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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Not Quite Romeo and Juliet by Nancy Goldberg Levine

I’m not nervous, Sunny Lambert thought, as she took a seat in one of the faux leather chairs in Dr. Darryl Banks waiting room. Next to her, her daughter, Bonnie, squirmed impatiently in her seat. Sunny would have dropped her off at her mom’s, but she didn’t feel right using her mom as a free baby-sitter. So Bonnie went with her -- almost always.

The ringing phone did make her nervous, though. It did not stop. She didn’t see anyone behind the glass, unusual for a busy doctor’s office. She stepped behind the glass, not taking her eyes off her daughter, and picked up the phone. “Dr. Darryl Banks’s office. How may I help you?”

Mrs. Zipkin needed an appointment. In the big city, like St. Louis, where she was from originally, everything was done on computer. Here, in small-town Mensocket, Maine, there was an appointment book, so she looked to see when Dr. Banks had time to see her and set Mrs. Zipkin up with an appointment. When she looked up, a frazzled Dr. Banks stood next to her.

“Sunny?” he asked. “I’m Dr. Banks. I’m sorry. We’re a little short-handed today.”

“A little? Looks to me like you need a receptionist and a physical therapist. Mrs. Zipkin called, so I gave her an appointment on Tuesday."

“Thanks and you‘re right. Today I do need a receptionist. Sorry you had to answer the phone, but it‘s good practice for your interview,” he said.

He was kind of good-looking, Sunny thought. Not that she was interested. The nerdy baseball player thing he had going for him did not appeal to her. From what she’d heard, Dr. Banks told corny jokes, too. She had enough of that from her co-worker, Frank Finney. She‘d had enough of his corny jokes at the office and enough of men who always let her down like her ex, Bonnie’s dad. Of course, if she got this job, she’d put up with the jokes. She needed the money.

“Come on back and we’ll try to get through this interview without the phone ringing.”

She followed him back to the office, with Bonnie in tow, the photos on his wall of the Graceland Mansion in Memphis, a debonair-looking cat, and an autographed picture of one of the Mensocket Marauders, the town’s minor league baseball team. A velvet Elvis painting looked down on her from another wall.

“Don’t you like Elvis?” Elliott asked.

“No,” Sunny said. “Don’t hold it against me, though. I like all kinds of music. Just not Elvis.”

He made a face. “Elvis’s songs tell a story better than any of the songs today. I like the opera, too, so I like really old music. And Shakespeare. By the way, what‘s green and has a talk show?”

“I don’t know,” Sunny said. Oh, boy. Here come the corny jokes.

“Okra Winfrey.”

He took a notepad from his desk and started to ask questions. Sunny was relieved that they didn’t involve their different tastes in music. Her story about how she was a single mom trying to make ends meet who would do anything for her daughter sounded like a stupid soap opera. Unfortunately, it was also true. She needed a second job so she and her friend and co-worker, Kelly Kenton, could buy a house together and maybe rent some space out to a border. Still, she sounded like some helpless female.

She wasn’t. She had friends and family. She could banter and cuss and had snappy comebacks for Frank Finney. She had a work uncle and a work grandpa, or Poo-pa, as he was affectionately known. She had a life.

“I don’t know what kind of work you did in St. Louis, or what you do for the IRS, but you did great answering the phone. As far as I‘m concerned, the job is yours. Can you come in a few evenings a week, and on Saturday?” Dr. Banks asked, looking over at Bonnie, who was trying to reach the cotton balls on top of a cabinet. “She’s adorable. She looks like the little girl in Gone With the Wind.”

“Her name’s Bonnie,” Sunny said. “People thought she looked like that little girl so… Wait…seriously? I got the job?”

“That’s right.”


“I’ll see you on Tuesday night.”


On the way home, Sunny decided to stop at the local Chinese place for take out. She and Bonnie celebrated over Chicken Lo Mein, won ton soup and egg rolls. When the phone rang, she answered with the cheerful voice that had helped her get the job. Then she realized that the person who’d called was her ex, Monty.

