Phil and El entered Newberry Military School’s “Living Room” arm in arm. That’s what Phil called the Living Room, the couch, easy chair and baby grand filled room, next to the school’s administrative offices and in front of the gym. El, her bright chestnut hair up in a knot, like Grace Kelly’s, stole a glance at Phil. His open waist level jacket, mess jacket, he called it, displayed his medals and insignia. Across his shirt front ran a diagonal red ribbon, designating him as an Officer of the Cotillion Club, the organization in charge of social events. Her white formal was her first strapless, revealing her scant cleavage to the maximum. Her long skirts hid the fact that she was wearing low pumps. Anything more and she’d be taller than Phil; something she wanted even less than he did.
If only he were an inch taller, this would be perfect, she thought. He’d let his crew cut hair grow during the summer and she could run her fingers through it again. Of course she knew that he wished her figure were a little fuller, too. But they had each other, were together, and with parental blessings. Why worry about minor things? She smiled as they passed the door to the powder room. Behind the locked door on Thanksgiving Friday of 1957, their freshman year, they had made out, dangerously and passionately. Like they had last night.
She couldn’t wait to see the decorated gym. All weekend Phil had been both gentleman and lover, and had responded to any request, except to see the gym. A surprise, he said. And he’d kept her from it himself, and enlisted his parents’ aid to keep her away from it as well. Of course part of that might have been his continued attempts to get her alone.
Everything else had been wonderful. His parents allowed her to give him his graduation presents in her own room, alone. He’d tried to neck, but she’d firmly, though regretfully refused. So he opened the card first, and read it and then the books, and looked at them, The Prophet and This is My Beloved and leafed through them and smiled and kissed her, chastely for a change. He’d said, “I can’t read them now, Hon, but I will later. And I hope with you.” His buddies might be surprised by his obvious delight, but she knew him much better. Even better than Denny, his room mate for three years, or Mark, his best friend back home.
The parades were grand. Each a little different. Friday night they’d lowered the flag after a small cannon boomed. Saturday morning Phil had been part of the reviewing party as a graduating officer. The Milk Parade, he’d called it, since they wore all white except for their shoes, hat brim and brass buckles on their belting. But the best was the final one. Phil’s company had won Best Company for the entire 1960-61 school year. The company commander called Phil forward after receiving the guidon from the previous holder. Phil took the honor guidon, after sheafing his sword, and the company moved from its position in the rear to the front to lead the parade. They did “Eyes Right” as the company passed the reviewing stand. A salute, Phil’s father had explained at the first parade. El and Phil’s parents moved so they could be in the front row of spectators as the Corps marched back to the barracks. Then, as they climbed the steps leading from the parade field to the school the guidons went back up and down as the commander called “Eyes, Right”, again.
Phil’s Dad, Colonel Boydon, had nudged her and whispered, “Return the salute.” She’d glanced at him. “He’s not saluting me,” and he put her hand up over her eye in a salute. Then, wonder of wonders, all the rest of the Corps did the same, though she could see bemused expressions on all the faces turned her way. Afterwards, two faculty officers had spoken to Phil’s company commander and Phil briefly, and he got several humorous threats from friends, but he’d smiled and said to her “You’re worth it. They’ve already given amnesty, and I’m not coming back next September to do Marches.”
“But how’d that happen?” El asked as she slipped her hand into his.
“I saw you in front and told Don to give ‘Eyes Right’. He said ‘Why?’ and I said ‘My girl’. So he did.”
Friday night they’d gone out and parked. She had meant it to be fun for both of them, but safe. It was fun, but it wasn’t as safe as it should have been. The gentle warmth, the hovering stars of a country sky beckoned them, and she allowed it to follow, past kissing, past her erect nippled breasts, until her panties were at her knees and he was shedding his belt. “I have one,” he hoarsely whispered and she both sighed in relief that he was thoughtful as always and paniced that her last objection was rapidly vanishing. Reluctantly, she’d put her hands on his chest and pushed him back.
“Phil. I want to. I really do. But we can’t. Not yet. You know that!”
In the starlight she saw his face twist. Then he turned his head. “I’m sorry, El. You’re right. It’s late. I need to get back before leave time is up.” She remembered they had dressed in silence.
