He sits at a round table, drink in hand, although he's long since lost the ability to enjoy any release the alcohol gave him before. The chairs around him are empty, but the rest of the bar is lively, with people laughing and jostling. It was a shock to hear the way people spoke now, the lewd jokes they threw around so cavalierly. And the women! The first time he had seen how scantily they dressed, he couldn't help but stare, appalled at how they displayed so much of their bodies. She wouldn't leave him alone when she noticed his stare, even when he told her he wasn't interested. He had to duck into a shop, full of electronic devices whose uses he couldn't even fathom, just to lose her.
All he wants to see is one familiar face, somebody in the midst of all the culture shock he is going through. So he returns to the same bar, every Friday like clockwork at eight 'o clock and not a moment later. The employees all know him by name now, they pour his drink the moment they see him walk through the door. The dance floor is sparsely filled, bodies gyrating in something he would never dream of calling dancing and he remembers a promise made in the heat of battle, a rain check for an earlier date.
It breaks his heart that he missed it. Even though he knew, and he hopes she knew, that there was no way he could have made it. He hopes she didn't wait long. He knows that she did. His eyes move from the people to the doors, wondering if she might walk through them at any moment.
They tell him it's been sixty eight years, but the only image he can conjure of her in his mind is of the day he went down in Schmidt's airplane. He wonders what she looks like now.
"Hello, Captain," a voice says and as he looks up he realizes he's nearly forgotten the sound of her voice, because he dared to hope for a moment that she had appeared before him, conjured from his thoughts. The girl in front of him now has brown hair to match hers, and her eyes are blue, but they remind him of the way the ice looked before he crashed into it and the world just stopped.
"Do I know you?" he asks after he recovers from the shock and the girl sits down across from him, radiating pleasure.
"No," she says pleasantly, clasping her hands together on the table and studying him. "Your picture was in the paper a couple weeks ago. Still is, as a matter of fact."
"I didn't know people still read the paper," he says wryly. It used to be that everyone he saw had a newspaper under their arm, or open in front of them. Now he sees only a couple a day. She shrugs and looks over at the door, as if she too is waiting for someone to walk through them.
"I used to read them with my grandpa. Guess it stuck with me." She smiles sweetly and he's caught off guard by her gentle honesty. He crosses his arms over the table and tries to find something to say. She saves him the trouble and speaks more before he gets the chance to.
"I wasn't sure it was you at first." She reaches down and begins to fumble through a large purse. He waits patiently, confused, for her to find what she is looking for.
"Aha," she says, and triumphantly slides an old black and white photo across the table. Without thinking, he reaches for it, uncomprehending of what he's looking at. The person in the photograph is him, but he doesn't understand how she has it. He's scrawny, his arms too thin for his shoulders to be so wide, his collarbone showing even through his shirt. In the background he can see a building, and he can't remember what exactly it is but he knows it belongs to the military base that had first allowed him to work towards protecting his country.
He looks back up at her, just barely having the presence of mind to not let his mouth flop open like a fish gasping for air. She's watching him silently, waiting for him to speak.
"Where did you get this?"
"There was a woman," she says, as though she had been waiting years to say this, practicing for just this moment. She looks across the bar, focusing on and pointing at one table. "She sat there, every Friday night." His heart stops beating and his eyes dart to that single table, and for just a moment he sees her sitting there before the illusion vanishes.
"She would sit there and wait for hours. You could tell she was waiting by the look on her face. She didn't even watch the door really, not like you've been doing all night." She pauses, and he wonders just how long she has been watching him. "And so one night I asked her who she was waiting for. I'll never forget what she said to me because it was the most romantic thing I'd ever heard. She said, 'I found the right dance partner, and I promised to teach him how to dance.'"
His brain is only partially through formulating a response and deciding which question to ask her when she begins to speak again.
"We started talking, I think she must have been lonely," she pauses again and their eyes meet. He pleads silently for her to continue. "She told me everything about you and didn't talk about anything else. She said you were a real hero, the kind that you don't find very often. She said you would give your life without thinking if it would save others. I think she must have missed you a lot." She finally falls silent, watching him process everything she has told him. He thinks that this is harder to process than realizing he was in a different century. Through everything he is thinking of, one thing is clearer than the rest.
"When did she stop waiting?" She looks down, uncomfortable for the first time that evening.
"A couple years ago," she murmurs to her shoes. He stands to leave and the photograph again catches his eye.
"I have one more question, if you don't mind." She looks up at him, wide eyed and eager, attempting to make up for any pain she had caused him. "Why did she give you that photograph?"
Her lips stretch into a radiant smile and for the first time he realizes that she is beautiful.
"Okay, I lied earlier. This is the most romantic thing I've ever heard. The night she showed me the photo, she was about to leave without taking it with her. So I said, 'Don't you want this?' and she just kind of smiled and said, 'I don't need it anymore. I'll never forget a single piece of him.'"
At this he can't help but smile, and as the muscles in his face stretch, he thinks he hasn't smiled in quite some time.
"Thank you, miss," he says, sliding the photo across the table towards her. He turns and walks towards the exit before she can say anything about it, and he knows she will watch him go until the door shuts behind him.