Original Short Story: "Will"
Love Has No Color
Two Roads Diverge
At the tender age twenty-five, Will Bainbridge had arrived at a fork in the road of life. His six-year marriage had ended. His former wife, Dody, had moved to Oregon, taking their son, Billy. After Folman's Garage closed, he lost his job.
Will's best friend, Ed Torrenz, needed him at the Sears Automotive Department in the Muncie Mall, but his parents suggested he move back home, return to college, and finish the business degree he had started seven years earlier. The suggestion made sense, so he accepted. But he couldn't concentrate on his studies, filled with the pain of missing his son.
Will's grade-point-average fell below C for fall semester, and his father's threat to stop tuition payments jolted him from his melancholy. Without the degree, he would have to remain an auto-mechanic; he enjoyed the work as a hobby.
However, he wanted a more creative job, and he refused to work at his father's automobile dealership. He wanted to join the "real" business world, so he determined to raise his grades. At Christmas, Dody had brought Billy, for a visit, and that visit lifted his spirits.
The Spring of New Hope
Will began spring semester with new hope. In his Spanish class, he had admired a dark-haired woman who always sat in the front row. He loved the way she slid her coat over the back of the chair, how gracefully she removed her book from her book bag. His moodiness had prevented him from speaking to her, but he decided that this term, he would get to know her.
The first day of classes Will arrived early to Spanish. There she was, already seated in the front row. Will didn't like sitting in front, but he made the sacrifice. He ambled up and slid into the seat next to her.
"Hi, I'm Will Bainbridge. You were in here last semester. Isn't your name Annabella?"
"Well, hello, Will Bainbridge. No, my name is Arabella, Arabella Johnson."
"Oh, that's prettier than Annabella. Are you a Spanish major?"
"No, I'm finishing my masters this semester in corporate tax law. Just auditing Spanish."
"So why would you audit Spanish?" Will asked.
"The company I work for has offices in South America. And I plan to do some traveling in Mexico. I was born in El Paso. My parents still live there; they work at Ft. Bliss. Both speak fluent Spanish."
"But they didn't teach you?"
"Oh, a little. But not nearly enough. And I've lived here since I was twenty, so I haven't needed it. Funny thing, it's harder than I imagined. How about you?"
"It's pretty hard for me too. I got a C last semester, but I have to do better. My parents are footing the bill for college, and so I have to pull my GPA up. I dropped down to 1.9 last semester and that can't happen again."
"Oooh, not fun. I've been lucky gradewise, so far. I got a 4.0 going. As an undergrad I maintained around a 3.8, but I'm always nervous about grades."
The professor arrived and started class.
After class Will asked Arabella to go for coffee at the Student Center. He learned that she was Irish and German on her mother's side, and her father was African American. She was the thirty-seven-year-old mother of two teenaged boys, Jesse, sixteen and Tommy, fourteen. Her husband had been killed three years earlier in the Persian Gulf. She had worked ten years at Dayton Oil Company.
She began working there after graduating from Indiana University, but after Jesse was born she wanted to stay home with him. She had returned to work after Tommy started pre-school. Will confided that he had not been a very good husband; he had played in a local rock band, and he spent too many evenings away from Dody and Billy. By the time the group had disbanded, Dody had given up on the marriage, and they divorced.
To Love Again
This coffee date was leading to many, and Will's admiration for Arabella deepened into love.
As Will grew close to Arabella's sons, he concentrated less on missing Billy. Tommy wanted to play the guitar, so Will taught him some chords. He helped Jesse find a car, and they rebuilt its engine.
By the end of the semester, Will's grades, as well as his spirits, were soaring. He had a B in accounting, A's in everything else. Arabella had made sure Will studied. Will had made sure he spent a lot of time with Arabella. They planned to marry as soon as Will graduated.
Will adored his mother and respected his father for building his successful automobile dealership. But his father behaved with extreme prejudice against racial minorities, and his mother acquiesced to the will of her husband. Will had thought about how his life would have to change when they eventually found out about his new love.
On his way in to breakfast, last day of exams, Will heard his mother speaking in anguished tones, "Jacob, don't be too hard on him. John Porter is wrong, you know it. Will would never do that."
Hearing his mother's words, he braced himself for confrontation. Entering the dining room, he glimpsed the sour look on his father's face and his mother's red eyes.
"Good morning," Will said, seating himself and pouring coffee. "One more exam, I know I'll ace it. I've pulled myself out of that hole I dug last semester."
"Will, are you dating a ni**er?"
"Dad, do you have use that word? That's the most offensive word in the English language. Nobody uses that word anymore."
