Karen’s mind raced back in time to the last day she and Wally spoke, the day he broke her heart and went away, possibly forever.
Wally had surprised her by coming to her volley ball game. He skipped work to do it. That in itself was strange, but the strangeness didn’t stop there. He looked odd to her somehow, like something had changed. Something had all right, but he didn’t know it yet. Karen had only just found out that morning that she was pregnant and she was a nervous wreck wondering how she would tell him and how he would react to this news.
“Hi, Wally. What are you doing here?” Karen asked nervously. She hesitated only a half second before going on tiptoe and kissing him. Before her heels could hit the ground again he pulled her into a bone-crushing embrace. She smiled even as he squeezed most of the air out of her lungs. He simply didn’t know his own strength.
He continued to just hold her for an extra long time, so long in fact, that she knew something was not quite right. Did he already know about the pregnancy? But how could he when she told no one?
When he finally released her he still held her hands and just stared at her as if trying to memorize every feature. This made her even more nervous.
“You’re so beautiful, Karen,” he said quietly.
“No, I’m not,” she replied, smiling despite herself.
“You are to me. Prettiest girl I know,” he said before pulling her to him again and kissing her soundly. It was a long, sweet, lingering kiss that made her melt against him and made her believe she was beautiful. Maybe, she thought, as she became utterly intoxicated by him, he might be okay with the baby. Perhaps, she hoped rather than believed, he wouldn’t insist she get an abortion.
When at last they parted, he still wouldn’t let go. Instead he pressed his forehead to hers, his eyes closed and his breathing coming in shallow and quick. Something was definitely wrong, but what?
“Wally, are you okay?” she asked, agitated butterflies fluttering inside her now.
“I gotta tell ya something,” he said, leading her outside to his beat up old car.
He lifted her up with ease and sat her on the trunk. He then stared at her again, his expression anxious. He stood with one hand on her thigh and the other in the pocket of his down vest. He seemed to be fiddling with something in there but she couldn’t imagine what. It couldn’t be his car keys. He had the troublesome habit of always leaving them in the ignition and usually locking them inside.
He appeared to be struggling to find the right words, but for what? What could he possibly need to tell her that was so serious?
Boy! Was he making her nervous. He was acting so odd. There was just no way she could tell him today about the baby.
“Wally, tell me,” she said, forcing herself to stay calm.
“You remember I told you my dad could lose his job?” he said.
“Oh…yeah?” she said, trepidation running along her spine.
“Well, he did,” he said running his hand through his long curling hair.
“I’m sorry. How is he taking it?” she asked.
Amazingly Wally smiled. “Great, actually. He’s gonna start his own business. He always wanted to and this is his chance. He’s pretty excited about it,” Wally said, now taking her left hand and staring at it.
A few minutes passed before he spoke again. “He’s going through his saving real quick though. He says you gotta spend money to make money. Start up costs for a new business. Ya know?” he said, attempting a smile, but failing miserably.
No, she didn’t understand any of it, but she nodded anyway. “Must be hard. Wish I could do something to help,” she said.
He squeezed her hand until she almost cried out in pain. “There’s something I can do,” he muttered. “I told him to use my college fund. They’ve been saving since I was real little and there’s tons in there.”
“But, Wally, you’re supposed to go to college in September,” Karen said, panic rising.
He shrugged. “Things change. I…I’m going into the Army instead.”
Karen’s heart plummeted. “But…but what about being a doctor?”
“I’ll get training in paramedics in the Army. That’s as good as being a doctor. I’ll make lots of money and I’ll save all of it. I can go to school after I get out. I can still be a doctor…it’ll just be a little later than I planned.” He stared intently at her again, his expression anxious and still he held her hand in a vise-like grip while his other hand remained tucked into the pocket balled up around something.
Stupidly she wondered if he could see through her. Did he know what she was thinking? She got the feeling he wasn’t so much trying to convince her that this Army plan was a good idea, but more to convince himself.
“I signed up this morning ,” he said, the muscle in his jaw working.
She started to shiver, but not from the cold. A fear like she’d never know gripped her. There was a war going on. There was always a war going on! She could lose Wally permanently and her baby might never know his father. Yeah, her mother would kill her when she found out she got pregnant, but that was nothing compared to her fear for Wally’s safety.
“Hey, you’re cold! Here,” he said taking his vest off. He first took the small, golf-ball sized object out of the vest pocket and stuffed it into his jeans pocket. Then he draped the vest over her shoulders and put his arm around her.
“Better?” he asked.
Was he kidding? He had just told her all his dreams of going to college and of becoming a doctor had been shot, that he was going away, perhaps forever, and he was asking if she was better? She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry for him, for herself and for the baby. But she couldn’t exactly do that. It would just make him feel worse. She numbly nodded. What else could she do? She most certainly couldn’t tell him about the baby now. Not after all he was sacrificing for his family.
“When do you leave?” she heard herself ask, her voice sounding hollow and foreign to her own ears.
“Next week,” he said tightening his grip on her. “I know we made plans for the summer. I’m sorry I didn’t tell ya sooner, but I…I only decided this morning. Figured the quicker I go, the quicker I can come back.”
