Monday, September 06, 2004

Chapter 7 - The Beginning

She began to type before she thought about what she was going to say. She started and restarted the message, deleted, editing and deleting it again. She got up and poured her second cup of coffee, toasted a bagel and still hadn't figured out what to say or how to say it.

Danny felt a bit like she had at thirteen, when she got her first note from a boy in class. She remembered it very clearly. He had looked back at her and mouthed that he had a note for her. The "he" in question was the cutest boy in the whole school. And she watched the note as it passed from hand to hand down the rows until it finally reached her desk. She looked up at him and smiled, but when the teacher called on her a moment later, she wasn't able to read the note until after the bell rang. Then she and Lanell (her best friend) ran to the girlsroom and huddled near the window while Danny unfolded the note.

"Wait!" Lanell whispered as she grabbed Danny's hand. "Give me your pinky...we need to make a pinky wish first!" Danny hooked Lanell's pinky in hers and in unison they recited their best friend pinky wish mantra "We wish that we stay best friends forever, marry the cutest boys in the world and are the smartest lawyers ever!" Both girls giggled and Danny smoothed out the note. It was even better than she had hoped. He told her how smart he thought she was and asked her for help with his history paper. He said his mom was baking cookies and said it was okay if she came over after school." Danny and Lanell looked at each other, then hugging each other tight, jumped up and down until the bell rang once more.

"I knew he liked you! I knew it!" Lanell shouted as she ran to class, laughing. Danny was so excited she went to the wrong classroom, and got detention for arriving late. But luckily the detention was for Wednesday afternoon, because today after school she had other plans. Warm cookies, history and him!

Danny's excitement had been shortlived, though. He was waiting for her with the cookies still warm from the oven. But he wasn't alone. Rachel, his girlfriend, was over too. It turned out that they both needed help with history.

As she looked back on that afternoon twenty-two years ago, she could still taste the melted chocolate on her tongue, and feel the heat of her embarassment rise to her cheeks. But she couldn't remember what "he" looked like. Lanell had been more disappointed than Danny was. But wrapped in a napkin, greasy with chocolate and butter, Danny had brought her a cookie. Even cold, the cookie had helped them get past that afternoon and many others had helped them through their teens. It was amazing how much a warm cookie or two could help make things better in life, especially in high school.

Danny knew she was no longer the fat teenager she had once been. She knew that she had blossomed and had become more than just a pretty face. (She hated whenever people told her she had a pretty face, as though her face could be separated from her body somehow.) She knew she had great hair and big green eyes. And she looked better in jeans than most of the women her age did. But you can never fully take a fat teen out of a slender woman. And she wondered if this e-mail from Theaternut was just a note asking for homework help, or something more.

She sat in front of the computer once again and began to type, this time knowing what she was going to say.

Thanks for welcoming me to the chatroom. I love going to the theater, but don't get ot go as often as I used to. Sometimes the first time I hear a showtune is on the Tony Awards. When I was in highschool I used to stand in line at TKTS every Saturday morning for leftover tickets.
What about you?

She read it over quickly and clicked "send." It was short and simple. And it didn't give anyone the least reason to suspect that she was sitting here on pins and needles waiting at her computer for a reply. This was the closest thing to flirting she had done in fifteen years. She wanted him to think she was sophisticated. And she enjoyed sharing her interest in theater with someone else who knew more than she did. She hoped that she had left a good impression on him. Thankfully Theaternut didn't know Danny was wearing her pink bunny slippers, with her unbrushed curls sticking out in all directions. Thank God that she didn't use videochat and could hide behind her monitor.

She felt thirteen all over again, and in some ways still was. Never as experienced with boys as others were, Danny didn't know the rules. And she suspected that they had changed in the thirteen years she had been married anyway.

Fortunately, she didn't have long to wait. Within a couple minutes of receiving her e-mail Theaternut had responded.

to be continued....

Friday, August 13, 2004

Chapter Six - Saturday morning

Danny opened one eye, immediately regretting the amount of wine she drank last night. She rolled over and pulled the covers up over her head in an unsuccessful effort to keep out the blazing morning sun. Her head was throbbing as she tried to remember why she was up so late and had so much to drink. Oh, yes...the chatroom and theater discussions early into the morning. She didn't do any law school reading and wondered what she had found so exciting in the chatroom and why she had let the time get away from her. After flipping over once more in a fruitless attempt to fall back to sleep, she tossed back the covers and lumbered to her feet.

