One Thousand Words
I waited anxiously on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Nimitz Class Supercarrier, currently moving through the North Arabian Sea. For the next few months I would be embedded with a United States Marine Group patrolling and living in Afghanistan. This was my first big assignment working for Getty Images and I couldn’t wait to get started. The Marines were sending a helicopter to the Roosevelt from the base in Afghanistan to get me as well as load up on supplies before heading back. I’d already been on the ship for several days and had resisted taking any photos. But now I held my camera in hand waiting for the first sight of the helicopter. I wanted it to be the first photo I took of this journey.
Within the hour I caught my first sight of the helicopter moving towards us from the north. I watched as it turned from a tiny speck in the sky until it was suddenly a gray behemoth about to land and my first thought was ‘Oooh…there’s the hot cobba cobba’. It was what I called helicopters when I was a young child and the word stuck with me all of these years. It was larger than a school bus with a huge rotor diameter and I stood farther back waiting as the spinning rotors slowly came to a stop with my camera trained it. I started snapping away as soon as the doors opened and watched each member of the crew climb out. There were five in all, but one in particular caught my eye.
He stood taller than the rest, wearing a desert khaki one piece flight suit that made him appear even taller. I kept snapping picture after picture and zoomed in as they removed their flight helmets. The tall one was gorgeous and I changed my thought to ‘Oooh…Hot Hubba Hubba’. He had turned so that I could only see his profile while he listened to one of his fellow crew members say something and then he threw his head back in laughter. When he finally faced forward I could see through my view finder that he had noticed me taking pictures of them all. He kept a natural smile on his face as he walked in my direction.
Coming to a stop in front of me he quirked an eyebrow up and I realized I was still taking his picture. Blushing, I lowered the camera and he put his hand out in front of him saying, “Miss Stackhouse? I’m Captain Eric Northman. I’ll be flying you back to our base once we get all of the supplies loaded.”
As soon as our hands were joined I felt an electric charge zing through my body. Looking down I saw his hand completely envelop mine and noticed he wore no wedding band on his left hand. My eyes travelled from his large desert combat boots up his long legs to his broad chest and shoulders finally settling on the most handsome face I’d ever seen. His eyes were as blue as the sky he had just descended from and his hair as golden as the sun with full seductive lips framing perfectly straight white teeth. He could’ve been on the cover of GQ on any given day.
I stared transfixed on the site before me with my mouth gaping open like a stunned fangirl meeting RPatz at a Twilight premier. When his eyebrow once again quirked up, I quickly tried to dispel the notion that I was a complete moron by shaking his hand enthusiastically. Unfortunately verbal diarrhea poured out of my mouth. “Hi! Yes, I’m Sookie. I’m going to be staying with y’all for a little bit taking pictures of your everyday life. This is my first big assignment since I started working for Getty and I’m really excited to be here. Thank you so much for coming to get me. Is there something I can do? Can I help load anything?”
His mouth twitched into an amused smile and I dropped his hand and hung my head wanting to kick myself for acting like a lunatic in front of my new number one fantasy man (goodbye Captain Jack Sparrow, hello Captain Eric Northman!).
He chuckled before responding, “No, that won’t be necessary. The guys will load the supplies. We should be on our way shortly. Have you ever ridden in a helicopter before?”
I thought out my entire reply before opening my lips attempting to do some damage control. “No.”
He still seemed amused by me and I could only hope it was in a ‘she’s so adorable’ way and not an ‘I bet she’s on medication’ sort of way. “It’s different than flying on an airplane, but I promise not to do any air acrobatics on your first flight.”
“Okay.” Great. I go from verbal diarrhea to one word answers. Way to go Sookie!
A couple of hours later we were on board the helicopter ready to take off. I told no one of my fear of flying because I didn’t want to hurt my chances of getting this assignment. I closed my eyes and gripped the seat until my knuckles were white as I felt us lift up into the air. I was the only passenger in addition to the flight crew and I’d been given a helmet (not flattering at all) as well as a head set so I could hear and talk to the other crew members.
My mental chant of ‘We’re not going to crash. We’re not going to crash,’ was interrupted by the voice that went along with my new number one fantasy. “Ms. Stackhouse? Are you okay over there?”
“Yes,” I squeaked out.
They all laughed quietly at my obvious lie. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you. You’re safe in my hands.” Well well well… That did wonders for my mental health because all thoughts of crashing were replaced by what I imagined those hands could do to me. I opened my eyes and saw he had turned to look at me and couldn’t help smiling at him before yelling, “OH MY GOD! TURN AROUND AND WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING!” He laughed loudly before doing just that.
