I picked up my phone and called his number. Again.
It hadn’t changed in over 30 years.
I had called it so many times I knew it by heart…and I always ended the call before entering the last number.
But not this time. This time…I forced myself to finish..
It rang seven times. I waited…seven times. My heart beating just a little faster after each ring.
And after each ring…my other hand…as it had done so many times before…moved a little to disconnect. But not this time.
It was him!
My God…he sounded so young! I hadn’t expected that…
Suddenly the years disappeared and we were both seventeen again and he was asking me…to go to the football game…to go to a movie…to go to dinner at Freddie’s…or…or…
…to find out if I was pregnant…and then when hearing I was not…laughing nervously with me in relief.
Now…I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. This was a mistake. I had made a terrible mistake.
What if he had forgotten me?
I couldn’t bear that…my heart would shatter into a million pieces…dreams vanishing in a split second.
I had waited too long.
“Riley?” His voice was now urgent, intense….
My hand started to shake so hard, I dropped the phone. I grabbed at it with both hands.
“How did you…?” I whispered but was then stunned into silence.
“Oh, Riley…” he said…ever so softly…and I could tell he was starting to smile.
“I’ve kept track of you…I’ve waited for this call for so long…for you to…” Then suddenly his voice broke and I could hear the tears in his eyes.
“Yeah?” I could barely speak…my voice cracking as well.
“Are you…okay?” That familiar deep voice was back…but sounding a little hesitant…perhaps wondering if he had the right to even ask…now…after all this time.
“I’m okay…” I sighed. I could breathe again. It would be all right. Somehow I knew…it would be all right.
“God, I’ve missed you, Riley.”
“I’ve missed you…”
“It’s been almost 40 years…”
“I know…” My words dropped into the depths of unspeakable anguish. The pain of so many lost days and nights slashed like a razor into my heart and would not let me say more…
“Yeah?” I struggled to answer as hot tears were streaming down my cheeks.
“I still love you…I still love you, Riley.”
“Sometimes the truth can be so boring…”
It was possibly the most beautiful day of my whole entire life…a life presently consisting of twenty (almost twenty-one…but not quite) years.
It was September in Minnesota and most of the leaves on the oak and elm trees had just started turning from their humdrum shades of green to the brilliant, intense colors of yellow, red and orange.
“I should still be back lying on the beach…enjoying these last few hours of summer,” murmured Cooper Malone to herself as she looked wistfully out the window of her best friend’s car. There were far too few of these beautiful late summer days left.
But no…instead I was sitting in the front seat of Franny Sherman’s brand-new, 1966 Candy Apple Red Mustang…chain-smoking one cigarette after another…trying to get up the courage to walk into the very popular neighborhood saloon…”The Friendly Inn”…knowing full well that I was not of legal age to drink. I took a deep breath.
“They will demand to see my ID and then…when they notice that I am underage, they will call the cops and I will end up in a tiny, little jail cell,” I complained to Franny who… as my best friend…seemed to be paying little attention to me…and my pathetic exaggerations.
“Sometimes the truth can be
The mirror’s tiny image showed a ruffled, Clairol-assisted, bleached-blonde, pixie haircut, in desperate need of a comb, hazel-brown eyes with green eye shadow (a little smudged…but who cared).
I smiled big…noting in my teeth. My…just a tiny bit crooked…nose showed the effect of hours of basking in the sun.
My slightly ‘bent’ nose was a result of me foolishly not wearing my catcher’s mask during warm-ups earlier this spring during a fast-pitch softball tournament that I was unfortunately unable to participate in…since I was sitting on an old, very hard, plastic chair in the ER of Minneapolis General Hospital.
Incidentally…broken noses really do produce an un-Godly amount of blood. Anyway…
I guess I looked okay. Good enough to be arrested at least.
Franny seemed to be speed walking as I slowly dragged along. I caught up with her at the corner…still unable to think of a way I could wriggle out of what I was certain to be a horrible disaster.
I had considered and then discarded my possible, upcoming promotion at work as an excuse. I was in line to be made assistant to the circulation manager at the Minneapolis Journal…the newspaper where Franny and I both worked.
She was one of the local advertising reps and I was slowly moving up in the circulation department. (No pun intended…)
However sad this sounds…I had to face the reality that most everyone at the paper had ‘liquid’ lunches and sometimes even ‘liquid’ afternoon breaks…so no one would bat an eye if I got nailed for underage drinking.
Most…including my boss, Mr. ‘party guy’ Ross Taylor…would probably consider it just a “rite of passage” into the wild world of adulthood.
As we waited for the light to turn green, I heard a roar of motorcycles coming up from behind.
I turned and noticed two guys on Harley-Davidsons who had also stopped at the red light.
Ever since I had seen the movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando, I had…for some odd reason…become a big fan of motorcycles. Don’t ask me why…I have no idea.
Even though they were both wearing aviator sunglasses, I could see they both looked pretty sweet! Oh, c’mon! Aren’t all guys on motorcycles sweet? You know…all that leather and… you know…stuff??
Being the friendly sort of person that I am, I sent a huge smile in their direction…you know…as in “Hey welcome to the corner of 34th Avenue and 51st Street.”
Don’t judge me! I am a very sociable person by nature. I smile at most people…and when I am out walking…I say hello to every dog I meet as well. As in…”Hi, dog!”
The biker closest to me pushed up his sunglasses and smiled back…may I say he had really incredibly vivid blue eyes? I will…he did.
His smile was just a tad inviting… kind of slow and lazy. Okay. It was slow, lazy and sexy.
He was wearing a white tee shirt that had seen better days and faded jeans. His scuffed, black, leather boots looked older than me. No matter…it was working.
He was really tan and his longish, blonde hair was sun-bleached almost white…just like I was trying to get mine to look.
He was, actually…if you must know…drop-dead, fucking magnificent.
He looked quickly over at his friend and then back at me. His friend had nodded what appeared to signal some sort of agreement…
“Want to go for a ride?” he asked me.
I think I stopped breating…no really…no intake of air was present for many seconds.
“Sometimes the truth can be
I was walking toward his bike before I even knew what I was doing…other than putting one foot in front of the other..and managing somehow not to trip and fall down.
Then he revved his bike’s engine…the sound was like a siren call.
“Sure…” I said, with not one single, intelligent thought floating around in my brain.
(And…I might add…whose voice was that coming out of my mouth? Certainly not my voice. My voice was perky and bouncy…one could even describe it as sprightly.)
This voice sounded like I had been drinking whiskey for the past twelve hours…during and after my job as a piano-bar singer in a smoke-filled nightblub while I was still recovering from laryngitis.
“What about your friend?” he asked and raised up his head in question…indicating, of course, friend Franny.
“What?” I said. (There was that strange voice again). I had a friend?
But then a sharp poke in my side quickly brought me back to reality.
“Oh, right!” I yelped. I turned to look at Franny who had left the curb and was now standing right next to me.
We whispered out a quick deal. We would both get on the bikes, go for a ride and then later I would go into The Friendly Inn with her. I would not quibble at all…not one quibble.
She knew that “Roger”…the guy she was really hoping to see tonight…wouldn’t be showing up until much later.
So, for her it was really a win-win situation…especially since the other biker…who had now also taken off his sunglasses…was also drop-dead good looking. That was a plus.
And…the deal was done.
“We can only be gone for a couple of hours,” Franny said to nobody in particular…because nobody in particular was listening.
“We’re meeting some people later at The Friendly.”
Then she walked over to “Biker # 2”.
“Sometimes the truth can be
“What’s your name?” Franny asked biker #2…giving him her customary, blazing smile…which suited her fiery red hair and dazzling green eyes. Franny was something to behold…and most everyone did.
“Bob Nelson”, he answered quite politely. “What’s yours?”
“Cynthia Zimmerman. You can call me ‘Zimmer’ or ‘Zim’ if you like…”said Franny Sherman who…being five feet eight inches tall…found it ridiculously easy to sling her long, slim leg over the seat of the bike and settle herself down behind Bob..
Franny getting on his bike was about as easy as her almost never telling the guys she would randomly meet in bars her real name. It was just her thing.
At some point either during the evening or at a later encounter…she would tell them the truth…if she felt like it.
You wouldn’t know it to look at her but…Franny could be…complicated
I looked up at my guy. I could see he was pretty tall even though he was sitting on his Harley-Davidson…tall with tan muscular arms that flexed every time he revved up the Harley’s engine. Okay…
I gave him my best smile and said, “So…what’s your name?”
Instead of answering, he moved his boot and flipped down a little chrome peg from the side of his bike.
“If you put your foot on that, you should be able to swing your leg over.”
I paused only for a second and then said super confidently…and…sprightly…
“Oh, I know…I’ve ridden before…hundreds of times. In fact, my older brother, Owen, has a Harley-Davidson…not like this one exactly…but still a Harley.”
Point of fact: I had never ever ridden a motorcycle before and I did not have a brother named Owen. But occasionally I stretched the truth a little…but only if absolutely necessary.
I put my right foot on the little peg and then paused…casually looking around for something to grab so I could pull myself up and over and onto the seat.
I wasn’t sure if I should grab…you know…him.
At five feet three inches tall…I did not have the ability or the agility to easily sling my leg over the bike’s seat as Franny had done.
He looked at me for a second…kind of waiting…and then asked me the oddest question.
“So then. You do know how to be a ‘passenger’ on a motorcycle…right?”
I glanced to the left and I could see Bob talking to Franny and gesturing a lot.
Franny was listening and nodding in acknowledgement. I couldn’t really hear what they were talking about…Bob kept revving his bike engine. I looked back at my guy.
“Absolutely! I’m good! I will be the perfect passenger. You will have no problems with me at all.”
Words were coming out of my mouth that made absolutely no sense whatsoever…not even to me.
“Sometimes the truth can be
But really…how hard could “being a passenger” be? I had ridden a “bicycle” for years when I was a kid…in fact, many times somehow steering my trusty, old Schwinn (don’t even ask) with no hands.
I actually remember cruising down the sidewalk…waving my arms wildly in the air…and shouting to anyone who cared to see…”LOOK!! NO HANDS!!”
I also remember “being a passenger” on my friends’ bikes…I just jumped on the handlebars or on the bike’s cross bar. See? Easy…
No…being a passenger on this motorcycle was not going to be a problem…provided I could actually get on it.
A few seconds passed as I continued to look around for something to grab.
Then…my “no-name biker”…flipped down the kick stand on his side, got off the bike and came over to me. (Jesus! What was he going to do?)
In one swift motion…he grabbed me around the waist, picked me up and set me on the back of the seat.
“My name’s Hank.” He said grinning, as he got back on his bike.
“You?” He asked, turning slightly around to look at me.
“Cooper. I just love bikes!” Oh my God. I sounded like I was five years old.
But Hank smiled at me and said, “Yeah, what’s not to…”
Then he looked over at Bob and gave him a head nod.
The light had changed a couple of times as the four of us had been talking, but now it was green and Bob took off. I saw that Franny had her arms around Bob’s waist so I did the same.
Hank looked back at me. “Ready?”
“Absolutely! I’m ready.”
“Well, Cooper, hang on.” And I did.
We went around the block and rode back towards Lake Nokomis, the lake where Franny and I had just spent the whole morning and a lot of the afternoon.
We circled it and then headed for the freeway which would take us south…thru the southern suburbs and then out to the farm fields that surrounded the city.
Obviously, we weren’t going to cruise around the ‘mean streets’ of Minneapolis. I was fine with that. The speed of the bike was exciting!
Before I knew it, we were whizzing through one yellowing corn field after another…no longer on the interstate.
Hank had passed Bob and Franny a ways back and then had abandoned the colorless freeway. He shouted to Bob over his shoulder that he was taking a more scenic route.
In the distance, I could see lots of hills vibrant with the early, bright colors of Fall. It was spectacular.
(Okay. Here’s the part when you, as the reader, might be saying…perhaps even out loud…or thinking…
“Hey! These two nit-wits don’t even know these guys!”…And…if you did say OR think that…well…good for you.)
Exactly what the holy hell were we thinking? Aside from how cute these two guys were…we were thinking absolutely nothing…zero.
“Sometimes the truth can be
Feeling so relaxed after laying in the sun all day…and then having a late afternoon, slightly chilly breeze blowing thru my thin tee shirt…my eyes slowly started to close and I just ‘ever so lightly’ put my head down on Hank’s back.
Before I knew what was going on…Hank had abruptly pulled over to the side of the road on the gravel shoulder. My semi-closed eyes flew wide open.
I quickly raised up my head and looked around…wondering if “we were there” or at least “somewhere”.
“What the hell were you doing? You can’t fall asleep on a bike! You want to fall off and hit that asphalt going 70 miles an hour?”
Hank was yelling at me and pointing angrily to the black highway next to us. Just then a car flew by us so fast, I couldn’t even see who was driving.
“Were we really going that fast?” I asked. “Wow!”
Yes. Yes. I know! I was obviously missing the point since Hank was not smiling…nor was he answering my question.
Bob and Franny had driven past us but now had turned back, circled around and parked next to us.
“What’s up, man?” asked Bob. Franny was peering out from behind his shoulder…she looked pretty happy. Well good for her.
She wasn’t getting yelled at…by a complete stranger no less.
“She started to fall asleep…” said Hank. He had gotten off his bike and was trying to light a cigarette. I could see his hand was shaking a little…
“Didn’t you give her the “passenger instruction” spiel?” asked Bob…looking first at Hank and then at me.
“Why would I?” said Hank…sounding totally exasperated and talking about me like I wasn’t even there.
“She’s ridden hundreds of times on her brother’s Harley!” He looked over at me…and shook his head in disbelief.
It was at this point, that Franny…my FORMER best friend…burst out laughing…and she really shouldn’t have done that.
“Sometimes the truth can be
“Oh my God!! Are you kidding me? Cooper hasn’t ever ridden on a motorcycle…and she doesn’t have a brother! She doesn’t even have a sister!” Franny was laughing so hard she almost fell off Bob’s bike.
Unwilling…at this point…to make eye contact with Hank, I gazed…with what I hoped was some degree of nonchalance…off into the distance at the bright, yellow, sugar maples that dotted the area where we had stopped.
How very pretty they look, I thought…trying to at least mentally absent myself from this situation that was becoming increasingly unfriendly.
I knew full well that Hank was looking daggers at me. I was surprised I wasn’t actually bleeding.
I also knew…it was probably not a really good idea to suggest to Hank that this would be a good time to show me the “ins and outs” of being a proper passenger on a motorcycle. I had some brains…
So…I kept that suggestion to myself and chose a different strategy.
As I made an attempt to get off this damn motorcycle…I indignantly declared with a voice full of totally, undeserved self-righteousness…
“Well then!! If you’re going to get so mad…forget it. Who wants to be here anyway? I’m going home.”
Again. Today. What the hell was I thinking?
Like a lot of my good ideas and intentions…I had overlooked a few facts. In this particular case…the simple fact that there was a considerable number of miles between “here” and “home”.
Also. I continued to find it extremely difficult…if not impossible…to get off of this fucking bike by myself…without falling flat on my face!
And I was surely not holding out any hope that Jake was going to lend me a hand any time soon…
So, there I sat…trying to ignore the now muffled laughs of my ‘former best friend‘…what’s her name…?
And, of course…trying not to bleed from the wounds I had suffered from Hanks’ disappointed looks and reproachful words.
No one said anything. As they say…”the silence was deafening”…except for the damning whoosh of cars speeding by us…
Yes. Yes. I know!! Going really, really fast.
“Sometimes the truth can be
“You know…I saw a sign advertising a restaurant just a ways back,” said Bob, starting his bike. “I think it’s just a few miles ahead off the next crossroad.”
“Let’s head over there and get some burgers and beers. We’ll all feel better then.”
I saw Franny pat his shoulder in agreement and without waiting for us to say anything…they took off.
“Well…aren’t they just the two little love birds,” I muttered sarcastically under my breath.
Hank looked at me and I saw the beginnings of a smile…
“Owen?” he asked.
“Well…” I said, lifting my chin up a little defensively.
“I read somewhere that if you’re going to lie…you should make it as believable as possible and Owen is a really believable name…”
Then I rashly continued…with just a trace of pride in my voice. “I’ve used that method before…:
“Oh, I just bet you have.” Hank said as he got back on his bike. The hint of a smile had turned into a full grin. I liked this look a lot better…it was ‘dagger free’.
So off we went…but not before he gave me a couple of motorcycle “PASSENGER RULSES” as in…NEVER fall asleep and NEVER grab the arm of the biker…while you’re in motion.
Well! That all made perfect sense to me…now that I knew.
In a couple of minutes, we turned off the main highway and headed down a smaller country road.
Ahead of us in the distance, I could see Franny…my ‘former best friend’ and Bob.
I was hungry…we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and then it had only been coffee and a…
Hang on…wait a minute…brain engaging...
Had Bob said “beers?” He had. He had definitely said “burgers and beers.” I remembered that very distinctly.
Dammit! I wonder what small town jails were like…
“Sometimes the truth can be
Bob and Franny were waiting for us on a bench outside the restaurant.
They were talking a mile a minute and laughing…like they had been friends for years.
In my paranoid, self-centered world, I prayed Franny wasn’t sharing any personal information about me…like how old I was.
Hank got off the bike and then before I could make any attempt to get down…or should I say…before I wasted any more time trying to get down…he just lifted me off the seat and placed me on the ground…like I was three years old.
I swear…I though he was going to pat me on the head…as in ‘good little girl’…but he instead just smiled at me and then walked over to where Bob and Franny were sitting. I followed.
“This looks like a good place,” he said, peering inside the restaurant windows and then turned to me. “What do you think, Cooper? he asked.
He said my name so…so pleasantly. Much better than before…when he was yelling at me
“Looks great to me. Let’s go in.” I said.
Then I almost fainted when Hank grabbed my hand as we headed to the door…like this was an actual date.
There were booths along the back wall of the restaurant, tables by the front window where the family was sitting, a couple of tables in the middle and then a long bar than ran from the front to the back.
There were three men sitting at the bar and they all turned and smiled at us when we walked in the door. I just love small towns.
I bet their jails are nice too…not that I would be seeing one…but just saying…for the record…I don’t mean ‘a record’ as in ‘ a police record’…I mean…
(OH SHUT UP COOPER!!!) *
* As the author of this piece of fiction, I give myself full permission to yell at any character I have created. It’s just one of the perks of the job…along with raking in piles of cash…
“Sometimes the truth can be
The bartender smiled at us and motioned for a young girl who was standing right next to him to follow us and take our order.
Aside from the bar patrons and the family by the window…we were the only other people in the restaurant.
There were a couple of ceiling fans lazily churning the air around. There wasn’t any air conditioning…but that was okay. The fans kept it cool enough…even though I felt a couple beads of perspiration on my forehead…
Bob and Franny led the way to a booth in the back and Hank and I followed but then Hank veered off toward a sign that said “Restrooms”.
“Be right back,” he said to me.
No sooner had we sat down, than the girl…who was about 15, cute as a button and sporting a pony-tail and braces…placed four well-worn menus on the table and greeted us with a huge smile.
“Hi! I’m Nan,” she said proudly. “I can take your order and bring you food but my dad, who owns this place, will have to fill any drink orders since I’m only 16…if you all want beer, that is.”
I silently chuckled…
Then she pulled out an order pad and politely waited for us…to do something. I imagine just like she had been trained to do…not so very long ago.
“Well, I’m ready,” said Bob. “I’ll have a cheeseburger with fried onions. And a Budweiser.”
“Make that two,” said Hank who slid into the booth next to me.
His knee accidentally brushed against mine and I jumped a mile. (Yes. I was a little tense. My big scene was coming up…)
“Are you okay?” he asked. HIs voice had so much concern in it…how thoughtful…
“I’m fine! Just great!!” My voice was rising a bit.. “I’m fantastic!!! Let’s just get this God damn ordering over with!!”
It was at this point that everyone stopped cold and just looked at me. And can you blame them? Really? I sounded completely nuts…
“Sometimes the truth can be
I apologized profusely to sweet, young Nan…who had turned bright red but…had generously accepted my apologies…
And…after also apologizing to everyone else at the table and pleading temporary insanity…I quickly opened my menu and then slapped it shut. I was ready.
Franny was still looking at hers and also occasionally peeking over the menu at me.
I gently cleared my throat a little…not to hurry her or anything…but…I did want her to speak first…
It was “my scene”…and even though she didn’t know it…she had the opening line to this little drama playing out in my mind.
Franny looked up from the menu and said…”What are you getting, Coop”
Yes! I was “Center Stage”…
I glanced briefly at the menu again…just for show…and then I said, ever so kindly and politely to Nan, “I don’t feel like having a beer. I’ll have a Coke…with lots of ice, please…and a chicken sandwich with fries.”
Then I handed Nan my menu. I was so pleased with myself. I looked over at Franny for her reaction.
Her mouth had fallen open slightly in surprise at my clever move…or maybe (okay…probably) because…without really meaning to…I had given my order to Nan using a heavy (and completely phony) Southern accent…a la Blanche DuBois from “A Streetcar Named Desire”…my favorite movie…
“I’ll have the same as her,” Franny said…pausing slightly and then smiling. “Except…I do feel like having a beer. I’ll have a bottle of Grain Belt with a glass, please.”
“My dad will have to check your IDs before he can serve you guys any beer. He’ll be right over.” Nan picked up the menus and headed toward the bar.
Feeling like I’d climbed Mt. Everest in the middle of a raging blizzard…with my oxygen tanks long since depleted…I leaned back against the booth.
I put my tanned hands on the table and admired my new Revlon Orange Blossom nail polish that I’d purchased yesterday at Larson’s Drug Store.
Taking a deep, relaxing breath I smiled across the table at Franny…and Bob.
“I’m hungrier than I thought!” I said…with not a hint of a Southern accent…”I hope the food’s good.”
It never once occurred to me that we were sitting here with two strange young men…about whom we knew absolutely nothing.
Somehow it just seemed natural and perfectly fine.
I turned to ask Hank what he did for a living. He was pulling his wallet out of his jeans’ pocket so he could show his driver’s license to the bartender who was headed our way.
My smiling eyes fell down to his hands. They were even more tan than mine…
Except for a little band of pure white on the third finger of his left hand…you know…the ring finger…
“Sometimes the truth can be
“Are you kidding me?” I thought to myself. Not only was he married…he was trying to hide it by taking his ring off. What a complete idiot!! Didn’t he see the white band?
I tried to shoot a ‘look’ at Franny so she could also notice the tell-tale white circle but her head was down as she was digging out her wallet from her purse
“Hi, folks…got to see those IDs you know. Don’t want to lose my license serving any underage kids.” The bartender said all cheery-like…
I should have appreciated this moment…especially after my stellar performance…but now…not so much.
After checking everyone else’s IDs, the owner looked over at me.
“How about you, dear…” the bartender asked.
“I’m just having a Coke.” I said flatly.
