Caroline and Randy came out of the movie theatre, and stood as the crowds milled around them. Caro was unsure of what to do next. Would they head back across the river? She was not ready for the evening to end.
Randy gently cupped her elbow and steered her through the few people still lingering under the bright marquee. They walked down Main Street talking softly about the picture, the heat of the day radiating from the brick sidewalk.The breeze smelled of the river, and faintly of fresh ground coffee from the Maxwell House plant down river.
Randy inhaled loudly,”That smell of coffee always gets me hankering for a cup of joe. Would you like a cup of coffee or a soda?”
“That would be lovely,” Caro answered, glad for a chance to sit and talk to Randy without interference from her pesky brothers, or her parents.
Soon they were seated at the soda fountain. He had a dish of vanilla coffee, and a fresh cup of coffee. Caro was slowly unwrapping her paper straw before placing in a rich chocolate malt.
They spoke of the picture, Dark Command, how much they liked John Wayne and Clare Trevor. They spoke of the newsreels and the war in Europe.
Caro twirled the straw paper around her finger watching it tighten around her finger like a ring.
“Randy, do you think we will go over and fight like they are saying on the radio?”
” I don’t know, but if they do I’m going to do my part.”
Caro stopped playing with the paper and looked up sharply.
“How can you go? There’s no one to help your Daddy at the mill.”
Randy’s eyes flashed blue sparks.
“A man needs to do what’s right. If we go to war, I need to pitch in and do my share. It’s only right. My Grandaddy fought in the Great War, and I can’t do less.”
“Oh,” Caro answered slowly. “I guess I don’t think about it as much, ’cause my brothers are still too young. Mamma says she is glad she won’t be asked to sacrifice any of her boys, but Daddy tells me when Mamma won’t overhear him that he would be proud to have his sons fight Hitler.”
“Well, looks like Mr. Roosevelt is going to keep us neutral for now, but by gosh, I think we ought to go over there and show those Nazis the same stuff we showed the Kaiser!” Randy spoke loudly enough that an old man walking past their booth reached out and grabbed Randy’s hand and shook it with vigor.
“You tell ’em son!” he said.
Caroline and Randy drove back across the river with the windows down. The cab was filled with the sweet smell of jasmine, while the radio softly played. Benny Goodman’s sweet clarinet performed in harmony with the cicada’s night song.
Randy kept his eyes on the road as they traveled back into the piney woods of the country. The headlights picked up the white tail of a deer on the side of the road. Caroline stole glances at Randy’s profile and wondered what he was thinking.
Randy took one hand off the wheel and reached for Caro’s hand in her lap. She felt a shiver go up her spine as his warm, calloused fingers traced her palm.
The truck turned up her drive and stopped in front of the house. The porch lights were on, but Caro was relieved that her family was not sitting outside enjoying the night air.
Randy turned off the truck and then turned to look at Caro. His face was half lit from the warm glow of the radio.
“I sure enjoyed your company tonight, Miss Caroline.”
“Please, call me Caro.”
“All righty, Caro,” he said her name like a caress. She shivered again. Whatever was wrong with her? The night was warm, but she was shivering like she had caught a chill.
“Are you alright, Caro?” Randy looked at her intently. “You looked flushed. Have you caught a cold?”
“N-no,” she replied carefully, worried that her teeth would chatter. “I’m just fine.”
“Well let’s get you inside out of this night air. Wouldn’t want your folks to think I didn’t take care of you.”
Caro didn’t protest. She had not felt so strange, since she had the measles as a girl.
Randy came around the truck and opened her door. Reaching for her hand, he helped her out and walked beside her, his hand cupping her elbow as she climbed the porch stairs.
At the front door he looked deep into her eyes, “I had a mighty fine time, Caro. Would you come out with me again sometime?”
Caro could only nod yes. She had lost all ability to speak clearly. Surely she was burning up with a fever.
Randy touched her hand, then walked back to his truck, whistling the Benny Goodman tune.
Caro watched him drive away, then slowly turned to go inside. Mamma was waiting for her in the parlor. She took one look at her daughter’s bright eyes, scarlet cheeks, and shook her head.
“You’ll be leaving me soon daughter. You’ve got it bad.”
“What is it Mamma? What is wrong with me?”
“Love, daughter. You’re in love.”