DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.
Gruff words for Leslie's Step-Dad
When we got to Leslie's dorm, I called my folks and let them know we got back safe and sound. Then Leslie tried to call her mother to let her know we'd arrived back in Plymouth. Thomas answered and hung up on her.
I called after she did, and when he answered, I told him if he didn't put Mrs. Herschel on the phone, I'd make him sorry. Thomas sputtered, but a few seconds later, Mrs. Herschel came on the line.
Their conversation was brief. I only heard Leslie's half of it.
"Hi, Mom. I'm back at Plymouth State."
"Yes, Mom. We had a nice time at Ren's parent's house. They were very friendly and excited about our engagement. Ren never told me his parents were high school sweethearts who married before going off to college."
"Ren did speak harshly to Thomas, Mom. He had to. Thomas hung up on me the first time I tried to call you."
"I will, Mom. I love you, too."
"Thomas told her he'd accidentally hung up on me," Leslie told me when she got off the phone. "I don't think she believed him."
For the next couple of weeks, things settled into a pattern with Leslie and me. We'd meet for breakfast at the dining hall and then for lunch at the Student Union on school days. Often, we were joined by Mick and Laurie. I'd meet Leslie in the music building after her piano lesson each day, and we'd play a song or two. Sometimes she'd bring her guitar and insist I play it while she played the piano.
We'd alternate where we had dinner. Some nights we'd eat at BJ's. Other nights at one of the other eateries in town. On rare occasions, we'd have dinner in the dining hall.
Then came the first weekend in November.
The last thing I expected to happen to me on the first Saturday in November was to find Beverly, my high school girlfriend, waiting for me in the lobby of my dorm.
"Hello, Ren," Beverly said. "I imagine you're surprised to see me here."
Calling Beverly my high school girlfriend was not exactly accurate. She was the girl who, on the night of our Junior Prom, graced me with her virginity. We met at the start of sophomore year and became friends. That prom night, we became lovers. Our love affair lasted from then until a week before our Senior Ball.
Beverly was headed off to Notre Dame, and I was moving to New Hampshire. She decided to break up with me before graduation to allow herself some time and freedom to, as she put it, experience life before she left North Carolina. When high school ended, I honestly thought we'd never see each other again.
"Surprised is putting it mildly," I said when I found my voice. "What are you doing here?"
Beverly frowned and said, "I thought you'd be happier to see me. I did come all the way here from Indiana to visit you."
"I wish you'd have let me know you were coming," I said. "What happened to wanting a Ren-free college experience?"
Beverly's lips pressed into a thin line before she reminded me that I was the one who put those words in her mouth. "I never said that I didn't want to see you while we were in college. I was just worried about being too distracted by each other if we went to college close to one another."
I glanced at my watch. "What are you doing in New Hampshire, Beverly?"
Noting my impatience, Beverly asked, "What's the matter, Ren? Have you got a hot date to get off to?"
"You could say so," I responded. "I'm picking my fiancé up for breakfast."
"You're what?" Beverly asked sharply. "You're engaged?"
"Yes. Why? Did you come up here hoping we could pick up where you dumped me? How did you know where to find me, anyway?"
"I called your mother," Beverly explained. "My mother had her number. She told me where you'd wound up going to college. Your mom didn't mention anything about you being engaged."
"Did you tell her you were planning to travel all the way to Plymouth State to surprise me?" I asked.
"No! If I told her, your mother might have let something slip and ruined the surprise. As far as you're being engaged, I wish she'd ruined that surprise for me."
There were only a few people in the lobby, but they all turned our way when Beverly raised her voice.
I kept my voice low. "As soon as graduation was over, my family moved to New Hampshire just like we'd planned. I wrote to you all summer. You never wrote back. I called your house. Your parents told me you'd already left for Indiana for some summer session at Notre Dame but wouldn't tell me how to get in touch with you."
Beverly looked close to tears. "You're right, Ren, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't write. I'm sorry about what my parents did. But I cannot believe I meant so little to you that you got engaged to the first girl you met here at Plymouth State."
I checked my watch again. Leslie was going to be wondering why I was late.
