Somehow, Matt wasn’t surprised when he looked up from his plate and saw Joseph standing beside his table, Aunt Violet at his side. “You don’t mind sharing with my bratty cousin, do you?” she asked.
Joseph’s eyes were even more amazing in person, in color. They were somewhere between gray and blue, a shade that Matt hoped he could reproduce with his paints. Joseph wore blue jeans and a red-and-white-checked shirt, and looked both annoyed at Violet and intrigued by Matt.
“Sure,” Matt said, his mouth suddenly so dry that he had to take a quick swallow of the cooling coffee.
Joseph plopped down in the opposite seat and grinned. Matt’s heart almost stopped. “Pancakes and bacon,” Joseph said to Violet. “With the bacon done—”
“Really crispy. I know.” She cuffed him lightly on the shoulder before she walked away.
“Where are you from?” Joseph asked. His gaze was so piercing that Matt felt a little like an exhibit at the zoo. “And does everyone there have hair like that?” He gestured at Matt’s head.
Matt ran his fingers self-consciously through his waves. He'd never had the patience for goos and creams like Brandon used, and he tended to go too long between cuts. “California. And yeah, a lot of guys do, I guess.”
“California! I always wanted to visit there. Can you really pick oranges right off of trees? Do you know any movie stars? Do you lie on the beach all day?”
“Yes on the oranges but no on the celebrities. And the beaches near me are damn cold.”
Joseph leaned back in his chair, not even looking over when Violet plopped a glass of milk in front of him and then sailed away. “What’re you doing in the middle of nowhere? And how come you ain’t in uniform?”
“I’m… passing through. On my way home after a funeral in Omaha. And I’m… I’m disqualified from the military.” Which was true enough, he supposed. In 2012 they might be celebrating the end of“don’t ask, don’t tell,” but back in 1942 he would not have been welcomed into the military, wartime or not.
Arctic eyes narrowed in confusion, then widened in realization before narrowing again speculatively. “Disqualified, huh?” Joseph said.
There was a brief pause. Joseph sipped his milk, giving himself a very faint mustache that Matt longed to lick away. Three farmers at a nearby table erupted into hacking laughs at some joke while Violet slammed plates down in front of an older couple who looked like they hadn’t smiled since the previous century.
“I’m going in next week,” Joseph finally said, very quietly. “Army.”
Matt’s heart clenched and his gut twisted. Could you puke in a dream? “I guess you have to,” he said.
“I wanted to get a deferment while I went to college, but Mom and Dad couldn’t afford the tuition and… and here I am. Ready to do my duty. I guess.”
“You’ll get to travel. See places way more interesting than California.” And bleed your life away onto foreign soil, he didn’t add.