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I met Randall at a college mixer. I wasn’t a student anymore, but I was there. Maybe I was in the neighborhood; my dissertation counselor lived on campus. Mistake, obviously. At twenty-three, the antics of co-eds seemed already far removed from my newfound woman-of-the-world concerns. I stayed in a corner by the kitchen and staked a claim on a cardboard crate of Cabernet. No one disputed me. Aside from a few evaluating looks – short unembellished dark hair called attention in this world of beauty-queen blond tresses and highlights – no one paid any attention to me, and I paid attention to no one.
Except for Randall. Among all the wanna-be posturing, why should his strike me as special? He was the center of the party, his laughter rang like the sweep of a bow over cello strings, the square shape of his broad shoulders filled the crowded living room. Just another jock, slugging beer like there was no graduation.
But he wasn’t just anything. Not really. And there was something eerie about him. Something familiar. Something –
The smile. Straight-up James Dean. The way he held a cigarette at the corner of his mouth – Gregory Peck. The wiggle of the eyebrows – who? Bogie? Spencer Tracy? The hooded eyes of Brando, the pout too. This guy was like a fifties movie rerun.
Eventually he drifted my way. I watched him crouch in front of the refrigerator, questing for a six-pack. I stepped into the empty kitchen just as he popped open the tab. He saw me at the door and raised the Heineken at me. Pure Bogie.
I slapped the table, an imaginary gameshow buzzer. “Here’s looking at you, kid. Bogie, 1942.”
He grinned. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
I slapped my table buzzer again. “Joe E. Brown, 1958.”
“1959, actually. Some Like It Hot.”
The perfect grin sprouted a tiny crack, and through that crack I sneaked in. “Who are you when you’re not Bogie or Peck?”
For a moment it looked like Dean might make a comeback. But then – maybe the alcohol – his eyes met mine and I saw emptiness. “Nobody,” he said, and I believed him.
He came home with me and stayed. I prepared to wait out the pretense, thought one day he’d realize it wasn’t necessary. Not with me. And then time ran out.
Armed with a peed-on stick of plastic in its plastic wrapper, I sat him down and explained. No abortion. No, I didn’t expect anything from him. I’d made my decision, he had to make his own.
He kneeled at my feet, spread my legs, put a hand then his cheek against my belly.
“You can’t hear anything yet,” I said.
But he didn’t get up. He just held me tight, tight. Uncomfortably so. And I let him. This was goodbye.
He left a note. “If he’s a boy, please name him Ralph. Tell him I did love him. And I’m sorry.”
published 28 January 2013
click below for more stories in this series:
• Years of Study (#2)
• The First in Anyone's Memory (#3)