“Got her number, eh.”
“Yes. Oh, God, Dad, yes, I got her number.”
Clasping his son’s shoulder, “Good for you.”
The unaccustomed praise from his father warmed Mitchell almost—not quite, but almost—as much as knowing that he was going to know Susan, and whenever he looked across the counter, which was almost constantly, it seemed to him that Susan was looking at him also, and their eyes touched, and held until she, or he, averted them.
Outside again, the first signs that the snow was beginning to stick was evidenced by the semicircles of slush left by automobile wiper blades.
December, 8, 1951
Home again, the afternoon went so slowly. The minute hand crawled, and the hour hand, God! The hour hand didn’t move at all.
3:22… 3:41… 4:01… 4:18… 4:31… 4:49… 5:00… 5:16…
He’d told himself, I’m not going to call before 6:00.
5:20… Oh, come on, already! 5:28… 5:35… Shit, what’s twenty-five lousy minutes? His hand shaking, he dialed: S-H-3-5-7-5-8. The phone rang once… twice… and ri… into the third ring.
Susan had been sitting on the sofa with her legs folded under her with a book on her lap that had been opened to page 123 for the last half-hour. The phone, on a long cord, was on the cushion beside her…
4:47… 4:53… 5:14… 5:21… 5:29…
She had been eagerly, oh, yeah, awaiting the call.
5:31… 5:35… and when the phone did, finally, ring, it startled her. Ringing once… twice, she’d told herself that, I’m not going to answer it in less than four rings! But upon the third, ri…, her heart pounding, “Hello.”
“Susan?” His heart pounding. “Is this Susan?”
Oh, God, his voice sounds so nice! “Yes,” doing her best to sound indifferent, “this is Susan. Who’s calling, please?”
His heart dropping to his stomach, But, of course; anyone could be calling. “Susan, hi! It’s Mitchell.”
“Mitchell? Mitchell, who?”
Dropping even further, his heart is stopped from oozing out of his rectum only by his belt. “Lipensky. Susan, it’s Mitch Lipensky. You remember? I met you today, in Evanston.”
“Oh, yes, that Mitchell.”
That Mitchell? “Susan, please,” trying his new warm-’em-up line, “don’t call me that.”
Biting, “What shouldn’t I call you?”
“Mitchell. Don’t call me Mitchell.”
“Why not, it’s your name, isn’t it?”
“Sure, but Mitchell sounds so formal. Please, call me Mitch, or when you get to know me better, Mitchie.”
Wanting to sound aloof, but unable to, “Okay, then you don’t call me that either.”
“What shouldn’t I call you?”
“Susan. Don’t call me Susan.”
Smiling, going with it, “Why not, it’s your name, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but Susan sounds so formal. Call me Sue, or when you get to know me better… if you ever call me Suzie, I’ll kill you!”
“ ‘When you get to know me better,’ huh?” he repeated, understanding, possibly for the first time in his life, what a girl really, maybe, means when she says something: She wants us to know each other! “Know what?”
Blushing because he’d caught what she hadn’t planned on throwing, “What?” Susan asked.
“Susan has always been one of my all-time favorite names.”
“Oh, yeah, sure, come on.”
“Yeah, it’s true . I’ve always loved the name Susan because every Susan I’ve ever known has been beautiful… except for you.”
“Yeah; you’re unbelievably beautiful! You do know, don’t you, that you look like Elizabeth Taylor?”
Susan was well aware of her looks. As a matter of fact, much like Mitchell, the way she looked also made her feel self-conscious and shy, and this, to those that did not know her, also came across as conceit—which to some extent it was—and with a girl, if you’re too good-looking guys will often feel intimidated or not good enough or they will assume that the girl is “taken” and stay away. So Susan Friedman did not have as many dates, and was not as not popular as one Mitchell Lipensky might think. Besides, this girl, and her mother and father were very particular when it came to what boy she dated, or what boy she was seen with. But so far the boy on the other side of the telephone line—omitting the unconventional way they had met—did meet Susan’s lofty criteria.
“Well, yes,” Susan said softly, attempting to sound honest but still modest in answering Mitchell’s extremely complimentary question, and now—though she had been searching her mind since first seeing him on the other side of the counter—she suddenly realized whom Mitchell reminded her of. “And do you know you look like John Derek?”
In the past he’d been compared to Tyrone Power, and recently to… “John Derek?” he said, not attempting, in the least, to sound modest. “The guy in the movie Knock On Any Door who said, “‘Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse’?” Flattered she’d noticed, “Me, look like John Derek? Nah!”
“Where do you go to school, Mitchell, uh, Mitchie.”
Mitchie! “Niles. I’ll be graduating in the spring. You?”
“Senn. I’m a junior. Are there many Jewish kids in Niles?”
On the one hand, thinking, She’s a junior, perfect! On the other hand, Mitchell had always felt—and was fairly correct in his thinking—that the most beautiful girls on the north side went to Senn High School, and the richest and most conceited.
“Yeah, lot’s of ’em. Actually, besides me, I think there’s only one other.”
“In the whole school?”
“Yes, I think.”
“Susan,” Mrs. Friedman called from the kitchen, “dinner’s ready.”
