Chapter 39 - A dick move
"Why are you still standing here?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I'm just wondering if I heard you correctly."
"Well, if you heard me tell you to pack your shit then you heard correctly. This OPs is over, you're going home first thing tomorrow, 0600."
I was supposed to be stuck here for three more months.
I wasn't about to question it. I saluted and turned to do as he said.
I was supposed to video chat with River in the morning but I supposed I could email her and fill her in. Or I could just show up and surprise the hell out of her, yeah that sounded like a way better idea.
I would be traveling for the better part of the day tomorrow but the following day I could see her.
I could touch her.
I could finally wrap my arms around her.
I hadn't forgotten what kind of mess I had left there. I was betting Jackson's stance still hadn't changed and I would be less than welcome to stay in his house but I didn't care. I didn't have it in me to care about those things at that moment.
I packed my things and tried to sleep. But it was no use, I stayed up thumbing through her letters and looking at all the different Polaroids she had sent me over the last month. One of her in a sexy as hell dress, another of her lying in the grass with a clover crown on top of her head, but my favorite was still the first one she sent me with her face half-hidden behind Shakespeare.
Because that was her.
I managed to fall asleep for an hour before it was time for me to catch my ride to the plane. I strapped in and closed my eyes. I knew she was sitting in front of her computer wondering where I was at and I regretted not emailing her. I worried about her constantly but the thought of her worrying about me seemed wrong.
Once I was off the military plane and on my commercial flight, I let my mind relax enough to actually sleep.
I found River in my dreams, she was curled up under her covers crying. I tried to reach out and wipe the tears from her cheek but she turned her head. She looked right through and I watched her chin quiver.
Even dream me needed to stop her tears.
She bit out before burying her face in her pillow, letting out a loud sob.
The stewardess tapped my shoulder and I sat straight up.
"Did you want a pillow?"
I shook my head.
"No thanks, I'm fine."
I tried to smile but it probably came across as pained.
It was just a dream, it wasn't real.
But it felt pretty damn real.
Roughly twenty hours later I was back in North Carolina and I'd never been so glad to see it. Coming back from deployment was always sort of bittersweet before. Now it was just sweet.
It was six in the afternoon here but my internal clock was way off. I unlocked the door to my old apartment that I was in before moving into Jackson's. My roommate still hadn't found anyone else to split the rent with him and was more than happy for me to give him my money.
I walked into the room that was designated as mine. It didn't feel like mine at all, it felt off to be on the other side of town again. I was in the same town as River but she was still too far.
I showered then practically threw my exhausted body onto the bed.
When was the last time these sheets were washed?
Probably best that I didn't think of that. I drifted off to sleep quicker than normal and didn't wake up until twelve the next afternoon.
River would be home in three hours.
I decided I would take a taxi over and surprise her after Jackson left for his night shift.
Yes, it was a dick move to go behind his back, but I had done it before and was bound to do it again.
I told the taxi driver to drop me off at the convenience store down the street from River's house. I walked inside and bought a pack of Lemonheads and every single Crybaby they had on the shelf.
Less than five minutes later I was standing in front of the steps leading up to the house. Her bathroom light was on so I doubted she could hear when I carefully unlocked the front door.
I got a sick amount of pleasure knowing that it was locked, to begin with. I didn't want the first thing I said to her to be about the fact that she was home alone with the front door unlocked. Even though she would've just ignored me anyway.
I could smell something cooking in the oven and knowing her it was probably some sort of pizza with green stuff on it.
I took my shoes off and left them by the door before walking down the hallway. I pushed her bedroom door open and looked around.
It somehow smelled like fresh strawberries, and her star projector was turned on. Everything was exactly the same except for the stack of envelopes sitting on her desk. I knew exactly what they were and my fingers itched to touch them. I wanted to read every letter that every college had written her, confirming to her how damn smart she was. I sat down on her bed and even though I shouldn't have, I grabbed the envelope on top.
I pulled the stack of papers out and sucked in a breath as my eyes took in the keywords.
I stared at the papers with a mix of amazement and fear.
I looked up when I heard her bathroom door open.
Rivers' eyes met mine and she put one hand over her chest and the other on the doorframe. I half expected her to scream a curse word in my direction, but she was completely silent. Her hair was piled up on top of her head again and her eyes were puffy, I knew instantly she had been crying.
I'd barely spoken the words and she was already jumping in my lap, clinging to me like a spider monkey.
"When I didn't hear from you I was so scared."
She cried into my neck.
"I wanted to surprise you."
I rubbed my hand over her back and breathed her in.
"Well, you did."
She pulled away and I was finally able to get a good look at her. I pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and scanned every inch of her face.
I was still clutching her acceptance letter in one hand while I held onto her body with the other.
I felt like I was holding two completely different futures in my hands.
And it scared the hell out of me to know without a doubt which one she would choose.