I Really Can’t Stay

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Author’s Note:

Nancy Parker’s stubbornness gets her trapped in a snowstorm after a disastrous date one mid-December night in the mid-1950s and changes her life forever. This First Time story features a virgin, references to the Korean War, and plenty of 1950s slang and references.

**

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow

At least there will be plenty implied

I really can’t stay

Oh but it’s cold outside

—Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Frank Loesser, 1944

*

I tried not to harbor hatred towards Tommy, but I blamed him entirely for the fact that I was soaked all the way to my bones and colder than I had ever been in my life.

Well, sure, it wasn’t his fault that I’d stormed out of his vehicle, slamming the door behind me. And really, he had begged me to get back in that hunk of junk he was driving, shouting that the radio said a storm was coming. Oh, and how he had insisted that my house was too far, that it would take me hours to walk home, and I wasn’t dressed for the weather.

His chivalry suddenly knew no bounds. Poor, sweet Tommy, leaning out the window of his car and pleading, then begging, then truly demanding that I get back in the car. Such a good guy, that Tommy, that’s what everyone would say.

“You worried him sick, Nancy,” they’d scold, “you and your stubbornness. What were you trying to prove, storming off like that? So very unladylike, and so very crass. Why, you’re darn lucky that a boy like Tommy even gave you the chance to come back!”

But how could I? How could anyone, after what he did to me?

Taking me out there, in this weather. What a dipstick. And then telling me that he was leaving me for Sue LaPret after we’d been going steady since high school. Sue LaPret! I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t imagine what would make him drop me to go out with a lumpy skag like Sue LaPret.

Well, I suppose the boys called her Stacked Sue for a reason.

But still! And then he had the very nerve to tell me he’d reconsider if I’d go all the way with him right then and there, in his damn scuzz bucket on top of the hill. All this, just two weeks before Christmas, when I thought he… well. We had been together since junior year and had been out of high school a year by then. He had invited me to spend Christmas with his family and I thought…

Scratch all that. I was harboring a ton of hatred towards Tommy, and he deserved every bit of it.

It had been chilly when I stomped out of his car and started walking home. The wind was brisk, and the snow was swirling lightly as I stamped down the road. Tommy had driven alongside me until I cut across Bushweed Park and he couldn’t follow me anymore.

My shortcut through Bushweed Park had been the first of my problems.

See, when Tommy picked me up, I thought we were going to the movies. They were doing a late showing of the new Rock Hudson film, and I’d put on my favorite dress, nicest stockings, and best pumps. I had a hat and a coat, of course, but I had not planned on hiking across town to get back home. I was already shivering when my heel skidded along a patch of ice. I crashed to the ground where the snow was collecting far more quickly than I had thought.

Frustrated, I picked myself back up. My left stocking was torn, and the pumps now had scuffs on them, not to mention the pebbles embedded in my palms. Cursing Tommy, I trudged forward through the park. It was dim, but not dark; the lampposts cast beams across the path. I thought maybe Tommy would drive to the other side of the park and wait for me there, so I cut across to the path headed west, intent on getting back to the street and going around where he might have parked.

The wind howled, and the snow grew thicker, and my coat was getting heavier and heavier as it absorbed the melted flakes. Soon I was shivering even worse. My hair was wet, my clothes were wet, even my toes were wet as melted snow trickled down my legs and into my shoes. When I finally got through the park, the world lightened mercifully from the much-brighter streetlights. I was just off Main Street, and though the businesses were closed for the night, their lights helped guide me towards the residential area so I could finish my walk home.

It worsened as I walked down Main Street. Suddenly the flakes were thicker and the wind was strong enough to blow my hat from my head. I held it down desperately, serving only to numb my fingers. The snow was getting deeper and deeper, creeping over the edge of my pumps and making my feet slide in my shoes. I looked around, hoping wildly that perhaps someone was in one of the shops or would be driving by, but the world was deserted.

And then, just like that, the world was dark.

I blinked rapidly and pinched my numb skin with shaking fingertips. Once I determined I hadn’t passed out from the cold or fallen into a snowbank, I reasoned that the power must have gone out. I would find out later that it was town-wide, that the snow had gotten so heavy so quickly that some major line had broken, but at that moment, poker oyna I had no idea what to think. All I knew was that I was cold and wet, and it was so dark I couldn’t see three feet ahead.

