The next morning, Jay was up very early, much to the surprise of the B&B owner.
“Good morning!” She greeted him with friendly warmth and surprise. “You’re up mighty early,” she remarked, rather than asking, “why are you up so early?”
Somehow, Jay had understood what the woman meant to ask and answered her. “Today is a big day,” he started seeming to her as excited as he felt. “I’ve gotta catch the earliest train that I can back into the city.”
“You’re going back to work? Didn’t the wifi work well for you yesterday?” she asked, not supposing any other reason for him to subject himself to the long commute.
“It was great, Ms. Wendy,” he said, respectfully. “I just need to take care of some other business as well.”
An image of the night before shone brilliantly unto the screen of his mind. He could see his hand slowly moving toward Aunty Dru in the stillness of her car, longing to touch her face while he kissed her. He was prevented, however, by a sudden wave of overwhelming guilt. If he were to follow his feelings in that moment, he would undoubtedly be betraying his best friend. And while he was certain that he would not gain Uncle Victor’s approval to proceed with Aunty Dru as he desired, he thought it right to at least present the facts of his feelings and intentions as it pertained to her.
“Oh, I see,” Wendy replied enlightened. “Well, I’ve just boiled some hot water for tea if you’d like. You should also have breakfast before you go.”
Jay glanced at his watch. “I don’t know if I have time Ms. Wendy. If you make it, I can probably eat it later tonight.”
“You don’t have time and you’ll eat it later?” This she repeated, not because she wanted to ascertain that she had heard him correctly, but because she thought his statement was the most preposterous thing she had heard.
Persuaded by the weight of her silent gaze, Jay carried the cup of tea that he had made into the dining room, sat quietly at the table, and waited for breakfast.
“I won’t be long,” Wendy promised, smiling gladly. “But it will be good!”
“I’m sure it will be,” he said smiling faintly at a Financial Newspaper he had picked up from the table. The previous day’s issue had been at the table the day before and he had dutifully read that one as well. When he had finished reading a rather insightful article, Wendy emerged from the kitchen with a tray topped by three plates, the contents of which steamed and smelled delicious!
She lifted the plates, one at a time, from the tray and set them on the table in front of Jay. When the tray was empty, she held it parallel to the thigh and stopped to observe Jay for a moment. After he had taken a few bites, she said, “It’s good, isn’t it?”
Jay, who had just taken a mouthful, managed to only hum a response of agreement while he chewed.
Wendy lingered beside the table with an expression that was marked by both pleasure and curiosity.
Jay swallowed the unreasonably large amount of food in his mouth, dabbed his lips with a napkin from the table, then looked up into her awaiting eyes. He wasn’t sure how to ask what he wanted to without sounding rude, so he simply waited for her to speak now that he had given her his full attention.
“How are things going down at the church?” She asked knowingly Her question, although seemingly general, being anything but that.
“Do you mean with the showcase reparations?” Jay asked.
“Sure, how’s that going?”
She was not interested in the showcase, he realized. At least not nearly as much as she was interested in something else, but she would indulge him until she got to that point. “It’s going really well, I think. Of course, I don’t know how things have gone in the past so–”
“And how are you liking working alongside Drucilla?”
There, they had gotten to what she meant to ask all along. He cleared a bit of awkward bewilderment out of his throat before speaking. “It’s going great.” Although Wendy had gotten to the point, there remained a sense that she was fishing for a particular response, which he could not guess. “…She seems really great at what she does….and I can tell she’s really passionate about sharing her expertise with other people…”
Wendy then did something that might have seemed strange had she done it some moments earlier. At that point in the conversation however, it struck Jay as perfectly natural. She eagerly pulled out the chair closest to Jay and sat down, inclining her upper torso toward him. “She’s really pretty too, isn’t she?”
Jay’s eyes instantly grew wider. He threw his head back, laughing without restraint. His laughter waned to a quiet chortle, he dabbed his lips as though Wendy’s question was another delicious bite, then said with lighthearted honesty, “she’s beautiful.”
Wendy smiled in the way that someone might when celebrating good news with a close relative. “From what I can tell, you’re much better for her than that hot shot producer who’s been after her.”
