College was hard. I hadn't used my brain for much lately except figuring out checks as a waitress. I spent a lot of time on my schoolwork. That's always the way I was with school after I met Joey. He was an all A student in elementary school, something only a few girls could do. I really didn't think of myself as a "girl" back then. I was one of the guys, and my grades showed it. Joey was the most masculine boy my age, and he got better grades than me. He inspired me. He taught me to love to learn.

We were competitive all through school. We loved studying together and partnered for projects when the teachers let us. We teased each other about our grades, the one with fewer red marks on a paper lording it over the other. He never let me forget that he had the better grade point average at graduation by a lousy thousandth of a point. Now, I had no one I cared about to compare myself to.

Getting far enough in my studies that I actually dealt with little kids helped, whenever I was with them. At night, I grieved for the babies I might never give Joey.

Anguish, anger, and fear of being alone forever were my life. Love was something others had. I had baseball cards, a stack of letters, some jewelry, and an oil painting. A woman at church helped me to cope. As bad as things were for me, she seemed to have it worse. Her husband left her pregnant when he was killed by a drunk driver. It was unfair. It made no sense. Her tragedy was more final than mine and left her a single mother. The woman was smart and strong. She focused on the good memories she had of her man and tried to move on, and taught me to do the same. Nothing I could do would bring Joey home to me, alive or dead. I had to live for myself.

Classmates asked me out. There were some really cute guys, a few that could have been fun to date. But I didn't. I had lunch with them at the snack bar, or met with them in the library to study, but they were friends. I made them understand that. I already had a man. If that meant I went to my grave a virgin, so be it.

It was soon after I started student teaching in my senior year in college. Lesson plans were finished for the week. I was taking it easy, watching a new episode of "Sanford and Son" with Mom and Dad. The front door burst open.

"He's alive! Joey's alive!" Joe yelled, running into the living room. Marge was right behind him, crying and laughing like she had escaped from an asylum.

Dad grabbed the paper from Joe's hand. "Do you know when he'll come home?"

"They're evaluating him, whatever that means. He's in a hospital in the Philippines, but they'll bring him stateside soon. We don't know much about how he is, except that he's alive," Joe said.

"That's enough for me," Dad laughed. "I saved this for a special occasion. This sounds like it." He went to his liquor cabinet and brought back a fifth of expensive Scotch.

When the bottle was empty, Mom and I made up the sofa-bed in the family room for Joe and Marge. Dad was in no shape to help, and Mom wasn't much better. I lay awake for hours listening to my folks snore. My Joey was coming home. What had happened to him in the years he was away? Did he still love me?

The five of us flew to California to meet the ship that brought him home. We didn't get to see him at the dock. He was whisked into an ambulance that we tried to follow in our rental car.

At the hospital, his doctor took us to his office. Joey had been shot and captured. His injuries weren't life-threatening, and they stopped the bleeding at a Viet Cong field hospital. He was taken to a prison camp for debriefing.

"We're all adults here, and I believe in telling the truth, so I'll be blunt," the army doc said. "To the Viet Cong running that camp, 'debriefing' meant torture until they decided if a prisoner knew something useful, followed by long periods of confinement. Joey was a rank-and-file infantryman, so he wasn't very useful to them, but they kept him alive as a bargaining chip.

"American soldiers came to take the camp, and there was a fire-fight. Our guys were prepared, and the Cong ran out of ammo. They apparently tried to beat their captives to death when they knew the camp would to be taken. Private Ramsey sustained a severe skull fracture. When he was liberated from the camp, he was in a coma, nearly dead of starvation and exposure. He's much better now. Recovering nicely. With hard work, he should make further improvements. We're keeping him sedated, but you may see him for a minute each."

I was allowed to go first. A nurse led me to a window that looked into his room. I could hardly recognize him through the bandages on his head. Tubes, wire, bottles, and bags were everywhere. He had a cast on one leg, where surgeons had repaired the badly-healed fractures from his initial wound. His other leg had scars from long-healed sores. Skinny arms extended from his hospital gown, tubes in both of them between old cigarette burns. Always so big and strong, my darling looked like he was half his old size. He had a tube down his nose, and he was out cold.

