WHEN DARK CLOSES IN
1966 – Clear Creek, Washington
Jennifer sat, sipping her coke, watching people coming through the door of Barney’s Smoke Pit. Hazel green eyes, shoulder length dark hair, fair complexion, she was a girl with a vivacious spirit. Her feisty character mirrored the same as her Scotch-Irish father. Her friends claimed she was more her father in a female body than one refined, like her mother of British descent. But, the McAlister family’s unwavering ties to the Catholic Church became more an albatross to Jennifer’s generation than a thread of continuity worth keeping. There was a sense of freedom and coming of age for those in her generation. Her father’s insistence in attending mass, and honoring all the church’s stringent teachings was more like bringing the two clashing together like loud cymbals in conflict and discord.
Jennifer waved to her friend when she came in. Carolyn squeezed through those still waiting for tables to open up. People mingled around outside. The place began filling up, the lunch crowd straggling in.
They hugged. “It is so good to see you again, Jen. I talked with your mom last week, before you got home. Did you have to wait long for the table?” Carolyn asked.
“My mom told me you called. I thought lunch would be fun, like old times. But, no. I didn’t have to wait long. I called ahead so they would have a table ready for three.”
“Yes, I called Dana too. She’s meeting us here.”
“Oh. Well, when you called, you didn’t mention Dana, so I hoped it might be just us two.”
Jennifer laughed. “You wish. But, I thought it would be good if we all… Oh, there she is.”
“Dana, over here.” Jennifer called over, motioning to Dana.
Dana worked her way through the knot of people near the door, gliding through isles, getting looks and stares from every guy in the place.
“I’m so glad your back. Its been too long.” she said, hugging Jennifer. Then noticing Carolyn already seated, said, “Carolyn, how are you?” and gave her a slight hug.
“I’m good. Thank you, Dana.” Carolyn had the lunch menu opened, saying little.
Dana, the pampered ‘daddy’s girl,’ came from a wealthy Italian family who spoiled her to the core. There was no shortage of the thing she had the most of: money. Yet, lacking in the one thing she wanted most from her parents: an unconditional love, she often went seeking in all the wrong places. There was nothing she had not tried. If it was new, she’d done it first. There was no one she was afraid of if there was something she could gain from the relationship.
Her coal-black hair was styled in the tapered, popular ‘page boy’ cut, turned under on the ends, one side swept behind one ear. Both ear lobes sparkled with gold hooped earrings. Her jade colored eyes were made larger by eye liner and a coating of mascara on her long lashes. Foundation and blush blended well into her flawless ivory complexion. Her lips and nails were painted scarlet, a deeper red than the ‘mini’ skirt that hugged slim hips on her five feet, four-inch frame. Worn with a short bolero vest and balloon sleeved blouse, all making her look as if she’d stepped off a page of Cosmopolitan magazine.
An hour later she’d finished her tales on her exploits with fraternity guys she’d met, ones she’d shared a room with, the parties, and the sorority she’d pledged to, and got in. A couple of times she added a little bit about a class or program she just could not ‘get into.’
Jennifer had made no solid plans for her summer break home from college. But, with Dana around she was sure things would not get dull, and they would find plenty to do, not all of them good.
“But, enough about that stuff.” She went on. I’ve met a new guy. He’s a little older than me, one of my father’s business associates, but so cool. College guys can be kind of immature with all their friends around, but…Paul…well, he seems a little more experienced in things, you know?”
“Now, there’s a pretty lass that finds a party wherever she goes. You be careful now, Jenny.” Her father had warned her of keeping company with Dana.
“I’m fine, dad. I can handle myself. You cannot pick and choose my friends for me.” As an only child she felt as if he still treated her like a child, doubting her ability to make good choices. In spite of Dana’s flamboyant lifestyle and the fact that she walked a little on the wild side, they stayed in touch and hung out.
In contrast, Carolyn, who gave balance to Jennifer’s ‘trolling trolley,’ as her father put it was the one who remained a constant, reliable friend, and always there. Her parents liked Carolyn.
“Jennifer, what’s wrong? What are you looking at?” Dana asked.
A couple of soldiers in uniform walked in and were directed to a table near them. It was hard to avoid overhearing their conversation about the, ‘new developments in South Vietnam.’
“Just looking at the officers that came in. I think they’re Army recruiters. Scott told me he had to register for the draft. He’s kind of worried about being called up to serve.”
“But, he’s at ITE (Institute of Technology and Engineering), isn’t he?” Dana asked. “Won’t they exempt him as they have other students?”
“Not unless he keeps up a 3.5 GPA. Working a job doesn’t matter, either. The draft boards are running out of volunteer recruits, and so implemented the mandatory draft.” Jennifer said.
“It has been in all the news. There’s hardly a newspaper reporting anything else, but the war it seems, except for the hippies, or otherwise called ‘flower children’ who ride around in old Volkswagen buses all painted with big flowers. Most of them get all doped up on weed, are into ‘free love,’ and all that stuff. They drive around the country protesting the war, making ‘peace’ signs, demonstrating wherever they go. Many of them are draft dodgers who have taken off for Canada.” Carolyn said.
Carolyn, from a strict German background, always the honest, outspoken one sometimes tried too hard to win people’s respect and friendship. Her Lutheran synod church seemed to solidify her inherit values, although too staunch in their beliefs. The way she dressed, her simple short hairstyle, and basic, little used makeup never changed. Jennifer always wondered if Carolyn was proof to the old cliche that ‘redheads are hotheads.’ There was nothing striking about Carolyn except for the cranberry colored, red hair and her opinionated thinking. She did not ‘get all dolled up’ as Jennifer’s mother would say, to seek dates or praise from guys. Dana called her, ‘Miss prim and proper’ from the ‘starchy shirts church.’ But, her ‘prim and proper’ often earned her the admiration of many a parent. She excelled in everything she did, because in everything she tried, it turned successful. Her head was all business, her style, modest, and her intentions, – Jennifer believed for the most part– sincere.
Such a contrast between her two friends, and Jennifer wondered if the girls would ever get along.
When they got up to leave Dana sauntered out the door, all eyes and heads watching her moves.
Carolyn excused herself at the door, saying she had an appointment and needed to leave. She gave Jennifer a hug, and promised to give her a call soon.
“Well, let’s just us two go have some fun, shall we? Go shopping, like old times?” Dana said.
“Sure.” Jennifer said.
As the Army recruiters got up to leave too, Jennifer watched them get into a dark car with the military license plate logo. She could not stop thinking about the conversation she overheard between the two men about, ‘the newly enlisted recruits, trained and ready to leave, and the new ones, called up and reporting in, but the numbers are still short of what is needed over there.’
Jennifer didn’t really feel like shopping, but knew she could no longer go off and mope like she did as a child when things did not go her way. Her father would try to console her, give her a big hug and say, ‘things might be tough now, but they will get better, Jenny. You’ll see.’
But, these new feelings overwhelmed her, and she wondered if she was really ready for things ahead.
To be continued…
Joyce E. Johnson