Cadet First Lieutenant Phil Boydon opened Newberry Military School’s barracks room 238’s door with one gloved hand and dragged his suitcase in with the other. Denny Zimmerman glanced over from the clothes press where he was neatly placing underwear. “Hey, Phil. Have a good time? How’s El? And close the door. It’s cold outside.”
Phil threw his suitcase on his bed and pulled off his gloves and overcoat, thankful for the room’s warmth after the trudge from the bus station through the cold February night. “Hi, Denny. It was okay. El’s fine. Still wants me home for her Prom. I sure hope I can.”
“How about Military Ball?”
“No. Said she couldn’t come. Prom and Finals --that’s it.” Phil began to unpack. The door opened and the two swung towards it, surprised, knowing that Pine, the third room mate, wasn’t due until late. But it wasn’t their six foot four inch roomie; it was Joe Wallace. Joe nodded to Phil and faced Denny.
“Hey, I’ve got Guard tomorrow. Need to borrow your sword and wrap, Denny.”
“Sure, Joe. Got a sword thong?” Denny reached into his clothes press and drew out the purple sash and the cloth covered cadet sword.
“Yeah. There’s an old one floating around. Hey, Phil. See that girl?” Joe’s face seemed friendly, but his eyes said something else. Phil nodded.
“Yeah. A couple times.”
“Get laid?” His voice seemed neither casual nor friendly to Phil.
“I wouldn’t tell Denny if he asked,” Phil said. “None of your beeswax.”
“Well, guess you didn’t. Some do. Some don’t.” His face said he was one of the “do’s.”
“If it meant anything, you wouldn’t talk about it. Anybody can screw a tramp,” Phil said, and turned back to his unpacking. He paused to glance at the big picture on his desk of El, draped, diploma in hand, with the green stone cross he’d given her their thirteenth summer.
“You’ve got to do it, to know what it means, - with anybody,” Joe finally shot back. He left, sword and wrap in hand. “Thanks, Denny. I’ll bring ‘em back soon as I’m off guard.”
Denny sat down on Phil’s bunk. “I know you’re not hip to Joe. But what’s bugging you? That wasn’t cool, at all.”
Phil neatly put away the last of the underwear and socks his mother had washed. “Denny, you know I don’t talk about us. I mean, what we might do and all.”
“No kidding. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you monk and nun. Course that was before we read Chaucer...”
Phil grinned, knowing Denny couldn’t see. “Well we aren’t. Either before or after Chaucer.” Then his memories of Saturday night rushed back into clear recollection. “I’ve never really said anything about El and me, have I?’ he asked, his voice far lower than normal. He turned his head to look at Denny, his room mate for three years.
Denny’s face assumed the Newberry parade ground expression. “No, Phil, you never have.”
Phil sat at his desk, legs wrapped around the chair back so he could lean on it. “Denny. You can’t tell anybody this. You understand?”
Denny sat down on Pine’s bed. “I understand, Phil. Let the God of Abraham and Joseph be my witness.” Phil paused. Church or synagogue was mandatory; but nobody at Newberry called on God that way. He knew Denny would say yes; the intensity surprised him.
“We made out. I mean, we really made out.” Phil couldn’t be any more specific yet.
Denny laughed. “Of course. I’ve seen lipstick on your collar at least once.” He kissed the back of his hand, like kids did in grade school.
Phil turned so he wasn’t looking at Denny. “We almost did it,” Phil said, and glanced back at Denny. Denny’s face opened into a grin and he raised his hands over his head. “No, Denny. We both feel awful about it. We stopped. But we were about to. And if we had; we might not still be together.” Phil felt tears about to come again; not like Saturday night in the front seat of El’s car, when they had clung to each other, dressed in hastily thrown on clothes, but tears. Phil could see Denny was about to say something, then stop. Denny stood up.
“Phil, I won’t say nothing. Room mate’s honor.” Phil nodded. “What happened?”
“El met me at the bus station Friday night. We went to a new place - Shakey’s. They sell pizza and beer and they sold me both! We went home, made out a little. My folks talked to us about college next year.
“Saturday. I borrowed a jacket from Dad. Went to the Officer’s Club for dinner and then a movie. El was all dressed up; even her mother’s fur cape. Nice dinner; even danced.”
“So get to the important part, Boydon,” Denny said. Phil nodded.
“Went to a place across from D.C. where you can see the river and the lights. It’s real secluded and hard to find. But we weren’t going to really do anything; we just wanted to have privacy.” Phil looked at Denny, hoping to see belief, but there was none. “Honest.” Denny shook his head.
“Anyway, we kissed a long tine. Then more. I mean, we’ve touched before. You know that’s why I’m at Newberry. But we swore we’d wait for It. We’ve always kept that vow. It got out of hand. Both of us. Normally one of us keeps our cool. But we didn’t.” Phil went and ran water in the sink, rinsed his hands.
“We got in the back seat. And we went further. There was a blanket in back and we got under it. And clothes just kept coming off. And finally, just before I told her I had one, she asked if I did. Said I’d better put it on.” He couldn’t blame how far they’d gone on casual, easy to remove clothes. El had even wore an unnecessary girdle. Even with both of them eager, undressing had been difficult.
Phil sat at his desk, looked at the pictures: the summer they’d fallen in love, the camping trip, El as a bridesmaid, her senior picture. “Then there was a bright light. I mean the windows were all fogged up, but it went right through. Then somebody said, ‘Police. Roll down the window.’
“He asked to see my license. And El’s. He told us to be careful. He left and we got dressed and El started to cry. Last time El cried was when her grandfather died. I cried, too.”
Denny looked like he was about to make a joke, a flippant remark, his trademark. But he stopped. “You really think if you had, you’d have broken up?”
Phil nodded. “We have to trust each other. We can’t let each other down. Doing it would have. And it was so close.”
Denny walked over and squeezed Phil’s shoulder. “You’re really ape over that girl.”
“I really am, Denny. Really.”
“God help you,” Denny said. Phil nodded. “I guess Joe’s lucky you didn’t punch him out.”
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