By James Dunn

Second Lieutenant James Dawson made his way through the Happy Hour crowd at the Charleston Air Force Base Officer’s Club bar and ordered a glass of white wine. After he took a sip his friend and squadron mate, First Lieutenant John Tamkun came up from behind and nudged his arm. “Glad you showed. Need your help.”

Dawson half closed an eye. “For what?”

Tamkun waved to order two glasses of white wine. “I’m trying to pick up a cute blonde but feel guilty about leaver her friend alone. You get the friend.”

“Is the friend good looking?”

Tamkun paid for the two glasses of wine and gave one to Dawson. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Follow me.”

Dawson followed his friend across the room toward two young ladies sitting next to each other. Tamkun placed one before a slim woman with blonde hair. “Joanie, Theresa—this is my buddy, Jimmy Dawson.”

Dawson leaned forward and deposited a glass of white wine in front of the brunette. “Glad to meet you. John said you wanted a drink, so I got this for you. May I take a seat?”

Theresa nodded her head. “Of course.”

He settled in the chair next to the brunette. “As John said, I’m Jimmy Dawson, and you’re…”

“Theresa Patton.”

Dawson’s cheeks puffed out betraying a big smile. “Glad to meet-cha.”

Theresa turned toward her friend. For a bit, their eyes locked. Her eyebrows rose up above her glasses. When she turned back his way, Dawson pulled on his lips and was wondering what was implied in that long gaze between the two women. But now Theresa’s lips were pulled back with creases at the sides of her mouth and she was saying, “I’m sure.”

Tamkun cut in. “As I said, Jimmy’s only been here a few months.”

Dawson pulled at his ear as he addressed the woman. “How long have you two lived in Charleston?”

Joanie pulled at her gold necklace and said, “All our lives.” She quickly added, “But Theresa moved around a lot.”

Dawson took a quick sip of his wine. “Why did you move around a lot, Therese?”

She shrugged. “Navy family.”

“Interesting. What do you do for a living?”

“Schoolteacher.”

“Nice. My cousin is a schoolteacher in New York. Come here often?”

“Uh, no-o-o.” She rolled her eyes, then again moved her gaze to her friend and said, “Joanie, I have to go to the powder room.”

“I’ll join you.”

As soon as the women were out of earshot Tamkun remarked, “Jimmy, those are the worst lines I’ve heard. Ease up! This isn’t an interrogation. That line come here often…. It gives off bad vibes. It’s a common line. Think of something original.”

“Hell, John—music hasn’t started yet. A dance breaks the ice. Gives me something to talk about. Back home everyone knew each other and their families. It was easy to talk to women. Here, they’re all strangers. I don’t know what to talk about.”

Tamkun first looked over his shoulder then said, “Women like compliments. She’s a teacher. Appeal to her intellect. Compare her to the great minds of history. If that doesn’t work, compliment her clothes and outfit.”

“I don’t know much about women’s clothes.”

“Hell, Jimmy. Think of what you have seen or heard in ladies’ commercials. Those guys that think that stuff up are the best con artists in the business. Be smooth. Be Cary Grant.”

Dawson tipped his head. “Okay-okay, here they come.”

When the ladies were seated again Dawson took a sip of his wine then said, “Was thinking, Theresa. Your last name is the same as General George Patton. A master strategist, and superb intellect. Probably why you’re so good at teaching kids. Must be in the genes.”

Theresa’s head dropped forward. Her eyebrows arched above her glasses. She looked flabbergasted. She exchanged a glance with Joanie. “I can honestly say, Mr. Dawson—I have never heard that one before. No. I am not a relative of your General Patton.”

“Well, you’re certainly much prettier and charming than he was. Isn’t that right, John?”

Tamkun, with elbows propped on the table, was pinching the bridge of his nose. Dawson frowned and asked, “You okay, John?”

“No problem. Just a sudden migraine.”

Dawson returned his attention to Theresa. “He’ll be fine. Say, that’s a fine dress. You’ve spit-shined your shoes—and your outfit is well coordinated. I’d say you’ve got impeccable taste.”

