Stel

by Charles C. Cole


Early one spring, Stel, a college sophomore, stood on the covered porch of her two-story brick dormitory. Hunter, her ex-boyfriend, only six months in the Air Force, stood beside her, carefully holding a stack of crackers.

“The point is to be the first to whistle the last six notes of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’,” Stel explained. “On three.” She lifted the crackers to her mouth.

“Can we practice first?” Hunter asked.

“You don’t know them!” she gasped.

“In context,” Hunter corrected her.

“But you’re in the military!”

Hunter readied an argument but swallowed his pride. At an agreed-upon signal, he stuffed the crackers into his mouth and tried unsuccessfully to whistle. Stel nibbled a noticeably smaller amount but also failed miserably. They laughed.

“I’ve got one,” said Hunter, spitting crumbs. “The person who can stuff the most crackers in his mouth, without breaking them, wins.”

“You’ve got an unfair advantage,” Stel retorted. “How about one I learned at a party? It’s usually done with Oreos. Two people face each other, a guy and a girl. Each person holds their half of a sandwich cookie with their lips, and then you pull it apart and the person who gets the most cream filling wins.”

“What did they win?” Hunter asked, jealous but curious.

“Who?” asked Stel.

“The guys you played this with,” said Hunter.

“A French kiss,” she answered dismissively.

“Stel!” hissed Hunter. “Did you even think where their tongues had been?”

“It was a party,” said Stel. “Besides, Margie Horner says all military guys drink beer out of a boot!”

“That’s the Marines!”

“It’s still gross!” Stel insisted.

“I never did it!”

Stel rapped her knuckles against her forehead. “Why do we do this?” she asked, deflated by their bickering. Hunter shrugged. “You’re like this dark force in my life. I have an exam tomorrow.”

“I should head back to base anyway,” said Hunter. “We’ll do better next time.”

“Wait!” Stel commanded.

“It’s no big deal,” Hunter suggested.

“If you go, don’t come back.”

“Don’t get melodramatic: actresses. I had to fall for an actress.”

“I mean it,” said Stel.

“No, you don’t,” Hunter countered. “Who went skinny-dipping with you in Lake Michigan in October? Who stood in line for an hour so Garrison Keillor could sign a book for your mother? Who held you the first time you saw snow?”

“When are you shipping out?” asked Stel, considering biding her time a while longer.

“Four and a half weeks.”

“The Philippines?” Stel asked.

“Greenland was my first choice. I didn’t want any distractions: work, Ping-Pong, write, repeat.”

“For how long?” she asked.

“A year and a half-ish,” Hunter replied. “Then they ship me somewhere closer.”

“And you’ll write?”

“Sure,” he answered.

“I don’t mean letters,” Stel said. “You’ll write stories.”

“It’s what I do,” said Hunter. “Not that anyone knows about it, except sweet, wonderful you.” He pulled a small box from his pocket. “Listen, it would help to know there’s someone special in the States thinking about me.”

“I’m not ready!” she cried. “You caught me completely off guard!”

“They’re just earrings,” said Hunter. He pulled them from the box. “So you can think of me. The guy in the store called them ‘friendship jewelry’.”

“I didn’t get you anything,” said Stel. “Now I feel bad.”

“You still have time,” said Hunter with a wink. “Speaking of, what about next weekend? Any plans?”

“It’s the spring formal,” said Stel. “I wasn’t planning on going.”

“Do guys wear tuxes?” Hunter asked, warming to the notion. “I know a guy in the barracks about my size.”

“Somebody asked me,” Stel admitted. “You’re going away.”

“I haven’t left yet,” said Hunter sharply.

“I had a great time today,” Stel offered, squeezing both his hands. “Nobody makes me laugh like you.”

“I’ll call you on your birthday,” said Hunter.

“From the Philippines?” asked Stel, as though he might just as well be stationed on the moon.

“I’m not asking you to wait by the phone,” said Hunter defensively.

“You know what you can do?” asked Stel. “Write me a story. Anything at all. But no horror.”

“Anything?” asked Hunter.

“No gruesome war stories,” Stel continued. “How about something autobiographical?”

“You mean: Boy quits college and joins the Air Force, then visits old girlfriend on weekends until he’s shipped overseas?”

“Not that,” said Stel.

“It’s autobiographical,” Hunter reasoned.

“Please.”

“What if I change the names?” Hunter asked.

“Please,” Stel implored.

“Okay,” conceded Hunter.

“You’ll be successful one day,” said Stel. “I’ll see you on TV with your supermodel wife and three supermodel children.”

“I love you.”

“Here,” said Stel, passing him an earring. “I’ll keep one. You keep one.”

“Sure,” Hunter said.

“I’m freezing,” Stel said. “I’m going in.”

“You’ll make it, too.”

“I’ve got plenty of competition,” she admitted, “and lots of work ahead of me, including a big exam tomorrow.”

“I believe in you,” Hunter said. “And one day, I’ll climb up the statue of Longfellow and I’ll whisper in his ear, then we’ll share a manly laugh at your expense.”

“What will you tell him?”

“Just guy talk,” Hunter said.

“Tell me,” Stel insisted.

“I’ll say: ‘I did it! I finally made it!’ And he’ll say, ‘How can you be sure?’ I’ll say, ‘Because I’ve done it, you old geezer.’ And he’ll say, ‘What have you done that’s such a big deal? Nobody ever tells me anything. I just sit here and get pooped on by pigeons. What did you do? Write a bestseller? Win a Pulitzer?’ And I’ll say, ‘Better. But you’ve got to keep this between us.’ ‘Who am I going to tell?’ he’ll snarl. ‘Okay. Okay... I slept with a movie star!’”

“You’re such a boy!” said Stel.

“You didn’t want me serious,” Hunter protested. “And I’ll write you that story, a collection dedicated to you.”

“But not about me,” Stel instructed.

“Got to go,” said Hunter. “Duty calls.”

“I mean it,” said Stel.

“Okay,” Hunter promised, knowing full well that one day he would write about her.


Copyright © 2013 by Charles C. Cole

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