Copyright © 2019 by JS Stephens. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: all original characters and such, purely a product of my overactive imagination. Comments to me.
"...and in other news, screen icon and honey-voiced singer Doris Day died at the age of 97, her foundation confirmed."
Rita Altman stopped in her tracks, staring at the TV in the living room. "Oh my God," she said softly, sinking into the couch. "I can't believe you're gone." The white-haired woman stared at the TV blindly for a moment, then reached for her tablet, tapping her browser icon. She searched for a few minutes, then started smiling, remembering.
Rita da Silva answered the doorbell eagerly, welcoming her best friend Ruth Carroll into the house. "Hey kid, you ready to go to the movies?" Ruth asked.
"Sure, let me get my coat out of the closet," Rita said, smiling up at her friend. "Mom, Dad, we're leaving now!" she called out.
Her dad came out of the den into the front hallway, smiling at her. "You girls have a great time," he said, shaking Ruth's hand before turning to his daughter. "Be back before midnight," he said, kissing her cheek and slipping money into her coat pocket.
"Thanks Dad," Rita said as Ruth helped her on with her coat. "You and Mom don't need to stay up for me."
Arthur da Silva chuckled, replying, "Kitten, we're staying up for your brother, not you. He's the wild child here. Ruth, you take good care of my baby girl."
"Daddy, I'm not a baby, I just turned sixteen," she mock pouted as she hugged him quickly. "But yes, Don is wild. Let's go, Ruth."
The older girl smiled as they walked out to the red and white Chevy Bel Air parked at the curb. "You like?"
Rita grinned as her friend shut the door carefullly. She leaned over to unlock the driver's door for Ruth and waited for the older girl to slide in before answering, "Yes, I love it. Too bad it's November and too cold to take the top down. I'd love the wind in my hair."
"We'll do that this spring," Ruth promised. "One of the perks of your father owning the Chevy dealership in town, you get to drive a new car every year. Ready for the movies?"
Rita and Ruth met in the glee club at school last year, when Rita was a freshman and Ruth a junior. The two altos became instant best friends, hanging out together all of the time. Their friends called them Mutt and Jeff, since Ruth was unusually tall for a girl, 5'10", blonde hair, vivid blue eyes, and a great figure. Rita was 5'4", dark brown hair, olive skin, dark brown eyes, and curvy. Rita loved her easy going friend, and liked that she always had a car to take them places. At least she didn't have to beg for the keys like her brother did.
"We're here, kiddo. Hey, do you want any popcorn tonight?"
"Maybe a little bit, I thought maybe we could get burgers after the movie," Rita suggested. Ruth nodded in agreement as they approached the ticket line. The line moved fairly quickly, enabling them to get their tickets, popcorn, drinks, and have time to choose good seats before the cartoons started. They settled in, taking off their coats and arranging the popcorn and drinks as the lights went down.
As the movie started, Ruth leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure the real Calamity Jane didn't really sing and probably didn't drive the Deadwood stagecoach." Rita giggled quietly, partly from the comment, and partly from her friend's warm breath in her ear. "And I'll bet Doris Day is a lot prettier than the real Calamity Jane," Ruth continued as she reached for a handful of popcorn.
"You're bad, Ruth Carroll," Rita whispered back. She reached for the popcorn, her hand accidently colliding with Ruth's. I'm glad it's dark in here, she thought as she felt a blush crawling up her neck. She told herself to pay attention to the screen, not to the tall girl beside her. Ruth looks a little like Doris Day, she mused, stealing a glance at her friend.
The movie continued on with mixups and general hilarity until Calamity Jane, all cleaned up and nicely dressed, sang as she strolled up and down the bank of the creek.
Once I had a secret love
That lived within the heart of me
All too soon my secret love
Became impatient to be free
So I told a friendly star
The way that dreamers often do
Just how wonderful you are
And why I am so in love with you
Now I shout it from the highest hills
Even told the golden daffodils
At last my heart's an open door
And my secret love's no secret anymore
Rita felt her friend shift in her chair; she glaced over, curious. Ruth rubbed a tear off her cheek, clenching her jaw. Rita laid a hand on Ruth's arm, hoping to comfort her. Ruth turned slightly and gave her a fake smile. "Allergies," she lied.
The younger girl rooted in her purse and found a clump of neatly folded tissues. She peeled off several and handed them over to the tall blonde, who took them and wiped her eyes. "Thanks," she whispered.
