Chapter 8 – Kara
The next week of work flew by for Kara. Her replacement as yeoman for her command arrived mid-week, Yeoman Second Class Laura Hughes. Laura was married to a sailor, and her husband was also joining the command. She and Kara got along well and Kara couldn’t help but tell Laura about her prospects with Alex as they talked about their lives. Kara confided that she was excited about seeing Alex again on Friday night, but that she wasn’t ready to change her Facebook status to “in a relationship” just yet.
Friday came quickly, and Kara once again packed an overnight bag and headed to Austin. Alex took her to a restaurant and bar that boasted serving over a hundred different beers. She tried sips of a couple, but nothing really pleased her palette, so she ended up ordering a hard apple cider to go with her chicken sandwich and fries.
Being from Texas and going to school at the University of Texas at Austin, Alex was a huge fan of UT sports. Their basketball team happened to have a game in an early round of the NCAA tournament that night, and they watched and rooted the team on as they ate and drank. Unfortunately though, the Longhorns lost and were eliminated from the tournament. Kara felt bad that Alex seemed so disappointed by the loss, but she still enjoyed the night.
When they returned to Alex’s apartment, Mark was once again out. “I think he’s getting hot and heavy with his latest girlfriend,” Alex explained.
“Maybe we’ll get there too,” Kara told him. “Not quite yet, though.”
She had 7-and-7 and they watched TV and chatted once more. Alex talked about his father and his younger brother, who was a student at Texas A&M. His father, a successful car salesman, lived in Victoria, near the coast, with his girlfriend. Alex’s parents had long ago split up, he confided, and his mother had remarried and moved to Louisiana. Alex talked about his family’s tradition of camping out on the coast for Easter weekend.
“The beaches aren’t the best along Matagorda Bay, but we like to camp out there because it’s close to home,” he said. “My brother is going and he’s bringing his girlfriend. I’d like you to come too, Kara. It may be the last chance I get to spend time with you before final exams.”
Kara liked the idea and agreed to go. “I usually just go to Easter services at my church, but this sounds like a fun and different way to spend the holiday,” she remarked. “You know my boundaries, so please don’t give your family the impression that we’re ‘hot and heavy’, okay?” Alex agreed that he wouldn’t.
Bedtime was a repeat of the previous weekend. Kara loved it, and Alex didn’t seem to mind her withholding sex for now. He didn’t want to seem pushy on the subject. Saturday morning was also much the same as the week before, except this time Kara kissed Alex on the cheek when she leaned in for a hug before leaving. She told him how much she was looking forward to Easter weekend in two weeks.
But Kara had never been camping, and her only trip to the beach in Texas was one time with Tim. She had needed some items from the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station’s uniform shop, so she and Tim had decided to make a day of it and drive down. They headed out early on a Saturday morning and made the two-and-a-half hour drive, arriving at the uniform shop just before it opened. Kara was able to quickly find and purchase the items she needed, and afterward she had driven them to Mustang Island State Park to spend the afternoon on the beach.
She recalled being disappointed by the state of the beach at the park. She had grown up on the Atlantic coast of Florida, where the sands were white and the water cold, even during the heat of summer. They found the beach at Mustang Island covered with smelly seaweed. The sand was brown and rife with small seashells that hurt her feet, and the water was like a warm, dirty bath. She and Tim still had fun that day, but it was not what she imagined it would be. She would have to do some research to find out what Alex meant by the Matagorda Bay beaches being “not so great.”
At work, Kara found that training Laura Hughes was a snap. She was very sharp and picked things up easily and quickly. And Kara got to meet Laura’s husband, Petty Officer First Class Eric Hughes, that week as he was checking into the command. Laura explained that they had rented a house west of town that turned out to be not far from where Kara lived with Cindy. Laura promised to have Kara over for dinner once they had settled in.
