I couldn’t believe I was standing here waiting for a cab to take me to a destination I wholly dreaded. I was miserable about my father’s decision to send me to Fort Starch Military School.
But my mother was inconsolable. Our conversation that morning was not much more than tears and hugs. The old man stayed out of our way. He had barely spoken to me in anything more than grunts since he laid down the law.
The waiting taxicab had blown the horn relentlessly and finally, I embraced my mother for the final time. I had no more words nor did she and as I walked away, I could hear her desperate, heart-wracking sobs.
On that day, a confused and, frankly, terrified young man left his home with only the murkiest expectations for what lay ahead. All I knew is that my unquenchable desire to pull pranks had broken up my family and landed me in what might as well have been a prison, at least that is what I anticipated.
Six years later and at last I was returning but not with the stench of a sentence served nor with the guilt of destroying my family. I am pleased to report that the terrified boy was gone and in his place was a confident, disciplined young man. Even I never thought the day would come where I would admit it, but military training was the best thing that could have happened to me. The first year was rough and I learned more about pranks than I could ever want to know, whether it be a short-sheeted bed or being on the receiving end of a swirlie. But I also discovered I could take pride in accomplishments that did not involve taking apart and reassembling a full jeep on the roof of the barracks. I am in the best physical shape I could be in and my mind is sharp and filled with ambition for what the future holds.
I enter a silent house though I notice right away it seems to be set up for a party. Outside, the barbeque is fired up but Dad is snoozing in his grilling apron. I just saw Mom and Dad at my graduation but it is still a shock to see the age on my father’s face. I have become a man and he is fast becoming an old man.
I find Mother in her usual place in the garden, as always in her white bathrobe. Her face also shows weary wrinkles but she still chooses to wear her hair long and free. I have missed my parents so much and at the same time missed out on so much of their lives. I wonder, do they feel the same way about me? At that moment, Mom looks up and sees me and the light in her eyes answers my question. I have been missed and it feels good to be home. She embraces me. “Sebastian, you are here just in time for your welcome home party!” Mom announces. “But you’d better get your father up so he can start on the hamburgers.”
Dad isn’t too happy about being woken at first but when he realizes it is me, he grins and stands up, offering me his hand to shake. “Dad, the grill is smoking, I think Mom wants you to start cooking,” I suggest and he gets right to work. “We’ve got a big party set up, son. Can you grab some nectar from downstairs and stock the bar for me?” I nod and head to the basement. Thinking about the bar takes my mind in one direction only…I may have grown and changed but there was one constant that had remained in my mind all these years: Bebe Hart.
I let my mind drift as I took care of the last-minute details of the party. As soon as this welcome-home gig ended, I intended to light out to Bebe’s bar so I could finally apologize for not showing up for work so many years ago. I imagine she knew I had been shipped out to Fort Starch; we lived in a small town and she surely would have heard from someone. But I was looking forward to setting things right and then setting the stage to ask her out.
Imagine my shock when I answered the doorbell and there, standing on my doorstep, the woman herself, looking as beautiful as ever. So beautiful, in fact, that I am left speechless. How many times, laying in my bunk in the barrack, had I replayed this very scenario, our reunion at long last? But in my fantasy, it was only the two of us not three. Yet here she was with a date! Geoffrey Landgraab, of all people. Wasn’t he married? Wasn’t he a little old? What was he doing at my house with my girl?
I am not the only one surprised. Geoffrey’s estranged wife, Nancy, is apparently not expecting to see him either. After nearly choking to death on her hamburger, she flings down her food and storms out.
Bebe and Geoffrey don’t let Nancy’s departure affect them one bit. After downing a drink or two, they hit the dance floor. I try not to stare but it is making me crazy seeing the woman I have been dreaming about for six years with my neighbor having such a good time. I don’t know what I expected to happen in the years I was gone–it wasn’t as if Bebe knew I was pining for her. Geez, I was just a teenage kid when I left.
But the more I watch them dancing and laughing and drinking–clearly loving each other’s company–the more furious I become. I find my mind drifting in a direction it had not gone in some time. Suddenly, I am thinking of all the ways I can avenge myself on Geoffrey–how would he like to find his car dismantled on the roof of his house? But that was a child’s game and I didn’t need to play those kinds of games anymore. I decide to take a more manly and forthright approach.
“Hello, Bebe.” Well, not the most exciting opening line ever. But the generous smile she gives me makes my stomach do flip flops. “Thank you for coming to my parents’ party.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I can’t believe your all grown up, Sebastian, and so handsome, too!” My cheeks feel like they are engulfed in flames when she says those words. Me, handsome? To her? What would Geoffrey think? I decide right then and there that I don’t care what he thinks. My goal has not changed. I am going to make Bebe Hart my woman no matter what.
I spend long, hard days at the Officer’s Training Center at Fort Gnome, the military base in Sunset Valley.
But my nights are spent at Bebe’s bar. She is always happy to see me but then it seems like she is always happy to see all her customers. I don’t know how to make it clear to her that I am only there to see her. Sometimes, she lets me buy her a drink when it is slow and we talk. But we are inevitably interrupted by a customer demanding her full attention.
