Elizabeth Webber glanced up in irritation as the bell over the door jingled, indicating another customer. She gritted her teeth and ran a hand through her messy brown curly hair. The last she wanted was another person in this diner tonight. They were about to close down the kitchen for the night and once Elizabeth managed to convince Mr. Holden to go home for the night, she could go home herself.
Elizabeth looked up and instantly her irritation and frustration faded away. A young man took a seat at the counter, a few seats down from Mr. Holden. He was good-looking with short dark blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and angular features.
But what caught her attention was the uniform. He was in the military and more than likely shipping off to Europe or the Pacific within a few days. Everyone knew that the base near her hometown in Port Charles, New York was being emptied out. The soldiers were either being shipped overseas to the war or transferred to other bases. The least Elizabeth could do was serve him with a smile.
“Can I get you something to drink while you’re deciding?” she asked. He glanced up from the menu and met her eyes. She felt a little jolt–she’d never seen eyes that blue an clear.
The young man cleared his throat. “Uh. Yeah. Coffee. Black.”
Elizabeth nodded and moved down the counter to pour it. As she was pouring the dark liquid into one of the porcelain mugs, Mr. Holden reached out and touched her arm. “Did I ever tell you about the time Sadie and me went riding out by Vista Point?”
Elizabeth smiled. “No, Mr. Holden. You didn’t. Let me take care of this customer and we can talk all about it.” She set the cup in front of the soldier. “I’ll give you another few minutes–”
“No. I…just a cheeseburger and fries,” the young man told her.
“Sure,” Elizabeth replied, writing the order down. She gave it to Lou the cook and returned her attention to Mr. Holden. His wife, Sadie, had died six months ago and he came in like clockwork every night for dinner. The elderly man had been married to his wife for over fifty years and seemed a little lost without her.
“So, you and Sadie went to Vista Point?” Elizabeth prompted her other customer.
“Yep. On our first date,” the man declared proudly. “‘Course, when I say we went riding, I mean we had a horse. Girl loved to ride. Said she loved the speed and the wind around her.”
“It does sound wonderful,” Elizabeth agreed.
“My Sadie was a gorgeous woman,” Mr. Holden remarked wistfully. “She liked you, you know. Always said you were a good girl, destined for better things than Port Charles, New York.”
“Well, that was very kind of her,” Elizabeth replied. “But I think I’m going to be here a while.”
“Order’s up, Bethie!” Lou called.
“Excuse me,” Elizabeth replied. She turned to grab the soldier’s order and set it in front of him. “Can I get you anything else?”
He shook his head. “No. Thanks.”
“I thought you were supposed to go the fancy schmancy art school,” Mr. Holden called, catching Elizabeth’s attention. She turned away from the handsome soldier again.
“I was,” Elizabeth admitted. “But when my grandmother died, someone had to run Kelly’s. A Webber has run this place since my great-grandfather opened it and I aim to see it stay that way. ‘Sides, I like Port Charles. It’s not that bad.”
“Girl like you deserves a fine house with a good husband taking care of her,” Mr. Holden said firmly. “Why, my Sadie never worked a day in her life. Spent all her time taking care of our house and kids. That’s the way it should be. Men should take care of women.”
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “Mr. Holden–”
“Uh uh,” Mr. Holden said, wagging his finger. “I’ve told a thousand times, Bethie. Jake. I call you Bethie, you call me Jake.”
“Jake,” Elizabeth began again, not able to fight a smile. “I like being independent. I like taking care of myself. Do I want to get married some day? Sure. Why not? But I don’t need anyone to take care of me.”
“That’s what wrong with young women today. See, when I was young, we married our girls young. Didn’t let them get to twenty before we snagged them,” Mr. Holden replied.
“Well, Jake, things are different now. Why, I wouldn’t have to get married if I didn’t want to.”
Mr. Holden frowned. “Now, that’s just crazy talk.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, don’t you worry. I’ll be here serving until I’m old and gray.”
“Well, I suppose I best be going home,” he said reluctantly. He reached in his back pocket for his wallet.
Elizabeth waved him away. “Your money is no good here.”
