In his small but immaculate barracks room Marine First Sergeant Jake Weeks took off his uniform for the last time. In his mirror he saw a man who was more at home in a uniform than jeans and a pullover shirt. Tall and lithe with cropped grey hair, blue eyes and leathery tough skin, he looked exactly what he was: a warrior.
Or at least what he was up until today.
He had spent the afternoon in the NCO club laughing and joking with old friends and avoiding the question of what he was going to do now that he was retired. He was, in Marine vernacular, a Lifer. He had joined the Corps at seventeen and he had served thirty years. He had a lot of scars and a lot of medals to testify to his courage.
Yet, now he felt afraid.
"What the hell are you going to do now, Jake?" he asked himself.
He had no family except for his sister. He tried marriage for a while but it hadn't worked. There had been other women along the way but nothing permanent. As one of his former girlfriends had told him, "Jake, you're married to the Corps."
Perhaps she was right. As he took his bags downstairs and started packing up his truck, he felt the same sense of emptiness he'd felt when his divorce was finalized. A few drops of rain started falling as he started his truck. At the same time he heard the low, mournful sound of taps being played. He couldn't see it but he knew somewhere nearby the flag was being reverently lowered by a Marine color guard.
By the time he reached the front gate, the rain was really coming down. A Marine corporal waved him through. His immediate plan was to spend some time with his sister near Atlanta, and outside the gate he turned right following the narrow road to the highway leading south to San Diego. From San Diego, it was about a four day drive to Atlanta. He figured he could make it in less time if he drove hard and ate sandwiches and slept in the truck.
He was barely a couple of miles down the road when his plans changed. His truck was pushing sixty when he caught a glimpse of yellow out of the corner of his eye. His first thought was a deer running from the woods and he was already tapping the brakes and swerving before it registered that it was not animal but human.
He saw long blond hair and a pale terrified face in the reflection of his headlights and then he slid from the pavement onto the gravel edge of the road and somehow, miraculously, kept his truck from landing in the nearby ditch.
The woman jerked his truck door open and scrambled up into the seat beside him. She was shivering from the cold and the fact she had barely enough clothes to cover herself. She wore a black bikini outfit that he recognized as standard costume for some of the girls who worked the clubs in the nearby town.
Her long blond hair was streaked with mud. Mud stained her brief costume. Her face had a bad bruise on one side and there was another bruise on her neck as if someone had gripped her there. Her cheeks were tearstained.
"Please," she said, "please."
It seemed to be all she could say. He got out of his truck and pulled out one of his bags from under his truck tarp. He took out a heavy woolen blanket and a utility uniform shirt and trousers. He told her to wrap the blanket around herself and when she stopped shivering, she could change into dry clothes. She only nodded. Her teeth were chattering.
He stored his bag back underneath the tarp and stood in the rain long enough for her to wrap up in the blanket and change into dry clothes. When he climbed back into the cab, the sodden bikini costume was on the floor of the truck and she sat huddled against the far door, almost swallowed by the blanket and by his old uniform. He thought she looked like somebody's lost kid sister.
"What the hell are you doing out here?" he asked.
She laughed bitterly. "There was a misunderstanding. I thought I was being hired on as a dancer. My boss thought I should do my dancing on my back. He said I was going to be a great asset to him because I looked so young."
"You do look awfully young," Jake said.
"I'm twenty three," she said, "and I'm old enough to know better. The slimy little pervert actually hit me in the face. I told him he was a creep and I ran. I left all my stuff at the club. I don't know where I was running but it started raining and it got dark and I was scared. Then you came along. My white knight." She gave him a fearful glance from across the seat. "You are going to be a white knight, aren't you?"
"I've never been described that way before," Jake said, "but I'm not going to bother you any, if that's what you mean. You're young enough to be a daughter."
He thought he saw a sigh of relief in her face. He didn't blame her. He knew he looked scary sometimes. He had a shrapnel scar above his right eye and another scar across the side of his neck.
"You said you left all your stuff at the club," Jake said.
