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Runaways.

They had two things in common: Self-pity and something they thought was love.

They left a note saying teenagers were just as capable of true love as anybody else-or maybe more capable. And then they took off for parts unknown.

They took off in the boy's old blue Ford, with baby shoes dangling from the rearview mirror, with a pile of comic books on the burst back seat.

A police alarm went out for them right away, and their pictures were in the papers and on television. But they weren't caught for 24 hours. They got all the way to Chicago. A patrolman spotted them shopping together in a supermarket there, caught them buying what looked like a lifetime supply of candy, cosmetics, soft drinks and frozen pizzas.

The girl's father gave the patrolman a $200 reward. The girl's father was Jesse K. Southard, governor of the state of Indiana.

That was why they got so much publicity. It was very exciting when an ex-reform-school kid, a kid who ran a lawn mower at the governor's country club, ran off with the governor's daughter.

When the Indiana State Police brought the girl back to the Governor's Mansion in Indianapolis, Governor Southard announced that he would take immediate steps to get an annulment. An irreverent reporter pointed out to him that there could hardly be an annulment, since there hadn't been a marriage.

The governor blew up. "That boy never laid a finger on her," he roared, "because she wouldn't let him! And I'll knock the block off any man who says otherwise."

The reporters wanted to talk to the girl, naturally, and the governor said she would have a statement for them in about an hour. It wouldn't be her first statement about the escapade. In Chicago she and the boy had lectured reporters and police on love, hypocrisy, persecution of teenagers, the insensitivity of parents, and even rockets, Russia and the hydrogen bomb.

When the girl came downstairs with her new statement, however, she contradicted everything she'd said in Chicago. Reading from a three-page typewritten script, she said the adventure had been a nightmare, said she didn't love the boy and never had, said she must have been crazy and said she never wanted to see the boy again.

She said the only people she loved were her parents, said she didn't see how she could make it up to them for all the heartaches she had caused, said she was going to concentrate on schoolwork and getting into college and said she didn't want to pose for pictures because she looked so awful after the ordeal.

She didn't look especially awful, except that she'd dyed her hair a cheap red, and the boy had given her a terrible haircut in an effort to disguise her. And she'd been crying some. She didn't look tired. She looked young and wild and captured-that was all.

Her name was AnnieAnnie Southard.

When the reporters left, when they went to show the boy the girl's latest statement, the governor turned to his daughter and said to her with clanking irony, "Well, I certainly want to thank you. I don't see how I can ever thank you enough."

"You thank me for telling all those lies?" she said.

"I thank you for making a very small beginning in repairing the damage you've done," he said.

"My own father, the governor of the state of Indiana," said Annie, "ordered me to lie. I'll never forget that."

"That isn't the last of the orders you'll get from me," he said.

Annie said nothing out loud, but in her mind she placed a curse on her parents. She no longer owed them anything. She was going to be cold and indifferent to them for the rest of her days. The curse went into effect almost immediately.

Annie's mother, Mary Southard, came down the spiral staircase. She had been listening to the lies on the landing above. "I think you handled that very well," she said to her husband.

"As well as I could, under the circumstances," he said.

"I only wish we could come out and say what there really is to say," said Annie's mother. "If we could only just come out and say we're not against love, and we're not against people who don't have money." She started to touch her daughter comfortingly, but was warned against it by Annie's eyes. "We're not snobs, darling-and we're not insensitive to love. Love is the most wonderful thing there is."

The governor turned away at this point and glared out a window.

"We believe in love," said Annie's mother. "You've seen how much I love your father and how much your father loves me-and how much your father and I love you."

"If you're going to come out and say something, say it," said the governor.

"I thought I was," said his wife.

"Talk money, talk breeding, talk education, talk friends, talk interests," said the governor, and then you can get back to love if you want." He faced his women. "Talk happiness, for heaven's sake," he said. "See that boy again, keep this thing going, marry him when you can do it legally, when we can't stop you," he said to Annie, and not only will you be the unhappiest woman alive, but he'll be the unhappiest man alive. It will be a mess you can truly be proud of, because you will have married without having met a single condition for a happy marriage-and by single condition I mean one single, solitary thing in common.

"What did you plan to do for friends?" he said. "His gang at the poolroom or your gang at the country club? Would you start out by buying him a nice house and nice furniture and a nice automobile-or would you wait for him to buy those things, which he'll be just about ready to pay for when hell freezes over. Do you like comic books as well as he does? Do you like the same kind of comic books?" cried the governor.

