[January 8, 1964]
[Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls, Montana - Morning]
As it turned out, Molly and Bill didn’t go to see their new camper until the following morning. By the time they’d talked themselves to a standstill, had dinner, and Bill had called several of his friends on the phone, it was time for them to get some sleep. One of the persons he called was a girl that he’d taken out several times before. They had had good times, but never really hit it off together. She was thrilled to hear he was married and made him promise to come by the next day and visit. He voiced his concern about that activity to Molly but she seemed to take it in stride. “Well, go ahead and meet with her. Do you want to go alone?”
“Nah. I think she really wants to meet you. In a way, she’s a lot like you; funny, sexy, and a great person to be with. But, and this is very important, I’m in love with you – not her. Remember that.”
Anyway, they woke up fairly early and ambled down to the kitchen for some sort of breakfast. Bill's dad had already left for the office so the coffee was still hot. Bill had grown accustomed to morning croissants so when he discovered a whole package of them in the refrigerator he held them up to Molly. “Hey, look what I found! Croissants. Want one?”
“Oh, yes, please. I’ve been dying for one.” He put four of them on a cookie sheet and popped them into the oven for a bit. He knew that when hot, with a little butter and jelly on them, they were hard to beat. The two of them sat and munched, holding hands across the table.
Bill's brother joined them. “Hey, guys. What’s on the agenda today? Seen the camper yet?”
“No, not yet.” Bill replied. “I wanted Molly and me to see it together. We’ll go out back after we get dressed." He watched his brother over the brim of his coffee cup as he surreptitiously checked out Molly pretty thoroughly. Nothing that angered Bill, but a frank appraisal that, after he nodded almost to himself, he actually approved of. Even his brother thought he'd made a good decision.
Molly and Bill finished their breakfast and went back upstairs to dress. The wind was blowing fairly hard outside, with a promise of snow in the air. It being early January, Montana gets pretty cold. “Better put on warm stuff today, Honey. I think it will snow before evening.”
“Okay. Are we going out in this?”
“Sure are. We have to buy a few things for our trip. Plus, neither one of us have seen the camper yet. We need to drive it and check things out. Like, how good the heater is, and if it has a safety pack in it. We don’t want to break down and freeze to death.”
“Well, I know all kinds of ways to keep warm.” Molly said with a hint of a smile. “Nice ways.”
“Mmmm. So do I, but the Highway patrol frowns on that sort of thing on the roads.” Bill countered.
“Wait. You said ‘we’ need to drive it. Does that mean me also?”
“Well, sure it means you. You do have your driver’s license with you don’t you?”
“I do, but it’s Canadian.”
“Oh, crap. I forgot about that. We need to stop first down at the license bureau and get you a new one. Make sure you have your new passport and paperwork. It’ll be easy. Probably no driving test at all.”
“Okay. But maybe we’d better take a different car just in case I have to do a drive test. I can’t drive a manual shift car. I never learned.”
Bill slapped his forehead in mock consternation. “Oh, no! What’ll we do?!” He moaned. “We’re doomed!”
“Molly stood with a hand on her hip. “Listen, wise guy, I just never learned, that’s all. Is it easy?”
“Not too bad. I can teach you, but we should probably do that on the road. You’re right. Maybe I can borrow my brother’s car. He has an automatic shift.” Bill left in search of Phillip.
Phillip wasn’t going to use his car so Bill made plans to borrow it in the afternoon. Right now, he and Molly were ready for the great unveiling of their wedding gift. They put on overcoats and gloves then went out the back door to the driveway.
“Oh, Bill! It’s beautiful!” Molly crowed when she saw the cream over light blue VW camper. She hopped up and down, clapping her hands like a little kid. “Open it! Open it!” She urged.
Bill clicked the lock on the sliding door and pushed it back. Molly jumped inside and looked around. “This is just great!” She was glowing with enthusiasm as she began popping little doors and shelves open. “All kinds of hidey-holes for stuff!” She gushed.
