He was a big man in high school, and he thought he was the big man in Sally’s heart. Until a big man of the world came along to make him wonder.
Dateline: July 1945
It’s certainly funny to look back and see how sort of irresponsible I used to be when I was a kid. I just racketed along, never thinking about the future, and I took Sally for granted as if she was any old girl. But I’ve got to the place, now, where a guy’s got to act responsible. I’ll be eighteen in seven months, and after what I went through the last year, I feel about thirty.
I don’t mean that I never paid any attention to Sally till this year. If I’d sat down and chewed the matter over, I’d have admitted that she had the other girls in high school licked by a mile. What I mean is, I wasn’t carrying any torch for her. I was president of the senior class, and I had a lot on my mind besides girls. Sally was class secretary, and it was natural for me to stop by for her, take her to the class parties and all that. Just sort of routine, I mean, though it’s perfectly true I enjoyed it, too.
Well, things were jogging along, and most of us fellows were getting fed up with school, and wanting to get into the war. To do what we could, we threw a big shindig, sort of a public dance but the high school was running it. The proceeds would buy war bonds. That was when I first began to wake up about Sally. I took Sally to the dance, matter of routine. But when I took her home afterwards—that didn’t turn out to be routine at all.
All evening I’d been running in circles. Checking up on tickets, keeping the orchestra on their toes, all that sort of thing. After all, I was chairman of the committee. You can see perfectly well that I didn’t’ have time to do any dancing myself.
When I heard “Home Sweet Home” I called it a night. I hunted up Sally and told her I’d meet her at the main entrance. She was dancing with some chap that works in the local bank, and she nodded at me. I noticed she didn’t look too pleased with life. Fed up with the chap she was dancing with, I supposed, but when she met me at the entrance it turned out she was fed up with me.
“You must think you’re awfully important, Bert Williams,” she said, and she sounded plenty mad. I looked at her, and those blue eyes of hers just snapped sparks. She wasn’t hard on the eyes, just the same and I kept on looking.
“Me?” I said. “What are you talking about? You wanted this thing to go over big, didn’t you? Well, we’re going to clear about a hundred and ten dollars.”
She calmed down, some. “Well,” she said. “You could have danced with me once. You brought me, didn’t you? And you never came near me.”
“Hey, what’s all this?” I said.
The gym floor was almost empty, but the orchestra had been talked into playing one more tune. And suddenly I swept Sally out on the floor, coat and all.
“You want dancing, you’ll get dancing,” I told her.
Sally and I had danced together a lot. One time and another, and we could hit it off like a couple of fast breezes, but somehow this wasn’t quite like the other times. Maybe it was because it was spur of-the-moment, Sally with her coat on, and the lights half turned out, and music echoing in the shadowy corners. Or maybe Sally getting sore had done something to me, so I was paying a new kind of attention to her. Anyhow, I spun her faster and faster, my arm tightening till she was close against my shoulder, and her soft hair brushed my cheek. We danced right across the floor, and I danced her straight down the hall and out on the porch. The music followed us faintly, and no one was near.
And we went on dancing, slower now, dancing in the darkness with only a dim moonlight showing the way. Suddenly I was acutely conscious of Sally, so close to me. I was holding her tighter without meaning to, and my heart was trying to pound itself loose in my chest. I stopped dancing, with my arm still around her, and tried to see her face through the dimness. Her face was so near I could hear her breathing.
“Sally,” I said, and my voice sounded funny. “Sally, I—we–”
Then I stopped talking and kissed her, and bright lights exploded in my head.
Sure, I’d kissed her on her birthday sometimes, and once at a Christmas party, but that was nothing, that wasn’t really kissing her. What happened to me now took me all apart and set fire to me. And I was sure, right that minute, that something was happening to Sally, too. Because I knew dimly that she was sort of hanging on to me, and when she finally moved back and spoke, her voice was surprised and kind of shaky.
“Why, Bert,” she said.
I took her hand and we went down the big steps slowly, as if we were walking in a fog. But a swell fog, all full of shimmery colors, and Sally and me together in the middle of it.
