This was written for the Babies at the Border Compilation which raised thousands and thousands of dollars! Well done, Fandom. Years beyond Twilight, you continue to rock.
*Several years have passed and several babies have blessed some of our favorite couples from Tip of the Spear. Enjoy, readers.*
^^Fair Winds and Following Seas^^
"Do you want me to drive?" I ask my husband. I swear, he's been on edge ever since he booked this appointment three weeks ago.
He grumbles to himself before tossing me the keys. "Yes, please."
Three-year-old Cecilia follows him to the back door before he scoops her up to buckle her into her car seat. Juliet is gnawing on her teething ring as I click her carrier into its base.
"But Daddy, you always drive us," Ceecee comments.
"I know baby girl, but Daddy's head isn't in the right place. I'm thinking too much to drive."
I shake my head and smile, biting my tongue. Men truly have no clue. What we put our bodies through during a pregnancy and afterwards, to say nothing of the fact that we have our periods for the better part of forty years. I mean, good grief. Get over it. I suppose I should be happy we even made it this far. That article he read claiming vasectomies led to dementia almost derailed this whole process months ago.
"Your head is in the right place, Daddy," our daughter says. "Or did you get a boo-boo while you were sleeping?"
"I'll be okay, Ceese. You're right." He pecks her on the nose and she giggles.
After he and I are situated in the front seat, I glance at him and sigh. He's got a puss on his face and he's being short with me, like I'm the bad guy or something.
"Edward . . . do you want to do this? If it's that much of an issue, you can just cancel the appointment and I'll keep taking the pill."
"And increase your risk of getting breast cancer? No, thank you." He flicks his hand at the dash. "Let's just go."
I roll my eyes and pull out of our driveway. "I could always get my tubes tied, you know."
"No. You don't need another surgical procedure. If you'd had C-sections, yeah, that would've made sense. The docs could've taken care of it right after you had Juliet, but you've put your body through enough. No need to have an operation on top of a third natural delivery."
He gets it, I mean, he sorta does.
But then shut up with the whining and piss poor attitude. You're a Marine for crying out loud. Suck it up!
Thankfully, my inner tirade winds down, and I blow out a deep breath.
"I just . . ." he pauses mid-thought, "it's not natural for a guy to no longer be able to procreate. We're supposed to be able to spread our seed."
I do my very best not to drive us off the road. "This from the man who seven short years ago never even wanted a wife or family. And now you want to continue to, I'm sorry, spread your seed? Did you morph into a caveman while I wasn't looking?"
He huffs and looks out his window. "You know it's not like that."
And I do. But honestly, Jesus take the wheel.
Except for the nursery rhyme CD playing for the girls, we're quiet for the rest of the ten-minute ride to the base hospital. After I pull into a parking space, Edward and I step out of the car but I come around to his side, telling him to wait before he gets the girls.
Wrapping my arms under his, I pull him close. "Thank you . . . for this. You've spent our whole relationship putting me and the kids before you." I measure my words knowing we're both weary warriors with jobs and babies and life. "This'll make things really, really good, I think."
He shrugs, looking past me. "Just feel like I'll be less manly."
"Never." My teeth run over my bottom lip. "Things'll be different . . . better. Think about our summer in Hawaii."
He quirks his brow. "That good, huh?" I nod and he leans down, whispering over my lips. "I'm gonna hold you to that, Clementine."
"You haven't called me that in forever."
He squeezes my tush and backs away to open the door for our girls. "Well, if we're about to revive the summer of Hawaii, I figured we should bring back the nickname."
When Edward appears in the doorway of the waiting room, I leap up, gathering Ceecee's crayons and books.
He smiles while I pick up a sleeping Juliet in her carrier. She didn't move the entire time we've been here. Edward steps into the room and I grasp his fingers, whispering, "You okay?"
He nods, ready to speak but we're interrupted. "Mrs. Masen, I just have a few instructions to go over with you and your husband." We follow the nurse into a small office.
