The Education of Caroline – Bonus chapter
You learn a lot in the military. Well, I thought, being an adult, it would be a good career move to have somebody inspect me every day to make sure I put my pants on the right way, and had my shoes on the correct feet.
I did get to be a real Marine while I was out in Iraq. I was still with my Unit then, still with my buddies. And I spent most of the Afghan tour in mud built villages trying to persuade the tribal elders to side with the allies; maybe it helped to make a difference. Now I’m stuck in the armpit of Europe on a chickenshit assignment all because my last CO in Paris was a dickless dumb-ass.
So I fucked his wife.
Oddly enough that’s a big no-no in the military – the kind of thing that can get you a court martial followed by a dishonorable discharge. Like I give a shit. I think it’s something to do with having to trust your life with the guy who’s got your back – so fucking his wife kind of puts a downer on things. And usually I don’t go near married women – not any more. But they both deserved it. Long story, short: the no-ball pen-pusher didn’t want anyone to know his wife was screwed by a noncom, so he had me assigned to a PR det in Geneva instead.
There are worse places. There are worse countries. I’ve seen a few of them. But there comes a point when you’re so fucking bored that you bore yourself thinking about how bored you are. I’d reached that point two months ago.
I’d even thought about getting the hell out and doing something else with my life, although I had no clue what. But I’d re-upped two years ago, so I had another two to go. The only glimmer of light was that they needed US interpreters in Afghan. I’d put my name out there, so who knows.
This was my tenth year in the Marines. It had been an interesting life up until Paris, two years ago. I’d found that I was good at languages – which was a big fucking shock to actually be good at anything – and had been promoted through the ranks. I’d been proud of being a Sergeant and had even thought about trying to get my degree so I could progress further. And then Paris had happened. For the last two years I’d been kicking my heels in one miserable office job after another, although I’d made Warrant Officer – just to get me out of their hair, I think. But now I’d got a new CO, so there was a chance I’d get moved. This guy was in that oxymoron of Military Intelligence. I’d met him briefly when he was out here for a few days. Nice wife. Blonde. Not my type.
At least I had some leave coming up.
My buddy, Ches, had asked me to come stateside and see the family. I was tempted, but since an incident with his wife’s best friend and her best friend, let’s just say I wasn’t as welcome as I might have been. Whatever.
I was toying with the idea of taking off on my motorcycle and seeing some of Italy. I’d never been, although it was somewhere I’d wanted to see, ever since I was a kid. And the border was just a few miles away. What the hell. I had nothing better to do. Well, I did have one offer that I was considering. I’d spent last Christmas in the ski resort Klosters, with Benita from Düsseldorf. I had an open invitation to visit. I don’t normally do reruns, but did I mention I was bored? And I hadn’t been laid since Christmas – it was nearly fucking Easter.
Except for Dorota from Poland, who had some business at the UN. She was only in town for one night. Classy chick. Nice ass.
I realized I’d spent 20 minutes just staring out over the rooftops of Geneva towards the lake. It was peaceful.
I liked my apartment: it was pretty basic but nobody bothered me here. It was owned by an old lady called Madame Dubois. She was always trying to introduce me to her granddaughters but apart from that, she didn’t bother me.
Today’s lesson in sheer fucking tedium was an ear-achingly dull hostile environment briefing – my fifth this month. It was part of my ‘rehabilitation’ after Paris. I don’t know how it was supposed to rehabilitate me. I mean, what part of sending me to Switzerland was supposed to teach me to keep my cock in my pocket when it came to the CO’s wife? My new boss was 3,000 miles away. With his wife. I’d need fucking super strength sperm to cause any trouble from that distance.
This month I was with a British team: Major Mike Parsons and a Lieutenant Tom waste-of-fucking-air Crawley. I’d learned some new words since I’d met Crawley: ‘wanker’ was one; ‘tosser’ was the other. Both suited him. Parsons was okay except for the fact that he hated me. Probably because I always turned up late. I think he knew why I’d gotten this assignment, so he never gave me much shit about it. I think if he’d been my CO, he’d have handed me my ass, and I wouldn’t have blamed him. But we were only allies: civility was an optional extra.