Over the next few days I followed alongside the Marines taking pictures of the most amazing views along with the different Marines while they did their jobs, or when they weren’t doing much of anything at all. It was the moments of quiet when they’d let their guard down and reflect on whatever was going on inside of them that I found the most meaning in and had several of my favorite shots consisting of nothing more than those moments. All of the men and women were very nice and they all treated me as if I were one of them. I had just returned from a trip in the helicopter that Captain Fantasy (in my mind he wore his flight suit with a red super hero cape that had a big letter ‘F’ for fantasy on it) had piloted around the Farah Province and was sitting in the dining hall looking over the pictures I’d taken that day. I felt someone sit down next to me and looked over seeing it was the Captain himself.
He smiled asking, “Do you mind if I look at them with you?”
I slid my chair closer to him replying, “Of course.” When we leaned towards each other and our arms touched I felt the electrical charge once again. I quickly shook it off and prayed I’d be able to act normal around him. For over two hours we looked at all of the pictures I had on the memory card and Eric would tell me something about each frame, whether it had to do with the scenery or someone in the photo. When he asked why I became a photographer I told him about a field trip I’d taken in school to an art gallery where they were having a photography show. I was mesmerized by the photos and went back day after day looking at them all. They all spoke to me and each still shot told a story that seemed to affect very my soul. I was hooked ever since.
Once there weren’t any more pictures our conversation took on a more personal note and I learned that he had been in the Marines for over nine years and would be getting out in six months. When he asked if I was seeing anyone I felt my heart skip a beat thinking he might actually be interested in me. I told him I wasn’t and found out that he wasn’t seeing anyone either. He asked me ‘out’ in the form of accompanying me to dinner for our first date the following evening.
Over the next few weeks we spent every day together growing closer and closer. He was always the perfect gentleman just holding my hand as we walked and never giving me more than a tender kiss at the door of my private trailer/bunk each night.
As we got to know each other better Eric began accompanying me nearly everywhere and had started bringing his own camera along. We would compare photos each night in my room and I was really impressed with what I saw from him. He had a natural eye for a subject and I couldn’t stop staring at one photo in particular of a young Afghan boy standing in his family’s poppy field. Eric had taken the picture while we were there earlier in the day and I was moved by the haunted look in the boy’s eyes.
Just looking at him made me sad which opened the floodgates on the emotions I had been trying to suppress with Eric. I had come to care for him deeply and knew my time here would be ending soon. I would even hazard a guess that I was falling in love with him but I had refused to let myself think about it. We hadn’t even had sex yet. Not because he wasn’t willing, but because I was worried about how much more difficult it would be for me to walk away from him when it was time for me to go if that was added to the equation. I didn’t do casual sex and I didn’t know what we were, nor did I know what would happen when I left here. We didn’t talk about the future; we only lived in the present.
I felt the tears falling down my cheeks before I even realized I was crying. Eric sat down next to me asking, “Sookie? Why are you crying?” He reached out with his hand and wiped the tears from my cheeks. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him all of it so I merely gestured to the photo. “It’s a beautiful picture Eric. You captured a piece of his soul.”
He pulled me into his arms and leaned his forehead against mine asking, “Is that really all that’s bothering you?” He guessed by my silence that it wasn’t. “Please tell me.”
I sighed admitting, “I’m going to have to leave here soon. I’m going to miss going different places everyday with you. I’m going to miss looking at our pictures every night with you. I’m going to miss you.”
Taking a deep breath he said, “There’s something I think we need to talk about.” I felt my stomach drop and prepared myself to not fall apart when I got the ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ speech. I closed my eyes not wanting to watch as he rejected me.
I felt him place soft kisses on my forehead, each of my closed eyes, the tip of my nose and finally on my lips. The tears started falling freely once more at his tender gesture only making it that much harder to steel myself for what he was about to say.
“I love you Sookie.” I gasped from his unexpected words and my eyes shot open to see his only inches away. “I’m in love with you. I know we haven’t known each other for very long and we’ve been in our own little bubble here in the desert away from the real world, but I also know I’ve never felt this way about anyone else. The thought of you leaving here, without me, tears me up inside. But I want you to go at least knowing how I feel.”
I could feel my heart swell inside of my chest and I leaned forward capturing his lips with mine. Our kiss was urgent, desperate, as if one of us would die without the other. He hadn’t changed out of his flight suit from his shift earlier in the day and I finally got to live out one of my fantasies. I grasped the zipper and slowly pulled it down while never breaking our kiss. He pulled open the button of my jeans while his lips travelled along my jaw to just under my ear. Grasping the hem of my shirt he pulled away from me long enough to pull it up over my head, taking my bra off next, and then grabbing onto my sides and turning me so I was now lying underneath him on the bed.
