"Who is this man?" The question jarred me so much that my hand faltered, the tube of lipstick hovering over my open mouth. "Seriously, Ellen, who is it? Do I know him? Is he terrible, is that why you're being so secretive about him?"
It was in that moment that I realized I didn't even know the Marine's name. He was a stranger to me, and yet here I was with my hair wrapped in rollers, my lips red, a pretty blue dress sheathing my body. All for him. "He…I met him at the diner," I finally offered, my words stiff and slow. "He came in for Veteran's Day. He's a nice man, he just came home from Vietnam."
"Mmm." My roommate, Catherine, finally looked up from her textbook. Apparently the Marine's identity wasn't so jarring to both of us. "Is he cute?"
That, I could answer. "Yes," I retorted, the corners of my lips twinging up in a smile. "He's very handsome, you should see him when he comes to pick me up. He has these startling eyes." After a moment of silence, I added, "But he's…troubled. Obviously, he just came home from Vietnam."
"A troubled guy?" Catherine cocked one eyebrow at that, rolling onto her stomach while she absently tapped her pen against the textbook. "You better be careful. You're a girl, not a bandage. You don't have to fix anyone. You know that, right?"
"Of course!" I retorted a little too quickly. I knew that I couldn't fix the Marine. Could anyone fix a man who came back from such such horrors? "But he's nice, and he wanted to take me out to dinner. Why should I say no to that? He isn't like the boys here, who are so…immature and inexperienced."
She actually snorted. "He's probably as old as all of the 'boys' here. It's funny what killing someone will do to your mental age."
"He hasn't killed anyone!" I defended despite my ignorance. For all I knew, he could be a mass murderer. But those warm, calloused hands that brushed mine over the menu couldn't be the hands of a killer. They just couldn't be, I couldn't see it in him. "I know he hasn't."
"Ellen." She glared at me with an utter lack of patience for my naivety. "Ellen. He's a Marine. If you think he hasn't killed anyone…"
The idea was completely foreign to me. Of course, he was troubled, but would the hand that would eventually open my my car door, take off my coat, and press against the small of my back have the ability to take a human life?
Catherine just stared at me as the rage of emotions flashed over my eyes. "Just enjoy tonight. Ask him about his death count later, when he's already in love with you and can just cry into your lap rather than feel targeted."
"You're awful," I whispered, backing up to her so she could zip up my dress. It was a pretty light blue that complimented my eyes, the skirt loose enough and the bodice fitted enough to serve me well without being too foreword. "They shouldn't be held accountable for what they do, it's a terrible business. I'm certainly not brave enough for it, and someone has to do it. Why would I criticize him?"
Catherine sighed a little, and zipped the dress up before responding. "They should be held responsible for their actions, murder is murder even if they're Vietnamese, Ellen. It's so easy for us not to care and side with our soldiers when we don't have to see their families with a few empty chairs at their tables."
I turned around to glare at her, but she just repinned a renegade piece of hair for me. "I'm not going to feel badly about going out to dinner with a man who happened to be a Marine."
"You don't have to," she replied, but she had a funny, conflicted look on her face. "Have fun. You should probably go downstairs."
With one final look, I left her there to wait for the mystery Marine.
Catherine was right - he was standing in the lobby of my dorm, foot jittering against the stool where he perched. My heart wrenched when I saw how handsome he was in a tie and gray slacks, his hair neatly slicked back and his jaw cleanly shaven compared to the unkempt mess he was at the diner.
"Hello," I greeted him, my voice sounding thick and foreign in the space between us. "Sorry for being late."
He leapt to his feet once he saw me there, and a smile spread over his lips that lacked his usual cynicism. "Oh, I just got here." After offering me his arm, he added, "You look lovely. Much…cleaner than the other students studying."
"Ah. You really haven't been to college then." Most of the students looked as if they hadn't showered in eons. "I'm glad that you're here, and that we could spend some time together. I do have a silly question - I'm sorry, but what is your name?"
He actually chuckled at that, his laugh seeming much younger and light-hearted than his speaking voice. "Oh, that's my fault. Terrible manners, forgive me, I haven't been around many ladies in a long while." His smile suddenly grew tight. "My name is Christopher Scott. Most everybody calls me Chris, though."
"Christopher Scott," I repeated, drawing closer to him as we met the biting cold awaiting us outside. "That's a lovely name. I'm Ellen, Ellen Anderson."
"Glad we got that out of the way," he murmured, opening my car door for me when we arrived. It was old, the door a little dented, but I could tell that he cared for it well. "I'm just taking you to a steakhouse in the next town over. I didn't want you having to see people you know, and I doubt you wanted to be out late."
After sinking into the car seat and rearranging my skirt around my legs, I said, "I could have worse company than a handsome Marine for dinner." The words surprised even me when they came out of my mouth, that forward. It certainly was the truth.
He cracked a crooked smile, pulling out of campus as we spoke. "Handsome Marine, huh? I suppose you could do worse. When's the last time someone took you out, Ellen? You don't have a boy that'll be after my head for buying you dinner?"
I shook my head no, the soft waves of my curls brushing my cheek. I had slept in rag rollers all night for this. "No, no one like that. I went steady with someone in law school for a while, but we just…didn't get along."
"He wasn't good to you?" He questioned, glancing over at me again with concern in his eyes.
"No, no, it wasn't like that," I quickly remedied. "I just…couldn't be what he wanted. He came from old money, and loved to spend his evenings at lavish parties, small talking, bragging in passive aggressive ways. He also wanted to practice in a big city, and I'm just not that kind of girl."
He nodded stiffly, something twitching in his jaw as I spoke. "I see. What do you want, Ellen?"
It seemed to be a strange point of conversation for the car ride before a date, but I complied anyway. "I want to be a wife, and a mother, and I want to teach at an elementary school. I hated the idea of spending my life at the gym trying to fit into cocktail dresses, and playing the game of a socialite woman. I don't think life has to be that hard.
"It doesn't, you're right," he replied after another stiff nod. "Well, I would like to get to know you better, Ellen Anderson. Hopefully I don't manage to scare you off."
I hope you enjoyed this brief chapter, I promise I'll actually give them a date next. For this year's NaNoWriMo, I'm just trying to write 50,000 words rather than a novel in general. Tell me if you have any requests for the direction of this Miss Saigon story.