He had a few hours in between his flight arriving at Midway Airport and his bus departing from the downtown terminal. It was only about ten miles and he certainly could have called a cab, but he figured it'd be a good time to take care of his situation with Samantha. So, he'd called James a couple of nights ago to see if his friend would be interested in joining him for pizza during his layover. He'd assumed, of course, he wouldn't get bumped from any of his flights. He wasn't flying during peak season so that had helped.
He wasn't surprised Samantha was in the car, too. John had suggested she join them. He didn't know if he'd make it to Chicago during the summer. If Claire's parents were all right with him sleeping in her brother's room he'd prefer to stay there since she was the reason he'd come back here anyway.
He was hoping he could convince Claire to do something with him this summer instead of making him come home with whatever leave he might be able to get. He hadn't asked her about it yet. One leave at a time he sort of figured, though she was done with school in a couple of weeks so he'd have to mention a trip somewhere to her this weekend if he even wanted a chance of getting time off before she had to go back to school again. As it was, he was told over a week ago this leave had been approved.
James must have left early because John hadn't had to wait long. He'd gotten off his flight, collected his duffle, and stopped at a bank of pay phones to call Claire and let her know he'd gotten into town. He'd hung up from that phone call and James was there. Samantha moved to the backseat when John made it to the car and set his duffle bag in the trunk. He made sure Claire knew of a dry cleaner in her town who could press his uniform once he'd taken it out of his duffle. It was in a garment bag so hopefully wouldn't be too bad, but buses didn't have areas for garment bags so he'd had to pack it.
He'd only worn his dress blues twice before. Once for his picture in Basic Training and the other to a formal dinner party he'd gone to as an Illustrator. He knew he'd have more occasions to wear it as the years went on but for now it struck him as being a huge waste of money. At least she'd see him in it for the first time with his Private First Class ribbon in place. He'd gotten the promotion just before the dinner party he'd had to attend shortly after arriving here.
They got to a pizza place and John wasn't really sure where to start. They ordered their pizza and something to drink. He'd gone this route, feeling it was better than doing it at her house. Or alone. His reason for wanting James there? A witness he'd done nothing wrong or compromising with her. That was the last thing that he needed, and while he didn't think she'd do something like that he knew the daughter of a doctor would be believed over him. Any chance of advancement for him could be pretty well ruined with some sort of accusation of conduct unbecoming.
"What time does your bus leave?" James asked.
"Nine thirty. Tell your mom thanks for letting you guys come down here to get me. It would have been a long, boring four hours otherwise."
"I was glad you called," James said.
"How's school going?"
"Fine," James said with a shrug. James was a better student than John had been and college was expected given his father's occupation, but James wasn't entirely sure what he wanted to do with his life yet.
"And you, Samantha?" he asked.
"Fine," she shrugged.
"You settled your argument with what's her name?"
"Yes," she murmured.
'How'd you know about that?" James asked.
"That's kind of why I asked you to bring Samantha along," John said.
"Oh," James said, regarding his sister with a 'what have you done' look.
"I don't want to sound unappreciative. I doubt you'll find a Marine, any Marine, who doesn't love getting mail. I can't stop you from writing me, Samantha, but I can ask you not to if your intentions are to try to interfere with Claire and me."
"Claire?" James said. "How do you even know who she is?"
"I saw her with him that weekend you went to Homecoming stuff. Everyone knows who she is," she said as if that should be obvious. "She was Homecoming and Prom Queen last year."
"Sami, what are you doing? I told you not to bother him anymore."
"Her letters aren't bothering me. I haven't written her back or anything for a reason, but sending me pictures of Claire cut out from the newspaper. That bothered me."
"You did what?"
"I thought he should know while he's defending our country that she's dancing with other guys."
"God, Sami. You don't even know what kind of agreement they have. I'm sure John knew about that stupid Sweetheart Ball. Did you ever think since he's defending our country what you sent him could distract him and get him, or someone else killed?"
