“Natalie! Are you ready yet?”
“I’m not going, Megs. Have fun.” I turned the page of my book. Ebooks were the new technology, but I liked the feel of the paper as I turned the page. I could tell how far along I was in the book and anticipate the end. Turning the last page was satisfying.
Megs snatched the book from my hands. “You are going and you will find him tonight.” She threw the book on my bed then rifled through my closet.
“I’m done with the club scene. I can’t seem to connect with any guy my age. I have nothing in common with them.” Book gently moved to my nightstand, I watched Megs find something hidden in the back of my wardrobe.
“It’s all those romances novels you read. You only care about soldiers and wars and epic love. None of that is real. At least read something set in this century.” Megs tossed a lacy black dress on the bed and pulled out some red heels.
“Those men knew how to treat a lady. They would die for their country and for her. It’s so noble. Heck, guys these days didn’t even hold the door or even let me walk first. I’m just looking for someone who cares more about me than he does about his expensive hair gel.”
“If he dies then he can’t be with you. Romance novels are not reality. There are some good guys out there, you just have to go find them. That’s why we are going out tonight.” She found earrings and a string of colorful beads to wear.
“I’m not going to find him in a club. Those places are only good for lame pickup and lines one night stands. I’ll have a better chance at a coffee shop or a book signing.” Even though I had struck out at both of those places. What was it with guys these days? I always longed for a simpler time. Not just attitudes but noise levels. I wanted to go somewhere without Twitter, Facebook or even cell phones. I needed that face to face psychical connection.
“This is a new club and it’s different. The guys that go there are not like anyone you have ever met. It’s where I met Steve. I know there is a guy there for you. Now get dressed. You have twenty minutes.” She flounced out.
Steve was a great guy. He treated Megs like his queen. It was ironic that Megs didn’t believe in romance stories because she was certainly living one. Steve was considerate, kind and hung on her every word like he would die if he missed one. I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t just get married and have babies already.
I pulled on the dress, hose and accessories. If I didn’t meet Mr. Right tonight, I could always point to this failure when Megs bullied me to go out again.
“Okay. Where are we going?” I adjusted my earring and walked into the living room.
“The club is called The Other Side. It’s the newest, hottest nightclub, but Steve knows the owner so we are on the list.” Megs finished her text and put her phone in her handbag.
“So, when are you and Steve tying the knot?” I followed Megs out the door and made sure it was locked.
“It’s complicated. You’ll see when we get to the club.” Megs sashayed down the hall and pressed the down button to call the elevator.
The drive took thirty minutes because of traffic, but finding a parking spot took longer. An hour later we were inside the club and camped out at a table waiting for Steve. Instead of the dim lighting and pounding backbeats most of the meat-markets I went to featured, this place more closely resembled a USO dance. A live band played swing dance music and there were tables set up with food. The atmosphere and feel of the club was pure 1940’s.
“I feel under-dressed, Megs. Why didn’t you tell me about the club’s theme?” I turned to my friend, but she was distracted.
“Where is he?” She muttered under her breath. “It’s not like we’re early.”
“Megs. What’s going on?”
Megs didn’t answer. She seemed a world away.
“Steve is bringing a friend of his to meet you. An army buddy is looking for a girlfriend.” She stirred her lime into her soda.
“So this is a blind date?” I didn’t want to do this again, but well, Steve was pretty cool, so maybe…
“They should be here already unless he shipped out.” Megs looked worried.
“Shipped out? Where? Afghanistan? Iraq?” Today’s wars were not as clear cut morally speaking as WWII, but soldiers today were just as dedicated to their country now as they were back then.
“Normandy.” She answered distractedly.
“What’s going on in France?” Maybe there was another bombing I didn’t hear about.
“What? No, probably Iraq.” She waved as two heads bobbed and weaved their way to our table.
Megs and Steve embraced while I waited awkwardly for introductions. Both Steve and the new guy wore military dress complete with medals and patches sewn on their sleeves. The new guy tipped his hat to me and I blushed. What was wrong with me? I wasn’t some young inexperienced girl. I turned twenty-eighth last month. Dating and relationships were nothing new, but none started like this. I didn’t even know his name but could already tell he was different.
“Natalie, this is my boy, Rooney.” Steve introduced him and Rooney winked at me.
“Hello Natalie.” His smile was genuine or at least seemed that way. He took my hand and kissed it. No one ever did that before.
“Nice to meet you. I didn’t know it was theme night.” I gestured to my dress.
“You look beautiful. Will you dance with me?” The band started a waltz as Rooney tugged on my hand that he still held.
“Sure.” I met his eyes and saw his laugh lines.
“I told you.” I heard as I followed Rooney to the dance floor.
* * *
Three hours later and I didn’t want to leave. Rooney was perfect and I needed this night to continue. No cheesy pick-up lines, or trying to impress me with his fast car or expensive clothes. There was nothing fake about Rooney. Why didn’t I date a service man before? Oh, yea. They had a high risk of dying. Reading about spies and soldiers was one thing. The heroes in the stories always came back for their true love. Not so in real life. But I really wanted to pursue whatever this thing between us was. He was perfect and exactly what I have been searching for.
“I really like you, but I’m shipping out at the end of this month. Can I have your address?” Rooney was so genuine.
“Sure. Can we meet again? I can stop by the club tomorrow night. Are you free?” I wanted to see him again, not just get letters from him. It was too soon to invite him back to my place for a hookup and he didn’t seem like he would be interested in that sort of thing. It was like he wasn’t even from this century.
“Yes. I will be here tomorrow. I really like you. Can I kiss you?”
