tagRomanceHarvest of Expectations Ch. 12

Harvest of Expectations Ch. 12

byAutumnWriter©

Chapter 12 — Take a Stand

June 1974

May had come and gone, and graduation, too. Jim stayed in town through it all. For one thing, he wanted to see Rich's parents one last time and help him load his gear into the trailer they'd rented to haul it all back to New Jersey. Rich was going to have two weeks at home before beginning his new job in Illinois.

Another reason Jim stayed in his apartment was that he was waiting for the Douglas Company credit card to show up in the mail. He couldn't hope to make it to Central City, Michigan without it. The auto rental agency wouldn't even reserve a car for him unless he could guarantee it with a credit card. So, he was anchored to his apartment. The company said that it was on the way, but there was a lost day because of the Memorial Day holiday.

Hildy was impatient to see Jim before he left for Michigan, but he explained the credit card problem to her and she seemed to understand, if in a reluctant way. Jim promised that he would be sure to see her before setting out.

After Rich left Jim spent his time stowing things away for the summer. The apartment was half-empty because Rich had taken a number of pieces of furniture away in his parents' trailer. Jim still had the sofa, his stereo and the kitchen table, along with his bedroom set. He was going through his closet trying to figure out what clothing to take with him and which to leave behind. He'd asked his landlord to look in from time to time to make sure everything was alright.

On his first night alone he decided that he felt himself getting a bit flabby, at least by his athletic standards. His wrist hadn't allowed for any meaningful workouts. It was still painful—just beginning to heal. Jim kept the bandage on by day, only removing it to shower and sleep. He decided to go to the campus early the next morning. At least he could work his lower half and get in some aerobic work. Then, he wanted to get in some library time to do more prep work on his thesis project.

His University ID didn't work when he tried to use it at the athletic locker rooms. Jim figured it had been deactivated because he wasn't registered for the University's summer session. The bureaucratic roadblock was annoying. By luck, he saw Floyd, the custodian mopping the floor and he rapped on the window.

"I'm not supposed to let you in, Jim," the older back man said. "You aren't a student anymore."

"Sure I am," Jim insisted. "I'm coming back in the fall for Masters work."

The janitor man rubbed his whiskers and shook his head.

"I'd like to, Jim..."

"If anyone makes a beef I'll tell them I tried my ID and it worked and you weren't anywhere around."

"That's what I was waiting to hear," Floyd said and he swung the door open.

Jim slipped in the door and walked over t the locker area. All the padlocks were gone.

"Floyd, would you mind holding onto my wallet and keys while I work out? I'll only be an hour or so. I'm just going to do a mile on the tartan track and a half-dozen sets of stadium steps. Then I'll shower up and be out of your hair."

"No problem, Jim. I'll be here when you're ready. By the way, I'm glad I'll be seein' ya for another year."

"Thanks, Floyd. I'll see if I can get the coach to arrange locker privileges in the team room. Otherwise, I'll have to use the general facility across the street."

After Jim finished his workout he walked over to the Engineering Library. He expected the same ID problem he'd encountered at the Athletic Locker Room. He was hoping that he could try the same tactic on the librarian that he had on Floyd. Jim was free to walk around in the lower library level, but the material he needed was upstairs in the stacks.

"I just can't let you into the stacks without a proper ID," the librarian said as she peered at Jim over the tops of her bifocals.

"You know me," Jim pleaded, "I'm coming back in the fall."

"I believe you," she said. "But if you want to go upstairs you need a valid ID—or a pass from a faculty member."

"A pass from a faculty member?" Jim asked. "Why are we arguing? I'll be back in twenty minutes."

"Tell him to use this form," the librarian said and handed Jim the remnants of a half-used pad of blank passes.

Professor Stark's office was two buildings over. Jim was almost sure that he would not be there, but his secretary would probably be at her desk. If not, he knew all the secretaries in the department, so someone should be able to fill out the needed form.

It was nearly nine in the morning when Jim took the stairs to the third floor and walked down the hall to Professor Stark's office. He was surprised when his secretary wasn't there and it looked like she hadn't arrived to work that day. Jim reasoned that in the couple of weeks between the end of the Spring Semester and the opening of the Summer Session a lot of employees would be on vacation.