I didn’t kiss her again, at her house, and she went in quickly as if she didn’t expect me to. Whatever had happened, that minute on the school porch—well, it was important, and it had knocked me end over end, and I needed a little time to sort myself out, if you know what I mean. Maybe Sally felt the same way. Anyhow we just said good night, sort of sober-like, and I went on home to my place.
But things were different from then on, not in any big loud way, just different, like a moon coming out on a dark night. I mean, for example, when I saw Sally at school next day, I didn’t yell a crack at her the way I would have done before, the way we always cracked jokes at each other.
I said, “Hi, Sally,” and looked at her to see if she looked any different.
And she said, “Hello,” and looked back hard at me.
And I knew what she looked like before, heck’s sake I’d been seeing her for a lifetime, hadn’t I? But this time I noticed that her blue eyes could be perplexing, a funny kind of perplexing that made a guy wonder what she was thinking about. And her light hair had reddish lights in it, when the sun shone on it. And in that sports outfit she looked like pictures of girls in the movie magazine.
“How about a movie tonight?” I asked her.
That was the first time I’d ever asked her for a date that didn’t have something to do with school. But she didn’t act surprised. She said that would be nice, and her voice wasn’t gay and laughing the way it usually was, it was nice and low and it did nice things to me.
So that was the way things went, and I saw quite a lot of Sally, and the way it goes in our crowd, people just naturally began to expect us to go around together. Sally and I didn’t say much about it, just one or the other of us would say, “see you tonight?” and stuff like that. As if we knew we belonged together. And I didn’t do any heavy planning for the future. After all, I was going in the Army as soon as I got through school. But whenever I looked ahead, way on when the war was over and I’d be getting a job, well, Sally was always there, right there in the picture, a part of my future.
I was doing all right, I figured. Sally and I clicked, and we knew it. I was as sure as that, mind you no worries, no worries at all. When we walked along side by side there was a great big kind of contentment inside me, just a good feeling, because she was there. When I kissed her good night, it was just about as much fireworks inside me as I could manage and not go off the rails. I figured she felt something the same, however girls do feel.
Then Art Manning came home, out of the Navy with a medical discharge and a bum arm, and right away trouble started. I didn’t have any hint of it, the first time I saw him on the street. He was still in uniform that day, with his chest covered with service ribbons, and he looked pretty swell. And we said “Hi” to each other, though of course he didn’t know me from Adam, because he was grown up before I ever hit high school. He must be all of twenty three, by now. So I waved at him, and thought he was a lucky egg to have seen service in the Pacific, and that was that. I mean I didn’t have anything special to say to him. He’d been grown up and off fighting for a long time. He was practically the next generation, if you see what I mean.
So you can imagine my surprise, the evening I waltzed into the Model Drug Store, and saw Art, in civvies now, sitting at one of the little booths with Sally. I naturally wondered what on earth they would have to say to each other, except of course she’d be polite to him.
I wandered up to them and said, ” ‘Lo, Sally. Hi, Art.” And waited for Sally to ask me to sit down.
Well, she didn’t ask me to sit down, not a bit of it. She smiled at me very nice, and she said “Hello,” and then she turned back to Art in sort of a settled-down kind of way, as if they’d been having a cozy chat when I came along.
Art said, “Hello, kid,” careless like to me. Nice enough, taut as if I were just another kid he couldn’t remember.
And then he said to Sally, “How about some cake, honey?”
When he called her “honey” it hit me right between the eyes, that he and Sally were having a date, I mean a regular date. He didn’t call her “honey” fresh-like; he said it as if he liked her. Sally looked at him as if he’d offered her a string of pearls or something, and then said “Thanks, Art.” And blamed if she wasn’t all starry-eyed about him.
What gives? I said to myself, what’s been going on around here, so fast? Because as far as Sally and Art were concerned, I was just a piece of the scenery. Sally wasn’t giving me any brush-off, you understand, I had to realize that even setback on my heels as I was. She just plain was so concentrated on Art, that it took all her attention. And we had rules in our gang, about horning in on another fellow’s date.
“Well, so long,” I said, a bit dimly.
They both stopped talking long enough to say good-by, which was very kind of them, but didn’t help the way I was feeling.
Well, a service man was a novelty all right, in our town, I figured as I mosied on home. And Art was an older man. That was bound to have some appeal to a young girl like Sally. Give it a day or so, I told myself, and it’ll all blow over.
