Craig groans as his alarm beeps loudly in his ear. He switches it off and rolls over, even in his sleep fogged mind he is able to detect the sound of sniggering from across the room.
"Wankers!" he drawls out groggily and the sniggering intensifies.
Burying his head under the covers to try to hide from the morning - his body shivers as the cold air of the bunkroom sneaks through for a moment. Why the fuck would they do this on a Saturday morning? He thinks, finally giving up the pretence of trying to sleep, he rolls from the bed and grabs his toiletries and a towel on his way in for a shave and a shower. Throwing the offending alarm clock at the group of drunken squad mates on the way.
"Ya shower o' bastards, it's stupid-o'clock and you decided to set m' fucking alarm? It's Saturday, and I'll remember that one," he growls, only to be met by more laughter.
Bawbag-cunt-motherfuckers, he swears internally. He puts the plug in the sink-hole and switches the taps on to fill it as he looks in the mirror at his stubble-covered face. Rubbing his jaw with one hand, he checks the temperature of the water with the other. Almost perfect, he says to himself as he slows the flow of the hot tap then the cold, until they are both off.
Leaning forward, he looks closely at himself, feeling exhausted he pulls his t-shirt over his head and discards it on the floor. He grimaces at the still-raw scars and still healing scratches criss-crossing his muscled torso. Running a hand over his abdomen he registers just how much his body has changed over the past four weeks of training. Having always been fit, he never could complain about the state of his body but seeing it now, he is astounded by the definition on his eight-pack and the way his arm muscles flex with every slight movement, as if they are tensing, ready at a moment's notice for any possible action. He smiles and shakes his head at his conceit then, shoves his head into the sink full of water, exhaling slowly. Craig lifts his head back out, he opens his toiletries bag to retrieve his razor and shaving gel.
A quick squirt of the gel into his hands, he works it into a lather and spreads it on his lower face and neck, covering the stubble. He wets the razor and begins to scrape off the two days' growth. Going against the grain, he slows as he reaches his chin letting the flexible razor-head do the work of getting around the contours of his jawline as he stares intently at the mirror. Suddenly a pair of green eyes are staring back at him, he blinks, and the face that forms is smiling but he senses it is hiding something behind that smile. The spectre finishes forming fully and he flinches. Fuck, the razor nicks his skin, the pain destroying the imagined face. He stares at the blood welling trough the graze and shakes his head wearily. Trust me to start daydreaming while scraping a lethal blade over my bloody skin. He finishes shaving, his mind still drifting towards his new friend, wondering what she is doing, where she is, who she's with and whether she has replied.
Draining the sink, he cleans the hairs off the edge as the water swirls away taking the refuse with it. He turns and makes his way to the shower with his shower gel and towel in his hands. The water sputters on and he stands under the warming spray as it wakes him up just a little more.
Twenty minutes later and Craig finds himself back in the bunkroom. The sun only just beginning to pierce the darkness as he stares into space listening to the snores of his squad mates. He smiles to himself, throws on his trainers and leaves the barracks. Two minutes later, he arrives at the mess hall and steps inside. Not many are about as it is barely six a.m. but Craig isn't looking for any food. Wearing a shit-eating grin, he finds the kitchen manager and explains what he needs.
A few minutes later, after a good chuckle with the kitchen manager about his plan, he makes his way back to the barracks carrying the goods he needs for his plan. Once inside the bunkroom, Craig pulls the plastic covering off of the MRE, removes the heater packs and opens the lids on three coke bottles. Pffft, revenge mother-fuckers, he chuckles to himself as he pours some of the coke out of each bottle. He fashions some small pouches out of the heater pack cover then slides them into the neck of each bottle, filling them with the substances within the heater pack. He sneaks over to the beds of the three he knew would have been the "master-minds" behind the alarm clock prank. Ok, so in the book it only took ten seconds or so, need to move fast, and with that thought, he tips the bottles upside down and throws one under the covers on each of the three target beds before retreating to the other side of the room.
