"Hey SweetCheeks! You gonna be home for a while?" David asked when I answered the phone.
"Probably," I replied. "It's a gorgeous day and I'm feeling lazy."
"You're not cooking?"
I'm fairly certain there was a hint of disappointment in his voice.
"No, sitting out on the deck with the pups and reading a book."
Rollin' me eyes here.
"Are you trying to tell me you've invited yourself over for supper?"
"Damn straight! What are we having?"
"You tell me," I laughed. "You can pick up takeout on your way over."
"I need a home cooked meal, SweetCheeks. I'm a hard working marine. I just got back from a hot zone and I deserve a home cooked meal."
"It's in the Constitution, babe. Marines deserve home cooked meals."
My eyes are crossing from rolling them so much. Any second now, they're going to freeze in place.
"I don't think you're really a marine."
Not sure but there's a slim chance Hell just froze over.
"I think you just prance around in a uniform you bought at a military surplus store and pretend to be a marine. Are you gay? I can picture a gay guy doing that."
There was dead silence on the other end of the line. For a moment I wasn't sure if we were disconnected or he had suffered cardiac arrest. I also had a strong urge to check the webcam on Mount Suribachi (Iwo Jima - 1945) to see whether the American flag was still in place.
"You there?" I asked.
"Uh huh and I'm dialing Cowboy on the other line as we speak. Since he won't let me spank you, I'm gonna make him spank you for me. Gonna turn those sweet cheeks into hot buns."
I couldn't help myself; I laughed.
"You're not gonna be laughing when the squid gets a hold of you," he warned.
You know that feeling... you're in church or attending some solemn occasion and you have the urge to laugh and you can't suppress it? David's uniforms are custom tailored but I had this picture in my mind of this tall muscular senior officer in the Marine Corps trying on uniforms at a surplus store and looking in a full-length mirror, turning this way and that... primping and posing... I couldn't stop laughing.
"What?" I gasped, trying to breathe through my laughter.
"Next time the squid is away, I'm gonna come over there and..."
"Ha! In your dreams, jarhead."
"I'll be over around 1700 hours (5 p.m.) and you better be whipping up something wonderful in the kitchen."
Sheesh! What a bossy boots.
David just came back from a special assignment overseas. I made a big fuss when he arrived home safely and made one of his favorite meals - corn chowder, chicken and dumplings and Boston Creme pie. I don't cater a special dinner every time he drops by for a meal; coming home from a war zone was a special occasion. For tonight, he'd either bring it with him or eat whatever I put on the table.
I went back to my book. The pups were snoozing in the sun; the cats were perched on the deck railing where they could survey the yard and soon I dozed off. I don't know how long I slept but I heard the murmur of background voices. I was aware someone was in the house - Cowboy - but then I heard the distinct whine of one of my Rottweilers. DomTom, the big tomcat leaped off the railing and ran across the deck making a peculiar sound. My eyes were barely open when I heard...
"What's a fella gotta do to get a bite to eat around this place?"
"What?" I whispered, startled... afraid the voice I heard - a voice I hadn't heard in about a year and a half... was real and not part of my half asleep/half awake state.
"I said," a deep husky voice spoke from behind my chair. "What's a fella gotta do to get a bite to eat around this place?"
I flew out of my chair. All three Rotts and the Mastiff started barking.
BULL IS HOME!
Vaguely, I was aware that Cowboy and David were standing on the deck and beaming. I didn't even look. I jumped into Bull's out stretched arms and hung on for dear life.
"I think I should be jealous," Cowboy remarked to David as he watched me hug Bull.
"I'm damn envious," David replied.
"What? You didn't hug the big kid before you brought him home?" Cowboy deadpanned.
"Stuff it, squid."
I would have laughed but I was concentrating on filling my eyes with the miracle of Bull and I was having trouble letting him go.
I pinched him to make sure he was real.
That laugh was pure Bull, a deep husky rolling laugh that made his chest rumble and my heart sing.
"You're home," was all I could manage to say.
"Missed you, Sar."
"Missed my cooking," I told him.
"That too," he agreed, his arms still hugging me tight. "But I missed you."
"Missed you more," I said. "You kept me worried about you an eternity. You couldn't email or write or call? Not once in a year and a half?" I yelled the last few words and punched him in the shoulder.
