It was Sunday, a full day off from work. That meant I had the whole day to devote to my other job, the one I should have concentrated on years ago. I planned to do some serious work on my thesis. On the wrong side of my thirty-fifth birthday, I, Joseph Middleton, was a college boy.
I was an average student in high school. My grades weren't good enough to get into a decent college, which didn't matter to me at the time. I just didn't care about much except hanging out with my friends and trying to get laid. The problem was, I had no marketable skills. No one was going to hire a lazy dumb kid to do much more than, well, flip burgers, which was what I was already doing. Not what I wanted.
So, I enlisted in the Army. It was much harder than I expected at first, but I matured almost overnight. Part of it was basic survival instinct, but somehow, I suddenly wanted to be GOOD at something. It turned out that I was good with a rifle. Very good.
Honestly, I'm psychologically healthy enough to say that there was a certain satisfaction in being a sniper. I did my job well. A lot of American soldiers got to fight another day because of me. A number of enemy soldiers didn't. This was the simple necessity of war. Part of me wanted to make a career of the Army, but the other part of me wanted to go home and make my way in the civilian world.
The appeal of civilian life won out. I got my honorable discharge and came home. Strong, proud, confident, smart, and tough, I had a fistful of medals. Unfortunately, there aren't many civilian jobs for guys who can shoot a gun, but who don't want to be police snipers. There was no way I was going back to two all beef patties and special sauce, so I wound up getting a job as a construction laborer.
It was tough work to some of the kids on our crew. I immediately knew which of the guys needed training and conditioning, which kids were unmotivated, and who should just be fired. I wasn't vocal about it, but everyone on the crew knew I had their number. I liked the work, and the boss apparently liked me. New training and promotions came easily.
Still, I thought I wanted more out of life. I could continue like I was, and maybe, some day, have a small construction company of my own. But I began to think about how cold it was working outside in the winter, and how stiflingly hot it could be on a job-site in the summer. Muddy boots were losing their appeal. So were nights sitting at home alone, too bone-tired to go out and have any fun.
A television ad for part-time and online courses at the nearby university caught my eye. I called and found out I could audit a course for only a couple of bucks, so on the next miserably rainy day, I went to the campus. A nerdy kid was working as the receptionist in the main office. He pulled up the form I had filled out online and then made a phone call.
Cupping his hand over the receiver, he said to me, "I can send you to a freshman English class or a freshman biology class."
"I can read and write, but I hate dissecting frogs. I think I'll go with the English class," I said.
That was ten years ago. Now I'm working on my master's thesis. I'm not going to teach high school. I want to teach at the same university that's been robbing me of sleep for all this time. I could have taken the easy way out. The G.I. bill would have allowed me to go to school full-time and just take a part-time job for spending money. Flipping burgers.
I stayed with the construction firm. Six years in the Army and all those years on job sites have kept me young. I'm healthy and big. I look like I live at the gym, but I don't have the time. When I'm not at work, I'm busting my ass with school. It's paid off. I've already been promised that the university will hire me as soon as I complete my degree.
My apartment is on the second floor of an old house. The steps from my balcony lead down to the parking area in the alley where the neighborhood kids ride their skateboards. These kids aren't serious athletes like the board jockeys you see on TV. They are having fun though, and they stay out of trouble. They know that I know they're there, and they also know I won't call the landlord to have them removed, as long as they stay away from my car, keep the noise down, and pick up their trash when they leave. I was a kid once too.
To those of you who haven't done it, I say to you, don't think academics aren't "work." They are. Not the physical labor I've grown accustomed to as a civilian, and not the work of being a combat soldier, but work, nevertheless.
For this work, I needed relative quiet so I could concentrate. It was a nice spring day, so my windows were open. The sounds of trucks rumbling down my narrow, badly paved street were louder than usual, but I had my trusty radio for music. It didn't take long for chatter, laughter and occasional shout of the skater kids in the alley below to mix well with the rest of the background noise. I started working.
There was a small thump outside. Then I heard crying. Most of the kids who played in the alley were young teenagers. When they fell, they would laugh, or if they actually hurt themselves, they would try to act macho and utter some ridiculous combination of vulgarity they had picked up in middle school. Occasionally, some wannabe-skank twelve year old girl would hang out, but they were too tough to cry in public, too, and besides, they often just sat on the steps and tried to get the older boys to notice them. This crying sounded like a younger child. The kid was pretty loud, and the wailing didn't stop.
