This is the first book of an open-ended series of books; with a continuing theme surrounding Charles Newman & his immediate family.
In Recollections, we meet twelve-year-olds Charles Newman and Claire McArthur as they each start going to Cotillion. From opposite ends of Columbus, Ohio, their mothers enrolled them at the Bradshaw Family Cotillion, for different reasons.
This simple act, of being at the same place at the same time, starts a narrative that seems to have long-term effects on both Charles and Claire.
I hope you enjoy the trip the two of them are beginning...
20 YEARS FROM NOW
My twins coming home from Cotillion awakened me. They saw me and waved to me as they went upstairs to change into more comfortable clothes. I had met their mother as a result of a Cotillion although that felt like a million years ago. Every time I look at these beautiful twin redheads of ours, I often stop and think of their equally attractive mother.
My name is Charles Newman. My wife, Claire McArthur-Newman and I have danced together for over twenty years getting married after traveling and winning trophies turning professional and dancing for money and fame.
Having changed into more comfortable clothes, our kids came down and sat at my feet looking up at me. "Dad, tell us the story again? How you met Mom?" Michael asked.
"Daaaaaaad, no one calls me that anymore except you and Grandma Annie. I'm thirteen-years-old ... gosh!"
"Sorry son," I said. "I can hardly believe that you and your sister Rosie are turning fourteen years old in November this year. You're almost a young man. You have been going to the Newman Cotillion since you were eight years old. When are the two of you turning professional?"
I made him blush. Rose smiled and giggled, saying, "Michael — Daddy and Mommy won a lot of trophies when they were younger than us. He even got to dance with Aunt Kalista before he and Mommy were married. When they became professionals, they all made a lot of money didn't you, Daddy?"
"Yes, I did Rosie. However, we didn't dance for the money. We danced because we loved to dance. I got to dance with your aunt Kallie for a while again when your mother was pregnant with the two of you."
Just then the door opened, and Annie, my mother, and Sarah, Claire's mom walked in.
Sarah remarked, "Cotillion went great today, Charles. You were correct. Brian and Susan are naturals at teaching dance."
Annie added, "Their two kids are going to be better than they ever were, but don't tell them I said that."
Sarah added, "We're taking a spa, honey. Care to join us? With your wife and stepdaughter both out-of-town, preparing for the new Tour — it's only us," she said giving me a wink.
"Just a minute. I will try to join you ladies after I talk to the kids for a bit longer. They have asked to hear 'the story' again?"
"Again? OK loverboy, your loss," Sarah said as she and Annie held hands going up into their bedroom.
My one good friend, my very best friend, growing up was Brian Fleming. He's two months older than me and way cool. We have been going to the same school starting way back in Kindergarten and all the way to the sixth grade. That is where this story begins.
We had done all kinds of stuff together. We would hang out and go to the movies, do Cub Scouts and now Boy Scouts. I had gotten my Eagle Rank recently. He's still working on his. We had done all the stuff boys our age did.
As I rapidly approached the ripe old age of thirteen, my mother decided that I needed some culture in my life. So, when I came home from my last day of school she announced I was going to Cotillion.
"What the hell's Cotillion, Mom?"
"You watch your mouth, Charles Xavier Newman Jr. You're not too old for me to wash your mouth out with soap. You're almost thirteen years old, and you could use some polishing. Cotillion is learning to dance and all the skills, ethics and good habits that surround it."
"But dancing, Mom! Jeez, only dweebs dance," I announced.
"Well, school's out, and I guess you're going to become a dweeb -whatever that is? You still have scouting to keep you busy. Besides, Cotillion starts tomorrow night! I have already talked to Shirley, Brian's mother, and he's going too. She's telling him right about now. Now, get into the car. We need to go and get you some nicer shirts and pants that fit. Along with a tie."
I responded, "A tie? Mom!"
"A tie, young man. It's not going to kill you to wear a tie once a week."
"Once a week? This cotil ... cotin ... This dance is more than once?" I think I may have said that too brusquely. Mom's hands went to her hips.
"Yes, honey. Once a week! During the entire summer on Tuesday nights from six-thirty to nine o'clock you're going to learn how to dance. The Bradshaw Family Cotillion has been teaching young men and women how to dance for over thirty years."
"Brian's going ... Are you sure?" I asked suspiciously.
"Call him and find out," she declared.
I picked up the phone dialed his number, and he answered.
"Hey Brian, did your mom? Yeah, so did mine. Uh-uh, we're going shopping for clothes too and a tie! Yeah, it's a conspiracy," I said loud enough for Mom to hear and react to.
She just chuckled and said to me, "Get ready to go. We leave in two minutes." She was holding up two fingers as if to make her point.
Yeah, right! I said to myself.
Remembering I had him on the phone I remarked, "Yeah Brian, my mom the Nazi said to get off the phone so we can all high-step to the mall together. Talk to you later, Auf Wiedersehen."
I got into the car, and my mom turned to me and said, "While we're shopping if you don't embarrass me then I won't embarrass you, all right?"
"OK, Mom! Uhm ... Mom, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure honey, anything."
"Did you learn to dance at a Cot-il-lion like you're sending me to?"
"No, Charles I didn't! But I wish I had. I can't count how many times I stepped on a boy's feet at school dances. However, from going to lots of dances and with a few boys' patience I not only learned how to dance, but I think I'm pretty good at it. After you have been to a couple of these weekly Cotillions, I would be more than happy to help you learn any of the finer points if you would like?"
"You would? I might step on your feet Mom," I chuckled.