Damn Tommy. It wasn’t his fault the power went out, but I was going to blame him all the same.

With my hands extended in front of me and my heart beating wildly, I tried to follow where I knew the sidewalk was. My hat flew off and the snow tangled in my hair, making it stick to my scalp. I fell again at the end of the street, not realizing that the curb was ending and that I was now crossing into the residential area.

As I collected myself off the ground again, I sighed in relief. If I had made it down Main Street, that meant I had fallen at the intersection with Poplar Street. If I kept walking completely straight, the first driveway I would come across would be my friend Martha Benson’s house. She would let me in, I was sure of it, and let me call my parents and my sister to tell them I was okay.

It was easier said than done. The snow was freezing on the ground, and the road was so slick that I fell twice more before reaching the other side of the street. Trembling wildly, I could see the dim outline of hedges and a blackness that had to be the beginning of their driveway. Moving as quickly as I could, I kept myself from slipping on the walk and managed to stumble up the front steps. I rang the bell out of habit, but of course there was no sound. Shaking, I knocked on the door.

A few seconds went past, then a minute. My fingers were painfully cold, and I flexed them as I waited. My heart sank and I knocked again.

“Martha! Mrs. Benson! Please, let me in!” I shouted desperately, though I was doubtful that anyone would hear me above the wind.

Of course, there was no answer.

Tears welled up in my eyes, freezing to my eyelashes and blurring what little vision I had. My teeth chattered, perhaps from the cold, perhaps from nerves, perhaps from thoughts darker than the night that began to creep into my mind.

I started pounding on the door. “Please, is anyone home? Please, help me!”

The night was silent aside from the hiss and roar of the wind, the banging of my fists, and the wet sounds of terror and frustration that escaped my throat. I knocked until my knuckles were bruised, until my hands were numb, until I couldn’t unfurl my fists.

Sobbing, I leaned against the door. They would find me in the morning, the cold yellow sunlight brushing over the snow-covered lump that was my body. They would brush the snow away, gasping in shock, and the firemen would have to come because I would be frozen to the doorstep. They’d have to melt the ice around me just to get me to the morgue, and my poor mother would have to come to identify my grotesque, curled, frozen blue body. Instead of a joyful Christmas full of green and red and gold and silver, my family would have a blue Christmas, dressed in black to mourn my untimely and horrific death.

And all because I wouldn’t have sex with Tommy in his stupid car so he wouldn’t leave me for stupid Sue LaPret. He wouldn’t even feel guilty about it, I was sure. He would come to my funeral with one arm around Sue’s shoulders, telling everyone how he warned me not to go out in the storm.

“That Nancy,” he’d say, shaking his head in feigned sadness. “Stubborn as a mule and twice as fiery. I can only hope wherever she is now, she’s found peace.”

That stupid, stupid man.

I was sobbing, certain I was going to die frozen solid on the Bensons’ doorstep, when the door flung open. I nearly fell into the house, but a strong set of arms caught me as I yelped in surprise.

“Nancy Parker, is that you?”

“May I p-please come in, p-please?” I asked weakly.

The strong arms guided me into the house, swinging the door shut behind me. A candle was lit on a nearby table, a flashlight next to it pointed at the ceiling. The room was blissfully warm, and I turned to see who my savior was.

My mouth dropped open, and for a moment I forgot about how cold I was. Standing next to the door was Bruce Benson, Martha’s older brother.

The last time I had seen Bruce, he had been breaking my sister Donna’s heart as he left for boot camp. She had been eighteen then, so he must have been nineteen at the time. He had broken up with her on his way out of town, standing on the front porch of our house. Donna was devastated at first, but soon realized it had been for the best. She had never loved Bruce, just liked that he was a constant in her life, and was on the make real fast. She ended up meeting a man named Jerry a few weeks after Bruce left. That was the love of her life, and in a few months, she was set to marry him.

Bruce, on the other hand, had ended up in Korea. I remember Martha worrying every day he was gone, wondering if he was safe or if that would be the day they received a knock on the door from a somber-faced officer delivering the news that Bruce wouldn’t be coming home. They had gotten that knock once before when Martha’s father had canlı poker oyna been overseas in 1944. She had begged Bruce not to go, and Mrs. Benson had begged Bruce not to go, but he wouldn’t listen. He had been only thirteen when Mr. Benson became a memory, and anyone who knew Bruce knew he’d wanted nothing more than to honor his father by joining the military.

