The Best Man

The Education of Sebastian – Bonus chapter

September 2005

The C-5 Galaxy was a noisy bastard of a plane but listening to Elephunk and Meteora on my iPod, I could tune out most of it. God, I loved my iPod – best invention ever.

I was flying Space-A, courtesy of being a Marine, so at least I was able to avoid commercial airports. And it was cheaper. We were flying into Edwards Air Force Base and from there I was hoping to hitch a ride to San Diego or, failing that, take the bus.

After a long and uncomfortable flight, I was more than ready to fucking walk the rest of the way, but that was a hundred or more miles, so my luck was definitely in when a CLR captain said he was heading for Miramar and could give me a ride most of the way.

I didn’t feel much like talking and luckily he wasn’t a chatty Cathy. Plus, it was kind of a policy not to say anymore than ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ to an officer. Most of the time I stared out of the window of his Escalade, thinking about the weirdness of the next few days.

As we traveled further south, I began to recognize the names of places that we passed. I was heading home, I guess you could say. Not that it was much of a home. Ever. From San Clemente onwards, I could name every cove, harbor, and surf break. I could tell you which waves were gnarly, which suited a goofy foot, which had reefs, and which broke straight onto sand. A lot of good memories – especially with Ches. I pushed away the not so good ones, and I definitely wasn’t going to think about her.

“You visiting family, son?”

The captain’s words interrupted my thoughts.

“Yes, sir. My brother’s getting married – and I‘m best man.”

Which wasn’t a lie. I considered Ches my brother, not just my buddy. And with my bastard father and bitch of a mother, Ches and his parents were the only real family I had.

The captain chuckled as he glanced over, amused by the obvious chagrin in my voice.

“Got your speech worked out?”

“Not so much.”

Yeah, that was a bit of a sore point. I wasn’t really looking forward to the whole public speaking thing.

I saw him shake his head. Well, he was in logistics so he probably planned every day down to the last shit. Whatever.

“When’s the wedding?”

“Four days.”

“You’ve got some time then, Corporal. Where are you stationed?”

“I’ve been at Camp Le Jeune, sir.”

“Been there long?”

“Just a week. Been doing a debrief after a tour in the sandbox, um, in Baghdad.”

“Uh huh. And now?”

Jeez, were all officers such nosy bastards? Probably.

“I just got my permanent change of station, so I’ll be at Pendleton after this leave.”

“Well, that’s good. Nearer to your family.”

“Yes, sir.”

There was no reason to think I’d bump into my father, but I really fucking hoped I wouldn’t. Hitting an officer is a non-judicial punishment – that could mean anything from a reduction in rank to a court-martial. Either way, I didn’t want to give the bastard the satisfaction.

As we approached Torrey Hills, the captain slowed his car.

“I wish I could take you downtown, son, but I’m on a schedule.”

“That’s fine, sir. Thank you taking me this far.”

He pulled over just past the I-5 off-ramp and popped the trunk so I could retrieve my duffel bag, bed roll and garment bag.

“Good luck, Corporal. I’m stationed over at Del Mar so we might run into each other.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

He accepted my salute and drove off, the tires sending plumes of dust into the light breeze and settling utility uniform. For a few seconds, I enjoyed the feeling of peace and freedom. The Iraqi desert had just been fucking hot and North Carolina was humid – I was glad to be away from both. I dug out my cell phone and texted Ches to come get me. I was a bit earlier than I’d expected, but I was still kind of pissed when he replied that he was hung up at work and he was sending Amy instead. His fiancée.

I mean, she was okay. I liked her well enough but I’d been looking forward to catching up with Ches.

After about 20 minutes, I saw a beat up Toyota pull over and Amy waved out of the window. She didn’t look happy to see me.

“Get in.”

Yeah, and hi to you, too.

I slung my luggage on the rear seat and climbed in next to her.

“Hi Amy, congrat…”

“Where’s your dress uniform? Tell me you didn’t forget it, because everything would just be ruined and I’ve planned everything, just like everything and…”

To my horror I realized she was starting to cry.

“Um, no, Amy. It’s all good. The dress blues are in my garment bag.”

“Oh!” she sniffed, making an effort to control herself. “Okay, then. Look, I really don’t think going down to Tijuana is such a great idea.”

Wow, she could shift gears quickly. Now she was complaining about the plans for Ches’s bachelor party? Give me a fucking break.

“Once you’re over the border,” she snapped, “anything could happen. I don’t see why you need to go all that way just to have a few drinks.”

“It’s only 20 miles from your house, Amy,” I said, trying to reassure her.

“Oh, that is just typical of you! It’s in Mexico, Seb! Who knows what could happen? If you do anything, anything to fuck up my wedding, I’ll feed your balls to the coyotes.”

I couldn’t help wincing, more at the crazed look in her eye than at what she was actually saying. I hoped Ches knew what the hell he was doing, because right now she was a bitch on wheels. If I hadn’t met Amy before, I’d seriously doubt that my friend was in his right mind wanting to marry her.

I decided that saying nothing was the best answer. She reminded me of a drill sergeant I’d had in basic training, and I wondered what would happen if I yelled, “Sir, no, sir!” Hell, she’d probably run my ass out of town.

And that would be after she gave the coyotes their next meal.

We arrived at the small cottage she and Ches had recently rented. It was about a twenty minute drive from the ocean and Ches’s job at the country club. It was a neat, suburban street, similar to the house I’d grown up in, just a bit smaller and shabbier. Appearances had been everything at the Hunter residence when I was growing up. Outward appearances had to be maintained at all costs. The memory made me want to puke.

I climbed out, glad that the wheels had finally stopped turning. I’d been traveling 16 hours with a four hour lay-over at Altus AFB, Oklahoma. My body felt numb.

“I don’t see why he needs a bachelor party anyway,” Amy muttered to herself. “What’s wrong with having a few beers and throwing some steaks on the grill at home?”

She shot me an accusing look even though I’d had nothing to do with planning Ches’s party. After all, I’d been out of the country for the last nine months. I didn’t think that was going to score me any points with Amy. I kept my mouth zipped.

“You’ll have to sleep on the couch,” she snarled. “I’ve made up the guest room for Shirley and Mitch I don’t want it messed up.”

I shrugged. It didn’t bother me where I slept. It was bound to be better than a tent with 19 other sweaty guys, where the daytime temperature was 110 degrees.

“When are they flying in?”

“Friday lunchtime. I told them they should have gotten an earlier flight…”

She looked like she was on the verge of tears again. I reached out a hand tentatively and patted her arm; the same gesture I’d use on a sad dog. Just sayin’. For a moment, she seemed to relax and I thought she’d be okay, but then I blew it by speaking.

“It’ll be fine, Amy. I’m sure…”

“Oh, you’re sure, are you? Well, that’s just peachy, isn’t it? If you say it’s fine, what on earth could possibly go wrong?”

