Dev & Gentry
Dev, after all his fraternity brothers had left The Cockpit to go home after their two-week reunion
I had clearly missed my shot with Kara. By the time I got my courage up, Ryder had already glommed onto her. Next thing I knew, they were engaged. But it’s all right. I saw her wearing two different sneakers one day and had to wonder about that.
Everybody thinks I’m a hard-ass, and that I’m difficult to get along with. Okay, that part is true. But it wasn’t always that way.
While I was in Kandahar taking slimy showers and peeing on my feet for some kind of relief from a pervasive fungus, I discovered my wife was hooking up with the UPS guy. The UPS guy for cryin’ out loud!
But in retrospect, thinking about it now, it was probably my own fault. I was always using the computer in the social hall to order her something special, something I believed was thoughtful that maybe she might need, using our Amazon Prime account. Unknowingly, I was sending him to her door every other day.
He made his move while I was overseas. And he took my family from me—my wife and my two little girls. She’d been carrying a boy when she divorced me, but it was his, not mine.
It makes a guy tough, you know? Working day and night—mostly night for me—for your country and your family. Learning your craft, honing your skills, and planning for a future when you can sleep in a bed with your wife again.
I don’t sleep with women now. I may take them to bed, but then I’m out of there once the deed is done and we’re both happy campers. I know, cliché, cliché. I never have an original thought these days. There really isn’t much I care about except working to keep Jack Daniel’s in business.
But then on the last day of our reunion at The Cockpit, something interesting happened. I met a woman named Gentry and my insides did that flippy thing they did so many years ago when I met my ex at a Stanford mixer. But this time it was in a wilder, more freeing way. I felt myself smiling all the time as I floated through the day, as if led by a bewitching siren—even when she wasn’t around, I was happy. By that evening, it felt as if I’d been saved—redeemed by a clowder of cats, as it were.
Lying on my bed, hands behind my head, staring up at the ceiling fan making its slow, lazy revolutions, I remember the morning. Everyone left today. It was the last day of our ten-year reunion. Except for me, I opted to stay another day and fly home tomorrow. I have total recall so I am remembering the chaotic morning in great detail. It makes me grin. Muscles in my jaw that haven’t worked for years are straining to come back to life.
As all my frat boys were packing up to leave and go home, I found the culprit that had been stealing everyone’s power cords for their electronics.
I spotted the big cat in the upper hallway, coming out of a room, and then walking down the hallway, trailing a long white cord. Naturally I gave chase. Having just returned from the shooting range in Ash, I was climbing the steps to my room to put my gun away. Crouching into hunter mode, I ran after the cat, pointing the gun and shouting for the cat to stop. It didn’t.
My shouts alerted my friends and everyone came running to see what the commotion was about, and we all gave chase.
Sean and I cornered the cat on the outside lower level. He was concerned that I had plans to shoot it, so he went into negotiator mode, telling me to, “Put the gun down.” To which I responded, “Relax, you idiot. I’m not going to shoot the cat,” my exasperation, that he thought I would, evident.
And maybe if he hadn’t been around, I just might have. The thought kind of haunts me right now. If I had, everything would have turned out badly, and Gentry wouldn’t have been in the picture. We’d have never met.
“Just put the gun down, it makes me nervous,” Sean muttered.
I slipped the Glock into my waistband as the cat looked from one person to another, then nonchalantly put its paw on the Hardi-plank siding covering a small access panel. The door popped open and the cat disappeared behind the opening.
We stood stunned as the rest of my alums arrived on the scene. Only Brent, as the architect of the house, knew that the spring-latched door was the access point to the elevator emergency switches and breakers, and that inside was an encapsulated crawl space that followed the steps up on each side.
Bending and looking inside led to the discovery of five kittens and a cache of all the tech cords that had gone missing over the last two weeks—mangled and chewed.
It was everyone’s last day at the beach house and they were all in the process of packing up to leave. Since I had opted to catch a later flight and stay another day, it was decided that this was now my problem to fix.
Left to me to handle the situation, my solution might have been to get a bag and find a well and not bother to track down a rescue organization that would take the cats off my hands. I had not been happy to have this task foisted on me. I don’t care for cats. I am a dog person. I actually shot a cat once—one of the big ones while on a hunting trip with my father. He owns a gun manufacturing company and is an avid hunter. And, as a former Army sniper, I admit now that it wasn’t a fair competition.