"Not once," he said with the same calm voice and sad smile he always wore when answers to questions were on a need-to-know basis and I didn't need to know.
"Were you injured? Did you break anything? Are all your parts working? Does your mama know you're back? Is everyone in your unit accounted for?" I fired the questions that were uppermost in my mind and knew there would be many more I would ask as soon as they popped into my head.
"I'm here and in one piece," Bull smiled. He set me back on my feet but his arms stayed around me and I kept mine around his waist. "Saw my mama and sisters and just about everybody else in all of Arkansas before I got here. Everybody in my unit is accounted for," he added but his voice held a hint of sorrow.
I digested his words. He was whole and in one piece. That didn't mean there hadn't been physical injuries; it only meant they had healed before I saw him. As for his unit, if everyone was accounted for, it only means they didn't leave anyone behind. If any died, their bodies were recovered for burial back home. He'll never tell me those details but when he has a need to talk about the atrocities of war - memories that are fresh and up close and personal - Cowboy and David will be there to see him through the inevitable nightmares that follow combat.
"Did your mama make good things for you to eat?"
"Thanksgiving dinner like she promised, chicken potpie, spoon bread, rice pudding, apple fritters and a whole bunch of other good stuff."
"No possum pie?"
"Waitin for you to make that one, Sar."
I laughed. That possum pie recipe along with other ways to cook road kill are long standing jokes between us.
"You gonna feed that boy?" David barked. "I'm standing here starved and waiting."
"You can stop hugging my wife," Cowboy added and scooped me up into his arms. "Gonna take this woman into the kitchen and order her to cook."
I rolled my eyes.
"Women belong in the kitchen," David chided. "When they're not in the bedroom," he added.
I made one of those one-arm Italian gestures in his direction.
Cowboy gave me a swat.
We ate large and royally. I had also vowed to make Thanksgiving dinner the day Bull came home - no matter the day, no matter the hour. I pulled a half-roasted 10-lb. turkey out of the freezer along with a half-baked honey glazed ham. Between the microwave oven and my double ovens, I had a full holiday meal on the table in no time. Dessert was pie - peach for Cowboy, Boston Creme for David, both an apple and a blueberry for Bull. I waited till they were almost finished eating dessert and then warmed up a pecan pie for myself. When I added the ice cream, all three men threatened to spank me for not sharing.
Share pie? Hot pecan pie topped with ice cream? Ha! Not in this lifetime!
I shooed the guys out onto the back deck while I straightened the kitchen. From past experience I knew Bull would be ready to eat again within an hour. The man is 6 feet - 8 inches tall. He's always hungry and from the look of him, he's nowhere near his normal 260-lb. weight. I need to fatten him up.
We're expecting his mama and sisters to come visit for a few days. I'm eager to spend time with them and swap "Bull" stories. They think of him as a son and baby brother. Cowboy, a former Navy SEAL, and David, a former reconnaissance marine, see him as a skilled warrior, a leader among men and a patriot.
I see him as one of my most cherished and treasured friends and sometimes, a slightly reluctant partner in my adventures. I can always depend on him to be there when I need him - and that's what friends are for.
I look out the glass doors that lead to the back deck. DomTom, my big cat is lying on Bull's chest in a state of bliss. The feline tolerates few people but he adores Bull. The Mastiff has his giant head on Bull's lap and my Rott, SweetPea, is leaning on his knee. David is petting my two other Rotts and Cowboy has a huge smile on his face.
I fill a tray with carafes of coffee and some of Bull's favorite snacks - my double-decker brownies, Chinese chew bars and cherry coconut squares. I include treats for the animals and when I set the tray down, I let Bull know that our young friend Patrick will be by later to see him. Patrick has grown a lot in the last year and a half; he plays baseball now and though he can't run the bases - someone else does that for him - he can stand without assistance with just his leg braces and hit the ball. It's a huge accomplishment and all of us just about bust our buttons every time he does the unexpected. Bull is one of his favorite people in the whole world.
Cowboy follows me back to the kitchen and hugs me tight.
"Happy bambina?" he asks with that special smile he reserves for me.
"I couldn't be happier," I tell him.
I return my husband's hug and send a silent and quick prayer of thanks.
Bull is home!