“Oh. Okay then, I’ll bring those drinks right over. Enjoy your food and thanks for coming in…usually Saturday afternoons are pretty quiet around here.”
Polite chit chat with the owner filled the air for a couple of minutes and then he left.
Franny was all smiles and happy…apparently Bob was beginning to tell her some witty little story. She leaned in to listen to him and I couldn’t catch her eye.
“You know…” Hank turned to me and started to say something but I gave him a tight, even smile and put up my hand to stop him and then said to Franny…
“Come to the ladies’ room with me, okay?”
My tone was more of a friendly order than a request.
“Huh? Oh, sure,” Franny said, giving Bob an apologetic look since he was in the middle of his story.
Hank stood so I could get out…such a polite, nice…married man. I think he said something to me but I paid no attention. I just walked toward the “Restrooms” sign.
“What’s up?” asked Franny when the door had closed behind us. I checked to make sure no one else was in the stalls…then I whispered to Franny…I don’t know why I whispered…
He’s “married!” That’s what’s up.” I said…while looking in the mirror to check out my hair. “What a creep!”
“How do you know?” asked Franny…who was also checking her hair in the mirror. We were such “girls”.
“When we get back, look at his left hand and see the little white band of ‘non-tanned’ skin on his third finger.” I said while pointing to my left hand.
“Nooooo!!” I can’t believe it!” exclaimed Franny. “I’m so sorry, Cooper.” She put her hand on my arm.
“What kind of guy goes around picking up girls when he’s married! What a jerk! He probably even has kids!!” continued Franny.
Oh, that comment made me feel good…I hadn’t even thought about that…a little ‘Hank’ running around somewhere…waiting for his “ratty daddy” to come home…
“Well,” said Franny. “I’m pretty sure Bob’s not married…at least I hope not…I’m going out with him Tuesday night.”
“Dinner at Charlie’s Cafe and then we’re going to see that new film, “The Russians Are coming, The Russians Are Coming”. I heard it’s really funny. I’ll have to check his left hand when we get back, to see if he has any tell-tale ring marks…”
I looked at her reflection in the mirror and she was turning her head from side to side…admiring her new haircut…which was actually identical to mine. Franny was always so happy and positive. I was glad she was my best friend.
“Hey! What about your plans to hook up with ‘Roger’ later this afternoon?” I asked her. “Are you no longer interested in him?”
“Sure am! Absolutely!! But Bob is fun and super cute. I’ll see what happens. I just feel bad for you, Cooper. Are you going to say anything?”
“No…of course not. I mean…what can I say. I kind of picked him up…really…and we are just ‘riding around”…after all. But still…it is crummy.”
I put on some fresh lipstick…might as well look good anyway…and then we both headed back out into the restaurant.
“I hope the damn chicken is good.” I said and let the door bang shut behind me.
“Sometimes the truth can be
“Are you going to tell Bob your real name today or wait until Tuesday?” I quietly asked Franny as we headed back to our booth.
“Oh, I’ve already told him. He thought the whole ‘fake name thing’ was really a cool idea.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said. “Well good for old Bob.”
Yes, yes, I know…I sounded just a little bitter.
As we approached the table, Hank jumped up right away so I could get in and sit down…so very courteous. Whatever…
“Everything okay?” he asked, again sounding a little worried…
“Peachy…just peachy,” I said with a big (maybe a tad phony) smile.
The bartender had brought over the drinks while Franny and I were in the Ladies’ Room. I took a swallow of my Coke. I was so thirsty. It was icy cold…perfect. Who needed beer anyway?
I glanced sideways at Hank. You know…I could play games too. Maybe I would have a little fun with ‘my married date’.
“So…Hank…” I asked. “What are your plans for tonight? Franny and I were going into The Friendly Inn when we met you guys…want to come in with us when we get back? Play some bumper pool?”
I was trying to sound normal and friendly but I know I wasn’t carrying it off very well…but like I cared…right?
Hank looked at me and tilted his head…almost as if he was debating what to say…it was odd…but then he laughed a little and said…
“Well, actually…” and then Nan appeared with our food and Hank didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence.
The food was really great and nobody talked much while we were eating.
I popped a last fry in my mouth and said, “Wow, that was excellent!”
“I wonder what that sauce was the cook put on the hamburgers?” Hank wondered out loud. “I’ll have to ask Nan when she collects the bill. It was really different…but good.” Bob nodded in agreement.
I gave Franny a look. What an odd comment from a guy about his burger. It seemed strange to have a guy so interested in the food.
“What…are you a cook or something?” I asked Hank…a little bit sarcastically…for no other reason…than because he was “a married rotter”.
I wasn’t usually sarcastic to people…in fact I was never sarcastic to people…so it came out a little heavy-handed.
I instantly felt bad…but oh well…if you’re going to “cheat on your wife and abandon your babies”…you get what you deserve.
He paused…obviously feeling the sting of my remark…but then said…
“In fact, yes. I worked for a couple of years at the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis as a sous chef. Then I moved over to the Nicollet Hotel. I worked there for about a year.”
“It’s what I do. I cook.” He gave me a tentative smile…maybe wondering if I was going to stop him from talking…again.
“Sometimes the truth can be
So…when I made no move to stop him, he continued. “More recently, I’ve been working at a little restaurant in St. Paul…The Blue Onion…have you ever been there?”
I actually had heard of The Blue Onion…it was very popular now and everyone was talking about it.
“Yes. I have. I’ve never been there though…maybe we should go there sometime…”
I let the suggestion hang in the air for a couple of seconds as I looked Hank in the eye while smiling…just so he would think that I was possibly hinting for a future date…
And then…just as it seemed he might be interested…I quickly turned to Franny and very deliberately continued my question to her…
“…eh Franny? You’ve heard of the Onion, right?” I knew she had and she fell right in line with my little charade at Hank’s expense.
“Oh, yeah. We’ll have to go there sometime and see if this guy can cook.” And then she grinned at me…knowing that I had scored.
I turned back to Hank…gave him a slightly, mischievous smile…and went in for the kill…
“So…what’s it going to be? Want to come and play some pool with us later?” I also looked over at Bob to include him…I had a hunch it wouldn’t matter…but I wanted to appear polite.
“You know…that sounds like fun,” said Hank, looking very meaningfully at Bob first…and then back to me…
“But,” he said after a huge pause, “It’s my mom’s birthday and the whole family…including Bob, who is like part of the family, is getting together tonight.”
“We’ll have to take a rain check.” Apparently, Bob can’t speak for himself…since he didn’t.
What a swell lie. I was so impressed I almost believed him…mother…birthday…such a good son…such a good, loving, ‘married’ son.
Nan breezed by and left the bill. I put $10.00 on the table. I knew that would cover my food and my share of the tip. Hank pushed it back at me.
“My treat!” He said looking at me. Damn…he had the most amazingly, beautiful blue eyes. I hadn’t noticed them before…oh well. That’s life.
“Sometimes the truth can be
Chapter 19…The Final Chapter…
Franny shouted the name out so loud, two guys sitting at the bar near us turned around.
Franny composed herself and in a normal, sane voice…continued…
“Shelley…meet Stanley…the nicest bartender in the city of Minneapolis…and the lousiest bumper pool player. I’ve made a fortune off of him!“
I finally found the courage to actually look up at Stanley and I tried very hard to appear casual and…you know…over 21.
“Hey. Nice to meet you, Stanley.”
“Same…uh, it’s Shelley…right?” He said laughing.
“Yup.” I said confidently as I noticed him getting ready to take our order. Maybe he wouldn’t even ask to see my ID…could I get that lucky?
Franny ordered first.
“I’ll have a small tap beer and a small cheese pizza.”
Stanley looked over at me. I wanted to say, “I’ll have a Coke…” but I really did want a beer…so…in for a penny in for a pound…
“You know…I’ll have the same…and an order of onion rings, please.” I am so very polite.
“Okay, ladies, I will place your order and get your beers for you.” He ripped off the order slip and turned to walk away…but then…but then…
He turned back to us…
“Oh hey…we’ve got a new owner as of last month and he’s pretty careful about underage drinking here, so he’ll be over to check ID’s in a couple of seconds. I’ll be back soon with your drinks.” And then he left.
“Dammit! I thought you were good to go.” said Franny.
“That’s it, I’m leaving. I can’t do this, Franny. I’m a nervous wreck. I just want to go home…I’ll call a cab. No problem.” I made a motion to get up.
“Cooper, don’t worry! You’ll be fine. Your ID looks almost just like you…and you really do look twenty-three…especially in this light.”
“Just be cool…” Franny reached across the table and patted my hand.
“Hey…do you want to hear something funny? Bob asked me on the way back here if you had a ‘drinking problem’ since you made such a big deal out of ordering a Coke at the restaurant.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said…half listening to her as I was digging in my purse for my wallet…and… my fake driver’s license.
“So, what did you say?” I said.
“Oh, I just told him the truth…that you weren’t twenty-one.”
My head flew up and I reached across the table to put my hand over Franny’s mouth.
“Franny!! Quiet!!” I whispered loudly and looked around but Franny just ignored me, batted my hand down and kept talking…
“Oh, stop…no one heard me.” she said giggling. “I wonder what time Roger and his friends will show up…”
Nothing ever bothered Franny…she was always so happy and positive. It’s what I loved about her. It’s why she was my best friend.
I relaxed a little…glanced down at my ‘fake license’…I guess it did look kind of like me. And then I looked up to agree with Franny…
But her mouth had fallen open and her eyes had widened in horror as she gasped…
“OH MY GOD!! I’ll be damned!!”
I didn’t think twice. Whatever was going to happen next was not going to happen to me…I was completely done with this day.
I grabbed my purse, slid across the leather seat of the booth and started for the door. But just as I reached for the handle, a hand grabbed my arm.
“Excuse me, young lady. Are you even old enough to be in here? Let’s see some ID.” The voice was loud and angry.
Oh. Fuck!! I wrestled my arm free and without looking back I yanked open the door.
“I’m leaving! I’m leaving!” I yelled to the guy over my shoulder and I almost ran outside.
“Not before you give me your phone number!” he said and followed me out.
What was going on? Was this guy some kind of psycho?
In the dancing Fall shadows of a late September afternoon…and feeling safely ‘legal’ now that I stood on a street in Minneapolis and not in some bar that required me to be something I was not, I angrily whirled around.
I found myself looking into the very intense, laughing blue eyes of the new owner of The Friendly Inn.
Or…as I had come to know him just a short time ago…’Hank’…who was now wearing a white chef’s apron that said, “Yes, I AM the cook” over his raggedy white tee shirt and jeans.
Stunned…I, of course, swore madly.
“What the hell is going on? Who are you anyway?” I shouted at him, not enjoying the smirk on his face one bit.
“Well,” he said and pointed to his apron…
“I’m Hank Sullivan. And as of two and a half weeks ago…the new cook and owner of The Friendly Inn.”
He reached up to block the sun’s rays from hitting his eyes and I noticed his left hand where there was now a simple gold wedding band resting on his third finger.
“And…I guess you’re also still somebody’s “faithful” husband as well…” I said accusingly.
I knew who had the upper hand right now…and it was not Mr. Married Guy…no matter how cute he was when he grinned…and he was grinning now…from ear to ear.
“Cheating on your wife is not funny.” I said indignantly. “How would you feel if she was biking all afternoon with a strange young man?”
I was on a roll. When you’re right…you’re right. And I was definitely right!
“Plus…it’s not fair to women like me who…who…trust that you’re not married if you ask them to go for a ride on their motorcycle…”
I knew I was on shaky ground here since I had sort of instigated the whole “going for a ride idea” by kind of flirting with him in the first place…but still…
“Really? That’s the best you can do?” he laughed. “You’re trying to drink illegally in my bar which could cost me my license, a ton of money…which I don’t have right now…and possibly destroy me.”
I looked at him questioningly…”How do you know I’m not…”
Before I could finish…he said. “Bob called me.”
“Oh…” Well. He had me there. We were both wrong.
“Okay,” I said grudgingly…looking down at the sidewalk. “I guess we were both wrong.”
“Nope. Just you. You’re the only one who is wrong. I’m completely innocent…of all wrong doing.” he said smugly.
My head popped up.
“What! What the fuck do you mean?” I said totally dumbfounded.
“Well,” he said. “I’m actually not married. I only wear the ring to keep young women from hanging around the bar area and costing me business.”
“The previous owner suggested it…he was single when he bought this place 40 years ago…and it really does work.”
“Only I keep forgetting that it’s on when I leave here. It doesn’t take long to get a tan line when you ride a motorcycle.”
He slipped off the ring to reveal the tell-tale white band.
“I tried to explain that to you a couple of times back at the restaurant,” Hank continued, “but then you seemed kind of angry and not that interested in me so I thought what the hell.”
“I see…” I said softly…looking down. Feeling a little stupid…I was at a loss for words.
Hank, however, was not.
“So. How old are you, Cooper?”
“You mean today?” I said a little flippantly…”Or in December…when I will be twenty-one?”
I looked up at him…Oh…those eyes…
He gave me a huge grin…slowly shaking his head from side to side. Then he came over and threw his arm around my shoulders…pulling me next to him.
“C’mon back in, Cooper. You can hang out with your friend as long as you don’t order any beer…I’ve got an in with the ‘owner.'”
As we started walking back toward the entrance to The Friendly, Hank said, “It’s Sunday tomorrow and we’re closed. I hear it’s supposed to be another great day…”
“Want to go for a ride?” he asked.
I stopped for a moment and then said…looking up at him…
“Do I need an ID?”
A very small story about life.
You know how sometimes in life…certain events just unfold that massively affect you but you have absolutely no control over them?
Someone sneezes behind you while you are waiting in line at the cash register at your local Walgreens to purchase a bottle of Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow nail enamel…and then four days later…YOU sneeze? Like that…
Or like when…
You are sitting in your car at an intersection waiting…ever so patiently…for the red light to change to green, and then someone crashes into you from behind…and your nose gets broken from the air bag and as blood is still streaming down your chin and onto your brand-new silk blouse…the driver of the car that has crashed into you…who happens to be a very young girl…rushes up to you as you are dazedly trying to get out of your car…and tearfully confesses to you…
“I am so, so sorry, but…but I don’t have any car insurance.”
And then…later in the ER your husband…who is so very, very sweet but at times slightly addlebrained…confesses to you that…”He is so, so sorry, BUT…” he forgot to renew YOUR car insurance? Like that.
Or like when…
You pull a pair of your “used-to-be” favorite, old jeans out of the dryer…having just washed and dried them because you have recently lost 7 pounds and you are now really, really sure you will once again fit into them and…you do!!
…and then…when you are very, very happily slipping out of them, you discover two forgotten $20 bills in one of the pockets…and it turns out that right now…today…you really need that forty bucks? Like that.
Or like when…
You “impulsively and later most regretfully”…tell your high school sweetheart named Jake, who loved you more than life itself…that you want to break up with him. And, even though you never tell him why…it is because your Freshman English 101 professor at University has been asking you to come into his office on Thursday nights for some extra ‘teaching’…and you desperately want to go…even though you know he is married but you don’t care…because he is so…INTENSE and ‘DEEP’ and…CUTE!!!
However, three months later, you realize that Professor Ames is a conceited, cruel and thoughtless bastard…not to mention a hopeless alcoholic and has been asking all the girls in his Freshman English 101 class to come to his office…and so, you drop the class and never see Professor Ames ever again.
Tragically however…you feel that too much time has passed…and you are too ashamed and embarrassed to call Jake and beg him to forgive you and take you back…because you now know what you did was completely and stupidly wrong…
But then…25 years wander by and…
…one night at exactly 12:16 a.m. (and you know this because you have just looked at your watch before) you turn the corner and enter the mail room of your very large apartment building where (unbeknownst to either of you)…you both now live…
…with spouses that neither of you love anymore or even like very much…and…
Jake is standing there looking at the cover of the current issue of US Weekly and he looks up and sees you…
And…you pause for only a split second and then slowly walk the ten feet that separates the two of you…hoping with all your heart that he will open his arms to you…and he does…and neither of your lives will ever be the same again…
And…that is a good thing…
…because suddenly…all the years have melted away and he is once again that handsome 18-year-old boy who loved you without measure and transformed your young life in so many ways and you are that enchanting 17-year-old girl who cherished his love and returned it in ways that knew no bounds…
…and now both of you are together again…forever.
You know…like that.
I slowly opened my eyes. A little sliver of light was trying to peek through the edge of the shade covering the window in my bedroom that over looked my back yard. Normally, it was a pleasant light, but this morning it hurt my eyes, so I quickly closed them again.
A few vivid images of a more than slightly out of control young woman dancing with abandon at Doyle’s last night flashed through my mind like a movie trailer…yeah, that was me. I winced…a bad movie trailer.
I remember pulling out the little notebook I always carried and then writing down my observations on all the drunken people around me.
They were dancing and drinking and…being mostly drunk myself…not knowing how pretentious I appeared and in fact…was.
But last night I did not care one straw.
I wondered what nonsense I had thought was so wildly insightful the night before when 4 (maybe more?) whiskey sours had given me such a false sense of importance. Whatever it was it would be in my notebook.
I carefully and slowly turned my head on my pillow. Lately I had had too many mornings like this one to know how painful a quick turning of the head could be.
I was…unfortunately…becoming very learned in the art of drinking…
And there it was…lying on my bedside table where I had thrown it last night.
I had read someplace or perhaps been told by one of my journalism professors that if you plan on writing “The Great American Novel”…which incidentally, I actually did…you should always carry a notebook or some other kind of recording device with you at all times in order to remember anything you may find memorable.
However…for the past year… weekend mornings had not proven to be very productive… or perhaps just not memorable.
Sometimes I was lucky to just be able to read the scrawls that I had “so importantly” jotted down the night before. I picked my notebook up and blinked a couple of times to clear my vision.
My little notebook was not the standard reporter’s notebook that I always carried to work each day…stuffed into my messenger bag.
That size notebook would be too bulky to carry into bars or restaurants plus it would attract a lot of attention.
My “little notebook” was small enough to fit into any of my handbags or even the back pocket of my jeans.
These days I almost always just wore jeans and a tee shirt. The color varied…black or white. In the winter I added a blazer or jacket. If I had a meeting…which was rare… I added a scarf.
It was pretty basic…some might even say boring…but it worked for me.
I flipped the notebook open and placed it in front of my half-opened eyes. Squinting a little, I saw that I had only managed to scrawl on two pages and neither page had any of my trademark exclamation marks…well, well…
Two pages were hardly worth the effort it would take right now to decipher. I was pretty sure it was just junk anyway…
I had been in a junk mood yesterday.
It had been the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. She had been killed instantly by a teenage girl texting a friend.
The girl blew a stop sign going 45 miles an hour and never even braked. My beloved mom was only 53.
She had been walking home from Peterson’s Java Cup with a medium latte in one hand and the latest copy of US magazine in the other.
The driver’s text said, “I know I’m late will hurry.”
That one short sentence…which wasn’t even a proper sentence…killed my mother instantly. Gone forever…my ‘mommy’, my teacher and my ‘forever always’ best friend.
That stupid text changed my life in way too many ways.
And so last night…in an ironic tribute to my mother who never drank…I had had too many whiskey sours. Four? Maybe 6. Too many for sure…
Even Doyle’s new bouncer was giving me looks and the bouncers at Doyle’s never give me looks. I’m the good one.
I seem to recall tossing out some drunken words of philosophy before faithful friend Hannah…ever so gently…pulled me toward the back door exit. I don’t know…
I actually can’t remember. But it seems like something I would have done last night. Crap night. Junk night.
Do I even remember his name? I think I met him…
Head clearing slightly…yes, of course, I knew him…but nope…couldn’t remember his name…but Hannah would.
Having just exited a crummy one-year marriage, she had become superbly single and made it a point to get to know all drop-dead, good looking single men.
Dearest Hannah…excellent co-worker and fellow enthusiastic bar attendee.
She always made it a point to become friendly with the bouncers. Occasionally…not often…but occasionally…Hannah could get a “little carried away”.
That was when the bar’s ‘friendly force’ was good to know…and if that ‘force’ happened to be handsome and single…it was a plus for Hannah.
Doyle’s new bouncer certainly fell into that category. He was tall and no stranger to the gym. He had dark, golden brown skin and intense brown eyes. There was a small scar on his right cheek. He also wore no wedding ring which, of course, made Hannah very happy.
But as good-looking as he was, he always looked so serious. Come to think of it, I had never actually seen him flat-out smile.
I had seen him frown though…even look angry…at me…like last night. Sigh. Crap night.
It was about a month ago that he had shown up at Doyle’s. Hannah always asked the new bouncers to dance…and so after a couple of weeks…she had approached him.
Very few men refused the beautiful Hannah…and yet…
“Bouncers aren’t allowed to dance at Doyle’s,” he politely explained to her. And that was a complete lie.
Most of them did dance at the beginning of the night. I think it was just to get the feel of the crowd and to blend in a little.
Then a little later…just for fun and because Hannah dared me…I also asked him to dance. He had paused for a couple of seconds and I thought he was going to say yes…
But then he said “No.” And he just walked away. No polite lie to me. Nothing.
Maybe it had something to do with my spotting him a couple of days earlier at the Minneapolis Court House where I was doing some follow-up on a story for the newspaper where both Hannah and I worked.
He looked really disheveled and was surrounded by 3 or 4 Minneapolis policemen. They were all talking and then he looked over and saw me standing there.
I was about to smile that ‘friendly little smile you give people when you don’t really know them all that well…but you don’t want to be rude and ignore them smile’…you know what I mean?
Then…all of a sudden they put hand cuffs on him and led him into the jail part of the Court House.
I quickly looked away. But he had seen me.
I wondered if being a bouncer was a good job for someone with a criminal record. Maybe Doyle’s doesn’t know. Maybe they don’t care as long as unruly customers are efficiently hustled quickly and quietly out the door.
No one likes to go to a club where troublesome patrons are not controlled. One thing I did know for sure…the bouncers didn’t last very long at Doyle’s.
Just so you know…aside from last night…bouncers for the most part do not need to keep an “eye” on me. However…my dear, sweet, friend Hannah was another story.
She was your “typical happy drinker”. And sometimes after her 3rd or 4th margarita she became everyone’s best friend…whether they wanted a new best friend or not.
And that is when a friendly bouncer would come over to help…since at this point Hannah would refuse to listen to me when I suggested it may be time to leave.
However, an understanding and sympathetic bouncer gently guiding her out the door worked every time. They all knew Hannah and loved her. Everyone loved the beautiful and charming Hannah.
They all liked me…I was the good friend and for the bouncers who were single, I was their link to Hannah and possibly her phone number. I was not above being bribed.
So on many weekend nights…the last thing Hannah heard was “That’s it Karla, time for you to go home.”
Don’t worry. I haven’t lost my mind. I know you’re probably thinking, “I thought we were talking about someone named Hannah.” And you’re right…we are.
