Love/Desire

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An eighteen-year-old boy marries the girl of his dreams on the verge of the Second World War.

Submitted: July 19, 2011

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Submitted: July 19, 2011

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The wedding was set for a late Saturday afternoon, before the sun had set but when the sky was the perfect color of a blood orange. Reverend Gilead offered to preside over the ceremony at his house on Harbin Street—much to the joy of the cash-strapped Mr. and Mrs. Cather, who couldn’t afford a ceremony in a church for their son’s impending nuptials but still wanted a religious gathering.

It was an unusually warm autumn; nearly a year had passed since the dreaded attack that had led to this brutal, ongoing war, a war that was going on across both oceans. Mrs. Cather couldn’t bare the thought of her son—her sweet, innocent boy of only eighteen—fighting somewhere she couldn’t even locate on a world map, somewhere where the people spoke a different tongue and warfare was a commonplace thing or idea, like baking a cake or tossing a football. Still, she was proud he was serving his country—for it was not her country, she had come only two decades earlier with a pence piece in her pocket and the clothes on her now lupus-ridden back—yes, she was proud, but incredibly hesitant to let go.

Lars and Lea announced their engagement at a Labor Day barbeque, thrown by Mr. and Mrs. Palmer from down the street. Everyone was anxious that day, and not just because of the sweltering heat. Each and every adult—and possibly, every child—knew that Lars and Lea were together. They had kept it quiet, seeing each other over the summer but telling only a few select people, as Lars preferred to keep his love life private, compared to some of the more obnoxious, sex-crazed boys at Van Nuys High School, but Mrs. Cather had seen the way Lars looked at this girl—young, sprite Lea, only a year younger than her boy, but the girl was anything but naïve. She had a hardness to her—a mental hardness, not as if she looked worn or tired. She had a beautiful face, with perfectly pink skin and long, auburn hair that fell down her back in ringlets. But she acted strong, stronger and realer than most girls her age, as if she had seen things and experienced things that had cut her soul in small fragments as a child, never to be repaired.

While she had never personally met Lea for the longest time, Mrs. Cather knew about her for almost three years before the summer of 1942, when the girl and Lars started seeing each other. Lars used to possess an utter hatred for Lea—according to him, the feeling was mutual. While Mrs. Cather could never get it out of her son why he hated the girl so much, she remembered one incident that stuck with her for a long time, probably longer that it should’ve been.

It had occurred in the autumn of 1939, a mere month after Hitler invaded Poland. Mr. Cather and his son had been tossing a baseball in the yard one day, when the boy’s father brought up the subject of girls. Mrs. Cather was sitting on the porch and acted like she was reading a Sears catalogue while she listened in on their conversation.

“Women are interesting creatures, son,” said Mr. Cather, in an authorative but relating voice.

“Yeah, I know,” said Lars. He continued to toss the ball. He appeared to have no interest in the conversation.

“I know you’re getting to an age where you might find girls to be…attractive,” Mr. Cather went on.

Lars, who at this time was nearly sixteen, had had an interest in girls for a long time, but let his father continue. “Yeah, I know,” he repeated.

“Do you like any girl? How about Nancy Oxford?”

“She’s weird, Dad. She chews on her hair during class.”

“Well, don’t be shallow, son. We all had our peculiarities.”

“OK.”

“How about Rita Howard? She seems real swell.” He paused. “Oh, what about that girl who asked you to dance at the spring formal last year…what was her name again?”

“Willa Glass,” Lars said casually. “She moved to San Francisco over the summer. And no, I don’t like any of them, Dad.”

“How about Lea Marks?”

With that Lars passionately threw down the glove and squashed it into the dirt. “Who told you that?” he demanded. His face had turned a nasty shade of red. Out of embarrassment or anger, both parents did not know.

“No one, Lars, I’m just guessing.”

“I don’t like Lea. You know how much I hate her,” he said, his face tightening. “Lea Marks is a royal bitch.”

Mrs. Cather let out a squeak. The boy’s father stepped forward, and placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. His face was unreadable. Lars swallowed.

“You don’t call girls that, Lars. You understand me?” he demanded  sternly. His hand clenched tighter.

“Yeah, Dad, OK. Just—well, if you knew Lea Marks, you would say the same damn thing,” he spat.

With that Lars marched straight to his room on his own accord. His supper was left untouched outside the door that night.

?

Lars graduated in June 1942, and one afternoon in early July he announced he was going to a party that night.

“Well, where?” his mother asked concernedly, fanning herself. The temperature outside had reached nearly one hundred degrees.

“At Mike’s,” he said quietly. “I’m bringing someone.”

The family was sitting in the kitchen as he announced this. Mr. Cather put down his paper, folded it up, and sat his hands on the table, a smile developing on his lips. Mrs. Cather anxiously gathered everyone’s plates.