"G. I. Joe! G. I. Joe! " A kid of about fourteen who called himself "Slash" came bounding up my steps and knocked on my screen door. The skaters called me "G. I. Joe" because of the Veterans of Foreign Wars license plate on my car. From time to time, one of them would ask me a question about my military service, but we were barely more than nodding acquaintances. None of them had ever come upstairs to my door.
"Sean's hurt. We don't know what to do," Slash yelled through the door. "G. I. Joe?"
Damn it. I was just getting started on the conclusion to my paper. I had come up with a great idea, and I could feel it slipping away.
"G. I. Joe? You in there, dude?"
I got up and went to the door.
"Sean's hurt. Can you help him? Should we call an ambulance or something?"
A young boy, maybe seven or eight years old, was sitting on my bottom step, bawling his eyes out.
"What happened, Slash?" I asked the teenager as I followed him down the steps. "Who is he?"
"His name's Sean. He lives over on Poplar Street, across from Dogbreath's house." Dogbreath was a pudgy, scruffy-looking boy, part of the crew that skated in my alley. "He tried to jump his board up on to the curb. We told him he couldn't do it, but he wouldn't listen."
By this time, I was kneeling next to the young boy. In the most comforting voice I could manage, I said, "Sean, my name is Joe. I live upstairs. Tell me what hurts, son."
"My knees," Sean wailed.
I could see some brush-burns through the torn fabric of his pants. "OK, Sean, I need you to calm down and listen to me. Can you do that?"
"Yes," he whimpered.
"Does anything else hurt besides your knees?"
"My hands." There was some road rash on the palms of his hands. They would be sore for a while, but there was no bleeding or swelling.
"Did you hit your head?"
"No. Mommy makes me wear my helmet."
"How did you fall? How did you land?"
Sean sobbed, but tried to compose himself. "I wanted to jump up on your step like the big kids do. I didn't jump high enough. My board hit the step and I fell."
"Did you fly off your board and land on your hands and knees?"
"The little dude almost made it," Dogbreath said. "His wheels hit the edge of the step. The board stopped, but he didn't. He didn't face-plant. He landed on his knees and slid a little, but he got his hands out. I don't think he hit anything else."
"I want to go home," Sean said, trying to stifle a sob.
"Can you stand up? I'll walk you home," I said.
I went upstairs and locked my door, and then took Sean to his house. The kid was a trooper. He picked up his skateboard and started to walk, but I could tell it really hurt him. Poplar Street was at the other end of my alley, and by the time we got there, I decided that it would be faster and easier for him if I carried him.
With Sean on my one hip and his board and helmet in my other hand, we made our way to his house. Sean, who had been calm the whole time I carried him, started crying again as I put him down. He ran into the house yelling, "Mommy!"
A little while later, I was back home, trying to piece together the killer idea I feared I had lost for my paper. A knock came on my screen door again. Shit. Now what? All I wanted was to work in peace.
I stood up and went to my door.
She was silhouetted by the afternoon sun at her back. I didn't know who she was. "Yes?"
"Are you G. I. Joe?"
"Joseph Middleton, ma'am. Can I help you?"
"I'm Sean's mother, Mandy Rogers."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Come in, Mrs. Rogers. How's Sean?"
"It's Miss Rogers, Mandy, please. Sean's fine. I took him to my mother's house to watch TV so I could come over here and thank you," she said, coming through the door.
This woman was stunning. Luxurious, wavy dark brown hair framed a cover-girl's face with huge blue eyes, a perfect nose, and slightly pouty lips. She seemed to wear no make-up, and she was dressed in jeans and a baggy t-shirt -- nondescript sit-at-home clothes. She looked like a fashion model.
"Please, sit down," I said. "Would you like some iced tea?"
"Thank you, that would be nice."
I went to my little kitchen and poured two glasses. When I came back into the living room, Mandy was looking at my battalion flag, service photos and commendations on the wall. "Now I know why the kids call you G. I. Joe," she said.
"One day I overheard some of them talking down in the alley about how cool it would be to be a sniper killing people, like in some of the video games. They sounded like they thought it would be fun. I went downstairs and set them straight. In real combat, you don't get to 're-spawn.'"
"How long were you in the service?"