There were only a few weeks left of cosmetology school for Kara. As classes came down to the wire, many of the women who had bonded over the past few months wanted to blow off steam with a girls’ night out after class on a Thursday. Kara suggested karaoke at Flannery’s because she and her friend Amelia had had so much fun there, but no one else seemed keen to go that far from the school.
Cowboy Don was Kara’s friend on Facebook, and she absolutely loved the picture of herself and Amelia that he had posted. She messaged Don that week to make sure he was still on for Thursday night and he replied that he was. Kara didn’t need these other women to have a good time. She would just head to Flannery’s herself for a drink, an appetizer, and perhaps some good company.
She removed her smock after class and threw it in the back seat of her car. She wore her old college sweatshirt underneath, over some old blue jeans. She arrived at Flannery’s at 10:30 P.M. to find karaoke in full swing. Pete was once again sitting at the table in front of Cowboy Don’s setup. Kara walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder as Cowboy Don sang a twangy old country song. Pete turned to see who had touched him, and he smiled when he recognized Kara from her previous visit to Flannery’s.
“Hello, stranger,” he said, his blue-gray eyes lighting up. “How have you been? Pull up a chair and I’ll get you a drink.”
Kara noticed that Pete was dressed much the same as the last time she’d seen him, in a polo shirt and designer jeans, and he looked well. She slid into the seat next to him and grabbed a menu.
“I’m sorry, I forgot your name,” Pete said sheepishly.
“It’s Kara with a k,” she replied.
“Okay, now I remember. And your friend was Amelia, right? What are you up to tonight?” he asked.
“I just finished a cosmetology class and wanted to stop by and say hello to Cowboy Don. You know, we’re friends on Facebook.”
“No, I didn’t know. I am too. I’ll send you a friend request. What’s your last name?”
“Sparks, as in sparks fly,” she replied, giggling at her not-so-subtle innuendo.
“Are you hungry? Let me get you an appetizer and a drink,” Pete said. He grabbed his near-empty beer bottle, finished the last swig, and pushed it away from him as Cowboy Don finished his song.
Just as Don announced the next singer, the server named Olivia emerged from the back and rushed to replace Pete’s beer. Kara ordered a wedge salad with ranch dressing on the side, one of the house whiskey specialty drinks, and a diet soda. Pete told Olivia to put the order on his tab, and Kara thanked him.
As the singer, Tomas, sang a song in Spanish, Cowboy Don approached Pete and Kara.
“Hello there! I was wondering when you’d show again,” Cowboy Don exclaimed.
“I wasn’t sure myself,” Kara replied. “I’ve been busy with work and school. And I’ve been away the past couple of weekends.”
“What do you do for a living?” Pete asked.
“Right now I’m active duty Navy, but I’m getting out soon, so I’m working on getting into cosmetology. Nothing fancy, just basic cut and color stuff.”
“Navy, huh?” Don said. “Ol’ Pistol Pete’s ex is Navy. And I’m retired from the Air Force.”
Pete looked a little embarrassed at the mention of his ex—Kara wondered if that meant wife or girlfriend—and quickly changed the subject. “I like your sweatshirt,” he said to Kara. “Did you go to school in Florida?”
“Yes, I grew up there. Three years at college there too before I enlisted in the Navy. I finished my degree in social work here in San Antonio.”
“Nice!” Pete replied.
“Why not stay in and become an officer then, rather than cut and color hair?” Don asked.
“I’m applying for an officer program,” Kara responded as Olivia brought their drinks. “But I don’t want to reenlist and not get in. Who knows where I might end up then? So I’ll cut hair for a little while until I find out if I’m accepted into the program on the second try.”
Tomas finished his song as Don quickly returned to his computer. The DJ then announced “Pistol Pete” as the next singer.
“He’s the only one that calls me that,” Pete said as an aside to Kara. Don brought him a cordless microphone. “Actually, I prefer Peter.”
After making room at the table for Kara’s salad, Peter stood up and moved away from the table, his gaze fixed on the TV monitor above Cowboy Don’s table. As the music started, he launched into the Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling, and Kara was once again impressed by the timber of his voice and how he put just the right touch of longing into his interpretation of the song.
