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Henry’s Diner was nearly empty on the late Sunday evening. The only people in the building besides me were the old cook and a young man, who was staring out the window, beyond the sea. I walked down to him and said, “Can I get you anything else?”
He looked back at me. He was well muscled, and his head was practically shaved. As this town was a big military town, I could see the signs. He sighed, and said, “Well, I could use a friend.” He looked at me, and tried to smile.
“You don’t know anybody here?” I asked, leaning on the counter.
“No, I’m only here to deport. I leave next Saturday, and besides, even if I was from here, I wouldn’t have any friends.” He said, and rubbed his head, as if remembering hair there.
I turned around to grab a rag, and said, “Well, I guess I could be your friend then,” and turned back around. He grinned at me, and I rolled my eyes.
“When do you get off?” He asked, standing up.
“Eight.” I replied, picking up his coffee cup.
He set a five down, which was much too much, and said, “Maybe, I’ll see you then. Oh, keep the change.” He winked at me, and walked out the door.
The rest of my shift went by slowly, and I watched as the sun slowly dropped down below the ocean. Walking out of the diner, I saw the last glimpse of it, and turned literally into the man from earlier. “Oh!” I exclaimed, and jumped back.
“Hi,” He said, shoving his hands in his pockets. He stared at the ground, and was blushing slightly under the streetlamp. “Sorry for running into you; I wasn’t looking.”
“Its fine,” I smiled. “By the way, I’m Alaina.”
“I’m Jesse.” He almost smiled back. We began walking down the street, trying to talk without being awkward. It felt like only a few minutes had passed when we entered a small bookstore on the strip. However, when I looked at the clock on the wall, it was already nine.
“Wow, so, it’s later than I thought.” I laughed. Jesse looked behind him, and nodded.
“Time flies when you’re having fun, to quote the old saying.” He muttered, staring down at the table.
“I did have fun. You’re nice to talk to.” I said, and jokingly shoved his arm. He looked up, and his eyes were serious. We sat beside each other, on raised stools by the windows. “Can I ask you why you wouldn’t have any friends, where ever you’re from?”
“Well, I’ve always been a little guarded. I never really got out there, and it doesn’t help that some people are just really intimidated by me.” Jesse said, and ran his fingers across the side of his head. I could certainly see why. His muscles strained across his arms.
I nodded slowly, not sure of what to say, “It’s hard to believe, especially when we’ve spent the night laughing the way we have.”
He smiled at me, and we left a few minutes later. Standing in front of my front door, Jesse, shoved his hands in his pockets. I looked up at him, and said, “I have tomorrow off, if you wanted to hang out again.”
His eyes lit up, and he said, “I’d like that.” Then, he leaned forward, and kissed me before I could realize what was going on. I backed away quickly, and shook my head. “I’m sorry! I- uh- I’ll just go.” He cried out, and turned around.
“No, Jesse, wait!” I replied, and pulled his arm. He turned around, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Look, we could be great friends, really great friends, but every guy I’ve ever began to have feelings for has left. They’ve all gone into the military, just like you’re about to do. It would be better if we just stayed that way. Now, I will be here everyday with you until you ship out, but I can only do that as a friend. Okay?” I asked, and finally Jesse looked up.
“Yeah, sorry, I’m an idiot.” He said, and then he smiled. “Can I still see you tomorrow?” He asked, tentatively.
“Of course,” I replied, and added, “I’ll meet you at 9:00 a.m. at the diner. Night.” I stepped in the door, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jesse wave at me, before walking down the stairs.
The next morning I woke up late, so dressing quickly, I rushed to the diner. By the time I got there, Jesse was sitting on a bench outside. He looked up as I walked towards him.
“Hey,” He said, standing up.
“Hi, I’m sorry I’m so late. I woke up super late.” I replied.
“It’s fine; I haven’t been here too long.” He smiled. “So, where to?”
“Hmm, want to go down to the park?” I asked.
“Sure, that could be fun.” He said, sounding slightly unsure.
I grinned, and took his arm. We walked together, and by the time we reached the park, the sun was high, and Jesse was actually in a good mood. I found an abandoned Frisbee under a bush, and we started a game. Unfortunately, I could never aim in the right spot, so Jesse ended up running back and forth most of the game. By twelve, Jesse called for a break, so we went to the vending machine by the gym. Jesse bought us two waters, and a bag of Chex Mix to share.