They begged, and he resisted, and finally, he’d left. For the entire time he’d been away, Martha had worried. She had stopped eating for a while, her face going pale and her skin drawn, until her mother bluntly told her that she’d put her in an institution if she didn’t start eating.

“I lost my husband to one war,” she told Martha, her voice somewhere between stern and desperate. “My son is being risked in another. I will not lose my daughter to war, too.”

Martha started eating after that, but the two of them were both nervous wrecks the entire time Bruce was gone.

I remembered watching Bruce and Donna talk on the porch, hidden behind the curtains of the living room window. I had never told Donna, but I had loved Bruce as much as she hadn’t. He was older, sure, but he had always been funny and sweet. I knew Donna’s heart was breaking, but I couldn’t help staring at him, wishing he would come home, hoping that when he did, he’d finally notice me. Bruce had looked so mature in his uniform, so handsome.

Or at least, I thought he did. Really, it was just the hazy romance of a high school girl’s memories, gold-dusted daydreams glorified by years of distance. He had been a gangly young man, with eyes too large for his face and traces of teenage acne spotting his skin. But to me, he was perfect.

Martha had been ecstatic when she found out Bruce was coming home. The fighting had finally ended during the summer, and I had never seen someone so impatient and so hopeful. For days, she talked about planning a big party to welcome him back and inviting everyone in town. She was so proud of her brother and so happy he was coming home safe.

Then, he hadn’t returned, not right away.

Summer had firmly become fall by the time Bruce returned, and Martha’s excitement had fizzled. When asked about the party, she’d say they were letting him adjust to civilian life and refused to speak another word about it. Fall was becoming winter, and in the few months that he’d been back, no one had seen hide nor hair of Bruce Benson.

The man standing in front of me now was not the same Bruce that I remembered. I was nineteen, the same age he had been when he’d left, and he was now a full-fledged man. His arms didn’t seem too long for his body anymore, and his face had grown into his eyes. There was faint scarring on his cheek, jagged ridges that had faded to smooth lines. They were noticeable but only served to enhance the ruggedness of his face. His hair was neatly groomed, his shoulders broad and muscled. And his eyes… oh.

Those eyes, though.

Bruce had left with the innocent hope of a young man and returned with eyes that reflected horrors I wouldn’t wish to know. They should have terrified me, those eyes and the way they were colder than the snow dripping down my spine, but they didn’t. More than anything, they intrigued me. I didn’t want to know what he had seen; I simply wanted to know who he was now.

So much of him had changed. His face was as handsome as could be, but hard, far more stern and serious than it should be for a man of twenty-three. Behind it, though, I could see Bruce. I could see the ghost of laughter on his face, the easy smile that he used to flash at my sister, and that made jealousy course through my heart. He was still there, somewhere, but… well.

He stared at me as I stood in the front hall, shivering and dripping cold snow from the hems of my soaked clothing.

“Can I take your coat?” he asked, almost absurdly polite.

My teeth chattered as a noise that could have been a laugh or a sob burst from my throat.

“Oh, jeez,” he muttered. “Come on in. I’m sure Martha won’t mind if you borrow some dry clothes.”

He gestured for me to go to Martha’s room, my coat dripping as we made our way down the hall. Once there, he placed the flashlight on her dresser.

“I’ll be right back with some blankets,” he said and closed the door.

I tried to undress quickly, but I was shaking so badly and my fingers were so numb that I could hardly manage to undo the buttons on my coat. When Bruce tapped on the door a few minutes later, I looked up wildly.

“Is M-Martha home?” I asked through the closed door. “Or your m-mother, maybe?”

“No,” came the reply. “They went to visit my grandma. Decided to stay there because of the storm.”

I nearly started crying again as I realized what I had to do. He was the only person around, and the only person I could think of that I didn’t want to see me like that. I couldn’t pretend I was innocent; I’d thought of Bruce more than once in ways that were not strictly appropriate, but in those scenarios, my skin wasn’t pale and clammy and he wasn’t removing internet casino my clothing out of pity.

I drew a deep breath, then cleared my throat. “Bruce, I hate to impose, but I… I need some help.”

He opened the door tentatively. I was still decent, and he opened the door the rest of the way.