Beverly's face reddened. "Don't let me keep you from your date, Ren? It's not like I flew eight hundred miles to tell you I'm still in love with you or anything."
If Beverly had written to me over the summer or called and told me how she felt before I met Leslie, it might have meant something to me.
"I'm sorry you wasted a trip, Beverly," I said as sincerely as I could manage. "You made your choice last spring, and I moved on. Now I've found someone, and she's waiting for me across town. I'm not going to keep her waiting."
I walked past Beverly and out the door.
"I didn't come all this way just to give up and go home," Beverly said as I walked away.
Leslie was waiting in front of her dorm when I got there.
"Why didn't you wait inside?" I asked. "It's chilly out here."
"I was starting to wonder what was keeping you," Leslie said.
"I ran into an old acquaintance as I was leaving my dorm," I told her. "Do you remember me telling you about Beverly, my old girlfriend?"
"The girl who dumped you because she thought you'd be a distraction at school?" Leslie asked in a guarded voice. "She showed up at your dorm? What did she want?"
We began to walk toward the dining hall.
I gnawed at my lower lip. "I think Bev was hoping to get back together with me."
"How did she know where to find you?"
"She called my mother and asked how to get in touch with me," I explained. "My mom wouldn't have any reason no to tell her."
Leslie tugged me to a stop. "That explains how she knew you were at Plymouth State. How did she find your dorm?"
I looked at the sidewalk. I looked at Leslie. I looked at the sky.
"I have no idea," I finally said. "I didn't even think to ask."
We started walking again.
"Did you tell Beverly about us?" Leslie asked.
"Yes," I said. "She seemed very unhappy about us being engaged."
Leslie huffed. "No kidding. She came all this way to see if you'd take her back only to find out you're getting married. There's no way she'd be happy about it."
"I don't care if she's happy about it or not," I insisted. "I told her she wasted a trip because, and her showing up won't change anything."
We joined the back of the line of students waiting to get into the dining hall.
"I take it this is your fiancé, Ren," Beverly said as she walked up behind us. "Don't tell me you're taking her to breakfast in the dining hall. What kind of a place is this to bring the woman you're going to marry?"
My rejoinder was hot on my lips, but Leslie spoke first.
"We eat here every morning before class, Beverly. I assume you're Beverly. Your southern drawl gives you away. The dining hall is quick and convenient. Besides, we both paid for the meal plan."
Beverly's face reddened at Leslie's reference to her accent. "How nice for you? If it's so convenient, maybe I should try the food here."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Beverly," Leslie said. "Students only, and they check IDs."
"They do, do they?" Beverly shot back. "Then I guess I'll see the two of you later."
Now I spoke up. "I hope not, Beverly. There's no reason for you to stick around here. Why don't you head on back to Indiana?"
"Oh, I can't do that yet, Ren," Beverly informed me. "I'm not convinced that you're really over me or that you really want to marry this Yankee chick."
I forced myself to keep my anger in check. "As I said before, Beverly, you wasted a trip coming here. If you hadn't rejected the idea of me going to school near you, maybe things would be different."
"We'll see," Beverly replied. "Once you've had time to realize who you should be with, you'll come around."
I had no idea at the time how prophetic Beverly's words would turn out to be.
Beverly turned and strode off down the sidewalk. Leslie and I moved up the stairs and through the door into the dining hall.
Beverly was waiting for us when Leslie and I walked into the Student Union at lunchtime. We'd spent the morning studying at the library.
"How did she know we'd be here?" Leslie asked.
I was spooked by Beverly's presence in the Student Union myself.
"I have no idea. Do you want to go someplace else?"
"Let's stay and find out what she wants," Leslie suggested.
We walked over to the table where Beverly sat.
"Hi, Ren," Beverly said with a smile as she stood up. She didn't address Leslie.
"Hello, Beverly," I replied. "Why are you still here?"
Beverly's smile widened. "I told you, Ren, I can be very patient. Your words may convince you and your girlfriend here, but your eyes tell me differently. I know you still love me. The night I gave you my virginity, I knew you'd be mine forever. The love we made was always wonderful, Ren. And together, we've made something wonderful."