I had longed for the feeling of the weight of his body pressing down on mine and relished in the reality that it now was. I pushed the sleeves of his flight suit down his arms until they were free, grimacing at the fact he was wearing a tank top underneath it, and then worked them down his legs along with his boxers using my feet. As soon as his hands were free he moved them to my jeans pulling them down along with my underwear while his mouth travelled down my chest to my breasts. My back arched involuntarily at the wet contact on my skin and I moaned in pleasure while I wrapped my hand around his hardened length stroking him from the base of his shaft to the tip. He moaned while thrusting into my hand as he continued to devour each of my breasts in turn.
Once he had me completely bare he sat up taking in the site before him whispering, “You’re so beautiful.” I sat up pulling his tank top over his head and traced over each of his nipples with my tongue before pushing him down on his back while I climbed on top of him straddling his waist. I rubbed my wet core over his erection and he hissed as his hands grabbed onto my hips. I leaned forward pressing my lips to his whispering, “I love you too,” as I slid myself down his length feeling completely fulfilled now that our naked bodies were finally joined together. I rocked back and forth while lifting up and down with each of us gasping and groaning as we found our rhythm. Our need became more urgent and Eric sat up so I slid my legs around his waist locking them in place. Using my hands I pushed off of his knees as he held my waist and thrust up as he pulled me down over and over. I felt him swelling even larger and he leaned forward taking a nipple into his mouth holding it between his lips while flicking his tongue across its peak. When his hand left my waist and snaked in between us to rub circles over my clit I came undone screaming his name. I felt my walls constrict around the base of his shaft and he yelled out with his release.
He fell backwards onto the bed taking me with him and once our panting subsided he pulled my face back to his. Brushing a lock of hair behind my ears he pulled me down for the most tender and loving kiss I’d ever had. When we finally broke free for air, we looked into each other’s eyes and said, “I love you,” in unison. He then made love to me once more with each of us taking the time to explore and memorize each other’s bodies.
I stood at the airfield a couple of weeks later crying while Eric held me in his arms. I was leaving to go back to the States and we were saying goodbye for the first time since we’d met. “Shh…” he whispered into my ear. “We’ll be together again before you know it.” He was getting out of the military in a few more weeks and was coming to see me as soon as he got back. “I promise I’ll email and call you every chance I get, although I’m not really good with writing down my feelings, so don’t get upset if my emails sound weird. I’ll be missing you and loving you no matter how I put the words down.”
I smiled at his admission saying, “Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so you could just email me those if you can’t find any to write.” And he did. My email was filled with pictures almost every day and he had even managed to get pictures that other people had snapped of us together when we weren’t looking. Apparently everyone around us watched our relationship unfold and I was grateful they did. I printed them out and put them together into a photo album starting with the first picture I’d taken of a tiny speck in the sky, followed by the behemoth CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter landing on the deck of the USS Roosevelt. The next showed Eric walking towards me, his image completely in focus while the movement of the others around him was nothing more than a blur and then when he stood before me with his quirked eyebrow while I acted like the fangirl that I was. The next few pages were photos the others had taken of us during my stay. There was one of me with my eyes squeezed shut gripping the seat on my very first helicopter flight. There was another of Eric and I standing in that poppy field in Afghanistan looking at each other like we were very much in love, even if we hadn’t admitted it at the time. The last one was a picture of us sitting in the dining hall with our heads leaning together smiling as we looked at the pictures on my camera. I left plenty of empty pages hoping to fill them with our future.
As a photographer I had the luxury of working from home unless I was on assignment. A few weeks later I was sitting on my couch missing Eric because he hadn’t called or emailed me in a couple of days. That happened sometimes when he had to train or was sent to provide air support when they were needed and the silence from him was always nerve wracking. I worried constantly about his well being and hoped he’d find a way to contact me soon. No sooner than I’d had the thought, my cell phone beeped alerting me I had a text. I opened it to discover I was receiving multiple picture texts and was confused at what I saw.
One year later
I sat on the couch taking the leather bound album from the coffee table and setting it in my lap. My fingertips traced over the words etched into the front before opening it up. More pages had been filled over the last year and I flipped through them remembering. The first is a picture of Eric’s duffel bag all packed with his gear. The next is a picture of the military transport that flew him out of the desert followed by a picture of the commercial plane that flew him from Germany back to the US. Next was a picture of the taxi driver that picked him up at the airport and then a picture of the front of my house. I felt the tears forming in my eyes as I turned the page knowing what I would see. A picture of Eric’s bended knee on my front porch holding my engagement ring in his fingers sat on one page with a picture of me throwing open my front door in shock with my cell phone still clutched in my hand on the other. A self portrait Eric had taken, by holding his phone at arm’s length, of us kissing with my hands holding his face to mine with my ring on my left hand followed both of those. The last photo was from our wedding as we walked down the aisle moments after we became Mr. and Mrs. Eric Northman.
There were still many empty pages waiting to be filled at the back of the album and after I closed it I traced the words etched on front once more before putting it back on the coffee table. One Thousand Words