"Six years. I considered making it a career, but I started wondering how many more times I would get away with being the 'shooter' instead of the 'shoot-ee.' It was time to come home," I said.
"What do you do now?" she asked, sipping her tea.
"I work construction and go to college part-time. I was doing schoolwork when I heard Sean crying in the alley."
"Do you know what happened? Did one of the older boys push him?"
"No. They're pretty decent kids. They seemed like they were trying to look out for him. One of them said your son tried a move that they told him he couldn't do, but he tried it anyway. He fell off his board and tore up his knees. Is he OK?"
"He'll be fine. He was really good about letting me clean him up. He said G. I. Joe told him to be tough."
I laughed. "I told him he had to let Mommy take care of his wounds. He is a tough little boy, though. He cried when he first got hurt, but he calmed down and wanted to walk home."
"He said you carried him."
"Only the last little way. I could tell his knees really hurt him. He was crying pretty hard right after he fell, but he stopped as I talked to him."
Mandy said, "He cried when he came in the house, but little boys do that when they're hurt. I cleaned up his brush-burns and bandaged his knees. He said he wants me to go to the store to buy G. I. Joe bandages. I think he really likes you."
I laughed, and she smiled with me.
"What about you, Mandy? What do you do?" I asked.
"I'm a paralegal. I work for a business law firm in the city."
"You called yourself Miss Rogers. May I ask where Sean's father is?"
"Ha! You can ask. I do all the time. I haven't seen him since I told him I was pregnant with Sean. That was eight years ago. So, I'm a single mom. I work from home as much as I can and my mother helps with babysitting, but it's tough being both Mommy and Daddy. Today, Sean wanted to ride his skateboard, and I knew he'd be with Melvin and Fred."
"Melvin and Fred?"
"The other kids call them Slash and Dogbreath," she giggled. "I think they're at that age where boys try to be radical and tough. They're good kids, really, and they treat Sean like a little brother, so I thought he would be OK with them. Anyway, it was quiet at home for once, so I decided to have a nice, long soak in a bubble bath. I guess that makes me a pretty bad mother."
"No, it makes you a mother who knows that she sometimes needs to take a few minutes for herself," I said.
"What about you?" Mandy asked. "Any children?"
"No, I haven't had the time."
"Listen to the voice of experience, Joe. It doesn't take very long to make a baby," she laughed. "With Sean's father, it took about three minutes from the time we were fully clothed until I was pregnant. He never called me again after he got what he wanted."
"I'd like to think it would take me a hell of a lot longer than three minutes to make a baby!" I laughed. "Besides, it takes at least eighteen years to make that baby into an adult. I'm not the kind of man who takes these things lightly."
We sipped our tea in slightly awkward silence for a minute.
"Do you live here alone?" she finally asked.
"Just me, my books, my computer, and my work boots. When I finish my thesis, I have a job waiting at the university. Those boots are going to be buried in a very solemn ceremony. If I never have to look at a hard hat or a nail-gun again, that will be just fine with me."
"Say, what are you doing for dinner? I feel I should do something for you to re-pay you," Mandy said.
"You don't need to do that," I said.
"Yes, I do. Besides, I know Sean would be thrilled if you came for dinner tonight."
"Well, all right then. What time should I come over?"
"Is six o'clock OK?"
A few minutes before six that evening, I was ringing Mandy's doorbell. Sean answered the door. "Hi, G. I. Joe!"
"How are the knees, big guy?" I asked, squatting down so I would be at his level.
"A little better. Wanna see?" He ran over to the couch and sat down, holding his knees up. "Mommy says I have to keep the bandages on, so I can't really show you, but she said they'll be fine."
Mandy had done a masterful job with the dressings. She had even drawn a little Army star on the center of each gauze pad.
"Mommy says that she's going to get me G. I. Joe bandages tomorrow. I'm going to be an Army man when I grow up."
"Where is Mommy, anyway?" I asked.
"Out back. C'mon!"
Sean led me through the house to the deck off the kitchen, and then trotted off to play on the swing that hung from a tree at the back end of the yard.
Mandy was cooking hamburgers on the grill. "Hi, Joe!" she said with a smile.
