“First Love” Chapter 31

The Paperback Edition…

“Hey, Sammy.”  From behind me, I heard that deep familiar voice…wrapped up in his favorite cologne, Old Spice.

No one had ever called me Sammy…no one except Bobby.

I turned slowly around.  And there he was…looking at me so very seriously…so not like the Bobby Flanagan I had known.

“Bobby.”  It was all I could say…and it was almost a whisper.

Suddenly, I was feeling a lot unsteady without my trusted cane…the one that Mark was continuing to tap on the floor in front of him.

Did he think he was fucking Fred Astaire?

I reached out for Bobby’s hand.

“Can we sit down?” I said a little shakily and motioned to an empty table nearby.

Bobby glanced back at Mark but then took my hand and we walked to the table.

I could sense him looking at me.  What was he seeing?

Was he seeing the ‘old Samantha Jones’ that my ex-husband could no longer love?”

“I like your necklace…” Bobby said.

I turned to look at him.  Even in the dim lightning, I could see that Bobby, like all good Irishmen, had aged well.  Some grey hair, a few pounds here and there but he could still wear a blazer and tee shirt and look good.

No shirt and tie for Bobby tonight…that didn’t surprise me.

I sat down and then watched as he walked back over to Mark Hansen who was still playing with my cane.

Bobby carefully took the cane away from Mark and then slammed it against Mark’s knee.  My mouth fell open.

Mark cried out in pain, swore profusely but then limped quietly away.  A few people actually clapped.  Mark had not been a favorite in high school.

Bobby turned and walked back toward me…the signature Bobby Flanagan grin now on his face.  He handed me my cane.

“Now I know why I hated high school,” he said as he pulled out the chair next to me and sat down.

I couldn’t believe this was happening.  It was like years had disappeared and we were at the Portland High School Homecoming Dance…the last dance that Bobby and I had gone to together.

The boys had been instructed to wear suits since it was a semi-formal affair and Bobby had bristled at the idea.

Typical Bobby behavior at that time…he bristled at everything…except me.

He had worn jeans and a blazer he had borrowed from his dad…with a white tee shirt and a tie loosely hung around  his neck.  One week later he had enlisted in the Navy.

He gave a nod to the cane and looked at me with concern in his eyes but he didn’t ask any questions.  I answered them anyway.

“Stroke.  Almost a year ago.  Nothing major, thank God.  Just a little weakness in the left side and my vision is crap…but I can still pretty much drive.”

I gave him my standard…”everything will be okay” smile…the one I had been giving to everyone these last few months.

Bobby didn’t say a word.  He just looked at Sam and then he slowly reached over and put his hand ever so gently over hers…not sure if it was the right thing to do…

“First Love” Chapter 30

The Paperback Edition…

Now I wouldn’t know if Bobby was going to be here tonight or not.  I didn’t know anything…except that Melanie wasn’t going to be here.

As of three days ago, Bobby hadn’t responded to the formal invite.  Maybe I could call Mike?  He would know…no…no…and would he even tell me if he did?  Anyway, I didn’t have his phone number.

What to do?  I looked around the room and it was slowly filling up.

I stood up, grabbed my cane, hooked my little purse over my shoulder and headed for the bar…a nice glass of wine would taste really good right now.

I waited my turn and was not surprised to find that I could not recognize anyone as I glanced around the room.

With my crappy vision and so many people from other classes, I started to wonder if maybe I was going to be the only one here from our class…aside, of course, from the friendly Pat Duncan.

No problem.  I didn’t think I was going to stay too long.

I ordered a glass of ‘house red’ from the cutest, little twelve-year-old girl.  (Okay…she just looked twelve.)  

She also handed me several napkins which I probably would need since she had filled my wine glass almost to the top.

I took a small sip and  started to walk…ever so carefully…so as not to spill my wine…over to a small table off to the side.

Suddenly, someone got on the PA system and hollered “WELCOME EVERYONE!!!  GO HAWKS!!!”

Then the speaker shrieked that loud, ear-piercing sound…as they so often do…only this time louder than I had ever heard before.  It was like those monthly air raid sirens that almost deafen you.

I probably was a little tense, so the jarring noise made me misstep…just a little…nothing significant…but just enough for Mark Hansen, the most obnoxious boy in our class to notice.

He had been walking toward the bar and had seen me stumble.  Unfortunately…I was soon to discover…he was still obnoxious…and very loud.

“HEY, SAMANTHA JONES!!!” he hollered and pointed to my cane.  “It looks like you’ve been cut down a little.”