"I can wear your father's hunting boots, if necessary. We're here. Now, you need to get two pairs of pants, two shirts, and two ties, all right?"
"All right," I responded breaking into my best smile for her.
Maybe this isn't going to be nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I didn't realize that I needed a size larger shirt than I had been wearing. I don't remember the last time I went shopping for clothes. I guess I had stretched them out a bit.
Slacks are a different kettle of fish. I put on a pair that I thought were my size, and this guy came up to me and shoved a tape measure towards my crotch.
"Hey dude — Not cool. Warn me before you touch my package."
Mom must have heard me. She giggled and blushed. I've got a cool Mom even though she signed me up to learn how to dance.
The guy explained exactly what we were measuring and I 'stood up straight' as he had asked. He announced my waist and inseam and asked what color. I turned to Mom. She had mouthed 'black' and 'navy blue.' I turned back to the guy and said; "I think I would like one pair to be black and the other to be hmm — navy blue."
He turned to me and said, "Very good, Sir."
Again my mom giggled, but I didn't mind.
I have always worn slacks. I don't own any Jeans. Don't like the way they fit or look. I'm not going to end up one of those fat slobs. You know one of those dudes whose stomach spills out over their pants. I like my pants to be comfortable and just cover my belly button. I have Dockers and Cargo pants, but not Jeans.
We went through the same rigmarole for my new button down shirts. We did the same with ties and left with the first new clothes I had gotten in quite a while.
Well, it's Tuesday, at five-thirty in the afternoon and I'm scared 'spitless.' I didn't say that to my mom of course, but she could probably see it on my face.
"Honey, it's not going to be nearly as bad as you think. The first hour is just the new students. At seven-thirty, the returning students come in until it's over for the night around nine pm."
I should describe my mother to you before we continue much further. She's, hmmm, let me see? She went to college so twenty-two, plus dating. That's two more plus the age of my oldest brother, twenty-two ... I guesstimate she is maybe forty-six. She's older than dad. I'm going to be thirteen later this summer on July twenty-second. If I had to, I would say that my mother is pleasing to look at. She doesn't look forty-six. That's for sure!
The one thing she has that I especially like, is red hair. I can imagine when she was younger it was probably quite long. Nowadays, she keeps it just past her collar. I asked her to let it grow if she would like. She said that she would 'think about it.'
We all arrived at Cotillion. Mom picked up Brian from two blocks over so we went there together. That means we will probably go with his mom Shirley next week. Our mothers are pretty good friends too. They have been taking turns driving us back and forth for as long as I can remember.
"Charles, I can stay or leave and come back?" she asked us.
Brian and I looked at each other saying at the same time, "Leave."
"OK, boys. You don't have to hit me with a sledgehammer. See you later," she said smiling as she was leaving.
I had my cell phone in my pocket. I figured I could always call her if need be. It was intended for emergencies only.
There were many girls and boys at this thing. Interestingly, the boys were all clustered together on one side of the room, and the girls were doing the same thing on the other side of the room. The boys were quiet, and the girls were talking and giggling.
Suddenly there was a loud voice that said, "Attention — Welcome to The Bradshaw Family Cotillion. My name is James Bradshaw, but you can call me Jimmy. All of you are new this year, and I'm sure that some of you don't want to be here while some of you have been paid off by your parents to be here."
'Why hadn't I thought of that?' I thought to myself.
He continued, "Now, there are exactly as many boys as there are girls here, so boys find a young lady introduce yourselves and go to the center of the room."
I looked over at Brian and said, "Good luck, Buddy." I carefully stepped my way over to the bevy of girls looking around trying to find someone as scared as I was. Over near the mirrored wall, I noticed a girl with very pretty brown eyes and red hair just like my moms!
I quickly moved along towards the wall and went up to her. I had never purposefully been this close to a girl my age ever. She smiled at me, and my face just about burst with the smile I had. "Hi."
"Hi, what's your name?" she asked.
An even bigger smile came to her face.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I spoke. "That was rude of me. My name is Charles Newman, but you can call me X."
You can call me X? What the hell was that? The number of people who even knew my middle name I can count on one hand. I say 'You can call me X?' Jees, Charles — she is awfully cute in a girly sort of way.
"Well X that's nice! My name is Claire. Did your mother spring this on you yesterday like mine did?"
"Yes, Claire — actually, I think this has been a conspiracy between all the Moms in Columbus."
A girl. I'm honestly talking to a girl. Her name is Claire with nice brown eyes now that I have seen her up close. She's a redhead and somewhat pretty. Breathe, remember to breathe, Charles.
"OK, Ok, ok. Has everyone found a partner?" asked Jimmy.
I turned to her and asked, "Will you be my partner tonight, Claire?"
Her smile turned into a cute set of dimples. The prettiest I had ever seen in my life.
"Oh yes, X! Charles, I would love to be your partner." Her grin is adorable, as well.
Maybe this Cotillion thing won't be so bad after all.
Jimmy clapped his hands, "Everybody! Face the mirrors, in your couples. Boys on the left and girls on the right, everybody got that? OK, now boys turn to your right and girls turn to your left, so you're facing one another. Anybody need any help yet? Anyone not know their left foot from their right?" A few chuckles sounded throughout the hall both boys and girls.
"Next," Jimmy continued, "Girls move to your right so that your left foot is between your partner's feet."
Claire and I had done what he had said so far.
"Now ladies, put your left hand on the boy's right shoulder. No, dear, your other left hand. Boys, this is your first moment of truth. Put your right hand on the girls back. Not the hip or the waist. Your partner will tell you if you're too high or too low, won't you girls? We will continue when the giggling stops," Jimmy said.