Then Happy Hour comes to an end and I know what is next. Bebe will receive a phone call and she will talk quietly into the phone with a goofy smile on her face and I just know it is him, my rival, Landgraab. What a jerk! Why can’t Bebe see he is a two-timer and that he will hurt her just like he hurt Nancy. I wish I had the guts to say it to Bebe’s face. But trash-talking her boyfriend won’t win me her affection. I have to top him, somehow…someway.
Now my next choice might seem a little odd but it seems that one things women like is a man with a sense of humor. I decide to test that theory when Bebe invites me to a pool party at the bar.
The delighted sound of giggling meets me at the front door. Bebe thinks my attire is very funny and that is the exact reaction I am looking for. I want to catch her off her guard so my next move will come as a complete surprise.
“Oh, Sebastian, they’re so lovely! And so thoughtful, you shouldn’t have,” she exclaims with joy. I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.
So good in fact that Geoffrey’s disparaging look and snarky remark have no effect on me.
“Bebe, is this clown bothering you?” he asks, muscling his way between us.
“Not at all. He brought me a wonderful gift, see?” Bebe holds up the flowers for Geoffrey to see.
“Why is this punk bringing you flowers, might I ask?” Geoffrey gives me the stinkeye but I hold my ground with a self-satisfied grin.
“He is just being nice, Geoffrey. Sebastian’s a good guy, he’s not a punk.” Bebe says with sincerity.
“When you’re done being played by this moron, I’ll be at home,” he says, clearly blowing her off.
“I’ll be here…having fun, Geoffrey, something that is harder and harder to do with you!” She calls after him.
As soon as he is gone, Bebe takes my hand. “Come on, I’m going to fix us the wildest drinks I can dream up. Who needs that stick in the mud when I have my good old friend, Sebastian?” She leads me to the bar and then goes through some fantastic moves, spinning bottles and blowing fire. I watch, fascinated by her technique and just how fantastic she looks in her bikini.
I’m not sure what is in the drink but I have one, then another and then another and the next thing I know, I am inviting Bebe into the hot tub. I’m amazed when she waves to another bartender to take over and steps out from behind the bar and heads to the deck.
Strangely, her phone rings and rings but she never picks it up. I know it must be Geoffrey wondering why she hasn’t come back to his house. But we are having a wonderful time, laughing and talking. Finally, the other bartender shouts “Last Call” and I turn to Bebe, thinking now might be the time to steal a kiss. But she is climbing out of the hot tub and now she is talking on the phone. “No, I don’t think I will be, Geoffrey,” she says and hangs up. “Wow, its late! I had such a great time with you, Sebastian. It is wonderful to hang out with my old friend!” I nod, smiling. Friend, is that a good thing? Maybe all she thinks of me is a friend…should I ask her out? But before I can, she is out the door, waving good-night to her co-workers and the other patrons. I lost my nerve and lost my chance.
The next day is a tough one at work, the training really wears me out. But I don’t let my weariness stop me from going to Bebe’s in search of her. The other bartender is there and before I can even ask, she gives me a sly grin and says, “I know you don’t come here for the cheap drinks, buddy.”
“What makes you say that?” I ask, trying to sound innocent.
“It’s her day off and you can find her at the gym!” The bartender replies, smirking. I sheepishly nod and wander out. If my feelings for Bebe are so obvious to others, does she know how I desire her? Maybe I’m the one getting played?
I arrive at the three-story gym and begin looking for her. Will she be glad to see me? Is she waiting for Geoffrey?
I spot her napping on a lounge chair. I don’t see Geoffrey anywhere in sight and that gives me a little confidence but not enough to disturb her. I feel foolish coming here to seek her out and decide I might as well get a workout in. Maybe I can catch up to her at the bar, later.
I think about her every time I lift a barbell or do a leg lift. I wish she would walk by and see how hard I am exerting myself. I want to tell her that it is for her, that I want to look as hot to her as she does to me. But that would make me sound like a meathead. Its bad enough that I’m practically stalking her, I think as I head to the showers. Then I pass the exercise room and see her doing aerobics. My heart flips. I’ve got to say something, I can’t let her get away again.
“Bebe! What a surprise, I mean, haha, seeing you here…instead of, haha at the bar!” I sound like a complete idiot.
“Sebastian! If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were following me.” Bebe is smiling in her generous way and I feel very encouraged.
“Would you be mad if I was? Following you, I mean. Because…I kind of am.” I feel my face getting flushed and I have a hard time saying the words out loud, will they make me sound like some kind of weirdo?
“Kind of?” She laughs. “Are you kind of in love with me, Sebastian Notorious?”
My mouth is completely dry. I open it to form words but all that comes out is “…kind of…”
She laughs again. “Well, maybe you’ll kind of like–” and Bebe, my gorgeous dream girl, leans in close, so close I can feel her sweet breath ruffling my mustache and then her warm, sensuous mouth is next to mine and for the first time in my life I kiss a woman. It was definitely worth waiting for Bebe, her kiss is the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced.
“Now are you going to ask me on a proper date?” she asks and we both laugh. “Seriously, Sebastian. A date?”
