by Stephanie Block

Apparently, Friday is military payday. That’s when all the boys come out to spend their hard-earned money like so many campers leaving bunkbeds behind. They flood the bars of Waikiki from Kaneohe Bay and other bases—this island paradise is littered with them. Which is why, in my opinion, they call it paradise in the first place.

I met Luke one night by accident. I was ordering a shot of whiskey at the only country bar on the island, Nashville Waikiki, when I noticed a cowboy come sauntering in. He sidled up next to me and ordered the same. He had on a ten-gallon hat and got about twenty gallons of my attention. His blue shirt had “Wrangler” stitched across it in red. Out of my mouth flew the words, “Hey cowboy, I bet you couldn’t wrangle me.”

Do words ever just fly out of your mouth sometimes? So this young hunk turns to me without missing a beat and answers, “Ma’am, you couldn’t handle me.”

Now I was hooked. Call me a feisty filly, but I’ve always been attracted to a challenge. A charming challenge. When an old Hawaiian man made his rounds with leis for the ladies, Luke bought me one.

Next thing I knew, I was walking with him on the beach in the moonlight. You’re probably thinking to yourself, how stupid! He could be an axe murderer. But there was something about him—his southern accent, the military code of what’s left of chivalry—or some sex-th sense. I just felt safe with him. He took his jacket off for me to sit on in the sand. We sat down together and kissed. That’s all that happened. Pinky swear.

I heard of a party the next night at an upscale hotel. In my little black dress, I hoped to take things up a notch, find a yacht and golf clubs kind of guy. I knew Luke had to be on base that night. I was almost out the door when he called. He said he was sneaking off base to see me. I hedged. Frankly, I had only seen him in jeans and a Stetson. Was the posh hotel the right kind of place to meet up? How awful of me, I know, I know. But wouldn’t an end-of-the-night bootycall keep everyone happy?

I said, “You know, it’s really fancy where I’m going. No jeans or cowboy hats.” He said he understood and that he’d see me soon. So I caved. Well you try arguing with a man who starts his sentences with, “hey, now,” like sugar water dripping from his tongue.

I was too strange for the country club men anyway. I had experimented with psychadelic produce in college. I had once dyed my hair pink. I paced back and forth along the picture windows of the seaside hotel. I worried that I was bringing the wrong kind of sand to the beach. He was young, from a farm in Alabama, an accomplished roper. This would be too uncomfortable… There was no way that any good could come of this.

In the next moments it was like the cabin pressure in the room just dropped. Strutting through the doors like a five-star peacock came Luke. His suit jacket complimented his perfectly square shoulders, and with his blonde hair and sophisticated glasses, he looked for all the world like Howie from the Radio Shack commercials. It seemed to me that the room had to bend around him to accommodate his being.

I was entranced; we left the tee and tea set behind and made love in my hotel room up until the last minutes of dawn before he had to sneak back onto base. He wasn’t an officer but was quite the gentleman. He was a self-proclaimed grunt, the first line of Marine defense. As in the ones who get shot at first, a human wall of honor-bound hunks. He explained his choice this way: “If you’re on a football team, you don’t want to be on the bench.”

He got shipped off two days later to Japan for training. On my last night in Hawaii, alone in my hotel room because I knew I’d already sampled the best of what Waikiki had to offer, I wrote him the first of a series of perfumed letters. Only this first one had the wilting purple petals from the lei he had given me the night I met him.

I hear he’s married now. But I hear he still asks about me.

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