"Yes. The boss was nice enough to offer me the use of an apartment while I was getting settled. How could I have been so stupid?"
"It happens," Jake said. "Which club?"
"Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"We have to go by and get your stuff," Jake said.
"Oh no," she said. "That wouldn't be a good idea. I mean, you look like you could handle yourself but my boss is a real creep and he's got a creepy guy working for him."
"Just tell me where," Jake said. "And trust your white knight. We'll get it."
She studied his face for a moment and then she nodded and gave him directions. He knew the club. Some of the younger men of his company had frequented it. It was one of those places with loud music and half naked dancing girls. Jake didn't mind seeing naked girls but he preferred clubs with good steaks, good beer and soft jazz.
Jake had to detour to get to the club but the rain slowed to a drizzling mist and there were only a few cars in the parking lot when he pulled into the gravel light. It was a small, squat concrete building advertising cheep beer and wet t-shirt contests. Garish neon lights flickered in the dirty windows.
He pulled around back where there were half a dozen cabins. Jake knew the cabins also doubled as rooms the working prostitutes could take their clients. Jake was surprised the young woman beside him had not quickly caught on to the real purpose of the cabins but she was young and there was a sort of wide eyed innocence about her.
She went into the cabin where she had left her stuff. Jake got out of the truck and put on his heavy field jacket. He leaned against the fender. It didn't take long for her to pack her suitcase but as she was coming out, a couple of men stepped out of the back of the club and started walking in their direction. Jake straightened up.
Jake could see them well enough even if there was still a misty rain. He knew both of them. He heard the young woman gasp as she stepped behind him but he never took his eyes off the approaching men. One was heavyset and going bald. His paunch hung down below a colorful Hawaiian shirt. The other man was bulkier but it wasn't fat. He had thick forearms and a thick neck. He had piggy eyes.
"I see you brought Gayle back," the heavyset balding man said. "I appreciate that. I was worried about her."
"She's not staying, Pete." Jake said.
"You know me?" Pete asked.
"You should remember me," Jake said. "I had a talk with you once about how I feel about men who knock women around. I believe you might have fallen down and broken your arm that day."
Pete looked a little sickly as he remembered. He took an involuntarily step backwards and looked at his companion. The other man reached into his pocket but Jake slipped his Beretta from his coat pocket and both men froze.
"This is an M9 semi-automatic Beretta," Jake said. "It has a maximum range of 50 meters and I'm not sure it has the stopping power of my old colt 45 but it'll do some damage at this range."
The second man took his hand out of his pocket and both of them started backing away.
"I think you're making the intelligent decision," Jake said.
"Okay," Pete said. "Keep the bitch. She's more trouble than she's worth."
They both turned and quickly walked back into the club. Jake never moved until they closed the door behind them and he checked to make sure the safety was on and put the pistol back into his field jacket pocket.
"I think you really would have shot them," Gayle said as she climbed back into the truck beside him.
"I might have," he said. "That's why I didn't have too."
He asked Gayle where she wanted to go but she shrugged her shoulders and said she was too tired to think about it. She huddled against the door and closed her eyes and in a few minutes, she was asleep. He shook his head and started the truck.
The first night he drove seven hours. He finally stopped the truck in a rest area on the side of the road and slept until dawn. In the morning he pulled out his mess kit and used water from the rest area hose to wash his face, shave and brush his teeth. He had a package with extra soap and a toothbrush he shared with Gayle.
"Boy, you Marines are like boy scouts," she said. "You come prepared. Of course washing my face and brushing my teeth isn't enough. I'm starting to feel grungy."
"We'll find a motel tonight," he said. "And wipe that alarmed look off your face. I don't expect anything in return. But at least it will have a shower."
"Okay,' she said meekly.
It was a nice morning. It was cool after the rain and there were few cars on the road. She began to tell him about herself. Her real name was Gayle Margaret Dobbs and she was from Empty Barn Kentucky. She swore it was the actual name of the town. Her Dad had died of black lung disease from working in the coal mines. Her Momma had passed soon after from being worn out from hard work and just plain depression. A few relatives had taken her in but her Mother's brother was a drunk and loved to have little girls sit in his lap after he was drinking. Fortunately, an intelligent social worker had seen the danger in the situation and had gotten her out of the home before anything bad happened. After that, she had spent a lot of time in foster care.