"Who do you think you are?" he asked Annie. "You think you're Eve, and God only made one Adam for you?"

"Yes," said Annie, and she went upstairs to her room and slammed her door. Moments after music came from her room. She was playing a phonograph record.

The governor and his wife listened to the words of the song. These were the words:

"They say we don't know what love is,

"Boo-wah-wah, uh-huh, yeah.

"But we know what the message in the stars above is,

"Boo-wah-wah, uh-huh, yeah.

So hold me, hold me, baby,

"And you'll make my poor heart sing,

"Because everything they tell us, baby,

"Why, it just don't mean a thing.

Eight miles away, eight miles due south, through the heart of town and out the other side, reporters were now clumping onto the front porch of the boy's father's home.

It was an old house, a cheap house, a carpenter's special, a 1926 bungalow. Its front windows looked out into the perpetual damp twilight of a huge front porch. Its side windows looked into the neighbors' windows only ten feet away. Light could reach the interior only through a window in the back. As luck would have it, that window let light into a tiny pantry.

The boy and his father and his mother did not hear the reporters knocking. The television set in the living room and the radio in the kitchen were both on, blasting away, and the family was having a row in the dining room, halfway between them.

The row was actually about everything in creation, but it had for its subject of the moment the boy's mustache. He had been growing it for a month and had just been caught by his father in the act of blackening it with shoe polish.

The boy's name was Rice Brentner. It was true, as the papers said, that Rice had spent time in reform school. That was three years behind him now. His crime had been, at the age of 13, the theft of 16 automobiles within a period of a week. Except for the escapade with Annie, he hadn't been in any real trouble since.

"You march into the bathroom," said his mother, "and you shave that awful thing off."

Rice did not march. He stayed right where he was.

"You heard your mother," his father said. When Rice still didn't budge, his father tried to hurt him with scorn. "Makes him feel like a man, I guess-like a great big man," he said.

"Doesn't make him look like a man," said his mother. "It makes him look like an I-don't-know-what-it-is."

"You just named him," said his father. "That's exactly what he is: an I-don't-know-what-it-is." Finding a label like that seemed to comfort the boy's father some. He was, as one newspaper and then all newspapers had pointed out, an eighty-nine-dollarand-sixty-two-cent-a-week supply clerk in the main office of the public-school system. He had reason to resent the thoroughness of the reporter who had dug that figure from the public records. The sixty-two cents galled him in particular. "An eighty-nine-dollar-and-sixty-two-cent-a-week supply clerk has an I-don't-know-what-it-is for a son," he said. "The Brentner family is certainly covered with glory today."

"Do you realize how lucky you are not to be in jail-rotting?" said Rice's mother. "If they had you in jail, they'd not only shave off your moustache, without even asking-they'd shave off every hair on your head."

Rice wasn't listening much; he was listening only enough to keep himself smoldering comfortably. What he was thinking about was his car. He had paid for it with money he himself earned. It hadn't cost his family a dime. Rice now swore to himself that if his parents tried to take his car away from him, he would leave home for good.

"He knows about jail. He's been there before," said his father.

"Let him keep his mustache if he wants to," said his mother. "I just wish he'd look in a mirror once to see how silly it makes him look."

"All right-let him keep it," said his father, "but I'll tell you one thing he isn't going to keep, and I give you my word of honor on that, and that's the automobile."

"Amen!" said his mother. "He's going to march down to a used-car lot, and he's going to sell the car, and then he's going to march over to the bank and put the money in his savings account, and then he's going to march home and give us the bankbook." As she uttered this complicated promise she became more and more martial until, at the end, she was marching in place like John Philip Sousa.

"You said a mouthful!" said her husband.

And now that the subject of the automobile had been introduced, it became the dominant theme and the loudest one of all. The old blue Ford was such a frightening symbol of disastrous freedom to Rice's parents that they could yammer about it endlessly.

And they just about did yammer about it endlessly this time.

"Well-the car is going," said Rice's mother, winded at last.

"That's the end of the car," said his father.

"And that's the end of me," said Rice. He walked out the back door, got into his car, turned on the radio and drove away.

Music came from the radio. The song told of two teenagers who were going to get married, even though they were dead broke. The chorus of it went like this:

"We'll have no fancy drapes - "No stove, no carpet, no refrigerator.

"But our nest will look like a hunk of heaven,

"Because love, baby, is our interior decorator. "

Rice went to a phone booth a mile from the Governor's Mansion. He called the private number that was the governor's family's private line.

