forgive the past with me
 

Chapter 5: You Opened Up My Door

August 20, 1957

Dan wondered how he would sneak all twelve of them into his apartment. Or did it matter? It's not like anyone lived there, no one should care that a bunch of kids and one young adult were climbing into a window from the fire escape. He snorted.

Neil raised an eyebrow in his direction. "What?"

"Just thinking." Dan glanced out the window as the train left another platform.

"About?"

He should have known that for Neil that wasn't enough of an explanation. He remembered his resolve to try harder not to be so secretive, and the reason for his derisive snort wasn't anything he needed to conceal. "Just wondering how unnoticeable thirteen white folk can be while we sneak into an empty apartment in a black neighborhood. That's all."

Neil grinned. "We'll manage. We're all too curious to see your old place, especially the 'room hidden behind books'."

"I don't know why. It's just an apartment. Empty and boring." Dan shrugged. "There really is nothing to see, except that room."

"And you're sure it's empty? No one's moved in?" Honey looked at him curiously.

"It was still empty last week when Uncle Bill and I were there." Dan frowned. "That's always puzzled me, too, though. I would have thought someone would rent the place eventually."

"Hm." Honey looked thoughtful. "I have an idea, but ...."

Neil raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"

"Only if you're okay with it, Dan."

Dan noticed she had dropped the 'ny' from his name and was glad of it. He'd been trying to leave it off, but most everyone still called him 'Danny'. Although, when she did it, he didn't mind nearly as much. "What is it?" He repeated Neil's question, in spite of thinking. "Whatever your idea is will be fine with me."

"Well, Daddy knows a lot about real estate. What if I asked him to look into this place?" Honey looked at him with a hopeful expression.

"What do you mean by 'look into'? Like buy the building?" Dan raised an eyebrow skeptically. He couldn't imagine Mr. Wheeler wanting to become a landlord in Harlem.

"Why, no, not buy the building, just rent the apartment. So no one else ever will and you can go back as often as you like." She stared at him. "You don't like it."

He didn't. He wasn't sure why, but the thought of Mr. Wheeler just swooping in and renting his old place felt wrong. Besides, then what would happen to it? He frowned.

"It's okay. Forget I said anything." Honey turned back to the window where the subway walls were rushing by.

Dan looked at Neil, hoping his brother would sense his reluctance.

Neil nodded, understanding. "You don't want your girlfriend's father being the tenant of your old home?"

"Something like that. It just feels weird." He turned back to Honey ... his girlfriend. He'd never heard any one call her that; he hadn't even dared think it himself. "Honey? I'm sorry. It's not a bad idea, it just makes me uncomfortable."

Honey turned back to him, smiling, but her cheeks were flushed. "It's okay. I understand."

Was she blushing? He leaned his face closer to hers and whispered, "I never ... Neil just ...." He swallowed and tried a third time. "Is it okay with you if I call you my girlfriend?"

Honey shook her head, but smiled all the same. "No. You've never even asked me to be your girl."

Her smile was so beautiful and he really just wanted to kiss her. But he'd gotten in enough hot water with his uncle for kissing her. "Will you go steady with me?"

"No." She held his gaze with her eyes. "I'm not allowed to go steady until I'm sixteen."

He sighed. That was almost two more years. "Fair enough. I'll ask you then." He leaned in closer to her. "Are you allowed to date?"

"Only group dates. Until I'm fifteen." Honey's blush deepened. "I'm not even allowed to kiss. But holding hands and dancing is okay, I think."

Dan sat back up and looked around the train. No one was paying attention to them. His uncle was staring, no—glaring, at someone else. Dan turned his head further and saw Trixie snuggled into Jim's arms. He turned back to the girl by his side. "Are you in trouble for us kissing? Uncle Bill read me the riot act."

Honey blushed. "No, I'm not in trouble for that. I don't think Daddy even knows."

He leaned in closer to her again. "Good," he whispered. He wasn't sure how he'd keep from kissing her. He sat up again and winked at her. "I'll try to behave."

 

They all exited the train when Dan indicated they had reached the stop. He tried not to smirk as many of the passengers looked at them questioningly, no doubt wondering what all these rich white kids were doing in their neighborhood.

Dan glanced up and down the street constantly as they walked, always a bit wary of who might be hanging around in this neighborhood. It wasn't long before he stopped in front of a row of apartments on West 141st Street. There were a few people seated on the steps of a neighboring building, and a bicycle was parked further down.