I now had my right hand on her flank. Her hand was on my shoulder. I caught her looking at me. She smiled and giggled. I may have as well.
"All right," Jimmy said breaking our glance, "Now boys, put your left hand out, palm up, like someone, is going to give you some money. Ladies, put your right hand, palm down, on top of the boy's hand. This is what's called the 'Closed Position.' We will get more detailed as we learn the different dances and their variations. Let's learn some steps, shall we? Does anybody know what a Waltz is? Anyone at all?"
I took my hand off her hip and raised it.
"Yes, the young man with his hand up. What's your name, please?" Jimmy asked.
"Charles. Charles Newman, Sir!" I answered.
"Yes, Charles — what is a Waltz?" Jimmy asked.
"It's the only ballroom dance that has a three-four tempo, Mr. Bradshaw," I replied.
"Yes, that's right Charles! You can — All of you, please call me Jimmy."
"Yes sir, Jimmy," I replied.
"Can you demonstrate the Waltz, Charles?"
"I'm not sure Jimmy. I went online to look up the different dance steps last night, and the Waltz is the only one I recall reading anything about." I was so very nervous.
I put my foot in it this time.
The whole room chuckled and giggled at me. Claire was beaming that her partner knew something about dancing. Oh, that smile could light up a city!
"Well then, Charles. Why don't you and your partner..."
"Claire, sir ... Jimmy," she responded.
"Why don't you and Claire come over here by me?" he suggested. "I will show the class how this dance works using the two of you as Guinea pigs. Is that all right, Charles?"
I turned to Claire and asked her, "Is that all right with you, Claire?"
All the girls in the room broke out into giggles and 'awws.'
"Yes, Charles. I would love to learn to dance with you," she smiled again.
Jimmy said, "Come here, the two of you? Hurry up we only have an hour. We can't spend it all on one dance."
I took my left hand with her right hand in it, and we walked up to Jimmy. I was very nervous. I felt like I was sweating through my new shirt.
"OK now, assume the Closed Position," Jimmy said.
"I have got a waltz tempo song, I believe. Right here."
The Michael Crawford version of "I Dreamed A Dream" from LES MISÉRABLES began. Jimmy spoke, "Do you hear the beats, or possibly feel them?"
I turned to Jimmy and answered, "Yes, Jimmy. Do you want us to use the traditional box step, Sir?"
Claire looked at me and said, "Wow!"
"Yes," said Jimmy, "Proceed Charles."
With the music going on behind us I began, "Claire, I will step forward with my left foot at the same time you step back with your right foot. Then, I will slide my right foot over. You match that move with your left. Then, I will move my left foot, your right, to meet up with our other feet. We repeat it backwards, starting with my right foot. That makes a box get it? Does that sound agreeable to you? Do you feel the beat, Boom-tic-tic ... Boom-tic-tic?"
"Yeah — I think I got it, X," she smiled looking down at her feet then looked up straight into my eyes and possibly my heart.
OK. So I waited for the beat. It was like I found my place in the cosmos. I was dancing for real with a pretty girl. I heard her quietly saying, 'Boom-tic-tic ... Boom-tic-tic.'
After a few measures, Jimmy cut in and said, "Let's give Charles & Claire a big hand for starting us off. You have all been watching. Now, feel the beat and go."
The song repeated twice more, so everyone could work on it. Jimmy watched and helped those struggling until the song had ended the final time.
Claire turned taking her skirt and curtsied to me, "Thank you very much, Mister Newman, you're a wonderful dancer."
"I had honestly never danced before in my life, Claire. It was just that the music — along with such a pretty partner, inspired me to do what I did."
She blushed and smiled back.
"All right everybody, take a break. We start back up in ten minutes," Jimmy announced. "Charles and Claire. Come here, please? I would like to ask you two a favor?"
"Certainly, Jimmy." We walked through the crowd to get to him. This time, she grabbed hold of my hand.
Jimmy asked, "Was that honestly the first time you have ever danced? I find it hard to believe. You both were marvelous. I know your class is finished at seven-thirty, but would you stay over to show the returning students how a Waltz is 'properly done?' Many of them have gotten a little sloppy and a little competition would be a good thing for them."
"Just a minute please, Jimmy?" I said.
"Claire, can you stay to dance with me? I won't do it without you," I said still holding her hand.
"Sure, Charles. I can stay a little and show off," she replied.
Her smile is nice. Her dimples make me smile.
"Yes, Jimmy. We can stay and dance for you and the returning dancers."
"Thank you, you two! If I didn't know any better, you could be the next Fred and Ginger."
"Who?" we said together.
"Oh, never mind. Take your break. We start back up in five minutes."
"Excuse me, Claire. I need to use the restroom before we dance again," I said. We looked at our hands clasped together.
"Sure X. I will be waiting for you — forever," she answered.
After the break, Jimmy told us all to get back into the couples we were in before. He told us that instead of learning another dance step he would begin the lesson regarding 'Etiquette on The Dance Floor.' I easily put my arm around her waist while we stood together. She giggled.
"OK, everyone, I'm going to teach you some of the Rules of the Ballroom Dance floor. First, when there are two or more couples on the dance floor collisions can happen. You must be aware of where the other couples are. Ladies. If you see an oncoming couple about to collide with you, simply tap your partner on the shoulder. This is known as 'The International Dance Panic Signal.'"
A few snickers permeated the room. "Just remain calm. Do Not Grab Your Partner! That will only startle them and a collision is inevitable."