The names Karla and Hannah refer to the same person. Also. I am called “Teddy” when in fact…my real name is…Charlie. Let me explain.
Hannah and I are both reporters at the Minneapolis Journal. Currently, we are assigned to cover the crime beat in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs. Once in a great while we get a by-line for writing an extraordinary story.
In the past couple of years, both of us have had a few sketchy encounters with readers of the Journal who were pretty angry or upset with the way we had covered a story or…believe it or not…with the general philosophy of the Journal.
These encounters had always taken place in a “bar-like” setting and in all times the ‘upset’ people had downed a few too many ‘bottles of beer’…or whatever…
So last year, my long-time, very good friend Abby,…who is quite absolutely brilliant and devious came up with the idea of what she cleverly called a “protective cloak of anonymity” for Hannah and me…to be used at our discretion.
We both still worked for the Journal but…
“Karla” (Hannah) worked in circulation and “Teddy” (Charlie…me) worked in accounting. Throw on a title of “Assistant Manager” to these jobs and BINGO…two very boring jobs that did not encourage any further questions other than an occasional complaint to “Karla” about a late delivery. IKR…
So if “Karla” was asked to leave Doyle’s after one or two more margaritas than was prudent…she would do so…gliding peacefully out the door, into the night and down the block to the Minnehaha Grill.
It was our go-to late night restaurant on the weekends. Black coffee, pancakes, eggs and bacon…with an occasional side order of hash browns…was our standard order.
And so that is where we had gone last night…because we both knew how bad I would feel the next morning if we did not.
We pretty much had the drinking/partying ritual down to a science. I know what you’re thinking…not good at all…and…maybe you’re right.
But…regardless…last night was rubbish.
I sighed and flipped the notebook back on the night stand.
“I miss you mom,” I whispered. I closed my eyes but not quite fast enough to stop hot tears from running down my cheeks. I reached over to grab a Kleenex. When would this horrible pain go away?
Last year…after a couple of halfhearted attempts…I had finally decided to get my own place.
I had lived at home while I was going to the University of Minnesota in order to save money…and since my mom and I were such good friends…living with her was a pleasure and just pure joy.
But I knew that after I had been working for a while that it was time to get my own house…and…it would be a smart investment for me.
We had had so much fun looking around for places in the Hawthorne area of Minneapolis…the neighborhood where I lived now…where in fact I had been born.
I wanted to get a house close by so I would be able to walk to the same shops and favorite restaurants that I did now…or even walk to mom’s house if I wanted. Why venture too far away from the nest, right?
But then she had been senselessly killed and my life had been shattered.
I simply could not move. Dad had died when I was 7 and even though I had only vague memories of him, they were all connected to this house.
I saw a man raking leaves or shoveling snow or walking up the back steps. But then that quick puff of memory would float away.
My mom had been a passionate gardener and the yard and boulevard were filled with trees, bushes and flowers that she had raised from little sprouts…just like me.
No. I wasn’t moving…not for a long time. Maybe not ever…
So…let me properly introduce my best friend Abby…last name Jones…who has been my best friend since kindergarten.
Abby decided (and there would be absolutely no argument) that it was not a good idea for me to be living alone in this big house.
So…she told her mom and dad that it was time for her to leave the family nest. And she did.
She moved three doors down the block to my second bedroom…the one that overlooks the front yard…and an amazing crab apple tree.
Abby Jones. Everyone should be so lucky to have a friend like Abby…
One day in fourth grade…during recess…two really mean girls pushed me down into a pile of dirty snow. My brand-new, beautiful, red winter coat was ruined; stained with salt and wet sludge from the street.
Now when you’re in 4th grade, you just don’t go crying to the teacher if someone pushes you down. Right? Right. So I told my mom (who most certainly would have gone to see the teacher) that I had slipped on some ice and fallen.
But Abby Jones was my very best friend and she wasn’t just mad at those bullies. She was fuming.
A couple of days later, she somehow managed to get those two girls alone in the bathroom before school began. I was the “look-out”…standing just inside the door so I wouldn’t attract attention.
I’m not exactly sure what she said…I couldn’t hear everything…she was talking very quietly.
But I heard the words “mob”, “not really Jones”, “call in a favor”, “not very pretty” and “you’ll be sorry”.
I looked back over my shoulder and the two girls were standing there with their mouths hanging open. Abby was a pretty awesome storyteller…she watched a lot of TV.
Then she did the classic “I’ll be watching you” bit and put two fingers to her eyes and then pointed them back at the girls…who were frozen in place.
Then…to my horror…I looked closer and saw that Abby had her father’s antique “Wild West” six shooter pistol strapped to her waist under her jacket. I had seen it hanging on the wall in their den for years…next to an autographed photo of John Wayne.
She pulled the gun out of its holster and did the classic gunslinger twirl…and a real bullet fell out and bounced on the floor. After one second…both girls threw up. Hell…I almost threw up.
Abby calmly bent down, picked up the errant bullet, turned on her little Mary Jane patent leather shoes, grabbed my arm and we walked out into the hall just as the bell rang for classes to begin.
“I thought it was empty!” she whispered to me…while grinning from ear to ear.
Introduction of best friend Abby Jones…complete.
No one…told anyone…anything…ever. And I never had any more bullying problems and neither did my little “connected” friend Abby.
What a memory to have with a record hangover. ..but I did smile. I always smiled when I remembered that story.
I started to roll over. My head felt too heavy for my neck. What time was it? I knew it was Saturday. Thank God I had it off this week.
But…if I had had to go into work…I would have gone into work. That’s how it is when you work for a daily newspaper.
You. Go. To. Work. Among all the changes in the newspaper business…that’s the one thing that has never changed…unless you could send in your stories digitally from home…but neither Hannah nor I had achieved that status…yet. We would need a couple more years of seniority before we had that luxury…and privilege.
Right now we had desks and cubes and a computer. Our editor expected to see us sitting there… at our desks…unless we weren’t out on assignment.
Just like old school…without, of course, the free-wheeling lifestyle enjoyed by most newspaper reporters of the 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s.
Back then…when newspaper ink really ran in your veins…there were always 2 or 3 bars within walking distance of every newspaper, in every U.S. city…big or small.
The success of those bars depended on how much the reporters and…let’s be totally honest here… pretty much everyone else who worked at the newspaper drank.
And…to be honest…everyone drank a lot back then.
A Bloody Mary and a cinnamon roll for that morning coffee break? Of course. Martinis at lunch? Why not. A couple of beers before heading home? I am surprised you’re even asking…
The office Christmas parties were legend and mostly banned in the mid-sixties. Actually banned…I wish I could have gone to at least one. I heard they were outrageous…and great fun!
Now…to celebrate the Holidays…we get a complimentary (alcohol free) luncheon buffet…and maybe a candy cane.
I didn’t sit up. I wasn’t yet sure how my stomach would react to any movement…and I didn’t want to clean up last night’s “after-drinking, food frenzy”.
I’m pretty sure I liked it the first time and didn’t want to spoil the memory…
Hannah and I almost always closed the bars. We never left while there was still loud music slamming against the walls and bouncing around our ears…we were “dancing fools”.
We didn’t want to miss a second of the night. We both worked hard and right now we saw no reason not to play as hard as we worked.
We had both started working for the Journal at the same time…about two years ago. Hannah had worked for the St. Paul Gazette for almost a year but left after hearing too many rumors that it was folding…it did.
The ink on my journalism degree was still a little wet as I sat down for an interview with the City Editor of the Journal.
Every week the newspaper held a mandatory orientation/tour meeting for all new newspaper employees before they actually starting working.
Hannah and I found ourselves sitting next to each other and as we waiting…began talking about our ‘nail polish art’. She had little yellow ducks painted on her nails and I had shooting stars painted on mine…we clicked instantly..
Afterward, we both agreed that even though it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, greasy hamburgers and cold beers at The Little Pony, a favorite ‘reporter hang-out’ across the street from the newspaper, sounded like a great idea. A friendship was born.
Hannah had been married for only a few months when she realized that “oh so foolish” husband Harry was having too much fun on the road as a clothing rep for Nike. Marriage done and done.
She didn’t believe in second chances and when you saw Hannah…you totally understood why.
She was beautiful inside and out…from head to toe. Men actually stopped talking when she walked by them. She was sweet, friendly, bat-shit smart and shared the title of “best friend” with my new house-mate, Abby…who was now yelling at me from the living room.
“Charlie!! Are you awake yet?? Her voice…even from far away…made my brain hurt.
“I’m going over to Jack’s for some cinnamon rolls…and other stuff….” Abby’s voice was way too cheery for me this morning…not to mention way too loud.
“I’m up,” I whispered loudly toward my open bedroom door and then I hear the front door slam. Ouch.
An older man sat down next to me and placed a pet carrier between us. We smiled and nodded at each other…Minnesota nice at work.
He looked old enough to be retired but these days you couldn’t really tell. Half the bag boys at Sherman’s grocery store looked older than him…
“Are you getting or leaving?” he asked me.
His question at first confused me but then I realized what he meant.
“Oh…I’m getting!” I responded with a grin. “I’m getting a puppy!”
He nodded his head slowly and then put his hand on top of the carrier and patted it a couple of times.
“I’m leaving.” He spoke very quietly, almost a whisper as though he didn’t want the animal inside the carrier to hear him…if indeed it could.
“Ah.” I said and looked down at the carrier to see if I could see any movement through the slots. I could not. So, I just smiled at the man again and then looked straight ahead. So did he.
I suppose I should have asked a question or two. I am a reporter after all. But this did not seem like the right time to question an elderly man who was either dropping off a sick animal he could no longer care for…or worse…a dead one.
Instead I just closed my eyes and waited patiently for my number to be called…
“NUMBER 44!” My eyes shot open. That was me!
I got up and hurried over to the desk. The girl looked over my shoulder and said, “You forgot your carrier, miss.”
I turned around and there was the carrier still sitting on the bench…but the man who owned it was nowhere to be seen.
He must have gone to the bathroom, I thought. I told the girl that the carrier wasn’t mine. I was here to adopt a puppy.
She shrugged. “Oh…okay. You can fill out these papers and then come back up here. You won’t have to wait again.”
“When do I get to see the puppies?” I asked eagerly.
“After you fill out all the forms, miss. 45! Number 45!,” she called and smiled at the next person coming up to the desk.
I thanked her and as I walked back to my seat, I glanced at my watch. I had been sitting there for almost an hour! No wonder the old guy had to go to the bathroom.
I sat down and began to fill out the adoption eligibility forms. Holy Mackerel, there must have been over 10 pages! I stopped whining and began reading, writing and signing.
By page five…the owner of the carrier had still not returned. I looked around and then I bent over the carrier to look in one of the little openings. I saw a very yellow eye looking right back at me. It blinked.
It actually startled me and I may have said, “fuck”. Okay, I did say “fuck”…but very quietly.
Then I said in a very low…almost apologetic voice to the little, yellow eye, “I’m sorry. You surprised me. I’m just glad you’re not dead.”
“Me too,” said a teeny, little voice.
And with that little caustic comment on my lifestyle, Stella was out the bedroom door, gone in search of breakfast #2 or possibly #3.
Abby was in charge of Stella’s meals. I was in charge of the “result” of Stella’s meals.
Abby often forgot if she fed Stella so she would just feed her again and quite amazingly…Stella continued to look like a teeny 6-month old kitten.
Let it be noted I would kill for that kind of metabolism…
“Only dogs will eat more than they should,” Abby informed me one day as I commented on her opening a second can of Mighty Mouse cat food for Stella’s morning meal. “Cats know better and will space their food out.”
Stella spaced her food out all right…as much as she could get…whenever she could get it.
Since I had the day off, I had no firm plans except to try to recover from last night…and maybe think about where Hannah and I would go tonight.
That was actually a no-brainer. We always went to Doyle’s on Saturday night. Saturday night was “amateur night”.
For the first hour they encouraged and welcomed members of the early bird audience to come up on stage and sing with the band.
They gave you the words and let you sing your little heart out.
This was the real deal. They even gave you a live mike…hoping like hell you had a somewhat decent voice.
Every Saturday night…Hannah faithfully put her name in the wicker basket that the band placed on the stage.
Hopeful participants would put their names in and wait…full of excitement.. to be chosen.
Hannah had yet to be chosen…going on two years now…
Personally…I thought it was fixed. I had heard Hannah sing…and so had members of the band at a private, after-hours Christmas party a couple of years ago.
I had never…in my whole life…heard “Jingle Bells” sung so completely out of tune as I had that night.
“I don’t understand,” she would whine…week after week. “Who has this much bad luck?
“I know! I know!” I was always very sympathetic. “Maybe next week.” And I would pat her shoulder…just like I did every week.
“I should just give up…” Hannah would say every week…voice dripping with disappointment…
“Really?” I would carefully ask..
And then…because I loved Hannah so much…I would also always say…
“You know…you have such a…pretty voice…”
…which is why Hannah would be putting her name in the basket tonight.
For some reason (insert Stella The Cat here) my pillow ends up on the floor almost every morning. I bent down to grab it and my head started to seriously pound.
I quickly sat back down on my bed. The room was not exactly doing the infamous “drunk spin”…but I definitely felt better sitting down. Crap. I am such an idiot.
I tried to remember…did I take 2 aspirin before I went to sleep last night? Because if I did…I should not have such a bad headache.
This was a classic hangover prevention trick that one of the older reporters had shared with me and Hannah one morning when we were both miserable from a night of partying. He swore by it and it actually worked…when I remembered to take the damn pills.
“Maybe I have the flu…Jeez Louise… who hopes for the flu?” I muttered to myself.
“You are so pathetic,” Stella said as she jumped up on my bed. “The flu. Indeed.”
“You could be more sympathetic,” I challenged her. “I take such good care of you. You are one of my very best friends.”
“One of…? Well, that’s nice. I love…being qualified.”
I patted the little bit of golden hair on Stella’s head and then turned to look at my new hair cut in the mirror.
Back in the 60’s there was a geometric hair style called a “Sassoon” named after Vidal Sassoon, the stylist who had created it. The cut sported very short hair with sharp V sideburns and 2 deep V’s cut in the back.
It was really radical back then so of course every one had loved it.
And…apparently it was coming back in style..or so said Seth…my favorite stylist.
He has been cutting my hair for about 4 years, and he was not taking no for an answer. Seth said I had perfect “little sticky-out ears” that would look so awesome with this new cut.
“You’re gonna look just like Anne Hathaway…” he ventured…
“Whatever….” I agreed…you just can’t argue with Seth…and Anna Hathaway looked pretty good.
Seth was adorable and very persuasive. I loved him dearly. It was too bad he played for the same team.
I heard the back screen door bang and almost felt the blast of freezing air that came rushing in as Abby pushed open the inside door.
“I have breakfast!” Abby shouted from the kitchen.
Stella’s ears shot straight up at the word “breakfast” and she jumped off the bed and raced through my bedroom door.
“You just ate! You’re going to get so fat!” I hollered after her.
“Not me, kiddo…” she shot back…as she raced down the hallway at warp speed…sliding thru the doorway that led into the dining room…and then…
“Abby!!!! I’ve been waiting so long for you to come back!!!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake” said Abby. “Stop talking to me!!”
I chuckled…even though it hurt…and knew it was time to get moving.
“Older, white-haired man makes fool of himself trying to flirt with young girls. SO SAD…” He could be their father”
“Our oh so handsome bouncer gently removes slightly out-of-control female drinker quietly and efficiently. Five star to whatever his name is…”
“You aren’t talking about you or Hannah here…right?” asks a worried Abby…her coffee cup pausing halfway to her mouth.
I gave her a withering glance as I looked up from my notebook.
“Hey don’t get so huffy…I just thought I’d ask,” Abby said with a little smile.
“Hannah can get a little too ‘joyous’…as we all know. Please continue.”
“Two phony looking but very cute, guys about 21-25 enter the bar near closing, looking for a couple of mostly drunk young ladies they could quickly impress for a little action after last call. They look over at me and Hannah and we both roll our eyes. They move on and continue looking.”
“Bobby looks at me while he is singing a love song and then he winks at me when he’s done. I wish he would ask me out!.”
I hear a low groan from Abby. She is not at all fond of Bobby, lead singer in Doyle’s house band., The Continentals.
“Jake comes over and sits down. He takes my hand in his and is just about to ask me something when we hear a loud crash from across the room. Trouble somewhere and he leaves.”
“He’s married, you know…Hannah and I both agree.” says Abby very pointedly. “He is absolutely married and you are being a total fool…just saying…”
I ignore her comment completely.
“And that is almost it.” I pause and close the notebook and take a bite of my roll and glance out at our snow-covered back yard.
It was January in Minnesota and this year we have three or four feet of snow in the backyard. I was just about to explain the ‘almost’ part…when Abby started talking.
“I have two very important things to say,” said Abby.
“One. Doesn’t Bobby already have a girlfriend or maybe three? And…I agree completely with Hannah…who can spot a married man a mile away…Jake is married.”
“Well…” I argued, “Bobby is the lead singer of the band and also extremely good looking…and that means he has lots of girls…you know…like groupies…always hanging around the stage…and him”
“But…I think he really likes me. He always goes out of his way to say ‘Hi’ when Hannah and I come to Doyle’s for their Wednesday lunch buffet. Sometimes he even stops practice to come over to talk to us…you can ask Hannah!”
I knew I was sounding pretty lame…and pretty thirteen-oldish…but still…
Abby scoffed…and continued talking.
“And…and the second thing…Jake Marlowe …”
“Stop.” I ordered, holding up my hand to silence her.
“I know both of you guys have my best interests at heart, blah, blah, blah. But…just because Jake hasn’t really asked me out on a proper date and just wants to go for a drive down to the Lakes after closing means nothing.”
“I think it would be romantic. He doesn’t get a lot of free time and I have a job too. We could really get to know each other.”
I took another bite of my roll and looked defiantly at Abby…who countered…as I knew she would. She was Abby Jones, after all.
“And yet…you haven’t gone with him ‘down to the lakes’. Why?” Abby questioned, tilting her head to the side. She looked just like Stella.
“I’m not sure, ” I mumbled. “But I think I will…soon. I’m really holding out for Bobby. I know if I go out with Jake, Bobby will never ask me out. I don’t think they like each other much. Plus Jake is kind of like Bobby’s boss…so there’s that.”
“But when Bobby asks me out, I’m telling him my real name and where I work!”
I paused and looked out the back window. A bright red cardinal had landed on the porch railing and was trying to pick up a piece of bread one of the squirrels had dropped.
I turned back to look at Abby who had stood up to go to the refrigerator.
“Anyway…as I was saying before you interrupted me…just before we left Doyle’s last night, it got a little complicated.”
“Say what? What did you just mumble Charlie?”
Abby closed the refrigerator door where she had gone to get more half & half for our coffee.
“I missed what you said.”
“I said… that’s when the night got a tad complicated. Last night…someone said ‘Good-by Charlie’ or ‘Take it easy, Charlie’ or…something like that…I can’t remember exactly…”
“Hannah and I were starting to leave. Then I turned and waved a huge good-by to everyone around me.”
“You know the wave. One of those very tipsy, all encompassing waves that includes the whole room. It was just before last call.”
“How the hell does anyone at Doyle’s know my real name, Abby? Hannah and I have been so careful.”
Abby was still standing with the half & half container in one hand. She sat down, added cream to her coffee, stirred and took a thoughtful sip. Then she took a more thoughtful bite of her eclair.
“Describe how ‘happy’ you and Hannah were last night…on a scale of one to ten. Ten being really, really ‘happy’ but still conscious.”
She gave me one of those piercing “I am not in the mood for BS looks” that is going to work so well for her when she has kids. Her mom could do the same look. It truly was a gift.
“Well…Hannah was driving, so she was a definite one. I was a definite eight.”
“Earlier in the evening, Hannah was singing a lot…along with the band. She really got carried away a couple of times.”
“She was trying to impress the band…prepping for tonight’s amateur night…you know Hannah…”
“Oh…I know…not that practicing will make a difference with that voice. She is persistent though.”
Abby got up to get some tomato juice from the fridge.
“So…is it possible that Hannah may have said your real name at some point…maybe as she was singing, as in c’mon Charlie, sing with me.”?
Abby sat down and looked at Stella who had suddenly paused during one of her many mini baths to look at me. It almost appeared as if she was waiting to hear what I was going to say.
“I can’t wait to hear this story,” mumbled Stella.
“Why is Stella looking at you like that? sputtered Abby. “Honest to God, Charlie, I swear that cat understands everything we say.”
I ignored her comment.
“Are you actually expecting me to remember if Hannah used my real name last night?” I answered sarcastically.
“I was flat-out drunk and that’s being charitable. Of course she could have used my real name. Hell, I could have used my real name.” I reached over and scratched Stella under her chin.
I took a large bite of my second caramel roll, put it down and then…not thinking… pushed the plate with the half-eaten roll on it in Stella’s direction.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Stella doing a super, slow-motion, low crawl toward the abandoned roll, her tongue hanging out in wild anticipation.
“Oh, no you don’t,” I said and moved the plate out of her reach.
“Foiled!” Stella muttered…and then used her dangling tongue to quickly smooth some errant hairs on her front paws. With her tail twitching in annoyance, she returned to look out the window.
“You know, Abby,” I said. “This whole cockamamie fake name thing was all your bright idea.”
“I know, I know,” agreed Abby. “And I still think it’s a great plan…almost as good as my ‘fourth grade mob’ idea…” Then she grinned from ear to ear.
I also grinned and patted her hand.
“Nothing will ever top the ‘mob incident’…that was pure genius. You were brilliant.”
“I was, wasn’t I?” Abby agreed. “And to think I was but a mere child.”
We both laughed at that never to be forgotten event in our lives.
“You should come out with us once in a while,” I said to Abby. You don’t have to dance or anything. You don’t even have to drink.”
“Just sit with Hannah and me. It would be so much fun. The band at Doyle’s is great. Your name could be,” and I paused…thinking of some of my favorite names.
“Annabelle,” I said and slapped my hand on the table. “I love that name.”
“Okay…that’s never going to happen…” Abby said firmly. “However… you can remember that for my bachelorette party. We can all go to Doyle’s and I’ll be Annabelle Jones!”
I sighed…thinking of Abby leaving and pushed that sad thought to the back of my brain…
“So…back to me and my problem. How does someone know my real name, a name that I never use when I am out at the bars?”
“Do you think in addition to knowing my real name…whoever it is also knows I’m a reporter…and that I work for the Journal?”
Abby was silent. This was a rare occurrence for her. Then…
“Was there anyone at Doyle’s last night that you ever see at the other bars? ” Abby asked.
“You and Hannah go out every weekend and most Wednesday nights. Do you always use the phony name/job bit?” she continued.
I answered quickly…”Always.”
Suddenly Abby slapped her hand down on the table. “By Jove, I’ve got it,” she said….using just a terrible English accent.
“Maybe…maybe it was someone who works at the Journal with you or Hannah…but neither of you knew they were there last night.” Abby said.
