~~I promise I’ll be home soon, okay? Those were the last words Bryce said to me. Even in the silence of my apartment, I could still hear those words echoing in my ears. I had just gotten a phone call that nearly destroyed me. Every bone in my body became weak, making me fall to the ground. My phone slid to the floor, the dial tone being the only noise surrounding me. I can feel my heart squeezing painfully inside my chest. My thoughts are scattered all over the place, worry filling my brain with horrible situations and equally awful outcomes. As my phone started to ring of family members and friends that probably got the same news, I had flashbacks of Bryce. I started going back to memories of us before I got this terrible news.
About two months ago, Bryce called me early one morning while I was sleeping. The night before I had worked really late, and I just got home two hours earlier. I answered the phone groggily, and I heard that familiar voice chuckle and say, “Hey, baby girl.” I always did love the way Bryce’s southern twang curled around his words, but I didn’t always love the nickname he gave me though. Bryce knew that, but he just loved to tease me anyway. I eventually started to love the nickname despite my dislike of the endearment before.
I smiled and said tiredly, “Hey, Bry. It’s good to hear from you.”
“It’s good to hear from you too. I’m sorry for waking you up, but I’ve just missed hearing your voice, Marley,” he said.
“No, it’s okay. I don’t care how tired I am. Your phone calls are always worth losing some sleep,” I told him, smiling even wider.
“Well, I finally got some time to myself, and I thought that I should call you, catch up on a few things,” he told me.
“What time is it there?” I asked, looking at my watch. The lights on my nightstand clock read three fifteen.
“It’s fourteen o-five now in the regions of Afghanistan. Or as civvies call it ‘two o-five PM.’” I scoffed at him a bit, hating when he throws me that military time. I always found it hard to count military time. I mean I knew how to count it, but it just took me a while to do so.
“So, what have you been you up to, baby girl?”
“Nothing much, really. Just school, support group gatherings, work, home. There’s not much to report.”
“Yeah? How’s the support group working for you?”
I sighed and said, “It’s been okay, I guess. It’s kind of hard going to the gatherings, hearing other spouses and girlfriends talk about their pain. Some of them share their concerns and insecurities, and others talk about their losses. It’s a process, but it helps with the coping.” I heard him sigh heavily, probably trying to find some way to apologize for making me go through all this. I quickly changed the subject, stopping him from saying sorry for the hundredth time.
“So, what’s been going on with you?”
“Well, a couple of the guys and I went to a village earlier today. We met some of the village people, and they were very welcoming. We even met some of the children, and we taught them a bit of English. Sam tried teaching some of the adults cuss words, the bastard.” Sam’s a really good friend of Bryce’s that he made through training. I’ve met him the few times whenever Bryce came home from Afghanistan.
I chuckled and said, “Of course, Sam would be the one initiating something like that.” He chuckled as well and continued with telling me about what he had been up to lately. He told me that he’d been busy. Don’t I know that, I thought to myself. He only tells me about the times he goes around villages and meet interesting people. He would learn about some of the country’s culture and ways, but that was about it. He never elaborates on the anything, really. I was used to never knowing the details of his job. He never tells, and I never ask. It was always that way with us, but I never complained about it much. I sighed into the phone and said, “I miss you, Bryce. So much.”
“I know. I miss you too,” he said with the same longing I felt. “Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was home with you.”
“I wish for the same thing every day,” I said, my heart sinking a bit.
We stayed quiet for a moment which gave me more time to think. I really did miss him. We’ve been separated on and off for almost two years. His career takes him to places that needs his help and all the time, I fear for his life.
Bryce is in the United States Navy as a Navy Seal. When I first met him, he was getting ready to join the Navy. I had recently moved to a small town in Memphis, Tennessee from Florida, and I worked as a bartender at this one pub that military servicemen and women frequent. I was trying to pay for half my tuition for school, and working at a pub part-time seemed to be a great way to earn money.
It was a hot summer evening, and I had just gotten into work to start my shift for the night. I’ve been working at the pub for about a month at the time, and many of the bar patrons had the habit of hitting on me. I didn’t mind because the men’s flirtation was harmless. I was just a bartender, and some of them just found it easy to talk to me.
That evening, a group of guys came through the doors, laughing and talking like they were really good friends. I recognized two faces. I didn’t remember their names, but I did remember that they frequent the pub sometimes. I could tell that some of them were military due to the crew cuts. Of all of them, one guy stood out to me. He had a very tall frame with a muscular but lean body. He had black hair and very cute baby blue eyes. His smile was very sensual, and any woman would’ve swooned just looking at it. He and his friends came towards the bar and asked for some drinks. At the time, Bryce kept staring at me with that same smile. I tried not to let him affect me, but as the night wore on, I found that difficult to do.
Bryce came towards the bar, leaned his elbows against the wooden counter, and aimed that smile my way. He then said, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”
“How would you know that?” I asked him with a laugh.
He leaned in and said, “This is my hometown, and I swear I haven’t seen you here before.”
“Are you sure about that? I’ve been here for about a month now,” I told him, shaking my head. The friend that stood next to Bryce elbowed him a bit and spoke up.
“This guy has been so busy trying to find himself, he missed you moving into this town, sweetheart.”
I smiled at him and said, “Ahh! That explains a lot.”
He reached out with his big, strong hand and said, “Hi, I’m Bryce.”
