I was surprised. Rangers were supposed to be bullet proof; first sergeant had told me so in training camp. So there I was with a bullet lodged near my heart and a shard of shrapnel buried in my ass. What a wonderful way to get a ticket home—not.
That I'd made a herculean effort to fall on the nurse and shield her from the incoming even while she was prepping me to get the bullet removed from my chest didn't make me feel any better, her body did feel good under me. Laying there on top of her was how I got the shard of Taliban metal in my butt. At any rate, two purple hearts and a bronze star were not even close to fair recompense for having to leave my buddies to deal with the Taliban while I cut country. But, orders were orders; I was going home.
I'd spent six weeks in a veteran's hospice recuperating from the surgeries that I eventually needed. The good news was that except for some scaring, I was going to be fine. Hell, I'd even made corporal as soon as I got stateside; the pay was a little better and the perks a bit of an improvement too. I should mention that being a corporal in the Rangers was roughly the equivalent to being a brigadier general in any of the other services—no LOL.
Twenty-one, a corporal in the Rangers, some serious medals, and a whole lot of life experience: I was ready for the next big step, finding the right woman to share my life with. But, I was no fool. I knew I needed an education, and I needed a job too before I began the hunt for a mate. The GI Bill would pay for school, but, as for a job, I wasn't a lifer and I would be mustered out of the military in just another sixty days. I called my friend Drew Wilson.
Drew owned the Head Trip, a sawdust joint with pretensions to being a high class bistro where professionals hung out after work hours most days. Lawyers, doctors, a few cops, and some business types mixed and matched with the riff raff and got their tea leaves read by whatever bartender was on duty.
Most people don't understand the job description of a true professional bartender. A bartender is a friend, a psychologist, a philosopher, and sometimes even a bodyguard. Bartenders serve a vital function in the great cultural scheme of things. So, with the hand up from Drew, I became a full time, full-fledged barkeep.
Working and going to school became my modus operandi for the next three and a half years. I went to school online and got my B.A. in Philosophy and my M.S in General Psyche, all paid for by Uncle Sam. No, I had no intention of teaching school or becoming a Psychologist. I wanted the degrees to increase my value as a bartender, and eventually it did.
I was twenty-five. I was in great shape physically—once a Ranger always a Ranger. I was pulling down fifty-k annual, when tips were added in. And, I owned my own home. But, I was still missing the final piece in the fabric of my life, a woman. That final piece came at me at the end of a particularly grueling shift, that on one particular Friday evening.
"AJ?" said the voice to my left.
"Yes." Then I looked and a big smile creased my features. "Geezsus, Jasmine! How long has it been?" I asked. Well, I just needed to be saying something.
"Since high school big boy. And, you really are a big boy aren't you," she said. "I heard you joined the Navy or something after high school." At five-seven and 160, I wasn't actually all that big, but she could see that so I didn't mind the opening.
"Huh? Oh yes, the Army," she said. "But, you aren't with the Army now are you?"
"No, not for a few years now," I said. "Been working here for some four years plus."
"Well, you sure look good," she said. She was grinning from ear to ear.
"Uh—can I get you something," I said.
"White wine," she said.
I moved down the bar to get the wine, poured it and returned. I set it down in front of her, and wiped the bar to her left; well, it's a habit all we barkeeps have.
"So, you married?" she asked, smirking.
"No, haven't met the right girl, I guess," I said.
"Really, I would've thought that a handsome fellow like you would have been taken early on," she said, still smirking.
I appraised her. She was nice looking, not runway gorgeous but interesting. Maybe five-five, and one-ten. Her red hair flowed around her shoulders daring men not to stare. She had freckles that enhanced her pale complexion and a quick way of glancing around that was—disconcerting.
Jasmine and I had dated some in high school, and nights making out with her in the back seat of my Chevy would always be something I'd remember.
"How about you, you married," I asked, since she'd asked first.
"No, almost, a couple of times, but no," she said.
I smiled like the predator I was, "Wanna go out sometime?' I said.