"He's not deployed," she huffed.
"That's not the point. If Mom finds out you've been writing him, let alone meddling, you'll be grounded all summer."
"You don't have to tell your mom, as long as it stops. No one else has to know."
"You're telling James," she said. John could tell she was holding back the tears. He could see them shimmering in her eyes and he hated that he was causing them. He didn't like being a bad guy. He really didn't, but he had no idea how else to handle this situation.
"Because I wanted a witness."
"What?" she shrieked. More than one set of eyes looked in their direction. "You think I'd? I'd never do that."
"Yeah, well, my future sort of depends on nothing remotely scandalous or illegal happening. Being involved with a minor would definitely be illegal."
"Sami, didn't you get the clue when he didn't write you back? When he told me to ask you not to write him anymore?"
"I'm not mad about the letters. Claire mentioned maybe you just liked having someone to vent to. I get that, and I'm flattered you thought of me like that. I think it's probably best, though, you don't send anymore now."
"Because of the picture?"
"Pretty much," he agreed. He had to admit if she hadn't sent the picture in question they probably wouldn't be having this conversation. "I didn't want to say this in a letter or over the phone. So, I'm sorry if it seems as though I waited a long time. I'm not trying to embarrass you or be a jerk."
"Yeah, right," she murmured.
"Hey, Samantha, I'm not. I'm not even sure what I did for you to notice me. I'm sorry if I gave you some sort of impression I was into you like that. Even if there was no Claire, you're still a kid. My friend's kid sister at that."
"Sami, you have to stop now," James said. "If Mom or Dad find out…"
"They don't have to know," John said.
"I don't know, man," James said. "I sort of feel like they should."
"I know, but as long as she stops I'm okay."
Samantha didn't say much after that, not that John could blame her. John felt kind of bad for her, but he just couldn't take the chance.
"Are you coming to town this summer instead of just passing through?" James asked when they were just about finished.
"I don't know. I'm going to try to get Claire to go somewhere with me: New York, Disney World, Boston, or something. Somewhere not home."
"No desire to come home?"
"No, if I have to then I have to, I guess. Coming to see me on-base may be different in her parents eyes than going away with me for days."
John paid for the pizza, a fair trade for James to drive down here and pick him up. Midway Airport wasn't a hop, skip, and a jump from Shermer. Most people he knew hated driving down here, but he'd been bumped last minute from his flight into O'Hare. It was either take the flight to Midway he'd come in on or cut it real close to making the last bus of the night.
Samantha moved to the front seat when John got out at the bus terminal.
"I'll take care of this, man, I promise. I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for, James. You didn't do anything wrong. She didn't really either until the last letter. Tell her I'm flattered once she's calmed down, will you?"
"You already did."
"I know, but I don't think she really heard me and I don't want to give her the impression I'm remotely interested."
"If she wasn’t my sister?"
"She's still only fourteen."
"I'll tell her," James said.
"Tell your folks I said hello, and thank your mom for the banana bread. If I do come for the summer, I'll probably stay at her place but I'll certainly swing by and say hi to everyone. I don't forget people who are nice to me."
"I don't blame you. I'd rather stay with her, too, if for no other reason her house is less crowded."
"Thanks for the ride again."
"Thanks for the pizza."
That hadn't gone nearly as painfully as he thought it would. Of course, Samantha probably hated him, but maybe that was for the best. He had no idea how else to handle the situation without things getting sticky. Involving James embarrassed her, he knew, but he hadn't had a whole lot of options. (Other than letting Claire handle it when she was home some weekend but John didn't think that would go over any better.)
He had less than an hour to wait for his bus to depart. He tried to call her, but she didn't answer. He didn’t let it ring a whole bunch of times so she could have been down the hall or something. So, he pulled the paperback (that Claire had sent him) out of his duffel and set about reading it while he waited.
He was definitely looking forward to the next part of his leave much more than what he'd just gotten done doing. He just hoped James took him at his word that their parents didn't need to be involved.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com