She said she would meet me at the river to talk things over. I was
uneasy about the rendezvous and was nervously chain-smoking as scattered
cigarette butts nearby testified. Her constant harping about my
smoking was just one of the issues affecting my relationship with
Valerie Templeton, who was a health nut. That and my tendency to
overdo it on beer consumption with my buddies, a sore point I had
been considering seriously lately though I resented her hectoring
me about it. Plus several other issues had built up friction between
us for a few weeks.
I was attracted to Valerie from the gitgo, the kind of girl who
stands out in a crowd, but strong-willed and dominant, to my mind.
Despite her conservative ways we had chalked up some happy times.
Despite my earlier reluctance to completely part ways, it was apparent
she had other ideas, judging by her brusque comments on the phone
demanding a face-to-face.
Ordinarily I had looked forward to meetings at the river, a hangout
for me and my friends. It isn't the most scenic spot along a quiet
rural road to really nowhere, since it ended in a dead end. Right
now I was feeling like the the "Nowhere Man" of the Beatles
tune. I like it at the river okay, but not exactly like Valerie
and her girl friends. She had described the surroundings as "idyllic"
more than once. They would go on endlessly about the natural beauty
of the place; its huge twin willows joined at the base, its shade
in summer heat. They would point out how the river rippled alongside
lending a musical background to whatever was going on, sometimes
guitar trumming and singing around a flickering campfire.
"Don't you just love it, Billy?" Valerie would sigh. From
time to time, we meandered over to a stone wall edging the river.
You could put your back to the bark of a couple of giant willow
trees and relax while casting a fishing line. And it joined a stone
bridge you could dive off when the water was high enough.
I recalled how earlier it had been fun to lie nearby where leaves
had rustled up a comfortable and colorful bed for a nap or cuddling
up to the girl of the hour. Sometimes we hung around for a picnic,
rustling up hot dogs on a portable grill I carried around in my
Valerie frequently remarked how cool it was just to mosey along
for a stroll. I didn't object much to talking things over with a
girl or buddy and watch thousands of ducks and geese from Canada
splash, feed and cavort. But actually I preferred to shoot them
or fish. I like action.
Pacing back and forth, awaiting Valerie, I recalled it was at the
river where I had decided she was the one for me. At first she was
on the quiet side and I mistakenly judged her introverted. What
a mistake that was! Guess she was sizing me up then and as our friendship
advanced beyond the budding stage she gradually put her two cents
worth in when one copper was plenty.
She became more argumentative and could stiff me, like her response
when I had suggested we exchange rings to show our relationship
was more than ordinary. "You must be kidding," she said
skeptically. "Just because you're a sports hero doesn't mean
I'm gonna go overboard!" She ultimately came around.
But, I had to admit--strictly to myself, of course--that she was
right, I did okay in various sports with letters to prove it, but
having her in my life took the edge off my playing enthusiasm though
it didn't affect my playboy tendencies much. After I first met Valerie,
I cut practices a lot to spend time with her, and my coaches were
on my case a lot. She wasn't into sports, probably because she wasn't
very athletic. But I had liked how our relationship was shaping
I had quite a bit of experience with girls and zeroed in on Valerie
with plenty of confidence. Lately I hadn't been getting through
with her and resented her stepping on my toes more frequently. Her
reluctance to accept my approaches and lifestyle bothered me and
my self-confidence was going south. So I'll let you in on a little
secret: In my frustration over where our relationship was heading,
I was starting to play the field.
I still considered Valerie a pretty good catch but had become convinced
I would never turn out the way she wanted me to. And I'm not about
to have her try to make me over into something I'm not. But to tell
the truth, I've been apprehensive about how she would take it if
I revealed my meandering to her. Being the man in the relationship,
I always want to be the one to set the timetable for major decisions.
My solitude was interrupted as Valerie buzzed up in the new Mustang
provided by her dad, a corporation executive, for a high school
graduation present. She's a brainy type, easily making good grades
in college courses. I tried not to let on but that has bothered
me since I struggle in community college phys-ed studies. Besides
my extra-curricular pursuits, I work a night shift at a local factory
to meet college costs and I like to party. So study has played second
Valerie was constantly grinding away at me to settle down and work
harder on my studies and I had detected a certain coolness lately
when I didn't. My theory was there was plenty of time for that;
I was young and needed to sow my wild oats and if she didn't want
to sow them with me--well, that was her loss.
Back to the present: Valerie shoved shapely legs out of her fancy
Mustang and walked resolutely to where I was seated on the stone
wall. I was becoming more agitated as she approached.
I was trying to how to initiate diplomatic tactics to cool her down
since she was obviously running hot. Her appearance was usually
a pulse-jumper with her smiling blue eyes, full red lips the color
of her Mustang, accentuated by blonde curls shimmering in the sunlight.
It was a sunny day now, but I felt like shivering in her icy presence.
I tried to look directly into her face to avoid casting my usual
glances at a figure you could die for: petite except in certain
places that any normal male's gaze would lock on to.
"L-l-l-look," I blurted--not ordinarily a stammerer--but
I was trying to get in the first shot. "It wasn't my fault
Gloria told you I was chasing after her--that's an exaggeration."
