Maybe Just One Good Man?bypeachesmelba©
This story is dedicated in all honor and respect to the fine men (and women) of our armed forces, and to the families who wait and watch - and to two men in particular with my personal love, honor and respect - N.C.I.S. Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (who this character is NOT but who inspired a great deal of this story) and to the love of my life...who knows all the reasons why.
# # # #
She heard the first car door slam through the open window above the sink while she was rinsing her dinner dishes. At first glance she thought with some humor that it looked like an ad for that movie...what was the name...oh yeah, "A Few Good Men". Then her wide blue eyes riveted onto the Bible in the hands of the...Chaplain and thought, "aw shit...I wonder who..." They milled briefly at the side of the car, collecting themselves, settling service dress uniforms and gloves. Her neighbor, Rae Jeanne, ever bold and waiting for no man to bring her word, waded into the middle of the group. She continued to mechanically dry her hands on the damp towel, blood already freezing in her veins. Seeing the group, now including Rae Jeanne, moving purposefully toward her sidewalk she said aloud -
Smoothing her hand across the mound of her belly when the baby kicked forcefully -
"Ssshhhh... It'll be okay sweetie, I promise."
Putting down the towel and straightening her spine, chin up and dry-eyed as befitted a Marine's wife...widow she corrected...she moved to the front door.
# # # #
His gray-blue eyes took in everything at a glance, the standardized military housing, as well as the neatly trimmed grass, the colorful flower bed, and the wind chimes tossing gaily in the spring breeze. A short, feisty looking black woman had introduced herself as Rae Jeanne Carpenter, saying -
"Alright boys, if it's my man then no need to come no further. If not, then you tell me who it was and I'll go with you to meet his woman."
The Chaplain bent his head to murmur in her ear and she reared back, eyes flashing -
"That one!" She spat on the ground. "Good riddance! Beat that poor girl yonder till she couldn't move sometimes."
The Chaplain paled but HE wasn't surprised, despite the recruiting posters, the uniform did not ensure decency in the wearer. Nodding to the Chaplain, and the tired personnel officer with them, he turned on his heel and started down the sidewalk, the woman Rae Jeanne fell into step next to him. He could feel the eyes from countless other households boring into his back and knew there was mingled grief for the woman in the house ahead of him, and joy that he was not walking down their sidewalk, in those hearts and minds.
A young woman came out on the porch, long copper colored hair caught the late sunlight, drawing his eye, as did her wide turquoise blue eyes. Then he caught her movement as one hand gripped the rail tightly, and the other lifted in a universal gesture to caress and protect the child swelling her belly.
He didn't think he'd said it aloud but the woman next to him murmured, "Exactly Gunny" before she darted ahead of them. Reaching the young woman at the head of the stairs she hugged her fiercely, then whirled into the house, calling back over her shoulder -
"I'll put on the coffee pot."
# # # #
Although the furniture in the small room had clearly seen better days he thought the room itself was neat and clean enough that his own drill instructor would have approved it. As for the girl, for all that she was pale and strung tight as trip wire she was dry-eyed, never faltering in civility to them. Courageous little thing, he thought, seeing her nod acceptance of the Chaplain's quiet words of compassion. The only time she faltered, eyes going wide with sudden fear and her hand lifting to her belly again, was when Rae Jeanne came into the room carrying a tray heavy with coffee pot and mugs. Setting it down she interrupted -
"So tell me Chaplain, how long until she and the baby have to be out of housing?"
In all the visits he'd ever made to parents, wives and nowadays the occasional husband, he couldn't recall anyone ever asking THAT before, and it shocked him to realize he'd never given the matter a thought before this. Chaplain Moore deferred to the personnel officer who was clearly uncomfortable and wishing he was somewhere else.
"Rae Jeanne!" She scolded, "We'll be fine. I'm sure it'll all work out."
"The HELL it will!" She wagged a finger at the little red-head. "You're gonna drop that load in another few weeks and you and I both know you ain't got no place else to go girl!"
The P.O. admitted that two weeks was standard but that he and the Chaplain would ask for an extension until she found somewhere else to live, or until the baby was born. He thought about THAT and it left a sour taste in his mouth. She'd already admitted she was "just a housewife" somewhat shyly. So how was she going to go about finding a place, arranging the move...not to mention supporting herself and the baby. Death benefits weren't going to last forever.
