Fraternization

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* Author’s note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real people is unintentional and purely coincidental.

*****

The Boeing 737 touched down on the tarmac with a bounce. Staff Sergeant Thomas Baird leaned forward in his seat with the sudden deceleration and slid the cover up on his window, looking with bleary eyes at the green fields surrounding the runway. The intercom chimed and the flight attendant’s voice came across, saying, “Wilcommen in Deutschland, wo die Ortszeit halb elf ist.” She repeated herself in English, “Welcome to Germany, where the local time is ten-thirty in the morning.” Tom stretched and yawned; it had been a long, red-eye flight. Tired as he was, he could not help smiling as the feeling of excitement tingled down his spine. He had finally made it back to Germany!

Tom’s first taste of Deutschland had come during a week of R&R in between deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had been a glorious time, the fresh green of Germany in May contrasting sharply with the rocks and sand of Kuwait, and Tom and his fellow Airmen had thoroughly enjoyed themselves. He had sworn he would be back one day, and after a year-long remote tour to Korea in order to get a base-of-preference assignment, his dream had finally come true.

The plane taxied up to the passenger ramp and everyone scrambled to their feet as the Fasten sign dinged off. Tom waited until the majority had cleared out, preferring to take his time rather than be caught up in the rush. Stuffing the flannel sheet he used for a blanket into his pillow’s case, he stood and retrieved his black backpack from the overhead bin and used the straps to cinch his makeshift bedroll to the side. He had travelled enough to learn the importance of being comfortable and being able to catch a nap whenever he could.

Tom deplaned and was relieved to see that the airport signs were in both German and English. His previous visit had been in and out on a C-17, so it was his first time coming through the civilian airport at Frankfurt. He retrieved his duffle bag and a green, military A-bag from the baggage carrousel and cleared Customs without any difficulty. They had been seeing American GI’s come and go since the 1940s, and Tim was just another clean-cut face in the crowd.

After a bit of wandering and stopping several times to ask directions, Tom found his way to the USO office in the next terminal over. Sitting at the front desk was an attractive, older lady wearing a red blouse, her gray hair pinned up smartly. “Good morning, ma’am,” Tom greeted her, hoping she spoke English. After his last year, it was throwing him for a loop to be surrounded by people who looked like him but did not speak the same language; in Korea, if you saw a white, black or Hispanic face they were almost guaranteed to be American.

“Good morning,” the lady, Sandra, according to her nametag, replied. No trace of a German accent. Her prim and proper appearance and bearing suggested an officer’s wife, and Tom guessed her husband had retired in Germany and she volunteered at the USO in her spare time. He made this assessment as she continued, “Are you just getting in or heading out?”

“Just landed, ma’am,” said Tom.

“Welcome to Germany, then!” She flashed him a smile. “May I please see your ID card while you sign in?” She indicated a log book. Tom handed over his military ID and filled out the log.

“Under ‘unit,’ should I put where I’m coming from or where I’m going to?” he asked.

“You gaining, unit, please,” Sandra instructed. Tom filled in 52d Security Forces Squadron.

Tom asked, “Could you tell me the best way to get to Spangdahlem Airbase? I read something about a shuttle bus, but I don’t know the details.” Normally, when an Air Force member transferred to a new base as a Permanent Change of Station, or PCS, move, the gaining unit assigned them a sponsor. The sponsor was typically a coworker who would look after the new guy, arrange transportation, answer any questions, and generally assist with the transition. Tom did not have a sponsor, at least not to his knowledge. Maybe one had been assigned to him but he had left Korea a month before and been on leave in the states, so he had not had access to his government email. Consequently, he was on his own, which did not particularly bother him. Half the adventure was figuring things out for himself.

“You can sign up for the White Swan Shuttle right here,” Sandra told him, handing him a clipboard along with his ID card. “It is scheduled to depart at noon and makes stops at Wiesbaden, Ramstein, Vogelweh, Baumholder and Spangdahlem.” Tom saw that the cost was $35, which seemed like a pretty good deal. Spangdahlem was two hours from the airport by car, probably longer by a slower van. “You’re welcome to hang out here or go explore if you’re tired to sitting. We have a baggage storage room off to the side,” she indicated a doorway to her right, “if you don’t want to carry your belongings around with you. Also, help yourself canlı bahis to any snacks or reading materials.”