I gave it one day, worrying along. Then I stopped her at lunch time, coming out of English class, and asked her how about a date that night.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got a date, Bert,” she said.
“Tomorrow night?” I said, sort of grimly.
“Fine,” said Sally. But something was different, it wasn’t all natural with Sally and me, the way it used to be. When I called for her, for the date, things were different, too. Usually we went for a walk or something, or picked up some of the crowd and had some fun, whatever came along. But this time, things seemed more formal-like. Sally had her things on when I got there, and we started out of the house, all crisp and business-like. “Where are we going, Bert?” she asked me.
So I said, “How about taking in a movie?” And felt in my pocket to be sure I had the cash for it.
Well, we saw a show, and afterwards stopped at the drugstore for a soda. All the time it kept getting home to me that Sally was acting more dignified. Now I don’t mean she ever was undignified, the wrong way. But this night, she was kind of formal, older than her age. I figured she’d got that way, playing up to Art Manning. She’d had another date with him, I knew, it was all over school.
“Relax, Sally,” I told her while we were drinking the sodas.
She looked at me as if I were talking Chinese, and those blue eyes of hers looked too polite. “Relax?” she repeated.
“You up-staging me, Sally?” I said, and I tried to sound pleasant but firm. “Act your age, girl.”
“Bert, what are you talking about?” she exclaimed.
“Well,” I said, not sure how to put it, “you aren’t acting the way you usually do with me.”
Sally sort of fooled around with her glass for a minute. She looked so pretty, sitting there, I couldn’t blame Art or anyone else for falling for her.
She looked up at me then, and her smile wasn’t very happy. “Bert, you know I like seeing you. But-”
“But what?” I demanded.
“Maybe sometimes people grow up, all of a sudden,” she said. “Maybe it just happens that way, Bert. I do feel different in a lot of ways from how I used to feel.”
“Different like what?”
“Well, things at school seem so–oh, so sort of trivial and unimportant. As if we ought to be paying attention to more important things,” she said slowly.
And I shot right back at her, “More important things like Art Manning, huh?”
She got angry sparks in her eyes, the way she did at that dance. “Let’s not discuss names,” she said, very cool and aloof.
“See here,” I told her, “you’re exactly four months younger than I am. Now, however you feel, you’re still just four months younger.”
Sally said, gently and patient-like, “That’s just it. It’s how old I feel, Bert. And you know, women my age are always older than boys the same age.”
“You’d better say ‘men the same age’, if you’re going to go talking about women, so sudden,” I said sourly.
“But you don’t act like a man,” Sally said then.
So I saw red, fast, at that one. What she meant was, I didn’t act like Art Manning. Well, how could I, now I ask you?
“You through with me?” I asked her shortly.
“Why, of course not, Bert,” she exclaimed. “I like you loads.”
Now when a girl assures you she likes you loads in that friendly, reassuring sort of tone, it adds up bad.
“But what- ?” I said:
“I just think I’d better see lots of people,” she said brightly. “I don’t want you to misunderstand, I mean I don’t want to have you count on things.”
“You mean you aren’t going to lead me on and drop me with a thud,” I said. “I get it. Much obliged.”
“Oh, dear,” she said, and she was really troubled.
“Skip it for tonight,” I told her. “I get the idea. We jog along, and it’s a free country, and the field is open. Well, shall we have a date once a week, for old times sake or something?”
“Don’t be silly, Bert, of course we’ll have dates.” She took my arm when we went out, and she was very sweet and friendly. But she’d got the idea across to me all right–she liked me; but she was warning me not to be too sure of her. Knowing Sally, I knew she wasn’t flirting with me, she was playing it straight.
I didn’t kiss her good night, I just said “So long, Sally, I’ll be seeing you.” I went along home, with my head full of just one question–what did Art Manning have on the ball that he could do so much damage in so short a time? I gave that little problem plenty of serious consideration the next few days. I saw to it that I bumped into Art around town. I gave him a good once-over whenever I saw him, and he was no wolf, I’ll say that for him. He didn’t go around giving a lot of gals the eye. I saw him again with Sally, going into the Purple Parrot, the one place in our town where you can dance and eat, but I didn’t see him with any other girls. He’d got himself a job at the plant, and he seemed to spend time home with his folks, too.