She hands me paperwork on aftercare and a brown bag with a specimen cup for his sperm-count test down the road.
"No heavy lifting for the next week and take it easy this weekend." She wags her finger at Edward. "We don't want you back here because you aggravated your scrotum."
My husband's distant look turns fuzzier, if that's even possible.
"Nope. Aggravated scrotums don't sound like a good time," I chime in, trying to squash my inner teenager, who's mortified we're talking about this with such frivolity.
The nurse nods, adding, "You should be fine to go back to work on Monday, but remember: jock straps, tightie whities, and frozen veggies."
I crinkle my eyes at my husband, wondering if he truly just deadpanned a quote from The Wizard of Oz.
The nurse cackles, staples his packet together, and ushers us out.
"I want to stop at the commissary to get you some frozen peas," I mention. "I have several bags at home, but maybe you should have some right now for the ride, too."
"Make sure you get Green Giant," Edward drawls over his shoulder, starting to wander off. "Their sweet peas taste the best. Just . . . just the best. Like when you're making your pasta salad. Y'know . . . the one with the orange and white and green corkscrews? Yeah, when you put peas in it. It's the best when they're the frozen ones. Like, right outta the freezer so they don't get mushy. It tastes much better when it just pops in your mouth. Like a snap between your teeth or something. When they sit in the salad for too long, it's not . . . not . . . not . . . good." His forlorn look is award-winning. "It's gotta be right before you serve it . . . and it should be the frozen Green Giant kind. It's just . . . just gotta be."
If I didn't think he was high before, that rambling monologue sealed it. My straight-laced, non-believing-in-Western-medicine-husband is stoned beyond belief.
I'm walking like a pack mule; Juliet's in her carrier on my forearm, baby bag and purse over my shoulders, coats draped over my other arm, and a packet of papers woven between three fingers. Edward, continuing his three-minute soliloquy on frozen peas and their attributes, walks right past the elevators, heading toward the double doors to the surgical wing. I call him back with an exasperated sigh.
"Cecilia, please go hold your Daddy's hand. He's . . . struggling."
"I can't wait to show Daddy and Christopher my new princess sunglasses."
I dig through the shopping bag on my arm. "Here, make sure you give your brother his Pokémon cap. He'll be excited to wear it at the beach." She grabs the baseball hat from my hands and takes off. "Go to the potty first before you head outside!" I add.
She shouts a "'kay" back at me and sprints toward the bathroom. I check the fridge to make sure Edward remembered to grab the bratwurst, which he did. A glance at the microwave to check the time tells me Riley, Senna, Kalia and her friend should be here in the next twenty minutes. After a quick bite to eat, we'll all start the four-hour caravan south to the Outer Banks.
Juliet's precious voice is babbling through the monitor. Perfect timing; I can feed her now and she should be good for most of the trip. I enter the nursery, decorated in pink and gray elephants and scoot over to the crib. My youngest daughter is folded in half, chewing on her toes. When she sees me, her gummy smile spreads around her little foot.
"Well hey there, jellybean, are those some good tootsies? Do they taste yummy?" I pull her other foot to my mouth, making a big show of chomping away. "Mmmmm, delicious." After a quick diaper change, I zerbert her belly, eliciting her best giggles. "Let's go check on Daddy."
When I poke my head out the patio door, my hubby waves at me, spatula in hand. He's on the phone.
"Yes, this is Lieutenant Colonel Edward Masen; I'm calling to find out the results of my uhh, sample?"
"Daddy!" Ceecee's voice carries across the backyard to where he's manning the grill. Edward gives her an excited look and tucks his cell between his ear and shoulder while she comes barreling toward his crotch at lightning speed.
"Yes, I'll hold."
"Miss me?" our daughter squeals, leaping into his arms. I follow her antics with a quick smooch on his lips.
"Everything okay?" I whisper, pointing at his cell. "We have a little over an hour before hitting the road." He nods, silently nibbling Ceecee's neck.
