Saturday, November 21, 2009

A SPECIAL PRESENT: for your special someone


Bill Fullerton

I was halfway between Sears and flat broke, sitting alone in the mall’s noisy food-court, eating a tasteless salad, and wondering why I let my mother con me into getting dressed and driving into town with her to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.

She was right, of course. My mother is always right. And to prove the point, I had somehow managed to finish all my Christmas shopping. That’s good, because I could be a little busy in a few weeks.

Today’s shopping cost me more than just max’ed out credit cards. My feet hurt, my back ached, I felt tired, bloated and miserable. Of course, I felt that way long before hitting the mall. Being eight months pregnant can do that to a girl.

Make that an unmarried, pregnant girl. Of course, I’m no girl either, although it does seem like I stopped growing a lot sooner than the owner’s manual told my parent’s to expect. In her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature decided five-foot nothing was more than enough for Becky Miller to handle. So there’s not a whole lot of me to pack around a baby that keeps getting bigger by the hour and seems anxious to get out and look around.

It’s not like I didn’t know better. This will be my second baby. My first, Kylie, is two going on twenty and can’t wait to play with her baby brother. But my knowing better and doing what’s smart isn’t the same thing. At least it isn’t for me, not after falling in love with someone I may never see again.

The new baby’s daddy, Matt Hampton, never knew I was in love with him. And I wasn’t, not at first. We’d known each other forever. Of course, everybody knows everybody else out where we live. In high school, we fooled around a little, but didn’t date. A couple years after graduation, I got married instead of going back to college while he dropped out and joined the service.

Last December, I showed up at my parents’ house with Kylie, and a black eye. Stuart, my rich, good-looking, socio-path husband, gave me both.

A few days later, Matt came limping home with his left leg in a cast. Something very bad happened wherever he’d been doing whatever it was he did. Kylie and I went over to visit him the next day.

A lot of girls have had a crush on Matt. He was an all-everything jock with a boyish smile and a teasing attitude that was just a little cocky. The Matt I saw that day was still blonde and good-looking, but he was no boy. His skin wasn’t tan so much as a hard, weathered brown. There were tiny creases around the corners of his eyes. And sometimes those familiar blue-eyes had this funny, distant look. Most of all, the cockiness was gone, replaced by a quiet self-confidence.

In other words, he was a man—and I wanted him.

The next afternoon, I went back, without Kylie. We were alone, and soon making love.

"Becky Miller, you have the most delectable boobies.” He interrupted a very thorough job of nuzzling my breasts to say that, and was now smiling at me. My sweater and bra were off; my jeans and panties were about to follow. We were on the carpet in the living room. A few small logs burned in the nearby fireplace. The lights on the big Christmas tree were turned on. Just like me.

I stroked his short, blonde hair and grinned. "Don’t give me that, crap. I'm an original member of the Itty Bitty Titty Club.”

"Size don't mean diddly. I’ve always told you that." Matt used the tip of his tongue to emphasize the point. "Quality means a lot more that quantity. Believe me, lady, yours are first-rate. In fact, while these prime samples of female flesh may not be the biggest, they are, without doubt, still the finest pair I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying."

I don’t mind having small breasts. In fact, I prefer mine to the big udders most guys seem to go nuts over. That’s just as well. Even after having Kylie, there was little change in mine. At most, they went from hard-fried eggs to a couple sunny-side up. Matt’s gentle teasing and compliments reminded me how sweet he could be, and how much I wanted him.

"If that’s what you think, then there’s more than just your leg that needs attention. Lay back and let’s see if I can give you an early Christmas present."

When it ended, I was content, tingling all over, and stretched out on his chest. It was a good place to be. I could feel his heartbeat slowing while my body moved to the rhythm of his breathing.

Matt broke the silence. “To me you look a lot more like a cute elf than old Santa Claus. But I sure do like your Christmas presents and the way you deliver ‘em.”

After that we were together almost every day. Since his parents both worked, most of the time at his home, although we go out on dates. I’m sure everybody in town figured they knew what was going on between us. After all, everyone in our town knows everyone else and what their fellow citizens are doing. But I never heard of anyone so much as raising an eyebrow, much less objecting. That included our parents. In fact, I think that, like everyone else, they approved.

Still, Matt and I knew it was just a brief affair, nothing more. He would return to the service, I’d go back to college. No strings attached. That’s the way it always had been between us.

Then I fell in love with him. It’d been coming on for some time, but I wouldn’t admit what I was feeling. Sure Matt and I had changed. But we hadn’t changed that much, had we? There’d been no chemistry between us back in high school, so why now? I kept telling myself that what I felt was a combination of friendship, sympathy, and sex, not love.

All that ended the night he beat-up Stuart, my husband who had beaten me up—twice. It happened the week after the divorce papers were filed. We were at a club with some friends. Matt still had his cast on, so we were just listening to the band.

Stuart came over to our booth and started carrying on. Matt never moved, just told Stuart, who was almost leaning on him to get closer to me, that he should leave. When Stuart ignored him and kept yelling at me, Matt hit him several times, real fast, just how and where I’m not sure. Stuart let out this funny, gurgling noise and sank to his knees beside our table.

Matt put a hand on Stuart’s shoulder and must have done something, because I saw Stuart grimace. Then Matt pulled him close and asked, in this dead-calm voice, if he was ever going to bother me again. Stuart’s a big guy, and believe me, he’s strong. But I could see fear in his eyes as he mumbled, no.

