I grew up babysitting little Keri for most of my life, I was a teenager living in her neighborhood with my parents who were close with Keri's parents.
As the only black couple in the neighborhood, my parents and myself were treated like pariahs for wanting to get to know them, and befriend them.
At the time of Keri's parents moving into the neighborhood Keri was almost ten years old and I was fourteen at the time.
Keri's mom and dad were black, and great friends but they told me Keri was born mixed-race, perhaps because of some genes going back to one of her parents.
I baby sat her most of the time when I came home from High School, mainly for the money but Keri was a sweet kid and we played video games, and she was learning a lot as she grew up.
When I hit eighteen years old however, I dropped out of High School and left for the Marines.
When I left Keri was fourteen at the time, and followed me around like a lost puppy before I left for the Army.
She always wanted to spend time with me, but as I grew up I just wanted out of the town, as I felt stuck and unable to do much else.
Keri couldn't understand my reasons, she was growing up, slowly becoming a woman physically and my parents told me she had a crush on me since entering her teenage years.
I hadn't noticed, simply because of her age, and she was like a little sister to me.
The day I left, Keri begged her parents to take her to the train station to see me off.
It surprised me, as she stood there in her tomboy clothes.
She always asked to dress like a boy, in order to feel like she could spend time with me, but she was a girl and becoming a woman.
Even in her baggy jeans, and simple t-shirts her chest grew and her thighs became womanly.
She wasn't the skinny, little Keri I remembered babysitting.
That day with my parents waving me off, and Keri's parents doing the same for me I saw her.
Keri stood there crying, her eyes glazed looking at me as I climbed onto the carriage's foot ladder to enter it.
Her mousy brown hair was a mess, due to the wind that day and her tears soaked her sweet cheeks as she slowly waved me off.
Something about that day, about her seeing me off that day.
I remembered after I was on the train, that Keri had whatever feelings she had then for me.
Maybe they were simply teenage hormones, or perhaps just attaching to me because of how close we were.
Sadly I didn't have much time to think about it, as I had signed my life away to the Marines.
I wouldn't return to that small town again, for the next four years.
I completed my initial Marine training, and served for the next four years in over a dozen locations from the DMZ between North and South Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq, but I was also stationed at numerous bases in more stable nations.
It was going to be a promising career, had it not been for an incident in a bar in South Korea.
An officer by the name of Matthews enjoyed throwing his weight around, particularly with the female soldiers, and in particular a young Ebony girl named Alicia who I had become close friends with.
Matthews in his own twisted way seemed to think he owned Alicia, because he was her superior, and that permitted him certain privileges.
One night we were all out at a bar in the South Korean capital of Seoul, as it was R&R for the company.
Myself, and a few friends in my company were drinking with the women's contingent of the US Marines attached to our company for exercises, and we were enjoying ourselves.
Alicia was drinking with me, and we were just talking about where we wanted our lives to be in five years time.
Then Matthews turned up at the bar, he seemed already drunk partly and he came wobbling over towards me and Alicia.
Matthews was your stereotypical all American country town boy, with brown hair he stood at 5'11 in height, and with his Leadbelly chest, and physique he was imposing even on my own 5'10 in height.
Alicia was just 5'4 in height, and less than 130lbs in weight.
She was petite, with black curls, and a nice smile she could melt ice with.
She had a nice body, athletic and lean with a nice chest, perhaps not large but it was there.
It was her legs, and behind that most men, and women commented on as being nigh-on perfect.
Alicia was from Chicago, as I was from Indiana, in a small town called Nobles-ville.
We got on well, since meeting in initial Marine training goading each other on to push ourselves on.
Anyway, in the bar Matthews walked right up to us.
"Private Williams." He said, referring to Alicia's full name.
Alicia looked up at him, and she was wearing a very simple purple top and pair of tight, fitting leggings.
"Sir?" She said in response, to his rank.
Matthews turned to me.
"Private Anderson." He said in a stern voice, referring to my own full name; James Anderson.
I nodded, and as we never got along I spoke curtly.
He nodded, and then turned back to Alicia, he seemed unstable on his feet but his eyes were on Alicia intensely.
