This very short story (1000 words) is adapted from a scene in my first novel, the still to be discovered and published, A BRIEF AFFAIR.
by Bill Fullerton
In Mark Malone’s considered opinion, things could be a helluva lot worse. It was a beautiful, early fall day in New York. He’d gotten out of the VA hospital and now sat in a coffee shop on Lexington Avenue staring across the table at Gwen Davis. The third-year nursing student at nearby Bellevue seemed to be talking about school. This is damn tough duty, he thought, but someone’s got to do it.
With just a touch of autumn crispness in the air, Gwen had on a long sleeved, burgundy turtleneck with a navy-blue vest and matching mini-skirt. Mark didn't know fashion, but knew what he liked, and he liked what he saw—a lot.
There was something special about her today, something he could sense, but not identify. Not only did Gwen look good, she seemed brighter, happier and, if possible, even more desirable.
Since they met back during the summer, she’d become a regular visitor to his room. Whenever possible, they'd leave the hospital. She’d always made it clear, however, that to keep both her family and Johnny, her long-time fiancé, happy, she needed to spend time home almost every weekend. This often resulted in serious schedule juggling.
Well, I hope she thinks it's worth the strain, he thought, while half-listening to Gwen's complaints. After days of hospital boredom, he liked going out with her and splurging on a good time, something she also seemed to enjoy.
Last week, she’d warned him a major exam in Medical-Surgical nursing was coming on Monday and she had to put in some serious book time. A special study group would meet Sunday night in the dorm. She promised to try and get back early enough so they could go out for a few hours.
While Mark admitted to being disappointed he said that, having battled higher education for three years before volunteering for Vietnam, he understood. To his relief, she’d managed to come back in time for them to catch the new Mel Brooks film. Now they were in a small booth at Milton’s Coffee Shop near her dorm eating hamburgers and talking.
"Are you listening to me?” She gave him a look of tolerant exasperation.
"Not really. I do believe you were in the middle of a major rant and rave about the idiocy of one of your teachers, but don't press me for details."
She nodded. "So if you weren't paying rapt attention to my every word, what were you doing?"
"To tell the truth, I was thinking how great you look today, and how I'm glad you got back in time for us to go out, and how much I wish you didn't have that damn test tomorrow."
"Why, thank you." Gwen seemed both pleased and surprised by the unexpected compliment. "I'm really sorry about the test. Believe me, I'd much rather be spending the evening with you than with a study group."
"I think that's what they call a back-handed compliment. But I'll take whatever compliments I can get."
They both laughed. "Who knows,” he said, “maybe it's a good thing you're busy. You look so good today, you might run the risk of me trying to seduce you."
Gwen’s enticing brown eyes studied him until, in a calm, almost matter-of-fact voice, she said, "Well, if you want to do something like that, you'll have to ask."
Mark sat dumbfounded. He had been joking, well, maybe half-joking. It was supposed to be one of those things you said to a girl to let her know you wanted to make love with her without having to come right out and say so.
According to the small town, southern script he’d always followed, the boy asked. The girl then ignored the remark, acted insulted, or smiled coyly while shaking her head, hinting that while not now, maybe someday.
For whatever reason, this girl hadn't followed that time-honored script. Instead, she’d all but dared him to proposition her.
Over the past few months they’d gotten into some heavy make-out sessions, but nothing more. After all, she was the proverbial nice Jewish girl from Queens, and engaged. Making out with a beat-up vet you liked and felt sorry for might be okay, but nothing more. Now this.
Wish I understood what the hell’s happening, he thought. But if this is how they do things up here in the big city, I'll try to go along with the program.
With Gwen’s gaze still boring into him, Mark stammered, "Sure. Well then, uh, so how about it? I mean, would you like to, you know, spend the night with me, some weekend?"
To his astonishment, he heard her say, "All right. But what were you thinking about in terms of when and where?"
It all seemed a bit unreal. After practically inviting him to ask, Gwen had said, yes, and now wanted to know when and where.
"As soon as possible, of course," he said, rushing his words. He paused, smiled at his own nervousness, then continued in a more normal voice. "But as I may have mentioned, I'm a stranger here myself. I've got no idea about the where part."
For just a moment, she seemed to analyze the situation. "Next weekend should be okay. Johnny's going out of town with his mother, so there’ll only be my parents to worry about. And I think my friend Sue once stayed in a hotel around here with one of her boyfriends."
"I’ll try to check on the hotel with her tonight. But for now, the Fundamentals of Medical-Surgical Nursing calls. If I don't get back to the dorm and hit the books, I'll be an ex-nursing student."
Mark took the hint, stood, and then watched as Gwen collected her purse and slid out of the booth, the movement revealing most of her long, shapely legs. It might still be a beautiful, early fall day in New York, but in his considered opinion, things had somehow just gotten a helluva lot better.