AUTHOR'NOTES: This is dedicated to my grandfather, Joseph "Yassi" Dominguez, Jr., who passed away on May 28th. @>-'---- @>-'---- @>-'---- CHAPTER 4: Happy Birthday 1930 HRS. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 1960. GINO'S PIZZERIA The place was packed. There were plenty of beer, pizza, and snack foods. People were dancing, singing (awfully), and laughing. The music was blaring. Everyone was happy and having a good time. Except him. His friends had outdone themselves this time. They had ensured that everything was perfect. Almost. Al hadn't been too concerned, earlier. He figured she would come with a group who knew how to get there. Janet, Lenora, and Kelly had shown up at 1900 (George had arrived hours earlier to oversee the decorating). Kelly managed to get a moment or two with George, and Al knew Beth wasn't coming before George even looked up from his pizza. Al kept up appearances as best he could. It was his party, after all, and he had to look as if he was enjoying himself. Even if he was depressed. *I should have known*, he thought. Beth had avoided him all week and Kelly had been running interference for her. He cursed himself for moving too fast. Lenora came up to him, wanting to dance. "Go away, Lenora," he told her sharply. Chip, standing nearby, sauntered over. "Hey, Lenora. I hear you're looking for a dance partner. I'm free." He took her arm gently. "What's with him?" she asked, moving slowly. "Oh, I think he found a grey hair this morning." Al couldn't help smiling. Trust Chip to come to his rescue. With any luck, Chip would keep her occupied for the rest of the evening. Kelly appeared at his side. "You're moving too fast for her, Al." Al was startled. Kelly always looked and acted like an eighteen-year-old girl. At the moment, she looked and sounded her age. "I *can't* go any slower. I'm at a stand still as it is." "I know." Kelly looked over at her boyfriend. "Try cold pizza. She's pulling a double shift, so she'll be off all day tomorrow." And then she was gone. Al had every intention of seeing her tomorrow. Now that he knew she would be there all day, he could try to see her earlier. If he failed to find what he had been searching for since Saturday, he would need that pizza as back up. 2030 HRS. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 1960. GINO'S PIZZERIA George was pleased with the sucess of the party. He only wished the birthday boy had been a little more enthusiastic. For the first time since meeting him, Al hadn't gotten wasted on his birthday. Al had only three beers. It had taken him all night to drink the first two and the third was going flat in front of him. Al had only danced five times. Twice with Kelly, twice with Janet, and once with Harm's girlfriend. During the gift presentation, Al had looked a little happier. For half an hour, he seemed to forget all the things that usually haunt him on his birthday, and Beth. Al hadn't been the same since the summer of 1958. That was the summer that Al had persuaded George into going to Illinois with him to get Trudy. Al had finally saved up enough, and it would be the first time in years that he had gone back home. George would never forget the look on Al's face when that doctor told them that Trudy was dead. The Chicago side-trip was canceled and George took him back to Evermore Castle. Al barely noticed. Upon arrival, Al locked himself in his rooms. George was forced to explain things to his father and grandfather (his mother was in France, thank God). Both elder Joneses had grown fond of Al, especially Grandfather Jones, and expressed deep sympathy for him. His father told him, had Al come to him while still at Annapolis, he would have brought Trudy to live with them at Evermore. George sometimes wondered how sincere his father had been. Al had emerged from his rooms, changed. He hid it well, for the most part. Even so, the old gang from San Diego noticed when they were all reunited in Pensacola. Last August, Trudy's birthday, Al went back to Illinois to visit her grave. The leave was already in for this August. George wondered if Al would see Maureen on this trip. If he hadn't secured Beth's attention by then, maybe he would pick up with Maureen again. "Gino, could you box the rest of this one for me?" Al called out to the owner. George was brought back from the past. Al was looking over his gifts. The party-goers were leaving in small groups. "Thanks for Twain, George," Al said, flipping through THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. He lit a cigarette and sat back down. "The party was great, too. Thanks." George looked squarely at his friend. "She knew. I mentioned it to her Saturday." "She knew before then, George. Remember?" he replied quietly. "Are you going to see her tomorrow?" Al looked at the cigarette and put it out. It always took him several days to pick the habit back up. Al never smoked at sea. "I'll try." 1130 HRS. THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 1960. NURSES' BOQ, PENSACOLA NAS It was a beautiful morning. Beth sat on the steps outside the billets. She put out the cigarette she had been smoking and picked up her book. In less than five minutes, she was throughly engrossed in the story. So engrossed, she ignored the sound of a car pulling into the parking lot. It was almost noon, and some of the nurses came back for lunch. A shadow fell across her. She could smell pizza and. . . .calla lilies? Out of the corner of her eye, she