CHAPTER Eighteen: THE PORCH STEPS, AGAIN

   Greg watched Vic as she walked from her house to his. She looked like a woman on a mission, and perhaps not a pleasant one. He was seated on his steps with his morning cup of coffee. She came directly to him, and sat down. She didn’t look at him.

   “Water’s hot for tea. Want me to get you some?” Greg asked.

   “I’ll get it later. We need to have a very serious discussion right this minute. Now, your precipitous behavior toward me yesterday has my parents wondering if I haven’t been honest with them about how we feel about each other.”

   “You mean how you launched yourself at me from halfway across the parking lot, kissing me so vigorously that I could hardly breathe?”

   She still didn’t look at him. “That is not the way I remember things. I saw you coming out of your house, and I began to walk sedately toward you, expecting to shake your hand in greeting, or perhaps let you kiss me on the cheek. Instead, you grab me and pull me to you. I can’t escape as you kiss me so lustily that I can barely think. All the while my parents – and my sister! – are watching in disbelief. Later, I try to explain that it was just a manifestation of your extreme loneliness.  We’re just friends, I said. In fact, we barely know each other. It’s just lucky it was me, and not my sister...”

   “Or your mother.”

   “Certainly.”

   “Or your father?”

   She almost giggled, but regained her composure just in time. “You shouldn’t be flippant about this. I’m serious. This can never happen again. Do you understand me?”

   “I believe I do.”

   “Do you really understand me? Come closer, so I can look you in the eye when I say it again. I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings.” She turned toward him finally, and raised her head. Somehow, their lips connected for a rather long period. When she eventually leaned back, she asked, “Now, are we perfectly clear on this subject?”

   “Completely,” he replied.

   “Good.” She stood up. “ Then, I’ll get my tea, now.”

 

   When Vic returned with her tea, she told him all about the vacation trip. “I’m Norwegian. Well, I knew I was Norwegian, but hearing all about Norway and how both sets of grandparents came to America and settled here made it very real for me.”

   “Of course, I knew you were Scandinavian. Your blond hair and blue eyes are a dead giveaway.”

   She gave him a puzzled look. “That is odd, isn’t it? Mandy and our parents look Norwegian, yet here am I, with brown hair and brown eyes. How does that work?”

   “If I remember my genetics correctly, it probably means that there is some non-Scandinavian in your family tree.”

   “I think I do remember something about that. But, why me?”

   “Just lucky I guess, since this gentleman prefers brunettes - more specifically, one particular brunette.”

 

   He gave her the highlights of his two weeks as acting refuge manager, particularly about the fires and the storm. (He had covered those topics with her dad on Friday – somewhat awkwardly, following soon after The Kiss, but they had to be discussed. Nothing specific had been said about him and Vic, but there was a tension.). “There’s something else, just for me and you to know for now.” He talked about the possibility of the job closer to her next spring. She liked the idea, but agreed with him to keep it as part of their personal plans and wishes.

   “I have something for you, too, that will affect us some way, I’m sure. It was pretty much decided on our trip that Mom and Mandy will move into town for Mandy’s final school year. Mandy shouldn’t have to ride the bus, or stay in town, by herself, and Mom really needs to be in civilization for awhile. Daddy would stay at the refuge during the week, then go into town for the weekends. He’s agreeable to that. It seems like it would work very well for all three of them. I don’t know how you and I fit into the picture. I’ll be at school most of the time, but when I come home for the holidays... I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out, yet.”

   “I agree, that will take some thought.”

***

    Saturday afternoon, Alice appeared at Greg’s door. “Can we talk a bit?”

   “Sure,” said Greg, but a little uncertainly. “Care to share my porch steps?”

   She sat beside him, in Vic’s place. She didn’t hesitate. “You and Victoria have been discreet about your feelings for one another, but in the last weeks before our vacation, it was getting pretty hard for you to keep ignoring one another in public.”

   He grinned at that. “I’ll say! And I guess our little demonstration yesterday removed any questions you might have had. We didn’t mean for homecoming to be quite so conspicuous, but we had really missed one another, and that’s all we thought of.”

    Alice smiled wistfully. “I like you, Greg. I think you’re a good man. Still, I worry about my daughter. She’s only just finished high school, she’s never had a boyfriend before, and you’ve finished college. We don’t want her to commit herself too soon. We really want her to finish college, meet other people, and see where it leads. Can you understand that?”

   “Sure I can. How could you think any differently? But let me tell you about Vic and me. Although we haven’t known each other for very long, we’re really comfortable together, and we like each other – love each other – very much. I know the optics of college grad with just-graduated high school girl look a little suspect, but you know that I’m not even three years older than her. As far as maturity and confidence, I class her as an old high school graduate, and me as a very young college graduate. Taken together, that pretty well evens us out.

   “As to our future, we’ve talked about marriage, kids, and such, and that sounds pretty great to both of us. But we’re not in a hurry – we can’t be in a hurry. She has four years of college still ahead – and we’re both in agreement that she will finish, no matter what. I have no idea where I’ll be in four years – pretty definitely not here, even if I wanted to be. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t work that way.” He paused. “And the big unknown – giant uncertainty! – for me is Viet Nam. I’m the right age; I’m not married; I have no kids; nobody depends on me for support; I’m not in school; I’m not in a job that would be considered ‘essential.’ In other words, I am a prime candidate for the draft. I don’t want to be in the Army, but I doubt I have any options if I am called.” He paused, again. “And if I am drafted, and I do get sent to Viet Nam, then we have to remind ourselves of all the young men who are not coming back...

   “Anyway, our plan – mine and Vic’s, in the sense that we can have any real plans – is to see each other as much as possible, and enjoy getting to know each other even better than we already do. Clearly, we’re hoping that develops into a life together. Just as clearly, we realize it might not. Therefore, we’re going to try to make sure that, whatever the future holds, we won’t have done anything that will impair our future prospects for happiness, or those of our loved ones.”

   Alice sat silently beside him. Then, to his surprise, she leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “You are a good man, Greg, and I think you and my daughter are very lucky to have each other. I still worry - because I’m her mom and it’s my job to worry - but not as much as when we sat down here. As long as you stick to the plan you outlined, I’m with you.

   “I don’t know about Chuck. Dads see their little girls – no matter how old they are – in a different light than mothers do. I don’t think he will accept things as readily as I have. He was pretty shocked yesterday.”

   She got up, and walked back toward her house.

 

 


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