2017 READING CHALLENGE
This year is coming to a close, which means it’s time to […]
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Later that day
Bachelor Officers Quarters, Naval Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut
Outside the window, in the post-midnight pitch-blackness, the freezing wind howled and moaned. The wind slashed at the leafless trees on the slope that led down to the river. Now and then, sleet pattered the pane, the tail end of a strong nor'easter that had dumped a foot of snow. Inside the room, a candle glowed in one corner. The ancient steam-heat radiator hissed and dripped. Ilse Reebeck looked down at Jeffrey Fuller. "Do you want me to get off now?"
He met her gaze, with that slightly out-of-focus look in his eyes he always got right after making love. Jeffrey nodded, too sated to speak. Ilse felt him watch her intently as she left the bed. He stayed fully under the covers -- she'd noticed since they'd first become intimate on New Year's Eve that he was strangely shy with her about his body, well endowed as he was with muscles and dark curly hair and the scars of an honorable war wound. Ilse was proud of her figure -- she gave Jeffrey a last quick profile view and blew out the candle.
She got back in bed in the dark and put one arm across his chest and tried to fall asleep. It was good to lose herself in sex with Jeffrey Fuller, and tune out the rest of the world, but as the immediate ardor subsided she felt sad. Her family was dead, for resisting the old-line Boer takeover, her whole country in enemy hands. She'd been in pitched battle twice behind enemy lines, during tactical nuclear war, and killed and watched teammates be killed. The war was far from over, quite possibly unwinnable. Even the escape of sleep was a mixed blessing, because sleep brought on thenightmares. Nightmares of combat flashbacks, of hurling grenades and bayonet charges and incoming main battle tank ire. Nightmares of relatives hanging. Nightmares of reunions with friends who were decomposed corpses.
If she hadnt been at a marine biology conference in the U.S. when the war broke out, Ilse might well be dead now too, strung up with the rest of them.
The radiator stopped hissing. Jeffrey reached over Ilse for the batterypowered alarm dock on his bedstand. His elbow rubbed her left nipple. "Sorry," he said, but she thought it an odd thing to apologize for, just after making love.
"Zero one hundred," he said. "Right on schedule."
"Wartime energy conservation, Ilse thought. The heat was turned off in all base housing every night at one until five in the morning, along with hot water and power.
"Typical U.S. Navy," she said out loud. "If anything, always prompt." Ilse wasn't sure herself whether she meant to be sarcastic. It just came out. Jeffrey didn't respond. He rolled on his side and she rolled on her side so he could press himself against her in a hug ...
"You should go back to your room now."
Ilse stirred. She realized she'd fallen asleep like this and a few minutes must have passed.
"No" she told Jeffrey. "I want to stay." The bed was designed for one person, but they were both so used to sleeping on narrow racks in a submarine, the mattress seemed spacious in contrast.
"We have classes in the morning."
Also typical Jeffrey, always thinking ahead, making his plans and his schedules. Must do this, mustn't do that ... The naval officer in him never really shut down, or turned off or whatever, to simply let him be a person. Even six weeksafter they'd both been permanently detached from USS "Challenger -- and were rested now from the rigors of their Germany raid, when Jeffrey was acting captain -- he still ran himself with military precision out of sheer habit. He was taking the Prospective Commanding Officers course, and she was going through the Basic Submarine Officers course -- though she was technically a civilian, a consultant to the U.S. Navy.
"I'll set the alarm for four-thirty," Ilse said. "Plenty of time to get back to my room before the hallways start to liven up."
"Someone might see you. It's indiscreet."
"It's indiscreet me being here at one in the morning. I have makeup and stuff in my bag. I'll use your bathroom, and I'll have my briefcase, right? Anyone who sees me can think I worked the midnight shift."
"I'm not a "girl. I'm nearly thirty." The thought sometimes frightened her.
"I meant --"
"You don't need to apologize." Ilse knew Jeffrey was no sexist, and she really did care about him. It was just that, well ... Jeffrey was a great lion in battle, but taken out of purely military functions -- like here right now -- he wasn't exactly always at his best, socially speaking. He was almost forty, but had spent his entire adult life in navy circles.
Ilse began to doze off again, with her head on Jeffrey's forearm. She felt him squeeze her buttocks gently with his other hand. "Enough is enough," she told him. "It's very late."
She sensed Jeffrey pausing, a pregnant pause in the dark. "Who's better?" he finally said.
"Who's better? Him or me?"
""What?" Ilse bristled.
"Ter Horst. What's he like? Hung like a horse?" Jeffrey sounded amused at his ownlittle joke, but the amusement was forced.
"Don't be silly." "And please don't spoil the evening for us both.
"No, I'm serious."
"Really, Jeffrey, there's no comparison." He was definitely a Jeffrey, not a Jeff; Ilse felt no impulse to give him a special nickname. "I knew Jan for more than two years, and you and I have been dating, what? Less than two months ... It was before the war and everything. It's a completely different situation."
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