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The Light and The Fire Ch. 02

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Babes

Since Chapter 1 was First Time, this one will be too. Subsequent chapters will likely be in Romance, with that whole theme of “drama, risk, and happily ever after” — or as close to it as can be gotten.

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Some marriages end through adultery; others, through spendthrift ways. Still other marriages end because two college friends find they’re more compatible as friends than as a married couple; into this category fell my own ten-year marriage to Caroline Kendall. We’d met through mutual friends in Lincoln in the spring semester of 1982; I was a junior, majoring in finance with a subspecialty in accounting, whereas she had been a freshman majoring in the biggest field to hold her interest and her heart since she was seven — elementary music education. That fall, we began to keep company, and started a more serious relationship once I began my master’s program a year later; in 1985, with a master’s in my hand and a bachelor’s in hers, we got engaged, though she would not agree to set any kind of date until she got within a semester of completing her own master’s. Once she got that close, though, we had our date; she graduated on a Saturday morning in May 1987, and we were married that afternoon.

During the two years between her master’s and mine, I worked at a firm in downtown Lincoln, long enough to establish credentials before moving with Caroline (and her master’s) to Wyandotte, a fairly well-off Kansas-side suburb of Kansas City. She’d taken a position in the Lower School at St Mary’s Episcopal, on the Missouri side. Within four years of that move, we had two sons — Danny, Jr (whom everyone calls DJ, even now), and Joe, whom we named after two of the few men in history for whom quantity was quality: Joseph Haydn, he of the hundred and four symphonies, and Johann Sebastian “Needs No Introduction” Bach.

Even though she did well in it, and continues to do, it was Caroline’s own career that came between us, because her chosen occupation can actually be made interesting and fun, especially for young children. Think about it — everyone knows, or can learn, of the great composers of Vienna, Austria. The great graduate-degree-holding CPAs of Vienna, Illinois? If you meet any of those, let me know.

Additionally, I was able to get along well in the West Omaha circles Caroline moved in, those of the upper middle class and better exposure to her types of music and literature. She, however, didn’t seem to fit in with visiting a country town like Ashwood, but certainly not for lack of effort on her part. Now, please don’t misread me; she got along great with my parents, while they lived, and also with my brother Chuck and sister-in-law Dawn. The town’s majority interests, though, simply didn’t run toward her preference of musical and literary classics. That’s no one’s fault — it’s merely how it was.

So, as you can see, we weren’t completely compatible to start with, and were becoming less so over time. While I was disappointed when Caroline asked for a divorce in the summer of 1997, I was at least thankful that she had had the honor and dignity to do so when she did, instead of either of us taking a lover and then asking. (When I had asked if she did have someone else, she smiled, albeit sadly and sardonically, and said “All the man I’m gonna need”; she then held up three of her right fingers in Darth Vader’s Force-choking gesture.)

Additionally, though Caroline would be the boys’ chief custodial parent, I kept close for scholastic activities and other such, for as long as I could; she and I were both determined that our sons would see more of me than merely my signature on a child support check. For the sake of that closeness, I would have been content to live the rest of my days in some weekly-rent motel along Highways 24-and-40 toward Lawrence and Topeka if that’s what had been needed, but Caroline wouldn’t countenance such a living arrangement. “You’re worth more than that,” she said; the light of encouragement in her blue eyes put a determination into my own. (Genetics came easily for us; since Caroline and I both have brown hair and blue eyes, so do our boys.)

I had a midsize apartment for up to a year after our divorce was final; after that, I began to look for a small house in proximity, but fortune was not completely on my side. Unbeknownst to anyone but myself and God, I began looking somewhere outside the Kansas City metro, somewhere familiar — and there met with success.

At first, Caroline was disappointed that I was going as far from her and the boys as I was — west central Omaha. DJ and Joe, however, only cared about one word: Nebraska. They were already looking forward to vacationing to see me, living as closely as I would to their Uncle Chuck and Aunt Dawn (who lived, then as now, in South Lincoln), to all four of their grandparents (my parents in Ashwood, and Mr and Mrs Kendall in northwest Omaha), and to their godparents (my and Caroline’s respective best friends, who had bonus veren siteler introduced us in 1982 and were now themselves a married couple in Omaha). Besides, if any emergency should arise, I needed only to get on the interstate, and I would be at their sides in three hours. I tried to console Caroline and myself with these facts, but such a distance hurt all our hearts, and would for some time to come.