Dan held up his hand. "Wait here." He went over to the fence near the garbage area and hopped over it. The cans weren't out front like they had been on the previous visit. He pulled one of the steel containers closer to the fire-escape ladder. From atop the garbage lid, he was able to step onto the taller gate and then the ladder.

"Do you want us to come up?" Regan called up to him.

"Nah, I'll let you in the front." He stepped up to the first landing and then climbed to the second. He was lifting the screen off the window when one of the men from the neighboring building walked over.

"Whatchya doin' there, kid?" The man's tone wasn't unfriendly, more curious.

The black man was wearing a worn suit, threadbare in spots, and the shirt had some kind of mustard-colored stain on the sleeve. No suit jacket accompanied the outfit, and no hat adorned his head. Dan guessed him to be in his thirties. He'd seen the man sitting on those steps before, but this was the first time they had spoken to each other. Dan leaned the screen against the building and then grinned down at him. "Forgot my key."

The man shook his head. "Try again?"

He shrugged. "Just goin' home."

The man gestured to the rest of Dan's group. "And all these folk here?"

Dan looked at them, watching the conversation with some amusement. "Just visitin'."

"Which apartment?" The man was very curious.

Dan started getting wary. He dropped the friendliness from his own voice. "Mine."

"That apartment belongs to Mr. Hill." The man gestured to the third story windows of Dan's old home.

"Nope. Pretty sure this is my place." He wondered who Mr. Hill was, if there even was a Mr. Hill. The only Mr. Hill he knew was the one that used to manage Minton's. He peered into the window and looked inside. Empty, as usual. "Yep, this is my place."

"Mr. Hill ain't gonna like knowin' someone was pokin' around his place." The man looked at the group on the ground again.

Dan shrugged. He didn't want to waste any more time arguing with the man. Ignoring him, he lifted the window up and entered the apartment. He went to the front door, unlocked it, and then jogged down the apartment stairs. He opened the front door to find the stranger was standing between the building's doorway and his friends and family.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes when he heard Neil talking to the man. "Does this Mr. Hill have a first name?"

"Sure. But I ain't tellin' you it." The stranger looked over at Dan. "I think you and your friends here best get on your way."

Dan leaned in the doorway and crossed his arms. "Sounds fine to me. Come on up, guys."

"Hey, Hank." One of the other men was getting involved now. "What's going on over there at Teddy's place?"

Teddy. "Teddy Hill?" Dan laughed. "Is that your Mr. Hill?"

Hank scowled. "What's it to you?"

Mart snorted. "Teddy Hill's a good friend of ours. I don't think he'll like it when he finds out you've been harassing us."

Hank frowned. "You all don't know Teddy."

"Yay high," Neil held his hand in the air indicating the man's height, "graying hair, thin mustache, used to run Minton's? Still hangs out there? Yeah, we know him."

Hank turned around to his friend. "See if you can get a hold of Teddy," he called back to the other man. "These whiteys here claim to be friends of his."

"Come on, already, let's go up." Dan was anxious to get away from this Hank guy, and if Teddy Hill really was renting his apartment, then he had more questions for the man and would pay him a visit himself.

His uncle walked around Hank, encouraging the rest of the group to follow.

Dan shut and locked the door when they finally entered his old apartment. And then the bedlam started.

"Who's Teddy Hill?"

"How do you know Teddy Hill?"

"Do you really think this place belongs to Teddy?"

Dan tried to follow it all but all he could think was, why would Teddy rent this place? He and his dad had been good friends, but was there something more? Did Teddy own the building? No, Hank had said apartment, not building.

"Neil and I hung out with him that day Danny got upset and we all went out." Mart was trying to answer his sister, who was still shocked that her brother knew the man.

"When did Dan go out?" Di asked.

"The first time Ned got him mad, not the second." Neil grinned.

Ned blushed. "Sorry about that."

"What's this about going out?" Regan lifted off his hat and scratched his head. "I don't remember saying you and Mart and my nephew could go out by yourselves."

"Oops." Brian looked over at Regan. "We were supposed to cover for them if you woke up. But you didn't."

"You're doing a fine job of covering for them now." Bob snickered.

"We were fine, Uncle Bill. Just went up to a little jazz club." Dan hoped his uncle wasn't too upset.

Harvey rolled his eyes. "Jazz. Figures."

"Big jazz club. Not little." Mart grinned. "That place was hopping. And Teddy let us sit at his table. Everyone knew Teddy."

"And that makes him a good friend of ours?" Trixie shook her head, her curls swaying with the gesture. She looked over at Dan. "Is he really a good friend of yours anyway?"

