The Canal Street bar was not exactly where he had meant to end up. For his purpose that evening however he figured it would more than suffice.
New Orleans had not changed much since he and Shannon had traveled there for their first anniversary in 1977.
Kelly had been conceived here and it had taken him two agonizing years to bring himself back to this city.
It was February, the 28th to be exact, and he was celebrating a very different anniversary this time around.
He was on his fourth beer and the night was very young. The prime and consistent night life in New Orleans no matter what the season was a definite perk when it came to drinking yourself into a sweet oblivion.
He was about to order his fifth long neck when he felt a presence on the stool next to him.
He bristled and tensed his shoulders.
All night long he had been projecting his best 'bastard' persona; up until this moment it had been working and no one had dared to bother him.
The presence next to him was obviously waiting to be acknowledged so putting on his best Gunny glare he turned to face the annoying intrusion.
He was shocked to find a little girl in pig-tails sitting next to him, and immediately wondered if he had miscounted his beers.
"How d'ya do Marine?" she asked in an innocent and yet all too knowing manner. Grudgingly intrigued and obviously already a little tipsy he responded, "what makes you think I'm a Marine?"
"Well your posture for one thing, even slouched over every vertebra in your back is extended; you're sitting at an open bar and yet your back is facing the only wall without a door; you scan the bar every two minutes; you've put back four beers without even batting an eye; nobody will come within four feet of you; and if all that weren't enough Remy over there hasn't charged you for a drink yet."
His only response was to quirk an eyebrow in question to the last statement. "Remy's brother was a Marine, he's got a soft spot for 'em "don't ya Remy?" "Don' you be tellin mah secrets now Miz Abby" the Creole bartender scolded good-naturedly.
He managed a smile at this and turned further on his bar stool to face his observant intrusion, whose name was apparently Abby. "So does Remy have a soft spot for you too? I can't see any other reason why a ten year old would be in a bar." "Twelve!" Abby cried indignantly.
Seeing that he was not impressed or appeased however and for some reason strongly compelled to explain herself to this man Abby continued with a long suffering sigh.
"Not that I need your permission to be here Gunny but my Uncle Teddy owns the place and on the slow nights he lets me and my friends come in for Shirley Temples and virgin Piña Coladas."
(Ok now he was really unnerved; this little brat not only knew that he was a Marine but she knew his rank!)
He of course did not show this uneasiness but instead offered her another impassive and unimpressed glare and decided to pull a trick of his own.
"Well if that is the case Miss Sciuto why are you over here bothering me and not over there with them?"
(Although she did not know it, this was the first of many times Abby would wonder if the man in front of her was a psychic.)
Much to his amusement his uninvited companion stuttered in shock and visibly grasped for an answer to his question.
Abby floundered for a moment longer but then, composing herself pushed ahead as if nothing had happened.
He had to admit he was slightly impressed.
"Well..." she drawled "I came over her to tell you that you're drinking the wrong drink."
"I come in here a lot Mr. Marine so I can tell the difference between people who come in to just drink and those who have a purpose behind their drinking; you are definitely one of the latter and purposeful drinking does not involve beer."
He could not even begin to comprehend why he was even putting up with this inane conversation but against his better judgment he unwittingly asked the question that would change his life.
"So what does it involve?"
"Well you see that is the tricky part. In order to know what drink you need you, or I in this case, have to know the purpose for your drinking."
Abby noticed the extreme shift in the Gunny's body language and was wise enough to lean back and stay quiet for a moment.
When the tension eased and it didn't seem like he was quite as anxious to snap her in half, she cautiously continued.
"So why ya drinking Gunny? You don't have to tell me specifically, although you can if you want, I'm a good listener. But just a general subject will do. Is it a woman, your job, another Marine, your family maybe? Are you in trouble, have a fight with the old lady, money trouble, bad news; are you celebrating or mourning? What about kids, you're old enough to have kids, are they given you trouble, are you being relocated, is your commanding officer a jerk, ending a chapter or opening a new one?"
(He didn't know it then but this was the first of many 'Abby Rambles' that he would be subjected to.)
"Are you drinking to forget or to remember Gunny?"
His façade cracked slightly under the weight of her question and his voice was strained when he answered.
"Both. I think."
"I can work with that" she responded softly.
"Remy. Will you pour the Gunny here a glass of one of Uncle Teddy's good bourbons?"
"Bourbon? I've never had bourbon."
"Trust me Gunny bourbon is what you need not some old average joe beer. Now I'll warn you, it'll do the trick fast and you will have one heck of a hangover tomorrow. However, if you're looking to remember for a while and then forget for a while longer, than bourbon is what you need. Besides it's 'America's Native Spirit' how can you go wrong there?"
He still wasn't so sure when Remy brought him the half full glass of alcohol that Abby claimed was the drink he needed. To appease the precocious little pest however he took a cautious sip.
Pleased with the beverage and its potency he tipped his glass to the girl. "Very good," he said "thanks, I guess."
"You're welcome!" She replied, un-phased by his reservation. "Any time Marine. Remy, will you please make sure that our friend here gets back to his hotel safely?"
"Sure thing Miz Abby."
At this the pig-tailed alcohol expert slid off her stool and turned to go.
He wasn't sure why but suddenly he was sad to see her leave. His body language must have said as much to the perceptive pre-teen because just as suddenly as he was missing her she was back in his personal space again and her long gangly arms were wrapped around his shoulders in a comforting unreserved hug.
"Whoever it is that you're remembering Gunny," she whispered understandingly, "they would want you to be happy and to live your life. Bourbon is alright every now and then but don't let it consume you okay? You're too good of a man for that, I know, I can always spot the good ones."
He had to fight to control his emotions.
Abby noticed, and never one to step on a man's pride she offered one last squeeze and then went to join her friends.
A few minutes passed before Remy came over to refill his bourbon. "That Miz Abby is an audacious little thing no?
He nodded his agreement as he stole a glance at the table of gossiping girls. "She certainly is" he said with a smile; and then nodding his thanks he allowed the bourbon to put him back into the arms of his own audacious girls, at least for the night.
He awoke the next morning with possibly the worst headache of his life and one single thought on his mind; He hoped that somewhere down the line he would somehow be able to see Abby Sciuto again.