CHAPTER Nineteen: VIC’S BIRTHDAY

    There were no formal Fourth of July events in town, and no local fireworks shows, but some of the local ranchers had put together a barbecue and fireworks display of their own. Greg went along with the Andersons – met some more of the locals, had some great barbecue, and watched a nice, small pyrotechnics display to end the day. Vic and Greg held hands in the car on the way back to the refuge.

   Because the Fourth came on the weekend, Monday was the Federal holiday, and Greg was off work. He was up early, hoping Vic would show up later, but in the meantime he was worrying. He was worrying about the same thing that had been plaguing his thoughts for two weeks, and would likely be nagging at him for another two: the trip to Salt Lake. No matter how many times he told himself that everything was going to be just fine, his brain was already prepared for some new potential disaster.

   He had started planning almost as soon as the Anderson car disappeared from view. With Salt Lake City advertising “Carousel” in the Idaho papers, it seemed likely they were planning a big turnout. He figured he should try to get tickets right away, before they were sold out. He also had to get hotel reservations, hopefully close to the theater so they could walk there, and not worry about parking. Unfortunately, the only way he could do those things was by telephone, and he didn’t have a telephone handy that he could use. The refuge phone was strictly for government business, and they had to keep a log of every call they made on it. The Andersons had a personal line, but he hadn’t thought to ask Alice or Chuck for permission to use it. Even though it was “family business,” he didn’t feel he could use it without their okay. That meant he had to go to town to make the arrangements.

   That was only half his problem. Even though he considered himself a capable, responsible adult, doing business over the phone terrified him. Visiting on the phone was just fine, but when he had to do business, the machine seemed to turn into an instrument of the devil. Talking to someone he couldn’t see, assuming that he was saying the right things, and that they were understanding him, and saying the right things back to him, required a leap of faith that he was never fully prepared to take.

   Then there was the issue of implementation. He knew that Superman could change his whole attire in a phone booth (and, the process being magical, he didn’t have to find a place to put his wallet and keys). He was sure he couldn’t do much of anything in a phone booth. He wondered how he was going to hold a phone to his ear,  and still have hands to manipulate pen and paper (and have some kind of surface big enough to hold his pen and paper). Also, Superman did his phone booth business in seconds; Greg had to be sure he had enough change with him to keep feeding the phone for what were likely to be long calls.

   Just the thought of all that had made him think twice (actually, several times) about whether he really wanted to go to Salt Lake, at all. There were some possible alternatives. For example, he saw that a summer stock company in Pocatello was putting on a locally written play, “April Ann,” that was supposed to be a lot of fun. He could probably get the tickets for that with one phone call, and he might not even have to call ahead for hotel reservations in Pocatello. Voila, stress all gone!

   But he knew he couldn’t do that. Vic and Mandy deserved a real Broadway musical, with a Broadway cast. He could survive all his struggles and trepidations to make that happen for them. (At least, he hoped he could.) The next step was to actually start taking the next steps.

   After Tim had arrived Monday morning, and they had planned the day’s work, Greg took a few hours of annual leave and drove to town. His first stroke of luck was to find that the public telephones in the foyer of the library had (a little) more work space than a phone booth. The phone number for buying tickets had been printed in the newspaper. He called it, and a helpful woman asked what night he wanted the tickets for (Wednesday, July 21st), and did he want good, better or best seats (three in the “better” section). She told him where to send his check, and he told her where to send the tickets. Done! Was it really that easy?

   The next was a little harder, in that he had no idea what hotel to contact in Salt Lake. The task got even more complicated when he discovered that the Valley Music Hall – where “Carousel” was being performed – was not downtown, but was in North Salt Lake. The library had a Salt Lake area phone book, but it didn’t seem to list any hotels that were very close to the theater. The librarian suggested he call the Salt Lake chamber of commerce, to see if they had any information that would help him. He used some of his dwindling supply of coins. The woman at the chamber couldn’t recommend a hotel (they didn’t do that), but she did give him some basic information on features and costs of several. Since they weren’t going to be able to walk from a hotel to the theater, he selected one that sounded a little nicer than average,  called, and made the reservation (three people, two adjoining rooms). She told him where to send his check, and he told her where to send the confirmation. Done! Not quite so easy, but not bad.

   He left the library, wondering what he hadn’t done, or what he had done wrong. His brain was telling him it had been too easy. Why, he even had a few coins left over! Well, he guessed he’d find out in the next week. In the meantime, he had a little shopping to do.

   His first stop was the office supply store, where he bought two blank invitation cards, with envelopes. He selected ones that clearly weren’t masculine, but that weren’t extremely feminine, either. He wanted to confuse anyone who might be guessing at the sender.

   Next, he went to the jeweler. He knew next to nothing about buying birthday presents for women, but he surprised himself by almost immediately seeing something that pleased him, and that he felt would please Vic. It was a necklace, a single gold strand with a small pearl at the base. He thought it looked elegant, without being very expensive. It seemed just right for her, and right for his dwindling bank account, as well.

