Karl Harshbarger

They are young. They are in love. They stare into each other’s eyes a lot. That kind of love. 

But here’s the thing: They haven’t done it yet.

Not done it yet? But they are in love! And they are young! And they stare into each other’s eyes!

Well . . . .

But tonight they will. Tonight’s the night. That’s when they will give themselves to each other.

See, he has borrowed his older brother’s car and he told his parents that he is going on a hunting trip and she told her parents that she is sleeping over with a girlfriend, and right now as you are reading this story they are driving through the landscape of northern Virginia, all those horse farms. Where are they going? Well, way up in the Shenandoah Mountains, a romantic location, a special place, a motel called The Rose. Because she saw an ad in a magazine with a wonderful picture of a motel with a long balcony looking out over the valley and she showed the ad to him and with her standing right beside him he got up his nerve (see, he is really young) and dialed the number and right away a woman answered and said the name of the motel and how could she help? The boy tried to act as if this kind of thing happened all the time and asked for a room for the next Saturday night and the woman said, just a moment, please, and then came back to the phone and said, yes, she could offer him a deluxe room overlooking the valley for that Saturday night. The boy said, oh, yes, that would be good. For two? said the woman. For you and your wife? Oh, yes, for two, said the boy.

Big deal, you say. So this boy and girl are hooking up. So, what else is new?

They are young. They are in love. They stare into each other’s eyes a lot. That kind of love. 

Okay. But please picture them now. There they are driving along in the horse country of northern Virginia on a highway that curves over the hills this way and that. Actually the farm houses they’re passing by don’t look like farm houses at all. They look a lot more like country mansions. And the white fences go on and on. There’s a lot of money in those houses, even those fences, probably, not to mention, all those horses.

“Oh, wow!” he says looking.

“Oh, wow,” she says also looking.

He reaches out—and where does he put his hand? He places it right on her thigh and immediately he feels the silk-like touch of her skirt and under the skirt the curve of her leg. As soon as she feels his hand on her leg she reaches down and covers his hand with her hand. They drive along for a while, but all the time he is moving his hand slightly up and down along the silk-like feeling of her skirt and the curve of her leg and she can feel his hand moving slightly under her hand on her leg.

Well, tonight is the night! You know what I mean!

But, even so, even though it is not the evening yet and even though they haven’t stood out on the balcony and looked down at the valley and seen the lights below them, and even though right now they are driving through the landscape of northern Virginia, he is already beginning to get an erection and she is already beginning to moisten.

Why not? Just to hell with everything!

Except ahead of them on the road there’s perhaps a bit of confusion. At first they can’t tell what the confusion is about. Maybe some cars have stopped at a roadside stand. That could be it. Maybe the cars are inadvertently clogging up the road. Except as they get closer they see that that’s not what’s happening. Because one car is sitting across the road, the whole front end smashed in with the motor spewing steam. The other car sits upside down and the rear wheels are still turning.

“Oh, my God!” says the girl.

“Oh, Jesus,” says the boy.

He stops the car over on the shoulder of the road.

The boy and girl see two bodies lying out on the pavement. Lying right there. A man and a woman. The woman is on her side and has her dress ripped up exposing her underpants with a gash in her leg with lots of blood streaming out. Her one arm is going off in an impossible direction but is still jerking up and down. The man is on his back looking up into the sky. But he doesn’t move. He just lies there. Absolutely still. He is wearing a work shirt and jeans and there is a dark spot near his zipper where he has let go.

The boy and girl see two bodies lying out on the pavement. Lying right there. A man and a woman. 

“I don’t want to look,” says the girl holding her hands up to her eyes.

“Oh, Jesus!” repeats the boy.

That’s when they hear a siren behind them. The boy looks in the rear-view mirror and sees flashing lights. Suddenly a police car passes them and stops right in the middle of the road in front of the two bodies lying on the pavement. Two policemen jump out and one of them kneels over the two bodies of the man and the woman and the other runs over to the car which sits upside down with the rear wheels still turning.

The girl takes her hands from her eyes.

“Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!” she screams.

* * *

Different things happen. A policeman comes back to his police car and pulls a microphone out of the window and talks into it, other cars come up the road and also stop behind the boy’s car, two ambulances arrive, sirens wailing and lights flashing, then another police car and somewhere in all this the police come over and ask them questions and the boy and the girl tell the police that they hadn’t seen the actual accident but arrived after it happened. The police don’t ask to see the boy’s driver’s license and they keep addressing him as “Sir” and her as “Ma’am.”

Then two tow trucks come and both cars, the one with the front end smashed in and the one which had been upside down in the ditch with the wheels still turning, are towed away. A lot of time has passed and it’s late afternoon now. Finally a policeman points to the boy and waves which means he can continue the journey. The boy turns the key in the ignition, the car starts up and as they pass the policeman the policeman waves and says, “Have a good day, sir.”

They continue on. Down the road. But they don’t say anything to each other. Hardly anything at all. In the gathering darkness the boy turns on the lights of the car. And it’s not so much horse country now because they’re getting closer and, in fact, in the remaining light they can see the bulk of the Shenandoah Mountains looming ahead of them.

They climb on a road and the road has lots of hairpin turns.

The boy says, “I think we’re almost there.”

They see the sign for the motel lighting up the darkness ahead of them. “The Rose,” says the big, yellow sign. When they drive into the parking lot just beyond the sign they see that the parking lot is mostly full, but the boy finds a space and pulls into it.

