Last Year's Demerits
The two teenagers walked hand in hand out the arched entrance to Newberry Military School. Phil would have preferred to have his arm around El’s slim waist, but he didn’t want to push school rules too far. He looked at her bright chestnut hair which framed her thin face and said a quick prayer that things were smooth again and the relation begun more than three years ago was back on track. With her free hand she pointed to the glass covered cork bulletin board to their right. “That where they post your marches, Phil?”
He squeezed her hand, glanced at her silhouette, small even with her white blouse tails tied tightly around her waist, and said, “No. That’s where the delinquency reports get posted. It’s only after you use up your twenty-five merits and the Commandant gives you more demerits that you get marches. It’ll be a long time before I have to worry about that.” He ran his free hand over his close cropped blond hair and dropped it back to the thick black leather belt and it’s gold plated bas-relief buckle and shifted the belt that circled his loopless waist.
They were out onto the macadam East Parade, the normal formation area above the parade/athletic field itself and headed towards the ugly green Volkswagen Beetle El had driven east from her grandmother’s earlier in the day. He strode towards the car, now with an empty luggage rack, with his marching band girl friend keeping time to his parade ground step. His eyes swept over the small city below him, and east towards the Blue Ridge that El would soon drive across, towards Northern Virginia and her own high school senior year.
They stopped by the car and he could see her eyes go to the collar of his gray shirt and look once more at the cadet officer insignia on them, the metallic gray disk of a lieutenant on one side of his black tie and the brass crossed rifles with the NMS linking the barrels on the other. He looked again at her gray eyes, red lips, freckled cheeks and turned up nose. The eyes squinted, though the lips smiled. Her eyes dropped, as though reading the “Boydon” on his black plastic nameplate.
“El, I’ll have a letter written before you get home tonight. Now drive carefully. I’ll see you in October, unless you can get up earlier.”
“I’ll try, Phil. I really will. But you know how busy the band is during football season. Sometimes I still wish you’d changed schools.” Again the smile, as though she wanted him to know that this was not criticism. But he knew the uniform still represented to her one consequence of their having been caught in his bedroom three years earlier. Neither of them could or would blot that memory out.
“I know you don’t understand, hon. But you saw my room. Maybe the best at Newberry. One great roommate and the other a good one. Cadet officer. And the same high school I started at. Most army brats don’t get that. I’m going to have a great year. Good chance of seeing you a couple of extra times. I’m happy.” He leaned forward and kissed her. On East Parade, in front of everybody, he had meant it to be polite and chaste. But it wasn’t. Neither of them could refrain, knowing they’d be parted for more than a month, probably, after having gotten back together again only five weeks earlier.
The kiss finally broke. “No local talent,” she said, then looked away towards the gap in the Blue Ridge she’d drive through, as though trying to hide her face.
Phil looked down towards his shined shoes and the black macadam, knowing El referred to last year’s escapade with Anne-Marie, a townie girl. “There won’t be.” He wanted to tell her to remember the same, but didn’t. He thought back to the previous winter. She’d cheated because he had. If he hadn’t; she wouldn’t have.
“You’ve been weird since the day I met you,” she said as she looked back at him and pulled her hands from his to hug him. “I’ll write as soon as I get home.”
“Good. Be careful. Especially over the mountain.”
“You’ve told me that five times today. And I’ve been over that mountain far more than you ever have. Visiting relatives, remember?” she said. Then she turned, opened the car door and slid in. He closed the door behind her, even as she cranked the starter until the engine sputtered, coughed and finally announced the awakening of a 1954 Volkswagen. She backed it, put it in first gear, and started, as Phil watched her swerve at once to avoid a brand new 1960 Buick Skylark. It had two adults in the front seat and a young teenage boy in the back. He quickly said a prayer for his girl as he got ready to “welcome” a member of the Youngster Class of 1960 to Newberry Military School.
“Mr. Boydon. I thought you were here to greet Youngsters, not bid girlfriends good bye.” Phil spun around to see the commandant behind him. Phil could feel his face redden. “I’ve seen shorter kisses in movies.”