After the movie let out, Ruth and Rita headed back to the car. "Still hungry?" Ruth asked. "We can grab a burger at the diner, share some fries maybe."
"I'd like that," Rita answered, "and I am still a little hungry."
After they ate, Ruth asked, "Want to come back to my house for a bit?" Ruth agreed; they took off across town, stopping at a fairly new two-story house. "Home sweet home," Rita said as she pulled into the circular drive in front. "Looks like my folks are still gone," she observed as they approached the front door. Rita unlocked the door and motioned for Ruth to follow her. She locked the door behind them, then led the younger girl up the stairs to a large bedroom suite. "Be it ever so humble," she said sarcastically. "Take your coat off, come sit on the couch with me."
Ruth slipped off her coat, laying it carefully on the bed before sitting on the couch. She mustered her courage and asked, "Why were you crying in the theatre, Rita?"
Rita sighed heavily, tucking her long legs under her, holding a pillow in her lap and squeezing it tightly. "The song reminded me of someone," she said slowly, "it caught me off guard, that's all."
"Who?" Ruth blurted out. "I haven't heard of you dating anyone since I've been in school." Rita bit her lower lip, worrying it with her teeth. "Oh, gosh, I didn't mean to pry," Ruth said, slapping her forehead lightly. "I'm sorry, Rita, that was really dumb of me."
"It's okay, kiddo," Rita finally said, taking Ruth's hand in hers, "no one else knows. I fell in love with the wrong person a few years ago, and thought my love was returned, but all I did was make a fool of myself. I was led on a bit, did somethings I shouldn't have done, and was dumped after a few months. No big deal."
"He was a fool," Ruth said heatedly, "to dump you? You're so funny and kind, you always help people out. I can't imagine anyone playing with your heart."
"Never mind." Rita unfolded her legs, standing up abruptly. "I should run you home, it's close to 11:30, and I don't want you to get into trouble."
Ruth glanced at her watch, frowning, "I guess you'd better," she said, "I wish I could stay here with you."
Rita smiled a little, opening her arms. Ruth nearly fell into her arms, wrapping her own around the taller girl's slender waist. She laid her cheek against Rita's shoulder, listened to the steady rhythmn of Rita's heartbeat. A secret love, she thought. Without thinking, she tipped her head up and kissed the other girl. Rita returned the kiss, slowly increasing the pressure, causing all sorts of wonderful feelings to rush through Ruth's midsection. Ruth pulled back shakily, clearing her throat. "Not a word to anyone," she whispered, "not a word."
"Oh," Ruth said, unable to think clearly. She took a step back, reaching blindly for her coat, blood still roaring hotly through her ears. She shook her head once, trying to clear the haze of confusing feelings and sensations. "Did I do something wrong?"
Rita smiled sadly, brushing an errant curl off Ruth's forehead. "Some would say yes. I'm sorry, I shouldn't lead you on like this, honey. Don't ever tell your family or any of your friends, they'll stick you in a mental institution if you said anything about kissing girls. Come on, let's go."
Rita didn't abandon Ruth, but she did make sure they were never alone in private again. They stayed close friends until Rita's graduation from high school. She took off for college far away, and never looked Ruth up when she came home.
Ruth remembered the kiss fondly, her secret love kiss. She eventually met and married Gary Altman, a pleasant young man. They had three children and five grandchildren before Gary died of a heart attack a few years ago. She had heard through the grapevine that Ruth had lived with a roommate for close to 50 years before the other woman died. Ruth rarely came back after college, mostly for funerals and weddings. Ruth would sometimes wonder what life would have been like if she could have admitted her secret love.
A few days later, Ruth went to the activity center where a group of young teenagers were supposed to perform. With Gary gone and the kids and grandkids all in different states, she moved to an independent living center last year after selling her house. She sat in her favorite chair near the back of the room, watching the other residents streaming in. One woman caught her eye, she was tall, had spiky silver hair, and carried herself like a queen. Ruth watch, dredging her memories for a name. She must be a new resident.
"In memory of Doris Day, we will start by performing 'Secret Love'" the director announced.
As the choir started singing, the woman turned and looked straight at Ruth, smiling in recognition, making her way to the chair next to her. Ruth looked at the woman, then started smiling back in recognition.
"And my secret love's no secret, anymore."