As soon as her feet hit the floor, she regretted it. Her head throbbed and the sun hurt her eyes. She mouth felt like it was lined with cotton, and everything ached. She started when her law book fell to the floor. "Great!" she thought. "Now I have yesterday's AND today's reading to do!"

As Danny stumbled into the kitchen to start a big pot of coffee she glanced over to the computer monitor where in bright letters "you've got mail" was flashing. While measuring the coffee and spooning it into the filter of the coffee pot took all of her available mental and physical capabilities this morning, Danny managed to keep one eye on the computer screen. Who could possibly have sent her an e-mail, she wondered? The coffee fragrance revived her a bit, and while she waited for the coffee to finish brewing she wandered over to the computer and clicked on "check new e-mail." There, amidst five SPAM and junk mail messages was an e-mail from "Theaternut."

It took Danny a few seconds to remember who that was, and as she struggled to focus enough to read the e-mail, she felt the unfamiliar pleasure of anticipation. It was a simple and short e-mail, welcoming her to the theater discussion group where Theaternut was one of the resident experts. Danny found herself smiling and her head aching a bit less as she got up from the computer to pour her first cup of coffee of the day. Maybe she could put off that reading for a little while longer... The computer screen beckoned as Danny sat down and made herself comfortable. She clicked "reply" and started to type.

to be continued....

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Chapter Five - The Chatroom

More than a hundred channels about theater came up in Danny's first search. She scrolled through them and chose a few to check out. The first only had two chatters, neither of whom seemed to be interested in chatting about theater. The next was filled with people looking for love more than for theater and she was peppered with a/s/l as soon as she entered the room. The third was the charm. Twelve others were deeply debating the Tony nominations and, although welcoming her into the channel, quickly resumed their discussion.

Danny was happy just watching the others and reading what they had to say. Every once in awhile she would check out the profiles of those who had made some interesting comments. They all were between 30 and 60 years old. At 34 she was one of the youngest chat participants, and even though she was a theater fan, her knowledge was about average for the group. This was going to be fun!

She typed that she would be right back, and went to make another cup of coffee. When she returned one of the chatroom members, "TheaterNut" instant messaged her. He explained that when you want to tell others you'll be right back, you just type "BRB." This was a shorthand used in both chat and instant messaging. Danny thanked him and he went right back to posting about Avenue Q on Broadway.

Other than Danny and TheaterNut, no one had seen the play yet. Danny enjoyed filling them in on all the Internet-related songs, like "The Internet is for Porn" sung by muppets in this hysterical Sesame Street spoof. Everyone seemed nice and interested in what she had to say. She felt accepted and decided that this chat group was perfect for her.

Next time, when she got up to change the CD, she typed "BRB" and TheaterNut had immediately instant messaged her, congratulating her on learning the "chatroom lingo." Danny made a mental note to learn more about the chat rules of the road. And she also decided to create her own profile before joining the chat next time. When she signed off, everyone said "good-bye" and asked her to come back again soon.

She remembered Jeff's instructions not to turn off the computer (something about memory or something like that), took what remained of her cup of coffee, one of her law books and climbed into bed. Tonight was fun. She was beginning to understand why Jeff enjoyed chatting online so much. As she hummed one of the songs from Avenue Q, she decided to forego studying tonight, and for the first time in months, was able to roll over and fall sound asleep.

to be continued...

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Chapter Four: The Computer

Danny sat staring at the blank computer screen for a few minutes. Jeff had done a great job fixing up the Judge's computer. He had even invested in a flat screen monitor with a little webcam mounted at the top. And he didn't skimp on the software either. It was loaded with the latest multi-media applications, had a great soundcard and could play and edit videos.

Jeff and his ethical hacker friends had even contributed copies of their favorite computer games to this computer restoration. Jeff swore they were legal copies, but Danny didn't press too hard on the subject. She knew how Jeff, a librarian, felt about piracy and copyright, but wasn't as sure about his friends.

At first, when Jeff announced the formation of his little hackers group, Danny had been worried. She had her own ideas about what hackers did and what kind of people the were. But Jeff had patiently explained that until recently "hacker" was a badge of honor.

