**A little Admiral shaped birdie told me about a birthday today. And he may have mentioned Marines. Happy Birthday, Shell! May it be filled with joy and awesome!**
The office was quiet, the phones not ringing non-stop for once, and I idly twirled in my chair with my head leaned back. It was making me dizzy but I didn’t care. My heart hurt and everything else was secondary.
Seventeen months, fourteen days, and eleven hours since the last time I saw him. The sporadic tweets, phone calls, and Skype sessions weren’t enough. I was relieved and grateful every time I got a chance to talk to him, to know he was well and whole and alive, but the separation and the distance were wearing on me. I knew it was a possibility from the moment we started dating. He could be deployed at any time, sent into a war zone or some other country. And I could do nothing but wait and worry and pray that he would come home to me alive.
It was the only downside of being the boyfriend of a Marine, but it was a big one. At least I took comfort in the fact that if something happened to him now, I’d be informed. When we’d started dating, DADT had still been in effect. Thank God things had changed.
“What’s up, buttercup?”
Shell’s warm brown eyes smiled down at me, her red hair falling into her face as she peered at me from above. She looked odd upside down, and I couldn’t help the grin, even if it was half-hearted.
She plonked herself in her chair—her desk was next to mine—and used her foot to turn my chair so we were facing each other. Her expression became concerned the longer she studied me. I tried for a more genuine smile. I failed.
“Wes?” Shell’s tone was soft, filled with worry. I heaved a sigh.
“Jared didn’t call last night. He was supposed to.” Saying it out loud made the worry return full force. It wasn’t the first time he’d missed a check in. There was no telling when he’d be sent on a mission or if he’d have to unexpectedly go silent. He usually let me know if he could, but that wasn’t always possible. Even knowing that, it didn’t stop the fear and the worry that the worst had happened.
Shell’s gave me a supportive smile. “I’m sure he’s fine.” Her voice was firm, as if she was trying to convince us both. But she knew what I was going through. She was married to a Marine, even if her husband was currently stationed at the nearby base.
“Yeah, I know.”
She shook her head. “No, don’t. He’s fine. I know it.”
There was something in her voice, a conviction, which made me sit up straight and squint at her. She knew more than she was letting on. I opened my mouth to demand answers when a commotion by the doors caught my attention. I couldn’t see what was going on exactly, but I went quiet, trying to hear.
Shell had no such boundaries. She jumped to her feet, then grabbed my wrist and tugged me up. I had no choice but to trail behind her as dragged me through the maze of desks. I tried to shake her loose, but damn that woman had a strong grip.
The desks stopped right before the lobby area, and it was only when we reached the carpeted expanse that she let me go. I rubbed my wrist where her nails had dug into my skin and aimed a scowl at her. The smirk on her face gave me pause, and slowly, I turned in the direction she was staring.
The dress blues registered first, the uniform snug to a well-muscled frame. The highly polished shoes, the cover tucked under his arm, I took it all in unconsciously, not even registering for a moment who stood before me. The instant I recognized the face, my heart dropped into my stomach only to immediately bounce back into my throat.
Corporal Jared Connors stood there, looking a little worse for the wear but hale, healthy, and whole. Tears filled my eyes, and my heart started pounding.
“What? How? What?”
Jared just grinned.
I threw myself at him, squeezing him tight with both arms and legs. He was real. He was here. I didn’t know how it was possible but the feel of him against me, his smell and his warmth, it wasn’t my imagination. He held me so tightly I couldn’t draw breath, but it didn’t matter. I hadn’t been breathing while he was gone anyway, a few more minutes wasn’t going to matter. I buried my face in his neck and just cried.
“Hey baby,” his voice was low and soft and the most perfect thing I had ever heard in my life.
“What are you doing here?” I blurted, my voice sounding nasally.
“I was granted leave. So I came home.” He set me back on my feet and took my face in his hands. “Needed to see you.”
I sniffed loudly, my gaze roving all over that beloved face. “And you didn’t tell me?” It was an accusation but it just made him laugh. I’d been wrong before. That was the most perfect sound.
Whatever my reply would have been was lost in a spine tingling, toe curling, knee weakening kiss. Later when I saw the video someone had taken, I would notice the love shining in his eyes, the way I clung to him as if I’d never let him go, the entire office bursting into applause and cheers. But in that moment, my entire focus was on the man in my arms, grateful and happy and loving that he was with me again.