"Dad!" exclaimed my daughter Brandi as she wrapped her arms around my neck and gave me a hearty hug. "You look so much different. Your hair is shorter, your gut is gone, you look taller and you feel like a block of granite. Except for that scar on your cheek, I'd have to say that it looks like the Army agreed with you!"
"I haven't lost a pound, Sweetie, but I did manage to rearrange it a little. You're absolutely beautiful!" I gushed. "I'll be so proud to walk you down the aisle. I'm almost speechless!"
"If that happens, then I'll know for sure that the Army changed you. How was Germany, Dad? Did you get to see the sights, and go to Oktoberfest? I bet you have hundreds of war stories for us, like how you got that scar."
I flinched a little at Brandi's last comment, but managed to cover it over quickly by stepping back from her and motioning toward the attractive woman standing near by and who had just been witness to my reunion with my daughter.
"Brandi, this is Marge Becker. Unless there is some serious objection, she'll be my guest at your wedding," I told Brandi. "Marge, this incredible young woman is my daughter, Brandi."
"I am so pleased to finally meet you, Brandi," greeted Marge. "Your dad has told me so much about you. I see your concern, Brandi. I am only a guest and nothing more, so don't worry about explaining me to your mother."
"Phew! I was pretty upset there for a second. I sure don't need to spring something like this on Mom, especially at my wedding! Any friend of Dad's will always be welcome in my home, Marge. Did you meet Dad in the service?"
"Actually, I did. We were stationed overseas together and became friends. He is going to be the best man at my wedding next month," revealed Marge.
"Wow! That really takes the worry out for Mom! You're getting married? And Dad's the best man? That is so cool! Were you in Germany with Dad?" asked Brandi.
"Well, I was for a short while," hesitated Marge. "My fiancé will be picking me up the evening of your wedding and driving us back to Syracuse. Jack offered me a ride this far and insisted I attend his beautiful daughter's wedding, so here I am. Otherwise, I would have just flown from Washington to Syracuse. My fiancé, Ray, was more than happy to make the drive so I could be here for your special day."
"Here's the plan, Dad," began Brandi as she led Marge and me inside her apartment. "We're having my bachelorette party tonight, the rehearsal tomorrow night, and of course the wedding on Saturday. You remember Bill, the tailor at the men's shop in town. He said you must have been measured incorrectly for the tux. The measurements you sent him didn't jibe with what he remembered of you, so we'll fall back to plan B. You can wear your uniform at the wedding. I'm sure you'll look great and I'm so proud that my Dad spent the last two years serving our country. I want everyone to know you're my father and that you're a captain in the Army!"
"Retired captain in the Army, Sweetheart. I am out and my life is my own again," I chuckled.
"Whatever, Dad. Would you mind going with us girls to the different bars tonight? We have a limo rented, so you won't have to drive and you can even have a couple drinks, too. I know us girls will have too much to drink, so I want someone I can trust to watch over us. Can you keep your eyes on six lovely young women for five or six hours and make sure no harm comes to any of us?" grinned Brandi. "It's a tough job, but someone has to do it!"
"Sure, I'd be glad to," I quickly responded. "I assume you told your mother I was going to be here for the wedding. Is she expecting me tonight?"
"Well, Dad, that's a bit complicated. I told her you would be here for the wedding, but neglected to tell her you would arrive before the rehearsal. It just seemed simpler. I'm trying to avoid any uncomfortable situations, at least until after the wedding and hopefully, the reception."
"I understand, Brandi, but I think I'll go over and speak with her tomorrow, if I get the opportunity. We'll both be sure to remain focused on the fact that it's your big day. Everything will be fine," I promised.
"I hope so. To make sure, I reserved a room for you at the same hotel our guests are using. The limo will drop us all off there since I'm spending the night with Karen and Beth. We have a lot planned for tomorrow, like sitting by the pool and sobering up," laughed Brandi. "I'm afraid I didn't get a room for Marge. She will need her own room, won't she?"
Marge smiled as she responded, "Most definitely. Your father is much too particular to spend a night with me. I tried that a few times before I met my fiancé and never got anywhere with him. Now I'm afraid it's too late."
"Wow, Dad! That couldn't be much plainer. It sounds like you were a good boy even though temptation came your way. I'd have to say that not many men could resist the kind of temptation Marge offers," marveled Brandi. "You haven't gone gay, have you, Dad?"