Even with that, it had been wonderful. And then they entered, not a high school gym, not a ball room, but the Court of King Arthur, all white and gold, with Camelot rising behind the band and shields proudly displayed on the wall, the ceiling looking as though it were one of the tents that a knight rested in between jousts.
“Look, El. There’s Colonel Hoary. I want to introduce you to him,” and he began to half guide, half tug her towards a faculty member standing by himself. She’d seen Colonel Hoary’s picture in Phil’s yearbooks and he didn’t seem very impressive despite what Phil had said. As Phil strode towards his English teacher, El trying to keep up, yet maintain her dignity, she still couldn’t see the awesome aspects Phil had told her about so much. “Colonel Hoary, may I present my girl? Elaine Goodman, this is Colonel Hoary. Colonel Hoary, Elaine Goodman.”
“I’ve heard so much about you. Mr. Boydon says your friends call you El. May I have that honor?” His voice seemed to carry with it a power, a presence. Not even thinking, El gathered her skirts and dropped a curtsy which would have sent shivers of joy through the spines of either grandmother.
“Yes, sir. I’d be delighted.” Then he took her right hand and kissed it.
“You seem to be quite a lady, El. And every bit as attractive as all the pictures Mr. Boydon has of you.”
“Thank you, sir.” She seemed at a loss. Where was this power coming from?
“Now you two run off and dance and have a good time. Enjoy yourselves. And Phil, remember when to be back.” Then he turned to greet another senior and his date. El and Phil wandered away.
“What did you think?” Phil asked. “Of Colonel Hoary.”
“You may be right. He may give advice to God.” She wondereded about the last comment. “Moon River” began to play. “Now let’s dance,” she said. So he gathered her into his arms and they began to move to the music.
In a moment, El rested her chin against Phil’s shoulder as they danced, tightly locked together. Such a wonderful time, she thought. I’m so lucky to have him. The uniform is so impressive. Even if she still wished he’d changed schools so they’d be closer together their last two years.
“Having a good time, El?”
“You bet, Cadet.”
“I’m glad.” She knew he’d say that. Then she just lost herself in the wonder of the dance. They stood out a few fast dances and talked to his friends and their dates. For some reason Phil seemed to be getting a little nervous, glancing at his watch, looking around the crowded floor. Then a young faculty officer came to the center, where a large, flower covered arch stood.
He motioned for the band to cease at the end of the song they were playing, “Duke of Earl”. “Seniors, escort your dates to the Living Room.” El saw Phil frown.
“Phil. What’s wrong?”
“Yes there is. I know you too well. What’s wrong?” Her guitar string hand gripped his and she saw him wince.
“Well, we’re going to be right in front of Denny.”
“Your roommate? What’s wrong with that? You guys have squabbled, but you’ve roomed together for three years.”
“It’s not Denny. It’s his date. She’s Anne Marie.” Phil’s voice steadily got lower as he spoke.
“The girl you dated when we broke up last year?” She wanted to smile at the confusion on his face. His guilt gave her some sadistic pleasure.
“Yes. I can’t tell you...”
“You have. I have. I screwed up, too. Remember? Let’s go get in line. I have a ring to put on a finger, Kaydett.” The relief that flooded his face caused her to bite her tongue. She knew that his guilt was no worse than hers. After all, she’d had a secret boy friend while Phil had cheated with Anne Marie. Phil took her arm to escort her to the Living Room.
Then they were standing in line, next to the grand piano, in front of Denny and a plump girl with black hair, wearing a formal that didn’t seem to quite fit her, but displayed her large breasts to advantage. Phil probably really enjoyed touching those, she thought. Wonder if her nipples are big, too? Denny glanced back at her and Phil and seemed as nervous as Phil, if Denny’s continuous glancing around and frowning was a sign.
El smiled. “Hi, Denny. Is this Anne Marie?”
“Hi, El. Sure. Yes. Anne Marie, this is El Goodman. She’s Phil’s date.”
The girl looked at El for a few moments. “How long has you known Phil?” she asked.
“Four-five years. Since seventh grade in 1956. We’ve gone together about three of them.” She didn’t want to, but El extended her hand. Anne Marie looked at it for a moment or two, then took it.
“Is your name Evaline?” The round face showed doubt and concern.