I stepped back, waiting for her head to start revolving.

Thank fuck Ches arrived when he did.

He took one look at Amy bristling with fury, while I withered under her steely glare. They should send her against Saddam Hussein.

Ches rolled his eyes, giving her a swift kiss on the cheek before he held out his hand then pulled me into a bear hug.

“Damn, it’s good to see you, man,” he said, a huge smile lighting up his face. “How the hell are you?”

Amy stomped into the house without a word, and Ches sighed.

“It’s nothing personal – she’s been like that all week. Make that all month. I’ll be glad when this wedding shit is over.”

I looked at him cautiously. “Do you still want to do it?”

He gave a small smile. “Yeah, sure. She’s not usually like this. She’s turned into a complete Bridezilla over the whole thing. She used to laugh at this kind of crap, but she’s totally lost her sense of humor. She’ll be fine.” Then he muttered under his breath, “I hope.”

I slapped him on the back.

“Well, I’ll just have to make sure your bachelor party is memorable, my friend, so when she’s got your balls nailed to a chair, you’ll remember what it was like to have a life.”

“Fuck off,” he said, laughing.

“So, anyone I know going to TJ with us?”

“Um, Vince, Del, Gareth – you met them last year. The other guy is Amy’s brother, Tyler. You don’t know him. He’s okay.”

Ches didn’t sound very enthusiastic but I guessed he’d been bludgeoned into inviting his soon to be brother-in-law.

“How we getting down there? Are we taking your van?”

“Naw, man. That bastard only does 15 to the gallon. Gareth’s rented a minivan so we’ll be able to bring all our boards and shit, too.”

The plan was to drive down to TJ, have dinner, go to a club, drink until we passed out, and sleep on the beach. Then we could wake up and spend the day surfing, before driving back. Simple.

Ches had only graduated a few months before and money was tight. Besides, we both loved the beach and I was pleased we weren’t heading for Vegas. I’d had enough of fucking deserts after two tours of Iraq in three years. I didn’t want to think that after 20 weeks at Camp Pendleton, the next stop would be Afghanistan. I’d worry about that next year.

“Sounds good, bro.”

His smile dropped away when we both heard Amy yelling from the house.

“Beer?” he said, shaking his head.

I nodded, slung my duffle bag over my shoulder and followed him inside.

“Oh my God, Chesney!” shrieked Amy. “You drank all the milk! We don’t have any milk! And now we have Seb staying…”

She burst into tears, and Ches pulled her towards him as she sobbed into his shirt.

Embarrassed and feeling like a third wheel, I quietly went out the back and sat down on a plastic lounger that had seen better days.

I pulled my patrol cap down over my eyes, and was nearly asleep when I heard the distinctive pop of a beer cap hitting the deck, soon followed by a second.

“Sorry about that,” said Ches, sitting down next to me. “She’s… a little tense.”

“Look, if it’s awkward me being here, I can find a hotel. It’s not a problem.”

Ches shook his head. “No way, man. It’s okay. She’ll be fine. Anyway, I’m just glad you could get leave. I wasn’t sure you were going to make it when they changed your dates.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. But I wasn’t going to miss your wedding – I pulled in some favors.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe you’re getting married.”

I’d known him since I was 13, and he’d been my best friend for all that time. He knew all the shit I’d been through – and I knew he’d back me, no matter what.

Ches smiled. “Tell me about it. It’s a real head spin sometimes. But I want it all with her – marriage, kids – I want forever, you know.”

I looked down at my hands, twisting the Corona around, feeling the cool glass under my fingers. Yeah, I knew what he meant. I’d wanted all that once – and I’d thought she wanted the same. Turned out I was wrong.

“So,” he said, after a long pause. “You seeing anyone?”

“I’ve been in the fucking desert surrounded by sweaty guys for the last nine months. What do you think?”

“No women at all?”

“A couple of hook-ups – women from the motor-pool. Nothing serious.”

He slapped my shoulder.

“The Best Man always gets laid at weddings. It’s like a law or something.”

I grinned back at him, but thought I’d better change the subject when I heard Amy stamping towards us.

“I’ve ordered pizza,” she snapped.

Ches caught her around the waist and pulled her onto his lap.

“Thanks, babe,” he said into her neck.

Her body held tense for a second, then relaxed.

“I know. I’m behaving like a crazy person,” she said. “Sorry. Sorry, Seb.”

I waved my beer at her. “No blood, no foul.”

“God, I’m a horrible hostess. I didn’t even ask how you are.”

I couldn’t help smiling at her. She’d done a complete three-sixty from the bitch who gave me a ride 40 minutes ago.

“Glad to be stateside, and that’s the truth.”

She nodded, thoughtfully.

“Do you still like being a Marine? Even after…”

We all knew she was talking about Fido. Poor bastard got blown up nearly three years ago. Didn’t make it to 19. IED. Bastards.

“Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, I can do it and I like doing the interpreting. I get to actually talk to ordinary Iraqi people.” I shrugged. “It feels like it makes a difference. Sometimes.”

It was hard to explain what I meant by that and the conversation was making me uncomfortable. I was on leave for my best friend’s wedding – I didn’t want to talk about work. I changed the subject quickly.

“So what do you have planned for your bachelorette party?”

She gave a small smile.

“Stacey’s organized it. We’re going to have cocktails here while we get ready; downtown for dinner; and then a club.” She raised an eyebrow at Ches. “There could be strippers.”

“Just don’t let any of those oily bastards touch you, babe,” snorted Ches.

“Oh, I’ll be the one stuffing dollar bills in their posing pouches.”

I couldn’t help laughing, as much at the revolted expression on Ches’s face as anything else. I was happy he was happy, that he’d found his One. My mood soured as I tried not to think of her.

Christ, just get over it already! She’d taught me how to fuck – I should be grateful. I hadn’t had any complaints since I’d started seeing other women. Yeah, I’d kind of been making up) for lost time.

Ches nuzzled Amy’s neck. “I’ll pose in a pouch for you any time, baby.”

“Oh, Jesus! Too much information, buddy.”

Ches laughed.

“If it’s okay with you guys, I’ll take a shower and change into civvies.”

Ches waved me away, too busy with his girl to answer.

It felt good to wash off the dust and grit, and I took my time enjoying the hot water and privacy. One thing being a Marine had taught me was to find a private place inside my head. You had to learn how to do that when you were with a bunch of hairy-assed grunts 24/7.

I pulled on a plain t-shirt and jeans, and headed down, hoping to hell that the make-out fest was done. Otherwise it was going to be a long, damn evening.

I was relieved to see that the happy couple had disentangled themselves, and Ches was setting out placemats and paper napkins.

“I thought we were having pizza?”

“We are,” he said, shaking his head in exasperation, “but Amy wants to do things nice.”

“And there’s nothing wrong with that!” I heard her yelling from the backyard.