“You know…you could be right…that kind of makes sense. ” I took another swallow of my now very tepid and therefore unappetizing coffee.
My head was starting to scream at me and I got up to get two aspirin.
Just as Abby had finished putting yet another piece of eclair on Stella’s plate, the front doorbell rang.
All of us just froze in place. No one came to our house on the weekends…NO ONE. Even Stella had paused…tongue again hanging out.
Both Abby and I said in unison. “What the hell?” I know we were both thinking the same thing…this has to be bad news.
Abby was way more appropriately dressed than I was.. so she went to see who was disturbing our little Saturday morning brunch. I returned to my place at the table…headache momentarily forgotten.
“I wonder who it is?” whispered Stella. Never one to miss any action, she had moved over to be closer to me.
Stella was a very friendly cat. She always loved the few people who came to visit us…but this was Saturday morning on a frigid, cold day in Minnesota. I think even she thought something wasn’t quite right.
“I don’t know.” I said quietly. “Why are we whispering?”
I could hear Abby talking and then heard her say, “Hang on”. She soon appeared back in the kitchen. She had a puzzled look on her face.
“What’s up?” I asked…eager to have this mystery solved.
“I need a dollar for a tip.” She opened up the cupboard over the sink and took down the old Apple cookie jar where we kept change and dollar bills. It made tipping delivery people a snap.
“For what?” I asked.
“For. A. Tip.” Abby said evenly…and gave me a look of exasperation. She then went back to the front door.
I looked at Stella. “Well, that was rude.”
“You have a killer hangover. Everything will seem rude today.” she said knowingly.
I heard Abby say ‘thank you’ and then heard her shut the door. I could feel little trickles of cold air that had filtered back to the kitchen from the opened door.
She walked into the kitchen carrying a long, white, rectangular floral box. It was heavily wrapped in clear plastic to protect it from the freezing cold.
The label on the box said “Flora’s Fresh Flowers”. It was very skinny and looked like it could only hold a single flower.
“Who’s it for?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Abby said. “There was no name on the delivery ticket. Only an address. This one.”
“Well, well,” said Stella. “The plot thickens.”
Abby put the package down on the kitchen table. I got up and carried some of the dishes to the sink and got a scissor so we could open it up.
“I can’t see a card, can you?” I asked as I gently cut away the layers of protective cellophane.
“It would be just like Ralph to forget a card. Oh well, he’ll probably call me later this morning and we can know for sure.” Abby said confidently. Then she reached up her arms and stretched her back.
“That’s very good for you,” said Stella…who watched every move that Abby made…thinking…I’m sure…that another morsel of food could be placed on her plate at any given moment.
“Did you hear that Charlie?” Abby exclaimed as she quickly brought her arms down to her sides. “I swear to God she said good!”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Abby. Stella is just a cat. One I happen to talk for…on occasion. You do know that, right? Do you not see my lips moving?”
“Well, sure I do…but sometimes,” Abby said in a soft voice, “I forget…especially when she makes sounds…strange sounds.”
“I resent the phrase ‘just a cat’,” complained Stella…to no one in particular.
I had opened the box and finished unwrapping the soft white paper. I gently pushed some white tissue to the side.
Lying inside the box was one, beautiful yellow rose…and a small white envelope.
Abby had peered over the wrappings and had also spotted the envelope.
“Oh look!!’ she said. “There is a card,” and she started to reach for it.
But I was quicker and I grabbed it before she did.
“I got it.” As I picked it up and turned it over I saw just one word written on the front of the envelope. It said…”Charlie”
Abby…who had also read the card…sat down in her chair and took a bite from her eclair and said, “Well…this is interesting.”
“I can’t believe it!” I cried. “It’s for me!”
I looked over at Abby who was no longer so interested in the package and squinted my eyes suspiciously at her.
“Is this from you? You know, to make me feel better? Considering ‘the anniversary’ and all that?”
“Nope. And if you don’t open that envelope pretty damn soon, I’m going to.” And she made an attempt to grab it. But I was too fast.
I moved away and sat down opposite her at the table, holding the card in my hands.
I was almost afraid to open it. Could it be from Bobby? Or maybe from Jake? I would be happy either way…really. But neither knew my real name…or for sure…my address.
At least I didn’t think so. After the incident last night, I wasn’t so sure of anything.
“Open it or I’m leaving.” Stella hurried. “I have to take a nap.”
Abby looked from Stella to me and then back to Stella.
“I’m with her…open it!” Abby ordered.
“All right, all right,” I said. “Sometimes…anticipation can be fun…”
At this point…I didn’t really care what the card said or who it was from…as long as it didn’t say, “Charlie. Hand this rose over to Abby. She will be so surprised. Thanks. Ralph..”
I gently opened the flap and pulled out a white card.
It said, “Charlie. I hope this makes you happy. Seeing you always makes me happy.”
I immediately got tears in my eyes. I took a deep breath and exhaled a little shakily.
I handed it over to Abby who was impatiently reaching for it.
“NOT SIGNED!!! IT’S NOT SIGNED!!!. Abby yelped as she read the card.
“That’s it. I’m done.” Stella stood up, stretched quickly and jumped down to the floor. She headed off to the top of the living room sofa…to begin one of her many daily vigils of the front sidewalk.
“I can’t believe it’s not signed! What torture!” Abby disgustedly tossed the card back down on the table, got up and started to clear away the last of the dishes.
I looked at her with indignant shock.
“YOU can’s believe it!” I said. “YOU can’t believe it…how do you think I feel?”
“For the first time in months I have something… maybe kind of swell…happening to me and…it’s a secret!” I shook my head in utter exasperation.
But then I looked at that beautiful, delicate rose again. I picked it up and inhaled the unmistakable scent that only a rose can produce.
I smiled and carefully laid it back in the box.
“Abby…do you know if there’s a smallish vase around…” I turned toward the sink but Abby had gone.
I got up and walked over to the stove. I reached up and opened a seldom used cupboard.
“I think this is where mom kept some vases…” I said to myself…since no one else was listening to me…
I rummaged around and behind some larger ones…there was a small bud vase. It had little pink flowers on it that were kind of faded…but it was the smallest of the lot so it would have to do.
I took it down and checked for any cracks…finding none…I went over to the sink and filled the it with water.
“Why doesn’t he want me to know who he is?” I asked Abby…who had returned to the kitchen.
“Well…I hate to say this…but…maybe he’s a married guy and just wanted to do something nice for you…like maybe Jake? He probably would have noticed how much you were hurting last night.”
Abby was speaking very carefully, not wanting to upset me too much by using the word “married” and “Jake” in the same sentence.
I carried the vase over to the table, put it down and carefully added the rose and the greenery that had come with it. I gently touched a yellow petal.
“Or Bobby?” I mused. “He did seem to be paying more attention to me than usual last night…or at least I think so.”.
“I just hope it’s not from some creep who’s going to start stalking us!”
Abby looked at me and then looked towards the living room. Shaking her head, she said very calmly and without any emotion or even judgement in her voice, “I’m going to get dressed now…just like other normal people do on a Saturday morning. And I stress the word normal.”
She got up and left the kitchen without waiting for any more comments from me…or…from Stella.
After a few more minutes of “rose appreciation”, I carefully picked up the vase and headed towards my room. I put the vase on my dresser where I could see it from my bed and then went to gather my furry, little friend for some mystery solving.
“C’mon kiddo, we have to talk.” I picked up a sleeping Stella from the top of the sofa and slung her over my shoulder despite a few protesting groans.
People watching from the top of the sofa was one of her favorite activities. Naps were a close second. Since there weren’t a lot of people to watch in the winter…she was getting in a lot of nap time.
“I have no clue,“ said Stella. “You do know that I am really you, don’t you? I mean when we talk?”
“Yes. I’m not crazy…not yet anyway…I just need to talk out my thoughts and it helps if I can do that with you…me…you…whatever.”
I knew full well that Abby could hear me talking as I headed from the living room down the hallway and grinned when I heard a loud, expletive loaded groan coming from her room.
“Quiet down in there. We have to think.” said Stella in a very teeny yet somewhat loud voice.
And then Stella licked my neck…twice.
Complicated and drawn out conversations were not Stella’s cup of tea.
She tended to stare off into space if I talked too long…and in Stella’s world…too long was defined as one or two minutes. A yawn often escaped.
“I wonder,” I said, as I scratched behind her ears, “if this beautiful rose is connected to the someone who said ‘good-by, Charlie’…or whatever…to me last night?”
“And…how did that someone know my real name? We still haven’t figured out that mystery.”
“I should call Hannah and see if she remembers if anything out of he ordinary happened last night. Or…even better…maybe she even knows who shouted out my name.”
“She’s still sleeping, I bet,” said Stella.
“…because I’m so sure this rose has something to do with last night…”
“Of course, she had been pretty busy with that cute cop that wandered in around midnight. I vaguely remember he was pretty interested in her too.”
“You know she’s asleep.” persisted Stella.
“So you say. I should call her anyway to see if she still plans to go to that party tonight at that after-hours place.”
“I thought you were done going to those places…didn’t the cops raid one of them a couple of weeks ago?”
I ignored her comment…even though I knew it was correct.
I totally knew neither Hannah nor I should go to any after-hours clubs. If they got raided while we were there, we could lose our jobs. Hell… we would lose our jobs.
Sometimes it sucks to be young and have a really great job. You have to be so responsible.
“You weren’t very responsible last night.” said Stella.
“I know. I know. That…was the last time…for sure. I promise.”
“I’ll be keeping track.” said Stella.
I pulled her close and nuzzled the top of her little furry head.
What I really wanted to do tonight, was to just stay home with Stella.
I would curl up on the sofa…eat hot buttered and generously salted popcorn, followed by my favorite ice cream, Haagen-Dazs Belgium Chocolate…and…watch the ‘Gilmore Girls’. Again.
“I love the ‘Gilmore Girls'” sighed Stella.
Of course…bitter truth be told…I was also foolishly hoping that maybe tonight would be the night that Bobby would come over during the band’s break and talk to me. He was so damn cute. Picture Bradley Cooper with a guitar and a killer smile…
I had this stupid crush on him…it was so pathetic at my age… even though it did appear that he maybe had a girlfriend. I’ll give that to Abby.
There was this beautiful flight attendant from Delta…and yes…she often came into the club in her uniform…who was always sitting at one of the front tables with a couple of her girl friends…also decked out in their uniforms.
Her name tag…pinned right on the shoulder of her oh so cute uniform…read “Tiff”. Yeah…I’m sure that name was on her birth certificate…give me a break.
During his breaks, Bobby almost always went over and sat down with her and her friends.
But I thought that last night he was actually heading in my direction…until she raised her arm and signaled for him to bring her another drink and…so he did.
Some nerve. He wasn’t a waiter, for Pete’s sake. But before he had headed towards the bar he had turned towards me and had given me a super, dazzling smile…and a wink.
“Maybe he was trying to tell me something…like ‘I was going to come over to you but I have to do this to be polite…'” I pondered out loud. Stella raised her head.
“Wow. That was an amazing stretch…even for you.” Stella said.
I laid back against my propped up pillows and closed my eyes, trying ever so hard to remember last night’s smile from Bobby. He had been smiling at me, hadn’t he?
I. Am. Never drinking that much again. Ever.
Suddenly a vivid memory flashed like a bolt of lightning through my brain.
A voice. A man’s voice…
“You’re not driving tonight are you Charlie?”
And me, drunkenly oblivious to anyone but my own pitiful self, had waved a hand in the direction of the concerned voice and dismissed the question with what I had thought was a brilliant answer.
“Driving? Not tonight, babe. I’m flying home tonight….simply flying…”
And then…that was it…end of lightning bolt. End of memory.
Damnation! Whose voice was that…and how the hell did he know my real name?
I reached over and grabbed my phone to call Hannah…but then I hesitated…it was kind of early. She may not even be alone…she and that detective had been pretty cozy last night.
I’ll wait…maybe in an hour or so when I’m sure she’ll be up…and awake…and in an agreeable mood to talk..
Stella peeked her head out from under the covers.
“You look so cute under there.” I said. “I bet it’s really cozy.”
In the winter, Stella often burrowed under the covers on my bed, turned around and then just poked her nose and ears out from underneath.
And…of course I have several photos on Instagram to show everyone just how darling she looked…in case you were wondering…
I started to move the covers so I could slide in next to Stella. I kicked off my fuzzy slippers and carefully crawled in.
“Hey! Don’t squish me!” said Stella whose yellow eyes flashed open but then immediately closed again.
Before my head hit the pillow, I looked one more time at that beautiful yellow rose.
To think that someone…someone I didn’t even know…cared enough about me to let me know that they were thinking about me…and…even worried about me.
To my complete surprise, tears welled in my eyes…and I felt the deepest loneliness than I had felt since mom had died.
“Me. You have me, you know.” said Stella.
“Indeed. Oh, indeed.” I said and rolled over and meant to give some careful thought to all that was going on or not going on in my life. But then Stella snuggled a little closer and I fell asleep before one little thought could even appear.
LATER THAT NIGHT…
I was leaving Doyle’s a good twenty minutes after closing.
Everyone else had cleared out. I had sent Hannah on her way with her new boyfriend, reassuring her that I was right behind them. The “new boyfriend” was that cute cop she had met last night.
He was new to the Minneapolis ‘cop shop’…neither Hannah nor I had seen him before….and he was drop dead good-looking. Hannah was absolutely on fire about him.
She had talked of no one and nothing else all the way to Doyle’s…wondering if he would show up tonight like he had promised.
She had also told him that she would probably be singing with the band. Oh. My.
They had been inseparable since the minute we had walked in.
I never got a chance to ask her if she knew who had called out my name last night during my rather sketchy departure.
To be brutally honest…I was a little embarrassed to admit…even to Hannah…that I was drawing a blank about some of last night’s activities. It’s pretty scary when you don’t remember…
Just as we were all getting up to leave, I realized that I did not have my favorite pen…the one that I always use to take notes.
I told Hannah and her “little detective”…to take off since I was sure I would find it shortly.
I searched my purse again…for the umpteenth time and was not looking forward to pawing thru the rubble on the floor but I knew that was my next mission.
Even the bright white lights they usually put on to hurry us drinkers out into the forgiving darkness…had now been replaced by the bar’s glowing, red security lights.
At most clubs, when the last note had been played, people quickly left in droves.
There were after-hours parties to go to and “romantic” hook-ups that needed completing. But…I wasn’t going anywhere until I found that damn pen.
It was an old Peterson family tradition to give a 14 KT Gold Cross pen to your son or daughter at their high school graduation.
Even though my dad knew he wouldn’t be able to do this himself…he had died when I was seven…he had instructed my mom to to buy one and give it to me on the day I graduated from Hamilton High School.
I was not leaving Doyle’s without that pen.
As I was searching around underneath the nearby tables, I finally found it under a bunch of grubby napkins. Gross…
When I stood up from the floor, I felt a little dizzy so I sat down in a nearby chair and waited for my head to clear.
I had had only one whiskey sour tonight. After last night’s drinking fiasco, I figured one drink was plenty. But it had been a strong one.
When did I last eat? I wondered to myself…breakfast had been sweet rolls and coffee…but I had had no lunch.
I had been abruptly woken up from my nap, hearing a text alert on my phone, announcing a press conference at the Minneapolis Court House. I had had no time to eat…I barely had time to drive down there.
There had been a horrible drive-by shooting this past Tuesday and a little five year-old boy had been killed in the cross-fire between two local gangs.
The police had a suspect in custody and they had called a press conference.
I couldn’t miss this. Day off or not, hangover or not, I had dragged my body down to the court house.
This one was my story to cover…but what I did miss was lunch. Dinner had been a piece of cheese eaten on the way over to Hannah’s apartment.
What a life…the news never stops…and if you’re a reporter…neither do you.
I could hear the clean-up crew in Doyle’s kitchen so I knew I could go out the back door without setting off any alarms. They all knew me and Hannah. No one would be surprised to see me…or if they were surprised they surely wouldn’t care.
When you go to the same bar week after week…you pretty much get to know everyone who works there… and they get to know you…or at least…recognize you.
It was sad, right? But since both Hannah and I covered the crime scene in Minneapolis, we felt we had a justifiable reason to have fun whenever an opportunity arose…and that was usually on the weekends at Doyle’s.
Doyle’s also had a great house band…so there was live music and liquor. What could be better when you’re twenty-four and single…right?
Well…….what would have been better…was to have not seen Bobby…”potential love of my life”…and flight attendant Tiff sharing passionate kisses every time the band took a break tonight. Boy, I had that one figured wrong…
Oh well…life goes on. I was always so optimistic that I would meet someone. You know…a really nice guy. They had to go to bars too, didn’t they? I was nice…I was here…
Maybe I was just kidding myself. Maybe I should start going to church…join a book club…I liked to read…
I noticed the light was still on in Jake’s office…not that it mattered one damn bit to me anymore.
Something must have happened in the “Marlowe household” today…Jake was sporting a shiny, gold wedding band…with a diamond stuck on it for good measure.
He had been at the door tonight, checking ID’s and had greeted both Hannah and I when we came in.
He had given me a totally sheepish look when he noticed I had seen his ring. I gave him a smile. Hey, it’s who I am.
Hannah gave me a ‘look”…but did not say “I told you so…” It’s nice to have good friends.
I looked around the club…waiting to feel normal.
Wow. This place is really strange when it’s empty. Where’s the magic now?
Feeling better, I stood up and shrugged into my coat. Since I was so hot from crawling all over the floor, I didn’t think I needed to button up. I could handle 20 below zero for a couple of minutes. I was…after all…a hardy Minnesotan.
I reached into my pockets for my gloves and then realized that I had left them on the front seat of my car when I had paused to put on lipstick before Hannah and I went into Doyle’s.
“See you next week, Teddy.” one of the dishwasher guys hollered at me as I passed through the kitchen. I waved and pushed open the back door.
A blast of frigid air hit me and I immediately went into the bent-over, “huddle” position…familiar to anyone who has ever lived thru blistering cold winters.
I walked quickly across the parking lot to where my car was parked to begin my long trek home.
There would be no eating at the Minnehaha Grill tonight. No eggs. No bacon…and definitely no fun without Hannah. What a bummer. Oh, well. I was pretty tired anyway. It had been a long day.
The lot behind Doyle’s was huge and tonight we had no choice but to park way out on the perimeter since we had been running late.
Hannah had taken forever to get dressed. She wanted to make a good impression on the band…and on her new ‘cop friend’.
“Amateur Night, Charlie,” she had said to me…as I tried to hurry her along. Hannah was so beautiful she could wear a brown sack and look perfect.
As I walked to my car, I looked down to search around in my purse for my keys when suddenly a strong hand from behind grabbed my wrist and twisted my arm up behind my back.
Another arm came around my other side and a hand clamped over my mouth so tight I couldn’t scream and my struggling was useless.
As I looked up, two more men appeared before me. One of them had on a Grinch ski mask and the other one was wearing just a plain, black ski mask.
They swayed from side to side in an unsteady manner. They had obviously been drinking…a lot.
“You be good now,” said the Grinch. He was the taller of the two. They both reeked of alcohol as did the man holding me captive.
“Jus’ let go of that pursh,” he slurred. “An’ we’ll be on our way.”
I didn’t like the look of the long-bladed knife he had in his right hand.
I quickly let my free hand open and my purse fell with a thud to the ground.
I winced. It was my brand-new Kate Spade bag.
Please, I silently prayed… let them just want the money.
But the man holding my arm did not release it. He pushed it up even farther. Was he trying to break my arm? I tried to scream but only a muffled whimper came out.
The man in the Grinch mask walked over and picked up my purse, walked back and said something to his buddy that I couldn’t hear.
He looked back at me and then they both laughed…it sounded pure evil. Now I was glad I couldn’t see their faces.
“Get her over behind those trees,” the taller one ordered. And suddenly I felt my feet leave the ground. My toes skimmed the rough pavement as the one holding me started to drag me to the darkest part of the lot.
I struggled to free myself but it was no use. Every self-defense class maneuver I had ever learned flew out of my head.
I couldn’t believe this was happening to me! My heart was pounding so fast, I thought I was going to pass out.
Then suddenly I heard another man’s voice. It was deeper. Older. Coming from somewhere behind us.
“I think you boys are done here now. I’ll take over.”
But no one let me go. I was still being dragged. Was this a friend of theirs?
“Oh I don’t think so man. But we can share,” sneered the one who had his hand over my mouth. It was getting hard now to even take a breath.
Footsteps behind me got louder but I wasn’t able to twist around to see who was talking.
“I don’t share,” he said quietly. Now he was right behind us. “Let her go. Now.”
And then I heard the unmistakable cocking of a gun’s hammer. A big gun. I had been around policemen long enough these past couple of years to recognize that sound.
Whoever was holding me, let me go so fast my feet hit the ground and I stumbled and started to fall forward. I could hear the footsteps of my assailants running away.
New hands quickly caught me and kept me from hitting the pavement. But still terrified, I fought to get away.
Chapter Thirty-Six…The Final Chapter
“Charlie! It’s okay. I’m a police officer…I’m an undercover cop, MPD. My name is Mike. Mike Foster.” The words were clear and simple and strong…meant to be calming.
His voice…it sounded so familiar…and then it slowly dawned on me.
It was the same voice as the one who had asked me last night if I was “driving home”. I now remembered Hannah whispering in my ear…
“That Mike is sure a cutie.” Hannah had said, referring to Doyle’s cute , new bouncer as she had guided ‘my drunken self’ out the door.
I slowly turned around and looked up. It was him. My mind raced… no wonder he was with all those cops at the court house. Of course. He must have seen me and didn’t want to take a chance on blowing his cover.
“Mike…” I murmured under my breath. “Right…”
He let me stand free for a moment as he put his gun away. I swayed a little and he grabbed my elbow to steady me.
“Hey, take it easy.” he said softly.
Quiet tears of relief started to stream down my cheeks and I started to shake. Shock and the freezing cold began taking their toll on me.
Mike pulled me a little nearer and tried to close up my coat, saying soft, comforting words as he fumbled with the buttons.
Then he stopped and took his hands and lifted my face so he could look me in the eyes…
“Charlie. It’s all over. You’re safe now.” He spoke very slowly, carefully choosing his words… to be sure I understood.
But I was so cold. I couldn’t stop shivering and I couldn’t stop crying. I just stood there unable to speak or move.
Graphic images I had seen too many times from crime scenes I’d covered the last couple of years were flashing thru my mind.
I knew just how bad this could have been.
“So cold…” I managed to whisper.
Mike gently pulled me next to him. His jacket was open and he wrapped his arms and his jacket around me. I could hear sirens in the distance.
“Thank God I was still here,” he said, his voice ragged with emotion.
I sighed and sank into the safety and warmth of his body.
After a few minutes, my tears stopped and I was shaking less. But I didn’t want to leave the warmth of Mike’s arms. And he didn’t appear to be in any hurry to let me go.
