Rogers Park, Chicago
Christmas morning 2002
I lie in bed waiting for Halo to wake up. I know Christmas was a big deal around her house when she was growing up. Even though her parents are gone I still want her to feel the magic of the holiday. When I was a kid Christmas was another shitty day in my life. Nothing to celebrate. Another mark on the calendar moving me closer to the time I could leave my father and my dirty past behind.
Halo begins to stir in bed, shifting toward me with her eyes shut. A sweet smile plays on her pink, lush lips and my chest bursts with love for this woman.
“Hey.” Her morning voice is raspy and thick. She opens her eyes. I couldn’t love this woman more even if I tried. She’s my everything.
“Hey yourself.” I grin as my eyes roam over her rosy nipples. The memory of making love last night gets me all hard again. I would take her right now if I didn’t have something planned. I let out a grunt.
She stretches out her arms and her body moves into a delicious curve. I lean down and close my mouth over her nipple. Damn, she tastes good.
I groan. “Baby, you can’t be teasing me now. It’s Christmas morning and I got stuff waiting for you under the tree downstairs.”
“Stuff?” Excitement grows in her eyes. “Like presents?” She instantly pops up to her knees, bouncing on the bed. She’s too cute. It’s taking everything in me not to claim her right now. I want to give her Christmas.
Seeing her smile means everything. Not too long ago she was drowning in darkness. The healthy gleam in her eyes tells me she’s feeling good now. It will make my news a little easier to deliver.
“Yes, baby, the stuff is presents.” Before I can say anything else she pops out of bed and grabs her T-shirt off the floor. I must have thrown it there last night during our lustful attempt toactually make it to the bed as opposed to having sex on the floor again.
There’s nothing wrong with floor sex but it can get hard on the back and Halo’s knees. Halo throws on the shirt and darts down the hallway. I hear the small patter of her footsteps as she makes her way down the stairs. I slip on my boxer shorts and follow her. I placed a number of presents under the tree and she won’t know which to open first.
I swiftly walk down the stairs to the living room where our Christmas tree is shining bright. I look out the window to see a small dusting of snow falling from the sky. Halo seats herself on the floor in front of the presents. This is my second year with a Christmas tree and her second year without her parents—bittersweet.
“Which one do I open first?” she asks like a little girl rubbing her palms together. It makes me laugh. I mean we are young. I’m twenty and she’s nineteen. We were both forced to grow up too quickly. I guess it’s memorable times like this that we cherish.
“If I knew presents made you this excited I would try to get more.” I chuckle.
“It’s not just the presents, Thomas. It’s Christmas. Do you feel that? It’s magical.” She stares out into space with a peaceful look on her face.
“Sure baby, I’m feeling it.” I look down to the chub in my shorts from this morning’s perusal of her body.
“Thomas,” she chides, punching my shoulder.
I chuckle again. “I’m just joking, this day is special for me too.” She’s too cute. I lean in, pressing a soft kiss on her lips. I pull away and lean toward the first box I want her to open. “This one.” I pass her a little red box wrapped in pink ribbon. She opens it in a hurry. It’s a thong from Victoria’s Secret. It’s not meaningful, but I couldn’t help picture how hot she would look in it.
“Thank you.” She leans forward and places a kiss on my lips. Then she rises to her feet and walks over to the closet by the front door. She retrieves a box from the closet and comes back to the tree.
“This is for you,” she says, extending the box with one hand. I pull her toward me, guiding her to sit in my lap. Then I open my gift. It’s a dog tag. Engraved. “I will always love you. You are the light in my darkness.” My chest grows tight.
I enlisted in the navy and went through SEAL boot camp, passing with flying colors. Then I was shipped out to Coronado, California a year ago for more training. Becoming a SEAL was a dream I had all my life. Originally I wanted to be a SEAL to get away from my father. Then I met Halo. She was only fifteen and perfect. She made me want to be a SEAL for an entirely different reason—I wanted to prove myself worthy of her.