“Huh?” I am lost in a reverie of her soft lips. But I manage to pull it together and mumble something about the new restaurant across town.
It was the longest week of my life while I waited for Bebe to have another night off. But at last she met me at Immaculate Consumption. I did not realize I was supposed to get a reservation for this happening new spot.
“I think you look very handsome in your uniform, Sebastian but it is nice to see you looking a little more relaxed,” Bebe comments while we wait for a table to open. I am stunned by how lovely my date looks and I tell her so…many times. I have a lot of time to mention it because the wait for our table goes on and on.
We chat for awhile but I can see Bebe is getting anxious and I am too.
“Say, why don’t we come back here another time, you know…when we can get a reservation,” I say sheepishly. “I’m sorry I didn’t think to make one. If you want to come to my house, I can fix you something for dinner. My parents aren’t home.”
“Your parents?” Bebe sighs. “Sometimes you really make me feel like I’m robbing the cradle, Sebastian. But okay, let’s head over there. I’m tired of waiting.”
I am so pleased to discover my parents are, in fact, still out. Bebe is too and we forsake dinner for some alone time in my bedroom, which I am so grateful my mother has remodeled with a normal size bed, instead of the loft bed of my teenage years. Before the night is over, we have proven to each other that our age difference won’t get in the way of romance. It is my first experience as a lover and I am over the moon with joy that at last, all my fantasies with Bebe have become reality.
Bebe is a little more comfortable with this reality than I am. She thinks nothing of leaving my bedroom, walking right into the living room where my father is watching television. She is wearing nothing but her slip and I leap up and pull her back into the bathroom, a wild look of fear and embarrassment on my face.
“Bebe, my Dad is out there! I–I–he doesn’t know that you are here, that you, uh, well…you know, stayed here.” I fumble through my explanation for pulling her back and I am so ashamed that she might think I am embarrassed of her. I know it is stupid, I’m a grown man and why shouldn’t my girlfriend stay over? Surely my parents won’t think any less of her or of me? We’re in love, after all. But maybe I should have told them that first?
“Your parents don’t know we’re dating, do they? Is it because I’m so much older than you?” Bebe asks in a frank manner.
“My mom is older than my dad, it is not that big a deal. I just haven’t mentioned you yet, I guess I wanted to see how things would go before I made some kind of big announcement.”
“We’re just dating, Sebastian. You don’t have to make a big announcement, its not like we’re getting married.”
I stare down at the floor for a moment. I have waited so long for Bebe to be my girl. So what am I waiting for? Why don’t I ask her to marry me? Probably because she will think I am a complete lunatic for asking her to be my wife on our first date.
“Okay, I will tell them. But Bebe, I need to talk to you about something urgent. Can you meet me tonight at the private cove behind my house? I’ll be there when you get off work.”
As I had hoped, the cove was completely deserted. I waited patiently, rehearsing in my mind over and over what I would say to Bebe. I had done this so many times before, had imagined conversations with her and I’m not sure why I got so bunged up. Bebe was the sweetest, most good woman in the world, why was I so afraid of saying the wrong thing to her? Finally she arrived and we sat in the cool sand, gazing heavenward at the stars.
“Okay, so what is so urgent, Sebastian?” Bebe asks and I know the moment of truth has come. But I am besieged by a fit of nervous laughter each time I try to speak up. Bebe starts laughing too and I am thinking this is not going the way I want it to. “What? What is so funny?” she asks, giggling like a loon now.
“Its not funny, it is very, very serious.” Okay, I think, let’s do this right. I stand up and pull her up with me.
I reach out and stroke the soft skin of her beautiful face. “Bebe Hart. I have loved you for so long–”
“What?” she says, genuinely surprised.
“Truly. I fell in love with you the first time I egged your house–”
“Hmmm, more romantic words were never spoken,” she said, her eyes twinkling.
“Let me finish, please. Because I might not have the courage to ask you again. Bebe Hart. Will you be my wife?”
It seemed like an eternity under the stars that night while I waited for Bebe’s answer. She realized how serious I was and she took my hand and then kissed me. “Sebastian Notorious, I would be honored to be your wife.” We didn’t waste much time planning the wedding. The Harts wanted to have the reception at the bar so Mom and Dad offered to host the ceremony at their home.
It was a very humble affair. We didn’t have anyone officiate the ceremony but instead just exchanged simple vows we had written ourselves.
I am thrilled to have the blessing of Gus and Dorie Hart. Her father watches us and he is both pleased and proud.
Likewise my parents could not be more excited. They never once questioned the age difference between me and Bebe, instead they welcomed her into their home and made it clear that we could live there as long as we wanted. Mom said as far as she was concerned, the house was ours now and maybe she and Dad would find something new. But I didn’t want them to move out. The house was large, it could easily accommodate us all.
When I finally slip the ring on my bride’s finger, I realize that I have truly become a man today. I think about my past, all the pranks, and all the years at Fort Starch and it has all added up to this moment when I can present myself to the woman I love and say “Please take me for better or for worse.” And she says yes and I know this is the single best day of my entire life.