* * *
‘This is going to be just great! Look at the size of the bed. I bet it folds out just like a couch. What’s under here? Oh! A sink. This must be the icebox down here – yes. And all this glass around us. You can see out in every direction. But what about … oh, those little rolls on top are curtains that drop down. Oh, what a wonderful gift this is!’
* * *
Bill slid the door shut and went around to the driver’s side. When he jumped into the seat and started the engine he did some looking around. The bus wasn’t new, but had been very well taken care of. Bill looked at the registration over the sun visor and saw that it was only three years old. The odometer had only a little over nineteen-thousand miles on it. Very good mileage. He revved the engine a little and held it at about a third-throttle. The heater kicked in and began warming things up almost immediately. Nothing, he thought to himself, beats an air-cooled engine for producing heat fast.
“It’s getting warm already? That’s pretty fast.” Molly echoed his very thought.
“It is air cooled, Molly. No water to have to warm first. The heat starts almost immediately when you pull the knobs.”
“Oh, just like you, eh?” She deadpanned. She was getting Americanized pretty fast he thought.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he shot back, smiling at her. She slipped between the seats and sat down in the passenger seat. “It’s great to be able to go back and forth without stopping to get out. I can sleep or make a meal while you drive.”
“Um, not a good idea. You can’t wear a seatbelt while you’re sleeping unless you’re doing it right there.” He pointed to the seat she was in. “Now that I’ve found you I have no intention of losing you.”
“Yes, I guess you’re right.” Molly said soberly.
Bill killed the engine and they got out. The sun had broken through the overcast and was now shining very brightly down on them. They were both squinting by the time they got back inside the house.
“So. Whatcha think about the camper?” Phillip asked through a mouthful of toast. “Pretty much all of us chipped in to help buy it.”
“Well, my thanks to you all,” said Molly, kissing him on the cheek. “We love it. Now, if I can only drive it.” Phillip looked quizzically at Molly. “I don’t know how to use a stick shift,” she explained. “Bill’s going to show me how.”
“Well, he’s a good teacher. I didn’t either until he showed me what to do. I kept killing the engine until I got the hang of the clutch. After that, it was easy.”
“We can go over to the Air Police driving range if they’ll let us.” Bill said. “That’s where they teach troops how to do high-speed chases and vehicle handling. They have streets and stuff marked out all over. I can ask, I guess.”
That being settled, Bill asked Phillip for the keys. Phillip reached into a pocket and handed them over. Bill and Molly dressed back up again and went out to his brother's car; a dark green Chevrolet two-door coupe. He fired it up, waited until the gauges started moving, and they drove off.
[January 8, 1964]
[Municipal Building, Great Falls, Montana – morning]
Downtown Great Falls was bustling with traffic and parking was hard to find, but the municipal lot hadn’t filled up yet. Bill parked and they went inside. After waiting for people ahead of them, were finally called up to the desk. Molly launched into her speech, but the woman gently held up her hand to stop her. “That’s okay, Honey. I can handle it just fine. Let me have your paperwork and I’ll be right back. Welcome to the United States – and congrats on your marriage.” She smiled, showing her even teeth. She looked down at the passport. “My goodness, JUST married at that. Congratulations again.”
“Thank you,” Molly said, they went to the back wall to have a seat.
In about ten minutes, Molly was called back up to the desk by an older guy. She looked apprehensive until he smiled and motioned her to the depth perception box. He manipulated a few things to test her eyesight, and then led her to the chair where pictures were taken. The light flashed and he pointed back to Bill. She came back and sat down. “Is that all?” She asked Bill. “Just like that?”
“Just like that. He tested your eyesight, depth perception, and took your picture. Your license is next.”
Five minutes later, the guy motioned the two of them back up to the desk. “Here’s your license Missus Stiles.” He said with dimpled cheeks, which broadened into a huge grim when Molly smiled back. “Am I the first to call you that?”
“Officially, yes.” She replied. “I’m still getting used to it. The first time, my sister called after me and I didn’t even turn around.”