As I pulled on the jacket of my khaki service uniform, my attention was caught by the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels that was still next to my bed. Yeah, a quick hit of that might actually get my ass moving and make the morning’s mind-numbing monotony more bearable.
I was thirty minutes late, which was pretty good for me.
Crawley was droning on about some tedious shit that even had the journos present yawning their heads off.
Parsons didn’t look happy when he saw me. Guy had a broomstick up his ass like the rest of the Brits when it came to punctuality. Yeah, well, it was probably an army thing. I was a Marine.
“Thank you, Tom. We’ll take a short break now, ladies and gentleman, and meet back here at 1100 hours. Refreshments will be served in Les Nations lounge. And we’re very glad to have our colonial colleague Chief Hunter to join us. I’m sure his insight will be invaluable.”
Wow, wounded by sarcasm at close range. The Brits sure fight dirty. Next it’ll be harsh language.
But my timing was pretty good – coffee break already.
I hightailed it out of the hotel, knowing that if I stayed I’d be asked a shitload of dumb questions. I’ve had some journos come onto me, acting like they’re my best friend in the hope that I’ll dish the dirt. They must think I’m a fucking moron if they reckon I’m going to trust them after five minutes. Besides, I usually prefer to get kissed before I get screwed.
It was all I could do to drag my weary ass back in that seminar room and hope that my brain didn’t completely atrophy before the afternoon patisseries. The Swiss French made awesome cakes.
“Just a quick roll call before we go on,” said Major Parsons, “now everyone is here…”
Yeah, yeah I can take a hint. Jeez, he’d be hurting my feelings in a minute.
“Present and almost correct.”
“Je suis présent.”
A woman at the back raised her hand but didn’t speak. I glanced over.
What the fuck? No fucking way!
“You’re Lee Venzi?”
I must have spoken out loud because I realized everyone was staring at me. I rearranged my face back to boredom. Inside I was anything but. My heart was beating so fucking hard I thought it would break out of my chest.
It took every ounce of self-control that I’d learned over the last 10 years to keep standing and not completely lose it and run out of the room. My mouth was dry and I felt a cold sweat break out all over my body. Adrenaline was burning through me and I couldn’t tell if it was fight or flight. I wanted to run. I was frozen to the spot. I wanted to hit something. My hands were shaking so badly, I shoved them in my pockets and tried to concentrate on getting air into my lungs.
How could it be her? After all these years? How could she be here?
I thought I was having an out-of-my-fucking-mind—out-of-body experience. I fought to breathe normally, all the while thinking I was having a fucking heart attack.
My body was shaking so hard I thought it must be fucking obvious. This was worse than a goddamn RPG attack by the fucking Taliban in Afghan.
How? What was she doing here? Was it some sort of set up? Did she know I’d be here? No, not possible. She looked so fucking shocked. Shit, she hadn’t changed. She looked exactly the same as the day she walked out on me.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Breathe, you dumb fuck, breathe.
I stared out of the window, but it wasn’t Geneva I was seeing – it was Point Loma beach in San Diego. I was 17 and she was so fucking beautiful, wearing that yellow bikini, her skin all golden from the sun.
I blinked, trying to clear the image, but it was as if the whole fucking summer we were together was nailed to my brain and playing relentlessly like a horror film where you know someone’s going to get the guts ripped out of them. Yeah, that was me. I was the one who got ripped to pieces. And as for her? She got to walk away and start a new life.
Why the hell did she have to come back and haunt me now? The ghost of fucks past.
Fuck. How was I going to get through the next day and a half? I was sweating just thinking about being in the same room as her. I needed to get out. I could go off sick. Jeez, the way my body was responding, nobody would doubt that I was completely fucked.
Crawley continued his mindless lecture. It was an almost pleasantly dull rumble in the background. Mentally, I was ten years and 6,000 miles away.
God, she’d been so beautiful – the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. And, if I was honest, no one else had come close since. Well, fuck. She’d fooled me. I thought I was something special. Really got that fucking wrong. At least she hadn’t gone back to the asshole she’d been married to at the time.
