So here’s the way the project worked each year. Mom and her team would host several workshops for children and adults during the week. At the end of the week, she would cast a showcase of independent pieces or a full production for the following year with performers from the workshops. The week culminated in a final performance of whatever they had worked on in conjunction with a miniature festival of sorts. When the weather was agreeable the festivities were held outdoors, when it was not, the celebration was downsized and moved into the halls of the church.
On day two of that particular year, everyone, including Uncle Victor — shockingly — arrived thirty minutes before the workshop attendees and the cast of the showcase. They met once again in the sanctuary.
“Did everyone go over the schedule for today?” Mom did a visual survey of the team who stood with her in a circle. One after another, they nodded in the affirmative to having read the schedule, that is until she came to Jay.
“I didn’t,” he confessed.
“Uh, that’s okay.” Mom glanced at her watch. “You have some time to look over it in Dru’s binder before she gets started with her first workshop.
“He can look at mine,” Uncle Victor offered.
“Thanks Vic, but hold on for a second. Does anyone have any questions about anything that’s gonna happen today?” She did a visual survey of everyone again. Jay didn’t say anything, but looked like he had a question. “Jay, what’s up?”
“Where am I starting off after I look over the files in the binder?”
Uncle Victor interjected once again once again. “You won’t be filming anything till the dress rehearsal, you can hang out in the booth with me.”
“No,” mom objected, matter-of-factly. “If there aren’t any more questions, I’m gonna review where everyone is stationed,” she looked directly at Uncle Victor, “just so we’re all on the same page.”
“Go ahead,” said Uncle Victor quietly. He really was doing his best to be cooperative.
“Thank you,” Mom responded, before addressing everyone. “Okay. Alex, you’ll be in the sanctuary with me, Vic, you’re up in the booth, Ben is out for the night, and Jay, you can shadow Dru until I’m ready for you. How does that sound?”
Aunty Alex gave a thumbs up, Jay and Aunty Dru responded simultaneously with “great,” while uncle Victor stood unresponsive. He seemed to have checked out mentally.
“Vic?” Mom called him.
He suddenly emerged from wherever he had gone off to and gave her a thumbs up.
“Okay. You two,” she began pointing at Aunty Dru and Jay, “have about 20 minutes before your start time. The rest of us can get to it.”
Aunty Alex turned on her heels and started down the center isle of the sanctuary. Mom followed her. Aunty Dru and Jay exited the sanctuary with Uncle Victor in tow. Once they had gotten beyond the doors, Aunty Dru stopped in front of Jay to tell him something, but did not get the chance. Uncle Victor came up quickly from behind her and took her aside so that he might speak to her. Placing his hand firmly against the back of her arm, he led her slightly down the main hallway toward the main entrance.
Jay, left alone and without direction, wondered up some nearby stairs. He stopped on the center landing and stared at a beautiful painting, hung conveniently on the wall opposite to where Uncle Victor stood with Aunty Dru. To anyone who saw him looking at the painting, it may have appeared that Jay was making an throughout analysis of the piece. This was not the case. Instead, he was rehashing a two hour conversation he’d had with Uncle Victor on their drive back into the city the night before. During their conversation, which felt like an interrogation at first, Uncle Victor was very clear that Jay was not to forget the purpose for which he was invited to come to town. He was there to help make Uncle Victor look good — rather than do any “looking” of his own.
At that moment, with Aunty Dru nowhere in sight and a safe distance away from him, Jay found it perfectly feasible to consider her nothing more than a stranger whom he had just met, someone he could not possibly have eyes for. When he stopped thinking so hard about Uncle Victor and Aunty Dru, Jay began to actually see the painting. He found it beautiful and serene. As he continued to look at the painting, his former vow to concentrate his energy on advancing in his career rather than seeking another romantic relationship came into focus. But then just like that, his acute focus became blurred by the weight of her presence and the sound of her voice.
“It is really beautiful, isn’t it?” she asked quietly.
Rather than seeing the painting in front of him, he recalled her smile the night before. “Yes it is,” he said in response. He kept looking straight ahead, his hands resting comfortably in his pockets.
Aunty Dru looked up at his profile and smiled. Jay was a little strange; not in a dangerous or suspicious kind of a way. It’s possible that she found him mysterious. It’s also possible that she simply wasn’t used to being around people who were quiet, calm, and reserved as he was. She was finding that this quality in him intrigued her. “So…we could stand her for the next ten minutes if you want…or we could go upstairs so you can glance at the schedule for the week. We’ll have to take a look around later on.”
He finally turned to face her.
“So you really like paintings huh?” she asked, laughter beginning to bubble up from her chest.
“Not usually, but this piece is exquisite. Don’t you think?” They burst into laughter, although not for quiet the same reason.
“Where are we going?” He asked when their laughter subsided.
Aunty Dru pointed up the stairs without a word and up they went. As they neared the top of the staircase, she suddenly remembered something and stopped abruptly. “Hey, you and Victor drove into town together right?”
“Yes,” he responded with a curious expression.
Rather than providing information to satisfy his curiosity, she asked another question. “Did he tell you he was going to ask me to dinner tonight?”
Jay froze. He wasn’t sure how to respond because he wasn’t sure where the conversation was going.
“Don’t look so nervous. I’m just wondering if you had made plans for the evening.”
“Oh!” He was relieved “Yeah, no. I didn’t make any plans. I’m staying in town overnight, so I’ll probably head to the hotel and get some rest when we leave here.”
“That’s so boring! You should come with us!”
While he was glad to receive her invitation, he doubted his acceptance would sit well with Uncle Victor. As he thought about this further, he didn’t think he would enjoy the experience either. “Thanks, but that won’t be necessary.”
Shock overtook her expression as she looked at him with her mouth agape for a moment. “Did you just say, ‘that won’t be necessary’?”
“I disagree. Spending time with friends is absolutely necessary.”
“Well yes, but….” He agreed that it was important to invest time into one’s friendships, but wanted to point out that what she was embarking on with Uncle Victor was not ‘a night out with friends’. As such, he had no interest in joining them. “That’s not what this is.”
Aunty Dru wanted to argue with him, to insist that she was not going on a date with Uncle Victor. However, just as Uncle Victor had walked away from their conversation moments earlier believing that their dinner arrangement was in fact a romantic one, Jay stood in front of her knowing the same thing. She glared at him through narrowed eyes, silently bucking his steadfastness.
