Late, because I had to recover from a totally wild Easter celebration. Lol.
“What did you have planned for us after ditching corporal Holmes?” she asked.
“I dunno. I got caught up in the moment.” They stared at each other, and all the while Carol kept hold of Hartmann’s hand. “I should take you back.”
“No.” Carol shook her head. “I want to … live like a person.”
“That’s an odd thing to say.” Hartmann gave her hand a small squeeze, then pulled her to begin walking, keeping away from the parking lot and surrounding roads.
“I’ve been thinking that I need to do more with my life.” Carol nervously bit her lip, then continued, “I don’t have any family or friends to miss me, – or any pets either. I’m not really sure what the difference is between now and before, other than where I sleep.” She pulled her hand away and mumbled, “Sorry for rambling. I know that I’m not making any sense.”
Hartmann hesitated. He still had the intoxicating taste of Carol on his tongue, pleading with him to kiss her again, and a hard lump in his throat that made it difficult to talk. He willed himself to regain control, to slip back into his usual mannerisms, and hide how exposed he felt by Carol’s confession – it mirrored his own life too closely for comfort.
“You have me, now.” He forced a grin.
“Really?” she asked, sounding surprisingly earnest.
“As I said before, I can’t keep myself from liking you.” He pulled her close to put his arms around her waist, and leaned to whisper in her ear, “Will you let me like you?”
Carol’s cheeks turned a deep red and she avoided his gaze. “I’m thirty-one,” she replied, a little breathless. “Don’t you think I’m too old?”
“I’m thirty-five. We’re right for each other.” Hartmann ran his fingers through her hair, watching as her eyes half closed. She was succumbing to his words, and this time lifted up her chin when he kissed her for the second time.
His lust for her swelled so intensely it hurt. His hand cupped her breast before he realized it, and his tongue ventured into her mouth. The desire to claim her screamed and raged at him, but a small portion of sensibility shone through: pushing Carol too fast would backfire badly. He reluctantly let her go. She swayed on her feet, and her eyes quickly pointed at the ground.
They walked in silence for awhile, with no destination in mind. Their hands were clasped together with their fingers intertwined, but each was in their own thoughts. Eventually their meanderings took them on a loop back around, as when the restaurant came into view, Hartmann released her hand.
“Do you think that we’ve let Holmes panic for long enough?” he asked jovially.
“Probably.” Carol wrapped her arms around herself.
“I don’t want to say this, but …” Hartmann trailed off, giving a moment for suspense to build as he worked out the proper phrasing. “I’m a master sergeant, and I was assigned to assist in training you. It’s considered an abuse of authority for me to engage in a relationship with you.” He studied her reaction carefully. “I’m not supposed to feel this way.”
“So … that means we have to keep this between the two of us?” Carol asked.
“You’re much smarter than you give yourself credit for.” He put his arm around her and pulled her against his side. “That is unfortunately correct.”
“I guess that’s all right,” she said slowly, but her mouth turned downwards. “But you should know that I have a terrible poker face. I’m awful at hiding things.”
“I trust you.” He set his jaw and dropped his voice to a dramatic murmur. “I don’t know what I’d do if I was dishonorably discharged. The military is the only life I’ve ever known.”
Carol nodded enthusiastically. “I promise I won’t hurt you. Honestly, this seems so surreal, it feels more like a dream. I half expect to forget all about it tomorrow morning.”
“I hope you don’t.” He smiled. “C’mon. We have to go find our escort and apologize.”
Something felt wrong.
Carol wasn’t the sort to gush giddily over anything, but her behavior was still off. Everything about her inner world was a gigantic unknown, and despite his best efforts to read her, Hartmann had his doubts about how accurate his impressions were.
Holmes was sitting on the hood of Hartmann’s car, and as he stood he gave them a sour look. Carol scooted so that she was half hidden by Hartmann, who in turn adopted his most suave demeanor, calling out, “Hey!” with a wave that was more like a small flourish.
Holmes scowled but stood and saluted, giving a bitter, “Sir!”
He returned the salute. “We were sitting around the side of the building waiting for you to come out, but we missed you. Spoiled the joke, didn’t it.”
Holmes glanced over at Carol, who blushed deeply and looked away, fidgeting with her hands. “Yes, sir, it did,” he replied.
Carol had been speaking the truth when she said that she was terrible at hiding things, but thankfully her obvious struggle with anxiety in all its various forms served as a sufficient cover story for her behavior. Hartmann was pleased to note that there wasn’t any hint of suspicion in the corporal’s eyes, but rather pity for the poor woman.
“Let’s call it a night.” Hartmann reached into his pocket and thumbed the key fob, unlocking his car doors. “We’ve got many more long days ahead of us.”