Follow Your Gut
It turned out he really wanted to kiss me too. We made out like teenagers as Mark and Ben pretended not to notice us. It was amazing, I loved every second, but it couldn’t last.
“Charlotte, I need you to sign some paperwork before we get to the ship,” Ben said. “The cruiser can turn it over to the local office. I know the movies say everything is all secret accounts and cash, but reality is that even a black ops budget Is a budget. I need to get the contract signed if you’re going to get paid.”
James let me go, saying he had to go work on something. I squeezed his hand as he left, then followed Ben below decks. He went to a locker, pulling out a folder. He filled in the amounts on the standard goods and services contract, under the name of a CIA front company. They both signed, and he put it in an envelope. “You’re sure you want to do this, Charlotte?”
“I signed the paperwork, Ben. I’m good. Let’s drop this stuff off and get going again.”
“We won’t be in a hurry, it’s going to take a few hours after sunset to get the transfer done. There’s no time to get back north and do anything before sunrise, so we may as well take our time heading back. What do you need? If the Navy has anything that can help, I can get it.”
I thought about what we might need, and we had it covered. The Eden operation was what James called a “sneak and peek,” where we go in and take pictures and get out. “Food. Your fridge leaves a few things to be desired, and there’s only so much I can do with this. We could use some milk, fresh food and seafood.”
He smiled broadly at that. “Make a list of what you need, and I’ll see if we can get it. We are going to have to refuel, and we don't want to be around it any longer than we have to be,” he said.
“I’ll give it to you.” I figured I’d look through the refrigerator and freezer first before making the list, so I went below decks. It wasn’t long before James joined me. “Anything special you want to eat? I’m going shopping on a cruiser tonight.”
“Steaks,” he said. “Not sure if the Navy has those, though. We rarely got that when I was in. Other than that, whatever you want to make, I’d like to eat.”
I finished the list as he helped me make up a menu list for five more days. The domestic task had me thinking of what life would be if we were together, and I imagined cooking for him on lazy weekends together. He walked off, leaving me to my thoughts as I finished looking through the cupboards.
When I came out, he was sitting on his bunk and holding something in his hand. “Charlotte?”
“James?” I put my hand to my chest as he dropped to his knee in front of me. “What are you doing?”
He reached out with his right hand and took my left. “Charlotte, I’ve spent my entire adult life staying safe by trusting my instincts and what my gut is telling me. When it is time to act, I act immediately and decisively. It’s saved my life many times. Right now, my heart and my head agree on one thing. We want you to be ours, forever and ever.”
“It’s so sudden,” I started to say.
“I fell in love with you the first time I looked into your eyes,” he said as he pulled me closer. “Every moment since then, I have fallen more in love with you. I don’t need dates, I don’t need time, I don’t need anything else to tell me that you are the one for me.” He held up a black rubber O-ring he must have gotten out of the spare parts drawer. “Charlotte Courtois, will you marry me?”
Tears were falling down my face as I looked down at him. My head tried in vain to stop what my heart wanted to say. “Yes. I’ll marry you.” He smiled as he took the O-ring and pushed it over my finger; it rolled into place, not too snug. I smiled as I made sure it wouldn’t hurt my finger. “It’s an interesting ring,” I said.
“I didn’t expect to find my wife on a CIA salvage boat in the Persian Gulf, so I’m not as prepared as I would like to be. This will hold the place until we can shop for a real ring,” he told me. He stood, pulling me into his arms as we kissed deeply.I ended up straddling him with his hands roaming under my shirt before we heard someone coming down the stairs.
I stood up and turned around just as Ben opened the door. “Got the list,” he asked. I handed it to him, sure he could see how flushed I was. “Congratulations, Charlotte. I’m happy you two have found each other.” He walked out, and I turned to look at my new fiancé.
“I talked to him earlier,” he told me. “Originally, I was going to wait until we got home, but he told me a few things that made me rethink the timetable and move up my plans.”
“What was that,” I said as I sat back in his lap.
“You know this mission is dangerous, and whether you stayed or not, my job is not without risk.” he said. “CIA operatives plan for the possibility they may die in the service of our country. We carry large life insurance policies, and we have survivor benefits for our spouses. I was carrying them for my mother, but after she died last year, I never updated anything. I decided that I loved someone else enough to change things. I have drafted a new will and had Ben and Mark witness it, they will send it to my lawyer with the ship’s mail. My life insurance policy won’t go to my designated beneficiary, as my Mom is gone, it will go to my estate. My estate will go to you.”
“Me?” I was still a little in shock. “I don’t want to think about you dying, I just found you!”
“And I just found you, but diving is dangerous, and so is this operation. Right now no one would get government survivor benefits if I die, because those can only go to a spouse. I love you, I want to marry you and have a future with you. Now that you’ve agreed to go after Eden, I want you to marry me tonight.”
