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A Kiss Before Dying

by Ira Levin

Part One

DOROTHY

His plans had been running so beautifully, so goddamned beautifully, and now she was going to smash them all. Hate erupted and flooded through him, gripping his face with jaw-aching pressure. That was all right though; the lights were out.

And she, she kept on sobbing weakly in the dark, her cheek pressed against his bare chest, her tears and her breath burning hot. He wanted to push her away.

Finally his face relaxed. He put his arm around her and stroked her back. It was warm, or rather his hand was cold; all of him was cold, he discovered; his armpits were creeping with sweat and his legs were quivering the way they always did when things took a crazy turn and caught him helpless and unprepared. He lay still for a moment, waiting for the trembling to subside. With his free hand he drew the blanket up around her shoulders. 'Crying isn't going to do any good,' he told her gently.

Obediently, she tried to stop, catching her breath in long choking gasps. She rubbed her eyes with the worn binding of the blanket. 'It's just... the holding it in for so long. I've known for days... weeks. I didn't want to say anything until I was sure...'

His hand on her back was warmer. 'No mistake possible?' He spoke in a whisper, even though the house was empty.

'No.'

'How far?'

'Two months almost.' She lifted her cheek from his chest, and in the dark he could sense her eyes on him. 'What are we going to do?' she asked.

'You didn't give the doctor your right name, did you?'

'No. He knew I was lying though. It was awful...'

'If your father ever finds out...'

She lowered her head again and repeated the question, speaking against his chest. 'What are we going to do?' She waited for his answer.

He shifted his position a bit, partially to give emphasis to what he was about to say, and partially in the hope that it would encourage her to move, for her weight on his chest had become uncomfortable.

'Listen, Dorrie,' he said, 'I know you want me to say we'll get married right away-tomorrow. And I want to marry you. More than anything else in the world. I swear to God I do.' He paused, planning his words with care. Her body, curled against his, was motionless, listening. 'But if we marry this way, me not even meeting your father first, and then a baby comes seven months later... You know what he'd do.'

'He couldn't do anything,' she protested. 'I'm over eighteen. Eighteen's all you have to be out here. What could he do?'

'I'm not talking about an annulment or anything like that.'

'Then what? What do you mean?' she appealed.

'The money,' he said. 'Dorrie, what kind of man is he? What did you tell me about him-him and his holy morals? Your mother makes a single slip; he finds out about it eight years later and divorces her, divorces her not caring about you and your sisters, not caring about her bad health. Well what do you think he would do to you? He'd forget you ever existed. You wouldn't see a penny.'

'I don't care,' she said earnestly. 'Do you think I care?'

'But I do, Dorrie.' His hand began moving gently on her back again. 'Not for me. I swear to God not for me. But for you. What will happen to us? We'll both have to quit school; you for the baby, me to work. And what will I do?-another guy with two years' college and no degree. What will I be? A clerk? Or an oiler in some textile mill or something?'

'It doesn't matter...'

'It does! You don't know how much it does. You're only nineteen and you've had money all your life. You don't know what it means not to have it. I do. We'd be at each other's throats in a year.'

'No. . . no... we wouldn't!'

'All right, we love each other so much we never argue. So where are we? In a furnished room with- with paper drapes? Eating spaghetti seven nights a week? If I saw you living that way and I knew it was my fault...'-he paused for an instant, then finished very softly-'... I'd take out insurance and jump in front of a car.'

She began sobbing again.

He closed his eyes and spoke dreamily, intoning the words in a sedative chant. 'I had it planned so beautifully. I would have come to New York this summer and you would have introduced me to him. I could have gotten him to like me. You would have told me what he's interested in, what he Ekes, what he dislikes-' He stopped short, then continued. 'And after graduation we would have been married. Or even this summer. We could have come back here in September for our last two years. A little apartment of our own, right near the campus...'

She lifted her head from his chest. 'What are you trying to do?' she begged. 'Why are you saying these things?'

'I want you to see how beautiful, how wonderful, it could have been.'

'I see. Do you think I don't see?' The sobs twisted her voice. 'But I'm pregnant. I'm two months pregnant.' There was silence, as though unnoticed motors had suddenly stopped. 'Are... are you trying to get out of it? To get away? Is that what you're trying to do?'

'No! God no, Dorrie!' He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her up until her face was next to his. 'No!'

'Then what are you doing to me! We have to get married now! We don't have any choice!'

'We do have a choice, Dorrie,' he said.

He felt her body stiffen against his.

She gave a small terrified whisper-'No!'-and began shaking her head violently from side to side.

'Listen, Dorrie!' he pleaded, hands gripping her shoulders, 'No operation. Nothing like that.' He caught her jaw in one hand, fingers pressing into her cheeks, holding her head rigid. 'Listen!' He waited until the wildness of her breathing subsided. 'There's a guy on campus, Hermy Godsen. His uncle owns the drugstore on University and Thirty-Fourth. Hermy sells things. He could get some pills.'

He let go of her jaw. She was silent.

'Don't you see, baby? We've got to try! It means so much!'

'Pills...' she said gropingly, as though it were a new word.

'We've got to try. It could be so wonderful'

She shook her head in desperate confusion. 'Oh God, I don't know...'

He puts his arms around her, 'Baby, I love you. I wouldn't let you take anything that might hurt you.'

She collapsed against him, the side of her head striking his shoulder. 'I don't know... I don't know...'

He said, 'It would be so wonderful...'-his hand caressing;-'A little apartment of our own... no waiting for a damn landlady to go to the movies...'

Finally she said, 'How... how do you know they would work? What if they didn't work?'

He took a deep breath. 'If they don't work,'-he kissed her forehead, and her cheek, and the corner of her mouth-'If they don't work well get married right away and to hell with your father and Kingship Copper Incorporated. I swear we will, baby.'

He had discovered that she liked to be called •baby.' When he called her 'baby' and held her in his arms he could get her to do practically anything. He had thought about it, and decided it had something to do with the coldness she felt towards her father.

He kept kissing her gently, talking to her with warm low words, and in a while she was calm and easy.

They shared a cigarette, Dorothy holding it first to his lips and then to hers, where the pink glow of each puff

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