Cam, who was very supportive of local animal rescue efforts, found the number of a shelter and I called it. Then I waited for the rescue people to show up. I expected a team of well-trained cat catchers. What I got was a young woman in a flannel shirt over a torn and taped up tank top wearing jeans, mucked up boots, and a broad brimmed hat.
The moment she removed the hat I was slayed. An abundance of springy chestnut curls fell around her face as she swiped at her damp forehead with her sleeve. She had beautiful cream-colored skin, lending an overall Irish lass appearance to her. Especially as her green eyes flashed in the late afternoon sun and small light copper freckles dusted her nose. I remember that her light coral lips quirked into a broad smile as she asked, “Got kittens?”
I stood and stared at the lovely, farm-fresh, girl that could have just stepped off a Hummel plate depicting a girl feeding chickens.
She’d had to repeat herself. “I was told you had kittens?”
I snapped out of my reverie and asked, “R.A.C.E.?”
“Mmm, actually no. I was there when you called though. They don’t have the space for a momma and her kittens right now, so I offered to take them to the Brunswick shelter where I volunteer. My name’s Gentry.”
I nodded and led the lovely animal rescue lady named Gentry to where Momma and all her kittens were. Then I helped her get them all into a carrier.
By then I was smitten.
I knew what most people thought of me. They thought I was a troublemaker, a mischievous practical joker, a smart man with deadly aim, but also a fun guy to be with. They knew I cared about my friends, that I had been married and divorced and had two little girls, and that now I had rare, short relationships with women. But for some reason, I wanted to get to know this woman whose name meant wellborn—who loved animals, who protected animals—while I hunted them down and killed them to make trophies out of them. I wondered how this would go—if I could even get her to agree to go out on a date with me.
Well she had. And knowing her as I now do, I hadn’t given her a choice. I basically paid her for a date. And I am not ashamed to admit that it had worked.
Yes, I had used money to get my way again. And I felt kinda bad about it. But a $5,000 donation to support the shelter got me the date, so I had my foot in the door. I just had to make sure after the evening was over that she didn’t slam said door in my face.
She had agreed to dinner. Now it was up to me to find a vegetarian restaurant that was decent, close by, and not too noisy. It seemed to me that Gentry might be a few years younger than I was, but that might not be true. Women had so many ways to disguise their age these days. But if I was a betting man, which I definitely am—she hadn’t had a bit of makeup on—maybe lip gloss, but I didn’t even think she’d had that.
I Googled “vegetarian restaurants.” In all my years coming to Sunset Beach, I never remembered seeing one. I knew there was a decent Thai restaurant with great vegetarian dishes in North Myrtle Beach, but I wasn’t sure she’d be comfortable with me driving her that far.
Searching Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Calabash, and Shallotte, I could only find places with vegetarian or vegan options. One coffee café at OIB had specialty vegetarian dishes, but it looked to be geared toward carryout.
I wondered how she would feel about eating soba noodles next to someone who was chowing down on a rare steak? She had specifically said she ate vegetarian, not that it had to be a strictly vegetarian place. Then again, she might be offended if I didn’t make the effort to accommodate that one thing for her.
As I strummed my fingers on the countertop with one hand while intermittently scrolling up and down and checking out restaurants with the other, I wondered what Kyle would do in this situation. Well, of course Kyle, a famous world-class chef would just whip up something for her himself.
I took a stroll around the kitchen opening cabinets, freezers, refrigerators . . . hmm. It was pretty obvious after thirty seconds that we were a meat-eating group. I did find a frozen Adobo protein bowl made with whole grains. But how was that going to impress a first date? And besides, there was only one. I would make no points with this woman if I did not eat veggie- based food with her.
I wondered if she would let me take her an hour south to Myrtle Beach proper where there were some great vegetarian options. It would give me more time to talk to her on the way down and back. Might be too far though. I Googled North Myrtle Beach as the location for vegetarian restaurants and found that many restaurants considered seafood, pancakes, and pizza vegetarian. The only restaurant claiming to be vegetarian/ vegan closed at 4pm. Geez, wooing this woman with food was going to be hard!
I ended up calling Thai Season in North Myrtle. I had been there before and knew the quality of the food was good and that the service was exemplary. I verified that they had a selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes, asked about their hours, and then reserved a table where at least one seat did not face any other diners. I’d done about as well as I could for our area, unless she agreed to the hour-long drive into Myrtle Beach proper.
Thai Me Up Later that Evening
Gentry arrived on time in her little green Kia Soul, dressed in a very short, very cute, lacy red dress that zipped down the front, exposing a tiny bit of cleavage. Her lovely wild hair was tamed with cute red and black clips, her feet buckled into cute strappy sandals. A cute purse hung off her shoulders; it looked as if it was made out of recycled candy wrappers. In a word, she was cute.
