Casey held the door open for two women following him into the restaurant. He stepped forward and let the door finally shut. Alex was shaking his head when Casey caught up to him. “What?”
“Always the gentleman, aren’t you? Even after twelve weeks being screamed at and pushed way beyond what our limits should be, some things don’t change.”
Casey’s lips twitched, but he only shoved Alex’s shoulder. “Like you can talk. You’d have done the same. You’re more a gentleman than me.” And part of him wanted to tell his friend that twelve weeks of being screamed at was nothing. Try eighteen years then get back to him. But, he was away now and didn’t want to talk about it. Though he had told Alex some, it wasn’t even close to all the details.
He didn’t think he’d ever trust anyone with that much.
“You boys want a table? The manager usually asks customers to step out if they’re going to rumble.”
Casey turned toward the voice, drawn by the wry humor in it. But, he was struck mute at the sight before him. She was dressed in the restaurant’s uniform, a light green blouse and khaki shorts, an apron tied over it all. Her dark hair, he couldn’t tell if it was brown or red in this light, was pulled back into a ponytail that just reached between her shoulder blades with its riotous curls. He couldn’t make out the color of her eyes, but he wanted to.
Alex nudged him, but his tongue still felt too thick to speak. He could swear he heard a laugh in his friend’s voice when he finally said, “We’ll take the table. My friend here usually has a better grasp of the English language.”
He didn’t care if Alex had become his best friend over the last twelve weeks of basic training. He was going to punch him in the throat. Just as soon as he got control of his body again.
The waitress just smiled at them, though. “Follow me.” She led them round other tables and diners, until they reached a table for two along one wall. She set the menus on the table. “What can I get y’all to drink?”
Casey finally got his tongue to work and ordered a coke. The waitress smiled at him again, and he thought he’d died. Alex grinned across the table at him when she’d left with their order. “So,” he said, drawing out the word. “She’s pretty.”
Casey didn’t even bother responding to him. They both had eyes, they both could see she was pretty. But, there was something more there.
“Maybe try actually speaking to her when she comes back. Girls like that, you know?”
Casey simply showed him his middle finger at that.
And Alex simply laughed.
“If you boys are done, are you ready to order?” the waitress asked, setting their drinks on the table.
Casey’s mouth went dry again, and his fingers fumbled with the menu. His gaze caught on her nametag. Marie. He didn’t know why he couldn’t tear his gaze away from it. Then, Alex was snapping his fingers under his nose. “Case? You ready to order?”
“Uh, yeah, sure. You go first.”
Alex grinned at him. “Already did. Your turn.”
“You boys in town long?” Marie asked as Casey glanced over the menu.
“We came in from Rosenberg,” Alex told her. “My parents have a ranch there. But, we’re heading out in just a couple days for the next stage of our training.”
“Training in what?”
“Marine Corps,” Casey answered. He didn’t know why Alex talking so easily to her was making him want to grind his teeth. “And I’ll take the Barbeque Burger.”
She wrote down his order and offered him an extra smile. The grin never left Alex’s face, even after she’d left them again. “I’m used to seeing you give all you’ve got to get something.”
“There’s nothing to get here. Just drop it.”
“I saw the way you were looking at her. I’d say that’s something.”
“Alex, I said to drop it. Like you told her, we’re heading out again in a couple days.”
“So, what’s a little distance? We’ll be back this way again. You joined the damn Marine Corps, Case. You can do anything.”
His mouth twisted at that. “I ran away. He almost killed me that last night. It was that or-”
“Some bread for you gentlemen,” she said, setting the bowl between them. The smile was still on her face, but it was strained around the edges now. Great, she’d probably heard that. Just the way to not get a girl interested in you. Have her find out your father almost killed you. And would have if you hadn’t run off and lived on the streets for the weeks left until he turned eighteen.
He kept his gaze on the table, but she lingered. “Is there anything else I can get for you two?”
Casey shook his head, but Alex kicked him under the table. It made him want to hunch into himself and attack at the same time. “Damn it, Alex,” he said when she left the table again. “What the hell was that for?”
“Can’t you tell when a girl’s trying to flirt with you? And you’re over there acting like…I don’t even know if there’s a creature as moronic as you’re being.”
“Gee, thanks, friend.”
“Calling it like I see it, Case. She wasn’t judging you or whatever you might think for what she heard. She felt bad for you. People are allowed to do that, you know. You had it rough. I know you haven’t told me everything you went through, but I’ve heard enough to know it was bad. But, you got away. Don’t forget that or let it keep you from starting something with someone.”
“We’re leaving in a few days,” he said again. It was the only other excuse he could cling to.
“But, we’re here for now. Not saying you should ask her to marry you, but at least talk to the girl.”
Something clenched in his gut at the thought of that. Right. Just talk to her. He supposed he could try that.
This is obviously before Alex’s snapshot I shared. Still early in their Marine career. Marie plays a big part in Casey’s life after this(and yes, he does end up asking her to marry him, but that’s a bit later).