“Hey, hot mama!”
I take a moment to appreciate the beautiful woman who’s my baby mama. Well, the kids are not so much babies now. Marco is nine-going-on-nineteen, if the way he notices girls is anything to go by—little dude has all the moves. Our baby girl, Shirley, is nearly six, named for the woman I think of as my mom. And Sofia, our adopted daughter is 11 and such a beautiful soul. She loves being a big sister and shows it in everything she does—the way she looks after her brother and sister, the way she talks to them and tells them stories. Cutest fucking thing ever. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that her life started in the stark mountain ranges of Afghanistan. I talk to her in Dari every day so she has some connection with her homeland, but in all other ways, she’s an American girl, just starting junior high. And I will personally FUBAR any teenage boy who lays eyeballs on either of my daughters. EVER.
I look at my family and wonder how I got to be such a lucky mofo. It’s not all been smooth sailing, not by a long shot, but life is good right now; we’re good.
Caro had her 50th birthday a few months back. I know it bothers her, although she doesn’t say much, but I caught her coloring her grays in the bathroom with a home dye kit.
“Grays show up more when you’ve got dark hair, Sebastian,” she snapped at me when I asked her why she was doing it, although her eyes were glassy with unshed tears when she said it.
“Baby, I don’t care. If you want to color your hair pink, green and purple, then go ahead. You’ll always be beautiful to me.”
“It’s alright for you,” she snorted, torn between tears and laughter. “You’re blond—no one will ever notice.”
And although she didn’t say it, sometimes the fact that I’m 13 years younger still bothers her.
Things had gotten a little tense between us for a while, and it was for the dumbest of reasons.
Since I was medically discharged from the Marines, I work as a personal trainer at an upscale Manhattan gym four days a week. That sounds fucked up, but when I was discharged, the docs thought I’d never walk well again, and the bullet that went through my shoulder left me with poor motor skills in that arm. But I’ve worked really hard to get as much function back as possible. I’m fitter than most guys in their thirties.
So now I work with people like me—I mean guys who’ve been injured. I even had to go back to school to learn all the biology shit to be a personal trainer, but it was worth it in the end. When I first started out, I used my USMC connections to cut a deal with a gym owner, Connor Gibson, a guy who has a chain of gyms across the East Coast. He wanted to do something for ex-servicemen and women, so I persuaded him to let me do rehabilitation work with guys who’d lost limbs in Iraq and Afghan. When he saw that it was good marketing, good for business, and highly fucking motivating for the able-bodied in his gym, he made it a core concept for the whole chain. But part of the deal was that he wanted me working more on the marketing side, as a kind of poster-boy for people recovering from injuries. What-the-fuck-ever if it helped my guys.
I definitely had injuries: as well as being shot, I’d lost 15% of muscle mass from my right thigh after getting caught in a suicide bombing in Afghan.
But then Gibsy had the bright idea of putting me on the front of a fucking calendar that he sold for the charity Wounded Warriors. That was fucking bad enough, but it got worse. Because that’s when I was approached by a model agency to do underwear modeling for them. I’m not kidding! How fucking embarrassing is that? A bunch of strangers staring at my junk! But the killer in the contract was that they’d fundraise on behalf of Wounded Warriors—a deal that would net hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charity. How could I say no to that? And Caro talked me into it, as well.
So seven or eight times a year, I’m flown off to some beach or photo studio, and paid crazy amounts of money to strut around in skivvies. Too fucking funny. Except that I started getting stopped in the street by strange women, or even groped in public.
At first Caro thought it was kind of amusing, but the way these women treated her wasn’t. Yeah, it caused some tension for a while. I said I’d stop the dumb modeling, but she pointed out how much money the charity would lose, and the publicity meant that Gibsy gave extra free memberships to rehab guys to use his facilities. I guess you could say I was locked into it.
I’d just gotten back from a shoot in Florida and surprised Caro and the kids by turning up three hours earlier than they’d expected.
Caro is sitting on the deck in the backyard reading a book. She jumps when I whisper in her ear.
“Hey, hot mama.”