"Sure, okay," she said. "I'm free Saturday. Oh, but that has to be a busy night for you," she said.
"No, as a matter of fact, I have my weekends off. I fill in once in a while if one or another of the crew gets sick, but basically my weekends are free," I said. "Just so you know, I'm on 3:00PM to 11:00PM week days."
"How about you," I said, "you working?"
"No, not at this time. I was, but not now. I'm thinking about getting a job though. But, still looking," she said.
We talked off and on for two hours; we filled in most of the gaps in our lives, and taken together there were a lot of gaps to fill in. Half a dozen guys hit on her while she was there, but she politely brushed them off. I had the feeling that she was a pro at handling the male element in most situations.
The date was made for 7:00PM Saturday. I would pick her up at her apartment.
"Well, girlfriend, tell me about this new guy in your life. Is it serious?" said Karen Olson.
"Yes, Karen, it's serious. I have some misgivings, but it is definitely serious," said Jasmine.
"Yes, one anyway," said Jasmine. "Karen, he's only a bartender. He has two degrees and he only wants to tend bar; go figure. I'm concerned that he hasn't any drive or ambition," said Jasmine.
"Jas, it's not a nothing job. Maybe he likes dealing with people. Is he a heavy drinker or anything?" said Karen.
"No, not especially. It's just—I don't know—I just want more for him, for us," said Jasmine.
"Well, I think you're being silly. But, if it bothers you maybe you should look elsewhere for a mate," said Karen. "I mean you're going to be married for a very long time if you're lucky."
"Maybe you're right. I do want a man who is up to my standards. Achilles is a good man. He was in the Army too you know, but—well—a bartender! It just isn't what I'd envisioned that I would be married to," said Jasmine.
They talked for some time and then called it a night. The waitress brought the check. Karen studied her friend for a moment. "Jas, you need to figure out what's important to you. Don't string this guy along; it wouldn't be good for you or him in the long run."
"I know," said Jasmine.
"A lot different than when we were in high school, huh?" I said.
"Yes, it certainly is, AJ," said Jasmine. We were driving toward Lookout Point. It had been our favorite rendezvous when we were in high school together. I pulled into a darkened copse with a view of the Valley and all its lights. Dinner at the Sportsman had been good, the wine excellent, and the conversation fluid if a bit tentative. I had an uncomfortable feeling that she wanted to tell me something, but was nervous about getting it out. But at the moment only the look and smell of her had any real meaning for me.
This was our fourth date. The first had been that Saturday night three weeks earlier. That had been a bit of an exercise in rediscovery. The next two had been marathon necking sessions. But, tonight, if I had my way, was going to be an epic sexcapade with damn little held back.
"You look very beautiful," I said leaning back against my door.
She was smiling; that was a good omen. She leaned in to kiss me. "Let's get in the back," she said. I immediately made a mental note to offer human sacrifice to the gods of Greece and Rome in thanks for the gift I was about to receive from their bounty.
One minute later, or less, we were in the back and hugging. Then kissing. Then touching and feeling each other up. Then kissing some more. She pushed me back and undid my belt and my pants. I started unbuttoning her blouse.
Her blouse and bra, the bra unhooked from the front, were open and hanging loose around her shoulders; her tits were exquisite. She pushed me back. "AJ, I want to talk to you for a moment," she said.
"Huh! Now?" I squeaked.
She giggled, "Yes, now." I sagged back against the door literally pouting. Worse my dick was wilting like a flower in a snow storm.
"AJ I think I'm falling in love with you. If that scares you maybe you should tell me now," she said. It was a helluva lead in.
"Scare me? Taliban bullets didn't scare me, the roller coaster at the mountain is hohum to me, and a little piece of fluff like you sure as hell doesn't scare me," I said, smiling broadly. "The fact is, Jas, I fell in love with you about five minutes after seeing you again a month ago."
She looked serious. Now, I was worried. "AJ, what do you intend to do to support us if we go the whole route?" she said. I could tell from the way she said it that my remaining a bartender was not high on her list of career moves. But here I was determined to be a man not a mouse.
.... There is more of this story ...