Love, But Not Marriage: A Short Story

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It was July 1st, 1989, and Johnny was at Skaha Lake. The beach was a hot spot for single people in Penticton, and like a lot of other young men his age, Johnny went there to meet women. The manager of a gym, he had a muscular body, and women were attracted to him, sometimes even older women.

Johnny was about to go for a swim when he saw a young girl crying and screaming, “Mommy! Where are you?!”

He spotted a woman at the other end of the crowded beach, looking around in distress. He hurried to the girl, picked her up, and pointed. “Is that your mother?”

“That’s my Mommy!” the girl cried. She was four years old.

Johnny put the girl down, waved to the mother, and she ran across the sand.

“Thank you,” she said as soon as she reached them. “I fell asleep, and she wandered off.” The girl wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” Johnny said with a smile. “Just like her mother.”

The woman smiled back, and Johnny couldn’t keep his eyes from drifting down. She was in her mid 30s, wore a yellow bikini, and it revealed much more than it concealed.

Johnny asked the girl, “Would you like an ice cream?”

“Yes!” she said excitedly.

“No; we need to go home,” the mother said to her daughter. Then she looked at Johnny. “Thank you though.” And she walked away with her daughter in her arms.

“Out of my league,” Johnny sighed. “Probably married.”

Johnny went for a swim, and he met another woman, smacking into her while she was doing the backstroke. Slim and attractive, with shoulder-length dark hair, she was wearing a red, one-piece bathing suit. She was 25, two years older than him.

“Ow!” she yelled when they collided.

“I’m so sorry!” Johnny said when his blonde head came up from the water. “I’m not the greatest swimmer.”

Johnny could do the front crawl, yet despite his strength, he could only swim 10 minutes at a time, and had to stop to catch his breath. There was something wrong with his stroke.

“No, it’s my fault,” the young woman said, wincing. “I should have seen you.” They were both treading water, near the yellow buoys that marked the area where it was safe to swim.

“Are you a good swimmer?” Johnny asked.

The young woman smiled. “I’m a lifeguard.”

Johnny grinned. “Maybe you could… teach me a lesson. What’s your name?”

“Samantha.”

“I’m Johnny.”

Samantha tried to teach him, but it was no use. He couldn’t improve his stroke. But that didn’t matter to Johnny. After that lesson, they never spent a day apart.

They worked out every day. On weekends, they swam at Skaha Lake, and went hiking in the mountains. After the first snowfall in December, they went skiing at Apex. They both loved to be outdoors, and do things that challenged them physically.

Samantha had been hurt by a lot of guys, some who cheated on her, others who left her for no reason. “I have a hard time trusting guys,” she confessed.

Johnny promised her, “I’ll never cheat on you, and I’ll always be honest in our relationship.”

Samantha wasn’t like the other women Johnny had been with. She made him wait a month before they made love, and insisted that he go see a doctor first. Johnny’s previous girlfriends were wild, often irresponsible, but Samantha didn’t drink much, and when she discovered that Johnny liked to smoke pot, she made him stop.

Johnny felt free with Samantha, to tell her things he had never told anyone. When he was 12, his father came into his bedroom and said, “I have to leave, son, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” Johnny’s father never came back, and he never sent any money to pay the bills.

Six months went by with Samantha, and Johnny had never been happier. He had everything he wanted in a relationship: They had sex all the time; Samantha was an amazing cook; they never had a fight. But Samantha started to wonder about their future together.

It was New Year’s Day 1990, and Johnny had slept over at Samantha’s apartment the night before. He woke up at 10, and made breakfast for both of them: coffee, scrambled eggs, ham, and toast.

When Samantha sat at the kitchen table, Johnny, playing the role of a waiter, brought her a plate. “Would you like anything else, Miss?” he asked.

“Well, maybe a good morning kiss,” Samantha said, smiling.

Johnny kissed her, and whispered in her ear, “I’m expecting a large tip—later.”

This made Samantha blush. Johnny sat down, and started wolfing down his breakfast.

After taking a bite from her toast, Samantha asked, “What do you think about marriage?” Her parents were happily married, as were her three sisters.

Johnny’s toast got stuck in his throat, and he coughed repeatedly. “I don’t believe in it. You don’t have to get married to prove you love someone.”

Samantha had heard this before, from her previous boyfriends. “You get married to show your commitment to the person you love,” she argued. “If you make a vow to each other, you’re more likely to stay together.”

Johnny scoffed. “It doesn’t mean anything. My father cheated on my mother all the time.”

Samantha knew about Johnny’s childhood, and tried to be sensitive. When his father left, Johnny had to get a part-time job to help his mother pay the bills. He knew more about divorce than marriage.

“I know that many marriages end badly,” she admitted. “But on average, people who get married stay together longer than people who don’t.”

Johnny reached and held Samantha’s hand. “I don’t want to argue about this. I love you, and I’m not going anywhere. Isn’t that enough?”

Samantha didn’t know what else to say, so life went on as before.

But in the spring, to Samantha’s surprise, Johnny made her a proposal.