My jaw dropped open. “We’re in the middle of the Gulf, James. It’s not like there is a wedding chapel around.”
“Commanding Officers of ships at sea can perform marriages, I verified that with Mark. We’re going to be on a Navy Warship in a few hours. Mark assured me their Legal Officer could take care of the will and the marriage certificate, we’d just have to file it back in Texas when we return.”
I leaned into him, thinking about everything. Some of it made sense; if we were going to die, I wanted to die as his wife. “I need to call my father first,” I said. “He’d kill me if I eloped like this without talking to him first.”
“It’s a good thing I have this, then.” He pulled a cellphone out from under his pillow. “We’re close enough to get reception now.”
I took it, dialing the number of my father. “What time is it there?”
“Early morning,” he said.
He picked up after a few rings. “Hello?”
“Charlotte? Wow, girl, are you all right?” I could tell he was tired, I must have woken him up.
“I’m fine, Daddy. More than fine. I met a man, Dad. We love each other, and he asked me to marry him.”
The phone got quiet. “That’s kind of sudden, isn’t it?”
“The heart wants what it does, Daddy. I’m sure about this.”
“Well, I’m happy you found someone, baby. Bring him home with you, I’ll take him out back and make sure he won’t even think about hurting you.” I just chuckled, thinking about what I was going to tell him next. “He’s a good man?”
“The best, Daddy. He’s a diver, a former SEAL, and I love him so much it hurts.”
“If it hurts when you love each other, you should see the doctor. He’s probably got the clap or he’s too drunk to figure it out,” he said.
I started laughing. “DADDY!”
“Just kidding. When are you having the wedding? Over Christmas? Spring?”
“Tonight.” I heard the phone fall onto the ground, he picked it up.
“Tonight? If he got you pregnant, I’m going to fucking kill him,” he said.
“Dad, we haven’t done that. No, it’s just that we want to be married before our next dive, and we have the opportunity.” We talked for a while, and I promised him I would send him a photo of the two of us. Ten minutes later, we had to let him go because we were almost to the cruiser. “Goodbye Dad. I love you.”
“I love you too, honey. Let me talk to James for a second.”
I handed him the phone, and he held it far enough from his ear I could hear. “Hurt my daughter and you’ll be shark chum before sundown,” he said.
“I could never hurt her,” he said. “We will have a ceremony for you and your family when we return.”
“I’m counting on it,” he said as he hung up.
We would have talked more, but Ben was hollering for us to get up to the deck. It was near sundown, and we could see the cruiser USS Chosin (CG-65) on the horizon. Ben had already talked to the Captain on the cellphone, passing along our requests. He was a little shocked at one, but agreed to get the paperwork ready for us.
We waited until after dark before we came alongside. Working without lights, we tied off to the Ticonderoga-class cruiser as it moved into the wind at a slow three knots. The torpedo was wrapped in a tarp, and it took over an hour to get it rigged and on the deck of the cruiser. After it had been stored in the helicopter hangar, a ladder was lowered and three of us boarded. Mark stayed behind to receive the supplies we were taking on.
“Welcome to the Chosin,” Commander Tyler Parks said as I was helped onto the deck. “Come on, we can talk in my cabin.” We followed him through a hatch and up the ladders until we were in a small office. His Legal Officer, Ensign Martinez, followed us in. “I’ve only done a couple of these, so you’ll have to bear with me. We don’t have much time, so are you ready?”
“We are,” I said.
He had a piece of paper with the ceremony on it. “We are gathered here today to join James Woodley and Charlotte Courtois in the holy bonds of matrimony. Do you, James, take Charlotte to be your awful wedded wife? Shit, I’m sorry, I was remembering my ex.” I almost lost it, and James pulled me close until the Captain could continue. “Do you, James, take Charlotte to be your LAWFUL wedded wife? To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health from this day forward, so help you God?”
“I do,” he said.
“And do you, Charlotte, take James to be your lawful wedded husband? To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health from this day forward, so help you God?”
“Then by the power vested in me by the United States Navy, I am proud to declare you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
“Oh hell yeah,” he said as he pulled me into his arms. We kissed deeply, stopping only when the Captain started clearing his throat. “Sorry,” my husband said.
“Let’s sign the paperwork and get you back to your boat, they should be done loading it by now.” We all signed the forms, and the Ensign ran off to make copies. “The official ones will be mailed to your lawyer with the new will and testament,” he told James. “Good luck. You guys have done a hell of a job, even if it never happened.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Ten minutes later, we were casting off the line and steaming away from the cruiser, heading north into the dark night. Our wedding night was not the one I would have dreamed of, given the tiny bunks and lack of privacy, but we made do.
Mrs. James Woodley was ready to solve the mystery of the Garden of Eden.