Then. A Rustic Village
Does everyone remember their first crush with such clarity? Forgetting his is impossible, and if Greg Bartels were honest with himself, he would acknowledge that Amelia Collins is the standard by which every other woman that he will admire or date is judged, a standard against which he will find all those others lacking. He knew that he was not the only one who fell in love with her in these glory days of high school, and he also knew that he would look nostalgically upon these days and Amy Collins with rose-colored glasses, into a small and bottled world. His father told him so.
The ultimate girl next door, she was the soul of delight and laughter, pent up pleasure in a tightly wrapped package of pinks and blues, her chosen colors. People couldn't help but love being around her, couldn't help but be made better for being around her, because she always had a kind word for everyone and insistence the others have only kind words for each other, no matter how far outside of her social circle they'd been relegated. Even the jock-tosterone brigade was no match for the brunette's whirlwind graces; the number one unspoken rule in school that year was that any room she happened to be in at the moment was neutral ground. She was the life of parties, and wherever she was ... there was a party. Behave, and you could hang with the cool kids, even if only for a short time.
"Dance!" she insisted to him when he was fool enough to try and sit out the school events at the gym. "Is it more embarrassing to get out there and have a little fun, or to sit there like a lump where everyone can see you?" Unrelenting in her enthusiasm, she pushed and prodded. Everybody danced for her, no matter how clumsy the dance...
Scruffy and scrawny, he was a farm kid without the benefit of the farmer's tan and build, thin and light-skinned enough to be burned tough and leathery by working with his father in the field. Even in the later years of his life, surrounded by big city buildings and big city ways, he would still consider himself a country boy at heart, dressing down whenever he got the chance.
No chance he would ever stray into her orbit – not only would he get a private chat with the jock-tosterone brigade, it was simple fact that was she an upperclassman, he a freshman. She barely knew he existed, but it wasn't the mean ignorance of arrogant and prideful youth, simply too many people and too little time. Kellville was a little school serving only a few townships, but not that small. Always admiring from afar, like so many other silently suffering victims of puppy-dog love.
Greg will never let these memories get him down because the plentiful bounty of growing seasons past and school crushes fondly remembered will make for great nostalgia, something to sustain him on long lonely nights when he will have no desire to drink himself stupid and weepy. There are no truly unhappy memories here in Kellville High, only a somewhat drearier place left behind when she graduates with her high school sweetheart into whatever the world holds in store for her.
A great world lies out beyond this town's borders, one made for adventure and love and if he can find his way in it, he'll be something better than this, a farm kid in patched jeans and worn-out shoes.
Now. His Lady's Chambers
Yet here he lay, his bare skin against hers, a hand about her waist as she slept, retreading the long road he'd taken from there to here. Kellville was better than two hours drive, a small town edging its way into obscurity as time and industrial growth took a toll on it, nearly every child that graduated from the ancient halls of that decaying school escaping to other cities throughout the state to pursue whatever dreams they had, questing elsewhere. Far away, in both time and distance, a past locked behind a stint in the service, and later, a college education that his service paid for.
Then. Home, Away From Sands of Battle
You would think that as a father who believed so strongly in conservative values, Conrad Bartels should have been able to pass down his stringent ideas of what constituted proper personal discipline down to his only son, but Greg never took to them. Maybe just doing the shit rebellious kids do, insisting on hanging out with the wrong crowds, getting up to business that might have damaged his entire future if he didn't have some guardian angel. One of those bright kids who suffered for lack of direction, Greg had come close to failing out of high school, skating by with a diploma, and it was only after a campaign of insistence and demands, pleading and bargaining, that he was convinced to enlist. The united front his parents presented was the key to that – Sherry Bartels saw and agreed with her husband's reasoning that their son had needed a steadier disciplinary hand in his life.
"All the fighting's going to get you in trouble, Greggie. You need someone to show you the right things to do with it," his mother had told him, anxiety and worry in her eyes.
"Son, you're not a kid anymore. If you don't find a calling, you're going to end up in jail or worse." That statement hadn't hurt as badly as the disappointment in his father's eyes.
And what do you know? Service had worked, and by the grace of that same unseen angel, he got out by the skin of his teeth, his time up before the administration in charge took the notion to reinforce the troops in the middle-east with stop-loss. Greg believed in god and country, would have fought as trained and directed, but he'd already lost a buddy stationed there and had more than enough of his own ugly memories. He didn't sign on again, opting to takes his benefits and channel them into an education. Chance put him on a paralegal's career path, and with that newfound discipline, he buckled down and created a future for himself, earning his Associate's in paralegal studies and capturing himself a great job in downtown Shenan Oaks.
His future seemed solid, founded on a steady income with no bad habits to blow it on, taking everything he was given or earned for himself over his life and making it into something his father could finally respect. That was what he wanted more than anything else, to be a like a knight ascendant, one of those shining heroes like in that tattered King Arthur book his father had given him. It was why he'd finally agreed to enlist, and secret ambition coupled with good old army discipline, was his motivating force throughout college.
Then he met a real lady, one named Andrea Dunlap, and life did a 360, spinning in place, leaving him unsure if he was back where he started.
Now. His Lady's Chambers
Memories like Andrea weren't what he wanted to call up, lying here next to his girlfriend. Amy wasn't plain. In fact, most people would call her pretty, but Andrea's stunning good-looks always seemed overshadow anyone around her. Willing the traitorous thoughts away, he examined Amy's sleeping form. Almost what people would refer to as full-figured, without the connotation of obesity, she had a body that was all great curves, with hips and a bottom that swung flirtatiously when she moved, lovely full breasts that were more than a handful.
Lovely, really? What was he, some kind of ridiculous traveling minstrel, spouting poetic turns of phrase? He chastised himself as he examined her. Still ... the word fit. She looked not just good, but great; she'd taken care of herself, though her self-image was far lower than the packaging warranted. Fucking Jake. Fucking Freddy. There was a place in Hell for those two men, and Greg believed that some version of it existed.
Then. Rescuing the Lady from the Tower
Bafflement was the only word he could use to describe his relationship with Andrea. There were a number of other girls in his past love life ... Greg had two older sisters, and they'd made certain he understood what "romance" met, while his mother had made sure to impress the word "respect" on him as well. So yeah, he might catch them, but not hold them. Greg was the textbook definition of the old saying that nice guys finish last. Until Andrea.
He was no scholar, and there was another expression that had always confused the hell out of him before he met Andrea – mystery wrapped inside an enigma inside a puzzle, or some such. That expression made sense for her, though, because he couldn't make sense of her. They met while he was doing work for his firm, and he was awestruck by not just her good looks, but her skills and competence, the way she worked together with him. Perhaps stupidly, since it could have caused him trouble, he dropped into his classic form, making a show of mock-nervousness, asking, "If you don't have other commitments tonight, perhaps you'll give me the opportunity to try and impress you as much as you've impressed me? Dinner at the Carlton, maybe?"
Blushing, she laughed and accepted the invitation, and from that point on, they were a couple. That was how it was supposed to work, anyway.
He went to a party after one of many dates, and found that others were waiting in the foyer of that home as well. More to the point, a tall girly-looking dude was there, and he had no idea why the prick was talking about his own date with Greg's girlfriend. Greg believed in standing up for things that matter, and he immediately called the punk out, ready to beat the crap out of him.
"Hey, asshole. Who the fuck do you think you are, talking about my girlfriend like you've got something going on with her?" he said confrontationally, fists balled up, ready to go.
"Jahn Halvers, and she's my girlfriend. What the fuck are you talking about?"
.... There is more of this story ...