There wasn't any party for Peggy on her last night at home. She hadn't wanted one. A girl, she felt, didn't laugh and act gay when down inside, way deep, there were burning tears.
"We should have bad a big blow out," Otis Markey decided. "We should have torn the corks off a dozen bottles."
Peggy glanced at her father. He was a big man, red-faced and powerful, and when he spoke he pushed his head forward as though he were getting ready to ram it into a solid wall.
"A dozen bottles," he repeated. "Or two dozen." He slapped his right fist into his left hand and made a loud noise. "When my favorite and only daughter goes off to college she ought to go in style."
"I like it better this way," she said.
"Just a quiet evening with Frank?"
"Frank is all right."
Her father frowned and rubbed the side of his face.
"Well, you'll arrive at the college in style," he said. "That red Thunderbird ought to do the trick."
The car had been her third Thunderbird in less than two years.
"I'm not taking the car," Peggy told her father. "I've decided to go by bus."
She had thought it over very carefully but when she tried to put it into words she didn't quite know how to begin.
"Cooper Community College is sort of down-to-earth place," she said. "When I was up there for registration I saw plenty of old Fords and Plymouths but nothing fancy. If I drove up in a Thunderbird they'd think I just bought the place."
Otis Markey lifted a glass and took a long drink of the scotch.
"Is that bad?" he wanted to know. "Is it a sin to be rich?"
"You don't know how it was in high school," she said, "but I do. I had a lot of friends until you gave me that first car and then they all disappeared."
"No," she admitted. "Frank didn't."
"You could do worse than marrying Frank," her father said. "A lot worse. The end of the school season he'll be out of Churchill State for good and I'd take him in the construction business with me."
Peggy sighed and looked out of the window toward the darkness of the driveway.
"We've been all over that before," she said. "I don't know whether or not I love Frank enough to marry him, but I do want to study something worthwhile."
"You call studying about social problems something worthwhile?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
Her father shrugged and refilled his glass with scotch. "You don't have to study anything," her father told her. "When I die you'll be crawling in money--insurance, everything. And the business can go on without me. I've organized it that way."
"Yes, Father, I know. You've told me a million times, already. But nothing is going to happen to you."
"I'm fifty-eight." He looked at her and chuckled. "You came along late in life."
"Yes. You were almost forty."
Her father nodded. "Yes. Isn't it hell? Your mother and I had been married for ten years with nothing happening, and then you were there. We decided that you'd be the only one, that there would never be another, but--"
He stopped talking and returned to the scotch. He always drank heavily whenever he spoke of her mother and Peggy was pretty sure she knew what he was thinking about. She had been almost six when the other baby had been born--born dead--and her mother had died while giving the little boy a chance to live. Frequently, like now, she thought she remembered her mother and at other times she wasn't sure whether she did or not. All she knew was that her mother's dying had taught her that marriage could mean more than loving; sometimes it could mean death for the woman.
"Frank's late," her father said.
"Frank's always late."
"Too bad he doesn't want to be a doctor like his father. Doctors make good money, more than I'd pay a budding engineer. I'll bet Doc Taylor knocks down close to fifty grand a year. Maybe it's not as much as I make--me and my high school education--but you couldn't spit at it, either."
Suddenly, she wished that Frank would hurry up and come. Being alone with her father when he was drinking a lot always made her nervous. He would sit for hours and talk about how he had built the Otis Construction Company from nothing and how he was now the richest man in Warren County. He was proud of his accomplishment and he had a right to be proud but he usually managed to spoil everything with his drinking and his women. He liked his liquor much too much and he liked his women much too young. She hoped to escape both of these things by going away to college.
"Let's have a party," her father was saying. "Frank'll be here before too long and I'll round up some dames and a few other guys. We'll rip up the place."
He poured some more scotch into his glass. "Why not?"
"I don't know. I just don't like so much drinking all the time."
"I can afford it."
"I know you can. It isn't that."
"Is that why you're going off to school? Because of my drinking?"
"I didn't say that."
"Or because I have a few girls up here now and then?"
She knew, or she could guess, about what went on in the master bedroom. She was nineteen and she was old enough to know that some men couldn't live without a woman. But some of the girls were so young, hardly more than her own age, and she had found the situation slightly revolting. Even one of the girls from her own graduating class, a pretty farm girl, had gone with her father to the big bedroom at the top of the stairs.
"No," she lied.
Otis Markey emptied his glass of scotch.
"You're a funny one," he said, reaching again for the bottle. "Most any other girl as beautiful as you are would have half a dozen boys hanging around."
"And you only have Frank."
"Yes," she admitted. "I only have Frank."
Her father refilled the glass.