I haven’t told her yet, but I’m deploying. I was putting it off until I knew the depression was better. I also know that she could feel me itching to leave. My friends from boot camp had already been assigned to teams that had left for Afghanistan. Being a newlywed meant I could put it off for a while. Now I was deploying. I worried she would take it hard. That’s another reason I wanted to make Christmas extra special for us.
“Halo, it’s perfect, baby.” I lean over and give her a kiss. “You are the light in my darkness. I know you know I need to leave. I wanted to talk to you about it, but…”
Her finger presses to my mouth. “I know…I know you need to go. I’ve known for a while. I guess I was selfish trying to keep you here all this time.”
“There isn’t a selfish bone in your body. You were having a hard time and it was completely understandable. You’re stronger now. You’re going to be okay. You’re busy with school and you have Jenny. You will be fine without me, Halo. I don’t think you realize how strong you really are.” I pause for a minute because I want her to open her next gift. “Here, open this.” I pass her a little silver box; this one has a little gold bow on top. She turns on my lap so she is sitting with her legs wrapped around my waist. She opens the box and her jaw drops.
“Thomas, it’s perfect,” she gasps taking it out of the box. It’s a silver locket.
“Here, let me.” I take it out of her hand and show her the engraving on the back.
You’re my Halo, my ray of light.
I will always find my way back to you
“We clearly think alike.” She nods, proud of herself. It’s true her name is quite original. We’ve used “halo” as a term of endearment many times. It’s a reminder that when a person is drowning in darkness, another person can show them the light.
“It’s perfect, Thomas.”
“It opens up. You can put two pictures inside,” I explain, showing it to her.
“I will have to get some pictures made.”
I place the necklace around her neck and her palm closes over the locket, holding it close to her heart. I place the tags around my neck.
“Baby, I ship out tomorrow. I’ve known for a couple of weeks, but I didn’t want you walking around sulking for my last days at home. I thought it’s better we had a quick goodbye.” I speak the words softly, but inside I’m cringing, hoping she isn’t mad.
“Thomas…” Tears roll down her cheeks. “I know this has been coming. I know you need to go. It’s okay. I’ve told myself it’s okay since we had our first date four years ago. I’ve been preparing myself mentally for this. You will be great and you will do good in this world.” She leans forward and places a wet kiss on my mouth. I can feel her tears on my face. I love her so damn much it hurts.
“Baby, I love you. I’ll probably be gone for a while. I’ll try to stay in touch as much as I can but I’ve been told that I may be off radar for long periods of time…” I pause because my next words aren’t easy. I take a deep breath. There really is no easy way to say this… She’s young and beautiful and we fell in love and married young. If something were to happen to me she needs to know that she needs to move on.
“Don’t say it, Thomas.” Her tears continue to fall and she nods. “You’re it for me, baby.” She says it adamantly and I believe her. I was her only boyfriend and her first everything.
“Halo, listen to me.” My thumb grazes her cheek, wiping away her tears. “I’m a SEAL now. We go on high-risk missions. I need to know that if something happens to me that you won’t check out. You need to find yourself a new husband and make a life. You are nineteen years old and the most beautiful thing I have ever seen walk this earth. I know I’m asking for a lot here, but I need to hear you promise me you will. Now that being said, I promise you that I will do my damnedest to come home to you. I will find you in the dark; you can trust that. Just in case, please say the words.” I beg her as if it’s my least breath. I know she would always keep her promises to me and this one is important. My own tears spill.
I’m a realist. Living a difficult life makes you into one. There are no ifs about it. I wipe gently at her tears and look at her with pleading eyes, chipping at her stubborn walls until they are fully broken.
“I promise.” She nods then claims my lips hungrily. The thought of her being with another man makes me crazy possessive. I know deep down I need to do everything I can to stay alive, but the reality of being a SEAL doesn’t always allow for that. The heat between us ignites and within seconds I yank down my boxer shorts and have my cock buried between her legs as she rocks on top of me. I need to own every inch of her because that conversation about her moving on has just done crazy things to my insides. As I bury myself inside her, I cleanse my mind. There is nothing else—just me and her. The way it should always be.