tagRomanceOnce Upon a Time is Forever

Once Upon a Time is Forever

byronde©

Victoria Francis was born on February fourteenth and almost any father would have called her his “little valentine”. Her father, however was comfortably drunk and nestled between the thighs of a panting, blonde-tressed librarian in the next state. He never heard of the birth, nor would he have cared much; the impregnation of Victoria’s mother was the conclusion of two weeks of nurturing the eighteen year old woman’s naiveté with his natural charm. He forgot about Barbara as soon as he left town in search of the next job. The young girl had been crushed because she thought he truly loved her, and when she missed the second of her monthly cycles, she was mortified. In 1930, good girls did not become pregnant outside of wedlock. Barbara was bustled off two hundred miles away to live with Aunt Elizabeth in the small, sleepy town of Greenville. Barbara would have the baby there, away from the watching eyes and wagging tongues of Hill’s Corner, and then return home. Barbara’s parents told everyone she had eloped with the drifter and moved to Greenville. Elizabeth told her friends that Barbara’s husband had left her, and that she had nowhere else to go. When Victoria became old enough to ask about her father, Barbara would tell her the same story. As the months passed, Barbara learned the Hill’s Corner gossip line had already chewed up and spit out their version of her plight, and after Victoria’s birth, she refused to suffer the indignity of returning. Besides, the economy was in a shambles and there was no more work in Hill’s Corner than in Greenville. Aunt Elizabeth was a teacher, and did have a small income. They planted a huge garden, and Greenville became her new home.

Her aunt had never married, and was of a strict, fundamentalist faith not given to demonstrated affection. The gentle touches and whispers of love between two people would not have been seen in the household even if she had been married. Victoria was, from birth, one to express her feelings in a physical manner, and at first, her sloppy baby kisses were readily accepted by both Elizabeth and Barbara. One day when she was six, Aunt Elizabeth scolded her for such displays, and said she should be old enough to see the devil in her soul. She ordered Victoria to go to her room and pray for forgiveness. Barbara returned from a neighbor’s and found the little girl crying into her pillow. Victoria ran to her, and in sobbing spurts, told of her aunt’s upset at what had seemed normal until then. On that night, Barbara tucked her into bed and instead of the nursery rhyme they usually shared, Barbara told her a story of a pretty princess who was rescued from peril by a strong young man.

“Someday, a nice young man will ask you to be with him, too, and you’ll live happily ever after, just like in the story.” Victoria fell asleep with thoughts of the princess and the young man.

The next day, Victoria told her aunt about the story, and Elizabeth frowned. “You shouldn’t listen to such drivel. It’s more of the devil’s work, and your mother should know all about that. I’ll have to speak to her.”

At her bedtime the next night, Victoria asked Barbara to tell her the story again.

“I can’t, Victoria. Aunt Elizabeth was really mad at me. If she finds out I told you another story like that one, she might make us leave.”

“I promise not to tell anybody, ever, Momma. Just tell me the story again.” Barbara began the tale as Victoria lay back on the pillow and closed her eyes. She never broke her promise.

In a few years, Victoria didn’t need anyone to tell her stories; she read them herself. She became a rather quiet child who was more comfortable reading a good book than cavorting with friends. In the spring of 1940, Barbara found employment as the local librarian, and this pleased Victoria. She could read as much as she wanted, and always had a love story from the library beside her bed. Victoria’s reading taught her some of the ways of men and women, and in lieu of friends, it was to her mother that she turned for explanations. As she grew older, she and Barbara became almost as sisters; when womanhood approached, Victoria began asking her questions that Elizabeth would have called more devil’s work. Barbara supplied the answers she thought the girl would understand, but could never fully answer Victoria’s most persistent question.

“Momma, how do you know if you’re in love?”

“I don’t know how to tell you that, sweetie. It’s like you’re so full when you’re with him, and so empty when he’s away, I guess. I thought I was in love with your father, but...well, you’ll know because it’ll be something you’ve never felt before.”