They see the sign for the motel lighting up the darkness ahead of them. “The Rose,” says the big, yellow sign.

“We made it,” says the boy turning off the motor and lights and taking the key out of the ignition.

“Yes,” says the girl.

“So,” says the boy.

But they sit there in the car for a while. Finally the boy opens his door and gets out of his side of the car and comes around to her door to open it.

“I think it’s that way,” says the boy indicating another illuminated sign says, “Reception.”

She also gets out of the car.

“Yes,” she says.

He opens the trunk and takes out two small suitcases, her and his. Then he closes the trunk and takes both the suitcases in his hands.

“So?” he says.

They walk along the motel until they get to the main entrance, the entrance with the sign, “Reception,” above it. The boy opens the door and the girl walks into the lobby, but as soon as she’s in the lobby she steps to the side to let him go up to the counter where a woman is sitting.

The boy has never done this before, checking into a room at a motel. So he’s not quite sure how it goes.

“Hello, says the woman. 

The woman studies the boy.

“And your name?” says the woman.

“Peterson,” says the boy.  Then he adds,  “That is, Peterson.”

“Peterson,” says the woman.

“Yes,” says the boy.

“Peterson,” says the woman.

“I have a reservation,” says the boy.

The woman not only studies the boy, but she also studies the girl.

Then the woman says, “A reservation?”

“Yes,” says the boy.

“Let’s see,” says the woman.

She fingers through the paperwork on the top of the counter. Then she says, “Oh, yes, Peterson.”

The woman pushes a form across the counter and the girl watches the boy start to fill out the form.

“And,” says the woman, “did you have a good trip?”

“Trip?” says the boy.

“Yes, trip,” says the woman.

Since the boy is in the middle of filling out the form the girl offers, “We come from Baltimore.”

The woman studies the girl again.


“Yes,” says the girl.

“Well, isn’t that nice,” says the woman.

The boy finishes filling out the form.

The boy has never done this before, checking into a room at a motel. So he’s not quite sure how it goes.

“Yes, fine,” says the woman taking the form and then going back to a board where lots of keys are hanging. “I’m giving you room number 17.”

The woman pushes the key across the counter. It has a large, orange, plastic tag attached to it. In fact, the plastic tag is much larger than the key.

“Thank you,” says the boy taking the key.

“Thank you,” says the girl.

“Thank you very much,” says the boy.

“To your left,” says the woman.

The boy and the girl, he with a suitcase in either hand, walk out the door of the lobby and turn left and immediately find themselves going along a kind of boardwalk which leads to passage which leads to a long balcony overlooking the valley.  Down there they see lights sometimes far away from each other but sometimes closer.  They continue along the length of the balcony until they come to room number 17 – which is the second to the last room.  The boy sets both of the suitcases down, fits the key into the lock, opens the door and turns on the lights.

“Oh,” says the boy.

“Oh,” says the girl.

It seems to be a nice room, although neither have ever seen a motel room before, a double bed with a single quilt covering it, beside the bed a little vanity table with a mirror, a door to a bathroom and on the other side of the bed two chairs next to a small, round table. On each white pillow is a little piece of wrapped, pink candy.

“Well, here we are,” says the boy.

“Yes,” says the girl.

They settle into their motel room. There is not much, actually, to settle. She opens up her suitcase and puts her toilet things in the bathroom and hangs up her one change of clothes and put her underwear and socks away in a drawer. He does the same.

After they have done that the boy says, “So shall we?”

He means, should the two of them go outside to the balcony and see the valley.

She says, “All right.”

So right now they are standing out on the balcony of the motel. Down there they see the lights in the valley, some far apart, some closer together.

He puts his arm around her. She feels his arm around her.

They look down at the lights in the valley.

“That’s something,” says the boy.

“Yes,” says the girl.

They look out over the valley for a while.

“So . . . ?” he says.

“All right,” she says.

They go back in the room and he shuts the door and locks it making sure the bolt is securely in place and then he goes over to the windows and pulls the curtains all the way closed.

They undress.
Not in front of each other. 

“So,” he says.

They undress.

Not in front of each other. She goes into the bathroom to change and while she is in the bathroom he takes the opportunity to also change.

But at least when she comes out of the bathroom she is in a nighty. It is blue and frilly and short and, in fact, it is easy to see her white underpants beneath her nighty.

Whereas he is dressed in ordinary pajamas.

They get into the double bed, he on his side and she on hers.

“Shall we?” he says, offering to pull the quilt away.

“Yes,” she says.

So he gets out of bed and pulls the quilt from the bed and folds it up and places it on the little round table. Then he gets back into bed.

“Oh, I forgot,” he says. “The light.”

He means the overhead light in the ceiling.

She watches him get out of bed and go to the door and switch off the light.

Suddenly it’s dark in the motel room. But she feels him come back to the bed.

“So . . . ,” he says.

They lie there for a while, she on her side of the bed and he on his.

“I’m just wondering,” she says.


She reaches over and takes his hand. He feels her hand in his.

“I love you,” she says,

“I love you, too,” he says.

They continue to lie there, holding hands, she on her side of the bed and he on his.


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Karl Harshbarger is an American writer (living in Germany) and has had over 90 publications of his stories in such magazines as The Atlantic MonthlyPloughsharesThe Iowa ReviewThe Antioch ReviewThe New England Review, and The Prairie Schooner.  Two of his stories have been selected for the list of  “Distinguished Stories” in Best American Short Stories and thirteen of his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.