Khaki-wacky, off the cob, mud, joe, lettuce…
The words seemed to pop off the screen to Ally, and she received them with a certain thrill.
Jive-bomber, floy floy, gammon, hen fruit…
A juvenile giggle escaped her bright red lips, just painted, as she said in surprise to the emptiness around her, “A middle school boy must have thought of that…” Then, cocking her head slightly to the right and scrunching her eyebrows tightly, she corrected herself. “No, probably a highschool boy that didn’t have a girlfriend and still laughed about farts.” Then closing her eyes and lifting her face to the light in her office, she pictured first jazz music in an open outdoor plaza. Brightly colored pumps and black dress shoes danced vivaciously on the perfectly smooth cement, floral and polka-dotted skirts swished with the ever-changing beat, and sparkling eyes were never scarce.
An eruption of laughter bursted from the crowd when two dandys twirled each other to get some laughs. Two girls in matching red, white, and blue outfits whispered for a moment before running up to their men and splitting them apart, laughing and commenting on their “outrageous humor.” The air smelled heavily of fried fast-food, bathed in powdered sugar or ketchup. Past the plaza, a little girl clasped onto her daddy’s hand with both of her own and swung in front of him, pleading with a smile to take her on the ferris wheel. “It’ll be like a date! Daddy, did you and Mama go on the ferris wheel with each other?”
He paused before answering, “We did, darlin.’ We went when we first met.” The little girl squeezed her eyes shut and leaned to the side to show she was thinking really hard. After a few seconds of silence from her, she asked gleefully, “Since Mama’s gone, can I marry you?”
This request couldn’t help but bring a smile to the father’s face. He squatted down so he was eye-level with her. “You wanna marry me, honey?” His daughter beamed straight in his face, and nodded as much as she could. “But you need to call me ‘doll’ and ‘sugar.’”
“Because that’s what all husbands call their wives. And I want to be your wife!”
“But honey, someday there will be a boy that you really like. You’ll fall in love with him and you’ll marry him. And I’ll get to walk you down the aisle, and you’ll have on a very pretty white dress--”
“And pearls, too. And you’ll have your hair all done up pretty just like your mother, and you’ll say you love him in front of everybody, and then you’ll be married.”
“And we’ll live together forever and ever and have lots of daughters and sons and I’ll dress them up just like this!” She gestured to her bright red and spring green dress. Her father chuckled and slid his arm under her, picking her up so she was eye level with him. “And you’ll always be my Melody.”
A soft knocking on the door tore Ally’s daydream from her. Disappointed and caught off guard, she flew out of her seat and opened the door. Upon opening it, she sighed with relief and inwardly thanked God that it wasn’t her boss--who knows what would happen if her boss caught her zoning out again? She could just hear her words. ‘You know, Ally, this is the sixth time this week like this. Last week it was only twice. If this keeps happening, we’ll be behind…’ the look of disapproval would be evident and Ally would rush to tell her it was fine, that it would never happen again--even though she knew those words were probably empty. Instead, it was Jacob.
Jacob was a friend from highschool. She meant it to stay that way, although it seemed as though every fibre of his being was fighting the status quo. She felt tolerant of him, but there was never any spark between them. To her, it looked like he just wanted to make it work--for some bizarre reason she could not wrap her head around. But he had always been kind, loyal, and a friend to her, so she didn’t feel the need to push him back too far. Just far enough.
“Jacob,” she began, eyes wide and speech nearly at a stutter. “W-what are you doing here? At my office…?” But Jacob’s brown eyes darkened, nearly as dark as his chocolate waves. Charissa, a friend of Ally’s used to call him the “100% cacao boy,” for the exact shade of his hair. But Ally shook away these rambling thoughts and adjusted her expression to one of concern. At the moment, she couldn’t decide whether she really wanted to know was wrong or if she couldn’t care less.
“Ally, we need to stop playing games.” His voice sounded out about as smooth as the chocolate his hair reminded her of, but she told herself it was mere speculation--and besides, she didn’t like him like that. Weren’t they past this? So she plastered on her sweetest, most consoling and ‘you-know-better’ smiles before replying, “Jacob, you know how I feel about you. We’ve been good friends for years and you’ve always been there for me.” She left him a look that meant, ‘What do you mean?’