I risked a quick look.
So fucking beautiful. I turned away – it hurt to look at her. But I couldn’t help noticing she was slumped in her seat and her cheeks were flushed. I’d have given my left nut to know what she was thinking.
Crawley droned on.
“Because most attacks occur on reaching home, always ensure that you can drive straight into your garage or compound, and secure the door or gate behind you.”
I could hear the British woman whispering something that made the other journos laugh. Crawled-up-his-ass Crawley didn’t like that.
“This is serious, madam. What I tell you today may save your life.”
The British woman inflated immediately. Fuck, her tits were enormous – and not in a good way.
“Listen, sunshine, you may think you’re something special with a weapon of mass destruction dangling between your legs, but let me tell you a thing or two: I’ve been to the frontline of every war since Uganda in 1979, before you were bloody well born.” She started ticking them off on her fingers. “Angola, Croatia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan… bloody hell, places you’ve never even heard of. And this woman,” she pointed her chin at Caro, “has been in more hot spots than you’ve had hot dates.”
Of course. Lee Venzi. She’d changed her name, which was why I hadn’t recognized it when Parsons gave me the list of attendees. I’d read some of the articles and assumed this Venzi character was a guy – probably ex-military. But now I knew the truth: it figured. Caro had grown up around military bases and the whole of her married life had been with Admiral Asswipe. She knew military.
I wasn’t happy to hear that she’d reported from dangerous places, but what the fuck was I expecting? This pack of journos was all heading for Afghan. I glanced over again and couldn’t help smiling, but turned away the minute she looked towards me. I couldn’t give her a way in or she’d fuck me over again.
Shit. Was I really that weak?
Parsons stepped in to retrieve the situation, and Crawley was allowed to carry on with his boring crap.
I tried to keep my eyes off of her, but every time they were magnetically drawn back.
Focus, you pathetic fucker! Translate the fucking National Anthem into Pashto, if you have to! Don’t look at her.
By lunchtime, I was fucked. The second Parsons called timeout I was out of the blocks like a goddamn 100 meter sprinter.
I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing: I just knew I couldn’t go back to that damn hotel and see her and not touch her. I was a fucking lunatic. I hated that woman. She destroyed my life and hadn’t even looked back when she walked out on me, leaving me behind with no clue of how to find her.
And the worst of it was I’d believed that she’d loved me. Some fucking fairytale. But I’d believed her, and I’d waited for her. I wouldn’t let anyone say a word against her for three long years. I thought she’d find me when I was 21. But she never came. I never heard from her again. And she was a journalist – how fucking hard would it have been for her?
I stormed down the street, ignoring pedestrians who jumped out of my way for fear of being mown down.
I found myself crossing the Rhone and heading for my favorite bar. Appropriately enough it was called L’Antidote. I really fucking hoped it would live up to its name tonight. It was long and thin, with almost no daylight. It was as close as the Swiss came to a dive, but it would do.
I headed inside and saw Yannis the bartender. He nodded at me and poured a whiskey without me even having to ask. I tipped it straight down.
“Suffit de laisser.”
He raised his eyebrows but pushed the bottle towards me.
After my third shot, I started to pull myself together, disgusted by being such a fucking pussy and running out.
Fuck, I used to be good at my job. You know, actually cared about it. Paris changed all that. My CO had hated me from day one. He tried to bully me and constantly belittled me. Then I found out he was a buddy of my old man. Figured. Bastard even got my promotion to Warrant Officer blocked. I’d fucking earned that promotion. So I decided if he wanted to screw around with me, I’d screw around with him – or rather, his wife. That was easy. Getting caught was harder because he was so fucking unobservant. She was definitely the brains in that marriage.
But he got the message eventually. Found his wife with her mouth wrapped around my dick. That was a good day. By that point I didn’t give a shit what happened to me. But it had got me here.
I took another shot, wondering how I’d make it through the next 30 hours. Well, it was only 2 PM – and I knew how the next 12 hours would be spent: just me and a close relative of my good friend Jack Daniels.