“Hey,” she said with a small wave when Dev opened the door for her.
“Hey yourself,” he said as he opened the door wide so she could come in. He was glad he had opted for casual slacks and a button-down untucked shirt. The color, dark teal, was one a personal shopper for Nordstrom’s had once said was his best color. Paired with slate gray slacks and what his friends called his shaggin’ loafers, he knew he looked sharp.
He wasn’t vain exactly, but he knew he was good looking. Women were always staring at him in restaurants and at airports. His close-cropped thick black hair and perpetual three-day beard enhanced his rugged bad boy look. His penetrating deep blue eyes, framed by inky dark lashes and set off by the shirt he was wearing, didn’t hurt anything either.
“You want to have a drink first, before we go?” he gestured with his hand toward the inside of the house.
She looked him up and down and hesitated. Then pursed her lips, closed her eyes and shook her head slightly.
He got the picture. She didn’t want to come inside.
Particularly as she knew he was alone now. While they had been busy with the cats she’d seen everyone leaving the house with luggage and calling out their good-byes to him.
He didn’t acknowledge the issue. Just stepped out and closed the door behind him. Then he pressed a series of buttons in a metal panel by the door to set the alarm.
He led her to his Lexus SUV parked in the circular drive. “Okay if I drive?” he asked.
“Sure. That would be great.”
He decided to address the elephant in the room. “Is it because you don’t drink or that you don’t know me well enough to drink alone in my house?”
“Oh, I drink.”
“So just being cautious?”
She smiled over at him. “Well all I really know about you is that you don’t particularly like cats, you have a lot of handsome male friends who sleep over, and apparently you have a lot of money at your disposal. You could be a drug dealer or maybe you run a male escort service. Those guys could be male strippers and you own the agency they work for. They could be pro athletes, for all I know. I don’t really follow sports.”
He laughed as he opened her door and waited for her to climb inside before closing it.
“My frat boys would be flattered.” Once he was on the driver’s side and belted in, his started the truck and began explaining about his Stanford days and how he and nine of his former college dorm mates had pooled their money to have the beach house built. And now they meet for a two-week reunion each July. He added that even though they didn’t see each other often, they still kept in touch by phone text, and email throughout the year. “We’re still very close. Several of us, the ones that can get away from jobs and families, go skiing during the winter.”
“I don’t have those types of friendships,” she said. “My best friends are animals and they keep getting adopted out.”
He turned to give her a raised eyebrow before turning back to the road. “No human friends?”
“I have a few friends at school. We do labs and study
together, sometimes we have drinks, but we’re all very busy with our jobs and volunteer work.”
“Where do you go to school?”
“I’m doing a program through North Carolina College of Veterinary Medicine, this summer. I’ve been working as a vet tech, and helping out at the shelters. I also help with several fund raising and adoption events. I’m a co-chair for a really big one that’s in a few weeks. I’m way too busy to keep friendships going right now.”
“So, no boyfriend either?”
“I had one back home last year but he’s out of the picture now.”
“Found a new girlfriend?”
“Nah. He’s in the seminary now, decided to become a priest.”
“Yeah, it kinda does something to your ego when that happens.” She turned in her seat and gave him a bemused self-deprecatory smile where her lips quirked down in a comical way. Then with a bewildered shrug she chuckled, “Que será será, as they say.”
“Don’t really know what to say to that. Except give him a big thank you from me.”
She laughed and pulled down the visor as the sun streamed in when they pulled onto Route 17. “Where are we going?”
“Thai Season, if that’s okay. It’s the only place I could find where I could be sure the vegetarian dishes would be good ones.”
“Oh, I like that place!”
“Good. Me too. Where else do you usually go for vegetarian food? There doesn’t seem to be many places around here.”
“Oh, lots of places have salads, and I’m good with that. But usually I just get something premade from Lowe’s or Publix. If I have time, I make a big batch of something from one of my cookbooks on the weekend. I freeze the leftovers in small containers, so there’s always something I can pop in the microwave.”
“My friend Kyle is a professional chef and although he’s not a vegetarian, he makes some great vegetarian dishes. He just got married last year and he and his wife Amy have a bunch of kids they’ve adopted so he’s working on a kid-friendly eat-your- veggies type of cookbook right now. Should be out in the fall. I can get you a copy.”
She looked over at him, “Kyle? As in Kyle Merritt?”