“Thanks!” Tom beamed at her and lugged his gear into the side room. There were a few other military bags and a couple regular suitcases, so he piled all his bags in a corner with his backpack on top to mark his stash.

Walking to the main common area, he saw that there was a table with some muffins, streusel, granola bars and a bowl of apples in the corner. Several couches and a few chairs surrounded a large TV where three young men were playing Xbox, in the middle of a heated round of the latest Call of Duty installment. Virtual explosions and real cuss words filled the air as Tom observed them. Late teens, early twenties, hair cut high and tight, the sides shaved almost smooth with a distinct edge around the relatively longer (quarter inch) hair on top. Not fit enough to be Marines, thought Tom, so they must be Soldiers. Sailors and Airmen would both have had faded transitions to their haircuts. Tom grabbed a muffin and settled in to a chair to watch.

As the match ended, one of the soldiers proffered the extra controller in Tom’s direction. “Hey man, you wanna play? We could use a fourth.”

Tom shrugged. “Sure, I’ll giver ‘er a go.” He joined in and the next match started. It was a Deathmatch, every man for himself, and it did not take long before the air turned blue again. The final scores showed that Tom had racked up more than double any one of his opponents.

“What the fuck!” the first soldier said, shaking his head. “What are you, some kind of virtual Spec Ops Delta Force motherfucker?”

Tom laughed. “No, just an Air Force cop.”

“Oh, hell no,” the second soldier chimed in. Turning to his companion he said, “See, Santiago, this is why they’re called the Chair Force. Cus they sit around playing video games all day.”

“Fair enough,” Tom said with an easy laugh.

“Alright,” Santiago said, “Let’s go again, but this time with the three of us against you.”

“Whatever you think will help,” Tom shrugged cockily.

The match started and the three soldiers did their best to communicate and work as a team. It helped a bit, and the final scores were not nearly as lopsided, but in the end they went down in defeat. “Good game,” Santiago stuck out his hand begrudgingly.

“Thanks, you too,” Tom said as they shook.

“I’m Santiago,” Santiago said, “This big black son of a bitch is Burns,” he indicated the African-American soldier to his right who had made the Chair Force comment, “and this ugly, hajji-looking motherfucker is Kardouni,” he pointed to his other friend, who appeared middle eastern.

“Fuck you, you racist prick,” Kardouni said with a smile.

“What? I can’t be racist! I’m a minority just like you,” Santiago protested.

“Nah, you’re still racist,” Burns said. Everyone laughed. While their rhetoric may have given Social Justice Warriors heartburn, they were real warriors (without any modifiers) who had learned to laugh at the pettiness of identity politics and politically correct outrage. The only colors that mattered in their world were red, white and blue.

“Don’t feel too bad about getting your asses handed to you by an Airman,” Cole said, “I just spent a year at a remote assignment with nothing much else to do other than play Call of Duty.”

“We don’t feel bad,” Burns protested. “You may be a Chair Force ranger, but you wouldn’t stand a chance against us on a real battlefield.”

Santiago and Kardouni echoed his sentiments with loud, “Hua”s.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Tom said humbly.

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that, boys,” a female’s voice spoke up behind them. The four men turned to see a beautiful woman in her mid twenties sitting easily in a comfy chair. Her auburn hair fell in loose curls over her shoulders, framing her pixie face with green eyes and a light smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Their eyes drifted down to the green spaghetti strap top that stretched tightly across her ample bosom and flat stomach. She was wearing red, flannel pants that looked soft to the touch. Looking at her, Tom was reminded of Christmas.

The three soldiers gawked at the beautiful girl and she said, “What? All I’m saying is that I can personally attest to the fact that Airman Baird knows his way around a rifle. I wouldn’t be here today if he didn’t.”

The soldiers looked back at Tom, a mixture of respect and envy in their eyes. “What’s the story, Chair Force?” Santiago asked.

Tom waved his hand dismissively. “Nothing much. I just helped bail the LT here out of a tight spot a while back.” He turned back to the woman. “It’s good to see you again, ma’am. Boys, this is Lieutenant Hodgekins. Lieutenant, this is Santiago, Burns and Kardouni,” Tom said, introducing everyone.

Vanessa Hodgekins appeared about to say something more, but bit her tongue and let it pass, instead simply saying, “Pleased to meet you all.”

“You bahis siteleri wanna join us, ma’am?” Kardouni asked, scooting over hopefully to make room for her on the couch.

