"Can I ask you a question, Henry?" Gail said. She sat on his lap and nuzzled her nose under his chin.
"I'm listening," Henry said as he ran his fingers through her hair. He looked off in the distance as if he were actually watching something. He was really just relishing that he had a beautiful woman in his arms.
"How long have we been going steady?"
"Six months," he said. He was proud the relationship had lasted so long. "Why do you ask?"
"Do you love me?" She lifted her head and looked directly into his eyes.
Henry saw the gleam in her eye and he could feel the lust he had for her rise. A small giggle gurgled from his mouth. "Of course I do. Don't I always say I love you?"
"You do, all the time, but I'd like you to show your love for me."
"Don't I always share my gum with you?"
"Yes, but I think if you really loved me you'd make love to me."
"I'd love to make love to you but I'm not prepared right now."
Gail sat up straight. "What do you mean?"
"Before we have sex, I need to get some condoms. I don't want any unexpected surprises."
"You are so considerate," Gail kissed him on the cheek. "I don't know what I'd ever do with out you."
He loved her very much but it seemed that she put their relationship on the line when it came to sex. She wanted it but he didn't. He knew she couldn't be put off much longer.
"Henry!" A deep voice boomed from off in the distance. The jolt broke Henry's train of thought and forced Gail to get off his lap.
"Up here Dad," Henry said. Gail quickly sat on the window seat and fixed her hair.
She grabbed a magazine near by and leafed through it.
Henry's dad, a stout man of 50, with a balding head, came into the room holding a remote control and a can of diet soda.
"Hello Gail." Mr. Lardo said sounding like an Army drill instructor
"Hi, Mr. Lardo."
"Henry, I'm taking the family out for some fried chicken at the truck stop. Would you like to join us this time?"
"Do they have a drugstore?" Henry said and glanced over at Gail and winked.
"I'm sure they do," Mr. Lardo said. "How else could those truck drivers keep themselves awake."
"Well . . . I guess I could go," Henry said.
"I can hardly wait," Gail said. She hugged Henry and ran out of the room.
"What did she mean by that?" Mr. Lardo said.
"Eh, We have a project, eh, a biology project that's due tomorrow." Henry tried to sound convincing but a smile swept across his face.
"Well, son, I'm glad you have your priorities."
"I sure do."
The truck stop was at the entrance of the expressway about a mile out of town. The Lardo family station wagon pulled into the dusty gravel parking lot and stopped in front of the diner. Henry was in the back seat sitting between his sister Rosemary and his smelly Uncle Gene.
Uncle Gene had been living with the Lardos since his house blew up in a mysterious methane explosion.
"Here we are," Mr. Lardo said. "I just love all-the-chicken-you-can-eat-till-you-puke night."
The family poured out of the car and into the diner.
Henry got to the table first. A waitress, wearing a short skirt and blouse with a plunging neckline, came up to the table.
"Hi, what can I do for ya?"
He looked at her well-developed body and for that moment was speechless.
"Listen," she said tapping a pencil on her order pad. "I don't have all night. What do you want?"
"You see those four people?" Henry said pointing at his family, who were still bumbling toward him. "They're with me and we all want the all-you-can-eat chicken special."
"Okay, five specials coming up."
"Also, could you tell me where the drugstore is?"
The waitress pointed to a set of double doors near the restrooms.
"Through those double doors, next to the bus ticket window."
Henry walked through the double doors, past the ticket counter, and found the drug counter. He scanned the various aspirins, pseudo-aspirin, sleeping, no sleeping, and hemorrhoid ointments, but he didn't see condoms.
"Can I help you?"
Henry looked up and saw a man in his mid 60's, wearing a powder blue smock. His name tag said "Bob."
"I need a condom but I don't see any here."
"Oh, the waitress brings the condiments to your table."
"Not relish, rubbers."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I think we have some in the refrigerator, let me look."
"You keep them in a refrigerator?" Henry said, "Isn't that bad for the rubber?"
"It's not a working refrigerator," Bob said. Henry let out a sigh of relief. "When we rebuilt this part of the truck stop, we stored stuff in anyplace we could find, and I don't think I ever put those rubber things back on the self."
"Could you please check?"
"Sure, I'll be right back."
Bob disappeared into the back of the store and Henry looked through the windows of the double doors. His family was devouring the chicken specials.
"Sorry, son, we're out," Bob said returning to the counter. "But I expect a shipment next Tuesday."
"That's too late, but thanks anyway."
Henry walked back to the table where his family was gathered.
"Um mph pluck dumph la," Mr. Lardo said barely able to keep the meat in his mouth. Drool trickled down the corners of his mouth. Henry guessed his father wanted him to sit down and eat chicken. He sat down in the only available spot next to smelly Uncle Gene, who lifted his face out of a bowl of green Jell-O. Gene smiled at Henry then dived his face back into the bowl. Henry thought Uncle Gene was so crude, but, Uncle Gene wouldn't be Uncle Gene if he weren't somewhat disgusting.
"Dad, Can we go home?" Henry said.
Mr. Lardo swallowed. "We just got here. Have some chicken."
"I have to make a phone call first."
"He's probably going to call his ratty old girlfriend," Rosemary said as she brushed her bangs out of her eyes with her greasy hand.
"Oh, shut up," Henry said. "You spoiled rotten devil child!"
"Mom! He called me spoiled rotten."
"You are," Mrs. Lardo said and she smacked Rosemary in the face with a drumstick.