He probably should not have asked the following question, because if her response was ‘no’ it would only worsen his predicament, but he did. “Is that not what you wanted?”
Aunty Dru became very still and looked at him with a bewildered expression. Although her response was at the tip of her tongue, it came slowly.
Jay’s thoughts began to race. He regretted asking the question and wondered how he could redirect the conversation.
The bewilderment vanished from Aunty Dru’s face and her lips spread slowly into a shrewd smile. “I’m not answering that.”He was relieved.
“You shouldn’t have asked me that,” she added.
He felt — as she intended — like he had been smacked on the wrist. “You’re right.” He agreed.
They continued walking, Aunty Dru picking up the pace after checking the time. By then, they had made it to the second floor and began walking through a spacious hallway at the end of which was the room where the workshop would take place.
“So where are you staying? Which Hotel?” She wondered if it was one she was familiar with and could speak on.
“I actually booked a B&B in town, the one on…” He pulled his phone from his pocket to look it up.
“The one Martin Street?”
“Nice,” she said, after a brief pause. She had previously assumed by his pristine appearance that he strictly preferred luxury to homey.
He was beginning to settle down and grew steadily emboldened to speak without frantic forethought. “Are you surprised?” He asked.
“Yes actually.” Indicating his attire she added, “you seem more like a five star hotel kind of guy.”
“Really?” He asked.
“Really.” She said, in a matter of fact way.
He was pleased that he had surprised her in a good way. “Have you ever stayed there?” He asked.
“Are you more of a ‘five star hotel’ kind of woman?” he asked with a cheeky grin.
“Ha ha,” she replied sarcastically before melting into an amused smile. “Charis, Alex, and I all grew up here. I usually stay with my parents when I’m in town.”
“It seems like a nice place to grow up.”
There was a look of fondness on her face as she spoke. “It was, for the most part. Small towns have their own problems sometimes, but I can’t say I wish I grew up anywhere else. What about you?” Before he could answer, she added, “You seem like a city boy.”
He laughed out loud, his head falling backward, his eyes ablaze with pure delight. “You got me!” he said through waning laughter. His smile lingered as they came to stand in an open place at the front of the room.
Aunty Dru glanced at her watch again. She took a deep breath and exhaled audibly .”Okay. We have five minutes, which means you won’t have time to do any reading, but don’t worry. You could just hang out and feel free to jump in and help whenever.”
His expression changed to one of concern. “I don’t think that’s gonna work.”
“The jumping in to help. I’d prefer if you told me what you wanted me to do.”
While her work for the next few hours would be, for the most part, second nature to Aunty Dru, it’s likely that it would all be new to Jay. “Makes sense. Stay close and pay attention.”
That, he thought, he could manage easily. “Okay,” he said.
At the end of both workshops, Aunty Dru and Jay used the same staircase they had used earlier to join the others on the first floor. Victor was awaiting them at the bottom of the stairs, his expression marked by a disfiguring mix of wild excitement and disappointment. Aunty Dru wondered what could have gotten him into such a state, particularly before their dinner, which he was looking forward to just a few hours earlier.
When they came to the end of the stairs, Jay spoke first. “What’s going on Vic?”
“You remember that collab I was telling you about?”
–A month or so prior to driving into town, Uncle Victor had been in conversations with the representatives of an internationally renowned music artist. They were discussing the prospect of collaborating on a project. This was the kind of opportunity that artists in Uncle Victor’s field hoped and prayed for; landing it would help catapult Uncle Victor’s career. It was an opportunity of a lifetime.–
It happened that while he was working with Mom on night two of her project, Uncle Victor received an urgent message from one of his people advising him to return to the city immediately. This was because the artist that he was hoping to work with, decided to make a special trip into the country to meet with Uncle Victor and his team. This was not a meeting that Uncle Victor could miss. As he explained all this to Aunty Dru and asked to be excused from their dinner plans, he was sorely disappointed. He then told Aunty Dru and Jay that he would likely also miss the rest of the week working on mom’s project.
Uncle Victor had spoken with Mom shortly after receiving the message. She assured him that she understood the importance of him leaving. She helped set his mind at ease by telling him that Dad would take his place. Most importantly, Mom told Uncle Victor that she was proud of him, acknowledging that the opportunity he was getting was a result of his hard work and diligence.
Upon hearing the splendid news, Aunty Dru was thrilled for Uncle Victor. “Oh Vic,” she said, reaching out to hug him, “You can make it up to me later. Go, make a great record!”
Jay gave him a bear hug followed by a pat on the back and said “Congratulations man!”
Mom and Aunty Alex emerged from the sanctuary just as the main entrance door came to rest in the wake of Uncle Victor’s urgent exit.
“How did it go?” Mom asked Aunty Dru.
“It went well! You should have seen Jay in action!” She looked up at Jay who stood behind her, off her right shoulder.
“Oh really? Are you saying that I should add him to the email list for next year?”
“Well the week’s not over yet,” Aunty Dru said teasingly.
“Fair enough,” Jay said.
Aunty Alex’s phone buzzed loudly from her pocket. She pulled it out and glanced at the screen. “I gotta take this. I’ll see you in the car.” She said to Mom. Turning from Mom to Aunty Dru and Jay then said, “And I’ll see you two at the house.”
Naturally, Jay and Aunty Dru were both confused.
“What’s Alex talking about?” Aunty Dru asked Mom.
“You guys don’t have plans right now do you?”
Aunty Dru spoke up. “My plan just walked out the door with Vic.” She turned to Jay and said teasingly, “but you’re going back to the B&B to stare at the wall, right?”
Jay had the impulse to shove her a little, but managed to restrain himself. “I never said I was going to stare at the wall,” he retorted. Now that Uncle Victor had gone back to the city, things had suddenly opened up in his favor. “What did you have in mind?” He asked Mom.
“You two should come over for dinner. My mom cooked, which means you won’t regret coming and there will be plenty for everyone.”
Aunty Dru looked up again at Jay. “What do you think? Wanna come?”
“That sounds great,” he said without missing a beat. But then he remembered he didn’t have any personal means of transportation. Based on what Victor had told him, the only public transportation that ran through town was the train that one might catch to the city. Otherwise, unless you had rented a car, you were left to travel on food or remain grounded altogether. “Wait a minute, is it within walking distance of the church?”