"I would believe her before you, Billy," Valerie said
sharply. "She's been a good friend for a long time, at least
she was, and I never had any reason before to doubt her."
"But I only met Gloria a couple of times at Maggie's with my
friends." Valerie and I had spent lots of time at Maggie's
Playhouse Bar but seldom alone since my buddies patronized it at
all kinds of hours. It was only last month that a friend came in
with Gloria Gonsalves on his arm and I was knocked out by her brunette
looks and funny, easy banter. She was fast on her feet on the dance
I was perspiring now, nerves jangling but trying not to show it,
attempting to smooth over my brief history with Gloria and cool
Valerie down. I knew from experience she could get very emotional.
"So why did you break off with your wonderful friends to bring
her out here to the river, just the two of you?" Valerie snapped.
"And don't lie, I happen to know it wasn't the first time."
"What! Who told you that? I suppose it was Gloria again?"
I was having a tough time figuring out why Gloria would disclose
what I thought were secret meetings at the river. The thought occurred:
Could it be feminine one-upsmanship? Gotta watch that Gloria closer!
I had been observing her pretty closely but not that reason.
"That's what hurts so much, Billy," Valerie said, her
voice breaking. She held out her hand to show me the ring I had
given her, "You said you'd be true to me and I have been to
you. Oh, what's the use." She looked at me with such sadness
it even made me twinge a little bit inside.
I could see tears welling in those gorgeous eyes. I never could
stand to see women cry, especially one you are fond of and I had
befriended many of those, though none who could match Valerie. Until
Gloria sashayed into my view, that is.
"But I thought we had a deal, " I responded. "You
said maybe it was better if we backed off some and tried dating
others. I was only doing what you suggested, girl."
"That's beside the point. I didn't think you were going to
start flirting with other girls immediately," Valerie said.
It was obvious the best course was to get this session over with.
Besides, the more Valerie went on the more worked up she became.
Tears were flowing down her cheeks now and I reached out to put
my arms around her but she shrugged me away.
"Don't touch me or even get near me," she exclaimed. "That's
over. I'm getting out of here, Billy Madison. I never want to see
you again." And with that Valerie yanked off the ring I had
given her, threw it on the gravel, ran to her car and sped away,
I picked up the discarded ring, brushed if off, settled back down
on the stone wall-bench to try to figure out the next move. I squinted
to read an engraving inside the band, "Billy to Val with love."
Feeling sorry for myself, I shoved aside golf clubs and grabbed
fishing gear out of my pickup. I screwed an artificial worm on a
hook and had just made my first cast when along comes my friend
Jackie Baird in his little Volks Golf, which was loud as usual,
needing a muffler replacement. Jackie worked as a mechanic in a
local garage and it wouldn't have cost him that much to fix, but
he joked that beer money came first.
"Hey, man, what's up?" he said as he took a perch on the
"Well, you just passed Valerie's car, if you noticed."
"Yeah, I did, she went by me like a rocket. What gives, she
usually doesn't push it too hard. And she didn't even wave or honk
I reeled in my line after a couple of easy pulls and flicked my
bait out across the river again as Jackie torched a cigarette after
offering me one.
"So what's with you and Valerie? Gloria told me you were breaking
up with her."
"What! I can't believe how she goes around telling everybody
in town about my business."
"You're only getting what you deserve," Jackie said. "Valerie
is a great gal, and a looker. You're making a big mistake playing
"In the first place," I said, jiggling my fishing line
just a bit to tempt any fish lurking nearby, "It's nobody's
business except mine, buddy. And what makes you think I'm giving
her up? I never said I was."
"You don't have to say it, it's plain where you're headed.
Everyone knows how you're two-timing her," Jackie responded.
I got riled up at that, yanked the fishing line in and told Jackie
to beat it. I wanted some time to myself to think things out. He
took off in his pickup and I could hear the engine roar for a long
time with its bad muffler. I couldn't believe how he was making
a pest of himself, going around gossiping about me and my relations
Restless, I decided to pack it in. I plucked Valerie's ring from
my shirt pocket and hurled it into the river. Tossing my fishing
stuff into my pickup, I headed back into town, feeling some pangs
of loss and misery, but frankly it was minor compared with those
of hunger the way my stomach was rumbling. I had been so intent
on the meeting with Valerie I had forgotten about lunch. Any concern
and bafflement about where that relationship was headed took second
place now to a sizzling hamburger and a beer at a joint that I knew
well and its patrons knew me the same way.
I cruised down the main drag of Smith's Crossing, the pickup noisy
with its double mufflers. I like to call it the Bluebird with its
blue and white wing designs painted alongside the fenders and doors.
I hit the brakes with gusto, announcing my arrival in a cloud of
dust, as usual. I flipped my half-burned cigarette away and brushed
off my cowboy boots with a cloth I keep in the truck just for that
purpose. Checking out my appearance in the rear view mirror, I jumped
out and headed for the bar's entrance and hopefully a fresh romance.
No sense of getting all shook up over a particular girl--it'll all
work out, whatever. Maybe since Valerie and Gloria were so friendly
it would be best to avoid both of them and hook up with another
female. Now that Sarah Donnelly is a real looker. Wonder what she
is up to tonight.