He looked over at me for a quick moment before returning his sights back on the task at hand. "I'm sprinkling fairy dust all over the land of wishes and dreams. What the hell does it look like I'm doing?" I grinned. He was one crusty old fart. I slid underneath to join him. He stopped for a moment. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" He asked all grizzled like.
"Figured I'd help you sprinkle that fairy dust."
"I got it." He quickly lashed out.
"Yeah, that's what it looks like from my end." I joked.
He studied me for a moment. "You're one stubborn son of a bitch, aren't you?"
"Don't worry," I replied, "you still have me beat by a mile. Now, what are we doing here?"
We spent hours under that thing. When it was all said and done, he finally got in and turned the key. The truck fired right up. I was pleased with my efforts. I started to head back to the house to clean up. "Hey," he shouted over at me, buy you a beer?"
I guess that was the way he said thanks. Worked for me. Although the last time, it didn't go over so well. This time, I just sat there listening to him bitch about the world with what few people were in the pub that night.
By the time I walked back to the house, Lori was wrapping up some cleaning. "If you're going to spend all day with your new friend, the least you can do is inform me. Your dinner is on the stove. Wash up first. I don't need grease all over my china."
I did as she wished then I walked over to get it and sat down at the table. "You don't like me being friends with him?" I gathered.
"I don't know yet." She replied. "What if I don't?"
"He lives across the parking lot, Lori. Not to mention, he's our landlord, and your uncle. I don't think it would kill us to be sociable."
"It might not kill you." She hinted.
I could tell she was still in about a month long mood. I finally had enough. "What is up your ass lately?"
"Nothing is up my ass." She cracked back. Then she smiled.
"Well," I asserted, "something is up your ass."
She walked over to me and sat down on my lap. "Then why don't you just hold an inspection tonight and see if you can find anything up there?"
Was she being naughty? By Joe, I do believe she is. That is a rarity. I snuggled her closer. "Maybe I will." I said, then took a bite of my dinner, staring at her grinning.
The fourth of July finally rolled around. Lori, Bernie and I joined forces with Tiffany, Jr., his girlfriend Becky along with the rest of Waylon's family, minus Waylon himself, to watch fireworks at a park. Also in attendance that evening was Tiffany's mother and younger brother. Bonnie and the twins also tagged along. Since there was a food hut nearby, we didn't bother bringing any of our own. We just made a lot of trips to the hut. They were serving mostly hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, chips, hot dogs, stuff like that. Shortly before the fireworks began, Lori asked me to go get her a drink. Pretty soon, a few others placed an order with me too. No sooner did I start heading off did Tiffany volunteer to help me carry the items back. As we waited for the food, Tiffany asked me a favor. "Buy me some fries. I'm broke."
"You're broke? We just paid you."
"I spent it already."
"Fine." I caved in.
"Oh, a soda too?" She asked. "A large one?"
I rolled my eyes. "Fine."
When we had everything tallied up, I picked one of the trays, leaving the other one for her. But before she grabbed it, she leaned over and planted me a kiss right smack on my lips. "Thanks." She issued, then took the tray and scampered off towards the others.
I stood there momentarily. It wasn't just the fact that she kissed me on lips, it was because she swiped her tongue across them in the process. I took in a deep breath. I knew I was going to have to have a talk with her about her behavior of late. Goofing around and what not is one thing, but she was testing the limits more and more. However, that talk would have to wait.
No sooner did we finally make it back home when I looked over at the pub. When we got out of the car, Lori had a sleeping boy in her arms. I walked with her to the front door to open it for her. "I'll take Bernie to bed." She whispered.
"I'm going to go have a beer with Waylon." As I had a hunch he was probably in there. Lori sighed. "Carroll?"
"Just one." I promised, much to her chagrin.
I ended up sitting down next to him. When glanced at me, he called out to the bartender. "Ralph, get my friend a beer."
"Oh, so we're friends now?" I humored.
"Only until you piss me off." He humored in return.
"Then I better guzzle this bottle down fast." I said. He turned his head at me.
"Oh shit, what now?"
"Nothing." I uttered, grinning like a fox. "But since you brought it up."
"I didn't bring up shit." He stated.
"Whatever. So, why didn't you come with us to watch the fireworks?"
He grunted. "Already seen them." Then he took on the appearance of reflection. "I think around 1975 was the last time."
"Come on, we've all seen fireworks." I floundered. "It's not about that. It's about spending time with your family."
"You hearing this Ralph? The boy here is preaching family to me." Ralph waved him off. Waylon turned to me. "Now listen here, don't go getting cocky with me lad, I provide for my family. And FYI, you're starting to piss me off again."
