Nancy Goldberg Levine
It’s September 11, and I’m up early. I’m going to take the dog for a walk. So much has happened since that day when you and Mom were killed in the Twin Towers in New York. I guess you know that Aunt Maddy married Ty Lowenstein (so now he’s Uncle Ty) and that I graduated with honors from Walnut Hills High School, then UC, and am now gainfully employed as a substitute teacher at my alma mater, Walnut Hills. They’re having a memorial concert there later and I’m singing 'Tomorrow,' from the musical Annie because I know how much Mom loved that show. I know you loved the Beatles, but I couldn’t think of the right song to sing and I didn’t want to remind everyone of the song I sang the last time I was on the Walnut Hills High stage…”
I stopped writing the latest of the letters I’d been writing to my dad since he’d died in the 9/11 attacks. Sidney, my French bulldog, was already waiting at the front door. When Sydney and I got outside, I shivered with the chill in the air. I inhaled the cool scent of fall in the inner city as North Avondale in Cincinnati slowly started to wake up. Eleven years ago, I was a sophomore in high school in New York, and suddenly, that whole life was swept away in an instant. My Aunt Maddy got custody of me, and I came to live in Cincinnati. I hadn’t exactly made her life easy, acting out by singing a song with curse words in at a high school concert, shoplifting, stealing one of my aunt’s funeral home limos and driving it, and ending up in a sanitarium for almost a year while I straightened out all the grief and loss issues about my parents. But I’d turned out all right. I had a few more hours before I had to get ready for the remembrance and concert. I would meet Aunt Maddy and Uncle Ty at the high school later, so I walked down the streets and looked at the huge, old houses that lined them. I was so intent on my walk that I didn’t pay attention and almost collided with a man.
“I’m sorry,” I said, as Sidney bounded up to inspect the stranger. “I wasn’t watching where I was going…” My words trailed off as I realized that this man was no stranger. “Hey, Joss.”
“Brie? Brie Jackson?”
“Yep -- it’s me.”
“What are you doing in this neck of the woods?” he asked.
“I live here,” I said, nodding my head toward the courtyard across the street, that was surrounded by condos.
“This is your aunt’s old place, right?”
“Yeah. She got married, and I’m renting the place from her. What are you doing here?”
“I was just going to have breakfast at Sugar ’n Spice,” Joss said. “I live in St. Bernard, and I was taking a walk, like you and…want to have breakfast with me? We can catch up on old times.”
“Okay, as soon as I drop Sidney off at the condo.”
Interesting, I thought, as I let Sidney in, and went back outside to see Joss. He’d been my boyfriend when we were at Walnut Hills, but we’d lost touch when he’d gone off to college, and I’d stayed in Cincinnati. Long distance romances were hard, and at the time, I hadn’t really been too thrilled with making any kind of effort toward love, long-distance or not. I still hadn’t forgotten the crazy stuff I’d done over my major crush, Chad Preston, and I did not want that to happen to me again. Ever.
I’d forgotten how soulful those grey-green eyes were. His hair was wavy, and the color of midnight. I’d forgotten how good-looking he was, but I remembered fast when I followed him into the restaurant. He was tall, and so was I, so we’d been a good fit.
Sugar ’n Spice was a diner-type restaurant that had been in Cincinnati for about a hundred years. Surprisingly, I was starving. I guess Joss was, too. We both got omelets and pancakes. He remembered how I’d lost my parents in the 9/11 attacks. He caught me up on his own life, and I learned that he’d gone to the Culinary Institute of New York, and was now a chef at Cincinnati’s Chops and Chocolate, downtown. I remember that he’d always been a pretty good cook. He’d made his own lunches when we were in school and they were always special. If he had a peanut butter sandwich, it was on bread he’d made himself. And there were always great desserts, like dark chocolate brownies.
“I always wanted to e-mail you or something,” I said. “I thought about getting your e-mail address from your mom, but I…”
“I know,” Joss said, covering my hand with mine. “Those high school relationships never work out anyway.”
I told him about teaching at my alma mater and about the concert today.
“I was invited to the remembrance in New York,” I said. “But I just couldn’t go there. The concert is going to be hard enough. I’m afraid I’ll cry all through the song I’m singing. I guess that’s better than singing a song with curse words all through it.”
“You did that?” Joss said, leaning closer as if he wanted to hear the story.
“Yes,” I muttered, looking down at Sugar ’n Spice’s tile floor. “My dad used to play a song when he was mad by the group The Headcoatees. I sang it in the talent show, and my life took a downward turn from there.”
“ ‘Nuff said.” We sat there in that booth for a few minutes, not saying a word. Then he smiled at me, and I realized that he got me. He’d gotten me in high school, and he got me now.
“:Listen, Brie,“ he said. “Would you like an old friend to go to the concert with you? I’d love to hear you sing, and maybe it would be easier to get through the songs?”
,br> I’d been thinking that I’d like that, but I hadn’t said anything. If I asked him, he might have said “no.” But he was the one doing to asking. Like I said, he got me. “That would be great.”
“Okay. What time does the concert start?”
I told him and he said he’d pick me up in an hour.
We arrived at Walnut Hills, and I greeted my Aunt Maddy and Uncle Ty. After introductions, Aunt Maddy hugged me and told me how proud my mom and dad would be of everything I’d done.
I wanted to cry, but not in front of Joss. Besides, he’d promised to keep me from crying.
“I guess I’d better get backstage.”
I went back to the familiar auditorium, where I’d made my short-lived “debut” ten years ago. I heard Joss’s footsteps behind me. “Just thought I’d give you some moral support.”
“Thanks,” I said, taking his hand when he offered it. It was a simple gesture; nothing romantic, but it made me feel so much better. I saw Aunt Maddy’s friend, Dina, who would be playing the piano for some of the singers in the program, including me.
Several grads sang “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the choir sang a song from Annie about New York. Then it was my turn.
The song went by fast, but I heard Joss and Dina applauding like crazy. Much different from the last time I’d sung on this stage.
“You’ve got a great voice!” Joss said. Aunt Maddy and Uncle Ty were threading through the crowd to congratulate me, but I was trying to concentrate on Joss, and thinking about my mom and dad. “I know this day’s all about remembering the past,” he said. “but I’d like to be part of your future again…if you don’t mind.”
“This time I think I’m ready,” I said. “If you don’t mind dating somebody who sings songs with curse words in them, and who stole a limo, and …”
“Brie,” Joss said. “I get you. I like you. And I want to get to know you better.”
About the Author:Nancy Goldberg Levine is the author of one contemporary romance and more than sixty short stories. She is also the author of “Mr. Short, Dark…& Funny,” which tells the story of how Jay and Reese met, and “Mr. Tall, Tan…& Tasteless,” the story of Jay’s sister and his best friend (based on Nancy and her husband, the late Jonathan Andrew Levine). Hopefully, these books will be available as e-books later this fall. Visit this website for more information: http://fantasiafrogdesigns.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/latest-design-nancy-goldberg-levine/