it's all about we
 

Chapter 1: When You're Out With Another Guy

February 6, 1959

"You're working at the store this weekend?" she asked.

"Yeah. All day Sunday." Sixteen-year-old Dan Mangan twisted the phone cord around his hand and then untwisted it absentmindedly. The mustard-yellow phone sat on a small, wooden table in the hallway, just outside the kitchen of his Brighton Beach home. "What about you? Do you and the Bob-Whites have any plans this weekend?"

"Oh. Um ...." She sighed into the phone. "Yes, I do."

"Well? What are they?" He sensed her hesitation, but couldn't imagine why she wouldn't want to say anything to him. He knew her family used to go on last-minute weekend trips and often took the other Bob-Whites with them. He thought it might be another one of those. After all, they hadn't gone anywhere in a while. Not since St. Louis. Then again, St. Louis was probably why they hadn't gone anywhere in such a long time, either.

The silence on the other end dragged on. "Are you guys going off for some kind of crazy weekend somewhere where Trixie will find something mysterious?" he finally asked.

"No, not exactly."

He waited, hoping she would explain. She didn't.

He got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What then?"

"You know how my mother's been saying I'm too young to have a steady boyfriend?" She sighed again.

Yes, he was very aware of her mother's thoughts on the matter. But at least they were better than her father's thoughts on the same subject. Mr. Wheeler still wasn't even comfortable with them dating. They had only been able to go out without double-dating once since he got his driver's license. And then it dawned on him. He tried to keep the emotion out of his voice when he asked the question he felt compelled to ask. "You have a date?"

"Yes."

"With whom?" He glanced inside the kitchen at the calendar on the wall. The following Saturday was Valentine's Day and he had the initials H.W. written in the box. He couldn't actually see the letters, but he knew they were there. He knew he'd be in Sleepyside next weekend, but that suddenly seemed a long time to wait.

"The son of one of my mom's friends." She sounded rather unenthusiastic about it, or maybe that was just his wishful thinking. "His name is Charles."

"Oh. Have you ever met him before? Is it a double date at least?" Dan switched the phone to his other hand.

"No." She made a giggling sort of noise. "I have no idea what he's like." Then she sobered. "And it's just the two of us. I'm kind of nervous."

Nervous because she's interested or nervous because she's ... why else would she be nervous? "Oh. Well, are you going out tonight or tomorrow?" He wanted all the details, although a part of him didn't want to know anything about it.

"Tonight. He's picking me up at seven." She paused. "I'm supposed to wear something dressy. He's probably going to take me to the country club."

Tonight? He imagined the two of them riding in his car, some sporty rich-boy's car probably, and then going into the Country Club and holding hands across a small table for two. They'd talk, share an appetizer, eat their dinner, and then there'd be dessert. The whole time they'd be looking into each other's eyes.

A thought occurred to him—a plan, really—one that he hoped he could pull off. He stretched the cord as far as he could so he could peer around the corner at the clock in the kitchen. It was just after four now. That gave him plenty of time. "When is your curfew?"

"He's supposed to have me home by ten. Why?"

"No reason, I guess." He frowned. Ten. That meant three hours she'd be spending with Charles. He wished he could see her face, see if she really looked as unenthusiastic about this date as she sounded. "Do you think your parents will let me take you out next weekend? Just the two of us?"

"Are you asking me out, Dan?" She giggled. "Because it kind of sounded like it, but, then, it didn't really."

Dan sighed as he leaned against the wall. "Honey Wheeler, would you please go out with me next Saturday night? It's Valentine's, and I'd really like to take you out to dinner."

Her voice sounded haughty and bored when she answered him. "I'll check my calendar and let you know." Then she giggled again. "I miss you."

"I miss you, too. I wish I could visit more often." He smiled, reassured. He knew she wasn't really checking her calendar. He knew by her teasing and by the sound of her giggles that it didn't matter whether there was anything planned for that day or not, she'd clear it for him if she could. "I can't wait until next weekend."

"Me, too." He pictured her on the phone, probably using the hall extension and sitting on the little bench just outside her room and Jim's.

He had a sudden need to know what she was wearing, not on her date later—he really didn't want to dwell on that—but right at that moment. He wanted to picture her as she was. He wanted to know if her hair was pulled back from her head in a pony tail or just a headband, or if she still had on school clothes or had changed after getting home. He started to ask her but then realized it might sound kind of weird. "Hey, whatchya wearing?" Yeah, that sounds lecherous.

"Well, have a ... horrible and boring time. Really." He frowned into the phone.

She laughed loudly. "You don't really mean that, do you?"

"Of course I do. I don't want you to have a good time when you're out with someone else." He sighed. I don't want you to go out with someone else at all.

"Bye, Dan. Call me tomorrow night, okay?" There was a small pause. "I really do miss you."

"I miss you, too. And I will. After sunset. Bye." He waited until he heard the click on her end and then hung up the phone. He stared at it for a minute and then was startled as someone else spoke to him.

He heard Mr. Diamond's voice. "Expecting a call?"

"Hi, Pops. No." He reached over and lifted the receiver off the phone, placing it off to the side, something they did every Friday before sundown. "Pops?"

