The suprise depicts MacGregor's visit to his sister Dorthia's Convalescent Hospital in California and meeting his long time friend Peggy Starr there on vacation from Ohio. During this visit an arrangement was made for Peggy to drive back to Ohio with MacGregor rather than take the train. It begins with his sister questioning him about going into the Army:
“How do you feel about going into the war? Do you have a
girlfriend back in Ohio who will worry about you?"
"Honestly, I haven't even thought about that part of it. Yes, I do have a few friends in Ohio that I will miss if and when I have to leave. I’m sure that they will send me off to basic training somewhere. Beyond that, I don't know what to think."
"A few? I'll bet the girls are just tripping over themselves", as she began giggling.
"My handsome grown up brother has the girls after him, I see. Anyone I know?"
"No, I don't think so."
I knew that she would remember Evelyn McCurdy but I wasn't about to mention it to her. I wondered if growing up with sisters older than me by almost double had anything to do with my not thinking Evelyn was so much older than myself. I didn't know whether to mention our sister Kathleen or not.
"How is Kathleen doing, or don't you know?"
"She is doing really well. She met a nice man who dearly loves her and I don't think she has had anything to drink in almost a year now. They live in a small place up in Santa Barbara. She writes every once in a while. I don't suppose you will have time to get up and see her before you go."
"No, as much as I would like to see her, I'm really pushing the edge now to get back in time. I just hope the weather holds up. You know how hot the desert can be."
"Yes, well it's time for your surprise. Let me grab a wrap and I'll take you down to the Casa."
As I waited for her to get her things, I couldn't imagine what or maybe who was at the Casa. I knew several of the people that worked at Dorthia's rest home and while it might be nice to see them again, it would not be any great surprise. She was back in a few minutes and suggested we take her car as she knew the way better from the Arcadia house.
When we got to the garage, I saw that she had a 1941 Cadillac. It was a beautiful car inside and out and unlike my old rattletrap, you couldn't hear it running. Dorthia said it was the last of line to have all the chrome as everything was now being converted over to war production. As we pulled out of the garage and onto the road, I couldn't help but feel that my sister's education is what got her to where she is right now and Teresa's lack of it got her to where she is. I had no idea what to say to Teresa when I called tonight. As we drove along, I rolled the window down as it was a beautiful day, the sun was warm and it was nice not to have to drive for a change.
"How many beds do you have now?"
"Well we added on a whole new wing since you were here last and we are running between 48 and 52."
"Wow that probably keeps everyone hopping. I can remember when you only had 18."
"Damn, I have to stop and get gas. I'm almost out."
She pulled into the first station and told the man to fill it up and check the oil.
"Yes'm", he said as the commenced to lift the hood and do his chores. He was back in a minute and said the oil was ok and then he set about pumping the gas.
"How much gas does this thing hold? My Ford seems to find the empty mark really fast."
"I don't really know. It's between one or two dollars every time I fill up, that's all I know."
"Gasoline was really expensive at some places on the way out. Twenty two cents a gallon in Nevada."
She gave a little laugh at that saying, "My goodness, and here I am complaining about fifteen cents a gallon."
All the coffee was running through me like a sieve and so I decided to run into the restroom while the man was filling the tank. When I got back, we were ready to go again.
We arrived at the Casa de Las Flores at about 11:15 am and right off I could see the changes she had made. The new wing she had talked about went off the right side which used to be all yard and it was now beautifully landscaped with trees, flowers, and shrubs with the rest turned into parking.
The penthouse as she had nicknamed it early on looked exactly the same. It was much like a castle tower and Dorthia used it to house the hired help. There was a kitchenette and bath and bedroom and Mom sometimes slept over when she was too tired to drive back to Hollywood. Dorthia took me by the arm and led me directly up the stairway to the penthouse.
"Who's up here?"
"You'll see soon enough", as she rapped on the door and a voice within said who is it?
"It's Dorthia, can I come in."
"Yes, it's open, come on in."
Dorthia opened the door and with me right behind her, we both stood looking at Peggy standing there in her panties and bra ironing a blouse. Dorthia quickly closed the door and said, "For God sakes Peggy, put some clothes on."
In less than a minute, Peggy had pulled on some Levi's and a shirt and was just finishing buttoning it as we entered for the second time.
