Read 29 Online

Authors: Adena Halpern

Tags: #Fiction, #General

29 (20 page)

I took a deep breath. “But if I leave now, I don’t know if I’ll ever want to come back,” I told her. This was the truth. Up until all the family drama started, this had been the best day of my life.

“You’ll have to figure that out for yourself,” she told me as she stroked my arm. “Personally, I know that you have too much here not to come back. For right now, though, you just need to go.”

My friend was now staring into my eyes with an intensity I’d never seen before. She knew the truth and we both knew it.

“Do you know?” I finally asked her.

“Of course I know it’s you,” she said matter-of-factly.

“What was the tip-off?” I asked her.

“Well, I was sure this morning. Thought I was nuts. Then you knew about my bunions and my blood sugar. And there was the whole speech about your mother tonight; I knew that woman all too well. The clincher, though, was your reaction when you heard I’d finally stood up to Barbara. I still think I’m nuts, though.”

“Well, you
are
nuts.” I laughed, and she laughed with me. The cat was out of the bag. God, that felt good. “I would have thought that you’d have some kind of a coronary if you knew,” I told her, exhaling.

“When you get to be our age, does anything really shock you anymore?”

“Good point. But, this one really threw me for a loop.”

“But how?” she asked as she looked down at our hands, mine
smooth and free of bumps and wrinkles, hers looking its age. “How did this happen?”

“Frida, if I knew, I’d bottle it and sell it on the black market. When I woke up this morning and looked into the mirror, I thought I was dead.”

She paused, looked down, and squeezed my hands. “Do you feel that?” she asked me.

“Of course I feel it,” I answered.

“Then maybe
I’m
dead,” she said. “I went through hell today, so it wouldn’t surprise me.”

I squeezed her hands. “Do you feel this?” I asked her.

“I’m not dead.” She smiled. “Let me look at you for a second,” she said, cupping my face with her hand.

“What do you think?” I asked her.

“It’s like going back in time,” she whispered as she felt my cheekbones. “I’m looking at you, and all I can see is myself at that age.”

“Maybe it’s a virus. Maybe you’ll wake up at this age tomorrow,” I joked.

“Oh, I hope not,” she said swiftly, taking her hands off of me as if she might have caught something already.

“Why?”

“Well,” she said, “because I lived that life. I don’t need to go back and do it again.”

This took me by surprise.

“You’re telling me that if you were given this chance you wouldn’t take it?”

“Ellie,” she said calmly, “that’s where you and I have always been different. I don’t need to be younger or look younger. I’ve
never minded getting old. Besides, I would miss my Sol too much. I couldn’t be that young without Sol by my side. At that age it was Sol and me against the world. It wouldn’t make sense to me without him. No . . .” She shook her head. “This is your wish, not mine.”

“But Frida, to be free of physical pain and to look beautiful again and feel like you could take on the world—don’t you want that chance?”

“Who says I can’t look beautiful now?” she asked me, straightening her shirt. “I don’t like feeling old. And I don’t mean how I look on the outside, I mean on the inside. I’m tired of feeling this way, and I have the chance to change that. That I can do. That I’m going to do. The other stuff? I’ve done it already. You know me—I don’t even like reruns on television. I’ve seen it already. What’s done is done.”

“You mean to tell me you have no regrets at all?”

“Ellie,” she said, taking my hands again, “you’re not dead. You’re not dreaming. You’re not in some other world. You know what I think?” she asked as she put her hand on my cheek.

“What, Frida?”

“I think you’re taking a look at your life, trying to answer a question that has bothered you for many years. If a question has been on your mind for that long, it begs to be answered.”

I looked at my friend, perplexed. “What’s my question? I have a lot of questions.”

“Well, that stuff about being young again, that’s all a bonus. Really, though, knowing you as well as I do, I know there’s one thing that’s always bugged you. It’s bugged you so much that somehow, some way, you’ve been given a chance to answer it.”

“But what is it? Don’t beat around the bush.”

“You really don’t know?” She looked surprised.

“No, I really don’t.”

“Well, I don’t want to be the one to tell you. I think that’s something you need to figure out for yourself.”

“And that’s why you think this happened to me?”

