Cindy said it couldn’t have been as bad as people believed. “Ray Gene ... You remember Ray Gene, he’s my first cousin?”
“I remember Ray Gene,” Tom said.
“Ray Gene was at -- Oh, it’s one of those places I can’t pronounce. You’d think they’d have real names for places. Nah or No or something like that. Anyway, it had an air base.”
“Nha Trang,” he said.
“That’s it!” She reached across the car seat and touched his hand and then took back her hand. “How do you remember all that stuff?” She turned in the seat. Tom looked at her face. He remembered her eyes, colored like blue ice, but he couldn’t see her eyes in the darkness of the car.
“I don’t know. After a while, you know the names,” he said.
“Well, they have funny names for places,” Cindy said. Her hair was longer than Tom remembered, but that was the fashion now. Not that he minded her hair being long. He had seen pictures in magazines, and all the girls in the pictures had long hair. He didn't mind her short skirt, either. When he was last home, girls didn’t wear skirts that short, and he thought it was a good thing they did now.
“Some places I remember, you know, from the news on TV?” Cindy said. “They had lots of stories about Saigon and a place that’s pronounced Whey, but it’s spelled like Huie. Are all the places spelled different than they’re pronounced?”
“Not all of them,” Tom said. Cindy was two years younger and a college sophomore. He and Cindy had not been particularly friends in high school, but Cindy was her mother’s daughter and oftentimes acquiesced with what her mother asked. Her mother and his mother were best friends, and one or the other or both decided Cindy and Tom should go out before his leave was finished. He didn’t mind. Cindy was a pretty girl. The girls were different now, though, and he would not have asked out any girls he remembered knowing. On the plane home he thought about the girls he remembered, in a different way than when he thought about them before he came home. Before he came home, he thought about every girl he had ever known, and the ones he had gone out with. He remembered what he wished had happened when he was out with those girls, even though none of it had happened. On the plane home he thought about different girls and maybe if he asked one or two out, it would happen. But when he came home, the girls were different than he remembered.
“Ray Gene said he worked eight hours a day,” Cindy was saying. “Just like when he worked at the garage. Sometimes he had to work extra hours, like overtime? But he didn’t get paid overtime. I guess they don’t pay overtime.”
“No,” Tom said. “They don't pay overtime.”
“They should,” Cindy said. “I mean, somebody works more than eight hours a day, he should get overtime.”
“It’s the duty,” Tom said, but he knew she wouldn’t understand. “You’re on duty twenty-four hours a day.”
“They should pay overtime,” she said. “Anyway, Ray Gene said when he got off work, there was a club he could go to. On the base. He said they had beer and records. There weren’t any girls to dance with, so they drank beer. Ray Gene wasn’t much for beer before he went over there.”
“Some guys weren’t, I guess.” He hadn’t been much for beer either, but he learned to drink it when it was available, because ... But that was all over now.
Tom parked the car in front of the movie theater. He put the transmission in Park and turned the key. He got out and closed the door and walked to the other side. Cindy said “Thank you” when he opened her door. Tom watched as she swung her legs from the car. He took her hand as she stood. She had nice legs and her hair was thick and dark brown and reached the small of her back. He wondered how it would be, her hair streaming through his fingers, and how her lips would taste. He closed the door. She took his arm. Her fingers were light.
At the ticket window, he said “Two, please” to the woman behind the glass. He paid for the tickets and held the door open. “Thank you,” Cindy said. He asked if she wanted popcorn and a coke. She said she would like a coke. He got two, and they walked into the theater.
They would see “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” On the phone the day before, when he called and asked if she wanted to see a movie with him, although it all had been arranged by her mother and his mother, and he told her which movie was playing, she said, “That’s the one where the colored man is marrying the white girl.” He said it was. She said she wouldn’t mind watching that movie. On the phone she asked, “Do you think that’s happening a lot these days?” He said he didn’t know.