"Yes, ma'am. Edward Anthony Masen, June twentieth, nineteen seventy-eight." Ceecee slides down her father's body when Christopher calls out to her from the sandbox. She goes running over, waving his ball cap above her head.
"Look what me and Mommy picked out for you!"
"So cool; thanks Momma!"
"You're welcome, bud," I answer, taking a seat to nurse the baby. "Guys, I don't mind you playing in the sand, but no throwing. We don't have time to take another bath before we get in the car."
"When will we see Erica and Jack, Mommy?" Christopher asks.
"They'll meet all of us tomorrow. We're driving down tonight to a hotel and then in the morning, we'll go to the beautiful house Daddy picked out for us, and everyone will have a big sleepover vacation together."
"And will Lia babysit us this week?"
"Yes, I'm sure at some point Kalia will watch you guys while the mommies and daddies go out." I side-eye my daughter who's scraping her teeth over my nipple, looking like she's ready to clamp down. "Don't even think about it, baby girl. You're cute, but you're not that cute."
Edward chuckles quietly at me and then perks up when he's taken off hold. "Yes ma'am, still here."
"I love when Lia stays with us," Cecilia adds. "She uses all the funny voices when we read together."
"You mean these funny voices?" Kalia squawks, bursting out from behind the hydrangea on the side of the house.
Cheers erupt from the backyard as Kalia, her bestie Natalie, Riley with Colin in his arms, and a very pregnant Senna round the corner.
"It's the Biers bunch!" I announce.
Senna waddles over, kisses my cheek, and plops into the seat next to me.
"Give him to me, Ri." Senna motions to her husband to hand over Colin, who's fussing in his daddy's arms.
"How are you even nursing him anymore with that belly in the way?" I ask, genuinely astonished.
Senna readjusts her son into a feeding position. "It's not easy, trust me."
"So I take it this is the breastfeeding section of the yard?" Riley jokes, passing Senna her cover-up. "Hooter Hiders for everyone."
"I can't wait to register for mine—"
"Watch it." Riley cuts Kalia off while the adults laugh.
"I'm gonna get one in every color and pattern. They're so cool!" Kalia digs through the diaper bag and shows off the other two nursing cover-ups to Natalie.
"Do me and my thinning hair a favor and quit talking about you and pregnancy, Short Stack. You're not even going on a date until you're thirty."
I widen my eyes as Senna bursts out laughing.
"Whatever Ri. What you don't know . . ." Kalia hedges.
"Might kill me," Riley finishes. "So put a cork in it."
Kalia holds her hands up in surrender, rolls her eyes, and walks away with Natalie toward the sandbox.
"She's gonna be the death of me," Riley continues, grabbing the spatula from Edward who's still on the phone.
"Hun, we both know Kalia's been out with some boys."
He quirks his disapproving brow. "On group outings."
"And what did you call her junior prom? We have the pictures to prove it."
"Doesn't matter. I was able to scare the bejeezus outta that kid. She was okay that night."
"Uh huh . . . and when she leaves for college next year?"
"I'll deal with it then. Plus, she's not really leaving. With me starting at Georgetown, she's going there. Tuition discount."
"Sounds like you've got it all figured out, Ri," I chime in. "Does Georgetown really give tuition reimbursement to family members?"
"I don't know. I haven't gotten that far."
I glance over to Senna, who's shaking her head. In the seven years that he's raised Kalia, he's been more protective than a ferocious guard dog.
"Okay, thank you." Edward ends his call and sends me a wink. Guess that means we're in the clear.
See ya later, Condom City.
The idea of this family vacation just got sexier.
"First round's on me."
"First round?" I question Riley and signal the waiter. "Try the first three rounds. I had to promise my wife all sortsa shit after convincing her to let us escape for a guys' night out."
Emmett waggles his thumb at me. "What he said. Rosie flipped when we won the toss."
"Exactly! Won the toss! We won it fair and square," Riley pleads.
