What Valerie Szabo really wanted to be as a child was a horse. She spent many nostalgic summer days with her best buddy, Vickie, and Vickie's horse, Rip, riding full tilt down the middle of the river, singing Lone Ranger Songs. Rip enjoyed the singing, too, and would lay back his ears and fly like a jumbo jet.
At school, too, Val found many friends who loved horses. During recess, they would run around the playground, snorting and neighing, and sometimes the boys would even be cowpokes.
She had horse statues and pictures in every nook and cranny of her room; rainy days were spent playing with Jane and Johnny West and their horse, Thunderbolt. She read all the horse books she could lay her hands on, wishing she could be Alec in the Black Stallion novels. Her mother even told her that she'd soon be getting oats and hay for breakfast.
Of course, Valerie knew she couldn't be a horse, so the next best thing would be a cowgirl. She'd do everything the cowboys did except chew tobacco and spur her horses. And even the wildest of steeds would allow her on its back, much to the amazement of all her cowboy friends.
Her love of horses soon grew to encompass all animals, and her folks got her a puppy from the pound. With dreams of training a seeing eye dog in her head, she used some allowance money to buy a dog training book and began. Bo was an excellent student and was soon sitting and staying on command. It was their constant companionship that got the girl thinking about becoming a veterinarian.
She geared all her high school classes in that direction until she had to do the infamous bug collection for zoology in her sophomore year. It was then that her mother noticed that Val always came back from the field behind the house wheezing like their old lawn mower. They ended up at an allergist's office and his news was grim. Val was most allergic to the animals she dearly loved, not to mention dust and pollen.
She wanted to swallow poison. She wanted to dig a hole and fall in. How could this possibly happen? What horrible thing had she done to deserve this fate? She was depressed for weeks and cried even harder when they had to give their cat away. Bo, however, was spared, simply because Ellen and Don Szabo didn't think their daughter could take another disappointment. Besides that, well, look at the two of them! It seemed like Bo was Val's only friend during this dark hour, and the dog understood exactly what was going on. She looked at Val with somber dog eyes and never left her side.
Eventually Val did come around somewhat and for the last two years of high school took secretarial classes. She found a boyfriend, too, and it was with him she discovered the joys of marijuana and being picked up by the county cops with alcohol in the vehicle on Friday night.
She was petrified of sex, otherwise she might have tried that, too. Not that the poor guy didn't try. He panted and moaned and slobbered in her ear, not unlike Bo, and told her that his balls would certainly fall off. Val couldn't be sympathetic. Never in a million years could she touch IT. Or look at IT. She didn't even want to think about IT.
She sent Elephant Nuts packing shortly after the "go to jail FREE" episode with severe coaching from her parents. Soon after that, though, she found another boyfriend. She also decided he was The One, too, especially when he insisted on going with her to the library to learn about birth control. She never thought that guys were interested in that aspect of screwing, and when Mike showed up to escort her to the library, noteBook and pen in hand, she plunged headlong into her first head over heels love affair.
The night they deflowered each other the temperature was twenty degrees, right before Val's seventeenth birthday, and it didn't happen where they wanted. Indeed, they had talked about that special day for months, but they ended up in Mike's beater Mustang and had to use the ice scraper on the insides of the windows so they could see to get home.
Mike vowed to make it better the next time, and he was true to his word, coughing up cash for a motel room. Val soon learned that IT didn't bite and even began to grow rather fond of IT, calling IT pet, which IT seemed to like. They soon became quite adept at making up stories about where they were going, and they did it everywhere. They'd go to the drugstore together to buy rubbers, and it was always a contest to see who would laugh first.
Their favorite times were at night in the summer out in the same field where Val had gone for her bug collection. (Her allergies were "stress induced," according to the doctor, and since her tumultuous senior year was behind her, so seemed most of the sneezing and wheezing.) They'd lay tangled up like string and look up at the stars, planning their future. Once Mike brought a flashlight to try to see what was in that secret place that made him feel so good. Val squirmed and snorted and swore she'd love him forever. That Christmas he presented her with a beautiful pink gold engagement ring.
What was really shocking, several months later, was when Val began to have doubts about their relationship.
"Don't you think we're sort of young?" she asked her fiancÚ.
"Sure," Mike agreed, "but I know what I want!" A frown furrowed his brow. "What? Are you having doubts about my stud muffin abilities??
