The group broke up about an hour later after three or four more rounds with some wine and bread. Joe walked along the still-lively sidewalk with Matt and Phil. Young people were roaming everywhere, in groups and couples, some waiting in line to get into the hipper dance joints. Many were speaking loudly, still deaf from the blaring music from inside the buildings. The scent of stale beer and cigarettes mingled with the fresh breezes coming from the Potomac.
Matt and Phil lived in Foggy Bottom, which was on the outskirts of the bar district. They walked there now, but went along single-file in the crowds. Once they were past the last bar, they were able to walk together. It got quieter and darker.
"Hold it, guys," Matt called out, "I’m not going to make it to the apartment."
"Are you gonna be sick?" Phil queried, failing to disguise his annoyance.
"No, I got to pee, real bad," Matt replied, "I’ll be right back–I’m going to the usual spot." He hurried away into the brush down a slight hill, into the dark. It was very quiet and dark down by the railroad tracks near the river. It offered privacy for the man needing to relieve himself.
"Say," Phil spoke up as they waited, "about this girl and the app…it’s none of my business, I understand, but…"
"I suppose I’ve opened myself up for some advice," Joe replied, "so, be on with it, I guess…"
"I just wanted to say that what happened may have been a good thing in the end."
"In what way?
"It stopped you before something happened."
"Look, I know you’re not religious…," Phil began. Joe waited for it to come. Phil was considering the seminary, so this sort of talk was inevitable. "But…how do I say this?" Phil then just said it: "You really should not have sex with this woman."
Joe looked at him, surprised at his bluntness, but did not stop him.
"If she were to get pregnant, she would not think twice about aborting the baby. This organization she works for–they are aptly named. They are virulently pro-choice. And you would have to live with that, for the rest of your life."
"I assumed she was well protected…," Joe began.
"That’s no guarantee," Phil replied, "her body is biologically designed to get pregnant, don’t you see that? And you were designed to make her pregnant–to create life, together. You’re literally fighting against nature when you try to thwart it."
A cool breeze from the river blew under their noses. They could smell the unyielding frothy, green water, even from this distance.
"But we subdue nature all the time," Joe pointed out. "We learned to fly, we dam the river, we…"
"Humans have a special dignity. But even so, nature is a tricky beast, and we can subdue it, but we must be careful when we do and strictly abide by its rules," Phil continued, his hands now in his pockets. "One false move and the plane crashes. And the river…we can’t completely stop the river. We can dam or re-direct a river, but we cannot completely stop it. The water has to go somewhere."
They heard some crunching in the darkness below them, and then a crashing sound, followed closely by a loud groan.
"Are you okay down there?" Joe called out.
"F—! I tripped over a dead branch!" came the reply from the darkness. Joe and Phil both burst into laughter.
"Need some help?" Phil asked.
"I’m coming…" Matt replied angrily, emerging from the brush, now looking very dirty from his fall. They walked on. "I think I ripped my pants," he announced.
"So you guys don’t mind if I crash on your couch again?" Joe asked.
"Not at all, man," Matt answered, his annoyance quickly faded, "but you’re going to have to move my laundry off it."
"No problem, I’ll even fold it for you," Joe said.
Once they were all seated again in Matt and Phil’s living room, which was a corner of the largest of the three rooms in the apartment, Matt dozed off immediately in his recliner, an old smelly thing he had used in college. Phil sat in his more sensible chair while Joe sat on the couch, now free of Matt’s pile of clothes.
Joe looked at Phil and felt the need to tell him something. "I know it’s only been two weeks, but it seems so much longer. I think I’m in love," he confessed.
"It’s only natural, Joe," Phil said. "She’s beautiful."
"Well, of course, but I’ve been with a lot of girls, and I’ve never felt like this before."
"Infatuation? You’ve never been infatuated before?"
"Yeah, I guess so, but never with this kind of intensity. And for her, I mean, from a reasonable standpoint, she’s totally unsuitable to be my wife! She’s a radical! I want a mother for my kids! And she seems to hate motherhood!"