He went on to say, "The next Rule of Dance Etiquette comes at the end of each dance. Gentlemen always offer the young lady your arm and politely take her back to her seat. Even if she asked you to dance."
"That brings me to the next 'Rule of Dance.' You will not always attend a dance with a partner. Remember the International Dance Pick-Up Line, 'May I have this dance?' Ladies, it's all right to refuse politely," Jimmy said as I felt Claire putting her hand on top of mine.
That got everyone laughing.
"Lastly, my credo is "Dancing is Fun So Have Fun Dancing!" It should be enjoyed and experienced. Watch other dancers ... You might learn something."
Looking at his watch, Jimmy said, "We don't have the time to start another dance style. Next week you will learn the Foxtrot as well as the Waltz Step known as the Left Box Turn. I'm going to put on a Waltz number and let you practice until our time is up."
"Please pick up a Rise and Fall Practice Exercise Card on your way out today. Remember, "Dancing is Fun, So Have Fun Dancing!""
We all applauded Jimmy as he started the musical number, "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You," the Elvis Presley version and I moved in front of Claire and tapped her on the shoulder asking, "May, I have this dance, Claire ... I never got your last name?"
"Oh, it's Claire McArthur, Charles or should I call you, X?"
"You can call me anything you want as long as I can dance all my dances with you," I said with a smile.
"Well, aren't you the charmer, X?" she smiled back.
We danced and danced, and I could swear my feet weren't touching the floor anymore as I danced with my new partner the lovely Miss Claire McArthur.
While we were dancing, I asked a few questions and found out she went to a different school in a part of Columbus I hadn't heard of before. I also asked her for her phone number. I have never been this talkative to anyone in my life before to even Brian or my own family.
A tone went off that must have meant that it was time for newbies to leave the floor because the returning students were coming. Claire told me that she had a brother in the class. Just as we stepped off the dance floor she turned and smiled pointing towards a big six-foot-tall redheaded boy and said, "Hey Josiah, come on over here. I would like you to meet somebody. This is Charles Newman. We met tonight and danced all night together. He's a very good dancer, maybe better than you were when you were his age."
Josiah turned and said to us, "Hey Lil C. I forgot you started tonight. How was it? Everything I told you it was? Hello, Charles. I can tell by the way my little sister is smiling that she is very taken with you. Let me tell you one more easy-to-remember lesson? Anything happens to her, and you won't be able to dance again!"
Hitting him lightly on the chest, Claire said, "Josiah, that was rude. You apologize — NOW!"
Josiah replied, "Oh Claire I was just pulling his chain. He's got that same dumb look on his face that you do. Should I get a preacher for the two of you?"
I finally got my voice back after all that had been said around me. I took a step towards Josiah put out my hand to shake his and said, "Really nice to meet you, Josiah. I promise that I will never let anything happen to your 'Lil C' when I'm around her. It's a pleasure to meet you. Now I need to speak to Claire in private — if that's all right with you?"
He paused a minute and looked at me with possibly a little appreciation in his eyes. "It is," he chuckled.
After moving a few steps away from him, I turned to Claire and said very quietly, "Is he for real? Or was that all just bluster? I'm scared to death to get even near you, now."
"He's all talk, really. I have five brothers all of them older than me plus a sister Esther, who is the second oldest of the seven of us. I'm the baby of the family, so they all look after me. Josiah is fifteen, but he met Cassandra, who is only six months older than me. He goes to her Cotillion. He doesn't want anyone else dancing with her."
"Let's take a quick break and prepare for our Demonstration Waltz?" I suggested.
"Oh. I completely forgot about that X. See you in five minutes," she replied with a grin.
I saw Brian coming out of the crowd with the cute blonde he had obviously been dancing with. He said, "Hey Charles, have you been holding out on me? Man, you can dance. So can your partner. What's her name?"
"Claire McArthur," I answered, "Who's this lovely young lady whom you're holding hands with?"
Brian blushed and started to drop her hand from his, but must have realized that that would be rude. "Charles Newman, this is Susan Williams. Susan this is my best friend, Charles Newman."
"Lovely to meet you, Charles. Claire and I go to the same school on the north side of Columbus. We have a summer dance at the school in three weeks. Brian and I are going. Why don't you and Claire join us? It could be a double date," Susan said giggling that giggle that tells you — don't say anything, but yes!
"I can't speak for Claire, but Oh — Hi Claire. Susan has asked us to join her and my best friend, Brian Fleming at the dance at your school in three weeks? If we learn enough here from Jimmy, we could all 'cut a rug' at the dance?"
"That sounds like a ton of fun provided the parental units don't freak out," Claire said giggling again. "I would love to go with all of you to our school dance. Its theme is ... What is it? Oh yeah, Summer Memories. Let's all exchange phone numbers before we leave, OK?"
At that moment, Jimmy was announcing to the returning students that there was a talented new couple that had just started tonight.
"Here they are, direct from having their first dance lesson, Claire McArthur and Charles Newman." A light applause and Jimmy started the Elvis song "Are You Lonesome Tonight."
I had walked up with Claire through the parted crowd and in sync we turned toward each other and went to Closed Position and started dancing. I was so fricking nervous, but I looked into Claire's eyes. All of my nervousness left me as we danced and danced and danced some more.
While this was happening my mother showed up to give Brian and me our ride home. She walked in — saw me dancing and her eyes immediately moistened. She watched as Claire, and I danced the single Waltz step we had learned. Too quickly, the song was over.
Spontaneous applause permeated the hall. Jimmy was so proud of us. My mother was outright crying, and I suppose proud of me? Claire was hugging me, and I hugged her back.