“Sebastian!” she manages to breathe out, before I give her the long, hot kiss that I’ve been imagining for days.
Then Marco looks up from where he’s been kicking a soccer ball and a huge smile spreads across his face.
I never had that as a kid. The only emotions my dad invoked in me were fear and hatred. My kids would never know what that was like. Never.
“Dad!” yells Marco. “It’s Dad!”
Shirley runs out of the house, shrieking at an ear-splitting volume, and she and Marco start using me like a jungle gym. Then Sofia joins in and it becomes a group hug-a-thon, and we crumple onto the deck while they climb all over me. I fuckin’ love it.
“Hey, can we have a BBQ tonight?” yells Marco.
“Sure, bud—at Atash’s place. Me and my girl are having a date night.”
Marco kicks at a dandelion growing in the cracked paving, sending the seeds floating into the air.
“That means you’re going to have sex,” he grimaces. “That’s gross.”
What the fuck? I mouth to Caro.
She shrugs, as if to say, You’re his dad—you fix it.
“Don’t disrespect your mom,” I say to Marco seriously. “I’ve missed her and we just want to spend some time together.”
“I think it’s romantic,” giggles Sofia, and I can’t help rolling my eyes. Fuck knows what books she’s reading these days. I leave that shit up to Caro.
“Sorry, Mom,” Marco mutters when I give him another hard stare.
“Did ya miss me, too, Daddy?” asks Shirley.
“Yeah, I missed all my babies!” I say pulling her into a hug.
But she wriggles away looking annoyed. “I’m not a baby anymore, Daddy!”
“Aw, you’ll always be my baby,” I laugh.
Sofia takes Shirley’s hand and herds Marco toward the door.
“Come on, we’re going to Uncle Atash.”
“I’ll pick you guys up at twenty-hundred hours!” I call after them, and laugh as Marco salutes.
Kid wants to be a Marine and is forever asking Caro about my medals and where I served. He knows I don’t like talking about it, so he asks her. She’s gently trying to dissuade him from enlisting and figures that she might be successful with another nine years of persuading him to go to college instead, but I’m not so sure. He reminds me a lot of me at that age—stubborn and single-minded, just a lot happier.
Besides, the only thing I ever really wanted was Caro.
They wave goodbye and I stare at my wife. “Bed, woman. Now.”
She sucks her teeth and looks down. “Can we talk first?”
That doesn’t sound good. I sit next to her and hold her hand. “Sure, baby, what’s up?”
She’s silent, just staring down at our joined hands until she lets go and rakes her fingers through her hair.
“I feel like we’re drifting apart,” she says, and the words threaten to shatter me. She hasn’t finished talking and I’m trying not to freak out. “You have the gym and your modeling work. The kids are in school now. I’m bored with covering local events for community news-sites. And you and I…”
My heart clenches. What the fuck is she trying to say?
“Well, frankly, Sebastian, the only time we see each other is in bed and we’re…”
“Fucking like it’s the end of the world?”
She laughs suddenly and I feel my shoulders relax for the first time since she told me she wanted ‘to talk’.
“Something like that,” she smiles, shaking her head. “I just meant we don’t have much time to talk about ‘us’.”
“What’s worrying you, baby?” I pick up her left hand and start playing with her wedding rings. “This isn’t like you.”
Her lips twist in a wry smile that fades quickly.
“I suppose it’s a lot of things, Sebastian. You’re this super hot model and doing all these photo shoots…”
“Which you know I’d stop quicker than ass on ice…”
“I know, but you’re jetting off to exotic locations with all these young models…”
“You think I give a fuck about them? Seriously?”
She looks down.
“No, not really.”
“Then what? Because you know that you’re the only woman I’ve ever looked at. For fuck’s sake, Caro! You think I’m screwing around on you?”
My heart is starting to race. How did we get here? How did we get to be one of those couples?
She sits up straighter. “No, I don’t think that. I didn’t mean it to come out like that. You’ve never given me a moment’s concern in that direction. It’s just that…”
“Then what is it, baby?”
“I feel old.”
There’s a beat as I stare at her in surprise. My reply is as dumb as it sounds. “No, you’re not.”
