CHAPTER Twenty-one: THE SURPRISE

     Greg didn’t get to spend much time with Vic the next few days, but Tuesday evening, she showed up on his porch. She came inside, and immediately embraced him in a long hug. He held on to her, with neither of them speaking, for several minutes.

   Finally, without breaking her hold, she whispered, “Greg, I’m a little scared.”

   “Vic, I know it’s going to be all right. It’s just a few more hours.”

   “You know I don’t do well with surprises.”

   “I didn’t know, but I can see that, now. Still, I feel sure that this one is going to be worth it.”

   “You’re going to be there in the morning, aren’t you?”

   “You can count on it.”

   After a while, he walked her home.

 

   Wednesday morning, Greg pulled his car up in front of the Anderson’s, got out, and opened the trunk. Vic and Mandy came out on the porch with their parents. When Vic saw him, she burst out crying.

   “It was you! I hate you, Greg Cleveland!”

   Mandy brought her suitcase to the car, and put it in the trunk. As she passed Greg, she said, “She doesn’t hate you.”

   “Yes, I do! I’m not going anywhere with him!” She started back in the house.

   “Vic, wait.” He climbed the steps, and caught her arm. “I’m truly sorry. I should have realized a few days ago – certainly last night! – that this wasn’t going well. I was too caught up in giving you the super surprise to realize it was the wrong approach. Don’t let your anger at me ruin the good parts to come. Talk to me a minute.”

   She let him lead her down the stairs, and away from the house and car. “If you go with me, you and Mandy will share a nice hotel room in Salt Lake City. You will have a nice birthday dinner together, and then you will see a live Broadway musical – ‘Carousel’ – with an authentic Broadway cast. Tomorrow morning, you will have a nice breakfast together, and then I’ll drive you back home. Despite my stupidity, you will have a birthday celebration, most of which  you will remember happily for a long time.”

   She looked at him, but didn’t say anything.

   “Okay?” he prompted.

   She walked back to the car, and got in without answering. He retrieved her suitcase, put it in the trunk, said “Sorry” to her parents, and they were on their way.

   Nobody spoke for a mile or two. In the rear view mirror, Greg saw that Mandy was watching him. She smiled.

   “I told Vic what the plans are,” Greg explained to the face in his mirror. “Now, I’ll tell you.” He did, and watched her as he did. Her smile got broader and broader.

    “I love it! It’s going to be great. Thank you, Greg!”

   Vic tugged on his sleeve. When he looked at her, she smiled and mouthed “Me, too.” He smiled back.

   They drove into town, then south until they reached Interstate 84, which they followed southeast toward Utah. Near the summit, there was a rest area. Greg stopped.

   “Comfort station for anybody who needs it. Also, your mom sent along a picnic lunch, and this would be a good place to eat some of it.”

   Before they left the rest stop, Vic led Greg a little way from the car. “I’m really sorry about this morning. I don’t know why I’ve been so keyed up. What you’ve planned sounds really wonderful. It must have taken a lot of planning and a lot of work – and a lot of money!”

   “I’m the one who’s sorry. I saw how concerned you were last night. I should have told you then, instead of having it all come out in public. That was a bad mistake.”

   “So we’re both sorry, and we’re both okay, again? Right?”

   “Sounds good.”

   They walked back to the car, and Vic got in. Mandy detained Greg a minute. “Hey, I know I’m here mainly as a chaperone, but I love what you’ve arranged. I love being part of it.”

   He put his arm around her. “It’s true that your folks wouldn’t have let Vic come with me alone, but you were in my plan before I presented it to them. This really is a Vic and Mandy birthday celebration, and I’m very happy to have you with us. I couldn’t ask for a better chaperone!.”

 

    The rest of the drive was considerably more animated and happier than the first part. They even found a Utah radio station that wasn’t playing country music. Their hotel was relatively easy to locate, and soon they were checking in.

   When the desk clerk learned they were going to see “Carousel,” he was full of information. “You should have been here Monday, which was opening night both for the theater and for the show. We were full, with tons of Broadway stars, Hollywood stars, TV people, politicians – Art Linkletter was the master of ceremonies! Can you imagine? They’ve all gone now. As you can see, we’re pretty quiet.”

   They were escorted to their rooms, the girls’ first. Greg’s was next door. He pointed to the interior door that led to his room. “If you unlock your side, and I unlock mine, then we’ll have a two-room suite, and can visit without having to go out in the hall.” He went to his room, freshened up a bit, and gave them some time to get settled. Then, he picked up his camera, and knocked on the adjoining door. Vic answered.

   “Fancy running into you, here!”