I don't think I ever want to let her go. She was so pretty, her hands were soft, and her smile was so...
Oh-My-God, it's cool. Breathe ... be cool. I walked up to her. I could tell she had been crying.
"What is it, Mom? Is something wrong? Is Dad hurt?"
"No Honey. I'm-I'm crying because I'm so proud of you dancing like that," she said, "Now then, who's this lovely young lady?" Mom had a wonderful smile on her face.
"Oh, excuse me, both of you? I'm sorry — Antoinette Newman, Mom this is Claire McArthur — Claire McArthur this is my mother, Antoinette."
"Did I raise a gentleman or did I raise a gentleman?" mom said beaming.
"Hello, Mrs. Newman. Very nice to meet you too, Charles — Ask her, Ask her now?" Claire prodded.
Raising an eyebrow, she said, "Ask me what Charles?"
"Mom, Claire's school is putting on a summer dance in three weeks. Its theme is Summer Memories – May I please go?" I asked. "Brian and his Cotillion partner Susan Williams along with Claire and me were hoping to double-date?"
Mom beamed, "My little boy. He's gone from never looking at a girl in the face before to asking his mother to go to a school dance."
That made Claire giggle.
Which made my mom giggle.
"What school is it, Claire?" she asked her directly.
"President's Elementary School over by the fairgrounds on the North side of town Mrs. Newman," Claire responded.
Mom looked at me. I think intentionally enjoying making me squirm, "That shouldn't be a problem you two."
"Thank you, Mrs. Newman," Claire said grinning from ear to ear.
Turning to me, Claire gave me a light peck on my cheek and said, "I have to go and ask my mother she just walked in — I will be right back, X."
I saw a very mischievous look in my mother's eyes. "You put the moves on her pretty fast 'X' — dancing together all night, making a date to a school dance twenty miles from home. Is there anything else I should know about before we gather up Brian and head for home?"
Blurting, I said, "Mom, I just met her. Be nice. I don't know what happened? I was looking forward to seeing whom I wanted to dance with and -- and -- and her red hair, and her pretty smile sort of broke through all of my defenses. I would bet you looked just like her when you were our age didn't you?"
"Wow, Charles! She's made quite the impression on you, hasn't she?"
"Is it that obvious, Mom?"
"Hey, Charles," Brian came through the crowd with Susan in tow, "Oh, hello Mrs. Newman. This is Susan Williams. Susan Williams, this is Charles' mother."
"Hello, Mrs. Newman very nice to meet you," Susan said.
"Nice to meet you as well, Susan. So has everybody cleared this Summer Memory's dance with their parents, yet?"
"My Mom said I can go if Charles goes," stated Brian.
"My mother just met Brian and she said I can go as long as it's a double date with Claire and her dance partner," added Susan.
Claire just burst into the group and was emitting a light shriek. "I can go ... I can go ... I can go, but my mom and dad would like to meet X, I mean, Charles first. It's just a formality. They always want to meet dates."
"Well then, have you all exchanged phone numbers?" mom asked. "Brian and Charles say goodnight to your dates, uh ... dance partners. Stage leaves in five minutes."
I pulled Claire away from the rest of the group holding both of her hands and just looking at her. I must have made her nervous because she smiled at me and said, "What?"
"I never thought I would find something I like to do as much as I like to dance and I especially enjoyed dancing with you tonight, Claire." I moved my hand up to move a lock of her hair out of her face, and we were now face to face.
Could this be 'Love at First Sight?'
I felt Brian tug on my shirt, so Claire and I separated – for the first time all night. "Come on Brian, let's go. I think my mom might leave without us given half the chance. Bye, Susan ... BYE, CLAIRE! See you next week."
"Wow Charles. You have got it bad don't you?" Brian said.
"What are you talking about, Brian. What have I got?" I said smiling.
"Don't forget to invite me to your wedding?" Brian chuckled.
"Jees Brian. We're only thirteen years old!"
After we had gotten into the car, she turned and said, "I'm very proud of both of you boys! Besides, everything else you both have excellent taste in girls. Brian, that Susan is quite the looker. You may have to learn how to fight off the other boys who go after her."
"Actually, Mrs. Newman," my best friend said. "Susan told me that at President's Elementary she never had boys approach her. She thinks that they believe she is a prude because she doesn't wear the slutty ... Excuse me, the offensive clothing that the 'popular' girls do."
"Claire said the same thing to me, Mom," I reiterated. "That's why they were at the Cotillion tonight. They decided to work on their social skills and maybe meet someone with the same higher standards."
"Well," mom said clearing her throat. "They met you two and I don't think they could have found two finer young men."
"Thank You, Mrs. Newman," Brian said.
"Thank You, Mrs. Newman," I repeated.
Mom looked over her shoulder at me and said, "What..."
"Just raising my standards. I have you to blame for them," I said.
After dropping Brian off at his house, I moved to the front seat with my mom. Things were quiet for a bit and then she turned to me and asked, "What's this 'X' thing all about, honey?"
"I don't know, Mom. I was just trying to sound cool, so I said to her something like, 'My name is Charles Newman, but you can call me X.' It just came out of my mouth before I realized I said it."
"That's such a cute story dear. Remember to tell that one to your kids," she said laughing at my expense.
"Mom! That's not funny. I just met her tonight. I think I might already have some feelings for her, but I don't know anything about kids!"
"Well, do you want your father to talk to you again?"
"MOM! Dad gave me the talk when I was ten years old. Not that I understood much of it. I want to enjoy this, whatever this is, with Claire before too many emotions get in our way."
