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When eighteen-year-old Jerry Vernon returns to retrieve his belongings from a cluttered motel room, he sees two matching wedding rings, which trigger recollections of events leading up to that moment: Jerry and his pal, Bob Williams, two typical California teenagers, decide to crash a party being given by Emily Meredith and her friend Harriet. At the party, the self-assured Bob pursues Harriet while Jerry and Emily talk uneasily until her parents Helen and Charles return home. Later, Emily and her mother discuss Emily's college plans and her mother brings up the topic of sex and how some teenagers tend to view a moral code as old-fashioned. When Jerry invites Emily to a beach party, he tries to kiss her, but she gently rebuffs him. However, they discover that they enjoy talking to each other and begin dating regularly. Soon they fall in love and find it increasingly difficult to control their sexual urges, although the moral values they have been taught help to restrain them. When Emily's parents leave on a weekend trip, she and Jerry have dinner at her house and Jerry tells her that he wants to make love to her. They kiss passionately, but Emily pleads with him to go no farther. He respects her feelings and leaves, but not before she agrees to his suggestion that they should get married. Jerry's parents, steelworker father Sam and mother Mathilda, are not happy when they hear the news and Sam, who has been saving for Jerry's college education, points out that Jerry will never get a decent job without an education. After Emily's parents learn about her plans, they decide to take her on a summer-long vacation in the East in the hope that she will forget Jerry. That only prompts the young couple to plan to elope immediately, as they fear they will be kept apart. When Sam refuses to give Jerry some money from his college fund, Jerry forges his father's signature. After telling only his younger brother, Biff, about his plans, Jerry meets Emily at a motel before heading to Mexico. Sam tracks them down and hits Jerry, accusing him of throwing his life away because he cannot stay out of bed with a girl. A horrified Emily witnesses the confrontation and realizes that their imminent marriage is causing their parents much anguish. Unable to convince Jerry to delay their marriage, she walks out on him. In the motel room, Jerry looks at the rings again then leaves. Eventually, after an emotional reunion with his father, Jerry admits that he was wrong and agrees to pursue his plans for college. Jerry then forces himself to visit Emily and is welcomed by her family as if nothing has happened. Jerry assures Emily that he will be waiting for her when she returns from her vacation.