I exchange looks with Emmett cause Riley's clearly high. I still don't even understand why we needed to do this tonight. We just finished unloading the damn cars into the beach house.
After the waiter delivers our beers, Em chugs half his bottle and belches. "So why are we here again? At Applebees of all places?"
"Something's up with Kalia. She was on the phone with somebody all week long and then a couple times in the car." His head's on the swivel as if he's prepping for a sneak attack. "She's meeting whoever it is here tonight."
"In the Outer Banks of North Carolina?"
"Maybe she was just making plans with her friend that came with her," Em adds. "What's her name again?"
"Guys, give me a little credit. I've been raising this girl for the last seven years. I know what's up. I've got a hunch it's a guy."
"And if it is?"
"Oh shit, there she is . . . there she is!" Riley crouches behind the jukebox while Em and I just shake our heads, still sitting at our high top. "Get down, you two!"
"Ri . . . this bar is packed with people . . . most of them young enough to be our kids."
"That's a lie from the pits of hell."
I bark a laugh while Emmett hammers away at his point. "And even if she is meeting some dude, she's about to be eighteen years old. She's going to college next fall."
"I just want to see what I'm dealing with. I might act all caveman macho in front of her but I know she's not gonna be under my roof for much longer. My short-term goal is to at least put the fear of God in any little twerp who comes calling."
I shake my head. "Pretty sure that's only going to piss her off and screw up your relationship with her."
Riley slowly rises and manages to slink into his seat, remaining undetected by Kalia and her friend. He jerks his head toward the door and my gaze follows. A group of a half dozen young guys approaches the girls who both stand up and start passing out hugs. They can't be older than twenty and their signature buzz cuts scream base barber from a mile away.
"Damn warfighters . . . what are the chances we can get them NJP'd?"
Emmett snickers, digging into the nachos the waiter just delivered. "Literally none unless they assault somebody before our eyes. The better question is where are they coming from? Jacksonville is over three hours away."
"Exactly. You don't drive that fucking far unless you know you're gettin' some."
I exchange a glance with Emmett. Riley's not lying. Young Marines don't have to go anywhere but right outside their front gate to find girls with stars in their eyes who're ready to get hitched and follow them around the world.
I pass a plate to Riley and encourage him to dig in. "The better question is, how does Kalia have a connection to them?" We all live in and around D.C. When does a seventeen-year old have a chance to meet junior Marines stationed almost six hours away?
Riley has a fist to his forehead while his crazy vein seems to be throbbing at the surface of his temple. So much for a chill night out.
"I'm watching all the little shits in Arlington like a hawk; meanwhile, she's scoping out guys from another state. I can't do this." He slams his palm over his chest. "I think I'm having a heart attack."
I nod to our waiter as he whizzes by. "Could we get a few Jack and Cokes, please? Doubles?"
"You're not having a damn heart attack and she's not screwing around with the latest class out of Parris Island." Emmett flashes me a look that says he's hoping he's telling the truth. "She's been on Facebook since she was eleven, Ri. She's lived in Fiji, Hawaii, Japan, California, and DC. She's done almost as many tours as we have."
"Em's right," I add. "She's got more friends on social media than the three of us combined."
"Are you trying to kill me?" Riley finishes his beer, then mine. "I've got a very pregnant wife, a wild toddler, a high-stress job with the Joint Chiefs but it's this girl that's gonna be the one to put me in the ground."
"Do you want to go over there?" We study Kalia and their group get settled at a couple of tables they push together. They just seem to be chatting and having fun, innocent stuff. The guys aren't even drinking . . . yet. I suppose that should offer Riley some solace. "Me and Ed can go play big brother-uncle . . . whatever."
Riley nods like a bobble-head. "Yeah. Find out who they are and what they want. Maybe try to make them go away."
Like they're some kids who are relentlessly ringing a doorbell on a Saturday morning.
As I approach, Kalia's friend Natalie's eyes widen and she knocks on the table.
"How ya doing?" I figure'd I'd start easy. No reason to run over screaming and turning over bar stools.