He pitched his voice a half octave higher, and he asked to speak to Annie.

It was the butler who answered. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, "but I don't think she's taking any calls just now. You want to leave your name?"

"Tell her it's Bob Counsel," said Rice. Counsel was the son of a man who had got very rich on coin-operated laundries. He spent most of his time at the country club. He was in love with Annie.

"I didn't recognize your voice for a minute there, Mr. Counsel," said the butler. "You hold on, sir, if you be so kind."

Seconds later Annie's mother was on the phone. She wanted to believe so desperately that the caller was the polite and attractive and respectable Bob Counsel that she didn't even begin to suspect a fraud. And she did almost all the talking, so Rice had only to grunt from time to time.

"Oh, Bob; oh, Bob; oh, Bob-you dear boy," she said. "How nice, how awfully nice of you to call. It was what I was praying for! She has to talk to someone her own age. Oh, her father and I have talked to her, and I guess she heard us, but there's such a gap between the generations these days.

"This thing-this thing Annie's been through," said Annie's mother, "it's more like a nervous breakdown, than anything else. It isn't really a nervous breakdown, but she isn't herself-isn't the Annie we know. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"

Yup," said Rice.

"Oh, she'll be so glad to hear from you, Bob-to know she's still got her old friends, her real friends to fall back on. Hearing your voice," said the governor's wife, "our Annie will know everything's going to get back to normal again."

She went to get Annie-and had a ding-dong wrangle with Annie that Rice could hear over the telephone. Annie said she hated Bob Counsel, thought he was a jerk, a stuffed shirt and a mamma's boy. Somebody thought to cover the mouthpiece at that point, so Rice didn't hear anything more until Annie came on the line.

"Hullo," she said emptily.

"I thought you might enjoy a ride-to kind of take your mind off your troubles," said Rice.

What?" said Annie.

"This is Rice," he said. "Tell your mother you're going to the club to play tennis with good old Bob Counsel. Meet me at the gas station at Forty-Sixth and Illinois."

So, half an hour later, they took off again in the boy's old blue Ford, with baby shoes dangling from the rearview mirror, with a pile of comic books on the burst back seat.

The car radio sang as Annie and Rice left the city limits behind:

"Oh, baby, baby, baby,

"What a happy, rockin' day,

"'Cause your sweet love and kisses

"Chase those big, black, blues away.

And the exhilarating chase began again.

Annie and Rice crossed the Ohio border on a back road and listened to the radio talk about them above the sound of gravel rattling in the fenders.

They had listened impatiently to news of a riot in Bangalore, of an airplane collision in Ireland, of a man who blew up his wife with nitroglycerin in West Virginia. The newscaster had saved the biggest news for last-that Annie and Rice, that Juliet and Romeo, were playing hare and hounds again.

The newscaster called Rice "Rick," something nobody else had ever called him, and Rice and Annie liked that.

"I'm going to call you Rick from now on," said Annie.

"That's all right with me," said Rice.

"You look more like a Rick than a Rice," said Annie. "How come they ever named you Rice?"

"Didn't I ever tell you?" said Rice.

"If you did," she said, "I've forgot."

The fact was that Rice had told her about a dozen times why he was named Rice, but she never really listened to him. For that matter, Rice never really listened to her, either. Both would have been bored stiff if they had listened, but they spared themselves that.

So their conversations were marvels of irrelevance. There were only two subjects in commonself-pity and something called love.

"My mother had some ancestor back somewhere named Rice," said Rice. "He was a doctor, and I guess he was pretty famous."

"Doctor Siebolt is the only person who ever tried to understand me as a human being," said Annie. Doctor Siebolt was the governor's family physician.

"There's some other famous people back there somewhere too-on my mother's side," said Rice. "I don't know what all they did, but there's good blood back there."

"Doctor Siebolt would hear what I was trying to say," said Annie. "My parents never had time to listen."

"That's why my old man always got burned up at me-because I've got so much of my mother's blood," said Rice. "You know-I want to do things and have things and live and take chances, and his side of the family isn't that way at all."

"I could talk to Doctor Siebolt about love-I could talk to him about anything," said Annie. "With my parents there were just all kinds of things I had to keep all bottled up."

"Safety first-that's their motto," said Rice. "Well-that isn't my motto. They want me to end up just the way they all have, and I'm just not that kind of a person."

"It's a terrible thing to make somebody bottle things up," said Annie. "I used to cry all the time, and my parents never could figure out why."