The network technology gurus who had designed and maintained the Internet itself coined the name "hackers." It stood for network technology experts, not cybercriminals. Even Vint Cerf, the father of the Internet, described himself as a "hacker" with pride. Only later, when the media began looking for names to describe those who used their skills to destroy and damage the Internet, websites and online services was the title converted from standing for network security and design to online vandalism and cybercrime.

Jeff had started using the term "ethical hackers" to try and set his group apart from the groups who used their skills to destroy instead of protect the Internet. Jeff had called the others "script kiddies" and "crackers." He had little patience with them and actually worked to counter their destruction.

Robby could never get enough of Jeff and his "ethical" hacker friends. They were talented Internet gamers and could design code to accomplish or fix anything online. Interestingly enough, Jeff had only met a few of his group face to face. Most he knew only virtually. But these virtual friends were are respected and close to Jeff as his real life friends.

Danny suspected that Jeff was grooming Robby to be the youngest member of his ethical hacking group too. She wasn't sure how she felt about that. But, as long as Jeff promised they would never break the law and were only testing their coding skills, Danny didn't really object.

In order to make sure that Robby wasn't tempted to "take" what wasn't his online or misuse his newfound "hacking" skills, Danny insisted that Jeff and his cyberbuddies teach Robby about responsible surfing. She even drew the line on his downloading music online. Danny insisted that Robby buy his music the old-fashioned way -- from Target.

And Jeff had kept his promise. Whenever they were over Jeff's apartment Robby was careful and always asked either Danny or Jeff before he tried something new. He had been taught not to share personal information with strangers online and had even joined online safe surfing club. Robby took safe and responsible surfing very seriously. He even lectured Danny about safe surfing and the importance of anti-virus programs and firewalls (whatever they were). Danny's eyes had glazed over when Jeff and Danny started talking about Internet security. But they didn't seem to mind, or even notice. Once they started taking "geek" talk, they forgot everyone and everything else.

Danny knew how important having a computer in their new home was to Robby. Initially he had pleaded for his own computer and Internet access at the cottage. He had asked Robert Jr. if he could use one of his computers at the Colony house. But Robert Jr. had refused, explaining that the computers were leased and couldn't be kept anywhere outside of his house. Robby had taken this well. But his disappointment was apparent wheneve anyone mentioned computer games or the Internet.

He was such a good kid. He was never spoiled by all that he had and seemed to understand how many adjustments had to be made since the separation. It had been hard for everyone. But Danny worried that Robby was impacted the most. He had given up many of the things he had been raised with, and forced ot leave many other things behind, like his X-Box, television, bicycle, his dog Lissy and his trusted friend, Ethel, and even his easy access to his neighborhood friends.

And money was very tight too. Instead of fancy dinners, they now had Kraft Macaroni and Cheese twice a week, and homemade pizza another night. Actually, Robby thought their menu had changed for the better, but Danny knew how far she had to stretch each dollar now that they were on their own. Especially since she was a full-time law student, part-time law clerk and mother of a ten year old. She worried about money alot.

Some of her friends were shocked when Danny had refused to take money from Robert Jr. initially. She had tried to help them understand that financial help would end up being a noose around her neck. Robert Jr.'s parents would try and control her by controlling the pursestrings. So she refused money out of principle. She took only her basic possessions and left behind er expensive cars, jewelry and designer clothes. She and Robby had two suitcases and nothing else when they left their old house for their new life. Danny hadn't even taken a tube of toothpaste from Robert Jr.

In some ways she regretted her initial decision. Not the decision to leave, but the decision to leave everything behind. On the urging of her friends and the Judge, she had called Roberty Jr. and asked to be able to come by and pick up a few more things. He had told her he was with a patient and would call her back. But he never did. His nurses would take her phone messages and sounded sympathetic. But he never returned her calls. He left a voicemail teling her to send any requests ot him via e-mail. He knew full well she had no home computer and wouldn't use the Judge's office computers on personal matters.

She knew that Robert Jr. was just following orders. His parents' orders. His mother's favorite phrase was "I told you so!" and this gave her lots of opportunities to repeat it to her son, over and over again.

Even though they never liked her, they still wanted her to end this "silly spat" as his mother put it and come back home. They thought they could starve her out if Robert Jr. withheld money and possessions from her. If they waited long enough, they plotted, she would come home and start again. Then they would have real control over her and force her to live the pretend life they had always wanted their son to live.