"Edward . . . Emmett!" Kalia hops up looking around, but Riley is out of sight. "I didn't know you guys were going to be here tonight."
"Neither did we. The ladies are home with the kids and we'll swap them for a night where they can all go out and it'll be Daddy Day Care."
She smiles nervously and everyone gets extremely quiet. "So introduce us to your crew!" Leave it to Emmett to stir the pot.
Kalia rattles off a couple of names as she points each person out. When she gets to the third guy directly across the table from her, Jason, he rises and shakes our hands.
"You serve?" Emmett questions, even though we already know his answer based on his body language.
"Yes sir, United States Marine Corps."
Several hilarious things take place at once. Emmett and I bark our "Oorahs" causing the other inept kids at the table to leap up and shake our hands, now realizing they're in the presence of senior Marines. Kalia buries her face in her hands and I see Riley toss a few bills on our table before marching over.
"You serve as well, sirs?" The kid squeaks and gulps a boulder while the rest of his group pales a bit.
"Lieutenant Colonel Riley Biers," Riley interrupts, stepping into the crowd as the proverbial needle scratches across the record. "So, how do y'all know each other?" His smile is abnormally huge, like Grinchy-huge. He directs his question to Kalia.
"We met when I went to Atlantic Beach with Natalie's family during spring break." Kalia's voice is small. Riley has a curious twinkle in his eye indicating he's either enjoying watching her squirm or he's seconds away from losing his shit.
Jason clears his throat, looking even more peaked. "And you're all-"
Emmett bursts out laughing. "Kalia, you didn't tell your boyfriend that your big brother and two uncles were Marine Corps officers?"
"He's not my boyfriend." She answers in unison with Riley who switches out the my for her.
A few seconds seem to drag in silence. "Well, you guys enjoy the rest of your night," I offer, trying to diffuse the situation.
"What time will you be home, Kalia?"
"Senna told me midnight," she answers respectfully but in no more than a whisper.
Riley's jaw clenches. "Not a minute later." He turns from us and walks out. I make eye contact with Kalia whose look can only be described as desperation. Before I follow her brother, she reaches out for my arm.
"Am I dead?" she whimpers.
"You're not dead. His heart might be breaking a bit, but no, you're not dead." I squeeze her hand, pulling away. "Midnight."
She glances back to her group. Natalie looks uncomfortable and the guys all have their heads together, probably trying to brainstorm on how to get out of the city alive. "Well, it'll either be midnight or in twenty minutes."
I wink at her, thankful once again that I'm not yet raising a teenager and that my wife and babies are waiting at home for me. Outside, the warm breeze brings a sigh of relief. Seeing these young Marines out for the night has me flashing back to the craziness and crappiness of single life.
Emmett's leaning against my truck, visibly relieved to see me. Riley's hunched over the bed, leaning on his arms, lost in thought.
"So I take it our night out is over?" Emmett chuckles and I shrug. This is Riley's show at this point. I'm content to go home and curl up next to Bella in bed. "Wanna just grab a case of beer and hang out on the deck?"
"Lighten up, Ri. Enjoy your vacation . . . you and Senna need it."
He gives us a single nod, rolls his neck quickly, and yanks open the door. "Fuck it. Kalia's a good girl, always has been. It is what it is." He points his finger between Emmett and me. "But if she makes me a fucking grandfather while I have my own infant and toddler at home, I'm gonna kill you two."
I roll my eyes. "Fair enough."
Bella wasn't kidding.
Even though the kids have kept the adults in high gear this week with beach and pool fun, melting-hot outings to mini-golf, the Lost Colony of Roanoke village, and souvenir shopping which landed our family three hermit crabs as new pets, she and I have managed to fuck each other silly almost every night of this vacation.
My wife definitely brought Hawaii back.
"Shhhh," she attempts to quiet my grunting. "The baby."
I love my Juliet Jellybean, but she's the lightest sleeper out of the three of our kids. And she's only six feet away in her pack and play. Must tread lightly.