The phone booth, Henry found, was just outside the window where is family was eating. He dialed Gail's number slowly as he wished she wasn't home.
Gail's voice made Henry jump.
"Henry, where are you?"
"I'm still at the truck stop, eating."
"Well, I'm sitting here just waiting for you to get home. I love you so much."
Henry shifted his weight and leaned against the wall of the booth.
"There's a slight problem."
"What's wrong?" Gail said.
The words formed slowly in his throat and his stomach fluttered in nervousness. He took a deep breath.
"I couldn't find any condoms. The clerk said they were out of them,"
All he could hear was the crackle of static in the phone line. He waited a minute, but, Gail still didn't respond.
"I'm thinking. Couldn't you ask your dad for one of his?"
"He hasn't needed them since his accident with the weed whacker a couple of years ago."
"I get this feeling you aren't trying to help," Gail said sounding frustrated. Her voice rose in pitch on the word "help." "I know you want to do it. I want to do it with you, but we need condoms. Why can't you be more prepared!"
"I'm sorry Gail."
The phone line went dead with a click. Henry replaced the receiver and sat down on the curb outside the booth. He placed his head between his hands and watched a group of ants carry an old piece of gum away.
The station wagon pulled into the Lardo's driveway and the now stuffed Lardo family oozed out of the car.
"I just love our family outings," Mr. Lardo said.
"I'm so full," Mrs. Lardo said. "I hope I don't explode."
"Don't talk like that, Dear, the children are around."
"Don't worry, Dad," Henry said. "I don't think talking about exploding will actually cause Mom to explode."
"Sure you say that now, but what if your mother exploded this very minute."
"First, I'd be embarrassed that she exploded in front of the entire neighborhood, effectively ruining my life forever. Then I'd wonder who would clean up the mess because I sure wouldn't."
Out of the corner of his eye, Henry spotted Gail running towards him.
"Henry!" Gail squealed and she tackled him to the ground. She started to kiss him wildly all over his face.
"I thought you were mad at me?"
"I was," She kissed him. "But I got over it."
"Gail, Not in front of the folks."
Gail looked up and saw the other Lardos standing on the porch smiling.
"Hi, Mr. Lardo, Mrs. Lardo, Rosemary . . . Uncle Gene."
She got up off of Henry and brushed the dirt and grass clippings off the two of them.
"Sorry," She whispered to Henry.
"You kids be careful," Mr. Lardo said. "It's always funny 'till someone gets pregnant."
Gail looked at Henry and didn't buy his puzzled look. She watched the other Lardos go into the house then she spun around to face Henry.
"You told your father."
"I didn't. He's always making stupid comments."
"Okay, I believe you. I've got good news," She reached in her pocket and pulled out a small package. "I borrowed one of my father's condoms."
"He just let you have one?"
"Of course not silly, I stole it."
"Why did you do that?" Henry said.
"Because I love you."
He really wished she hadn't found one. Now it seemed his moment of truth had arrived.
Gail grabbed Henry's hand and they ran into the house.
Henry stepped slowly toward the basement door. He turned the knob and opened the door a crack. He put his ear to the crack and heard the television on. His parents were watching television, that meant that he and Gail were somewhat alone.
He grabbed a glass of water and bounded up the stairs to his room. He opened his door and went inside.
"I think we're alone now," he said. He saw Gail in his bed with the sheet pulled up to her neck. Her clothes were strung out over the room. Henry's mouth flew open. Quickly, he looked around and spotted a deck of cards. He placed the glass of water on the desk and picked up the deck.
"You want to play some cards?"
"Henry, come here."
He walked slowly to the bed, but, stopped at the foot.
"What do you want?"
"You should know," she said holding the condom pack above her head. "Get into bed."
He moved to the right side of the bed, jumped under the sheet and pulled it up to his neck.
"I think you should undress," Gail said. "Let me help you."
She moved closer to him and put a hand on his shoulder. He jumped out of bed.
"That's okay, I'll do it myself."
He fumbled with buttons on his shirt and the zipper on his pants. As he was about to take off his underwear, he noticed Gail staring at him, smiling.
"Could you turn the other way?"
"Don't be a baby. I'm going to see you naked anyway."
"Okay, but are you sure you don't want to play cards?"
"Stop with the card tricks and get into bed!"
Gail sat up straight and readjusted the pillow behind her head. She let out a huff. He looked at her. She was in bed and they had a condom, but he didn't feel like having sex.
"Gail, You know I love you very much . . . ."
"Yes, I know."
"I think it would be best if we waited to do this. I'm not ready."
"Is this another one of your excuses?"
"Henry, Saying, 'I love you,' and having sex are two totally separate things---"
"I think you're pressuring me into something I don't want to do."
"Oh, really," she said as she got out of bed. She threw on her shirt, jeans and shoes, grabbed her underwear and went to the door.
"When you decide that you really love me, call me, until then I don't want to speak to you!"
Henry sat at his desk and fingered through the deck of cards. Rosemary appeared in the doorway.
"I guess you aren't going to have sex tonight.".
"Nope. Want to play some cards?"
© 1990 Douglas Berger, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
Originally published in the Ohio State University Lantern newspaper "Arts"
supplement in May of 1990.
I've been fortunate to have some colorful and vivid nightmares, especially if I snack on pizza before going to bed. The scene of the Lardos at the truck stop was one such dream. It was longer in the original version that I wrote and included a "biker chick" spirit.