I nodded. His kiss was magical, like the entire evening. Both were something I longed for but never experienced. How was it possible I missed this type of role playing? Wait. Is he for real or just playing a part? I pushed him away.
“Is this real? Where are you being sent to, Rooney?”
“Normandy, but no one is supposed to know.” He whispered in my ear.
“Was their a terrorist bombing there?”
“Terrorists? You could call them that. We are going to rout the Nazi scum. I’m not on the front lines because I’m a medic, but I will be there.” Fierce eyes bored into mine.
“Nazis? Like in World War Two?” Great, either he’s a psycho or took this persona thing way too seriously. Of course. I always fell for the weird ones.
“After the Great War we thought there would be no more wars, but those damn Japs bombed Pearl Harbor and then we looked at what the Krauts were up to and decided to stop them too. They are taking over all Europe!”
I just stared at him. I didn’t know what to say.
“She doesn’t believe you, man.” Steve piped in when he and Megs returned to the table and he clapped Rooney on the back.
“Why wouldn’t she? The whole country is at war!” Ronnie looked back at me.
“Not her country.” Steve said.
“What? What country are you from?” He directed the question at me.
“Um…America.” I answered.
Now he looked really confused.
“She doesn’t know about the back room. You should probably show her.” Steve turned to Megs.
“The back room? Is this some kind of sex thing? Because I’m not into that.” They didn’t look like they would be into kinky sex, but something strange was going on.
“There’s no sex involved, Natalie. Just come with us to in the back room and I will explain everything.” Megs stood up and drew me from my chair.
“Alright, but I have pepper spray.”
“You won’t need it. I was blown away when I first saw it.” Megs led me to a back hall cordoned off by a red velvet rope. The soldiers followed.
“Hi Phil. Natalie needs to see the back room.” Megs unhooked the thick rope.
“The boss didn’t say anything about this.” Phil checked his clipboard.
“Rooney is being shipped to Normandy soon. She needs to see this tonight.” Quietly whispered, “You know what happened to Rooney.” Megs pushed her way past Phil.
“Okay, but I’m telling Robert.” Phil threatened.
“You do that, Phil” Megs waved and walked down the hall. I followed but the guys stayed behind.
“What is this?” The walls were darker than I expected. No paint looked as deep black as these walls. They had depth. I reached out to touch one and it gave under my hand. Megs opened the back door and when I looked through I saw nighttime, but small town nighttime. Not what I was expecting to see behind a club in downtown Pittsburgh. The storefronts, streetlights and the entire town looked like it was ripped right out of some history book.
“This place looks like a 1940s black and white movie lot, but it’s in full color.” I pushed on the building behind me and expected to see wobbling or some proof that it was fake.
Megs showed me her cell phone. It didn’t have any bars. “Cell phones don’t exist yet.” Megs said and took me to a newsstand. The newspaper’s date said May 9, 1944. One month before the invasion at Normandy. My head was spinning. This was the most elaborate ruse I had ever experienced. I went to Stan’s Sweet Shop and pulled on the door. It opened to show a busboy mopping the floor and a waitress wiping down the counters.
“We’re closed, ladies, but come back tomorrow. We open at 11:00 and our malted milkshakes are award winning.” The waitress finished her task and started refilling sugar containers.
I couldn’t believe the attention to detail in this place. Was I in another time? We walked back outside.
“Okay. I’m in another time and Rooney is from another time. Why convince me now, tonight. What’s the urgency?” Maybe I fell asleep while reading and I was dreaming? If so I would play along and see where this went.
“Robert Markeson developed a way for spirits who died violently to come to his club in our time. Steve is a spirit from this time period. So is Rooney. They both fought in the Normandy invasion. Steve survived, but his wife didn’t. After he found out she died he walked in front of a train. If he commits to me he can stay in our time, but he still misses his wife.” Megss explained.
“What about Rooney? Did he survive the war?” It seemed unbelievable, but dreams are. We could laugh about it later.
“He didn’t. His spirit is stuck reliving this month. I was hoping you guys would hit it off and he would want to be with you.” Megs closed the shop door behind us.
“We did hit it off and I do want to date him, but he thinks he’s still alive. And if he does decide to stay with me, how does he get a new body?”
“Robert takes care of it. He grows them in a lab or something. I don’t know everything he does, but I know it works. So you’ll do it?”
“Rooney?” I looked at him standing by the club’s back door.
“He’s noble and romantic, just like you said you wanted.” Megs took my hand. “He’s Steve’s best friend. If Rooney comes to our time, maybe Steve will too.”
“How did Rooney die?” I walked with Megs down the street away from the club.
“His truck drove over a landmine. It was, transporting the wounded to a triage hospital a few miles south of the battleground.”
“He must have blocked that out. How do I convince him to stay with me, in this time if he doesn’t even remember he died?” I hoped the answer was a simple one. I didn’t need a boyfriend who suffered trauma about his own death every month. Relationships were never easy but I didn’t know they were this weird.
“Steve will help him remember, but you need to convince him that he has something to live for.” Megs stopped and looked at me.
“Did he have anybody from his time. A sweetheart or something?” I didn’t want him to have had anyone, but I needed to be realistic.
“No one. He enlisted when he was eighteen and was assigned to the medical unit. He finished basic and immediately went to war” Megs walked back to the glowing club door with me in tow.
“I will help. Let’s tell the guys together.” The scent of rain in the fresh air and the hard pavement under my feet convinced me that this was not a dream, but my wish for a great guy could come true if I worked at it. I was ready to get started.