On The Answer

A while back, Frank offered up a dance step writing challenge to me. (Here’s his post) Which I’m dishing up now, in a somewhat different look. 

Hannah sat on the glossy wooden bench on the auditorium stage and waited for her name to be called. She prayed for a cataclysm to save her- a grease fire in the cafeteria or maybe a meteor landing right on the football field. Either would suffice.

“Hannah Verlander!”

Miss Favisham peered over her canasta readers as a faux ruby chain swung lazily across her graying temples. Her beady eyes followed Hannah to the center of the stage before she barked out another name, “Zachary Davis!”

Hannah’s silver low heels clicked across the stage as Zachary’s caramel Oxfords clacked. She wore a jade flare dress in honor of Ginger Rogers, letting her blonde hair roam across its silky pasture. Zachary looked like a mannequin in his starched white dress shirt and gray slacks, no doubt the ensemble chosen by his Barbie doll girlfriend, Jenna Sinclair.

They took their places as a smattering of students and teachers looked on. Chuck Berry’s Gibson punctured the silence and when his pipes started advancing their soulful method, Hannah’s leg kicked high into a stomp. She took Berry’s twelve bars worth of sound and raised it as Zachary followed along with the slightest hint of a crush creasing his face.

Two steps to Venus and four steps to his Mars and six steps to the Milky Way and then eight steps towards the Sun, and then . . .

Hannah didn’t even feel herself losing gravity until she was spilled across the stage. She quickly rose up, rejecting her dance partner’s assistance as she looked out into the audience to find Jenna weeping with delight along with her eleventh grade coven. She raced off the stage and ran as if the world would never catch her.

“Hannah!” Aunt Lily yelled up the stairs before climbing them and banging on her door.

“What?!” Hannah shouted.

“Open this door if you value your social life!”

Hannah flung the door open before jumping back into bed.

“I’m confused, are you sixteen . . . or six? Because that was the lamest act I’ve seen since my first husband,”

“You made me try out! And now you’re making fun of me?!”

“I’m talking about how you ran away, Hannah!”

“What was I supposed to do? Stand there and listen to them laugh at me?”

“Stand up, Hannah. You stand up and you take it from the top. You don’t quit when things go wrong, you fight. Your mother was a fighter, and so are you,”

“Yeah, well mom’s dead. And I got you as a replacement . . . lucky me,”

“Here, you left these on the bench when you played chicken shit,” Aunt Lily said as she placed Hannah’s glasses on her dresser. “You’re welcome,” 

“I hate you!” Hannah shouted.

“Good to know. It’ll make things less awkward when I sue your ass for back payments when you’re rich and famous,” Aunt Lily said as she slammed the door behind her.

Hannah rose from the bed, plugged in her playlist and danced madly . Step . . and reach for Orion’s favorite swing. Step . . and kick Poseidon out of bed. Step . . and open the windows of Curacao. Step . .  and jump into the universe. 

She stuck every landing.

It had been six months since Hannah’s epic fail, and she was trying out for the spring musical. Zachary had talked her into this one. They began dating shortly after he told Jenna he wasn’t interested in her modern day Athena act.

Outside of her bedroom, the only dancing Hannah had done since that forgettable November afternoon had been with Zachary: In her backyard after date nights, in the gym after one of his basketball games and in the middle of a snow covered street on Valentine’s Day.

Miss Favisham called her to the stage, alone this time. Hannah looked over the small assemblage to find Aunt Lily and Zachary throwing silly faces in her direction. And then the music started and then Hannah forgot all about November.

One step to my favorite song . . two will make him mine . . three steps ventured, four steps gained and five will be divine. Steps five to four will be the chance, steps four to three my bad romance, steps three to two will make them weep, steps two to one are mine to keep. 

When her feet finally touched down again, the audience collected itself in a momentary gasp before rising to their feet in raucous applause. Aunt Lily wooted as Zachary hollered while Miss Favisham whistled with delight. And several rows back, there was Jenna Sinclair, clapping wildly.

Hannah and Aunt Lily sat on the porch and waited for Zachary to pick her up for Senior Prom. They talked about the future: Zachary was going to Iowa State on a basketball scholarship while Hannah would be attending Iowa where she would major in English and Creative Writing.

“Aunt Lily . . I’m scared. Of what comes next,”

“Good. That’s a good thing. It means that whatever comes next is worth it,” She smiled.

“But what if I’m not good enough when I get out there?”

“Oh, you’ll probably get knocked down a time or two. Just remember to stand up, and take it from the top,”

“Yeah but this is different,” Hannah said.

“Kiddo, the challenges we face in life don’t really change as we get older. The rooms just get bigger is all,”

*****

That evening at the dance, Hannah and Zach took to the dance floor to say goodbye to yesterday, one last time before tomorrow called. She trembled with a thrill only he could provoke in her.

He led, holding to her with a strength that settled her. Each step they took was wisdom, each sway a branch of memories they’d prospered, each turn a photograph whose manifest was written in the cursive of stardust. He supplied the path and she supplied the bloom. 

It was Oakdale High School’s 25th High School Reunion. Hannah and Zach had flown in from Chicago for the week to spend time with his family in the lead up. They were local celebrities: She was a renowned author and he coached the men’s basketball team at Northwestern.

Hannah sat at the end of that same glossy wooden bench and looked out over the darkened auditorium. No longer the clumsy, bespectacled little girl with knobby knees, she wondered where the time had gotten to. She smiled at the thought of finding the right dance partner on an otherwise forgettable November afternoon.

“Hey funny face,” Zach said as he walked to his spot on the stage.