“Mitchie,” truly not wanting to end this conversation without a date to meet being set, “dinner’s ready and I’ve got to go.”
The very last thing he wanted to say at that moment was goodbye, so, “Hey,” he said hopefully, “you busy tonight?”
The question came so fast and was so unexpected that Susan didn’t have time to think the boy/girl thing. Besides, she didn’t want to think the boy/girl thing, “No,” so answered honestly.
Yea! “Great! Listen, Sue, you don’t have to give me an answer right now, but what if I come by tonight, say at about, oh, eight, and we go someplace for dessert.” At the least it would give him an opportunity to call back, and at the best she’d go. “I know you don’t know me,” thinking of Sandra’s parents, “so we won’t drive. I’ll leave the car by your house and we’ll walk. There’s got to be someplace within walking where we can get hot chocolate or coffee and pie or cake, where we can just sit and get to know each other… And Sue, I really want to get to know you. So if your answer is going to be yes don’t eat dessert and I’ll call you back at… what say I call you back around seven and then you can tell me yes or no. But I’m warning you that if you say no I’m going to kill myself, really! So please don’t say no! Please say yes! So I’ll…” not wanting to give Susan a chance to say no, speaking rapidly, he did not allow her the opportunity to say a word—although if he had allowed her a word, the word would have been yes—“talk to you,” glancing at his watch, “in about an hour. Bye.” Pressing the button, breaking the connection, looking at the ceiling, “Oh, God,” he whispered, “please, please let her say yes!”
The phone answered on the second ring, “Sue, it’s…”
“Yes! I don’t want the responsibility of being the reason that the only other Jewish kid at Niles killed himself.”
“Yes? You said yes?”
“Yes. But under one condition.”
“Anything, Sue. You name it.”
“My dad wants to talk to you. He wants to know who’s this guy that goes around picking up girls at Walgreens drug stores.”
“That’s it?” He’d always gotten along pretty well with the parents of girls that he’d dated, sometimes even better than with the girls. “Fine. When should I come?”
About as anxious to see him as he was to see her, “Anytime. Now’s okay.”
“Okay,” he said excitedly. “Be there in a little while. Bye, Sue.” About to hang up, “Hey, what’s your address?”
“Gee, Mitchie, I thought you’d never ask. It’s 6133 Talman. That’s three blocks east of California and just north of Peterson.
Writing the address on the envelope flap she’d given him, “I’ll find it. Believe me, I’ll find it.”
“Don’t you want to know what bell to ring?”
Bell to ring? They live in an apartment! “I know,” he said. “Friedman.”
Surprised, “How’d you know that?”
“You. When you wrote your number you also gave me your name.”
“Gee, Mitch,” she said honestly, “I don’t remember doing that.”
“Oh, sure! You just wanted me to be sure to know who you are.”
Quiet a moment, thinking, That’s true . Susan said, “Maybe you’re right. Okay, see you at about… what? Eight.”
“You bet’j’ya! See you in a while.” Dropping the receiver on the cradle, “Yeah!” Thank you, God!
Still at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper, Walter was dawdling over his coffee.
“Dad, you remember that girl I met today?”
“Do I remember Susan? You haven’t shut up about Susan since you met her. I’m almost sorry I encouraged it.”
“Would you believe…” smiling broadly, “that I’m on my way to her home to take her out for dessert… Okay to take the car?”
“How’s it look outside? Much snow there?”
Bending two slats, Mitchell looked through the Venetian blinds: snowflakes swirled in the glow of streetlights and there was about an inch of accumulation on the ground. “Nah, it’s fine out there, Dad.” If need be, on this night he’d walk through a blizzard to get to Susan.
Without looking up, “Okay, but take it easy.” Turning a page, “It could be getting pretty slippery out there.”
The streets were slippery, and what would normally take twenty to twenty-five minutes took over an hour.
Worried because of the growing accumulation of snow, and knowing that nothing short of an accident would keep him away, she had been standing by her bedroom window watching for him.
Headlights flickered as a slowly-moving car traversed the street, made a U-turn at the next cross street, came back, stopped and parked across the street. When the driver door opened, the dome light lit the car’s interior,
He’s here. Breathing a sigh of relief, Susan stood back, out of sight, watching as he crossed the street. “He’s here!”
“Okay,” in the living room, “he made it.” Mister Friedman said. “Now, will you please relax!”
“Yes, Daddy, now I will.” Going to the intercom by the door, Susan waited for the bell to ring.
It was a newer, two-story, yellow brick building. Inside there were two shiny brass mailboxes on either side of the marble-paneled foyer.
Standing in the foyer, composing himself, Mitchell unbuttoned his coat, straightened his shirt collar, looked at his reflection on the cover of the mailbox marked Friedman, took a deep breath and pushed the button.
After counting to five, Susan pushed the button, and…
It took five very long seconds until…
“Hello,” the voice on the intercom said.
Assuming… rather sure the voice belonged to Susan and not wanting to hear ‘Mitch who,’ “Hello,” he said. “It’s Mitch Lipensky.”
Knowing why he’d said ‘Mitch Lipensky,’ smiling, she pushed the button.
A “Becoming” Excerpt.
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