His remark was loud enough to draw lots of attention to me…and then he grabbed my cane out of my hand and started to twirl it around like a baton.  Was he drunk out of his mind already?  Who did things like that?

“LET ME HELP YOU TO YOUR SEAT, MADAM.”  He said at the top of his voice…as if talking to a large crowd…something he had always done in high school.

And unfortunately,  whoever had been talking on the loud-speaker had stopped…and all anyone heard was Mark’s loud voice booming throughout the room.

He held my cane out for me to grab…but just a little out of reach.  What in the holy hell had I ever done to him, I thought.

I stood there for a moment…wondering if I should just turn around and walk carefully out of this disaster that I had foolishly created for myself.

But then…but then…

 

 

 

“First Love” Chapter 29

The Paperback Edition…

I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, and the very nice young man who had already parked my car was suddenly right next to me.

“There’s a ramp off to the side, ma’am.” He said helpfully and then dashed away to park another car.

“Oh…thanks, dear, I’m fine.  I was just…uh…admiring the building…but thanks.”  I said to his disappearing back.

I can do stairs, I thought, if I do them slowly.  I just don’t like to do stairs.

I casually waited until a group of much younger people zipped around me and up the steps.

Then I took a deep breath and slowly and hopefully without attracting too much attention…climbed the six stairs to the front doors…which were being opened for guests by pretty, young girls with welcoming smiles on their faces.

Youth.  You can’t beat it.

I hadn’t been to a class reunion since Mel and I had gone to our ten-year reunion.  It had been such a joke.

How is it possible for so many people to not change after ten years?

The boring little cliques still existed and they had made every possible attempt to be ‘noticed’.  The more liquor they had consumed…the louder they became.

Mel and I had left early that night many years ago and  vowed never to attend another reunion…ever.  But things change.  Life changes…and here I am.

I walked over to the official registration table…and offered a friendly hello to…leaning in to read her name tag…squinting a little…ahhh…Pat Duncan (Stokes) it said…

Who was Pat Duncan (Stokes)?  Yes!  Now I remembered…she was a Homecoming queen candidate when we both were seniors and she had married Jerry Stokes…her steady boyfriend all thru high school.

“Hi, Pat!” I said confidently.

“Hi, Samantha Jones.  Glad you could make this one!” she said cheerfully.

I was so surprised.  For a short minute, I thought…had I not changed?  Did I really look like I had in high school?  And then seeing the surprised look on my face, Pat grinned and pointed to the “THEN & NOW’ board.

There I saw a current picture of me…and that ninth-grade photo of me and Mel.

“Everyone has been talking about that picture of you and Melanie,” Pat said.  “So cute!”

She handed me a name-tag.  It said…Sam Jones (Alison)

“Thanks, Pat.” I said politely, taking the tag from her.  I saw no reason to mention the wrong name on the tag.

I walked over to the side of the main entry, casually threw my name tag in the trash, pulled out a chair from a small table and sat down to wait for Melanie.

So far I would give this class reunion a C+…although Pat Duncan (Stokes) had been really sweet.

I hooked my cane and purse over the side arm of the chair and leaned back to wait.   I had a really good look at everyone who was coming.

They all looked so festive…I had my own private ‘red carpet’ viewing seat.

Then my cell phone rang and three people near me almost jumped out of their skin…frowning at me big time.

Oh, crap!  This morning I had turned my cell up as loud as it could go…with the loudest and most annoying ring tone I could find.  I hadn’t wanted to miss any of Melanie’s calls today.

I quickly turned the volume off and then I looked at the screen.  It was Melanie.  Oh, this can’t be good…not at this time, I thought.

“Please don’t kill me Sam…I can’t be there tonight!  Janet just had a heart attack and we’re on our way to the hospital!”

“We’re right behind the ambulance!  I was with her when it happened, Sam.  It was so horrible!  I can’t talk…I am so sorry, Sam!  I’ll call you later.”

“Mel!  Wait!!  Did you find out if Bob…”  I was talking to a dead line.

Mel had hung up.

 

 

 

“First Love” Chapter 28

The Paperback Edition…

The day of the reunion had come and it was now 5:00 and time for me to leave.  I had left calls for Mel but had not heard back from her all day.

As much as I wanted to know what she had found out…I didn’t want to push it.  I knew she was staying with Janet.

We were supposed to meet in the entry by the main door.  I had only driven by this place once before…and that had been several years ago…but I remembered that it was pretty swell.  It overlooked Lake Minnetonka.

