At first glance the holiday season, typically one of great cheer, had not touched Catalano Naval Base. The sun still beat down viciously upon those who remained on the base instead of going home for the holidays. Not a single Christmas light, snowflake, or smile was to be seen, especially in the quarters of the local Master Chief.
Declining the traditional forced invitation from his parents to join them and his siblings for the holidays, John James Urgayle, Jack to his friends, sat at his window scowling as best he could at the turbulent seas.
“Glaring at the water isn’t going to stop the tides Jack.”
“Fuck off Max.”
“You’ve been scowling out that window for the past six months,” Max Pyro shot back. “Face it Jack, she ain’t coming back this time.”
“I thought I told you to fuck off Pyro.” Jack yelled. “I don’t know what you are talking about and neither do you.”
“I don’t know what I’m talking about?” Pyro raised his eyebrows. “You’ve been miserable, ornery, and vindictive towards everyone since the day she left. You stopped talking to anyone except to tell them to fuck off. You stopped caring about doing your job waiting for another miracle to happen and her to walk back through that door as if she was never gone in the first place.”
Before Jack could snarl a reply to Pyro’s outburst and accusations, Johns walked in and interrupted.
“Well fellas it’s the day before Christmas, the base is empty, and the bar is open. Let’s go for a drink and drown our sorrows.”
“Sounds good. You coming Jack?”
The only reply they got was the back of Jacks head as he resumed scowling out the window. Pyro looked over at Johns and shrugged.
“Still depressed and missing his girl huh.”
“More so than usual. I think poor ol’ Jack was in love and didn’t realize it until it was too late and she was long gone, never to return.”
The only hint that Jack had heard them was the growl and tensing of his shoulders by the window.
“You’re probably right. Poor ol’ lovesick fool. I hear she keeps in touch with Wickwire and the rest of her crew pretty regularly . She’s probably living the high life with that boy-toy of hers…what was his name anyway? She’s probably forgotten all about him.” Johns smirked as Jack’s fists clenched and he growled louder.
“I think that Wickwire said his name was Harper.”
“That name sounds familiar, wasn’t he the guy that was giving all of that intel on her to Secretary Hayes and his superiors while she was in training?”
“Yep that’s him. Son of a bitch even married her not long after she became a SEAL.”
“They’re divorced now. She found all his reports about her a week or two after she left here. Man was she ever pissed off at him. I thought she was going to kill him but she settled on taking him for all he had during their very quick, very painful divorce.” Wickwire said from the door. “Are you guys coming for a drink or not? Happy hour is going to start without us. Chief are you coming?”
“He’s too busy sulking and feeling sorry for himself.” Pyro replied. “The other guys waiting or are they all ready gone?”
“They’re going to meet us there. I think that Slovnik said something about plotting against Jo…someone we all know and miss. Who some of us miss more than others unless my eyes and ears are deceiving me.” Wickwire corrected when Pyro and Johns shook their heads at the sound of her name being spoken. “Anyway I was going to call her from the bar when we got there. Haven’t heard from her in a while and letters take too long and e-mails are so boring and impersonal.”
“Great! We can tell her all about the lovesick idiot she left behind.”
“I am not in love with her!” Jack shouted angrily turning from the window.
“Not in love with who? I thought you didn’t know who we were talking about?”
“Where does she live again?”
“She just moved back into her old place a month ago, the one that she had before she married that asshole Harper. Nice little place on the lake. 45 Lakeside Road or something like that.” Wick shrugged purposely lying and smirking at the brooding Master Chief.
“48 Lakeview Drive.” Jack muttered quietly.
Pyro, Johns and Wickwire exchanged knowing glances before Pyro asked, “Did you say something Jack?”
“Yeah I did. Fuck off!”
Rolling their eyes the guys left for the bar leaving Jack with his thoughts. An hour passed before the silence was too much.
“Fucking politicians. They always manage to ruin everything.” Jack swore. “Why did she have to leave and why the fuck isn’t she back yet?!”
“Maybe she had things to do. And as for her not being back yet, she hasn’t tried to get back to Catalano and the SEALS. If she did she would find the door wide open.” A new voice said from the open doorway.
Jack spun away from the window to face his aging C.O. Captain Salem. “Sir?”
“The last charges against her were proven to be groundless as she well knew and pointed out before she was forced to leave the base.” Salem clarified. “You look miserable Master Chief and your bird leaves in twenty minutes.”
“My bird sir?”
“You have a one way ticket to a little town in Texas where a rental car and a map are waiting for you.” Salem said handing Jack the travel papers.
“And three weeks furlough.” Salem interrupted. “I don’t want to see you or hear of you anywhere near this base until mid January. Is that understood Master Chief?”
“Good. Go shower and shave, then pack. There’s someone waiting for you in Texas Jack, and I believe you all ready know the address.” Salem said before exiting the barracks.
Jack stared at the papers clenched in his fist before a tiny smile broke out on his face and he headed to the showers, an odd light in his eyes.
Exactly twenty minutes later, as per his orders, Jack was on the Navy airplane headed to the heart of Texas.