Sure enough, in the middle of the song, Kara’s salad arrived and she dug in as she listened. She wasn’t sure if it was hunger, nerves, or a combination of the two, but she was consuming the salad ravenously, stopping every few bites to wash it down with sips of her diet soda.
When Peter finished the song, there was a smattering of applause from the Flannery’s patrons, and Kara put down her fork and joined in as Peter handed the microphone back to Cowboy Don.
Peter sat back down next to Kara and she stopped eating for a moment and took a sip of her whiskey drink. “So Peter, you asked what I do for a living. How about you? What’s your profession?” she asked.
“I’m a writer.”
“Really?” Kara’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “What sort of writing do you do?”
“Fiction. I used to have a government job, but I took a sort of early retirement.”
“What genre of fiction? Have you published anything yet?” Kara asked enthusiastically as Cowboy Don approached them.
“Well, I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I’m working on something of a romance novel right now. And it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to write. And no, I haven’t published anything yet.”
Cowboy Don arrived at the table just as he was finishing his sentence and chuckled. “A bodice-ripper, huh? I’ll bet the ladies will eat that up when it’s published.”
“If it’s ever published,” Peter replied, blushing a bit. “I stole the idea from a former professor of mine. He made half his money writing that sort of thing under a woman’s name.” Kara and Don both laughed at that.
“Well, I’ll probably never read it then. That sort of book just isn’t my cup of tea,” Kara said. “I don’t go for that kind of salaciousness.”
“If you can believe it,” Peter replied, “it’s probably no more or less tawdry than the stuff I usually write—erotica.”
Cowboy Don laughed at the sudden look of shock on Kara’s face, then quickly asked her if she would be singing that night.
“I’m not sure,” Kara said. “I have to work tomorrow, so I don’t want to stay too long. I just wanted to stop in and say hello.”
“Okay, let me know,” Don said before returning to his setup.
Kara turned to Peter. “So now I know why you put so much feeling into that that last song. Sleeping together in the desert, under a billion stars, sounds so romantic.”
Peter chuckled. “I guess so, but I really don’t like the desert and I’m not one for camping out. Give me a five-star hotel room in Vegas if you want romance in the desert.”
Kara laughed. “Well, it just so happens I’m going camping for the very first time on Easter weekend.”
“First time, huh? Easter weekend camping is a tradition in these parts. Where are you going?”
“Matagorda Bay area with a young man I’ve been seeing recently in Austin. His family from Victoria is going too.”
“I’m not familiar with the area,” Peter said in response, “but if you’re with good company, I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself. I personally prefer white sand beaches, like Padre Island.”
“Yeah, I haven’t been to South Padre. Only Mustang Island, and I wasn’t crazy about it, what with me being from the Florida coast.”
“I can see where you’d be disappointed with some of the Gulf Coast. I usually go to Padre Island National Seashore, a little way south of Corpus Christi. If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll be right back.”
He rose and went to give his next song selection to Cowboy Don as he was starting a second music video. Then Peter headed off to the men’s room and Don came over to see Kara as she was finishing her salad.
“I think Pete likes you,” he teased.
“He seems like a nice guy,” Kara replied, “but I usually like to stick to my own age group. In fact, I was just telling Peter that I’ve been seeing a great guy in Austin recently.”
“Austin? You probably don’t see each other much then?”
“Just weekends when we can. We’re both busy during the week.”
“No reason why a cute young lady like you can’t have a local boyfriend too,” Don said wryly. “Besides, monogamy is strictly for married folks. Take it from someone who’s been married three times.” He laughed.
His remarks left Kara blushing, and she quickly took a drink of her whiskey. “Well, I’ll just work on what I’ve got,” she said as Peter returned to the table. He noticed her face had reddened.
“Don’t let Don embarrass you,” Peter said. “He’s just a little rough around the edges.”