How little they understood her. They had never understood her. She was always a problem they had to address. They wanted a little compliant WASP, raised in the right country club and willing to play along. They were never happy with the Italian-American "river rat" her son had brought home and announced he would marry. They had cut off all communications and money to him after that announcement, and if Danny hadn't quit school and gone to work to support them both, Robert Jr. would ever have been able to finish medical school.

It was years before they spoke to Robert Jr. or Danny again. And then it was only when they had called to announce Danny's pregnancy. Even the cold-hearted Spencers responded to the promise, and later reality, of a wonderful grandson.

Danny always regretted not living up to the Spencer's expectations. She had tried. But she had always fallen short. Finally, understanding that she couldn't change who she was, where she grew up or her genetics, she had stopped trying and caring. Now, if she could only stop caring about their son, her life would be perfect. She still missed him. Her heart would skip a beat when she saw him while dropping Robby off. But his cheating and lying had left her devastated. How can you balance the two? How can she turn off the loving part when it only brought hurt. Sometimes she felt like a country-western song. The woman done wrong. It's not how she had ever seen herself. It was not how she wanted to see herslef.

But she had no idea how to change things. And she to face this largely alone. Her parents were now both gone, and Jeff, as much as he tried to, couldn't understand her sense of loss and failure. He understood the grieving over the lost relationship. But he never fully appreciated her sense of failure. She had vowed years ago that she would never get divorced and that her marriage would be a tribute to her parents' own happy union. Now she had let them down too.

Maybe she shouldn't have walked out. Other couples had survived infidelity. They had gone on with their lives as though nothing was broken, as though nothing was wrong.

But Danny had already been trying to live a lie. Adding betrayal to the mix made it too hard to pull off. She had tried to be a perfect little wife of a perfect surgeon with a perfect little family. She was never perfect, far from it. And as much as she idolized Robert Jr., he was never perfect either. The only perfect part of their family was Robby. He was the bes thing she had even done, and she would die before hurting him in any way.

Had Danny's leaving Robert Jr., the big luxurious house and all that went along with it hurt him? She hoped not. But it had certainly changed their lives radically. Now all Danny owned in the world was this little house her parents had left her, her Volkswagen Beetle and what remained of her parent's hard-earned savings. And the Volkswagen was already old when her mother received it as a high school graduation gift in 1966.

Actually this was more than she had ever expected. When her father died last year, she had expected that he would give her the house. But she had been shocked to learn about the $30,000 certificate of deposit that he and her mother had put in her name before her mother died of cancer twelve years ago when Danny had just turned 22.

Apparently her parents had both scrimped and saved to put this aside for her law school education. When Danny had decided to go to work, instead of going on to law school they had both been very disappointed. But they understood her commitment to Robert Jr. and had respected her decision to go to work to keep him in medical school. At the time no one knew her mother had only a few months to live. Danny had known from the time she could talk that she was always supposed to be a lawyer and follow in the footsteps of her mother's lifelong friend, Judge Lanell Sauer. But Danny never knew that this money was put aside for her if she ever changed her mind. When she told Danny about it after her father's death, the Judge had called it her parents' "my daughter will sue you" fund.

It turned out to be a lifesaver. It was an enormous amount of money to Danny now and to her parents when they pulled it together little by little. It had taken them years. And Danny couldn't even imagine what they had given up to give her this opportunity.

If anyone wanted to see just how much her life had changed in the ten months since she had left, they had only to look at this $30,000. While she was still with Robert Jr. they would spend $30,000 a month on their creditcards. Now that same amount would have to get her through 2-3/4 more years of law school and meet most of her and Robby's needs.

She could only work 30 hours a week for the Judge. While she paid Danny more than any other law clerk or intern, it barely covered their utilities and food. It was certainly not enough for a new computer for Robby, even for his birthday.

Danny was heartbroken about not being able to give Robby his one birthday wish. Then Jeff had come up with the idea of rigging up one of the Judge's older machines for Robby. The rest just fell into place.

While Danny was surveying her life, the coffee had gotten cold and the lights in the apartment houses across the river were being swtiched off room by room. It was late. But she still couldn't sleep. She stood up and stretched, and went to reheat the coffee. While she waited, she glanced back at the computer.

Heck, it couldn't hurt to take it out for a test run, could it?