Jesse looked past the swings to the basketball courts, and said, “I’m challenging you to a game.” He smiled.
“Oh yeah, well if you think you saw my awesome skills in Frisbee, just wait ‘till I’m holding a basketball!” I said sarcastically, smirking.
Jesse laughed loudly, and pulled me up. “Race you!” He called, already ten feet away.
I shouted, “No fair,”, but ran after him. He beat me easily, and I was still out of breath when I reached him. We played a one-on-one game, but I lost 20-2, and the two points I got were only because I fouled him twice. It was near two o’ clock, and we were about to start another game, when a little girl and boy came up to the courts. The girl held a ball, but it was sadly deflated. The boy, was kicking the dirt, and after a few seconds of looking at them, I looked over there shoulders to see a woman, who I assumed was their mother, talking on her phone by the picnic tables. I glanced at Jesse, and I could see him watching her, too.
He knelt down to the kids, and said, “Hi,”
The boy looked up, and replied, “Hey,” His voice was so small.
Jesse held the basketball in front of him, “Do you want to play?’ The little girl’s head popped up, and she smiled. The boy tentatively took a step closer. “Here you go.” Jesse said; his tone was surprisingly gentle. The boy took the ball quickly, and Jesse straightened up. “Now, be safe, okay?”
The children nodded, and he grinned at them.
“Thank you!” The girl said, dropping the deflated ball.
Jesse smiled, and took my hand. We walked up the hill, to the swings, and I sat down on one of them. He pushed me slowly back and forth, and for a while, I didn’t think of anything at all. I was at peace. Then, Jesse took a seat on the swing beside me. He looked down at the kids, who still were playing, and looked worried.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“She should look after them a little more. They could easily get hurt, and her back is to them. What would happen if that girl fell down, or the ball rolled down the hill? It isn’t safe; those kids are just kids. They aren’t responsible enough to watch themselves, and they aren’t big enough to protect themselves. It’s the parent’s job.” Jesse vented quietly.
“I know. I agree, but at least we can look out for them while they’re here.” I said, rubbing his arm.
“Yeah,” He mumbled, not taking his eyes off the court. I knew he could tell I was watching him, and eventually, he said, “My parents weren’t real parents. They were too consumed with their jobs to take care of me. I didn’t get dinner most nights, other than take-out. I saw them maybe once a week. And when I told them I was joining the army, my mother took out her Blackberry, and my father didn’t even hear me. I just understand what it’s like to be ignored by the people that are supposed to listen.”
“Jesse, I’m so sorry.” I whispered.
He looked deep into my eyes, and then said, “It’s fine.” He smiled, and stood up. He began pushing me again, and soon he was making me laugh.
It was very late by the time we left the park; it was at least eight o’clock.
We walked slowly back to town, both reluctant to leave. However, sooner than anticipated, we reached my door.
“So, I have to work tomorrow, but my shift it over at three. I was thinking we could go to the beach.” I said, pushing my hair behind my ear.
“That’s fine with me.” Jesse said, stepping down the stairs.
“Okay, well, I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” I replied, and smiled at him. “Good night.”
He turned to leave, and said, “Night.”
Work the next day was slower then normal, and I couldn’t focus on anything. We barely had more than thirty customers, so by the time three came around I was dying for some human interaction. Just as I clocked out, the bell rang, and Jesse walked in. He was wearing swim trunks, and a t-shirt.
“Let’s go.” He said, and I grinned. I lead the way to the beach, but when our feet hit the sand, Jesse took off running. He stripped his t-shirt off before the waves hit him, and I began laughing hysterically as the water tripped him.
“Hurry up!” Jesse yelled to me, grinning. “It feels great!”
I self-consciously lifted my shirt off, and quickly wrapped my towel around me, before removing my pants. I glanced down the beach, and saw a girl around my age, but severely more tan, more in shape, and more pretty than me. I held the towel around me even tighter. Jesse was watching me, and stood up. He began walking against the tide, back up to the sand. He somewhat looked like a Greek god, as the sun behind him framed him, and his toned body was almost shining in the mid-afternoon day. The girl’s mouth dropped open, and Jesse looked her over once, and then passed her to get to me.
