April, 1998 Jack Loved Janice

It was unusual. Janice called and said that they needed to talk soon, using that little girl voice she used when something was very serious. They were engaged to be married. He had asked her just two months ago, and they had gone ring shopping together that night. They’d picked one out but the size was not right-a little too loose, so they’d taken a few minutes and gotten it right and she walked out with it on her finger. They went to show their parents, proudly.

He had known Janice since they were first graders; they’d gone through school often in the same class, watched each other at sports and recitals and performances. She’d been class salutatorian senior year, he’d won a scholarship from the Marines. He had always loved her, always. Everyone assumed they would marry someday-after college, her parents insisted. His parents just nodded and smiled at that good advice. They were seniors in college now, and their virginity weighed heavily on them, but they had restrained ourselves. She wanted that for her wedding night, for him, for them. The ring told everyone what they had already known: Jack loved Janice, and Janice loved Jack.

They met that April day under the oak tree in her backyard, where her parents had placed chairs and a little table, and in the warm spring sun the place was peaceful and quiet. They often sat there with her folks and drank a pop or lit firecrackers on the Fourth or talked politics, religion or baseball. It was just Janice with him this afternoon; they had a month and a half until college graduation, she from University of Cincinnati and he from Miami. Different schools had been difficult, but she’d only lived on campus this one year and he was only a half hour away from home at his school. He thought it had worked out. The wedding was to be two weeks after graduation. He reported for duty to Quantico in July; they had a modest honeymoon planned.

She looked at him and took a deep breath. “I have something to say and it’s not easy.”

He felt something in his chest: anguish, fear and dread.

“I always said I wanted to be a virgin on our wedding night. We had so many chances to do it…” she said, holding his hand. They looked out on her house and beyond from the little knoll under that oak.

“Yeah, it wasn’t easy,” he said, smiling. “Have you changed your mind? We still have time…”

But no, she shook her head. She wasn’t offering early access.

“I failed, Jack,” she said, almost whispering. “I failed you.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. He did not understand. She’d squeezed his hand each time she said failed. “A class? I knew you had trouble with that methods teacher but…”

“No, not class. I…I had sex with someone, Jack. A guy at school.”

He had expected something serious but not this. She had made her virginity a symbol of purity, of righteousness, of love, of everything good that a man and woman could find in one another. He had lived with her standard, even embraced it when on summer activities with the Marines when far from home. He had been faithful to a woman who would not have sex with him…yet, not marry him…yet, not live with him…yet. He had that second beer on the Westpac cruise two summers ago instead of visiting with that floozie in some bar in South Korea. He’d had several opportunities then and other places and times.

But Janice had wanted them both to be virgins, to learn about sex together-and they had, he thought, having touched and kissed and done all those things they hoped would alleviate but only increased their sex drives, making it harder to say no but they did, they did say NO. Or at least they said, yes but not yet.

She said, her voice a definite whisper now, “I met him in class in November, and I fell in love, Jack. In love with him even though I was in love with you for so long. But he was tall and dressed so nicely and he took me to games and things…” She took a deep breath. “I slept with him two months ago, just one time. But then it happened again the Saturday you went on that Marine trip, and I realized I loved him, too.”

His reality crashed. He felt a mass in his chest that had never been there before, overwhelming his heart and lungs and leaving them no room.

“Two months ago? Before or after we got the ring?”

She looked sheepish. “The next night.”

She reached in her pocket, pulled something out and handed him the ring. He looked at her left hand. She was wearing a diamond engagement ring, the stone larger than that they’d picked out a month ago. He looked at the ring in his palm.

“You were engaged to two men at once?” he asked, incredulously. He shook his head.

She looked down. “I know I’ve not done right by you, Jack. I do love you, but Kevin is more the man I’ve always wanted. You’re the man I always had. You belong to my past. He belongs to my future.” It sounded prepared, rehearsed.

He looked at her and restrained himself. He remembered her professions of love over the fifteen years they’d been friends and classmates and unsexed lovers. He remembered all the kid things they’d done together like building a snow fort, pulling a bee stinger from her leg, her holding a snake in her hands to show him, tossing a baseball, playing tackle football with other guys and girls in the mud. He remembered her white dress at their Confirmation, the proms they attended, eating together in the cafeteria, all the things kids do as friends and then lovers. He felt the grip in his chest. He’d really been in love with her, only her, forever. Now that would become something else, and he’d live with that pain, forever.

