His touch ruined her life. It had been more than ten years since she last felt his touch, but June remembered that night like it was last night. She could still feel their bodies touching for the first time. His trembling lips. Her love enveloping him. Him surrendering to her. Nothing escaped her memory of that cool April night. She could still hear the rain playing pitter-patter against the window. Smell traces of his Eternity cologne on the green comforter. Feel his love inside of hers. She didn’t forget anything about the night they first made love. Not even the tears in his eyes as he tiptoed out of the room while she pretended to be asleep.
It had been ten years, two months and sixteen days, to be exact, since she gave herself to him, and seldom did a day pass when she didn’t find herself reliving all or some part of that night. The memories didn’t always replay in sequence. Sometimes they began as he took her in his arms while posing for their prom pictures, or two hours later when he opened the bedroom door at Mildred’s Bed and Breakfast. And sometimes at the very moment he surrendered to her. But mostly they began at the beginning with her staring out of her upstairs bedroom window at his house next door. Then Keith, alluringly debonair in a sky-blue and white tuxedo, strode out onto the wraparound porch with his gushing parents, Reverend and Lucy Kaye Adams, right behind him. He stopped at the bottom of the four steps and patiently posed for pictures with his mother and then his father before getting into Reverend Adams’ navy blue Lincoln Town Car and backing out the graveled driveway.
“Here he comes,” she shouted to her mother, who was in the next room putting film in the camera. She grabbed her pearl white clutch and white shawl off the bed and hurried out of the room. “Ma, come on!” She stopped at the top of the stairway and fidgeted with the spaghetti straps of the sky-blue gown, meticulously adjusting the opaque wrap until it draped perfectly. “Ma!”
“I’m ready,” Kathryn yelled and rushed in the hallway. She stopped in her tracks. “Oooh, my baby. You are so…”
The doorbell rang.
“Ma, it’s him,” she shrieked. “He’s here!”
“I’ll get it,” Kathryn announced and started down the stairs.
“And I’ll wait here.” She still felt butterflies whenever he came near, even after a twelve-year courtship that began the first time she saw him. His parents had driven from New Jersey to Hampton Springs so he could spend the summer with his grandparents, who lived next door. Her heart started racing and her legs began wobbling the moment she saw him get out of his parents’ car that day. She felt that same dizzying sensation as she waited for him at the top of the stairs. To stop her knees from knocking and her heart from racing, she took a deep breath and held it.
Kathryn opened the front door. “Good evening, Mrs. Thomas.” Keith greeted with a regal bow of the head before stepping inside.
“Is Junie ready?” Lucy Kaye asked as she and Reverend Adams rushed to beat each other inside, almost knocking Keith over during their haste.
“Wait until you see her.” Kathryn closed the door, trying her best to contain her excitement.
Keith watched her descend the stairway. His eyes glazed over. She exhaled.
“Kathryn, she’s beautiful,” Lucy Kaye gushed. “Oh, my babies.”
He met her at the bottom of the stairway. “You look good.” He reached for her hand, his eyes conveying more than his lips could express in that moment.
“Good?” she hesitated.
“Better than good,” he corrected himself, trying to find the words that wouldn’t sound inappropriate in front of everyone. “You are beautiful.”
“Thank you. And I must say that you are quite handsome.”
Lucy Kaye nudged Kathryn giving a knowing wink. “They’re going to be the best-looking couple at the prom.”
“Turn around,” Reverend Adams told them, “so we can get a picture of you together.”
Keith put his strong, yet gentle, arms around her, and they both smiled as the cameras flashed. “Okay, I want you to change sides.” Reverend Adams took a look at the pose, shaking his head in his displeasure. “No wait. Keith, why don’t you let Junie stand in front of you?”
“Come on, Dad. That’s enough pictures.” Keith took her hand in his and led her out the door.
Outside, the scene, the moment, everything was perfect. It felt surreal. She paused to listen to the song of the redbirds as it floated melodically on the gentle breeze. It was a twilight symphony heard often in these parts. Majestic magnolias framed the yard and the ornately detailed Victorian house. The magnolias permeated the air with their pungent perfume. The sky, already painted in hues of faded blues, became even paler against the brilliance radiating from June and Keith.
The neighbors gathered in the yard. Mrs. Croft, who made the white lily corsages and boutonnieres that perfectly complemented their attire, fettered into the yard like her feet were shackled. Mr. and Mrs. Whitehurst, Coach Rickards, Mrs. Blue Hen, holding her four-year-old grandson’s hand, Mrs. Rosa Lee and her sister and brother-in-law, Mrs. Fannie Lou and Deacon P. H., and every member of the seven families who lived on Bacon Street were present. Inez, her best friend, and Inez’s date, Nathaniel, a young man from Perry, were pulling in the driveway. Mrs. Whitehurst, Inez’s grandmother, was already passing around Polaroids of Inez and Nathaniel. This was a proud moment for all of them. Three members of the Bacon Street families would soon be graduating from high school, and they knew that together they’d done a good job rearing these three exemplary young people. It showed on their gladsome faces and echoed in their jubilant laughter.
Inez, dressed in a lavender silk gown, got out of the burgundy Bonneville. Her fingers spoke for her. “You’re beautiful, Junie.”
She signed back, “So are you.”
“Reverend, get one of him opening the car door for Junie,” Lucy Kaye suggested, taking her by the hand and guiding her down the steps and across the mulch-covered walkway.
“Mom, don’t you think that’s—”
“Do what your mother says,” Reverend Adams told Keith.
“Turn around, Junie.” Kathryn was already positioned to take the photo that Lucy Kaye suggested. “Smile for the camera.”
She turned slightly so that she and Keith were facing both her mother and Reverend Adams’ cameras. As she turned, she glimpsed his face. He was smiling, beaming, laughing almost.
Almost in that instant, the same unpredictable and unannounced way they began, the memories ended, but not before picking away the scab of a wound that would not heal.
June’s life was over after that night, but she didn’t stop living. Not at all.