Phil listened patiently not wanting to interrupt. After a moment, he spoke. "God sends us to unexpected places in our lives. It reminds us that we are not really in control–he is. He may be trying to tell you that she is the one for you. My advice: follow your heart, but guide it with reason."
"You’re absolutely right," Joe replied after mulling it over. A moment later he was decided. "I must go to her–now."
"At this time of night?" Phil replied incredulously.
"Yes," Joe stated, "I can’t wait."
"I’d advise against it," Phil said, "But if you must go, take my car. You can drive now, right?"
"Oh, yes, I’m quite clear-headed now. I only had three drinks."
"Okay then, take my car, but then come back. Do not spend the night there. That’s the deal."
"Another agreement for me tonight?" Joe replied. "Well, seeing how it will be difficult to catch a cab this time of night, I will have to accept."
As Joe was leaving, Phil sent him off with one last important instruction. "Joe, consider this: if you really love her, and I mean it, really love her–you will not have sex with her–until you are married. If you do not wait, it will very likely lead to abortion and misery. If you wait–it will lead to happy ever after for both of you. Considering who she is–the choice is that stark. Now go!"
Joe drove feverously in Phil’s car, a small, but practical, stick-shift Toyota Corolla. The blocks of streets seemed to go on endlessly as he fumbled with the gears and applied the clutch at every stop. He finally reached her building’s intersection on Connecticut and Garfield, and then sought in vain for a parking place. Finally, out of desperation, he parked in the alleyway in back of the building and then sat there.
What should he do now? It was 2:00 in the morning, could he just ring her doorbell? It would probably scare the hell out of her. His phone vibrated–he had turned the ringer down hours ago. He struggled to get it out of his pocket. The screen read: "Peg."
"Oh my God, it’s her!" he cried out silently, touching the screen before he missed the call. "Hello!" he answered. "Peg, I…"
There was silence at first, but he knew she was there. "Peg," he continued, "I need to see you–I was just going to call you actually, I…"
"Joe…" she said, but stopped.
"Can I see you please–I had to come over–I felt horrible about our fight, I’m actually right outside in the alley in back."
"You’re here?"
"Yes, just downstairs, parked illegally, so I can’t stay. Can you come down to the lobby? I’ll meet you there."
"Ok," she replied. "I’ll see you in a minute."
From the outside, he saw her emerge in a dressing gown from the elevator. Her hair was slightly disheveled and as she approached the front door to let him in, he could see she had removed her makeup. She was just as lovely, perhaps even more so. He felt a burst come into his heart that would surely make it stop. He tingled all over.
She pushed down the inside handle to open the door and let him in. Fighting his urges (for indeed he could be mistaken as a potential rapist), he forced himself to walk calmly through the entrance. Instead of grabbing her bodily and kissing her (as his heart told him to do), he merely reached down and lightly grasped her right hand. He looked into her incredibly lovely eyes and prayed for eloquence to come to him.
She spoke first. "Joe, I realized that I sort of sprang that app on you," she said, "it’s something we are lobbying for, and I felt I needed to use it in my own life. I should have explained what it was to you first."
Joe grasped her other hand. She continued. "I’m sorry I got angry at you. I thought you were rejecting me, in a way."
Joe continued to gaze into her intoxicating eyes. It now dawned on him why he disliked the app so much, and he needed to express it to her. "Peg, we’ve only known each other for two weeks now, so I want to be careful how I say this. This contract–I cannot accept it."
She started physically, a feeling of rejection again coming over her.
"But let me tell you why. It’s not sufficient–it doesn’t go far enough. I’m looking for a life-long contract. One where I give myself entirely to the woman I love. I will accept no less, and she should not either. If I truly love her, I will wait until that woman is also ready for that contract before I ask her to commit. And, I will not do anything, and I mean anything, in the meantime to mess that up. Even if that means holding back from telling her that I love her, madly."
She looked at him, delight filling within her. He did not move in for a kiss–so she did. Olney, kids, minivans flooded her thoughts as she kissed him. She let them come and play freely in her mind.

The End