Ten, nine, eight, seven…
His countdown reaches zero and nothing has happened, shit, maybe I've done it wro…
Craig barely stifles his laugh as all three men jump from their drenched beds, looking completely confused and wondering what the hell had just happened. They eventually locate the destroyed Coke bottles and Craig falls to the floor laughing, unable to hold it in any longer as three very hung-over and very confused men look at each other.
"Bastard, what was that?" Allan asks.
"It's a secret," Craig replies as he lifts his laptop from his drawer and leaves the room.
On his way back to the mess hall he chuckles to himself, a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry comes in use sometimes.
Upon reaching the mess, he entertains the kitchen manager with the tale of the prank and they both laugh loudly. He sits at one of the tables and boots up the laptop. Ok, now it's time to see if she has replied.
"Come on, come on, heap o' shite," he says as he awaits the emails downloading.
After what seems like an interminable wait the program finishes updating his inbox.
"Junk, crap, junk, oooh better than Viagra? Forward that to Joe,"
His hands start to sweat as his eyes catch on something. Naomi Peterson, he opens the email and, taking a moment to brace himself and control the unfamiliar feeling of excitement in his stomach, he reads:
Thank you for the reply and please, stop thanking me for bringing back such horrible memories. You ask me about the pain behind the story, here, goes… I used to be engaged to a guy called Connor, we broke up and he cannot handle it. He started following me, I thought it was harmless but then he started to approach me and threaten me. A few weeks ago in the park, he grabbed me and pulled me into a bush.
God this is really, really hard. He pulled down my jogging shorts and tore off my underwear, then, he put his thing at my asshole. I'm sorry, I haven't told anyone this before and I can't stop crying at the memory…
Craig stops reading for a moment as he hovers between rage and utter helplessness. You're being an idiot, you didn't even know her then, the self-talk fails as the anger builds and builds. His hatred for this "Connor" already peaking well above anything he has ever felt before. Leaning forward he grips the table as he reads on.
Ok, sorry, had to take a "Naomi moment" to be able to continue. It's a good thing you can't see me as I look like a fucking panda bear. Craig chuckles despite his anger.
So he told I am his woman, and that no one else will have me by the time he finishes. I cried, and I am sorry to say I gave in, he was just too strong to fight off as he was behind me, I'm really not that weak, I keep fit and I. Sorry, I am blabbering now, he forced me down and I felt him prepare for the thrust into me. Then I heard an ear-piercing scream.
I turned in time to see my dog - Loopy - with her teeth clamped down on his, well, you know. She was pulling and shaking her head as she held on and his screams got louder. I quickly pulled on my clothes and backed away, calling Loopy only when I was far-enough from him. He didn't move and I'm ashamed to say I wished him dead.
Hmmm, so now you know the pain. Nearly raped by a psycho ex and he is still dogging my footsteps. I am scared of my own shadow and trapped in a bubble of fear, all day every day. I'm a mess.
Anyway, change of subject, what do you do for a living? I have been meaning to ask again and again. I hope this info-dump doesn't put you off talking to me.
Craig sits back, exhausted from the anger and relief colliding inside him. I don't know this girl so why is this affecting me so badly? The thought she could be lying doesn't even enter his mind as he processes and tries to get to grips with the sheer fury running through him. He doesn't trust himself to reply calmly, so he stands and wanders over to get some breakfast now that the mess has officially opened for meals.
Craig finishes off a full English in record time and, after clearing his plates away, he just stares at the blank email sitting in front of him. How the fuck do I write this without my rage showing through?
He sighs and taps his finger against his thin lips. The mess hall begins getting busier and he people-watches as his mind keeps coming back to how such a horrible thing could happen or at least almost happen to this woman, to any woman. Without realising it, he is glaring at a familiar face. Eventually the sight registers and his thoughts of Naomi are momentarily pushed aside by guilt and revulsion. The Sergeant's face still showing the yellowing evidence of Craig's anger, deserved, yet misplaced at the same time, he struggles to resolve the conflicting feelings about the act.