“Yeah, he’s one of my frat boys, he’s one of the owners of The Cockpit.”
“The name of our beach house.”
“You’re all pilots?”
“Nooo . . .” he dragged out the word then hesitated, “let’s just say we all have a particular appendage in common.”
She laughed, and then laughed even harder. When the chuckles bubbling out of her didn’t seem to have an end to them, he said, “It’s not that funny.”
“Just imagining a group of women naming a beach house after their . . . umm . . . privates.” She tilted her head up and thought some more. “Hmmm. Nope. Nothing works that would be legal. We’re not that bold. We’d have to opt for something really tame, like Hen House.”
He gave her a sideways frown, “That’s the best you can do?”
“Chicks with Eggs?”
He snorted. “None of you would ever get laid.”
“Well, you come up with something better.”
“How about Pussy Galore?”
She snickered, but ended up smiling. “Not bad. Might even be legal, not sure.”
“Or even better—Snatches.”
She lost it with that one and had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing like a chimpanzee. When she stopped laughing she huffed, “How did we get off on this, we were talking about Kyle Merritt.”
“Seriously,” he looked at her, his eyebrows arching as he chided her, “Get off on this?”
She blushed, her smooth pale skin acquiring a soft rosy tinge. Along her hairline, her cheeks, her neck, and her modest cleavage it was like watching the glorious color of shame taint her in all the right places. He almost went out of his lane.
“I meant off topic,” she said. “Kyle Merritt is one of the best TV chefs ever!”
“I know. You should see our kitchen—state of the art everything.”
“I’ll bet your spices are alphabetized.”
“Yup, each in its own hand painted apothecary jar with a locking clasp. Handmade in Italy by a ceramics shop just for him.”
“I bet he makes amazing meals for you guys.”
“You would win that bet. It’s always the highlight of our reunion having him cook for us. It’s an amazing thing to watch, he’s quite the showman.”
Dev pulled into a parking spot in front of the restaurant. “Well, here we are! Now I have to ask, are you vegan or just vegetarian? And do you eat any seafood?”
“I’m vegetarian with a vegan bent.”
“Well that makes it easy.” His sarcasm not lost on her. He walked around and opened her door and she continued.
“I don’t eat meat and I don’t eat things that cause animals to be locked up and mistreated.”
“So . . . free range eggs, and organic milk from a cow that’s been home on the range as well?”
“Funny. But yes. Whatever the animals give freely to us without any stress put on them, I’m fine with.”
“I’m guessing just catching a fish might be a tad stressful for them?”
“Yeah! They flop around hurting themselves trying to breathe and basically suffocate . . .”
“I won’t mention lobster then . . .”
“Would you like to have your arms and legs rubber banded then dropped into a big pot of boiling water?”
He winced, “I knew I shouldn’t have brought that up . . . so, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy.” He opened the door to the restaurant for her.
“Mr. Dev!” a short Asian woman in a lovely silk embroidered jacket called out to him. “Welcome back!”
Gentry looked over at him her eyes wide, wondering about the familiarity.
“Restaurant owners tend to recognize you when you come with nine very hungry males who drink a lot and leave big tips.”
“Where Mr. Merritt?” she asked and Gentry laughed. “Or if you come in with a famous Top Chef.”
They were ushered to the back, and when he pulled out a chair facing the wall for her, she tilted her head in question. “I figured you’d want to face away from the room rather than watch someone desiccate a chicken.”
“Well, that was thoughtful. But I’m not as bad as all that.” Still she took the proffered seat and faced the beautifully decorated wall.
To his surprise she ordered a glass of white wine. He upped the order by changing it to a full bottle and they ordered. Neither needed a menu as they both had their favorite—and it turned out to be the same noodle dish—with a vegetarian variation for him.
When the bottle was opened and both glasses filled, they toasted, “To feral cats and their kittens, everywhere . . . and their rescuers,” he added.
She smiled and sipped thoughtfully, then took another, fuller sip.
“You do know that healthy grapes were squashed to death for that?”
She almost spit out her wine, getting her napkin to her mouth just in time to keep from embarrassing herself by disgorging wine all over her blouse.
“Are you always like this?” she asked as she swiped at her mouth and chin.
He noticed the napkin had no lipstick smear on it. It was just about the sexiest thing, knowing that her lips were naked.
“What, smart? Charming?”
“Then yes. Ask my friends. They will tell you I can be
very annoying. Also very witty, kind, and just generally fun to be with.”
