My phone beeped with an incoming message. Damn it. I thought I put it on vibrate. Oh well, I don’t think it was loud enough to wake anyone up. I grabbed my purse and threw it over my shoulder. One last glimpse in the mirror, and I was out the window. The cool nighttime breeze felt great after sweating it out in my parents’ greenhouse temperatures.
“Really, Allie? You had to sneak out of the house?” Jordan was leaning on his motorcycle. All I could see was the red light on the end of his cigarette.
“I thought it would be fun. Like old times.” I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. “Really, Jordan? Smoking?”
“They don’t let us drink in the desert.” He put it out and popped in a piece of gum. “We going?”
I clung to his waist, squeezing as tight as possible. There was no way I would be separated from him during his leave, not even once. We had seven days before he had to spend another six months overseas, which meant six more months of wondering if something awful was going to happen every day.
The sun started to rise over the ocean when we stopped for our break. I stretched my legs and took a deep breath. After such a long, harsh summer, I welcomed the December cold. The ocean breeze quickly wiped away the smell of the road, but nothing could get the smell of jet fuel out of his flight jacket. I didn’t care. After five years, the smell was comforting.
It was hard to believe how much Jordan had stashed in his pack. He pulled out a blanket and a small set of speakers that he attached to his phone. I poured us coffee, watching steam roll off the top.
“Only five more hours.” I looked at him. Jordan was always somewhere else when he was on leave. I knew he didn’t like leaving his team behind, but he needed to get away. Even a lifer needed a break.
He wrapped his strong arms around me. With such a simple gesture, I knew I was safe. It wasn’t easy to be strong when he was gone, but I knew I had to be. He had some of the best men out there watching his back. He brushed away a strand of hair that escaped my ponytail. Even with my eyes closed, I knew he wore the faintest smile as he kissed my forehead. He was back with me.
“Babe. How’s your ass?” He was ever the romantic.
“I never knew how uncomfortable your motorcycle was till I spent two hours on it.” I sighed as he rubbed just the right spot. God, he was amazing. “I could be ready to head out in five minutes unless you want to make it twenty?”
The Florida keys welcomed us with a salty chill wiping away any other thought I had in mind. Jordan pulled the bike over, and we watched the sunset. He leaned back, resting his head on my chest, and closed his eyes. Brushing my fingers over his fuzzy head, I saw the rise and fall of his chest finally start to deepen. Relax, love, relax.
That first night in bed was bliss. We spent most of the time talking, trying to bring his mind to peace. I thought our eyes would never close. But once he tucked me into our blanket cocoon, I drifted right to sleep with our breathing in sync.
The sunlight caught my ring. Three years later, it sparkled just as brightly as it did the day he gave it to me. Jordan reached under the covers and drew me into him. I sighed at the heat of his breath against my skin. It was bittersweet, only five days remaining until he went back to his sandy mistress.
“Do you think our parents are here yet?” For that question, I got the stink eye.
“Six months with me gone from your bed, and that’s the first thing you think of?” He asked, kissing my words away.
After a day of lounging around the resort, it was finally time to get away. The bar crawl began, only this time, friends and family were tagging along. Everyone wanted to spend time with Jordan.
The boys all thought it would be fun to wander into the nudist bar, The Garden of Eden, while still slightly sober. That was not something I would even attempt while there was still sun.
It was an easy choice for the girls to go into Kermit’s Key Lime shop since we knew the guys would bitch about it. They already gave Jordan hell for a joint bachelor/ bachelorette party.
“Ally, look how perfect this is.” Jordan’s older sister Kayla held up a picture frame that said Married in the Keys. It even had little dog tags hanging from the edge.
There was no arguing. Kayla bought it. Just as the transaction finished, they could hear the guys laughing outside. That didn’t take them very long. Kurt had found a set of drinking boobs, and somehow Chase had figured out a way to secure them to their heads.
“Come on, Jay! We have to see the sunset.” Kayla said, pulling on his arm. The girl became bossy when she drank.
Hammocks freckled the entire resort. There was a group of them close to where the wedding would be held.