Hannah took his cue, moving into position ten feet to his left, preparing herself for the point of contact that would move two worlds into one. They came together in a slow dance with Zach leading her from one step into the next. She no longer needed to recite the steps in her head. She knew them by heart.

“How did you know I was the one?” She whispered in his ear.

“Because you were quick on the draw, and you had a great ass,” Zach laughed.

They came together in a kiss that was interrupted by Hannah’s one time nemesis, Jenna Sinclair. Now a reporter for The Des Moines Register, she was hoping to get a few minutes with the best selling author from their hometown. Zach gave Hannah a kiss before heading back down the hall to the gymnasium as the girls had their sit down.

“I would ask how you guys met but I already know that part,” Jenna began. They both cracked up with this, a million miles removed from high school intrigues.

And when the interview got serious, Hannah shared her story of being on the spectrum and of taking speech therapy and how writing had set her free. She talked about losing her mother while still in elementary school and how her Aunt Lily raised her; turning a lost child into a free spirit of a young woman. She talked of how Aunt Lily had lost her battle with cancer five years ago, but how her lessons prevailed.

“She’s how I met Zach. She’s how you and me made our peace. She’s what made me come back in this auditorium and try again. She’s what made me keep sending out my work, in spite of all the rejection letters. And whenever I feel as if I hit a wall, I just think back on her words . . and they guide me,”

“Just remember to stand up. And take it from the top,”

 

If only . . .

If is such a wickedly precarious word. If is an anomaly of diction in that it is neither here nor there, and yet it elicits a gamut of emotions. For this story, If is a heart wrenching tale of what might have been . . . if only.

If only he had waited. It wasn’t his style, to wait around. Not having known him, I can only hazard a guess this impatience came from having been born into royalty, where life was oftentimes lived inside a giant goldfish bowl for all the world to see. I can’t help wondering if sometimes the kid wished he could have been anyone other than himself. The whole world considered him silver spoon lucky; with all the looks and chances and girls. Perspective tells me his restless soul was desperately looking for his true north. All that money and family history, all those primo jobs and runway models made him a modern day Marco Polo, but it didn’t make him whole.

He’d just had his cast removed the day before. No doubt his ankle was talking back to him, and who’s to know if this compromised his ability to fly that little plane. The one thing that is certain is that the weather wasn’t doing him any favors that night. In the days after, his fellow pilots would mournfully remark at how the conditions were abysmal, and how John should have waited. It didn’t help that he got a late start since the girls were running late that evening. So instead of making the trip with the sun riding shotgun, he had to rely on his instruments. John hadn’t flown solo in a couple months, didn’t have an instrument rating and had precious few hours of night flying under his belt. Add to this the fact he had just upgraded to a Piper Saratoga and was still familiarizing himself with it. He turned down a flight instructor’s offer to accompany him and he decided against having Carolyn provide some navigational skills even though she had done it before. When you add it all up, John was playing with the fates that night. And Lord knows the fates hadn’t been kind to his family.

John was tired but giddy on the day of the flight. He’d taken in a Yankees game the night before, after which he went out with friends for drinks. He showed up to the offices wired. When asked about his final hours, many of his work pals talked about how he had roamed the hallways, making small talk and waiting for the day to be done so he could fly out of town with his wife and sister in law.

He wanted to be with family. The handsome man about town was more grounded than most outsiders ever knew, and family was everything to him. They afforded him a peace that had become increasingly difficult to find inside his stormy personal life. Things with Carolyn weren’t ideal, and the magazine had fallen on hard times. He probably saw the weekend as a respite, an opportunity to decompress and recharge his batteries.

John was big on keeping his promises. It was something he learned from his political lion of an uncle. It was something that had been ingrained in him by a strong mother who had experienced unbearable grief and who had come back stronger. Jacqueline raised her celebrity children to be human beings who understood the world around them and yearned to give back rather than simply take. John and Caroline were the offspring of a historical icon and a mother whose grace and strength ran through their veins.

He had promised his sister that he would serve as representative to their side of the family at his cousin’s wedding in Hyannis Port since she was vacationing with her own family and wouldn’t be able to make it. His first stop would be Martha’s Vineyard to drop off his sister in law, Lauren. It had been another promise, this one to his wife.

All those promises would be lost inside the miles when his Piper disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean. Network coverage of the search and rescue mission was a painfully desperate thing to witness, as shock turned to fear turned to horrible reality. When the news finally came down, I sobbed. It felt as if the fates had conspired to thieve a family seal once again. As the years passed and the world changed dramatically, I couldn’t help but wonder if this theft went deeper still.

If . . . John flew into Martha’s Vineyard the next morning on the advice of his fellow pilots, he would have found his career at a crossroads. There were rumors that John had been mulling a run for the New York senate seat in 2000. Maybe a long weekend with family would have convinced him to throw his hat in the ring. Win or lose, perhaps John would have found himself in the doing. And who knows from there?

This is to say nothing of what JFK Jr. might have accomplished in the wake of September 11th. He was the Prince of New York, and I can’t help but believe his activism would have been felt everywhere: from the halls of Congress to the other side of the world. Might the events of that day have spurred him into the biggest of big picture outlooks? Might he have come to understand what his legacy could mean inside the worst of times? 

If . . he had waited to fly out the next morning, maybe the Senator from New York would have thrown his hat in the ring in 2016. And maybe he would have scored the democratic nomination. And maybe he would have made the pompous and bombastic billionaire with the bad hair look small in three televised debates. 

If all that came to pass . . the political slogan could have read “Make America Believe in Camelot Again”

If only . . .

The following is part of the “If” Challenge 2018 that was constructed by the inimitable composer of all things humor and music at A Frank Angle. His blog is a righteous tilt, so go on over and give it a whirl.