He stood. “Yes, I agree. I’ve been had.” He left her then despite her calling out that she wanted to say more, but he went on with the ring in his clammy palm. He saw only straight before him for the next few minutes.

He drove around Sky Grey, numbed and stunned, forcing himself to see the road and traffic and pedestrians. Tiring of that, he went home and talked to his mother, who called his father who came home to be there. His father, a solid, stolid man with jowls-and who had always loved Janice-shook his head as if he needed to clear it of a fog; he no longer understood the workings of the universe. He was Euclidean in a quantum reality. Jack without Janice seemed impossible.

The phone rang and Jack’s mother answered. She spoke a few minutes, quietly, and then came back into the living room. “That was Marge,” she said. Janice’s mother. “Janice is pregnant.”

His father looked at Jack, as did his mother, but Jack just shook his head. “No, not mine. She had sex with Kevin Somebody.” He stopped and looked at his parents. “I feel like a fool.”


 February, 2001 SEAL Squad Unnumbered

“Lieutenant, we are looking at your service record.”

Leslie was at attention, standing before a table with Marine Colonel Samuel Lejoy, Rear Admiral (he preferred the archaic term Commodore) Elias Jansen (who wore a SEAL badge, Leslie noticed), and Navy Captain Juanita Estevez sitting on the other side. There were papers spread about the table. He sneaked a glance down and saw several pictures of himself-one portrait and several of him in action from the various schools and programs he’d attended. Because of the last one-20 months overseas-his term of obligated service had been extended to six as opposed to four years. He’d spent almost three years going to school since he’d been in the Corps. He did not regret the extra two years: he had no other responsibility, no wife, no child, and since leaving college he had thrown himself into these programs. He’d been home three times between schools, but most of his spare time was spent reading: professional journals, novels, essays about foreign policy and the military.

“Do you have a personal life, Lieutenant?” the captain inquired.

“Ma’am?” he said. He was puzzled.

“What are you like? You seem to have no particular friend, no girlfriend, only your parents back in Ohio, and you see them rarely-are you estranged?” the colonel explained. “We have no reports of any sexuality at all, no best friend, no bar fights. The Israelis report that you read in your free time, write some but do not correspond with anyone but family. We want to know what’s going on.”

“Oh, yes, Sir. I had a long-term girlfriend but she married someone else right before TBS, so I guess the Marines became my life. Then I volunteered for the Israeli exchange before the end of IOC, and it almost started over. That school was tough. I made some friends, had a date now and again, but I was always the American who’d be going home eventually. I wanted to learn everything I could-I understood I was in a unique situation. Learned to scuba and sky dive. Recon techniques. Hand to hand, small weapons, hostage rescue. Infiltration and assassination.”

“So,” said the commodore, “You are military and no more? We want to know if you’ll be able to work with SEALs. American SEALs, who are as highly trained as any troops ever have been. And some are married, some have kids, others have girlfriends, plans. How do you get along outside of school or program? You have not been to our SEAL school, you know no SEALs-but Shayetet-13 is respected. And your performance was rated very highly. Particularly, you were commended by a General Ari Lessud and there’s a special letter here from Lt. Colonel Naftali Meier.”

“I didn’t know about Colonel Meier’s letter, but it pleases me. I thought she didn’t like me,” Leslie said. Meier had scowled at him for the last six months he’d been in Israel. He did not know what her role at Shayetet was, but she was always observing.

“Yes, Colonel Meier-a woman? I don’t know Hebrew names-speaks very highly of you,” said Captain Estevez. “She says that you have an ability to get along with people of different persuasions, races, religions. She was impressed how you acted during an altercation, said you broke up a fight before anyone’s career was threatened.”

Leslie smiled, remembering. “Yes, there were two groups in heated argument over the way to deal with terrorists. Most of them had relatives killed or injured in terror attacks. I was not known as an officer, these were mixed officers and enlisteds and we never identified that way, and I was able to calm the hot ones. I think it helped that I was never close to any of them, but they all thought they knew me. And knew I was American. They assumed I was naive, and in this case it helped.”