"Frank is all right," he said. "Frank is okay." He placed the bottle in the liquor cabinet and closed the door. "But he's only one. And it's got me worried."
His reply was slow.
"You know why," he said. "We've never talked about it directly but we've talked around it enough so that you know what I mean."
He turned and walked toward the open stairs, still carrying the glass of scotch. He moved lightly for a big man, almost as gracefully as a dancer.
"Are you going out?" Peggy asked him.
"For a little while," he said, starting up the stairs. "As soon as I get dressed. I can't stand this wake we're holding."
"A little while" to her father meant anything from an hour to all night. In the morning there would be dirty glasses all over the living room, bottles upset and sometimes, if they hadn't been able to make it up to one of the bedrooms, Otis Markey and some woman, more than likely only half dressed, would be sleeping on one of the davenports.
It was from this, she told herself, that she wished to escape. And, in a sense, from herself.
She turned, facing one of the huge mirrors in the room, and looked at herself. Beautiful? Yes, she had been told that she was beautiful, that she had a sensual shape. And she supposed it was so. Her hair was white-blonde, shoulder length and it was naturally curly. She could get up in the morning, toss her head a couple of times and her hair would tumble down in long, silken waves. Her gray eyes went well with her blondeness and her lips were full and red and inclined to pout. When she smiled, as she did now, her teeth were firm and white, almost perfect. Frank said that her smile and her body reminded him of some movie actress, one of those French imports, but she didn't know about that. She guessed she had a good body, but as she stood back, looking at herself in the mirror, it was difficult to tell. She wore a sack dress, a blue thing that contrasted sharply with her blonde hair, and it hid all of her curves. Her father, when he was drunk, said sack dresses were made for pregnant women or for women who wanted to look pregnant.
A car came up the driveway and she swung away from the mirror, wondering if she would ever get that way, wondering, a little desperately, if she would die the way her mother had died.
She waited for Frank, knowing what he would expect her to do on their last night together; knowing, too, that she would refuse him as she had always refused him.
He came in without knocking.
"Hi," he said.
He was a big man, over six feet, and he weighed over two hundred pounds.
"Hello," she said.
His brown eyes glanced around the room as he reached for a cigarette.
"Your dad around?"
Frank lit the cigarette and watched the smoke curl toward the ceiling.
"You should have had a party," Frank said. "Your father wanted it."
"Well, I didn't."
Frank crossed to the liquor cabinet and opened it. He removed a bottle of rye and poured a long drink into a tall glass.
"I wish there was a chance of changing your mind," Frank said. He looked at her steadily. "Is there?"
"I sent everything to the railroad station this morning."
Peggy's father came down the stairs, nodded to them and left the house. A few moments later she heard the Caddy motor racing as he drove toward the main highway.
"I don't get it," Frank said. "You could go to Churchill State or any of the best colleges and yet you pick a lousy little school that nobody ever heard of."
"I heard of it," she reminded him.
Frank finished his drink and placed the glass on top of the liquor cabinet. He came toward her, walking slowly and heavily.
"You drive me nuts," he said. "And you know it." She didn't want him to kiss her but she knew that he would. He always kissed her. That was all he wanted to do when they were alone. Kiss--and the other. That was what made her tremble inside. Kissing was one thing, not really bad and not really good, but to go beyond that was frightening to her.
He kissed her, kissed her hard. She tried to respond to him but she couldn't. He drove his lips in against her mouth his tongue hot and searching, but all she did was lean against him.
"You're cold," he said finally. "Cold. Why is that?"
"I--I don't know."
"You'd think that was the first time I ever kissed you."
He returned to the liquor cabinet and poured another drink.
"Want one, Peggy?"
He paused. "How come you never drink?"
"I just don't care for it."
The liquor made a noise as it splashed into the glass.
"I guess you've seen too much of it around here."
"I guess so."
He glanced up. "Or with me?"
"No, not with you. You don't drink too much. And there's nothing wrong with it."
"Then why don't you?"
"I don't know. I just don't."
When she had been sixteen, before the Thunderbird and the aloofness of the kids at school--or had this aloofness been her imagination playing tricks on her?--she had gone on a hay ride. The boy who had been with her, a senior who had later gotten into trouble with some girl, had encouraged her to drink a lot of beer and then he had tried to do something terrible to her. She had fought him off, screaming, and he had run into the woods, swearing at her as he ran. She never drank anything after that.
"A little shot would relax you," Frank said. "It really would."
He shrugged and let out a long breath.
"I've asked you a dozen times before," he said, "but I'll ask you again to marry me. Why don't you, Peggy?"
"You know why."
"You're not sure of yourself?"
"I'm not sure of anything. I wish I was."