Now and Forever
“I’m going to go on home, Carly,” said her boss to the young woman.
Mrs. Saxman had owned the Gamble’s store in town since the space in the theater building had been vacated by the newspaper. Her husband had died of a heart attack the year before, and the kids had long married and moved to various cities across the country. She wasn’t ready, by any stretch of the imagination, to throw the towel in on her life. So she’d opened a department store and everyone including her had benefited from it.
“I’ll close everything up,” replied her sales clerk absent-mindedly.
She’d been worrying about the girl for the past few weeks. Usually so sharp and ready for any chore, she’d been a little foggy and distracted. No doubt daydreaming about that fly-by boyfriend of hers. There was trouble with a capital “T”…. or H as the case would be. Young love. It could be such a wretched thing. Betty Saxman felt sorry for the girl. (Reminds me a bit of myself, poor lass.)
“So you have to walk home, dear?” asked the older woman.
“No, Harley is picking me up when he’s through with work.”
Betty turned and hid a frown from the young girl. No need to show disapproval. No doubt everyone else in the girl’s life had already tried plenty of that and to no avail. The inexperienced heart never heard the voice of wisdom. Only experience, which never came cheap.
“Well, be sure the lights are out and I’ll see you in the morning.”
She turned to walk out the door just as Harley Lutenberg walked up. He’d left his motorcycle parked on the sidewalk, a typical swipe at town authority. She couldn’t help but think that being drafted into the Army might do that boy a world of good. Knock some of the rebel out of him at boot camp, and maybe he would amount to something. He was certainly a good-looking kid. Small wonder sweet little Carly had fallen so hard for him. It couldn’t’ have happened to a nicer girl, sad to say. She was an angel straight through to the core of her being.
“Hola, Mrs. S.,”grinned the biker. “Done for the day?” As though it were any of his business.
“Try to get Carly home at a decent hour, Harley,” she responded intentionally ignoring the question. “She has an early day tomorrow, here at the store.” She left it at that.
“What a witch,” complained the boy.
“Harley! That’s a dreadful thing to say about her and it isn’t true,” replied the shocked girl.
She rather like her boss and was grateful to have a regular income. Especially now that she and Harley were getting married. No one knew yet, but he had asked her just a few days ago. They’d tie the knot when he got back from Vietnam.
She could hardly stand the thought of him going there. What a dreadful war. All war was dreadful, even if men thought they could justify it. But this one was really bad and tearing the whole country apart. She didn’t say much about it, but she’d go to Canada with Harley in a minute if he’d consider it.
But, it had all happened so fast and now he was leaving in a few days. He just laughed it off. Like he laughed about everything in that irreverent way. Nothing could touch him he said. Well, not in a bad way. She could, he said, in the best way…. And then he’d get that wicked sparkle in his eyes and he’d look at her in that way that would make her burn from the inside out. She blushed just thinking about it.
“I can tell what you’re thinking just by the pink in your cheeks, Babe,” teased her beau. "You’re thinking about me, aren’t you?"
“Go on, you conceited thing. You think I don’t have anything better to think about?” She dashed up the stairs, her bell bottomed jeans brushing the carpet. “I have to put these clothes away first, and then I’ll be finished.”
He followed her upstairs, taking advantage of the view. She might be short, but she was proportioned just right as far as he was concerned. Not the best looking girl he’d ever known, but different in another way that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Maybe it was just her innocence that turned him on. Completely unblemished. He grinned to himself. (At least for now.) She was like a Madonna, he thought to himself. Like the Virgin Mary in a Christmas card.
Carly swung the door open in the room upstairs, and piled the armload of clothes onto the back of a chair. In the corner stood the steamer and the clothes rack. She had several boxes of new ladies clothes to steam out tomorrow in between customers. Some cool things, too. Mrs. S. was good about staying up on the latest fashions, and she was always really conscious of buying things for the younger girls. She had even bought some really cute mini-skirts. That would get the gossips going in town. Especially if someone showed up at church in one of those leather hip hugger skirts.
Harley picked up the corner of one and whistled.
“Now that’s something more your style, Babe. I’ll bet you look hot in this number.”
Carly felt the heat rising up her neck to the roots of her hair. Her heart began to pound. And she didn’t have a clue what to say, even if she could have found her voice. She turned to hang the skirt on the clothes rack, not really paying attention to what she was doing. Who could concentrate with that man in the room?
His strong arms slid around her waist lifting her off the ground against his hard chest. He whispered into her hair, “I want you so bad, Carly. I can’t leave without having you. Please just once before I go.”
They’d had this conversation before. More than once. A hundred times. And each time Carly felt herself weaken. Each time she begged for the strength to say no and then cursed herself afterwards for not having the courage to say yes to him. What would it matter anyway? He was leaving for a whole year. Then they would marry and then it wouldn’t matter. Oh, please heaven, let him come back unharmed. The thought of losing him in a godforsaken war was too much. They were too young for that entire nightmare. They should be thinking of work and a home and raising kids, not praying for mercy against an enemy half way around the world.
She pulled herself away from him and walked around the table and sat down on the little couch where she ate her lunch. It was nice to have a quiet and private place to get away from customers especially during the holidays. She liked working here. It felt safe and secure. Usually. Having Harley here in the room with her hardly felt safe. It felt downright dangerous in an exciting sort of way. He slid down next to her and draped his long arm over her shoulder. She crossed her arms over her breasts, protecting her heart, herself. From him, from his pull, his strength, his heady magic that left her weak. She swallowed. Not one word came to mind.
He pulled her toward him and kissed her lips. First softly, then with a hunger that she couldn’t resist. His hands slid down her back and he leaned his weight against her, against the couch. She shouldn’t do this, but she couldn’t say no. His entire life held her down, the whole of what he was that was also hers and nothing inside of her could turn him down again. She gave in to him. The room tilted as she closed her eyes and blocked out any thought of anything except now. Now and Harley. Now and forever.
By Penny Dreadful