Theresa’s eyes inched wider. Her lips came together and a smile began to ease across her face until Dawson added, “My mother has one like it.”

Suddenly Tamkun doubled over. Wine sprayed from his mouth onto the floor. In a raspy voice, he cried, “Waterloo, Waterloo!”

Dawson jumped up and grabbed Tamkun’s elbow, called out, “He needs water.”

“Back in a second, ladies. Must have gone down the wrong tube.” Dawson escorted Tamkun through the thin crowd to the bar to order a glass of water. He slapped Tamkun on the back and asked, “You alright?”

Tamkun reached for the water, and chugged the whole glassful. He took a deep breath. He exclaimed, “You fucking idiot! Are you a social retard?”

“What-what?”

“Do you know what you just told Theresa?”

“I gave her a complement.”

“No you didn’t dummy. You said she’s in a twenty-year-old dress—and looks like your mother!”

“Cheese-us, John. It was a complement. Back home the girls make their own clothes. Copying other dresses is a compliment.”

Tamkun brushed wine droplets from his uniform shirt with the napkin. “You’re in a different culture now. Doesn’t apply here.”

“What do I do?”

“Do you like her?”

“She’s not bad looking. I don’t know her yet. The way she rolls her eyes and looks away I don’t think I impressed her.”

Tamkun waved to order more drinks. “You got that right.”

“Now what?”

“Do you want a date with, Theresa?”

“Hadn’t thought about it.”

“I’m making time with her friend. If Joanie is happy, she’ll make me happy, know-what I mean?”

Yeah.”

“If you want to make time with Theresa, act natural. Women like guys that are a bit naive…you got that covered. We have to break them apart. There’s a pool table in the stag bar in the next room. We can do teams. It will give you something to talk about instead of General Patton.” As they made their way back with the drinks, Tamkun added, “Don’t blow this for me, Jimmy. I expect an Academy Award performance.”

Dawson settled in his seat. After a bit, he turned a sheepish grin to Theresa’s stony-faced gaze and said, “John’s okay…. But about what I said before… it came out wrong. What I meant to say was, my mother is a seamstress in my hometown. That pattern and color of your dress is all the rage in New York and Paris. She makes them for all the girls. I haven’t seen anything like it down here. You must be a trendsetter.”

Theresa gazed into her wine glass as she slowly twisted the stem. She mumbled “Original.” She looked up “Where did you say you’re from?”

“Upstate New York. Twenty miles west of Albany. It was a rural area. No traffic lights. Not even a post office.”

Her brown eyes floated up to meet his. “So… I presume you have not been around… people?”

“There were people, of course—just not many of them. Took the school bus an hour and a half to pick up us kids and get us to school.”

A small crease of her lips formed a half-smile as she rolled her head around and said, “Isn’t that interesting, Joanie? It appears that Jimmy hasn’t spent a lot of time with… Southerners. “

Joanie answered in her usual soft voice. “Well, I’d say that means he’s got a lot to learn.”

Theresa’s brow wrinkled, as though in thinking mode. Her eyes zeroed in on Dawson. She said, “Obviously.”

Dawson pulled back. “You’re not going to hold it against me—for being from the North, are you?”

A slight smile crept across Theresa’s face. “Oh, no-o-o – just wondering if you’re trainable.”

Tamkun interrupted, “Hey guys… the music won’t start for a while, so how about a game of eight ball? The pool table’s in the Stag Bar in the next room. Let’s go.”

The Stag bar was about half the size of the main bar but the lights were dimmer. Overhead lights illuminated the dartboard and pool table. Upon entering they saw two men in green flight suits were playing darts in the far corner. A scattering of men with wives or dates were chatting at the few tables. At the bar were a mix of guys in green flight suits and civilian clothes. Several amateur pool players were finishing up their game. After they departed Tamkun grabbed the pool rack and collected the pool balls for their game.