"That's why I stole all those cars," said Rice. "I just all of a sudden went crazy one day. They were trying to make me act like my father, and I'm just not that kind of man. They never understood me. They don't understand me now."

"But the worst thing of all," said Annie, "was when my own father ordered me to lie. That was when I realized that my parents didn't care about truth. All they care about is what people think."

"This summer," said Rice, "I was actually making more money than my old man or any of his brothers. That really ate into him. He couldn't stand that."

"My mother started talking to me about love," said Annie, "and it was all I could do to keep from screaming, You don't know what love is! You never have known what it is!'"

"My parents kept telling me to act like a man," said Rice. "Then, when I really started acting like one, they went right through the roof. What's a guy supposed to do?" he said.

"Even if I screamed that at her," said Annie, "she wouldn't hear it. She never listens. I think she's afraid to listen. Do you know what I mean?"

"My other brother was the favorite in our family," said Rice. "He could do no wrong, and I never could do anything right, as far as they were concerned. You never met my brother, did you?"

"My father killed something in me when he told me to lie," said Annie.

"We sure are lucky we found each other," said Rice.

Annie took his hand. "Oh, yes; oh, yes; oh, yes," she said fervently. "When we first met out there on the golf course, I almost died because I knew how right we were for each other. Next to Doctor Siebolt you're the first person I ever really felt close to."

"Doctor who?" said Rice.

In the study of the Governor's Mansion, Governor Southard had his radio on. Annie and Rice had just been picked up, 20 miles west of Cleveland, and Southard wanted to hear what the news services had to say about it.

So far he had only heard music, and was hearing it now:

"Let's not go to school today,

"Turtle dove, turtle dove.

"Let's go out in the woods and play,

"Play with love, play with love.

The governor turned the radio off again. "How do they dare put things like that on the air?" he asked bitterly. "The whole American entertainment industry does nothing but tell children how to kill their parents-and themselves in the bargain."

He put the question to his wife and to the Brentners, the parents of the boy, who were sitting in the study with him.

The Brentners shook their heads bleakly, meaning that they did not know the answer to the governor's question. They were appalled at having been called into the presence of the governor. They had said almost nothing-nothing beyond abject, rambling, ga-ga apologies at the very beginning. Since then they had been in numb agreement with anything the governor cared to say.

He had said plenty, wrestling with what he called the toughest decision of his life. He was trying to decide, with the concurrence of his wife and the Brentners, how to make the runaways grow up enough to realize what they were doing, how to fix them so they would never run away again.

"Any suggestions at all, Mr. Brentner?" he said to Rice's father.

Rice's father shrugged. "I haven't got any control over him, sir," he said. "If somebody'd tell me a way to get control of him, I'd be glad to try it, but . . ." He let the sentence trail off to nothing.

"But what?" said the governor.

"He's pretty close to being a man now, governor," said Rice's father, "and he's just about as easy to control as any other man-and that isn't very easy." He murmured something else that the governor didn't catch and shrugged again.

"Beg your pardon?" said the governor.

Rice's father said it again, scarcely louder than the first time. "I said he doesn't respect me."

"By heaven, he would if you'd have the guts to lay down the law to him and make it stick!" said the governor with hot righteousness.

At this point Rice's mother did the most courageous thing in her life. She was boiling mad about having all the blame put on her son, and she now squared the governor of Indiana away. "Maybe if we'd raised our son the way you raised your daughter," she said, "maybe then we wouldn't have all the trouble we have today."

The governor looked startled. Then he sat down at his desk, "Well said, madam," he said. He turned to his wife. "We should certainly give our child-rearing secret to the world."

"Annie isn't a bad girl," said his wife.

"Neither's our boy a bad boy," said Rice's mother, very pepped up, now that she'd given the governor the works.

"I-I'm sure he isn't," said the governor's wife.

"He isn't a boy anymore. That's the big thing," blurted Rice's father. And he took courage from his wife's example, and he added something else. "And that little girl isn't what you'd call real little, either," he said.

"You recommend they get married?" said the governor incredulously.

"I don't know what I recommend," said Rice's father. "I'm not a recommending man. But maybe they really do love each other. Maybe they really were made for each other. Maybe they really would be happy for the rest of their lives together, starting right now, if we'd let 'em." He threw up his hands. "I don't know!" he said. "Do you?"

