"I'm pretty sure that as a member of the U.S. Armed services, you are obligated to celebrate the 4th of July," she told him, setting a centerpiece on one of the many round tables scattered on the deck overlooking the ocean.
"Veronica, I've been on leave for less than 24 hours. I am all about celebrating, and I'm definitely about showing you fireworks, but I was thinking something a little more personal, and a little less filled with Jello molds," he stated, as he wrapped his arms around her waist.
"Sorry, Lieutenant. Your adoring fans will not wait," she replied, as she wriggled free from his arms to straighten a tablecloth.
Logan sighed in defeat, then smirked. He nibbled just below her earlobe and grinned when a sigh escaped her lips. "Expect tactical strikes until you kick out every one of my adoring fans," he muttered into her ear.
"Every one of them? Even your biggest fan?" She asked while waving a tiny American flag she plucked from a centerpiece.
"Well, I suppose Dick can stay," he responded, then laughed when she pushed him away.
As the party wound down, Veronica realized she lost track of Logan for at least the last hour after entering a spirited debate with Wallace and her dad regarding the rituals and, as far as she was concerned, superstitions of being a dedicated sports fan. Most of the acquaintances had cleared out, and left were the usual suspects and her dad, though Weevil cleared out an hour prior, claiming an attempt at an early bedtime for Valentina. It still tickled Veronica that he called the tot "V" for short- she liked to think it a worthy nickname.
Veronica excused herself from her guests. She found Logan just down the beach, perched on a large flat rock that was a centerpiece to the neighbors landscape decor.
"Hey, stranger" she said, tentatively as she approached. She could see him start a little, but it was quickly covered with a grin.
"Hey yourself," he answered, as he made room for her on the rock. She folded into his side quickly as his arm wrapped around her.
"Everything OK?" She asked, craning her neck to see his features in the ambient light.
"Yeah." It wasn't enough to satisfy her, and they both knew it. She held her tongue. The last six months of his deployment meant a lot of rushed conversations, platitudes, and half-truths. "I'm fine" was never really fine, but there often wasn't the time or privacy to get more information in the moment. At first it infuriated Veronica. After a while and a few long emails, she realized they were doing their best in a crappy situation. Now that he was back, she didn't want to push too hard. Veronica started to count the crashing waves to give her mind something to focus on. Based on the distance of the sounds, she knew they were close to low tide. She'd hit thirty-seven when she felt him shift.
"Are you really going to let me get away with that," he asked. There was a joviality in his voice, but it rang flat.
Veronica shrugged. Thirty-nine, forty. "I was just enjoying the evening on the beach with a handsome fella. But if there's something you wanna talk about..." She let the last part of the sentence dangle.
She felt him nod as he shifted his weight so his hands were behind him, supporting them both. Veronica missed the warmth of his arm around her. She snuggled closer and wrapped her arms around his torso. "It's just a little overwhelming." He didn't say more. Veronica counted six more wave crashes in an attempt not to bombard him with questions.
"Being back?" she asked when she could take it no more.
"Yeah, seeing everyone, being back. It's just overwhelming. Usually I give myself a few days of quarantine before I see people."
"Logan, I'm sorry," Veronica exclaimed, instantly overcome with guilt. "I didn't know. We could have-"
"No, it's OK," he cut her off with a kiss to the top of her head. "It's the first time I've ever really had more than about two people interested in my return home. It was really great to see everyone. I've just had ship manners for the last few months. Crude jokes and bad pranks were about the extent of our socialization. I guess I need some time to adjust to the finer points of human interaction, like current events, and, you know, not ending everything in 'your mom'."
"The fine men of the US Navy do not use 'your mom' jokes, do they?"
He chuckled in confirmation. "Well, not on me, I sort of have a trump card." The gallows humor was expected but still caused her to squeeze him a little tighter.
After a few minutes, Logan shifted his weight again. "C'mon. The natives are probably getting restless. You know Dick- he'll try to get the party going with the brownies, and I want to be around to see him get that look from your dad."
"You can stay," she answered while she stretched her legs out. "I'll get rid of everyone and text you when they're gone."
"Nope," he responded quickly. "First of all, my ass is cold and sore from this rock. Second of all, if you think I am going to waste the time spent on walking back after that door closes, you are sorely mistaken. As soon as you close that door, we are locking it, and I am taking you. So make sure everyone remembers their keys, because there are no second chances tonight."
The couple walked back to the house hand in hand.
"Bye, dad. Got your keys?" Veronica asked as she hugged him in the doorway.
He jingled the keys from his hand. "Veronica, that's the second time you've asked me. Docs say I'm cleared of the memory loss. Are you aging me prematurely?" Veronica blushed slightly and hoped her dad didn't notice. She watched him use his cane to make it down the three stairs from the porch to driveway before she gave one last "goodnight" and closed the door. She turned the deadbolt as she felt arms wrap around her and a body press to her back.
"Logan! Glass door!"
"I can fix that," he murmured just behind her left ear. She shivered with the proximity. He used his right hand to deftly draw the shades on the door before he turned her to him, pressing her into the door. He moved his face close enough to her that she could feel his warm breath on her lips. Her own breathing picked up pace. "I'm too tired to be functional, huh?"
"I said I'd get rid of them. I didn't say it wouldn't be at your expense."
"I'll show you my expense," he replied as he leaned down. He grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her to his shoulder. She gave a half hearted yelp as he carried her to the bedroom.