From then on, I was hooked. All my life, I’d felt in total control around men. It’s not my looks. I’m short, flat-chested, and no great beauty. But guys seldom seem to notice. I like to think it’s my eyes, and smile, and personality. Maybe those do play a part, but most of it is my being a total flirt, and having a nice butt.

Everything changed when Stuart beat me up. After the second time, when he started for Kylie’s room before I got him to turn back on me, I would feel this twinge of fear and uncertainty around men I didn’t know. But the fear vanished whenever I was with Matt. Then I was my old self, feeling in control, safe, complete. I’d always liked Matt, now I loved him. My problem was how to convince him he loved me.

Then he told me he wasn’t just going back to the service, but back to wherever he was when he got wounded. He felt responsible for the deaths of two friends. “I trusted someone who betrayed us. My friends are dead. He’s still there.”

I thought I was going to have a breakdown. This wasn’t fair. What scared me most was the absolute certainty he didn’t give a damn whether he lived or died, just so long as he killed that other person first. The only thing that gave him any second thoughts was my reminder that he was an only child. I begged him to think of what his death would mean to his family.

But I knew he wouldn’t budge.

After Christmas, he went back to the service to spend a few months getting his leg in shape and preparing to return to his old assignment. Meanwhile, I re-entered college and considered my very limited options.

In April, he came home on leave prior to going back to wherever that other guy was. I met him with a big smile, and a body that was all his and free of any trace of birth control pills. If the next few weeks were the last I would ever have with him, maybe I would have his child. If his parents, who I dearly loved, lost their son, they might at least have his grandchild. Maybe that would ease their grief, our grief.

Now, eight months later, Matt may be dead or alive, I don’t know. But I’ve got his child, his son. “Matt Hampton, Jr.,” I whispered the name, smiling at the sound. Then I heard myself continuing, “…only child of the late Matt Hampton,” and began to cry.

“This seat taken?” I didn’t look up, just shook my head and kept searching for a napkin.

Someone pulled out the chair next to me and sat down. “Is the food here that bad, or are you just sad to see me?”

Who the hell was this idiot? I turned, and was staring at someone who looked just like, Matt Hampton. For maybe the first time in my life, I was speechless. Just breathing was hard enough. Before I could think of something to say, he leaned over and kissed me. It was soft and gentle, and seemed to last forever, which was way too short for me.

Nothing made sense. “What are you doing here?”

He smiled. “Glad to see you, too, Miss Miller.”

Then it registered. “You’re alive!” I threw my arms around his neck, buried my face against his chest, and really began crying.

I didn’t want to look up. The face I saw might not be Matt’s. This could all be a dream. But I recognized his hard body, his special smell, and his gentle touch as he stroked my hair.

When I worked up the courage to look, all I could say was, “Really, what happened?”

“I quit.”

“You can’t just quit—can you?”

“My mission was accomplished. My time was about up. I told the bosses I had personal business to attend to, and quit.”

“Am I that personal business?”

“Damn straight. I got a message a few weeks ago from old Dad. Don’t ask how. Anyway, he filled me in on what you did and how things have been, well, developing since I left. He said you were way too good for me, and that while there may have been a few bastards in our family, they were all self-made men, not accidents of birth.”

“He shouldn’t have done that. This was no accident,” I touched my belly. “I don’t want you here because you feel sorry for me.”

“I don’t. I’m just—“ The smile left his face. To my amazement, Matt looked away, but not before I saw a tear roll down his cheek. After a moment, he wiped a hand down his face, turned back, and gestured toward my protruding middle. “You love me, that much?”

I nodded.

He swallowed. “Becky, before leaving, I fought falling in love with you. It wasn’t easy, but I wasn’t sure I’d make it back. Nearly didn’t.” He almost looked embarrassed. “Anyway, Dad didn’t let me know about you and the baby until after I finished. He was right to wait. Because since then, I swear, you and the baby, and Kylie, and just life itself, that’s all I can think about. So I had to get out. I want life now, not more death. And it’s because of you, because I love you. Oh, God, how I love you. Becky, will you please marry me?”

I nodded and we were hugging and I was crying again all the while grinning like I’d won the lottery. In a way, I had. We kissed. It made the first one seem like a chaste peck on the cheek. When we came up for air, I patted my very big belly. “I’m afraid it won’t be much of a honeymoon.”

“That’s okay. I’m counting on having a long life to make up for lost time. When’s the baby due?”

“Well, if your son will wait that long, around Christmas.”

“A boy baby, at Christmas.” He seemed pleased with the prospect. “And we’re not even Jewish.”

“You’re an idiot. But I do love you.”

“And I love you, too. Remember last year, when we first made love and I said I liked your presents and the way you delivered them? Well, I still do.” He reached out and laid the palm of his hand on my belly. “It’s just that I never counted on such a special Christmas present.”

I began to cry again, and pressed his hand against my belly. The baby picked that moment to kick. Matt grinned, stood up, and began helping me out of my chair. “I think that was a not-too-subtle hint from our son that we better get moving on this marrying business. Where’s the nearest jewelry store? We need to buy some rings.”


Bill Fullerton has been a newspaper columnist, government paper-pusher, oilfield roustabout, and served in Vietnam.

His short stories have appeared in: Rose and Thorn, New Works, Review, DeadMule, Chick Flicks, Nibbler, and Muscadine Lines. Long Story Short named one of his short stories, Story of the Month.

LSS also ran an excerpt of his second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age love story that was a semi-finalist (work-in-progress) for the Faulkner Award, and a finalist in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project contest.

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