By 6 PM I was well on my way to being completely wasted. I only knew it was later because the bar started filling up with office workers. They must have sensed I wasn’t in a friendly mood because they all gave me a wide berth.
I wondered what she was doing. She’d looked pretty cozy with that French journalist, Lebuin. Fucker was practically drooling over her, all smiles and Gallic fucking charm. It made me want to punch his guts out through his backbone.
I tried to think of something else, but every time I came back to the look of shock on her face when she saw me. Not pleasure – shock.
I emptied another shot down my throat, enjoying the increasing numbness that it gave me.
“May I sit?”
I looked up slowly. For a second I thought it was her – the long, chestnut colored hair was so familiar. I remembered that hair sweeping over my chest as we made love in the sand dunes. But this woman’s eyes were blue.
I shook my head to clear it, then waved at the seat.
I grasped the bottle of whiskey as if I was afraid she’d steal it.
“You like to drink alone, perhaps?”
I shrugged, and she turned to Yannis to order herself a glass of white wine.
Yeah, buy your own drinks, baby. I’m not interested.
I looked at her again. She was attractive, dressed in a sharp skirt suit, high heels, with long legs. For a moment I could imagine those legs wrapped around my waist.
She saw the direction of my gaze and smiled.
“Or perhaps you prefer some company? I’m Gabriella.”
She held out her hand and after a second’s hesitation, I shook it.
“No, no. That makes me feel old. Please, you must call me Gabbi.” She paused. “So, why is a handsome young soldier drinking alone? It is either money or women. I do not think it is money.”
Her tone annoyed me, and I turned to glare at her.
“And why is an attractive woman talking to strange men in bars? It’s either business or pleasure. I don’t think it’s business.”
“Touché!” she said laughing lightly, then ran her hand over my thigh. “I am French, not Swiss. It is always pleasure with us – even in Geneva.”
She leaned forward and I caught the smell of her perfume. It was strong and musky – nothing like Caro. My stomach churned and I stood up suddenly, taking her by surprise.
“You’re right, mademoiselle. It is a woman. It’s always a woman – the same fucking woman.”
She rested her hand lightly on my arm. “Perhaps I can make you forget her?”
I laughed harshly. “Yeah, good luck with that. I’ve been trying for ten fucking years.”
I pushed past her, amused by the look of disappointment painted on her face. When I hit the fresh air outside, I nearly staggered.
Fuck, I was more wasted than I’d realized.
I could have hailed a cab, but I didn’t live far, so I wandered home, occasionally cannoning off lampposts that seemed to leap into my path. Goddamnit if I wasn’t seeing double.
I don’t remember getting up the stairs or falling asleep fully dressed.
The alarm scared the fuck out of me when it went off at 5:30 AM. I set it early so I could go for a run before whatever drudgery the US Marine Corps was doling out. But this morning there was no chance of that. I just about made it to the bathroom before I threw up.
I splashed some water on my face, which made absolutely no fucking difference and then drank straight from the tap.
I crawled back into bed for another two hours.
When I woke up for the second time, there’d been no miraculous cure – I was still hungover as fuck, and the room stank of whiskey.
Revolted, I pulled off my rank uniform and stood under the tepid shower for as long as I could stand it.
After I’d shaved, and managed not to cut my own damn throat, I glared at my service uniform. It looked like I’d slept in it. Which I had, strangely enough. I had a clean khaki shirt, but there was no way I’d have time to get the pants and jacket dry-cleaned.
Sighing, I pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and went to beg use of the ironing board and iron from Madame Dubois: desperate times called for desperate measures.
She took one look at my pathetic condition and took pity on me.
“Les hommes ne peuvent pas repasser!” she insisted.
I wasn’t going to argue if she was going to offer to iron my suit for me. When she’d finished I kissed her on the cheek to thank her.
“Vous êtes un garçon effronté,” she sniffed and waved me off.
Yeah, gran-mère was hot for me.
The second day of the training began much like the first – I was late, and Parsons was pissed. I’d eaten a roll of mints before I walked in, but I was pretty certain he could smell whiskey on my breath.
I tried to keep my eyes off of her, but it was an impossible task. After the first hour, I wanted to tear them out and use them in a pinball machine.
