Chapter 1: In the Beginning
It didn't matter that she wasn't pretty. He had been watching her watching him. He knew what that was all about.
It was Hildy Wertz, the lobby receptionist at the Operations Center of the utility company where Jim worked his summer job while he was in college. He knew her well enough to say 'hello' and that was about it. Sometimes, after showering but before actual quitting time, the summer college workers would gather in the lobby to pass the time, because leaving before exactly six was strictly against the rules.
Hildy would be at the reception desk and trade cheerful banter with them. It was kind of nice to see her then because digging up gas lines every summer day was hot, dirty work. The lobby was air-conditioned and Hildy always wore a smile on her face.
Her hair was blonde—blonder-than-blonde—which was too bad because it seemed to Jim that a prettier girl could have made better use of it. It was difficult for him to put his finger on the problem, but her face just didn't have that look that made guys put her at the tops of their lists—or even in the top halves.
Her face was somewhat round, but sat atop a long, thin neck and her body was long and lean and the fit just didn't seem right. She had a broad smile that she would use to try to make you happy, but her lips were thin and not quite sensuous enough to be the stuff of dreams. Maybe her smile was too broad.
Jim would have preferred that it could have been Kathy Mangano giving him the eye, that cute little brunette college girl who had a summer job working in the map room. But, he had made his play for her and been rebuffed just as he thought he was getting to First Base.
It promised to be a long summer in Jim Connolly's hometown of Rochester, that mid-sized, mid-American style city on the Great Lakes. Before long he would return to Campbell University, about a two-hour drive away.
And, speaking of baseball, he shook himself out of his daydreams with a reminder that he was on deck. It was the company slo-pitch league. The departments recruited their summer college help to fill out their teams, in deference to their better physical condition than the regular employees with the beer bellies. Jim played for the Gas Line Operations Department.
The count was one-and-one. Jim figured he had a minute or two left to finish off his analysis of the young woman behind the team bench who seemed to have trouble hiding her interest in him. She chatted with her friend, Darlene, as they watched the game. She could have stood behind the Electric Line Operations Department's team bench on the other side of the field, since her job as receptionist seemed to cover all departments. But she had chosen the Gas bench and Jim was certain he knew why.
"C'mon—batter-up!" Jim heard the umpire yell at him.
Jim had to shake himself awake once again and stepped into the batter's box.
"I'll show her something," he boasted to himself.
He lunged at the first offering from the pitcher and was lucky to make contact. The ball dribbled foul aside the third base line. It was a little embarrassing, but he had little time to think about that. The next pitch was on its way and he took it for a ball. He took a good cut at the next one.
"Double, at least, maybe a triple," he told himself as the ball launched itself off his bat.
But the spin on the ball carried it out of play deep down the right field line. The count was one-and-two.
"I'd better buckle down or I'll strike out. That would really show her something."
The pitcher lobbed an outside pitch, figuring to take advantage of the two-strike count. Jim was ready He reached out and lined a single over the second baseman.
"Not a triple, but not a strikeout, either," he said out loud as he rested his foot on the bag.
"How come you college guys are always talkin' to yourself?" the First Baseman asked. "I thought you guys went to college to learn something."
Jim didn't answer, but checked to see if Hildy was still watching him, and she was.
Another thing abut Hildy was that she was really tall—probably just over six feet. So, added to her homeliness, her height would probably prevent her from getting a lot of dates. In fact, Jim reckoned that she would tower over him by at least two inches, more if she wore heels. Still, those long, slender legs descending from the hot pants she wore made a heck of a statement, and those hot pants seemed to fit just right. It was another of Hildy's notable attributes that was easy to miss because he usually saw her sitting down at her reception desk in the lobby.
The next batter popped up for the third out. Jim trotted to the bench to retrieve his glove, and she was still watching him. As he made his way to right field he continued to mull over the prospects.
"It wouldn't be any big commitment—just a few dates for the summer."
He watched the shortstop field a pop-up. There was one away.
He thought about it for a minute and began to form some plans.
"She could help me get rid of my problem."
His problem, as he saw it, was his 'lack of adequate experience with the female sex', which was his own euphemism for not ever having had sex. He was determined to change that. At the age of twenty-two and just a single year left before his degree it seemed like the right thing to do.
