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For the Love of Emma

By Starr Ayers

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Chapter One

Friday, June 24, 1938
Fayetteville, North Carolina

Reaching for the brass door latch, Noah Anderson caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window of the Rainbow Restaurant. “Not bad,” he assured himself. Perhaps there was truth to the notion the uniform makes the man.

As he swung open the door, two giddy young girls immersed in conversation all but tripped over his spit-shined shoes as they exited the room packed with GIs. The close-knit harmonies of the Andrews Sisters spilled from the jukebox and drifted into the street while waitresses scrambled to get food to the tables. Shouts of “Order up!” along with the clatter of dishes and frequent outbursts of laughter, muffled the pitch of occasional catcalls. Lunch hour was in full swing.

He’d observed one waitress in particular—Rainbow Girl #9—yet had never sat in her section. With each visit, he’d hoped to muster enough courage to sit in one of the booths along the wall plastered with photos of GIs, but so far, he’d always taken his customary seat by the window. From there, it was easy to appear preoccupied as he stole glances at the one who captured his thoughts night and day.

This afternoon, he’d eat alone. It was the perfect opportunity to sit in her section and strike up a conversation without the incessant teasing of the fellas who’d detected the stars in his eyes for the slender, dark-haired girl.

But again, he took his seat by the window.

Next time, he promised himself.

He scanned the menu as the waitress slid a glass of water in front of him. “May I help you, soldier?”
“Yes, I’ll have today’s special—a grilled ham and cheese with a cup of white bean soup. Oh, and add a side of—” He looked up, then fumbled for the words to complete his order. The eyes of the fair-skinned beauty he’d been too afraid to approach seized his attention, and his order morphed into something incoherent and unimpressive.

“Is something wrong?”

“Uh, no, ma’am. I’ve just changed my mind. Soup and sandwich will be fine. And a Coca-Cola, please.”

“Sure. I hope you’re not in a hurry. We’re short on help and running a little behind today.”

“Hurry? Oh, no hurry. None at all.”

“Great. My name is Emma. I’ll be right back with your order.”

He nodded. Take your time, sweet pea. I’ll enjoy the view from my window seat.

His eyes followed her every move as she turned toward the kitchen and stepped around a table of soldiers to avert their insincere calls for service. He recognized a couple of fellas from his platoon at Fort Bragg and was caught off guard as jealousy flooded his heart. She wasn’t even his girl.

Not yet, anyway

As Emma exited the kitchen with his order, one of the soldiers jockeyed for her attention. “Hey, Emma. Tank here wants to know if you’ll go out with him this weekend.” The red-faced GI beside the soldierhim lowered his head and poked at the ice cubes in his soda with a straw.

Unruffled, she balanced the tray above her head and made her way to Noah’s table. “Here you go, sir,” she said as she placed the meal in front of him. “Sorry you had to wait so long. I hope you enjoy it.” She topped off his water glass. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I think I’m good for now.” His eyes became slits, and his jaw tightened as the soldiers behind her laughed and slapped each other on the back. “But there is something I want to help you with.” Smacking his napkin on the table, he edged past her, almost knocking over his glass. “Excuse me a minute.”

Emma’s large hazel eyes widened as he made his way toward the rowdy GIs. Anchoring his tall frame on the table with his hands, he leaned in only inches from the face of the smart-mouthed soldier. “Hey, Private McCormick. If I ever hear of you messing with my girl again, you’ll wish you’d never stepped foot on Bragg.”

McCormick paled and tilted backward in his chair. “Your girl, Sergeant Anderson? Didn’t know, sir. More than sorry.”

Noah nodded. “That you are, private. That you are—more than sorry.” Turning his gaze to the soldier sitting next to McCormick, he snapped, “And as for you, Tank. Don’t you even think about it.”
The young man cowered. “No, sir, Sergeant Anderson. I won’t.”

Pushing away from the table, he Noah straightened his shoulders, ran his fingers through his tousled hair, and turned to take his seat.

Emma was gone.

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