“I’ll take this sand any day over the shit back over there.” Jordan let his legs hang over the side of the hammock with his toes dragging in the sand.
“You know how to make that happen.” I wasn’t looking for a fight, but I couldn’t help but say it. “What would I do here, Ally? I blow shit up for a living.” His voice got harsh.
“I’m not sure. But I heard of these pirates that go around blowing up old buildings and things no one wants anymore. I think they are called demolition men.” I stuck my tongue out at him then licked the side of his face.
“You’ll pay for that.” He started tickling me. How he ever thought there was enough room for his 6’3”, 200-plus pounds and my barely 5’3”, 110 pounds to even breathe was beyond me. We both fell out of the hammock, but he was the first to hit the ground. It was nice of him to break my fall.
Jordan thought he was sneaky when he slipped from the bed, but it was never an easy task since I constantly tangled my limbs around him.
“Where are you going?” My voice came out in a whisper. I was surprised I got anything out at all, being half asleep still.
“It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride on their wedding day.” He kissed me and walked out the door.
“That’s only in the wedding dress.” It didn’t matter that I yelled after him. The door was already shut.
It wasn’t long before my Mom, and the rest of the women in my family came rushing through the door. I pulled the covers over my head. I was excited, but it was only eight-thirty in the morning. “One more hour, please.” I pulled the covers over my head.
“We waited till Jordan left. Didn’t want to interrupt anything.” My Mom gave me a giant hug. “Time to get pretty, missy.”
“Why are you still in bed?” squeaked my ten-year-old cousin. She told me on the phone how happy she was to be the flower girl, even though she thought she was way too old to be one. “Ally, aren’t you excited?”
“Of course, Chelsea. I just wanted to spend a little more time with Jordan.” I finally felt my mood lighten up. Today was my wedding day—no time to sulk. I could do that after he left by sharing my feelings with Ben and Jerry’s. The photographer came in and snapped a picture. Luckily for her and the wedding album, I was already dressed.
“I wonder what the other photographer is doing with the men,” I thought. “Guess the truth will come out when I get the pictures.”
Everyone was so happy I had to keep from laughing. I was truly blessed to have such a great family, and soon I’d have a sister, too.
“Do you have your vows?” Always the stage mom, my mother worried about everything, but thank God she did. I’m sure I would have left something back at home like the marriage license – you know, something that wasn’t that important.
As it drew near seven, an infestation of butterflies found a new home in my stomach. I could see from the bridal suite that the guests were arriving, and I swear I caught a glimpse of Jordan, but I wasn’t sure. All his friends wore their dress blues. When my dad came to the door, I started tearing up. After three years of being engaged and two years of dating, we were finally going to do it. I never thought this would actually happen, but here we were.
I was watching my bridesmaids walk down the aisle when my dad squeezed my hand.
“If you want to run, I wouldn’t blame ya.” I laughed at him. “Being married is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do for the past thirty years.”
“Daddy? I thought being married to Mom was the easiest thing in the world.” Thank God he made me laugh because I felt like glass ready to break.
The music started, and it was our turn. I’m not sure if I was walking or the vibrations from me shaking moved us down the aisle. But seeing Jordan seemed to ease my nerves. When he took my hand from my father, he leaned in and almost kissed me. Everyone started laughing. I was so happy he was the one who did something silly because I thought for sure I was going to trip and fall. There was still time, though. We had to walk back.
Once the laughter settled down, the priest started the ceremony. When he asked if anyone thought we shouldn’t be married, the whole bridal party raised their hands.
“Be right back,” Kayla said as she ran back into the resort.
“What’s going on?” I meant for it to be louder than a whisper, but I almost fainted.
Soon Kayla came running back. Everyone turned around in their seats, trying to see what she was carrying when a sharp bark came from under her shawl. I couldn’t believe it. Lilly? She actually snuck Lilly into the resort. Kayla had joked about this a million times, but I never thought she would do it. I wonder where she had kept the dog this whole week. Jordan headed butted our little westie as she covered his face with kisses.
“What are they going to do now? Kick us out?” Kayla put Lilly on the ground next to us. “Okay, now you can continue.”
