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“So what do you think?”

His new roommate, who was also a former roommate, looked around and said, “Just like old times.”

“No kidding. I can’t believe you got your orders changed. I was sure you were on your way to Beaufort.”

“Same here. I was checking out of the squadron in Iwakuni when the XO grabbed me and told me I was going to Miramar instead.”

“However it happened, I’m really glad you’re here. Your uh, your nitpicking aside.”

“Nitpicking? Seriously?”

“You uh, you do tend to…find fault.”

“That’s called ‘attention to detail’,” my friend.

Not wanting to get into all that—again—his roommate dropped it.

Brad Kyser had been renting the apartment by himself for the last three months since arriving in southern California from MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, a Marine Corps Air Station located in the Pacific. He and his old roommate, Tom Fryer, were both 27-year old, newly-promoted captains who both flew the F-35B. Both men were now assigned to the same squadron, VMFA-314, the Black Knights, in which the ‘V’ represented fixed wing aircraft and the ‘MFA’ standing for Marine Fighter-Attack. Thus, VMFA-314 or just ‘314’ (said ‘three-fourteen’) as most Marines called it.

Brad was a graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, while Tom was an alumnus of the Virginia Military Institute. They’d been good friends since flight school, and since finishing flight training, had roomed together for the better part of a year overseas. The alma mater rivalry between them was real but all in good fun.

All that mattered was that the ‘Dynamic Duo’ was once again reunited, although having some help with the very steep rent was kind of important, too. At least to Brad.

His recent promotion to captain had made it bearable, but housing was outrageously expensive in all of southern California, and with MCAS Miramar being located just north of San Diego, it was part of an extremely high-cost area, with two-bedroom apartments averaging $1,800 a month. But with Tom now picking up half the monthly expenses, there would be plenty of money for other things with ‘other things’ meaning the three Bs: beer, barbecue, and babes.

Being a typical bachelor, Tom’s worldly possessions included two suitcases and a seabag’s (duffel bag in the Army) worth of clothes, an expensive bicycle, and his uniforms. With Brad’s help, everything he owned, outside of the new Corvette he drove, was in a closet or dresser drawer within 15 minutes of dropping the bags on the floor.

After putting his things away, Tom looked around and said, “No offense, but this place looks like a sanitarium.”

Brad nearly said, “Here we go again,” but in this case, he couldn’t really argue.

“It needs some paint, but we can take care of that.”

“Paint? This place needs…everything. I don’t even have a rack to sleep in!” Tom said, using the Marine word for bed.

“You’ve got a blowup mattress, right?”

“Yeah, and that’s fine for a few days, but we need something to sit on other than the campstool in the living room. Unless we get this place looking livable, I may as well get a blowup doll, because no woman is gonna want to hang out here.”

“We’ve got TV and a stereo,” Brad reminded him, even though Tom’s point was valid.

“How can you be the smartest guy and know and yet be so dumb?” Tom asked his friend. “Women like…nice. Nice as in furniture. Maybe some pictures on the wall. A lamp or two and a rug here and there. That kind of stuff.”

Tom was exaggerating, but he wasn’t too far off the mark. Brad had two wooden chairs, an old wooden table, and a large chair with a ratty-looking ottoman. But other than his bed and a small nightstand that was it.

“No problem. I’ll get someone to take care of it.”

“Uh, no you won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because they charge an arm and a leg for ‘taking care of it’. On top of cost of the furniture itself.”

Brad looked around again then asked what Tom had in mind.

“Don’t look at me. I can barely a shirt with a pair of pants. You’re the sophisticate, right Mr. Naval Academy?”

Brad laughed then told Tom he wasn’t any better at that sort of thing.

“How hard can it be? You go to a furniture store, tell whoever you meet you’re a dumb bachelor—which is true, by the way—and that you need some help. She’ll take pity on your sorry ass, show you some stuff that matches—and don’t forget the pictures and lamps—and you plunk down your credit card, and a few days later, the stuff shows up.”

“Right. Then I can spend the next three years trying to get my half of the money out Mr. Tide Wad over there.”

Tom laughed and admitted that was true but offered to go with his roommate.

“Wait. You’re going to a store? To buy something other than beer?”

“I can shop,” Tom said with mostly phony defensiveness.

“No. You can pay, but you can’t shop for sh…squat. A man’s gotta know his limitations, and yours involves buying anything but beer, cars or video games. So no worries. I’ll take care of it.”