“You made a wish. Wishes come true all the time. It’s not as crazy as you think it is.”

“And what if I figure out the question, the answer? What if I have the power to stay this way?”

“Then you’ll come visit your old friend sometimes.”

“And you won’t be angry with me?”

“How could I be angry with you? Ellie, I want what you want.” She smiled and I knew it was true. “I only want what’s best for you. As long as I know you’re safe. As long as I know what you feel in your heart is right, and you’re content, then that’s all I want.”

Frida and I embraced each other for a long moment. Then we looked into each other’s eyes one more time.

“You have a pretty open mind for such an old lady,” I told her.

“Hey,” she said with a little slap on my hand. “You’re older than me.”

“By a month.”

“A month and two days.” She laughed, and I laughed with her.

“The thing that gets me is, why do you think Barbara hasn’t figured it out?”

“How could Barbara know it’s you?” Frida asked. “Barbara never knew this person. She only knew her mother.”

“She’s seen a million pictures of me. She was around when I was this age the first time. How can she not remember?”

“Pictures never tell the whole story. You know that,” Frida explained.

“You know, I didn’t think about it that way. It’s just what Lucy was saying before: Barbara has never looked at me as a person, only as her mother. Just like I’ve only thought of her as my daughter.” We smiled at each other one more time. “Okay,” I said, clasping her hand in mine once more.

“Now go,” she said again.

“Are you sure?” I asked her.

“I’m not going to tell you again. It’s exasperating already.” She poked me.

I looked at my friend and smiled again. “Thank you.”

We got up and walked arm in arm into the living room, where Lucy and Barbara were still sitting.

“If it’s okay, I have to be off right now,” I told the ladies.

“Where are you going?” Lucy asked me, looking like she was asking far more.

“I just don’t want to be a bother to this family more than I already have been. I’m sorry if I’ve caused any trouble.”

“I’m sorry, too.” Barbara looked at me. “I’m sorry you had to see us this way. Maybe you’ll come over another time and meet Lucy’s grandmother.”

“Yes, that would be nice. I feel like I know her already.”

Frida snickered to herself.

“But where are you going?” Lucy asked me.

“I’ll call you later,” I told her.

“She has things to do,” Frida said as she slowly sat down
beside Barbara. “She’s a young woman.” She smiled, looking at me. “Let her be on her way.”

“Barbara,” I said before I walked out.

“Yes?” she answered.

I was at a loss for words at that moment. I wanted to tell her everything, how sorry I was, how proud I was. I wanted her to know who this person really was. “It was very nice meeting you,” I said after a moment.

“It was nice meeting you, too. I hope we’ll see each other again under less complicated circumstances.”

“Yes.” I smiled at her. “I hope we do.”

I walked out of the apartment and into the hallway and pushed the down button on the elevator.

As I stood in the elevator watching the numbers go down, I wondered what this question was that Frida was talking about. Would this evening finally give me the answer I’d been looking for all these years?

the night of my life

I ran down Walnut Street like my life depended on it. Maybe it did. I was heading toward a night I’d always dreamed of.

All I wanted to do was find Zachary. If I could just get to him, if I could just recapture that feeling of being without a care in the world, everything would be okay. In less than twenty-four hours, all of my priorities had changed. I needed to find out what this adventure was all for. If it wasn’t to see myself in cute underwear or to sit in the sun, what was it for?

Block after block I sprinted in my heels past young people eating outside and shops that were open way past the time I usually went to sleep.

And then I saw him.

He was standing under a streetlamp like Frank Sinatra in some old movie.

And when he saw me, those gorgeous eyes lit up.

“Why are you running?” he asked, laughing.

“I don’t . . . I don’t know!” I giggled as I ran into his arms.

“You were that excited to see me?” He smiled, looking into my eyes.

“Yes.” I smiled back.

He took my hands and stretched out my arms to get a good look at me. “God, you’re beautiful,” he said.

I had no words. I just smiled back.

“So what’s on the agenda for tonight?” he asked as he put his arm around me and we started to walk.

“I want to do everything!” I declared with a skip in my step.

“Everything, huh?” he echoed.

“I want to see every bit of this city that I’ve never seen before.”