Annie and Rice were talking to reporters in a state-police barracks outside of Cleveland. They were waiting to be hauled back home again. They claimed to be unhappy, but they appeared to be having a pretty fine time. They were telling the reporters about money now.

"People care too much about money," said Annie. "What is money, when you really stop to think about it?"

"We don't want any money from her parents," said Rice. "I guess maybe her parents think I'm after all their money. All I want is their daughter."

"It's all right with me, if they want to disinherit me," said Annie. "From what I've seen of all the rich people I grew up with, money just makes people worried and unhappy. People with a lot of money get so worried about how maybe they'll lose it, they forget to live."

"I can always earn enough to keep a roof over our heads and keep from starving," said Rice. "I can earn more than my old man does. My car is completely paid for. It's all mine, free and clear."

"I can earn money too," said Annie. "I would be a lot prouder of working than I would be of what my parents want me to do, which is hang around with a lot of other spoiled people and play games."

A state trooper now came in, told Annie her father was on the telephone. The governor of Indiana wanted to talk to her.

"What good will talk do?" said Annie. "Their generation doesn't understand our generation, and they never will. I don't want to talk to him."

The trooper left. He came back in a few minutes.

"He's still on the line?" said Annie.

"No, ma'am," said the trooper. "He gave me a message for you."

"Oh, boy," said Annie, "this should really be good."

"It's a message from your parents too," the trooper said to Rice.

"I can hardly wait to hear it," said Rice.

"The message is this," said the trooper, keeping his face blankly official, "you are to come home in your own car whenever you feel like it. When you get home, they want you to get married and start being happy as soon as possible."

Annie and Rice crept home in the old blue Ford, with baby shoes dangling from the rearview mirror, with a pile of comic books on the burst back seat. They came home on the main highways. Nobody was looking for them any more.

Their radio was on, and every news broadcast told the world the splendid news: Annie and Rice were to be married at once. True love had won another stunning victory.

By the time the lovers reached the Indiana border they had heard the news of their indescribable happiness a dozen times. They were beginning to look like department-store clerks on Christmas Eve, dangled and exhausted by relentless tidings of great joy.

Rice turned off the radio. Annie gave an involuntary sigh of relief. They hadn't talked much on the trip home. There didn't seem to be anything to talk about; everything was so settled-everything was so, as they say in business, finalized.

Annie and Rice got into a traffic jam in Indianapolis and were locked for stoplight after stoplight next to a car in which a baby was howling. The parents of the child were very young. The wife was scolding her husband, and the husband looked ready to uproot the steering wheel and brain her with it.

Rice turned on the radio again, and this is what the song on the radio said:

"We certainly fooled them,

"The ones who said our love wasn't true.

"Now, forever and ever,

"You've got me, and I've got you.

In almost a frenzy, with Annie's nerves winding ever tighter, Rice changed stations again and again. Every station bawled of either victories or the persecution of teenage love. And that's what the radio was bawling about when the old blue Ford stopped beneath the portecochere of the Governor's Mansion.

Only one person came out to greet them, and that was the policeman who guarded the door. "Congratulations, sir ... madam," he said blandly.

"Thank you," said Rice. He turned off everything with the ignition key. The last illusion of adventure died as the radio tubes lost their glow and the engine cooled.

The policeman opened the door on Annie's side. The door gave a rusty screech. Two loose jellybeans wobbled out the door and fell to the immaculate blacktop below.

Annie, still in the car, looked down at the jellybeans. One was green. The other was white. There were bits of lint stuck to them. Rice?" she said.

"H'm?" he said.

"I'm sorry," she said, "I can't go through with it."

Rice made a sound like a faraway freight whistle. He was grateful for release.

"Could we talk alone, please?" Annie said to the policeman.

"Beg your pardon," said the policeman and he withdrew.

"Would it have worked?" said Annie.

Rice shrugged. "For a little while."

"You know what?" said Annie.

What?" said Rice.

"We're too young," said Annie.

"Not too young to be in love," said Rice.

"No," said Annie, not too young to be in love. Just too young for about everything else there is that goes with love."

She kissed him. "Good-by, Rice. I love you."

"I love you," he said.

She got out, and Rice drove away.

As he drove away, the radio came on. It was playing an old song now, and the words were these:

"Now's the time for sweet good-by

"To what could never be,

"To promises we ne'er could keep,

"To a magic you and me.

"If we should try to prove our love,

"Our love would be in danger.

"Let's put our love beyond all harm.

"Good-by-sweet, gentle stranger.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Vonnegut, Kurt
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:4845
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