"This . . . off."
We follow each other's commands until there's nothing left to tear and tug at except our naked flesh. After collapsing on the bed, she giggles while I'm kissing my way down her stomach.
"What is with us this week?" I respond with a hum along her skin while she yammers on through passionate sighs. "We're acting like it's typhoon season again."
She gasps when I don't answer but push her legs apart and drag my tongue through her wet lips.
"But I'm nah-haaat complaining."
I send her a smirk and settle my eager mouth at her entrance, sucking and lapping like she's my oasis in a barren desert.
"Oh my Gooooood!" The pillow she slammed over her face moments ago does a fairly decent job of muffling her pleasure. It's a bummer for me because I love hearing her, but that'll have to wait till we get back to our home in a few days.
When I line myself up and sink into her warmth, I thank everything above that she's mine and has been for the last seven years. Her softness, intelligence, that smart mouth and exquisite beauty inside and out, I continue to marvel that she's everything I never knew I wanted and needed in this life.
Edward is poised. He lives for these moments and it cracks me the hell up. I mean, normally it cracks me up. But when I'm on my third Zima, it has me in stitches. But I'm the buzzer girl. I need my game face, too. It's guys against girls, and bragging rights are on the line, here.
Senna flips the timer just as Edward turns over his first card . . .
Ever the thinker, he spends a few seconds in silence before starting. "When you need to gauge how something is feeling-"
Riley cuts him off, shouting like a deranged auctioneer. "The five senses! Touching! Hearing! Tasting! Seeing! Sniffing!"
"Sniffing?" Senna repeats, doubled over.
The girls erupt in laughter watching Emmett and Riley throw out ridiculous guesses. Meanwhile Edward tries to remain calm and get through his Taboo card without me buzzing him obnoxiously in his ear.
My hubby gathers five more points for his team before I pass the buzzer to him and it's the ladies' turn to put some final points on the board. Somehow I was made anchor in this game, so it's now all up to me.
I get us up to the tying point without getting buzzed and only having to pass once. My gaze darts frantically between the sand spilling through the mini hourglass and the clues on my card. The word they need to guess is smoke, but I'm not allowed to say fire, cigarette, burning, cooking, oven, or pot.
My brain is freezing up because all that's running through my mind has to do with burning dinner, so I throw out a Hail Mary pass to my girls, "Where there's . . ."
"SMOKE THERE'S FIRE!" They scream in unison; it's a bloody miracle, but we pull it off, beating them by one point.
"How the fuck did you both get 'smoke there's fire' from Bella's two damn words that didn't even make any sense?" Emmett protests.
"Well, we might've been able to beat them if you hadn't spent so much time pointing to Senna's belly and have us guessing about pregnancy, when the clue you were trying to convey was sperm whale, idiot!" Riley challenges Emmett.
Rosalie, Senna and I raise our drinks in continued celebration as the boys grumble and pout.
I love this military family of ours.
It's all coming together. Cake tasting and finalizing of the design happened yesterday and the last payment was made to the caterer today.
I breathe a sigh of relief walking out of the director's office. The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico is the perfect setting for Edward's retirement next month. The Semper Fidelis Memorial Chapel is nestled in the woods and can hold almost a hundred people. Our latest RSVP count stands at seventy-eight attending. We'll hold the actual retirement ceremony here and then walk over to the museum's Tun Tavern restaurant for the reception where the catered buffet and bar will be ours for the afternoon. The museum is a breathtaking dedication to the service and sacrifice Marines and their families have given to our country since the Corp's inception in 1775.
Edward has loved every moment of his career even if there were tragic parts he could barely stomach. We've had pillow talks about this so many times over our years together. Those CACO calls were gut-wrenching and did plenty of damage to his psyche, but looking back he considers it one of the highest honors; paying tribute to those Marines and their families who suffered the greatest loss imaginable. Their service deserved his undivided attention and he never wavered from that duty.