Unnoticed by the others, Teresa rubbed her stick into the chalk cube the way professional pool players do. Tamkun called out, “Me and Joanie against you two—loser pays!”

On the break, neither John nor Joanie knocked a ball into a pocket. Dawson motioned his hand toward Theresa, “Ladies first.”

She pushed her glasses up and studied the table for a moment. Shortly she took aim with her cue stick, and sent the cue ball into the green ball. When it missed the side pocket she said, “Guess I’m not very good at this.”

Dawson said, “It’s just a matter of angles and force.”

Theresa lowered her head but kept her eyes on Dawson and murmured just loud enough to be heard, “Hm-m-m. Be more forceful.”

Dawson leaned over the table and sighted along his cue stick to line up his shot. Theresa leaned in close and with a warm flowing breath blew in his ear and said, “Looks complicated.”

This startled Dawson and he jumped. “I—uh…. Sorry! Didn’t mean to— ”

Theresa chuckled. “That’s quaint.”

“Quaint?”

Theresa beamed a sunshine smile. “Yeah. You’re blushing.”

For an instant Dawson hid his face in his palm. “Yeah. Well… it takes time to line up a shot.” He cleared his throat. “Have to calculate stuff. The angle-in equals angle-out. Force equals mass— times acceleration.”

Theresa adjusted her glasses. She stepped closer to Dawson and looked up and down the table. “Angles and force. I just have to make things go the way I want them to go. Interesting game.”

“That’s right. It only takes some force. But here, a little push will do.”

“Hm-m-m,” she said, puckering her lips. “Maybe more push.”

Dawson’s next shot knocked the solid orange ball into the side pocket. He stood straight and said, “That was an acute angle shot—with a light touch on the stick.” He aimed at a ball at the far end of the table. His stick engaged the cue ball, which shot down the table. It hit a solid green ball which hit the bumper and missed the corner pocket.

He turned her way and said, “Too much force.”

“Hm-m,” she murmured. “Guess I’d better remember not to use too much force—just go for a better angle.”

While John and Joanie took their turns Theresa slid close to Dawson’s right side. When her turn came she held the cue stick at both ends like an ax and sighted along the stick. “Can’t see the angle you mentioned. Could you help me?”

Dawson reached around her back and placed his palm on hers. “I’m not trying to be fresh.”

Her shoulder-length hair shielded her smirk. “Yes, I know.”

“Just loosen your grip and hold the stick with your fingers.” He stretched his left hand to the other end of the cue stick but his hand was short of hers. “I’m a little short.”

Theresa slid closer in front of him, as though they were slow dancing. She crooned, “This will help.”

“Y-yeah—that makes it easier.” Gently as a feather, Dawson repositioned Theresa’s left-hand flat on the table and placed the cue stick in the groove between her middle and index finger. “How’s the fit?”

“Fits good. Real good. Think it’ll work.”

“Okay. Now sight down the stick. The groove will help it to go straight.”

Theresa tilted her head sideways along the cue stick. “Don’t see the angle.”

Dawson stifled a chuckle. “Look over the stick, like a rifle.” He leaned over the cue stick and said, “Like this.”

Theresa tilted her head so it was within a deep breath of him. Dawson wrinkled his nose. “Peaches. Is that peach perfume?”

“It’s called Scent of Georgia. Like it?”

Dawson pulled away. “Reminds me of dawn over a cornfield after a rain. The droplets on the corn looked like diamonds.”

Theresa’s stick engaged the cue ball. It did hit a solid blue ball, but stopped short of a pocket. She gave a wide smile. “This could definitely work.”

Dawson said, “Nice shot. Just a little more force.”

“I see,” she said. She sipped her wine and followed behind as he surveyed the table. As he leaned over the table for a close look, she dumped the wine in her glass under the table and with an audible clank set the empty glass on the table’s shoulder.

Dawson jerked his head up. “Oh! Would you like another?”

“Please.”

Tamkun gulped down his wine and said, “Since you’re buying, Jimmy—us too!” He held out both of their glasses.