“What the fuck am I doing?” he asked himself. “This is absolutely one hundred percent insane. How the hell did I let myself get talked into this?!”
“It’s the holidays sir.” the pilot replied. “People do crazy things during the holidays that they would normally never do. She must be one hell of a lady sir to have you flying out on Christmas Eve to see her.”
“She is.” Jack quietly agreed.
“Beg your pardon sir? I didn’t hear what you said Master Chief.”
“I said everyone else seems to think so.”
“But you don’t sir?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore.”
‘Why didn’t she come back? Or at least try to. Doesn’t she care enough anymore? Or has she grown tired of all the bullshit she had to put up with when she was here?’ he thought to himself. ‘Maybe she thought that she wasn’t wanted back here? Or did those fucking politicians finally find a way to keep her away from here for good?’
Jack shut his eyes in frustration. Almost immediately he was assailed by a vision. An image of a woman with long back hair, brilliant green eyes and a knowing smile. Ever so serenely giving him the finger with a raised brow. Without realizing it Jack rapidly drifted off to sleep with the visions smoky laugh in his ears and mind.
Hours later Jack awoke to find the plane on the ground, taxiing down the snow-covered runway.
“We’ve just arrived at the airport sir.” the pilot informed him. “I believe that the keys to your rental car are waiting for you inside at the Budget Car Rental desk.”
“Thank you Private.”
“Good luck sir and a Merry Christmas to the both of you.”
“Likewise Private.” Jack replied as he gathered his stuff and exited the plane, which had stopped in the meantime.
Getting the keys to his rental SUV and signing the necessary forms took much less time that Jack had thought it would.
“Those bastards really set me up on this one.” Jack muttered inside his dark green SUV. “Am I really that pathetic?” Looking down at the carefully detailed map in his hands he quickly answered his own question. “Apparently so.”
With a sigh and a slow shake of his head Jack put the SUV into gear and began the final leg of his journey, or mission as he preferred to call it. “This is ridiculous.”
Miles passed unnoticed as Jack diligently followed the meticulous map on the passenger seat. Turning here, exiting there, Jack found himself paying less attention to the incapacitating, blowing snow and focusing instead on getting to that bright red ‘X’ on the map.
‘What if she slams the door in my face and doesn’t want to see me? She won’t. I won’t give her the chance to. She’s not going to know what hit her once I say what I have to say to her.’ Jack thought as doubt began to sink in. ‘Since when am I an emotional wreck and doubt my own abilities? I’m a hard ass Master Chief in the United States Navy, I don’t doubt myself…ever. I’d be out of a job if I did. What the fuck did you do to me woman! She’s going to pay for this.’
Jack could barely make out the Christmas lights decorating the houses and yards on Lakeview Drive through the rapidly falling snow.
Pulling into the driveway of number forty-eight and parking beside the black SUV, he took a moment to admire the lines of the house. From the roof dripping with icicle lights, to the stairs and deck covered with garland and red, white and green rope lights. Just as he was about to turn off the engine, movement in the window caught his eye. There she was. The woman who haunted his every breath. His breath caught in his chest as he stared at the one woman who had ruined him for any other after she left.
‘Wow. She’s more beautiful than I remember. Wait what the fuck am I thinking!? I’m only here to convince her to come back to Catalano, and nothing else. Damn she looks good with her hair growing out, I wonder how long it is now? Shit! I’m doing it again! Damn it Jack pull yourself together man. You’re better than this. She isn’t anything than you haven’t seen before, just another woman, with long, dark hair and intoxicating eyes and lips made for kissing. Fuck! Snap out of it you fool! Otherwise you’ll prove those bastards right, and they can’t be right. No way am I in love with that hellion with fire in her eyes daring me to…Damn it!’
Forcing himself to move he made himself turn off the SUV. As the lights turned off, her head snapped up, her attention finally caught. Jack watched her as he opened his door and left the SUV as a flicker of recognition and surprise raced across her features before she stared right back at him wide-eyed. When he looked back at the window, after turning to retrieve his things, she was gone.
Disappointment reigned supreme for a minute before he pulled himself together and walked up the steps to the front door. Setting down his duffel bag, Jack steeled himself before knocking on the door firmly. Calling himself every kind of fool he could think of, Jack was unprepared when the door opened.
“…” his voice failed him as he tried to speak.
Shaking her head, she opened the door further. “You might as well come in before one of us freezes to death and all that snow finally makes it indoors where it doesn‘t belong.”
Still unable to speak Jack grabbed his duffel and walked inside.
“I take it that you’re planning on staying for a while Chief.” she smirked, eyebrows raised. “I wasn’t exactly looking for a roommate.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“What should I call you then?” she mocked him. “I’m sure I could come up with a few names for you…”
“Jack usually works for most people.”
“All right. What the fuck are you doing at my house on Christmas Eve Jack?”
“I thought I knew.”
“They planned everything for you, down to the last insignificant detail but they forgot your big speech by the coat closet. How typical of them to forget the most important part. Give me your coat Jack.”