The inner door to Professor Stark's office was ajar. Jim ventured past the secretary's desk and knocked, and when he did so the door creaked open a bit more. He saw his professor sitting behind his desk and he looked up at Jim.

"Jim what are you doing here? I was just thinking about you. Come on in."

Jim walked the rest of the way into the office and approached the professor at his desk.

"I won't bother you for more than a second, Professor..." he began.

"Come in and have a cup of coffee," the professor said. "My secretary is on vacation this week so I brought the coffee pot in and plugged it in over there. Fix it however you like it."

Jim poured a cup and sat down in the chair in front of the professor's desk.

"So, what brings you in here today?"

"Well, I was going to do some work in the library on the isocyanate process but I couldn't use the stacks and..."

"Hmm, I was just doing some prep work on polyurethane, in general. You know I have a consulting contract with Douglas in this area."

"Yes sir."

"There's plenty of time for research. You should getting ready for traveling to Michigan, or maybe home with your family."

Jim explained his need to wait for his credit card to arrive in the mail.

"You know, Douglas is hoping for you come up with something useful on this. They really have big plans for polyurethane. Isocyanate is a basic feedstock. Your part could be an important piece of it."

"I'm just learning what the process is now," Jim explained. "I have a few ideas but..."

"Do you have any objection if I work your thesis into my report?" the professor asked. "I'll give you citation credit, of course."

"I don't see why not," Jim replied. "Douglas is paying for the work, anyway and that's who will end up with it."

"I'm looking forward to working with you next year, Jim. We'll have a lot of fun putting this together. I know you have a big workload, but..."

"I'll get it done, Professor Stark. It might get tight once in a while but I'll handle it."

"I could get you out of the TA assignment, if you like."

"That's okay. I agreed to do it."

"In a way, it will be a good thing to do. You'll learn a lot about communicating when you start explaining Physics to freshman in the TA breakout sections."

"So, it's Physics 101?"

"I'm afraid so. That's where we need the help in the Fall Semester."

"Anyway," Jim said as he finished his coffee, "the librarian won't let me into the stacks without a pass from a faculty member."

He produced the pad and the professor signed the top sheet and handed it back to Jim.

"Stay in touch, Jim, while you're out in Michigan. I'll be talking with Gerry Tyler from time to time."

"Will do, Professor," Jim said and he rose from his chair to leave.

"And take some time off before you have to go out there," the Professor called after him.

*****************

On Friday the mail arrived at Jim's apartment in the late afternoon and the credit card from Douglas Chemical was delivered at last. He was ready to head out to spend the weekend in Rochester before leaving for Michigan on that Sunday. Spending some time with Hildy was a definite agenda item.

It was four in the afternoon, so Hildy would be at work. He decided to start out right away so he called his mother to let her know that he'd be just in time for dinner at six. His bags were already packed and he let his landlord know that he was leaving. He dropped his bags in the back of the Rustmobile and he was on his way.

It was the last road trip for the good old Rustmobile. It had taken him to many places in the two years that he'd owned the car.

"Now I know how a cowboy must feel when he has to put down his favorite horse."

He thought about Hildy and how she must feel neglected with his prolonged delay in returning. She kept saying how she understood about the credit card. At the same time, Jim had to admit that she was getting the short end of the stick, yet again, no matter the fault.

"I'll try to make it up to her before I leave on Sunday."

Jim couldn't understand how she kept smiling after all the neglect he had shown her, but that was Hildy and he had promised that he would make it all worth her while.

The weather was hot and sunny, typical for a June day. The drive was uneventful as he was approaching the Village of Phelps, which lay on his path on Route 96. In the distance he saw a flagman stopping traffic. The traffic line was pretty long. It didn't look like cars were moving.

"There goes dinner."

A man wearing a hard hat was walking by. Jim called to him.

"What's the problem up there?" he yelled over to the workman.

"Big brine spill at the sauerkraut factory; took the bridge out temporarily; we'll have it fixed in about thirty minutes."

Jim looked at his gas gauge. It was on "E". He had intended to fill up when he passed through Phelps, just a half-mile ahead. The Rustmobile had always been a gas hog. It began to sputter.