Aunty Dru was about to make some wisecrack about the distance, but mom spoke before she could vocalize her mischievous thought. “Dru will bring you,” Mom said matter of factly. “I should go,” she added, turning toward the exit. “I’ll see you guys there!” she called out when she came within arms length of the door.
“Who’s responsible for locking up?” Jay asked as they themselves started toward the front door.
“The security guard on duty. He’s probably watching us leave right now.”
That made sense, Jay thought.
When they came to the parking lot in front of the building, there was, surely enough, a car with a security label parked very close to the building and one other which Dru continued walking towards. When she came to it, she reached into a small pocket at the front of her purse and pulled out a set of keys.
“Is this a rental or your personal vehicle?” Jay asked as he followed Aunty Dru around to the driver’s side.
She had not had a man walk her to her car for quite some time. As a result, it took her a moment to realize what he was doing. “Thank you,” she said, settling into her seat after he had opened her door.
“You’re welcome,” Jay said. He closed the door and walked naturally around the back of the car to the passenger side. Somehow, he felt as though he had done that exact sequence of movements before. The car seemed familiar, along with opening the door, then walking around to the front passenger seat. The smell of the evening breeze and the way that it swept softly past his face was also familiar. This, he thought, was a very striking deja vu. He had experienced such moments before, but there were never this many familiar details coming back to life at all at once.
When he opened the passenger door, Aunty Dru’s upper torso was wedged between the two front seats, while her face leaned over the backseat. She was displacing her backpack in order to make room for him.
He climbed in, buckled his seatbelt and sat quietly with his eyes fixed forward for a while. He normally wasn’t forthcoming about his every thought, but every moment he spent with Dru felt equivalent to a year, thus by the time they had gotten into her car that evening, he felt as if he had known her for several years. He was very comfortable sharing. “Have you ever had a deja vu?”
“Yeah?!” she responded excitedly.
— A few years later when I began to talk to her about dreams and ask questions about happenings that I found to be strangely familiar in my life, Aunty Dru would tell me that she got excited about deja vu because they gave her a sense that she was in a place or a moment that she was meant to be in.–
“Did you just have one?” She asked Jay.
“I did,” he said, still staring ahead with a distant look in his eyes. He was slipping into the isolation of deep thought as he tried to connect the deja vu with an original experience.
Feeling that his presence had become unusually still beside her, Aunty Dru shifted her eyes from the road and looked at Jay. “Are you okay?”
He shook his head as though he was attempting to shake the fog out of his thoughts. He then looked at her and responded, “yeah, I’m fine.”
“What was it?”
“What was what,” he asked.
“What was the trigger for you deja vu?” she clarified.
He looked at her profile in a moment of silent hesitation, then said, “well seeing your car was the first thing…then closing your door and walking around…” He believed he had shared a clear enough picture with those two details, so he withheld mentioning the familiarity in smell and feel of the night breeze.
Aunty Dru thought quickly about what he had said in light of what she believed about deja vu; that it was a sign of sorts that someone was in a place or a moment they were meant to be in. She wondered if he believed the same thing and furthermore, whether sharing his deJa vu was in fact a subtle way of making a pass at her. Aunty Dru was not the sort to keep her thoughts to herself — unless of course she thought them to be mean, inappropriate, or ill-timed. “Is this your way of making a move on me?” She asked.
He was astonished to silence by her directness.
“Cause that would make you a terrible friend,” she went on, her face still illuminated by glee.
“No!” He finally said defensively…guiltily. Although she joked about it, he was truly beginning to feel like a terrible friend, because deep down it made him very glad that Uncle Victor was absent, affording him an opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with Aunty Dru. “That’s not what I’m doing!” he continued, now frantically ransacking his mind for ways to change the subject completely. “Is there anywhere we can stop to get something to bring to dinner?” He asked.
“Are you trying to change the subject?” Aunty Dru asked.
“Yes!” Jay erupted with a burst of laughter, the kind of laughter that someone produces in a moment of utter disbelief, where they are unable to articulate what they’re thinking and feeling, and might actually prefer to scream. “If you would let me, I would love to change the subject!”
Aunty Dru looked at him and they erupted together, filling her car with their laughter for several minutes. They settled down in time for Jay to notice that she was making a U-turn.
“Why are you turning around?” He asked, supposing that she might have forgotten something at the church.
“We can probably get something to bring to dinner from the grocery store. What do you have in mind?”
“What about some wine?” He suggested.
“Okay. We can do that.” She agreed.
As they continued on their way to the grocery store, they sat in an easy silence that made the drive seem endless. Neither would admit it, but there was a palpable sense of contentment that slowly blanketed them both; this too felt very familiar. Neither of them would have mined if the drive was as endless as it seemed.
When they got to the grocery store, Aunty Dru led him to the few isles where the wine was stocked. They discussed a few options, then settled on two, as they didn’t know what was to be served at dinner. On returning to the front of the store, there was only one register open for checkout. The cashier, a woman Aunty Dru had met while working at the store during high school, lit up when she saw her. Her name was Cathy.
She was someone who was always kind to Aunty Dru, she had cheered her on and celebrated her love for the performing arts. When Aunty Dru had decided to move to the city after college to pursue her passion, Cathy was so thrilled, one might have thought that she was the one off to a big adventure. She had blessed Aunty Dru with, “You’re gonna do so well! I can’t wait to see you on the big stage!” Cathay was always delighted to see Aunty Dru and to hear what she was up to. “Are you seeing anyone?” somehow made its way into every one of these check-in type conversations. The handful of times that Dru did bring her ex-boyfriend into the store while visiting, Cathy was not nearly as excited as Aunty Dru thought she should have been. In fact, she seemed disappointed; Aunty Dru never fully understood why.
That night as she and Jay chatted with Cathy while checking out, Whether or not Aunty Dru was seeing anyone’ never entered into the conversation. Cathy kept smiling approvingly at Jay, even when Aunty Dru was the one speaking. It wasn’t a disappointment that she’d seen in Cathy’s eyes several years earlier when she’d brought her ex-boyfriend through the store, it was disapproval. Not being one to knowingly settle into guises, even those imposed upon her by others, Aunty Dru felt the need to clarify as they came to the end of check out.
“It was so good to see, as always, and it was very nice to meet you Jay.” Cathy said, still smiling.
“Ms. Cathy, he isn’t my–”
“I hope to see you both again soon,” She interrupted, beckoning a customer who stood behind Jay and Aunty Dru.