We walked into his room. "Talk to him, honey," the nurse said. "He's in deep sedation, but some patients say they remember things when they wake up."

"Joey? Joey, it's Sue."

His chest rose and fell slowly.

"Joey? You're home now. Well, not home. You're in a hospital in California. We came to visit, me, my folks and your parents."

"Time's almost up, honey," the nurse whispered.

"I love you, Joey," I said as I backed out of room.

We stayed for a week, visiting him for a minute apiece each morning, afternoon, and evening. The day before our flight home, the doctor met us in the waiting room outside Intensive Care. "I have good news. Private Ramsey is showing excellent improvement. He's doing well enough that we've lowered his medication. He's in a "twilight" sleep now. He hasn't opened his eyes or spoken, but I believe that's coming. We'll be able to make arrangements to transfer him to a Veterans Administration hospital near your home soon."

That day, it was Marge's turn to go in first. She spent her full minute in his room holding his hand and crying. When Joe went in, he sat close to his son's head, telling him he would be home soon. Then it was my turn.

"He's asleep, Sue, but talk to him," Joe said when I passed him in the doorway.

"Joey, it's me, Sue. I'll be with you a lot more soon, when you're in a hospital near home. I've missed you so much, Joey." I laid my hand on his outstretched one and held it, like I had every time we visited.

This time, he made a noise.

"Nurse, he's talking!"

"He's been doing that ever since last night. He's probably feeling some discomfort from his latest surgery now, so there's a little moaning."

"Oooh," Joey whispered. "Oooh. Oooh."

"What's that, honey? Are you in pain?" I asked.

"Ooooooh. Ooooooh. Sssssss." He worked his tongue around in his mouth. "Sssssuuuuueeee."

"Yes, Joey, it's me. It's Sue!"

His hand twitched, like he was trying to squeeze mine the way I was squeezing his. He whispered "Sue" again. Then he slept.

By the time he was transferred to the local VA hospital two weeks later, Joey was awake a lot of the time. He didn't talk much, and when he did, he seemed confused. The staff said rehabilitation would take a long time. Because of his head injuries and the deplorable conditions in which he had been imprisoned for so long, we should be prepared for only a partial recovery.

The first day I went to see him, he was propped up in bed, asleep, but facing the TV. I pulled up a chair and sat next to his head. "Joey, can you wake up?"

His eyes flickered for a moment, and when they opened, I saw fear.

"It's me, Sue. I came to see you."

"Sue. Sue. Why am I here?"

"You were injured in the war. You were in a prison camp, but now you're in the VA hospital near home."

"Oh. Why are you here?"

"I came to see you. Do you want me to go?"

"No. Stay. Don't leave me."

Every day after I was done with student teaching, I went to the hospital to be with him. Every day, he was better, until one night about a week before before my birthday. He was agitated that evening.

"What's wrong, honey? You seem upset," I said.

"Your birthday is next week. I can't go buy you a present," he said.

"That's okay. Getting you back is the best present in the world."

"You don't understand. I can't go get you a present because I can't walk. I haven't walked in years. That cage they kept me in was too small to let me stand up, even if my leg had healed right. I went to physical therapy today. My legs are so weak I can't stand on my own. How can I ever get a job and go to a store to buy things for you if I'm like that?"

"It doesn't matter. You're alive, and you're with me again. I don't need anything else."

"No. I'm no good to you now. I'm a broken-down wreck. You need a man."

"I have a man."

"I'm not a man. I'm an invalid."

"You're a patient. You were shot. They tortured you and kept you in a tiny bamboo cage for years. You were near death from starvation. The bastards fractured your skull. It's going to take time for you to recover."

"You shouldn't have waited for me. I don't know why you're here. Why aren't you married and having babies?"

"I don't want to be married to anyone but you. I don't want any babies but yours."

When visiting hours were over, I kissed him, like always. Joey really kissed me back for the first time.

The next day, he was sitting in a chair. "I have to pee," was the first thing he said.

"Do you want me to help you to the bathroom?"

"No, you can't do that."

"They tell me you can bear some weight on your good leg. We can probably get you there."

"No, Sue, I can't let you do that. Find an orderly."

"Joey, I'm strong enough if you'll help me."