I had been blushing from Marge's comment, but my face felt like it was on fire by the end of Brandi's little joke. My daughter was an adult and Marge was certainly treating her as one, seemingly to the point of forgetting she was my daughter. Marge and Brandi were both laughing at my discomfort.
Marge and I left for the hotel after agreeing to be ready for the limo at nineteen hundred hours. We had plenty of time for Marge to rent a room and get freshened up. Brandi had assured us that the limo had lot of seats for all of us. When it arrived, I saw why. It was the longest damn Hummer I had ever seen.
Brandi's friends were all lovely young women and I had no difficulty watching them as Marge and I sipped an occasional drink and chatted. We gave the girls lots of room and merely made certain they were not doing anything too foolish or dangerous.
It was after midnight and the girls insisted on visiting one more club. I didn't argue, although it appeared to me that they were all feeling no pain and should go home. How many of us have ever gone home at the right moment when we were out having a good time? Most of us try to ride that party horse till it drops. I understood that, so Marge and I simply followed along.
It was a little after one AM when the girls decided to call it a night. Marge and I exited the club and I signaled for the limo driver. Before he could pull up, the girls came laughing and stumbling out the door of the club. Suddenly, I noticed two guys with knives materialize out of the shadows. They hurried toward the girls, who were a few yards behind me.
I spun around and rushed back, managing to place myself between the two dirtbags and my charges.
"Get the fuck outta the way, Old Man!" shouted the one in front. "We want the bitches' wallets and jewelry. Maybe we'll have them show us their tits. We'll take your wallet, too, asshole!"
"Go fuck yourself, scumbag," I taunted. "I won't give a shit like you a fucking dime, you slimy cocksucker!"
That was all it took. The creep lunged at me with the knife held low and away from his body. Everything seemed to slow down as I thought back to the many times Sgt. Downs had gone over this very scenario with me.
I could almost here Sarge barking, "Step inside, block with your left, grab with your right, add your left, then take it back and up ... hard!"
I felt the knife puncture the guy's stomach and sink to the hilt. I was just about to jerk it upwards when I heard Marge screaming, almost in my ear.
"Don't kill him, Jack! He's hurt bad enough. Let him go!" she pleaded as she pulled on my arm.
I swung the guy to my right and tossed him into his partner. Both felt backward to the concrete. Before the second one could get up, my heel caught him in the temple and he fell back to the pavement. I heard Marge talking to the 911 operator before I had picked up the second knife from the gutter. I decided not to remove the blade that was lodged in the first fellow's stomach, knowing I would probably do even more damage to his organs if I pulled it out.
"Holy fucking shit!" screamed Brandi's maid of honor, Beth. "What the hell just happened?"
That seemed to open the floodgates and the girls all started crying and carrying on as a crowd began to form. A cop car appeared within minutes. An ambulance was close behind. The cops questioned me, Marge, the girls, and the limo driver, who had seen the entire altercation. All the stories were the same. It was pretty obvious that we were not the perpetrators. It was almost three AM before we were allowed to leave, and that was only after supplying ID's and promising to stop at the police station the next afternoon to give written statements.
It was a subdued ride back to the hotel. I tipped the driver an extra fifty before following Marge and the girls inside. Marge was the only one still visible as I approached my room.
"Thanks, Marge. I was this close to killing that punk. What a thing that would have been right before Brandi's wedding. What have I become, Marge?" I asked rhetorically.
"A man that can, and will, take care of his family and friends," answered Marge softly. "And that is a very good thing!"
I slept soundly for what seemed a very short time. I woke to a pounding on my door. I looked at the clock and saw it was almost eight AM. Without thinking, I walked sleepily to the door and opened it, dressed only in my boxers.
"Dad, we were wondering if you wanted ... Holy Cow! Have you been taking steroids, Dad?" gasped Brandi. "Did you get this scar the same time you got the one on your cheek? What the hell have you really been doing the last two years?"
As she spoke, Brandi was tracing a vivid scar that ran from my left pectoral down almost to my navel. I knew that over time, it would become less angry looking. At this point, however, it was quite obvious.
"It was an automobile accident, Sweetheart," I answered quickly. "I was cut by flying glass and yes, I did get both scars at the same time. Luckily, it wasn't anything serious."