Beverly looked down at her belly. For the first time, I noticed a slight rounding there. My whole body went cold. My stomach knotted up so tight I thought it would tear. My knees grew weak. Beside me, Leslie gasped.
"You were my first, Ren," Beverly continued. "I want you to be my last and only. Sure, my kind of thinking is old fashioned, but sometimes the old ways are the best, aren't they?"
I wasn't breathing. I needed to breathe. Breathing took a conscious effort.
Leslie's grip on my arm began to hurt. The pain broke the spell. I reached for a chair and sat down hard.
"I know I sprung this on you, Ren, but I didn't know how else to tell you. I didn't think you'd believe me if I wrote or called. And don't ask if I'm sure you're the father. You're the only man I've ever been with."
Leslie sat down beside me. She relaxed her grip on my arm, which was a good thing as my hand had started going numb.
I lifted my eyes from the table and met Beverly's eyes.
"How far along are you?" I asked.
Beverly rubbed her stomach. "About four months. I know I don't show it. I've been working out to stay in shape. These baggy tops help hide it, too."
"How long have you known?" I asked.
"I've suspected for a while. I found out for certain shortly after I arrived in Indiana," Beverly told me.
Leslie stared daggers at Beverly. "Why did you wait so long before deciding to let Ren know?"
"I didn't see any point in telling him until I felt sure the baby was going to be fine," Beverly claimed. "As long as I could hide it, there wasn't any need to tell anyone. Now, I can't hide it anymore, and I don't want our baby to grow up without his father."
Leslie continued staring at Beverly. Beverly was focused on me. I returned her glare with the same intensity.
"What is it you want from me, Beverly?"
"What do you think?" Beverly shot back. "I want you to be a proper father to our baby. I want us to be a proper family."
"For all I know, the father could be some guy you met as soon as you got to Notre Dame, despite what you say, Beverly," I argued. "You haven't offered any real proof that I'm responsible for your condition. Like you say, you don't look like you've been pregnant long enough for it to be my baby if you're even pregnant at all."
"Oh, you're the father," Beverly said with a sneer. "You're the only one who has ever gotten into my pants. Not that plenty haven't tried since I moved to Indiana, but I've never cheated on you, Ren."
"So you say," Leslie challenged. "As Ren said, you have no proof."
"Girlie, this is between Ren and me. You need to stay out of it."
"Hell no, I won't," Leslie retorted, coming to her feet. "Ren's my fiancé. You're here trying to steal him away from me. I'd say I have as much to do with this as you do."
"I just want Ren to own up to his responsibility to me and his baby," Beverly said. "He owes it to his child and me."
I put my hand on Leslie's arm and eased her back into her seat. At that moment, I realized something important. I turned to Beverly.
"I've been trying to remember the last time we were intimate, Beverly," I said as calmly as I could. "It was before the Senior Ball, and I know that. We never had sex again after you told me you didn't want to go to the ball with me. The timing's not right, Beverly. If you are pregnant, the baby's not mine."
"Go to hell, Ren!" Beverly screamed. "You rotten bastard. There is no baby. I'm not pregnant. There, are you happy now? I thought you'd come back to me for sure if you believed I was carrying your child. I guess you're not the man I thought you were."
Her slap caught me off-guard. My eyes watered when Beverly struck me. She was on her way out the door before I could blink away the tears and see clearly again. I looked at Leslie, but she wouldn't meet my eyes.
With an abrupt shove back from the table, Leslie sprang from her seat. "I'm going back to my room, Ren. I think you should go on back to your dorm. I need some time to process what just happened. I think you do, too. I'll see you at breakfast."
Words failed me as Leslie stepped away from the table toward the exit. She left without looking back my way.
Ren's story continues in Chapter 7
- One Fall in New Hampshire (A Buzby Beach Novella) Chapter 07
Leslie leaves her ring on the table and storms off. A drunken Ren finds a place to spend the night.
© 2020 DW Davis
DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on December 18, 2020:
Well, that certainly was unexpected! What a scene.