He knew why he had the problem. Girls wanted relationships and attention as a prerequisite to problem solving. That meant money and time away from studies and sports and friends. It seemed like too high a price. He had been close a few times. There had been a few occasions when Jim might have been willing to take the relationship plunge. It seemed, however, that whenever he was willing things didn't seem to work out.
"I'll get Hildy to help me out and then I'll be ready to go when school starts up. I've waited too long already."
He looked back into the infield and saw his teammates trotting off. He must have missed the final two outs of the game.
As he loped off the field he glanced at the bench area and found Hildy. She wasn't looking to make a fast getaway with Darlene. It was time to put a plan into action.
"Hi, Hildy. We're going to Clancy's for a few beers after the game," he said to her as he picked up his baseball glove and began changing from his cleats to shoes."
"Oh," Hildy replied, "are you asking us to go?"
"Yeah, sure," Jim answered, and then cleared his throat. "You, too, Darlene"
The two young women looked at each other and didn't answer.
"C'mon, it'll be fun. I'm buying"
"I've got to get home," Darlene spoke up. "Give me a rain check."
"I'll see you in the morning, Hildy," she called over her shoulder as she headed for the parking lot about a hundred yards away.
"Well, how about it?" Jim asked Hildy again.
Hildy's gaze trailed after Darlene, but then she turned and looked at Jim.
"Sure, I suppose so," she said, "just for a little while."
"We can go in my car." Jim offered. "The parking lot at Clancy's is a nightmare. I'll bring you back later and you can pick up your car."
With that they started walking together to the parking lot. The other guys on the team were already on their way. The regular company guys had girlfriends or wives on their arms.
Jim fumbled with his keys for a second and then opened the passenger door for Hildy. He tossed his equipment on the floor of the back seat on the passenger's side. It was a good way to take on the role of the gentleman, while preserving the ability to deny it, if necessary.
He owned a beat up, red, Plymouth wagon. At college they called it the 'Rustmobile'. It didn't bother him because it was his, paid for from savings, his first car. It got him from place to place and now it would get him and Hildy to Clancy's.
"Nice car," Hildy said as Jim climbed behind the steering wheel.
"Well, it's mine. I know it's not much but it'll get me by until I can afford something better."
"No—I meant it," Hildy laughed. "It's nice ... and roomy."
She said it like she didn't care what the car looked like and that made Jim laugh along with her.
"Natural air conditioning in a few places, too," Jim countered.
They laughed again.
He was waiting to pull into traffic from the parking lot.
"I hope I didn't hurt Darlene's feelings," Jim offered. "I meant that she should come along too."
"That's okay. We talked about it ahead of time. We knew you were going to ask."
"Knew I was going to ask? How could you have known that?" he demanded.
"We saw you looking at us while you were playing Right Field," she laughed again.
She was right, of course. He could have countered that he'd seen her giving him the eye all night. He decided to keep that to himself?
"And so you two flipped a coin to see who would bow out and who would go to Clancy's with me?"
Hildy paused for a moment.
"A girl can only divulge so much," she answered, "and I've already told you that we knew you were going to ask."
A number of players from the team, complete with wives and girlfriends, were already inside the barroom, wedging through the crowd to order their beers. At least the regular company guys were there. The college guys who played on the team usually went somewhere else, but Jim preferred to go to Clancy's.
"Jim, do you need a beer?" Eddy shouted at him over the din.
Eddy was the Third Baseman and had already made his way to the bar rail. His wife stood off to the side. They were about thirty.
"I need two," Jim yelled back and then pointed to Hildy.
Eddy nodded and turned back to speak to the bar tender. Jim and Hildy made their way over to where Eddy's wife was waiting.
"Hi, Patti, this is Hildy."
Patty gave a faint smile, not her usual manner. She was usually happy to see Jim when he was alone and she was always nice to him. Jim didn't understand the chill.
"Maybe she has a headache."
But he noticed that she and Hildy weren't striking up a conversation. Just then, Eddy showed up with a tray full of beers. Eddy said 'hello' to Hildy, whom he already knew, and then the two men traded a few laughs over the game just played.
"Do you come here to celebrate when you win?" Hildy asked.