“Well, that tickles me very much then, young lady. You take care out there now.”
“Thank you very much, sir. I will.” They both turned and left the bureau. Molly stared at her license. “I see my picture but the name is strange to me. ‘Molly Renee Stiles’.” She repeated it over and over and then nodded once decisively. “Got it!” She announced.
“We’ll take the scenic route along the Missouri River.” Bill asked.
“The Missouri River? I thought that was down south a ways.”
“It is, also, but it starts west of us here. I’ll drive slowly so you can look.” He said thoughtfully.
They got in and he drove her along the high cliffs overlooking the famous falls the city was named after. Ice was encrusting whole parts of the falls and made them look like a layer cake. Molly was enthralled. Bill stopped at the Lewis and Clark Center and they went inside the museum. She hardly spoke as he showed her around and told her of the expedition they undertook a while back to explore this whole region for the US government. When they left, he drove onwards to Rainbow Dam.
[January 8, 1964]
[Missouri River, Great Falls, Montana – around noon]
They parked again, but found that the River Edge Trail was closed due to ice buildup. Bill figured that wouldn’t have wanted to go just then anyway as they weren’t properly dressed for hiking. He told Molly that they’d come back in the summer some time and walk its length. They now stood on the high bluff overlooking the dam. She took his arm and turned him towards her. They kissed. “Thank you. You have a beautiful city, Bill.”
“But nowhere near as old as Montreal though. We were formally established here as a settlement in eighteen eighty-three. Montana became a state in eighteen eighty-nine. Hardly an ‘old world’ city. Heck, Indian attacks only stopped around eighteen fifty-five.”
“How do you know all that?”
“I had to learn it when I went to the state university and pledged a fraternity. I’m full of stuff like that. Come on, I’m getting cold. Let’s go warm up some.”
He drove Molly over to a little coffee shop he knew of that was run by his friend Rose; the one who used to be his occasional date. He figured it was best to do this in public in case things went wrong.
But they didn’t – go wrong, that is. Rose was apparently back in her office so after they got their tea and cookies Bill asked the waitress if she’d go back and tell Rose he was here. When the waitress was first called over, she looked a bit apprehensive that maybe Bill might complain about something, but relaxed when he told her he was an old friend of Rose. A few minutes later Rose appeared. “Bill! My goodness. It’s so nice to see you again.” She rushed up and kissed him when he stood up. “This must be your new wife. Wow, she’s beautiful, Bill. Hi, I’m Rose.” She stuck her hand out to Molly.
Molly took it, and they shook in the European style, a single, up and down, shake and then let go. Molly was smiling, but Bill had seen her smile like that before. It was friendly, but could escalate into unfriendly in a hurry. He took over.
“Rose, I hear you might get engaged also. Who’s the lucky guy?”
“Norman Bridger. You remember him from high school? Tall guy with black hair?”
Bill thought a moment to call up an image of good old Norm. He remembered him. If he hadn’t changed, he was likely to break Rose’s heart. He played around – a lot. “Yeah, I remember him.” Bill said with false conviction. “Nice guy. Getting serious then?”
“I hope so. We have a date in, mmmmm…” she glanced at her watch. “…about two hours. Going to see a movie. I gotta go back and do manager stuff. Let me have that.” She picked up their bill and carried it off with a smile. She talked briefly with their server and went back down the hall to her office.
“Well, how about that.” Bill said. Molly looked at him.
* * *
‘She seems very nice, but I think there is an edge of something; I don’t know what. She had hard lines around her eyes. Maybe that’s it. Somehow, I just can’t imagine my Bill hanging around her. I wonder if he’s still attracted to her. If so, I’ll scratch her eyes out.’
* * *
“I don’t like her very much. I don’t know why, but I think she still has designs on your body; and nobody but me better get it.” Molly said as she cracked a smile, chuckled, and then broke into a laugh. Bill relaxed a little as he really thought Molly was about to attack Rose. “Come on. Drink your tea before it gets cold.” Molly poured a little more hot water over Bill’s teabag.