I shook his hand and introduced myself to him. “Nice to meet you, Bryce. I’m Marley.” He gave me that gorgeous smile again and started talking to me the whole night. He didn’t throw me any pick-up lines or try to flatter me with any compliments. He just asked me what I’ve been doing before I came here.
“I came here from Florida for school. You see, my best friend and I got great scholarships here at Tennessee State University.”
“If you’ve got a great scholarship, then why are you working part-time here? I mean, doesn’t your scholarship pay for everything?” he asked me with a slight frown.
“Well, we can’t always get things at their full expense, now can we,” I told him with a smile. We then spent the rest of the night talking. While I was serving drinks to other bar patrons, Bryce just kept on chatting me up like we were friends. I don’t even know why I found it so easy to talk to him. He just had that easy-to-talk-to kind of personality, so it was hard not to strike up a conversation with him. His friends had teased him, saying that he was dissing them off just to talk to me. I smiled at their friendly banter and continued to work.
For about a week, Bryce kept asking me out on a date. He’d stop by the pub every evening when my shift started, and he would bug me constantly about going out with him. He would come up with some bizarre excuse as to why I should consider dating him. The moment he knew I was single, he was relentless with trying to ask me out. The man can be very persuasive with his charms, but I resisted him. The first four tries I shot him down, telling him I was too busy, or I didn’t have time. He never seemed to give up though. If I didn’t find him so cute, I probably would’ve called the cops on him.
On the fifth try, I succumbed to his relentlessness. My days-off were usually on Sundays, and I always go to Pickwick Lake to jet-ski with my best friend, Nina. She and I normally go surfing when we used to live in Florida, but since Tennessee is a land locked state, waves would be the last thing we see here. We had been on the lake for about an hour and a half, and we decided to go back to shore. Just as I was pulling up, I saw a very handsome guy standing on the pier. Bryce extended his hand to me and helped me up to the wooden planks. He smiled at me quite devilishly.
“Did you have a good time?” he said.
“Yeah, the water’s pretty good today.” He extended his hand towards Nina as well, helping her up.
“Oh, and who’s this eye candy, Marley?” she asked me, eyeing Bryce up and down in a seductive way. I just shook my head at her and introduced them. Nina was a bit of a blunt flirt and said, “Ah, so this is the guy that’s been trying to get you out on a date? No offense, Mar, but if you won’t take him I would be glad to do the honors.” I rolled my eyes at her, and walked towards my car, my brown hair sticking to the side of my face. Nina followed me as well. I got our clothes out from the window of my passenger’s seat, tossed Nina her pile of clothes, and I turned to Bryce who was right behind us. “How did you find me?”
He shrugged a massive shoulder and said, “Your waitress friend at the pub told me you were here. So I thought I’d stop by. Besides I wanted to see that beautiful smile of yours.”
I shook my head at him and said, “I appreciate the compliments, but I just can’t go on a date with you.”
Nina tossed the crumbled up paper bag that held her clothes in at me, and said, “Marley!” I glared at her, but she inclined her head at Bryce, pushing me to go on a date with him. She leaned over the hood of the car and whispered suggestively, “Go get that piece of ass.” I rolled my eyes at her again and turned to Bryce.
“What do you say?” he asked me with a very wide grin.
“I’m sorry, Bryce. I—“
He then cut me off before I could finish my sentence.
“I tell you what.” He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a coin. “Let’s make a deal. We flip a coin. If it lands on your chosen side, then I promise to never bother you again. If it lands on my side, we get to go on one date. How’s that sound?”
I shook my head, smiling at his antics. “You’re so lame, you know that?”
“I’m very well aware of that, ma’am,” he said, his southern accent making the words sound euphoric. I tried not to let the accent, smile, or those baby blues affect me so much. I chose tails, and he took heads. He flipped the coin, placed it over his wrist, and looked at me. “Are you ready?” he asked. I nodded, and he removed his hand to show me a head. I swear his smile couldn’t get any wider.
That one date turned into two, and then later on turned into more. We always went out, having fun at places he grew up knowing. He was great company, funny, sarcastic, and very charming. It was hard to resist someone with his kind of personality. Nina really liked him as well.
I smiled as I remember all the fun we had together. Bryce had been such a great boyfriend.
“Hey, are you there?” Bryce asked, breaking through my thoughts.
“Oh, yeah, I’m still here,” I told him, holding the phone more tightly against my ear.
“How’s Jerky?” he asked me, referring to his chocolate Labrador. He named him Jerky because the day he got him, he was eating beef jerky, and the little cutie ate the beef right out of his hand. I smile every time I remember Bryce telling me that story.
“He’s right here, sleeping at my side,” I told him, petting Jerky’s head.
Bryce chuckled and said, “Man, I’ve never been so jealous of that mutt up until now.” I chuckled and petted Jerky some more. Then I heard voices in the background from Bryce’s end, and he told me he had to go.
“I’ll try to call you some other time, okay,” he told me.
“Okay, then. Just go do what you gotta do,” I said, but not wanting him to leave. I heard him sigh into the phone, silent for a moment.
“God, I wish I was there with you right now.” His voice sounded sad.
I felt tears sting my eyes as I said, “I know.”
“I love you, Marley.”
“I love you too.” I hung up the phone, his promise of coming home soon echoing in my mind. I laid in my bed, thinking of all the things we’ve been through. My relationship with Bryce had been difficult to handle, but not because we were too different. We didn’t stray from our relationship or anything. The difficulty of our relationship came with the constant separation due to his career. That night, I had thought of the times he’d been gone, all for the sake of becoming a Navy Seal.