Early February 1971
“Hey, are you hungry?” asked Libby, still eight miles high from the exertion and excitement of their great escape.
Willie was flushed and breathless too. “Yes!” he managed.
“Do you have any money?”
Willie shrugged. “Lemme see.” He checked a pocket, and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. “Sure do,” he said, smiling.
They walked up Eighteenth Street from Dupont Circle to Adams-Morgan, to a diner he knew about that never closed and served breakfast all day. Willie got change so they could put quarters in the jukebox whenever the music stopped. They both ate a huge breakfast, and then they talked and laughed, talked and laughed, for hours.
They were astonished to learn that they had so much in common: they both loved to dance, and to roller-skate; they admitted they liked Top-40 music, especially if it was good to dance to; their favorite color was purple; summer was their favorite season and they didn’t mind the hot; they were not at all shy about taking their clothes off; they were both born in June; he had a year-younger sister her age, and she had a year-older brother his age; they had both been good students; their families expected them to go to college but they didn’t want to yet; they both smoked pot and liked tripping but didn’t do any hard stuff (Not anymore, thought Libby, so it’s not a lie); they both grew up in the south; she had been crashing with friends lately and so had he; their parents lived in the suburbs; their families were strictly religious but what is life, they asked each other, if you can’t do your own thing?…
* * *
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Willie said, suddenly serious.
Libby could tell he was apprehensive, so she put her hand on his to reassure him. “What is it? You can tell me anything.”
“I’m married,” he said. “And I have a son.”
“Oh my god, I probably shouldn’t…”
“No! No, it’s all right,” Libby said quickly. “I’m just surprised, because you’re so young. Of course, I’m kinda married too, but…”
“I don’t know if it was legal,” she explained, “because I wasn’t 18 yet, and I left him after a couple months and moved to New York with somebody else, but … I’m sorry, I interrupted you. Tell me about your wife and son.”
“Well, here’s what happened.” Willie took a deep breath, and sighed in relief at the unburdening to come. “My parents sent me down to North Carolina to this … place.” He tensed again. “A place their church has, where they … cure homosexuals.”
Libby kept quiet, realizing that he needed to tell the story in his own way, without her questioning him.
“I had to put my sin behind me. ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ That’s what they used to say. That’s what they made me say.” Willie took a sip of his cold coffee, and then called the waitress and asked if she could warm it up.
Libby saw that he was waiting for her reaction. “They asked you to sacrifice yourself,” she said gently, “and not to be who you really are.”
Willie nodded, but didn’t look up and she sensed he wasn’t quite ready to talk again. So she continued, “I don’t think it’s a sin. It’s just some people telling other people what to do. You know: ‘What would Jesus do?’ Meaning, here’s what I want you to do.”
“Yes,” Willie continued, “they told me exactly what Jesus wanted: I had to marry a good Christian woman from our church, and have a family.”
“So you said yes.”
“I didn’t have any choice. They arranged the whole thing, and took me to the church, and then I was married. And then I was really trapped because my wife was pregnant right away, so…”
“Are you sure it was…” Libby caught herself, and quickly said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” She nodded for him to continue.
“So she had the baby, a baby boy, and everybody in the church was happy for us, but…” Willie stopped, obviously trying to keep from crying.
Libby waited for Willie to compose himself, then prompted, “But?”
“But I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. And one day everything just … fell apart. So I ran for my life.”
“Oh, wow. That’s heavy. So, what did she…”
“I didn’t know what to say to her, there was nothing I could say to her, so I didn’t say anything,” he said. “That was after Christmas. I just disappeared. Poof!”
Libby didn’t know how to respond to that. Finally, she said, “I understand.”
“Really?” Willie looked doubtful.
“Well, I guess what I should say is, I’ve done stuff like that too. And I don’t understand why I did it. So I understand why you … I mean, I don’t understand why I can never say “no” when a guy asks me to live with him, or marry him, or go away with him. I’d like to be with someone with no strings attached but if they want strings I don’t want them to be hurt and then I end up hurting them worse than if I’d just run like hell in the first place.” She didn’t mention how crushed she had been when she’d had to leave the man in New York who wanted no-strings-attached to her.
They sat silently for a moment, just looking at each other. Then:
“I forgive you,” Willie said simply. “Will you forgive me?”
“I forgive you,” Libby said. “Shake on it?”
“Seal it with a kiss,” he said. So they reached over the table and gave each other a loud smooch on the mouth. Then they couldn’t stop giggling.
* * *
When Willie got back from putting money in the jukebox, Libby was ready to spring her question: “So, what’s the deal with that guy Jack?”
“I work for him,” Willie answered. “Or, I did anyway.”
“Oh. Like, what…”
“I help him pick up women. And men.”
“Oh!” Libby wasn’t sure what he meant.
“People don’t seem to like Jack,” Willie continued, “but they do like me.” He shrugged. “It’s easy for me to pick up women. And men. I don’t know why.”
“Well, it’s obvious why, but what…”
“Beverly is a prostitute,” he said flatly, “and maybe Jack’s wife, I’m not sure about that. But he’s her pimp.”
“Ah-HA!” said Libby, as the light dawned. “I thought there was something fishy there!”
“So Jack pays me to make friends with people in the clubs, and around town, and to pick them up, and … whatever.”
“Oh,” said Libby, drooping as the light dawned brighter. “I guess you’ve explained how we met, then.”
“I like you,” Willie said earnestly. “I’m sorry about tricking you like that. Will you forgive me?”
“Are you going to do it again?” she asked. “I mean, I forgive you! But are you still going to work for Jack?”
“He’s not too happy with me right now, I’m sure about that.”
“But do you want to keep working for him? I know it’s none of my business, but…”
“No, I don’t.” He drew himself up, and squared his shoulders. “I feel I was being used.”
“Then what …”
“And another thing,” he continued. “Jack called me Willie, but my name is Will. You can call me Will.”
“Okay, Will, what are you going to do?”
“What are you going to do?” Will countered. “How long are you going to crash at your friend Ellie’s pad?”
They sat silent again, studying each other for clues about what to do next.
Finally, Will took out his money and counted it on the table. There were four twenties, and two hundred-dollar bills. He held them up and waved them. “Wanna go find a place to live?” he asked.
“Well, sir, as you have surely suspected,” drawled Libby, smiling, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no.”
Note: Chapter title taken from “What Is Life” by George Harrison
© August 22, 2018