I pulled back just a little, looked up and asked, “The rose?”
It was the first time I had ever seen Mike Foster smile. He had a great smile.
The Paperback Edition…
I was so tired that snowy, cold November night. All I wanted to do was eat a very unhealthy (read that very tasty) frozen something from my freezer, add a bottle of beer, some Cheetos Puffs (of course this is a plug for Cheetos Puffs…HAVE YOU NOT EATEN CHEETOS PUFFS?) and then collapse in front of my big screen TV.
I had worked an extra shift at The Book Shop. I was the assistant manager.
Don’t be impressed by the title. It only means I get an extra 5% discount on the books I buy and 20% commission on the books I sell.
And…it also means I get to fill in for those employees who fail to show up for work when there is a major snow storm…for instance…like the one we had tonight.
My name is Tobey Larson and I’m 24 years old.
Tobey Larson is not my real name, of course. I’m not going to tell you my real name. One does have to be very careful when sharing odd experiences.
Look what happened to all those people who reported seeing flying saucers…
I don’t remember…do you?
The Paperback Edition…
“The Parents”‘ first attempt at ‘parenting’ was to volunteer at my 7th grade “Welcome Back to School” dance. This was, incidentally, was my first foray into “socializing” on a grander scale than play dates with neighborhood kids.
Two weeks before the dance, “The Parents” descended unannounced upon a clueless Principal Nelson…he was such a nice, normal man. I believe he took early retirement…
He had previously been informed when Karlie began 7th grade that the parents of Karlie and Tobey Carlson had been tragically killed on their third attempt to climb Mt. Everest.
“The Parents” had bravely tried to rescue their loyal Sherpa who had unfortunately fallen into a deep crevasse. As the story went…all three bodies were never recovered…so Karlie and younger sister Tobey were now being lovingly raised by a grandma named Sylvia…so you can just call her if anything came up.
This compellingly sad tale had been created by our highly imaginative grandma Sylvia after a couple of glasses…perhaps more…of Cabernet Sauvignon. Both Karlie and I thought it was a very sound plan and we all heartily agreed that there was no reason whatsoever to mention this to “The Parents”…ever.
But now…“The Parents” told the puzzled Mr. Nelson, that “Yes! Of course we’re Tobey’s parents! Who else would we be?”
And then they added for good measure, “We’re Karlie’s parents too!” They figured this further claim would seal the deal.
A hesitant and slightly confused Principal Nelson said he “would check and see if they would be needed.” He then rose to politely show them the door…vaguely remembering a sad tale involving a sherpa and Mt. Everest…and he pondered this as he walked toward the door with them.
However...”The Parents” were on a mission and ‘parenting magnificently’ had become their Holy Grail. They were not going to be turned away…
So they made sure of being ‘needed’ by donating $200,000 toward renovating the teachers’ lounge and also gifting the school library with another $200,000.
This generous gesture of goodwill insured that no more questions would be asked on whether or not they would be needed.
They were more than ‘needed’…they were now revered.
Imagine riding a roller coaster with no safety bar to hold you in place…that was my life for the next 6 years…
The Paperback Edition…
Those six years were almost epic. And I say ‘almost‘ because no deaths or serious injuries could be directly connected to any participation by “The Parents” in any planned school activities.
It was, of course, no surprise that all of Karlie’s friends and all of my friends loved Iris and Rain.
Many evenings there were classmates (or non-classmates) eating pizza (or something else) at our huge kitchen table.
Many times neither Karlie nor I knew them..but somehow they knew Iris and Rain and had been invited over for “Pizza Night”.
It should be noted…we didn’t actually have a “Pizza Night”.
Shall I mention that in eighth grade Iris enthusiastically volunteered to be a confirmation teacher at our very progressive Lutheran church? Sure, why not.
After the second week…kids who didn’t even go to our church…were clamoring to join her confirmation class…and I’m talking about kids from ALL religions. Iris was a huge hit. I was not surprised.
God had never been so much fun.
The Paperback Edition…
There is no easy way to say this…you know they die.
Three days after I had graduated from high school, “The Parents” crashed their brand-new, chili-pepper red Porsche into a large oak tree on Blake Road…four short blocks from home…
They had been at the ‘club’…perhaps celebrating or maybe even lamenting the end of this parenting phase of their life. It was said to have been “a spectacular crash”…the Porsche going well over 100 mph. No surprise there…I guess…spectacular did describe everything they did..
Karlie and I were completely heart-broken. Losing grandma Sylvia had been a devastating blow…to be sure… but she had been ‘older’. “The Parent”s were both only 50.
They had left strict instructions regarding any ‘death rituals or celebrations’. There would be no funeral, no memorial service…nothing.
Karlie and I picked up a large urn from Woodrow Funeral Home with both of their ashes inside. They wanted to be cremated together. Of course.
And then we all went home.
In less than two days, “The Parents” perched on the mantle over the fireplace in the living room. Together…forever.
Karlie and I spent over three weeks in that room, mostly crying but laughing sometimes too. ..because even though they had not wanted to actually participate in the ‘early parenting portion’ of our lives, they did want it documented…and they did so with their characteristic enthusiasm.
We ate there and we slept there and we watched every single home movie “The Parents” had ever taken…over and over and over again.
We had only had them as ‘Real Parents’ for six short years…we were not quite ready to let them go…not just yet.
The Paperback Edition…
Four years have passed since that tragic day and I am now tucked into my very own apartment that walks out to a courtyard with tall evergreen trees now beautifully covered with snow…watching the next to the last episode of “The Housewives of New York City”.
“The Parents” are sitting on a book shelf right next to my TV. They are surrounded by all my favorite books and favorite pictures of them as well as photos of Karlie, George, Annie and Cantor…and, of course, my best friend Emma.
I have a “Family on the Shelf” as opposed to an “Elf on the Shelf”.
I keep “The Parents” for a couple of months and then they journey over to Karlie and George’s house where they sit in an equally revered place. It seemed like a better idea than…you know…separating them…like eggs.
But now it was very late…scenes from next week’s episode were running. I clicked the remote off
I stood up, stretched and turned off the lamp beside my chair. I dropped the blinds but not before appreciating again how peaceful the falling snow looked.
I put the chain lock on my door even though I know in my heart of hearts that a chain is not going to stop a crazed man from entering my cozy little abode and stealing my super swell TV…or worse.
But nevertheless…I would hear him and be able to stealthily pull my always fully loaded Glock out from my bedside table and blow him to smithereens…HAH!! I have no gun.
But at least I would hear him…
I flipped the hall light on and walked down the hall. The full length mirror at the end was there for a purpose. I gave myself a B+…which considering the events of the day was pretty damn good…in my world anyway.
I fluffed my hair like I always do when finding myself in front of any mirror and then walked into my bedroom and paused…
I clapped my hands twice and my bedside light went on. Yes. I have “The Clapper”.
Don’t laugh at me…
The Paperback Edition…
I slowly drew my hand away from the little head of my ‘apparently not dead’ cat.
“So,” I whimpered, “It’s just me…I’m dead alone.” My eyes started to burn.
But then, out of the corner of my now watery eye, I noticed the black ‘whatever it was’…starting to sway a little and change its shape.
It looked like it was extending a hand out to me.
“OH NO!! OMG!! IT’S THE HAND OF DEATH.” I shrieked.
As the hand appeared to move closer, I shrank back against my pillow. I felt like I should do something…like run somewhere to avoid this…death thing. Could I…? Should I…?
But, hey…I was not going to be the ‘classic dumb girl’ in those stupid horror movies.
You know the one I mean…the terrified girl who stupidly runs down the basement to hide…and then…to no one’s surprise…gets chopped into little pieces..
Does this building even have a basement?
“Noooo,” I whined loudly as the ‘hand’ moved even closer.
And then suddenly, Emma stood up, turned toward me and walked up my legs.
She put her two front paws on my shoulders. We were totally eyeball to eyeball.
“Relax, Tobey. It’s not death. It’s one of your guardian angels. It’s actually your main guardian angel.”
“And…by the way, the correct phrase is ‘the Hand of God’ not…’the hand of death.'”…said Jennifer Lawrence.
…since that is exactly who my cat Emma now sounded like…and…I noted…she had a slight Southern accent.
Emma then licked my nose, dropped her paws, turned around and walked back down my legs and again curled up at the foot of my bed…in ‘her’ Bradley Cooper tee-shirt.
“Not dead then…?” I asked in a trembly, squeaky voice.
“No,” said Emma…very firmly.
I exhaled loudly. “Okay good! Really good and great.”
“His name is Fred. Like in Rogers.” said Emma.
“Oh, Jesus.” I mumbled under my breath.
The Paperback Edition…
I looked from my dear ‘talking cat’ Emma to Fred my ‘no longer invisible guardian angel’ and then let out a huge sigh.
This was crazy…maybe not really crazy, crazy, according to Fred but…you know…crazy nonetheless. I mean…really…what was going on?
It appeared I had a talking cat…who was talking to my guardian angel named Fred…who also talked…and… and…my mind was spinning.
I glanced over at the clock on my night table. Crap! It was almost 2:00 a.m. and I had to be up at 7:00 to get ready for work. I had the early shift at The Book Shop tomorrow.
“No you don’t,” said the all-knowing Fred.
“Margo closed the shop because of the snow storm…remember? She called earlier…just before ‘Housewives’ ended.”
“Oh, right, right,” I answered quickly, remembering and then thought to myself, does he know everything?
“Yes. Yes, I do.” said Fred…and his voice sounded like he was smiling…if guardian angels can smile…that is.
“Well look,” I said in a very matter of fact manner, trying to remain calm, trying to wrap my mind around this completely nutso night.
“I don’t want to dismiss the importance of you,” I said as I nodded to Fred.
“Or you, Emma,” I said as I scratched my little cat under her chin.
“But…I do need to get some real sleep after this strange dream…so…good night, sleep tight all, sweet dreams…it’s been fun.”
And I quickly laid back down on my pillow…still not completely sure of my sanity…but giving it a try anyway.
“Not a dream,” Fred whispered very softly. “Not a dream.”
I took a deep breath and then another and then closed my eyes. After a few minutes, I ever so slowly opened them and peeked over my covers to the corner of my bedroom where Fred had been hanging out.
He was gone!!!! Fred was gone!!!! It was a dream! I knew it! Thank God!!!
“Shall I pass that on to Him in person?” asked Fred as he floated in from the hallway.
The Paperback Edition…
“WHY AREN’T YOU GONE?” I screamed as I sat bolt upright in bed and leaned towards him, hands waving in the air as if to make him go away.
“I never leave,” Fred said very calmly. “You are my job until you die. That’s the rule. I don’t make the rules. I just do what I am told. I am an excellent obeyer of rules.”
I sighed, completely and utterly exasperated.
“But…but…I can’t have you just watching me,” I persisted. “All…the…time. It’s already bothering me…”
I decided to try the sympathy approach. I’m sure a little wheedling will go a long way… I’ve been told I can wheedle with the best of them.
“Stop wheedling. It won’t work. I have to watch you. Watch OVER you is the correct term..to be precise.”
“You are going to drive me to drink!!” I shouted at him and then thought…hey…what a great idea!
I slipped out of bed, being careful not to disturb the now very sound asleep Emma, flipped the hall overhead light switch on and trudged slowly toward my kitchen.
I knew there was an almost full bottle of Jim Beam in the cupboard that I occasionally used if I was having trouble getting to sleep.
It didn’t happen very often…but still…I had the bourbon just in case…and now seemed like a very appropriate time…very.
I reached up and took the bottle down from the shelf over the sink and then turned to open another cabinet to get a glass.
“JESUS CHRIST!!!!” I yelled and almost dropped the bottle of whiskey.
Fred was hovering right behind the breakfast bar…not two feet away from me!
“I’m sure He heard that…by the way.” Fred said with a hint of reproach in his voice.
The Paperback Edition…
“WHAT are you doing out HERE?” I cried.
“And what part of guardian ‘watch over you’ angel…do you not get exactly?” asked Fred with just a hint of snippiness in his voice.
“I ‘watch over you’ ALL the time.”
I pulled out the breakfast bar stool and started to sit down and paused a bit to give Fred a not so friendly but rather meaningful look. He wisely drifted slightly away toward the patio door. He seemed to sense I needed some space…and why wouldn’t he?
I opened the bottle of Jim Beam and pored a couple of inches into my glass. I took a sip…it was AWFUL!
I got up and walked over and opened the freezer. I scrounged around and found some ice cubes in a bowl and tossed them into my glass. I returned to perch on the stool.
“Here’s to livin’ the dream…” I said and I raised my glass in a toast to Fred. He swayed a little. I nodded back.
“If I go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow…will I remember any of this? Will you still be here?” I asked.
Fred didn’t say anything for a minute or two. I sensed that he might be thinking…or perhaps not…
But then he said, “I don’t know…and…definitely yes.”
I took a bigger sip. It wasn’t that bad now…with the ice. I swirled it around a little.
“I’m not sure I can handle this,” I said hesitantly…and stared at the bourbon in my glass.
“Oh…you’ll be fine, Tobey. You’re pretty tough. You have to remember…I’ve seen you in action…during the good times and some very bad times…I’ve been with you your whole life.”
“…I hugged you when you cried…helped you create new swear word combinations when you were furiously angry…I tried to steer you away from people who were not good to you or good for you…and I even let little words of encouragement and love from your mom and dad seep into your subconscious when you were sleeping.”
“I even helped you get this job and this apartment. I could go on but I don’t want to brag…too much.” Fred swayed from side to side…obviously very proud of his accomplishments.
“Wow! That’s awesome!! And you didn’t need…like…permission to do all of that…right?”
“Oh, no,” Fred said confidently. “That fell totally under my job description. I can do a LOT of stuff.”
My glass paused on its way to my mouth…brain now seriously engaged in full speculation mode…
The Paperback Edition…
Here’s a Snapchat cartoon of my brain at work…let’s make it animated…perhaps 3D…if that is possible…telling me what to do. I, of course, am the main character.
I am to follow my guardian angel down my apartment hallway to my bedroom where I will get into my bed with my now ‘not so normal’ cat, Emma,.
I am to fall asleep and said guardian angel…now named Fred…will watch over me until I wake up tomorrow morning…
AND…he will continue to watch over me for the rest of my entire life.
AND…I will see him in action…or inaction…and no one else will.
AND…if I tell anyone, they will either lock me up…or send me somewhere with…you know…padded walls and there will be lots of very friendly people there smiling at me .
AND…FRED WILL BE THERE WITH ME!!! WATCHING. OVER. ME…….FOR FUCKING EVER!!!!
OMG!!!! I will never ever sleep again…
And yet…and yet…I suddenly feel strangely peaceful and calm as I climb into bed and begin my normal “go to sleep” ritual.
First lying on my right side and then turning over to my left side where I fall asleep instantly…as I have done for 24 years.
“Tobey!!! Wake up!!! The fire alarm is going to go off in a couple of minutes. You have to leave now.”
The Paperback Edition…
I ran over to my bed and dropped to my knees. I started pulling out all the under-the-bed bins I used for storage…calling Emma’s name…but only hearing the deafening and increasingly irritating blare of the fire alarm.
Tears were streaming down my cheeks…my heart felt like it was literally breaking.
I sobbed, “Dammit Emma, where are you? I’m not leaving you! You’re my best friend, Emma!! You’re my…my only friend.”
Oh God, I thought…where in the holy hell is she???
I laid full out on my stomach so I could reach farther under my bed and then suddenly I felt that soft fur, so familiar to my touch, and I grabbed a bunch of it and held on tight. I scooted backwards and dragged Emma out from under the bed.
Her little blue eyes popped open and she looked at me and coughed.
“Did you burn dinner again, Tobey?”
“C’mon you little rascal, we’re blowing this pop stand.”
I sat up and put Emma under my tee-shirt and tucked it into my sleep pants and then pulled the drawstring tight underneath her.
I was only taking little breaths but they all felt like pure smoke. The only light in the room was from my laptop on my desk…thank God for battery mode….
With my left hand firmly under Emma, I pulled up the window blinds, climbed up on my desk chair and then onto my desk. Crouching low, I slid open the window and cold, fresh air rushed in.
I took a couple of deep breaths, backed up to the edge of my desk and then I ran…head and right shoulder down… full force through the screen!
There was so little resistance…I flew through the air! My butt landed with a smack on a snow-covered bush.
I looked up and there was Fred…shimmering on a snowbank…about three feet away.
“Well…I see you two made it.”
The Paperback Edition…
“What the hell were you doing?” I shouted at Fred as I struggled to stand up.
“Were you going to let us almost die and then perform some kind of ‘guardian angel’ magic crap and save us? Was this some kind of cockamamie plan of yours?”
“Well…actually miss,” said a deep voice from behind me. I turned around and found myself looking up at a very tall fireman holding a blanket.
“As I came down your hall, I heard someone…I guess that was you…screaming from your apartment. I thought someone was looking for a child or…” he paused and looked down and saw Emma’s head pop out of my tee-shirt.
“Then I saw you go flying out the window.”
“So, no…that wasn’t my cockamamie plan. Are you and your… cat okay?” He tried to put the blanket around the two of us.
I was starting to get really cold and shaky .
I managed to free one hand and brushed the tears from my eyes and looked up again at this tall man.
He was smiling at me and he was pretty cute. (Hey…it’s going to take more than a fire and a near death experience to stop me from appreciating a good-looking man…)
Married, I bet. Two kids. A dog, of course. And his loving mother probably lives with them. All one big happy family. Rats.
“I’m fine…now.” I said…a little too briskly, perhaps. “Thank you very much. Is the fire out?” I asked, trying to sound a little more normal…and less filled with rage.
“Yes. It started in the dryer right above your unit. The resident had left the building to go to work, so it went unnoticed for quite a while.”
“The other tenants are meeting in the lobby right now. I think management will have some kind of plan or announcement. They usually do in cases like this.” he said helpfully.
“Well…thanks again,” I said and I started to turn and walk toward the pine tree where I had last seen Fred wavering earlier.
“Oh here…” said the fireman. “I grabbed these for you. I hope they’re yours. They were sitting right by your front door.” He held out my UGG boots to me.
“I figured you might need them after I saw you jump out the window into the snow.”
I walked back to him and without even thinking twice, I just leaned against him and kicked off my wet slippers and put on my boots.
“Well, I better……” I started to talk but the horror of the night suddenly sunk in and no more words would come.
Fresh tears started to stream down my cheeks and I turned quickly away and headed off to find Fred…hugging Emma’s little warm body as I walked.
“Why can’t they shut that damn horn off!” I yelled to nobody in particular.
And then somebody did. Suddenly it was so quiet I could hear my heart beat.
“FRED!! Where the hell are you?” I yelled loudly.
And then from behind, I felt a slight touch on my shoulder. Finally!!!!
I whirled around, ready to give Fred a taste of my full fury…many brilliant swear word combinations forming in my brain…
“Actually, miss,” said my helpful fireman in a quiet and soothing voice, “I’m right here.”
And he pointed to his name badge.
It was hard to read since my eyes were so blurry from crying. I squinted but I couldn’t make it out. I looked up at him with a puzzled expression on my face.
“What?” I asked.
“That’s me…my name is Fred.”
“I don’t have a dog but I do have two cats. I’m single…my mother lives in Paris…and I have absolutely no idea why I’m telling you all this…”
And here’s the ‘partly true’ part that I referred to in the beginning:
One night about 15 years ago I did wake up unexpectedly and as I was rolling over I saw a “black ribbon, shimmering in the corner.”
I looked at it for a few minutes…and felt no fear at all. But I did know I wasn’t dreaming or ‘half-asleep’. I remember smiling and then I went back to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning I realized I had seen one of my guardian angels by mistake…it doesn’t happen often…but it does happen. You can Google it.
This has happened about 3 more times since then…
I can’t believe it…my heart is breaking…it’s done. I knew it was coming, but still…
It seems like only yesterday that everything was in front of me…a plan…a ritual…even dreams…
But now…IT’S OVER.
It started out so brilliantly…I was so full of hope and joy!
First came the crisp autumnal breezes blowing orange and red tinted leaves past my window…and then…white flakes of snow fluttering down.
There was Domino’s Pizza every week! And…dessert…with no regrets.
There wasn’t a day I didn’t think about you. Some mornings I would wake early…so excited to be with you that day.
It was all part of the experience…and I loved it. I’ve been down this road before.
I laughed. I screamed. Sometimes I was so still…I hardly breathed. And yes…I even cried…once or twice…just a tear or two.
But even so…week after week…the joy was there… the promise…ALWAYS THERE!!! ALWAYS!!
But now…GONE…GONE FOREVER…………………..well maybe not quite forever…
But at least until the 23rd of April……….NFL DRAFT DAY!!!!!!!
(OF COURSE THERE IS THE NFL COMBINE ON FEBRUARY 23…BUT WHO REALLY CARES ABOUT THAT CRAP…)*
Have a nice day…
*Okay…I’ll probably listen to all the recaps on the radio…but that’s it.
The party was a HUGE success! There must have been 25-30 kids there…some even Karla didn’t know…but the word got out and kids…out “trick or treating”… just knocked politely on the door and sweet mom, Liz let them in with a welcoming smile…and sent them down the basement.
(Karla’s party was probably the first prototype of the fantastic open house parties to come as we got older. Those parties dotted the streets of our sprawling suburb every Friday and Saturday night in the late fifties and early sixties.
All you needed then was a car and maybe an address…or sometimes you could just drive up and down the streets looking for lots of cars parked in front of a house…with the lights blazing…a dead giveaway.
You just waked in, smiled nicely to the parent…who was usually sitting in the kitchen looking a little shell-shocked…and went wherever her hand pointed…usually to the basement.
Karla’s party had only walk-ins…no cars yet…and we all drank the pop, ate the sloppy Joes, did the little “scavenger hunt” Karla’s mom had organized and then about 9:00 Karla put red bulbs in the light sockets…and a ‘DO NOT DISTURB–THIS MEANS YOU MOM’ sign on the basement door. It was time to have a real party!!!
The plan was to start slow…this was, after all…the first time most of us had been at a party like this…but Karla and I had done a lot of reading…
Spin the Bottle was first and everyone got into a large circle and got very quiet. There was a lot of nervous laughter…from everyone…including me.
Truth or Dare would be last. I had played ‘Truth’ once before…at a slumber party last summer with a group of girls…four of the girls went home crying. It was pretty intense.
Karla, as hostess and most fearless of us all, went first and the bottle stopped in front of Ronald Simmons…the most quiet and shyest boy in our school…and Karla’s next door neighbor.
Everyone gasped out loud! Why was he here? Who invited him? He never even talked to anyone…I wasn’t sure he could talk…I had never heard him.
“Ronny!! I didn’t know you were coming tonight.” said Karla in a very friendly, non-threatening voice.
“I was #7 on your mom’s Scavenger Hunt list.” he said as he pointed to Brian Carlson, one of our gang…who was looking slightly embarrassed…making eye contact with no one.