Jay was astonished, both by what Wendy seemed to know and her views on it. Although he disliked being measured according to the standard of another man, especially not a close friend, he was glad that Wendy thought of him as a good match for Aunty Dru. After a moment of savoring her approval, he realized he had stopped eating and that this would only delay his plans for the day. He took another large bite.
“He is your friend isn’t he?”
For a moment, Jay, distracted by eating, didn’t have the faintest idea what Wendy was not asking him.
“I mean, the producer…” she lifted her hand into the open air and began to snap her thumb and middle finger in rapid succession. She was making a desperate attempt to draw a submerged piece of information to the surface of her thoughts. Finally, she had it. “Victor!” she exclaimed. “Have you told him about the two of you? How’d he take it?”
Jay suddenly lost his appetite. He wiped his lips with finality and looked into Wendy’s eyes. “I’m telling him today after work,” he replied soberly.
The celebration went out of her eyes as she mournfully said, “Oh.” She arose from the table and patted him lightly on the back. “Well, good luck. I hope it all goes well for you. You and Drucilla would make a really nice pair.” She said with a rather concerned tone. She then started toward the kitchen, until arrested by Jay’s voice.
She turned around to look at him.
“What do people use if not a bus in town? I need to get to the train station.”
“Most people who don’t have a car just walk. It’s not exactly far.”
“Right,” Jay sighed, not really in the right mind to walk, particularly because it would create delays in his schedule.
“But if you let me get this tray out of my hands and clear the table, I can give you a ride.”
“That would be fantastic!” He exclaimed. “I’ll help you clear the table.” He quickly rose to his feet and started picking things up from the table.
“Is that table ready to be cleared?” Wendy asked. “You have even finished your breakfast.” She pointed out, straining not to mother Jay over the fact.
“Thank you so much for making it,” Jay started carefully, “I feel pretty full though.”
While he was doing his best to explain himself with great care for Wendy’s feelings, she had come up with a solution. “It’s no problem, I’ll just wrap it up so you can take it with you.”
“That’s really–” He took one more look at her and knew it was pointless to argue. Whether right there in that dining room or at some later point of his choosing, he would be eating what she’d made him. “That would be perfect. Thank you.”
They both hurriedly cleared the table, then Wendy packed Jay’s leftovers while he ran upstairs to grab his jacket and work bag. When they had arrived at the train station, Jay realized it wasn’t very far at all. It would have delayed him to walk, but not nearly as much as he had imagined.
Wendy waved goodbye to him through her window as he walked toward the entrance. “Good luck,” she said again.
Her wish, rather than encouraging him, only stirred up his apprehension. He waved back at her silently.
Later that morning, in another part of town, Aunty Dru was distractedly attempting to work from her dad’s home office. She had gotten off to a much later start than Jay, having stayed up for a long while after she dropped Jay off the night before.
When she had entered the house, an expected quietness greeted her — her parents who might have been asleep by then, happened to be traveling outside of the country. She went directly upstairs to her room, where she fell backward into her bed with a sigh that expressed both contentment and wistfulness. She lay back with her eyes closed and her lips stretched softly in an amorous smile as she rehearsed the evenings’ highlights.
There were many highlights, so her rehearsing them took a while. When she could rehearse no longer, she longed for a listening ear with whom to share her excitement. Reaching for her phone, she thought she might call Mom. Of course, it was much too late for that, so she didn’t. She thought of Aunty Alex, but of course, it was much too late to call her as well. Aunty Dru decided at last, to speak openly to the one who had been looking and listening all along. She talked to God about how excited she was and how unexpected it had all been. She asked, “did you know this was going to happen?” then without waiting for any response, understood that of course He did. While Aunty Dru was very clear in her heart and mind that she had no romantic commitment to Victor, her falling for his best friend felt like a betrayal. “Why didn’t I meet him under different circumstances though?” She asked. By this, she of course meant, ‘why did he have to be a friend of Uncle Victor’s.’ The answer to that was less obvious and so she waited in the silence for a response.
That morning, Aunty Dru made several failed attempts to focus on a script she needed to read. Finally, she decided to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s to see Mom.
When she arrived, Mom was settling down at the kitchen table — which had become her make-shift office — to drink a cup of coffee while she worked. Just as she lifted the cup to her lips for that eagerly anticipated first sip, the doorbell rang. She instinctively knew that it was Aunty Dru; although she was surprised at how quickly she had arrived.