"It's James, Peggy! Look at him will you. My little brother is a grown up man."
I still had the rapid glance of her in panties and bra dancing around in my head as I rushed to her and gave her a big hug. I had known Peggy since I was about 10 or 11 years old and she was the love of my life. Having just seen her near naked, she did not disappoint my youthful visions of what she looked like without clothes on. I wondered if she ever knew how much I adored her back then. She was a good eight years younger than my sister and they had met while Peggy was sick in the hospital where Dorthia was in nurses training in Youngstown.
"Peggy, my God, I never expected this", as I continued to embrace her.
"Nor did I James. I can't believe you are so tall and all grown up."
She held me back at arms length as she surveyed me from top to bottom. Dorthia laughed as the two of us continued to stare at one another. She looked as beautiful to me as she did back then with her thick long blonde hair and green eyes.
"Well you two, was that surprise enough for the both of you?"
We answered with another hug. She felt so good and she must have still used the same perfume as memories of her rushed though my head to the times she had hugged me when I was just a small boy.
"OK, come on your two, break it up now. I have lunch planned for us at the El Poche Restaurant and we have just time to get there before it fills up."
Peggy continued to tuck in her shirt as we headed down the stairs and I continued to think of her in panties and bra as I walked behind her, still surveying her backside.
We arrived at the restaurant just before noon and were seated without incident but I could see what Dorthia was talking about as the restaurant continued to fill up very rapidly. It was a very fancy place and we were seated out on an enclosed patio all done in Mexican motif. The receptionist was Mexican as were all of the waitresses. Peggy and I both had to have my sister help us with ordering as the menu was also printed in Mexican. While we waited for lunch, Peggy and Dorthia sipped on Margaritas and I had a Corona Beer. I felt that they would ask for an ID because of my age but they brought the drinks without asking.
"James is going off to the Army, Peggy."
"You are, when is this going to happen?"
"Well, I have to be back in Youngstown in about a week. From there on I don't know. I guess it is up to the draft board."
"Oh, you're going back to Youngstown? I'm going back too. Maybe we can go on the same train together."
"James drove out in his car. You two need to put your heads together and see it wouldn't be better for the both of you to go back by car and share expenses."
There goes my sister again I thought, always trying to figure out how to save a buck. She was back to drumming her fingernails on the table so I knew the gears were turning in her head. It was a good idea though. This sounded good to me as I barely had enough money to get back to Ohio as it was. Also it would be nice not to have to do all the driving and we could possibly make it in less time if we put in an extra 100 miles a day.
"What do you think Peg? Do you want to go back with me? I'm leaving on Monday though so maybe that is too soon for you."
She had a slight smile on her face as she contemplated her answer. The same smile I had seen so often in my youth. She put her hand in her hair and pushed it back away from her face and looked intently at me with those gorgeous green eyes of hers. She lifted her drink and tasted some of the salt on the rim of the margarita before she spoke.
"Yes, driving back sounds much better than the train. I'll be glad to keep you company."
The way she was looking at me sent a little shiver through me and I was certain that I detected a very quick wink. The thought of having her drive back with me was beginning to take on a whole new meaning.
"Great Peg, it was so boring on the way out with no one to talk to and we do have a lot of catching up to do."
My sister seemed pleased the way the conversation was going as she said, "Wonderful, you two can reminisce about the last five years or so then."
The lunch arrived and even though I had such a large breakfast, everything looked delicious. I wasn't too sure what everything was but I really enjoyed the tacos and also the guacamole dip and the crisp chips they served on the side.
Dorthia insisted on paying for the meal. We discussed the details of the planned trip and it was all set up for me to pick Peggy up on Monday morning at 7am. I got the impression that she was looking forward to going back with me and I was delighted at the thought of spending a few days with her. After dropping Peggy back off at the Casa, Dorthia took me back to Arcadia and I immediately headed back to Hollywood.
As I drove down the same route I had taken to get to my sister's place, I began to think of the trip home. Jesus, on the way out, I had just pulled off to the side of the road and went to sleep and cleaned up in gas station rest rooms. I was certain that the return trip to Ohio would be quite different. Peggy wouldn't want to do that. Oh well, she had agreed to pay for half of the cost of the trip which was considerably less than the train ticket so we would just have to work out the overnight accommodations.