“Fine. Give me a hand—I don’t want to spill them all over.”

At the bar Dawson waited for the barmaid to fill the order. Tamkun leaned in close and said, “How’s it going?”

“Nice girl. Sort of cute… but can’t play pool worth a damn.”

They glanced back. The girls appeared to be deep into some serious chatting. Tamkun nudged Dawson and grinned. “Think I’m in. I don’t want Joanie to feel sorry for her friend, so don’t piss Theresa off.” As they headed back, glasses in hand, Tamkun leaned toward Dawson and whispered, “Don’t blow it for me.”

As soon as Dawson handed a glass to Theresa, she wandered along the side of the table. She glanced his way. “What about these angles you mentioned?”

Dawson replied, “I’ll show you.” He glanced over his shoulder. Joanie was fanning herself with a white paper napkin as Tamkun pulled at his jaw. He grinned and said, “Looks like John’s in deep thought.”

Theresa said, “Maybe.” A second later, “How does this look?” She was leaning over the table just as he had shown her minutes earlier. She held her position and said, “How about I go for the yellow ball?”

“Looks like an obtuse angle shot. Pretty tough to make. Try the—”

Tamkun bumped his elbow. “How’s it going, you pool shark?”

Dawson waited till Theresa moved to the opposite side of the table. He answered in a low voice. “She’s embarrassed about not knowing about playing pool. Self-conscious, yuh know?”

Tamkun glanced back at Joanie. “The best you can do is build up her confidence. Get some good conversation going. If she sinks a few balls, offer her a movie date.”

“Yeah. Guess I can do that.”

“Hell, Jimmy! It’s a sure bet. She’s terrible. Won’t cost you a dime. Trust me. You can ditch her later.”

Dawson sighed. He soon stepped closer to Theresa, but paused to glance across the way at the others. Their eyes were turned his way, as though they had him under a microscope. He touched his yellow lieutenant bars on his blue uniform shirt, to ensure they had not fallen off. He rubbed his forehead, trying to shake the awful feeling of being out of place.

He stepped over to the table. “Was thinking, Theresa. Let’s make this a real game. You sink the next two balls in a row; I’ll treat you to a movie.”

Dawson did not see Joanie give John a sharp elbow shot to the ribs. Tamkun roared, “Don’t be a cheap pilot, Jimmy—throw in a dinner.”

Dawson’s head shot back in surprise. His mouth fell open. He said, “You sink the next three balls, it’s dinner and a movie.”

Theresa grinned. “And if I lose?”

He chuckled. “I’ll buy you a drink and we can talk about it. Fair enough?”

She began screwing her cue stick into the blue cue chalk. “How do I know you’ll keep your word?”

Dawson closed his eyes and bobbed his head with a smile. “I’m an officer and a gentleman. We always keep our word.”

He opened his eyes to see Theresa leaning over the table and holding the cue stick as he had instructed.

She aimed at the cue ball. It was in direct line with a green ball at the far end of the table, close to the corner pocket. He leaned close to her ear. “That’s a long shot.”

She said softly, “Maybe.”

Theresa’s cue stick poked the cue ball. It rolled straight as an arrow and knocked the green ball into the pocket. Still leaning over, she looked at him over her shoulder. “You’re a good teacher.”

Her next shot tapped the orange ball into the opposite corner pocket. Her cheeks puffed with a broad smile. “Must be beginner’s luck.”

Dawson zeroed in on her when she mumbled, “Eight in the side.”

Dawson gawked as the eight ball dropped out of sight.

She set the cue stick on the table. “That’s game. I have to get Mom’s car back by eight. Pick me up at six Friday. I’m on Evers Street. First right over the Folly Beach Bridge. Fourth house on the right. Don’t be late.”

Dawson watched with marble eyes and parted lips. Tamkun stepped up shoulder to shoulder with him. Dawson said, “John – was – was I just coned?”

Tamkun laughed and fanned himself with a white napkin with a phone number on it. “She’s going to be a handful… and if I were you, I sure as hell wouldn’t be late.”

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