“Hi,” Aunty Dru said, with an eye roll and her head cocked slightly to one side, as if to say, ‘I can’t believe I’m here like this.’
“Were you already on your way when you called me?” Mom asked curiously.
“I was wondering how you managed to get over here so quickly.”
“To tell you the truth, I could have flown over here,” She grinned giddily.
“That bad huh?”
Aunty Dru smiled with doleful eyes, her body seeming to melt.
“Close the door,” mom said, leading her into the kitchen. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Wow!” Mom was shocked. Aunty Dru never refused coffee, not even when she’d already had one or two cups.
Aunty Dru fell into one of the chairs next to where Mom had been sitting. “Did Ben head back to the city?”
“Yeah. He had a meeting with a client today.”
“Oh, okay.” Dru propped herself up in the chair, took a deep breath, then leaned forward toward mom, cradling her chin in her palm. “Speaking of Ben…” she began slowly.
Mom punctuated something on her screen with a final loud stroke of the keyboard then looked up at Aunty Dru. After a sip of her coffee, she asked, “what’s up?”
“Is he…what does he…” She knew what she was fishing for, but didn’t know how to phrase it.
Mom had known and loved Aunty Dru long enough to understand what she meant without hearing her completed thought. She reached over and placed a hand over the one Aunty Dru had left sitting on her lap. “Look, Ben loves his brother. Some part of him would have loved to see you and Vic end up together. I think he knows that’s never gonna happen.”
“Yeah….” Aunty Dru was not satisfied with that response. “Does he think I messed up though…with the way things are playing out? Am I getting carried away and rushing into something that–”
Mom watched as confusion’s tentacles snuck up to Aunty Dru, slowly stifling her with one hopeless thought after another. Mom would have none of it. “Do you have peace about it?”
Of course, Aunty Dru had heard this question before. The repetition along with mom’s firmness brought her immediately to attention. “Forget for a second about everyone else’s expectations. If you spend the next five years giving this–”
“Yes!” Aunty Dru knew the question, even in its incomplete form and had a strong conviction that the response was a resounding ‘yes’. “Yes…” she said again before adding “…I think so,” as a guard against presumption.
“So you’ll figure the rest out.” Mom could tell that the moment she had spoken, Aunty Dru took to ‘figuring it out’. “How was your date last night?” She asked, adding quickly, “The part that Ari, Ben, and I were not a part of.” She shook her head, smiling regrettably.
“It was really nice,” she said dreamily. “Can you believe he doesn’t drink coffee though?”
“Really?!” Mom exclaimed dramatically. “I take back every positive feedback I’ve given you about him. Anyone who doesn’t drink coffee cannot be trusted.”
“He has a real sweet tooth though.”
“And really soft hands…” Aunty Dru had returned to rehearsing the moments of the night before and was no longer talking to mom. Her posture quickly straightened as she remembered one particularly unexpected detail of the night. “When I dropped him off at the end of the night, I was so nervous about him trying to kiss me…”
“Did you not want him to?”
“I did..” she said giggling, slightly embarrassed.
“Well, he didn’t.”
Mom made a sound as if to say, ‘that’s interesting’.
“He came very close to me as if he was going to, but then he stopped. He took my hand instead, kissed it and said good night.
Mom made the sound again then said, “that’s different.”
In the city, Jay had made plans, via text message, to meet with uncle Victor after work. Uncle Victor would evidently have a break around the time that Jay finished working. Jay spent the rest of his workday wishing that their planned time of meeting would hurry up and arrive so that he could get their conversation over with and be on his way back into town. When the time did come, Jay suddenly became uncertain of his mentally rehearsed speaking points. When he arrived at the cafe where they were to meet — a place that according to Victor had “the best coffee” and according to Jay had “decent chai” — he chose a table facing the door. Had he not done this, he might have gotten whiplash from turning round to look at the doorway every time someone new entered the cafe.
