The brothers, who were farm boys from Glen Falls, a town twenty miles north, had met the girls the weekend Fred helped William move to Saratoga Springs. Some would argue this day would become the most defining day in Margaret Wilcox’s life. The chance encounter with William Hill happened at the local racetrack, where the girls were working in hopes of saving a little money their last summer before college. William was arguing with his brother over the absurd amount he had just witnessed him gamble, when he accidentally spilled his 7 Up on Margaret when she passed in front of him while selling hotdogs in the bleachers. Margaret had stayed cool, laughed it off, and found his awkward apologizing endearing. William responded by being mostly speechless, having never seen as beautiful a hair color as Margaret’s auburn mane.
The boys were nothing alike. Fred had the physique of a rancher, a strong build and good looks, while William was lanky, and though he was only twenty, he already showed signs of a receding hairline. Linda quickly spotted Fred, as most women did, and soon came over to see what all the commotion was about. After making some small talk, and before their boss reprimanded them for lingering for too long, Linda, hoping to see Fred again, had already volunteered she and Margaret give them a walking tour of William’s new hometown.
Fred had no interest in the small sample he had already got of Linda’s abrasive personality, and there was nothing in her bland features, slouching shoulders, or mousy brown hair, that made up for the unpleasantness he felt around her. The morning they were to meet, he had already left, and William announced it would be just him. Margaret found Linda rude when she backed out of her offer at the last minute, and decided to show up without her, at the appointed time. Though they were both initially shy and awkward, in no time, their presence became comfortable.
There was something courageous, yet obedient, which Margaret admired in William. He had gone after the life he wanted, one very different from the rest of his family’s. It was Roger, he had explained, a family friend, who had gotten him his job as an accountant in Saratoga Springs. Margaret surprised herself for how much she enjoyed his company, and it was not long before they spent more and more time together, making Linda feel like the third wheel, a position she started resenting, for until now, she had never had to share Margaret with anyone.
The girls were both recluses before meeting each other in high school. Margaret was an introvert who spent all her time buried in her books while Linda was annoying to most people she met, and friendships had never come easy to her. Linda was the first-person Margaret met who she found at least as interesting as her books. Though they both came from the same small town, a city inviting as little introspection as it did possibility, Linda questioned everything, contrasting with everyone else Margaret knew, who blindly accepted their options as being those defined by the people who’d gone before them. Margaret enjoyed how Linda made her world seem bigger and made her think of things she would not have stopped to think of otherwise. It was more interesting hanging out with Linda than it was spending time with her neighbors, the Brentwood girls, who bored Margaret with their narrow interests for discussing other people’s business.
It was Linda who had challenged Margaret to become a nurse, instead of settling for a job right out of high school. But the semester was fast approaching, and Margaret suddenly regretted not having given it more thought. The idea of drawing blood and being around sickness all day was keeping her up at night. It was three weeks to school starting, and she was seriously considering dropping out of the program. The only other subject she had ever had any interest in studying had been English Literature, and her parents had already made it clear they would not be spending any money on such a frivolous dead end.
Margaret was at the Golden Spoon diner with William when she noticed Irene Jensen robotically taking orders in her faded brown uniform. She knew Irene Jensen had once been known for her good looks way back when she started waitressing at the Golden Spoon. She had seen the frames in the entrance that suggested a different Irene, not the one Margaret now watched pouring coffee refills, looking bitter and disillusioned. She figured Irene had once too many fallen for the promises made by truckers and salesmen stopping for a meal and a sleepover on their way to New York, and it dawned on her that if she dropped out of nursing school, she might end up just like her.
“Are you ok?” William asked, noticing Margaret was even less talkative than she normally was.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking around, uncertain whether she had the courage to say what she was thinking out loud. William’s gaze looked safe enough for her to continue. “I’m not sure about going to college this fall. I mean, I’m having second thoughts about it.”
“You don’t want to go to college?” he asked, nervously rolling up the sides of his paper placemat.
“No, I want to, but I don’t know. I don’t want to become a nurse is what I’m saying.”
“What else would you do then? What would you study?” he asked, leaning away from the table to make place for the delivery of their milkshakes.
There was nothing else in her narrow options Margaret could see herself taking. “I have no clue,” she said. “How did you know you wanted to become an accountant?”
William thought about it for a while. He had never really discussed intangibles before.
“I guess—there’s this man that came to the farm,” he ventured, fiddling with his straw, “maybe twice a year, and Dad would just wait for him to tell us whether we’d made or lost any money. It fascinated me that my dad needed someone else to tell him if what he was doing was working. Everyone around me couldn’t wait to drive a tractor, and all I wanted, was to understand what magic this man did with that big calculator, that made him know, without even lifting a shovel or moving a bale of hay, whether we’d made or lost any money.” He paused for a satisfying gulp of his milkshake. “Plus,” he added, looking down at himself, “I’m not really built for manual labor.”
They both laughed a little.
“Personally, I always preferred smart guys over strong ones,” Margaret surprised herself saying out loud.
