by Bill Fullerton
I was about halfway between Sears and totally broke, sitting alone in the noisy food-court, eating a tasteless salad, and wondering why I let my mother brow-beat me into getting dressed and driving into town with her to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.
Today’s shopping cost me more than just max’ed out credit cards. My feet hurt, my back ached, I felt tired, bloated and miserable. Of course, I felt that way long before hitting the mall. Being eight months pregnant can do that to a girl.
Make that an unmarried, pregnant girl. Of course, I’m no girl either, although it does seem like I stopped growing a lot sooner than the owner’s manual told my parents to expect. In her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature decided five-foot nothing was more than enough for Becky Miller to handle. So there’s not a whole lot of me to pack around a baby that keeps getting bigger by the hour and seems anxious to get out and look around.
It’s not like I didn’t know better. This will be my second. My first, Kylie, is two and can’t wait to play with her baby brother. But my knowing better and doing what’s smart isn’t the same thing. At least it wasn’t for me, not after falling in love with someone I may never see again.
The new baby’s daddy, Matt Hampton, never knew I was in love with him. And I wasn’t, not at first. We’d known each other forever. Of course, everybody knows everybody else out where we live.
In high school, we fooled around a little, but never really dated. I’m not sure why. But he never came on to me. Maybe that’s why I never made a move on him. We even went to the same college for a couple years. Then I got married while he dropped out and joined the service.
Last December, I came limping home with Kylie and a black eye. Stuart, my rich, good-looking, socio-path husband, gave me both.
That’s when I learned Matt really had come limping home because his left leg was in a cast. He’d been wounded wherever he was serving while doing whatever it was he did. Now he was staying with his parents while healing up. Kylie and I went over to visit him the next day.
When we were in school, a lot of girls had crushes on Matt. He was an all-everything jock with a boyish smile and teasing attitude that was just a bit cocky. The Matt I saw that day was still blonde and good-looking, but no boy. His skin wasn’t tan so much as a hard, weathered brown. There were tiny creases around the corners of his familiar, blue eyes. Sometimes they would get this funny, distant look. Most of all, the cockiness was gone, replaced by a quiet self-confidence.
In other words, he was a man--and I wanted him.
The next afternoon, I went back, without Kylie. We were alone, and soon making love.
"Becky Miller, you have the finest boobies.” He had interrupted a very thorough job of nuzzling my breasts to say that, and was now smiling at me. My sweater and bra were off; my jeans and panties were about to follow. We were on the carpet in the living room. A few small logs burned in the nearby fireplace. The lights on the big Christmas tree were turned on. So was I.
That business about my breasts was pure BS, of course, but it made me grin. "Don’t give me that crap. We both know I'm an original member of the Itty Bitty Titty Club.”
"Size don't mean diddly. I’ve always told you that." Matt used the tip of his tongue to emphasize the point. "Quality means a lot more that quantity. Believe me, lady, while these prime examples of female flesh may not be among the biggest, they are, without doubt, the most perfect pair I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying."
I don’t mind having small breasts. In fact, I prefer mine to the big udders most guys seem to go nuts over. That’s just as well. Even after having Kylie, there was little change in mine. At most, I went from two hard-fried eggs to a couple sunny-side up.
Even if Matt’s teasing compliments were bogus, they reminded me how sweet he could be, and how much I wanted him. “If that’s what you think, then there's more than just your leg that needs attention. Lay back and let’s see if I can give you an early Christmas present."
When it ended, I was content, tingling all over, and stretched out on his chest. It was a good place to be, feeling his heartbeat slowing while my body moved to the steady rhythm of his breathing.
Matt broke the silence. “Personally, I think you look a lot more like a cute elf than old Santa Claus. But I do love your Christmas presents and the great way you deliver them.”
After that we were together almost every day. Since his parents both worked, their house was the usual setting. I’m sure everybody in town figured they knew what was going on between us. After all, everyone in our town not only knows everyone else, they usually have a pretty good idea what their fellow citizens are doing. But there were no raised eyebrows, much less objections. That included our parents. In fact, I think they, like everyone else, approved.
Still, Matt and I knew it was just a brief affair, nothing more. He would return to the service, I’d go back to college. No strings attached. That’s the way it always had been between us.
Then I fell in love with him. It’d been coming on for some time, but I wouldn’t admit what I was feeling. Sure Matt had changed, so had I. But we hadn’t changed that much, had we? There’d been no chemistry between us back in high school, so why now? What I felt wasn’t love, I told myself, just a combination of friendship, sympathy, and sex.
All that ended the night he beat-up Stuart, my husband who had beaten me up, twice. The week after the divorce papers were filed, we were at a club with some friends. Matt still had his cast on, so we were just listening to the band.
Stuart came over to our booth and started carrying on. Matt never moved, just told Stuart, who was leaning over him to get closer to me, that he should leave. When Stuart ignored him and kept yelling at me, Matt hit him several times, real fast, just how and where I’m still not sure. Stuart let out this funny, gurgling noise and sank to his knees.
Matt put a hand on Stuart’s shoulder and must have done something, because I saw Stuart grimace. Then Matt pulled him a little closer, and asked, in this dead-calm voice, if he was ever going to bother me again. Stuart’s a big guy and, believe me, he’s strong. But I could see fear in his eyes as he mumbled, no.
From then on, I was hooked. You see, I’d always felt in total control around men. It’s not my looks. I’m short, flat-chested, and no great beauty. But most guys don’t seem to notice. I like to think it’s my eyes, and smile, and personality. Maybe those do play a part, but mostly it’s my butt, and the fact I’m a total flirt.