"Hm? I guess." Dan nodded. "He and my dad were pretty close."

"So, who is Teddy Hill exactly?" Honey looked at him expectantly. "I'm still not sure I understand."

"He manages, well, used to manage this jazz club over on West 118th." Dan looked around the apartment. He wasn't used to walking in the front door anymore and it felt disorienting.

"And he owns or rents this place?" Dan's uncle raised an eyebrow.

Dan shrugged. "First I've heard of it. I'm a bit surprised. And I can't think of why he would bother. He's got a really nice home north of here." Dan hoped he could talk to Teddy Hill and find out some answers.

"Forget about Teddy for now. We're here. So what exactly are we looking for here?" Jim looked at Dan and then at his uncle.

Dan also turned to his uncle. "What do you think we'll find here? You've been through the place."

His uncle didn't answer. His eyes were moving around the room searchingly.

Dan looked at the walls. What had probably been a fresh coat of paint had been applied two years before, and he couldn't remember his mom ever writing on the walls anyway. He sighed. "Well, the only place in here that has anything in it will be the office."

He led everyone to his dad's favorite room in the house and opened the door. Everyone gravitated to the bookshelf.

Trixie had reached her arm into one of the empty shelves and was knocking on the wooden back. "Hollow."

"So how do we get behind it?" Brian was feeling all around the sides.

"Near the bottom, you should be able to squeeze your hand in and feel the lever." Dan frowned. He always got chills standing in this room.

He walked out the door and down the hall to the kitchen. He remembered the placement of the little Formica table where he'd sit and do his homework or he and his mom would eat together. Even before his dad had left, it was usually just the two of them. Being a musician, his dad often worked during dinner. He sat down on one of the yellow counter-tops and tried to sift through his memories to see if he could remember anything that would make this crazy upside-down world right itself.

"Can I sit with you?" Honey's voice was unusually timid.

He looked over at her and smiled. "Of course. But wouldn't you rather go through the stuff in the hidden room?"

She shook her head, causing her hair to brush against her cheeks. "I would like to go through all those pages you wrote on the typewriter, but I'd rather be here with you. I didn't think you should have to be alone."

"Thanks." Dan held his hand out to her, gently helping her up to sit next to him. He kept her hand in his even after she was seated.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. He tried to remember anything about his mom that would have to do with the code, and at the same time he tried to figure out why Teddy would rent this apartment. But he found it hard to concentrate on anything when Honey was this close to him. He realized he'd been ignoring her, except for the fact he was still holding her hand. "I'm not very good company, am I?"

"It's okay to be quiet sometimes. I imagine you have a lot of memories here." She looked around at the kitchen and Dan followed her gaze.

The wooden cabinets with their yellow countertops were still intact, but the appliances were all gone. "Yeah, I do. Most of them are good." He smiled fondly at Honey, wondering if one day they'd have a kitchen of their own and whether it would be in a huge mansion or a modest little apartment, or maybe a home like the one he had now with the Diamonds. He shook his head. He was far too young to be thinking about settling down and marrying anyone. Besides, the chances of Mr. Wheeler letting his daughter marry him, ever, seemed pretty slim. He ought to worry about being allowed to date her first.

"It's really cozy. The kitchen, I mean. I like it." A dimple appeared on her cheek.

"I like you." Dan stared into her hazel eyes.

She giggled. "You'd better behave."

He grinned. "This not kissing you thing is going to be very, very hard."

There was a sound, a strange but familiar sound. "Someone's opening the front door." Honey's hazel eyes widened with alarm, and he was sure his looked the same.

Dan glanced down the hall. "The closet. We need to close it."

Honey nodded and quickly jumped down and went to the office. Dan glanced around the kitchen looking for something he could possibly use as a weapon. Short of pulling out one of the drawers, there wasn't anything. He went to the front entrance unarmed, ready to see who came in. He hoped it really was Teddy Hill—then at least he would have a chance to ask the man some questions. If he had thought they could all scramble out onto the fire-escape quickly enough, though, he would have opted for that.

"Danny." Teddy Hill grinned at him and Dan let out a sigh of relief. "When Bill and Hank told me there were some kids breaking into my place, I half didn't believe them. Who would want to break into an empty apartment except a squatter? You're not squatting here, are you?"

Dan shook his head. "No, Mr. Hill, just visiting."

"You come here often?" Mr. Hill raised an eyebrow.

"Now and then. Always was surprised to find it still unoccupied." Dan stepped aside letting the older man into his own place. Ironic. "You rent this place?"

