Short story from Bill Tope


As he sat back in the pastel plastic chair in the hospital waiting room, Rob’s mind drifted back many years, through the wind-swept memories of his youth, to his one great love. Amy was the first girl who had ever paid any attention to him. She was not only his first, but his last love as well, if truth be told, for he had never found a woman who could replace her.

. . . . .

Rob didn’t realize it at the time, but Amy had set her sights on him, as predaciously as a falcon. Rob hadn’t stood a chance. Girls had never paid Rob any mind before. He was tall and skinny and awkward and his complexion not so good. So when the terminally cute girl walked up to him in the cafeteria at the college where they were both freshmen, he had no clue.

“Wanna go out some time?” she asked without preamble. He blinked at her with surprise, then actually looked behind him to see if she was talking to someone else. “You,” she said, punching him in the chest with a forefinger. “Do you wanta see Patton?” which was the hottest movie of 1970.

“Um…” he stammered.

“S’matter, can’t you talk?” she teased. “That’s okay,” she said. “I know sign language.” Her hands were a blur as she signed something or other; he was confused. What did this girl want? he wondered. She sighed. “Okay, let’s start over. I’m Amy.”

“I’m Rob,” he confessed, finally finding his voice.

“I know who you are,” she told him. “I asked the guy you were talking to yesterday.” Rob’s mind scrambled. Who could that be? He hardly talked to anyone on campus. “Kevin,” she added, solving the mystery for him. Kevin was his lab partner in biology class.

Rob just stood there, confounded, first by being confronted by a pretty, silken-haired girl who showed an interest in him, and second, by finding he had nothing to say. He just stood there, like an idiot.

She sighed. “Look,” she said, scribbling in her notebook and then tearing off a sheet of paper. “Here’s my number. If you ever remember how to talk, gimme a call and we’ll check out George C. Scott, okay?” She held out the sheet, and when he didn’t reach for it, she shoved it into his hand, and then bounced away. Rob stared down at the paper and read aloud: “Amy Ferguson.”

. . . . .

“Hey Rob,” said Kevin, approaching their work station in the biology lab. “You want to come to a party tonight?” This was a Friday and Rob had eventually summoned the courage to call Amy and make a date.

“I…got a date,” said Rob, the unfamiliar words spilling out of his mouth.

“Right on, man,” said Kevin with a grin. “What are you doing?” When Rob explained, Kevin said, “Come after. The party won’t be getting started till after ten, and the movie will be over by then.” Kevin gave him directions to the party house and told him he’d see him there.

Although Rob was in college, he had never actually been on a date before. In high school, he had been preoccupied with studies and had found little time for girls. He was also shy as a maiden aunt. Amy had offered to drive this evening, so Rob wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of meeting her family. He stood at the window of his on-campus housing and waited. Suddenly a vintage green Kharman Ghia pulled up and a horn blared loudly. Rob stared at the vehicle and its occupant. The horn blared again and then again and he ran out of the apartment.

“S’matter,” quipped Amy, from behind the wheel. “You deaf?” Rob ran around the front of the car and climbed in.

“Hi,” Rob greeted his date breathlessly.

Without further adieu, Amy reached around behind Rob, grabbed a fistful of his dark red hair, and planted a big kiss on his lips. “Hi yourself,” she said. Rob thought he saw spots before his eyes.

In moments, they were clear of the campus and putt-putting down the highway leading into the tiny college town. That was, for Rob, his first kiss. He took a great breath and released it. As they motored through the suburbs encircling the town, Amy turned to Rob and asked, “Do you really want to see this flick?”

“What else do you have in mind?” he asked.

“There’s this hot new band at Casego’s,” she told him, referencing a bar where college kids hung out. “You up for it?” she asked.

Rob shrugged. “Sure. And if we get tired of that, I know where there’s a party tonight.” Rob had never been to a tavern before.

She grinned. “This date might not turn out to be a disaster after all.”

At the tavern, they were both carded, but as the drinking age in Wisconsin in 1970  was just 18, they passed inspection. Once inside, Amy seemed to know everyone, greeting others with a hip bump or a high five or a shoulder squeeze. Rob knew no one else.