"Private Williams, return to base with me. I need to discuss... certain matters about your transfer." Matthews said.
Now from what I remembered, Alicia never wanted to transfer to anywhere.
She wanted to stay with our company, as she enjoyed the people she worked with including me.
Alicia looked at me, then back up at Matthews.
"Uh Sir, I never requested a transfer." She said trying to make him sense his mistake.
Matthews blinked a few times, and looked like he could barely stand much less speak.
"I said, you will return to base with me Private Williams." He said grabbing her arm roughly, yanking her from her seat.
Knowing how Matthews attitude was towards Alicia, it was clear he was obsessed with her and so I jumped to my feet as every soldier, and civilian in the bar watched.
Immediately three of my friends; Hernandez, Forest and Richards stopped drinking and stood calling for Matthews to stop.
I jumped to my own feet, and grabbed a hold of Alicia's hand as she struggled against him.
"Sir, this can wait until the morning." I said trying to convince him to back off.
He didn't relent pulling her back, but Alicia got free and pulled away from him.
This seemed to incense him even more, and without warning he drunkenly struck Alicia across the face with his palm, sending her to the floor.
The whole bar was silent, save for gasps of shock.
I went red, or whatever it's called Red Mist perhaps.
I went for Matthews, striking his jaw so hard he went flying backwards and fell onto a table knocking the drinks off, and the drinkers standing back surprised.
Hernandez, Forest and Richards grabbed me pulling me back, to stop me from going for Matthews again.
He drunkenly got back on his feet, as I helped Alicia up from the floor.
He had given her a broken lips, and left a bruise around her temple.
Matthews pushed away everyone who attempted to calm him down.
"You're done now Anderson, I'll have you charged with assault on your superior!" He screamed, his voice hoarse.
I smiled, more in a cocky manner than anything else.
"We'll have you charged with assault on Alicia, Sir!" I said in response, sweating and breathing hard.
Matthews saw red, but before he had his chance to respond the owner of the bar had called the base nearby, as it was a known drinking hole for US soldiers.
Military Police immediately arrived in uniform, driving Hummers and immediately they questioned us all, refusing to let anyone leave.
The MP's immediately grabbed me first, as Matthews told them I had assaulted him without provocation.
Luckily the owner of the bar, and everyone we had been out drinking with including Alicia came to my defense, and Alicia showed her injuries.
As this was the modern age, CCTV was everywhere in the bar and the owner handed over the DVD's to the MP's who took us all back to the base.
I was placed into a holding cell in the Brig, with Matthews in another nearby.
A few hours passed, and the MP's released me explaining the CCTV footage showed Matthews had thrown the first blow at Alicia, but as I still hit him I had to stand at a tribunal.
Long story short, as this is dragging on I stood at my tribunal.
Matthews was charged with assault, and immediately sent to a military prison for a year, and afterwards his career in the military was over.
I however was released, formal discharged from the military but no criminal charges were brought against me, as the tribunal called what I did a 'preemptive strike' as I did not know if Matthews would have attacked Alicia again.
Four years in, and now I was being kicked to the gutter even though I defended Alicia.
All my friends and Alicia backed me up, arguing I should never have been discharged but after the dust settled, I just wanted out anyway.
So I returned to my own town, to my family in disgrace.
I never called my parents on the train home, I didn't want them to meet me and find out the truth of my career which was now in tatters.
The train back home was slow, and quiet allowing me some time to think about my options once I got home.
For some reason, I don't why I called one particular number.
It was unlikely to still be connected, but I tried it for some unknown reason.
It was Keri's mobile phone number, that she gave to me the day I left for the Marines.
I doubted it would still be in use, being a teenager back then I assumed she would have changed numbers, lost phones even.
The phone rang for a few seconds, and as I assumed the number was disconnected I was about to end the call when a voice called over the line.
"Hello?" A young, female voice spoke.
"Hi, is this Keri Harrison?" I asked gingerly.
The voice went quiet, and then spoke.
"Yes this is her, who is this?" She asked me in response.
"It's James, Keri." I said unsure how she was going to react.