I smirked at Ches, and mouthed the words, “Pussy whipped!”

He sighed, but I could tell he really loved it.

The pizza arrived, and Ches pulled out some more beer to serve with.

“Oh, hey, man, so I saw Brenda last week. She asked after you.”

“Yeah? How’s she doing? How’s Kimberley?”

“She’s good. I can’t believe the kid is four now. I told her you’d be stationed at Pendleton.”

I threw Ches a look, and he raised his hands in apology.

I didn’t mind hearing about my ex-girlfriend, even though she’d royally fucked up the one important relationship I’d ever had in my life. She’d been pregnant and scared, so she’d made some bad decisions. But she’d apologized a shitload and we were okay. Even so, I didn’t want Ches making like I wanted to get back with her.

“Nah, she’s cool man. She’s started seeing some guy that works at a used-car dealership. She seems pretty into him.”

Well, that was a relief. I didn’t want her to think I’d be up for dating or any of that shit. Friends – I could do that.

“Yeah? Maybe I’ll call her.”

“And Stacey was asking about you, too,” added Amy.

I must have looked blank because she said, “You met her last year at your twenty-first… light brown hair in a cute bob, bangs… you know? She’s one of my bridesmaids.”

“Oh, sure. I remember. Got a brother in the military, right?”

Amy smiled brightly. “Yes, that’s her.”

Ches threw me a warning look, and I took the hint: Stacey was off limits.

After dinner we headed out to the garage so I could check on my bike. She started on the second try which was pretty good considering she hadn’t been ridden in nearly a year. Ches had kept her running, but he hadn’t taken her out. Like I said – pussy whipped.

Ches climbed on behind me, and we rode out toward the ocean.

I stopped when we reached one of our favorite surf spots. The setting sun had turned the water blood-red, and the wind had dropped, so the only sound was the breakers rolling across the shore.

“Had some good times here, huh?” said Ches.

I nodded. It was true. We’d come here with Fido the night of our senior prom, when Ches didn’t have a date and I’d broken up with Brenda. We’d got wasted on Mitch’s beer and some weed that I’d scored. But this beach – it was also somewhere that I’d taken her.

“Hey, Seb,” said Ches, wiggling his eyebrows at me oblivious of the direction my thoughts had taken, “want to relive some of those good times?”

And he held out a baggie and blunt wrappers. Then he frowned.

“Can you? It’s cool if you’d rather not…”

“Nah, it’s not a problem.”

Drug testing was mandatory in the Corps but I was confident that by the time I got to Pendleton, there’d be nothing but a higher tolerance for alcohol in my system after this vacation.

We found ourselves a comfortable dune out of sight from the road, and sank down to the cooling sand.

“You do this often?” I said, raising one eyebrow. “I kinda thought Amy would have your balls in a vise for something like this.”

He twitched a smile.

“Yeah, she’d like to think so. But, I don’t do it that often anymore – responsible citizen and all that.”

“Damn pillar of the community,” I laughed.

“God help that community,” he mumbled.

I watched him roll the joint, glad I was here to spend these last few days of bachelorhood with him.

“You really love her, don’t you?”

A grin crept over his face.

“Yeah. You noticed, huh? She’s amazing.”

He smiled to himself, and took a long drag on the joint before passing it to me.

“Kind of obvious, my friend. I’ll miss you, buddy.”

“Jeez, Seb! It’s a wedding, not my funeral!”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that.”

His face was suddenly serious.

“I want it all with her, man. House, mortgage, kids – all of it.” He looked at me sideways. “I thought you’d understand that – you of all people.”

I closed my eyes and sucked in the smoke, letting it sting the back of my throat and drawing it into my lungs before blowing it away.

Yeah, I’d wanted all that. Once. But I wasn’t going to let that happen now. I’d wised up – and I wasn’t going to give any woman the chance to shatter me into dust. Not again.

“Besides,” said Ches, “Amy’s got great tits.” He sighed. “God, I love burying my face in her tits.”

“Yeah? Well just don’t let her get on top, man,” I couldn’t help saying.

“Why the fuck not?”

“You’ll suffocate.”

Ches looked pissed, and then couldn’t help a quiet chuckle.

“That’s my future wife you’re talking about, Hunter. And by the way, a message from the future Mrs. Peters – she says no hitting on the bridesmaids. Got it?”

“Yeah, whatever.”

I took another drag and passed the joint back. We’d been doing this shit since I was 15 and Ches was 16. It was easy to score down by the pier – pretty much whatever you wanted. Mostly, we’d stuck to weed. It was easier to get hold of than liquor at that age.

“Got any plans for your birthday?” said Ches.

“Yeah, forget the fuck about it,” I said, with a scowl.

My 22nd birthday was five weeks away. Last year had been so shit, that my only plan this year was to dive into a bottle of whisky and stay there until I passed out.

“Fair enough,” he said, evenly. “We’ll be back from the honeymoon in plenty of time – we should head out, have a few drinks.”

I grunted something non-committal and he was wise enough to leave it.

We finished the joint in silence, then rode back to the house.

* * * *

“Goddamn it, get your ass in the van, Peters!”

Gareth was yelling at Ches while the groom said goodbye to Amy – again.

I sat in the back of the minivan, my sunglasses pulled down over my eyes. You got used to waiting around in the military – it was kind of, Hurry up and wait! So although it didn’t bother me, Gareth was getting really wound up.

Eventually, Ches unglued his lips from Amy, and with Gareth behind the steering wheel still looking pissed, we headed south on the I-5 to Tijuana. We’d barely left Ches’s street before he was texting Amy. I remembered what that was like – treasuring every moment, every message.

Jeez, I really had to get my head out of my ass! This was my brother’s bachelor party and I was thinking like a moody emo-bitch.

We crossed into Mexico soon after. I thought I was going to get some shit when the border guards examined my ID, muttering about me being a Marine. We’d all learned some Spanish at school, but it was the vibe and the way they were looking at me that freaked me out. They thought we were a bunch of rich, white Americanos coming for the cheap drinks and cheap chicks – which was true. Except for the being rich bit. I probably had more money than the rest of the guys as Ches, Gareth, Del and Vince had only just graduated and were all paying off their student loans. I wasn’t sure about Tyler as he was a bit older, but he probably worked. I hadn’t had much to spend my pay on in the desert. Maybe it was time to upgrade the motorcycle.

But at least there were a load of US military passing through at the same time – Marines and Navy. Guess I looked a bit different, what with hanging with guys who actually had hair.

Eventually, the border guards waved us through without shooting us or arresting us, but we’d wasted an hour of valuable surfing and drinking time.

Tyler kept giving me this dirty look, like I was personally responsible for the delay. What a dick.

The Tijuana Sloughs had been pumping as we’d driven past, so once we were on the Mexican side, we found ourselves a patch of road and just pulled over.