The die being thus cast, however, I said my “it’s not really goodbye, it’s ‘until later'”s to Caroline and the boys, renewed my Nebraska CPA license, and was settled in my new life soon enough. All was going decently, I thought, until shortly into January 1999.

It seemed an ordinary phone call from my parents, until Mom slipped something in. “Someone from here in town’s looking for you, asked about you… something about your twentieth reunion?” She was right on that score and such a date, but I only told her to go on.

“Sweet girl, you remember her, don’t you?”

Not being interested in suspense, I urged Mom on. “Who?”

It’s not often that a name could warm my heart so, yet simultaneously make my blood run so cold — but this name did: “Melanie Clayton.”

It took me three seconds to find my voice again, but once I did, I tried not to stammer. “Yeah, I remember her… you can give her my number if you need to.”

After exchanging “thank you”s and “I love you, talk to you soon”s, I hung up and sat at my kitchen table, my mind racing. I hadn’t seen Melanie or heard from her since that morning we shared in the basement so long ago, but she still had part of my heart, and a spot in the back of my memory. Caroline knew about Melanie, even if only in passing; during our engagement, she had been curious (as any young woman might be) whether I had ever been with anyone else, and so I came clean with her — but until Mom’s phone call, that single morning in the Claytons’ basement had been the extent of Melanie’s sexual involvement in my life.

The following Saturday morning, my phone rang. My heart leapt up at the caller ID, and I answered slowly and deliberately. “Hello?”

Absent the influence of twenty passing years, the voice was still as happy as I had remembered. “Danny?”

“Melanie — great to hear from you!” And so it was.

We said our “how ya doin'”s, after which she came to the point. “You know why I called, right?”

My mind rolled over the numerous possibilities, landing at last on what Mom had told me earlier in the week. “Twenty years, can you believe it?”

“Yeah, I’m coordinating the reunion — you free to make it?” She pointed out that she had in mind to schedule for July; since most of us Vikings still lived in Ashwood, Lincoln, and Greater Omaha, she was thinking of picking one of the varied casino-hotels across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Once the reunion committee (of which she was organizer and chair) could secure a venue, a date would be finalized.

In the main, however, these details proved immaterial. “Just tell me when and where,” I said. To that end, we exchanged email addresses and “keep in touch” admonitions, and both of us closed with heartfelt “Good to hear from you again!”

At no point, then or until we saw each other, did we discuss the morning in her basement in 1979. In the course of our emails, I told Melanie about my work as a freelance accountant, belonging to no firm; I also began, closer to March, to feel free enough to tell her about Caroline, our sons, and my divorce. In so doing, I had not been angling for anything romantic with her, but merely sought to exchange information; all Melanie would tell me was that she was single, living in Villa Vista (a middle-class southern suburb of Omaha), and working as a travel agent. Whatever children or personal life she had, she wasn’t discussing at the moment — and I was mostly all right with that, except for an occasional fragment of wondering to myself whether anything had come of what we did.

By May, there was a date (second Friday and Saturday in July) and a venue; I sent my RSVP to Melanie, and everything was in place. Once that July weekend came around, I went ready. I knew there would be the happily married; those on the make, married or not; the happily single; and those such as myself, who only wanted to reconnect with friends. I refused to let anything else, such as whether the popular kids had let themselves go, be my concern.

Arriving a great deal early — forty minutes, in this case — isn’t my usual style, but this was a Friday evening in a city of nearly half a million people; in this type of instance, a prudent man takes time to beat rush hour traffic. I left my suit jacket at home, contenting myself with a simple shirt and tie. Even then, despite seeing some of my classmates in suits (or dresses, as applicable), I began to feel overdressed after catching a glance at one of us Vikings, who was dressed in jeans and a working white tee as she directed a crew of young bedava bahis men (and one young woman) in carrying some heavier items into the reception hall. Even at a distance, however, there was no mistaking the woman, or her level of energy. It could only be one; she saw me, recognized me, and called out to her crew, “Finish up! I have some business to take care of.”