She gives a small smile. “I feel it sometimes. You’re so fit and…”
“Caro, when the winter storms roll in, I’m the one limping around like a fucking retiree!”
She rests her hand on my right thigh, over the ugly scars that there’re always so fucking anxious to show in photo shoots.
“I know, tesoro. But…” she huffs out in frustration. “My periods have stopped.”
She looks up and stares at me.
“No!” Her voice cuts across my happy thoughts.
Now I’m just freakin’ confused. “Um, okay?”
Her lips thin slightly and she crosses her arms. Not sure how I’m pissing her off…
“It’s menopause, Sebastian,” she explains, her voice brittle. “It’s a big deal. A very big deal. I can’t … I’m not…”
Now I’m getting it. Okay, so not always the sharpest pencil in the box when it comes to this shit, but I know what to do.
I pull her into my arms.
“Caro, I get that this, um, change of life, is a big deal, I do. But I love you, baby, and nothing else matters.”
“I just feel so old compared to you. You’re a model, for God’s sake. I feel old and frumpy and I’m just so bored.”
She pulls away from me and I’m wary now. I swallow several times.
“Bored with me?”
Her head whips around so fast, her hair fans out around her.
“No, tesoro! God, no! Never that! But I need to be challenged—and not just athletically in the bedroom.”
I can’t help a small smirk at that comment, but I reel it back in because her eyes are flashing with annoyance.
“So what sort of challenge do you want?”
“Well, there was that assignment in Syria that came up and…”
“No! No fucking way! We talked about that!”
“Actually, we didn’t talk about that, Sebastian. You lost your temper and stormed out of the house.”
“Caro, it’s fucking dangerous out there. No more war zones. No more places you have to wear body armor. Don’t tell me we didn’t discuss that, because we fucking did. You’re not going.”
“Stop telling me what to do!”
“Stop being so fucking selfish!”
She gasps and her eyes glitter dangerously, but I’m not backing down.
“I mean it, Caro. We’ve got three kids. What the fuck do you think would happen to us if something happened to you? I couldn’t…”
I can’t finish the sentence, so we sit there looking at each other. Caro takes a deep breath and I can tell that she’s trying to talk calmly.
“All I was going to say is that since I turned down the Syria assignment, I’ve felt … adrift. I need a good story to get my teeth into.” She pauses. “And I had an offer this morning.”
“Not a war zone.”
She rolls her eyes. “No, not a war zone.”
“You got a new assignment. It’s not a warzone. How long will you be away for?”
I hate this bit. I hate her going away, but she hates it when I leave, as well. And this is a partnership.
She smiles slightly. “Well, it would be about a month … or two…”
That’s a lot longer than I was expecting, but I can see the excitement inside her. I’ll miss her like fuck, but we’ll deal. Somehow.
“Fuck, Caro, two months … that’s a long time,” I say quietly. “But if it’s what you need…”
My words tail off. I’m already imagining what it will be like to be without her for so long. Fucking grim.
She runs her warm hands down my arm. “Don’t you want to know what the assignment is?”
“Sure, baby,” I say, trying to smile.
“I’ll be sailing to Hawaii from San Diego. They want me to write an article about the challenges … for a family.”
I look up, wanting confirmation for what I’ve heard. “A family? What?”
“It’s a series of articles about alternative ways of family life. You know, families who go backpacking around the world; families who live in eco communities and grow their own food. Well, the editor is following a family at the start of their sailing-around-the-world trip. I’ve been asked to go and report on it … and then I suggested to the editor that we all go for the first month, so I get a real flavor of what it’s like. All of us.”
Her words run together rapidly and I’m not sure who she’s trying to persuade—me or herself.
“It would be an amazing learning opportunity for the kids: geography, sailing, navigation, cooking in a galley, fishing … I don’t know! Lots of things. It would be good for us, as well, Sebastian, to spend time together.”
She’s pretty much convinced me, and I can see how amazing it would be to do something like that. But one thing worries me.
“It sounds great, Caro, but I don’t know … Sofia has only just started at her new school and she really likes it. It could fuck things up if we take her out for a couple of months now.”