"James..." Keri said, I think she was unsure who I was, probably forgot about me.
I was about to explain who I was.
"God, it's been so long." She whispered down the line.
I smiled as I sat against the window of the train, as the scenery outside whooshed past.
"Yeah I know." I laughed gently, and slowly I explained the situation to her.
We must have spoken for almost forty minutes, as I explained I was on my way back home, and that I didn't trust anyone except her with the information of how I was discharged from the Army.
She understood, and agreed to meet me at the train station.
She seemed quite excited, her voice had broken and she sounded like the eighteen year old girl she was now.
I told her I was still a few hours out from the town's train station, but I gave her the details of the train and when it would be arriving.
I slept for the next few hours on and off, but continued to wake up to texts waiting for me on my phone from Keri.
I smiled as I read some of them, asking everything from 'if I kept fit since she saw me' and even asking 'if I was seeing anyone at the moment.'
I laughed gently reading them, she certainly wasn't the little girl I remembered from four years ago.
The texts made me even wonder; was Keri seeing anyone?
Did she have a boyfriend now?
She was of legal age, and I remembered how some of the boys in her classes looked at her, imagining how she looked now I wouldn't doubt she had a string of boys fighting for a date with her.
Town Square, Train Station, Evening, 8:23PM
The train pulled into the station at about 8:20pm, I collected my bag and things and began to exit the carriage onto the platform.
I looked around, wondering where Keri was waiting for me.
In all honesty I didn't know what she looked like, it had been four years since I saw Keri last.
I was no longer in my military dress, I was no longer a soldier, I was a civilian once again.
I carried my military Desert camouflage duffel bag, but it was one of the only things I was allowed to take with me, other than my dog tags.
The platform was busy, as my train was still disembarking passengers.
I waited, as the passengers cleared the platform.
I tried my best, but I didn't know who I was looking for.
I didn't have to look long, because she found me first.
I saw a girl with mousey hair approaching me, but it was no longer childish, nor a mess but curled, and tailored to curl around her head and ears in a cute style.
The hair was light caramel, and cascaded well against the woman's caramel skin.
She was mixed race, with black eye shadow around her eyes and pink lipstick on her lips.
She seemed happy, and confident as she strode towards me.
Her strikingly black eye lashes drew my eyes in on her hazel eyes.
She smiled more, as she strode towards me in quite alluring outfit.
She had what looked to be black leather leggings on her legs, and a simple tight, black workout vest with a belt pulled around her firm, slim tummy holding the leggings up I assumed.
She had a stylish matching leather jacket, that was short stopping at her waist and tight around her wrists.
She finally stood in front of me smiling.
"Jesus, is it really you?" She asked beaming.
I had to admit, I wanted to ask the same thing.
This couldn't be the same Keri I babysat four years ago, with the mousey brown hair and the tomboy attitude.
Now she was a woman, with a woman's attitude and body, and certainly the personality.
"Yeah I guess it is." I giggled.
Keri grinned in such a sultry way, I was stunned into silence.
She smiled and spoke.
"You've kept fit haven't you?" She said observing me from her distance, and I had to admit I did.
I kept fit, and continued my Marine fitness regime throughout the entire tribunal and discharge, and even now two weeks since being dismissed.
"I always keep fit for the job, Keri." I laughed.
She smiled back, just looking me up and down before settling on my eyes.
"You've grown." I said trying to keep the conversation going.
"Yeah, well you've been gone for four years is it a surprise." She smiled.
I looked her up and down too, and had to admit it didn't surprise me.
She had a pair of legs on her to die for, that I assumed led up to a nicely proportioned ass, and hips before leading further up to her lean tummy, and budding breasts.
At peaks around the outfit, her caramel skin shone in a beautiful way, and I couldn't tear my eyes from her face.
"So your parents don't know you're back, I never told them nor my own as it would probably get around town fast." She smiled.
I nodded, and we began to walk towards the main exit of the station together.
"Good, I owe you for that Keri. I can't do with the staring, and people talking about me behind my back." I said, venting my frustrations with our small town's reputation for rumors, and stories being passed around.
"I would never tell anyone if you asked me, I would always keep a secret for you." Keri smiled.