We didn’t run to each other, nor did we need to. A simple walking over into each other’s arms worked well enough.

“How you been, Danny?”

“Well, I was doing all right… until I saw you. Now I’m doing great!” I hugged her a little tighter; she still felt the same, even.

She smiled warmly. “Glad you could make it.”

“I wouldn’t have dared to miss it.”

“Tonight’s gonna be full of surprises,” she smiled. “No, not that kind,” she said; after all, I was holding her closely enough that she could feel my erection rising.

“Good thing, I guess… I didn’t bring anything, after all.”

“You won’t need it… all you’ll need to bring is a good time.”

“But here you are, dressed like you are…” This was a ruse on my part; if she wanted to wear a tee and jeans to something like this, she could pull it off and look absolutely beautiful doing so. She was still Melanie Clayton, after all.

“Just gotta finish up here, then I’ll get showered and changed; you can’t expect a girl to do any real work in a dress, now can ya.”

“So let me let you get back to it?”

“Sure thing, see you in a few.” I wasn’t expecting the kiss she gave my cheek as she walked off, but I wasn’t about to object.

At that moment, one of the young men called out to her, “It’s all yours, Ms Clayton — have a look and see what you think.” The timing of her breaking off had been perfect.

“Be right there.”

As she was walking in, I noticed the young woman who was on the crew — late teens or early twenties, five-six or so, with straight honey-brown hair to about her shoulder blades, and dressed the same way Melanie was. That’s all I saw of her at first, but enough to know she was one beautiful girl. Not long after, I caught a glimpse of her face — as pretty as the rest of her, but strangely enough, it had the power to put me off any sexual feeling for her. I didn’t know exactly why, but figured I’d better listen to this feeling of being put off.

Anyway, this young woman came up beside Melanie and was chattering excitedly to her; I couldn’t hear what was going on, but from what I could gather, Melanie was telling her to keep calm and to keep her voice down. The younger woman nodded, then followed Melanie in to have a last look at the hall. I didn’t know her name, but I gave her the nickname “Friday”, since she would spend the evening sticking as closely to Melanie as the man Friday did to Robinson Crusoe. I, meanwhile, went in and waited.

At seven o’clock — exactly time for the party to begin — in walked Melanie, reminding all us guys why we crushed so hard on her back then. She was still well able to rock a low cut, traditional little black, with wonderful three-inch heels. Friday followed closely at hand, in a yellow floral dress which only showed her knees if she were to sit down.

One look at Melanie, and we guys (well, myself anyway) were eighteen again, with accompanying thoughts and — yeah, other things as well. The only thing on my mind, though, was doing what I came to do: having fun with everyone. In light of our gathering together, she spoke a minute’s worth of welcome, ending with all of us joining in our Viking battle cry of “Sköl!”

Dinner was decent but nondescript; I would have been content to eat alone, except that three young men from Melanie’s crew invited me to their table and made me comfortable among them. We introduced ourselves, and I chatted them up about their college plans and their cars, as well as any girlfriends they might have. I told them, too, of my own life and how I wished I could see my boys more often. Caroline had brought them visiting a month ago, but even that was too long. And yes — divorced though we were, Caroline and I did miss getting to see each other more often.

Any thoughts of that chapter of my life, however, faded to periphery as I finished dinner and returned to the good times at hand. We heard from our class officers, and played our “Who came the farthest to be here?” game (the winner had flown in from somewhere in southeast Florida).

Next moment, I learned why Melanie had recruited those strong young men to be part of her setup crew: they were recently graduating seniors. The previous fall, they had led the Vikings to their first playoff football appearance — first-round losers, but playoffs are playoffs, right? — since 1972. (That was the shock — going from that, to winless in 1975, our freshman year.) We were all very happy with their accomplishment, which is why Melanie had made them guests of honor that night.

We then had a short memorial service for the deneme bonus four of us (out of a class of forty-six seniors) who had passed away over those years, after which Melanie called out, “For them and for us — let’s get it started!”

The next five hours were a blissful blur of music, the kind that only sounds better as years progress. Rather than run down a litany of all the good stuff, I’ll simply mention two standouts.