“Ah, you gotta be kidding!” whined Tyler. “This motherfucker breaks onto rock reef. I don’t want to get my face mashed three days before my sister’s wedding!”

Ches frowned, but I could see Tyler’s thinking had gotten to him. I decided to keep out of it, despite the draw of the pumping five foot barrels.

Del stretched and yawned. “Let’s go get a coffee first and then find somewhere more mellow.”

So we piled back in the minivan and headed south for another 20 minutes. I remembered that Baja Malibu had a rep as a good beach break – bit gnarly for beginners, but it was spitting top to bottom barrels. Too good to miss.

“Hey, Gareth, if you pull off here we can park next to Tecate Jack’s. Then we’ve got surf and beer.”

He nodded and exited from the toll road, then parked on the dead-end street on the north side of the Baja Malibu housing development.

The tide was falling, which made the rides even better. I was stoked. It had been a long time since I’d surfed. I could sense Ches’s excitement, too. He’d even put his cell phone away. Thank fuck for that.

We piled out of the minivan and I couldn’t help noticing that Tyler looked like he was shitting himself but trying to hide it. I guessed he wasn’t that great of a surfer.

“I’m going to get caffeined up,” said Del, strolling in the direction of Tecate Jack’s. “I’ll catch up with y’all later.”

“Yeah, me, too,” muttered Tyler, and no one seemed sorry to see him go.

Gareth and Vince started suiting up while I was still mesmerized by the awesome surf.

“You okay, bro?” asked Ches, a puzzled look on his face.

“Yeah, sure. Just… thinking, you know.”

He nodded but didn’t speak. He didn’t need to.

He slapped me on the back, and that snapped me the fuck out of it. I pulled off my t-shirt and caught Ches staring at my new tat. I forgot about it most of the time. Most guys that served had something. Mine was done just before I shipped out before Iraq.

Semper Fi, huh?”

I shrugged. “Yeah, guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.” I’d had the Corp’s logo inked onto my shoulder. I’d almost had ‘Infidel’ in Arabic, but luckily I hadn’t been drunk enough to go for that. “Whatever, man. Let’s surf!”

The ocean was colder than a witch’s tit, the swell coming in from Alaska by the feel of it. But it was epic: me and Ches, just like old times. Until the asshat dropped in on me, grinning like a loon as I got trashed by a wave breaking on my head. I thought I’d snapped the leash the way that it was tugging on my ankle. When I broke the surface, the bastard was laughing at me.

“You’re out of practice, dude!” he crowed.

I decided I owed him for that – and I was going to get him so wasted, he’d wish he was going home in a body bag. Game on.

We surfed for a couple more hours and Del and Tyler joined us for a while. I was right about Tyler – the guy was seriously out of his depth. Even though he acted like a dick, I didn’t think it would be cool if the bride’s brother didn’t make it back from TJ. I don’t think he knew it, but Ches and I were tag-teaming him, just to make sure when we called time-out, he’d be still breathing.

But after I’d heard him complain about only being able to take a basic cold shower on the beach, I was ready to toss him back in the ocean. Ches just rolled his eyes, and the other guys ignored him.

Once we dressed and spiffed up for the rest of the day and night, we drove back toward TJ and left the van by the beach, taking a cab the couple of miles back to town. La Revolucion Boulevard was the main strip where all the bars were lined up, ready for inspection. As soon as we got out of the cab, I saw a bunch of marines and navy guys who were already wasted, and about one minute from beating the shit out of each other. Ches spotted them at the same time, and we took a long walk around them, not wanting to get caught up in a turf war when there were plenty of other bars to check out.

As we looked for somewhere to eat, there were always little kids, like six or seven selling gum. I mean, where the fuck were their parents? If they were my kids, I wouldn’t be letting them hang around the streets like that.

We decided not to waste time and money on a sit down meal, but loaded up at one of the taco stands that seemed to be on every corner. Ches insisted we all get some crappy TJ t-shirts as souvenirs, for fuck’s sake, and Tyler was taking photographs like a fucking tourist. I couldn’t help wondering if his camera phone would still be in his pants pocket by the end of the night. We zoned in on a bar called Papas and Beer. Jeez, what a fucking meat market for the young and willing. Tyler looked like he was about to blow his wad just by looking. When we scooted into a booth, I made sure I wasn’t sitting near him. Even though it was still early evening, there were people dry humping everywhere you looked.

Ches looked kind of uncomfortable, but I got the feeling it was going to be hard to get the other guys to go somewhere else.

“Hi! My name is Dina and I’ll be your server this evening.”

Vince and Del make no secret of eye-fucking our waitress. I couldn’t blame them – she was hot. She’s had this really pretty, auburn hair that was kind of curly. I know some girls paid a lot of money to get their hair permed that way, but hers looked natural. But, hey, no one was looking at her hair when her jeans shorts were cut so high – I could see the curve of her ass cheeks. And long, long legs. Nice.

“What do you guys need?”

“I need you to sit on my face,” said Tyler.

I’d really had enough of his shit. “Shut the fuck up, you douche!” I snapped. “Sorry about that, ma’am. He woke up an asshole and then got uglier.”

I shook my head in apology while Dina gave Tyler the stink-eye.

“Feel free to piss in his beer,” I said, not entirely joking.

Dina turned to me and grinned. “Well, I might just think about that! What would the rest of you like?”

“We’ll take a pitcher of beer, a bottle of tequila and six glasses, pretty lady,” said Vince.

As she walked away, the sway of her hips was really fucking fascinating. Every single one of us had our eyeballs glued to her butt-cheeks. Including Ches. There was no doubt about it: Dina was one hot mama.

Ches caught my eye and grinned. “Whatever you’re thinking, man, just don’t miss our morning surf or your ass is grass.”

“You’re joking!” laughed Tyler. “She’s gotta be like 35!”

“Seb digs older chicks,” said Ches, with a shrug.

I frowned as I looked at him, and he had the grace to look a little abashed. “Sorry, man,” he muttered.

Luckily Tyler didn’t make anything of it, or I’d have been tempted to rearrange his face.

When Dina returned with the drinks, she leaned down so her chest was almost in my face and I had to sit back in the booth or get two black eyes.

“I get off at two, honey. Stick around.”

Not going anywhere, baby.

Only Ches had heard what she’d said, but he didn’t comment. He pulled out his wallet to pay for the drinks, but I stopped him.

“No way, man! It’s your bachelor party – your money’s no good.”

“Aw! Is he getting married?” said Dina, with a sweet smile.

“Yup,” said Ches, proudly. “To the prettiest girl in San Diego.”

Now, I loved Ches, I really did, but calling Amy ‘the prettiest girl in SD’ was really stretching things. She had great tits, true enough, but not even Ray Charles would have called her ‘pretty’. It was living proof that love is blind.

“Who’s the best man?” said Dina.

“My buddy, Seb,” said Ches, throwing his arm around my shoulders. “I’ve known this fucker for nine years.”

