“You coming, Schmuck?” The cell phone at his ear, he studied the reflection in the rearview mirror and exaggerated a smile. The front teeth looked good but he needed to fix that rotten molar all the way in the back. “I’m in the parking lot already.”
“Right around the corner, but go on in. I need to make a stop first.”
“You got your camo on, don’t you? Or did you go fancy on me?”
“Nope, ACU all the way.”
“Good. Camo’s more effective. Want me to order something for you?”
“Naw, I’ll get my own. Works better when we’re alone anyway. In a few, Schmuck.”
“Alright, Schmuck.” He put away the phone and got out of the car. The sun hot overhead, he put on a pair of Ray-Bans and strolled across the parking lot. The glare reminded him of the desert. Not even half a year before he and the Schmuck had been over there, sweating their asses off and trying not to get blown up by IEDs.
At the door he stopped and held it open for a small family on its way out. The father grinned and gave a single nod in passing; both of the children smiled and looked up, a glint of wonder in their eyes.
Inside, it was cool and dim. Mirrored glass covered one stretch of wall, its smooth polish reflecting a row of customers at the counter. He stowed the glasses in his pocket and got in line. A blonde looked back over her shoulder and gave him the once over. An appreciative smile turning up the corners of her mouth, she took her drink and walked over to the only empty table near the window.
The sound of frothing milk drowned out the din of conversation. He jammed his hands into his front pockets and started to fidget. The Schmuck hated standing around doing nothing too. Over there in all that sand and heat they were always looking for ways to occupy themselves, especially while on guard duty. First they picked off the stray dogs that hung around the base. Then they started taking pot shots at the civilians that got too close to the fence. He smirked. One day, the Schmuck had blown the head off an old woman loaded down with a bundle of rags. She wasn’t even near the fence.
The line had shortened and only two people stood before him. The gray-haired lady in front turned as if she wanted to say something, but then stopped. He smiled. He knew that look. She would be the one today.
The blonde by the window glanced up and caught his eye. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. He felt a stirring and pulled his hands from his pockets. Her eyes were dark and round, just like the baker’s daughter back in the village near the base. She showed up twice a week to sell enormous round loaves of bread. He and the Schmuck had hatched a plan to get her alone one day as she left, but one of the officers had ruined things at the last minute. They made plans to try again, but before they knew it he and the Schmuck were back home.
“I just wanted to thank you for your service to our country and tell you how much I admire you for what you’re doing.” The lady in front had turned around to talk.
“Thank you, ma’am. We’re just doing our duty.”
“You’re making us proud. You wouldn’t mind letting me pay for your refreshments, would you?”
“Oh, that’s not necessary at all.”
“But, I insist. It’s the least I can do.”
“Well, if you insist, that’s mighty kind of you, ma’am.”
He ordered a coffee, making sure to include a sandwich and a slice of lemon pound cake. The lady paid the person at the register. Before leaving, she patted his arm. “God bless you and have a nice day.”
“Why, thank you, ma’am. I certainly will.” He carried his food to a table and winked at the blonde woman in passing. She blushed. He returned to the counter for a napkin. On the way back he looked up and saw the Schmuck approaching.
“Your turn,” he said.