"Yes, Dan?"

Dan looked up at the man who had become a second father to him. "Can I borrow the car tonight?"

Mr. Diamond's mustache quivered slightly. "I guess so. At least you're allowed to go out."

Dan grinned. He knew Mama Rose wouldn't tolerate anyone but him breaking Shabbat. He felt a little guilty about it, but he'd feel a little less so if he could leave before the sun set. "Thanks."

"Where are you going?" He winked. "Do you have a hot date tonight?"

"Not exactly, but I was going to go up to Sleepyside." He ducked his head a bit and gave Mr. Diamond a sheepish smile. "That's okay, isn't it?"

"Of course." Mr. Diamond frowned slightly. "Is everything all right? I thought you weren't going up until next weekend."

"Everything's fine." At least, he hoped it was. "And I'd still like to go next weekend, too. Hopefully I will have a date with Honey, then."

He went over to the front door, his pop following him, and pulled the keys to the '54 Plymouth Belvedere off one of the hooks of the decorative key holder. "Is it okay if I spend the night there, just in case it gets late? I'll be back tomorrow and can still work on Sunday."

"That's fine, Dan. Have a good time." Mr. Diamond peered at the keys in Dan's hand. "Be careful with my baby."

Dan winked, in a better mood now that he knew he could put his plan in motion. "I always am."

 

Dan groaned and resisted the urge to honk the horn. It wasn't like the cars in front of him could go anywhere, either. He'd forgotten how bad traffic could be on a Friday evening when everyone was trying to leave the city. It seemed worse than usual, though. He eyed the heavy cloud cover above, hoping that the weather forecast was right and that there wouldn't be any additional snowfall over the weekend.

He glanced over at the bouquet on the passenger seat, an array of pink flowers, set off with touches of green foliage. They had set him back quite a bit—nearly four dollars—but he'd been saving his paychecks and he hoped she would like them. He'd intended to buy a bouquet for her next weekend for Valentine's Day, but it seemed to work out better buying the flowers a week early, before the shops raised their prices for the romantic holiday.

There had been some kind of accident on the road, so in the end it took him over two hours to make the sixty-mile drive. It was just after eight that night that he finally rang the doorbell at Manor House. He knew he'd missed her, but he could still try to make the most of it.

"Dan, hi." Celia answered the door. "If you're looking for Jim, he's not home this weekend." She winked, probably knowing full well he wasn't there to see Jim. "And if you're here for Honey, I'm afraid she's gone out."

Dan smiled awkwardly. "I know. I was hoping to catch her, but since I didn't, could I leave a surprise for her in her room?"

"I can't let you in her room when she's not here, but maybe I can help you out?" Celia gestured to Dan's hand that was hidden behind his back. "What do you have there?"

Dan showed her the bouquet he had bought. "Just some flowers."

"Just some flowers? Those are beautiful." Celia took the bouquet from him and held them to her nose. She lowered them and grinned. "Could you do me a favor and talk to Tom? He could use some pointers on romance."

He blushed.

"I take it these are for Honey?" Celia shut the door behind them as he entered. "Let me get a vase to put them in."

"Do you think she'll like them?" Dan followed the young, blonde-haired woman to the kitchen.

"I think she will. I would love them. But ...." Celia turned to Dan. "Honestly, Honey likes simple things. These are kind of extravagant."

"What do you mean?" He gazed at her curiously.

"For some girls, this would be perfect and they would be swept off their feet. But Honey's just not like that. You should know that by now."

He nodded, knowing Celia was right, but he'd wanted to do something extra special for her.

She set the bouquet on the kitchen counter. Next, she opened a cupboard and started pulling out different vases, apparently looking for a specific one. "You've got some roses in the bouquet. One single rose will say more than the whole bunch of flowers could, and it would be that much more special. And you'd still have the rest of the bouquet, which will look just as lovely even with one less rose. So, if we pull one out, it's like giving her two things, this way."

Dan frowned. He wasn't quite sure what Celia was thinking, but giving Honey a rose from the bouquet and the bouquet seemed all right. "I guess I see what you're saying."

He watched as she selected a simple crystal vase that was meant to hold just one flower. She took the sugar bowl from the serving tray on the kitchen counter and poured a teaspoon of the sweet granules into the vase.

His curiosity got the better of him. "What are you doing?"

She then went to another cupboard and to his surprise took out a bottle of vodka. "It's the cheap kind, for cooking." She poured some of that into the vase as well, just enough to cover the sugar.

"Sugar and vodka?" He raised an eyebrow.

She nodded, her eyes twinkling. "Old family secret for making cut flowers last longer." She went to the sink and finished filling the vase with water. "Why don't you pick the prettiest rose of them all? I'll put that one on her nightstand by her bed."

"Okay." Dan looked through the flowers on the counter, eyeing the four pink roses, but they all looked the same to him. Still, he finally chose one and handed it to Celia. "Is this one good?"

"Perfect." She smiled at him before inspecting the bottom of the stem. Then, she opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of kitchen shears to cut a small piece off the end of the stem at an angle. "Cutting the stem again will also help keep it alive longer."