Caro smiles at me. “You’re such a good father, Sebastian. So responsible.”
I know she’s teasing me, because I used to be kind of wild, but this shit is important.
“I’ll have to ask permission to take the children out of school for so long, but if the school goes for it, do you have any other objections?”
“No, baby. Not even one.”
Caro smiles at me in a way that has my dick hardening immediately. That’s something that’s never changed—no other woman has ever gotten me so hot so quickly. And she knows it.
“We’d be away for your birthday and our tenth wedding anniversary,” she says, as if I could forget that.
“Baby, all that matters is you being happy.”
“So, you think I should take the assignment?” she asks.
I roll my eyes. “Caro, you made up your mind before I walked through the door.”
She thinks about this. “No, I hadn’t made up my mind, but I’d have been disappointed if you thought it was a bad idea. So, I’ll tell the editor yes?”
She kisses my lips softly. “I love you, tesoro.” Then she runs her hand over my straining zipper. “Now, I think you need to be thanked properly.”
I scoop her up and carry her into the bedroom. I know exactly how she can thank me.
We start making plans the next day. Gibsy is pissed until I throw him a bone and promise I’ll do some shots for his fuckin’ calendar while I’m in Hawaii. Then he starts getting excited about doing a shoot at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay. He doesn’t care that I’ll get the piss ripped out of me. Whatever. It raises money.
One of the best parts of the plan is that we’ll be able to spend some time with my brother Ches in San Diego. We try to meet up twice a year but it’s not always possible with family commitments as well as work.
Caro is glowing. It hurts somewhere deep inside my chest because I can see now the difference in her. I’d stopped noticing—hadn’t realized she wasn’t happy—and that is un-fucking-forgivable. I won’t let shit like this happen again.
Marco is ecstatic that he’ll be getting time off school, until Caro points out that he’ll lose his place in Little League. I take him to one side and promise that we’ll do a load of surfing and all his friends will be jealous as shit.
Then I have to get him to promise that he won’t tell his mom I said ‘shit’. Little dude worked me for five bucks.
The schools aren’t very happy with us, but Caro talked the Principals into it somehow. I was left behind for that discussion. She says the male teachers get defensive around me, and the female teachers are too busy checking me out to make sensible decisions. Yeah, whatever.
We’ve got to pack light because there won’t be a lot of room on the boat. Shirley is in tears when Caro tells her that she can only take one Barbie doll with her. I promise her that I’ll buy her a Hawaii Barbie when we get there. I’ve no idea if there is such a thing, so Caro might have to figure out how to make a grass skirt and a lei for a doll. And then I start wondering how Caro would look in just a grass skirt and a lei, but because the kids are eating their supper, I have to shake that thought and take a cold shower instead.
It’s a long flight to San Diego. All the kids have done it before, but it doesn’t mean it gets any easier. Thank fuck for laptops and DVDs. We’re taking one with us on the boat, but that’s strictly for Caro’s use. No one is allowed to touch her laptop—that would be like another Marine touching your M16. That shit is just wrong.
Ches is waiting for us at the airport with his Suburban.
I’m shocked by how fat he’s become. It’s been nine months since I’ve seen him and if he wasn’t a guy, I’d swear the fat fucker was pregnant. Caro elbows me in the ribs, which means I must have been staring. But come on! I grew up with this guy—he was as fit as me. I mean yeah, I know that he has an office job and I work in a gym, but that’s no excuse. I’m going to have words with my best friend.
His wife Amy meets us at the front door and even manages to hug me without pulling a face. She’s never been a fan of mine, and she has her reasons. Well, two friends who won’t talk to her because of me. But that was a long time ago now. Women sure have long memories—or maybe the sex was just that good. What? I’m a guy—that’s how we think.
Caro goes with Amy to get the kids situated, and I go with Ches to get take-out.
I can’t hold it back any longer.
“What’s with the beer gut, man?”
“Fuck you, Seb! You spend all your day at the gym. It’s hard to find time to work-out. You don’t know what it’s like.”
“I’m calling bullshit on that. I see plenty of guys who have families and office jobs. What’s really going on?”