Victoria became a woman at the age of thirteen, and grew into a lushly curved vision of ripe femininity. She began getting invitations for dates with the local boys, and Barbara allowed her to accept after her sixteenth birthday. After she spending the first few evenings wrestling with her companion to keep his roving hands at bay, she stopped going out. By her graduation day, Victoria had become a handsome woman who had never experienced so much as a kiss. With the money from a summer of working at the local grocery, and the money her mother had saved over the years, she was off to college and independence for the first time in her life. The night before Barbara drove her to the university, she knocked on Victoria’s bedroom door.

“Victoria, I’ve worked to give you the opportunity I never had because..., well, you’re old enough to know now. I was your age when I met your father. He said he loved me and wanted to be with me. I wanted so much to be loved, to feel like I belonged with somebody. He said I was beautiful and that we could get married as soon as he made a little more money. I was in heaven, and when he said that two people who feel about each other like we did didn’t need to be married to...to be intimate, I wanted that too. We sneaked into my room one day when nobody else was home. The next day, he left town, and I’ve never heard from him since. The only thing I have to remember him by is you. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“Yes, but I already know that, most of it anyway. Grandma told me.”

“Grandma told you? She promised never to say anything to you about your father. She’s the reason we came to live with Aunt Elizabeth, so she wouldn’t be ashamed of me...and of you.”

“Momma, don’t think to badly of Grandma. She worries about me because of what happened to you. She thinks it was her fault. When I visited that week last summer, we had women’s talks, as she called them. That’s when she told me, but she was only trying to tell me to be careful. She didn’t mean any harm. Momma, you could have told me this before. It wouldn’t have made any difference to me since he’s never been around. He might as well be dead.”

“I thought it would be better if you didn’t know, so you wouldn’t have to be ashamed with your friends. Aunt Elizabeth and I have taken care of you since you were born, but now, you’ll have to take care of yourself. All those things I told you about boys were true. If I had been smarter...”

“You were smart enough. You just got taken in by a jerk.”

“Yes, but it made me feel stupid then, and still does sometimes. I don’t go out with men, because I don’t trust myself to make the right decisions. You shouldn’t be that way, but you have to be careful that you’re sure before you....” Barbara took her daughter’s hand in her own. “Victoria, I see so much of me in you. Life isn’t like those fairy tales I used to tell you at bedtime, and it isn’t like the love stories you read. Once upon a time never happens, and the prince doesn’t always take the girl away to the castle. If you met a man like I did, it might be hard to tell the difference between the real thing and what he wants you to think.”

“Don’t worry, Momma. I’m not going to hop into bed with just anybody that comes along, and I’m smart enough to see past the words. You said the best thing I could ever give my husband is myself, and I intend to save that until I’m married. I’ll only fall in love once, for real at least, and I want to save myself for him. I promise you that, just like I promised I wouldn’t tell Aunt Elizabeth about our bedtime stories, remember?”

“Yes, Honey, I remember. Just keep your wits about you, OK? You haven’t had much experience with men, and I won’t be there to help.”

Victoria was as good as her word, and although she had a few dates during her four years at the university, none of the men ever really made her feel as though he was the one. She spent her time studying, and graduated four years later with her degree in elementary education and a teaching certificate. The last semester of “practice teaching” had been thrilling and had confirmed her decision to follow her aunt’s vocation. Any other occupation would have been meaningless after she’d spent fifteen weeks with the twenty little boys and girls that made up her second grade class. She came back to her apartment each night with the thrill that she’d seen a difference in this child or that, and the satisfaction was overwhelming. The more secret reason for her conviction was the squeeze of a small hand, or the hug from a little boy or girl that said, “Thank you for helping me”.

She started teaching at Greenville Grade School the next year, and found that her third grade class was both more fulfilling and more discouraging than she had ever thought possible. The children were wonderful, but the parents were often not all that interested in anything besides having a state-paid baby-sitter. One boy in particular drew first her interest and then her heart. Jimmy was a bright student, and it was difficult to keep him challenged with her normal classwork. When he became bored, he became a disruption to the rest of the class. She had tried to obtain permission to get Jimmy placed in the next grade, but his parents met with her and the principal, and said they didn’t want him treated differently. His father went so far as to say she should just “make him behave” if he acted up in class. She went home from school that afternoon and cried out her frustration into her pillow.