Trouble was, I couldn’t find anything wrong with the guy. Except the fact he’d made such a dent on Sally. And come right down to it, she was going on eighteen, and no reason why she wasn’t old enough to seriously interest a man like Art. Things didn’t look so good for me. He was just way ahead of me, all those years ahead of me, full of things he’d done. That’s all that can lick you, I said to myself, being young. I didn’t feel so young, but next to Art I could see the difference all right.
Then I told myself, come on guy, you’re not licked yet. People were getting older fast, around here, with Sally talking about men and women. I could give old Art a run for it, and do the best I could.
First off, I had to stop taking her on kid dates. Art had sort of a man-of-the-world swing, taking Sally into the Purple Parrot. Well, I could take her there too, it was a good place, it just cost cash money. I got five bucks from my dad, after quite a lot of talking, and two-fifty from Mom. I made a date with Sally for the next Saturday evening. And I hit Chuck, my older brother, for his new jacket and slacks. Not a loan, you understand, a rent-out job.
“How’s for borrowing your jacket and slacks, Chuck?” I asked him.
“How much?” said Chuck.
“A dollar—next week,” I said.
“Dollar and a half, and get them pressed,” said Chuck.
“Okay,” I said, knowing Chuck.
“Who’s the new girl, Gilly?” he asked
“Don’t call me Gilly,” I said automatically. My name is Gilbert and it took me quite a while to get people to remember to call me Bert–quite a while and two black eyes. But though I can wear his clothes, Chuck has more muscle than I. So I get “Gilly” once in while, from him.
“Sort of stepping out, aren’t you?” he said.
“No,” I said wearily. “Just tired of my own stuff.”
But I didn’t get away with it, not much. When I came downstairs on Saturday night, all ready to go pick up Sally, the whole family was waiting to give a once-over.
“Snappy,” said Dad, judiciously. He pulled at his pipe and stared at me. “Well, well.”
Mom brushed off my shoulders and gave a sideways pull at my tie, the way women do. “You look very nice, Bert,” she said. “That coat fits you all right. It’s very nice of Chuck to let you wear it.”
“Dollar-fifty nice,” I said. “Plus pressing.”
“Look out, Gilly,” said Chuck. “Or I’ll make you take them off.”
“Don’t call me Gilly,” I said.
“Run along, run long,” said Mom hastily. “You’ll be late, dear.”
So I got out of there. Anyhow, I’d made some sort of impression on the family. They certainly didn’t line up to see me off every time I had a date. Maybe I’d better try to hit Dad for some new clothes, or maybe I could get a job after school. Anyhow, smooth-looking clothes certainly can give a fellow a lot of confidence.
And I sailed up to Sally’s house ready to give her the works. If she wanted a sophisticated evening, she was going to get it. She looked super-smooth herself, in a pale pink outfit with a cute little shiny hat. And she was using a lot more lipstick than before, too. We only had four blocks to walk to the Purple Parrot, and we took our time about it, sauntering- along, and everything was rosy. Not so bad to have a formal date, I decided. After all, I was pretty old for kid stuff.
When we went through the big door of the Parrot, that was really a feeling. I’d never been in the place before, just looked through that door. It was crystal lucite, that door, the only one in town—just a big chunk of glass it looked like, with a knob in it.
I looked through the door at all the people inside, and put my hand on the knob, and a little guy in a blue suit and shiny buttons popped up from somewhere and swung the door wide for us. -We sailed in, Sally and I, and the music caught us, and little lights flickered ahead on the tables.
A tall chap in a tux came to meet us and what do you know—it was Ted Stuart who used to work in the garage, but he faced me as sober as if he’d never seen me.
“Hi, Ted,” I said
And he bowed and said “Good evening. Two, please?”
-Two what?” I said, realizing that he worked there.
-Two of you?” he said.
“Sure,” I said, wondering how many girls he expected me to bring on one date.