William played with the corners of his placemat again, his cheeks turning red.
“You don’t have to study anything else.”
“If you don’t want to become a nurse, you don’t have to study something else.”
Margaret giggled nervously. “Right, but I mean, I’d like to study literature, but that won’t lead me anywhere, I don’t want to waste my parent’s money, you know.”
“Yeah, that might not be the wisest thing,” he said, confirming her own parents’ opinion. “But don’t you want a family?”
“Of course, I do!” Margaret answered, uncertain why he implied having a family and going to school had to be mutually exclusive.
“So, do I!” he said, a little too excited, as though she had just agreed to something. “I can’t wait to have my own kids.”
Irene came over with the check and assigned it to William. He pulled out his money clip and paid the bill.
“You lovebirds have yourselves a great day now,” Irene said, after satisfyingly estimating the generous tip William left.
Margaret blushed again, enjoying her new identity as someone in a relationship. Without alluding to her barely touched milkshake, William asked Margaret if she was ready to go.
After holding the door open for her on their way out, William took her hand in his. When they got to the car, he looked down at his feet, endearing Margaret with his awkwardness before leaning in and kissing her.
William did not wait for long to ask Margaret to marry him. He had come into a small inheritance after his dad had died and had already spotted a beautiful house he could afford and that he saw them both moving into.
It helped that Margaret’s parents liked him too.
“There just aren’t many guys as good as William out there,” her mother told her one evening. “You’re lucky he’s smitten by you.”
Margaret figured cooking a few meals and washing a few clothes was a good deal for having days all to herself to do nothing but read. She was not sure she wanted kids yet, but William did, and there was something reassuring about him being so decisive. He had already done great things with his own life, and she felt some excitement thinking she would soon be under the same spell.
“I need posters for my room,” Linda said on an afternoon the girls had gone shopping. “What would make me look cool? Led Zeppelin?” she asked, lifting the posters set against cardboards one by one.
Margaret knew Linda would not differentiate a Led Zeppelin track from a Neil Diamond one if she heard them.
“Mmm. What about Abba? You love Abba! They must have a poster here somewhere,” Margaret said, looking around the store.
Linda raised a blowup of a Queen album. “Margie, c’mon, I don’t listen to Abba anymore… Queen–what do you think?”
“Yeah… they’re cool,” Margaret answered, sticking both her hands in the back pockets of her bell-bottom jeans. “Listen, I need to talk to you about something.”
Linda dropped the poster; it made a loud thud. She kept searching.
“What’s up, Margie?”
“Well, I’m thinking—I’m going to drop out of college.”
“What are you talking about?” Linda asked, still going through the posters one by one, not paying much attention to what Margaret was saying.
Margaret put her hand over Linda’s, stopping her from lifting any more posters.
“Linda, this is serious. I’m sorry, I’m dropping out.”
Linda raised her head. “What are you talking about?” she repeated.
“College. I’m dropping out.”
Linda’s eyes met Margaret’s. “Wait what? Are you serious? You can’t do this to me, Margaret! We’re in this together!”
“You don’t know how sorry I am,” Margaret pleaded, “but I mean you were going whether or not I went. I mean, it’s still your plan and all, it just isn’t for me.”
Linda shook her head. “Margie, seriously, what else are you going to do with your life?”
Margaret looked down.
“You’re still going to college though, right? Just not nursing?” Linda asked.
“I don’t think so, Linda. I’m thinking of settling down.”
Linda laughed condescendingly. “With William Hill? The man you just met. The man you just recently kissed. You’ll settle for him? M. Goody two shoes?”
“He’s a good man, Linda, don’t mock him.”
“He is such a good man, that he’s boring. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that your independence should be worth something to you. It’s the seventies, Margie! You don’t need to follow in your mom’s footsteps. Don’t you want to earn your own money?”
Everyone was now looking in their direction, trying to follow what their altercation was about. Linda seemed to enjoy the attention as much as she enjoyed Margaret’s cringe reaction to it.
“That’s easy for you to say!” Margaret replied defensively. “You love the idea of working in a hospital all day! I don’t!”
“And becoming a housewife is your only alternative?”
“It’s not a fallback plan, Linda, it's something I want.”
Linda gave Margaret a look of contempt. “I no longer recognize you, Margaret Wilcox!”
“Traitor,” Linda muttered under her breath as she stormed out of the store.
Margaret ran after her. “Linda, wait! Common, really?”
Linda turned around. “You’ve changed, Margaret. Ever since that William Hill came into your life, you’ve changed.”
“I have not! Linda, that’s not fair!”
“I don’t think we have anything in common anymore. Maybe we should just move on. No need to stay in each other’s lives.”
“Linda, you can’t be serious?”
“Yup. We’re done,” she said, before abandoning her friend at the mall.
Some would argue meeting William Hill was the most defining moment in Margaret’s life, but others would argue the most defining moment was still to come, when Linda would return and slowly plant seeds of disruption in Margaret’s life.