Dina smiled again, winked, and walked away.

Ches raised his eyebrows. “Don’t forget to love with a glove, man,” he smirked.

I saluted him in the usual way, “Go fuck yourself.”

We started knocking back the liquor and talking trash to all the tourist girls who were there – most of them down from San Diego. A lot of college girls came because the drinking age was 18 here, and they weren’t going to get carded.

Vince and Tyler were kind of assholes, yelling out, “damn look at that ass!” or “Hey baby, where you goin’?”

I told them that if they did that again when the girls were with any military guys, they were going to end up in a good ole beat-down. Dumbasses didn’t listen.

We were on about our fifth or sixth round of drinks when the show started. It was pretty tame – nothing I hadn’t seen before. Strippers, pole-dancing, tassels, fake tan, and fake boobs. Traditional, you know. Half way through, I wandered up to the stage to order a lap dance for Ches.

“You want a private dance, honey?” said a woman with long black hair and a really cute Mexican accent.

“Um, yeah, for my friend, please, ma’am.”

“Not for you, baby?” she said, running a long fingernail down my t-shirt, and resting her hand on my belt buckle.

I caught her hand before it drifted any further.

“Thanks, but some other time. Just for my buddy. It’s his bachelor party.”

“Pity,” she said. “Which one’s the guy?”

I pointed out Ches, who was doing shots so fast, his hand was practically a blur. Man, he was going to be wasted in the morning. Served the fucker right after dropping in on me. Then I remembered I’d promised Amy to look after him – and she scared the shit out of me. So I decided to have a word with our server.

She saw me looking for her. Dina. Right.

“Hey, honey! You’re eager!”

“Well, yeah!” I said, honestly. “But, um, could you water down the drinks at our table? I don’t really give a shit about the rest of those a-holes, but I don’t want the groom dyin’ on me.”

She smiled and pinched my ass. “You got it, handsome.”

Ches got his lap dance, and Tyler got his face slapped by the dancer. Served the bastard right. The guy really was a dick. I hoped Amy had a different set of genes than her brother, otherwise Ches was in big trouble.

An hour later, I lined up the guys outside, ready to pack them into a taxi. I told Del that I’d meet them back at the beach in the morning. He was the only one who wasn’t falling over drunk. I had my own appointment to keep.

But then Tyler-half-a-brain, started yelling out to some girl.

“Hey, gorgeous! You wanna give me your number? I’ll show you a good time, not like that no-brain gorilla you’re with.”

Holy shit, the guy had a death wish. He’d just picked on a mean looking jarhead, with the swagger that spoke of a skinful of liquor.

“What you say, you fuckin’ pussy?” the gorilla slurred.

“Nothing, man,” I said quickly. “The asshole is trashed. He apologizes to your girl.”

“No, I don’t!” laughed Tyler.

That was when the gorilla threw a punch. I managed to block most of it, but Tyler still ended face down on the sidewalk.

Then the other marines piled in. Ah shit, I wasn’t going to see Ches get all beat up. I waded in, pulled the big fucker off of Tyler and got a few punches in before his fist caught me in the ribs. Fuck, that hurt.

Luckily, Dina had been keeping an eye out for me. I saw her empty out a pitcher of beer into the mass of bodies. That cooled it down long enough for me to push the rest of them into a taxi and get them the fuck out of there.

Dina was waiting for me, a smile on her face.

“Wow, thanks for that, ma’am… um… Dina. You’re pretty spry.”

“I’m a lot of things, honey,” she said, with a huge smile. Then she whispered in my ear. “I do yoga – I’m very bendy.”

Holy fuck!

She linked her arm through mine to walk along the street.

“What’s your name, honey? I can’t keep calling you that…”

“Sebastian.”

“That’s a nice name. Unusual – suits you. Well, Sebastian, I thought I’d take you home and rock your world! Do you think you can keep up with me?”

“Sounds good to me, ma’am, um, Dina.”

And it did. It sounded really fucking good. I loved Ches, but all this wedding shit was making me a little crazy. I wanted to be able to forget everything. It was easy to fall headlong into a bottle, but Dina’s idea was turning me on big time. I loved it when a woman talked dirty – especially if she could do it in Italian. I’d have to remember to ask her later. Yeah, Spanish would work, too.

“So what else are you guys doing in TJ, other than getting trashed?”

“Surfing, hanging out, you know. Maybe some swimming, body surfing.”

She laughed, then pulled me into a darkened doorway.

“Baby, the only body surfing you’ll be doing is on me. Right here. Right now.”

Shiiit!

My back thudded against the door, and Dina was digging her nails in, as if she was trying to crawl up my body. Fuck, it hurt, but it was hot.

“You want to be bad with me, Sebastian? Because I sure as hell want to feel your hard dick in my… fuck me!

Yeah, that was the general plan. Wait, what?

Dina had grabbed a hold of my junk, and sue me, but I was hard as hell.

“You got a stick of dynamite in there, honey, ‘cause that’s sure as hell gonna blow my brains!”

She wrestled her door key out of her purse while I attacked her neck and bare shoulders with kisses.

We fell into the stairwell, and it was so damn dark, we were literally groping around. I had no problem with that, until she accidentally kneed me in the balls, and I crashed against the wall, cursing like a squid (sailor, in civvy-speak).

Dina laughed her ass off while I was writhing around on the ground.

“Sorry, honey. Please God tell me you can still use that equipment.”

I groaned out something that might have been a yes, I still wasn’t sure. In fact the only thing I was sure about was that I’d deflated faster than a Fourth of July balloon.

When she finally finished laughing, she took pity on me and put some lights on to lead me inside. I staggered to my feet, and went after her. I could hear music, and I guessed she’d put on a CD. She was singing along and dancing to the song – it was kinda sweet. But the next thing I saw was her denim shorts, abandoned on the floor. I followed the trail of clothes through her apartment, until I stepped out of a glass door and into the yard.

Hot tub! Oh fucking yes!

Dina was leaning back, smiling up at me, while bubbles swirled and frothed around her. Her gorgeous tits were floating. I mean seriously – floating!

“Join me,” she said, waving an arm, and I wasn’t sure if it was an order a request. I didn’t care. And if her backyard was overlooked by a dozen different windows, well hell – I hope they enjoyed the action.

I yanked off my t-shirt, pretty certain a few seams had just ripped, then kicked off my boots and socks.

I saw she was staring at my tattoo.

“Hmm, Marine, huh? I like!”

Damn, that tat was worth its weight in pussy.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, watching her face. “We stole the eagle from the Air Force, the anchor from the Navy, and the rope from the Army. On the seventh day when God rested, we overran the perimeter and stole the globe – we’ve been running the show ever since. We live like soldiers, talk like sailors, and slap the hell out of both of them at the same time. Fighter by day, lover by night, drunkard by choice, and a United States Marine by an act of God.”