On Easter weekend, they went out for dinner, and while they were waiting for dessert, Johnny had a big grin on his face.

“What are you smiling about?” Samantha asked.

“I’ve been thinking… Why don’t we move in together? In my trailer.”

“No!” Samantha said, raising her voice. “Definitely not!”

“Why not?” Johnny frowned. “We’ll see each other more, you’ll have more space, and you won’t have to pay rent.”

Samantha shook her head. “I’m not going to live with you until we get married.”

“I told you,” Johnny said, raising his voice. “I don’t want to get married.”

Samantha didn’t know what to say to change his mind, but she knew what she had to do.

After dinner, they did what they always did on Saturday night. They went to Samantha’s apartment, and after watching a movie, Johnny took her by the hand, and led her into the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, Johnny kissed her, but Samantha pulled back and pressed two fingers on his lips.

“I’ve… decided something,” she said with hesitation in her voice. “We’re not making love anymore.”

Johnny was in shock. “What! Why?”

“I’m like a sports car to you.”

“No,” Johnny said, shaking his head. “You’re not an object to me. You’re a beautiful woman.”

“And for ten months, you’ve taken me for a test drive, but I’m not a free ride anymore.”

Johnny pleaded and begged, but it was no use. Samantha wasn’t going to change her mind.

Not having sex was like a drug withdrawal for both of them, but they made it through the spring. On Canada Day—their one-year anniversary—they went to Skaha Lake, and had a picnic on the beach. They sat together on a blanket, ate sandwiches, and drank lemonade. Since they stopped having sex, they no longer saw each other every day. There was a growing distance between them, but they never talked about it.

After a long silence, Johnny said, “I’m not sure about us anymore—if this is working.”

Samantha took a deep breath, and tried to stay calm. “Are you… breaking up with me?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny answered vaguely. “But maybe we need some time apart.”

Samantha felt her throat tighten; she couldn’t speak. She got up and walked into the water.

Johnny stood up and started kicking the sand. He really did care for Samantha, but he was frustrated that she wouldn’t sleep with him. He walked into the water after her. “I was just being honest, OK? Maybe we can work it out.”

Samantha turned to Johnny and said, “I know why you don’t want to marry me.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re waiting for the perfect person!” Samantha said, distraught. “Someone better than me!” Then she swam away.

Johnny swam after her, but Samantha, not wanting to be near him, kept on swimming—beyond the buoys—thinking he would turn back.

Johnny knew it wasn’t safe to swim out that far, and he wanted to stop, but he saw Samantha struggling in the water. Beyond the buoys, there was an undertow from a small river that spilled into the lake, and it was pulling her under.

Johnny swam as fast as he could. When he reached her, he was out of breath and had stomach cramps, and couldn’t keep up his stroke. He took hold of her, swam back a short distance, but they were both sinking, and Johnny went under. Samantha’s head was barely above the surface.

A man in a boat saw them struggling, and came to their rescue. He reached and pulled Samantha out of the water. But Johnny was floating face-down, a hundred feet away.

Kneeling at the edge of the boat, Samantha spotted him and screamed, “Johnny!”

The man took the boat closer, and then he and Samantha lifted Johnny out of the water. He wasn’t breathing, so she performed CPR. She did multiple chest compressions, tilted his forehead back, lifted his chin, pinched his nose, and gave him two rescue breaths. He didn’t respond, so she tried again. He still wasn’t breathing. But on the third attempt, Johnny coughed, water spilling out of his mouth.

When Johnny sat up, Samantha held him, and with tears streaming down her face, she said, “I’m so sorry. It’s my fault this happened.”

Johnny didn’t answer her. He just stared across the lake. Seeing that Johnny was OK, the man in the boat took them back to the beach.

Samantha and Johnny both thanked the man, got out of the boat, and returned to their picnic.

While Samantha was packing up their things, she said, “I won’t talk about marriage again. I promise.”

Johnny was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I was a coward.”

Samantha took his hand and squeezed it. “Johnny, no. You risked your life to save me. You were very brave.”

“When you were drowning,” Johnny said, looking away, “I realized I was afraid … of marrying the wrong person.”

“Because of your mother and father?”

Johnny nodded. After a long pause, he turned to her. “But when I was drowning, I realized what a fool I was. In that moment, I knew—if I lived, I wanted to spend my life with you.”

Johnny held her hands, and got down on one knee. “I really do love you, Samantha… Will you marry me?”

Samantha put her hand on her chest and took a deep breath. “Yes!” she cried, pulling him to his feet. “Yes!”

Johnny kissed her, and they held each other.

A minute later, Samantha spoke softly in his ear: “The reason I planned the picnic today, was to tell you—I’m pregnant.”

Johnny’s eyes opened wide; his jaw dropped; he couldn’t speak. He stepped back.

Finally, he said, “Wow… I’m going to be a Dad.”

Samantha nodded her head, “Yes! You are.”

Then Johnny said, “So, I guess we can start having sex again?”

Samantha shook her head. “No! Not until our wedding night.”

Johnny sighed, opened his mouth to say something, but he didn’t.

Six weeks later, they got married.

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