Beth Johnson bent over the sink, held one eyelid open and inserted a new contact lens, then blinked in the mirror before inserting the other one. "Ah, there's nothing better than fresh contacts." The pretty college coed was finishing her freshman year at one of those prestigious Eastern universities. Beth loved gardens and botany science.
Her parents had sheltered her life. She grew up in the cotillion environment of Philadelphia society and came out on her seventeenth birthday among the other young women expected to become junior league members. She attended Haverford High School and spent her summers at sailing and tennis camps in Maine. Although she was accepted at Princeton, she insisted on going to Cook Campus of Rutgers College for their landscape architecture program.
Meanwhile, her boyfriend Frankie was driving to campus for his classes. Frankie was a sophomore, but older, having spent four years in the Air Force before college. He had G.I. Bill money from the government which covered most of his expenses -- fortunately, because his parents lived paycheck to paycheck. Frankie studied English and American Literature, about as different as life could be from being stationed in Vietnam.
"Hi angel," he said to Beth as they met for their first class.
"Hi Frankie. Sorry we couldn't get together last night."
"No worries. I had to study for that exam on Poe this afternoon. What about tonight?"
"Sure, can we go to a movie? That new movie Jaws is supposed to be good."
"I guess. But how scary can a movie about a shark be? You know it will be some fake mechanical fish; won't be realistic at all."
"That's not what my girlfriend Jennifer said. She spent half the movie hiding in Donnie's chest with her eyes closed."
"All right. Whatever my girl wants, you know that."
Beth gave him a hug and kiss. "Thanks sweetheart. That's what I love about you, you're so good to me."
"We better get inside. French class waits for no one." Frankie took Beth's hand and they entered the large auditorium, sitting halfway down in the middle, close enough to see but far enough that the graduate student giving the class wouldn't call on them.
After French, the couple split up for a while. Beth heading to the science building for her biology class and Frankie heading off for three English classes. They wouldn't see each other until about 4 pm; then they'd have something to eat and head to the movies.
Frankie and Beth had an idyllic romance. It was just what Frankie needed after the war, and Beth liked dating someone older and more mature than the freshman boys. She was a proper girl from a proper family, something else Frankie liked. His blue-collar family from East Orange, New Jersey never mixed with her upper class types. He treated Beth like a queen, in hopes of holding on to her.
* * *
Sitting in the movie theater, Frankie realized what Beth's girlfriend was talking about. "That sure looks real to me."
"I thought you said it was going to look fake," she said while snuggling into Frankie's arm.
"All right, I was wrong. Those Hollywood guys are getting better at their moving devices. I can't imagine anything more realistic than this."
"I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight," said Beth as she squeezed his arm in fear.
"Good, I better stay down with you then, protect you from nightmares."
The scary movie gave them a good reason to shake off the nerves that night. Lovemaking brought them back down to Earth. By morning they had recovered from the scary music too, those now familiar cello notes two at a time signaling the shark's return.
"Let's go to the pancake house for breakfast dear. I'm starving."
"I know why," said Beth. "You had quite a workout. Just let me get my backpack."
Frankie and Beth continued to date for a year. They seemed quite content. There weren't any signs of dissonance. Then one day, Frankie was sitting in class taking notes when he felt a distinct pain in his groin area. He headed over to the campus medical building to have himself checked out.
After a urine test, he discovered he had contracted gonorrhea. Doubly sad, he realized Beth had been cheating on him as well as having an STD. He took some medicine from the clinic and headed out to find Beth. How could she do this to him? He thought they were meant for each other. He finally caught up to her at the quad.
"Beth. What are you doing?"
"Hi Frankie. Nothing, why? What's up with you?" as she gave him a hug and kiss.
"I just came from the clinic. You gave me gonorrhea. I just came by to tell you to go have yourself checked."
"I don't know what to say, dear."
"How could you? I thought you loved me."
Beth averted her eyes. "I do, Frankie. I just ..."
"Just what? Decided to bang some low life downtown? Or is he a student? Who is this guy?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know! How many guys have you been screwing?"
"There was this party last week. I told you I had to study. These guys gave me a drink and I passed out. When I woke up, I was alone in this club. I don't know who I had sex with or with how many guys."
"Why didn't you tell me? You should have known better than to go downtown alone. Weren't any of your girlfriends with you?"
"Linda was, but she left me around 10 o'clock. That's the last time I remember seeing her. When I called, her roommate said she went home to Maplewood. She hasn't returned any of my calls. I still don't know what happened to her."
Frankie was disgusted, but conflicted about his feelings. "This is because your family never let you live in the real world. I need time away from this." He walked out, still angry but unsure what he should do next.
Beth called and left messages, but Frankie didn't return them. He decided to move on. Beth stopped contacting Frankie. She understood.
* * *
Frankie left right after finals to spend time with his family. He was mowing the lawn when approached by a neighbor holding a letter. "Frankie, look I got into Rutgers."
It was Maria Novelli, the girl next door. Frankie hadn't seen her in a couple years, since leaving for college. "Hi Maria. Hey that's great news. Which campus?"
"Douglass. I'm supposed to go down for orientation next week."
"The woman's college. Good. You'll actually get some homework done."
"I was hoping you might have time to give me a tour."
"Well, I'm going down on Friday to get an apartment. I'm tired of commuting from here. Do you want to go with me then?"
"I'd like that."
* * *
Frankie and Maria started dating that year.
Article © Jerry Guarino. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-09-16
Image(s) are public domain.