In The Shadow of War

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
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“I missed you, doll,” he said afterward. “God, I missed you. ”

Warmth blossomed within her chest and she smiled at him. “I missed you too, Benny. Saturday seemed so long and I didn’t know if you could come this morning. I worried you might not make it. ”

“Me, too,” he said. “I almost missed the bus anyhow because the company sergeant griped us out because the barracks weren’t neat enough to suit him. Yesterday turned out lousy, all day. ”

“Why?” she asked. “What happened?”

“What didn’t?” he said. “Jeez, they made us go on a long hike through the back country, for hours in the heat. I picked up every tick and chigger in the world, I think, got mosquito bit, and worn out. Two of the guys fell out with heat exhaustion and ended up at the post hospital. My feet and ankles itched me like crazy. Even the darn Army boots didn’t help me from getting eaten by the insects. I swear the buggers crawled into my boots. ”

“Aw, honey, I’m sorry,” Bette said, using the endearment for the first time. “Do the bites still itch?”

“Not so bad,” he said. “Back in barracks, some of the guys said to soak my feet in bleach water so we begged some from the laundry. It helped. Then after dinner they called me over to the motor pool to fix a jeep and I got to bed late just before final lights out. I’m beat and that’s a fact. ”

Bette paused and faced him. “Would you rather go rest or something?”

“Naw, sugar, I’m fine. I need some Joe and I’m hungry, too. I just got a couple of hours so let’s go eat and spend a little time together, okay?”

“It’s fine with me,” she said.

They ate at a different café and she introduced him to biscuits and gravy, something he vowed he’d never eaten before but said he liked. Afterward, with time passing too fast, he suggested they walk down to Big Spring Park again but she had another idea.

“You look so tired,” Bette said. He did with dark smudges beneath both eyes. “If you want we can go sit in the porch swing at Aunt Virgie’s or in the front room. ”

Benny shook his head. “I’ll catch a nap later this afternoon, if I’m lucky. I’d like a few more kisses and I doubt your parents would like us spooning out on the porch. ”

“I forgot they’re there,” she replied. “So, okay, let’s go to the park. ”

Another couple beat them to the grotto, so they wandered around the park until they found a vacant bench in the shade. A few kids played on the teeter-totter and swings, their happy babble setting a bright mood. Benny put his arm around her and Bette snuggled against him with a contented sigh. For a few minutes they sat, comfortable with the pose and content with each other. She’d already come to associate his scent with security and she inhaled it, saving it up for when she’d be alone. As they rested in easy silence she savored the harmony and as they lingered Bette noticed their breath came in tandem, in and out with the same rhythm as if they were one, not two.

Just as she opened her mouth to remark on it Benny took her face and turned it toward him. With slow deliberation he kissed her, unhurried with such sweetness she forgot to breathe for a few seconds. His lips caressed her mouth with a fine light touch, as soft as hair blown across her face with a gentle breeze. Such tenderness evoked the same within and yet triggered desire, too. Benny cherished her mouth with his, his lips sending shivers through her body despite the hot day, little spirals of chill strong enough to make goose pimples erupt on her flesh.

Bette responded with her mouth, a hankering for something deeper and more intimate rising in her with the force of a rising wind. She sensed how great it would be to lose her consciousness by drowning in her senses, by molding her body into his. Bette, virgin as the mother of God, ached now for the pleasures of the flesh. Every old wives tale ever heard about sex being dirty or painful or nasty evaporated faster than snow in March and for the first time in her life, she decided sex could be wonderful.

His kisses stirred Bette’s body even as they induced emotion, too sweet to be sinful. Her body responded to his mouth the way a good corn crop ripened beneath the sun’s warmth. As her limbs relaxed she leaned into him, one hand holding tight to his arm so she wouldn’t lose balance to tumble from the park bench onto the grass. The kiss lasted forever, but not quite long enough when Benny paused so they could both breathe again.

“Oh,” she said with wonder. “Benny, that’s nice. ”

“Nice, she says,” he responded with mock outrage. “Just nice? I call it splendid, fantastic, superb, supremeā€¦”

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