He sat in his chair, his body seemingly composed, while his hands fidgeted almost violently, taking his phone along for the wild ride. When his hands became still, it was to check the time. Not surprisingly, the time that they were supposed to meet had come and gone, Uncle Victor was running fifteen minutes late. Jay turned off the screen of his phone and returned to fidgeting. Some seconds later, the screen lit up, illuminating the notification of a text message from Uncle Victor. He was “sorry” that he was late, but had been held up at the studio. He asked if Jay would swing by before heading back into town. While Jay didn’t think the setting was ideal for their conversation, he cared more about the timing of the conversation than the location; he agreed to meet Uncle Victor.
Jay immediately left the cafe and walked about half a block to the nearest subway station. He rode the train a few stops, then walked another half block to the studio. When he arrived, he was met by an unfamiliar face posted at the front desk.
“Hi, may I help you?” the woman asked, communicating both welcome and caution. To be clear, she was the sort who could be perfectly friendly in one moment and have you carried out by security in the next, if provoked, without the slightest bit of regret.
“I’m here to see Victor.” Jay replied, as if that were sufficient to clear him past the gate.
“Please have a seat and he’ll be right with you,” she said with finality before returning to other business at her desk.
“Excuse me,” Jay interrupted.
“I’ve already spoken to him, he’s expecting me.”
“I’m aware, Sir. Please have a seat,” she pointed at a cozy waiting space, a stone’s throw from her desk.
Jay turned to go sit down, but realized something. “Well are you gonna let him know that I’ve arrived? I mean, I didn’t see you do that.”
The woman sighed, then with a pointedly manufactured smile said, “As I said, Sir, Mr. Fuller will be right with you. Please have a seat.” She pointed at the seating area again, her smile lingering.
Jay couldn’t help but notice that when she had addressed him as ‘Sir’ the second time, she really meant something else, something unkind. She was beginning to try his patience, and evidently, he was beginning to do the same to her. He glanced at his watch and understood that if he was to make it back to the church in time for their rehearsal, he needed to speak with Victor sooner rather than later. “I understand that you have certain procedures to go through, but if you could just–”
“Sir,” she said in a deep and stern voice, the appearance of friendliness completely gone from her face. She was now glaring at him.
“Thanks,” Jay muttered tensely, before making his way over to the seats where she kept insisting he wait. He dropped abruptly into one of the chairs and looked at her as he made the call directly to Uncle Victor to let him know that he had arrived. The call went straight to voicemail.
The longer he sat in the waiting area, the more elongated the minutes grew, the more impatient and aggravated he became. There was no way that he would make it in time for rehearsal. He texted Uncle Victor requesting the number of anyone else on Mom’s team that he might alert of his late arrival to rehearsal; of course, he did not isolate Aunty Dru as a potential contact. Jay had blindly overlooked getting her number the day before. He waited, his increasingly frantic thoughts inspiring frantic text messages and calls to Uncle Victor, all of which went unnoticed. He didn’t dare bypass the authority of the woman at the desk and go directly upstairs. She kept eyeing him as though waiting for him to give her a reason to summon the security on duty. He decided at last to leave. Dejected and fuming, he stood from the sofa and started toward the exit.
The woman was glad to see him go. She waved with genuine pleasure as he turned in the direction of the door. “Have a good night, Sir,” she said.
“You too,” Jay replied, his sentiment altogether opposite to his words.
Back in town, Aunty Dru was growing a little anxious over Jay’s absence and the lack of communication. “How is it that no one except Victor has his number?” Aunty Dru asked, disappointed by his absence and concerned that something had gone wrong. It seemed unlike him to fail on a commitment, especially without notifying anyone. “Did you ever add him to the email list for the project?” She asked, remembering a comment made on the first night that they all met.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t. I figured he’d be here and if he stuck with us, I would get it at the end of the week.” Taking a firm hold of her shoulder, Mom added, “look, it’s gonna be fine. We’ll figure it out…I’m sure we can find someone in this whole town who can turn a camera on and press record.”
Of course, Jay’s contribution to their work that week was not at the heart of Aunty Dru’s concern. “Yeah,” she said with a sigh.
“Have you tried getting in touch with Vic?” Mom asked reluctantly.
“Yes. he hasn’t responded.”
Mom could tell that this had largely contributed to Aunty Dru’s uneasiness. “You know what, it’s going to be absolutely fine.” Before Aunty Dru could question how mom could possibly know that, mom added, “I just know it.”