“Well—who?” they asked in unison.

Lars put his face down, which contorted a bit. His eye twitched ever slightly. “Lea,” he said imperceptibly. “Lea Marks. She asked me.”

With that, his reddened lips formed a small, nearly indiscernible smile.

?

That summer, Lars mostly went to Lea’s at her house on Parker Street, where the homes were shoddy and mothers smelled of exhaustion and rancid milk. Of course, the Cather home on Williams Avenue was not great, either. Only a few times did Lars invite Lea to his home: once, for a Sunday dinner in August 1942.

Mrs. Cather prepared a lovely roast for the occasion, and once Lea arrived they sat down and the conversation that followed was anything but ordinary. Lea was an interesting girl—poised, with admirable manners and etiquette, but she also had an acerbic wit to her, delivering several funny one-liners in front of Mr. and Mrs. Cather that one could not differentiate between offensive and down-right hilarious. At one point during the dinner Lars stood up from the table to grab another heaping of beans, at which Lea also stood up and went into the kitchenette for a glass of water from the tap.

Being a mother, Mrs. Cather had to get up—ignoring the chidings of her husband, she tiptoed across the wooden floor of the dining room and across a small foyer that led to the kitchen. The door was partially cracked, and she could see the outlines of her son and Lea. Although they were whispering, years of motherhood had made her ears sharp as a hawk’s.

“—happy you like them,” said her son, quietly. Mrs. Cather could see him standing ever so closely to the girl.

“I do—I really do, Lars,” she whispered back.

“You know,” began Lars, “I’m really happy you asked me to Mike Newell’s party. I always thought…I always thought you hated me,” he said, emitting a small nervous chuckle. His voice was scratchily deep when he whispered.

Lea turned, facing him completely for the first time that night. Watching, Mrs. Cather witnessed her son kiss Lea Marks, his hand running through her long, sugary hair, his lips softly imprinting marks on her neck. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” he said, so quietly Mrs. Cather doubted even Lea Marks had heard it. The room grew quiet, and a static filled everyone’s ears.

“I want you,” he breathed.

“Lars,” Lea whispered gingerly, more to herself than anybody, her head tilted back a few degrees as Lars ran his hand down her back. “I never would’ve guessed.”

Mrs. Cather closed her eyes, and, with excellent quietness, slipped off her shoes and slided across the room. She went straight back to the kitchen, sat down, and finished her meal.

?

The wedding day arrived after almost two months of planning. It was the 30th of October, a day before Halloween. Planning was surprisingly easy—the only thing Lea requested was fruitful daises to be braided into her hair. “It’s a tradition in my family,” she announced one morning. She would wear a velvety, white-cotton dress, hand-selected by her at a thrift store for only fifteen dollars.

As per tradition, the night before the wedding—October 29th—the bride and bridegroom slept at different houses so as to not see each other the following day.

Lea stayed at the Gilead residence in Norwalk, but Lars stayed in his childhood bedroom at the Cather residence in Van Nuys. For the past few months he had been living in an apartment complex with Lea near Bellflower, and this was the first time he had slept in his childhood bedroom in a surprising amount of time. He observed the Wild West figurines he had played with as a child, his finger gracing the Map of the World on his yellowed wall, and he laughed at the coo-coo clock given to him by Uncle Joseph, who had long since passed away from mouth cancer.

It was a bit of a reality shock. It was now. It was the present, and it was halfway through the twentieth century. He was marrying Lea tomorrow; Lea, with her sweet smell and her charm—he had had so many dreams about this moment, dreams about holding her close, so tight she couldn’t escape, and telling her how much he wanted her, how much he desired her touch.

They would have only a month together before he left for training, before he was shipped to somewhere no one had ever heard of. Friends who were going had checked an atlas at the local library, and later spoke of places called the Marshall Islands, of Guam, of the Solomons, of New Guinea, places where undiscovered people still wandered the jungle, caught in the crossfire of this horrendous war. He didn’t want to go, but he had to. It was his duty—as a man, as a civilian, as his father’s son. The very idea of bloodshed frightened him to bits, twisted his stomach in a knot so tight no one could loosen it—that is, except for Lea. He could sail across an entire ocean and kill Japs in a place not even God had heard of, and all for her. Daydreams of being with her, touching her, caressing her—they comforted him in a way he had never felt before. He knew that marrying her was the right decision.

?

In a small ceremony, Reverend Gilead pronounced the two Husband and Wife, in the name of The Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

?
His sweet mother loved her. His father was both impressed by her and admired her. He was the envy of every man he knew, the want of every girl he knew, now that he had her. He—Lars, sweet baby Lars—had Lea! The thought sent shivers down his spine.


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