"Just hold on, girl," Jim pleaded in vain. He was about to turn off the ignition to save fuel when the motor died.

"Out of gas!" he yelled.

He put the car in neutral and started pushing it to the side of the road. A man from the car behind him got out to help him. The Rustmobile was secure on the shoulder of the road.

"Thanks a lot," Jim said to the man who had just helped him.

"You can get in our car," the man offered. "We've got air conditioning."

"Thanks just the same. I'll walk to a gas station up ahead near the bridge. By the time I get back traffic should be moving again."

***************

Jim was right. Once he returned with the gallon can of gasoline traffic was moving again. He drove to the gas station to fill up and to return the borrowed can. The rest of the drive to his parents' house was clear sailing, but Jim had lost an hour. He figured to skip dinner and call Hildy. He'd explain to his parents. He was sure they would understand and he could fill them in on everything the next morning.

He walked in the front door of his parents' house at seven-fifteen.

"Traffic problem in Phelps," he said. "Got delayed for over an hour."

"Hildy's been trying to reach you," her mother said. "You better call her right away."

Jim smiled as he realized how his mother was looking after Hildy's interests.

"Women sure stick up for each other after they've been shopping together."

"I'm not sure what she's got on her mind," Jim said. "I was about to call her, anyway."

"She says it's important," his mother said.

"Well, I know she's not pregnant."

Jim dialed the number at Hildy's parents' house. To his surprise Hildy answered.

Hildy:"We've got to talk—tonight—can you come out here right now?"

Jim:"Sure, Hildy. I was going to..."

Hildy:"I'll meet you in the parking lot of the park near my house."

Jim:"I'm on my way."

But she had hung up.

"What's the matter?" Jim's mother asked.

"I don't have a clue," Jim answered.

"Want to borrow the Catalina?" his father asked.

"That's okay, Dad. I just filled up."

He was on his way out the door.

************************************

Jim pulled his car into the parking lot about twenty minutes later. It was about eight in the evening. There were a couple of cars in the lot which he didn't recognize and Jim recalled how Hildy had told him that young couples used the convenient lot for all kinds of things in the warm weather.

It was warm. Even though the calendar said it was still spring, June was always the hottest month of the year in Western New York and the humidity percentage matched the temperature, making it seem even warmer than it was. Jim's forehead was moist, but he wasn't noticing it much, wondering what was on Hildy's mind.

Hildy's purple Duster was on the other side of the lot all by itself. She had sounded troubled over the phone. Jim was certain that she was upset because of his neglect of her while he waited for the credit card in the mail. He couldn't blame her. He reckoned that he should have come up for a few days and let his landlord collect the mail.

"It's sure easy to figure these things out in hindsight."

He told himself that he would have to get better at these things, now that he and Hildy were a couple. He also had to admit to himself that the prospect of a big new project had excited him and as much as he wanted to be with Hildy, he was also keen on getting a start on investigating the isocyanate process.

Hildy must have seen Jim pull into the lot because she stepped out of her car and was waiting for him as he pulled up alongside her. When he stopped and turned off the motor she got into the passenger seat next to him. He expected her to lean over and kiss him, but she did not.

"I've got a lot of smoothing over to do," Jim told himself.

"Hildy, I'm sorry. There was a big delay on Route 96. I ran out of gas and..."

"That's okay," she mumbled.

He wished that she would have railed at him for being late. Why couldn't she just do that? He would beg forgiveness and all would be as it was before.

"Did you have dinner yet? We could go to the diner and get something to eat."

"No, I haven't eaten, but I'm not hungry."

She was looking out the passenger's side window, not at him.

"Hildy, something's troubling you. You better tell me what it is."

She turned and looked at Jim. Her eyes were glistening and her lips trembling.

"When you go to Michigan on Sunday, you better forget about me. Start over—find someone else. That's what I'll be doing."

"What!" he exclaimed, "Not a chance, Hildy."

"It's for the best," she stammered.

Tears began rolling down her cheeks.

"Hildy, I know I should have come up here sooner. I kept thinking I would get what I needed in the mail and then I would..."

"It's not that. It's not about you. It's me."