This was not enough to allay the endless stream of questions running through Aunty Dru’s mind, but it was enough to help her release some of the weight of them.
Mom took her face in both hands and planted a kiss on her forehead. “Are you ready?” she asked, nodding toward the stage then looking back at Aunty Dru.
“Let’s do it,” Aunty Dru said, stirring up her determination.
As they worked that night, Aunty Dru communicated with mom over headset, from her new post backstage, helping the performers, primarily, with their entrances and exits. As often as she could without being a distraction, mom would ask Aunty Dru, “are you smiling back there?”
Aunty Dru responded, honestly, “no,” the first few times. Soon enough however, the question provoked a smile, then later laughter.
By the end of the night, she was more or less her old self, working energetically with the performers to troubleshoot transitions that had failed, while commending them on an overall job well done. She kept daydreaming throughout the rehearsal that Jay would come up behind him and tap her on the shoulder. He never did. Walking to her car at the end of rehearsal, a wild thought popped into her head. What if the whole week up until Thursday morning had all been a dream? That would mean she’d never see him again, unless the dream was recurring of course. In any case, the dream was a lovely one and she was glad to have had it.
When she got into her car, she placed her bag in the passenger seat, then secured her phone in the dashboard mount. As she lifted her hand away from the screen, it was illuminated with a message from Uncle Victor. It said simply, “call me.”
Normally, she wasn’t as quick to respond to his messages. The week had been anything but normal thus far, so in accordance with its theme, she called him.
The phone rang once before his voice came through. It would seem that this was the only call he had made himself available to receive that day. “What happened?” He began. His tone is devoid of any of the jovial undertones that she was used to.
She was unsure how to respond and thus held her peace.
“I thought we had plans?”
This was true; although he was perhaps far more committed to their plans than she was, they had made them.
“I thought you were waiting for me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said simply. She did not say, as she had said many times in the past, that things would not work out between them in the way that he had put forth. And she certainly did not confess to him that she felt connected to his friend in a way that she had never felt with him or anyone else. Instead, she asked him if he really, deep down, thought that they could work out between them. Then, she told him that she was sorry that things had turned out as they had.
“So now what? Are you two officially together or were you waiting for him to have that pathetic conversation with me first?”
Aunty Dru perked up. “He talked to you?”
“There wasn’t much of a conversation to be had, but yeah. We talked.” He said vaguely.
Aunty Dru flicked the thumbnail of her right hand with the pointer nail of the other hand. She wanted to ask Victor for Jay’s number, but knew that this would be entirely inappropriate. She wanted to ask how he was and if he planned on coming back to town soon, but judged that those too were inappropriate questions. Instead, she strained through the noise of her thoughts to hear the silence on the other end of the line.
Finally, Uncle Victor spoke again. “Wow, I didn’t know you could be this quiet.” He chuckled a bit.
“Yeah, well…it’s been a pretty indescribable week…”
“Are you sure we’re just talking about the week?”
Was this a trap or an invitation from an old friend to open up?
Before she could determine what she believed his intention to be, he said, “Well I gotta go but…” He hesitated a moment.
“What is it?” She asked tenderly.
He let out a breathy chortle, the way that someone might when they’re caught between a quick burst of laughter and a sigh. “God I love that about you….”
She listened patiently, not wanting to draw him out by a string.
“The way that you can ask a question and really listen for the answer….”
She continued to listen.
“…What I was gonna say was other than the fact that he stabbed me in the back over you, I’ve always known Jay to be a good guy.”
She involuntarily held her breath.
“….Take care of each other.”
She gradually exhaled. “Thanks Vic.”
“Yeah…well, I gotta go now so–”
“How are things?” she asked quickly.
“Things are fine Dru. I gotta go.” There, he had spoken his ‘blessing’ over Dru and Jay; it had undoubtedly been spoken through heartbreak, if not over the perceived loss of Aunty Dru. It had certainly been spoken over the betrayal of his long-time best friend. He added one last bewildering statement before ending the call. “By the way, I’m sorry too.”