Then he told me he wasn’t just going back to the service, but back to wherever he was when he got wounded. He felt responsible for the deaths of two friends. “I trusted someone who betrayed us. My friends are dead. He’s still there.”
I thought I was going to have a breakdown. This wasn’t fair. What scared me most was the absolute certainty he didn’t give a damn whether he lived or died, just so long as he killed that other person first. The only thing that seemed to give him any second thoughts was when I brought up his being an only child. I begged him to think what his death would mean to his family.
But I knew he wouldn’t budge.
In April, he came home on leave prior to going back to wherever that other guy was. I met him with a big smile, and a body that was all his and free of birth control pills. If all I could have of him was these last few weeks, maybe I could at least have his child. And his parents, whom I dearly love, might lose their son, but I was going to do my best to make sure they had his grandchild. Maybe that would ease their grief, our grief.
Now, eight months later, Matt may be dead or alive, I don’t know. But I’ve got his child, his son. “Mathew Hampton, Jr.,” I whispered the name, smiling at the sound. Then I heard myself continuing, “…only child of the late Matt Hampton,” and began to cry.
“This seat taken?” I didn’t look up, just shook my head and kept searching for a napkin.
Someone slid into the chair next to me. “Is the food here that bad, or are you just sad to see me?”
Who the hell was this idiot? I turned, and was staring at someone who looked just like, Matt Hampton. For maybe the first time in my life, I was speechless. Just breathing was hard enough. Before I could think of something to say, he leaned over and kissed me. It was soft and gentle, and seemed to last forever, which was way too short for me.
Nothing made sense. “What are you doing here?”
He smiled. “Glad to see you, too, Miss Miller.”
Then it registered. “You’re alive!” I threw my arms around his neck, buried my face against his chest, and really began crying.
I didn’t want to look up. The face I saw might not be Matt’s. This could all be a dream. But I recognized his hard body, his special smell, and his gentle touch as he stroked my hair.
When I did dare to look, all I could think to say was, “Really, what happened?”
“You can’t just quit—can you?”
“My mission was accomplished. My time was about up. I told the honchos I had personal business to attend to, and quit.”
“Am I that personal business?”
“Damn straight. I got a message a few weeks ago from old Dad. Don’t ask how. Anyway, he filled me in on what you did and how things have been, well, developing since I left. He said you were way too good for me, but that while there may have been a few bastards in our family, they were all self-made men, not accidents of birth.”
“He shouldn’t have done that. This was no accident.” I touched my belly. “I don’t want you here because you feel sorry for me.”
“I don’t. I’m just….“ The smile left his face. To my amazement, Matt looked away, but not before I saw a tear roll down his cheek. After a moment, he wiped a hand across his face, turned back, and gestured toward my protruding middle. “You love me, that much?”
I could barely whisper, “Even more.”
Matt swallowed hard. “Before leaving, I had to fight falling in love with you. It wasn’t easy. But what I had to do could have been a one-way mission. Dad didn’t let me know about you and the baby until he knew it was over. He was right to wait. You see, since he told me, you and the baby, and Kylie, and just life itself, that’s all I can think about. So I had to get out. I want life now, not more death. Most of all, I want you, I love you. God, how I love you. Becky, will you please, please marry me?”
I nodded and we were hugging and I was crying again all the while grinning like a girl who’d gotten what she wanted most for Christmas. Then we kissed. It made the first one seem like a chaste peck on the cheek. When we came up for air, I patted my very big belly. “I’m afraid it won’t be much of a honeymoon.”
“That’s all right. I’m counting on having a long life to make up for lost time. When’s the baby due?”
“Well, if your son will wait that long, around Christmas.”
“A boy, around Christmas.” He seemed pleased with the prospect. “And we’re not even Jewish.”
“You’re an idiot. But I do love you.”
“And I love you, too. Always will. Remember last Christmas, when we first made love and I said I liked your presents and the way you delivered them? Well, I still do.” He reached out and laid the palm of his hand on my belly. “It’s just that I never counted on such a special Christmas present this year.”
I began to cry again, and pressed his hand tighter against me. The baby picked that moment to kick. Matt grinned, stood up, and began helping me out of my chair. “I’m not sure, but I think that was a not-too-subtle hint from our son that we better get moving on this marrying business. Where’s the nearest jewelry store? We need to buy some rings.”
Bill Fullerton writes:
"At one time or another I've been a country grocery store clerk, oil field roustabout, infantry soldier, graduate student, paper pusher for the government, out of work, and a newspaper columnist. I'm still grinding out sports and general interest pieces, both print and Net, while trying to add published novelist to my resume.
"I have a B.S. from LSU and a Master's degree from Louisiana Tech, and have had academic work published. In addition to USADS, my fiction has appeared in Rose and Thorn, DeadMule.com, New Works Review, Chick Flicks, Nibbler, and Long Story Short. After picking up a Combat Infantry Badge and Purple Heart in Viet Nam, I lived in New York City from 1970-1972, the setting for my first novel, A Brief Affair.
"Although born and raised in Louisiana, I'm currently out-stationed with my family in Austin, Texas, where I've just finished my second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age, mainstream story, set in a small Southern town in 1968."
Visit Bill’s blog at Bill’s Bilge.
[Note from Ye Editor: And for another great story, be SURE to CLICK HERE to read the story about Bill Fullerton written in 1969 by William F. Buckley, Jr., in the National Review.]
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For more fiction at USADEEPSOUTH, try these stories by Joe Lee:
Take a Tip From Me and The Temp
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