Val was having doubts, not about Mike, but wondering if maybe she could fit college in there someplace. She'd taken a couple classes at Grafton CC the semester after high school graduation and discovered that it was quite feasible to put her love of animals to work in the field of ecology. Tentatively, she told Mike her idea.
He was not impressed. He was down right mad. "I thought you wanted to get married!" he yelled. "It wasn't long ago you swore you'd love me forever!?
"Oh, Mike, I do love you," she cried, grabbing at his hands which he yanked savagely away. "I thought you'd understand! I-I do want to marry you, but I also want a job that I love! I want something I'm good at! I thought you'd want that for me too!?
"I thought you wanted to have kids," he said, putting on his pouty face.
Val shook her head. "I never said I wanted to have kids. I don't know if I'm capable of making that decision right now! We aren't even nineteen! Why can't we wait until we both go to school??
Without a response, Mike shoved his chair away from the kitchen table, stomped down the hall, giving the door a smart slam on his way out. Valerie had to force herself to remain seated. Every fiber of her being wanted to jump out of the chair and run out the door after him, telling him she was stupid for even bringing up the subject of school. But she knew she wasn't stupid; she knew she was right. Why did right have to feel so damn bad then? It wasn't fair!
Later, after she'd been in bed for several hours staring at the ceiling, she realized sleep wouldn't come until she resolved her problem. Her eyelids finally closed near sunrise.
The next morning, she borrowed her mom's car and headed to Mike's. Mrs. Fulscher answered her knock, saying Mike had stayed out rather late and was still in bed.
"I need to talk to him," Val said, trying not to lose her nerve.
"Well, come in, honey, and I'll go get him. Would you like a cup of coffee?" Mrs. Fulscher, ever the good hostess, grinned at Val. "It could take days to wake him."
Val declined and sat in the rocking chair to wait. She smiled as she remembered how they had ?christened? that very chair months before, and suddenly she wanted to bawl her eyes out. What if she was making a terrible mistake? What if she ended up an old bag with a lot of regrets? She loved Mike like only an eighteen-year-old could love, but, dammit, she wanted other things, too!
"Valerie?" Mrs. Fulscher interrupted Val's reverie. "Go ahead to his room, dear. I hope he's still awake. I told him a vision of beauty awaited him."
"Thanks," Val said, blushing furiously, still thinking about the christened chair. How could Mike's mom not know that they had christened his room, too? And the room with the pool table in it in the basement? He was still in bed, a humongous lump under the covers.
"Mike?" There was no answer. "Mikey??
Suddenly, his hand shot out from beneath the blankets and latched onto Val, reeling her in with enthusiasm.
"Hello, my sweet," he murmured, burrowing into her neck. "Are you coming to ask for forgiveness or just coming??
"Come on, Mike," Val gasped, half giggling. "Let's talk."
"No, let's not talk," he said adamantly, reaching under her shirt.
"Quit, dammit!" she whispered harshly. "What if your mom came in right now??
"She wouldn't dare," he replied, hand still under shirt.
"I want to finish the talk we started last night before you had your temper tantrum and stormed out of the house." Slowly the hand came back into view.
"Shit, you really know how to deflate a guy," he replied, sitting up on one elbow. He brushed hair out of his eyes. "Well? If you're gonna let me have it, then let's get on with it."
"You aren't making this very easy for me," Val said determinedly.
"It's not easy for me, either, listening to the woman of my dreams telling me to get lost," he said morosely.
"I am not telling you to get lost! I have never once told you to get lost!" In spite of her resolve, Val began to cry, hating herself for it. "I stayed up most of the night thinking about us, and if you want this thing to last, you have to listen to what I want, too! I love you, Mike, and I do want to marry you, but I also want other things. Like the job I was talking about. You didn't want to talk about it last night."
"And I don't want to talk now," he interrupted. Harrumphing, he flipped over in bed, his back to her.
"So is that some kind of ultimatum??
"Call it whatever you want," he answered sarcastically, still not looking at her.
"Well, then, I guess you want this back," Val sobbed, twisting the ring off her finger and putting it carefully on the nightstand. "I was so sure we could talk about this, but I guess that shows how much I really know about you, you--you big lunkhead!?
She didn't stay long enough to hear the sobs coming from under the blankets.
Mrs. Fulscher's smile melted off her face when she saw Val's. "Are you all right, honey??
"No, and I'll probably not be all right for a long time," Val replied, pushing past the other woman and running out the door.