“Okay, Mr. Breeze,” Cowboy Don said with a smile. He left to return to his computer as the video was coming to an end and queued up Peter’s song.
“He’s referring to an old song I do sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily apply to me,” Peter said, as he stood up to get a better view of the monitor during his song.
He sang Hysteria by Def Leppard. Kara was not very familiar with the song, but once again, she marveled at how Peter was able to belt out a rock ballad so professionally. She thought he sounded like he was singing on the radio.
There was no denying Peter was a handsome man, but Kara’s previous experience with an older guy was long in the past, and not something she was thinking of revisiting. Still, she noticed he was not wearing a ring, and Cowboy Don had called him “Mr. Breeze,” whatever that meant. Maybe he was something of a player, like her friend Amelia.
Kara clapped when the song was finished and Peter returned to the table and sat down. Having finished her salad and half of her drink, Kara thought she had one song in her. “That was great, Peter. I think it’s my turn to sing now,” she said.
“Oh, what are you going to sing?”
“It’s a surprise, but I think you know it. It’s by a group my mom really loves.”
“Can’t wait to hear it,” Peter said with a smile.
Kara excused herself and stopped to give her selection to Cowboy Don before heading to the ladies’ room. Another singer was up as she headed to the restroom.
I’ll bet Peter and Don will talk about me while I’m away, she thought to herself. Let them say what they want. I’m enjoying listening to others sing. And they are nice guys, even if Cowboy Don is a little coarse. I’ll definitely come back another time.
She returned to the table as Cowboy Don was beginning to play a video. It was a sultry Beyoncé song, and Kara couldn’t take her eyes off the monitor as Peter rose to let her slide back into her chair.
“So Peter,” Kara said, finally taking her eyes off the screen, “I hope I’m not being too forward, but Don mentioned an ex...”
“Yeah,” he answered quickly. “We divorced a few years back. She’s in Virginia now. She’s still active duty Navy as far as I know. I haven’t really cared to have any serious relationships since then. People drift in and out of my life. I only hang out with the ones who want to be around me. The only commitment I have is to my dog, Amanda.” He smiled at the mention of her. “And she doesn’t care how late I stay out or who I hang out with.”
“Oh, that’s sweet!” Kara said. Peter showed her a picture of a black Labrador mix. “She looks like a happy girl!”
“I’m all about spoiling the ladies,” Peter said with a smirk. “I know you said you can’t stay long tonight, but would you like to sing a duet with me again sometime? I’m here just about every Thursday night, and I go to some of Cowboy Don’s other gigs occasionally as well. I don’t go out much, but I like to sing. It’s an emotional release for me. An outlet, kind of like writing is.”
Kara thought for a second before responding. “Yes, I’d like to sing with you again, but I don’t know many duets.”
“Okay, I’ll give you some homework then,” he said. “You’ll need to learn Need You Now by Lady Antebellum before the next time I see you.”
“Sounds good. I know I’ve heard it. I just don’t know it all that well. Not my usual style of music,” Kara replied with a smile.
In short order, Cowboy Don announced Kara as the next singer. She rose from the table, took a cordless mike, and did Kiss on My List by Hall and Oates. She glanced at Peter as she sang, making sure not to miss any of the lyrics on the screen, and saw that the song made him smile. She liked his handsome, friendly face and smoky gray eyes, and she was glad she had come out tonight.
When she finished, both Don and Peter were applauding. Kara quickly returned to the table as Cowboy Don handed the mike off to the next singer. She downed the last few sips of her drink, thanked Peter for a fun time, and gave him a brief hug.
“I’ll be sure to do my homework, and hopefully I’ll see you soon,” she told him as the song was ending.
Still grinning, Peter replied, “That would be great.”
Kara rushed over to say farewell to Cowboy Don before heading out for the night. As she was leaving Flannery’s, she heard Peter launch into Everlong by Foo Fighters.
Maybe I’ll have that kind of love one day, she thought, playing the song’s lyrics in her mind. It was a song she liked very much.