"Well, we won tonight, but we come over after every game, win or lose," Eddy answered. "Otherwise we would only come here two or three times a season."
That was good for another good laugh. They chatted some more and then Patty said that she wanted to go home.
"I'll buy us another round," Jim said to Hildy. "Why don't you grab that empty booth over there while I go to the bar?"
The crowd was thinning as fast as it had grown. It was quiet enough that they could speak to one another without shouting. Jim bought two beers and walked over to the booth where Hildy was waiting for him.
Jim thought he should say something to Hildy, but didn't know where to start.
"How many summers have you worked at CG&E?" Hildy asked.
"This is my fifth," Jim answered.
"Fifth? I thought college was four years," Hildy countered. "Anyway, I only remember you from this year and last year."
"What I'm studying takes five years," Jim explained. "I worked in the electric power station my first three years. Then they sent me over to Gas Line Operations. With all the new home construction I guess they need the help over here more."
Hildy nodded and took a sip of her beer.
"At the power station I worked in the coal yard and was a helper to the boiler repairmen. It was hot all the time and the coal gets all over you—even in your mouth and nostrils. The work is hard over here, but at least it's outside."
"I wish I could work outside once in a while," Hildy said. She put her beer down on the table. "What do you study that takes five years?"
"Chem-E," he answered.
"Kemmy?" Hildy asked as she scrunched her nose. "What's Kemmy?"
"No, not 'Kemmy—Chem-E—Chemical Engineering. I'll be done next spring."
"Chem-E means about as much to me as Kemmy," she confessed as she shook her head. "So, this is your last summer here?"
"Well, I sure hope so," Jim said.
Hildy cast her eyes down at the table for a moment.
"Would you like me to explain Chem-E to you," he offered.
She lifted her eyes from the table and shook her head. She must have sensed that it was something that he wanted to explain to her.
"Maybe another time," she replied.
He thought the explanation of Chemical Engineering would be just the thing to talk about to fill some time. He wondered if he should start in on it, anyway.
"I've been with CG&E for three years," Hildy said. "I started right after High School."
"So, you're saving money so you can go to college?" Jim answered, presuming to have hit on a topic.
Hildy shook her head.
"No, I'm just working here."
Jim felt the loss of contact, and when she didn't continue right away he hoped he hadn't hurt her feelings. He should have thought first, he knew. He tried to think of something to say that would ease him out of his clumsy assumption.
"I said that I graduated High School," Hildy said before Jim could think of what to say. "I never said I was the valedictorian."
She finished her beer and smacked it down on the table. She was laughing again. Jim couldn't decide if it was at her own joke or at his presumption. At any rate, he decided to laugh along with her. At first he forced himself to do it, but as he did, it felt better.
"What are you laughing at?" Hildy demanded.
"At asking a stupid question," he answered. "What were you laughing at.?"
Hildy's face turned serious.
"I just work at CG&E," she said. "I'm not looking to go to college; I'm not the Algebra and Shakespeare type. That's okay for some people and not for others. I've known for a long time that I'm one of the others."
"Hildy, I'm sorry if I..."
"Don't be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for. I was just being honest."
Jim noticed that Hildy's beer glass was empty.
"Hildy, I'd buy another round but I have to decide if I want another round of beer tonight or gasoline in my car tomorrow morning."
The admission made Hildy laugh again, and Jim was glad.
"What a couple of honest people we are," she declared. "It's time to go, anyway. Besides, the air conditioning in here is a bit too much."
They got up to leave and headed for the door.
"I was hoping that those goose bumps on your legs were for me, but I guess it was the air conditioning."
Hildy was quick with the reply.
"We'll never know," she said. "They might have been, but the air conditioning took over before I could tell."
Jim didn't quite understand her last remark, but decided to think about it later. In a few minutes they were pulling into the company lot.
"Which car is yours," he asked as they made the turn.
There were about a half dozen cars in the lot. Most were bunched up near the front of the building. One stood alone in the middle of the large employee lot. Jim figured the ones up front were the cleaning staff.
"The purple Plymouth Duster over there," she replied.
Jim had been right. He drove up next to the driver's side of her car and put his wagon in Park.
"We could form a Plymouth Club," he said, as he tried a last joke of the evening.