“Well, let’s get started.”

“I’ll let you be the guide. You tell me where,” I told him.

“Is this your first time in Philadelphia?” he asked me.

“Well, I’ve been here before,” I tried to explain, “but never like this.”

“You mean you were always with your family?” he asked me.

“Exactly,” I told him. “Tonight is the first time I’ve just been free to do whatever I want in this town.”

“Well, then,” he said as he gestured to a motorcycle in front of us, “your chariot awaits.”

I looked at him, and then at
the thing
.

“You want me to get on that?” I asked him, a little shocked.

“It’s the best way to see the city,” he said, handing me a helmet. “Come on, what are you, scared?”

“Oh, no.” I waved my hands. “I’m not getting on that thing. You can be sure of that.”

“I promise you,” he said, strapping a helmet on my head, “I’m a very skilled driver. I spent two months last year driving this same kind of motorcycle all over Rome. Believe me, if I can
maneuver this thing through the streets of Rome without an accident, I can get down JFK Boulevard.”

“Aren’t the Italian drivers crazy?” I asked him. “My . . . my boyfriend Howard and I once rented a car to drive to Tuscany. I sat there with my hand over my eyes from the Colosseum until we were at least twenty miles out of the city.”

“You trusted Howard, and you won’t trust me?” He smiled with those blue eyes. “Besides, I thought you wanted to go crazy tonight.”

“But I’m in a dress, and heels,” I protested.

“We’re not going dirt racing,” he pointed out.

“Well, okay,” I finally agreed. He held out his hand to help me on. “I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, right?”

Truthfully, when I really thought about it, what
was
the worst that could happen? What if, God forbid, we were in some sort of accident? Could you imagine what would happen if the hospital found my ID? Could you imagine Lucy and Frida trying to explain to the hospital people that it really was me? Oh, that’s funny.

Now, if you’ve ever been on one of those things in a dress, maybe you’ll be able to tell me how you can straddle the seat while keeping your miniskirt at a respectable length. Oh, I was mortified at the thought of Zachary catching a glimpse of anything he shouldn’t have. I remembered one time when Lucy hopped into a cab for dinner and she was wearing one of her short dresses. She climbed into the backseat with her underwear right out there for the world to see. I scolded her for getting into the cab in such an unladylike way. She apologized, saying she didn’t know she was “pulling a Britney.” Then, of course, she told me all about that Britney Speards (that’s
the name, right, Speards? Or is it Spears? I have no idea) who showed her privates in every magazine on the stands and on the Internet. Tonight, the last thing I wanted to do was “pull a Britney Speards.”

Zachary climbed on in front of me then took my arms and secured them around his waist. I sat with my body pressed up against his back as he revved the motor. My bare thighs were against his legs. My mother was turning over in her grave.

And then we were off. I swear to you that I could feel the grim reaper on my shoulder (or maybe it was my mother), so I dug my fingernails into Zachary’s waist and shouted,
“Not so fast! Don’t go between the cars, sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph—you’re too close to that car! Oh my God, we’re going to die!”

When we finally stopped for a second, Zachary turned around and looked at me. “You know, you’re going to draw blood in a second.” He laughed. “Relax, enjoy the ride.”

I shook my hands around to get the blood flowing in them again and wiped the clamminess off on my dress.

“Maybe we should just park this thing and take a cab from here,” I said.

“You’re safe with me,” he spoke above the revving motor. “I promise.”

And with that we were off again.

After another few blocks, I started to calm down. After six blocks I was able to open my eyes again. In another six blocks, I had an itch on my nose, so I took one hand off Zachary’s waist and scratched it.

“You’re getting the feel for it?” he asked when we stopped at another red light.

“I think I am,” I said.

“You ready to go faster?” he asked.

“NOOO!” I shouted.

This made him laugh.

Zachary had driven us all the way down to Penn’s Landing, and then back up to Old City. I have to admit I was starting to enjoy myself as we passed Independence Hall. Zachary was telling me the history and I was trying to listen, but the bike was too loud so I just nodded. It was beginning to be fun to watch the people on the streets as we passed by. It was much different than seeing everything from a car. I loved feeling the warm night air blowing on my face.

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