The captain and colonel exchanged a glance, as if they had been discussing this point. The Commodore was impassive.

“So you believe an officer, even a second lieutenant, should maintain a distance from the enlisted people?” Captain Estevez asked.

“Yes, Ma’am. I don’t mean avoiding liking or being friendly. I mean always keeping a professional barrier. It is important to work as a team, but that doesn’t mean it should be a democracy.”

Still at attention, Leslie wondered why. Usually military officers were more collegial.

“We are considering assigning you not to Delta, as originally intended, Lieutenant.” This surprise came from the Commodore, who was looking at Leslie’s eyes.

“Yes,” continued the captain, “there is a SEAL unit forming for some special missions. It won’t be assigned a particular geography, just inserted where needed. The unit will be smaller and largely independent. The sorts of things you worked with in Israel. You’ll be second-in-command, under a Navy commander. Oh, you will be raised another grade because of your performance to date. You are Captain Leslie, as of now.”

The captain, commodore, and lieutenant colonel stood up, the captain coming around the table. The lieutenant colonel slid her a small box. As Leslie stood still, she removed his two first lieutenant’s silver bars and put new, double bar Marine captain insignia in place.

“Congratulations, Captain.” She shook his hand, and then the commodore and lieutenant colonel did also. They all returned to their seats. “At ease.”

Leslie relaxed, hands clasped behind his back and feet apart.

“But all of your experience is in schools,” the colonel went on. “That gives you what-two ribbons on your chest? Oh, and the Israeli one. And these guys know combat ribbons from others. You’ll be seen as shit, Captain. And you are NOT a SEAL. They won’t know how a non-SEAL can lead a SEAL Squad, but there you go. Built-in professional distance.”

Leslie was breathing a little quicker. He’d been a first lieutenant for almost a year, but rarely was someone advanced to captain so quickly.

“What do you think, Captain?” the colonel asked.

“I thought you’d called me in to send me to Bragg with Delta. Where will I go with the SEALs?” he asked.

“First to Little Creek, where you will train with your SEALs, rehearse various scenarios especially hostage rescues, extractions under fire, a night drop, and HALO jumps. Rappelling. But mainly working together. Shayetet and we do things differently, based on the same principles,” said the captain.

Leslie smiled, then smoothed his countenance.

“Something funny, Captain?” asked the captain.

“More training, Ma’am.”

She saw it and smiled also. “But you’ll be training with the people you’ll be fighting with this time. And only for a six week period. By then we’ll have your ship assigned. You’ll be going to the war zone, most likely, Captain, and we expect war is coming, not just the Taliban. This will be a different kind of war-it may not involve nation-states. Nation-state may just be a distraction.

“Report tomorrow to your commanding officer, Lt. Commander Luc Ormond. Since the team includes a non-SEAL and a different organization we’ll assign it to a Team but detached, we’ll officially call it SEAL Squad Detached. It is the custom to call any SEAL unit a team, by the way, despite the TO. Report here tomorrow, we’ll have written orders. You’ve seen your parents?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Leslie said. “I went there straight from Israel. Home a week. Ready to get going, Ma’am. I am also ready to get in the fight. The schools have been great but…I want to use all this training.”

The colonel and captain were nodding. The commodore was stalwart, never changing expression.

They stood up. “Good luck, Captain. Go find some new insignia. Congratulations,” the captain said, holding out her hand to shake his. He responded with his hand, shook hers, the commodore’s, and the colonel’s. He realized normal military protocols had been ignored for the meeting; he wondered at the fact the SEAL admiral had taken the observer’s role.

“Thank you, Ma’am, Gentlemen,” he said. He stepped back, about faced, and left.

They said nothing for a moment. “He certainly is calm. They all remark on it,” said Lt. Col. Lajoy.

“Hope he’s as good in combat. He’s as well trained as anyone can be. I just wonder if it makes sense to train someone to the point one bullet can disappoint all that time and effort,” Captain Estevez said, shaking her head.

“Hope it doesn’t come to that. That’s always the risk, though, isn’t it?” said the commodore, remembering lost comrades.