“Very funny, Brian.” said Karla with a disapproving tone to her voice.
To Ronny she said, “Well, good to…see you, Ronny…” And then she gave him a big smile…and went to re-spin the bottle…but wait…
No one let Karla get away with that move…she and Ronny had to go into the storage area for a kiss…rules were rules.
They came out 30 seconds later…both of them with blazing red cheeks!
Later, Karla told me he refused to kiss her so she just grabbed him by his shoulders and kissed him anyway.
“I think he kind of screamed, Riley, honest.” she said.
(Side Note: Ronny Simmons became a many times decorated homicide detective for the Minneapolis Police Department…after working Vice for ten years…he never married.)
The game continued and very quickly most everyone had their turns at Spin the Bottle and were laughing and having a good time. Everyone was anxious to move up to something more daring. I know I was…I hadn’t gotten ‘chosen by the bottle’.
It was time for Seven Minutes in Heaven…where two people spent seven minutes in a darkened room doing whatever they wanted.
John Taylor, a really good-looking new boy who had just last week moved to Bloomington from St. Paul, Mn., had been smiling at me a lot and I had been smiling back. We hadn’t yet talked…only said “hi”.
He looked older and “exciting”. Maybe it was his all black Zorro costume…but what did I know…I was only 13.
It turned out John had missed a year of school because of an auto accident and had to repeat second grade…so he was older. He was…14.
When it was his time to spin …he reached out and stopped the bottle before it could go past me and looked right at me with a devilish grin.
I never went into the other room with anyone else all night…John’s turn always stopped at me …and he encouraged the spinning bottle to pass by me when the other boys had their turn…pretty heady stuff for an 8th grade girl like me.
John Taylor had an agenda that Halloween night and I was at the top of it…me and my Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume.
I will definitely explain my authentic (read very skimpy) Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume…a tin of dark brown body powder included with the rental price…but first…
…my life in a nutshell before this party.
My mom and dad didn’t always read the set of instructions that came with living in this world…which…if you don’t have children is workable…but they had me…
I was the first girl to wear lipstick, albeit pale, pale pink lipstick in 6th grade. My dad brought it home because he thought I would like it. I did.
This was scandalous in 1958. But mom and dad thought it was cool. And so did I.
I later wore it to my Wednesday confirmation class at some really strict (no-name) evangelical church (let’s not say cult, here).
A friend of a friend of my dad’s had recommended this church to him…one dark and story night in a neighborhood bar.
Someone had to have been very drunk at the time for this to have ever been thought to be a good idea. Again. Let’s not use the word cult.
I got banned and sent home on my red Schwinn bike because I was wearing lipstick.
I was allowed back to class after a very curt call from my mother who had just shelled out a ton of money for my expensive white confirmation dress with matching shoes. She had also just prepaid for a confirmation group photo in an oak frame. My mom was fierce when she was upset…
So…I was allowed to return to the fold…whatever…
But then I brought a nice Catholic boy to a confirmation class hay ride three weeks later and was then permanently banned from class…we were, however, allowed to finish the hayride.
However, the group picture had already been taken and paid for so it looked like I had actually been confirmed even though I had not.
“Screw it,” my dad said. “We got the picture!” And it hung ever so proudly in their living room for years.
My mom said she thought she was Jewish anyway…and so that was the end of my formal religious education.
I started using black eye liner in 7th grade but no one cared…
Now…about that costume…a friend of my dad’s…
“No trick or treating!!” shouted my dad when he was told of the “new Halloween rule”.
“Has everyone gone mad?” he exclaimed..
“It’s a terrible idea!!! Riley’s just a kid…she’s only 9…10…how old are your, darlin’?” he said turning to me.
“I’m thirteen dad and Karla’s having a swell costume party instead and I’m really looking forward to that!”
I gave him a huge supportive smile…because he seemed to really need it.
The next day he came home from work with a telephone number and an address he got from a guy he knew…who knew of a professional costume shop in Minneapolis.
My dad always knew a guy…or at least a guy who knew a guy.
“We’ll get you something really spectacular, Riley. So…you won’t be so sad,” Dad said.
“I’m not sad, dad.” I said.
Mom just smiled and put three Swanson chicken TV dinners in the oven…they were her specialty.
After dinner, my dad made a phone call to make sure the shop was open. We all trekked down to this really tiny (read kind of dingy) shop on Washington Avenue.
The costume shop was for adults…it’s okay to let your mind wander here…
I think he sold some other stuff as well…anyway…he had told my dad over the phone that he would give him a good deal…my dad loved a good deal.
Because I was thirteen and…you know…kid-short, I only had 2 choices of costumes.
A clown costume with blue and white baggy pants and red shirt…and a re-usable red ball I could pop on my nose…OR…a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume–tin of dark brown body powder included with rental price. The clown costume was really never even considered.
The night of the party, it took my mom over an hour to cover my exposed skin with the dark brown powder but when she was done…I looked…like an 8th grade girl in a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume…that was a little too skimpy…but…
“Oh, what the hell,” said my mom…putting some more powder on my ‘chest’.
My dad gave me two thumbs up.
“You look great, kiddo. Very…Hawaiian.” He sounded so proud.
I don’t know if he was proud of the way I looked, proud of the costume itself or proud of the fact that he had indeed gotten a good deal.
He then leaned in to give me a big hug. He pulled away and the front of his white tee-shirt was streaked all over with brown powder!
“Holy Crap!!” I said…not quite horrified.
My parents just laughed…and told me…”don’t go hugging anyone tonight!”
I thought…well, okay.
Do you remember Chapter 3…and my “Seven Minutes in Heaven”…with John Taylor and his black Zorro costume…many, many times?
Johnny and I didn’t date each other once in high school. That full body “kissing/hugging” session on Halloween in 8th grade was it.
From ninth grade on, we were always dating other people. Event though there was a strong connection between us…we never seemed to get together to actually go out on a real boy/girl date.
But during our four years in high school, we shared many classes, activities and lunch hours.
We became fearsome fast friends…talking on the phone almost every night…many times complaining about the girl or guy we were currently dating.
When we got older and had access to cars, we would meet at Ralph’s…the only drug store in Bloomington that still served Lime Phosphates…we were both huge fans.
Our friendship grew even if our love life didn’t.
Johnny was bat-shit smart but hated to study or take notes or pay attention in class.
I would often see him looking out the window at something he found way more fascinating than what the teacher was saying.
But I did study. And I did take notes…and I easily and with no conscience slipped my very best friend copies of my notes for tests.
Many hours were spent studying together…that is…when I could get him to stop talking to my parents…who adored him…and come into my bedroom where we could study.
But even that was hard. Johnny would always flop on my bed and gaze up at the twinkle lights I had hung from my ceiling.
“Turn off all the lights, Riley. I want to see the stars.”
I never argued. It was no use. Our study sessions always began with us laying side by side on my bed…looking up at “the stars” in total darkness.
Then we would talk…about anything and everything…as long as it did not have anything to do with algorithms or cell structure. Maybe later…we would study.
Sometimes I had to take his face in my hands and make him look at me, to get him to pay attention and listen to what I was trying to say to him.
He would smile and say, “Tinka. You have the prettiest eyes.”
Tinka was his pet name for me…I had no idea why…but Johnny said, “One day, Tinka, I will tell you…”
And then he would try to kiss me and of course I was always dating someone else so I would laugh and push him away. But sometimes…sometimes I wouldn’t always want to…
“Johnny!!! Pay Attention!! Do you want to graduate with honors or not? Your dad will kill you if you don’t…you now that, don’t you?”
And then, and only then, would he listen…at least for a little while.
He was very careful about what his father thought of him. It was so important for Johnny to impress him. I don’t think his father ever knew that…
Johnny and I were both atypical National Honor Society members who…along with twenty-four other ‘more normal’ kids went to Chicago one month before graduation for our 3 day, 2 night senior trip.
We basically just hung out together…just the two of us…because the other kids avoided us…we were like “the bad boys of NHS.”
We tried to get the room assignments changed so we could share a room…but no one was on board with that.
We were just friends, after all, so we didn’t see a problem…our advisor, however, didn’t agree.
Both of us smoked like chimneys so there were many very ‘intimate’ moments in the train’s tiny bathroom…sharing cigarettes…
There was also very little sleep that weekend…and sometimes it was nice to put my weary head on Johnny’s chest.
And…even nicer when he would put his arm around me and say, “Little, tired Tinka,” and kiss the top of my head.
One day, we ditched the other kids and went to the Lincoln Park Zoo instead of the ‘scheduled’ trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a beautiful day and we wanted to be outside.
We ate hot dogs and ice cream and smoked two packs of cigarettes.
We tried to get this young guy with really long hair to buy us some beer at a liquor store we had scoped out…but that didn’t fly.
We thought we were so daring…
We thought we were so much cooler than the other kids. We really weren’t.
The other kids thought we were just plain nuts. We probably were.
Then one month later we were throwing our mortar boards into the air at the graduation ceremony.
“Let’s keep in touch this summer, Riley.” Johnny said and kissed my forehead…I was dating some jock at the time…who was hovering nearby.
“Call me anytime, Johnny and we’ll do something.” I said and I reached up to kiss his cheek. He was dating some blonde bombshell from Richfield…also hovering.
“Done.” He said.
But…summer flew by…and even though we talked many times on the phone we never got together.
Johnny took his full ride scholarship to the private and very expensive Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
He had moved into an older one-bedroom apartment on Goodrich Avenue. He said he liked it because of the big windows that over looked the tree-lined street.
Johnny’s parents were bankrolling his apartment rent.
Plus they were giving him a monthly allowance as a reward for “studying so hard” in high school the he had earned a scholarship.
“They should be paying me!” I had half-heartedly complained to Johnny when he had told me about his windfall one day while talking on the phone this summer.
Johnny had paused…
“Yes…that may be true…but, Riley, I am a GENIUS….you know.”
He always jokingly bragged about his I.Q. It was like 152 or 160 or something nutso high like that.
“Yes…” I replied slowly. “But…I read somewhere…there’s a fine line between being a genius and being crazy…you know…JOHN!” He hated it when I called him John and I laughed and hung up the phone.
I was going to go to the University of Minnesota and living at home with mom and dad to save money.
I was waiting to hear if I had secured the highly sought after “weekend popcorn girl” job at the Campus Theater. I needed the extra money. My student loan hadn’t kicked in yet.
The pay was really good and you could study during the movie…and eat as much popcorn as you wanted…and butter.
Johnny and I had tried to talk every day during the summer and then when school began…it was harder.
College life was different. So much time…and yet…so little time.
We didn’t actually see each other for almost five months.
But then…one night at a ridiculously drunken party…in a ridiculously crowded tiny apartment in Dinky Town near the University of Minnesota campus…
“Johnny! What are you doing here? Are you slumming?” I said…and put my arms out for a hug.
“Tinka…give me a kiss.” And I did.
Both Johnny and I got blind drunk and were not dating anyone else…so…
It seemed appropriate…and about time.
It was a ratty little apartment but it had one bedroom with a door that locked…and we locked it.
When I look back now…I think I truly fell in love with Johnny Taylor at that 8th grade Halloween Party…and never really fell out…
He agreed…but then…he always agreed with me.
Within a week, I had moved into Johnny’s apartment.
It was like we had been together forever. Everything fell so easily into place. There was a bus line that went right down Snelling Avenue to the East River Road and into the U of M campus…no one wanted to drive a car to the U. if there was some other way.
I got a job as a waitress at Pierre’s Pizza, just a short one-block walk from our apartment and my student loan had kicked in so I could quite my other job as…
Yes, I had gotten the weekend popcorn girl job! Even after only a couple of weeks I knew I was going to miss that
butter I mean…popcorn.
Johnny, who had been close to failing ALL of his classes, cleared his mind, stopped partying and began to study…and not just to please me…but to please himself…to please us.
When we weren’t being in love, making love, working or studying, we spent every minute doing whatever we could to protest the Vietnam War. We marched. We made signs. We went to meetings and protest rallies. We wrote letters.
But still…more and more young men were coming home in body bags…shown in full color on CBS news.
Every night there was footage…showing young men…somewhere in Nam…either bleeding from wounds or shooting at the enemy. It was horrible to watch. But I felt I owed it to every soldier to do so.
One night…as we were drifting off to sleep…Johnny, holding me close to him as he did every night, softly whispered.
“I don’t think I could ever kill anybody, Riley.” And then…even softer…
“I don’t want to…”
Around the middle of June, Johnny got his Order to Report for Induction. He had been drafted.
“What about your student deferment, Johnny? What about that?” I cried.
Johnny sat at our kitchen table, shaking his head.
“You know, before you moved in, I remember taking this test…it was some kind of draft test…I don’t know…I didn’t pay that much attention.”
“I had been out the night before…didn’t get much sleep before taking it…I was a little hung-over…”
He looked up at me sheepishly.
“I should have had you there, Tinka, slipping me notes…”
I frantically paced around the small kitchen as Johnny sat holding the letter in his hands…looking at it in total disbelief.
“I never really thought it would happen.” He said quietly.
“I think I have about two weeks before I have to report.” He looked again at the letter and let it fall to the floor.
I picked it up and tore it in half. Then I tore it in half again.
“NO!!!! You’re not going!!! I won’t let you go!” I shouted.
“There must be something we can do! We’ve got to do something! Wait!!! Why can’t we get married, Johnny? They don’t take married men, right?” I said.
That deferment ended last August Riley. Apparently, Johnson needs the wisdom of the married man.” He said sarcastically.
“Canada….we’ll move to Canada. Lots of boys are doing it, Johnny. We can do…”
Before I could finish, Johnny was holding up his hand and shaking his head…
“My dad would disown me, Riley…and forbid my mom and Alec from visiting me. ”
I knew how close Johnny and his mom were and Johnny loved his little brother so much. Alec was just two years younger than Johnny…and he idolized him.
“You know how my dad feels about “duty and service to country”. He said glumly. Both Johnny’s dad and grandfather had served in the Army…and both during war time.
“If I went to Canada, I wouldn’t see my mom or Alec ever again, Riley.”
“Well if you die in some fucking rice field in Nam…you won’t see them ever again either…will you!!!!” I screamed at him.
At the airport…Johnny held me in his arms as tears poured down my face and my body shook with sobs.
“It took so long for us to find each other…” I cried.
“Please don’t leave me, Johnny!! I will die without you!! I will! I will die!” And my voice rose…causing others nearby to look away from the painfully sad couple…
Johnny pulled back…and took my face in his hands…as I had done to him so many times in high school…but this time he was forcing me to listen.
“I will never leave you again, Tinka…I promise! When this year is over…I will come home to you and we will always be together. I promise you.”
And then he kissed all the tears from my cheeks and held me so tight I could hardly breathe and then…before one more second passed…he quickly turned and walked away.
One year later…Johnny Taylor came home…as promised.
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…
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.”
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.
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.
A few days after Johnny’s funeral, I marched with about 5,000 other protesters down Summit Avenue from Macalester College to the St. Paul capitol. There were a lot of speakers that day on the capitol steps and they were all very angry.
President Johnson had just announced a new troop deployment to Viet Nam.
He had earlier ‘leaked’ to the media of a withdrawal of troops, something he often did to appease the war protesters…but the ‘withdrawal’ was just another wretched lie that would send more heart broken families and friends to grave sites over the next days, weeks, months and even years.
As frustration with the war increased, protesters were becoming more militant. But they were passionately against the war…and that was all that mattered to me.
I was hurting and I needed to do something.
I needed to do more to help end this horror…to stop more young men from coming home in black body bags.
Johnny was gone…he would never hold me in his arms again…never! I could not get past my sadness…I missed him so much.
I wanted everyone to know the anguish and pain that this stupid war was bringing to thousands of people like me.
I wanted everyone to know and to care and to do something…
I wanted the pain to go away…
I wanted Johnny back.
One year had gone by…but I was still angry and frustrated. The war in Viet Nam was escalating and more and more young men were coming home dead…or like Johnny…drug addicts.
It was just after the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, 1968 that I met Tommy Clark.
He was currently working toward a law degree on scholarship at the University of Minnesota.
As a student at Berkeley in California, he had been quite active in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), organizing many anti-war rallies.
He had just returned from Chicago and still had bruises from his clash with the police at the convention.
He didn’t try to hide them. He seemed to be proud of them as he was wearing only a raggedy, sleeveless tee shirt on a chilly Minnesota night.
He and a couple of other students were speaking to a very large group of anti-war protesters who had gathered in front of Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota campus.
Protests and rallies and marches were getting larger and becoming more organized…but still in America…in was pretty much business as usual.
President Johnson was still spewing lies to try to keep protesters happy…what did he care? He wasn’t even seeking a second term.
Civil disobedience was becoming the new catch phrase at protest rallies.
Tommy was calling out for ideas that might grab the attention of the press…noting that there was NO press at this rally.
I was at the front of the group and I called out a suggestion to have protesters chain themselves to the water tower on Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway…a heavily trafficked area of St. Paul.
Everyone cheered and I looked up at Tommy Clark who was also cheering and clapping.
“And a hunger strike!” I shouted out.
“This country may have become numb to seeing young boys bleeding to death ‘in living color’ on their TV screens…but no one wants to see young college kids starving to death on Snelling Avenue in Minnesota.”
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.
Later…at a little bar in Dinky Town…I saw Tommy siting with a bunch of other kids I had seen at the rally. They were all sitting in a huge booth by the back wall.
I went over and introduced myself…just in case he had forgotten who I was.
I told him how impressed I was with his speech and told him I was eager to help in any way.
“Riley. Of course I remember you! Here sit down next to me.” He said and patted the space next to him and everyone slid over.
Tommy said he had been talking to other anti-war protest leaders on other campuses across the country and they had been sharing strategies.
He was flying to Washington D.C. tomorrow to plan the inauguration protest…if Nixon was elected..
We sat and talked that night for hours and over the next several weeks, we got together to plan strategies and share more ideas.
We were all students…so we had to fit everything in around classes…but winter break was coming.
It was the middle of January when Tommy brought up the water tower idea again…only this time the plan was to blow it up.
“It’s the only way to get the press to pay attention,” Tommy said. “And it will be safe…no one will be around in the dead of winter…I’ve checked it out many times and the place is always deserted…not one foot print in the snow.
“I talked with a couple of guys from New York and California and they all said…and I agree…we have to start making people sit up and take notice.”
“Blowing things up will do that…and we’ll get the front-page headlines we deserve.”
Everyone agreed with Tommy…but I did not.
“No. Sorry…no violence.” I said. “I’ll lay in the street. I’ll get arrested. I’ll chain myself to a building or whatever…but no violence that could possibly hurt innocent people. Absolutely not.”
Sheila Baxter and her boyfriend Gerald Michaels were sitting next to me. They were also working toward law degrees and had known Tommy when he was in California.
They also had come here on scholarship.
Another boy, Mikey Longwell was the organizer of a small group of kids who had been at the Wisconsin Dow Day protest…where there had been injuries…it was the first university protest to turn violent.
They listened to me and then turned back to Tommy. It was like I hadn’t said anything at all.
I sat for a few more minutes shaking my head in disapproval.
Finally, I had enough. I stood up and started to put on my jacket.
“I’m leaving. I’m not doing this.” I said and started to walk out.
Tommy got up and followed me to the door. He grabbed my arm so I couldn’t leave.
“You better keep quiet about this, Riley. Remember all those people at that rally a few months ago?”
“They heard one thing over and over again…that ‘staging a protest at the water tower’ was your idea.”
And then Tommy smiled and my whole body suddenly got so cold I shivered.
I knew then that Tommy Clark could be very dangerous if you made him mad. I think I just did.
I angrily pulled my arm away and walked out the door.
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 me that chillingly, cold smile that I would never forget.
I stepped back…I could not believe that Tommy Clark was standing less than three feet in front of me…smiling that disgusting smile of his.
My heart began to pound like a jack-hammer.
I had been wrong…all these years…I had been so wrong.
Not everyone was dead after all.
They say…that if you are ever confronted by a vicious animal, you should never run. They will instinctively think you are prey and chase you .
And when they catch you…and they will catch you…they will kill you.
Instead, shout as loudly as you can or grab a couple of rocks and bang them together.
Your chances are good the animal will be momentarily startled at least for a short time…giving you a chance to escape.
I had no rocks. My mouth was so dry I could hardly swallow…much less shout. And what exactly would I shout? So I stood and waited.
“You look good, Riley.”
I suddenly felt dizzy and I swayed just a little.
“I need to sit down…” I said and made an effort to walk back to where I had been sitting.
But Tommy took my elbow and steered me out the door of Larson’s.
“I think what you need is a drink, Riley. I know I could use one. There’s a friendly-looking little bar a couple of doors down.”
It had started to rain ever so slightly…and still holding tightly to my arm…he led me down the block.
Maybe Tommy had mellowed. It had been so many years. Maybe this was just a chance encounter.
Maybe his frightening smile was just a…smile. Maybe this was a dream and I would wake up.
And maybe pigs could fly…
Two doors down from Larson’s was the kind of neighborhood bar that seldom saw strangers…especially in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.
Sure enough…when we walked in…the three men at the bar turned at the sound of the door opening…stopped talking and just looked at the two of us.
Tommy gave them a nod and then guided me to a booth way over in a corner by a window. It was stuffy in the bar and Tommy opened the window a little. The cool air felt good.
An older woman…perhaps in her sixties came right over and leaned against the side of the booth. I had a feeling she may have been the owner.
She gave us a cool smile…and I’m sure she was thinking…”Now…who the hell are you two?”
But she said pleasantly, “Nice rainy day, right?”
I returned her smile…and desperately tried to think of something I could say or do to get me out of this booth…and away from Tommy.
I had decided…pigs can’t fly.
“Where is the ladies’ room?” I asked.
She looked away from us and pointed to a neon sign on the other side of the bar…past a few tables.
I made a move to get up…but Tommy reached across and put a restraining hand on my arm…
“Riley, can you hold on for just a couple of minutes? Let’s order first. I’m starving.”
He gave the waitress a big smile and said, “We’ll need a second or two.”
He reached for the little menus propped up by the salt & pepper shakers. His jacket fell open a little.
That’s when I saw the holster…and the gun.
“Sure, blue eyes…I’ll be back.”
Tommy smiled at her again and then turned back…but there was no smile for me…he knew I had seen the gun.
“Oh, don’t be scared, Riley…I’m not going to kill you. The gun’s not for you. I always carry now…it’s legal in Minnesota, you know…or maybe you don’t. You’ve been gone for such a long time.”
But I do have a story to tell you and I want you to hear it. I want you to know how…” he paused, folded his hands together in front of him, took a deep breath…and then began again.
“I want you to completely understand the consequences of your foolish actions that night when you and your uncle decided to call the police.”
I made an effort to speak but before I could say anything…
“No…let me talk. I’ve waited a long time, Riley.” Tommy seemed very calm…not angry at all.
I relaxed a little.