Vanessa flashed him an apologetic smile and said, “Thank you, but I am actually about to go try to find some food. I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. Would you like to come with me and catch up, Airman Baird?” The lack of an invitation was not lost on the three soldiers, who watched enviously as their newfound hero left them and his controller behind without a backwards glance.

Tom and Vanessa explored the terminal, settling on a little café with some pastries and coffee. “Even the airport food is good in Europe,” Vanessa sighed around a mouthful of delicious, buttery carbohydrates.

“So much better than Korea,” Tom agreed.

“And I bet if you got meat from a street vendor, it wouldn’t even be something that had squeaked when it died.”

“Hey, don’t knock the rat-on-a-stick,” Tom admonished. “That trusted staple has helped many a GI keep his soju down long enough to get back on base before curfew.” Tom had worked Town Patrol in Korea, walking the tight streets and alleyways, responding to bar fights and making sure all the Americans were back on base by midnight. He was well familiar with the little food carts selling hunks of roasted meat on skewers to inebriated servicemen. Supposedly it was chicken, but Tom had never seen chicken meat that dark.

Vanessa laughed and raised a forkful of German pastry in salute. “Here’s to schnitzel, strudel and regulated alcohol percentages!”

“To Germany!” Tom replied, raising his coffee cup in a toast. The two of them fell to talking about what they were both doing there, and Tom was pleased, yet a little disappointed, to learn that Vanessa was stationed at Ramstein, a base an hour or two to the south of his own, depending on how fast you drove. They finished up and Tom checked his watch; they still had almost an hour before their shuttle departed. “You want to head back to the USO, or go for a walk or something?” he asked.

“Let’s go explore,” Vanessa said. The two of them set off together, heading outside and meandering slowly down the sidewalk as cars rushed by. They walked in silence for a bit before she said, “You know, I never properly thanked you.”

“For what?” Tom asked.

“For Afghanistan.”

Tom shrugged. “No biggie. Just doing my job.”

Vanessa looked at him, taking in the short, blonde hair, the square jaw and broad shoulders, trying to see if he was just being modest. She stopped and he came to a halt a moment later, turning back to see what was wrong. She looked into his sky blue eyes and could not help remembering the first time she had seen them, smoke and dust filling the air, peering down at her as bullets snapped above them. “That wasn’t just your job,” she said softly. “You came back for me when you didn’t have to. And I never thanked you. So,” she gently gripped his shoulders and, standing on her tip-toes, she kissed his cheek before murmuring, “thank you.” The crimson blush on his cheeks made it look as if the shade of her lips had rubbed off on him, but whether he was embarrassed by the thanks or the kiss, she could not tell.

“I’ll, uh, have to make it a habit to rescue more damsels in distress, ma’am,” Tom joked.

“Well, I was certainly in distress, but I don’t know how much of a damsel I am,” Vanessa said with a coy smirk.

Tom raised an eyebrow and put on his best 1930s gangster voice, saying, “If ya ain’t a damsel, yer certainly a dame. Or perhaps a dish, or maybe even a doll.”

Vanessa laughed again and said, “And you’re a dork. C’mon, we’d better get back to the USO. I’d hate for them to leave without us.” She took his arm and they walked back together, Tom soaking up the sensation of her soft, warm breast pressed against his tricep and Vanessa enjoying the feeling of solidity and security she felt being beside him. Ever since that day when he had appeared as if by magic at her side, standing over her as she crouched by the tire of her blown-up humvee, he had filled the place in her mind of the personification of masculine protectors. Her fingers stealthily probed the muscles in his arm and she felt a slight thrill shoot through her, knowing she would fantasize about those arms the next time she was enjoying an intimate session alone.

They returned in time to grab their bags and load them up into the back of a white, fifteen-passenger van. The three soldiers would join them for the first leg of their trip to Wiesbaden, which was just half an hour or so up the road. Tom climbed in back since he would be the last one out and, to his happy surprise, Vanessa forwent the front passenger seat where she would normally sit, given her rank, in order to climb in the back with him.

The back bench-seat was made for four people, and Tom placed his backpack between himself and the left window as an excuse to sit more in the middle, closer bahis şirketleri to Vanessa. She did not seem to mind, sliding right up against him in order to make room for her own backpack against the right side. The soldiers sat in the seats ahead of them, and their white-haired driver pulled away from the curb once everyone was buckled.