"Are you walking around that campus with a little ni**er girl? That's what John Porter saw. Says you and some n**er girl were holding hands, looking all lovey-dovey. Tell me, son, is that true?" His father shouted, his face reddening.
"Dad, that woman Porter saw finishes her masters in corporate law this week. She practices law for Dayton Oil Company. She is the widow of an army major who died in the Persian Gulf. She has two fine teenaged sons. She is part African American, part white—just like us, Dad; her white blood is Irish and German."
As Will talked, he grew calm but firm, realizing that he could not continue accepting his parents' support. His father's face told him Arabella's qualities meant nothing. The only qualifier was the disqualifier, the African blood.
"Will, you know better, Honey. We raised you to know better. You can't go with a colored girl. What would our friends think? We'd go out of business if customers found out. Our business depends on customers that're friends, almost like family. And what about Grandma Mary? She has a weak heart. And Uncle Andy would just die of shock. Honey, you got to stop this, you got to." His mother sniffled, dabbing her eyes and nose with her napkin.
"Hell, yes, he'll stop it. You'll not get another red cent from me, if you don't. You hear that, fellow. I won't be disgraced this way." Jacob stood up, threw down his napkin, and snapped, "Grace, Fred Compton's coming to dinner. Use the good china, and make sure you chill plenty red wine. You know how Fred likes red wine with his beef." He scowled at Will, shook his fist, and barked, "You better remember damned good and well, buddy. Not another red cent."
After Will's last exam, he rushed to Arabella.
"But you can't quit college. You'd be miserable going back to a job you're tired of."
"I won't give you up, Bell—not for money, not for anything. I've thought about this. I saw it coming. I'll go see Ed Torrenz about that Sears job; he'll help if he can, but if they don't need me, I'll have to look other places. I'll take out a loan to get my own place."
"Will," Arabella said, pulling him close. "I have some money. I'll help you, so you can stay in school."
"No, Bell, I can't take your money. That's sweet of you to offer." He kissed her on the forehead and then on the nose. "That's why I love you, you're so generous and sweet, but I'll work this out. I'll have to take night classes. We'll have to put off getting married for a couple years, but I can do it, Bell, if I know you are with me on this."
"Oh, Willie-Baby, don't worry about that. You know I'm with you all the way."
A Taxing Jolt
Will's ruptured relationship with his father hurt and angered him, but his mother determined not to lose her son, insisting he visit Sundays and holidays. Jacob spoke very little during these visits, except to ridicule Will for "letting a ni**er drag him down." Will's hurt and anger turned to sympathy; he knew his parents were suffering from their bigotry. They might never understand how good Arabella was for him, how good she was, how extraordinarily good.
After Will graduated, he accepted a position as district manager with Sears. He and Arabella were married. He was no longer welcome in his parents' house. His father completely rejected his son. His mother still called him often, and they met occasionally for lunch. Each time they met, she looked increasingly gray and depressed.
She avoided mentioning Jacob, but she tried to report good things about the business, such as their doing so well that they were able to give Fred Compton a substantial raise. But Will sensed her sadness that always brought tears to his eyes as he watched her walk away.
While Will and Arabella packed for a trip to Mexico to celebrate their first anniversary, Will's mother called, agitated with grief. Jacob had just suffered a massive heart attack. Will rushed to the hospital. After the doctors finally reported that Jacob's condition had stabilized, Will insisted his mother let him drive her home.
In the car Grace broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. The IRS had audited the dealership and found taxes owed in the amount of a two-million dollars. Jacob feared losing his business. He had trusted Fred Compton, his accountant, who had mysteriously disappeared; Bainbridge Buick and Toyota's trusted attorney, Chester Mortonson, also disappeared.
"Please . . . Mom . . . Mom . . . calm down, and tell me all you know. What about John Willson, Mortonson's partner? He ought to know about this. And Herb Marlowe? He shared an office with Compton."
"Oh, Willie, they don't know anything. They claim it's your father's fault. They say they don't have any records; that Fred must have them. They won't help. Willie, I'm losing my mind; that caused your father's heart attack, I know it did. I don't know what to do. I just don't know what to do."
"Mom, you don't want to hear this, but my Arabella is a corporate tax specialist, she could get you out of this mess."
"Oh, Willie, why would she help us? She doesn't even know us."
"Well, Mom, that's not her fault. But she'd help because you need it."
"Oh, Willie, if she'd help us, your father would change his mind. You know, sometimes I don't understand why he makes such a fuss about colored people. I know I do it because he does, but I don't understand it. I'd be grateful if your Arabella could help. Do you truly think she can?"
"Yes, Mom, she can, she's good. You'll see. And Dad will see. You'll both see—just how good she is."
Martin Luther King's Dream Came True: Interracial Love
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes