The Right to Choose
A short story
©1984 Matthew C. Scheck
Like any footloose and fancy free, lifelong bachelor, I had always taken my freedom for granted because I knew no alternative. Then one day I got a phone call, and after saying “hello” the young girl on the line said these words: “You don’t know me, but you’re my father.”
My first thought upon hearing this news was that telemarketers were developing new strategies to get the attention of people. How insidious! How clever!
“Huh?” I managed to reply after a moment of stupid silence.
“You’re my biological father. My Mom is Anne Foster. Do you remember Anne Foster?”
“Anne Foster? Good God, yes, of course…She was my best friend at Army Medic School…God, like 20 years ago…”
As soon as I said those words I knew this girl on the phone was my daughter. Anne and I had never actually dated—although we were deeply in love with each other from the moment we first met—and we only spent one night together as lovers, the last before we parted ways and never saw each other again. I nearly drowned in the tidal wave of memories that washed over me as I stood there with the phone in my hand.
Like every other classmate of mine at the 91B Medic School at Fort Sam Houston, I came to the school directly from Basic Training. I was the last to arrive for my class, as a horrible ice storm in the Midwest had delayed my departure from Fort Knox for three days. When I got to Fort Sam it was a Friday night, and my class had been given a weekend pass, so no one was in the barracks when I showed up.
After I unpacked my gear and changed into civilian clothes, I wandered down to the recreation area, or “dayroom” as we called them in the Army. It was dark and quiet there, lit only by a large television. The only person in the entire room was a tall, very well built, beautiful blonde girl, casually dressed in a pair of running shorts and a University of Maine sweatshirt. Since I hadn’t seen a girl—any girl: fat, tall, skinny, ugly, beautiful, blonde, brunette, whatever—in eight weeks, I was immediately lusting for this lovely stranger.
“Wow,” I said to her when she noticed my presence and looked up, “I thought I was the Omega man for a minute and all humanity had died. Thank goodness someone else is alive.”
She smiled. “Yeah, everyone’s out. As soon as the First Sergeant announced everyone had a weekend pass, it took about five minutes for everyone to get the hell out of here.”
“Except me. I’m trying to be a good girl. I have a boyfriend I love very much back home, but after being in Basic Training for eight weeks, I’m afraid to face any temptation right now.”
“I had a girlfriend I loved very much before I quit college and left for Basic Training. I believe her last words to me were, ‘How could you do this to me, you bastard, I hate you, blah, blah, blah.’ I guess I don’t have to be faithful to her since she dumped me and I haven’t heard from her since. And it’s funny, when I first saw you my first thought was that I haven’t seen a girl in eight weeks.”
“You’re funny—and that’s sad, I’m sorry.”
“Sad because my girl dumped me or sad because it’s been so long since I’ve seen a female?”
“You’re funny too. By the way—I’m Alex Garrity.”
“Anne Foster. Nice to meet you.”
“Where did you do Basic?”
“Fort Jackson. How about you?”
A long pause followed this as we stared at each other as if we’d just seen the opposite sex for the first time in our lives and we liked what we saw. I could tell from her wantonly lusty expression and my massive erection that there was a definite attraction between us.
Finally, after in my mind I ravaged this beautiful girl in every depraved, perverted, and kinky way imaginable, I spoke. “Tell you what, Anne. This place is pretty depressing. How about I try my best not to tempt you and we go get a beer somewhere, as friends of course. I am totally dying for a beer.”
“Sounds like a plan, Alex.”
We had many beers that night but did not act on our attraction. Although I was immediately in love with her, and she would have easily fallen prey to my wiles had I seduced her, I respected her fidelity. Every time I thought about tearing off her clothes that night, I imagined myself as her boyfriend back home, and I realized I wouldn’t want some asshole making me into a cuckold like this, so I stifled any attempt to sleep with her.
From that moment forward she became my best friend at medic school. Due to a fortuitous twist of fate, we sat next to each other in class because our seating was arranged in alphabetical order. We literally spent all our time together both in and outside class. Next to a few innocent pecks on the cheek and some friendly handholding as we explored downtown San Antonio, we enjoyed a very chaste and platonic friendship. She even told her boyfriend back home, Devin, about our friendship, and he seemed to approve. I could see why too, because she was a very trustworthy person in every way. Devin was a lucky sonofagun.
I slept with a few girls while I was there, but none made much of an impact on me other than as outlets for my sexual longing for Anne. Most people in our class refused to believe that Anne and I were just “friends,” and the ones who knew better would often tell us, “Why don’t you two just fuck and get it over with?” Obviously that was my wish too, but I was too afraid to ruin our friendship by making sexual advances. Mostly I just jerked off at night thinking of her, or screwed other girls but only thought of her during the act, then spent the rest of the time wishing she’d come to her senses and love me back.
I was in the Regular Army while Anne was in the Reserves. After medic school she was heading home to finish her last two years of college at the University of Maine. She and Devin were engaged and were getting married that summer. My future was less certain—God knows where the Army would send me after graduation.
As graduation from medic school approached, we found that we became more dependant on each other. We realized that after school was over we would never see each other again. I began dreading that day when we’d part.
I was insanely in love with her. Since she appeared to love Devin so much, I kept my feelings deeps inside myself and just enjoyed the fact I could spend any time with her. Being with her and not being able to kiss her and hold her was torture, yet I would gladly take whatever part of her she would give me, and this platonic relationship of ours brought me more joy than the many relationships I’d had in my life that I consummated.
The night we graduated our class had a party at the enlisted club on the base. During the course of the drunken celebration, the DJ played a set of slow songs. I grabbed Anne’s hand and dragged her onto the dance floor. We were both mildly drunk and caught up in the moment. We held each other close and slowly danced. She had never looked more beautiful and yet so sad.
“I’m going to miss you more than I can even begin to describe,” I told her.
She held me tight and started crying, burying her face on my shoulder. After a while she lifted her head, her eyes filled with tears, and made a declaration: “Alex, I love you. But I love Devin too. I don’t know what to do.”
Upon hearing this news I kissed her. What I could have done the first night I met her I now did with great gusto. We practically sprinted back to my barracks room and had the wildest, most athletic and passionate and romantic sex I have ever had in my life. We declared our love for each other over and over again. After many hours of this, we passed out in each other’s arms.
When we woke a few hours later, we held each other in silence and stared at each other. I silently prayed Anne would make the right choice—me—so we could spend the rest of our lives together. I knew she loved Devin and that her whole life—family, friends, school—was back in Maine. To ask her to give all that up and run off with me was too much to ask, even though I loved her deeply, madly, and truly beyond belief. It was her choice to make. I had decided the first night we met that I wanted to marry her. I didn’t beg her to choose me, nor did I even ask. I just held her that night and hoped she would choose me.
She chose Devin and her life back at Maine.
In the morning we parted ways and never kept in contact—not one letter or call, ever. I thought about her every day for the first ten years, and after that I still thought of her often, but only if something triggered the memories, like a song from that era, or a whiff of the kinds of perfume she wore, or whatever else reminded me of her. That fucking song, “Always Something There to Remind Me,” came out that summer after she and I parted ways, and I still cannot hear it without breaking down and bawling like a little girl.
My life has gone well except in this one aspect. After the Army I went back to college and got an engineering degree. I have carved out a fairly successful career as an engineer, which has provided the means for me to live a very comfortable and self-indulgent lifestyle. I have dated many beautiful women and have lived with a few, but I’ve never been close to getting married. Now that I am forty, alone, and feeling rather needy these days, I wouldn’t mind getting married if the right woman came along.
“Alex—Dad? Are you there?” the girl on the phone—my daughter with Anne—asked.
“Does Devin know?” I asked.
“No. Mom and Dad—Devin—divorced nine years ago and they don’t really like each other much these days, but she never told him even when she caught him cheating on her and left him. Honestly, I don’t like him much for what he did to Mom, and knowing now he’s not my Dad has been more of a relief than a shock.”
“When did she tell you.”
“Can you believe last night? We were arguing about abortion, and when I kept screaming at her how it’s the woman’s right to choose, she broke down and confessed her secret to prove it really is woman’s right to choose, but not the way I thought of it.
She told me about you and how much she loved you, and how she married Dad—Devin—because she was pregnant and scared, and despite the fact I was yours and not his. She would have searched the world over to find you and be with you, but she didn’t leave Maine because she was terrified that you wouldn’t want her. After that we cried for hours—and I’ve been up all night preparing myself to talk to you.”
“How’d you get my number?”
“Mom had your mother’s number all these years. I called her just now and she gave me yours.”
I was stunned. It was as if my entire life had been wasted. All I had to do that one fateful night was ask Anne to stay with me and she would have. I chose to let her choose without trying to influence her decision, and because I didn’t try hard enough to convince her to stay with me, we ruined the next twenty years of our lives.
“I—I—I…I don’t even know your name.”
“Alexandra, but everyone calls me Alex.”