   “Small world, isn’t it? May I come in?” Vic moved back into the room, and Greg followed. Mandy was sitting on the edge of her bed, where obviously she and Vic had been talking when he knocked. Vic sat back down next to her.

   “May I take a couple photos of my favorite sisters?” They struck a few poses, while he did. Then, Mandy asked for the camera. “Let me take a couple of you two.” Greg handed it to her.

   “Okay, Greg. You sit in that armchair.” He did. “Now, Vic, you sit on his lap.” Vic hesitated, and Mandy gave her an impatient look. “I think you know the way.” Vic sat, and Greg wrapped his arms around her waist, and held her close. “I was pretty sure you’d been there, before,” Mandy said to her sister. She took a couple of shots, while both Greg and Vic looked pretty pleased at the situation.

   “Well, at least one of those should be a good one to show your kids, some day.”

   “Mandy! You force me to sit on his lap, and now you have us with children?”

   “Oh, come on, sis. Who are you kidding? Remember, I saw you two greet each other when we returned from vacation. If a kiss could cause pregnancy, that one was worth twins, at least.”

   “Mandy!”

 

   After more silliness, Greg addressed the next order of business. “We’re going to have to drive to the theater. It isn’t far – I think I saw it from the freeway when we drove by – but I don’t know how much time it will take to park, and get inside. We probably should eat dinner about 5:30, to allow us plenty of time. That’s not too long from now, so I’ll leave and let you get ready.” He did.

   Their dinner was completed before most diners arrived, and they took a few moments to return to their rooms to freshen up. In the lobby, Greg took more pictures of the sisters. He thought that Alice had done a spectacular job is picking their clothes, and told them so. He didn’t have a suit, but with a fairly new sport coat, slacks, white shirt, and tie, he was certainly presentable.

   The drive to the theater was short, and parking proved easy. With time to spare, he took a few more photos of the sisters in front of the new building, and Mandy followed up with a couple snaps of Vic and Greg. Greg accosted a man headed for the theater, and asked if he would take a picture of the three of them. The man’s expression clearly said “tourists!,” but he did stop and take the photos. Greg thanked him. They made their way into the building.

   It was big and airy, and the newness was unquestionable. Greg suggested they might use the restrooms now, rather than join the long lines at intermission. That done, they entered the theater, itself.

   Greg knew conceptionally what theater-in-the-round looked like, but he wasn’t really prepared for what he saw. The stage was in the center of the room, and there were rows of roomy, plush seats all the way around. He made a quick count; there were 19 rows, each one elevated slightly above the one in front, so that all of them had a clear view of the stage. He had opted for “better” seats, rather than the “best,” but he didn’t think there was really any obvious difference. Everybody was close to the stage; there were no pillars or other obstructions to anybody’s view; and the stage itself rotated so that every part of it was visible to every seat at some time. It was going to be quite a show!

   They found their seats, and only had to wait about 15 minutes before the orchestra began to play. From then on, nobody’s attention wandered far from the stage. Greg knew the play and the music well enough to take time now and then to watch the girls’ expressions. Both reacted happily to “June is busting out all over” and “This was a real nice clambake.” When Julie and Billy did their duet of “If I loved you,” Vic wrapped her arm tightly  around his, and didn’t let loose for the whole long scene. Greg thought that the actor playing Billy did a great job with his “Soliloquy,” as he waxes poetically about how great it’s going to be to have a son – only to suddenly realize that their unborn child might be a girl. “You can have fun with a son, but you’ve got to be a father to a girl!” The several violent scenes were shockingly unexpected – more Shakespeare than Rodgers and Hammerstein -  but the play moved quickly on. The finale’s reprise of “You’ll never walk alone” probably elicited far more tears than smiles from the audience, but it was certainly grandly appropriate.

   Not much was said on the way back to the hotel. Greg suggested they might have a hot cocoa before bed, but both Vic and Mandy seemed ready to go to their room. Once there, Mandy hugged Greg, kissed him on the cheek, and thanked him. “This really is a great birthday,” she said. Vic smiled, but didn’t say anything. As he started into his room, he looked back at her, hoping she understood what he was thinking. He changed into sweat pants and shirt, and waited.

   In their room, Vic and Mandy got into their pajamas, and Mandy crawled into her bed. “I loved it, Vic, but I think I’m too tired to talk.”

   Vic came over to the bed, tucked her in, and kissed her on the forehead. “Sleep well, little sister. I think I’ll see if Greg is still awake.”

   “I thought you might.”

   Greg had left his door ajar, and she pushed it open without knocking. He was sitting in an easy chair, smiling at her, He made a leisurely scan of her from head to toe. “Nice p.j.s,” he said.

   “Glad you like them.” She came over to his chair, sat on his lap, and curled up against him.