Mr. Jenkins, if you don't mind my saying so, you sure are a hunk!" exclaimed Brandi's friend, Beth. "You saved our lives, and you look better than Jean Claude. I bet you could kick Chuck Norris' ass! From now on, we should call you Lionheart!"
"Beth, he's my dad, for god's sake! He's also married, at least for now, so don't even think about it!" warned Brandi. "We're going to breakfast since we're all too wired to sleep, although it doesn't look like you were having any problems, Dad. Want to go with us so we can ask you a million questions? The girls have already quizzed me for the past hour and I can't tell them anything. I don't think you want us to get Marge alone and question her, do you?"
I had gotten by on less sleep many times, so I nodded and went back inside to get dressed. Before the door closed, I was able to hear Beth say something to the other girls about "morning wood" and I blushed. Somehow I managed to piss, then shower and shave. I found the girls in the hotel breakfast area. Marge had already joined them.
"How did you know that Mr. Jenkins was going to kill that criminal last night"? was the question posed to Marge, by Linda.
I took a seat next to Brandi as Marge began her explanation.
"I've been in the military for twenty years, girls. I know the defensive moves as well as the offensive ones. I've been trained in them. Jack's training had simply kicked in. His next move would have been to push the guy's knife upward to his heart. He would have been dead before he hit the pavement. As it is, I don't think he had a very good night," offered Marge wryly.
The girls started on me with their questions. I pretty much told them that in today's military, soldiers are well trained in hand to hand combat, as well as with weapons. The training was the same for everyone. I did not tell them about the extra hours I had spent with Sgt. Matt Downs, learning everything he could teach me. He was happy to do it and I had the time.
"I've seen guys a lot younger than you leave the Army, Mr. Jenkins, and they weren't ripped the way you are. How did you do that?" asked Eve.
"That was just a lot of hard work. I wasn't happy with my weight and physique when I went in and was determined to improve. I found a few other guys with the same mindset and we worked out together for a few hours several times a week," I revealed, thinking how I had to do something with my spare time.
"It must be pretty unusual for a guy your age, and a dentist at that, to join the army, isn't it?" questioned Beth.
"Well, it used to be, Beth. I had spent four years in the military as soon as I graduated from high school. My parents had a farm and three younger kids. My mom suggested that I join up, and then take advantage of the G.I. Bill to get a college education. That was exactly what I did. I was a dentist before I was thirty.
"Along the way I married Val and we had Brandi and Zack before I was out of school. It seems that the military needs certain skills and professions. I was offered a nice bonus and the rank of captain for another two years of service, this time as a dentist."
The girls were far more interested in the previous night's attack than my military service and spent the remainder of breakfast telling their personal observations and fears from the encounter.
"Why were you so nasty to that guy, Mr. Jenkins?" asked Linda. "They said they wanted our money. They might have left us alone if we gave them our wallets, but you seemed to egg him on."
"I was charged with taking care of your girls. I knew those two guys were armed and dangerous. I didn't have the luxury of hoping they would be content with robbing us. I felt the best course of action was to take out the first guy while the other one was still several feet away. I was dead certain he would not harm any of you ladies if he had his blade shoved through his heart," I reasoned. "That would leave just one robber and I doubt he would have liked the odds."
"It sounds like you were quite confident of the outcome, Dad," observed Brandi. The Army changed you. The man that left here two years ago would never have been so assured and capable, although I bet you still would've done everything you could to protect me and my friends. You've always been protective that way."
It was turning into a hot June day so everyone decided to spend some time by the pool. The hotel, which was more like a nice motel, was shaped like a U with the pool in the center. Every guest on all three floors had a view of the pool and very little else. When Brandi and her friends made their poolside appearance, every male guest had to be quite pleased with their perspective. The girls all wore small bikinis as they lounged around the pool, soaking in the sun. Although she wore a much more modest one piece suit, Marge had no reason to feel unattractive. She was nicely tanned with strong legs and an ample bosom.
I was seated next to Marge, sipping a beer and enjoying the view the girls afforded when a shadow fell over my face. I looked up and into the eyes of my wife, whom I had not seen for just over two years. I quickly got to my feet.