   Last on his list was the camera store, where  - despite the obvious shrinking of his funds - he bought an inexpensive (well, relatively speaking!) Argus. He’d never had his own camera, and he really wanted to have one in the next few weeks. Photos couldn’t take the place of people, but they might give him some solace in the lonely months when Vic was off at college. He thought he would need all the help he could get.

    Back at the refuge, he checked in with Tim, then went to the office to start composing his invitations. Wanting to make it maddingly obtuse, he came up with:

 

“In celebration of the birthdays of Victoria Anderson (July 6) and Amanda Anderson (December 2), their presence is requested for an overnight excursion July 21-22. Please be outside your home at 8:00 a.m. on July 21. No further information will be forthcoming. Your mother is being sent information to help you pack appropriate attire.”

 

    He had planned to announce the surprise the day after Vic’s birthday, but he began to worry about the long period of time between the invitation and the event. He felt that the secret was probably unassailable, but he also knew that Vic wouldn’t give up trying to crack it. Two weeks began to seem a long time to keep up the suspense. Lack of resolution might actually turn into a little bit of frustration and resentment, that could take some of the shine off the reward, when it finally came. He decided it was best to cut the waiting time down to a week.

    He still thought that it would be a good idea to take the invitations into town and mail them back to the refuge, so they wouldn’t be directly associated with the Andersons or with him. He’d just wait a week to do it. They would be postmarked locally, so it would rule out any long-distance initiators, but the girls had lots of friends and acquaintances in town who might be involved. Having read a lot of detective stories, Greg worried about the typewriter. Vic would know that the printing of individual typewriters was sometimes distinctive, and Greg knew that she would follow every clue she could think of to get to the bottom of the mystery. There was only one typewriter on the refuge, so he couldn’t hide it. The only thing he could think to do (and he did it) was put a brand-new ribbon in the typewriter after he had prepared the invitations. That certainly changed the look of the typing. Whether it was enough was the question.

   So, here he was on the day before Vic’s birthday. He had the tickets, and he had the hotel reservation. He had the invitations ready to be sent. What could go wrong? Probably nothing, but he had two more weeks to worry about it.

 

   He had finished eating and cleaned up the dishes, and had just put on some water to heat for tea when Vic arrived. She knocked once, but then came right in.

   “You just barge right in here without an invite? I could have been in my shorts.”

   “I saw you through the window, so I knew you were dressed. Besides, I would have liked you just fine in your shorts.”

   “Thanks for that, I guess. I have the tea water hot; do you want to take it outside?”

   “No, it’s freezing out there.”

   He gave her a look. “Freezing at a chilly 70 degrees?”

   “Well, maybe not freezing but it’s warmer in here.” She stood close in front of him, and put her arms around his neck. “And my mission this morning is – with your assistance, of course – to make it even warmer.”

   In the position they were in, there were few options for action.  Greg chose what he felt was the most reasonable. It did feel warmer.

  “Yes, I feel absolutely toasty now. We can go outside, if you like.”

  “Before we do, may I give you your birthday present now, instead of in front of everybody tomorrow?

    “I thought you just gave me my birthday present.”

    “Well, consider that a prelude. There is something more. If I give it to you now, you can like it, or you can hate it. In either case, it will just be between us.”

   “Then yes, please. Give me the rest of my present.”

   As she opened the box, he knew he had made a good choice. She held it up in front of her, and smiled. She beckoned to him. “Come sit in your easy chair.”

   He did, and she sat on his lap, facing away. “Now, please put it on me.” He did. She held the little pearl in her fingers, and ran her other hand along the gold chain. “It’s really lovely! Thank you, Greg.” She squirmed in his lap until she was facing him. “However, I do feel like it’s getting chilly, again. Can you fix that?”

   He did.

  

   Finally, she made her tea, he poured another cup of coffee, and they went out on the steps. It was a lovely, warm morning, feeling like it might get summer-hot by afternoon. She kept fingering the pearl. “It is so nice!”

   Greg gave her a minute before he spoke. “I had a talk with your mother Saturday afternoon. Did she tell you?”

    “No! What did you talk about?”

    “Mostly about how exuberantly you kissed me on Friday. She had some motherly concerns.”

    “Disregarding who initiated the kiss, and how exuberant it was, was this a real conversation, or are you making it up – as you have been known to do?”

    “And disregarding that you have made up some fake conversations of your own, yes, it was a real conversation. She expressed the concerns that we have anticipated: you are young; I am older, and a college graduate; I’m your first serious boyfriend; she wants to be sure you go to college...”

   “And how did you respond?”

   “Just like we have discussed. There isn’t really that much of an age difference; my college and your maturity kind of cancel each other out; we fully intend for you to go to college; and we’re taking our time in the relationship.”

   “And how did she take it.”

   “She kissed me on the cheek, and said we deserve each other. No, it wasn’t quite that. She said – and I think I’m quoting – she thinks we are lucky to have each other.”

   Vic was quiet for a moment. “Well, that sounds very good.”

