Chapter 13

MANY, MANY YEARS LATER…

So…there I sat…in the restaurant section of Larson’s grocery store…watching dead leaves swirl around on their charming but now “Closed for the Winter” patio…leaves whistling by…like the memories from so many years ago…

I finished my coffee and looked out the window and wondered how soon it would snow…

I had been gone from Minnesota for a long time and had only returned a few months ago to help Alec’s wife, Cara, deal with the crushing burden of his unexpected illness and impending death.

Alec had joined me in Canada rather than register for the draft in 1969, secured a college degree, met the enchanting Cara, got married and then returned to the United States in 1977 after President Carter issued amnesty to those men who had moved to Canada rather than go to Vietnam.

He and Cara had visited me several times each year…they had no children…so we became a “family”.

Dearest Cara…confined to a wheelchair after a car accident several years ago…had reluctantly asked me for help…and I had come down with no hesitation.

I was pretty confident that enough years had gone by for any of the ghosts from my past to rise up and cause me any problems…I was pretty sure of that by now…sure that they were all dead.

I got up, grabbed my purse, turned and started to walk toward the grocery area of the store…when suddenly there was a slight tap on my shoulder.

I turned around and looked at a white-haired man…about my own age…maybe a couple of years past seventy.

He tilted his head a bit but didn’t quite smile.  Then…in a low, gravelly voice…that is usually the result of years of smoking and drinking…or both..he said…

“Remember me?”

And…at first, I didn’t remember.

But then I looked a little harder…past the many years of living that can sometimes change a person completely.

I looked at his odd eyes.  He was wearing bright, blue contact lenses.

I thought…how strange for an older man to do so…

But then he smiled…and suddenly I knew exactly who he was…

“I thought you were dead, Tommy.”

 

Chapter 14

After Johnny died, I registered for Fall classes at the University of Minnesota because I knew I should.

I moved back home…partly to save on expenses…but mostly to absorb the healing magic that only parents can give you when you’re hurting…I needed a lot of magic right now.

I had packed up all of Johnny’s clothes and had given them all to the Salvation Army because I knew Johnny would like that…except for one blue plaid flannel shirt that I think I wore more than he did…it was ‘our shirt’…it still smelled of Old Spice…Johnny’s favorite after-shave cologne.

I had called Johnny’s mom and asked her if she wanted any of Johnny’s clothes or if she thought Alec would want anything.

“No, Riley.  The Salvation Army is a good place for them.  Alec is having a really hard time dealing with John’s death…he blames his father.”

“He says when he has to register for the draft in two years, he’s going to Canada instead…”

I didn’t know what to say…I wasn’t sure if Johnny had told anyone of my idea for us to go to Canada.  But then she continued…

“John told Alec that he wanted to go to Canada with you…and would have…if it hadn’t been for their father being so against it.”

“I wish he had gone, Riley.  I wish the two of you had just packed up and gone to Canada.”

More tears than I thought possible were falling down my cheeks and stopped me from saying anything more than a choked good bye.

 

Chapter 15

I hadn’t gone to Johnny’s funeral.  His father had planned a huge memorial for his first-born son…full of praise for the bravery John had shown in proudly fighting for his country.

If I had gone to Johnny’s funeral, this is what I would have said to his father.

“He OD’d on heroin, Mr. Taylor.”

“Maybe you’d like to read all the letters Johnny sent me.  They rip my heart to shreds every time I read them.”

“I don’t want to read them…but it’s all I have of him now.”

“He was so full of pain and horror at having…even accidentally…killed innocent women and children…he couldn’t sleep…not without drugs…and sometimes not even with drugs.”

“His heart was broken after watching so many of his friends blown to pieces right before his eyes or bleed to death in his arms…crying like little kids…so scared…because they didn’t want to die but knew they were going to.”

“He was haunted by the blood that poured from the bodies of all the Vietcong soldiers he had killed…some who looked younger than Alec.”

“He wasn’t a brave hero, Mr. Taylor…he was just trying to survive…just like all the other boys around him.”

“They were all just trying to survive and come home…just come home.”

That’s what I would have said to his father if I had been at Johnny’s funeral.

And…that’s why I stayed away.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

Tommy began to  speak again and everyone looked back at him…but he was talking to me.

“Hey!  I like your idea.  What’s your name?” He called to me.

I shouted out my name.

Tommy said as he pointed to me…”That’s a great idea, Riley,  We need more ideas like that.”

“I think a hunger strike and chaining a few of us to that tower would get a lot of attention…but think…just think what would happen if we just blew the damn thing up.”  And then he paused…

Shocked silence at first…but then quiet murmuring and a smattering of applause.

So far the protests on this campus had been basically non-violent…peaceful…but some colleges and universities…Wisconsin for example…had seen major conflicts between the police and war protesters.

But so far…not at the University of Minnesota or at any  other locations around the state.

Tommy handled the reluctance and surprise of the crowd with ease.

