Authors: Cordelia Blanc
He was warm. His big, heavy arm made me feel safe, secure, invincible. I revelled in the way his rigid muscles held my body in place.
And then, after I inched my body back, and his arm tightened around me, it dawned on me that I went to sleep alone, and that whoever “he” was, wasn’t supposed to be there.
I pushed his arm away and sprung forward. Before I could open my lips to scream in protest, his hand covered my mouth and he pinned me down against the bed. My heart took off, suddenly beating a mile a minute against my ribcage.
What was happening? Had I been drugged? Was I raped?
The previous night’s events came rushing back to me, but none of my memories could answer who was in the bed with me, holding me down and muffling me.
The morning light was pouring in through the room’s only window, making it difficult to make out his face. But after my eyes had a few seconds to adjust, I could see that it was Gage, the guy who gave me his bed.
After my eyes had another few seconds to adjust, I could see another man sleeping in the room, an unfamiliar man with a scrawny face and patchy facial hair. Then, the creaking of springs above my head suggested there was yet another man in the bunk above me.
Gage leaned in and whispered into my ear. “Calm down,” he said. He explained what happened, how his friends came home unexpectedly, and he assured me that he didn’t do anything unsavoury.
He carefully released me from his muffling hold.
His eyelids were heavy as if he’d just woken up—I probably woke him up when I pushed off his body in my failed attempt to spring free. He stood up quietly and began to dress himself. I had nothing to dress myself in, except my shawl and the pantyhose I was already wearing. He tossed me a green shirt which had the word “MARINES” printed on it, and nothing else. The shirt was far too big for me, nearly touching my knees. He put on an identical shirt, which was so tight on his body, it appeared to be painted directly onto his muscles.
“You should go back to your room,” he whispered in my ear before opening the door and leading me out.
Our discreet escape was made easy by the loud humming of truck engines outside of the facility. Unfortunately, thanks to the very same engine humming, we were oblivious to what was awaiting us in the hallway. Gage put his hand on my back and led me through the door.
As we stepped out into the hall, we found ourselves face to face with a small group consisting of a military man, a civilian-looking man with a bullet-proof vest that read “PRESS” in big, white letters, and the Playboy chaperone, Nancy Goodwin.
The three swung their heads towards us in one simultaneous motion. Gage and I froze.
The first thing I noticed, aside from Nancy’s conflicted smile, which managed to say “Good job” and “I’m so sorry,” at the same time, was the camera hanging from the press-man’s neck. It was a big, sturdy device, with a long, thick lens.
“Good morning, Corporal,” the military man said to Gage. It was the same man who introduced us during our show, the night before. His nametag said his name was Richards, and his face was dark red.
“Morning, Major,” Gage replied.
“Hey—Aren’t you Ashley King?” the reporter said, his eyes lighting up.
“Um, yes,” I said.
“Mind if I take your picture?” the camera man asked. Before anyone could answer, he took a photo.
Richards’s face became redder. “That’s not necessary, is it? Why don’t we finish our tour here, first?”
“Just another quick photo,” the camera man said.
“I don’t think Corporal Daniels and his friend here are in their best form at the moment. Isn’t that right, Corporal?”
“Yes, sir. Could I have a minute to do my makeup, first?” Gage said with a smirk on his face.
“Don’t be a smartass, Daniels.” Major Richards said through clenched teeth. He turned to reporter. “We gave the men a night to relax, last night. We thought it’d be a good idea for them to get everything out of their systems before you showed up. I’m sure you understand.” His face was still dark red.
“I understand,” the reporter replied, nodding his head and narrowing his eyes as if Richards had said something very wise. “I totally understand. But I’ve been thinking a lot about this piece, and I really want to show the Iraq War in a new light—the real side of the war, what really goes on behind the scenes. I mean, think about it, Major—you’ve got two dozen men here who haven’t seen the frontlines. People back home don’t realize that this is the way it is out here. We have a war being fought by drones and airstrikes—but drones and airstrikes don’t make a story, Major. People make a story, and that’s exactly what you’ve got here.”
Major Richards was almost purple now, confused, and flustered. His face probably wasn’t much different from the rest of us. Before Richards could object, the press-man snapped a photo of me and Gage standing next to one another. It wasn’t until he was reviewing his photo, saying “Wow—What a great shot!” that I realized Gage’s hand was still on my back.
He showed his shot to Major Richards. “You can’t stage a shot like that. Perfect,” he continued. He didn’t bother to show us the photo, but his excitement had me curious. I couldn’t imagine what the appeal could be, the two of us standing in matching, faded t-shirts, still half-asleep, looking like confused zombies.
“While I think your angle is interesting, I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” Major Richards said. “Our men here are some of the most professional soldiers in the United States Marine Corps. There won’t be many other slip ups like this one. Come on, let’s finish our tour and then we can talk more about your piece.”
