“Four.” Realizing she knew nothing about him—besides the fact that Mitchell was a B+ student, was going to college in New York state to learn to be a photographic…? artist, and that his wealthy parents owned a yacht—“How many brothers have you? Any sisters?” Susan asked.
Envisioning many happy hours spent with Susan babysitting Butchie, “Two brothers, no sisters.” he replied.
“If you kids want to go out for a while, it’s okay with me.” Mister Friedman looked at his wife. “Okay with you, honey?”
December 8, 1951
“The streets must be pretty bad by now. You said you’ll walk wherever you’re going?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’d rather walk anyway.”
“Mitchell, Mrs. Friedman and myself think you seem like a rather nice young man, and even if your approach in meeting my daughter was unorthodox…” Orthodox? Conservative? Reform? Being rather liberal in the practice of their Judaic beliefs, Eric fleeting wondered how staunch the Lipenskys might be. “…I understand the reason you did it, and, to be honest, I admire your chutzpa. So, so long as it’s okay with Susan, it’s okay with Mrs. Friedman and myself if you two kids see each other.” Sensing, He’s not going to be just another boy. And, Even if he’s not going to be a doctor, lawyer or—at the very least—a C.P.A., maybe we can get the boy to change his mind. And if not, he could be a good catch anyway. “But,” he said, “don’t give us any reason to be sorry that we made this decision. Okay?”
“No, sir!” Looking directly into the older man’s eyes, “I promise you won’t be sorry!”
“And bring that B+ average up to an A, okay?”
Answered a bit less enthusiastically, “Yes, sir.”
Susan wore a fur-lined black leather coat along with fuzzy, white knit mittens and a matching hat that tied beneath her chin. Looking at her as they walked down the stairs, Jesus, he thought, fighting the urge to take her into his arms and kiss her, she’s so beautiful! And still could not believe that he was really there, with Susan.
Outside, the temperature was still barely below freezing and snow still fell, but there was no wind, and even though the vapor of their breath was visible, they were not cold.
“Your parents are nice people, but God, for a minute there I thought they were going to burn me at the stake.”
“Kind of reminded you of the Spanish Inquisition, huh?”
“Yeah, it sure did.”
They walked slowly, hesitantly. Their hips touched frequently and Mitchell’s bare hand often, “accidentally,” brushed Susan’s mittened hand. Walking on the outside, as they came to a curb he took hold of her elbow, then, reaching the other side of the street or alley, reluctantly releasing her elbow, Susan’s arm would fall back to her side.
Content to be together, at this close proximity, neither had spoken, but now, “Mitchie,” looking at him over her shoulder, “did you tell them… did you tell my parents everything?”
Oh, God! He desperately wanted to tell her the truth about himself, about the type of student he really was, but was positive that if he did it would put a strain on—if not completely sever—their barely-budding relationship, especially now that he had lied about just about everything to her parents.
This whole thing was so improbable: Going shopping with his parents; he never went shopping with his parents. His father wanting coffee just at that time, just across the street from Walgreens. Mrs. Friedman and her daughter coming into Walgreens just at that time, too. And finding the courage to talk to her. And she’d listened to him! And now, By God, he was here, with her! And, he was sure—although having no idea just how much she did—Mitchell was sure that Susan liked him also. And the thought that, It is! That, It must be God! That, God wanted me to meet Susan! Why else? How else could this have happened? Earlier, as it was happening, he’d responded to Mister Friedman’s questions—with the exception of the size of Walter’s boat—without thinking beyond the moment, but now, Work! The inkling of a thought coming to him. Maybe, if I work my ass off, maybe I still have time to buckle down. Maybe I can go to Rochester to take an entrance exam. Maybe, if I work my ass off, maybe I can make it! At that moment Mitchell decided: If college is that important to Susan! If that’s what she wants, then dammit! I will do it!
“Well,” he said, “I did stretch the truth,” holding his thumb and forefinger a fraction apart, “just a little.”
“Mitchell,” Stopping, turning, she looked at him. “It’s important that I know, right now! What did you stretch the truth about?”
Looking at her, “Uh,” swallowing, “the boat.”
“The boat? You mean you don’t have a boat?”
“Oh, yeah,” forcing a chuckle, “we’ve got a boat alright, but I think, maybe, your folks got the wrong impression because maybe I made it seem like it’s a yacht, and it’s not quite… well, yeah, it’s my dads yacht, but even so, it’s only sixteen feet long.”