She slipped the rose into the vase and then walked over to the table where she selected one of the stems of green leaves the florist had included with the bouquet. "Mmm, bells of Ireland. I know it's adding another flower, but considering you're Irish, this will be perfect." She was talking to herself more than him as she added it to the single rose.

Dan hadn't even realized the green stem was a flower, and he had to admit it looked very elegant.

"Do you have a note you want to leave with it?" Celia asked.

He shook his head at her question. "I hadn't thought about a note. But there is a little card in the flowers if that's what you meant." He picked out the small card and handed it to the Wheelers' maid.

"'To Honey, from Dan.' That's it?" She seemed to mull it over in her mind. "Actually, I think that's just about right. No need to get overly gushy; that would just come off as too insincere." She carefully tucked the card in between the two flowers.

He was relieved that Celia thought the note was enough. He'd spent far too long at the florist agonizing over what to write and ended up keeping it simple just to get out of there. "What do I do about the rest of these?" He thought briefly about the amount of money he had spent on the bouquet. "I'm still giving her these, too, right?"

She grinned at him conspiratorially. "Were you just planning on leaving the flowers for her to find tonight and then going back to Regan's apartment?"

"Actually, no, I have to go back to the city." He gave her a half-smile. "I'm not even supposed to be here this weekend."

"You drove here all the way from the city? Just to leave some flowers for her?" She gazed at him with astonishment.

"I just ... I don't ... I want ...." Dan blushed profusely. "I don't want her to come home from her date with this other guy and think about him when she goes to bed tonight. I want her last thought to be of me."

"That is so incredibly sweet. And so very romantic. I didn't know you had it in you." She beamed at him. "It's too bad you can't stay. I had this idea just now when I saw all those flowers."

"Well, I could stay and drive home tomorrow. Pops knows I'm here and won't worry." He wanted to hear her idea.

"If you stay, Charles is supposed to bring her home by ten. If you can meet her somewhere after that, you could leave the other flowers as a trail for her to follow." Her eyes twinkled merrily as she explained her plan. "Girls love that kind of stuff. And then you can still collect the flowers and put them in a vase to make a nice bouquet for her, so they'll still look beautiful."

"Will she be allowed to stay up with me that late?" he asked. He figured she'd go straight to bed after her date with that Charles boy.

"Of course." Celia nodded. "It's not a school night, and as long as she stays on the property, it should be all right."

Dan grinned. "Okay, I'll try it." Any plan that involved seeing Honey that night worked for him. He wondered where he should meet her. Not the stables; Regan might hover around. Not the boathouse by the lake; it was too dark and there was too much snow on the ground. Maybe the clubhouse? But he didn't have a key.

Celia picked up the vase with the lone rose and the other green flower in it. "I'll leave this one for her in her room." Celia smiled at him again. "It will catch her eye and seem even more special when she says goodnight to you, then goes upstairs and it's there waiting for her."

Celia really was a romantic. He wondered briefly how Tom had ever managed to go hunting on his honeymoon—he'd heard the story—because she did not seem like the kind of girl who would care for that. Dan plucked another rose out of the bouquet she had left on the table. "Here, for you. Thanks for your help tonight."

She laughed as she took it. "Thank you. You really are a keeper." She looked at the other two roses still in the bouquet and pulled one out. "This one should be the one to start the trail to you. And the other should be the last one. And good luck. I'll ready a nice large vase for the rest of these flowers for later."

 

Dan left the house, the flowers from the bouquet in his hand, minus the two roses, and wandered over to the garage. He could tell even from the Wheelers' front door that the lights were on and the door was open. When he entered, he could see Tom's head bobbing up and down behind one of the Wheelers' sedans as he polished the car.

"Hey, kiddo," Tom called out in greeting.

"Hi, Tom." Dan walked further into the spacious garage. "Can I help?"

"Nah. Just about done here." He smiled. "I thought you were coming up next weekend."

"I am."

Tom nodded to the flowers in Dan's hand. "Are those for me? You shouldn't have."

"I know. I think I got you in the dog house with Celia." Dan grinned.

"Uh-oh. She saw those?" Tom wiped his brow with the sleeve of his shirt.

Dan walked around the car toward Tom. "She said that I should give you some pointers in the romance department."

The chauffeur chuckled. "Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt." He put his rag down and stood back from the car, inspecting his work briefly before turning to Dan. "So, are you going to wait for Honey to come back—?" He stopped suddenly, as if he just realized he was about to spill the beans on Honey's whereabouts.

Dan glanced at Tom and nodded. "I know she's out on a date with some other guy."

"Phew! So she told you about Chah-els?" He pronounced the boy's name in a fake snooty accent.

"Is he that bad?" Dan snorted. "Please say he is."

"I don't know. He seemed like a nice enough kid. He showed up in a limousine." Tom frowned.

"Well, I want to surprise Honey and meet her somewhere after she gets home. I was just trying to decide where." He looked around the garage.

Tom followed his glance. "Not here. Even I know the smell of gasoline and cleaning supplies are not romantic." He winked. "But I do know one place around here that Celia considers to be very romantic."


ain't no foolin' around