Phil saluted. “Sorry, sir. But, well, we’re just back together again after I screwed up so much.”
The retired general returned the salute. “But you’ve spent a lot of time with her the last two weeks.” The commandant’s mouth twitched upwards, then straightened. “To your duties, Mister.” Phil saluted again and turned to the car and its discharging passengers.
Phil helped the parents get the bags out of the car, through the entrance way, a portal that the boy beside him would soon know to be the Sallyport, and deposited them on the concrete of First Porch East, another term the boy would need to learn quickly. Phil looked again at the empty space for delinquency reports; something that would fill fast as Youngsters learned about gigs and marches. He knew his name would appear, but probably not until October at the earliest, he’d told El much earlier today. “Like a birthday present from you,” he’d joked. “Just in case I thought of being unfaithful.” Then he went back up to his room to begin the letter to El, as promised.
But he’d no more than put the portable on the best desk he’d claimed as first occupant, and put a piece of Newberry stationery in it, when the door opened, a bag hit the floor, and Denny Zimmerman entered. “Phil. Here already? After I got your letter saying El took you back, I thought youse guy’s be up on the Blue Ridge making out, and I’d get first choice.”
“No. We’ve been at her grandmother’s the last two weeks. Had a wonderful time. We’re in great shape. El’s been gone an hour. You get top bunk, roomie. Pine gets the single.” Phil pointed to the extra long bunk for their six foot four roommate. Denny grimaced; kids might fight for the upper, but sensible seniors knew the bottom was better. “Want help with the rest of your stuff, Denny?”
“No. This safari. Porters bring.” He punched Phil’s shoulder. “Of course. Glad you and El got back together.”
“So am I. Let’s go.”
Denny paused. “Up at her grandmothers?” His eyelids arched up and his insidious grin appeared. “Did you two finally do it?”
Phil set his lips and shook his head. “Of course not. I told you we’ve vowed not to.” He didn’t hint on how close they were willing to come to breaking the vow. How close was nobody’s business but El’s and his, and that was to stay that way.
Phil helped Denny and his parents bring the rest of the bags and gear up to the room and then typed at his letter while Denny said “good bye” to his parents and got dressed in his uniform, identical to Phil’s except for the name tag. Then they went down to give assistance to the arrival of the first year cadets, the Youngsters.
Several hours later Phil went back to his room. The Youngsters had been introduced to drill, had marched to lunch, which they now knew to be not lunch, but DRC, eaten, seen their first guard mount, been issued the beginnings of uniforms, and been drilled again. All with a great deal of shouts and commands from the Oldsters, and confusion on the part of the Youngsters. Now he was able to sit down and continue the letter, begun earlier.
Twenty minutes later it was finished, tucked into an envelope which was stamped with an upside down four cent stamp, teenage for “I love you”, and Phil carried it down to be mailed. The mailbox was on first East, just past the Sallyport, which didn’t impede Phil’s progress across the Square and along First East to the mailbox as it would for a Youngster. He dropped the letter into the black wooden box and started back to his room. At the Sallyport he glanced towards the door to the Commandant’s Office and noticed that there was a delinquency list. Who had messed up already?
Curiosity, and the fact that reading the bulletin board was a daily requirement, caused Phil to turn into the ‘Port and go to see who it was. He read: Boydon, Phillip M. Unauthorized visitor in room, 4 June, 1960. They’ve got to be kidding, he thought. That was last year. And nothing had happened. And he’d broken up with Anne Marie - or she had with him. And he and El were back together and everything was going almost perfect. He stormed back to his room. Denny was still in it.
“Denny. You’re not going to believe this. Friendly Frank reported me for having Anne Marie in the room during Finals Dance.” Phil took his belt off and threw it on the floor, the heavy buckle actually making a clang as it hit the bare wood.
Denny almost laughed. “You’re surprised? Colonel Hoary, the terror of the school, catches you with your pants down in your room with a girl and you expect all he’s going to do is send you back to the dance? El smack you along side the head before taking you back? And stop shouting.”