saw what looked to be a pair of men's slacks. Beth didn't want to look up; she didn't need to. She should have known he had a two-day pass. Why hadn't she stayed inside? "Do you know how hard it is to find calla lilies in this area?" Al asked her gently. He lay the bouquet across her book. Beth's hands trembled as she picked up the bouquet. The book slid, unnoticed, from her lap. She cradled the bouquet as if it were a baby. "My favorite," she said softly. Al picked up her book and sat down next to her. She still couldn't bring herself to look at him. Embarrassed and confused, she closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of the calla lilies. And pizza. *She* had avoided *him*, yet he showed up with flowers as if asking for forgiveness. "I'm sorry you couldn't make it last night. I hope you like cold pizza." Beth finally looked at him, smiling. "I love cold pizza. What's on it?" "Everything." He was looking at her with same look from Thursday. "Thank you for the flowers. The guys I dated always had that problem. They would settle for red roses. If it has to be roses, I prefer white, yellow, or pink. In that order. They couldn't even get that right. Always red." "I'll bet none of them spent four days on the phone or most of their birthday driving around trying to find them either. But I'll keep that in mind. White, yellow, or pink, in that order, and never red." He tried to hand her a slice of pizza. The bouquet was too much. "I'll be right back. I promise." Beth hurried to her room. She carefully filled a vase with water and lovingly arranged the tall, white flowers. Setting the vase on her vanity, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her face was suffused with pink and her eyes were bright. She ruefully touched her cheek. She didn't stop to think. It only made things worse. He was reading her book. "I hear you like to read." "Yeah. Always have. It helps to pass time at sea, when I'm not flying or preparing for a mission." "Did George find Twain for you?" She took her first bite of the pizza, and regretted not being there last night. "Yep." He paused. "I meant to ask you the other day, how you got hooked on Mexican food?" "San Diego." The rest of the lunch was finished in a companionable silence. "This must have been heaven when it was hot," she commented. Beth looked at him and added, with sincerity, "I'm sorry." Al returned her look and Beth saw he wasn't angry. "George is taking Janet to some upscale social event on the 20th and I owe him a favor. George prefers to double-date at those functions, for reasons beyond me. If you say no, I will be forced to take Lenora. George threatened this on Tuesday." "You owe him for Friday night?" Al nodded. Amused, Beth said, "I don't know." "I'll beg if I have to," Al pleaded. Beth laughed. "I'll go." "Thank you," Al replied, relieved. "How upscale are we talking away?" "Well, you don't have to break out the ball gown and tiara, but something fancier than a sundress. It's an exclusive yacht club, and we'll be in our dress whites. Apparently, they're honoring their past presidents, and George will be representing both his grandfather and father. Then again, most yachting clubs issue special invitations to the family anyway." He paused. "You want to go for a walk?" 1730 HRS. MONDAY, JUNE 20, 1960. NURSES' BOQ, PENSACOLA NAS The pink, the lavender, or the blue. Three dinner dresses were draped across her bed, and Beth was debating which to wear. *Which would Al like?* she caught herself thinking. She felt herself blush. Beth hadn't seen him since they parted late Thursday afternoon. He told her he wouldn't see her again until Monday night. There was a new group of pilots, just graduated from flight school scheduled to arrive in a matter of days, and he would have his hands filled with them. Al and Beth had spent hours talking (and walking) Thursday. They covered almost every topic, it seemed, from Communism to Civil Rights to the upcoming elections. He listened as much as he talked, and never once dismissed her opinion or view. Even forewarned that he would not see her again, Beth had still expected him to surprise her by stopping by at some point. It surprised her how disappointed she felt that he hadn't and how anxious she was to see him again. Curiously, Kelly had finally left her in peace. Of course, she was out nearly every night. So was Lenora. She was distracted by a new man in her life and it wasn't Chip. In fact, as far as anyone knew, the mysterious boyfriend wasn't even in the Navy. The absence of Lenora made Janet somewhat pleasant and Beth concluded, left to her own devices, Janet was a really nice person. Someone Beth might like to get to know better. It also gave Beth hope that tonight would be fun. Beth checked her watch. Forty-five minutes left. She chose the lavender. 1800 HRS. MONDAY, JUNE 20, 1960. AL'S ROOM, BOQ, PENSACOLA Al straightened his jacket again. Spotless, pristine white, crisp, and creased in the proper place. Shoes and gloves, just as white and spotless. He checked the alignment of his ribbons for the umpteenth time and brushed imaginary lint off his gold wings. He tried to pretend all this extra primping wasn't for Beth, be he kept wondering what her reaction would be upon seeing him in his whites. Beth wasn't likely to fall into his arms and breathlessly beg to be 'taken'. She made read that stuff, but the impression he got said 'don't touch'. And Al was willing to bet the Navy's budget that Beth had never been 'taken' by anyone. Meaning, he had to go from a stand still into reverse, and for once he didn't mind in the least. He was looking forward to the day he could take her in his arms with that intention, but he also knew it was *very* far off. Bored with imaginary lint, Al picked up his cap and spare set of gloves. The limo would be there in ten minutes or so. George was also on his way downstairs. "Ready for stuff matrons and boring speeches?" George asked him good-naturedly. He handed Al the invitation with his name on it. "Only if 'and Guest' is," Al replied impishly, indicating the envelope. 