He looks at me sideways then glances back to the road.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
That pisses me off.
“I see guys every day with their legs blown off. Yeah, they have great prosthetics, but the best equipment in the world isn’t as good as a real leg, and you’re not using yours. It’s just frustrating, man!”
Ches blows out a breath. “Just life, I guess. Kids are growing up. I’m in the same freakin’ job I was ten years ago; jeez, Seb, the same place where we bussed tables when we were 17. I just feel like life is passing me by. And look at you and Caro, doing all this crazy stuff. Amy has her friends, her job, her book club—she doesn’t need me. I just…”
His words trail off.
“I think you’re wrong,” I say seriously. “But maybe you need to think about what you want for you. Spend some time at the beach, go surfing. We always used to go there to figure things out.” He nods slowly. “And I’ll draw you up an exercise schedule, something to get you fine and fuckable, my friend.”
He gives me the finger and we both laugh.
We eat pizza and I can’t help smiling as Ches tries to force down some salad instead of a fourth slice. It’s a start.
I get the kids bathed and into bed, and then collapse onto the sofa with Caro curled up next to me.
Ches and Amy are filling the dishwasher, so I take the opportunity to slide my hands under Caro’s shirt, running my hands across her ribs and brushing the underside of her breasts.
“Sebastian,” she chides in a breathy voice before kissing the hell out of me.
Amy interrupts us. I knew she hated me.
“OMG, you guys! Don’t you ever stop? You’re like a couple of horny teenagers!”
Caro looks embarrassed, but I just grin at Amy and raise my eyebrows. I always did know how to piss her off.
We spend three days with Ches and Amy before we head to the Harbor Yacht Club to find our host family and the boat we’ll be sailing on.
The Falcon looks like something out of a pirate movie with two tall masts and a web of rigging, the sails stored for now.
It’s a beautiful, sleek boat, and I know from the research we did that she’s 74 feet and can sleep 12 people. I did a lot of sailing when I was a Marine, but never in anything this swanky. I can’t wait to get on board. The kids are just as excited and Caro’s eyes are shining with happiness.
Our host family come out to meet us. We’ve skyped with Ken and Ellen so we know what to expect. But all the same, I make sure that Ken keeps his eyes off of Caro. He seems cool, but you never know.
But his enthusiasm is contagious. And soon we’re clambering all over the yacht, admiring when Ken tells us about it … her.
“She was originally built in Genoa in 1948,” says Ken.
I can’t help turning to grin at Caro. We had some good times there before we were married. She smirks at me and I have to look away before there’s an uprising below decks. Yeah, totally getting into a nautical mood.
Ken is oblivious, but Ellen is smiling at me and Caro. I like her already.
“Falcon was completely restored and rebuilt in the nineties,” Ken continues, “and converted to a twin screw gaff rigged schooner with six cabins—all with AC.”
The polished oak and mahogany gleams in the sunshine.
“Fuck me, she’s a beauty,” I say, still grinning at Caro.
She shakes her head at my language, but smiles back.
My man has a serious potty-mouth—the habit of ten years in the Marines that he could never break, although I’m not sure how hard he’s tried.
He’s so excited about this trip. I think it’ll be good for both of us. There was something about turning 50 that really got to me. I can’t even find the words to explain, but I suppose it’s the feeling that I’m truly in middle-age and the signs are obvious, not just the grays in my hair. Whereas Sebastian, he seems to get even more handsome with age, something I didn’t think was possible.
He has women falling all over him, but he barely notices, or if he does notice, he doesn’t do anything about it. I’ve never had to worry about him like that.
My beautiful boy.
I watch as his muscles ripple under his silky skin—the blue of the sky, the green of the sea in his expressive eyes; the sun forever fixed in his golden hair. The kindness and goodness that matches his beauty on the outside.
He turns to smile at me, his eyes asking me why I’m staring at him so intently. The answer? Because I know I’m loved.
My skin will wrinkle and my hair will go gray, my body will bend with age—and I will be loved. In this life and in the next. I will be loved. Whatever the world throws at us, wherever the next adventure leads, I will be loved.
Sempre e per sempre.