She laughed long and loud.

“God, you’re so young and cocky. I fuckin’ love that!”

Oo-rah!

I dropped my pants and briefs, watching Dina’s eyes as she followed their descent. I could swear the woman was spitting sparks. And I was hard again. This time, I hoped she’d keep her knees to herself.

The water was hot, and felt fucking fantastic as I sank down into it. It was also good to soak off some of the salt that had been sticking to me ever since surfing earlier.

“How long can you hold your breath, Marine?” she said.

“Um, a couple of minutes? I don’t really know.”

She smiled this slow, sexy smile. “I can hold mine for three and a half minutes.”

“Okaaay?”

And then she went down on me, right there in the hot tub. Woman sucked like a fucking hoover. Jesus, I wasn’t going to need three and a half minutes if she carried on like that.

I had to stop myself from grabbing her hair and ramming her head down my cock, but I was still a bit nervous of her – woman had teeth, and I didn’t think she’d be afraid to use them.

About a minute into the show, I felt my balls tighten in a way that had nothing to do with her left hand squeezing them.

I tapped her on the shoulder, being polite and all.

“Um, Dina, shit! Um, I’m gonna… fuck! I’m gonna…”

She pulled away immediately, and finished me off with a twist of her hand, that wasn’t particularly gentle.

I came all over her tits, and she just sat there smiling at me.

“Sorry, honey. I’m the fluffer – I don’t swallow that shit. It’s a pity my roommate Stephanie isn’t here. She loves to swallow.”

I may have passed out while she was speaking, because when I opened my eyes, she was straddling my legs and biting the hell out of my neck. Shit, her teeth were sharp – I was really glad they weren’t near my dick anymore.

It took me about a minute to get hard again. What can I say? I was 21 and had been in a fucking desert for nine months. I knew I shoulda used a condom, but how the hell was I supposed to do that in a hot tub?

She rode the hell out of me, yelling and saying all this dirty shit. It was such a fucking turn on. She didn’t care who saw her or what they heard. She was just wild – and I loved it.

Just as we were getting pruney from the hot water, she grabbed me and dragged me into her lair. She called it a bedroom, but I wasn’t so sure.

She wanted to tie me up, but I was still remembering how she’d manhandled me earlier.

“Why don’t you let me tie up you?” I suggested as an alternative.

She glanced at the clock next to her bed.

“Okay. My roomie will be back soon, so if you get too weird, she’ll use the blender on your balls. Fair enough?”

I swallowed. What was it with women threatening my equipment?

“Um, yeah. Fair enough.”

This time I did use a condom, and after I’d tied her hands to the headboard, I turned her over and took her from behind. I was actually kinda lusting after her ass, but it seemed rude when we didn’t know each other that well. Maybe, if I was still there in a few hours.

Anyway, we were rocking that big old bed when fuck me if her roommate didn’t just walk right in on us. She didn’t even look surprised.

She walked in and slapped my ass while I was fucking her roommate. Yeah, what? Shit, I came so hard, I saw stars.

“Oh, hey,” said Dina, breathlessly. “Sebastian, this is Stephanie – Steph. Do you mind if she joins us?”

By that point, I was pretty sure I was hallucinating.

The new woman had black hair and brown eyes, and was holding a can of Bud Light. She shred her clothes before I could answer, and my eyes wandered over some really insane tats on her back and leg.

Round three. Or was it four? I’d lost count.

“Hmm, let’s take it to the next level,” said Stephanie. “Whaddya say, bitch?”

I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or Dina, but neither of them seemed to care what I thought. My dick was just happy to join the party.

By the next morning, I was like the walking dead, and my cock had had more of a workout than when I was 15 and jerking off morning, noon and night. I had bite marks all over my chest, and probably my ass, too, from what I could remember. One of them – maybe both – had scratched the shit out of me, and I looked like I’d been wrestling with a wildcat, which was about right.

I’m not sure how I walked out of there without my knees buckling. Dina gave me this huge, happy grin as I pulled on my pants, and I wondered if she was going to give me a certificate or something.

She pointed one of her claws at my chest, and I swear my dick whimpered.

“You are a credit to the Corps, Sebastian,” she said.

Stephanie leaned up on one elbow and blew me a kiss, before heading back down under the sheets to… hell, by that point, I was so tired, I didn’t even care what she was doing. I just gave a half-hearted wave and trudged out of the door.

Oo-rah.

When I got back to the minivan, I saw that all bodies were present and accounted for, stretched out on the cold sand, muffled in their sleeping bags. I almost envied them. I had muscle strain in places I didn’t know could be strained. Dina had been right about the body surfing – all I wanted to do was lie my aching body the fuck down, and die a happy man.

I crawled into the minivan, and passed out on the back seat.

It felt about five fucking minutes later when some bastard was crashing around, waking me up.

“Hey, bro!” said Ches. “You look like shit. Rough night?” He dragged my t-shirt away from my neck. “Jeez, man! That must have been some chick!”

“Yeah, and her friend,” I said, yawning my head off.

“Outstanding!” he yelled.

“Gimme a break,” I muttered, lying down again.

“Oh, hell, no!” laughed Ches. “We’re going surfing! Get your ass into gear and move it, marine!”

“Fuck off!”

The bastard pushed me hard, and I fell off of the seat and crashed onto the floor. Fuck! As if my body wasn’t already damaged enough.

Ches jumped from the minivan, laughing his ass off.

By that time, everyone was awake and my chance of sleeping off the damage was non-existent.

We surfed some more, ate tortillas at Tecate Jack’s and then hung out on the beach. I fell asleep in the sun, and got maybe a couple of hours’ shuteye, before Ches nudged me with his foot and said we were heading out.

His folks were flying in that evening and he wanted to get back.

Gareth dropped us off first and about a second later Ches’s mom, Shirley, was hugging the crap out of both of us.

“My boys!” she said with a huge smile. “You’re still in one piece!”

Amy looked pretty happy, too, and I saw her copping a feel of Ches’s ass when she thought no one was looking. Mitch strode out and we shook hands before he punched my shoulder and gave me a guy hug.

Mitch had been stationed at Camp Panzer Kaserne in Germany for the last year, so we compared notes and talked shit about the Corps, and then moved onto more general stuff. Amy was a lot calmer with them around, and I wasn’t the only one who was grateful for that.

Or so I thought.

I went out to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and Amy followed me.

“You promised me that you’d look after Ches!” she hissed.

I was taken aback. What the hell was she on about?

“What? I did look after him! He’s fine. Nothing happened.”

She folded her arm across her chest, which was a pretty fucking amazing achievement, given the size of it.

“You left him!” she snapped. “You went off with some woman. He told me. Look at you! You’re covered in hickeys – it’s disgusting.”

She was really beginning to piss me off.

“Hey! I made sure his drinks were watered down, and I got him into a taxi. Nothing happened to him! So what’s your fucking damage?”