When she was eighteen, she was on her own and started drifting from town to town and job to job. She had ambitions of becoming an actress and some starry eyed dreams about being discovered. Only she found out pretty quickly the truth about being discovered and that it was not a price she wanted to play. She had been a little desperate when Pete had offered her the job of waitress and sure the costume was a bit skimpy but she thought she could deal with it. Of course Pete hadn't mentioned all the strings attached to the job.
As the miles passed, he found he liked listening to her talk. She had known some tough times but it hadn't soured her. There was still a child like sense about her, as if she still believed in magic and that things had a happy ending. It had been a long time since Jake had believed in happy endings but the sound of her voice, her laughter, her hand touching his shoulder occasionally when she was making a point, all helped to lift a few burdens from his soul.
Still swallowed up in his uniform, he thought she looked young and fragile and couldn't imagine thinking of her in any other way.
They stayed that night in a motel along the highway. He was going to rent two rooms but she told him she would either sleep in the truck or share his room but she wasn't going to let him spend money on her. He got a room with two double beds. She told him she was going to take the longest, hottest bath anyone had ever taken and it seemed she did. After his shower, he slipped under the covers of the other bed and listened to her breathing for a while before he drifted off to sleep.
In the morning everything changed.
He dressed first and then went out to get breakfast. When he got back to the room, she had changed. She wore a pair of tight fitting western cut jeans, black suede knee high boots, and a red silk top that fit snug over her small, pear shaped breasts. Her hair was combed and she wore a trace of lipstick and she no longer looked so young or like somebody's sister. He was surprised at the sudden fierceness of his feelings.
He tried not to stare at her as they ate breakfast but she kept smiling as if she was aware of the effect she had on him.
He would have made good time that day except for Gayle. She had gotten more comfortable with him and she had a lot of enthusiasm for the things they saw and the people they met. She would notice a sign advertising some scenic tourists spot and shout, "I've never seen that. Can we go look?" And he would turn the truck off the road and pretend to be grumpy about making another detour but really sort of excited himself as he saw things through her eyes.
He was realizing how much the years had jaded him and had robbed him of seeing a lot of the beauty in things. She brought it back to him. He took a strange kind of job in the moments they spent together. He found himself starting at her, liking the long legs in the tight jeans and the way she moved and the smell of her. That night they slept again in double beds but he found it took him a long time to get to sleep.
In the morning she caught his eyes as she got out of bed. She was in a blue short nightgown and her long, shapely legs made his heart beat faster. She wrapped her robe around her quickly and went into the bathroom and he felt like a teenage boy caught peeping in his neighbor's window.
She dressed a little more casually for the day's journey, in a pair of loose fitting khaki shorts and a pullover University of Georgia sweatshirt, and tennis shoes, but she did have incredible shapely legs and it was hard for him to keep his mind on his driving.
They had talked about her continuing on the journey until his sister's house. He had assured her his sister would welcome her as a house guest for a while, but now he was beginning to wonder if it had been a good suggestion.
He was scared of his own feelings.
At breakfast a couple of young construction workers flirted with her and she flirted back a little and he felt a rage inside himself he had never felt before. He told himself he couldn't be jealous of her because they had no commitments to each other, but he was. He glared at the construction workers until they turned their heads away. When she climbed into the cab beside him, she looked flushed.
"What is wrong with you?" she said.
"Gee. I was mistaken then. You were looking at those two men in there like a wounded bear."
A lovesick bear was more like it but he wasn't going to admit it to her. She would have taken off in the other direction. It wasn't fair, he thought. This was not a time in his life for her to come along. She had a long life ahead of her, a lot of possibilities, and she wasn't about to get tangled up with an old warhorse. And he knew it wasn't just a need for her body although he was starting to ache for her, but he needed her closeness, her presence, her love. And she would never give him that. There was just too big a difference in them.
