THE DISTANCE BETWEEN DREAMS
Contrary to what a lot of people think, I never intended on becoming the first female Navy Seal. It was politics that had gotten me into the program, but it was my own sheer drive, help from a bad-ass trainer (former Delta force), and determination that had me graduating BUD/S training. It was again politics that had me flying out of Coronado, California to Virginia to be placed with a team on a test run basis a few weeks after graduation. Sure, my father is Vice Admiral Richard Ryan.
A veteran SEAL himself, who passed the traits of fortitude, discipline, and sheer stubbornness onto me, his baby daughter. His intentions were for me to grow up and be an independent strong woman. Not that I would grow up and put my skills to use in dangerous situations. But I had used my favorite-child status with him to get what I wanted -field experience.
The deal we struck was that if he convinced SOCOM to put me on a team that was actively deployed, then I would retire after three years with the unspoken: settle down and get married tag line. I also agreed that should I ever be injured in the line of duty – no matter how minor - I would go into ‘early retirement.’
Standing at attention outside the Captain’s office, I watched the coming and goings of the administrative staff, shuffling papers, drinking coffee, tapping away at their computers, and generally paying me no mind. Sure, I get the occasional look as a woman in ‘teagues usually gets among officers. I was here to meet my new commanding officer and be directed to THE team. MY team.
I am unaccountably nervous- and tapping my index finger on the back of my hand behind my back – the only outward sign of my inner emotions. I breathe deep and clear my mind. I had only been waiting about fifteen minutes, but the power play rankled.
Suddenly the door to my right whooshes open and Captain Mendoza steps out to acknowledge me. We do the required salutes.
“Ryan! At ease,” are his first words to me.
He reaches out and shakes my hand. Second power play of the day is him squeezing so hard I am sure the bones in my hand grind against each other. Hardly the first time this has happened. I just roll with it, giving back as good as I get while he takes my measure. He is an affable looking military man, crinkles at his eyes, short gray hair, intelligent eyes that seem a bit tired, but not uncalculating.
He holds his office door open for me, in a gesture of come on in.
As we enter, he speaks, “Come in, Ryan. Meet Chief Broussard and take a seat.”
The form in question, Chief Broussard, is planted against the front of the desk. Tall, wide-shouldered man, lean, but with a proportionate musculature. His face sporting three days worth of dark stubble. Chestnut, mussed hair and calculating eyes. Eyes that narrow with annoyance at me, as he crosses his arms in front of his chest after the required salutes.
He lets his gaze roam from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. And back up again.
I feel heat warm my cheeks and neck.
The silence and his perusal are abruptly shattered by his quietly explosive, “FUCK NO!”
Turning to the captain he slams both his hands palm down on the desk and leans over to stress his refusal to the Captain; I take the chance to give him the same one over he had just given me. Broad shoulders, lean waist, and taut butt. Yep, he is good looking and has a fit body. So does just about every other SEAL I had been in contact with…and they all carry the same egotistical chip on their shoulders.
Broussard starts, “She’s not on my team. She just fucking blushed!”
Captain Mendoza turns his gaze from the computer in front of him to Broussard, then to me.
He looks at me from over the top of his bifocals.
“Sit down, Ryan. Broussard, calm down. It’s a trial basis. And we all know…” He looks back at me.
I sit calmly in the chair even though his words are burning like acid in my gut.
He had been going to say, we all know she is going to fail or the Navy won’t really put her in action.
Broussard growls. There’s no other word for the grunt that rolls from his throat. He raps his knuckles on top of the desk before turning to face me again. We lock eyes.
“Sir, “ he began, “this is,” he pauses without looking away, “...unacceptable.”
We are now locked into an unofficial staring contest. No way am I looking away. His eyes are hazel, caramel center surrounded by a mossy green framed by dark brown lashes. Too beautiful to be glaring at me in such a way.
“These are direct orders down from SOCOM. I know the situation is not ideal, but let’s just give it some time and see what happens,” comes the captain’s voice from behind Broussard.
Out the corner of my eye, I see the captain rise from his desk and step around. He walks just to the other side of Broussard and then steps between us while handing Broussard a folder.
The staring contest is broken. A tie. I should be grateful to Captain Mendoza for breaking it up. Any longer and I might have caved. Chief Broussard’s gaze is intimidating to say the least. I felt as though he had been reading every mistake I’d ever made in my eyes, seeing every shortcoming on my face. Disconcerting to say the least.
“You have your orders, Broussard. I expect to be kept up to date.”
The captain walks back around the desk, sits in his chair, and starts typing on his computer.
“You’re both dismissed.”
Following Chief Broussard out of the office building and into the afternoon sunlight, I wait for his next command.
“C’mon. We have a team briefing in thirty minutes. Then afternoon PT.”
I just nod and follow him to a black jeep in the parking lot.
A short and silent ride ensues. I take in all the details of him, his car, the base. He wears a wedding band. His car smells like a fancy air freshener, clean and piney. Not much else. The base is nondescript, brown or gray buildings, newly paved roads, blue sky.
Parking in front of one of the many concrete gray nondescript buildings, Broussard grabs the folder he had put on his dash and proceeds to exit the jeep without a word. He pauses at the metal entrance door of the building.
He holds it open for me, but his whole demeanor is annoyance- not polite. So the gesture of kindness is lost on me. As I go through, I give my eyes a moment to adjust to the dimly lit interior.
A conference table directly ahead, surrounded by four of five scarred metal desks. Light from fluorescents and a few skylights. There are two men sitting at those desks that look up when we enter.
“Hey Chief Broussy! I thought new recruits were coming in next week!”
Before I can introduce myself, ‘Broussy’ cut in with, “Ryan. A word in my office.”
He turns a sharp right down a small hallway off to the side.
Chief Broussard has the corner office. But it is nondescript and plain - nothing like the military to humble you. Crappy furniture- a wood laminate topped desk pockmarked with coffee cup circles, in front of two metal folding chairs. A scarred brown leather couch sitt lumpy and dejected against one wall. Behind the desk is another man, blond hair and blue eyes that looks up as we enter.
Broussard slides the folder he was holding onto the desk and then perches on one corner of it with his arms crossed, staring me down again. No introductions then.
“OK. How many dicks did you suck to get here?”
I curls one side of my lip up on an exhale breath and cross my arms over my own chest in mimic of him.
I start with, “Really? How original! A navy guy with a chauvinistic attitude.”
I see his jaw tense. Maybe honey catches more flies than vinegar, but I’ve never been one to stand down from such a challenge.
“It’s really, SIR?”
“Sit down and listen up, Ryan.”
“I prefer to stand…sir.”
“Fine. You’re on MY team now. And I don’t put up with bitch attitudes, whining, or falling behind. You don’t carry your weight? You’re out. You bitch about the sand in your fucking Prada shoe? You’re out! You do anything at any time I don’t like? You’re out. I don’t give two fucks who your daddy is.”
He finishes his tirade. There really is no argument from me. Sounds like a plan I am already on board with. I couldn’t and wouldn’t expect less from anyone else on the team. I place my hands behind my back in parade rest and gave him a nod, “Yes Sir.”
More staring at me, getting my measure.
He closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger in a gesture of tiredness and resignation. “FUCK.” He sighs breathes out heavily in resignation, “Reed, this is Ryan, the newest member of SEAL team Four.”
And that is my introduction to the team.