He returns home to Bayou Chene and everything is different, at least for him. He moves back in with his parents, into his old room, into his old life and nothing feels that same. He’s seen war, he’s seen death, he’s a different person now. A different person that doesn’t fit into his old life. He tried though, for nine months he tried to be the guy he used to be. He tried to be who he was before, the guy who laughed and smiled and messed around with his buddies and went out dancing on Saturday nights to try and find a girl just like he used to but none of it felt right anymore.
He’d outgrown his childhood home. He’d outgrown his life. So he packed his bags and left.
It was spring in Baton Rouge when Eugene Roe arrived there and rents himself a small apartment from a wheezened old man and his demanding wife. They know nothing of his past, nothing of his time in Europe, only that he was there. They ask him no questions and he tells them no stories.
There’s a cafe around the corner from his apartment that he goes to one Friday afternoon. It’s crowded and loud and he shuffles through the packed tables to an empty one at the back and sits down. She comes over to him laughing at something a fellow waitress whispered to her in passing and hands him a menu. “Call when you’ve made up your mind.” She tells him with a smile before leaving as quickly as she came. The sound of her laughter trailed behind her.
He orders a coffee and she brings it with a smile. “Thank you Ma’am.” He says and she pauses to turn back and look at him with a strange look on her face.
“Are you a soldier?” she asks curiously.
“Yes Ma’am.” He answers confused. “How did you know?”
“It’s only ever been soldiers’ who’ve called me Ma’am.” She says with a sad smile before taking his receipt and putting it carefully in her apron pocket. “This one’s on me.”
Three days later he sees her again, though now the cafe is less busy than before so he’s able to get a seat by the window and watch as people walk past. “Back so soon?” she asks causing him to jump. She’s cleaning the table next to his.
“Yes Ma’am.” He says.
“Call me Lexie.” She tells him. “Coffee again?”
“Yes Ma- Lexie. Thank you.” He watches as she weaves through the tables with the dirty dishes and smiles to himself for some reason he can’t quite explain.
He starts going there regularly and Lexie is always his waitress, though he quickly learns she doesn’t work on Fridays and Saturdays so he doesn’t go.
“What’s your name soldier?” she asks one day during a lull as she sweeps the floor.
“Eugene Roe, Ma’am.” He says.
“I told you to call me Lexie.” She scolds and he blushes.
“Don’t be.” She assures him propping her broom against a wall and sitting opposite him. “What branch of the army were you in?”
“The 101st Airborne, 506th paratroopers.” He tells her.
“Paratroopers, really? Wow.”
“Alexis this is not your break.” Someone calls across the cafe.
She grimaces and stands. Wordlessly she grabs her broom and sets back to work.
He gets a job not soon after that and is unable to make it to the cafe on a regular basis and he finds himself thinking about the waitress when he’s on his own at night. The way she smiles and laughs with the other waitresses, with him, the way she practically skips through the tables as she serves her costumers, the way a strand of golden hair would inevitably fall out of its chignon by the end of her shift. He doesn’t know when these thought turn from something innocent into something else and he starts picturing her body pressed against his, her hands taking the place of his own as he moans her name into the darkness of his room. What he does know is the next time he sees her after he realises what he’s done, he blushes and stumbles over his words. She smiles anyway and brings him his coffee as always.
April turns into May and Gene finds himself wandering into a nearby park one Saturday afternoon. He finds a bench near a duck pond and sits down listening to the laughter and shouts that surround him. He thinks he hears his name and turns to see Lexie walking towards him waving and smiling. He sits up straighter and smiles at her.
“Hey Gene.” She says sitting next to him. “I haven’t seen you at the cafe in a while.”
He could swear she almost looks disappointed about it. “I got a job not long ago. I don’t have a lot of time to stop by anymore.”
“Congratulations. Where are you working?” she asks.
“It’s just a construction job nothing glamorous.” He shrugs.
“It’s still a job though.” She encourages and he nods. “What did you do in the army?”
The question takes him by surprise. Not a word has been mentioned about it since he told her he was in the Airborne. “I was a medic.” He tells her scratching behind his ear awkwardly.
“Wow, you must have helped a lot of people.” She says.
“I probably lost more than I helped.” He says helplessly.
“But the fact you helped them at all is all that matters.” She insists. Then her friends are calling her name and she’s standing up to leave but she pauses before she does. “We’re going dancing tonight, a few of the gang and I, you should come.”
He looks between Lexie and the group waiting on her, there is a mix of guys and girls, the girls are looking on curiously while one of the men is frowning at him. “I don’t know.” He says unsurely.
“Please? It’ll be fun.” She all but begs and he can’t say no.
“Sure, why not.”
“Excellent.” She says sitting back down and pulling out a waitress pad.
“Is that from the cafe?”
“Yes.” She says blushing. “I always forget to put them back at the end of my shift so most of them end up in my dresses. Here’s the address of the bar we’re meeting at.”
He takes the slip and nods. “What time?”
“Eight thirty. I’ll see you then.”
He watches as she skips back to her friends looping arms with one of the girls who looks over their shoulders and giggles. They guy who was looking at him earlier all but glares at him. He turns back to the pond and lets the sun wash over his face.