“What do you want?”

“You,” Monty said.


“You. I want you back. Sweetie, don’t you know how much I love you and Bonnie?”

“You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”

“Meet me at Levi’s on Tuesday night and I’ll really show you.”

“Tuesday night? Seriously? No, Monty. I have a job.”

“You work days at the IRS,” Monty said.

“Well, now I have a second job, so even if I wanted to meet you, which I don’t, Tuesday night is out.” She wanted to add a few choice curses but she kept quiet.

“Wednesday, then.”



Sunny was already tired when she got to Dr. Banks’ office one Tuesday night. She’d been working for him for a few weeks and really enjoyed the job. In between phone calls and patients, they talked. Sunny told him about her life so far, and he talked about his. She loved his “normal” life with two parents, and how he’d always wanted to be a doctor. Then they talked about Elvis and Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare wrote about everyday life in his time. It was just like now with revenge plots and love and comedy.”

“I just never got into it. Not even in high school, when we studied it. I never liked it. They talked funny and didn’t say stuff people really say.”

“Like ‘the lady doth protest too much?’”

“Yeah,” Sunny said, smiling at him. When her stomach started to growl, she realized she hadn’t eaten before she’d come to work that day.

“It’s almost time to go. How about if we stop at Levi’s for dinner?”


“You don’t like Levi’s either?”

“I think I was only there once like when I graduated from high school. It’s just that my ex wanted me to meet him there a couple of weeks ago because he thought I’d like…take him back.”

“Maybe I can erase that bad memory.”

Dinner with the good doctor sounded much better than dinner with her ex, and Sunny had to admit that she was starving.

Sunny ordered a meatball hoagie and Darryl got fettuccine Alfredo. They ate in silence, then started debating the memories of Shakespeare again. Suddenly, Sunny looked up, groaned and cursed.

“Your ex?”

“How did you guess?” She cursed again.

“I appreciate your command of the English language,” Darryl said. “You know, Shakespeare could curse, too.”

A man walked up to the table and demanded, “Who are you, and what the hell are you doing with my lady?”

Darryl stood up. He was a few inches taller than Monty. In a fight between Monty and Darryl, Sunny would bet on Darryl.

“He’s Dr. Darryl Banks and, for your information, he’s my boss.”

“I thought your boss’s name was Marley, and she was a girl.”

“I told you, I work two jobs now. What the hell are you doing here, Monty?”

“I saw you come in here with him and I want you back.”

“Well, you can’t have me.”

Monty reached for Sunny’s hand, but she jerked it away.

“Leaveth the fair Sunny alone, or I will calleth the cops.”

That Shakespeare could be pretty intimidating, Sunny thought.

“Wha…?” Monty asked.

Monty aimed for Darryl‘s jaw, but Darryl defended himself with a punch of his own.

Darryl and Sunny's waiter rushed up. “Is this man bothering you?”

“Yes, he is,” Darryl said. “Could you please call the sheriff?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Wait…Sunny…I love you…don’t listen to this clown…” Monty muttered. It wasn't long before the sheriff and one of his deputies arrived and took Monty away.

“My hero!” Sunny said.

“I’d like to keep slaying your dragons full-time,” Darryl said.

Sunny frowned. She definitely wasn’t ready for another relationship, after the disaster with Monty.

“Thank you, but I’d like to take it slow.” Hmm, Frank Finney had given her that advice. She usually didn’t listen to him, and was surprised to hear those words come out of her mouth. Seriously? Take it slow?

“I understand,” Darryl said. “That’s what we’ll do. You know, my friends used to call me Shakespeare because I’d always walk around saying ‘To be or not to be…which one is my apartment.’”

Sunny laughed, although the joke was really corny. “If you’re going to slay dragons, we’ll have to do something about those jokes.”

About the Author: Nancy Goldberg Levine is the author of "Tempting Jonah," and more than fifty short stories. She wrote this story when she imagined "what would happen if..." and ended up with a Shakespeare-esque comedy. The characters are loosely based on some of her co-workers.

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