Well, he took us through an awful lot of little tables, where you had to pay attention not to knock people’s forks off. He sat us down in a nice little corner where we could be sort of alone. He settled Sally in her chair, and I was proud of her the way she let him slip her coat off and put it back on the chair, and the quiet little way she thanked him. Hadn’t dawned on me Sally knew her way around, all silky-smooth, like that. She might have been coming to this place for years, and I knew for a fact that two weeks ago she hadn’t been inside that door, any more than I had.
A waiter buzzed up, and handed me a thing like a menu, only there wasn’t anything to eat on it. I kept reading fast as I could, and all I could get to was a lot of fancy names of drinks, like Angels’ Tears, and Pink Lady, and Alexander, and then a whole string of names of different kinds of liquor.
“Uh, we’re getting dinner,” I said finally, feeling my ears getting hot.
“And what are you going to drink?” said the waiter, firm-like.
So I knew I was in for it. I’d never had anything stronger than beer, and I didn’t want to get over my depth, so I looked down the names for something mild.
“I’ll have an old-fashioned,” I said.
That sounded like something your aunt would order, so it ought to be safe. “How about you, Sally?”
“I’ll have sherry,” said Sally. “Dry,” she added, as if there were twenty kinds of sherries, and she knew all of them. She was good, that gal.
“Yes, sir,” said the waiter, and after that he was willing to give us a regular food menu, so we could get somewhere. And we picked out a couple of dinners, and I figured I was going to be able to pay the bill, anyhow.
“We can’t see the orchestra,” Sally said.
“Yes, we can, if we lean out,” I told her. I nearly bumped into a waiter coming with a tray, but I could see the orchestra all right, with the big purple bird in purple lights above the players. It looked plenty smooth. “Best way to see an orchestra is from the dance floor,” I told Sally.
So we went out in the middle where folks were dancing, and Sally and I had danced together plenty as I’ve said, but never on a dance floor the size of somebody’s front porch. We’d just get going, and somebody would clip us from the rear. Never saw such a bunch of people, all crazy to dance on the same piece of floor.
“I’m sorry, Sally,” I said, after we’d crashed and untangled for the fourth time. “An awful lot of couples keep going the same place we’re going.”
“It’s dreadfully crowded,” she said, and she certainly was sweet about it. But I had a hunch that Art Manning knew more than I about dodging on a dance floor.
Anyhow, we went back to our little table again, and the drinks were there all waiting for us. I was hot and thirsty from giving my all on the dance floor. So I took a big drink out of my little glass, and wow—if that was an old-fashioned kind of cocktail, we moderns are sissies. It burned the back of my throat out on the way down, and I coughed till I had to mop my eyes. And did I feel a fool, choking like that on a drink out of that little tiny glass. But that fruit salad they put in the stuff certainly was powerful. Why, there was more straight liquor in a little hunk of pineapple than in a whole mug of beer. And the kind of girl Sally is, she didn’t laugh, she didn’t even smile. She just watched me anxious-eyed, and looked pleased when I quit coughing.
“Swallowed the pineapple the wrong way, I told her.
“That’s a shame,” she said. “Have a drink of water.”
Dinner came along pretty soon, and there weren’t any surprises in that, praise be. Sally seemed to be having a fine time, and you know, after I’d relaxed and got used to sipping at my cocktail instead of drinking it, I had a swell time, too.
Maybe it wouldn’t be bad to go along this way, having a nice dinner and listening to music and everybody all dressed-up, instead of going to the movies and having sodas at the drugstore. And there wasn’t anything so hard about it. I was doing all right, wasn’t I? Sally ought to be satisfied, oughtn’t she?
I remembered to leave a tip when we finished, and we decided not to get bumped on the dance floor any more, after all we’d been in the place over two hours, waiting between courses and all Time certainly skipped along that night. So we did a fine job of going out, back through all the little tables, Sally sailing on ahead, and me coming after her, very proud of her and walking casual.
We got as far as the big entrance room, and a little gal popped her head out of sort of a cupboard with a counter in front of it. “Check, sir?” she sang out to me.
“I paid the check,” I told her. Took my last bill, too.
“Your hat check,” said the girl.
“My gosh, where is my hat?” I said suddenly. I certainly never gave it to the little girl in the cupboard.
“You didn’t take it in with you, did you?” Sally asked me.
“Guess I must have,” I muttered, wondering how they let me by the ropes with it, if it was the wrong thing to do.