Mr. Holden opened his mouth to argue, but seeing the set of Elizabeth’s shoulders and the determined look in her eye, he sighed. “All right, Bethie. See ya tomorrow.” He stood and shuffled towards the door. Elizabeth smiled and reached for his dishes.
“Bethie, I’m headed out for the night!” Lou called. “Kitchen’s all cleaned up.”
“Thanks, Lou. See ya tomorrow!” Elizabeth called back. She put Mr. Holden’s dishes in the tub and reached for the rag.
The soldier frowned. “Oh. I didn’t…I didn’t realize it was that late.”
“It’s fine,” Elizabeth said. “Take your time.” She moved around the counter and started wiping down the tables. “So, are you being shipped overseas?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I’m going to the Pacific.”
She set a chair on top of the table and moved to another table. “I can’t believe they’re shutting the base down,” she murmured. “It’s been open for so many years. I’m never gonna get used to not seeing men in uniform around.” She headed back towards the counter. “Are you from New York?”
The soldier shook his head. “Nope. I’m from Delaware.” He shifted. “You were nice to that guy.”
“Who? Mr. Holden?” Elizabeth asked. She shrugged. “He’s lonely since his wife died. Needs a little conversation every once in a while.” She eyed him for a second before smiling. “I’m Elizabeth. Elizabeth Webber. Most people call me Beth or Bethie. Kind of left over from childhood.”
“Private Jason Morgan,” the soldier said. “I can’t repeat some of the nicknames some of the guys got for me.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I’ll bet.” She shoved a curl behind her ear. “So, you got family back home?”
“Nope.” Jason sipped his coffee. “I lived with my mom until I was eighteen. I enlisted on my birthday. She got remarried and is living somewhere in Florida. We, uh, don’t keep in touch.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Elizabeth murmured. “My parents went to California after the stock market crash. They left me with my grandmother and…well, they never sent for me.”
“Sounds awfully unfair of them,” Jason replied.
Elizabeth shrugged. “Not a problem. I prefer New York anyway. I couldn’t live in a place that didn’t have seasons. I love sketching the trees in fall, the lake in winter–” she broke off, blushing. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to go on like that.”
“No, that’s fine. So you’re an artist?”
“An artist implies I get paid for my work. I just sketch in between shifts,” Elizabeth replied. “What do you do? Are you going to be a career soldier?”
Jason shrugged. “Haven’t decided yet. I was gonna be a mechanic in Wilmington before the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. I couldn’t not enlist after that.”
“So, you’re twenty-one?” Elizabeth asked. “You look older.”
He grinned. “Working outside during the summer will do that to ya. How about you?”
“Me? I’m nineteen,” Elizabeth replied. “When are you getting shipped out?”
“Tomorrow,” Jason replied. “Tonight was my last free night before I was gonna go.”
“And you came to Kelly’s?” Elizabeth asked surprised.
He shrugged. “The rest of the guys are with their girls, y’know. I went a movie, came to get a burger. Seemed like a good way to spend the time.”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “You scared about going to war?” she asked quietly.
“Not especially,” Jason replied. “Someone’s got go. I just…” He stopped and shook his head.
Elizabeth leaned forward. “What?”
“I kinda wish I did have someone back at home,” Jason admitted. “My best friend, Sonny? He’s got a fiancée in Chicago. Johnny and Zander are both dating local girls. Must be nice to have someone to write to, y’know? Someone who cares if you come home.”
Elizabeth rounded the counter and sat on the stool next to him. “Why don’t you write me?” she suggested.
“Really?” he asked, surprised.
Elizabeth nodded. “Yeah, sure. I’ll even write you back. And when you come home, you can have a burger on the house.”
He smiled at her then. “That’s nice of you to offer, Ms. Webber.”
“None of this Ms. Webber stuff,” Elizabeth insisted. “If we’re gonna be pen pals, you’ll have to call me Beth or Elizabeth.”
“Only if you’ll call me Jason,” he replied. He stuck his hand out and Elizabeth shook it.
“It’s a deal,” she replied, smiling brightly.