No doubt about it, Susan did like Mitchell; she liked him more than she, at the moment, comprehended or would admit to. If his family were rich—which they well may be—and if they did have a yacht, a real yacht, it would certainly be icing on the cake. She was disappointed, but, beginning to walk again, “Okay, Mitchie, if that’s the worst thing you, uh, stretched the truth about, it’s okay…”
The plume of vapor from his mouth evidenced a sigh of relief.
“…but I did think that maybe we’d be able to go sailing off to Tahiti or someplace,” attempting to make a joke of her disappointment.
“Yeah,” looking at her wistfully, “that would be nice!”
Beginning to walk again, when their hands brushed, he took hold of hers, and was gratefully reassured when he felt her fingers curl about his.
Their coats hanging on hooks on the outside of the booth, hands held atop the table, sitting across from each other on cracked, Naugahyde seats, “Hot chocolate and apple pie, please.”
Cold air having painted a red blush on her cheeks, unable to take his eyes from Susan’s face, “Me, too, I’ll have the same.”
“Mitchie, You’re embarrassing me, stop it!”
“What? Oh, sorry.” Lowering his gaze, thinking a moment, “You know,” he said, “it all seems so improbable. Why did I go with my folks today? Why’d my dad want coffee? Why’d I suggest Walgreens, of all places? And why did you and your mom come in just then and sit directly across from us? And also, looking at your mom, she doesn’t seem like a Walgreens kind of a lady.”
“No, she really isn’t. As a matter of fact, before we went to Walgreens we tried the coffee shop at Field’s, but it was so packed that we decided to go across the street.”
“That figures… And then there’s meeting you like I did, with your mother there! And now I’m here, looking at you. Just looking at you,” he said emotively. “God…” searching for the right words, “Susan, you make my eyes feel good.” Stopping, looking out the window, thinking, “I know it sounds crazy,” his eyes back on her face, “but… I don’t know. But, Sue, I think I…” He knew what he wanted to say, but was afraid to say.
“Mitchie,” sandwiching his hand between hers, “what were you going to say?”
“Nothing,” looking out the window again. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“Yes… Yes you were!” Lifting his chin, turning his head, looking into his eyes, “Tell me, Mitchie! What were you going to say?”
“Susan, I can’t! It’ll sound so stupid you’ll think I’m an idiot.”
“No! I will not think it’s stupid! And unless you want to have our first fight right now, you’d better tell me!” Smiling wanly, holding the first two fingers of his right hand, squeezing them in her closed fist, “Better tell me, Mister, or I’ll bust ’em off!”
“You’re going to bust ’em off, huh? God,” he smiled, “you’re so sweet.” The smile fading, the look on his face suddenly serious, “Sue, I…”
Waiting to hear the words. Wanting to hear the words but afraid of the words, and her response.
“This is crazy. We just met each other, today. This is the first time we’ve been out together, or, for that matter, now’s first time we’re even alone.” Stopping, looking out the window, collecting his thoughts, “But, Sue,” turning back, looking into her eyes, “I feel like I’ve known you all my life, and right now—and believe me, I know it sounds screwy—but I cannot remember what life was like this morning, before I met you.” Moving her hand to his lips—giving into the compulsion he had less than an hour ago, when they were standing in her hallway—he kissed Susan’s hand. “You’re what I dream of when I dream of a girl. It’s you I’ve always dreamt of,” he said passionately. “Oh, God, I feel so dumb, but I can’t help it, I knew it the second I saw you today.” Hesitating, whispering, “I think…. No, Sue, I know, I do; I love you.” Overtaken by a tide of emotion, his throat thickening, Mitchell’s eyes became moist, then overflowed.
She’d wanted the words, expected the words, but never expected the deep-felt sincerity witnessed by his tears.
“I love you,” he repeated. “That’s why I did what I did today.” Scrubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands, “I knew it the second I saw you. I couldn’t just walk out of your life, or let you walk out of my life. What I told your mother is true : I’m not like that! Actually I’m kind of shy and thought I’d never go up to a girl like I did,” he smiled, “especially if she’s with her mother, and say, ‘Hi, there, I’m Mitch Lipensky and I just fell in love with your daughter, so can I have her phone number so I can call her so we can get to know each other so that, maybe… Oh, God, so that maybe she’ll fall in love with me, too’.”
“Mitchie, I don’t know what to say.” She did, though. Susan knew exactly what she wanted to say.