And darned if I didn’t have to trek clear back to our table, through all those people, and feeling as if every last soul in the place was staring at me. Sure enough there was my hat, under the chair where I’d been sitting. And there wasn’t any way I could hide it under my jacket, so I had to just plunk my way back to Sally with the blasted hat in my hand.
Well, it sort of ruined my exit, if you know what I mean. We got out of there, but it
seemed to me that the little guy in the shiny buttons said, “Good night” sort of pityingly, and I wanted to bop him one.
And if that wasn’t enough, right outside the glass door we ran into three of the gang, Buzz and Charley and Dingbat Townsend. And they stopped right short on the sidewalk, and took us in. And the crazy eggs, they had to clown it. They sort of leaned together, as if the shock was too much for them, and then they made us low bows.
“Well, pardon us,” said Buzz.
“High society stuff,” said Charley.
“Did you have to swear you were twenty-one?” said Dingbat Townsend.
I said, “Cut it out, dopes,” and Sally stuck her head in the air.
Dingbat said, “Where’d you get the cash from, Bert? How long can you keep it up, on this scale?”
“You boys are just hateful,” Sally exclaimed. “Come along, Bert.”
And we went down the street, not looking back, but they did some fine and fancy whistling behind us. Well, maybe that was nothing at all—maybe it shouldn’t have got under my skin, but it did. I was just barely making the grade, on this formal-dating stuff, and those dopey kids dragged me right off the beam. No use kidding myself, they wouldn’t have pulled all that stuff if it had been Art Manning with Sally, instead of me. What could I do, with an older man beating my time?
She said she’d had a fine time, when we said good night. But it wasn’t the kind of end to the evening I’d planned, I mean, all the grown-up-date business didn’t lead to any high voltage good night. I couldn’t get back in step, and Sally didn’t give me any help. After all, how can you be sophisticated, saying good night, when you’ve just been razzed by some kids your own age? It didn’t set the right tone, no getting away from it.
It took me a long while to get to sleep that night. First I’d see Sally in the rose-colored dress, smiling at me, and then I’d see me ploughing through the tables with my blasted hat in my hand.
I wasn’t going to quit fighting, just because one evening hadn’t come off the way I wanted. Course I kept seeing Sally at school, but that didn’t do me so much good. I had a hunch that it made her remember that Art had been fighting a whole war and I wasn’t through with high school yet. Well, I’d ask her for another date and try again, but next time no high living, I was flat broke. So I asked her for a date, suggested going out on the lake, as that was free and also moonlight on the water is supposed to be a help. And we got a canoe one nice evening the next week, and started off to find us some moonlight.
Now don’t get the idea that anything dramatic happened, or anything dangerous, when I say that the moon hadn’t even come up yet and right off the bat we hit one of those underground logs the lake is full of. Sally can swim and I can swim, so nothing happened at all for people to make such a fuss about. Absolutely the only thing that mattered was how embarrassing it was.
I didn’t even know the canoe was going over, when Sally gasped and gave a lurch as we hit the log. Over we went. Soon as I got my head out of the water I tried to locate Sally, and that was no trouble because she was yelling high, wide and handsome.
“Stop yelling,” I told her “We’ve turned over canoes before.”
“Not in the pitch dark,” she gasped, but she did stop calling out.
Only the trouble was done, because people had heard her and a lot of folks came running down along the shore. Somebody turned a car headlights on—such a commotion, over nothing at all, the kind of thing you want to be quiet about.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t even know I was yelling,” Sally said.
“That’s okay. Let’s swim in.”
“But my skirt and shoes, I get tangled up,” she said. She was hanging on to the upside down canoe, and she didn’t want to let go.
From the commotion on shore, you’d have thought half the town was turned out. We don’t have a lot of excitement in our town, and what happens gets played big.
It isn’t a very big lake, and the voices sounded real close. “There’s Art—” Sally said suddenly. “Oh, Art,” she called.
Which just made it perfect, me dripping wet in the lake and him stepping right into his big opportunity. Trust him not to pass up a chance like that, when I could have got that canoe righted in five minutes and taken Sally in myself.
“Here comes the Navy,” yelled Art, “Hang on, I’m coming.”