"That seems to be my trademark." I half whispered. 'I'm not syaing you don't provide for your family, but providing is more than just paying the bills. It's spending time with them too."
"Boy, if you weren't so big, I'd knock you right off that stool."
I started laughing. I don't know why. "You're right." I gave up. "It's none of my business. Forget I mentioned anything."
"Listen here," he mumbled, "I had to finish a job today that should have been finished two days ago. I don't get days off."
"I understand." I tried to end it there, but with no such luck.
"I don't think you do." He flat out told me. "You think just because you're engaged with a made to order family that you know a thing or two about being a family man? Son, you need to grow a few more hairs on your nut-sack before you come crawling to me about family, you here what I'm saying to you?"
"Yeah," I was put in my place. "I hear ya. Loud and clear."
He nodded his head in satisfaction. "Good. Besides, you have no idea what you've gotten yourself into. But you will." He started laughing. "You will."
"I admit," I told him, "this marriage stuff is new to me."
"Marriage?" He laughed some more. "Boy, I'm not talking about marriage. I'm talking about ...." He paused. He stared off to the side for a moment. "You'll find out soon enough I reckon."
"Find out about what?" My curiosity started roaming wild.
He gave me what I perceived as an evil-ish glare. "Never no mind. Ralph, set us up another one."
I waved it off. "No more for me. I'm going back home."
"Suit yourself, family man." And I left him sitting there on that stool laughing. But was he laughing at me? And if so, why?
I kept feeling inside that something was amiss. I still couldn't place my finger on it, but something wasn't feeling right. I started to think that there was something left for me to uncover. But what was it? Or maybe I was just freaking out over this upcoming wedding. Lori had sent out the invitations and everything was falling into place. It wasn't going to be big, just mostly her family. I contacted my parents and informed them about it and they were planning on attending. So was Bonnie and the kids and a few of my navy buddies. Hrisko was all prepared to be my best man. Oh yes, everything was in place. So why was I so jittery about it?
Before I knew it, we were finally out of dry docks and we were preparing for a quick three day test cruise. After which, we would return to load up supplies for another Mediterranean deployment. To this point, I was chalking up all my fears and worries to wedding jitters. And no, I hadn't gotten around to that talk with Tiffany yet either. Oh, well.
Lori drove me to the pier that morning. Tiff was at home with Bernie. There was no major emotional display this time around. It was only for a few days then we would be back. No biggie.
I shared some of my concerns with Hrisko during this time, but on the second day, a fire alarm went off. You see, we have these fire drills and everyone is assigned a section of the ship in which they man during these drills. The only thing is, this wasn't a drill. This was a real fire. And the fire was in my section. When they announced it over the PA system, my heart froze. I turned to the guys in the shop. "That's my section."
"Get your ass going then." Shorty advised.
I raced as fast as I could. My section was up by the communication rooms. It turned out there was an electrical fire coming from one of them. I was the fourth man on my hose. As we entered through the hatch, with all our gear on, smoke started pouring out of the place thicker than cardboard. It was an unbelievable sight. The first man went down fast. He actually caught fire. My heart was racing. I turned to the man behind me. "Take my spot, I'm getting him out of here!" I yelled.
I rushed in on my knees basically and grabbed the guy, pulling him while someone else distinguished the fire on his person. This is when I heard the second hose man yelling. I crawled back in to get him while everyone else moved up the hose. Fear was in all of our eyes. Other men from sections next to ours arrived and were backing us up. I pulled out the second guy. He didn't appear as bad as the first guy and then the third guy went down. I went back to get him. He was simply overcome with smoke inhalation. So was I after that move. All four of us were quickly taken to the ship hospital.
I was fortunate. So was the third guy. The first two suffered some serious burns. There were supposed to be a couple people who were supposed to pull the guys out, but due to the thickness of the smoke, they never saw them. Because I was right there, I did the honors. Even though technically, I wasn't supposed to. Regardless, this is what the higher ups called improvising. I was given some accolades for my actions. I took it all in stride. I remained in the hospital until we pulled back into port. No sooner than was I instructed by Burke that I could leave the ship to go home if I liked. Everyone else, for the most part, would remain until normal hours. I accepted.
When I showed up at 10AM, Lori was surprised to say the least. I quickly explained to her what had happened and while she offered to call in from work, I wouldn't hear of it. This was Friday, her double-shift day. So off she went. Tiffany remained as I just wanted to lay down for a while. By the time I woke up, it was going on 6PM. Our wedding was to be on that Sunday. While I was getting more nervous by the hour, I think I was kept in check by my experience. For some reason, the whole thing appeared to calm me down more than anything. I was just grateful to have come out of it without any burns, much less, my life. I don't know why, but I took it as some kind of sign. A good sign.