In the two hours they spent at the tavern, the teens got only a little gassed. Rob had been drunk one time before: at a wedding when he was fifteen and he had gotten hopelessly ill. But he had been trying to get drunk then, and tonight it was less forced and more natural. They each had a half dozen beers. And they danced. Rob’s only experience there was also at weddings, when he’d been forced to dance with his aunties and grandmas and so on. He had never really done a slow dance before.

But, after an hour of cutting a rug, the band, which Amy characterized as “groovy,” broke into a slow number, a sixties tune by Jackie Wilson, called Higher and Higher. Rob relaxed into the arms of his date and Amy’s curvy body molded into his. Rob felt himself become aroused and he panicked.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” she whispered into his ear. “It’s natural.” And they danced on. Eventually, the tempo increased to a frenetic pace and Rob and Amy pulled apart and danced with abandon. Finally, she leaned into him and whispered, “Let’s blow this taco stand.” And they left.

. . . . .

The ride to the party was a wild one. Barely sober, Amy steered wildly, crossing the center line several times. And Rob, unaccustomed to alcohol, fell asleep in his seat. At length, they arrived at the party house, which was a huge old farmhouse, dating to before the American Civil War. Nudging Rob awake, Amy and her date staggered into the house, where the party was in full swing.

There must have been more than a hundred partyers, in various states of obliteration. Rob winced at the sudden bright light, and Amy took him by the hand and led him to an array of iced kegs. In short order, they were both armed with foam cups of beer. Rob tasted his libation; it was cold and delicious. There was a live band playing, too, in the backyard. The couple were drawn almost magnetically toward the music.

“It’s a tribute band,” proclaimed Amy, nodding to the beat.

“What do you mean?” asked Rob, who had never heard the term before.

“They play the songs of some famous band,” she explained, taking a sip of beer.

“Who’re they supposed to be?” he inquired.

Amy furrowed her brow and stared blankly at Rob. “Led Zeppelin,” she replied, as if speaking to a slow child.

Rob nodded. He’d heard of them, if memory served.

Once again, Amy seemed to be acquainted with almost everyone. A man, almost as tall and skinny as Rob, placed a hand on Amy’s arm and drew two fingers to his lips evocatively. She nodded, then grabbed Rob’s hand and followed the new man across the living room. They exited a side door and Rob shivered at the sudden cold of the November night air. They’d left their wraps inside. They came upon a forest of chrome and fabric lawn furniture and took seats among a half dozen other students, one of whom was in the process of rolling a joint. The joint roller, a young blond woman introduced to Rob as Misty, looked up at the newcomers and, recognizing Amy, smiled engagingly.

At length, her task complete, Misty inserted the joint between her lips and lighted it. The air was suddenly redolent with an acrid smell that even Rob recognized as the aroma of pot. Accepting the cigarette from her friend, Amy inhaled, held the smoke in for a long moment, then loudly expelled the fumes. She handed it to Rob. Thankfully, thought Rob, he didn’t spasmodically cough or vomit or do anything untoward. Like Amy and Misty, he held the smoke inside. By the time he let it trickle out of his mouth, he was, for the first time in his life, stoned on his ass. They stayed until they had both consumed two additional tokes apiece, at which time Amy took Rob’s hand and led him away. The couple walked the grounds surrounding the farmhouse for some time, hand in hand.

Finally, Amy murmured to Rob, “Hey, you okay?” Rob started. Someone was speaking to him. He discovered it was Amy. He listened. “You alright, Rob?” she asked again.

“Yeah,” he said a little too expansively. “I’m really great.” Suddenly his head felt too heavy for his shoulders and he had difficulty in keeping it upright.

“Columbian,” said Amy enigmatically.


“The dope,” explained Amy. “It’s Columbian. Good shit,” she said tersely.

Rob only nodded, trying to come to grips with being profoundly stoned.

“Good shit,” he parroted.

