Hitting Hard: Chapter 75


November 2009

Kim Tomblin woke from a strange but not entirely unpleasant dream to see just a hint of lightness coming in through the sheer curtains. Thanks to a couple of months of running as the sun was rising in Bahrain, she was familiar enough with the lightness in the sky throughout that process that she was able to estimate the time without looking at the clock. She concluded that it was early enough that she wasn't going to wake Jeff, who was currently sleeping on his stomach with his face buried in a pillow in such a way that she was a little surprised he hadn't managed to suffocate himself.

She climbed out of bed and shrugged into a robe before starting the coffee maker and retrieving the newspaper from the hallway, which she took out onto the balcony but didn't open, her thoughts elsewhere.

They had less than ten hours in Qatar left.

It had been, with the exception of the events of the first day, the perfect week, even better than the two weeks they had together in the same hotel more than three years before. They were more grown-up this time; they knew exactly what they had with that week and weren't willing to waste a second of it. Between morning runs, breakfasts on the balcony, afternoons snorkeling or sitting on the beach or walking through the city, dinners in a different restaurant every night, dancing, and no small amount of time in bed, Kim couldn't remember the last time she had had a week with so much fun and so much laughter. And none of it was manufactured; it was all the way they interacted with each other naturally.

She had always heard that nagging voice in the back of her head that told her how much of a mistake she had made by moving to Silverdale, but never before had it been so loud. For the first time, she actually regretted the move, even considering everything that had happened for her since. She regretted that she had put her career above her happiness, almost as much as she regretted allowing herself to believe that what they had was nothing more than a deployment fling that would be forgotten by the time they had finished washing the sand out of their belongings.

Probably half an hour had gone by since she had gone out to the balcony, judging by the brightening of the sky, when the doors slid open again, revealing Jeff and two mugs of coffee. "I smelled coffee," he said as an explanation before kissing the top of her head and handing over one of the mugs. "Figured you'd be ready for a refill."

"I'm surprised you could smell anything, the way your face was buried in that pillow," she commented. He smiled that smile she had fallen in love with years ago, the new lines at the corner of his eyes speaking to the growing up he had done since then. She wondered if he had any gray hair to match; there'd probably be no way to tell in the blond.

"Anything exciting in the news?" he asked, nodding at the folded paper on the table. She shrugged.

"Haven't read it yet," she replied. "I've been thinking."

"About anything interesting?"

"Where we could disappear to when we ditch our duties and run away."

"Hmm," he murmured contemplatively, his smile widening as he played along. "We're looking for countries without extradition treaties, right? What about Brazil?"

"We actually have an extradition treaty with Brazil," she informed him. "I don't know why Hollywood keeps playing that. Bahrain, on the other hand… Not so much."

"Huh," he said. "Learn something new every day. So we could run away to your apartment."

"Not really," she said with a regretful frown. "The Kingdom of Bahrain tends to look the other way when it comes to the Navy dealing with its own."

"Okay, so not Brazil and not Bahrain," he said thoughtfully. "We'd have to go somewhere where we could make enough to money to survive. I really don't have any other skills than being a doctor."

"Fortunately, the countries we don't have extradition treaties with almost universally need doctors," she informed him. "Unfortunately, you're going to stick out like a sore thumb in almost all of them, with that pretty blond hair and those pretty blue eyes."

"It is hard to be so beautiful," he agreed with mock seriousness, making her laugh and roll her eyes. "If it can't be avoided, then it's not a factor," he continued with a shrug. "What about the South Pacific? Even if Micronesia will extradite, the islands are all so far apart that nobody would ever find us."

"Most of the South Pacific doesn't care much for Asians," she informed him. "Especially Japanese."

"Yeah, your people weren't exactly benevolent conquerors." She made a face at him and he laughed. "We do have one problem with this plan, though."

"Oh?"

"Even if we do find a country where they'll either never find us or never do anything about it, where I can be a doctor and you won't be eaten by cannibalistic natives, we'll never be able to come home again. You'll never see your family."

"Damn. You're right." She sighed theatrically. "It would be fine at first, but I'd want the kids to know their grandparents."

"Guess we're stuck then," he said with a shrug.

"Guess so," she agreed.

That didn't mean she was happy about it, though.

"So, the kids?" he asked with a grin.

"Of course," she said, as if talking about having kids with someone she wasn't technically dating was perfectly normal. "I actually had a dream last night that we were somewhere—maybe the orchard, but I think there was a waterfall—trying to exert some sort of control over the little monsters."