"That's very adult thinking, Charles just remember that Antoinette would work well as a middle name," she said smiling.
"Come on Mom!" I turned to her.
"Uh ... Mom?"
"Thanks for providing me such high standards with girls. You know I have read that boys have their mother in the back of their minds when looking for their life partners."
"Where did you read that one, buster?" she chuckled.
"On the Internet, Mom. If it's on the Internet isn't it true?" I looked over at my mom when I said that.
She caught my look and said to me, "You know Charles. You have grown up a lot in the last couple of days. Claire seems nice. Don't do anything stupid, All right?"
"Sure thing Mom."
She giggled and smiled saying, "What is it X?"
"I love you; you know," I said.
"I know, Charles."
"What?" she chuckled.
"Can you keep the whole 'X' thing to yourself? I kind of like it when Claire calls me that, but hearing it from you feels a little creepy, All right?"
"For what, honey?"
"For signing me up for Cotillion."
"A young man needs to know how to dance, you know. Now you can, at least, Waltz at your wedding," she remarked.
"MOM — stop it. I get it, all right."
Moms are sure good at their jobs.
"OK," she snickered.
"Mom, could we get a few more shirts and pants?"
"And ties?" she said with a big smile on her face.
"Yeah, I would like to have a larger selection for the weeks ahead."
The next day I called the number Claire had given me. The voice on the other end answered, "Hello, this is Claire's phone. This is her mother Sarah speaking?"
I took a big breath and responded, "Good morning Mrs. McArthur. My name is Charles Newman. I was calling to speak to Claire."
"Oh," she said. "You must be Claire's young man she's always talking about?"
"Yes, Ma'am!" I laughed. "We exchanged phone numbers last night. I have called to get some additional information on the Summer Memories Dance. She invited me to it last night at Cotillion. May I speak to her, please?"
I heard in the background of the phone, "Mother! What are you doing on my phone? Who is it? Give me the phone please?"
"This is Claire," she said. "Who's this?"
She even sounds pretty over the phone.
"Hi Claire," I said. "It's Charles. Is this a bad time?"
"No — Mother, please leave? This is a personal call."
She waited a moment apparently for her mom to get out of earshot.
"Hi, X. I'm glad you called," she said. "It's nice to hear your voice — Oh before I forget. You know how I said at the dance my parents want to meet you?"
"Yeah," I said very uneasily not sure where this might be heading.
"Well, we're having a big family BBQ this coming Saturday. There will be all kinds of food and games. Why don't you come over? Bring your parents if you would like. I asked Susan. She and Brian are coming."
"I'm sure I can be there, but my parents have a business meeting that lasts all day Saturday and Sunday. I will get Brian's mother to get me there. Thanks a lot for asking."
"Oh, Claire?" I added.
"The main reason I called was to ask you about the Summer Memory's dance, but I guess that can wait until Saturday. What time should we be there?"
"I told Brian and Susan nine o'clock in the morning. Does that work for you?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that my mom just walked into the room. Time for a bit of fluff!
"Alas, my lady Claire — I shall be there three days hence. Willst thou be there?" I said with enjambment.
"Good Lord Charles — Let me entreat you to venture and to stay," Claire responded giggling.
"I am content," I remarked. "Good morrow fair maiden?"
As I hung up the phone, my mother started clapping, smiling, and giggling. I was taken aback by her actions, but instead of blushing I bowed to her and said, "Prithee fair wench. Enshield me from my heart?"
There was silence for a moment then, she started to laugh, and I joined her.
"I assume that was Claire you were talking to?" mom asserted. "I hope so. I don't want my thirteen-year-old son leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him at such a young age."
"Yes, that was Claire. She asked me to her home this Saturday for food, fun, and games. Her whole family will be there. She invited Brian, Susan and me. She also invited you and dad as well, but I told her you two were unavailable."
"Why did you tell her that?" mom said putting her hands on her hips. Uh-oh!
"I just figured it will be uncomfortable enough for me there with her parents, her five brothers, her sister, and Brian and Susan. I will call her back if you want me to," I said putting my hand on my bedroom phone.
"I think you made the right call, honey," she said sitting down on my bed. "You really do like her, don't you?"
"Yeah, Mom," I said taking my hand off my phone, "I know I'm too young to be in love. But, when I'm around her everything feels right. When I'm not — I feel like I have a hole in my heart." Just then I felt a wonderful feeling wash over me.
"Charles. This sounds like the beginning of a relationship you two may have for a very long time."
"Mom, are you all right with me expressing this to you or should I use Brian instead?"
"I would suggest Brian for the guy stuff, but if you want to bounce things off me regarding Claire, I'm more than willing to be there for you. Now tomorrow first thing in the morning be ready to get some more clothes — for my X-man."
Brian's mother came by to pick me up at eight-thirty Saturday morning. She honked the horn, and I ran getting into the car.
Mom poked her head out and yelled to her, "Hey Shirley, thanks! I will drive next time."
I added, "Thank you, Mrs. Fleming, for taking Brian and me to this BBQ party. I know it's a pretty long drive."
"No big deal, Charles. I have been taking you and Brian to one thing or another practically your entire lives; Kindergarten, School, T-ball, Cub and Boy Scouts, although I didn't expect to take you two to a BBQ date with girls for a couple more years. Brian tells me that you and Claire are quite the dancers?"
"Oh, Mrs. Fleming, stop it. You're making me blush. I don't know. It just seems to come naturally, like riding a bike or something, "I replied likely sounding silly.