I took one last look in my hall mirror.  I shook my head slightly…as if to tell myself that maybe…just maybe…this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

You’re playing with fire, Sam, I thought…and then headed out the door.

There was a grand, circular driveway in front of the Merriweather Golf and Country Club and I drove my little Toyota RAV4  right to the main entrance.

A few people were walking up the sidewalk to the main door from the back parking lot but plenty were also taking advantage of the valet parking…as did I.

Last time we had talked, Mel and I had made plans to drive separately to the club in case she had to leave early.

A very cute young man opened my car door for me, gave me his hand to help me get out and then retrieved my purse and cane which had been laying on the front seat beside me.

Oh, how I wish I could have just said…ever so breezily…”Oh, you can just forget the cane!”…but I knew that would have been a foolish move.

I thanked him and slipped him $20.  He seemed genuinely pleased.  I was glad.

Now all I had to do was go inside, find a chair and wait for Melanie to arrive.

I waited for him to drive off and then I looked up at the entrance to the country club.

This was a pretty swanky place to have our reunion, I thought…no wonder the ticket price was so high.

And…then I really looked at the entrance…at the six stairs with no railing that led up to it.  Well…my oh my.

 

“First Love” Chapter 27

The Paperback Edition…

How would I look to Bobby after all these years, I wondered…looking into the full-length bathroom mirror…instinctively tucking my short hair behind my ears.

Would he, like Russell, be disappointed in how I now looked?

Would Bobby expect to see me looking young…as I had over 30 years ago when we had last seen each other that day in Target?

And…would he see the cane and wince?  As Russell had done…many times…

Those searing, cruel words from Russ…spoken almost a year ago…about looking old and not being beautiful anymore…still cut deep.

But…most of the time… I knew I looked pretty damn good…even with a cane.

Every summer for the past few years, I had volunteered at a park near our house.  I helped with the kids summer school program.

Up until this summer, I could almost always keep up with those little squirts as they ran all over…and…get nice tan in the bargain.  This summer I was in charge of “The Craft Table”…and supervising the sandbox.

My light brown hair was streaked from the sun but I didn’t think a few blonde highlights would hurt…grey…can be so grey.  I was lucky to get an appointment at Chico’s Salon on such short notice.  I guess it pays to tip well…

Was I being stupid?  Of course, I was.  But…even in high school no one could understand why Bobby Flanagan had picked me to be “his girl”.  He could have picked so many others…

I had been nothing special…Scandinavian cute…that about covered it.

Wait!  Except for my ears…I had very special ears…a little too big for my face and they stuck out…just a bit.   That was my “outstanding” feature…and that had been Bobby’s best little joke…

I wondered what Bobby would look like?

The reunion information sheet had declared in CAPS that the dress code would be ‘Summer Casual’…whatever that meant.

For me…it meant a slightly short, black skirt and a white, cap-sleeved linen top…because I still could.

I didn’t wear jewelry as a rule, but I had put on the pink necklace that Bobby had bought me on his first leave home from the Navy…many years ago.  Yes…I had saved it.

Black and white low-heeled shoes and my cane completed the outfit.  The cane was black hickory and was the old-fashioned kind with a hook at the top.  I had found it at an estate sale shortly after my stroke. It was quite old but it did the trick.

I liked to use it when I was out and about…since I could easily hook it over my arm when standing or hook it on a shopping cart handle.

Everything was hanging neatly on the outside of my bedroom closet door…just waiting.

I checked the mirror and wondered again if I was out of my mind for doing this…out of my mind for even hoping that my strange dream of a few nights ago had been a foreshadow and not just a..dream..

Melanie had been really busy these last couple of days.  Janet had taken a turn for the worse and Mel was spending a lot more time at her house.

She had not yet had time to get more information from Mike about Bobby…not even if he was coming to the reunion.

Last time I had talked to her…which was…yesterday morning, I think?  Yes.  She had not yet shown Mike the copies of the important pages of my mother’s diary.

I knew those pages were the key to whether or not Mike was willing to tell Mel more information about Bobby.

 

 

 

 

 

“First Love” Chapter 26

The Paperback Edition…

“Is he…dead?” I cried out…almost unable to get the words out…and pulling my hands back.

“Oh!!  NO!  Not at all!  I just took your hands because…it seemed like a loving thing to do.  I’m sorry, Sam.  I used to do that all the time when the boys were little.

“I meant to make you feel better.”  And then Mel started to cry…really hard.

“Melanie!  What’s the matter?”  I was really worried now, Mel was always so calm and steady.

“It’s…it’s just such a…sad, sad love story.”