Danny sat the coffee cup carefully next to the keyboard and flipped the "on" button. As the machine hummed to life, Danny felt revived. It was past midnight on a Friday night, her best friend in the world had just left, she was still a bit drunk and all alone. She could find some people to talk with online and something to stimulate her mind. Since she could never sleep without Robby in the house, Danny always sought ways to help her fill the many sleepless hours she would have to face before morning.

Luckily, Jeff had signed them up with a three-month trial offer with AOL as an extra birthday surprise. Robby was a big fan of Kids Only and it was so easy to use. Danny was happy since she used to visit their theater chatrooms years before. It was fun, it was easy, it was company.

She typed in her password and, ever hopeful, began her search for a perfect chatroom. As she sipped her coffee, she scanned the search results.

to be continued...

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Chapter Three: The wine

No one locked their doors in The Colony. So Danny didn't hear Jeff enter. She was also used to Lissy's deep bark announcing visitors. Now Lissy and her protective bulk resided in Robert Jr.'s house. Her former dog lived in her former house with her soon to be former husband. There was a kind of poetry to that.

Danny was looking out the front window at the descending sun. This view hadn't changed in all the years she spent in this house. The view looked across the river at the lowrises of 160th street in Manhattan. You saw as the sun in the reflection of those windows, which allowed you to see the sunset itself. The wine bottle was half empty now. And the aromas from the bubbling pot of puttanesca sauce dominated the tiny house.

Jeff walked up behind Danny and kissed her on her check. She didn't startle at all, and just held his hand as she continued to watch the sun's reflections. Jeff took one look at the wine bottle and laughed.

"I see you started without me."

Danny looked up and laughed too. "I'm my best company now most of the time," she responded. Jeff's cheerful tone was always infectious, and Danny like everyone else felt better when Jeff was around. Everyone liked Jeff. Well, almost everyone. Robert Jr. never got along with Jeff and vice versa. They both had a million reasons for their not liking the other, but Danny never thought is was anything but jealousy on Robert Jr.'s part and possessiveness on Jeff's.

In many ways their not getting along put pressure on Danny. It was always tense when Jeff used to come over. And she knew that hours would be spent defending each to the other. But in some ways it had been a blessing. When Danny left Robert Jr., there was no question of Jeff's loyalty. He was one of the few people left, now that her father was gone, that remembered the real Danny. The Danny before the Oribe haircut and Prada handbags. The Danny who preferred her old battered jeans, flip flops and her hair in a ponytail.

Jeff poured himself a glass of wine and walked over to the stove. He inhaled deeply and sighed.

"Your mom made the best puttanesca sauce on earth! Even yours isn't bad." he teased Danny. "Did I ever tell you what the name means?"

Danny shook her head, and waited for the historical fact that Jeff was going to share whether she liked it or not. As a librarian, he knew everything. And as her friend, he knew when she needed distractions.

"It stands for "prostitute." It was named for the prostitutes in Italy who prepared this after a long night on the streets."

"Oh, great!" moaned Danny. "Not very relevant in my case. I haven't had sex in almost a year. Maybe I should have made Fettucini Alfredo instead." And she punched Jeff as he doubled over with laughter.

"Join the club," he managed to get out through his laughter. "Ever since Richard left, the most intimacy I have had is with a good book or watching Oprah." He refilled Danny's glass, lifted his own and offered a toast. "To love!"

Danny drank and watched Jeff over the rim of her glass. She knew Jeff too well. "Jeff, how are you doing? Have you heard from Richard at all? Maybe it's time to start getting out again."

Jeff reached out and hugged Danny. "Enough maudlin talk. Let's eat!" While they worked as a well-oiled machine to get the pasta cooked and drained and the garlic bread toasted and the salad tossed, neither of them said a word. By now, Danny had opened a second bottle of wine, and by the end of dinner they were on their third.

Both sat at the table they had pulled up in front of the big picture window. The sun was long gone and now the lights of the city were their stars. Boats moved slowly up and down the river, and music played softly in the background. Neither needed to say very much. They knew everything there was to know about each other and felt good just being together.

Danny remembered the summer that Jeff first told her he was gay. At first she was surprised. She always thought that he had been in love with her. And she had been right. He had. Just not in the way Danny had expected. She was sad at first, thinking about all he would miss and how hard things would be, especially in The Colony. But she had forgotten that The Colony knew all. Danny, as with Robert Jr.'s infidelity, was the last to know.

