration she’d felt flow through her that day. She saw herself rigidly holding the position of attention in front of Wheatley’s desk. Saw his neck rolls over his BDU collar, felt the hot rage boil thrrough her as she gritted her teeth and spat the fateful words, “just because you’re fucking her doesn’t mean you can publicly question my integrity on her behalf” before spinning away, eyes blinded by rage, seeing blackness at the edges before striding purposefully for the bathroom where she immediately gasped a sob as she sat heavily in the stall. She tried to calm her breathing while the black spots ebbed and the adrenaline leached from her body.
She shook herself from her escort etimesgut flashback in time to see a few more Air Force uniforms moving toward the entrance. One, a tall, thin female walking slowly, eyes darting about as if for threats, and a solid male who strode like a big cat assessing the savannah for potential food in the form of weaker or abandoned gazelles. Only, he wouldn’t be a lion, not with the bluish tint to his scalp, hinting at black hair, and the grey eyes, alert and intense; maybe a panther.
Instead of going upstairs to the classrooms, they went straight through the lobby. She heard the female say, “need coffee.” To which, the dark haired panther male scoffed- “You? I just drove 26 hours.”
“Well, you did decide to drive, even after they said they wouldn’t authorize the cost of the drive, so…”
“Yeah, Sam, I know. But I couldn’t be without my truck.”
“Mhm. Then let’s both get coffee, I’ll even buy,” she said, leaning her shoulder into him lightly.
Casey felt the heat rise into her throat and quickly shook it away, taking a drink to cool her suddenly parched throat. She climbed the big, open stair case, turned to the left twice without thought and entered the first classroom to the left and grabbed a spot at in the corner, with a good view of the board, elbow room for her writing hand, and a clear view and path to the exit. The clock read 7:25. Even by military standards for on time arrival, she had 20 minutes. She looked around the room, seeing that plotting markers, compasses, plotting templates, and spiral notebooks were at 12 stools on the angled drafting tables. “Ok, 12 people in class, that’s manageable” she thought, taking some deep breaths as she appreciated the silent emptiness of the room. “I wonder if I know everyone. If panther dude and tall chick are in this class. I hope there are some cool people, otherwise it’s gonna be a long six weeks.”
Downstairs, at the previously prohibited coffee shop, Sam stepped up to the register, her hand cupped around her mouth and ordered. “One venti mocha latte with extra foam and caramel syrup and one…” she looked over her shoulder and gestured to the barista, so JR said, “a large coffee. Black.”
“Of course you’d get a black coffee.”
“Yep. Coffee black, whiskey straight, or water from the tap.”
“You know, liking things doesn’t make you less manly.”
“I don’t like my drinks to masquerade as something other than what they are. Besides, mocha-frappe-fru-fru lattes are for girls. And sissies,” he declared as he executed an about face, his open coffee cup steady so he didn’t spill a single drop, and strode toward the class. “Don’t want to be late.”
The classroom was mostly full of older NCO’s- either later career cross-trainees who weren’t gonna get promoted in security forces, ammo, or some other hooah-hooah highly motivated field, or long-timers in the career field getting recertified since the relatively recent change to automated plotting. There were a couple seats on the corner, next to a small Airman bent over the books, focused on reading. JR rounded behind her and sat to her left, noticing her coffee and whiskey colored hair and an undeniably large rack, resting on the table as she bent to read, almost unaware of his presence so close to her. To her left, Samantha sat, the sugary, rich scent of her coffee wafting into Casey’s awareness.
“Smells good,” she said, looking up to see that it was the tall girl and prowling panther who’d sat down. Her heart jumped into her throat, so she washed it down with a sip of her diet soda before reaching out her hand and stating, “I’m Airman McGee. Casey McGee” dropping the words first class ‘ when she’d noticed that they all wore Airman ranks. Panther was an A-one-C like her and stretch was a Senior Airman.
“Hi, I’m Samantha Duff and this is JR. We’re stationed together at Magallow. Where are you?”
“FE Dunham-out West.”
“I think we might have gone to school around the same time- there was a newbie class that started when I was in block 6, so we only overlapped by a week. Wasn’t there a tall girl, Kodactil, Kodannet, something?”
“Yeah, that was my class. It was just me and Kodadek, and a bunch of prior service guys-mostly cops, and a senior master sergeant personnellist. I was in the guard then. Been active duty now for a year and a half. And I’m still an A1C. I’ve probably been an A1C longer than anyone; three and a half years of you don’t count the three months I was a senior Airman. And evidently the Air Force doesn’t, so…” she finished in a mumble.
“It is what it is,” she heard like a rumble of thunder, in her left ear. “No sense in getting pissed.”