“I’ll see you again, but–” Aunty Dru began.
“Have a good night!” She said loudly as if they were already in the distance.
Jay, took the cardboard carrier with the wine in one hand and gently nudged Aunty Dru away from the register with his other hand on the small of her back. “Good night!” He said, smiling at Cathy as he walked toward the exit, Aunty Dru ushered forward by his hand.
“Did you see that or was it just me?” Aunty Dru asked as they walked through the automatic double doors. “She would not let me explain that we’re not together!”
Cathy’s approval had quietly emboldened Jay, so while he agreed with Aunty Dru that Cathy had been purposefully dismissive toward the end of their chat, he simply said, “yeah, I saw that she had other customers.”
She stopped abruptly and looked at him through the dull white light illuminating them from overhead. She then made a sound that was equivalent to, “really? Is that what you saw?” but said nothing.
When they arrived at my grandparents for dinner, I flew to the door with unbridled excitement. Aunty Dru, besides being Mom’s best friend, was one of my favorite people. She was crowned with wisdom and armed with strength like most adults, but was also welling with effervescent joy and childlike wonder seemingly all the time; at least when we were together. I had not seen her in a little while, which felt like a long while, so no amount of shouting from any of the adults at the dinner table had a hope of restraining me when she arrived at the door that night.
“Ari!” I heard Mom calling after me as I ran from the table to the door, but I couldn’t stop myself even if I tried. Grandma’s front door was very heavy for me then. I needed to use a great deal of my might to pull it open, but that’s just what I did. Mom, who was suddenly right behind me, caught the door before it crashed into the stopper affixed to the wall.
“ARIANNA!” She said firmly, placing a hand on my shoulder.
I looked up at her quickly and said “but it’s Aunty Dru,” as if this justified my blatant disregard for her earlier command. I swung back around and just as quickly left the weight of my mom’s hand to embrace Aunty Dru.
She stooped down to receive me.
Although I couldn’t see her face because mine was pointed in the other direction, I knew that she was probably pleading with Mom on my behalf because of what mom said next.
“She didn’t know it was you,” Mom said without a hint of humor in her voice.
When I loosened my hold on Aunty Dru, I finally noticed the legs of a tall man in front of me. I lifted my gaze slowly upward until it landed on his face. It was very odd, I didn’t think I had met him before, if I had I would have remembered– I had a remarkably detailed memory as a child — but somehow I knew his face. At first I didn’t know how, but I was certain I had seen his face before. So, as unusual as it was for me to almost completely ignore Aunty Dru, I kept my gaze intently on her friend until the mystery of his identity was filled with light.
Mom had walked me back to the table. Those of us who were already at my grandparents’ had all sat down to eat with the expectation that Aunty Dru and her friend would be arriving at any moment. I had bits and pieces of information from mom and dad and mom and grandma as they had casually talked about Jay before he arrived that day. Mom thought he seemed nice, dad agreed that he was a decent guy. Mom said she thought Jay might like Aunty Dru, dad disagreed on account of Jay being close friends with Uncle Victor and the violation of some man code should Jay try to talk to Aunty Dru. Mom thought this supposed code was absolutely ridiculous, she furthermore expressed her wish that Uncle Victor would wake up already and realize that it would never work out between Him and Aunty Dru. Dad tried not to feel somewhat offended by this as he asked mom what exactly she was trying to say. She insisted that it was nothing against Uncle Victor personally. She went on to say, “I honestly think if Vic ever sat down to really consider it, he’d realize that Dru would actually bore him.”
Dad was not expecting that. Just as Mom had said it, I happened to walk through their open bedroom door and saw his face. It was like a bright, red light bulb had been turned on over his head, the light was unattractive, but conspicuous. He squinted at it, but couldn’t deny it. When mom had mentioned certain things to Grandma, as it related to who was coming over for dinner, Grandma had simply asked, “what does Drucilla have to say about all this?” Mom didn’t say anything else after that.
Everyone seemed to enjoy dinner. The table was loaded with the delicious meal that Grandma and Grandpa had prepared and the dinning room was filled with love and laughter. It was a late dinner, as Mom and her team were occupied during the evening hours, so there was no lingering afterwards to play games, watch a movie, or even just talk. Mom walked Jay and Aunty Dru to the door right after dinner to say goodnight. I was right behind her. She thanked them for the wine and for coming, she told Jay that she hoped he had enjoyed himself and was glad that he had joined them for the week. Mom subtly threw a glance at Aunty Dru that made it clear that she was in part glad for Aunty Dru’s sake that Jay was with them. Under normal circumstances, they would have already spoken in depth about anyone with whom Aunty Dru was spending this number of enjoyable hours, but mom was not so concerned about it.
“Say goodnight, Ari,” mom said to me when she had finished speaking.
And right then, I was struck by the light of my own proverbial light bulb, only the light of mine wasn’t unpleasant; it was lovely and thrilling. I wanted to cheer, but all at once felt compelled to be very still. I slowly stepped toward Aunty Dru, who had stopped again to receive me, all my while, my eyes were fixed on Jay. I remembered where I had seen him. It was very strange, but I had dreamt about him, seeing his face in great and accurate detail.
“Honey, are you okay?” Aunty Dru asked. She was the only one who could really see my face.
I leaned in very close to her ear and whispered the most striking points of my dream.
After she heard all that I had to say, she leaned back slowly from embracing me. She wanted to be humored by what I had said. She wanted to discard it as the product of an overactive imagination, but she could do none of that.
She knew me too well and as she considered my behavior, particularly my apparent fixation with Jay throughout dinner, she concluded that I wasn’t making it up based on conversations I had overheard from Mom. Now, knowing that I was telling the truth might not have been reason enough to warrant Aunty Dru’s solemn response, but my proven ability to ‘know things’ — as a result of dreaming about them in detail of having words or pictures pop into my mind — was. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, “Thank you for telling me,” not that she was particularly thankful. What I had shared with her wasn’t sought after and it certainly wasn’t information she knew what to do with at that moment. This made her even more uncommonly still because Aunty Dru liked knowing what to do.
When she stood back up to be on the same level as Mom, there was an obviously stunned look on her face, but mom didn’t get the impression that Aunty Dru needed to ‘share’ anything about what I had told her; not just then. “See you guys tomorrow,” mom said before taking my hand and leading me back into the house.