I wanted to tell her that it was her dickwad of a brother who’d almost gotten us into a fight.

“Just keep your pathetic hands off of my bridesmaids. They’re my friends, Seb, if you even know what that means. I’m not kidding! I…”

Luckily, Shirley came into the kitchen, and Amy left immediately, her face still twisted with anger.

“Everything okay out here?”

I shrugged and got my water.

When she didn’t leave, I should have known something was on her mind.

“Are you bringing a date to the wedding?” she asked, too casually.

“Why would I want to do that when you’re going to be there?” I replied, trying to go for casual.

She laughed. “I’ll save you a dance. Maybe one of Amy’s friends…?”

I knocked that idea back PDQ. “Nah, Best Man duties is enough for me, Shirley.”

She looked at me, her face serious. “Look, I know the last few years since Caro… the last few years have been hard…”

Fuck. I really didn’t want to hear that name – not now.

“Shirley, I’m good. It’s fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Of course I worry about you, Sebastian, the same as I worry about Ches. Just… just don’t give up on the idea of meeting someone. You’ve got to stop pushing people away. And I’m not talking about your hook ups.” She waved a hand. “Don’t worry, Ches hasn’t told me… much… but I hate seeing you being so… hard, when I know that’s not you.” She looked me in the eye. “She did love you, you know. Caroline – she did love you.”

I closed my eyes and turned away.

“Yeah, but not enough.”

And I’d really had enough of that conversation. Shirley kissed my cheek and left me alone.

I wasn’t sure what to make of what she’d just said. I mean, I’d moved on, right? I was seeing other women. Yeah, casual stuff but so what?

I tried to shake off what she’d said, but it left me with an uneasy feeling.

None of us were in the mood for staying up late, so we had an early night. I tried to get comfortable on the couch, but couldn’t sleep. I ended up dragging my bedroll into the backyard and falling asleep under the cold stars.

A loud scream woke me, and I automatically reached for my M16 before I remembered where I was. I realized the sound was more happy squeals than screams, and decided that the bridesmaids must have arrived.

That was our cue for getting our shit and driving out to the country club for breakfast. Shirley took pity on me, and made me a cup of coffee before Ches, Mitch and I were kicked out.

We had a quick breakfast at the club, and then checked into our rooms. Ches was beginning to look nervous, and he asked me three times to show that I had the rings safe. On the fourth time, I told him that if he asked me again I was going to swallow them, and then he’d have to wait for me to shit them out. That kept him quiet – for about five minutes.

I ordered a bottle of tequila from room service, and we did a couple of shots just to help him calm the fuck down. Then he headed back to his room to get dressed.

I set my phone to wake me in 45 minutes and managed to cat-nap before showering, shaving off the stubble, and changing into my Dress Blues.

Even though Amy hadn’t wanted Ches to enlist, she had a thing about me and Mitch wearing our uniforms. Whatever. I didn’t get to wear the Blues that much, and it saved renting a tux.

I realized I’d better make a start on writing my speech, but then Mitch came in and we did some more shots, while he was rambling on about when Ches was a kid.

I really envied what they had. My bastard of a father had never given a shit about me, and there was no way he’d be reminiscing on my wedding day – assuming I was dumb enough ever to get married. I was kidding myself – no chick would be dumb enough to have me. I was damaged goods, and I knew it.

Their ceremony went off well. Amy looked cute, and the dress managed to corral her tits somewhat. I saw her friend Stacey checking me out, but reminded myself that she was off limits. Shirley cried and even Mitch wiped a tear away. I didn’t swallow the rings, and I didn’t drop them either. Job done.

And Ches was a married man. Well, fuck me.

The meal was pretty nice but I couldn’t enjoy it, because, firstly, I was sitting with Amy’s parents and Tyler on one side, who was slowly getting waste; and secondly, I knew that my speech was coming up, and I’d written fuck-all down. But then the emcee announced me, and it was time for me to do my thing. Don’t fuck up! Don’t fuck up!

“Um, hi, everyone. So, this is when I have to do the Best Man’s speech thing. That’s cool.”

Which was a fucking lie – I was sweating bullets, especially wearing my Dress Blues.

“But Ches already knows I’m the best man – isn’t that right, brother?”

I know he wanted to tell me to fuck off, but he couldn’t with his new in-laws sitting there. It was pretty funny.

“I’ve known Ches since he was 14, this skinny little kid, but he had a pair of Tom Boyle Vans – not that I’m still hung up on it or anything.”

I saw a couple of Ches’s guy friends nodding in the audience, but everyone else just looked confused.

“He was the new kid at school and I was the runty Navy brat who was a year younger, but we bonded over his wheels, and have been friends ever since.

“And then I met Shirley and Mitch. Man, I was jealous! They were the coolest parents, and in case you didn’t know, Base Salsa champions – four years running. Shirley, you shake your bootie like no one else!”

“Hey!” shouted Ches. “That’s my mom you’re talking about, you perv!”

“Pity you didn’t inherit any of her dance skills, dude. You have two left feet!”

I could see Amy nodding in silent agreement, and snickers amongst Ches’s college friends.

“Yeah, well me and Ches, and later on our buddy Fido, too, we did a whole load of shi… um… stuff, hanging out at the pier in the summer, surfing our asses off. We had a lot of firsts together – junior prom – that hell on earth. No one, no one should force a 16 year old guy into a suit, let alone a tux – that’s just evil. So we blew off our senior prom and got wasted on some good wee… on, um, Mitch’s beer – thanks for that Mitch, by the way.”

“You can pay me back later,” he yelled.

“Not gonna happen, Mitch. And just so’s you know, it was Ches who drank your Jack Daniels on Christmas that year.”

“I can’t believe you ratted me out!” whined Ches.

“Don’t get me started, man! Yeah, so we did that a lot, senior year, pretty certain that we’d spend our lives on the beach, me, Ches, Fido. But no one has a choice about growing up. I know Ches wouldn’t want to forget the third wheel of our wonky train, even though he isn’t here to be with you today, brother.”

The sudden silence was profound.

“So please join me in a toast to Fido, and the others who didn’t make it home: To absent friends.”

Everyone drank the toast with me, and I knew I’d killed the buzz. I had to get it back.

“Yeah, and there was another time Ches was so hungover, he threw up in his book bag and then forgot about it. Until the next day – when we had Biology. Man, that stunk so bad! Shirley and Mitch weren’t too happy when Ches had his ass handed to him by Principal Hernandez two days before graduation. Ches, when it comes to whisky, man, just say no!

“Well, after that we spent our senior prom night on the beach like I said, dissing girls and saying how it was way cooler to just hang – guys only. And then Amy came along and rocked his world. Man, you should have seen the sappy look in his eye when he talked about her. I was about ready to puke – no offense!”

Her eyes snapped as she stared at me, and I really wished Ches hadn’t told her about my TJ hook-up.