"Well," my best friend's mother said, "Meeting her parents, along with her whole family, can be quite a moment in the life of a young man. Like I told Brian, treat her like you would want to be treated if the situation were reversed. Smile, say 'please' and 'thank you' — Always!"
"Yes, Mrs. Fleming. Mom gave me practically the same speech just before I got into your car."
"This won't be the only parent you will be meeting in your life, Charles," she said as she started the car.
She turned on the radio and started humming along with it.
Brian poked me in the shoulder getting my attention and whispered to me, "Charles?"
"Yeah," I whispered back.
"What are you wearing to the Summer Memory's dance? I don't have a clue as to what to wear?"
"I was going to take Claire aside some time today and ask her how formal it's supposed to be. I wouldn't doubt if it was coat and tie."
"Coat and Tie? I don't own a coat. Crap. I'm going to have to ask my mom if she will buy me one."
"Me too, Brian," I shrugged.
"Susan called me last night and told me that she was staying over at Claire's. She's helping set up for the BBQ. I don't know about you, but I feel like one of the Christians about to be thrown into the lion's pit."
"At least, you're not meeting the parents, as I am?" I said.
"I am going to be meeting Susan's family next Monday night. They invited me over for dinner."
"What's that Bible verse about the fatted calf, Brian?" I asked.
"Luke 15:23 — And bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry."
"You're such a goofball for knowing that," I told him.
"I thought about the same thing a couple of days ago, so I looked it up, Charles. I don't know about you dude, but not counting the Cotillion, this is my first 'date.' I feel very nervous for myself and especially for you."
"What do you mean, especially me? What do you know that I don't?" I asked.
"Nothing really. It's just that Claire's entire family will be there today, and you will be under the proverbial microscope the whole day. Just be careful what you say and whom you say it to. Don't look too googly-eyed at Claire like you did at the Cotillion?"
"What do you mean, googly-eyed Brian?"
"You know, like you wanted to -- to kiss her or something."
"Like I wanted to, kiss her? What the hell? Well, oh ... Brian? Is that how I looked at her? Really? Oh, damn — I'm so screwed."
"Charles, Charles, Charles, Charles, Charles — Calm down buddy. I don't know. It looks like you don't see anybody else when she's around you. I sometimes feel a little like that around Susan — a little ... Damn, why did I tell you that?"
He added, "Charles, we have both got to get it together. As my mom just said to us 'treat her nice and with respect' and if you feel your eyes going out of focus say 'Yes Claire. Whatever you want.'"
"Yes, Claire. Whatever you want? What the hell, Brian?" I laughed quietly at this suggestion of his.
"It's something my dad does when he thinks he's losing an argument with my mom. I don't usually hear the argument, but when I'm walking into the room, I hear my dad say that. It must work because Mom usually doesn't say anything after that. Maybe it's just a married couple's thing; I don't know," he pondered.
"What are you two boys talking about back there? I can't hear you because of the music I'm playing. Everything all right?" Brian's Mom questioned.
"Yes, Mrs. Fleming. Everything's just fine. Can I ask you a question, Ma'am?" I asked.
Brian glanced at me with a funny look on his face.
She responded, "Sure Charles, anything! What do you want to know, honey?"
"Well, you were a thirteen-year-old girl, once?"
"Yes, Charles, I was," she said with a giggle.
"Yeah well, today at the BBQ after saying 'hi' to everybody I meet and talking about school and the weather and dance class -- What should I discuss that won't make me sound like a dweeb?"
That made her, and Brian both chuckle a little.
"Well Charles, a young lady always likes to be told how she looks. That's a nice blouse, a pretty dress, or cute shoes. You know, compliment her and her mother when you meet her. Like you said school is a good topic since you go to different schools. Find out what subjects she likes best and who her favorite teachers are. Furthermore, ask about what she likes to do in her spare time — you know, for fun."
"Wow. That's some good stuff, Mrs. Fleming. You know. I wouldn't doubt it at all if you were the prettiest girl in your sixth-grade class."
"Well Charles, thank you. That's very sweet of you to say," she said looking at me in the rear-view mirror.
Brian hit me in the arm and mouthed 'What the hell?' to me.
Whispering, I said to him, "What? I was just nice to your mother."
"Well, don't hit on her?" Brian whispered back to me.
"I wasn't hitting on her. I was just trying out on her, what she had said. Get a grip, dude. Your Mom is pretty in an older non-redheaded sort of way. HEY, what did you hit me for? I was just being nice."
"Well, be that way with your own mother, or Claire; OK? Back off!"
We sat in relative quiet for a while looking around through the windows. We were in a part of town I didn't know at all. All the streets were named after US Presidents going one way and numbered streets going the other. I knew we were on Chester Arthur Avenue going west — Orienteering Merit Badge to the rescue.
Brian's Mom broke the silence and said, "It's around here boys. We're getting close ... Keep your eyes open. It's off the corner of Chester Arthur Avenue and 88th Street Road."
"There are probably a lot of cars there so that will help us too," Brian added.
"There it is, up ahead. Look at that house? Wow! There must be six or maybe seven bedrooms in that mansion. OK boys, be ready to get out — remember to be nice to everybody. Call everybody Mister and Misses. Charles, don't end up engaged to Claire at the end of this party? Your mother doesn't want to lose her little boy yet," she chuckled.
"Mrs. Fleming, that's not funny. Hmmm. It is a little. Brian, will you be my best man? Just kidding, dude. Lighten up. This is bound to be fun. Let's not let our mouths write a check that our asses can't cash."