I don’t remember the song of the first instance; instead, I remember one of my classmates, a serial groom, trying to schmooze Friday and see if she wanted some of him. When he kept ignoring her refusals, I stepped over and told him, “Hey, go pick on someone your own age.” She smiled and thanked me; it’s not that Melanie wouldn’t have helped her, but that I was closer, therefore better able to take the situation in hand more quickly.

The second happening was far more enjoyable. It turns out that Melanie had more guests of honor — as many as could make it from the cheer squad from our senior year. One couldn’t make it, so Friday took her spot in a dance routine arranged and choreographed by Melanie back in 1979, for performance at home basketball games that year. We recognized Chic immediately — with a ‘one-two’ count over clicking drumsticks, the whole hall got the cheerleaders going by yelling out, “Aww, freak out!”

Though the squad found their steps again, and that with an agile grace, they no longer looked like their high school selves; Friday aside, they were women in their late thirties, and looked it. Even so, there was still an allure and rediscovered athleticism to them — they could still put on a show, and make us want them.

The dance went on until midnight; at that time, Melanie dismissed that part of it, inviting those who wanted to do so to gamble, to drink as late as the bars were open, or to go up to the rooms and, as we winkingly understood it, “have a little fun.” After having said this, she found her way to me, with Friday right behind. “Come on up,” she offered as she smiled to me.

“I… you know I didn’t bring anything,” I stammered.

“You don’t need it… we can just catch up on old times.” As she said it, I could feel my arm slipping around her.

As Melanie and I got close, we both noticed a marked change in Friday’s expression. “Do you have to do that here?” she asked, her face a mix of disgust, piqued interest, and — strangely enough — a distant pleasure.

“Good point,” said Melanie to her. Then, more seriously, to me: “You didn’t think this weekend was all about this party, didja?” When my speech was hesitant, she made herself more known. “When I invited you up with us — I wasn’t asking.”

“So… what is going on?”

“I’ll tell you everything when we’re up there.” Then, to Friday, “Lead the way, sweetheart.”

“Sweetheart”? Now I was sure something was afoot, that Friday was not simply one of Melanie’s crew members.

Even with whatever was in the offing, these were among the best walks of my life, with Melanie and I holding hands as though the previous twenty years had never been; we even stole an unashamed kiss while waiting for the elevator. Friday, meanwhile, would only look straight ahead, never at us.

When we got to the right floor and the right room, Friday let us in, and sat at the foot of one of the beds; Melanie kicked off her shoes and sat on the edge of the other, her hand still in mine. At that moment, something caught my eye — a CD player on a table near the window.

“Put it on,” Melanie said gently to Friday. “Put our song on.” Friday then read the jewel case, found the song, then sat back down. The room instantly filled with a six-string guitar, a twelve-string, a piano, a harpsichord… and the unmistakable voice of Stevie Nicks.

Melanie whispered in perfect time to the song…

“Wait a minute, baby,

Stay with me a while,

Said you’d give me light,

But you never

Told me ’bout the fire…”

As Melanie followed the music, she started crying and put both arms around my waist, as if urging me never to leave; I put mine around her in return, for reassurance. I even began to notice a few tears in my eyes; what really hurt my heart, though, were the tears I saw on Friday’s cheeks, despite her efforts to smile. By the time Stevie got to, “There’s a heartbeat, and it’s never really died,” Melanie was full-on sobbing. It took her a full minute to recover herself enough to sniff out one word to Friday: “License.”

Friday reached into her purse and handed me her driver’s license. On it, I read these words and felt my life changing forever:

STATE OF NEBRASKA

OPERATOR’S LICENSE

CLAYTON, SARA DIANNE

DOB 05/08/1980

The photo matched the girl who took it back from me. I then remembered — August 9, 1979 was the date of the morning Melanie and I had shared in her basement. I wasn’t willing to stake my life on the conclusion my mind was drawing, but Friday — or Sara, as we must now call her — was.

Melanie disengaged from me long enough for Sara to extend her hand for shaking. “Told you,” she said to her as our smiles returned.

Sara’s blue eyes looked confidently into mine as we shook hands.

“Hi, Dad.”

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