“Fine. I’l listen to you, Tommy. But I read about Sheila and Gerald in the newspaper. I know what happened to them.”
“I read that about six months after we were all expelled from the University of Minnesota…they blew themselves up in an abandoned apartment building in New York City…along with four innocent teenagers who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“…and Mikey…I can’t help it that his marriage failed…or should I say marriages…and that he felt that suicide was the solution to his problems.”
“That’s not on me.” I said, feeling more sure of myself now…
“I’ve even kept track of you…Tommy…but I thought you were dead.”
“I heard you went to California after the Kent State tragedy. But then I heard nothing more about you.” I said.
“You were so active in the protest movement…it was like you disappeared.”
“What happened…?” I asked.
Tommy didn’t answer but instead signaled the waitress over and ordered two whisky sours and two cheeseburgers with fries.
Apparently Tommy’s memory was still good. He ordered my favorite food and drink combination from our college days…and still today, as well.
The curtain was fluttering beside me and I was just about to close the window when the waitress quickly returned with our drinks.
Again…Tommy gave her a big smile…and I’m sure she was thinking…big tip. Well. Maybe…
“I’ll be back in a few…” the friendly waitress said.
I took a sip of my drink. Wow! It was strong…better go slow, I thought.
Tommy, however, drank almost half of his glass before putting it down.
Then he leaned to the side so he could look around me.
Instinctively, I turned to see what he was looking at…
A group of eight or nine young people had come into the bar…all laughing and talking and carrying prettily, wrapped boxes.
One of them was very, very pregnant. It was obviously a ‘farewell’ party for the beaming pregnant woman.
When I looked back at Tommy, he had the gun out and was attaching…what I knew from watching so many ‘cop’ programs on TV…a silencer.
My mouth flew open to cry out…but before I could even inhale enough oxygen to do so…Tommy very quietly said…
“If you say one word, Riley, I will kill everyone in this wretched hole in the wall bar…and first to go will be the cute, little pregnant woman.”
“Do. You. Understand?” He spoke each word so very carefully.
I could hardly breathe. But I nodded.
Tommy chuckled softly. “You really didn’t believe me when I said that I wasn’t going to kill you…did you, Riley?”
“Of course, I’m going to kill you.”
“I’ve waited fifty years to do this. Have you ever heard of that saying, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’? Well, this ‘dish’ is almost frozen…and will be all the sweeter.”
“When Sheila and Gerald died…I was supposed to be with them. I was the explosives expert…but I was dead drunk in some crap apartment I was crashing at with some crap girl I had met at a bar.”
“Do you know why I was drunk, Riley? I had just received a letter…from the American Bar Association telling me that no state in this glorious country would grant me permission to practice law…due to ‘lack of good moral character'”.
“No moral character, Riley! Me…who had spent the best six years of his life working to prevent the deaths of thousands of young men in that stupid war.”
“And poor Mikey…he never got over the deaths of Sheila and Gerald.”
“He blamed himself for not being there…blamed me too…used to send me pathetic letters…trying to make himself feel better.”
“Finally, after five years of guilt that he couldn’t handle…he hung himself.”
“But what happened to me…you ask? I ended up in California and spent the next forty years working under a phony name, as a paralegal during the day.”
“They didn’t even check my fake references…they just wanted me cheap. And at night…I drank myself to sleep in front of the television set…waiting…”
“I always hoped I would see you again, Riley. After I “retired”, I moved back to Minnesota…kept an eye on little Alec and his lovely wife…and of course I bought this gun.”
“But you were always just a dream away…until your angry Letter to the Editor last month in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the increase in suicide rates of veterans.”
“You shouldn’t have used your real name, Riley. That was very careless of you…very careless.”
Suddenly there was a change in Tommy…the calmness was gone…replaced by a quiet rage.
“Everything that happened to Sheila, Gerald, Mikey and me was your fault, Riley…you and your stupid, interfering uncle…but I got him.”
“Now…after years of waiting…I’m finally going to get you.”
My mouth fell open. “Uncle Carl was killed by…”
Before I could finish, Tommy interrupted me. He was almost gleeful in his telling.
“I enjoyed reading the cops’ investigation on his ‘ambush‘ murder…they thought it was some former ex-convict…perhaps seeking revenge. It was revenge all right…my revenge.”
“Bastard…” I whispered under my breath.
Tommy carefully lifted the gun off the table and pointed it at me. I looked right into his eyes and saw those hideously fake, blue eyes wince just as he pulled the trigger.
It was so quiet…I can understand why they called it a ‘silencer’.
But I felt nothing but a whisper of air that brushed by my head.
Tommy looked so surprised…and then his head fell to the table with a thud and one bright blue contact lens popped out.
Years of smoking, drinking and hate had finally caught up with Tommy Clark…or whatever name he went by now.
I reached over and checked for a pulse…I thought I could feel a soft, little beat…
I breathed slowly and waited a few more minutes. I took a couple sips of my drink.
I could hear our waitress still taking orders from the party group. She would be a while…everyone was laughing…having such a good time.
I shuddered…knowing that Tommy would have shot that pregnant woman with no regret.
I checked again for a pulse. This time I could feel nothing.
“Be sure, Riley.” I said to myself. “Be very sure.” And I waited just a little bit longer…and then I checked again.
Nothing. The life of Tommy Clark was over…probably a nice, clean coronary…no questions would be asked. Old people die all the time.
I reached for his gun lying on the table. The barrel had cooled enough to pick it up and I gently removed Tommy’s fingers from the handle.
I put the gun in my purse and looked down at Tommy.
“Well. You’re all dead now…aren’t you?” I said and then I smiled…just a little.
I turned to the window where the curtains were still swinging back and forth…letting in the cool air..
I could tell just by looking…they had probable not been cleaned for years.
I pulled a corner of the curtain to the side….
…and there was a neat, little hole right under the window sill…could be almost anything…could have been there for twenty years…or twenty seconds.
I let the curtain fall back into place…hiding that little hole as it fluttered in the breeze.
…and waved “slightly frantically” at our waitress…who was now heading to the kitchen.
I called out in my best “shaky, frightened old lady” voice…
“Can somebody help me, please? I think we have a problem here…”
(The Paperback Edition…)
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.
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…
The Paperback Edition…
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 and gossip that my father Victor Jones drank too often and too much…that his beautiful wife, Katie Jones, deserved so much better and “Oh, that sweet, sweet Sam…it must be so hard for her.”
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…
“The Paperback Edition”
For some unknown reason, Mel’s and my freshman science class ended with a shared lunch hour with a lot of the sophomores and juniors. Happily for us, many were drop-dead good-looking older boys.
So, every chance we had, we were looking at them and much to our delight…they were looking right back at us. Were we innocent little lambs ready to be shorn? Maybe, I don’t know.
So naive we were…and so dazed by all the attention. And so very unprepared.
We had learned about dating and romance…and even sex…from books and movies…where no matter what happened, there was always a happy ending.
After all…it was 1957.
We were so very, very young.
We had tired weeks ago of the antics of the freshman boys…even the new ones from other schools in our district. They couldn’t even drive a car, for heaven’s sake.
Suddenly, as we stood in line that November day, someone bumped into me from behind and my biology book flew out of my hand and skittered across the floor.
A group of older boys behind us in line laughed loudly and my face turned bright red. I still blushed and hated myself every time it happened.
“You dropped your book,” one of them said, looking back at his friends, enjoying their approval and laughter. He seemed so pleased with his joke.
I kneeled down to get my book and raising up, looked into the face of the most handsome boy I had ever seen. His dark brown eyes were looking right at me and my breath was stilled for a moment.
He didn’t say he was sorry…because of course he wasn’t…I was just the random recipient of his stupid prank.
I tried to give him and his friends a big smile to show that I was cool and smooth and ‘not just some dumb, little, freshman girl’ but his look was so intense my smile froze crookedly on my face…not very cool at all.
His friends laughed even harder at my obvious embarrassment. My cheeks flamed even more and tears jumped to my eyes.
He stopped laughing then and bent down to pick up a sheet of paper that had fallen out of my book.
“Here, I think this is yours too.” He was almost apologetic.
He handed me the paper but my throat had closed and I couldn’t speak. Couldn’t even say thanks.
I turned quickly away, brushing a stray tear off my cheek and willing my face to stop blushing. He must think I’m a total idiot…still a child of the eighth grade, I thought.
“I am a total fool,” I muttered under my breath.
I moved up in the line, heart pounding from humiliation.
“Sam! Do you know who that was?” asked Melanie.
I shook my head and stole a look back over my shoulder at the group of boys who were now admiring a very stunning and buxom teacher who had just walked by.
“No,” I mumbled…still feeling quite stupid.
“That’s Bobby Flanagan! He’s the most popular boy at Portland! All the girls are wild for him! Even the senior girls and he’s only a sophomore!” Melanie was all but jumping up and down.
“I think he likes you,” she whispered to me…those magical words that best friends…no matter what age…say to each other whether they are true or not.
I turned back again and this time Bobby was looking right at me with a big grin on his face.
My heart literally skipped a beat…trite…but true nonetheless.
Samantha Jones…meet Bobby Flanagan…your First Love.
The Paperback Edition…
When you’re 14 going on 15…going on 16…and your mysterious new body is continuously running at a fever pitch and you’re dating a Bobby Flanagan, it’s always the Fourth of July with spectacular fireworks and sighs of wonderment.
For the next two years, nothing mattered to me except to be with Bobby. Thank God I was naturally smart so school was easy. I still managed the B honor roll…something I would need with college in the future…and college was definitely in the future. But not now.
Those two summers were magical…days glorious for not doing what should be done and nights delightful in doing what we should not.
Best memory? Oh…can I even choose? Maybe…Bobby and me in the back seat of his best friend’s car, heading to a nearby drive-in for hamburgers…still sun dazzled after hours of laying on a beach…somewhere.
Bobby’s arms wrapped around me, his hands travelling all over my sun-tanned body and kisses that have put all others since then…on another page entirely. My bare feet…danging out the open window…keeping time to the insistent beat of Jan and Dean’s “Baby Talk”.
Yes. That was the best memory…
Because…because THAT…was what First Love felt like…14 going on 15…going on 16…going on…going on…
The Paperback Edition…
Even now as I look back on those two summers, now with older…perhaps slightly jaded eyes, I can still…even now…feel the thrill, the excitement that Bobby brought to me…to my life.
Bobby became my life. I loved him without measure.
Were we having sex? Maybe…I don’t know for sure…I was so incredibly innocent back then. We all were. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but something was and I liked it and wasn’t saying no.
His boyish, irresistible charm reassured me every dark night or sunny afternoon when we were alone together, that all would be fine. He made it all so easy. But then…everything was easy with Bobby.
“Don’t worry, Sammy. It’s okay, it’ll be fine. I love you. You know I love you, don’t you?”
And he would look at me with those intense brown eyes that always held a little laughter in them…and then…and then…of course, I knew he did.
But there were other times when Bobby’s words of love were flippant and breezy.
And then, that lost, lonely feeling in the pit of my stomach would return.
I would wonder why did he want me? What was so special about me…Samantha Jones.
There were many other girls in high school that he could have chosen…prettier than me by far…more sophisticated and certainly less innocent.
Sometimes I would wonder if I was just a little toy for Bobby…a toy to play with for a short while…a toy he would keep until someone else came along.
The Paperback Edition…
But Samantha Jones was very, very wrong.
Travel back again to that cold November day. That was the day Samantha Jones stole Bobby Flanagan’s heart and she didn’t even know it.
That was the day when he saw her shy, lop-sided smile, and sensed the lonely, sweet sadness that she had successfully hidden from everyone…even from her best friend Mel.
That was the day when Bobby fell completely in love with Sam…not yet even knowing her name…just knowing somehow that loving her and making her happy was more important to him than anything else he would ever do.
But he was so young…only 16…too young then to understand completely such powerful feelings…much less able to share them, even with the one he loved so much.
Easier to set them aside for the moment…easier to smile…and so he did.
Bobby often hid his true feelings behind a mask of brashness and cockiness that came easy to a wickedly handsome Irish boy whose charm unsettled all the girls who met him.
Yes…Bobby loved Sam, perhaps more even than she loved him…but he never really told her…never shared with her how much he needed her…how much of his happiness depended on hers…how much her laughter and sweet innocence brightened his every day…how much joy he felt whenever he was near her.
He never let her know how necessary she was to the simple existence of his every day. Had she only known, Sam would have been bound to him forever…but Bobby never told her.
“The Paperback Edition”
I was entering my junior year of high school and I had started to think ahead to college. There were meetings with counselors and applications and forms to fill out.
I had always dreamed of becoming an elementary school teacher.
Bobby, who was actually very smart, was causing his teachers a lot of worry. They knew there was a good chance he would not graduate unless he buckled down and hit some good grades this…his senior year.
He was well liked by his teachers and they were all too willing to bend the rules a little for him. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
“Bobby, you have such potential, you shouldn’t waste it,” they would tell him. They had even talked to me…knowing and understanding the strong bond we shared.
But Bobby hated the word ‘potential’. He had heard it too often from his father who had wanted him to start working in the family hardware store immediately after graduation from high school.
For most young boys at that time, that would have been an easy, golden career path…but not for Bobby.
Bobby wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after high school.
“I just want a choice, Sammy.” he had told me so many times. “I just need a little time to think and decide what I want to do with my life.”
But…Bobby needed to graduate from high school…to not do so would reflect badly on the Flanagan name. And his proud father, Jack, was having none of that.
Jack’s plan for Bobby’s future had been decided years ago…his charming son was not going to change it.
And yet… Bobby did just that.
“The Paperback Edition”
Without warning…on a beautiful sunny October day, with Fall shadows still a few weeks away, Bobby shook the ground I stood on.
Without telling me what he was going to do…Bobby Flanagan walked away from me…walked away from us.
He signed up for a six-year enlistment in the U.S. Navy, two days after he had turned seventeen.
He was certain that the Navy would offer him so many more opportunities than the life his father his planned for him.
After days and nights filled with my tears that wouldn’t stop, Bobby’s words were of little comfort.
“It’ll be okay,” he said after wiping my tears away. “We can do this, Sammy. You know we can.”
And yet he had never asked me…before enlisting… what I thought about his decision…or how I felt.
In my heart and in my head, I knew how much this meant to him. I knew how important this was for him.
I only wished that I also knew that I was just as important to him…that he loved me as much as he loved his new, shiny-bright future.
What Samantha didn’t know…what would have changed everything…was how many tears Bobby had cried when the reality of his quick decision, the reality of his leaving her set in…even though he was sure it was the best solution for their future together. But…he never told her.
What Samantha didn’t know…was that leaving her was the hardest thing Bobby had ever had to do…and it was breaking his heart. But…he chose not to tell her.
He was barely seventeen and she was yet to turn sixteen…
The Paperback Edition…
It all happened so fast. Two weeks later Bobby was gone…gone from my life…seemingly forever…because that’s how you feel when you’re fifteen.
That lost, lonely feeling was back, causing more hurt than before.
I didn’t have Bobby there to know without me saying…why I had dark shadows under my eyes.
It’s hard to sleep when angry shouts and the sounds of broken glass are cutting through your dreams.
I had no Bobby to gently take my hand and softly give it a squeeze…silently telling me that he understood…and how much he cared…while the morning chatter of sleepy students was echoing around us in the halls.
There was no Bobby to sling a comforting arm of support around my shoulders…making me feel I could get through this. No Bobby to tell me…we would get through this…together.
Together was gone.
The Paperback Edition
Letter writing was hard for Bobby those first weeks. Boot camp was tough, I knew that.
I wrote to him every day…sometimes twice…each time telling him how much I missed him and loved him and sharing everything that was happening to me.
Bobby’s few letters were filled with his new adventure. “Everything’s great!” he said.
“I love you Sammy…I miss you so much!”
It wasn’t a good time for me. Mel had met the love of her life, Stuart Archer and spent every moment with him…just as I had done with Bobby. I understood. But…
I was beyond lonely.
Then one night, three days before Christmas Eve, the front door bell rang. There on our front step stood Bobby in his full Navy-Blue uniform…looking so very handsome.
“Hey Sammy…Merry Christmas!”
His heart-melting Irish grin was plastered from ear to ear and his arms were opened wide.
I was in those arms before he could say one more word. His signature cologne, Old Spice, smelled like heaven.
Even though only a few weeks had passed, Bobby seemed more mature and definitely more confident about his life…and he was so happy.
He talked a lot about his future…his future…he kept saying “his” future. I know, I know…he meant “our” future.
I was sure that Bobby’s feelings toward me and toward us had not changed.
I had just turned sixteen.
The two weeks flew by like two days…we spent every minute together. One night he took me shopping and he bought ‘his girl’ a black dress and a pink necklace to wear on their last night together before he had to leave…and he said, “I love you Sammy” And then…
And then…as quickly as he had appeared…he was gone. I was even more lonely than before.
Bobby’s letters became shorter and shorter and there were fewer of them.
He said he loved me and missed me. I knew that he did…but sometimes it seemed like an afterthought.
His life had changed so much and he was different. Mine had not. I was not.
I wanted to understand. But every time I read another short letter…filled with all his new experiences…I felt forgotten and unimportant…replaced by the excitement of Bobby’s new life in the Navy.
Six months ago, I was Bobby’s life.
Dear, sweet Mel tried to make me feel better.
“He’s busy, Sam. He’s got a lot of new stuff going on…Bobby adores you. You know that.”
Every night I went to sleep…wearing an Old Spice scented, blue plaid shirt that Bobby had given me…tears trying to escape my eyes.
The Paperback Edition
Around the end of April, I told Bobby that Mel and I were going to the Spring Festival Dance next month with a couple of friends.
Mel and I had both been on the planning committee for the dance and we had been working really hard to make everything go smoothly and to make the gym look pretty.
Mel was going to go with Stuart Archer, her boyfriend and I was going to go with Marty Nichols who had also been on the planning committee…we were just friends.
I really wanted to go. It did not occur to me…not for a moment that Bobby might not like me going…or even care as long as I was happy. I was very wrong.
Bobby wrote back right away…something he had not been doing for the past three months. He was brief.
“Absolutely not!” He wrote and I could feel desperate anger in his words…uncommon for Bobby who seldom got mad at anything.
“How are you waiting for me if you are dating other guys? How are you my girl?” He had asked.
I wrote back quickly and re-explained that Marty Nichols was just a friend…in fact…Bobby knew him. They had been in freshman Spanish together.
Another quick reply from Bobby. “No! If you go to this damn dance, Sammy, we are finished,” Bobby wrote back.
“You obviously don’t care about me anymore.”
And then he added the most hurtful words of all…words that showed me Bobby had really forgotten me…forgotten who I was…forgotten who we were.
“I’m sure Marty is probably looking for more than just to dance with you. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for too..”
He had just signed it “B”.
I sat on my bed and held his short letter in my hands for hours…tears of heartache and disbelief pouring from my eyes every time I read it…glad for once I was all alone.
When Saturday night came…I went to the dance.
Two weeks later I wrote Bobby a letter. I told him that I had a great time at the dance and that Marty was such a nice guy.
I told him that I wouldn’t be writing to him anymore…and that I would toss any letters from him away without opening them.
Of course, that was all a lie. The dance was awful. I didn’t want to dance so close to Marty when they played slow dances and he got really angry. He and a couple of his buddies got drunk from some whiskey they had smuggled in to the dance. It was a wretchedly, lonely night.
Mel and Stuart brought me home.
And that was the end of my junior year in high school…
The Paperback Edition…
My senior year of high school passed quickly. I graduated with honors, which was not a big accomplishment since I never dated…or did much of anything else except study.
Mel and Stuart got married in July…she was two months pregnant. Stuart started an apprenticeship program to become an electrician and they moved into a small trailer home…and were deliriously happy.
I got some bad advice from a beloved teacher, blew a scholarship to the University of Minnesota and went instead to a local, private college which I realized…too late…that I could not afford.
I had to quit after one semester. Two jobs didn’t cut it.
But really…it was the sore throat and crap cold one very bleak December day that did me in. Too sick. Too tired. Too fucking sick and tired.
So, I dropped out of college and caused a huge fight between my parents because…because that’s what they did.
And life went on because it always does.
I bought a cheap little car with $200.00 I borrowed from my grandma who died soon after, so I never had to pay her back.
I got a cheap little job as a stock clerk for a shoe store chain at the local mall…and waited for something to happen to me…but I didn’t know exactly what.
Everyone at ShoesPlus was super nice and I made a couple of new friends and I casually dated and it was all so very normal.
Even my parents pretended to be friends for a while.
But in the bottom of my stomach, just off in the corner…that lost, lonely feeling persisted. I wondered if it would ever go away.
Then one day at work, Betsy Vick, a friend from Portland High School, came into ShoesPlus. We talked for a few minutes but I was working so she suggested we go to lunch and ‘share more memories’.
I was really surprised since we hadn’t been that good friends…but I said “Sure, why not.” We agreed to meet in the food court at 12:30.
When I got to there, I looked all over but Betsy was nowhere to be found. I looked down at my watch to check the time…and when I looked up, I saw Bobby Flanagan walking toward me.
I could hardy take a breath.
“The Paperback Edition”
“Hey, Sammy, how are you?” Bobby said and I was treated to that wonderful Irish grin that I had loved…and missed so much.
“Bobby! I…I don’t know what to say…I was supposed to meet a friend here…” I stammered as I looked around the food court for Betsy.
Bobby quickly interrupted me.
“Yeah…I got Betsy to do me a little favor…I hope you’re not mad…” he said hesitantly, his soft, brown eyes looking…looking…
Perhaps for the first time, he was wondering how I would feel about seeing him…wondering if maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all.
“Oh…no!” I protested. “Of course not…I…I’m so sorry about that letter, Bobby…” I blurted out and I looked down at my hands, not daring to look at his face. Tears were stabbing at my eyes.
Bobby was quick to speak.
“NO! It was me. It was all me. I was so wrong, Sammy. It was all my fault…I was a complete fool.”
He tilted up my chin and looked way too deep into my eyes.
“Forgive me?” he earnestly pleaded…a hint of a smile playing around his mouth.
The Flanagan charm still worked. Of course, I said “yes”…since I’m not sure what else I could have done…
“The Paperback Edition”
People were beginning to take notice of this little, lunch time mini-drama. It was getting too quiet in the food court…especially around where Bobby and I were standing.
“Let’s go sit over there.” Bobby said. He took my hand and we walked to a table in the far corner…away from listening ears and curious eyes.
His hand…holding mine…seemed incredibly natural.
A waitress came right over but of course I couldn’t even think about eating…so I just ordered black coffee. Bobby ordered his favorite sandwich… a ‘lightly toasted BLT with extra mayo’.
“Don’t you eat these days, Sammy?” He asked. “You look so skinny…so different than before.”
He was looking at me so hard…as if his eyes were taking pictures of me.
I somehow managed to quiet down all the emotions that were exploding inside me.