“What’s the trouble?”

My lips were shaking as violently as the rest of me, and I’m sure if my body was capable of producing warmth at that moment, I would have blushed.

“I can’t undo my dress. M-my hands don’t want to work a-and I’m s-so cold.”

He hesitated, then stepped into the room with a strange, staggered stride. He was holding a stack of blankets and towels but quickly put them on Martha’s dresser before motioning for me to turn around. With a professional quickness, he undid the dress, then stepped back.

“I’ll stay here in case you need more help,” he said. “I won’t look.”

“But—”

“You’ll catch pneumonia if you don’t warm up,” he said frankly. “Relax, Nance. I won’t peek.”

Pointedly, he covered his vision with his hands. Mortified, I stared at him, my mouth half-open. He was going to stay there while I undressed? I almost protested, almost insisted that he leave, but he was right. There was a good chance I’d need more help. I kept a nervous eye on him, hesitating before letting my dress drop to the floor with a sloppy splat. My slip came off easily, though it, too, was soaked and stuck to my skin. I tried to undo the garters for my stockings but again couldn’t get my fingers to function.

“Bruce, I’m so s-sorry,” I whispered, embarrassed. “I need m-more help.”

He turned to the dresser, grabbing a blanket and passing it to me before fully uncovering his eyes. I wrapped it around me, though the idea of preserving modesty was laughable at that point, and asked him to undo my garters.

Bruce was a perfect gentleman, his fingers barely grazing my clammy skin as he undid the garters and his eyes focusing only on what he was doing. I then pressed the blanket against my chest and around my back, turned around, and asked if he would unhook my bra.

It was the only point where Bruce shook a bit. I felt his fingers tremble as he stood behind me, deftly undoing the clasps. His hands were warm, or at least, I was so cold that they felt like they were scorching. The tips of his fingers grazed my back and it took everything in me not to shiver. Though, I suppose a shiver would have been appropriate. After all, Bruce wouldn’t have been able to tell which shivers were due to the cold and which were because his hands were touching my bare skin.

Once it was done, he stepped away quickly and took two limping steps towards the door.

“Anything else?” he asked quietly.

I shook my head.

“Take what you need, I don’t think Martha will mind.”

He picked up the clothing I had already removed and left, closing the door quickly behind him. I tried not to think of my silly crush on Bruce and let the blanket fall so I could remove my garter belt, stockings, and panties. I squeezed my soaking hair with one of the towels and wiped every inch of myself from head to toe as dry as I could.

Once done, I picked up one of the other blankets he had brought in, wrapping it tightly around myself as I turned to Martha’s dresser. I knew she wouldn’t mind if I borrowed some of her clothing, but that wasn’t the problem. I was not overly large myself, but Martha had never gained back the weight she’d lost when Bruce was gone. She had been petite to begin with, so I doubted much of anything would fit.

I was lucky to find a nightgown that was much too large for Martha. It was brand new, perhaps a gift from her grandmother, and while it was short-sleeved and covered in frilly, lacy nonsense, it covered me. I found a dressing gown hanging in her closet and wrapped it around myself gratefully, and house slippers that were only slightly tight. I was still chilled, but the shivering had subsided quite a bit by drying off.

There was a mirror above Martha’s dresser. I wasn’t sure if the dim lighting in the room helped or hindered, but the face staring back at me was frightful. I sniffed, torn between laughter and tears, and turned away. Nothing looked especially pretty, but it had to be an improvement from the swamp monster that had appeared at the door. Anything would have been better than that, certainly. Maybe it was enough that Bruce would think… well.

Shaking my head, I chastised myself. I was not there to flirt with Bruce. I was not supposed to be there at all.

I picked up the rest of my wet clothing and opened the door. From down the hall in the living room, I could see flickering firelight and hear the crackle of dry wood popping.

“I brought the clothes rack into the living room,” called Bruce. “We can hang your things to dry nearby.”

The room was thick with the scent of smoke and wood. A merry fire roared beneath a mantle dressed with evergreen garlands and candles, a photo of Mr. Benson tucked between the branches. In the corner, the fresh pine tree Mrs. Benson insisted on every year was neatly decorated, and a few wrapped boxes were already waiting beneath the tree. It was almost cozy, almost festive, almost a perfect daydream of a situation.

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