Knowing he'll be able to continue his work with the Marine Corps even after his retirement has made this transition ease the pain a bit. If he were walking away entirely, I'm certain it would be a much more difficult transition. But going to work every day in the same building, just a different office; trading his uniform for a suit and tie . . . working as a government civilian is exactly where he hoped he'd end up as one chapter ends and another begins. His duty to God and Country will continue, just as he wanted it.
Over twenty years of dedicated and selfless service . . . my husband has more than earned this honor.
I was there. I was there when he made that call! I was there when he got the results in our backyard and nodded at me. Clear. Done.
So is he a medical marvel? Or am I?
Juliet whimpers through her monitor, but she settles within seconds. The thunderstorm outside has us involuntarily rolling the dice in the hopes of getting through the night without soothing walks around the house and unnecessary breast feeding.
"Hey. Got your text." Edward closes our bedroom door and walks over to my side of the bed. He's on the prowl. "Feelin' frisky?" He smiles, placing a soft kiss behind my ear.
I swallow tightly and shy away, my stare miles beyond the shadowy treeline. "Not at the moment, no."
"Okay, what's up?"
"I'm pregnant." This time I face him. His eyes double in size but he offers no response for a few seconds.
"But . . ."
He stands and starts pacing in front of my night stand. "But I took my test. They told me we were safe! How-"
"Yeah, well apparently you have weapons-grade sperm, honey. Nobody is safe around you." I cross my legs just in case anything else attempts to invade my uterus.
"Ask a Marine Corps wife a question, you get a Marine Corps wife answer." My eyebrow rises to a point.
He presses his mouth into a tight line, knowing it's best for his health and well-being that he not make any jokes. Instead, after another minute of silence, he sits next to me, nice and tight, and reaches for my hand. When he threads his fingers through mine, my eyes water.
"You're about to retire. Money will be different. Juliet's only eight months old. I won't be able to sub anymore . . ." I trail off, shuddering and dabbing the bottom of my sleeve over my eye. "Edward, what are we gonna do?"
He tips his head forward, catching my gaze. When we lock eyes, he pours himself and all the love and comfort he's made of, and squeezes my fingers. And in his perfectly organized, by-the-book, encouraging and most sincere, loving whisper, he replies, "We're gonna have another beautiful baby."
The December sun warms my face, standing on the rocky path that leads to the chapel. Hugs and kisses abound. Former colleagues and family traveling from across the country to honor Edward's service filter in while Edward and I greet them at the door.
He sends me a wink and I offer him my smile. He looks so damn handsome in his Dress Blue Charlies. Crisp white cover on his head, long-sleeved tan shirt and his blue pants with the blood-red strip down the side. Colorful ribbons from all of the campaigns he's participated in and awards he's received during his career are stacked on the left side of his chest over his heart.
It's fitting, really. He's put his heart into every moment of being a Marine Corps officer.
We took a selfie last night when he came home from work. Our last shot of us while he was wearing his cammies. It was . . . bittersweet. I'm just as excited as he is for him to begin this new phase of his career as I am sad to be saying goodbye to active duty-wife life.
I've ached for him during his deployments to war zones. Sleepless nights were a given while trying to ignore terrifying news reports. Struggling with sick babies and tricky schedules while he was overseas participating in exercises and humanitarian efforts was taxing beyond imagination. Long-distance marriage and juggling single-motherhood, however temporary, have been one hell of a chore at times . . . but I wouldn't trade these last seven years for the world.
After the invocation by the base chaplain and the playing of the "National Anthem" by the brass quartet, we settle in the first row; Edward to my right, Christopher and Cecilia to my left, and Juliet on my soon-to-be-expanding lap. Emmett, the Master of Ceremony, welcomes everyone as he trades moments on and off at the podium with Riley, the narrator. Their jobs don't seem very different today, but as with all the usual pomp and circumstance, ceremonies come with certain positions and titles, and today is certainly no exception.
