I handed the pistol to Corporal Sanz. “I’m having problems pulling the slide back and releasing the magazine.” The sleeve of my camouflaged blouse was damp, but I wiped my forehead with it anyway. Summer was waging war on Stone Bay, North Carolina.
“Just a minute, Sergeant,” Sanz said, and gave a twenty dollar bill to a Lance Corporal. Then he turned around, disassembled the M9 Beretta, and held the bolt between his index and thumb. “This is nasty.” He stared at me.
“Really?” I said, trying not to grin at the outrage in his eyes.
“Really. Bring it back minus the carbon.” He reassembled the M9, and placed it in my hand.
Forty-five minutes later, I cleared my pistol and handed it to Sanz.
His swift hands field stripped it in a couple of seconds. “It’s clean,” he said, sounding dubious.
Sanz ran a finger over the M9’s serial number, and said, “I see. This is a different weapon. Where’s yours?”
“That is the pistol I shot this morning,” I said. “The other one belongs to one of my Marines. He was dropped from the range because the pistol was acting up. I sent him home.”
“You should’ve said you weren’t here for inspection, Sergeant.” Sanz almost smiled. “I apologize.”
“I only accept apologies that come camouflaged as beer.”
“I see.” Sanz laughed. The man had one of those laughs that made you want to taste it right out of his mouth. He looked past me, and pointed at the Lance Corporal he gave the money to earlier. “Do you mind, Sergeant?”
“No,” I said, but it was a lie. I was more than put off by the way his face lit up when he saw the other man.
Sanz took a small package from the Lance Corporal, and they laughed about something I couldn’t hear. They looked happy.
“It must be nice to have someone here,” I said when Sanz came back.
“Lance Corporal Brook?” Sanz threw his head back and roared. “It’s not like that, Sergeant.”
I didn’t say anything.
Sanz bit his lower lip. “You know, I was just waiting to inspect your weapon before closing the armory. So I’m ready to pay if you want to collect.”
“Collect?” I said.
“Your beer apology?”
“I’m ready, then.” I smiled.
“Brook’s my ride, but if you don’t mind the CLP fumes, I could ride to the barracks with you.”
“I’ve always enjoyed the killer scent of gun cleaning oil,” I said, and we both laughed.
I was sitting in my Mustang, tapping a finger on the wheel, when Sanz got to the parking lot. I reached over the passenger seat to get the door for him.
“Thanks, Sergeant.” He sat down and put the package from the Lance Corporal on his lap.
“Call me AJ,” I said.
“Only if you call me Ishmael and keep the White Whale jokes to yourself.”
“No Moby-Dick jokes, I promise. Any plans after we drink your apology, Ishmael?”
He pointed at his lap. “I have to make a video for a special someone back in New York.”
I glared at the package before looking straight ahead. “Let’s skip the beer,” I said. “You don’t want to look tipsy in your video.” I didn’t speak to Ishmael for the rest of the ride.
“Are you sure about skipping the beer?” Ismael said.
I nodded without looking at him.
“Okay then. It was nice talking to you, AJ.”
I nodded again and watched him walk into his barracks room, before climbing up the stairwell to get to mine.
Later that evening, I was coming back from a run when I bumped into Lance Corporal Brook.
“Excuse me, Sergeant. Have you seen Corporal Sanz?”
“Not since this afternoon.”
“Damn,” he said. “I thought you were with him. He told me you were grabbing drinks, so I figured he would be fine.”
“What’s going on, Lance Corporal?”
“Nothing.” Brook shook his head. “It’s just that corporal Sanz gets in a mood after making Joe’s videos. I stay away from that stuff. Long distance relationships can break you in two.”
“Right,” I said, and faked a chuckle.
Sometime after midnight, someone walked into my room without knocking. “Are you fucking lost or…?” My words got lost between a toned chest and two dark eyes.
Ishmael didn’t turn around to close my door. He just leaned against it. He was a few inches shorter than I was, but at that moment he could have been a giant summer god in green running shorts.
He looked at his feet, and said, “I was afraid I would lose my courage, if I had taken the time to get shoes and a t-shirt.”
I should’ve told him to get out, but I just stared. I wanted to absorb him whole and keep him. I wanted to forget about the man waiting for him at home. I wanted Ishmael for me, but reminded myself not to be stupid. “I doubt Joe would appreciate you showing up here in your shorts,” I said.
Ishmael laughed softly. “Joe walks around naked, I doubt he would care.”
I felt my expression harden. “Please leave,” I said.
Ishmael didn’t move. “You have no sense of humor, AJ.” Still leaning against my door, he extended a hand that held a wallet size photo he had pulled out of his waistband.
I took a few steps towards Ishmael, looked at the photo, and blinked. I searched for the man who I knew had to be hiding somewhere behind the white Pit Bull in the picture. “You’ve been sending videos to a dog?”
“Joe can’t read or talk on the phone, so I send him videos.” Ishmael looked away from me. “I don’t want him to forget me.”
I walked to Ismael and pressed my body to his. I didn’t kiss him hard and desperately like I always imagined I would. Our lips barely touched. Then he took my mouth, and I tasted happiness for the first time.
for my Rainbow Boys, from their Iron Witch Ally
Blouse – the shirt or top of the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform.
Process Note: The events that inspired this tale took place many summers ago, while I worked as an armorer (a Small Weapons Repair Technician), in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was teaching a rifle cleaning class to a group of Marines, when I noticed two sergeants who couldn’t stop looking at each other. I was about to give them a piece of my mind, but stopped… there was such panic in their eyes. At first, I thought they were afraid of me—an armorer inspecting weapons has that effect on shooters. I can’t remember what, but something in their gestures told me that their fear had little to do with my inspection. So I kept an eye on them after that… Two weeks at the rifle range (and my power of nosiness) gave me enough time to find out that the two sergeants cared about each other. They were both single… so of course, I set them up. Some years later, they got handfasted, in a discrete ceremony, in the middle of the night, in a warehouse that smelled of gun cleaning oil and solvent agent. They’ve been together for a bit over eleven years. I haven’t spoken to them in a few months… I’m not sure what they are doing at this exact moment… but I suspect that they, too, are celebrating love, common sense, the freedom they’ve been defending for two decades, and today’s Supreme Court’s decision, ruling “that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage”.