Later Danny learned to be grateful for Jeff's sexual preferences. She would never have to share his affection with another woman who might not understand their friendship. Jeff's boyfriends became part of the club. And all accepted Danny easily.

Yet none had touched Jeff's heart as deeply as Richard had. Their break-up when Richard had been transferred to London was devastating on both of them. They knew better than to try and maintain a long distance romance and Jeff couldn't move to London. His job as Assistant Head Librarian at NYU's law school was too important. In two years, when the head libarian retires, Jeff will step up to her position. That would make him the youngest head librarian for a major law school in the United States. Even so, Jeff had almost given this up to be with Richard. Richard was the one who had refused this sacrifice. And the inevitable good-byes were made and Jeff hasn't been his normal cheerful self since.

He and Richard chatted online and IMed frequently. But it wasn't the same. Even though they shared a love of computers and the Internet and belonged to the same ethical hackers club it wasn't enough. To coax him over the "pond" Richard promised to buy Jeff tickets to the East End theater box office smash and fish and chips from the Seashells afterwards. But Jeff didn't want to see Rciahrd again only to have ot leave him a few days later. It had hurt too much. And Jeff wasn't ready for more hurt. He dragged himself back to the present and this little room, in the little house overlooking the enormous view.

Both had tilted their chairs back , precariously, their shoes kicked aside and their bare feet on the edge of the small table. Danny was wiggling her toes to the music and Jeff was watching her. "You could use a toe ring and a pedicure," he said unceremoneously. She wiggled her toes for emphasis and grinned.

"I'll get a pedicure and a toe ring when I find someone to help me get over Robert Jr."

With that said, she stared out the window again and became pensive. "Jeff, do you think I will ever get over him? Do you think that this hurt will ever stop?" Jeff didn't answer her excect to put his foot up again hers. It was an intimate move and the touch of someone else, even her dear friend Jeff, made her feel better.

"I remember when I first met Richard. He walked into the law libary in a Columbia law school sweatshirt. When he came up to the desk to ask a question I teased him about that sweatshirt. I told him Columbia shirts weren't allowed at NYU. He had laughed and said that it was okay, he had gone to Yale. Touche! We went for coffee and spent the next three years together. I hope there is live after love." Jeff looked off at the river as well. The silence spread. A dog barked down the lane, a car door slammed at the [commons] and Mrs. Jacobs was calling her cats. The music stopped and the candles had burned down. It was time for Jeff to go.

Danny was the first to move. "I have lots of puttanesca sauce left, if you want me to pack it up." She put her chair back in the dining area and began to clear the table. She was wobbly on her feet and held into the edge of the table to steady herself. The third bottle of wine was finished and both wine glasses as well. "I don't think I have had this much to drink in years. You're not going to drive home in your condition, are you?" Jeff shuffled his chair back and stood with enormous effort.

"No, I'll stay with Aunt Dolores tonight. By the way, the computer is finished. I'll bring it in and set it up before I go." As he lifted the computer from where he had placed it at the front door, Danny thought about how surprised and excited Robby will be when he sees it on Sunday. It may not be new and fancy, but with Jeff's help is was powerful and fast. And he had loaded it with every program and game Robby could have wanted. A computer and Internet access was the one thing Robby had missed from his father's house. But Robert Jr. had insisted that the computer remain there, to help convince Robby to visit more often.

Danny watched quietly as Jeff set it up expertly, even though he was pretty drunk. When he was done he stood up and spread his arms expansively. "Ta Da!!! For the young prince."

Jeff's joy at being able to help give Robby something this special was apparent. He was Robby's godfather. Robert Jr. only allowed this because he was Protestant and Protestants didn't have godparents. Danny was Catholic and godparents were very important.

When Danny had first mentioned that she needed a computer and Internet access for Robby, Jeff had approached Judge Ricci (Robby's godmother). Danny's mother and the Judge had been best friends when they were growing up here in Edgewater. And Danny now worked part-time for the Judge while awaiting the start of NYU law school in the Fall. Judge Ricci loved Danny and Robby enough that she would have bought a computer just to make them happy. But Jeff found an old abandoned one in the back of her office and together with his Internet buddies fixed it up, beefed it up and created a special machine just for Robby.

Jeff gave Danny a long hug and left for Aunt Dolores's house on the next lane. He called when he arrived to let her know he had arrived safely. The Danny sat down at the computer with a hot cup of strong coffee and turned it on.

to be continued...

