Andy recounts the story of how he met and fell in love with Julie; by Rosemary Cacolice Brown.
In that moment, my self-promised weekend blipped off the radar as the summer of my eighteenth year rushed in, every crisp detail of that sweet slice of time in Rosedale, New York, 1998. I'd recently graduated from high school, still unsure about furthering my education or getting into the trades like my father, a carpenter of fine repute who provided services for those living in the bungalows and ranch houses that permeated our placid, tree-lined environs.
By most measures, I was a decent kid with a basic moral compass, I suppose, smart enough about some things, especially sports and girls, hitting all the right markers that fill a young, unhindered, lucky life such as mine. But, not yet having lived long enough to wear the patina of Real Life - the wisdom derived from triumph and failure as we travel the journey - I was too young and inexperienced to realize that we don't always get what we wish for.
Two weeks into June I caught first sight of her. I spotted a red Chevy pulling into Jake Farley's driveway across the street. Old Jake was out of town so I wondered who it was. When she emerged, I watched as she maneuvered two suitcases, including a small animal crate, into the house. At that point I was merely curious - until the following week. She couldn't get old Jake's cranky lawn mower started, so I casually strolled over like some Galahad to the rescue.
"Hi, I'm Andy from across the street. Are you the new neighbor?" I nervously asked as her sunny smile, bright blue eyes and lavender scent filled my senses.
She shrugged. "Oh, for awhile, I guess."
"For awhile, I guess?"
"Well, I'm Julie, Jake Farley's niece. He's in Akron, Ohio right now visiting my dad for the summer - most of the Farley clan is still there. He's homesick, wants to go back really, but can't decide whether to rent this place or sell altogether. Since he worried about leaving his house empty so long - and I was coming to New York anyway - he offered his house for my stay, rent free."
"Got it." I replied, tapping the mower. "Having some trouble here?"
She sighed, exasperated. "Uh-huh, it's got enough gas, but the Start lever seems loose and I can't find a screwdriver."
"At your service, ma'am!" I shot back, quickly sprinting home to fetch one. But after twenty wasted minutes into it, that mower wouldn't cough up even a hiccup. So, on impulse, I did what any Galahad would do. I offered to mow her lawn - every week. It surprised her, and after a few tortuous moments of silence, she accepted.
Things moved on quickly from there, very light, very casual, our verbal exchanges becoming easier. As we sat on her porch, we found our way into safe dialogue about her life in Akron, my life in Rosedale, our take on movies we'd seen. In other words, we connected. I began to sense her growing dependence on me, alone and far from home as she was. By then I was totally into her and relished the notion, as eager as a bullfrog catching swamp flies. On occasion I'd wash her red Chevy or pick up some needed grocery item from Lupo's Market on the corner. Once I even rescued her frightened cat, Mitzi - the chief resider of that small animal crate - from her front porch roof.
The only glitch was when she'd disappear every so often and come home very late, very tired, never mentioning her long absence. But then, why should she? I was just the polite, helpful kid who lived across the street, so I never inquired, thinking she might find me intrusive and, just maybe, blow me off.
Then, on one sweltering day in mid-August, she invited me in for some iced tea. She seemed preoccupied, edgy, so I pulled some nerve and, this time, did inquire, hoping she wouldn't say "None of your business."
"Something bothering you, Julie?"
Hesitating a moment, she then let go. "How old are you, Andy?" she asked.
"Eighteen, four months in, why?" I was stymied by the question.
"Well, I'm twenty-three," she revealed, "and this is the first time I've been so far from home. Sometimes I miss it, get lonesome, so I appreciate all you do for me. You're a sweet guy that reminds me of the calmer life I knew growing up in Akron and that helps me feel better - less discouraged, considering the real reason I left in the first place."
"The real reason?" I was now hanging on every word she uttered, but held ground.
"Yes," she continued, "because Rosedale is much closer to New York City than Akron, Ohio, you see, a forty-five minute run or so."
I stood there, wordless. Moments ticked as she gathered more steam.
"Truth is, I'm a dancer, Andy, formally trained since I was nine years old. I'm pretty good at it, worked hard and want something for that, so I'm trying to get myself into some cattle calls on Broadway."
Holy hell! Dumbstruck, I stood there frozen in my Nike runners as I slowly digested the driving ambition implied by her words. But she was still Julie, my Julie, so I steadied myself enough to remain in her sphere and asked the obvious question.