   “Mandy was right; you do know your way here.”

   After a while, they talked about the play. “It was amazing,” said Vic.“ I knew some of the music, of course, but I didn’t know the story. I didn’t know how sad it was going to be.”

   “Yeah, that is a little bit of a shocker for Rodgers and Hammerstein, isn’t it? But it plays out okay. So, what were your favorite parts... Wait, I can guess one. “If I loved you,” he sang quietly to her, “Time and again I would try to say all I want you to know.”

   “And you finally did! Yes, I liked that a lot. I liked it when the women were discussing whether it was a good idea to get involved with somebody like Billy. But ‘he’s your fella and you love him; that’s all there is to that!’” She emphasized the last with a kiss. “What did you especially like?”

    “I’ve always liked Billy thinking about their unborn child, just assuming it was going to be a son, then coming to the realization that it could just as easily be a daughter. But he had high expectations, nevertheless. His daughter would definitely be ‘half again as bright as girls are meant to be.’”

   “Yes, I caught that. Ha ha!”

   “Actually, the song I’m thinking about right now is...” And he began to sing it. “When the children are asleep, we’ll sit and dream, the dreams that every other dad and mother dream.”

   “Yes, that is a nice one. You have a very nice voice, by the way.”

   “Thank you.” He sang more, very quietly against her ear. “When today is a long time ago, you’ll still hear me say that the best dream I know is you!”

   “I like that idea,” she whispered back. He realized she was very close to being asleep. “I’m a little cold,” she murmured.

   He couldn’t reach a blanket with her on his lap. They would have to get up, but he didn’t really want to take her back to her room. He didn’t want to disturb Mandy, he told himself. She was just conscious enough that he was able to guide her over to his bed. He pulled the covers over her; sat by her for a few minutes; kissed her on the forehead; said “I love you, Victoria;” and went back to his armchair.

 

   When Vic awoke, the room was light but it was obviously still early. She noticed that she had been sleeping on someone’s arm, and that someone’s body was pressed comfortably close to hers. She didn’t find the situation unpleasant, and in fact she stayed where she was for several more minutes. She liked the feeling. However, she had no idea how she had ended up where she was.

   Trying not to wake her still sleeping bed mate, she slipped out from under the covers and retreated to her own room. Mandy was sitting up in her bed.

   “I observed that you had spent the night somewhere other than here. Did you and he...?”

   “No, we did not.” She paused. “At least, I don’t think we did.”

   “Vic!”

   “I’m just kidding. My attire – skimpy as it is – “ She made a little curtsey to emphasize her pajama shorts, “Seems to be much as I remember leaving it. We did sleep together, but I’m pretty sure that’s all we did – sleep together, I mean. I think he and I will need to have a little private conversation to sort this all out.

   “Now, I think what must have happened is that I fell asleep, and he didn’t try to bring me back in here because he didn’t want to risk disturbing you.”

   “Yes, that sounds very plausible – and very considerate of him, too. I’ll have to thank him.”

   ‘Now, he’s still up, but he’s getting cold – or maybe just very sleepy – but I’m in his bed. We know he doesn’t want to wake you, and I’m sleeping very soundly, so he just decides he will get under the covers and let us all sleep in peace.”

   “That also sounds plausible. I might point out, however, that his room has two beds. So...”

   Vic thought about that. “Yes, that does raise certain questions, doesn’t it?”

   “Try this idea,” said Mandy. “You were right about him being cold. You just didn’t realize that he was very, very cold. You might remember we saw a movie once in which a man and woman were stranded in Alaska. They were both freezing to death, so they got into the same sleeping bag, and hugged all night. Their combined body heat saved them.”

   Vic shook her head. “Nice try, but it didn’t feel that cold in his room. As a matter of fact, it seemed pretty toasty where I was. I could have stayed there very comfortably.”

   “So, it worked. You saved one another!”

   That got them both giggling. “I think lover-boy – or, apparently, non-lover-boy! – and I need a long, private chat.” She became serious. “You know, I’ve had dreams about lying in someone’s arms all night, and waking up with them the next morning. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it felt awfully good. It gives me hope that my dreams aren’t always going to be unfulfilled fantasies.”

 

   Vic and Mandy got dressed, then Vic checked on Greg. He seemed to be deep in sleep. As it was still early, Vic suggested they take a stroll before breakfast, and see a little of Salt Lake City. Mandy agreed. They left a note, and headed downstairs. The sky was cloudless, and it was already warm. They discovered that the massive, ornate Mormon Temple was only a few blocks south of them. It was quite impressive in the morning light, with the rugged Wasatch Mountains forming a backdrop.