Along he came in a rowboat, and gave Sally a good big heave up into the boat, and I went in over the end. All set,” Art said “We’ll collect the canoe tomorrow.”
We were ashore in short order, and a flock of people making a to-do over us. And here comes the pay-off. Everybody was fussing over Art, saying he was so quick, and practical, and kept his head in an emergency, and all that. And what did Art say?
“All I did was row a boat,” Art said “It’s this kid, what’s your name, Bert? Well, he’s the one that kept his head. He just talked to Sally and kept her calmed down, and saw to it she held on to the canoe.” He gave me a sock on the back. “You’re all right, kid,” he said.
Now wasn’t that the pay-off? I couldn’t even hate the guy, he was so blamed decent.
And Sally went right along with the same idea. She said she got excited, but I told her to stop yelling, and told her we’d upset canoes lots of times in that lake. So it all didn’t end so badly after all, and Sally acted pleased with me, and I got over being embarrassed it had happened. But just the same—what was I going to do about Art—when he was such an all-right guy?
She had dates with him three nights in a row, after that, and it got me down plenty. No use kidding myself, I wasn’t getting anywhere, having second-fiddle dates with Sally.
And I wrestled round with ideas, and finally I came to a big decision. The thing to do, was to have it out with Art, man to man. Put the thing to him straight, and if he was planning to ask Sally to marry him—well, lord knows what I would do, leave school maybe and try to wangle into the Army, ahead of time.
So I gave Art a ring, and asked if I could have a talk with him. And he sounded sort of surprised, but he said sure, come on out to his house that night. Well, that was a bad time, waiting round for the evening to come. If I hadn’t been so crazy about Sally, I’d have called the whole thing off. But I sweated it out, and finally I was actually going up the steps of his folks’ house. And I told myself savagely as I knocked on the door, this is no time to act like a kid, this is where I act my age.
Art came to the door himself. “Hi, kid,” he said. “What’s on your mind?”
“Good evening,” I said, the way men say it when they come to see my father.
Well, it registered on Art all right, or the way my face looked registered. Anyhow, he took a double take, and said, “Well, uh, come in, anyhow.”
His folks were off in the back of the house, washing dishes or something, and Art took me in the front room. We sat down, me on a straight chair where I had to remember to sit up straight, and Art on the couch. This time, he didn’t ask me what was up. He just waited, and lit a cigarette, and waited some more.
“I wanted to have a serious talk with you,” I told him finally.
“Well, go right ahead,” Art said. He grinned at me, friendly-like.
“It’s about Sally,” I blurted, plunging in.
“Oh, yes,” said Art. He gave me a long look, that time.
“I know it’s none of my business,” I said. “But maybe it is, too, in a way. Anyhow, do you want to marry her?”
Art sat right up, looking startled. “Well, uh, what angle are you going at this from?” he wanted to know. “That is, did Sally say anything like that?”
“No,” I said. It sounded fine and firm. “I’m asking you, on my own account.”
“I see,” said Art. “Well now, I think Sally is a sweet kid—”
I interrupted him. “She’s not a kid,” I said.
Art said, “You don’t mind her, yourself, do you?”
“Let’s get to that later,” I said.
He took a new start. “It’s like this. I think Sally is a fine kid—I mean I think she’s a wonderful woman.” He took a look at me, and went on. And his tone got more serious, very serious. “But I hadn’t started figuring on marriage, yet.”
“You’ve been seeing a lot of her,” I said slowly.
“Look here,” Art said. “We just had a lot of fun. I never acted serious with her.”
“Did she know that?” I asked him.
“Good night,” said Art.
He stubbed that cigarette out, and lit another.
“I’ve not been having exactly fun and games, in the service,” he said slowly. “And since I’ve got back, I’ve sort of floated around after work, and sometimes I floated with Sally. That’s all there is to it, Bert. I had a good time and she seemed to be having a good time. See?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Only what happens next?”
Art took out a big handkerchief and mopped his face off. “Warm in here, isn’t it?”
“Certainly is,” I said. “Well?”
“Look here,” he said, “just how do you sit in on this, anyhow?”