The first lectures were on how to spot a minefield. I’d heard it all before. Didn’t mean it wasn’t useful, but it wasn’t new material either.
Next up was my language section: an hour with Caro’s eyes focused on me. I didn’t know why I didn’t combust on the spot. Except she seemed embarrassed to look at me. How fucking ironic.
I went through my usual spiel for the Afghan tour: how to introduce yourself (differently for men and women), how to give your job title, the agency you worked for, and nationality. And I always threw in a useful passage from the Koran for emergencies.
This shit could save lives, so it really fucking pissed me off that Caro wasn’t paying attention. Shit, she could end up smeared all over a Kabul street if she didn’t take it in.
“Perhaps Ms. Venzi can answer that question,” I said, nearly choking on my tongue as it wrapped itself around her name.
“Excuse me? Um, what was the question?” she stammered.
Fuck, I couldn’t look at her – it was too much. I was only fucking human.
Shit! Shit! Shit! What could I tell her that she might actually remember, that might actually be useful?
“A typical answer to a question an Afghan can’t answer would be for him to say, ‘because the sky is blue and the sea is green’,” I said by rote, risking another glance at her.
She looked annoyed and my heart punched against my ribs.
I had to get out. I needed to get out.
I don’t remember anything about the last 45 minutes of the seminar. As soon as Parsons cleared his throat, signaling the end, I was out of there.
And then she spoke to me.
“May I have a word, please, Chief Hunter?”
I almost skidded to a halt, afraid to turn and look at her, afraid of what it was going to make me feel to look in her eyes again.
“I’m rather busy, Ms. Venzi,” I coughed out.
“Too busy to say ‘hello’?” she snapped.
God, she was so beautiful.
And then I realized I hadn’t answered her.
“Yes, I’m too busy for that,” and I ran.
Fucking pussy! Candy-ass chickenshit fucking pussy!
I couldn’t go back but I couldn’t kid myself anymore either. I wanted her. Badly. And maybe, if I had her one more time, I could stop thinking about her. Maybe if I fucked her hard, I could exorcise her ghost once and for all.
On impulse I stopped and bought some condoms from a small pharmacie. I got a semi just thinking about using them with her.
Jesus, just seeing her and I was suddenly 17 again!
For fuck’s sake. And how the hell was I going to make that fucking fantasy happen? I’d barely spoken to her for the last two days.
I needed to get her alone. I couldn’t do it – whatever ‘it’ was – with an audience. I needed to talk to her.
I wandered through Geneva, trying to work out what I was going to say to her; how I’d get to fuck her. We used to have this amazing chemistry. We’d just look at each other and get turned on. I wondered if it was still there.
My steps slowed as my thoughts grew heavier, remembering everything that has passed between us, the plans we’d made. Fuck, we’d talked about it all: living together, marriage, kids. I’d wanted it all with her – and I thought she’d wanted it with me.
I realized I’d stopped walking altogether and was standing outside a jewelers. One of those small, unassuming, family-run places that you could still find in that part of the city.
My eyes were drawn to a display of rings and I found myself staring at the rings. One of them caught my attention – a smallish but pretty single diamond mount on a gold band. The breath left my body as I imagined how that would look on her small hand, with those delicate fingers that used to touch…
Fuck. This was seriously fucked up. I need to walk away, fast. But I couldn’t. I walked inside and was soon talking to the sales assistant, an elderly man who looked like a gnome. And then he was showing me the ring and placing it in a dark blue satin ring box, and I was handing over my credit card for €2000.
Back in the fresh air, I knew I’d lost my goddamn mind, but somehow I couldn’t care.
Eventually I went home and took another shower, then changed into civvies. I was going to go straight to her hotel, but I wimped out.
I went back to L’Antidote and started drinking.
There were so many things I wanted to say to her – and I had no fucking clue how to start. I had another drink, trying to calm the fuck down. Then another. And another.
When I’d finally got up the courage to talk to her, I headed towards the Place des Nations. Her hotel was nearby. For some reason, my body seemed disconnected from my feet. It took for fucking ever to get my ass going in the right direction. Weird.