Jacob sighed and shook his head. “Do I, Ally? Do you-do you realize how we’ve been going in circles? I know I haven’t tried to carry this on without at least some encouragement. Why do you say yes and then no?”
Ally’s heart raced, and she found her cheeks suddenly flushed. Maybe she did like him, just a bit. And she admitted she may have encouraged him… just a tad. But why did she keep him away? He continued.
“Ally, you’re so caught up in the past. In-in preserving it somehow in a way that doesn’t last. It’s like you want to be there so much that you’re missing your life in front of you. Charissa doesn’t see you anymore, she says you’re always too tired on the weekends. I’ve seen your drawings at the sketch shop and they’re all of back then. Of father daughter dances, of sisters on the swings, of bicycles and fairs and ice cream. It’s like you want a whole other life and you don’t realize how beautiful this one is and how beautiful you are in it.” He stopped abruptly, processing the words he just said. Ally noticed the hurt in his eyes and the desperation. She knew he liked her a lot--it even seemed like he might love her after all these years of pursuit. But the feelings she felt now, the deep chasm inside her chest and the bubbles in her stomach went against everything she had told herself for the past six years.
Not wanting to think about it, she turned and faced the wall. This contradicted… everything. She didn’t want to be abandoned again. She didn’t want to trust someone, to allow herself to love them. Her voice was clear and even as she spoke the words, “Jacob Bradley, I never want to see you again.” Her voice wasn’t as strong as she had hoped, and though it wavered at the end, she knew that he knew she was decided. A few moments of silence passed. Then slowly turning back to face the door, with a sliver of hope that he was still there to throw her arms around, she saw only the empty hallway. Jacob was gone, and so was his persistence.
It was a year since that last encounter with Jacob. From the moment she had left the office that day, despite all her efforts, Ally knew her heart had been reached again, and that she had coldly slapped his hand away. But what followed was more heartbreaking for her. It was silence. There were no texts, no emails, no phone calls from Jacob. She caught herself more than once daydreaming about him and his dark brown eyes. She missed his humor, his steadfastness. Even when he had tried to just be her friend he was there. But now that was all gone. Because she didn’t want to make her feeling of guilt and regret worse, she broke into a fresher lifestyle.
Ally quit her job at the newspaper one month later--something she never would have dreamed of before. All her doodles and drawings she entered in contests were no longer of ‘40s scenes, but of a certain man with chocolate brown hair and chestnut eyes. She clung to the hope that maybe he would see them again and call her. Or leave a note at her doorstep or anything! But he never did.
She moved in with Charissa, and got a day job at the local florist. It wasn’t her first choice, but at least it was an artistic environment she could work with.
To every bouquet she dealt with she applied her tasteful eye. To every man who entered in search for the perfect arrangement for his girl she lent her most careful attention and assistance; for all of them looked to her like Jacob.
On weekends she went on hikes and spent her time outside. To Charissa she confided everything--but stayed cautious when the subject was the 100% cacao boy. Occasionally she would find a chocolate bar--100% cacao, of course--on the dining room table, as if to encourage her to reach out to him. Sometimes she would... almost. She’d drive by his mom’s house where he had lived; she knew he wanted to save for land of his own. But she never got out of the car.
After months of Charissa probing for progress concerning him, Ally began dating. With Charissa’s help, she applied on almost every dating website and wound up going on what seemed like hundreds of empty dates. Like she had thought with Jacob, there was never any spark. And that was the problem.
Most of the time, Ally compared the men she met to Jacob--down to the smallest detail.
Jacob wouldn’t hold his napkin like that.
Jacob wouldn’t try to make me talk.
Jacob could make me laugh.
Jacob’s eyes were darker.
Jacob’s smile was brighter.
Jacob cared about this.
More than once, Ally would be at a table with her date, dressed up and prepared, then staring intensely at the menu, muttering the food names over and over. She never went out with the same man twice.