“God, Susan, I’m such a jerk.”
“No you’re not! Why would you say such a thing?”
“Why? First off,” exaggerating slightly, “I’m sitting here,”averting his face, “crying like some kind of a baby.”
“Here you go, kids.”
Mitchell turned back when the waitress left.
“Mitchie, I don’t think you’re a jerk at all. Guys always think they’ve got to act like… guys. I think it’s really beautiful.”
“Oh, yeah! Grown men always cry!”
“What I mean is, it’s wonderful that you can show your feelings this way.” Trying to get a hold on her own emotions, cutting into the pie, Susan put a piece in her mouth.
“Maybe you think it’s neat for a guy to cry when he tells you he loves you, but personally I think it’s really dumb and I feel like a dope.”
Placing her fork onto the edge of plate, looking him in eye, “No, it’s not dopey at all! Don’t feel that way, Mitchie. Do you think you’d have ever gotten my number if I didn’t want you to have it? I saw you there too, you know. And I was wondering how I was going to meet you, but a girl can’t just go up to a guy and introduce herself, especially,” smiling, “if she’s with her mother.” Stopping, debating with herself, wondering if she should go on, and if she did, just how much she should say. “Then, when you stood up, I thought you were leaving,” her throat thickening, “and when you put your jacket down and came over to me…” hesitating again, thinking, No, don’t tell him! But, her emotions at play, too, “it was like God was answering my prayer.”
Absorbing her words, quiet a few seconds, “Praying?” he asked incredulously. “You were actually praying to meet me?”
Swallowing, “Yes,” blinking back tears, Don’t say it, but, “Mitchie, I feel like you do,” Susan whispered. “I love you, too.”
“You love me?” Daring to believe, but fully overwhelmed by this emotional declaration. “You love me!” Feeling the thickening in his throat once again, but able, this time, to hold back tears, touching his thumb to her cheek, lifting a running tear, putting the tear onto his tongue, “There, Sue, now we’re a part of each other.”
Taking her hand, holding her palm to his mouth Mitchell kissed Susan’s hand, and kissing it, smelling the fragrance of Susan’s flesh, God! Thinking his thought again, “Susan,” he said, moving her hand from his lips, turning it, studying her hand as if to confirm that this was truly happening, that this was truly Susan’s hand, “This whole thing…” he said reflectively. “I’m not a religious guy, Sue, not at all. But don’t you see why it happened?” So long as she had mentioned God and praying, even though he fully believed it, still, he didn’t feel too “corny” saying, “It’s God! God wanted us to meet each other. Why else would we both be at Walgreens, of all places, at the same time? And how come, all of a sudden, did I have the nerve to go over to talk to you and your mother? And why would you and me… you and I… fall in love with each other the second we saw each other? Why?”
Truly believing, “God.” Susan answered. “God!”
…Samson. Walking slowly in the thickening snow, strangely, the feel of Susan’s bare hand in his brought biblical Samson to mind. And as Samson knew his hair, his strength, was a gift from God, Mitchell sincerely felt that Susan was his gift from God. And with her inexplicable, seemingly completely reciprocal love, for the first time in his life he felt he could do monumental things—yes, even pass a college entrance exam.
Walking with Susan, Mitchell Lipensky felt a spiritual warmth and an aura of physical comfort that gave him the sensation of literally walking on air.
Turning off brightly lit Peterson Avenue onto the comparative darkness of Talman Avenue, at a point between the waning light of one streetlight and the increasing brightness of the next, as though arriving at a preordained location, stopping, turning to each other, his arms about Susan’s waist, her arms about Mitchell’s neck, for a long moment each looked at the shadowed face of the other through the falling snow and semi-darkness…
Their lips touched…
Soft… Pure… As soft and pure and chaste as the falling snow that swirled about them.
Each standing within the arms of the other, the bulk of their winter clothing separating their physical bodies, both sensed the deeply felt mental warmth of loving, and being loved. For this, their first kiss, sensing their universes’ spin, nothing more… nothing other than this purely chaste kiss was needed, nor wanted.
Mitchell had a far-off sense of kissing this kiss before, of being in this place before. Other than snowflakes, though, he had a remembrance of… fireflies. And this sensation of déjà vu added to the mysticism of this night, and of this soul-moving kiss.
In wonder, the simple word, “Oh,” was said, because now, for the first time in the years of her life—other than the love of a child for her parents, or baby brother—Susan Friedman realized the meaning of love.