“If you don’t get in voluntarily, I will bring you in their by force!” He said, and winked.
The girl pretended to lose her towel to the wind. It ‘blew’ over to my area, and she came running to get it. It reminded me of a scene from ‘Baywatch’.
“Oh, sorry,” The girl said, batting her eyelashes. She bent over to pick it up, and said, “My name’s Chelsea.”
“Yeah, good to know,” Jesse said, and turned back to me, and added, “Now, it’s your choice.”
“Why don’t you let your little sister stay on the sand, and come play in the water with me?” Chelsea said, flirtatiously. I could feel my mouth open at the open hostility, and I crossed my arms.
“Why don’t you leave me and my girlfriend alone, and go work on your tan?” Jesse said, wrapping an arm around my waist. Chelsea looked clearly affronted. She turned on her heel, flinging her hair into our faces. She got all the way to her things, picked up hr bags, gave us another dirty look, and ran up to the street.
As soon as she was out of sight, I burst out laughing, and Jesse turned to look at me.
“Hey, I’m sorry I called you my girlfriend, but she was seriously p***ing me off.” He said, and when he could tell I wasn’t mad, he chuckled, “Well, I did warn you.”
I was utterly confused, and then Jesse grabbed the edge of my towel. He spun me out of it, and while I was still dizzy, he threw me over his shoulder in one swoop.
“Hey! Hey! Let me down! Come on! Jesse!” I cried, beating on his back. He was probably laughing too hard to even realize I was hitting him though.
“I will! Just when I want to.” He replied, and we splashed into the ocean. Once he was up to his waist in salt water, he pulled me to the front of him, and dropped me.
I screamed shrilly, as my body crashed into the sea. When I came up, Jesse doubled over laughing, and I raised an eyebrow.
“Oh you think that’s funny, do you?” I asked, and pulled him into the water with me.
“Okay, now you’re gonna get it!” He roared, and the splashing war began.
Out of breath and sunlight, we left the water around seven, to find the air very crisp and cool. I was shivering, as I wrapped my towel around me.
Jesse flopped to the ground, and sighed happily. “That was fun.” He said breathless.
“It was.” I agreed, sitting on my towel beside him. “What’re we going to do tomorrow?” I asked.
“Well, I actually can’t do anything tomorrow. You know what I said yesterday, about my parents?” He said, “Well, my dad, he called me. He wants to see me.”
“Oh wow, well, that’s good isn’t it?” I asked, and Jesse propped himself up on his side.
“I guess so. I mean, it’s been a long time, you know? I don’t know maybe I’ll just cancel on him.” He said, and rubbed his forehead.
“No, if you do that you won’t forgive yourself. Go see your dad tomorrow and we can hang out on Friday, or after he leaves, okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Thanks.” Jesse said, and we sat there on the beach watching each other, rarely talking, but not really needing to either.
Finally, Jesse pulled me up, and we walked back to my house. “If I get back at a decent hour, I’ll come by tomorrow, but if not, I’ll meet you at the diner around ten on Friday.” He said, as we stood on my stoop.
“That sounds fine to me. Remember, I’m here for you, if you need me.” I said, and touched his arm.
“I know.” Jesse grinned, “Night.”
“Good night.” I replied, and went on in to my house. That night, as I lay in bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jesse. I was worried about his meeting with his father. I didn’t want it to end badly. I fell asleep late that night; my mind still on him.
The next day was Thursday, and I had a full shift. Working from 8:00 to 8:00, I had an actually very busy day. More people than usual came in, and we were one waitress short anyway. On my breaks, I picked up my phone waiting for a text from Jesse, saying he’d be coming in for breakfast, then lunch, and then dinner, but no such texts came. Finally, when I got back to my house around 8:30 that night, he sent me one:
Hey Alaina, I can’t come by tonight. My dad and I lost track of time, and I’m just now leaving. But I’ll still see you tomorrow; promise. ?
When I finished reading it I smiled, and sent a nice text back. I felt a weight being lifted, and I didn’t realize I was so worried about him meeting his father. I fell asleep quickly, probably from the sudden release of stress.
I was woken by a swift knock on my front door, and my phone vibrating on my dresser. I jumped up, grabbing my phone, and running to the door at the same time. Jesse was calling my phone, so I quickly answered.