Finally she was fed up. She made her resolve to see Jacob. If he didn’t want her, she would be an old maid. If he did… she didn’t let herself think of it too much--just in case it didn’t work out. So on one brisk October day, Ally stepped into her car and drove to the Bradley’s.
It was gorgeous outside. The sun was shining through the autumn-colored leaves, birds were singing, the country station had her favorite songs playing, and all Ally could think about was seeing Jacob again. She smiled to herself as she thought of her brown-eyed man.
Gone was the bright red lipstick of recent years and the pale skin; replaced by a mellow coral and rosy pink cheeks. Gone also was the all-consuming desire to live in the ‘40s. She hungered for adventure. For a new day, a new lifetime. For any time she could get with the love of her life. And today, of all days, she felt like she could do it. Like she could knock on the door of that old house and ask his mother for him. Or if it was him that answered the door, maybe she would throw her arms around him then and there. So that’s just what she did.
Ally bounded up the steps of the old craftsman home and knocked on the faded green door with a certain eagerness that had been bereft of her for years before. She knew what she wanted, and there was not a doubt in her mind; even his blue pickup was in the driveway!
In answer to her excited raps, Ally heard quick footsteps coming toward the door. It swung open and a frail, petite woman with graying hair and bright pink lipstick greeted her with a grunt. She squinted her eyes at Ally and looked her up and down twice before a look of recognition crossed her face.
“Ally?” she asked quietly, but her tone was not soft. The lovestruck girl at the door scoured her brain for a polite response. “Mrs. Bradley! How are you? It has been a long time since I’ve seen you. I came here to see Jacob. Is he here?” Ally knew the answer would be ‘yes’; his car was in the driveway. But an expression of pain spread over the woman’s wrinkled face and she answered softly, “He is not.” After hesitating a moment, she added, “Will you come in?” Ally, of course, took this as meaning that Jacob was perhaps on a walk, and would return shortly.
Mrs. Bradley led her to the living room couch and sat down. She looked straight into the younger girl’s face before stating firmly, but not ungently, “I will not offer you anything to eat or drink, because I know you will not be staying long after I tell you.” Ally furrowed her eyebrows in concern. “Is he okay? Did he go somewhere?” But the older woman’s reaction surprised her. Her eyes glazed over and her breath hitched. “He did. He went to Heaven.”
Ally’s vision blurred. Her heart sank as deep as it could, and all of a sudden she despised and envied the singing birds outside. It felt as though her heart was being squeezed and she could barely breathe. “He’s gone?” she whispered in disbelief. A hot tear ran down her cheek. The woman beside her nodded and looked away. So that was it. He was gone. She had said she never wanted to see him again and now she never would. He was lost to her forever. How long, she wondered, had this been reality? How… it must have been long ago. Three months, perhaps? Ally could barely get the question out.
“Four months and twenty-six days,” said the other, still looking away. Ally let out a sob as she stared at her hands in her lap. She grasped onto the hem of her jacket and fiddled with it, not sure how to express the unbearable feeling of loss. Now she could understand why some people went to alcohol to get numb. She ran through her memories of him. His smile! His attractive laugh and his witty remarks. His ‘no games’ attitude and sincerity that he brought to life.
Ally felt a shaking hand on hers, and she slowly lifted her head to its owner. Mrs. Bradley smiled at her and said in a wobbly voice, “He loved you, Ally. He loved you with all his heart. He-he told me about your drawings, about every time he saw you or called you. And I thought you despised him so I let myself be so, so angry at you. But seeing those tears roll down your face…” she lifted a hand to Ally’s cheek, “and that heart weeping for him… I know I was wrong.”
In that moment Ally forgave that woman of anything she held against her, but as was predicted, she did not stay.
Thanking Mrs. Bradley for her time, Ally stepped quietly down the stairs, climbed into her car, and began to drive home. All she saw was the 100% cacao boy and his smiling eyes. All she felt was his arms around her in comfort. So when the car jerked with the blaring of a horn and the airbag knocked her out, she didn’t notice. All she knew was her fantasy and her vain hope of a lost love.