The reporter was too busy swooning over his shot to listen to the flustered Major. The group walked away, but not before one final conflicted glare from Nancy. She thought we fucked—and that’s exactly what I wanted her to think. At least, it’s what I thought I wanted her to think.
Panic began to set in. I’d avoided one small problem and now I had a very big problem—a problem that would make its way back to America, to every set of eyes with a newspaper or internet subscription.
They say you should be careful what you wish for. I wanted exposure, and I was getting it.
I looked over at Gage, who had migrated over to a small kitchen and was making a pot of coffee. He looked at me with those familiar, narrowed, confused eyes.
“Can we meet up again tonight?” I asked.
“No,” he said bluntly.
“What? Why not? We need to figure this thing out.”
“No, you need to figure this thing out. I don’t care. I have stuff to do.” With the coffee brewing, he walked back to his room, leaving me alone. I heard the shower turn on.
I half-expected her to still be standing there when I came out from my shower, so I delayed as long as I could, letting the water run down my body until it stopped running hot. Someone was pacing around on the other side of the door. By the time the water was cold, they were still pacing, and it was clear that they were determined to wait it out.
She was hot—way hotter than any of the other BCs that came through the outpost. And she wasn’t slutty like the rest of them, at least for a Playboy Playmate. I thought, if she wasn’t such a ditz, maybe I’d be interested.
But she was a ditz. Her priorities were all over the map. I’d never heard of Daytona Beach, and even if I had, I still wouldn’t have cared. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how annoying the whole aspiring actress thing was.
How desperate for exposure do you have to be to fly to Iraq and pretend to sleep with soldiers? And what—was there someone sitting around in Hollywood, scanning newspapers for the next big star? Doubtful.
She was confused, desperate, in her own little world. You’d think being sent to a war-torn country would be enough to slap the broad back into reality.
Who was I kidding?
There were Joes that had been stationed at COIQ-UA-14 for two years who never got their reality slap. Maybe things were different on the frontlines—or maybe the girl’s little fantasy world wasn’t so far-out. Kim Kardashian was one of the richest women in America and she got there by filming her pussy while some football star stuck his dick in it.
I wrapped a towel around my waist and stepped out from the bathroom. Ashley wasn’t the one waiting for me. It was Major Richards. He was alone, and his face was just as red as before.
“We need to talk,” he said. He gave me a minute to get dressed and then led me to a private room on the other end of the facility. “What did I say about not fucking the girls?” he asked, keeping his voice low.
I stared at him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was truly angry or if he was just bluffing. His face remained red and his eyes narrowed.
“The same bullshit you always say, sir,” I said.
“Yeah, but this time I meant it. These aren’t a bunch of whores from Baghdad. These are American girls.”
“We’ve had American girls here before, sir.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, like a dog trying to shake off fleas. “Not like this. We’ve had…” He leaned close and lowered his voice further. “American hookers. These girls aren’t hookers, Gage.” He stared at me with his narrowed eyes, one of which was twitching.
“Why are you mad at me? Everyone fucked them, not just me.”
He pressed his lips thin. “Because you were caught, you idiot. This isn’t some military goon reporter. He’s a third party correspondent. He will publish whatever he wants.”
“I care. If he publishes that picture, we’re going to look like nothing more than a fucking college fraternity, do you understand, Corporal?”
nothing more than a fucking college fraternity. We don’t even do ground missions anymore.”
“Ground missions aren’t necessary anymore. We have better drone intel than we could get from the ground.”
“Exactly. So what exactly were you expecting, sir? Just wait ‘till he gets a shot of the Guest Hall, where half the troop is waking up now. Where is he now, anyway?”
Major Richards’s eyes widened and I’m pretty sure he stopped breathing for a few seconds. When he finally snapped back to life, he said, “For the rest of the week, I want best behaviour, or we will continue the ground missions program. Understand, Corporal?”
I didn’t like ground missions. No one did. They consisted of walking through the streets of the nearby town, asking locals if they’ve seen any suspicious activity, and then standing around like a suicidal idiot for a few hours. Ground missions accomplished nothing. Locals never said anything—they didn’t like us.
None of us had ever been hit by a suicide bomber, but there was a number of stories that made it back to the outpost, and the stories always lingered in the back of your mind while you stood out there, accomplishing nothing, talking to people who didn’t want you there.
It didn’t help that none of us had any real combat experience. Even in the war games we played in training, we hardly got to fire the simulation rounds they put in our guns.
Major Richards was well-aware that we hated ground missions. He knew that slapping me with the usual additional-exercise punishment wouldn’t faze me. I would have been happy to get a thousand push-ups. And since the soldier suicide epidemic hit the news, they stopped giving out the nastier punishments, like solitary confinement.
“Is that understood, Corporal?” Major Richards asked again.
It didn’t matter either way. I had no intention to sleep with Ashley, or any of the Playmates.
The real challenge was going to be keeping Ashley away from