The Christmas pageant was an evening when every parent came to see their child play a singing Christmas tree, a dancing candy cane, or star that recited a poem, and was the height of the school year. Every teacher wrote the little skit or chose the song for the class and designed the costumes. The children worked on their presentation for weeks, and by the evening of the pageant, every parent had heard their child’s song or skit so often it was committed to memory. Still, they dressed in suits and dresses and came to watch and applaud. Victoria was proud of her class, and was especially proud of little Jimmy. He had shown a talent for singing, and she had given him a short solo in their song. On the evening of the performance, Jimmy arrived in his normal T-shirt and jeans instead of the white shirt and tie worn by the other boys. Victoria had no time or means to fix his attire, but Jimmy sang his part as if dressed in the robes of a choir boy. As the parents began to leave with their children, she noticed Jimmy walking out the door and ran to congratulate him.

“Hey, Jimmy. You did very well tonight, and I’m really proud of you. I’ll bet your parents are proud of you too.”

“Naw, they couldn’t come. My Uncle Jack here brought me.”

Victoria looked at the man standing beside Jimmy, and felt her face flush. He was about her age, tall, and sported a flat-top haircut that accented his strong chin and lanky face. She was staring into his deep grey eyes when she heard a far-away voice say, “Hello, I’m Jimmy’s Uncle Jack; Jack Morton, that is”.

She finally remembered that she should say something. She was able to stammer, “I - I’m Miss Francis...Victoria, Jimmy’s teacher. Pleased to meet you. I’m so proud of Jimmy. It’s a shame his parents couldn’t come tonight, but it’s wonderful that you made it.”

“Jimmy and I go way back, don’t we, old buddy?” He patted Jimmy on the head and Jimmy looked embarrassed. “Jimmy’s my only nephew, and, well, we do lots of stuff together. I wouldn’t have missed this for all the money in the world.” He turned to Jimmy. “Well pardner, we better get you home to bed. You still have another day of school before Christmas, and you know what I always say about school.”

Jimmy hung his head and his voice was one of surrender to the inevitable. “Yeah, I know. If I don’t do good in school, you won’t take me fishin’ no more.”

She watched Jack until they walked out the door of the gym.

Victoria was enjoying the holiday break. She had driven back to Hill’s Corner for Christmas Day, and hadn’t arrived back in Greenville until very late. The travel had worn her out, and she had slept late this morning. In that twilight time between sleep and awake, she thought of Jimmy’s tall uncle and the grey eyes that had so captivated her that night. I must have been really tired from getting ready for the pageant, she thought, to have let him affect me so. She was musing about what it would be like to meet him again, when her phone rang. It took three rings for her to throw herself out of bed and trot to the phone table in the living room.

“Hello”

“Miss Francis please.”

“This is Miss Francis.”

“Miss Francis, this is Jack Morton, Jimmy’s uncle, remember?”

“Has something happened to Jimmy?” She had a flash of Jimmy lying sick or hurt in some way.

Jack’s voice was calm and even. “No, no, he’s fine. By the way, he says you’re the best teacher he’s ever had.” The voice wavered a bit, and then the words came quickly. “That’s not why I called. I, um, well, I noticed that you weren’t wearing a ring that night at the school, and I wondered if you’d have dinner with me sometime.”

She was certain he heard her heartbeat, because it was making her nearly deaf.

“Well..., yes, I think I’d like that. When did you have in mind?”

“Uh, I was thinking of tonight, if that’s not too short notice.”

Tonight? She hadn’t done her hair since the last day of school, and she’d need to get something to wear. Her school dresses would be too conservative for a date, but where would she get a dress that was appropriate for the season. The stores had been sold out for weeks. Shoes, what about shoes? She had a pair of brown pumps for school and a pair of black heels for special occasions. Maybe the heels would work if she could find a dress. She mentally inventoried her meager cache of stockings. None were new, but one pair had only one run, and her dress would cover it...probably. This was too much in too short a time. She’d just have to say she had a prior commitment, and hope he picked another night. Why was she acting like this, anyway? It wasn’t as if he was the last man in the world.

