Bet returned to Daytona to Normal School. Brad went to fix cars in Miami – a chance to leave farm work. They exchanged letters once. Both wrote short letters – salutary and cautious; both of them checking the waters between them, again.
In February of the New Year, while she studied for first exams, she interrupted the pages of her concentration with this alarming thought: it was two months, nothing in two months. She was always regular.
Oh no! Oh God, no!
The doctor did little. He offered her congratulations, matter-of factly, reading from the file in his grip. “Good luck, Mrs. Rolle.”
Bet did not know what to think. She looked blankly at his spectacles, not bothering to correct, that she was Miss Rolle, not married.
She took four weeks to write the four-page letter to Brad. And she filled the pages telling him about the books she was learning – sharing with him her learning, which complemented his quest for knowledge. One line, however said what he really needed to know, “I might be pregnant.”
Brad read the extraordinary line on the ordinary page filled with her precise and upright letters made in blue India ink. He had not yet washed his hands. Car grease fingerprints spotted the envelope. He pushed the letter into his back pocket, and went to the outside spigot to clean his hands with Tide detergent.
He tried to scrub from his mind what had happened. This was the second time. This time was the least expected. But this time was most welcomed. He was not sure, but his chest warmed with pride. Then he thought of Petunia and her baby – no, his baby. He tried to shut his mind up. He scrubbed the underside of his fingers, but the grimy grease persisted.
The next week, Sunday morning he drove straight past Palm Beach, all the way to Daytona. He told not a soul. He got there with the sun shining and the breeze blowing.
Twice he asked directions before encountering a thin-faced woman at the dormitory house where Bet lived. The woman fetched Bet, never allowing Brad into the waiting room.
Beatrice expressed nothing when she came to the door and saw him. She said, “I have to get my shoes. I’ll be right back.”
They sat on a bench to the side of the house. She smoothed out her skirt.
“Are you feeling alright,” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she answered. “Certainly, I am surprised to see you here. I guess you got my letter.”
“Yep, I got it.” He looked at the persistent grime under his fingernails. “So are you … is it true?”
She smiled a sad kind of smile, as his voiced trailed off, and hers picked up. “Yes, Bradford, I am about six weeks. Sorry to tell you like that, you know in the letter. But you shouldn’t have come all the way up here – I’m okay, you know.”
Bradford scratched the place above his knee where his pants rubbed dry skin. “I wanted to come. Now I get to see a college, up close … and I get to see you. I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”
She rested her head into her own arms, supported by her elbows on the back-rest of the bench. “Bradford, I need to tell you something. About the baby, you know. Everything is goin’ to turn out just fine. See I am grown, responsible for myself. I know girls younger than me already raising children. I guess I’m just starting late.”
He did not expect that. Breeze blew in his eye like a mama blowing dust from a child’s eye. This was the time to tell her the Petunia story. No it was not. He looked at her, head in her own arm, soft voice in his ears. She was a little girl about to take on a brave job. Petunia accused and pouted, Beatrice accepted and smiled. And Brad wanted right then to lift her up and take her home – to Miami, no, to Nassau!
But, sitting sideways on the bench, he merely reached to touch her curled arm, but not finding the courage to even grasp her slender, naked fingers.
She still eased out kind words. “And, this is my last term. I’ll be graduated from here before anyone knows…” then she interrupted herself. “Oh but Mama and Papa will be so disappointed in me, they done sacrificed so much, and I won’t be able to start teaching at Industrial High they might not hire me anymore…”
With his fingers hovering, awkwardly, above her arm, she sank her head deeper into her own shoulder.
“I’m in love with you Beatrice.” Where did that come from? He did not know, but he felt grateful. Grateful, that it was just the two of them, alone, without her watchful father, Ebenezer, looming about. Ebenezer liked him, but he liked Ebenezer’s daughter. Grateful he was that her brothers and sisters were far away. Yet his gratitude made him think of swimming underwater – everything blurry. Then, out of breath, he would burst through the surface, and swallow fresh air, and blink his eyes open to the expanse of clear blue water and horizons, and to the fishing boat safely rocking in the waves. She was his ship come in, right there in front of him. So he felt and meant gratitude, but thought and said, “I’m in love.”
She stretched from her slender neck – what a splendor! With her head erect, and in full beauty, she showed him wistful eyes, and said nothing.
“I want to marry you.” His voice gargled, and then grew confident. “I know you care for me; I know that, but you a college girl. I never did think you would want to marry, but I know better now. You might be more educated, but you nice, not stuck-up. We suit each other, and I am goin’ to better myself.”
Now the adrenaline pumped. Now he confidently grabbed her fingers. He threw caution to the wind. Then, he thought about Petunia, but he pushed that thought aside, and looked at her pretty neck.
Her eyes looked his way again, and gazed at him for the first time. “I do not want you to marry me out of obligation. I know you want to do right, but if I marry a man, it got to be more than because I got his baby in my stomach. But, I just don’t want that.”
Listen here, I never tell no woman I love her before I tell you” You the first one. You know why? For every man, there is one woman God put there for him. You that woman, especially for me; that is the God’s truth, Beatrice.”
“I believe you,” she spoke out of her posture. “I have feelings too, for you. Otherwise, I would not have let you … you know … I’m not that type of girl. But, I’m an American, and you will have to go back home to Nassau.”
He had displaced that thought during the rush of exuberance. Good God Almighty! What about Petunia? What about Georgia?
“I can stay here and work, and we can save enough to move back home – to Nassau.” He said that, but he felt like a drunkard, lying about his drinking.
“I don’t know a thing about Nassau, except what Papa tell me, and he not even from Nassau, he from Bimini or one of those – what you call them – Out Islands. And look at all the Bahamians coming this side to work. How will you support a family, how will you get a job; if you had to come over here to work, how are you going back there to find work. Ain’t no jobs over there, Brad”
He was close to her, close enough to whiff in her Florida Water. She had sprinkled herself right after he showed up by surprise. “Okay, I’ll stay here and work. I don’t care. I just want you for me; you are the one for me. Where we live, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
She laughed. “You island boys like to take a chance. You just like Papa, driving my Mama crazy, taking a chance, and talking about crossing that bridge when you get there. You’ll are crazy – and you’ll in my blood. I guess that’s why I feel good about you.”
He gripped her wrist. “You see, you see, God put us together.” He looked into the very clear eyes of this woman, and said, “You crazy like the rest of us. You are the same blood as us – you just born on the other side of the water.”
Brad glimpsed a glint of fire, a sparkle, in her eyes. He thought briefly, dead quick, about the girl in Nassau. “I’ll deal with that matter later,” he resolved.
He slipped his palms over hers, and shifted his knees to the grassy ground. His smile grew magnificent, as his mouth opened slightly. “Bet do you love me enough to marry me?”
“Yes,” she answered. Now the sparkle filled her eyes, and they glimmered with wetness. Of course, she did, what else could be stirring inside her innermost belly.
The duck pond behind them reflected the afternoon sun, which slid from the obscurity of dirty graying clouds. They felt the warmth of the fresh sun. Her neck relaxed. His head leaned into her body. They absorbed the new energy, and both felt the resonating vibrations deep within.