   They returned to the hotel to find that Greg was up and dressed. The reunion was a little awkward, but nobody brought up last night’s sleeping arrangements. They had breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, packed up, and were on the road north by 10 o’clock. Mandy promptly fell asleep in the back seat, and slept until they reached the rest stop at the summit. Vic had used the center seat belt to sit close to Greg, and she dozed on his shoulder most of the way. Nobody said much about anything.

   When Mandy got out of the car, Vic held up a minute. “I think you and I need to have a private talk.”

   “You’re wondering about last night?”

   “You might say that. Your place, tonight, if possible?”

   The rest of the trip was uneventful. They stopped at a drive-in for hamburgers, and arrived at the refuge about 4 o’clock. Greg unloaded the girls and their suitcases, and left them to tell their parents about the trip. He went home to wait for Vic.

***

She was sitting in his arm chair. He was perched on one of the kitchen chairs.

 “So,” she began, “the last I remember is us talking...”

   “And occasionally kissing.”

   “Granted, occasionally kissing...”

   “With you on my lap.”

   “Wait! Was I... Yes, I guess I was. Anyway, the next I know I am waking in your bed, my head resting on your shoulder and our bodies close together.  Am I remembering it correctly?”

   “Well, I’d include a few adjectives: your head very comfortably on my shoulder, and our bodies very close together.”

   “Greg, I get the feeling you aren’t taking this seriously.”

   “No, believe me, I am. It’s just that my explanation isn’t going to make much sense unless we can visualize the whole situation.”

   “All right, explain away.”

   “Okay. So, we were in that big armchair, with you curled in my lap. We were talking, occasionally kissing – and singing; I was singing to you. You liked it. You fell asleep. I didn’t think I could get you out to your bed without waking Mandy, but I was able to get you as far as my bed. I tucked you in, kissed you on the forehead, said I love you – which I do! – then went back over to my chair. I watched you sleep for some time. Finally, it dawned on me that I really wanted to hold you in my arms for a while. I got into the bed next to you, turned you slightly toward me, and held you. It felt really nice. The next thing I remembered was waking up, and finding your note.”

   She mulled over that for a moment. “So, you had no other intentions than to ‘hold me for a while’?”

   “What other intentions could I have had?”

   She really didn’t know if he was teasing her. “Have you ever heard the term, ‘making love’?”

   He really looked surprised. “We’re not ready for that yet, are we?”

   She found herself wanting to say “maybe, maybe not.” She didn’t. Instead, she decided to change the mood. She got up from the chair, motioned to him to sit in it, then sat on his lap. “So, Mandy was wrong. She thought you might have been saving me from hypothermia.”

   He looked confused (as he should!). “Hypothermia?”

   “Mandy remembered a movie we had seen about a couple – well, they weren’t a couple couple, just two people stranded together in ice-bound Alaska. They were waiting to be rescued, but it was becoming obvious that they would probably freeze to death before help could reach them. The man suggested they squeeze together into one sleeping bag, and hug each other tightly, so the joint heat of their two bodies would keep them warmer than if they were apart. It worked.”

   “Wait. You told Mandy about us being together?”

   She gave him an “are you dumb?” look. “My little sister wakes up, and sees my bed has not been slept in. As the first light of morning enters the room, so do I, still in my pajamas and looking a little tousled. Do you not think there might have been a question or two?”

   “Put like that, I suppose it was inevitable.”

   She snuggled against him. “I should have seen that she couldn’t be right. In the movie, the man had made it clear that the heat transfer only worked if they were naked. (They didn’t actually show that part in the movie.) Yet, I woke in the pajamas I went to sleep in, and you were in your heavy, clunky sweat suit. Either you didn’t know how staving off hypothermia worked, or that wasn’t your intention.”

   He didn’t immediately respond, so she continued. “I accept your explanation without reservation. When I awoke, I was confused, but I have to say that I was not displeased. In fact, I found the situation so nice that I stayed quite some time before going back to my own room.” She paused to express a little of her pleasure. “I have one more thing I want to discuss.”

   “Don’t you, always?”

   “Not always, but regularly. This is not a new subject, however; it’s just filling in one gap in our ongoing discussion.”

   “Okay, fire away.”

   “When we briefly mentioned the subject of ‘making love,’ you said you didn’t think we were ready yet. I emphasize the word ‘yet.’ The implication to me is that you feel that there will come a time when we will be ready. Am I reading you correctly?”

   He shifted her around a little so he looked look at her face. “If we are going to be together for 80 or 100 years, and if some time in that period we are going to produce Vic Jr. and Greg Jr., then I think it is inevitable that the subject will come up, and that some appropriate actions will follow,”

   She smiled, and kissed him one more time. “Then, I will look forward to future developments.”

  

  

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