After eating, I decided to get all dressed up and go have a couple of drinks at the bar and spend a little time with my bride to be. When I got there, some of the guys from the ship were present. The next thing I know, I was being bought a few drinks in celebration of my birthday. Since I was going to be getting married that day, the guys celebrated with me that night. I sat with them for about an hour and finally worked my way to the bar where I sat next to this guy who quickly started talking to me. "So, today is your birthday?" He asked.
"No, Sunday is, but I'm getting married that day so ...." I wavered.
"No shit?" He seemed surprised. "Getting married on your birthday? That calls for a drink. Allow me." Then he called Lori over. "A round for me and my friend, sugar."
Lori nodded but had a strange look in her eyes. In fact, I would describe it as almost a frightening look. When she turned around to make them, the guy elbowed me. "You see that fine looking thing?" He asked. "I tapped that last night in the parking lot."
My heart sunk into my stomach. I couldn't believe my ears. "What?" I recoiled. "Her? The bartender?"
"I sure did." He gloated. "Man, she has one tight pussy, you know?"
My head started spinning. I was having a hard time processing his words. I pointed at her. "Her. Right there. You had sex with her last night in the parking lot?"
"Yes." He kept on gloating. "In the back seat of my car. You can still smell her scent."
Lori brought the drinks over and gave me a smile before turning around and continuing to work. She kept glancing over in our direction. A concerned or nervous look still in her eyes. I finished my drink in one quick swallow. I slammed the glass down. "Thanks for the drink."
"Paul" He said, sticking out his hand. "My name is Paul."
"Thanks for the drink, Paul. I got to run."
I shook his hand and left without even saying goodbye to Lori. I didn't even look her way. I had no idea if she was looking my way, or if she even noticed I left. I didn't really care. I was so pissed off. A part of me wanted to confront her with it, but I didn't want to make a scene in front of the guys or in front of Ward. I was embarrassed enough, and humiliated. I didn't want the others to find out. I don't know. I jumped into my car and raced over to see Bonnie.
"I don't know what to say, Carroll." Was her response after I told her everything. "She wasn't working that night, she works days now, but she did come in and had a few drinks and she was talking to some guy at the bar. They left together, but as to whether or not they did anything, I don't know. I thought about saying something to you but with the wedding coming up and all, I didn't know if I should or not."
"I can't believe it." I heard myself thinking.
"Maybe he was just saying that. You know, being macho and everything. Maybe nothing really happened. Talk to her about when she gets off tonight or tomorrow. You're going to have to sooner or later and later will be too late. The wedding is Sunday. See what she says."
"I know what she'll say." I told her. "She didn't do anything. She'll deny it."
"If she does, will you believe her?"
I looked at her eye to eye. "No." I found myself saying. "I wouldn't."
"Then you have a major problem on your hands."
She was right. I did have a major problem on my hands. How was I going to deal with it? The first thing was, swing by a store and by some more beer. Which I did. The second thing, go back home and walk around the back to the dock, sit down and start drinking that beer. Which I did. A few minutes later, Tiffany emerged from the back door. "Carroll, is that you?"
I looked her way. "Yeah, it's just me." I said. She walked down to greet me, taking a chair opposite. "Bernie is sound asleep." She informed me. I put down the last of the beer I had in my hand and reached for another. "Want one?" I offered.
"No thanks." She said. I shrugged it off and pulled the tab, taking another good long swallow. "Are you okay?" She asked. I turned to her. "Did you watch Bernie last night?"
She squirmed a bit. "What?"
"Did you watch Bernie last night?" She froze in the warm evening air. That was enough answer for me. "It's okay." I told her. "I already know that you did."
"For a few hours." She finally confessed. "Lori wanted to go order your cake and everything. She's planned a surprise birthday party for you tomorrow."
"What time did she leave?' I asked her.
"Around six or seven I guess, why?"
"When did she get back?" I asked. She didn't answer right off, so I repeated the question. "What time did she get back, Tiffany?"
"I don't know. About midnight. Maybe later."
I finished my beer and stood up. She stood up too, facing me. We stared at each other for a few moments before I suddenly grabbed her and pulled her into me, planting a kiss. She backed out at first. "I don't think we should do this."
"Oh bullshit." My soured dialogue spilled. "You been hitting on me ever since we met."
"I know, but, now you're getting married." She reasoned.
I started shaking my head. "No I'm not."
"You heard me." I said. Staring at her, I laid it on the line. "It's now or never."
She consumed a few moments to think it over. Once she made her decision, she reached behind my neck and kissed me. I guess she chose now.
It was all just one big lie.
And here I thought I was going to be the weak link in this relationship.