.... She sat with a leg folded beneath her, facing me in the darkened car. Posed that way, she reminded me of high school, cruising the TeePee, Knobby's, and the Ron-de-Vu drive-in restaurants on Indianapolis's north side. I never imagined I'd have the chance to feel this way again.
I began to suggest a movie, but Pat had another idea.
“Would it be okay if we just rode around? The air is so soft and warm. I like the feel of it blowing through the window. Anyway, I shouldn’t stay up late; I want to be on California time when I get up tomorrow.”
Near Walnut Creek, I turned north on Ygnacio Valley Road into the desert night. Pat leaned back in the seat, her eyes closed, while the breeze, hinting of night-blooming jasmine, chased her hair. The moon and stars in the clear sky silvered everything inside and out as we drove along the country road. At Highway 4, I pulled right and then onto Leland Road until we came to lights on the left. I slowed the car.
“That’s where we played when I first got here.” She turned to gaze at the well-lit, isolated Hilltopper as we passed by.
“You play tomorrow night, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Headlights swept across her face; she seemed more relaxed. “Way over toward the bay, but I figured you’d want to come with me.”
“I’m looking forward to it. But please, for now, can we keep going?” She sighed. “I could ride like this forever.”
We drove though the night on country roads that ran through little Contra Costa delta towns. I knew the area just well enough not to get too lost. Outside of the tires humming on the pavement and the air flowing through the windows, silence surrounded us.
“Can’t help remembering a song you sang in high school when you were in The King and I.”
“That was in my sophomore year, after you'd transferred to North Central.” In a passing light, I saw a smile glimmer on Pat’s face. “You hate musicals.”
“Yeah, well . . . I came as your dutiful boyfriend. That huge auditorium at Shortridge was packed. I was nervous for you. Something special happened when you stepped out to sing your solo. You seemed so small and alone in the single spotlight.
“And then you looked out right at me and sang I Have Dreamed just to me, your voice filling me, and the whole theater. It’s stupid, I know; Caleb Mills Hall must hold twelve hundred or more people, and the place was packed. You couldn’t have seen me, especially not with the stage lights in your eyes.”
Pat leaned back into the seat, listening to me.
I shrugged. “Sounds goofy, but I got a little queasy. I knew right then I would ask you to marry me someday. I'd always been in love with you, but in a schoolboy crush kind of way. In that moment, I understood you were really my girl, and I couldn't imagine a day in my life without you in it to take care of.”
My left little finger and thumb searched my ring finger and came away empty. The wind swept across the open windows, but it remained quiet inside.
“I almost died when you went off to North Central,” she said, “and then when I had to go to Warren Central and you were in college at Butler, we were torn even farther apart . . . I got so afraid something would happen to us; I always wanted to be with you, too.”
I felt her eyes on me. I thought I heard her say, “Now look at us.” I glanced over to see that her head was down, pale strands of hair floating in the desert breeze, surrounding her as though she were underwater.