“About what–” She asked, realizing within the same moment of asking, that he had hung up already. Nevertheless, she whispered, “Okay. Goodbye.” This was by far the most serious conversation she had had with Uncle Victor. Although it was brief, it had exhausted her. For the next few minutes, she sat still with the full weight of her head supported by the headrest. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of every deep breath she took.
It was the last day of the project, which meant that everyone involved, who was actually in town, had little to no time to think of anything other than the last minute tasks at hand. Aunty Alex had her hands full setting, striking, and making minor adjustments to set pieces. Aunty Dru worked with the performers to ensure that personal props and costume pieces were all accounted for, as well that everyone felt confident about various scene changes. Dad was in the booth testing the lighting and sound cues, while Mom perched beside him, looking through the small window that overlooked the stage and most of the seating in the auditorium. She was eager to see the house fill up. In the place where Jay was to be posted, a volunteer from the church was standing in for him.
Five minutes remained until the house opened. While they waited to take their seats, the audience which had begun gathering in droves, filled the parking lot where they checked out the various booths that had been set up for the post show festivities. There was a good blend of food themed and activity themed booths. At that five minute mark when the audience began pouring in, Aunty Dru longed to see Jay walk in among them. There was no sight of him.
At just about one minute till the performers took their places, Aunty Dru felt an urgent tap on her shoulder. She spun around quickly to find Wendy’s face, illuminated by a smile that was both thrilled and mischievous.
“Hi Ms. Wendy, she began perplexed. “You should be in your seat, we’re about to start.”
“I know Dear, but I need your help with something.”
“Is there any way I can help you after the show?” Dru glanced at her watch. They were in fact at places. “I need to get the performers to their places right now.”
“The performers can wait. It’s really urgent and it’ll only take a minute.”
Against her better judgement, Aunty Dru made the call. “Can we hold for five, please?” she said to her teammates over headset. She then followed Wendy, who moved hurriedly through the dark hallway, around the corner, and into a well lit room. When they entered the room, It took Aunty Dru’s eyes a second to adjust, but even when they did, she stood in disbelief of what she saw. Had she returned to the dream, she wondered. Her smile grew wider and wider until it became giddy, unbridled laughter.
“I would have come myself, but Ms. Wendy said a surprise was better suited for the moment.”
“I’m surprised,” she said through laughter, “…in the best way!”
Wendy looked at them, feeling very pleased with the outcome of her scheme, then slipped quietly out of the room, pulling the door closed behind her.
“Good.” He said drawing closer to her unhindered by the former restraints. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
“It’s okay. I’m really happy you’re here.”
He had gotten close enough to encircle her in his arms.
At this proximity, she could see where some swelling just beneath his right eyes was giving way to bruising. Her glee was overtaken by remorse as she carefully lifted her hand toward it. “You talked to Vic?” She asked, feeling somewhat responsible for the violence he’d incurred.
“Yeah…It didn’t go too well…”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. As her words floated up to her ears, they triggered the memory of Victor saying the very same words the night before. She now understood why he had apologized.
The evening before, right after Jay had left Uncle Victor’s office, Uncle Victor, responding to numerous missed messages, had come down stairs to see what great emergency had warranted the degree of hounding he’d suffered. By then, both men were annoyed; there would be no calm, compassionate, or tactful conversation between them. Rather than imploring his friend respectfully as he had planned, Jay had flung out the news about him and Aunty Dru, delivering a direct blow to Uncle Victor’s jaw. Uncle Victor’s response did not help the situation, but he felt every bit justified.
Where Jay had used words and a poor attitude, Uncle Victor used his fist to strike Jay right across the cheek with such force that he fell back unto the sidewalk. The very moment that it happened, both men became shamefully aware that there has been a breach of their humanity. Victor could have helped his friend back unto his feet and Jay could have explained himself with greater compassion, but neither of these things happened. Furthermore, no version of this would take place for at least three more weeks.
There on the night of the final performance, Aunty Dru circled one arm around him, with her palm gently placed on his back — as one might hold a pillow to their chest. She kissed him just below where he had been wounded.
What he had restrained himself from doing when he’d last seen her, he did. He pulled away after a moment and asked charmingly, “Is this what coffee tastes like?”
She chuckled, then kissed him again.
As it turns out, Heaven was indeed a place of joyous community gatherings. It was also a place of beautiful and unexpected beginnings.
– The End –