Aunty Dru and Jay got back into her car so that she could drive him to the B&B where he was staying. When he opened the door for her, he noticed that she had disappeared into her thoughts. While this was a common thing for him to do, he had gathered in this time with her, that it was not as common for her. He wanted to say or do something that would rescue her from the place that she had sunken into, but didn’t know that might be. Then, as the car slowed to a stop in the driveway of the B&B, it occurred to him that she might not need rescuing; after all, solemn silence was not always an indicator that something was on the verge of going disastrously wrong; sometimes it was an indicator that a daring and beautiful adventure was at the door.
“Thank you for tonight,” he said softly as if not wanting to disrupt her.
She looked back at him and smiled. “You’re welcome.” Her voice was still friendly and filled with light, but she didn’t look at him as she had, not even earlier that night. He couldn’t place a finger on exactly what it was, except that she seemed a little nervous.
Although it was not my intention at all — I hadn’t any intention beyond solving the mystery of identifying where I had seen Jay’s face — what I had said about Jay set Aunty Dru’s thoughts in disarray. She felt so out of control and unlike herself. Her awareness of his physical presence suddenly became heightened and she had difficulty maintaining the way that she saw him, that is, as someone who was practically a stranger to her, but very close friends with Uncle Victor. It made her uncomfortable that what she now saw was an attractive man who was peering back at her through the faint street light that poured into her car through the windshield. It made her uncomfortable to discern the anticipation and affection in his gaze. She became very aware of the placement of his hands and the distance of his lips from hers and all at once, she grew worried that his hands might find hers and that he might lean in to kiss her.
“See you tomorrow,” she managed to say at a normal volume, even though her thoughts were shouting by that point. He had barely closed the door after getting out when she shifted gears and reversed quickly out of the driveway. Soon, she was long past the B&B and on her way to her parents’ house.
That night, Jay lay awake for a long time thinking about how much he had enjoyed the evening, particularly Dru’s company throughout. He had enjoyed watching her work with earnest passion during the workshops; seeming to enfuse every attendee with the confidence that they could be more brilliant than any stage light in one way or another. He didn’t mind that she had teased him a little as he stepped in as a scene partner in this group and that group. He didn’t mind Cathy, the woman at the grocery store, assuming they were a couple. And getting to sit with her at dinner in the company of her dear friends was a thousand times more satisfying than the meal, which was very satisfying. He wondered if she was awake. He wondered what she was thinking about and whether she was still thinking as deeply as she had been when he left her. He sighed with contentment over his evening, yet wishing that Wednesday was not so far away.
A few miles away, Aunty Dru stared at the ceiling in her old room and tried hard to silence her racing thoughts and just breathe. There were times when I was young that I attended prayer meetings with Mom and remembered the prayers being very, very, very long. Sometimes, they were as long as all night and were intermingled with songs of adoration to God. That night, Aunty Dru provided that prayer could also be very short. When she was finally ready to speak about how she was feeling in light of what I had told her and the moments with Jay that had preceded them, she figured the most appropriate person to talk to was God. When she finally found the words to pray, they turned out not to be eloquent or even particularly formal. It was simply, “Dear God, what is happening?” This was followed by a sigh. She then closed her eyes and lay very still until she fell asleep.
On Day three, Jay had spent the daytime hours working remotely from a small office space at the B&B where he was staying. Aunty Dru had driven to the city for a production meeting and some other errands. When he had taken a break for lunch, Jay thought that he might give her a call to see if she was still in town and could recommend a place for him to grab lunch; more importantly, he wanted to know if she’d accompany him. He picked up his phone, turned on the screen, then realized he never got her number.
He did however have a text message from Uncle Victor. Feeling conflicted, he sighed, then read the text. Uncle Victor confirmed that he was “unfortunately” going to miss the rest of the. On the other hand, recording was going very well and there were even budding conversations about future projects.
When evening arrived, the remaining members of the team reported to the back of the sanctuary for the group huddle before dispersing to their assigned stations; all except Aunty Dru, who was running late from the city. Here’s why. At some point in the middle of the day, Mom decided to stop waiting for Aunty Dru to call and explain why she had acted strangely just before leaving Grandma and Grandpa’s the night before.
Mom called her and asked directly. Aunty Dru, being no longer in a mental tailspin and having resolved certain things about her path forward, divulged everything, right down to the colors I mentioned seeing in my dream. She also told mom about Jay’s supposed deja vu and the strange correlation between the two. Mom asked Aunty Dru if she was comfortable with having Jay continue working on the project, because if she wasn’t mom could certainly find a way to tactfully release him. Aunty Dru had laughed and said that such extreme action would be unnecessary. She confessed that the whole thing was a little strange and potentially messy but that she’d decided “I kinda wanna get to know the guy.” Mom agreed that although it was unusual, it was not unheard of, but that it didn’t have to be messy. Mom had urged her to find a way to talk with Uncle Victor, not on behalf of Jay — confronting his friend was his prerogative — but for her sake.
At the end of her official business in the city, Aunty Dru had made an effort to meet very briefly with Uncle Victor. She was careful to clarify that it would be very brief indeed and that she could wait till he was on a break. He said that he could meet her, at which point she became very nervous. Maybe she had made a mistake, she thought. After all, she had not had any explicit conversation with Jay as to what was happening between them, if anything was in fact happening. On top of that, she started to feel guilty over the timing of breaking this news to Uncle Victor, him being in the middle of such an important deal and all. Thankfully, although in some ways unfortunate, Uncle Victor texted Aunty Dru after the last minute to say that he was not able to meet with her, that he was sorry he had kept her waiting, and that he was excited to now doubly make it up to her. Aunty Dru gulped the water that had been brought to her table at the restaurant where she had been waiting, before leaving quickly to hurry back into town.
Aunty Dru came bursting through the sanctuary door at five minutes before everyone was to report to their posts. There was, conveniently, an open space between Dad — who was now officially in for Uncle Victor — and Jay. She slipped into it. As she did, her eyes met with Jay’s.
“Hi,” she whispered, trying to catch her breath from running in the building.
He responded with a smile. “Hi,” he said.
Their thrill at seeing each other was palpable and awkward for everyone. Everyone in the circle could clearly see what they hadn’t yet said to each other.