   “I thought so. However, she did have a caution. She said that your dad was a little shocked, and as dads are always protective of their little girls, he might not be as easily won over as she was.”

   “I guess that doesn’t surprise me.”

   “Not me, either, but it raises an immediate question. I would like to go to the movies with you tomorrow night after your party - if you’d like to, of course. But I don’t want to bring it up, and have it cause tensions on an otherwise happy occasion.”

   “Yes, I’d love to go to the movies with you, and no, I don’t want to causes problems, either. So what do we do?”

   “I’m thinking that maybe I should just talk to him in the office tomorrow – ask him if taking you to the movies would be out of line with the rest of the festivities – not even suggest that he might have a problem with us - and give him a chance to bring it up, himself.”

   “That sounds a little scary.”

   “It does sound scary, but we need to clear the air. Since the ‘Red Wine Weekend,’ he hasn’t even hinted at a problem with us – or me. He hasn’t with you, either, has he?” She shook her head. “So, maybe I can gently precipitate some discussion.”

   “Okay.”

 

   First thing next morning, Greg did ask Chuck about taking Vic to the movies. Presented that way, it made it hard to object, without bringing out the background issues. Chuck was hesitant, but finally he expressed his concerns about Greg’s and Vic’s relationship. They were pretty much the same as Alice’s: Vic was pretty young, they wanted her to go to college, she hadn’t had any other experience with men, he was a college graduate, and it all just seemed to be moving pretty fast. One little wrinkle that hadn’t come up, before, was that the relationship was probably intensified by their isolation from others – and might not have occurred, at all, if there were other choices.

   “Chuck, I can appreciate the appearance presented by me being older and a college graduate. However, you know from my personnel file that I’m really not much older than her. You know from being her father that Vic is as intelligent – and probably more level-headed – than many college graduates. My experience with girls and dating is more than hers with boys, but not much more. We know she has four years of college ahead – which she wants, and I want for her. I don’t know yet where my career is going – it might have a detour to Viet Nam, even – so we’re looking forward to the future, but we’re not committed to it in any way.

   “As far as our relationship coming about because of our isolation from others, remember that until her graduation, I had her an hour or so a week. The boys in school and town had her all the rest of the time. She had lots of opportunity to develop other attachments. We knew from the start that we were comfortable with each other, that we liked to talk and share our interests, and that’s mostly what we’ve been about until recently. Obviously, our kiss Friday evening was not our first one, but there hadn’t been very many before it. What I’m trying to say is that we aren’t moving fast; we’re just getting to know one another, in a pretty average boy: girl way.”

   Chuck hadn’t really responded to Greg, but he brought up the subject with Alice and the girls at lunch time. Alice had no concern with them going to the show. Vic didn’t say anything. Mandy did.

   “Look, Dad, you are dealing with two of the most responsible people I’ve ever known. I’ve been with them enough to testify that they are boringly responsible! They like each other. They want to sit in the movies and hold hands. They want to kiss a time or two before they leave each other, tonight. They will undoubtedly do the hand holding and kissing even if they didn’t go to the movies. Just say okay! There, that’s my two cents worth.”

   Her dad gave her a glare, but he wasn’t displeased. “I think that was more like a dime. Okay, you win.”

 

   They left the refuge about 4 o’clock. They took two cars, the girls riding with Greg. After they had traveled a ways, Vic asked, “So, what movie are we seeing?”

   Greg glanced over at her. “So, we’re on?”

   “Yes, thanks mostly to my little sister, I think. Other than calling us ‘boringly responsible,’ she gave a great speech about young love, and won over our daddy.”

   Greg caught Mandy’s attention in the rear view mirror. “Thank you, sister Mandy. I will love you forever.”

    “Don’t spread your love around too much,” objected Vic. “You can like her – and appreciate her – but all your love for young women is reserved. So, what movie are we seeing?”

   “It’s called ‘Mary, Mary.’ It’s a comedy, with Debbie Reynolds. I haven’t seen it, but it was a stage play before it was a movie, and I read the script at school. I think you’ll like it. And, since I can’t love your sister, can we reward her services on our behalf by inviting her to the movies with us?”

   “No!” said Vic. “You’re too boring for me!” said Mandy.

   The party was in the back yard of the house where Vic and Mandy boarded. There were probably 50 people all told, many from her high school along with some older couples. All the Johnsons were there, and Greg met Bob Eastman’s parents, again. There were hot dogs and hamburgers, and lots of little presents for Vic. She made sure that everyone saw her pearl. Greg used his new camera to take a few shots for Vic and for himself. It was a nice party.

   The movie was much like how Greg remembered the stage play. He and Vic sat close together, held hands, and both enjoyed it. Driving home afterward, they stopped at the top of the rimrock, looking down on refuge headquarters. The stars were fantastic, and they sat for quite a while, enjoying the night and each other. They shared a long good night kiss before starting down the hill to home. They shared a shorter one after they  reached her house.

   Both agreed it had been a very satisfactory day.



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