1821 HRS. MONDAY, JUNE 20, 1960. NURSES' BOQ (YOU-KNOW-WHERE!!!) The younger, newer, nurses were staring at them. George, Al could see, was eating it up. *Probably looking for a replacement.* George had a tendency to pick silly women, but Janet was more sensible then some of the others, as long as you kept her from Lenora. It would be a real shame if he broke off with Janet, just to date a sillier girl. Al never could break him of this habit and had given up trying. Looks were not everything, as Al had discovered years ago. For his part, Al ignored the other women. There was only one he was interested in, and Phyllis went to see what was keeping her. Phyllis wasn't gone long before Beth appeared. Al was enraptured, to say the least. Beth's uncanny resemblance to the senator's wife let her get away was imitating her style successfully. The dress was simple, but elegant, as was her hair style and makeup. The dress was a lovely shade of purple, which set off her bright eyes. Beth's face lit up when she saw him, as if she was surprised to see him there. "Let's wait outside," he said offering her his arm. He realized, belatedly, that the usual pleasantries had been overlooked. Beth didn't seem to notice. "You look lovely." Al wanted to say 'breathtaking', but he felt that would be too much for her to hear right now, even though it was the truth. She was smiling at him, glowing, and Al began to doubt his abilities to restrain himself. "Dress whites look better on you than khakis, and I thought you looked good in those." She paused. "I've missed seeing you these last few days." Al, surprised and pleased with the admission, said sincerely, "I've missed you too." He had the vague feeling that they looked foolish, standing there, smiling at each other. Al didn't care. George and Janet appeared and the four climbed into the limo. Beth picked up the invitation that Al had left on the seat. "'And Guest'?" she asked curiously. "It could've had your name on it, but the deadline was last Tuesday," George explained. Beth nodded and placed the envelope in her purse before Al could take it from her. MONDAY, JUNE 20, 1960. PENSACOLA YACHT CLUB Beth was enjoying herself, immensely. Al had said very little through dinner. He spent most of the time looking at her, oblivious to everything else, and he didn't seem to care if it seemed odd. This had left George with the responsibility of keeping the conversation going with the ladies, until members of the club started to drop by their table to pay homage to America's First Family of the Sea. Janet spoke with her, when she wasn't being introduced as George's girlfriend. Then the wives started to dropping by and Beth was left to her own devices, with Al looking at her. The feeling wasn't unpleasant. If truth be known, she was elated. It seemed strange to her, that a week ago she was confused and avoided him man, and now she was content to sit there, blushing, while he stared. "Whatever made you change your mind? About me, I mean?" Al asked her, wonderingly. Startled, as though he had read her mind, she reddened. "I was confused. I'm not used to attracting that much attention in such a short time. And of course, I knew you by reputation." She glanced at him. "It was more like clearing up the confusion, and you did that yourself." Al looked at her, inquiring. "The calla lilies. The invitation to Gino's and the way you tried to make it less intimate. The fact you weren't angry the next day and you behaved as if you did something wrong. You didn't have my name included on the invitation for tonight because you were still unsure if I would accept it. The fact that you don't brag about yourself endlessly and you actually listen." The opening strains of "George On My Mind" brought Al to his feet and he held out his hand. She took it and they stepped out onto the dance floor. The moment he put his left arm around her waist and took her right hand in his, she knew she belonged in his arms. Safe. That's how she felt. There was something protective in the way he held her. She tentatively rested her cheek against his, closed her eyes, and moved in a little closer. "If you ever feel I'm going too fast, just tell me," he whispered in her ear. "This is fine," she reassured him. "I wasn't referring to the dance." Beth opened her eyes and pulled away far enough to look into his face. "I know what you meant." She held his gaze a moment longer. The emotions in his bright, dark eyes caught her breath. She pulled him closer and held on tight. Beth lost count of the number of songs they danced to that night, but from that evening on, "Georgia On My Mind" was their song. >>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> The next chapter few chapters (depending how I break down the Real Chapter 2) are kind of depressing. The Real Chapter 2 was written awhile back.