Mom quickly went over assignments again, as some of them had changed. “Unfortunately, Vic won’t be coming back this week, so Ben will be taking his place in the booth. Alex will be up there with Ben tonight, working her magic with the lights. Dru, you’re back upstairs and Jay…”
He almost threw Aunty Dru a celebratory glance, expecting to hear that he would be upstairs with her again. The words that came out of Mom’s mouth shocked him.
“…You’ll be down here with me. Ben and I got you some equipment to start setting up and playing with.” The reason for this final change was because Jay had mentioned having only a little experience with videography; Mom wanted him to have an opportunity to work with the equipment beforehand. This, however, was only secondary to mom’s desire to get to know him a bit better. She trusted that there must have been something special about him if dad, of all people, had called him descent. Yet, she wanted to dig deeper if she could.
As the circle disintegrated, with its various parts floating quickly into many directions, Jay began to think. There was something that he had to do while he yet felt the courage to try. He got halfway to the front of the auditorium where a rolling cart with several black bags and hard cases awaited him, then turned suddenly to Mom. “Would you excuse me for a second?” he asked.
She was a little perplexed by the urgency in his tone and facial expression, but saw no problem with his request. “Sure,” she said.
He turned around toward the exit and ran out the doors. He bounded up the flight of stairs he had taken with Aunty Dru the previous day, landing only on every third step as he ascended. Remembering the room he had been in with the night before, he ran straight to it. When he arrived at the door, he was panting audibly. The physical exertion of dashing up the staircase had knocked the wind out of him. “Drucilla!” he called from the doorway.
She was at the front of the room, at the farthest point away from the door where he stood. She had been bending over a box of sample scripts when he called her. She shot up with a sense of alarm at the sound of her name overlaid with such urgency. She stood perfectly still and looked at him, her eyes wide as if to say, “yes?”,
Still straining to catch his breath, he took a few strides toward her, stopping an arm’s length away. “Are you busy tonight?” It was only a second between him asking the question and Dru opening her mouth to speak, but somehow it felt longer to him, so he kept speaking. “…After this…I was thinking we could do something together…if you wanted to…”
His nervousness was welcomed and endearing, if for no other reason than proving to Aunty Dru that she was not alone. Her frozen expression of waiting, gave way to a warm smile. “I’m open to that.” she said. And for the first time, as far as she could remember, she could formulate no witty addendum to her response. They looked steadily into his eyes. Despite the eager anticipation stomping around in his heart and the giddy excitement prancing about in hers. They both breathed a little more easily now that things were mostly out in the open between them.
The minutes seemed to drag on slothfully during the workshops and the rehearsal. Especially painful, were those moments during which the cast and crew were instructed to take a fifteen — a fifteen minute break — but Jay found himself in an involuntary interview with Mom. He soon came to see that the position he was being interviewed for was that of the leading man in Aunty Dru’s life.
There were questions about his relationship with his family, which were easy to answer. He was close to them, although not geographically. There were questions about his future hopes and aspirations; which were also easy to answer but not altogether concrete. Then there were questions about his past romantic relationships and why they had failed. The responses to those questions were not as not as easy to deliver, but this part of their interview ended on a hopeful note for both parties.
After she and Jay had chatted, Mom sent Aunty Dru a text with a thumbs up and a winking face emoji. She later added laughter, followed by a single red heart. Aunty Dru had received it and texted back a smiling face with smiling eyes.
At the end of their official duties at the church, Jay and Aunty Dru could hardly wait to meet up. They stood next to each other in the circle at the end of the evening, While mom made final remarks and asked if there was anything to report. After conducting a visual survey of those around the circle and finding everyone at ease, the team was released. Aunty Alex said good night and jetted out the building to head back to the city. She was going to ride into town with her fiance the following evening. They were going to spend Friday together in town, then enjoy the festivities together on the final day of Mom’s project before heading back to the city.
Jay asked mom and dad if they needed help with anything before he and Aunty Dru also took off. In earnest, the only reason he offered was because Dru was not a world away upstairs, but in the same room with him.
Dad was quick to accept Jay’s offer.
Mom quickly cut in before Jay could lay hands on a single thing and insisted that she and Dad would be just fine. When dad began to protest, she looked at him squarely and nodded slowly with wide eyes, as if to say “trust me, honey.” She persuaded him to release them.
Jay and Aunty Dru convened for a moment on the landing just outside the main entrance.
“What did you have in mind?” Aunty Dru asked.
“I’m really not sure,” he said tilting his head sideways and tapping his chin with two fingers as if trying to spark an idea. He lifted his face to look at her straight on and asked, “What’s open around town right now?”
“You mean, beside the grocery store?”
They both laughed, then Jay said, “Yeah, besides the grocery store.”
“Uuuhhm,” Aunty Dru hummed, lowering her gaze while tapping her lips gently with her index finger. She suddenly stopped tapping her lips and lifted her gaze. She had gotten the most brilliant idea. “I know where we can go!” She stepped purposefully off the landing and marched toward her car in the parking lot. He followed.
“Where are we going?” He asked as they got the car.
“Do you like surprises?” She asked, stepping aside while he opened her door.
When she had sat down, he held the door for a moment to respond. “Usually no…this week…this week has been surprising in a really good way.” He lingered a moment before closing the door and going around to his side of the car.
They drove for a bit until they came to a part of town that Jay had not seen. From what he could tell, this must have been the part that was revitalized to attract more visitors. It was a lively strip where restaurants, bars, dessert spots, and other miscellaneous shops lined the street.
Dru kept driving until she came to the end of the block — or the beginning, depending on how you looked at it — and parked in a large parking lot. When they entered the lot, it looked nearly filled. Aunty Dru needed to drive pretty far into the lot to find a spot.
As they walked from the car toward the vibrantly buzzing street, Aunty Dru thought it was appropriate to explain a little of what they were walking into.
“So, a couple of years after launching the project at the church, Charis started thinking there had to be a way to get more of the locals to come out and enjoy this new part of town.”
He nodded attentively.
“She came up with the idea that once a month the restaurants and dessert spots could do something like an open house so people could come through and mingle and so on. The businesses who chose to participate could offer something small to anyone who came through the door free of charge.”
“Wow,” he said, impressed
“I know,” she agreed. It was no secret that Mom amazed her.
They gradually became enveloped by the electric buzz of voices in lighthearted conversation intermingling with music and laughter, the clinking of cutlery against porcelain, the purr of car engines, the jingle of bicycle bells, and people’s names declared into the night air. They drifted side by side toward the end of the block, the unspoken intent being to make their way to the very end then to really explore on the way back.