"Don't you get it? I have to pee! I need someone to help me onto the toilet. I can't let you do that," Joey protested. "Now please, go find a man to help me."

I came back into the room with a burly orderly, but Joey was adamant that I wait in the hallway while they took care of things. "I can't hold onto him and the railing and still keep my gown closed. Please, Sue, respect my privacy."

When the orderly left the room, I went back in. "I didn't mean to embarrass you," I said.

"It's okay. It just wouldn't have been proper for you to see me with my skinny butt hanging out of this stupid gown."

"I understand, Joey, but someday, I'll see that skinny butt in bed next to me."


"When we're married, silly."

"You don't want to marry me, Sue. I'm not the man you fell in love with."

"I didn't fall in love with a man. I fell in love with a boy who once let me beat him arm-wrestling. I fell in love with the boy who danced with me to "Moon River." I fell in love with the guy who gave me this," I said, pulling my precious locket out from where it was hidden by my sweater. "I'm in love with a man now. You, Joey."

"But I'm not the same man."

"Yes you are. Whatever you can or can't do, I love you." I leaned down and kissed him. Joey kissed me back pretty hard, the way he did a couple of times the night before he left for the war.

When we let go, tears rolled down his cheeks. "I'm going down to physical therapy tomorrow, and I'll work until I'm healthy enough to take care of you, if you still want me."

On Easter Sunday morning, Mom, Dad, and I piled into the back of Joe and Marge's car to meet Joey for services at the hospital chapel. He was beaming, obviously very excited, but he wouldn't say a word as he led us back to his room on his cane.

When we got to his room, he sat in his armchair. "I can come home next week," he said.

"That's great news!" my dad exclaimed.

"They said if I could do something, I could go home, so I've been practicing a lot." He stood up and hobbled over to where I was sitting. Trying to mask the pain on his face, he got down on his bad knee. His father handed him something. "Sue, I should have done this five years ago when it was easier. Will you marry me?" There was a diamond ring in the little box in his hand.

"Oh my God!" I burst into happy tears, and leaned forward to kiss him, being careful not to knock him over. "Yes, Joey, my God yes, I'll marry you!"

"My therapist said he'll work with me until I can carry a nurse around. When I can do that, when I'm strong enough to carry you over the threshold, we'll get married."

It was supposed to be a small ceremony. At least, that was what we wanted. Our families had different ideas. Joey's platoon leader, who had been in the prison camp with him, was the best man. Mike recovered from his injuries faster than Joey. He came to visit when he could, driving three hundred miles one way, helping Joey keep his spirits up. The young widow from church who supported me through those lonely years when Joey was away was matron of honor, and her little boy was the ring bearer. Both our moms cried their way through the whole thing.

At the reception, Joey danced with me when the band played "Moon River," but he sat most of the time. When it got late, his father gave him the keys to a new car for us to drive to the hotel where we would be spending the night. After the garter was retrieved and the bouquet tossed, we left.

"Mrs. Ramsey," he said after the bellboy carried our bags into the room, "I never thought I'd see this day." He picked me up, and I wrapped my arms around his neck to kiss him as he carried me to the bed, the first real bed we would ever share.

We kissed, hotter than we ever had, fumbling with buttons, zippers and catches. We laughed at our nervousness and frustration with strange garments, until I was down to my bra and panties, and he was only wearing his shorts.

His manhood bulged against them, fascinating but frightening, moving, growing. "This is it, Sue."

"I've waited a long time, honey," I replied, reaching behind me to unclasp my bra.

"Wait, let me do that," Joey said. He pulled my bra off me, and knelt on the bed next to me, looking at my breasts. "You're perfect." His hand touched my bare flesh for the first time. "Perfect," he repeated as my nipple hardened.

I pulled him down on top of me, feeling his chest hair against my breasts and his manhood against my panty-covered mound. We kissed, tongues intertwined, until we were fighting for air. "Roll over," I said. I wanted a good look what was going to make me his wife physically. He raised his hips when I grabbed the waistband of his briefs.

Joey and I had made a pact that we would only go so far before we were married, so I had never seen his penis. I thought I had an idea of its size and shape from feeling it against me, hard through clothing when we made out, but seeing it bared, ready, and anxious, inches from me, was different. I was almost as scared of it as I was thrilled by it.