They continued to walk, until they came upon a green-painted bench, as one might find in a park. They took a seat, then sat in companionable silence for several minutes. Next, Amy began rubbing the muscles of Rob’s neck. This felt wonderful, he thought. Rob felt like he could fall fast asleep, until which time as Amy leaned in and kissed Rob on the lips. Expecting the unexpected now, Rob instantly reciprocated and ardently kissed her back. Amy rubbed the inside of his thigh with her fingers and he gasped. Rob pushed his fingers into the nether regions of Amy’s tight, faded jeans and it was her turn to gasp. Taking Rob’s hand once again, Amy led him back into the huge farmhouse. Picking their way through the humanity that was haphazardly strewn everywhere, it was as though they were the only sentient beings in the place. Amy, thought Rob, seemed to know where she was going. Had she been here before?

Coming to a steep staircase, they climbed upwards. Rob felt lightheaded. The second floor was divided into at least six bedrooms; choosing one at random, Amy knocked softly. A muffled voice emerged from within.

“Sorry,” she murmured contritely. Moving on, this was repeated twice more. Finally, they came upon a room which door was ajar. Peeping inside, they found it blessedly unoccupied. Drawing Rob inside, Amy turned on the light, fastened the lock and extinguished the light again. Without a word, they collapsed upon the bed.

, , , , ,

A full week transpired before Rob was able to reconnect with Amy. He called several times, but met with no success. In one instance, he was questioned by an older woman.

“Is this Troy?” she asked sharply.

Rob blinked into the receiver. Who was Troy? he wondered. “Um…no, this is Rob,” he said in reply. At various times, he was told that Amy was “unavailable” or “indisposed” or “away from the phone.” Finally, she called him.

“Hey,” she greeted him. “How ya doin’?”

“I’m good,” he replied. “Where you been?”

Silence. Then, “Out of town. I have a cousin who had a medical procedure,” Amy said.

“Medical procedure? Is he alright?”

“She,” Amy corrected. “And yes, thanks, she’s going to be alright now.”

“Where does she live?” Rob asked next.

Another brief pause. “Chicago.”

“When can I see you again?” he asked.

Once again a pause.

“Hey,” said Rob, “is everything okay?”

“Of course,” she replied at once. “How about Sunday? We could go to the park, feed the swans.”

“Okay. Do you want me to drive this time?”

“No, I’ll pick you up. Eleven okay?”

He agreed.

. . . . .

When Amy picked him up, Rob remembered to ask, “How’s your cousin?” It took a moment for Amy to remember her perfectly bogus explanation to Rob for being out of town.

“She’s great.”

“We’ll have to go to Chicago sometime; I haven’t been in ages. We can stop in and see her. What’s her name?”

Amy was baffled. She’d thought up the lie on the spur of the moment, but the enormity of her prevarication seemed to be just expanding. And she liked this boy; she didn’t want to lie to him anymore. “I don’t have a cousin in Chicago, Rob,” she admitted.

“Then why’d you tell me you did?” he asked.

Amy took a breath and released it. “Because, I wanted to account for my being out of town.”

“So Chicago was a lie?” he asked.

“No. Chicago was real enough.”

“Then there was no medical procedure?” he pressed further.

Shit! she thought. She’d have to come clean.

“No, Rob, there was a medical procedure, but my cousin didn’t have it, I did.”

Rob grew instantly concerned. “Are you alright?” he asked, touching her arm.

“Rob, I had an abortion,” she said emotionally.

“What!” he yelped. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve gone with you.”

“It wasn’t your baby, Rob,” she said. Was this guy really a biology major? she thought.

He paused, then said, “I knew that. But, I still would’ve gone with you, Amy.”

Her heart melted. “Really? Even though it wasn’t your child?” A tear seeped from one green eye. “I knew you were sweet,” he went on, “but I didn’t know how sweet.” She continued to drive. At length, they reached the park, climbed out of the Volkswagen and, with several loaves of bread in hand, advanced toward the lake.

“Was it Troy’s baby?” asked Rob at last.

She stopped. “How do you know about Troy?” she asked curiously.

Rob explained the queries from the call he’d made to her house.

“Did he go with you to Chicago?” asked Rob.

