The year was 1959. Sixteen-year-old Henry Walsh walked into the crowded gymnasium holding the manicured hand of his date, Erica Astor. He pasted on a bright smile and did his best to look like he was having fun. Erica smiled back at him, showing that he had fooled her. Henry took a small flask out of the pocket of his blazer. Erica frowned at him.
“I wish you wouldn’t drink,” she said, her tone icy.
Henry shrugged. “I’ll take my fun while I can get it,” He thought. “By this time next year, I will be enrolled in NYU business school and embark on the life my father chose for me. Which includes you,”
He glanced at the beautiful blond Erica at his side. Her hair was platinum blond, and she had light blue eyes, giving her an icy, untouchable appearance. Erica reminded Henry of an expensive vase, made to be admired but brittle and uninviting to touch.
She batted her long eyelashes at him. Henry let none of his thoughts show on his face, only allowing Erica to see the aloof aristocrat that she wanted to see.
“My father has arranged my entire life for me, even choosing my future wife. I don’t love Erica, but my father has assured me that I will grow to love her.”
“Henry, you made it!” A voice called his name. He looked around to see his friend Charles approaching. Henry gave him a friendly slap on the back. Charles attended the same private school, and they both had the emblem of the school embroidered on each of their blazers. “This is my date, Erica Astor,” Henry said.
“Charmed,” Erica said, gripping Charles’s hand with her fingertips.
“Nice to meet you, Erica. This is my date, Rosanna.”
Henry’s false smile faded. Beautiful was too weak of a word for her.
But strong. Rose’s eyes were green, like the ocean. Her high cheekbones and sculpted face gave her an exotic appearance. Henry had always thought Erica was beautiful, but suddenly she faded to spun sugar’s insignificance, lovely in form but with no substance.
“Nice to meet you, Rosanna,” Henry said, his voice roughened by the lump in his throat. He brought her offered hand to his lips and kissed it. Rosanna smiled and blushed prettily. It seemed to Henry like time had slowed down, and it was just the two of them in the world.
“Well, it was nice seeing you, Henry,” Charles said with an edge to his tone. “The music is starting.” Charles wrapped Rosanna’s arm in his possessively and turned to walk away.
“Save me a dance, dear Rose,” Henry called, ignoring Erica’s outraged gasp. Rose turned to look back at him with eyes sparkling and graced him with a dimpled grin that made Henry’s heart soar.
She nodded, and then she and Charles vanished into the crowd of dancers.
Later, after a few dances with Erica, Henry found the other couple and cut in just as the band was beginning to play the song ‘Mack the Knife’ by Bobby Darin. As Henry led her through the swing steps, he was pleased to see that she was a skilled dancer. Rose was close to his height, so they were well matched. Erica was several inches shorter than him, so it wasn’t as fun to dance with her. Henry and Rose danced several more dances before they were breathless.
“That was so much fun,” Henry said. “Are you ready for a break and some punch?”
“Yes. I had fun, though; you are a wonderful dancer, Henry.”
Henry admired how her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes sparkled. Her red hair was cut short in a trendy bob that had swirled around her head as they danced, glinting with the reflected lights in the ceiling.
“Your hair is gorgeous. Not every girl is good looking enough to wear it short, but it suits you,”
“Thank you,” Rose replied.
It seemed like the most natural action in the world for him to slip his arm around Rose, pulling her closer as they made their way to the refreshment table. Until he caught sight of his friend Charles, Erica, right beside him, they were watching him with eyes as hard as wet stones.
Later that night, Henry whispered in Rose’s ear, “I want to see you again. May I have your phone number?” Rose gave it to him.
The night of their first date, Henry stood in front of the mirror in his bathroom, taking extra care with his appearance. He added a little extra pomade to make his wavy blonde hair glossy. Henry hadn’t slept well the night before, and his blue eyes looked slightly bloodshot, so he put a couple drops of Visine in each one.
Henry picked up Rose on his motorcycle, where they could both wear helmets and be unrecognizable. When Henry walked into his home after dropping Rose off after their second date, his father Phillip was sitting on the couch waiting for him.
“Where have you been?” Phillip asked.
Phillip just stared at Henry with his cold blue gaze, waiting.
Henry stared right back.
“I had you followed,” Phillip said, swirling the amber liquid in the rock glass he held. “I know all about her. She isn’t acceptable.”
“Her name is Rose.”
“You are engaged, Henry! What do you think you are doing?” A vein started pulsing in Phillip’s temple.
“I love her.”
“Bah! She is your first infatuation, that’s all,” Phillip waved his hand dismissively. “These things never last. Keep her as a mistress if you want, after you marry Erica, who comes from a decent family.”
Henry was too shocked to speak.
“Don’t look so horrified,” Philip continued. “Your mother knows I have my little dalliances. She never cared. Neither will your Rose, not if you keep the gifts and money coming.”
Bile rose in Henry’s throat, and he swallowed hard.
Phillip sighed and reached into the pocket of his purple silk robe. He extended his index finger toward Henry, dangling a set of car keys.
“I bought you a Maserati 3500 GT. You can keep it if you marry Erica.”
Henry accepted the car and used it to pick up Rose for several more dates. She was impressed by the car, but she told him.
“Wealth doesn’t make the man.”
Henry turned to look at Rose with surprise. “You’re so different from anyone else I know. I’ll never forget.”
That night when Henry got home, his father was again waiting on the couch for him. This time Henry’s fiancee Erica was sitting on one side of Phillip, Henry’s mother Eleanor was on his other side, her blonde hair arranged in an elegant braided coif that curled around her head like a crown.
“You are spending all of your time with this girl and neglecting your fiancee. What are you thinking?!” Were the first words Phillip said as Henry walked in.
“I think we should hear him out,” Eleanor said, wrapping her string of pearls around her index finger.
“You need to make a decision,” Phillip said, ignoring her, lines standing out on his forehead and a vein pumping in each temple. “Now, tonight.”
“I already have,” Henry said. He walked over to Erica and knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his.
Henry smiled at his wife as she closed the photo album.
“That was quite a memorable night. I feel like it happened yesterday. I miss that Maserati--so many wonderful memories. We drove that car on our honeymoon to the hospital the night our daughter was born. I was sad to see it go.” She said.
“Me too. They don’t make cars like that anymore. Honey...I noticed you have a picture of her and me, taken at the dance. Why did you keep it?”
Henry’s wife shrugged.” I liked the way you looked that night, that’s all. And even I have to admit, you two looked like a cute couple, dancing up a storm. It looked like you were having fun.”
“Are you alright? You look sad all of a sudden,” Henry asked, frowning and stroking her long hair back over her shoulder.
She leaned against him. “Do you ever think about her?”
“I haven’t thought of her in years. But I’ll always remember my Brooklyn Rose. I’m sure she married long ago. Women as beautiful as her don’t stay single for long.”
Henry’s wife wasn’t jealous because of his words; she knew she had his heart.
A teenage girl bounded into the room. “I’m ready! Can we go? I don’t want to miss the start of the movie!” The girl said excitedly.
“Ok, Aysha. We’re coming!” Aysha’s grandmother said as she set the photo album on the coffee table and stood up.
She and Henry put their coats on. Aysha bounded out the door and kicked snow around excitedly while her grandparents followed slowly.
“OOh, popcorn! Can we get a big bucket of popcorn to share, Grandma Rose?”
“Of course, Aysha,” Rose said, laughing at Aysha’s enthusiasm.
Henry kissed his wife’s cheek. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate. Happy birthday, my little Brooklyn Rose.”