Her hair was pulled back into a pony tail that stuck out through the opening in the back of a baseball cap. The jeans and baggy t-shirt she wore earlier had been replaced by camp shorts and a conservative halter top. She was actually dressed pretty modestly, considering the warmth of the evening, but I got a better appreciation of her body. I could have a lot of fantasies about this woman.
"I hope burgers on the grill are OK," she said. "They're Sean's favorite."
"Mine too, now, but I went through a phase where I couldn't eat ground beef," I laughed.
"When I was in high school, I used to flip burgers for a living. It got to the point that I couldn't eat fast food for years. Army cooking tasted better. Even now, I hate red-haired clowns."
Mandy laughed. "I still can't stand girls with little red braids. My manager actually sent a suggestion to corporate that we all should wear wigs to look like the girl on the sign."
"Oh, a hated rival in the burger wars! Is it safe for me to eat here?" I teased.
"I promise my burgers are better than anything either of us used to make. Now, beating Army mess hall food or 'Meals -- Ready to Eat' may be a challenge."
"Thanks for inviting me," I laughed.
"Sean wouldn't stop talking about how cool it was that you were coming here tonight," Mandy said. "He kept asking me how many more days it is until he can enlist. I can't quite get the concept of 'forget it' into his head."
"The Army isn't for everyone. It was for me for a while, but now that I'm out, I never look back."
"What was it like, being in combat, Joe?"
"I can't describe it. It's not that I don't want to talk about it. I'm going to be an English prof, so I should be able to express myself, but I just don't have the words."
"Were you frightened?" Mandy asked.
"No. More like scared out of my mind, if I thought too much about what we were doing."
"How could you function?"
"Well," I said, "I had a job to do. We all did. We depended on each other. I knew I was good at my job, and I trusted my guys to be good at theirs. If you let fear into your head out in the field, you're a dead man."
"I can't see how you could do it," Mandy said.
"I can't see how you can work full-time and still be Mom to that boy of yours," I replied.
"You do what you have to do," she chuckled. "I guess I understand, when you put it that way." She started taking the burgers off the grill. "Sean," she called. "Time to wash your hands for dinner."
"OK, Mommy. Should G. I. Joe wash his too?" Sean asked, running up to the deck.
"Do you want to wash up?" Mandy asked me.
"I'll go help Sean," I said.
"First door on the right," she called as I followed the boy into the house.
After we ate, Mandy and I sat on the deck, watching Sean play in the back yard.
"What do you do for fun?" I asked.
She was silent for a moment. Then she gave me a rueful smile. "Does it count that I love my job?"
"That's great, but that's not what I meant. What are your other interests?"
"Being the best mother I can be to Sean."
"I hope that is fun for you, even though that's work too. Do you ever do anything just for you? Just because you want to?"
"Um, bubble baths?" Mandy asked, sheepishly.
I could feel the first twinges of swelling in my cock. Being with this woman in a bubble bath could be a very interesting experience. "What I meant was, are you free sometime next weekend, and if so, what would you like to do?"
"Are you asking me out?" she giggled.
"Awkwardly, I guess, but yes."
"I'll have to see if my mother can babysit."
"Depending on what we decide to do, we could make Sean a part of it. Does he like roller coasters?" I asked.
When I got home that evening, I tried to work on my thesis again. I wrote four pages and deleted all but one sentence. Mandy kept popping into my head.
On Saturday, the older boys were playing with their boards in the alley when I got home from work.
"How was the date, G. I. Joe?" Slash called to me.
"Date?" I asked.
"Yeah," Dogbreath said. "I saw you over at the Rogers' house across the street from me. That babe is a stone fox MILF!"
"Yeah, did you get any?" Slash asked.
I walked over to the two boys. I could see in their eyes that they knew I was not amused. "You know," I said, "it must suck having parents that would name their kids Melvin and Fred." Then I went upstairs and closed the door.
The following Sunday morning, Mandy and her son came to my apartment. We were going to spend the day at a nearby amusement park. She had offered to drive, since Sean and his safety booster seat wouldn't fit in my truck.
Sean pounded on my screen door. "Ready to go, G. I. Joe?" he hollered.
"Come on in, you two," I said, opening the door. "Let me grab some sunblock."
"I have some in the car." Mandy said.
She looked fabulous, as usual. She was wearing a fitted white t-shirt and cut-off denim shorts that displayed her beautiful legs. Her big blue eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, and her hair cascaded over her shoulders. I tried not to stare.