Amy shook her head no. “No, it would cramp Troy’s style,” she replied. “He already has another girlfriend.”

“Did he know you were pregnant?” he asked her.

She only nodded.

“Amy,” said Rob, “can I ask you a really personal question?”

She nodded again.

“Are you in love with this Troy guy?”

She thought for a long and, for Rob, unendurable moment. “I thought I was,” she said slowly, staring at the lake and the swans ambling their way, looking for a handout. “Maybe I still am, a little bit,” she admitted. “I’m sorry if that hurts you, Rob, but he and I dated since our senior year in high school and I don’t fall in love easily.”

Rob had to ask: “Then what was the deal with me, Amy? Were you…just using me, to get back at your old boyfriend?”

She shook her head no. “It wasn’t to get back at Troy. He frankly couldn’t care less. But,” she went on, “I was using you.” Rob frowned unhappily. “I wanted to do something crazy and wild, so I picked up a cute guy that I knew I could boss around and…you know.”

Rob thought about this for a moment, then looked Amy in the eyes and with a crooked grin, said “Cute?”

. . . . .

Several months later, Rob and Amy were still dating. Things continued apace, but Amy’s behavior had changed. No longer did she get high or drink alcohol. However, she did begin to gain weight. Hoping against hope, Rob asked her one night, “Baby, are you pregnant?” A child by the woman he loved above all others would be frosting on the cake of life for Rob.

Amy drew a deep breath and released it. “Yes, I’m pregnant.”

“Yay!” shouted Rob excitedly. When she didn’t respond in kind, he asked, “This is good news, right? I want you to have my baby,” he exclaimed.

“It’s not your baby, Rob,” Amy told him for the second time since she’d known him.

Rob was stunned into silence. Then he asked, “Then whose is it?”

“It’s Troy’s,” she said, staring at the floor.

“You’re back with Troy?” he asked incredulously. “You know what that was like. How could you see him again?”

“I haven’t seen Troy in months, Rob,” she said. In answer to his unasked question, she went on, “I never had the abortion.”

“Chicago?” he asked.

“I went there, with my sister, but I changed my mind. I couldn’t kill a part of me. You understand, Rob?”

Now Rob was subdued. He had set his sights on being a father to Amy’s child some day, and for a moment it looked like the opportunity was in the offing. Now it seemed like a treasured Christmas present had suddenly been snatched away.

“You’re going to keep the baby?” he asked.


“I’ve only one thing to tell you, Amy.”

Staring straight ahead, the loaves of bread now gone, Amy shut her eyes and said, “What is it?”

“I want to help raise the baby with you. Will you let me do that?”

A tiny smile played over Amy’s pink lips.

. . . . .

“Dad?” asked Alisson, stretching out a hand to touch Rob on the arm. “How long have you been here?”

“I got the call from Brad about two hours ago,” he revealed, referencing the husband of his granddaughter.

“I was in surgery,” Alisson said. She was still clad in blue-green scrubs. “She wasn’t due for three or four days,” she added, “or I wouldn’t have scheduled any procedures till after Maddie delivered.”

“I’m sure she’ll understand,” replied Rob, smiling at his daughter. “Your first grandchild,” he observed mildly.

“And your first great-grandchild,” she answered back at him.

Suddenly, into the room emerged Maddie’s OB-GYN, telling the family that all was well with mother and child — a granddaughter for Alisson.

Alisson regarded Rob with concern. “I know you were nervous, Dad.”

He shrugged.

“It happens every time. I’ve had four kids and you were a basket case every time.” She rubbed the muscles on his neck, the way that Amy used to do.

“You understand?” he said simply.

She nodded. “You lost Mom when she gave birth to me. I wish I could have known her — as a mother and as a person, you know what I mean?”

Rob nodded. “You would’ve loved her, Alisson.”

“Why didn’t you ever marry again, Dad?” She’d asked him this question many times, but always enjoyed his answer.

“The sequel,” replied Rob, “is never as good as the original.” Rising to his feet, he accompanied his daughter to see his new great-granddaughter, where he would be told, as he had every time before, that the child favored him.

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