Phil tried to lower his voice, clenching his hands as he spoke. “My pants weren’t down. All we’d done was kiss and sit on the bed. We were both totally dressed.” True, Anne-Marie’s dress was unzipped, but the fearsome faculty officer couldn’t have seen that. No sense in adding that detail, anyway. “I’m going to tell the Commandant that answering this year for something last year just isn’t fair. That is, if I just don’t resign right now.” He looked sharply at Denny, as though daring him to contradict.
“What time he catch you?” Denny said, while he continued to empty his footlocker and fill his clothes press. Phil could tell, having roomed with Denny the two previous years, that his roommate was ignoring part of what Phil had said.
“About 2000. After it was dark.”
“And the gig?”
“Unauthorized visitor in room,” Phil, despite his anger, almost smiled when he remembered explaining to El that the rule was for girls, not other cadets. She’d thought friends needed permission to visit. Denny nodded his head. “Not after 1700?”
“No, just ‘unauthorized’.”
“Dummy, the Colonel’s given you a break. ‘Unauthorized’ is fifteen demerits, max. ‘After 1700’ is a special. That could kick you out. Then you wouldn’t have to look like a fool for resigning at the beginning of your senior year, a four year man, an officer, a Senior PI, with probably the best room in the barracks. And with me as your roommate.”
Phil sat down at his desk, trying not to grin at Denny’s parting shot. He hadn’t considered any of that. Denny was right. The sermon he and El sat through last Sunday - about sin and pigeons returning to roost. He still knew why he and Anne-Marie had come to his room. What they would have done, if Friendly Frank hadn’t intervened. Maybe he did have it coming to him. No sense in acting stupid. He pulled his blouse from the press and began to remove brass for polishing.
After supper he put his dress uniform on, went down to the ‘Port, knocked on the door and entered when summoned. The retired general looked at him after the salute.
“Well, Mr. Boydon. Correct or incorrect?” His face was expressionless.
One last time Phil thought about fighting it. “Correct, sir.”
“Anything in mitigation?”
“Mr. Boydon, that is not behavior we expect from cadet officers; or NCO’s either.” The general’s stare bore dagger like into Phil’s eyes.
“Yes, Sir. I’ll try to remember.”
“Your current girl friend know about this?” Phil could see the eyes search his face. They weren’t very friendly.
Phil almost said “That’s none of your business,” but parents and Newberry had taught him better. “Yes, Sir. I told her the day we got back together. We’d promised to be truthful to each other. It was dishonesty that caused us to break up last year. It won’t happen again.”
“Must have been a tough confession. And she seems a fine girl, too.” The face softened. Phil smiled at the praise. “You really told her about another girl the day you resumed dating?”
“Yes, sir. I know it sounds strange. But when we first started going together we made a pact of honesty. Like I said, our not following that is what caused our problems last year.” Phil wished he could explain some other way.
“That must have been difficult, Mr. Boydon.” Without thinking, Phil nodded agreement. The memory was still painful, but he was glad that he had finally realized that he was a part of El and he’d needed to admit his errors to both her and himself.
The Commandant’s face looked a little less serious. "Ten demerits. Mr. Boydon. You have set a record at Newberry. One I hope is never broken. Never has the first cadet to answer a delinquency been an Oldster, a four year cadet and an officer. In fact, the first cadet has never had any of those characteristics. I’d suggest you not try to set such a record again. Dismissed.” Each word rolled out like part of a cavalry charge and Phil felt alone on a flat, wide plain.
Phil saluted, did an about face and left. His ears rang from the Commandant’s words, especially after what he had told El only hours earlier. But, it could have been worse. If he could keep it under fifteen for the rest of the year he wouldn’t have to march one Penalty March. Keeping it down to ten would be impossible for him, even as a four year officer; he knew that. Fifteen was possible. It might be a good year, after all. El was going to kid him like crazy over this. So would Denny and Pine. But that’s what girl friends and roommates are for, after all.
“Last Year’s Demerits” first appeared in Shenandoah Valley Magazine, an ezine.
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