"No, Hildy," he pleaded. "What's this all about?"

"Find someone who can give you everything you deserve. I can't. Just forget me. You'll be better off. You've got to believe me."

Hildy began crying in earnest and Jim leaned back against the driver's side door. He didn't know what she meant, so he tried a guess because he had to try something.

"Is it because you've never been to college? It doesn't matter..."

Hildy was still crying and was holding her face in her hands but she was shaking her head.

Jim was determined to try again. He thought it might be because she was tall, or a bit plain, but those things seemed so trivial. He tried the last thing he could think of.

"Your father is behind this, somehow, isn't he?"

Hildy picked her head up. Her whole face was drenched, with tears or sweat—Jim could not tell. She reached over and grabbed him by the shirt collar with both hands. He eyes were propped open as wide as they could be and Jim couldn't tell if he saw rage or fear.

"I've lied to you all along. I deceived you. I'm damaged. You think I'm someone that I'm not," she cried at him.

She released his shirt collar and shrank back from him.

"Hildy, what can this be? I can't believe anything could be this bad."

"Just believe me," she said.

She was done crying, at least for the moment.

"Hildy, I won't believe it. Why should I? Don't you think that I know something of you? I won't believe it unless you can convince me."

She snapped her head around and looked at him.

"Well, I'm not a virgin, for one thing."

She paused, but kept her eyes on him as though the revelation would be enough. It wasn't, of course and Jim kept silent and waited for the rest.

"When I was fifteen—a sophomore in high school—there was an exchange student from France at our school that year. His name was Henri Bouchard. He was seventeen. I didn't like him that much, but he was very handsome. I was so excited that he was paying attention to me because not many boys were."

"I think I know the rest, Hildy, but that means nothing..."

Hildy didn't seem to hear what he said.

"We had sex that year before September was done and we were a couple for the whole year—or so I thought. He told me I was his first and only one. It seemed so romantic. Then, in June he was gone, like I knew he would be. We promised to write, but he never did. But he left me with something I'll never forget."

"You were pregnant?"

"No, that would have been better. It was gonorrhea. I know he gave it to me because I hadn't been with anyone else. By the time I had the nerve to tell the school nurse the next school year I was really infected. I got penicillin treatments and I was cured in the end, but it ruined me. I'll never be able to have children. It's permanent."

"I see," Jim said.

"The news got around school, the village, all over. Everyone was whispering behind my back and making jokes about me. I don't know why they thought that I didn't know it—or maybe they didn't care. It hurt my parents so much; I think it changed them. Ever since then they've kept a tight rein on me, even after high school. Henri was the only boyfriend I'd ever had until you."

"My father was hurt the most," she went on. "He had to explain it at MacIver's—I don't even know what he told them. He said that he forgave me, but I don't think he ever did, at least not one hundred percent."

"So he figures you owe him—that you have to give your whole life up to him as the price of forgiveness," Jim said. "It helps me understand what you said the night when we were taking care of Ashley after the party."

"I don't know about any of that, Hildy answered. "It's just the way things are."

"You know that he'll never admit that you've repaid him in full," Jim said.

Hildy sat still for a moment and Jim could see that she was thinking, but then she took a breath and continued on.

"My father said that any real man wants a woman who can give him children. So, you see, it has to be this way. All this time I knew it would mean the end of us, but I kept thinking maybe it wouldn't be."

She stopped talking and started crying again and she was shivering, even though the weather was hot.

"We were so close to having it," she wailed as she buried her face in her hands once again, "so close and I loved you so much."

Jim decided to let her cry for a few minutes. He thought it would be better to let her get it out of her system. He took a deep breath. He had never handled anything like what was upon him. But there it was and it was up to him. After several minutes he spoke.

"Hildy, stop crying," he said. "I want you to hear what I have to say."

She didn't stop crying when he first told her, but she finally did, and gazed at him, with a look that reminded Jim of a dog that expected to be punished.

"Hildy, I won't say that what you just told means nothing—because it does. But every couple has things to overcome. We just have an early start, that's all," he said.

"You want it all—the whole package, don't you?" she asked as though she felt it her duty to convince him.

She leaned in close.

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