THE GIRLS FROM WINNETKA
An excerpt from "THE 21ST CENTURY, FULL CIRCLE"
Just when the girls thought the manuscript was finished, Laura decided to reveal something she had never told them.
Several years before her grandson Anderson was born, during a lunch one day on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, a colleague told her about Google. By using Google, he said, Laura would be able to unearth just about anything, or anyone. Laura was curious.
Back at Borough Hall, in her office up above the plaza in front of the courthouse, she typed in a name. A name that had been lost to her, going on half a century. A name she used to write on anything that was blank. A name she would sometimes write “Mrs.” in front of. . .
After awhile, she was awash with knowledge of him. She sat staring at the screen and his picture, trance-like, wondering what he was like now, who he had turned into.
Her fingers danced on the keyboard.
Wonderful to find you alive and so well in cyberspace.
With the click of “Send,” she was filled with girlish anticipation.
Moments later, a reply.
Are you the gorgeous redhead I once knew?
When he called to suggest they meet, she said, “I couldn’t. We shouldn’t.”
“Do I have to get tough with you?” he asked.
She cried droplets of tears. “No.”
“Well, then. How about next Monday? Noon?”
“Okay, then. The Oak Bar.”
Curt flew in from Boston. Laura took the subway from Brooklyn.
With a fast-beating heart, she stood waiting for him in the hallway near the entrance of the Plaza. She saw a white-haired man in a brown coat carrying flowers rush in. She suspected he might be Curt. But something came over her. She walked away quickly, around a corner, out of view.
Bright light was gushing in from over the treetops of Central Park. It was blinding, like angel light blowing out of a trumpet. Could that be her escape path, pulling at her to bolt?
In that moment, Curt walked up and handed her a bouquet of lavender irises. Laura froze, unable to speak. “Let me hold you,” he said and wrapped his arms around her. He held her until a calm came over her. Until she was almost back to herself. Until she was filled with happiness and awe. Until she could really believe he was there and they were together again, after forty-seven years.
While they sat on stools at the bar, in between sips of iced tea through straws, her hand reached over and touched his white hair. His eyes, as clear and blue as the sky, were on her. He made no move. He said nothing. They were silent until he whispered, “Touch me again.” She couldn’t. She was trembling.
“Would you do something with me?” she asked.
“Come on, then.”
He settled the check and followed her out across Central Park South where horse-and-buggies lined up to take happy people on rides. They climbed into a carriage and the young driver, who introduced himself as Jason, tilted his black satin, top hat. The reins in his hands, he clucked to his horse and with a slow clomp clomp clomp, pulled the carriage out into traffic, down the street, and into the park. It was newly spring, the color of green apples. They trotted through meadows of daffodils and tulips, passing the bridal path, humps of gray bedrock, and shafts of sunlight.
“Come here,” he said.
And she went.
He put his arm around her and, looking into her eyes, kissed her. He kissed her the same way he kissed her when she was seventeen. The same way he did under the young, Nantucket moon. And slowly she touched him in the way she had touched him when she was seventeen. And she loved him again.
Her heart was dancing. Their kisses merged the memory of the golden-haired boy with the white-haired grandfather beside her. He was part of her again.
She felt whole. Even while he was flying back to Boston that night and she was riding the subway home to Brooklyn.
The next morning, he wrote a poem and sent it by email.
Exhilarated, she wrote back.
Let’s meet again.
Next year in springtime.
Why wait so long?
She typed, welling up, the keys blurring.
Because … because.
Weeks later, Curt left a message on her cell phone. He would be in New York for a meeting the following Wednesday, wanted to see her, and would be standing near the Information Center in Grand Central Station at two o’clock.
Wearing her prettiest dress, her softest sweater over her shoulders, her Hong Kong fanny pack slung over her shoulder, and platform shoes the color of ripe raspberries, Laura arrived at two o’clock. He was already there. Dressed impeccably, like the perfect CEO she knew he was. They stood for a moment. They did not hug. They did not touch. They just looked.
A few minutes later, they made their way down the stairs to a coffee bar, sat on a plastic couch, and got used to being with each other again. For the next four hours, they talked. About her life and his. About her family and his. About her work and his. And then about the people hurrying past them. . .
They went down below sea level to the Oyster Bar, climbed up on high stools, ordered briny Blue Points and delicate South Bays, and glasses of Chardonnay. When the oysters arrived, he skillfully squeezed lemon on hers.
As the wine seeped in, he told her that he was starting a new professional journey, designing a new life. He knew what he wanted to do and how to get there. And she was sure that he would.
Then he asked, “If you could do it again, would you turn the clock back as we did?”
“I would … but not without considering possible consequences.”
“Reconnecting with an old love can be an emotionally risky enterprise.”
A perceptive pang pierced her heart. She reached for the last oyster and offered it to him.
He shook his head. “Pain and heartache might be part of it. Even turmoil and a disrupted life for awhile.”
She set the empty shell down on the platter. And looked into his blue eyes.
“There’s the risk of reawakening longings that can’t be satisfied. Ever.”
Laura lowered her eyes to the plate of empty shells.
“But there can be benefits.”
She looked up. “What do you think ours are?”
“We can get clarity on a love that has been hidden for decades. With clarity comes closure. And with the closure, can come freedom. . .”
Upstairs, when he was ready to leave, it had just started to rain. She handed him her umbrella. After they said “Good-bye,” he stepped outside, opened her umbrella, and walked away. Losing sight of him in the mist, she knew somehow she would never see him again.
But then she remembered the poem he’d sent several months ago.
souls meet anew
and at once commence
the dance of their eternal love.