“But…I wouldn’t want any protesters chained to the tower at the time…of course…” he joked and with that comment he again had the crowd completely with him.

Then he quickly shifted focus and stressed that civil disobedience like “hunger strikes” and “blocking roadways” would get massive coverage in the press…and that was the important thing.

He also mentioned again the “Snelling Avenue water tower idea” and my name…

And then after a couple more speakers… the rally was over.

 

Chapter 20

I immediately went home and told my mom and dad about Tommy Clark’s plans.

They called my uncle, Carl Andrews, a retired St. Paul homicide detective…and then..everything happened very fast.

Within twenty-four hours, Tommy, Sheila, Gerald and Mikey were all  picked up for questioning by the St. Paul Police Department.

I, too, was questioned.  Initially, I was being considered the “instigator” of this plot…since Tommy and his friends had all said it was my idea…but California police records showed quite a history of “trouble making events” for Tommy Clark and that lifted all suspicion from me.

But I did have to admit the “chaining” and “hunger strike” plans were my idea.

We then had to appear before a grand jury to see if there was enough evidence for a felony charge.

Unfortunately, the grand jury determined there was not enough conclusive evidence that a crime was actually going to be committed.

Instead, they determined it was more likely just some “bragging” by some college kids who had had too many beers to drink…

And that Riley Sanderson…who had also been drinking when she had heard of these “let’s blow up the tower” plans…had just misinterpreted the whole thing.

Since no charges were filed, our names were never released but everyone knew quickly who we were…and Tommy was a hero to the more militant side of the anti-war movement.

The University of Minnesota, however, looked at this incident differently and decided to use this as an example to other students at the University who may be planning acts of civil disobedience in protesting the Viet Nam war…

They placed a full-page ad in the Minnesota Daily…citing the University’s policy regarding protests and rallies and consequences for unlawful behavior.

We were all called into the Dean’s office and expelled without any recourse.

Tommy and his friends’ scholarships were rescinded…and everything went on our permanent record.

It didn’t matter to me.  I was heading north as soon as possible.  My parents would be joining me.

“Time for new beginnings…” my dad had said.  “For all of us…”

But…just as I was leaving the building I realized that I had forgotten my gloves and walked back to get them.

Tommy, Sheila, Gerald and Mikey were all huddled together at a table quietly talking.

I could see that Sheila had been crying.  I knew how close she had been to getting her law degree and how much she had looked forward to being a lawyer.

I grabbed my gloves and turned back to the door.  Tommy spotted me.

“This isn’t over, ‘little girl’… far from it.  You made a very big mistake.”

And…then he gave be that chillingly, cold smile that I would never forget.

 

“FIRST LOVE.”

By

Tina Nelson

You really can’t go back…can you?

They say you never forget your first love.  I didn’t.  But maybe I should have.  Sometimes when you play with fire, you get burned.

******

Prologue:

He stood across from me and I wondered why we were in this strange, smoky place with all these odd people milling aimlessly around murmuring words but not really saying anything.

He had his usual self-confident, self-assured smile on his face.  I loved that smile.  As he leaned toward me, perhaps to kiss me, someone in the suddenly silent room whispered for all to hear.  “She’s departed from her mind, you know.”

He hesitated then, tilting his head to the side, placing his hands lightly on my shoulders.

“I guess there will be no romancing tonight…”  His smile had disappeared from his face.

“Not me.  Not me,” I said softly.

Then he drew me to him, holding me so close…and safe…just like before…all those years ago.

“It’s not too late then?”  He asked with a wondering that lingered in the air.  His words brushing my ear so only I could hear.

“No,” I said quietly.  “I’ve dreamed about you for so long.  I thought I would never see you again.”

He pulled back a little, those dark eyes searching mine, and then…pausing slightly as he had always done…kissed me gently on my lips.

And then I woke up…cheeks wet with tears.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

A long time ago…

Go back to a Minnesota cold November day.  I am standing in the lunch line at Portland High School, waiting for my favorite hot lunch…roast turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes…giggling not too loudly with my best friend, Melanie Taylor.  We were checking out all the cute, older boys surrounding us in line.

Mel and I had been best friends since 3rd grade and we had been looking forward to our entrance into 9th grade for every single moment of the whole, long, boring summer.

We were both fourteen and still too young for real summer jobs.  I wouldn’t turn fifteen until December.  Mel’s birthday was next week.

Baby sitting and walking back and forth to each other’s houses were the sum total of our summer.  We were gloriously tanned but impressively bored.

I hung out more at Mel’s house than she did at mine.  Unfortunately, it was neighborhood knowledge that my father Victor Jones drank too often and too much…that his beautiful wife, Kathy Jones deserved so much better and “Oh, that sweet, sweet Sam…it must be so hard for her.”

It was.

From age eleven on, I never knew a day when there wasn’t a lost, lonely feeling in the pit of my stomach and a thin veil of sadness around me that never quite lifted.

But that was about to change…