By the time they were ready to leave his stomach was tied in knots. This little girl, who looked barely out of her teens, deserved better - better than a husband who beat her, got her pregnant and then died - who had failed in his duty and responsibility to her and to his child - and NOW, the service that had recruited him was going to kick her while she was down. He'd heard that old saw about 'If we wanted you to have a wife and family we'd have issued you one in boot camp' before, but it had never made him feel so angry and bitter as it did now. As she escorted them to the door he bent his head to tell her -
"I'll be back later Ma'am, to check on you. And if you need help, we can go over the details of the funeral. He's entitled to military burial."
She looked at him with gratitude and that was when he saw her eyes fill with sudden tears -
"Thank you Gunnery Sergeant," She peered at the name tag on his chest, "Rourke."
"Just 'Gunny' Ma'am."
"Thank you, Gunny."
She dropped her head briefly, but then straightened and smiled at him and he noticed with a pang that one of her front teeth had been broken at an angle and never fixed.
# # # #
He came back near dusk, deliberately dressed in faded jeans and an old Colorado State sweatshirt, hoping to seem more human in civies. He'd stopped at the supermarket on his way...his mother having drilled into him at an early age than you 'never go calling empty-handed'. He wasn't quite sure what was appropriate though and spent half an hour wandering the aisles before settling on a bunch of daisies and a little rubber duckie for the baby that was coming. Paying for his purchases he thought, there was something about her that reminded him of the daisies - clean, pure and wholesome. He wondered if the baby would be a boy or a girl, if it would have her blue eyes and red hair or the darker coloration of it's father. The boy had been in his unit and aside from a quick temper had seemed okay. In hindsight though he could see there had been a tendency to bully. The military tended to ignore such behavior, knowing that sooner or later it would become self-defeating. While the Corps protected its own, the unit itself was more than capable of disciplining individuals...
The illustrious Rae Jeanne opened the door to his knock saying, "You got the wrong house, son!"
Then, peering at him more closely in the waning light, she exploded in laughter.
"I'll be damned, Gunny!" Waving him in and gesturing at the flowers in his hand, she asked, "You come calling?"
At his flush she went on, "Don't get me wrong! She's gonna need a GOOD man, right quick...but hell, son, he ain't even IN the ground yet!"
He continued to stand in the doorway, uncertain whether Rae Jeanne was giving him her blessing for what he intended, or so protective of the little widow that she intended to drive him off. Finally seeming to make up her mind she grabbed the front of his shirt, pulling him completely into the front room. When a call came from the kitchen, 'Rae Jeanne, who was it this time?', the black woman held a finger to her lips, hushing any incipient noise he might make. Still holding the front of his sweatshirt she tugged until he bent his head closer to her face.
"But you, by GOD, better be good to that little girl, you hear me, Gunny?"
He flashed a grin at her, suddenly looking far younger than his years, "Yes, MA'AM!", he whispered.
She shook her head, "Lord help us all! You keep smiling like that every woman on this block gonna be over here, panting after you! You ARE single I hope."
He wiggled his ringless hand in the air and she snorted, "Aw hell, plenty you fellas in the military don't wear no rings. That don't mean nuthin'."
"Means a LOT to me, Rae Jeanne." He whispered near her ear.
Just then a vision moved into the kitchen doorway. Wearing only a thin, white cotton gown, she looked like an angel with the light flowing around and behind her, shimmering off the hair flowing down her back and over her shoulders. The translucency of the cotton revealing more of her charms than it hid. He took a deep breath and his hand tightened on the rubber duckie so hard it squeaked. Rae Jeanne cut a glance at him out of the corner of her eyes, muttering -
"Lord help us ALL!" Then, more loudly, "Deedee, honey, look! That nice Gunnery Sergeant came back just like he said he would. Come see what he brung y'all."
The girl moved closer to him, the fresh scent of her hair and clean skin hitting him like a lightning bolt. She took the toy from him, showing her friend and squeaking it with delight. And the way she exclaimed over the flowers you'd have thought she'd never gotten flowers before...but then, he pondered, maybe she hadn't...
"Deedee?" he asked, somewhat blankly.