God her fucking eyes, it was becoming quite a distraction as I tried to walk in a straight line.
"Thanks, last thing I need is my old man giving me a speech about seeing things through." I said.
Keri nodded, and we soon found ourselves outside the station on the busy main street of town.
It was hard to remember the town, where everything was as there seemed to be almost no new additions to the place.
"You have nothing to feel guilty about, regarding the discharge. As you told me, your superior had it coming for doing that to your friend." Keri added.
I smiled, having another person especially Keri backing my decision made me feel good.
"Do you have a boyfriend, Keri?" I asked gently.
Keri's smile wavered, as if she was conflicted.
"Sort of, but I don't think it's going to last." She smiled forcibly.
I smiled, but wanted to know more.
At one point Keri was like my little sister, bringing her up and babysitting her.
I still cared for her.
"Why not?" I asked her.
Keri turned to me, and almost appeared as if she was going to flog me off with some excuse to not answer, but I saw she relented.
"He's an asshole, thinks I won't ever leave him but this time he's pushed me too far." She smiled faintly.
"Ah the old cheating kind of asshole, correct?" I asked, playing my cards loose.
Keri laughed gently.
"Yeah something like that, thought I wouldn't find out and when I did he expected me to accept it and forgive him. No chance." She answered.
"Assholes like that don't deserve another chance, to hurt you again." I reasoned.
Keri smiled, and for a brief moment just looked into my eyes as if thinking about something.
"Yeah, he doesn't and I won't give him one. I'm just waiting for him to call me, and I'll lay it on him there and then." She smiled.
I nodded, and we began to walk along the main street passed store fronts together.
"How about you, any girlfriend back at base?" Keri asked me.
I smiled, enjoying that she was interested.
"No sadly, never got around to actually dating. Went straight from basic training to deployment." I smiled, and the thought that I actually never did try and date made me feel ill.
"Shame, I always thought you'd meet someone." She smiled.
So did I, I thought to myself.
"So what are you doing right now?" I asked her, as we crossed the street to the other side as there were no cars moving along the street.
"Studying, remember I'm eighteen now. Just studying at High School, then college." She beamed, proud of her life which I liked.
"Ah I bet that keeps you busy." I commented.
"Sometimes, but not as much as you'd think. I still have time to do things." She grinned and then we both stopped outside of a store front, a local 7/11.
"Well I better get going, I know you need to face your parents. Call me immediately once the argument is done, we can go and do something together." Keri smiled, and touched my hand leaving me outside the store front.
Something about meeting Keri, speaking to her, and her keeping my secret for me made me think about her.
In ways that I never thought of before, she wasn't a little girl anymore, she was a woman and surely aware of it.
I braced myself for an argument with my parents, the moment I walked through the door of our house.
I made my way home on foot, as I needed the walk.
My Parents House, Evening, 9:00pm
I knew it was coming, how could I not know as the moment I walked into my house my parents would wonder what I was doing home, without a call.
The fact I wasn't in my military fatigues, would arouse their suspicions.
My mom was the first to hear the door open, as I had keys still for it.
My mom Sarah was in her late forties now, and with a few gray hairs in her blonde hair she was in shock seeing me.
She called out my father's name, Frank and he ran to see what was going on.
My father Frank Anderson, with graying brown hair stood there surprised.
"You're back? Did they kick you out?" He asked, with malice in his voice as I had left home four years ago against my parent's reservations on joining the military.
Then the argument began, I never gave any defense nor did I fight them both.
I allowed them to get their punches in, and then I explained everything that happened.
My mom immediately backed me the moment she heard of how my superior had treated Alicia, my dad still wasn't supporting me until I told him how Matthews struck Alicia across the face.
He softened then, and sat down with a deep inhale of breath.
He said he understood why I did what I did, and the next thing he said was simple.
"You're old room is still there, you can have it back until you find some work and get a place of your own." He said.
"Thanks dad, look I'll pay my way with what I've saved from the Marines." I offered.
"Yeah, well that's good. That will help out a little bit at least, son." He said standing, but not before he patted me on my back and left the room.