Mr. Hill nodded. "I can't seem to give up hope."

"Hope?" Dan walked with Mr. Hill to the window that led to the fire-escape, still opened wide.

The older man stuck his head out and waved to Hank down below. "It's okay. They're my friends. I gave Danny a key but he lost it."

Dan chuckled. "Told you!" he yelled down.

Teddy turned around and took a key off his ring. "Here, just to keep me from being a complete liar."

Dan took the key and smiled his thanks. "How long have you been renting my apartment?"

Teddy laughed; it was a rich, deep laugh. "According to the lease, this is my apartment, not yours. And it has been for twelve years now."

Dan stared at the older man in front of him. He was dressed as he had always seen him, in a pin-striped business suit and a derby hat on his head; his thin mustache was neatly groomed. "Twelve? Then ...."

Teddy nodded. "Your father sublet from me."

"But we lived here longer than that. How ... What ...?" Dan tried to piece it altogether. He leaned against the bare wall.

"You did. Your father rented this place, but during a slow period he couldn't make the rent. I took over so he and your mom and you wouldn't have to move out." Teddy shrugged. "So where are the rest of the kids? Neil and Mart here?"

"You remember their names?" Dan grinned.

Teddy laughed again. "Not every day a couple of strange white kids sit at my table, you know. And when I say strange, I mean strange, not strangers."

Dan laughed with him. "They're here." He looked down the hall at the closed office door. "It's okay!" he called. "Come on out."

The group slowly came out of his dad's office. Dan stared at them all curiously as he realized Ned, Brian, and Diana were missing from the crowd.

Teddy looked at them each in turn. "Mart. Good to see you." He shook the boy's hand. "And you look like you should be his sister?"

Trixie nodded as she introduced herself. "Trixie."

"Trixie?" Teddy turned to Dan. "Interesting name. Can she sing?"

Trixie looked worried. "I can, I guess."

"He's always scoping out new talent. Don't worry about it." Dan rolled his eyes slightly.

"He's right. Ignore me. I'm supposed to be retired." Teddy grinned at Trixie and then looked at the other faces in the group. "And, Neil, you're here."

"Hi, Mr. Hill." Neil shook the man's hand also, and then pushed Harvey forward. "This is my brother, Harvey."

"Nice to meet you," Mr. Hill said formally, shaking Harvey's hand. "You're the one who hates jazz?"

Harvey blushed. "Nothing personal. Just not my thing."

Teddy laughed. "Well, you stick to your thing, then."

"I'm Bob, and this is my twin sister, Barbara." The Hubbells introduced themselves.

"Nice to meet you," he said to Bob, and then he turned to Barbara. "And very nice to meet you."

He looked at the two red-heads in the room. "You, sir, have to be related to Sarah. You look too much like her for that not to be true."

Regan nodded. "She was my sister."

Teddy frowned, sadness in his eyes. "She was a good person. I miss her."

"Thanks." Regan tried to smile.

"And you?" Teddy turned to Jim. "Are you also related to Sarah somehow?"

"No, sir." Jim held out his hand. "Jim Frayne."

"Nice to meet you, Jim. So, you're just a friend of Danny's?"

Jim nodded.

Teddy looked at Honey. "And you, young lady? Are you also a friend of Danny's?"

"Yes. I'm Honey." Honey took Teddy's hand and gave him one of her sweet smiles and a small wink. "And, no, I don't sing."

Teddy laughed heartily again. "So what are you all doing here?"

"I was just showing them where I grew up. They were curious. Since I knew it was empty, I thought why not." Dan gazed at Teddy thoughtfully. "But why is this place still empty? You said something about not giving up hope?"

"Hm. Well, I don't need the money and I can still afford it." The older man shook his head slightly at Dan, and he knew that meant there was more to the story, but he wouldn't want to share it in front of everyone. "I guess I just keep hoping the right people will come along and need this place. Call me a silly old fool."

"You're hardly silly, sir." Neil disagreed with that statement. "You're a successful musician and business man, not a fool at all."

Teddy grinned. "I think that's the formula for a fool right there. But I've been standing here keeping you from," Teddy gestured with his hand around the apartment, "exploring the place, I suppose?"

"Not much to explore," Dan admitted. He wondered if Teddy knew about the closet.

"Well, you have a key now. Be sure to lock the door when you leave." Teddy turned back to the front door. "You may still want to leave the window unlocked, just in case you really do lose the key." He winked and then waved a general goodbye to the crowd.


chapter 6: you'd get to know me too well