“So let’s start with some negative traits. What’s your worst?”
He thought about it for a moment and bit out, “Jealousy. I don’t share well.”
“Sounds as if you had a bad experience with that.”
“Yeah, I’m divorced. My wife was unfaithful while I was fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan. I have two little girls, Sadie and Maggie.”
“That’s a shame. Do you see them often?”
“Yeah, for a week at least every other month or so during the school year and for a whole month during the summer. Plus, we Facetime a couple of times a week. But it’s not just the kids that I miss.”
“You still miss your wife?”
“No, hell no. I miss coming home to someone though, and them coming home to me.”
“You need a dog.”
“I had a dog. She took that too. Henley died a few years back.”
“So, get another one. There are plenty of rescues that need a good home.”
“I travel too much.”
Just then their food came, one dish at a time. First a small papaya salad with a summer roll, then a bowl of tofu and vegetable soup, and finally a veggie version of Drunken Noodles for both of them. She surprised him by using chopsticks to eat both the salad and noodle dish. Then she surprised him with the answer for her proficiency using them.
“When you don’t eat meat, you get finished with your meal faster—no cutting off the bone, no cutting into smaller pieces, no prolonged chewing. To keep myself from finishing first all the time, I often use chopsticks.” She had opened her candy wrapper purse and pulled out another paper wrapped package containing a set of disposable wooden chopsticks and offered it to him.
He declined by waving his fork and saying, “We’ll be here all night if I use them.” Then thought to himself, that would have actually been a fine idea. “You would have used them even if we were eating Italian?”
“Sure. People stare sometimes. But then, they always stare.”
“I imagine so. It’s because you’re so beautiful.”
“Thank you. But it’s usually because of my hair. There’s too much of it.” He smiled and shook his head.
“Women who are truly beautiful always seem to have to find a flaw where there is none. Why is that?”
“We live in a society where it’s hard not to compare yourself with others.”
“Well, I find it hard to believe you would find yourself lacking when comparing yourself to anyone.”
“I’m told men do it too.”
“Yes, but we don’t give a rat’s ass.” He threw his arms out wide. “Take me as I am or find a better version. I’ve learned not to defend my body.”
She made a huffing sound. “Don’t tell me you’ve accepted the body you were born with, because I see signs that you work out.”
He gave her a smarmy smile. “Oh, you’ve been checking me out have you?”
“No more than you’ve been checking me out. Answer one question, honestly.”
“How many times have you mentally pulled down this zipper?” She toyed with the little metal tab situated half an inch below where her breasts were being pushed together because of the form-fitting dress.
“I lost count.” He glanced at his watch. “We’ve been here an hour, 60 minutes. Using my teeth to drag it all the way down to where it ends and your dress falls open would probably take 12 seconds or 5 times a minute, so 300 times, give or take.”
“It’s math. I’m good with numbers.”
“Well, zip me back up please. I would like to use the ladies room.”
“My pleasure.” He made a show of clamping his teeth together and purposefully dragged his eyes up from where he could just see the zipper at her waist. His eyes tracked up, past her breasts to the neckline, then to her lips—where they remained until she stood and disappeared down the back hallway.
Their server came to clean away the dishes and to ask about dessert.
“I sure hope so,” he said, completely confusing the server who went back to the kitchen and brought back two complimentary dishes of rolled ice cream drizzled with chocolate.
When Gentry came back to the table he would have sworn that the zipper had been lowered a quarter of an inch. There was a light freckle visible that he hadn’t seen before. He would never have missed seeing that.
“Ooh, rolled ice cream! Thank you!”
In his opinion, her smile was worth the price of every scoop of ice cream served at Broadway at the Beach that night; an amount that he knew would be substantial.
When the bowls were empty and the bill paid, his mind raced for a way to postpone ending their date. She must have been thinking the same thoughts as she piped up, “Hey, if you’re not in a hurry to get home, you wanna go by and check on the momma and her kittens?”
“Sure. But you’re hardly dressed for visiting a kennel.”
“I keep a change of clothes in my car. We could go back to your house and each of us could change first.”
“You’ll actually come in this time?”
“I want to see Kyle Merritt’s kitchen.”
He laughed. “It wouldn’t be the first time Kyle seduced a woman with his saucepans.”
He opened her door and watched her climb inside. Before he closed it, she put her open hand on his chest. “Just for the record, it’s not Kyle I want to be seduced by.”
He had to hold in his gasp. But he couldn’t help his nose flaring and his eyes going wide. Did he really have a shot with this woman? It sounded like he might.