Aunty Dru was always as intentional in life as she was efficient in her work. So when the two of them had come to the end of the block and found themselves peering over a tray of assorted treats outside the first dessert spot, she said, “Tell me about Theresa.”
Jay was caught completely off guard. Rather than choking on a bite he had just taken, he managed to quickly swallow it.
Aunty Dru remembered Victor saying on day one that he was responsible for introducing Jay to Theresa. The reason Aunty Dru asked about her however, was because she surmised the Theresa who had appeared in my dream and broken Jay’s heart, was the same one that Uncle Victor had spoken of. She wanted the full story of the melancholy that was so present in Jay’s eyes when they met.
“Just gonna jump right in huh?”
“Why not? We’ve already jumped this far.” She smiled with resolve and waited.
He became noticeably more sober as he began. “She was my college girlfriend…She was the reason I stayed in the city after college instead of going back home. The plan was that we would get married and start a life together…It was supposed to be better for me to stay in the city so that she could be closer to her family.” The next part was difficult to admit. Although he had become fully aware of it shortly after Theresa left him, he had not admitted it out loud until then. “I could tell that things were changing in our relationship, but I ignored it. She started to behave differently….she started to work a lot more and a lot later…” As he said this, she could tell he was suddenly wondering if Theresa had really been working at all. “And then two weeks before we were supposed to get married, she broke up with me.” He had stopped moseying down the sidewalk and now stood directly in front of her. He was not generally a confrontational person, but there was something about his posture that screamed, ‘now that you see me as I am, will you take me or leave me standing here?’
Aunty Dru looked at him and didn’t say anything for a while. She searched his eyes through the soft lights all around them. The melancholy was still there, but it had weakened and was quickly being overcome by an aggressive confidence. “I’m sorry,” Aunty Dru said. “Breakups can be hard.”
“Thanks,” he said, then started walking again.
They came to their next stop, a table larger than the first with disposable cups and pots of various brews of coffee.
He watched Aunty Dru bend with great delight over this table. He was beginning to see that she was much more interested in coffee than sweets. “I was sorry about the breakup for a long time. It was hard to see everything I thought I was building, slip out of my hands like that…”
She was pouring herself a sample cup, with one ear turned to him as he spoke.
His heart was pounding nervously, but he wouldn’t retreat. “…I’m not so sorry tonight though.”
She turned to look at him, lifting her cup of coffee to her lips. She blew into the cup then took a sip, her eyes remaining on his as she did. She smiled and asked, “Is that right?”
He chuckled, not quite ready to go in the direction he felt like she was drawing him. “Is It good?” he asked.
“Here, try some.” She lifted the cup three-quarters of the way to his lips and waited for him to lean into it.
“I don’t drink coffee,” he said plainly.
“What?!” There was no hiding Aunty Dru’s astonishment. “A city boy who doesn’t drink coffee? What is that?”
He started to say something, but Aunty Dru, still reeling in disbelief, interrupted him.
“Now, does that mean you drink it only once a day or maybe three times a week?” She waited, her eyes wide and her mouth agape, for his response.
“It means not at all,” He said.
She gasped softly, then whispered, “wow! I can’t even begin to imagine my life without coffee.”
Not only was Jay growing more emboldened, he was also getting very comfortable. “You know what they call that, don’t you?”
“What ‘they’ call what?” She asked.
“Your inseparable bond with coffee.”
She waited for him to say plainly what he was hinting at.
“It’s called an addiction,” he said.
She gasped again, her mouth falling open. “I am not–” she stopped mid sentence, realizing that to finish would be to tell herself a lie. “Yes I am. I am addicted to coffee.” She savored another sip and looked up at him with unashamed enjoyment. “What are you into?”
Without hesitation, he responded. “I’m more of a cake man.” He pointed behind him toward the first table where they had stopped. “And as far as hot drinks go, I prefer tea…my parents drank a lot more tea than coffee when I was growing up.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “Nice.” They began walking to the next place, Aunty Dru still sipping on her coffee. “Looks like we’re coming up on something you might like,” she said pointing ahead.
“Perfect,” Jay said, rubbing his hands together. “What about you? Why are you single?”
“Why not?” Prior to meeting Jay, Aunty Dru was perfectly content in her singleness and had staunchly resisted the notion that she was less of a person if unattached to someone else. “I don’t know why so many people think that someone’s life isn’t complete or can’t be complete if they’re not in a romantic relationship.”
He nodded, half agreeing with her. The other half of him was a bit confused and wondered if he had misread the whole situation between them. If she in fact felt perfectly content without a relationship, where would that leave him? He supposed she might be a great friend to have, but he didn’t want to be her friend. What he wanted to know at the moment was whether or not he should keep his hopes up. He belabored the point and asked instead, “What happened with your last relationship?”
“I broke up with him,” she said frankly.
“Ouch!” he responded, suddenly feeling like the next target in the lineup. “Was there a specific reason or…” He couldn’t think of any alternative to there being ‘a specific reason’ why she had broken it off with her Ex.
“Our relationship was great in theory, but not in reality. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great guy and I had a lot of respect for him, but at the end of the day it wasn’t…” she groped for the right words. “…It wasn’t,” she started again, the words still managing to evade her. Turning from the table they had stopped in front of, she was now looking up into his eyes. “It wasn’t…” Her thoughts slowed down and she could now see what she meant. She could feel it in the warmth and attentiveness of his gaze, yet couldn’t yet find the words to define it. Finally, she said “It wasn’t like this,” drawing an invisible line of connection between them.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he capitalized on the moment. “Does that mean you wanna remain contentedly single…or are you open to…a relationship?”
She squinted slightly, her eyes growing gradually brighter before she said, “I’m open to a relationship …”
“Okay.” He said contentedly at first. They were quiet for a moment until it occurred to him that his question may have been too general. “Just to be clear, I am asking if you’re open to a relationship with…” he pointed at himself and waited.
Rather than providing a response, she made a sound as if she was savoring a bite of his anticipation and turned away. She picked up a plate with a slice of cake from the table and tasted it. “Oh yeah, this is great.” She picked up a forkful and
Lifted it to his lips.
“That is good,” he said after eating what she offered him. He then proceeded to take the plate from her.
She resisted him, pulling the plate out of reach. “Wait a minute! I wasn’t giving you the whole!”