"Control?" he asked with a laugh. "Any kids that you would have?"

"Well, that's a little like the pot making snide comments about the kettle."

"Please tell me there were fewer than a dozen."

She laughed. "Three," she informed him. "Two girls and a boy."

"Three's not bad," he said agreeably. "Were they cute?"

"Sure, in that blurry, no-face dream way," she replied, making him laugh again. "But come on? Any kids of ours? Of course they'd be adorable."

"This is true," he agreed. "Names?"

"No idea," she said. "They were either never said or I just don't remember."

"Well, what names do you like?"

She still couldn't decide if this conversation was completely bizarre or perfectly normal for them. Which might be completely bizarre to anyone else. "I've always liked the name Sydney for a girl," she said.

"Like the city in Australia?"

"Well, yeah," she admitted. "There's a city in Australia called The Kimberley, spelled like my name and everything, so might as well stick to that theme."

He laughed. "I've never been to Australia."

"I have," she said. "Darwin. Which would be an awful name for a kid." He laughed again. "It was just a quick stop on the trip from Iraq to San Diego in '04. Sydney actually comes from the name of Jiji's CO when he was stationed in Brisbane. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Mashbir, but I think a boy named Sidney is probably going to get beat up in school."

"Really?" he asked. "You think any kid of yours would get beat up?"

"Okay, probably not," she acknowledged, "but I still think it makes a better girl name."

"So what do you think for a name for the blurry, no-face boy?"

She laughed at the question. "No idea," she said honestly. "I always figured the dad would have some say about that one. Just no juniors."

"I don't think nearly enough about myself that I would need to name a kid after myself," he assured her. She wondered if the conversation had turned from the hypothetical to something with a little bit of seriousness to it, and she didn't know why that didn't weird her out. "What about your grandfathers' names?"

"I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "I guess I expected my brothers to take them, and when they didn't, I figured there was a reason why. Of course, Kevan hasn't had the opportunity, and both of the twins have Japanese wives, so maybe that's the reason." She shrugged. "By the time it's my turn, Kevan'll probably have taken both names. Because that's the kind of brother he is."

He laughed. "That's what we older brothers do," he joked. "But by the time I have kids, Mandy'll probably have six or seven, and there won't be any names left."

"Just don't plan on naming your kids after leprechauns, and any name ideas you have should be safe," Kim said with a shrug.

"Good point," he agreed. They smiled at each other. "What do you say?" Jeff asked after a few seconds. "One last morning run in Qatar in order?"

She gave a rueful smile that it was their last morning in Qatar, but nodded. "Let's go," she agreed. "We can see if we can figure out this problem of running away together as we go."


Eight hours after Kim Tomblin woke, they were back in the hotel room, this time both clothed as Kim worked on rolling up the sleeves to Jeff's uniform. "You do realize I'm just going to unroll them as soon as I land in Fallujah, right?" he asked lightly.

"I know," she replied. "But that doesn't mean you can't look like a leatherneck for the next few hours." She looked up at him. "You want me to fix your hair, while I'm at it?"

"Don't even think about it," he said warningly.

"You do remember how easy it is to maintain a buzz cut, right?"

"It's become a joke at battalion," he said with a shrug. "Like how much I sleep during staff meetings."

She chuckled and ran her fingers through his hair. "It does look good," she acknowledged. Unwilling to let him go, her hands went from his hair down to the front of his uniform, straightening imaginary wrinkles in the fabric there. "I'm going to miss you," she managed through the sudden thickness in her throat, feeling the sting of hot tears that threatened to spill over.

"Hey," Jeff said. He lifted her jaw to look in her eyes. "I'm going to miss you, too. I always do."

"Are you sure we can't run off together?"

He chuckled and shook his head regretfully. "You know I would if we could." She nodded. "Kim, I should have told you this a long time ago. I—"

"Don't," she begged, covering his mouth with her hand. "Don't say it. Please." She lost the battle with the tears, now falling down her cheeks. "If you say it, I really won't be able to get on that helicopter back to Bahrain. Please."

He nodded and wiped away a tear with his thumb. "Okay," he agreed. "But you know, right?"

She nodded. "Yeah. I know. And I do, too. I always have and I always will. I just wish this didn't hurt so much."

"Pain is good," he said as he wrapped his arms around her. "You can only feel pain if you're still alive."