Friday, June 25, 2004

Chapter two: the dinner

Danny grabbed the two bags stuffed with groceries and hurried into the house. Even in her rush, she took a moment to appreciate this little house and its incredible view of the Hudson River. It had belonged to her grandmother and her father before her.

In 1921 this was a tiny shack built to house the early stars of the silver screen, in the wilds of New Jersey at the base of the George Washington Bridge. Her great-grandfather had been a technician with one of the film studios and bought the shack from a director who was moving to Italy to pursue more artistic film-making. It remained a shack for more than sixty years. Not well-insulated, and with a barely functioning furnace, winters were cold. And "cold" was an understatement.

But even though the temperature was frigid, life in the house was warm. Danny, her mother and her father would sit around the wood-burning stove and drink hot cocoa and snuggle under hand-knitted blankets made with love. They would listen to music together, and read, and play word games. And the house always smelled of rich and exotic foods. They ranged from Persian, to Moroccan, to Indian and Thai. Her mother had traveled extensively when she was younger and had brought home recipes that reminded her of the sunsets and sunrises and sounds and smells of the bazaars and open markets. These recipes filled a handmade book that wafted spices whenever it was opened, still after all these years.

Danny didn't always appreciate her homelife. She complained that her friends never ate these crazy foods. And protested for hamburgers and grilled cheese. Her mother would respond with kufta and quesadillas, which were as close as she could manage to Danny's more plebian tastes. As much as Danny would moan whenever her mother would cook new exotic fare, she eventually realized that these meals made her mother more alive. Yet, the battle between them about household menus continued until Danny was 14 years old, when they came to a sudden and sad halt. Had she known that her mother wouldn't live past her 37th birthday, Danny would never have complained about the curries, pickled garlic and fresh mint hot tea. She would have given a million dollars to taste puttanesca rigatoni made by her mother and hear her tell about her summer in Naples and Capri.

Danny was making her mother's puttanesca recipe tonight. She was nostalgic and besides, it was Jeff's favorite dish. He didn't have homecooked meals often and Danny liked to pamper him once in awhile.

Jeff was a "river rat" just like Danny. He was raised down the lane in a better insulated and updated shack. When a shack in The Colony was updated they were called "cottages" and usually had a plaque with the name on it. Jeff's cottage was no exception. He grew up in "Riverwalk."

Growing up in The Colony wasn't easy. The roads weren't really roads, they were more like tiny lanes. There was one lane for traffic and everyone had to pull over to let another car through. Most of the shacks and cottages and the one or two fully-rebuilt homes had no garages or driveways. Everyone parked down at the [commons} and walked the hundred feet to their front doors. The people who lived in The Colony were more like Cape Codders than typical Jerseyites. And they liked it that way.

But the kids from other areas of Edgewater uniformly made fun of the kids from The Colony. That's where the "river rats" nicknames came from. But the contrarians who weathered the storms on the shores of the Hudson took that name with pride.

When Danny had left home to live with and eventually marry Robert Jr., she missed four things. Her father's grumpy breakfast greeting and the smell of his pipe, the incredible sunsets over the Manhattan skyline that she could see from all the front windows in the house, being able to run next door to share secrets with jJeff and being safe. Everyone was safe in The Colony.

The Colony protected its own. Strangers couldn't enter the tiny enclave without everyone knowing they were there, and who they came to see. Her teenage transgressions were reported to her father before she reached home. The number of beers she drank, what she wore and how long she sat in the car making out with Robert Jr. were public knowledge. And the same energy her neighbors spent tattling on her to her father, they spent protecting their own.

She was safe now. She was back "home" to the house she loved. Robby was too. Her neighbors didn't ask any questions. They didn't have to. They knew everything already. And they welcomed her back, as did the house. The kitchen was now once again filled with spices, music and love.

Danny grabbed the bunch of fresh parsley and ripped it into little pieces, frying it along with the garlic. As the garlic sizzled, Danny walked over to the wine rack and pulled out a bottle she had been saving for a special occasion. This was as special as it got these days. She expertly uncorked the bottle and poured herself some of the rich red wine. She swirled it a bit and the aroma greeted her nostrils. She inhaled and took a sip. It was a good wine. She stirred the garlic, added the tomatoes and waited for Jeff to arrive.

to be continued....