Val appeared totally bewildered. She kept running her eyes over my face and torso, lingering on the scar on my chest. Then she would look at Marge and then back at me. She must have done that for a full minute before I finally broke the silence.
"Val! It's good to see you," I began.
"What happened to your chest? And who is this woman?" demanded Val when she finally found her voice.
"Mom! I forgot to tell you about Marge! She's a friend of Dad's. He's going to be the best man at her wedding in a month. She's just a friend from the military. Her fiancé will be meeting her tomorrow after the wedding, to which she's invited," blurted Brandi as fast as she could get the words out, in an obvious attempt to defuse any possible scenes.
Val allowed Brandi's explanation to sink in. She nodded slightly as she apparently accepted the explanation.
"I apologize, ... Marge, is it? I haven't seen my husband in over two years and I find him sitting by the pool with a very attractive woman. I jumped to what Brandi assures me is the incorrect conclusion. It seems like she would have mentioned you when I spoke with her on the phone a little while ago. That would have better prepared me. Again, I apologize," finished Val.
"No problem. If Jack were my husband, I'd have probably been at your throat. Men like him aren't easy to find and often, are even harder to keep," opined Marge.
"I may have to rethink my apology, Marge. Just how well do you know my husband?" asked Val bluntly.
"Not as well as I wanted, Mrs. Jenkins. I already told your daughter that I tried my damndest to interest Jack, but he'd have none of it. Then I met Ray, my fiancé, and have now accepted that Jack and I will always be friends, but never anything more," confessed Marge.
"As you probably noticed, Marge, I can be blunt. It seems you are the same. Please call me Val. I think we might become friends, too," smiled Val as she extended her hand to Marge.
What the hell had just happened? Val had always been quick to judge the character of people and was usually right, but this acceptance of Marge, even after Marge admitted she had tried to practically seduce me, was way out of the normal. Had Val also changed in the past two years? I watched the two women shake hands like old friends that had just reconnected.
Then we heard a loud voice from across the pool shout, "Marge! Get your cute little ass over here and hug your man!"
I looked toward the source of the booming voice and saw Ray Malloy grinning from ear to ear as he trotted to meet Marge. When they reached each other, he scooped her up and kissed her. Then he stepped into the pool fully clothed! When they surfaced, they were both laughing and hugging. I realized that Ray was the same fun loving guy, whether he was in the service or a civilian. He was always up for a laugh and a good time.
Ray and Marge climbed out of the pool and made their way over to our group. Marge introduced Brandi, and Ray almost crushed her with a big hug.
"So you're Jack's little girl? No wonder he was always writing letters and sending emails to you. He showed us a picture of you, but you were about fifteen in it. I don't think he wanted the guys to see what a babe his daughter was. There'd have been comments and Jack would've had to crack some heads," chuckled Ray.
He had great words of praise for each of Brandi's friends as Marge went through their names. It seemed strange seeing Ray in civilian surroundings since I had met him while we were both serving in the Army. Now we were both civilians and he had shown up a day early to be with Marge.
When Marge introduced Ray to Val, he gave her an ever bigger hug than he gave Brandi. I wondered how much Marge had cautioned Ray and if he would remember it if she had. That question was quickly answered.
"So you're the woman that made Jack the man he is today! Jack was determined to make it home to you, Val. I don't know how many of those damn Taliban he waded through so he could be with you again. That IED had us a little worried, but those scars add character in a man, don't you think?" asked Ray as he slowly became aware of the hush that settled over the group. "Aw shit! I let the cat out of the bag already!"
"Taliban? Did you say Taliban? They don't have Taliban in Germany," stated Brandi as she turned toward me. "You lied to me! You said you spent your tour in Germany, but you were in Afghanistan!"
"I didn't want everyone to worry about me, so I had a friend forward my emails and letters so you'd think I was safe in Germany. It worked out okay," I reasoned. "I'm back in one piece and no one had to lose sleep over me."
"Dad!" cried Brandi. "You could have died. Look at your scars. They were the result of one of those roadside bombs, weren't they? You were in the war and we never even knew it!"
"And look how much worry and fear your dad saved you," Marge pointed out. "You should be proud of him, not castigate him. He served his country and saved his family the pain so many go through every day, worrying if their loved ones will make it home. Well Jack made it home, so let's have a few drinks. Hell, Ray and I were right there with him and we all made it home. We should celebrate life!"