He doesn’t get to the bar until eight fifty but he easily spots Lexie in her red dress surrounded by her friends. He goes over and she happily greets him with a hug before introducing her to the rest. Most of them greet him with a smile or a nod. Only one doesn’t. It’s not long after that they go to a club.
There’s a band playing and the girls excitedly drag the boys to the dance floor but he doesn’t end up dancing with Lexie. Instead it’s one of her friends, Anna maybe, who grabs his hand and pulls him to the dance floor. He laughs and dances with her, something about it reminds him of England. His partner gets tired soon and they leave the floor with another couple and grab a few drinks before sliding into a booth.
“Mighty fine dance moves you got soldier.” He turns and sees Lexie leaning over the back of the booth to whisper in his ear.
“Well I picked up a thing or two in London.” He says more confident than he feels.
“Prove it.” She challenges offering her hand. He willingly accepts and leads her to the dance floor.
He walks her home that night, she only lives twenty minutes away from the clubs, and him a further ten. He gives her his jacket and she loops her arm through his. “Tonight was fun.” She says.
“It was.” He agrees. “I’m not sure your friends like me much though.”
“Ah, you mean James.” She sighs. “I’m sorry about him. He’s a bit protective of me.”
“Is he your brother?” he asks curiously.
“Not really.” She answers. When he doesn’t say anything she continues. “I used to be engaged to his brother.”
He walks her home in silence after that contemplating what he’d heard. When they get to her apartment building she reaches up to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for walking me home.” She hands him back his jacket before going inside and leaving him to his thoughts.
He goes to the cafe the next afternoon and she smiles widely when she sees him. When she leans over to clear a table he sees the glint of a diamond ring hanging from a chain around her neck.
They continue on like this. He goes to the cafe and she serves him his coffee after he finishes work. Occasionally they go dancing or to the pictures and slowly they learn more and more about each other. He never works up the courage to ask about the ring hanging around her neck though.
The first week of June he doesn’t see her at all. He goes to the cafe on the two year anniversary of D-Day but one of the waitresses tells him she took the day off; frowning he nods and leaves. He doesn’t know how he got there but he finds himself standing outside her front door. She opens it looking tired and confused as to his presence but looks relieved to see him anyway. She invites him and makes him a coffee. He sits at the kitchen table and watches as she frets about how messy her kitchen is as she puts the dishes away and he can’t help noticing the way she occasionally wipes tears away from her eyes before they get a chance to fall.
He stands up and takes the dishes from her and sits her down at the table. “Are you okay?” he asks sitting next to her and taking her hands in his. “I’m fine.” She sniffs.
“Lexie.” Is all he has to say before she’s breaking down and crying in his arms. He soothes her, calms her down, offers words of comfort.
“I’m so sorry.” She says when she calms down. “I have no right to break down in front of you when you were there.”
“What?” he asks bemused.
“My fiancé, he died on D-Day.” She tells him and for some reason it doesn’t come as a shock to him.
“And why wouldn’t you be able to cry about it in front of me?”
“You were there, you lived it; surely you think it’s pathetic that a silly little girl is crying about it when she was tucked up in bed at the time.”
“I don’t think it’s pathetic at all.” He tells her cupping her cheek and wiping away a stray tear with a swipe of his thumb.
Things changed a lot after that. After work Gene would go straight to Lexies and she’d make him dinner or he’d take her out for meals before going to the pictures. Their weekends were often spent with friends in the park or having barbecues in someone’s garden. But on the occasional one they’d spend on their own doing nothing but enjoying each other’s company.
It’s one of these quiet weekends when she stops him from leaving for the night like he always has. “Stay.” She says gently as she stops him from getting up off her couch. She wipes smudged lipstick from his lower lip and his eyes flutter shut as he nods his consent. That night his dreams about her become reality.
He wakes in the morning to find her in her robe sitting on the window sill with a cigarette in her hand. “What are you doing hanging out the window?” he asks. He wraps a sheet around his waist and joins her.
“Damn I didn’t think you were awake.” She says stubbing it out. “I didn’t want you to know I smoke.”
He laughs at her. “Lexie, I was in the Airborne, I smoke like a chimney.” He picks the pack from her pocket and pulls one out. He lights it and takes a drag before he gives it to her. He kisses her lightly and disappears for a shower. She smiles softly to herself before taking another drag and blowing smoke rings out the window.
“You know it’s my birthday in a few weeks?” she asks him one night when they’re in bed. He sleepily grunts his confirmation against his pillow. “My parents are cooking me dinner and I want you to come.” He’s suddenly very awake now as he sits up and rubs the sleep from his eyes.
“You want me to meet your parents?” he asks.
“Yes.” She replies confidently. He sees the nerves in her face though and sighs.
“When are we going?” she squeals and hugs him tightly placing kisses all over his face. He grips her waist and lays her down on her back, his body covering hers. He silences her with a kiss.
“You’re nervous.” She comments as they walk from the bus stop to her parents’ house
“What’s your point?” he asks.
“Just relax.” She tells him. “They’ll love you.”
“How do you know?” he asks gripping her hand tighter than was necessary.
“Because I do.”
He stops and looks at her intently, a smile playing on his lips. “I do too.”