“Well bahis firmaları hurry it up then, because chicks dig decor, and this place has four white walls and bare floors. We’ll never get laid here.”

Brad laughed and told his roomie he agreed, but for the first time since he was 18, he wasn’t all that excited about getting laid. And the truth was, he’d had some success already in the ‘ultimate bachelor pad’, but even the two women he’d brought there had mentioned how awful it looked. One even asked him if he even owned the place or had he just broken in because no one lived there.

At the time it had been funny, but now that Tom was there, it wasn’t quite as humorous.

“I’ll take care of it on Saturday. You know, while you’re sleeping off the hangover,” Brad said, getting in a little dig.

“Yeah, because heaven forbid you put a couple of ounces of fat on that eight-pack of yours,” the VMI graduate said both snidely but good naturedly.

Brad never mentioned it, but anyone who knew him was aware that he had the whole Adonis thing going on. He was 6’2, had jet black hair, blue eyes, the high cheekbones and the square jaw and a body he kept in perfect condition, the occasional beer aside.

Tom was a decent looking guy in his own right, but he was the mere mortal of the two who stood 5’10” and had a great smile (and a dimple in his chin) that women loved. He was in decent enough enough shape, but Tom leaved beer more than crunches or running and had a little ring of flab around his waist to show for it.

Brad laughed at his fellow Marine’s comment but didn’t…comment. He refocused the conversation on getting the apartment squared away, and with that, Tom asked if he even had a grill yet. He laughed even harder when Brad showed him one that was only slightly bigger than a hibachi on their modest patio.

“Okay. That’s totally unsat. I’ll spring for a decent grill, but it comes out of my half of the remodel.”

“Deal. You go pick up a grill, and I’ll go get some paint. And yes, I know it needs to be neutral. My mom was addicted to HGTV and I’ve seen enough shows to know that, so don’t worry about having orange walls, okay?”

Tom slapped his buddy on the back then said, “There may be hope for you yet, Annapolis.”

By dinner time, the two of them knocked out the apartment, putting two coats of neutral-colored paint on the walls, then fired up the new grill Tom brought back in Brad’s Chevy Silverado. He’d also stopped at a store and picked up some ribs, corn on the cob, and a case of beer on the way, and by 2200 or 10pm, both men were full and had killed a twelve bottles of Heineken with Tom killing ten and Brad drinking two. And while Brad would be up at oh-dark thirty running it off, Tom would be in bed sleeping it off.

As predicted, by the time Brad finished a five-mile run, showered, and got dressed the following morning, Tom was just getting up.

He squinted at the sunlight hurting his eyes then said, “We uh, we gotta get some curtains in this place, too.”

Brad chuckled and thought about getting loud just to tweak his new/old roomie. But he was merciful and quietly said, “I gotcha covered. I’m headed out to a couple of places right now, and by the time you feel normal again, we’ll be all set.”

Tom, his short hair matted down and a growth of dark hair covering his face scratched the middle of his underwear, farted loudly then said, “Good deal.”

Brad shook his head and laughed again as he grabbed his wallet and keys and got ready to head into town.

Fifteen minutes later, he was pulling into Mira Mesa Furniture, one of the places he’d reconned via the internet for furniture. The store was huge, and with any luck, he’d find everything he needed in one place and be done with it. Worst case he’d have to go somewhere else to find some curtains, but all in all it shouldn’t be too painful.

“My, my. Look what we have here.”

The other woman looked at the entrance and saw why her fellow sales associate said what she just said.

“Oh. Yes, he’s a very nice looking guy,” she replied.

“Nice looking? That’s a gorgeous hunk of man meat!” the other, older woman of about 50 said. “What I wouldn’t him to do me!”

“Well, you can have him,” the younger of the two said, unaware of the double entendre.

“I would SO have him, but the next customer is yours, and if I try and take this one, Darren will be up my ass, and he’s the last guy I want touching that part of my body or…”

The handsome younger man was close enough to hear, so the sentence was left unfinished as they both welcomed him to Mira Mesa Furniture.

“Hi,” the new customer said.

“Good morning. I’m Rachelle, by the way,” the younger of the two women said, a smile on her face. She pronounced it Ruh-SHELL, and he could see it spelled on her name tag.

“Nice to meet you, Rachelle. I’m Brad.”

The other, older woman said just loudly enough to be heard, “I bet you are…bad,” before smiling a wicked smile his way then walking off as she wished her friend luck.

