The fresh air wakes Craig up after the meal had made him a little drowsy, he walks across the base towards his barracks blocks, his head hunched forward and hands in his pockets to keep them from the biting wind.
\"Oi, Wallace,\" Craig turns to see Dave Carson, one of the guys from his own training unit, waving him over to a group of them. \"Come on mate, it's fuckin' freezin', we're goin' to the pub.\"
Changing direction, Craig approaches them and is soon swallowed up in the middle of them as he listens to them all joking and laughing and taking digs at one another. The walk only takes around 5 minutes before they are all jostling their way through the serving and prospective Marines; base support staff; and all sorts of hangers on.
They reach the bar itself eventually and a round is bought by Dave for all the rest. Lifting his pint and nodding his thanks, Craig turns to survey the bar. He spots a lot of half naked young women and grins into his pint; he knows about their \"type\".
Craig was mostly brought up in Central Scotland, he was born in a small town in the Mull of Kintyre. Over the years, he had made frequent trips back to his birthplace to visit extended family and during these trips, he often became surprised at the attention received from the local women when out on a night out with his cousins.
He smiles again as he remembers how his cousin explained it.
\"Look, you have a mixed accent, they all see that as meaning you aren't from here, or at the very least, you escaped. They're out trying to \"bag\" a passport out of here to pastures new, you are a means to an end,\" Craig had raised his eyebrows in disbelief, his cousin laughed and motioned for Craig to continue with soaking up the attention.
He had done so, taking one back to his cousin's spare room for what in his eyes was a one nighter but turned out that the next morning, she wouldn't leave.
The girl, he could never remember her name, hung on his every word. She almost sat on his knee when he had joined his cousin and his cousin's fiance in the livingroom to watch TV, taking every opportunity to touch him; her knees would brush his, she would laugh and place her hand on his whenever he made a joke and so on.
Finally, Craig became impatient.
\"Should y' not be going home? You've been in those clothes since yesterday, you must be dying to get showered and changed.\"
Her suggestive response was: \"You offerin' t' help wi' that?\"
\"Sweetheart,\" Craig's cousin put in politely. \"He means \"fuck off, it was a one night stand.\"
Craig almost chokes on his pint at the memory of her face; it seemed to go through the stages of \"what the fu...\", \"... But you said...\" and then her fury caused her lips to purse so much that her mouth looked like an arsehole in January.
A chuckle slips out and Craig takes another drink from his glass, hoping no one had noticed him lost in his memories.
A tiny, skinny brunette spots him as he slots himself back in amongst the chatter of the group and she deliberately swings her hips as she walks across the gap between them.
\"Apparently there are no gentleman here, are any of you lookin' to buy a lady a drink?\" she purrs without taking her eyes off of Craig.
\"Show me the lady and I will,\" shouts Alex, the youngest in Craig's group, as everyone sucks in a collective, over-egged gasp before simultaneously bursting into loud laughter.
Craig feels a pang of sorrow for the girl because she seems pretty and is probably really nice under all the make up and fakery. He turns to the barmaid and orders another round, including a drink for the young woman.
The unmistakeable look of hurt in her eyes is replaced with gratitude as Craig hands her the drink. She leans into him as she does her best impression of a blow job on the straw.
He doesn't bite the hook she's dangling.
\"Listen wee yin,\" he whispers gently. \"I am not lookin' for a wife or a one night stand, I would like a new friend but you need to drop all the seduction attempts, seriously, you are making a fool of yourself and I hate to see that happen to a nice, young girl like you, so what do you say; you stick around with us for some banter and we part friends or you keep trying to seduce me or one of my mates and get shot down, and end up going home with even lower self esteem than you started with?\"
The girl's big brown eyes latch onto Craig's bright blue ones and she smiles shyly before looking away from him.
\"Thank you for that,\" he hears her whisper in a sweet sounding soft northern burr.
Smiling and nodding, he steps backwards a little, opening up the group to her, she steps in and joins in the banter between them all.
It takes almost an hour before they manage to grab a table. The girl showing that her small stature has its uses by sneaking in and grabbing the recently vacated table right out from under the nose of another trainee and his partner for the evening.
He thinks of moving her by force, until he spots her four companions on their way towards the same table, he wanders away cursing.
There had originally been eight in the group - Craig's entire squad - but a couple had left, pleading exhaustion and the other two disappeared down the throats of a couple of barflies.
\"I'm Sophie,\" the girl finally managed to get across after several abortive attempts over the past hour.
\"Craig,\" he replies.
\"So, you said you weren't lookin', go' a girl back home?\"
Shaking his head, he turns to face her fully. \"No, the training here is tough, I want to give it my focus so I can get through it, plus I had a bad break up jus' before I left,\" he figures she doesn't need to know it was six months before he left and part of the reason he left.
Sophie smiles warmly at him, he can tell that she is interested, and he laughs.
They all seem to want me when I don't want them, he shakes his head at the amusing thought.
\"What's so funny?\" she asks, confused.
\"Nothing, really. Jus' call it \"sod's law,\" he gives her a wink and reaches across to squeeze her hands in a reassuring gesture.
\"I'm goin' to head off, if you want t' hang out with a friend over the weekend or any other weekend while am here, give me a text,\" he hands her a bit of paper with his number on it.
Craig nudges a very drunk Alex until he slides off the seat to allow him out and then waves goodnight to them all.
Outside, the fresh air, and the drink hit Craig like a sledgehammer to the skull and he physically reels off to one side. Recovering his balance, he speed marches the short walk back to the barracks and slips inside.
A wave of exhaustion hits him as soon as he spots his bunk and he strips off quickly - being sure to fold and store his stuff away - before diving into his bed. Rolling to his side and sliding his arm up and under the pillow he feels something papery.
Pulling it out, he realises it's an envelope and remembers with a curse, he has forgotten to read Sarah's letter given to him at the train station. Pulling out the notepaper inside he slowly unfolds it as a small, pressed, pink flower petal falls out and floats down onto his blanket - he begins to read.
© Copyright 2016 M K Brown. All rights reserved.