“But I want it!” He declared, much like a young child denied their way. He lunged forward and managed to get the plate out of her hand, then into the air, high above her head.
She hopped up in an effort to apprehend what had been stolen from her but could not reach.
He snickered at her failed effort. “Is this what you want?” He asked, taunting her by lowering the plate, then quickly lifting it out of reach again.
“Yes!” She shouted. “It’s mine!”
“How about we share this slice and I’ll help you track down some more coffee in a minute.”
“Fine,” she agreed. “Bring the plate down here and put it in my hand.”
“Oh no,” he said, shortly after which he lowered the plate but maintained possession of it. He served her a bite and took one himself.
At that moment, piercing through the symphony of sounds around them, Aunty Dru heard something that caught her attention.
“Aunty Dru, Aunty Dru!” I shouted from across the street, waving wildly with both arms. Mom and Dad had relented to take me out that night to enjoy the festivities for a little while. I am certain they regretted their decision at that precise moment. Before either one of them could restrain me, I did the unthinkable and took off across the street toward Jay and Aunty Dru.
“Is she–?” Was all Jay managed to get out as he quickly assessed the potential danger of me racing blindly across the street toward them. He dashed off the sidewalk in my direction with Aunty Dru on his heels.
Meanwhile, Mom and Dad raced toward me from the opposite direction. Before I knew it, Jay was clasping my hand and leading me quickly unto the sidewalk. I soon found myself surrounded by him, Aunty Dru, Mom, and Dad. Their voices rose in a clamour around me. I could tell they were all upset for various reasons, I could not distinguish each one. When Mom and Dad were finished reprimanding me, they started talking with Jay and Aunty Dru.
Dad’s presence made Jay a little uneasy; it might have been because Dad reminded him of Uncle Victor, thus provoking him to guilt over his advances toward Aunty Dru. He stood at a distance from her, while he remained in view of Dad, and kept his hands tucked in his trouser pockets.
Mom asked Aunty Dru and Jay how long they had been out and what spots they had checked out so far. Aunty Dru had done most of the talking in response. Their conversation was brief. Mom and Dad, Mom especially, wanted to give Jay and Aunty Dru their space; I had no such interest. When Mom and Dad turned to leave with me between them, I thought quickly, tapping Dad on the side to get his attention.
“Dad, can I walk with Aunty Dru and her friend for a while.” I asked him because I knew he was more inclined to say yes.
“Ari, I’m sure your Aunty Dru and Jay would rather spend the evening alone instead of–” He began to explain before I abruptly ceased listening to his unwanted response.
I turned to mom as a fall back. “Mom?” I asked, trusting that she would automatically fill in the remaining words of my request. “No. We’re about to leave, it’s past your bedtime.”
“But you said that we had–” I started to rebut.
“The answer is no, please don’t argue.”
“Come on, ten minutes?” I begged.
At that point I had won an alIy who spoke on my behalf. “Ten minutes sounds like a good compromise, huh Charis?” Aunty Dru said.
“You really shouldn’t encourage her.” Mom said firmly.
“Okay, this is the last time,” Aunty Dru assured Mom.
Mom knew it wasn’t going to be the last time that Aunty Dru ‘encouraged me’ nevertheless, she didn’t bother arguing with her just then. “Ari,” she said to me sternly, “make sure you hold Aunty Dru’s hand and stay close to her, okay.”
“Okay,” I responded, immediately after which I took Aunty Dru’s hand.
“And when Dad and I come back for you, there won’t be any arguing from you. Is that clear?”
“Yes,” I said, wishing she would hurry up and leave.
Mom began to say something else, but dad prevented her. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled to gently pull her away. “Come on Honey, I think she gets it.”
She gave me a final warning glance before allowing him to lead her away.
They disappeared into a small shop where collectibles were sold; it was one of Dad’s favorite places in town. I think it’s because many of the items reminded him of his childhood, which brought him great joy.
Aunty Dru, Jay, and I were left alone. I walked between them as we continued to make our way down the block. I stole several happy glances at Jay before finally asking, “So when are you gonna marry Aunty Dru?”
They both laughed awkwardly, but he did not provide me with a direct or immediate answer.
I was convinced that they would be married because I had dreamt of the moment that they exchanged their vows in breathtaking detail. What I had not seen, was the particular point in time when it would occur. Their awkward laughter soon faded and an awkward silence took its place.
Jay looked at me just long enough to realize that I couldn’t have been more serious. By the look in his eyes, he was now thinking up an appropriate response. When he started, he fumbled his words a bit. “…uh….I um…” he looked at Aunty Dru. “…I think your aunt is a special woman…” For a moment, he had forgotten that I was with them and spoke to Aunty Dru only. “…And I definitely wanna see where this could go.” Of, course, Jay understood that there were some things he would need to do before he and Aunty Dru delved into ‘seeing where a relationship between them could go.’ First among those was having a conversation with Uncle Victor about the unexpected turn that things had taken.
I found this response satisfactory and asked no more about it. In a gesture that surprised him, I took Jay’s hand.
He looked at Aunty Dru, as if to ask if this was okay.
She gave him a slight nod.
My intention, however, was not to keep his hand. I stopped walking for a moment and in a solemn, yet joyful act, took their hands, and brought them together. None of us said a word. There was no need. I shifted my position from between them to the other side of Aunty Dru, taking hold of her free hand. We held on to each other as we continued to explore the sights, sounds, and most notably, the tastes of what the town’s main street had to offer.
A little over twenty minutes had gone by when Mom and Dad returned for me; they had extended the time that I was permitted to spend with Jay and Aunty Dru; this I credited to Dad who was always making room for my ‘big personality’ in one way or another. Aunty Dru and Jay decided that they would also go to their resting places for the night.
Upon arriving at the bed and breakfast, they sat in the car with the engine idling, both of them waiting for something. Jay finally turned toward Aunty Dru. “I had a good time,” he said softly.
“I could tell,” she said playfully.
They both laughed.
When the car got quiet again, Aunty Dru added sincerely, “Me too.” She watched as his eyes slowly went from hers to her lips, then back again. She prepared herself for his inevitable kiss, turning toward him and leaning ever so lightly forward. While she waited for him, her heart thumped a bit louder, then faster and grew ever more so when his hand found hers, clasping it in the now familiar gentle, yet firm way. As he leaned slowly toward her, she was certain that her heart would explode…until he did something surprising.