“No. It’s Elaine.” El drew in her breath. This was not what she wanted to say, but why cause a fight or embarrassment?
“Anne Marie, I know about last year. I mean you and Phil. It’s over. I’m glad you have a nice date and I don’t bear you a grudge.” Not totally true, but the thing to say. As she spoke, she saw Phil, who seemed to exhale, while a small smile appeared on Anne Marie’s face.
“That’s most hospitable of you,” Anne Marie said, and then the line began to move.
Soon they were in the door and Phil turned to the right as El did to the left, to walk around the circumference, and then approach the arch as somebody announced over the band’s sound system, “Miss Elaine Dolores Goodman of Fairfax County, Virginia. Escorted by Cadet Lieutenant Phillip Matthew Boydon.” Then, under the arch she slipped his ring on his finger. Even before Phil could put his arm around her and draw her to a kiss, the swords of his classmates began to rattle. When they actually kissed, the swords clattered. The kiss was brief and then they were under the arc of swords, to take their place and wait for Denny and Anne Marie. Phil drew his sword, retrieved while in the Living Room, and touched Denny’s tip with his as soon as the couple appeared.
“That was good. What you did and said,” Phil whispered, and El smiled at that. What he didn’t know. Then her thoughts were drowned by the announcer.
There was applause when the ring ceremony was over and she and Phil walked hand in hand to get a cup of punch. There was more dancing, more talking. As they were leaving, Col Hoary appeared and briefly spoke quietly to Phil. But she heard the man say “...remember Taps.” Then Phil guided her out the side door they’d entered, into the warm air, and up the street towards the hotel.
They walked hand in hand, like they had the night, so long ago, when they’d gone to their first party together, where they’d kissed for the first time. And this was the first graduation night. Last night didn’t seem right. But this was something different. Not the back seat of a Chevy station wagon, but a real hotel bed. Nice music. It wasn’t like she hadn’t thought about it herself. If he came back later, after his mother had talked with her, as El knew she would, it would be okay. Even if Phil got caught by the school, what would they do the night before graduation? What could they do? Phil was quiet, too. Just his heels clicking on the pavement and his warm presence.
Then they were at her door, holding hands, both of them, looking at each other. Phil looked at her and she could see the love in his eyes, but something else, too. “Last night would have been wrong. I’m sorry, El. I realize that now. But I’m not sure about tonight. I could come back, after Taps. After you and Mom talk. Maybe close to midnight. What do you think?”
She pressed her face against his bemedaled chest. It sounded so good. What he didn’t know, couldn’t even imagine, she guessed, was that in her white, pearl covered evening purse was a mate for what she now knew was in his wallet. It had taken a lot of nerve, a late night drive from work, and a closed gas station for her to enter the men’s room, her quarter clutched in her hand for speed, and then swiftly to retreat, the small package lying on the passenger seat until she got home and hid it. She, too was prepared. But were they ready?
He kissed her then, fiercely, his tongue a sword. And she felt her defenses dropping. She really wanted to, she knew that. Then she thought of Colonel Hoary’s last words, “Don’t be late.”
“Phil, didn’t you say that a couple of years ago some seniors didn’t graduate because they got kicked out after graduation dance?”
She felt his nod. “They were drinking.”
“But you were warned. Never again after taps, right?” Again the nod, but no words.
“Phil, darling. They’ve warned you. They may even be waiting for you. I’ve wanted to sit next to you in Mount Vernon for four years now. I don’t next week.”
“They won’t catch me,” he whispered.
“They might. I want our first real time to be perfect. Maybe I’ve never thought of it that way before, but that’s it. Perfect. If your coming back caused you to be kicked out, I don’t care how wonderful what we did is, it wouldn’t be perfect. It would be awful.” She pushed him back. She breathed deeply.
“Kiss me again, Phil. Then go back to the barracks and I’ll see you in the morning. For graduation.”
He breathed deeply. “I guess you’re right. Damn it” Then he kissed her, made a facing movement and marched off. "Morning comes early, Elaine Dolores Goodman,” he called over his shoulder.
“Thanks, Cadet Lieutenant Phillip Matthew Boydon. I love you very much.” And she knew she meant it now more than maybe she ever had.
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