The day did not go well. He was miserable and he knew he was making her miserable. He was not a talkative person. Perhaps if he could have shared his feelings, she would have understood, but he couldn't. And it made him even more miserable to see the hurt he was putting her through.
That night she stayed in the bathroom for a long time and he had the sense she might have been crying. He didn't know how to fix things but as she came out of the bathroom he caught a glimpse of her short nightgown as she slipped under the covers and the tantalizing flash of her thighs.
He couldn't sleep. He listened to her breathing get heavy and then he had to get up and dress. He went outside and walked until he found an open bar. He sat in a corner and drank three beers and didn't feel any better. He let himself back into the room quietly and slipped into bed but it was still a long time before he slept.
At breakfast she asked him a question and he answered her curtly and she burst into tears and ran out of the restaurant. He followed her quickly and stopped her from taking her bags out of the truck.
"Just tell me what I've done," she said.
"You haven't done anything," he said. "I'm sorry. I just get this way sometimes."
She hit him in the chest hard enough to hurt even with her tiny fist. "That's not an answer," she said. "Now tell me what I've done. Tell me the truth."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm not sure what the truth is but it honestly nothing that you've done."
He put her bags back into the truck. He was still tense and sour and uncomfortable but he tried not to let it show. She was wearing shorts again and he tried not to look at her legs as he changed gears.
They were quiet for a long time but then he started talking to her. He told her about the Marines and the emptiness and resentment he felt. He felt a little like his life was over and he didn't know how to deal with it. He skirted around the growing feelings he was having for her but he told her a lot of things about himself he had never told anyone.
They stopped early that evening in a picturesque little town along the highway. They had dinner in a very nice restaurant and lubricated with a bottle of red wine, they talked a lot and laughed a lot.
"I will never understand men, though," Gayle said, as they walked back to their room.
"I don't understand," Jake said.
"Men. They are so strange sometimes. Like you, for example. You were really fun those first couple of days and then you started acting like a bear...or like my boyfriend in high school after one of our dates and I wouldn't...." her voice drifted off as she seemed to come to a realization. She looked at Jake and his face was flushed and he knew she finally understood exactly what had been troubling him.
"Oh," she said. "I didn't think. Oh."
Nothing else was said. They stayed in a small motel with lob cabin rooms. He took his shower and brushed his teeth and slipped into the small double bed. He hoped he could get to sleep early tonight but he was afraid he wouldn't. He was already aching as he thought of the pretty young woman sleeping only a few feet away from him.
Only she wasn't sleeping. A light came on. His heart pounded as she walked over to his bed. He thought she was going to get into his bed but instead she sat on the edge. She had covered her short nightgown with a robe and her face was clear of makeup and she smelled of soap. She had a funny expression.
"I guess I've been stupid," she said.
"No," he said.
"That boy I told you about. He was always trying to convince me to do things. He would get mad, really mad with me. But then I found a way to keep him satisfied so he wouldn't want other things. I just wasn't thinking of you that way."
"It's okay," he said, "Go back to bed."
"It's not okay," she said. "I owe you."
"I don't want you to pay a debt," he said. "I don't want you to owe me anything."
"I want to do something for you," she said.
She peeled the sheet back from him and revealed his hard cock pressing against his green boxer shorts.
"That looks uncomfortable,' she said, and she helped him pull the boxers down and kick them off. She took a deep breath as she took her first look at his achingly hard cock.
"Oh my," she said.
Her hand touched his chest and then moved slowly down until she touched his curly black hairs. Her fingers gently rubbed his cockhead and came away smeared with a little bit of white.
"Put your hands behind your head," she said.
He understood she didn't want to be touched or fondled. She wished to do something for him but was not ready to go any farther. He did as she asked and her fingers circled his throbbing prick. He had never thought of himself as enormous but her hand looked so small and white and fragile wrapped around his cock. His prick leaked a little. White cum wet her fingers and made it look even more perverse. He looked at her face. Her eyes burned with intensity. She began to caress his balls with her other hand and he knew he couldn't last long.