As much as Manny loved the strip, he hated being there with Boone. It took half a night of drinking to get Boone to relax enough to have any fun, and when he was drunk, he had a tendency to follow prostitutes around, professing his love for them and threatening their clients.

First Recon was no longer welcome in Gomorrah, so Manny was spending his leave in The Tops, drinking watered down booze and watching Boone stare morosely at the pretty girl who worked the counter. Manny considered Boone his best friend and closest confidante, but his habit of falling for every cute girl that looked his way was grating on his nerves. It was impossible to spend any time with him in public, because Boone inevitably caught sight of a woman with a nice figure, and then all conversation ended for the evening as Boone tried to work up the guts to approach her.

Boone downed what was left of their beer, still looking sideways at the moneychanger. Some guy went up to trade in his chips. He said something to the cashier, and she laughed, a smile playing on her lips. A muscle in Boone's jaw twitched, and Manny tried to divert him.

"Come on, let's get another round."


"Boone, come on."

"You go. I want to stay here." Boone folded his arms across his chest and Manny sighed. If he went now, he might still be gone when Boone started throwing punches, and then he'd have an alibi when Lieutenant Sterling was yelling at them. Again.

"Fine. I'll be right back." There was a long line at the bar, but he never heard shouting from the casino floor. Maybe Boone wouldn't start a fight after all, and they could have one night out where they didn't get threatened with a court-martial.

Manny stepped out of the restaurant and stopped short. While he was gone, a woman had taken his seat and practically wrapped herself around Boone's arm. Her dark, curly hair shone in the light from the dusty sconces. Boone was staring at her as though he couldn't quite believe she was there. As Manny watched, she tipped her head back and laughed. After a moment, Boone did the same, his eyes shining.

Manny frowned at them, irritated. It was supposed to be a guy's night out, just him and Boone. He had not figured any strange women into the equation, particularly a strange woman who could make Boone laugh. Manny was pretty sure that was his job, anyway. He stood there, drinks in hand, wondering if he should go give Boone his beer before it got warm or if he should leave the two alone.

He was saved from deciding by one of the Chairmen, who tapped the woman on the shoulder and gestured to the clock, she nodded, said something to Boone, and followed the man towards the main stairs.

Boone watched her go, not noticing Manny until he cleared his throat.

"Who was that?"

"Her name is Carla. She's a singer." There was something approaching awe in his tone, as though he still couldn't believe a girl like that had talked to him.

"Really?" Manny asked, deliberately casual. "She work here?"

"Yeah." He said the word like a sigh, accepting the bottle that Manny handed him. He suddenly brightened. "We should watch her show!"

Manny frowned. He didn't want their evening to be hijacked by some singer. "You sure? I thought the plan was to make our fortunes playing blackjack."

"She asked if I would be there and I said yes."

It was Manny's turn to sigh. "If you really want to," he said passively.

Boone smiled for the second time that evening. "I do."

Carla performed last, and Boone had that same grin for her entire act. Manny noticed that she sweated pretty heavily under the stage lights, but he didn't say anything to Boone.

She dedicated her final song to "All the NCR boys in uniform," and Manny thought Boone was going to pass out when she winked at him.

He insisted on hanging around after the show. Manny wanted to hit the slots, but Boone overruled him. "I just wanted to tell her how well she sings," he said firmly, and that was that. Manny didn't have the heart to tell Boone that the girl was just playing with him. He was sure that when they met up after the show, she'd be on the arm of one of the casino's big shots and would blow the two of them off completely. And then Boone would be all broody all night, and it would completely ruin the evening.

But that wasn't what happened. Carla was delighted that the two of them had come to her show, and she had asked how long they were going to be around. When they answered, she asked if they wanted to go get something to eat, and Boone had agreed, readily.

Manny wasn't hungry, and watching Carla and Boone flirting made him want to vomit. Carla was pretty enough, but she talked and laughed too loudly and too often. It was painfully obvious to Manny that she was shallow as a shower, but Boone was completely taken in by her. Carla laughed and joked, and Boone just sitting there, grinning like an idiot. When the time came for them to catch the monorail back to Camp McCarran, she kissed him goodnight and asked if she could write to him.

Manny was certain that it would end there. No matter what intentions she had, she would never bother actually writing to Boone. She'd break his heart, and then it would just Boone and Manny again, as it should be.

But Carla defied his every expectation. She wrote long letters, and Boone responded as best as he could. His letters were cloddish in their sincerity, and it was too easy for Manny to imagine her reading them out loud to whoever her real boyfriend was, cackling at Boone's naiveté. The bitch was stringing him along, but Manny would be there for him once he came to his senses.

Boone spent his next leave with Carla, and Manny spent it at the bar drowning his sorrows and resisting Betsy's attempts to cheer him up. Manny came back hungover, Boone came back engaged.

And it had all gone downhill from there. They'd all moved to Novac, and Carla managed to alienate everyone but Boone. Manny's heart sank when Boone confided that she was pregnant. He didn't have the heart to tell Boone that the kid probably wasn't his. She didn't deserve him, but he was devoted to her. He'd never leave her now, and Manny wondered how they all managed to fall so far.

He wondered the same thing as he stood outside the room she and Boone had shared. Carla was gone, and Boone wasn't speaking to him. But he wasn't going to stay mad forever. He'd come around, and it would be just like old times.

Because Manny didn't think he could live in a world where Boone hated him.