“Well, it’s been over two years, you know. But you look the same, Bobby…still handsome as ever.” I said so calmly, I surprised myself.
I think I even surprised Bobby. I was a different ‘Sammy’ than the girl he knew before.
The waitress brought over my coffee and Bobby’s sandwich and we managed to talk about ‘everyday-type’ things. It was good…and then my lunch hour was almost over.
I stood and picked up my purse from the table…but I made no effort to leave…not sure what to do next…not sure what I wanted to do next.
I just waited and looked over at Bobby. He had also stood and was putting money on the table for the waitress.
Very quietly, he said, “My Aunt Lou is having a little family reunion now that I’m in town for a couple of weeks.
“Would you like to go? It’s this Saturday…if you’re not working…or busy…that is.”
He suddenly seemed unsure…maybe realizing for the first time that I might say no…
The Paperback Edition…
When Bobby called the next day to set up the details for Saturday, he told me that his parents were really looking forward to seeing me…they had always loved me when we had been dating in high school.
My mother, on the other hand, was not at all thrilled to hear that I was going to see Bobby again.
“What does he want, Samantha? I thought you two had broken up. Why does he want to see you again?” she asked sharply when I told her of the lunch meeting with Bobby…and the upcoming party with his family this weekend.
“Mom! We’re just going to a family get-together. You know how much his family likes me…”
My mom had always hated the fact that the Flanagan family was so fond of me. I was like another member of their family.
“Just don’t get pregnant!” she said and walked out onto our patio and slammed the door shut behind here.
I stared at the closed door, so surprised at her strong reaction. I wondered again why she disliked Bobby so much.
Could it possibly be because Bobby was Irish…like my dad? Did she think that he would become a drinker like my dad? That would have been so stupid. Bobby never drank…ever. And my mom knew that… I shook my head. I didn’t want to think about this. Not now.
All I wanted to do right now…was to think about seeing Bobby…in three days.
I hardly slept the night before the party and I was wide awake when the birds started chirping “good morning”.
I don’t know if I was more nervous about being with Bobby again or wondering if my mother would say something awful to him when he came to pick me up.
But I was all ready when he came and after just a few quick pleasantries with my mom and dad, we were out the door.
Bobby walked ahead of me to a brand-new blue and white Chevrolet and opened the passenger door for me.
“Where did you get the car?” I asked, getting in. I had assumed we would be riding to his aunt and uncle’s house with his parents. I knew he had sold his own car when he had enlisted in the Navy.
“It’s a rental,” he replied. “I thought we should go separately in case we wanted to leave early.”
“You know my parents, Sammy, once they start playing cards, they can go on for hours.” he said laughing.
I laughed too. I had seen them in action many times.
I loved Bobby’s laugh, it could still the devil himself.
The party was already in full swing when we got there. Bobby’s parents almost crushed me with hugs and his little sister, Mary, shyly handed me a candle she had made at her summer Craft Camp.
There was a huge table loaded with food…his Aunt Lou was a fantastic cook…and his Uncle Brian knew how to share a bottle of Irish whiskey. Everyone was having a swell time.
It was about 5:00 and the ‘final dessert’ had been passed around and both Bobby and I were stuffed…and we were “not…no, no…absolutely not…thank you very much” said Bobby “going to play canasta with them”.
We walked out to the backyard and sat down on a bench under a huge elm tree. It was a normal July day in Minnesota…hot. We watched the younger kids play badminton but even in the shade it was too warm for us.
I looked at Bobby…he was sweating and I was ‘glistening’… we both agreed we had had enough ‘summer’.
He got up, took my hand and we headed back to the house. He carefully opened the back door, motioned for me to be quiet and we crept into the empty kitchen…like thieves in the night.
Bobby opened the door to the basement and flicked on the stair light and let me go first. He closed the door softly behind him and followed me down the stairs.
It was a seventy-five-year-old house and the basement was ‘decorated’ 50’s style…with linoleum on the floor, cheap wood paneling on the walls and cast-off sofas, chairs and tables scattered around. There was an old record player next to the fireplace.
It was wonderfully cool and quiet.
Bobby went over and was looking at his cousin’s old record collection. I sat down on the sofa and leaned my head back and closed my eyes…still almost not believing that now…right now…I was with Bobby again…after all this time.
I slowly opened my eyes and smiled. “It’s All in the Game” was playing on the record player. It had been one of our favorite songs to dance to in high school.
“Want to dance, Sammy?” asked Bobby, holding his arms out to me.
I didn’t need to answer. I just stood up and started to put my arms out…like you would if you were going to dance with an old friend…but that’s not how Bobby and I had danced…so long ago.
He slipped his arms around my waist, moving us closer together and my arms went naturally around his neck and we were…together.
Only a few seconds passed and then Bobby pulled back a little…his questioning eyes almost asking permission as he looked at me, and then hesitating just a little…he kissed me.
And then he kissed me again…and again.
The Paperback Edition…
It would be only a little over three years and then Bobby would be out of the Navy. It didn’t seem like a very long time at all.
I had now become part of the adult world. I understood myself a little better now. I understood Bobby a little better now…and I think I understood life a little better now.
I had a full-time job. I bought my own clothes. I paid for my own car insurance. Granted…I still lived at home but I did give my parents money each month for groceries and rent. I was such an adult.
And…I was wonderfully, truly in love with Bobby Flanagan…and he was wonderfully, truly in love with me.
Of course, I would wait for Bobby…gladly wait for the one…the only one…who could chase away all the shadows, banish the lonely feeling that had haunted me for years and make me laugh until I cried.
Of course, I would wait for the only one who could bring me pure joy with just one look, one touch, one kiss.
Of course I would wait…
But then…I didn’t.
The Paperback Edition…
Those two weeks with Bobby had been unbelievably wonderful. I had taken time off from work so that we could be together…much to the displeasure of my mother.
“I see he’s already a bad influence on you, Samantha.” she said coldly. She knew I had taken vacation time but that made no difference to her.
Bobby talked a lot about life aboard ship. He really loved the Navy…and I wondered how much he had missed me before…how hurt he had been when we broke up…he never said. But then…I hadn’t told me much either.
When I told him one night that I had never really stopped loving him…he said that he felt the same…but he was so quiet when he said it, I wondered if it were true.
Neither of us really talked about what would happen when he got out of the Navy. We had now. Now was all that mattered. Now was beautiful.
Bobby knew I loved him…and he loved me.
But just before his leave was over, a horrible thought crept into my head…what if I was just someone he had wanted to connect with when he was home on leave and nothing more? Could that be possible?
No…no… That couldn’t be true…wasn’t true…not Bobby. He did love me…I was sure…I was so very sure.
But always in my ear was my mother’s voice…warning me over and over…telling me that Bobby wasn’t right for me…telling me there would be other boys…better suited to me.
Sam still did not know how much Bobby loved her because he was scared of being hurt again and so…he had not told her that life without her would be impossible.
Still so young and still hurting after having his heart seemingly ripped out after losing Sam before, Bobby was unsure…still dared not to tell her she was his life…now more than ever before.
Dared not to tell her that he could not bear the thought of losing her…that it would destroy him.
Dared not to tell her that her smile not only brightened his day…it brightened his whole world.
Dared not to tell her that every night he made plans for their future and went to sleep with a grin on his face…thinking of them being together.
How could Samantha Jones have known all of that, if Bobby Flanagan had not dared to tell her?
She could have known, of course, would have known… if she had been able to real all of the letters Bobby had written to her the first weeks back aboard ship…not just the quick, first note he had written to tell her that his ship would soon be sailing to Japan…but long detailed letters telling her how much he loved her more than anything.
If Sam had been able to read all the letters when Bobby had finally dared to open up his heart and tell her she was his life and always had been from that first, cold, November day so long ago…and that he loved her beyond all else.
In those letters, Bobby tells Sam that he’s sure he can get special leave so that they can get married even before he gets out of the Navy…”soon, very soon, Sammy”.
He tells her he is now looking forward to working with his dad at the hardware store. He says, if she wants, she can start looking for an apartment for them and…and…so much more.
He goes on and on about their future…their future together. Bobby has plans and he hopes that she does too…and can’t wait to hear from her.
But…he never does…
The Paperback Edition…
After getting that hurtful, angry letter from Bobby, I immediately wrote him back. I could hardly see the words on the paper as I wrote. Tears were streaming down my face.
I could not bear the thought that he would no longer be a part of my life ever again. I could not lose him…not again.
He had not said much in his letter to me…only that he should never have trusted me, that I was a stupid child and he hoped I would grow up some day…and of course…everything said with so much anger.
In my letter, I begged Bobby to please read my letters again…how could he not know how much I loved him…how much I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life!
I told him that the only letter I had received from him was his first letter to me weeks ago…the one he had sent me after returning from his leave…and now this horrible one.
Why hadn’t he written to me? I asked… hadn’t he received my letters?
Please call me! I begged him. I didn’t even know if he could do this…but I begged anyway.
I told him I just couldn’t understand what was happening or why he was saying the things he was saying. It was like he was talking about another person…not me.
Please call me, I had said. Please write me…and…and then…
I gave the letter to my mother to mail.
The Paperback Edition…
TWO YEARS PASS…
The world continued to spin and for a long time…I did’t care whether it did or not.
I changed jobs. The memory of that magical meeting with Bobby in the shopping center food court was too painful.
I started working in a flower shop near where I lived called “A Rose is a Rose”. I learned the intricate art of flower arranging and design from Sadie Morgan, the owner…and I stuck around.
After a while, she offered me the job of assistant manager. I took it…flowers are beautiful and uncomplicated…I liked that.
Even though the parents were being friendly to each other, I thought about moving out…but didn’t.
I dated a little…nothing remotely serious and when I turned twenty-one, Mel and I went out to dinner at Frankie’s, our favorite pizza hangout in high school.
We could finally drink beer there…legally.
Mel and Stuart. They had married so young but had stayed married and in love…and had two beautiful boys that I loved and spoiled whenever I got the chance.
When we walked in, we were greeted by Mike Nordstrom. He had been in the same class as Bobby in high school and they had been pretty good friends.
Mel and I were both surprised to find that Mike was not just a ‘greeter’…but was the new owner. He had bought the restaurant last year when it had gone up for sale.
Mike had been a regular at Frankie’s…even after graduation. It was a good fit for someone who loved pizza and gossip.
And Mike had loved to gossip. In high school he knew everything about everybody…he was… like a girl. Turns out…he still loved to gossip
So…that night we got free pizza, free beer and I got free unexpected news about Bobby Flanagan…who was still a very good friend of Mike’s.
Mike sat down in our booth and went into great detail on how Bobby had gone a little crazy after our second break-up.
Finally, seeing the slight shaking of Mel’s head to signal him to stop talking and the shocked look on my face, he was quick to add…
“Oh, he’s fine now, Sam. He’s actually going to start working with his dad at their hardware store when he gets out of the Navy.
“He was in here a lot, the last time he was home on leave,” Mike continued.
“I think he gets out of the Navy next year, am I right, Sam? Sam?”
The Paperback Edition…
Mel shook my arm. “Sam! Are you okay? You look pale as a ghost!”
Mel shot an angry look at Mike.
“Way to go dummy! What were you thinking going on and on about Bobby? Go get some water or coffee or something…just go.”
Mike got up quickly. “Right. Sorry, Sam. I really shouldn’t have done that…Bobby told me not to say anything…I just got carried away…sorry…I’ll get some…” and he headed off to the bar.
Mel patted my hand. She was such a dear.
“I’m fine…really. It was just such a shock…I knew he would be coming home at some point, of course, but I just kept pushing that thought away. Can we leave before Mike gets back? I’m done here.”
THREE YEARS LATER... after that night Mel and I had visited Frankie’s…Russell Allison sauntered into ‘A Rose is a Rose’ to buy a dozen yellow roses…for his soon to be ex-girlfriend.
Russell and I got married six months later. We had a beautiful daughter, Sarah, five years after that, and life went on…as it always does.
I had been married almost seven years and one bright Spring day, I was paying for my groceries at Target..when I looked up to see Bobby Flanagan one aisle over. He was done checking out and was just standing there…looking right at me…and he was smiling…smiling at me.
It appeared he had seen me first and had waited to see what I would do…how I would react when I saw him. Well…
I was completely stunned. I gave him a shy, hesitant smile but I’m sure it came out not quite right…perhaps, perhaps lop-sided as before…oh those many years ago in a high school lunch line on a cold November day.
Of course, Sam did not know that crooked, shy smile was the very same smile that had made Bobby fall in love with her…the smile that had captured his heart that day when he was only sixteen.
Bobby returned my smile, took a couple of steps as if he was going to come over and talk to me…but then abruptly turned and walked out the door.
I would not see Bobby Flanagan again for almost 30 years.
When I was sixty-one…I had a small stroke.
My apparently not-so-devoted husband and I parted ways. It happens I guess…some people can’t handle the strain of a major health crisis in a marriage.
To be fair…the marriage had lost its snap years ago. Russell just didn’t want to grow up…and so he didn’t.
I had recovered from the stroke almost completely…aside from a slight weakness in my left leg that forced me to use a cane most of the time.
I also had some crummy vision problems which I was sort of handling.
But, poor husband Russ…couldn’t handle the “cane”. He could not deal with the small disability that was now part of me…so…he could not deal with me.
“You know, Samantha. You look so old when you use that cane.” he had said one day..
We had been grocery shopping together. It was shortly after the stroke and I needed help since I could not easily bend down…not to mention getting back up. Awkward…
“When I’m with you, I feel so old. And I don’t want to feel old. I wish you were young again, Samantha.”
“Do you remember how beautiful you were…when you were young?”
“I wish you were that way again…do you really need that cane?”
Even though I was not overly surprised by his comment…I was nonetheless flattened.
There is no other way to describe it. I imagine this is how you would feel if you stepped off a curb and were hit by a cement truck.
But then…I got up.
“Yes,” I answered him thoughtfully. “Yes…I believe I do need this cane…and will probably always need this cane.”
“But you know, Russell…I actually believe it’s you I don’t need.”
And I didn’t.
I filed for divorce on Christmas Eve…three days after being hit by that cement truck.
The Paperback Edition…
The divorce was final in February…so fast when no one really cares.
Even daughter Sarah was quick to say, “You should have done it years ago, mom. Dad was such a jerk.”
The papers came in the mail along with an announcement that Portland High School was going to have an All Class-All-Year Reunion in August. Oh…
My mother died two months after my divorce was final.
My dad had died a couple of years earlier…so now it was just me and remnants of their life.
I was told the house would sell quickly if I priced it cheap enough…so I did. That house held no special memories for me…I just wanted it to be gone.
There was little I wanted so I threw mostly everything out…Stuart had carried a couple boxes of photos and miscellaneous papers over to my apartment.
I pushed the boxes into the closet. I was in no hurry to re-visit the past.
It was two weeks before the class reunion and I finally needed to go through all that stuff in those boxes.
I was looking for a certain picture of Melanie and me that my mom had taken on our first day at Portland High School…two brand-new little freshman girls with scared stiff smiles on their faces.
It would be perfect for the “Then & Now” board that would be displayed at the reunion. I was going with Mel since Stuart had bailed. He hated large gatherings and Mel felt she should go since she was on the planning committee.
My mom had kept so much stuff. I made a mental note to myself to not keep so much stuff…and then I found a diary…her diary.
She had left her personal daily diary…a journal really…one in which she had noted the weather for every day, minor and major illnesses and various appointments….and…
And…in great detail…her plan to end the relationship between Bobby Flanagan and me…after we had re-united that hot summer so long ago.
She even had made a check-list of things to do and little boxes that she had checked off as they got done. It was almost diabolical in its precision.
And tucked between the pages was one single letter addressed to me from Bobby.
My hands shook so hard as I took that one piece of paper out of the envelope.
It was a heart-breaking letter, where Bobby…just like me…had not understood at all what was happening.
“Please write to me, Sammy!” he had begged…just as I had begged him.
In the letter, he told me he was going to call me…telling me the date and the time.
He promised “he would fix everything”.
“Don’t worry, Sammy,” he had written. “I love you. I love you more than anything.”
Of course, I never got that call…having been sent out of the house on an errand by my mother.
And that night, after reading his anguished letter to me over and over, until tears had all but swollen my eyes shut…I fell into a deep sleep and had that strange, lovely dream where Bobby and I were finally together.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
The Paperback Edition…
“I heard…” Bobby began…and then the song “Young Love” by Sonny James started to play. It had been ‘our’ song in high school…the very first song that Bobby and I had ever danced to in a darkened gym…on a winter night so long ago.
Bobby stood up then and for a brief moment I thought he was going to leave and my heart paused. I looked up and he had his arms held out toward me.
“Want to dance, Sammy?” he asked with a grin on his face.
I hesitated a bit. I was a little unsure because I hadn’t danced since before my stroke…
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.” he said…as if reading my mind.
The song was way too short. I wanted to be in Bobby’s arms so much longer…it felt so right…just like before….
We started to walk back to the table, his hand holding mine. I was so unbelievably happy being with him.
“I haven’t been dancing since just before my stroke. Russ and I had gone to his nephew’s wedding…” I said and then tears just started to fall.
I guess it was just remembering the pain that Russ had caused me with his ‘cane’ comments. I brushed them away quickly. But Bobby had seen them.
“Well that was stupid of me…” I said and was about to explain to Bobby the reason for the tears when he looked at his watch and said…
“Well, this has been so great, Sammy, but I promised the wife I would get home early so we could go out for dinner and maybe catch a late movie.”
He didn’t even sit back down once we reached the table.
“Are you staying for the dinner?” Bobby asked politely.
I was trying to find words to explain the tears after our dance and how they had nothing to do with my divorce…but then realized that an explanation didn’t matter at all.
Bobby had said he was married. Mike must have somehow misunderstood. My dream was indeed a foreshadow. I had seen Bobby and “there would be no romancing tonight,” I thought bitterly.
“I…no, but I think I’ll sit here for a while.” I answered him quietly.
“It’s been great seeing you, Bobby.” I said. And I looked away…out onto the dance floor and waved to…no one.
“Be happy, Sammy.” And then he quickly turned and walked away. I didn’t watch.
Burned. Burned badly. It happens when you play with fire. I knew that. I should have left the past where it belonged…in dream land.
Time for me to go. Just as I stood up, I saw my purse moving a little on the table. What the…?
Oh, it was my phone vibrating. That’s right, I had turned off the volume after the ear-splitting call from Melanie earlier in the evening.
I looked and it was Mel.
“Hi, is everything okay? How is Janet?” I asked.
“She’s fine now…in ICU, but they think it was just a minor attack.”
“But what’s going on with you, Sam? I just got a crazy call from Mike. He had just gotten off the phone with Bobby who told him that he thought you were still in love with Russ!”
“Bobby said that you were crying because of your divorce. What’s going on, Sam?”
I looked at the phone in disbelief.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
And…then it slowly dawned on me. The comment I had made about being at the wedding and the last dance with Russ before my stroke.
Of course. Bobby had thought the tears were over the end of my marriage…damn. Would we ever get this right?
“Sam? Are you still there? Mike said that then Bobby told you some made-up cockamamie story…that he was married and that he had to go home to his wife.
“Bobby isn’t married, Sam. After his wife died over fifteen years ago…he never re-married because he never really got over you, Sam. He came tonight just to see you.”
“Mike had told him about your mother’s diary…had even faxed him the pages for him to read.”
“Wait!” I interrupted. “How did Mike know about the diary? I thought you hadn’t talked to him.”
“This morning I went over to Frankie’s and we talked for almost an hour. I showed him the diary and that’s when ho opened up about Bobby…and said he was going to call him. I tried to call you but that’s when Janet had her heart attack…
“That’s why Bobby came tonight, Sam…to see you.” Melanie finished.
“Oh, Melanie. I can’t believe this! This is so mixed up… Call Mike back, Mel. Bobby has to know the truth.” I cried.
But even as I was talking to Mel, I was making my way to the front door. Maybe Bobby had done valet parking as I had and was still out front, waiting for his car.
“I’ll talk to you later, Mel.” I said and hung up.
Hurrying is not something one does well with a cane…
I came out onto the front terrace of the club to find no one there except the valet. No Bobby. Too late.
I walked slowly down the steps and gave my ticket to the nice young man and then I walked over to lean against a low garden wall. There were so many thoughts shooting through my brain.
I’ll call him when I get home, I thought. We’ll get this straightened out. It’ll be okay. Finally…okay.
I’ll tell him everything and it will be fine.
But something nagged at the back of my brain…why hadn’t Bobby told me right away that he had talked to Mike?
Why hadn’t he said something about the diary? We had talked…not much, for sure…but then our song had played and…and…we had danced…
We. Had. Danced. Had I stumbled again? Had I stepped on his foot? Had I…
Suddenly those painful words that Russell had shot at me months ago…slammed into me once again.
“You look so old, Samantha. Remember when you were beautiful? Remember? Do you really need the cane, Samantha? It makes you look so old.”
And then I realized…so stupid I was…so very, very stupid. Bobby hadn’t seen me since I was a pretty, young housewife…shopping for groceries that day so many, years ago…and now…now he felt he had to hold me up on the dance floor…so I wouldn’t fall…
Maybe first love doesn’t mean so much after all. My eyes were now burning with unshed tears.
“Here you go ma’am,” the valet said politely as he handed me my car key.
“Oh, oh thank you…thank you so much!” I said and leaned my cane against the wall so I could open my purse.
I was searching to get another $20 but looked up to see he had already walked away and gone inside.
I reached for my cane through blurry eyes and knocked it to the ground.
“Well that’s just great.” I said…surprised at my self-pity.
There was no way I could reach down and pick up that cane…
And yet…and yet…that is exactly what I had to do.
I wasn’t just going to stand there forever and wait for someone to help me.
“Poor Samantha Jones…” I quietly mocked myself.
Another chapter of my life was unfolding…
Concentrating ever so hard, I slowly started to kneel down so I could pick up my errant cane. Once I had the cane, it would be better.
“I may never leave the house again.” I whispered to myself…perhaps for the first time hating my disability and feeling way too sorry for myself…but…it had been a hellish night.
Then, as I was almost to the ground, I heard footsteps running toward me…and a hand reached in and picked my cane up and another hand gently took my elbow, helping me to stand.
I put on my very best, ever so grateful smile as I turned to thank the valet. But it wasn’t the valet.
It was Bobby and I was in his arms and he was holding me so close..as though he thought I might float away.
“Sammy! I’m so sorry, I just got off the phone with Mike. I should have stayed and listened to you explain. I am such a fool. Please, can you forgive me?” he pleaded. And without waiting for an answer…he went on…
“And…I should have told you, Sammy…when I first saw you tonight…”
His voice was softer now as he took my face in his hands, gently wiping away my tears.
I looked at him…my eyes searching his as his had searched mine in that strange dream just a few nights ago…
“I should have told you…that I have loved you from the first moment we met. You are my life, Sammy. I love you without measure.”