"Oh!" She blushed ('My God," he thought in amazement. Wondering when was the last time he'd seen a woman blush...) "Yes, most everybody calls me Deedee - Deirdre Delancy - D.D."
She punctuated her speech with hand gestures - describing the "Ds" in the air so he'd get the reference.
Rae Jeanne interrupted, taking the flowers to put them in water.
"What do we call you, Gunny? Or didn't your Mama give you a name before givin' you to the Corps?"
He grinned at the feisty little woman's backside, thinking her husband was a lucky S.O.B., before replying, "John Fitzgerald Rourke." Adding in explanation, "Mama was Irish Catholic. But you can call me 'Rocky'."
Her head popped back around the kitchen door jam but Dierdre beat her to the question, "Rocky?"
Feeling more at ease every minute and more confident about his decision he shooed Dierdre into the kitchen ahead of him -
"Short for 'Rocky Raccoon'. My D.I. caught me not paying attention in hand-to-hand and broke my nose - I got two black eyes...and after that..."
Dierdre giggled, putting a hand in front of her mouth to hide her broken tooth. He wondered just how deeply ingrained her low self-esteem was and how long it was going to take to get her to truly open up and blossom. And then he caught his breath again. If he'd thought the backlight from the kitchen revealed her charms, under the florescent glare her thin cotton gown did nothing to hide any of them either. Not being familiar with the pregnant female body he wasn't sure how much of what he was seeing was natural or due to her condition. Her nipples looked enormous - eraser sized points pressed against the lightweight gown. And the areolae were large as well, as big as teacups in a color neither brown nor pink but some dusky shade in between. He wondered briefly at what point her high, rounded breasts would begin to fill with milk...and what that would taste like when it occurred.
As she walked across the room in front of him he realized that part of the apparent "waddle" seemed to be from her hips having spread. He found it charming to watch, recalling a "pet" duck in the barnyard of his youth, that walked in much the same way...usually followed by a string of charming, fluffy yellow ducklings and he lost himself in a brief daydream of "Dee" waddling through a store, or down the aisle of a church, followed by one or two ruddy haired, freckle faced toddlers...perhaps one with his ears...
Shaking his head briefly, attempting to return to the present, he noted how slender she was from behind. All of her apparent girth was carried in front, produced by the child within. Her ankles and wrists were so thin as to be termed "dainty", and he'd already seen how prominent her collarbones were.
Dee sat in the captain's chair at the head of the small table, throw pillows on the seat and against her back helping to cushion and support the extra weight she carried. The gown stretched thin and taut across her belly where her navel protruded and he felt a stirring, mentally, emotionally...and being honest with himself, a little lower. There was something so intensely feminine about her condition, but so dreadfully vulnerable about her circumstances...and remembering those he cleared his throat.
"Dierdre...Dee...I told you that Scott was entitled to a military funeral. Additionally there are survivor benefits, and an emergency fund that can help with any immediate needs you may have. Is there a funeral home you know that can help with visitation, or a church you'd rather use for a memorial service."
Her blue eyes were enormous now, swimming with unshed tears. Rae Jeanne patted her hand, saying -
"I can help with that. My church will be willing to have a nice service," smoothing the girl's hair now and brushing it back over her shoulder. "Don't you worry child, we'll see him done right by, for your sake. But now see here, Gunny, MY concern is what happens to these children after!"
God BLESS the woman, he thought, for giving him the perfect lead in for what he proposed...then shivered as his own words hit him viscerally.
"Ma'am," he stopped to clear his throat, "Rae Jeanne's filled me in a little on your circumstances, and I've done some checking on my own - and I KNOW you and the baby don't have anywhere to go, no family left..."
Now the tears brimmed over, spilling unnoticed down her cheeks and onto the gown. He tried not to notice how the moisture made the gown go transparent, focusing instead on fumbling for a handkerchief...
"We want to make sure you're taken care of, Ma'am... I want to make sure." He knew he was botching the job, that she had no clue what he was trying to say, and his mouth was getting so dry he wasn't sure how much more talking he could do. He'd started with an idea of helping out someone in need for a few weeks or months until they could figure out what they wanted for their future...her future. But somehow, suddenly, he just wanted to take care of her...and the baby. For as long as they'd let him.