“You knew about this ?!” he yelled as he handed her his coat. “Did someone call you and tell you all about poor ol’ miserable Jack, the charity case?!”
“No but it is kind of obvious. Why else would you have made it to my front door on Christmas Eve?” She smirked. “Charity case my ass and I doubt that you have ever been anything other than old and miserable, you’re a regular Scrooge.”
Jack conceded the point before admitting. “I had this whole speech planned out, but I can’t remember a word of it. And I am not a Scrooge!”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me? Idiot.” she retorted hanging up the coat. “You’re becoming awfully predictable Jack. Miss me that much?”
Jack could only stare at Jordan until he could find something to say. “ Why didn’t you come back?”
“Why should I have gone back? For what? For whom?” Jordan shot back. “They would have come up with another set of bogus charges to kick me right back out again, just like before.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes I do. It’s been the same old routine every other time. Why should this time be any different?”
“Because it is different!”
“I’m not so sure. Can I get you something to drink Jack?”
“You have to at least try to get back to Catalano.”
“No I don’t. I have no reason to. And you didn’t answer my question, so I take it you’re not thirsty.”
“No, I’m not thirsty,” he snapped. “you don’t belong here O’Neil.”
“Oh, I don’t belong here h’uh. And just where the fuck is it that I belong?! Catalano? NIC? The corner diner? Chucky Cheese? Where do I belong Jack?!”
“With m…us at Catalano!” Jack shouted. “You’re better than this O’Neil.”
“This is bullshit.”
“Yes it is. You should be fighting to get back to Catalano, if not back all ready! Not sitting around here holding who knows how many jobs that aren’t going anywhere!”
“What do you care!? I’m nothing and no one that Catalano and the Navy can’t live without Jack.” Jordan said calmly. “Is this why you are here on Christmas Eve Jack?”
“That’s part of it.” Jack said as he stared out the window.
“What’s the other part?”
“Nothing that you would be interested in hearing or that I would ever admit O’Neil.” he mumbled.
“You’re mumbling isn’t helping you make your case Jack. In fact it could lead to some very interesting conclusions being drawn on my part.”
Jordan conceded the point but slowly advanced toward the brooding man staring out her window at the drifting snow. As she got closer he turned around to face her, false confidence written all over him. She stopped with only a foot separating them.
“Care to try that again?”
“Try what again Lieutenant?”
“Telling me why you’re here on Christmas Eve instead of at the base with the other guys.”
“No.” Jack muttered, unable to look her in the eye.
“Beg your pardon Master Chief?”
“I said no O’Neil.”
“All right then. Can I ask you just one more little question before I call it a night and head off to bed?”
“How do you feel about traditions? Like Christmas traditions for example.”
“What kind of fucked up question is that?!”
“Just answer the question Urgayle.”
“Why should I answer a question like that?”
“Because you ass.” Jordan said as she closed the distance that was separating them. “You’re standing under the mistletoe.”
Caught off guard by her proximity and invasion of his personal space Jack looked up above his head and saw the aforementioned mistletoe for the first time before looking back at Jordan.
“Are you going to kiss me Lieutenant ?”
“That all depends on how you feel about keeping traditions Jack.”
“Oh yeah?” he said, eyebrow raised. “And if I say I hate traditions, what would you do then?”
“Punch you first.” Jordan replied nonplussed.
Jack laughed and shook his head. “You would too, wouldn’t you.”
“Doubt me Jack?”
“Nope, I know better than to doubt you Jordan. I never have and never will.”
“Bullsh…” Jordan began before Jack wrapped a hand around her the back of her neck and hauled her up against him, kissing away the rest of her retort.
Coming up for air, Jack could only stare at Jordan in a daze while she smirked that irritating smirk of hers that made people apprehensive and look over their shoulders.
“Is that the best you can do Urgayle? I would have expected more from a person of your rank Master Chief. That was pitiful.”
“What does it take to shut you up?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know. What’s the matter Master Chief, afraid of a little challenge? Coward.” Jordan asked over her shoulder as she headed towards her bedroom. “Third door on the left is the guestroom. Goodnight Master Chief, see you in the morning.”
“Now whose being a coward.” he shot back following her in hot pursuit. “Those are fighting words Lieutenant.”
“I kicked your ass once Jack and I can do it again just as easily.” she taunted. “Besides it’s not like I have anything else planned for the next few days. Plus with all this snow we could be snowed in, whatever would we do to pass the time? Ball’s in your court Urgayle.”
“I was afraid of that.” he muttered. “You’re in over your head Jordan, last time was beginners luck, pure and simple. You don’t stand a snowballs chance in hell against me in a fair fight.”
“I’m hardly a virgin Jack, unless you were referring to yourself and your luck at being bested by a woman who knew what she was doing.”
“You’re out of your league O’Neil. I never back down from a challenge. You of all people should know that”
“ Poor depraved Jack. You really did miss me didn’t you?” Jordan said before Jack grabbed her and pressed her close, whispering in her ear, “You have no idea.”