Authors: Debbie Fuller Thomas
“We're taking Scotty down to the recruiting office tomorrow afternoon.”
“How long will he be gone?”
“Thirteen weeks.” Bebe focused on the undulating rows of vines through the window. They led away across the flat land into a low agricultural haze that obscured the horizon.
“He'll be a man when you see him again.”
Bebe blinked back some tears and took a deep breath. “He's already on his way. He was twenty in June.”
“Your brother was already a soldier by the time he was twenty.”
“He wasn't even old enough to drink the wine from our grapes,” Bebe said. She quickly regretted her words. She knew her mother blamed herself for Bobby's forays into alcohol dependency because they, like all the vineyards around, had had to switch from selling table grapes to wine grapes years before to survive. Earning the disapproval of certain church families at the time had only compounded her mother's guilt, though she'd had little say in the decision-making process.
Bebe edged closer to the chasm that so often separated them. “These times are different.”
Her mother glanced up and then pulled open a drawer for spoons. “Will they send him overseas?”
“I don't know.” Bebe added a stack of napkins to the tray. “Probably. I'm sure his unit will be deployed eventually.”
Her mother arranged the spoons and napkins next to the cups on the tray with careful precision and said without looking at Bebe, “Let's hope his homecoming is different, too.”
August 31, 1969
Bebe lugged her suitcases up to the porch of the white Victorian and knocked on the door as her brother Bobby came up behind her with boxes from the car. The paint flaked from the doorjamb and the boards of the porch listed as though the foundation of the house was taking a corner too quickly.
A young woman came to the door with her hair tied back with a red bandanna and wearing no makeup. Her T-shirt said “Doors” and her jeans were extremely worn.
“You Roberta?” she asked.
“Bebe. This is my brother Bobby,” she said as he stood behind her, balancing the stacked boxes on one knee.
The girl looked Bobby over and gave a sly smile. “Jude. Nice to meet you.” Then she wheeled around and held the door open so they could carry in Bebe's things. “So the dorm's full?”
“Yeah. They lost my room assignment and the housing office was so packed that I couldn't get anybody to help me. We almost turned around and went home before I saw your flyer that you were looking for a roommate.” Bebe noticed a funny odor that she couldn't identify.
“I posted that today after roommate number four dropped out. It's a good thing you called when you did. I've had five calls since then,” she said, leading them down a hall to a bedroom. “Where's home?”
“So,” she said, addressing Bobby, “do you need a place to crash?”
“He's not staying,” Bebe replied. They set the suitcases and boxes on the empty bed.
Jude smiled up at him until he blushed. “Pity. You'll have to come up and spend some weekends with us.”
“Who sleeps there?” Bebe asked, gesturing toward the other side of the room with an unmade bed, stacks of drinking glasses, and an oversized movie poster of
Romeo and Juliet
over the bed.
“Oh, that's Toni.” She gestured in disgust at the poster. “Can you believe that?”
“Tony?” Bobby asked, with a hint of alarm.
“Toni with an âi',” she said. “Short for Tonya.”
“Hmph,” he grunted, scanning Toni's side of the room with distaste. A giant peace symbol fashioned from a collage of what looked like magazine photos of soldiers and war hung on the wall.
“You might want to get ahead of the traffic, Bobby.” Bebe took his arm and directed him back toward the front door. “Come on, I'll walk you to the car.”
She walked beside him in silence, trying to read his mood. The campus and students they had met seemed very different than when she had visited the previous fall with her parents. Now it would be up to Bobby to tell her parents about the change in residence .Â .Â . if he told them.
He paused at the car door and looked back toward the house with suspicion etching his face. “Mom and Dad won't like it that you're sharing a house with strangers. I've got a bad feeling about this.”
She looked up into his face and gave him a pleading look. “They don't have to know. It's just three other girls, and if things get weird, I'll move. I promise.”
He looked down at her, clearly conflicted about leaving her there. She hugged his neck and said she'd be fine, and backed away from the car.
“You call me if you have any trouble. I mean it, little sis.”
Tears sprang to her eyes at the endearment when she realized how much she'd miss him. He'd have to go soon or she'd change her mind. To her relief, he slowly got in, turned on the motor, and pulled away from the curb. Only when he was out of sight, did she turn and head back up the broken walkway to the porch. An unexpected mixture of relief, exhilaration, and homesickness swept over her. For the first time in her life, she was completely free of brothers, fathers, mothers, and the expectations of friends and extended family. The possibilities were endless, unpredictable, and completely foreign. She looked up at the
Victorian to find Jude watching her through the screen door.
“Smooth,” Jude said. “In another minute, he would have dragged you back to Hicksville with him.” She held the door open for her, and Bebe walked in. “Come on, I'll show you around.”
Bebe followed her through the house to see the layout. Off of the small kitchen was a back door.
“Be careful,” Jude said, pointing out that the door only hung on by one rusty hinge. “It's gonna break soon and I don't want the landlord to charge us for it.”
They peeked through the screen into a tiny yard surrounded by a paint-bare white picket fence badly in need of repair, and tufts of grass growing intermittently in clumps. A ghost of a stepping-stone walkway wound around to the side. A rickety outside staircase led to the second floor.
“What's up there?” Bebe asked.
“There's an upstairs apartment, but it's off-limits. Some of the floors are rotten, which is lucky for us because they couldn't rent it out.”
Bebe turned back to the kitchen. A small, white refrigerator hummed loudly like it was striving for attention, and Jude pulled open drawers and cupboards, giving her a rundown of where everything was.
“I didn't bring any kitchen supplies with me,” Bebe said. “I thought I would be buying a meal ticket.”