"Lord have mercy!" Rae Jeanne interjected, "DeeDee, this boy's asking you to marry him!" And turning to him, added, "There now. That's cut through all the crap!"
His head swam briefly, no going back now he thought. Then, seeing Dee go pale he remembered Rae Jeanne telling how her dead husband had beaten her, and said -
"Strictly platonic, Ma'am! You don't have to worry about me - I won't presume on you - but you'll have a Marine husband and they can't throw you out of housing then, and with the baby coming you'll have priority. I'll be going back overseas again before long so you can pretty much have things the way you want them..."
From being unable to speak, he knew that now he was running off at the mouth, and Rae Jeanne looked like she wanted to hit him for some reason.
"Anyway Ma'am, Dee, if you'll have me I'd be proud to take care of you and the little one. You'll probably want him to keep his Daddy's name and that's fine with me. And when you're ready to take off and be on your own, just let me know and I won't stand in your way," although the thought that someday she might leave him was a knife in his belly.
He admitted he knew next to nothing about her. Didn't know if she could cook, or....anything. But someone had planted the flowers in front, and hung the wind chimes. Someone kept the house so clean it was nearly spit-shined. And made do with little or nothing...the nightgown was one clue, as were the handmade curtains in the kitchen window. She had not said one bad thing about her dead husband and he assumed that she loved him, and that was why she had stayed despite the beatings.
Pity aside, he wanted to teach her tenderness. Looking at her he figured she probably already knew passion, but tenderness was another matter. He wanted to see her bloom into a self-confident woman and mother, the kind of fiery, feisty red-head his own Irish mother had been, and that her coloring and name indicated she might someday become. And in all honesty he wanted to plant his own seed in her belly and see her swell with his babies, nursing them at those full round breasts.
She was sobbing openly now and with sudden fear he reached across the table, gripping her hand.
"Dee, if there's someone else you want, tell me. Or if you just want me to leave..."
"NO!" she gasped through her tears. "No, John. You honor me. I appreciate your offer - it's not necessary..."
Rae Jeanne snorted.
"But if you insist, then I'd be proud and pleased to be your wife."
"Good! That's settled then!" Rae Jeanne was grinning so fiercely you'd have thought she was responsible for the whole idea. But then, he thought wildly, maybe she is...as he struggled briefly to remember when and how the plan had first occurred to him. Then he had another thought -
"I should probably head back to the barracks," he announced. "I don't want to compromise you in any way - or cause people to talk..."
Rae Jeanne snorted again, interrupting with a wave of her hand, "People BEEN talkin', Gunny. You ask me, people around here gonna be relieved - even if they think this child been carryin' on w' you all along!"
Dee was starting to look like a fish out of water, gulping loudly and shaking her head. Rae Jeanne patted her belly, saying -
"You let ME, deal with what people around here think and say. I have to get home and check on those fool sons o' mine - make sure they're studying like their daddy wants. But Gunny, I think you better plan on stayin' here from now on. You two need to get to know each other and settle in together - and to tell the truth, it's been makin' me nervous, her bein' home alone and this close to her time."
She headed to the door, still issuing orders as she went out -
"I'll settle with the preacher tomorrow about the funeral, and about getting you two fixed as well. Ya'll better get your marriage license quick, that baby ain't gonna wait..."
# # # #
They continued to sit awkwardly, not making eye contact, after the door slammed behind Rae Jeanne. Finally she stood with a sigh and moved to lock the door.
"Here, Ma'am, let me get that for you."
She giggled then, an infectious sound that gave him hope for her future...and maybe for his as well. Locking the door she turned, one hand rubbing her low back and smiling ruefully.
"You're going to have to stop calling me, Ma'am, if you expect to marry me, John. Do you mind very much if I call you John?"
"No, Ma-," he gulped to a stop. "No Dee. Fact is, no one's called me John since my mother passed. I think I'd like it a lot. What do you want to be called? Do you mind me calling you Dee or Dierdre instead of DeeDee? Would you rather I called you something else? What did your husband call you?"
She paled at that, waving the question aside.
"Dee is fine. Nobody's ever called me that before. Or Dierdre...."
She continued rubbing her low back thoughtfully, and when they spoke again it was simultaneous.
"Can I get you...."
"Is your back...."