I was crying so hard I could barely focus on what the priest was saying.
“The couple has prepared their own vows.” He looked towards Jordan. “Jordan, would you like to start?”
Jordan nodded and stuck his hand in his coat pocket. He smiled at me as he searched his pant pockets. I was starting to get worried. I remember giving him his vows the night before. I even stuck them in his jacket pocket. But with a wink, he bent down and took the roll of paper from Lilly’s collar.
“Allison, from the moment I met you, you got under my skin. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get rid of you.” He stopped and took a breath. He was shaking. “But after all the times…”
He stopped. All the men in uniform looked at each other. The ground started to shake, and within seconds the roar of jets came overhead. The Keys were used to having jets, but these jets weren’t ours. Before they were out of sight, what looked like small duffel bags fell from each plane.
The war had finally come to us. We waited for the explosions to hit. The first one hit out in the ocean while the other two rocked somewhere nearby. The wedding party looked to Jordan and the rest of the groomsmen. The priest waited a moment. The skies were clear, and the guests were distressed. He cleared his throat.
“Shall we continue?” Jordan held my hand tighter than I had ever felt. I could feel his pulse in his fingers. I knew the one thing that always kept him sane was knowing I was safe. I was no longer safe. No one was.
Jordan’s cell phone rang for the twenty-eighth time. It was them. They wanted him back. It wasn’t going to happen. I still had forty-eight hours left with him. When the first call came, Jordan reminded me why we chose this spot. There was spotty reception. He had told his commanding officer that and told the hotel to lose any messages that might come in.
“Do you think the guys have answered their call?” I asked, swaying in the hammock.
“No. They are under strict orders. Forty-eight hours of drunkenness.” Jordan jumped out of his hammock. “We’re going on a boat ride.
“Are you crazy? They were just bombing the waters yesterday!” But there was no arguing. I could see the motley crew already assembling. Dolphins played in our wake, and the birds dove into the clear blue waters. The salty air stuck to my skin as we charged to our destination. The men kept their eyes on the sky, but they doubted the planes would be back. Jordan had overstocked the boat before we left. I couldn’t imagine seven people needing so much food for a day trip.
“Do you trust me?” Jordan asked when we were alone.
I took off his sunglasses and looked him in the eyes. “Has the heat gotten to you? Because I’m pretty sure I made that clear not even twenty-four hours ago.”
“Good.” That was all he said till we made it to the atoll.
Each member of Jordan’s flight crew had a giant sack slung over their shoulders. It was probably beer and other provisions needed to have fun on a deserted island. Kayla grabbed Lilly from the cabin. Seemed my dog wasn’t one for water.
“What are we doing here?” Kayla asked.
“Getting away from it all,” Kurt replied. But he didn’t look back. He was already heading down a worn path.
“Do you know where we are?” Kayla asked me after letting Lilly hop down.
“I’ve kind of learned not to ask your brother where we are going. But I couldn’t help but think how things were looking a bit strange. It’s better left as a surprise.”
The place was supposed to be deserted, but the path we were walking on was cleared out. Flowering bushes were planted throughout that didn’t belong. I looked to the shore one last time. Kurt had landed our boat so precise, and there were cleats buried in the sand from a leftover dock. What were these boys up to?
Kayla shook her head. “You two are really made for each other.”
A few hours later, I realized this wasn’t going to be a short walk. My sandals were not meant to be worn beyond a trek from a parking lot to the sand. I had had enough. I jumped on Jordan’s back and bit his ear.
“Ah! What was that for?” He flipped me over his shoulder like a rag doll.
“Where are we going?” I stopped the group.
“We’re almost there.” He looked down at my feet. The pedicure from the wedding was worn off from our trek. “Do you want a piggyback?”
“How do you know where we’re going? I swear we’ve passed the same tree a few times already,” asked Chase’s wife. I almost felt bad for forgetting her name.
Kayla seemed to have the same feeling towards her as I did. “We’ve been going in a straight line. How could we have possibly passed the same tree? Maybe the same type of tree, but not the exact same one.”