“Hello, Miss Francis, did I lose you?”

“I’m sorry. No, I was just thinking that...that...that I would love to have dinner with you tonight. Should I meet you somewhere, or will you pick me up?”

“I’ll pick you up at six, if that’s all right.” Jack laughed nervously. “I guess the address in the phone book is right?”

The evening was a dream, or so it seemed when she finally pulled to covers to her shoulders and tried to sleep. Anything that felt so right couldn’t have been real. Jack had arrived at her door with a corsage. She’d never gotten flowers from a man before, and the fragrant orchid was more than she expected to ever get on just a date. He told her she was pretty, even though she knew her hastily adjusted hemline was crooked and the black dress was out of style. He opened the car door for her when they left, and then opened every other door she came to except the one to the ladies room in the restaurant. She had been a bit afraid he would try to open that one too. His manners were those of a gentleman, but they were only a small portion of the dream. Another bit of the dream was his intelligent and witty conversation. Unlike most of her past dates, he didn’t spend the evening talking about himself, but instead, kept steering the conversation to her experiences and opinions. The really dreamlike quality of the evening was caused by nothing Jack actually did; the cause was the feeling that had insinuated itself through her caution and then flourished into the tremendous sense of completeness she had felt for the first time in her life. As Victoria drifted in the stream of semi-consciousness that precedes sleep, she realized that he hadn’t even tried to kiss her goodnight. He had walked her to her door and thanked her for a nice evening. They stood looking at each other on her front porch, and she tried with all her might to will him to kiss her. Jack only touched her hand, asked if he might call her again, and then left. “Momma was wrong”, she whispered to Squeaky, her faithful teddy bear who always listened and never criticized. “Once upon a time really does happen.”

The courtship was short, at least by Aunt Elizabeth’s standards. She thought three years would have been more seemly than five months, but she cried at Victoria’s June wedding all the same. Her mother stood in pride as Victoria’s grandfather walked her down the flower-strewn white runner to the alter. He replied to the minister’s question with a faltering, “Her mother and I do”. When Victoria kissed his cheek through the white veil, she saw the single tear that trickled from his eye. When he patted her arm and released her, she took her place beside Jack, and smiled at Jimmy. Jack had asked him to be his best man, in spite of his few years, and Jimmy was smiling from ear to ear as he reveled in this important responsibility. She floated through the rest of the ceremony on the breeze of remembrance and expectation, and when the minister pronounced her to be Mrs. Jack Morton, her own tears of joy filled her eyes. The reception on the church lawn was wonderful except for the rice that kept falling from her hair into her bra. It had also been difficult to hold back the laugh when Aunt Elizabeth had shouldered her way through everybody to catch the bridal bouquet. By early afternoon, Victoria and Jack were on their way to the Mountain Inn in Johnson City for three days of exploration of each other and confirmation of their future together.

Jack sat in his brown cotton pajamas and waited patiently for Victoria to come out of the bathroom. She had been beautiful in the white gown, and he had been afraid that the lump in his throat would prevent him from saying the vows. As soon as she took his arm, a calm settled over him, and he knew everything would be all right. He had kissed her in front of others for the first time, and his chest swelled as he patted Jimmy on the shoulder and then turned with his bride to meet the assembled guests. He had been proud when he led his new wife back down the aisle. Now, he waited in anticipation, and in some fear, for what was to come. The bathroom door opened, and he smiled as the woman who now shared his name slowly walked into the room.

The white satin fell around her body from thin ribbons that crossed her soft shoulders. The cut of the neckline swooped low over the separation between her soft breasts, and the clinging material formed itself around the firm mounds to accent their ripe fullness. The white shimmering sheath narrowed at her trim waist before flowing around her full hips in a flourishing display of her sensuous feminine form. Victoria looked back at him with a self-conscious grin on her face, and appeared to be waiting for a comment.

“My God, Vicky, you are beautiful.”

The soft flesh-tone of her face and the translucent white of her breasts flushed bright pink as she beamed back at this man who had captured her soul. Jack rose, and she put her arms around her neck and crushed him against her.

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