“Don't worry, we're good for now. We can't cook much on that stove, anyway.”
Bebe saw that the narrow miniature stove had only two gas burners.
“We do lots of macaroni and cheese. Julio's Market down on the corner has it four for a dollar.”
Bebe had never eaten boxed macaroni and cheese. Her mother's version was an Americanized variation of her grandmother's spaetzle recipe.
“We need to get a small table that will fit in here. We should use the big table in the dining room for homework.”
One of the windows in the dining room sported a piece of cardboard taped against the glass. Jude gestured toward it. “Five guys rented
this place last semester,” she said. “We're waiting for one more to show. Mary Kathleen Kavanagh. We'll have to wrestle her rosary away from her when she gets here.”
Bebe was a little shocked by Jude's irreverence, and she obviously took note. “Just joking,” Jude said with a grin, and quickly sobered. “You're not a Jesus Freak, are you?”
Bebe's growing dissatisfaction with her straitlaced Christian upbringing hardly qualified her as one. “No. I'm not a Jesus Freak.”
“Good.” Jude went back into the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, “Hey, you want a beer?”
“No, thanks,” Bebe replied. She'd never had one in her life, and wondered how Jude managed to get it. She didn't look twenty-one. “Do you have any sodas?”
Jude looked up from digging in the fridge and gave Bebe an amused look. “Sure, help yourself.”
Bebe opened a can of Fresca and took a long drink. The condiments in the refrigerator were a third empty and the mustard had crust around the lid. “How long have you been here?” she asked.
“Since June. I moved in as soon as the landlord got the place cleaned up after the frat boys vacated.”
The front screen door slammed. Jude lifted her head and called, “Toni?”
The strong scent of flowers wafted in and a female voice answered from the bedrooms. “Yeah?”
A moment later Toni came out to the kitchen and Jude introduced them. Toni's long, dark hair bounced and caught the light and she wore lots of makeup, particularly white eye shadow, pale pink lipstick, and mascara so thick it clumped on the tips of her lashes. Bebe recognized her scent as Chantilly. Her shapely figure was enhanced by a knit shirt that tucked into her tightly fitting hip-huggers and was held in place by a macramÃ© belt, the ends of which hung down past her knees.
“Hey,” she said, cheerfully. “The stuff on the bed's yours?”
“Yeah, I just got here.”
“Fresh off the farm,” Jude told Toni with a wink.
“Vineyard, actually,” Bebe said, feeling a bit defensive.
“Oh,” Toni said, appreciatively. “Did you bring any to share?”
“No, we raise the grapes, but we don't crush them.”
Toni shrugged. “That's a shame.” She took a plastic tray from the freezer and twisted out some ice cubes into a glass. “I got here early on Monday to look for a job.” She opened the freezer to return the halfempty tray, and Jude reminded her to refill it.
Toni complied, spilling water down the front of the fridge onto the floor as she slid it back into the freezer. “Oops,” she said. Then she dropped a dishrag onto the wet spot on the floor, slid it around with the toe of her shoe, and put the rag back in the sink. “There,” she said, popping open a can of Tab and filling the glass as she walked away.
Jude watched her go. “Bring back all the glasses you have in your room.”
Toni's answer was to sip the carbonated foam from the top of her glass before it spilled over.
“I guess you know classes start Tuesday,” Jude said. “What's your major?”
“I haven't declared one yet. I've thought about nursing.”
“Why settle for being a nurse?” Jude asked in disdain. “Nursing is for smart women who think only men can be doctors. You should go to medical school.”
Bebe sipped her Fresca and shrugged. “I don't think med school is for me.”
Jude leaned back against the kitchen counter. “I'm going to law school after I graduate. I'm not going to depend on a man to take care of me.” She took another long drink, and said, “Not like my mom did. They always leave you,” she said, pointing her beer at Bebe. “Always. And usually with a kid.”
Bebe thought of her father and brothers. “Not
leaves. My mom and dad are still married, and my brothers are okay. There are still some responsible guys out there.”
Jude considered Bebe, appraising her as if for the first time. “Well, I don't know any.” She pushed off from the counter and left the kitchen.
“I have to go to the clinic. I'll take you down there later. You'll want to know where it is.” She looked back and said, “If Mary Kathleen shows up while I'm gone, show her the extra bed in my room.”
Bebe went into her room to unpack and found Toni lounging on her bed with a glamour magazine. She acknowledged Bebe and went back to scanning the photos.
“Sorry, I needed the big dresser,” she said. “I'll share, if you want.”
“This one's big enough,” Bebe said, gesturing to a distressed little four-drawer dresser covered with carvings and graffiti. She pulled open a drawer. “Gross.”
Toni looked up over the top of her magazine. “I guess those guys were out of control last year. It smells like they tried to roast a goat in the living room.”
Something on the wall caught Bebe's eye. It was a faded ghost of a design or lettering beneath the paint, and she picked at it with her fingernail. The paint flaked away to reveal wallpaper beneath.
“I wouldn't do that,” Toni warned. “The landlord will take it out of our deposit.”
There was a knock at the door, and they both went to answer it. A young woman with a dishwater-blonde pixie cut wearing a peasant blouse and long skirt looked at them through the screen door. She gripped the handle of an overnight case with both hands and addressed Toni.
“Hi, I'm Mare Kavanagh,” she said tentatively. “Are you Jude?”
Toni snorted. “Not on your life. But you're at the right house. Come on in.”
Mare pulled the door open and shuffled inside. A large suitcase, a box marked “art supplies,” and an easel waited on the porch. Toni and Bebe gathered the rest of her belongings, and Toni led the way to Jude's room.