“Enter!” said the voice behind the door. Leslie opened the door and stepped in front of the desk with Lieutenant Commander Luc Ormond behind it.

“Lieu…Sorry, Sir, Captain Jacob Leslie reporting as ordered, Sir.”

Ormond looked at his second-in-command, a tall bulky man who looked like a linebacker. The guy was big. Ormond looked down at his record-three miles in 17? A guy this big? He shook his head and looked at the date of the run-three weeks prior. Perhaps watches were slower in Israel, he thought.

“At ease, Captain. Congratulations on the promotion, by the way.” Ormond stood up and offered his hand.

Leslie shook it, saying “Thank you, Sir,” and then resumed his parade rest stance.

“Please, have a seat. Do you mind if I call you Jacob in private?” he asked.

“No, Sir, but my friends usually call me Jack.” Leslie did not ask to call him Luc, Ormond noticed. He approved that. Jack sat and the two officers eyed one another.

“Jack it is. You’ve come up quickly. I didn’t make lieutenant until I was 28,” Ormond said. (Navy lieutenant and Marine captain are equivalent ranks.)

“Yes, Sir, it’s been a surprise. One school after another, but no real time in the fleet. I’ve never been in combat, Sir, and it weighs on me. It all has to mean something.”

“Are you worried you’ll fail? Or make a mistake?” Ormond asked.

“Yes, very much so. Training pressure is one thing, but when the bullets are flying, when men are counting on me and a mission needs doing, I want to be competent.”

“Yes, I understand.” The commander turned a page in the record. “I noticed you are not married, no children, 25 now. Family doesn’t interest you?”

Leslie looked uncomfortable. “I would like to have a family, Sir, I saw that as a big part of my future, but it hasn’t worked out for me. I have no steady girl or any other girl in my life. Do you have a family, Sir?” he asked.

“I do,” said the commander, turning a picture around on the desk to show Leslie. “My wife Julia, kids Rose and Luc Junior.”

Leslie felt nothing for a moment, but then…something like jealousy. “Beautiful family, Sir. Luc is about 4?”

“He is. Starting tee ball this spring, Julia expects.”


Silence followed.

“Probably best not to start a family quickly, you know,” said the commander.

Leslie smiled. “I have no intention of a rash decision in that regard, Sir.”

Ormond nodded and closed the record. “I will introduce you to the men today before our run, before chow. You should make a short statement. They will not know what it means that you’re a Marine. Not sure I do.”

“Perhaps we should not clear that one up. Let them discuss it and decide for themselves. Should I wear the Israeli SEAL insignia?”

“Perhaps the mystery is better,” Ormond said, smiling, worrying at Jack’s age. Many of the men were close to it. In a small, special unit he thought it best there be discriminators between the leaders and the led.

“Aye, Sir,” Jack said.

They talked then of plans, deadlines, meetings, character, programs, policies. Ormond wanted the introduction to the team to go well, thinking it needed to be subdued, businesslike, and constructive. Such a young man to be Two, and a Marine. The unit was unique: small with inflated ranks, due to the intent to use it in unacknowledged situations across borders that might not be enemy. He needed a Two who could take over immediately in a pinch. The senior enlisted was a veteran and very capable; he intended to watch their relationship keenly. Leslie and CPO Ortiz needed to work together well enough that they developed trust.


September, 2001, Southern Syria

Living in the Syrian desert miles from the nearest community did not provide opportunities for childhood friendships to develop. Indeed, the Haddads were avoiding neighbors and hoped that no one had noticed that they had moved into the little house that Mr. Aglai had found. They had a field across the dirt track where Sarah could try to grow vegetables if they had to remain long, but now their real hope was escape. Jordan was not far, nor Israel. They had water, and Mr. Aglai came by every week or so with some groceries until they could get away. Adnan wondered if they should just leave and try to walk across the border, but Mr. Aglai said there were two communities and some extremists in the way.

Sarah was more active now that the baby had come, and she was caring for the other three most of the time. The baby suckled, cried occasionally, and slept. The heat was diminishing as summer passed away. But Rifat had no friends, just a few books he’d already read, and an under-pressured football. Soccer, as Sarah called it. So Adnan kicked with Rifat, now that he could not work because of the threat to Christians, and his wife and children were Christian.