Mrs. Fleming remarked giggling, but trying to hold it in, "Well said Charles — OK boys, just call me when you're ready to be picked up?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Fleming," I said.
We were walking up to the house about to ring the doorbell when the door swung open and a little girl probably Claire's little sister came out. Nope, I remember now. Her sister is older than her. This little girl has red hair as well. How cute is she?
"Hello. My name is Kalista. It means 'The most beautiful one, '" she said proudly.
Sitting on my haunches, I said, "Hello Kalista. My name is Charles Newman, and this is Brian Fleming. Can we come in, please?"
She couldn't have been more than six or seven years old. Is she going to be a heartbreaker when she gets to be older, or what?
"Yes, you may Charles and Brian. Please go straight through the house into the backyard, please."
She said this as though someone had helped her to memorize it. She must be standing right by the door waiting for everyone to arrive.
"Thank you, Kalista," I said to her getting up. "That is a very pretty dress pretty!"
"Thank you, Charles Newman," she smiled, curtseyed and giggled.
Brian remarked, "Charles Newman, you are a charmer, you know. You probably made her day."
"As cute as she is everybody will likely say something like that to her today. Let's go to the lions." We both laughed as we walked.
While on our way to the backyard to meet the 'thundering horde, ' Brian and I stopped and noticed a woman who was coming out of the kitchen carrying some food. Her hair was the same exact shade of red as Claire's. I knew that this had to be her mother.
"Mrs. McArthur. Can we help you carry something outside?"
Brian looked over at me and smiled.
"Well, who's this? Yes, you can help boys, both of you. Oh. You two must be Charles and Brian? Welcome, and thank you. How did you know who I was?" she grinned.
"Mrs. McArthur, you look just like Claire, only prettier."
"Aren't you the charmer, so you must be Charles and this handsome young man is Brian?"
"Yes, Ma'am — you got it in one." Brian loves that expression.
Brian looked over at me again and said quietly to me, "Charles, you dog. You are something else."
Ignoring him I asked, "What can we help you carry outside, Mrs. McArthur?"
"Well, Charles. You can carry the hot dogs and hamburgers to the cook, my husband. Brian. You can carry the hamburger and hot dog buns to the first table on your right once you get outside."
"Sure, thing, Mrs. M," Brian responded.
So, now, we're carrying food out of the back door and who do we see the moment we exit the house? None other than our delightful looking dance partners, Claire, and Susan!
Susan had her long blonde hair in pigtails and was wearing a cute pink shirt that had sequins on it. She had on a pair of blue jeans that looked brand new.
Claire's red hair was also in pigtails, looking shorter than I remembered from the Cotillion. She was wearing a matching soft blue shirt with sequins on it as well. To complete her ensemble, she was also wearing jeans, but they looked a little worn.
Claire said, "Hey you two — glad you could make it. Charles, follow me, I will take you to my daddy who's cooking the food. Susan, why don't you direct Brian to where the buns go?"
Susan giggled at the word 'buns.'
"Claire, you look great. I almost didn't recognize you with the pigtails and jeans. Fortunately, your hair color gave you away."
She turned on me saying, "I don't color my hair, Charles!"
"No ... no, that's not what I meant, I meant..."
"I know, X! I was just messing with you. Calm down." There's that smile again.
"Brian and I ran into your mother coming out of the kitchen and offered to help. I surprised her because you have the same beautiful shade of red hair."
"Beautiful! Oh, Charles, I'm going to have to keep you around me if you are going to use words like beautiful," she said, gazing deep into my eyes.
"That's all right with me too, Claire. I like having you next to me. It makes me feel good inside," I replied.
"You're so sweet, X." With that, she gave me a little peck on the cheek. I was embarrassed, but I don't think I blushed. Thank God.
Mrs. McArthur came outside and said, "Attention, Attention Everybody. We're going to start cooking in a bit. We're still waiting for Ken and his family before we start any official 'McArthur Family Games.'"
"Games?" I questioned to Claire, "What kind of games?"
"You will find out X. Have a little patience and relax. You look like you are about to be thrown into the lion's den," she said with a giggle.
I chuckled considering I had said those very words to Brian on our way here. Claire took my arm, with both hands, and we wandered around as she introduced me to her brothers and sister as well as her in-laws and out-laws. She giggled when she said that. She also brought me up to speed on the fact that she and Susan are BFFs and have known each other for as long as Brian, and I had.
She walked up to her father who was cooking and said, "Daddy. This is Charles Newman. We met at Cotillion this past Tuesday night, and he is my favorite dancing partner, after you of course. Charles. This is Daniel McArthur, my father."
Shaking his extended hand, I said, "Wonderful to meet you, Sir. Thank you for letting Claire invite me to your Annual McArthur Family BBQ. You have a wonderful house from what I have seen, and this backyard is amazing. I met your wife inside, and I see that Claire gets her looks from both of you, her mother's hair and your great big smile."
"Isn't he just the nicest young man you have ever met, Daddy?" Claire beamed.
"You know CC; he might just be," he answered.
He messed up my hair like adults often do.
"Thank you, Sir. Claire is the nicest girl I have ever met, and we seem to get along especially on the dance floor." I started fixing my hair, but Claire slapped my hand away doing it for me.
Her father responded, "You know Claire. That's right. I forgot something. Excuse me you two?"
"RUSSELL," he yelled to one of the boys nearby, "Come here?"
He started a very animated conversation with this young man who then left quickly back into the house.
"I almost forgot the surprise I got for you, CC," her father said.
"Oh, Daddy, what? What is it?"
"You will know soon enough. All right kids, move along I have got food to cook."