He watched her and she knew he expected her to get upset and start crying and whining like any other girlfriend would. She wanted to, all right! But she simply wouldn’t do it. Wally deserved better.
“That’s great,” she said forcing enthusiasm into the words. “You’ll make a great soldier.”
He slowly removed his arm from around her and stared at her, obviously dumbfounded. “You think so?” he said.
“Of course, you’re a great guy,” she replied and she actually managed a smile. How she did, she would never know.
“I’m glad you’re not upset,” he said, although he didn’t really look it.
“No, I…I would never stand in your way. You do what you gotta do,” she said. She impressed herself that she could talk so normally when she was surely dying inside. “It’s…it’s been fun.”
“Yeah…. fun,” he said stoically, his expression slowly turning to stone. “I’ll be gone for a long time. Guess we should split up then, so I don’t stand in your way.”
If he had run a sword through her, she knew it couldn’t have hurt nearly as much as those few words did. Amazingly, she merely nodded her agreement, pulled his vest off and slid off the car in one fluid motion.
“Well, I hope we can still be friends. I gotta go home. Lotta work to do. I wish you a lot of luck, Wally. Take care of yourself,” she said quickly. She then sprinted into the gym, making it just before the first tear fell.
Once inside she covertly watched him. He stood staring at the small black thing he took out of his pocket. After several minutes he yanked open the car door, threw the mystery thing inside and tore out of the parking lot. She had never seen him drive so recklessly. It was so unlike him.
She always teased him that he drove like an old man, to which he’d reply with a huge grin on his face, “I gotta great future ahead of me. Why would I risk killing myself before the future gets here?”
But he no longer had a great future, did he? Not the one he had always dreamed of. Fate had other plans for Wally and for Karen, too. She burst into tears and lightly touched her tummy. “It’s just you and me baby. Wally doesn’t want us anymore,” she whispered.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Answer me, dammit!” Wally shouted, bringing Karen back to the present.
His angry tone upset Missy and she started whimpering. “I’m sorry, Missy. It’s okay. Daddy’s not mad,” he soothed her holding her close and bouncing her a little. He turned back to Karen and added, “Daddy’s not mad at you.”
“You broke up with me,” Karen said.
“You didn’t care that I was leaving,” he said through clenched teeth. He kept his voice quiet now, but he was still visibly angry.
“After what you told me that day, I couldn’t,” she said.
He suddenly looked crazed, but he took slow even breaths before speaking. “You mean to tell me, that you knew you were pregnant that day?”
“I found out that morning, but I couldn’t tell you,” she said pleadingly.
“Why the hell not?” he shouted, again upsetting Missy. “Missy, don’t cry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m sorry.”
“Let me have her,” Karen said holding her hands out for the baby.
Wally stepped back and held the baby closer to him, smoothing down her fluffy curls and pressing tiny kisses to her forehead. “No, you’ve had her long enough.”
“You’re upsetting her,” Karen said, trying to reason with him.
“She wouldn’t be upset if she knew me. You shoulda told me, Karen. I shoulda been here,” he said, angry tears springing to his eyes.
“That’s why I didn’t tell you.”
He gaped at her. “Ya didn’t want me to know my own kid? My God, Karen, I thought I knew you,” he whispered.
“No, you idiot! I didn’t want to throw more trouble at you,” she said, herself now on the verge of tears.
“Trouble? Are ya calling this trouble?” he said, placing his large hand on Missy’s tummy and almost covering her whole body with it. “What trouble could this little kid be?”
Karen could have told him about all the hardships she’d endured, all the ridicule and nasty remarks, but they no longer matter to her. Violet and Victor had seen to that. They didn’t treat her like scum.
They might even love her.
“Didn’t ya think I wanted to be here for ya?”he said, a tear slipping down his cheek. "See my baby being born?"
“That’s just it, Wally. You had enough to deal with. I didn’t want to give you anymore. I didn’t want to ruin everything for you,” she said, taking a step closer to him.
“What the hell are ya talking about?”
“You gave up everything for your family, your college fund, your dream of becoming a doctor and…” She stopped here and pressed her trembling lips together then added, “And you broke up with me.”
“You didn’t care,” he insisted.
“I did, Wally. I just pretended not to. I prayed every night you’d be safe. I loved you, but you broke my heart that day.”
“And you broke mine,” he said.
"I...I didn't mean to," she whispered, biting down so hard on her lip, she drew blood.
They stared at each other for several seconds until Missy broke the silence.
“Ma-da-da-ba,” she said.
Wally looked at her then back to Karen. “I thought….My mother told me you had a baby.”
Karen’s eyes widened in shock. “How did she…”
“You can’t keep a baby secret in this town, Karen,” he said. “I thought you had another boyfriend.”
Karen adamantly shook her head. “Never. It’s only been you. Missy is yours.”
“I can see that,” he said, looking at the baby and smiling. “Looks a little like me, huh?”
“I prayed she would. That way I’d have a piece of you with me forever even if…”
Before she could finish, he closed the distance between them and she was in his arms. She closed her eyes and smiled through the gush of tears. Wally was home. Her traveling soldier was finally home and back in her arms.
God had granted her another prayer.