It had been a long flight and a longer night, and Tom had intended to get caught up on some sleep during the three-hour drive, but the heat radiating off the body of the beautiful lieutenant sitting beside him had him wide awake, nerves tingling. Her thigh was pressed against his own, and he was fairly certain that, even with her backpack on the seat, she must have had plenty of room on the other side. Ok, he thought, so that means she’s definitely doing this on purpose. As if to confirm his suspicions, Vanessa gave a little wiggle and snuggled herself against his arm. With a yawn she laid her head on his shoulder. “You don’t mind, do you?” she asked. “I’m so sleepy.”

“Not at all,” he replied gallantly. As they drove down the autobahn, Tom did his best to appear nonchalant when Santiago turned around to say something to Kardouni and caught a glimpse of Vanessa’s red hair nestled on Tom’s shoulder. The Hispanic soldier merely raised an eyebrow and gave Tom a quick thumbs-up, which Tom ignored.

What he could not ignore, however, was the feel of the woman pressed against him. Sleeping while sitting up, nestled against someone, is never as comfortable in real life as it looks in the movies, but Vanessa was giving it her best shot. She had slipped her left shoulder behind Tom’s, wrapping her left arm around his right, her right hand resting on his shoulder, almost as a sort of a pillow or prop to keep her head from falling forward. The result was that her breasts, her large, firm, yet somehow still soft, breasts, clad only in a tank top with built-in cups (as far as Tom could tell from the lack of bra straps) were pressed against his arm. Her left breast was squished against him, supple flesh pushed up and out, with her right breast pushed by her right arm, creating a delightful amount of cleavage. The fabric was stretched tight over her swelling mounds and, as the ride continued Tom snuck surreptitious glances down at the fiery angel dozing beside him. Soon her breathing became deeper and more even and he grew bolder in his peeks. The air conditioning was doing its job well, and before long Tom could see that the built-in cups were insufficient to the task of hiding Vanessa’s built-in temperature gauges.

Tom cursed the Army when they arrived at Wiesbaden and the gate guard asked to see everyone’s IDs. Vanessa woke and handed up her Common Access Card, or CAC, and before long the soldiers were being dropped in front of their unit headquarters.

“Good to meet you guys,” Tom said, shaking hands with all of them.

“Have a good drive,” Santiago said with a wink.

“Thanks. Next time you’re stuck out on the field eating MRE’s, think of me. I’ll be the guy in the comfy chair with a steak, baked potato and a beer.” Everyone laughed.

“Fuckin’ Chair Force,” Kardouni swore good-naturedly.

“I don’t know if it’ll be steak, but it looks like you’ll be eating something,” Santiago said, low enough for only the guys to hear, glancing meaningfully at Vanessa who was several paces away, talking to their driver.

His comment was met with more laughs and a couple of “hua”s, and Kardouni repeated, this time in a congratulatory tone, “Fuckin’ Chair Force!” Vanessa and the driver turned to see what the uproar was about and caught Tom blushing bright red.

“Get your gear and get out of here,” he said, pushing them towards the back of the van and helping them get their bags out. “I’ve still got a long ride before I get to my base.”

“Yeah you do!” Burns said, prompting more snickering.

With the soldiers safely delivered, Tom and Vanessa climbed back into the van. He half expected her to pick a different seat, now that there were three empty rows ahead of him, but she stayed right beside him, settling in close once again. Their driver caught Tom’s eye in the rearview mirror and pointedly reached out and tilted the mirror up, obscuring his view of the rear of his van.

“You kids mind if I put on some music?” he asked his two passengers. Vanessa and Tom had no objections, and soon the sounds of the 1960s wafted back over the noise of the road.

“I was talking to our driver while you guys were unloading,” Vanessa said. “He’s retired Air Force. Got stationed here after Vietnam and never left.”

“Nice,” Tom said. “I can see why.” The green countryside and fertile fields whizzed past as they flew down the autobahn. Little villages were nestled down in the valleys with tall church spires rising up towards the blue sky.

“It’s beautiful,” Vanessa said softly, looking out the window.

“I’ll say,” Tom agreed, adding, “Germany looks nice, too.”

Vanessa giggled and turned back towards him. “Now, where were we?” she asked as she nestled back into his side. This time, Tom felt bold enough to lift his arm and put it around her shoulders. She snuggled in close and put her head against his chest.

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