“Sorry. kaçak iddaa Don’t mind her,” Rachelle said with a hint of embarrassment. “What can I help you with today?”

Brad did his best to explain the situation as the sales associate listened carefully and smiled understandingly. When she did, Brad found himself staring at her. He’d noticed she was attractive, but it wasn’t until she smiled that it really hit him. Rachelle was naturally blonde, had beautiful green eyes, and an amazing smile with perfectly straight, white teeth that completed an otherwise beautiful face. He’d glanced at the rest of her twice already and saw nothing that didn’t go with what he could see from the neck up.

“You’re in good hands, Brad. My daughter’s a junior in college. She moved out of the dorm this year, and I just helped her take care of her apartment,” the attractive, older blonde said with a little laugh.

Brad gave her a puzzled look, and in return, Rachelle gave him one, too.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“You have a daughter in college? Who’s…a junior?”

“Yes. As of last month. Why?”

Brad opened his eyes wider, shook his head a little, then said, “I know this is going to sound cliche or even corny, but there’s no way you’re old enough for that to be possible.”

Rachelle got it then smiled even bigger.

“Oh, my. That’s very kind. Thank you!” she told him as she hugged the tablet in her arm to her chest.

Brad gave her another quick once over, shook his head again, then told her he’d have to take her word for it.

She thanked him again then asked what she could show him first.

“Oh, wow. Um, well, that’s the problem. I’m not very good at putting things together, and my Neanderthal roommate is even worse.”

She’d definitely noticed that Brad was a handsome young man, but he also had a boyish charm about him, and the way he said that made Rachelle laugh again.

“I’m pretty sure we can find something to make your bachelor pad presentable,” she replied as a little laugh trailed off. “Come on. Let’s start with the larger pieces and we’ll work down from there, okay?”

“You’re the boss,” Brad said, willingly letting her lead the way.

“Do you have an idea how much you’d like to spend?” she asked as they walked.

“Well, since ‘nothing’ isn’t an option…”

Rachelle laughed again, and Brad could tell it was more than just being polite.

“We have everything from budget-friendly to budget…”

She looked around as though she was concerned someone might here then quietly said, “Busting.”

“No busting. Please,” Brad told her, his hands up indicating surrender.

“Okay. Gotcha.”

Rachelle led him past some very expensive sofas and chairs toward the back of the store.

“These are all on sale this weekend. Everything is 30% off. It’s all mix and match, but I’m happy to help you do the matching if you see anything you like.”

“You’re a life saver, Rachelle.”

As he began looking and checking price tags, she asked if he minded telling her what he did for a living.

“I’m a Marine,” Brad replied.

“My grandfather was a Marine in Vietnam. I always loved to visit and look at what he called his ‘I love me wall’.”

Brad laughed then told her every Marine who’d been in long enough to have a couple of plaques and awards had one.

“My grandfather had this amazing…”

The words wouldn’t come to her so she tried describing it.

“It had all of his medals, his rank, and…”

“Oh. A shadow box.”

“Yes! That’s it. A shadow box. Very impressive.”

Brad looked her way then told her he hadn’t been in long enough to have either.

“He spent four years in the service, so I’m sure your time will come,” she said in a very friendly, cheerful way.

“Oh, boy. I uh, I’ve been in for a nearly five years now myself, and I’ve got two plaques and two little ribbons on my uniform.”

His modestly, coupled with the boyish charm thing, made Rachelle laugh again.

“Maybe serving 13 months of that in Vietnam is the difference. Not that you haven’t been to Afghanistan or wherever.”

“I haven’t,” Brad told her. “And now that we’re winding things down over there, it seems unlikely that I will.”

He could tell Rachelle wasn’t sure how to answer that so he smiled and said, “Not that I’m all gung ho about going.”

“I’m sure it’s very dangerous,” she said, trying to say something that didn’t sound foolish.

“And I’m a pilot, so the only real danger is getting something caught in my flight suit zipper.”

Brad stood still then said, “I’m sorry. That didn’t come out quite right.”

Rachelle never even considered anything lewd, but once he mentioned it, she could envision several things…getting caught in a zipper and blushed just enough that Brad noticed but didn’t mention it.

“That would not be funny,” she said as a nervous little laugh found its way out.

“No. Not at all,” Brad agreed before pointing to a sofa. “Our walls are kind of…camel kaçak bahis colored. Would this work?”