Edward's colonel reads through the proclamations and awards sent from the Commander-in-Chief, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and his current command. He praises Edward for the career he's led and the distinction of his service, both in CACO capacity and his positions as a supply and logistics officer around the world. It's astonishing how much my husband has accomplished; even as his wife I never knew all of the intricacies and responsibilities of his rank and position. The accolades heaped on him are more than well-deserved.
When it's Edward's turn to make his remarks, he speaks about his father; how he always idolized him. Pops, his grandfather, who stepped in after the loss of his dad, and the sacrifices of his mom. I knew all of these things . . . but it's a tale that deserves to be told out loud, to all these people who've come to honor my husband. His life could've turned out so very differently, but he was loved and guided into this life of giving back. It was always meant to be.
He turns to me next. It's hard to remember his exact words. I spend the entire time with my gaze focused entirely on him as he thanks me profusely for my love, for my fearlessness, for my strength. He still doesn't believe he's worthy, but I know differently.
"Bella, this life just doesn't work without you. I can run the numbers a thousand different ways" -he pauses, clearing his throat while his eyes glass over- "but this career, these incredible children you've blessed us with, your heart . . . in this equation of life, you are my X factor. You're the variable with the most significance. The answers can't and don't exist without you."
I shake my head slightly, rocked by the sincerity and devotion in his words. Mouthing I love you is all I can muster in this moment as he beams back at me. He's ready -we're ready- to take this next step in life together.
His command presents him with the gift that we all designed together: a glass-top wooden chest displaying all of his medals, ranks, and emblems from the different commands he's served throughout his career. His white gloves are carefully lain at the bottom, and inside the chest, his sword and scabbard are mounted. He'll keep his uniforms and any other memorabilia inside. I'm not sure what he thought we'd be giving him as his retirement gift, but his reaction tells me he's more than blown away.
After the benediction, the quartet plays "Anchors Aweigh" and "The Marine's Hymn." The Presentation of Old Glory is transfixing as seven Marines, wearing the uniforms from different eras starting at the American Revolution then Civil War, through both world wars, Korea, Vietnam and ending with the present-day uniform, salute and revere the flag, passing it forward until it's given to Edward who accepts it and tucks it under his arm.
Today's experience will forever be ingrained in my heart. My husband has dedicated over twenty years to this way of life, and I was blessed to join him in the last third of his military career. Not many have earned this distinction. The few and the proud make up this elite brother and sisterhood . . . and our membership will never end.
As the ceremony closes, Edward stands at attention in front of Colonel Moore and barks his final active-duty-Marine query. "Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Masen requesting permission to go ashore."
For over twenty years this Marine has stood the watch.
While some of us lay about our bunks at night,
This Marine stood the watch.
While others of us were attending schools,
This Marine stood the watch.
And, yes, even before many of us were born,
This Marine stood the watch.
As our families watched the storm clouds of war
Brewing on the horizons of history,
He stood the watch.
This Marine looked ashore and saw his
Family often needing guidance,
But he knew that he must stay
Because he had the watch.
For over twenty years he stood the watch so that
Our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly, in safety,
Knowing that this Marine would stand the watch.
Today we are here to say
The watch stands relieved.
Relieved by those you have led, guided and trained.
Lieutenant Colonel Masen, you stand relieved.
We have the watch.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this peek into the future for our favorite Marine, his family, and friends. Once I watched my hubby retire, I knew I owed Spearward the same goodbye. Thank you to my fabulous team of Cabana Girls who reassembled to bring this piece to fruition: Born OnHalloween, Cejsmom, LayAtHomeMom and my amazing beta, La Momo. And make sure you come over to the Cabana to see the brilliant banner Ladyeire Breville made for this finale. She's a phenomenal talent!
I'm hoping (and praying) that I'll be able to get back into For King or Country in the new year. If you're a fan of historical fics, consider hopping on over to the first chapter I posted and put it on alert. Wishing all of you the happiest and healthiest of holidays and much love and prosperity in 2019. Hugs to all of you.