“She was my girl till you came along,” I said, straight out.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh,” sort of solemn, with another quick look at my face. “Well, now, that puts a different angle on it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “For me, it does.”
“Well, uh, what happens now?” he asked me.
“I asked you,” I answered, “are you figuring on asking her to marry you?”
“Well, frankly, no,” Art said. “Are you?”
I looked sharp at him to see if he was kidding me, but his face was sober.
“Well, I sort of thought so, later, on,” I told him. “After I got through fighting, of course.”
“Fighting?” said Art.
“Army,” I said, terse and laconic.
“That’s right, you’ll be getting into it right soon, won’t you. Well, look, we’re practically both service men. We can thrash this thing out, can’t we? It’s no insult to Sally that I’m not in love with her, is it?”
“No,” I said.
“That’s all settled, then, isn’t it?” said Art, looking pleased.
“Not exactly. Sally is still sort of, well, dazzled,” I pointed out. “After all, you’re an older man, and that counts with a girl.”
Art swallowed some smoke, and coughed.
“Um, that’s a delicate problem, all right,” he said finally. “Well, I tell you, Bert. Suppose you let me sleep on this, and maybe I can figure out some way out of the–the–”Situation,” I said.
“Situation,” said Art. “How about that?”
“Fine with me,” I said, standing up.
“And I certainly appreciate your attitude.”
“Forget it,” Art said. “Very good idea of yours, getting together with me on this.”
“I figured maybe we could work it out, if we had a good man-to-man talk,” I said.
“Uh, absolutely, absolutely,” Art said. He took me to the door, and we shook hands just solemnly enough. “You’ll hear from me,” Art said.
I walked along straight and dignified till I got out of sight of his place, and then I cut across lots and went over a rail fence, clean. Boy, did I feel swell. Art was sure to think of something to do, a man like him. Only, I had a nagging worry. Maybe it wasn’t so easy to un-dazzle a girl, after she once had got started.
Anyhow, I ducked seeing Sally next day. It wasn’t till forty-two hours after I’d talked with Art that I asked her for a date. She said sure, she’d see me that night. And I noticed there was something funny about her manner.
That night she said she wanted to go for a walk, which suited me and my finances fine.
We talked about school stuff a little, but neither of us was paying any great attention to what we were saying.
All of a sudden she said, “Bert, when men get older, they get serious-minded, don’t they?”
“Like what?” I said cautiously.
“Well, I had a date with Art last night.”
“Uh,” I said, wondering what Art had been up to.
“It’s funny. I’ve been seeing him now and then, but I never knew him well until last night.”
“That so?” I said. It didn’t sound so good.
“He’s sort of—heavy, when you really get to know him,” Sally said. “I was certainly surprised.”
“You don’t say,” I answered slowly.
It began to dawn on me that when I said to myself Art was a decent guy, I’d said a mouthful.
“And he’s all full of responsibilities, about his family,” Sally went on. “He got kind of confidential, and he told me he didn’t know whether he’d ever get married, with his parents depending on him so.”
“He’s one swell guy,” I said with fervor, seeing what Art had meant, when he told me I’d hear from him. I was hearing all right.
“I got to thinking about it, today,” Sally said. “Maybe you’d be interested.”
“Just try me, Sally,” I assured her.
“I’ve been deciding—maybe it’s a novelty, to know a man like that, but when you get to know him well, it’s heavy going. Bert, do you think maybe the really exciting thing is two people both being young, and getting serious together?”
“Honey, I think you’re exactly right,” I said. And I couldn’t quite see why she had to think things out this way, about anything as emotional as love. But women are peculiar about some things, and maybe that is one of them. Anyhow, we’d had enough serious talk, to give me the go-ahead signal.
I got one arm around her, so she stood still, close to me. “Sally, when a guy goes in the Army, he likes to know he’s got his girl waiting for him. I’ll be going in the Army, soon as I can.”
Suddenly she had her arms tight around me. “Bert, Bert,” she said. “What’ll I do, when you go away?”
Now if just mentioning my going could do that to her—and she was kissing me, too, with my full cooperation. Women may be peculiar, but they can certainly be nice.
“Sally, will you promise never to marry anyone but me?” I asked her.
“Never anyone but you,” she said.
Copyright © 1945, 2012 by BroadLit