“But then I met her, and saw how cool she was, and how she kept his ass in line. And how much she loved him. And how much he loved her… the kind of love that you know is going to make it no matter what shit life throws at you…”

I took a deep breath, not wanting to sound like a fucking pussy.

“Amy, not only are you marrying a great guy and my best friend – my brother – but you’re joining an awesome family, and I know how happy they are to have you as a part of it.”

I really meant that. I was almost jealous that she got to be part of their family, but I knew Mitch and Shirley considered me another son, pretty much.

“So, please raise your glasses to toast a beautiful bride and a damn fine groom: To Amy and Ches.”

I sat down, relieved that I’d managed to speak in an almost coherent way, without swearing. Much.

Shirley nudged by arm.

“That was a really nice speech, Seb. I’m glad I wore waterproof mascara,” and she leaned over to kiss my cheek.

“Me, too,” said Mitch, raising his eyebrows and puckering his lips.

Shirley slapped his arm and laughed.

It felt really good being back with my family, my real family, even if I couldn’t help feeling that everything had changed now that Ches was married.

I watched him take Amy’s hand and lead her onto the floor for the first dance. They’d picked Van Morrison’s Brown-eyed Girl, and I really wished they’d chosen any fucking song but that one. It brought back too many memories of another brown-eyed girl.

After a minute Shirley and Mitch took to the floor. Damn they could move. It was a real pity Ches hadn’t inherited the rhythm gene – Amy looked like she was dancing with a lame bullock. Sad fucker.

I headed for the bar and, duties done, I got a couple of tequila shots lined up.

The short bridesmaid kept eyeing me up, so I got my focus on the bottle in front of me, until Shirley came over to bust my chops. I knew I was in trouble when she used my full name.

“Sebastian! What are you doing drinking here by yourself?”

“Just chillin’, Shirley.”

“You’re supposed to dance with the bridesmaids – it’s traditional.”

“No way! Amy chewed my ass out for thirty minutes, telling me to stay the fu… hell away from her friends. I like having my testicles attached to my body.”

She snorted, and I didn’t know if she was annoyed by my language or amused. I’d had just enough tequila that I didn’t care. Much.

“She told you not to sleep with them, Seb, not that you couldn’t dance with them!”

“Yeah, well…”

“Oh for goodness sake! Dance with me instead!” She grabbed my sleeve, and hauled me off to the dance floor and we stayed for a couple of numbers before she palmed me off on Stacey. Which was probably her plan in the first place.

“I think you guys have met?” Shirley said, smirking at me as she spoke.

“Hi, Mrs. Peters. Yes, we’ve met a couple of times,” said Stacey. “But I’ve never seen you in uniform before, Seb.”

“He looks very handsome, doesn’t he?” said Shirley, her voice fond.

“He sure does,” said Stacey, trying not to laugh.

“Jeez, Shirley! I’m standing right here!”

“Well, shape up, Marine! This lovely young lady is without a dance partner.”

She pushed us together and strolled off. As much as she could in five inch heels.

“Sorry about that,” I mumbled. “You don’t have to dance if you don’t want to.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said quickly.

“Yeah, but I’d like to survive this wedding in one piece, and Amy gave me strict instructions not to… um…”

“Not to what?”

Fuck!

“Ah hell: she told me not to hit on you, okay?”

Stacey blushed. “She said that?”

“Um, yeah. Sorry.”

“Well, I’m sure I can risk your charms for one dance.”

I raised my eyebrows at her sassy tone. “Sure about that?”

“Quite sure,” she said, her voice challenging.

“Well, okay, then.”

I held her hand, and walked her toward the dance area.

I remembered that I’d danced with her once before, on my 21st birthday, before it had all gone to shit. It felt… good. I mean, she seemed like a nice girl, and I was going to be at Pendleton for the next five months. Maybe we could take it a bit further. Maybe I could finally forget the woman who’d ripped my heart out.

Maybe.

I pulled her in closer and Stacey smiled up at me.

–0–

CLR – Combat Logistics Regiment

C5 Galaxy – military transport plane

Space A – Space Available; military members can travel on military planes between bases if there is room available on that particular flight

15 Comments

  1. Amazing! Simply amazing! One of Sebastian’s POV’s from you, Jane, is better than some books.
    Today was a real treat. Thank you, Grazie, and Ta. 🙂

  2. just wanted you to know how much i appreciate you writing this. Loved it Jane. keep up the great work!

  3. Thank you so much for continuing their story. I love to read about Sebastian and / or Caroline.
    I sure hope to read some more!
    Love it!!!!

  4. I am so glad your bonus Sebastian stories are back— for re-reading purposes….and I loved this new one! I have missed Seb and Caro…

  5. Thanks, Cheryl. I love writing about young Seb, even though it’s so sad at times. Glad you enjoyed this : ) jx

  6. Yes! There’ll definitely be more. Soonish. Thanks for asking : ) jx

  7. Happy you enjoyed this. Thank you! jx

  8. Bless you, hon : ) jx

  9. Yeah! The comments area is up and running, I wondered why I was getting so many email notifications on, The Best Man. They came from WordPress.
    I notice the wedding takes place in 2005. We already had Seb’s POV on his 21st, so I am wondering if, we are 4 years into the 10 year separation of Seb and Caro? I am asking because I know one of your biggest fans had asked for a book which covers the 10 years in between,TEoS and TEoC. It looks like you have already covers 4 years with Seb’s POV’s.
    The one other Seb POV that I would like is; the Italian trip. I want to know what Seb was thinking right before the proposal. That trip was a dream they had both had. It was the bedtime story from TEoS.
    In the meantime, Jane; thank you. Grazie, Ta, and, domo arigato ! Yes, when I think of a book that JHB writes, that includes travel in another country, I am reminded of your beautiful, light romance: The New Samurai. Japan or Italy, your writing takes us there!

  10. Yes, this is four years in. I like the idea of writing more about the Italian trip because Seb was pretty spiky and very insecure at times, along with being very alpha and dominant. That’s why I like writing him. Definitely think about this bonus chapter. Do itashemashite! jx

  11. Lovely! I wish I had seen this reply before the one on, ‘In Geneva’ 🙂
    As to the last word in your reply here; looks like it was written by some demonic typewriter ? 🙂

  12. All keyboards are inhabited by spirits. They can work for good or evil – the trick is knowing what kind you’ve got : ) jx

  13. Only just managed to get on here. Am really happy now that I have caught up with it all. Fab writing as always Jane. Still would love to see how seb & caro deal with parenthood. But I think we all know that they’d be amazing. Thank you again x

  14. Really glad you’ve enjoyed the bonus chapters. I’ve got some others planned, but not post-baby at the moment. Never say never! jx

  15. Oh my I loved this but still feel so sad for Sebastian just waiting for her return still and so angry. I love these bits and pieces

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