Finally, I was there – standing in front of her door – knowing that she was just a few feet away from me.
I knocked three times.
There was a pause, followed by a scuffling sound, then her voice.
“Who is it?”
“Let me in, Caro.”
There was another pause – longer this time.
“What do you want, Sebastian?” she called through the door.
“Let me in. I need to talk to you.”
Fuck. This wasn’t going how I’d planned. She needed to open the door for me to talk to her properly.
I banged on the door again.
Slowly, the door opened. All she was wearing was a thin, silky robe.
My cock leapt to attention as my eyes drank her in.
Christ it felt good to say her name.
“What do you want, Sebastian?”
No, not like this. I needed to be in the same room as her. I pushed my way inside. I was inside the room, but I wanted to be inside her.
“What are you doing?” she said, sharply.
She was so feisty. God, I loved that about her.
“Catching up with old friends,” I said, smiling at her.
“How did you find me?”
Seriously? Didn’t she know what I did?
“Military intelligence,” I said, tapping the side of my head.
I thought that was as funny as fuck.
While she closed the door, I took off my jacket and threw it onto the chair. There was nowhere else to sit, so I sat on the bed and hoped she’d take the hint.
“Come and sit with me, Caro.”
But she stayed standing, her arms folded across her chest.
“Why are you here, Sebastian? You had your chance to talk to me earlier today, but you preferred to ignore me.”
“You still have a great ass, Caro.”
“Okay, I think you’d better go now. Whatever you have to say to me can wait until you’re sober.”
She had a great everything.
She walked towards me and my heart started pounding in my chest again. Christ, it hurt so fucking much. How could it hurt so much and I wasn’t dying? Or maybe I was. I didn’t know anymore. Because when she came towards me, it was just her and me again. Just us. No one else. She wove her magic and the world went away.
I buried my head in her body, kissing her, relishing the feel of her flesh against my lips. It had been so long. So long.
I tried to tell her that I loved her, that I’d always loved her. I don’t know if she could understand what I was saying. I just knew that her arms were around me and we were together again.
I don’t remember much about what happened then, but I fell asleep with her at my side.
The next morning I woke up to the sound of an alarm ringing in my ear – it was fucking annoying. Then I realized I wasn’t in my room – and I wasn’t alone.
What the fuck?
I opened my eyes and looked up.
I wasn’t sure if I was awake or still dreaming.
“You’re awake then,” she said, sharply.
Oh. Awake. Right.
And yet again: what the fuck?
I vaguely remembered coming to her hotel and wanting to fuck her. Did we do it? I had no memory. What a fucking irony: I’d planned to get rid of that ghost once and for all – and I couldn’t even remember doing it.
“No, we most definitely did not. You woke me up in the middle of the night by banging on my door, and then passed out on my bed.”
Shit. She sounded pissed.
I leaned up on one arm and looked down at the clothes I was still wearing. Huh, maybe we hadn’t then. I really fucking wanted to.
“Sorry about that. We can make up for it now if you like?”
Yeah, that could have come out better. Fucking word vomit.
“Astonishing as this may seem, Sebastian,” she said in a voice that could have frozen helium, “your charming offer doesn’t thrill me.”
Shit. Fucking bitch was always on my case. Hell, she’d invited me into her room. I think.
I started to get up and realized I was lacking footwear.
“Where are my boots?”
“Under the chair,” she said, pointing. “Along with your jacket.”
Ah hell, morning boner, just to add to the overall sense of joy. I don’t suppose she’d let me… nah, no point thinking about it.
Then she said, “Why did you come here last night, Sebastian?”
The look on her face was so sad, my heart started to crash in my chest. Her eyes were so hurt and confused and all the words I wanted to say to her just dried on my tongue.
Christ, just let me get the fuck out of here. If she says one more word, just one, I’ll be down on my fucking knees begging her to take me back.
I shrugged. “I don’t remember.”
I had to see her just once more, to memorize her face before I left.
“See you around, Caro.”
When I closed her door behind me, shutting out the image of her, I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I wanted her badly. I still needed her.
And she hated my fucking guts.