Chapter One: The beginning...

Danny's mind wandered. Everything seems unsettled. She had just dropped Robby off at her house. Well, not "her" house anymore. She had just dropped him off at what used to be her house. It was painted the color she had specially blended to match the house in the Vineyard she and Robert Jr. has summered at six years ago. Even the flowers were planted to match those at their summer cottage in the dunes. Before.

"Before" has a different meaning now that it had ever had. Before her life turned upside down. Before she had to drop her 8 year old off for a birthday party she couldn't attend. Before she had to pack up her things and drive off in a 30 year old Volkswagen Beetle. Before she was shut out of her own life. Before she had learned about that nurse on the ICU and Robert Jr. Before.

It was so odd watching Robby bound up the stairs and into the house while she sat in the circular driveway. Past Ethel, her friend and housekeeper (or, more accurately, her current friend and Robert Jr.'s housekeeper), Robby had run. Tackled by his shouting birthday party guests and barking dogs, Robby disappeared inside. Ethel waved to her and made a move to climb down the stairs to say "hello," when something crashed from inside the house.

"Boys!" she mouthed to Danny before charging back into the house to fix whatever was broken. Ethel was the fixer. She was the one everyone went to when things didn't work or broke. She had tried to use these skills with Danny and Robert Jr. before Danny even knew there was something to fix. Not much got past Ethel. She had obviously known more about what Robert Jr. (or as she calls him "Mr. Doctor") was up to than Danny had. She kept trying to cover-up for his late nights and mysterious phone hang-ups. She had excuses for everything. Her manner had changed towards Mr. Doctor though. Enough so that he had suggested it was time for Ethel to retire after serving Robert Jr.'s family and now theirs for more than 30 years. Danny fought this suggestion and soon the decision became moot. Robert Jr. would need someone to help him take care of Robby whenever he was visiting. Ethel would stay. It was Danny who left.

Danny never saw it coming. But she was always blind when it came to Robert Jr. She had loved him from afar, when they were in grammar school. She trusted him when no one else had. Had loved him when his own parents had rejected him. Had helped him pass organic chemistry when he was ready to give up. She stood by his side and was a fierce defender of the man she knew he was inside. He was her knight in shining armor on a white charger. She loved the way he smelled, looked and tasted. She loved the way he cocked his head to one side when listening intently to someone. And the sparkle in his eyes when he laughed and his wicked sense of humor. He was her life.

"Was" is the operative word. She shook her head roughly, trying to free her thoughts from the cobwebs of "before." It didn't help to dream about the life she had, and now would never have again. That was before. This was now.

He had betrayed her trust and her love. He had betrayed their family. She wasn't sure how, but she knew she could get through this. She didn't miss the big house, or the big cars, or the fancy restaurants. She had never wanted them in the first place. But she still missed Robert Jr. sleeping at her side. And Robby climbing in between them early on Sunday morning. And Lissy, their gentle giant of a dog burrowing under the covers not to be left out. She missed the way Robert Jr. and Robby wrestled while she cooked breakfast. She missed their watching Finding Nemo for the eight hundredth time and shouting out the passages they all knew by heart. She missed her dreams of the future growing old at Robert Jr.'s side.

This wasn't going to be easy. All thoughts led to Robert Jr. All feelings led to her grief over what could have been. All she could feel was this giant hole in her heart that she didn't know how to fill.

On top of all of this, she had to say "good-bye" to Robby on his tenth birthday for the entire weekend. This was the first year since he was born that she hadn't baked his favorite superhero cake. His birthday dinner would be eaten without her. She had to share him on this special weekend with Robert Jr., his sister and his parents.

For the next two nights she would have to make do with the toothy grin he shot her and the carefree "Bye Mom! See ya' Sunday!" Frankly, she could use the time to get his present ready. She needed to focus on their own celebration. This was their new life. Different from before, but still good.

She turned up the radio, rolled down the window and sang with Aretha Franklin as loud as she could. The road was quiet except for the off-key refrain of Danny and the queen of soul. R-E-S-P-E-C-T...Danny never thought about the irony of that song at this moment in her life. But she drove home to meet her longtime friend, with a smile on her face and hope in her voice.

to be continued...

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Start here....I have been threatening to write this novel for years.

I think it might be fun to do it as a blog.

Look for more soon. :-)

read the posts in inverse order...