“Are you sure? Because -” She was cut off by a sharp crunching sound coming from ahead of us on the path. The men dropped their bags. I wasn’t sure what they were going to do. I was still on Jordan’s back, and no one had a gun. At least, no one was supposed to have any guns. This was a gun-free vacation.
“Shit.” That was all I could say as Lilly ran off.
Lilly’s barking at least let me know she was alive. I caught my breath when I saw a man come down the path. It could have been a million times worse. He could have done horrible things to make Lilly stop. But instead, he marched right up to us with my savage west highland terrier at his heels. I was expecting the men to be ready to fight, but they were just excited.
“Jackson! Finally!” Chase embraced the man in a tight hug.
“Who is that?” I whispered.
“Someone who is going to make this easier.” Jordan walked over and shook his hand.
Jackson led the way. I couldn’t believe where he was taking us. I felt like I was in a movie by the time we crawled through a tunnel hidden behind a waterfall. I thought we had seen everything when we finally made our way to his home. But we hadn’t. There was a well-built two-story house waiting for us.
It helped that he was a former Army ranger who used to work construction before abandoning all normality.
“Do you own this island?” asked Carla. I’m not sure how I remembered her name at that moment, but I wanted to shout it so I wouldn’t forget.
“No one can own this land. I tried to buy it, but they told me the sea would swallow it in five years.” Jackson gave Kayla a wink. “Ten years later, it’s still here, and so am I.”
The solar panels on the roof powered everything. Mind you, there were only a few fans and a charger for his satellite phone. He had a wood-burning stove that must have been a few hundred years old. It seemed that Jackson lived in the Swiss Family Robinson’s house but on the ground.
When I woke up, Jordan was gone. He wasn’t far. I could hear him faintly talking with the other men. I stayed in bed, enjoying the sea breeze while trying to forget. Trying to forget that he was leaving for war again, but he might be stateside this time.
The smell of coffee pulled me from the bed. What time was it, I wondered. I knew the sun was up, but out here, that didn’t mean anything. It easily could have been 6 am. Being here was like camping, but with fewer bugs.
“So, it’s settled.” I heard Cameron say as I opened the door.
Please don’t squeak. I prayed as I shut the door behind me. I tip-toed down the hall to find Bea and Kayla sitting on the floor out of sight. Kayla yanked me down.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Bea held up her finger. Kurt was talking, but it was hard to hear him over the damn birds.
“If they stay here, they will be safe. We won’t have to worry about the invasion, and we can work.” Kurt was trying to convince himself this was a good plan.
“They will be safe here. No one knows about the atoll,” Jackson said as he started filling his friend’s cup with coffee into everyone’s cup.
My stomach growled. With the look from Bea and Kayla, I could only hope that the men didn’t hear it.
“They’ve used empty islands before as holdouts. You found some yourself.” Jordan twisted in his chair.
I couldn’t believe that they were about to leave us here without even consulting us. And to make matters worse, Jordan didn’t even seem sold on the deal. This didn’t sound like him. He was methodical in every step of our life. Why would he even think this was a good idea? I had had enough. If they wanted us to play survivor, I was going to be a part of the conversation. I pushed past the two spies and into the kitchen before the men had time to think. I tapped my foot, waiting for one of them to let me in on my extended vacation.
“Hey, Babe.” Jordan never said that unless he was in trouble.
“What’s going to happen to our family?” I knew they were leaving soon. They had their stuff packed by the door. I’ve seen it one too many times to let any time pass.
“They’ll be in the mountains with my family.” Kurt had family in the Blue Ridge mountains.
“I don’t think the Germans or the Russians would be that crazy to go that high up. The hillbillies might destroy them before our family would ever have to worry.” I tried to smile through it. I didn’t like to think of my Mom being so far away from me with no way of knowing if she was safe.
“You’ll have the satellite phones, Allie.” I knew there was a reason why I married him besides his good looks.
“Fine. We’ll stay. But I better hear from you every chance you get.” I kissed him like every other time he left. Not a goodbye kiss, but a see you soon but not soon enough kiss.