She honestly believed that he had not hurt her. No, he'd just left her confused (that puzzle again). She knew that in the relatively brief time that they'd known each other he had shown her possibilities that she'd never even suspected. But she'd been young, and she also knew that she shouldn't have needed a man to show her such things, or, lord knows, teach her anything. Still, she had missed him all those years, the way, she supposed, that she missed things from her childhood.
She had never married, never again had anything she would even have called a relationship with a man, but it certainly wasn't as if she'd spent her life grieving over him or torturing herself over what might have been. She'd gone ahead and had her life without him, and a quiet life it had been. I would have been noisier with him, she felt sure of that. It had been, noisier, that Once Upon a Time that dreamers liked to talk about. He'd been such a handsome man, bright, and sure of himself. It wasn't that he made scenes or played the fool, but he didn't mind being the center of attention, and had the charisma to carry it off.
She'd met him at a community event, a fundraiser for a local library. She'd just gotten a job at the neighborhood high school, and was fresh out of teacher's college in a small town in Iowa. She'd never so much as visited Minneapolis before she took the bus from Omaha to interview for the position. She hadn't been in town for even two weeks, and the library was just up the street from the little house she was renting in South Minneapolis. On one of her first walks around the neighborhood she had volunteered her services for an ice cream social in a park adjacent to the library. He was playing trombone in a Dixieland band that had been enlisted for the event. The members of the band all wore straw hats and matching vests, and there had been lots of exaggerated mugging. He was tall, dark complected, with a head of almost unnaturally black hair. When the band took a break she had found herself cornered by him. He was from South Dakota, he told her, also new to town, and was working for the city's streets department. At the end of the afternoon he had sought her out and asked if he might see her again.
They saw each other frequently right up until the beginning of the school year --movies downtown, dinners and dancing, walks around the lakes, and an outing to the State Fair. Once school started she had needed to adjust to the demands and routines of the new job, and so had felt the need to put the brakes on what felt like it was becoming a serious relationship. By Christmas, however, they were back to seeing each other at least two times a week. She'd realized even at the time that she had opened herself up to him in a way that she never had before, with anyone. She'd also never known anyone quite like him. She came from quiet, unassuming people; they didn't let themselves go. When she had left home for college she had never danced in her life, and had never seen her parents dance. There was never music in their house. It wasn't religion; it was reserve. Her parents worked hard and kept a quiet house. It was something of a shock to her, then, to have a young fellow spoil her with attention, even affection. He was very free with his money --"You can't take it with you," he'd say. He taught her to dance, and she supposed that had been the most fun she ever had, dancing to those bands at ballrooms and gymnasiums all over the Twin Cities.
Their time together lasted through her first year of teaching, and most of that time --since the Christmas holidays, anyway-- she had known there was a rival for his attention. He'd never been dishonest about it. There was a girl, a family friend, new to the city from his old hometown. This girl, he always claimed, pestered him; she didn't know another person in the city, he said, and couldn't find her way around to save her soul. They had known each other most of their lives, and had attended high school together. He was always going off to help the girl find her way someplace, helping her get settled in an apartment, find a job, even shop for groceries. He complained about all the demands the girl made on his time, but he was good-natured even in his complaining. He was simply a kind-hearted fellow, and didn't have it in him to turn away anyone who might need something from him. This, of course, was part of his charm, but she couldn't deny that she grew impatient with the time he was spending with the other girl.
Then summer came around, and she learned that he was being called up to the military effort. He'd known it was coming; the war had been escalating for more than a year, and they had figured it was only a matter of time. Before he left --it was in late June-- they drove to the North Shore together. They'd had a wonderful time, and she'd never seen anything so lovely in all her life, and would never forget her first view of Lake Superior. In all the time they were to spend together not so much as a cross word passed between them. He was the most easy-going fellow she'd ever met, and his natural extroversion was the perfect antidote to her own shy reserve.
She'd seen him off when he left for the Service, and for six months they'd exchanged letters faithfully and regularly. Once he shipped off for Southeast Asia, however, his letters stopped coming entirely, and for a year she had worried about what might have become of him. It pained her to think that she really didn't know enough about him; she had no idea how to get in touch with his family, and didn't even know any of his co-workers. It was the girl from his old hometown, in fact, who was to provide her with the first news of him in more than a year. She had met this girl on several occasions before he'd departed for military training.
Coming home on a bus early one evening she had found herself seated across from the girl from his hometown; Helen, the girl's name was, and Helen had always struck her as a plain girl who tried to hide her plainness with fancy clothes and bright lipstick. She knew it was uncharitable, but she could not bring herself to like Helen, who was loud and chatty and worked at a department store downtown. She also could not bring herself to ask the girl if she had any news. It was Helen, in fact, who inquired, "Have you had any news from Richard?"
No, she said. She had not. Not for quite some time. She would not admit that she had been worried about him, or even wondering. "What do you hear?" she did ask, as casually as possible.
"Oh," Helen said. "I tell him he should write books. He writes such wonderful letters, and has such lovely penmanship. It's awful, really, the stories he tells. You feel as if you're right there with him sometimes. He has such a level head on him, though; you know how he is. Can you imagine? One of the fellows from home has been with him much of the time, so that's a comfort. To have someone you know so well. The war is, of course, a terrifying thing, but the way he tells it they're all holding up just fine. He says he misses things just terrible, and I just keep telling him how happy we'll all be when they're done with the whole mess and back home where they belong."
She sat there listening to this silly girl Helen prattle on and all the while she felt as if her heart were taking on shadows and the truth was drawing her stomach in tighter and tighter. As she got off the bus Helen had offered the cruel assurance: "I will write him that I've seen you."
Something had gone terribly wrong. She would never understand it. That was the way she was and the way she had always protected herself; she moved directly from "I do not understand" to "I will never understand," and then she went on with her life almost as if nothing had ever happened.