The Sergeant notices him and Craig sees the fear flicker across the man's eyes. He holds his gaze and Craig sees what looks like a deep breath being sucked in, as if the man is preparing to take a plunge into ice-cold water. He then approaches Craig warily.
"Mind if I join you?"
"Be my guest," Craig indicates the seat opposite him.
The Sergeant lets out an inaudible grunt as he dumps himself into the chair and places his tray in front of him. A silence develops between them as he cuts into his bacon and Craig goes back to staring, uncomfortably, at the laptop screen.
Craig raises his gaze and waits for the Sergeant to notice, which he does after a few moments.
Clearing his throat, Craig mutters: "I'm sorry, you were a dick, but that doesn't excuse my reaction."
The Sergeant smiles softly and rubs his cheek. "It still hurts, that's some right hook you've got on you, but apology accepted. I'm also sorry, for bein' 'a dick', this job is hard enough without bein' a cunt and makin' more enemies."
Craig nods. "I can imagine, you can cross me off the list of enemies, I try not to keep grudges - waste of valuable energy."
They both smile and the silence that follows is less awkward. Craig goes back to the reply and within minutes he has sent off what he hopes is a balanced reply.
An hour later Craig splashes through a puddle as he reaches the halfway point of his run. Music blaring into his eardrums as his feet hit the ground in time with the beat. I'll be fucked if any hard-core dance comes on, he thinks and his lips flicker up as he can't help but smile. A mental image of him sprinting the rest of the way has him grinning then laughing and lastly, holding his breath as the song ends and the next begins. Relief has him breathing again with the start of the next song.
White clouds turn to dark grey as he prays for the rain to stay off for another ten minutes. It does, until he is 2 minutes from the end of his route, he picks up the pace to avoid being drenched as sporadic, fat drops of water begin to fall, one landing on his neck and trickling its way down his spine causing a rush of shivers through his body. He can feel his muscles beginning to burn with the increased pace and he pushes further still, speeding up to three-quarters of his top speed.
The tree and bushes flash by as he eats up the track with stride-after-stride. He rounds a bend and the end is in sight as the rain begins to increase its intensity, mingling with the sweat from the run. Passing the end he keeps his speed up to make it back to the barracks in short order.
After another shower he sits down, at a loss for something to do. The majority of his squad sound asleep after their night on the randan and this morning's explosive awakening. Craig chuckles as the images of his prank flood into his mind in sequence. Looking at the alarm clock on the bedside table, he groans at the time - 11a.m. - he contemplates reading a book then dismisses it. Opening the drawer on his chest of drawers, he rummages around and fingers brush on paper. Grabbing the item he pulls it out.
Cursing himself, he opens the letter from Sarah and reads it again.
I hope training is going well for you, I have no idea why I am writing to you when at this point you haven't left yet. I guess I just want you to know I really like you, I know we barely know each other but I would love to change that. You seem a good guy and I asked Joe what your deal was, he told me everything. Please don't be mad at him, I gave him no choice.
Your ex, what she did to you, I would never do and what happened to your brother was a horribly bad thing. I am sorry this is none of my business but I care for you.
I'm sorry, I've said too much and I'll end it here. I know you probably aren't ready to trust again yet, but when you are, please keep me in mind.
Good luck with the training.
Craig rubs his chin and for the second time that morning he stares at a message, unsure of how to reply. The option of calling Joe to tear him a new arsehole is a tempting one, but his best friend never could stand up to a determined woman, smiling, he wonders if that is a weakness, or a strength. He settles on both.
Good luck with that Liz, you'll need it mate, he thinks as he looks at the ceiling, noticing a huge crack in the flaking paintwork for the thousandth time since he arrived. His eyes trace along the length of it, and back again. Placing the letter back in the drawer he decides, for the moment, to put it to the back of his mind as he lifts his phone switches it on, finds the number he wants and calls it.
"Hi Sophie, it's Craig, Craig Wallace. Aye, that's right, that's me, you busy th' day? Nice one, wanna meet up for a drink and a pub lunch? Thanks, see you at the pub around 12.30? Ta-ta."