I had to smile a little.  Sweet Melanie.  She had such a gentle soul.

“And…and…Sam…Bobby might be coming to the reunion Saturday.”

I could not believe what I was hearing.  I sat there speechless.

“I was going to tell you sooner but then I know how hard life has been lately with your stroke and your divorce and your mom dying and all…

“So, I had planned to wait just a bit more, but then I forgot…you know that my mother-in-law Janet has been sick…” she paused and I nodded my head sympathetically.  Mel really loved her mother-in-law.

“We’re not sure what’s wrong and it’s kind of scary…”  Then she continued.

“Anyway, when I saw Mike Nordstrom at the first reunion planning meeting in June…you remember Mike, right?  He owns Frankie’s?  We went there a long time ago?”

“Yes.  I remember…go on…” I urged her.

“Well,” Mel said.  “At that meeting he mentioned to me that Bobby might be going to the reunion but…then he kind of clammed up and said he didn’t know for sure…and…Sam?  Bobby’s a widow…his first wife died more than 20 years ago.”

And then she got up and went into the kitchen to get some more tea.

A thousand visions of me and Bobby together again raced through my mind.  Can this really be happening?  Now?  After all these years?

Mel returned, handed me a fresh cup of tea and then sat back down.

“The reunion committee has a lot of information on the graduates…but remember, Bobby didn’t actually graduate…he went into the Navy and then got his GED…”

I interrupted, “Oh crap.” I said disappointed.

“No, now wait Sam…let me finish.  Maybe the committee doesn’t have any information on Bobby…but… ‘fellow reunion committee member, Mike’ has all the information we would  want to know.

“And…when Mike first told me about Bobby, I could tell that he wanted to tell me more…you know how he loved to gossip.  He still does.”

“But, I guess he and Bobby have become really close these past few years…and apparently even Mike has limits…so he stopped talking once he realized he had probably said too much.

“But I know that once he sees those diary pages, Sam, he’ll tell me everything.  And he’ll probably want to show them to Bobby…”

“Would you be okay with that, Sam?”

I was.  I really was.  That way…no matter what happened…whether I saw Bobby or not…at least he would know the truth…and that was the important thing after all.

And, maybe…just maybe…Bobby would come to the reunion…and maybe I  would see him.  Maybe…

I stood up and looked into the mirror hanging on the wall over Mel’s head.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“What? asked Melanie, looking up with a puzzled expression on her face.

“Who’s Toto?”

 

 

 

 

 

“First Love” Chapter 25

The Paperback Edition…

The next morning, after my call, Mel had rushed over to my apartment.

After a big, loving hug…she asked, “Why did your mom do this, Sam?  Why did she hate Bobby so much?”

I backed away and walked into the kitchen and sat down at the breakfast bar.  I just shook my head.  Mel followed and started water to boil on the stove.

“I don’t know, Mel.  I have no idea.  I think when she looked at Bobby…she saw Victor…”

“Your dad, right?”

“Yes.  My dad was such a charmer…just like Bobby.  I think she thought she was protecting me somehow…”

“Oh, Sam…I am so sorry.”  Melanie said with so much love in her voice I started to cry again.

“I’ll get us some tea. You’ll feel better.”

We took our tea…and some cookies that Mel had found in the pantry, walked into the living room and sat down on the floor…backs up against the sofa, looking out onto the sunny courtyard outside my apartment window…and watched the squirrels play.

Mel was carefully paging thru the diary and shaking her head.  “This is just too tragic.”

“Are you planning to do something?  Mel asked softly after the cookies and tea were gone.

“What do you mean…?” I asked.

“I mean…are you planning to show this to Bobby?”

Of course, that had been the first thing I had thought too…but then…cold reality had set in and I had brushed that thought from my mind.

I hadn’t heard anything about Bobby for years…even though we all lived within a few suburbs of each other.  I had always avoided the shopping center where he and his dad owned their hardware store.

But I knew he had gotten married…six months after I married Russ.  But that was all I knew.  That was all I had ever waned to know.  I opened up  the diary, aimlessly flipping the pages.

“I can’t Mel.  I don’t want to cause any trouble for him or his family…I just…can’t.”  I wiped away more tears that had started to fall.

“But..then…” I continued, “He should know, right?  He should know that it wasn’t my doing…he should know the truth.”  I picked up the letter and then let it fall softly to the carpet.

“I just don’t know…” I murmured…tears falling on my empty hands.

“I have something to tell you, Sam.” Mel said quietly and then she reached over and gently picked up both of my hands…