"What are cattle calls?"
"It's a term for dancers like me," she went on, "who group-audition for shows like Chorus Line or even the Radio City Rockettes. As long as my savings hold out I'll give it my best shot. So, on those days when I've been gone? Well, that's where I've been and just thought you deserved to know. Thing is, I'm not doing so hot, so time will tell, right?"
Her gut-honesty rocked me, in that moment raising a twinge of guilt. I foolishly toyed with the notion of revealing my own truth - or ruse - since my attentiveness was driven purely by my hormone-riddled haze, peppered by my shameless hope that her fairy-dust dream - or so I thought - would fizzle out like cinder on damp kindling. But somehow it felt wrong to infringe on her defining moment of clarity, so I let it slide, the here and now being all that mattered in my sophomoric scope of the looming reality I chose to ignore - until I could no longer on that ill-fated Friday three weeks later.
She was gone that day on yet another trip to the neon hustle of Broadway. I had just finished the last mowing before the season changed, surprised at her early return. Since my greeting brought no response I assumed the trip was another dud. Then, with puzzling expression she beckoned me inside as she approached the front door.
Nodding, I followed her, a low-tide apprehension in me beginning to rise. She was too quiet and I stood there as she fumbled for words. Then she threw them out in one fell swoop.
"Well, I finally made the cut for an off-Broadway musical," she quietly declared, almost pushing it out.
Stunned, disappointed, I then took a shot at hope. "But you'll still be staying in Rosedale, right? Like you said, it's only about a forty-five minute run or so."
She laid it out, point blank. "No, Andy, not this time. I need to be there for daily rehearsals. Besides, with all my back-and-forth trips I've made a new friend - another dancer like me - who advised me to sign on with a theatrical agency, which I did two weeks ago. Starting tomorrow I need to be visibly present, so I'll be staying with her for a while. Then, when the checks start coming I'll be looking for a small apartment."
Trigger pulled. Bang. Dead. Her unrelenting tone staggered me. Reeling, I then tossed out a few frantic, ridiculous words. "But what about your Uncle Jake? Does he know you're leaving his house empty? And who will rescue Mitzi if she climbs on somebody's roof?"
"Uncle Jake already knows and gave his blessing," she assured. "As for Mitzi, she'll be fine, promise."
Quietly, compassionately, she observed me a few moments, then came closer to cup my face in her hands with words I'll never forget: "Oh, my sweet Andy, do you really think I didn't know? You're easier to read than a traffic sign." Caught in the moment, she then turned my face to hers and gifted me with a deep, meaningful kiss, square on the lips. Her lavender scent wafted all over me as her bodily curves melded briefly with mine. Though those blissful, forbidden moments lasted less than a minute, I thought I would die from the rapture of it.
Pulling back, she spoke again. "Oh, Andy, I'm so confused... but I've worked too hard to get even this far. So you know that I have to leave, don't you, before things get messy between us? But you'll be okay, truly. You'll have your dreams as I have mine and in time I'll become a vague memory."
Finally, her revelation freed me enough to spill out. "No way, Julie. You're all I ever think about, so I know I'll never, ever forget you."
"Nor will I forget you," she replied with quaking voice, so hushed I could barely hear her.
So, that was it, over and out as my long summer ride through Nirvana faded quickly while I stood useless to retrieve it. With everything said, one more silent embrace between us followed and then I left, the sadness in my young soul as heavy as a sack of stones, only to remain with me as I counted the hours and minutes until her departure. Early Saturday morning I stood watch at the bay window until she left with her two suitcases and Mitzi's crate. As she settled into her red Chevy to drive off and disappear around the corner, those moments became the bellwether for the saddest days of my entire eighteenth year.
Jake Farley, my only connection to Julie, came home a week later and finally put the house on the market, scuttling my hope of ever knowing where her dream took her. A young family with two kids moved in eight weeks later. I never ran over to offer lawn service.
Yet, eventually, as most things go, in time that sack of stones weighing me down slowly dissipated one by one as my own dreams opened up, just as Julie had predicted. Taking the college route, after four long years I finally gained a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After that, for a while I traveled some, back pack in tow, and in the process met my lovely wife in a place very far from Rosedale - Traverse City, Michigan. We settled in upstate New York. And the kicker? In a few short months we'll be two-time parents.
Yep, life is good. Very good. Still, I guess I'll always smile whenever I spot a red Chevy.