“Hey, what’s up?” I asked, in a barely coherent voice.
“Well, I’m wondering what’s taking you so long” He said back, and I reached my front door.
“What? Hang on.” I said, and took the phone away from my ear. Opening the door, I put a big smile on my face, and then it fell.
“Hey! I thought I’d surprise you.” Jesse said, putting his phone back in his pocket. “So, morning!”
“What are you doing here?” I asked, opening the door further to let him in. Closing the door behind him, I frowned.
“I told you I wanted to surprise you. I even planned the whole day out for us.” Jesse grinned. “First, we will go have breakfast at the diner, and then are going to the park to play some hoops, then we will go see one of the horrible movies that are out, and then we are going to the beach, not to get in, but to build a humongous sandcastle. After that, we can come back here, and have some kind of crazy movie marathon!”
“Wow. That’s a lot to take in at,” I looked at the clock on the wall, “Oh my God! At seven o’ clock in the morning! It’s so early, on my day off!” I said, and I whacked his arm softly. Jesse’s smile never faltered, so I rolled my eyes. “I’ll show you around, and I’ll get dressed.” I grumbled, and fifteen minutes later, I emerged from my room, wearing something much more reasonable, and looking less scary.
“You look great.” Jesse said. “Now, let’s go.” He grabbed my hand, and was pulling me out the door, almost before I could pick up my purse, and lock the door.
Our day went by like a breeze almost, and soon we were leaving the beach.
“We can go to the fair tomorrow. I know it’s corny, but it’ll be fun.” I smiled, linking my arm with Jesse’s.
“I’m sure that’ll be a great last day.” He replied, leaning his head on mine.
“What do you mean?” I asked stopping on the sidewalk.
He turned to face me, and his eyes searched mine. He looked at me as though I was forgetting something obvious. His beautiful blue eyes looked deep in mine, and it clicked. My brown eyes filled with tears.
“No.” I said, and turned around. He tried to pull me back but I just kept walking.
“Alaina, wait.” Jesse called, but he was like background noise to me. I felt the air rushing past me, and until my feet hit the sand did I realize that I had walked all the way back to the beach. The tears in my eyes spilled down my cheeks, and I couldn’t sop myself from breaking down.
I loved him. I loved his smile, his laugh, his ability to make anyone smile, his intelligence, his loving advice, and the way he made me feel. I didn’t mean t fall for him, but I did. My heart felt like it had been crushed, not broken, but smashed beyond any repair. I couldn’t breathe; I was in too much pain, so when Jesse wrapped his arms around me the added hurt didn’t make much of a difference.
“Alaina, I’m sorry; so sorry.” He whispered to my hair.
“I didn’t—I can’t—“ I stuttered, and stumbled over the words. “Damn you!” Jesse’s eyes widened.
“What?” He asked, bewildered.
“You made me love you, and you’re leaving me! And, I can’t breathe!” I yelled, and he pulled me tighter against him.
“I love you, too.” He said, and I began sobbing even harder.
“Hey, look at me,” He said, and I lifted my face. “This doesn’t have to end. We’ll still write to each other, and we can talk whenever I can call.” When my crying increased, he added, “I’ll be fine; I promise I’ll be fine”
“I know you’ll be fine, but what about me? What happens to me when you leave? What about me?” I screamed, and more salt water crashed down my face. I broke away from him, and walked a little away. “What happens when you leave and you get hurt? What happens when you die for your country and leave me all alone like everyone else has?” I whispered, and my arms clung to my stomach. I felt the world rush in around me, and suddenly I was silent.
“I can’t tell you I’ll never die. I can’t tell you I’ll run from fire, or turn away from someone who needs help, but I can tell you I love you. I can tell you tell you I will try my hardest to come back to you. That I won’t give up, or leave you. I can tell you that I’m always on my way back to you, and you’re always on my mind. I can guarantee those thing, but Alaina, I know you’ve been hurt, and I know it’s hard, but I don’t want to let you go. I don’t want you to hate me, just to love me, and trust me.” Jesse said.
I turned around, and my arms wrapped around his neck. I pulled his face down, and pushed my lips against his. One of his hands held me against him, while the other tangled itself in my hair. Our kiss was everlasting, and finally when it ended, I felt a weight being lifted.
“I’m with you.” I smiled, and took the hand of my soldier.