“Umm, whatever you say, super trooper.” Despite her attempt at an insultiment (a term she’d made up and meant combining a compliment with an insult so as to confuse the opponent and not swell his already giant ego, while obliquely expressing appreciation for them) at him in a cool, measured tone, the heat started to rise up her chest, threatening elvankent escort to appear on her face and give her away. She quickly leaned down to drop her coke in her bag and take a steadying breath to will the blush to fade.
When she popped back up, face still cool, Sam said, “nice bag- Korea right? I can tell by the embroidery and tag.”
Now she did blush, at being caught out with a Korean souvenir, custom embroidered bag all but declaring her love for a career field she regularly made fun of, insisting it wasn’t who she was, but just a job.
“Yeah, I went three times. Stayed just long enough to do a the big penn-series exercise, drink, and buy cheesy souvenirs. You should see my collection of mink blankets, painted ‘silk’ tapestries, custom coins, fake silk sheets, and even an engraved trophy for my brother. I did all the noob shit. To include some soju fueled bad decisions” she admitted, seeing the faces of some of those bad decisions in her memory.
“Oh, well if you ever need any more embroidered or engraved stuff, I do that for fun,” Samantha answered, either not noticing or ignoring Casey’s self-deprecating tone. “We all have custom mugs with our call signs-isn’t that right, Junior?” She asked JR, leaning around Casey and grinning, her hand over her mouth.
“Yup. And a good NCO always has his mug, and never spills.”
“Or hers,” both Casey and Samantha said in unison. Casey elaborated, “any good NCO always has his or her mug.”
“Yeah, yeah. What, are you some sort of feminist?”
“So what if I am. Stating that women are NCO’s too doesn’t make me feminist. Believing women are equal to men does, though.”
Any further debate ended when their instructor, a short, brown skinned man with jet black, slicked hair, entered the room and began class without preamble.
“Ohh, Sergeant Whyte, I had him in tech school,” Sam whispered.
Casey recognized him too. He was one of the only ones she hadn’t had. She breathed a sigh of relief. He probably wouldn’t say anything about her torrid tech school romance with a prior service NCO as two others already had while she’d sat alone and vulnerable in the empty classroom. The first had simply stuck his head in and said, “McGee, welcome back. And without your shadow.” Which she hadn’t understood until a few minutes later when another instructor who she’d had in tech school came in and leaned on the podium, saying, “McGee, I’m surprised that’s still your name. We had a pool that you’d be knocked up with a new name six months after you left. That you and that dude Rhoades would be married and divorced by now-another Star-crossed tech-school romance at its fateful, foregone end.”
“Um, nope. Still McGee. No kids- that I know of,” she grinned briefly at her mockery, “not divorced, but yeah, we’re not together anymore.” Then the blush heated her face as she said, “Wait, you guys knew we were together, and didn’t bust us?”
“Nah, too much paperwork. Plus, it was kind of hot. We used to dare each other to say shit to make you blush and him fume. It was cute. And fun.”
“Well, I’m sure glad we provided you some entertainment,” she said through pursed lips. But then her heart had raced and her face had flamed with the memories of all the things they’d done. And all the places they’d done them. The possibility of consequences, and the fact that he was older, and experienced and she was making up for lost time, not having dated in high school, and begging her best guy friend to take her virginity just months before basic training in his mom’s car parked on a wooded street in the snow, had fueled their passion.
“Good to see you, McGee,” he said, and leaning back into the classroom added, “and to see we can still make you blush.”
Despite her shame, her loins had heated along with her face, as she thought of Jackson Rhodes. She’d been so in love with him. Infatuated really. After their three months together, they’d talked daily, long conversations where they shared everything, and he’d finish by talking dirty to her, coaxing her to awkwardly try to do the same. Finally, after six months of waiting tables and Guard drills, and one 4 day visit across the country where they’d worn each other out, they contrived for her to go active duty. She’d had to sacrifice her rank, but it was almost a guarantee that she would get stationed with him. He’d cajoled his flight Officer, whose father was a General, to put in a personnel request specifically for McGee; plus theirs was the command of entitlement so there were only 8 possible places for her to end up. While the classroom had filled, she’d been pulled back down the tunnel of time to their 2 years together. The four months apart while deployed, the three, one, and three months while she’d been to Korea, their inevitable breakup and him leaving with a civilian girl he’d met working at the rodeo. She tried not to think of all the betrayals she’d committed. Or all the sex they’d had in all the different ways. She willed her cheeks not to flush, busying herself with her reading to refocus her mind. That’s how JR and Sam had found her. Now, she was grateful for her ability to keep her face mostly neutral, with the exception of that traitorous, uncontrollable blush that would rise, unbidden to her cheeks at any off color remark or obvious flirtation.
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