“Hmmm. Not really, but…this would,” she told him as she walked toward something that was more of a cream color.

“That’s nice, but we’re um…guys. Guys who…spill stuff.”

Rachelle laughed again and said, “Ah. Okay. Duly noted. Then this charcoal color would look nice and be a little more…user friendly.”

Brad laughed and told her it was perfect.

“Great! Now let’s find a couple of other pieces then we can look at tables and the other items you’ll need.”

They spent a little over an hour looking at various items, and in each case, Brad deferred to Rachelle’s judgment whenever something he suggested drew a reply like, “How about this instead?”

After the third such comment Brad smiled at her then told her again, “You really are a lifesaver, Rachelle.”

She graciously thanked him again then said, “We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I couldn’t fly a plane if my life depended on it, and while I’m on that, I’d like to thank you for your service, and I don’t want that to sound trite. I really mean it.”

“It’s my pleasure,” the modest young captain told her as he found himself looking at her again until she asked him if he was okay.

“Yes. Sorry. I…well, you’re…you’re very…distracting,” he told her with a goofy look that made her laugh again.

“Thank you?” she said, pretty sure he was being complimentary.

“Oh, yes. Definitely. You are indeed very…distracting.”

He saw her go from looking at him and smiling to looking down at her tablet.

“Here’s where we are so far as to a subtotal,” she said, before turning the tablet around.

“Oh. And…we’re still not done, are we?” Brad said, wincing at the bottom line.

“I wish we had a 10% discount for our military, but our owner is…”

She looked around again but this time she didn’t even finish her thought other than to say, “Let’s just say he doesn’t quite value service—or a lot of other things—as much as I do and leave it at that.”

“Gotcha,” Brad replied as their eyes met again.

Rachelle held his stare for a second or two then looked away and suggested they try and find a couple of pictures for the wall and maybe a lamp or two.

“Rugs, too. Can’t forget those or my roommate will kill me. And curtains if you have them.”

“Rugs? Yes. Curtains? That’s one item we don’t carry, but there are quite a few places to buy them around here.”

After picking out a couple of wall pictures, Brad chose a rug for the living room and asked for the total.

When she finally rang him up, Rachelle quietly apologized as she showed him the ‘damage’.

“The good news is my roommate is paying for half of that.”

“If it helps at all, you could look at it as an investment. Whenever you leave, it’ll be your furniture, and who knows? Maybe you’ll meet someone and settle down, and you’ll already have a few things.”

She smiled then said, “In the meantime, your place should look very nice to any young lady or ladies the two of you might be entertaining.”

As a guy who’d been continuously ‘on the hunt’ until getting to Miramar, Brad was surprised to realize he hadn’t looked to see if Rachelle was wearing a wedding ring yet. It was no surprise to see one, but when he noticed how big it was, that did surprise him.

As he signed for the furniture and the cost and terms of delivery, Brad thanked her again for all of her help.

“It was my pleasure!” she said, that amazing smile still there.

Brad hesitated then said, “I never flirt with married women, but I am going to say your husband is a very lucky man.”

Brad’s words were sincere, but the way Rachelle reacted made him think he was way out of line when she stopped smiling and looking at him.

“I’m sorry, Rachelle. I really wasn’t flirting. I was trying to be sincere, and…”

He waited for her to look at him then said, “I must look pretty stupid with my foot in my mouth, huh?”

She tried to smile then said, “My husband passed away almost three years ago, but please don’t feel bad for what you said because you were right. We both felt very lucky to have each other.”

There was a moment or two of silence as she printed off a copy of the receipt for him before Brad said, “I’m sorry, Rachelle. I really am.”

She did her best to smile, handed him the receipt then said, “Me, too.”

“I uh, I guess I’ll just get going now,” he told her, at a rare loss for words.

“Brad. Please don’t feel bad. I really enjoyed helping you, and if you ever need anything else, I’d love to work with you again.”

“That’s…that’s very kind of you. Thank you,” he told her, now doing what she’d done by looking down rather than at her before turning around to leave.

As Rachelle watched him walk out, she felt absolutely terrible and told her brassy associate who’d strolled over to see how things went, “I’ll just be a sec, okay?”

“Take your time. I’d hit that, too!” the other woman said, drawing a look of pure scorn.

“Oh, like you wouldn’t!” she said as though Rachelle had to think just like she did.

She caught up with Brad just as he was getting into his truck and called his name.

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