Hildy shrugged. "Yeah, maybe."
"So, do you have an apartment or someplace you're going to now?" Jim asked.
"No," she replied, "I live with my parents."
Her answer surprised Jim, and it wasn't the one he was hoping for.
"What did you expect?" she asked.
It was Jim's turn to shrug.
"Don't go yet," he said as he switched off the motor. "It's not that late. We can talk here for a few minutes, can't we?"
He wondered if he sounded like he was begging. Then, he admitted to himself that he was.
"Talk about what," she asked, with a hint of curiousness he detected in her voice.
Jim turned sideways to look at her.
"We could talk about CG&E; we could talk about 'Kemmy'."
He slid closer to her.
"You'll need to find something more interesting," she replied.
It occurred to him to ask what she'd meant by 'interesting', but there was something in her voice that sounded to Jim like an invitation. He moved closer to her, lifted her chin with his fingers and when she looked at him, he kissed her.
She didn't kiss him back, but she let him kiss her again. When he moved as close to her as he could get, she let him put his arms around her. He felt her put her arms around his shoulders. He wished it was a more passionate embrace, but it was like she was being polite. It felt like when he slow-danced with Mary Lou Riesman at the Senior Prom.
They were kissing for a few minutes and he shifted so that she could stretch out her long legs on the car seat and slide to the center of it so that she could lie down. She was looking up at him as he bent to kiss her some more. He wondered what her expression said—he couldn't say—but he surmised that it didn't say 'no'.
"I think Hildy is going to help me out with my 'problem'," he thought, "and she's going to help me out right now."
He thought that the next step might be the blouse and bra. That seemed the usual way, and it worked to a point with Patty Hall when he got her to come to his room at the fraternity house a couple of years ago. He recalled how she'd stopped him short of the goal line back then, and at that moment it occurred to him that they were in a car in the midst of a well-lit parking lot.
"Best to keep it to a minimum," he figured.
Hildy wasn't that impressive on top, anyway. He'd checked that out already when he hugged her.
So, they spent a few more minutes kissing—he leaning down atop her. He pulled his hand from around her and reached down to the button of her hot pants. She didn't stop him when he undid the button. He did feel her gasp a bit and her muscles tighten for a moment, but she seemed to get over it.
"No time to lose before she changes her mind."
His problem was nearing its solution.
She raised her hips as he tugged the hot pants down her leg, her panties with them. He had to climb atop her and in the car it was easier said than done.
So, it wouldn't be the most romantic lovemaking he would ever have. And it certainly didn't seem to going that great for Hildy, either. It was more a task that needed to be done. There could be other times when the moment and setting could be better. He looked down at Hildy, who seemed ready to let him inside her. He wondered what she was thinking. He prepared to complete the act, but a final thought delayed him.
"Hildy," he whispered, "you've done this kind of thing before, haven't you?"
"No, never," was the reply, and there was no laughter in her voice as she said it.
He forced himself ahead, although his instincts told him to pause.
"You're on the pill or something, aren't you?"
"'No'—that was it? How could she take the risk? Well, that was her problem."
"Well, it's your safe time of month, right?"
"I don't know. I never know. My periods are very erratic."
He felt a chill. It put goose bumps on the back of his neck like the air conditioning did on Hildy's thighs back at Clancy's bar. And in both cases he would never know what, exactly, caused them. He rose and drew up his pants and buckled them.
"Hildy, maybe we should do this sometime when we can find a place that's more private."
She didn't answer, but sat up right away and pulled her pants back on.
"Hildy, I hope you're not mad..."
"I'm sorry", she said. "It's my fault. I knew what you were expecting. Maybe we can try again some time."
"Jeez, I'm sorry, too, Hildy. It was just so spur of the moment and all..."
"I guess your car isn't as roomy as I thought," she laughed.
Jim was relieved. She was laughing again and that made him feel better.
"Then we can still be friends?" Jim asked. "How about going out Saturday night?"
"Sure, I'd like that."
She opened the car door and stepped out into the parking lot.
"See you tomorrow," she said as she drew her car keys out of the pockets of her hot pants.
It was eleven-thirty and she was off, back to her parents' house in her purple Plymouth Duster. Jim wondered if her parents would ask her how her evening went.