"I don't know what to do," I said.

"You got an A in health class in eleventh grade, Sue."

"So did you."

"We learned all about this there. I think we can figure it out," my new husband said, his hand pushing into my panties. It didn't take long for him to have them off, and to give me my first orgasm by someone other than me. He did it again, kissing my breasts, teasing my nipples with his tongue.

"I love you, Joey. It's time."

He got on top of me, kissing me as he fondled my breasts and then my pussy. He pushed himself up so he could see what he was doing, holding it and taking aim.

"Do it, honey. I'm your wife now." I tried to calm myself to relax my body, while bracing for the pain. Every woman I talked to said it hurt, including my mother and my mother-in-law. They said it got better over time. I prayed they were right.

I was terrified. I expected him to find his mark, push himself inside me, injure me (tearing tissue is an injury, after all), and then rut like an animal until he shot inside me.

That's not exactly what he did.

Joey and I discovered something that very first time. He could drive me crazy with his penis. He didn't enter me for a while. He stroked me with it, played with me, up and down over my wet cleft, massaging my clitoris with the hard, wet, spongy end of it, and bringing me to still another orgasm.

When I calmed down, I saw the happiness on his face. "I'm going to do it now. I'll try not to hurt you more than I have to, baby."

His penis pried my lips apart just enough that they gripped it. I had never felt anything like this. Nothing so big. I was torn between my fear and my lust about it being where nothing had gone before.

"I didn't know it would feel like this," he sighed. He shifted his weight, trying to keep from pinning me under him. That made him move inside me, change his angle, something. It felt good.

He saw it on my face, and he grinned, moving a little more, this time just a fraction of an inch further into me.

I pulled him down for a kiss, one I knew we would remember. He kept up with his slow, tiny thrusts, finally coming to a stop against my barrier.

"I love you, Sue. I have since the day we sat on that rock and talked. I've always loved you, all through school, every moment I was conscious in Nam -- it was what kept me sane. Now I'm home with you forever. Now I love you more."

He moved again to kiss me, and sank through. As soon as he felt me give way, he stopped, holding himself from going deeper, waiting for me to kiss him back. He gave me time until I nodded, kissed him, and said, "More."

He was gentle and caring, the way I needed him to be. Instinct, passion, and love guided us, but it hurt a little. I was very sensitive and tender. It felt wonderful, an odd mix of pleasure with pain. Our love was complete when he finally shot his essence inside me. He managed to keep his eyes open, the same as I did when I reached my first climax with him inside me a moment later. With everything we experienced, we loved more.

We wanted kids, prayed for them, but not yet. I went on the pill when we got engaged, and was quite satisfied with it. My breasts filled out a sweater better, and I had just a little wiggle when I walked, something I practiced when my parents weren't home to drive Joey crazy on our honeymoon. We cuddled after making love for the first time. "What if the pill doesn't work?" I asked.

"We start thinking about names."

"Would you want a baby this soon, Joey?"

"I'd rather be finished with some kind of school and into a decent job before we have kids, but I'll go with the flow. Maybe it's supposed to happen."

"I think I'd rather wait, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't practice for getting me pregnant." I caressed his muscle, the skin sticky with our drying juices.

Losing my virginity hadn't hurt as much as I thought it might, although I didn't care, since it was Joey. We made love again that night before we fell asleep, and in the morning before we got ready for breakfast. When we went to bed that evening I was still sore from stretching to accommodate him, as amazing as it had felt.

"Joey," I said, touching his naked body in the bed next to me. "I don't know how to say this, but I'm pretty sore."

"I'm sorry, honey." He kissed me gently and caressed my breast. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"You didn't. Well, yeah, the first time it hurt a little, but it was you, Joey, my husband. We made love a lot, and I enjoyed every minute of it, but I think she needs a break," I said, gesturing toward my crotch.

"Should I kiss it and make it all better?" he murmured into my ear.

"Very funny."

"I'm not trying to be funny. Guys in the Army talked about it. I'd like to try it." He kissed me again, and then leaned down and kissed my breasts. "I hope I do this okay."

His fingers teased my curls as he licked and sucked on my nipples. We learned the night before how much I enjoyed that, but he kept moving lower until he kissed my belly-button. Then lower.

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