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The Same Woman (Yvonne)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before.

The first time they met was in elementary school in 1955. The second time they met was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen. And starting in 1966 they were in a relationship that lasted a year until she—her name was Laura then—left him for someone else.

In December of 1969, shortly after Andrew turns twenty-one, the first draft lottery takes place in America and he draws number 344, which means he no longer has to be in college to avoid being sent to the war in Vietnam. However, one of Andrew’s very best friends, Cal, draws number 3 and is certain to be drafted even if he manages to get into graduate school.

When Cal is denied conscientious objector status, he decides to move to Canada rather than go to prison or Vietnam. Cal has a cousin who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia who agrees to house Cal until he gets settled in Canada. Cal asks Andrew to drive him to Vancouver and they leave California for British Columbia in June of 1970, just a few days after they graduate from UC Santa Cruz, Cal with a degree in Philosophy, Andrew with a degree in Drama.

Funded by Cal’s parents, they rent a big orange van to carry Cal’s books and records and clothing and musical instruments, including two guitars, an electric bass, an amplifier, and a drum kit. They stay in motels, eat in diners, and make the trip to Vancouver in four days.

By 1970 the Canadian government is no longer making it problematic for American draft evaders to move to Canada, so Cal and Andrew have no trouble entering the country.

Cal’s cousin Frank and Frank’s wife Jean live in a small house in a suburb of Vancouver. They are both in their early thirties, Frank a surveyor, Jean a piano teacher, and Jean is pregnant with their first child. They are not thrilled about sharing their house with Cal, but they are thrilled about the thousand dollars a month Cal’s parents are giving them for as long as Cal lives with them.

On the evening of their second day in Vancouver, a few days before Andrew is planning to head back to California, Cal and Andrew go to a pub called Angel Alley in downtown Vancouver to hear a lineup of local musicians. The drinking age was recently lowered to 18 in British Columbia, and the place is mobbed with college kids and hipsters.

Cal, who has been playing guitar and writing songs since he was eleven, is keen to explore the music scene in Vancouver. Andrew took up the guitar after his relationship with Laura ended three and a half years ago, and with Cal as his teacher he has gotten quite good.

So…

After a middle-aged woman does a fair imitation of Judy Collins singing Joni Mitchell songs, and three earnest fellows cover Dylan and The Beatles, a young woman takes the stage with her guitar and stands a few feet away from the microphone as she waits to be introduced.

Andrew looks at the young woman and his jaw drops because as far as he’s concerned she is none other than Laura, the great love of his life who jilted him three and a half years ago and moved to England with her new partner—yet here she is in Angel Alley about to perform.

“That’s Laura,” says Andrew, nudging Cal who is conversing with a gal at the adjoining table. “Has to be.”

Cal turns to Andrew. “Sorry. What did you say?”

“Look,” says Andrew, pointing at the stage. “Tell me that isn’t Laura.”

“Sure looks like her,” says Cal, studying the lovely woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a white blouse and black slacks and standing at ease with her guitar. “I thought she was in England.”

“Last I heard she was,” says Andrew, his heart pounding. “Three years five months and two weeks ago. But this is definitely Laura. Who else could she be?”

“I didn’t know Laura played guitar,” says Cal, trying to discern the make of her reddish brown parlor guitar.

“She didn’t,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But neither did I until she left.”

Now a big burly fellow with spiky gray hair steps up to the microphone and says, “Without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce Yvonne Garnier.” 

Loud applause and whistling fill the air as the woman steps to the microphone and begins to play and sing. Her voice to Andrew’s ears is Laura’s voice, a sweet woman’s tenor, and he cannot hold back his tears.

When she finishes her first song, Cal whispers to Andrew, “She’s fantastic, but I don’t think she’s Laura.”

“Why? Because she changed her name?” asks Andrew, certain she is his lost love.

“No,” says Cal, putting his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “Because this woman has been playing guitar since she was a kid. I’ll bet you anything.”

After a scintillating set of original songs and a few folk classics, Yvonne leaves the stage to thunderous applause and many of those in attendance head for home.

The bartender calls “Forty minutes to closing,” and Andrew and Cal shift their chairs to join the two women and a man—Terry, Sheila, and Chas—at the adjoining table, Terry of great interest to Cal and vice-versa.

“So are you moving to Canada, too?” asks Chas, directing his question at Andrew.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” says Andrew, still under the spell of seeing Laura again. “I got a very high draft number and I’m hoping to get into grad school one of these days, but I am loving it here, so you never know.”

“And he’s gonna visit me often,” says Cal, his eyes full of tears. “Aren’t you, A?”

“Much as I can,” he replies. “Much as I can.”

Now the woman Andrew thinks is Laura emerges from backstage and comes to join them because Terry and Sheila are her best friends, and Chas has been her devoted fan for years.

Chas rises to give Yvonne a kiss on the cheek and Terry says, “Fantastic Evie. You just get better and better.”

“Thanks,” says Yvonne, turning to Cal and Andrew. “Who are these hunks?”

“I’m Cal,” says Cal, shaking her hand. “And this is Andrew. I’m just moving to Vancouver and Andrew drove me up from California.”

“Why don’t you move here, too?” says Yvonne, shaking Andrew’s hand.

“No good reason,” says Andrew, barely able to breathe.

“At least come to my birthday party before you go back,” she says, sitting down to have a beer. “My twenty-first. Day after tomorrow. At my mother’s farm. You’ll love it. Say yes.”

“Yes,” says Andrew, laughing to keep from crying. “Of course.”

But he almost doesn’t go to Yvonne’s party because in the half-hour he spends with her in Angel Alley, he falls in love with her again—or discovers he is still in love with her—and he can’t bear the thought of her breaking his heart again.

The night before the party, he and Cal go out for fish and chips at a place Frank and Jean recommend.

“Using linear logic,” says Andrew to Cal, “I know Yvonne is not Laura. But every cell in my body tells me she is the same person.”

Cal ponders this for a moment. “What do you mean by the same person? They could be twins, but twins aren’t the same person. They may resemble each other, but they have different brains and hearts and personalities and experiences. So what do you mean by the same person.”

“I mean that when we were in the pub with her, I knew she was Laura.” Andrew clears his throat. “I know that sounds crazy because she is not Laura, and I know that because Laura’s mother still lives in San Francisco, not on a farm in British Columbia. And I know that because I called her today to confirm she still lives in San Francisco and to ask her if she’d heard from Laura recently and she said she had, that Laura was still in England with what’s his name.”

“Therefore?” says Cal, smiling at the approach of their waitress with two big platters of fish and chips.

“Therefore she cannot be Laura,” says Andrew, nodding his thanks as the waitress sets the feast before him.

“Anything else I can get you?” asks the waitress, making eyes at Andrew.

When Andrew does not reply, Cal says, “We’re good. Thanks so much.”

“And yet,” says Andrew, staring at his food and seeing Laura/Yvonne playing her guitar and singing, “I know she’s Laura.”

“Did you also know that our very attractive waitress was interested in you? No, you didn’t. Because a big part of you isn’t even here.” Cal sighs in sympathy. “I think you never got over Laura. You never broke the spell. So of course you see her in Yvonne who looks very much like her.”

Andrew closes his eyes. “But it’s not just the resemblance, Cal. Yvonne is two or three inches taller than Laura, and her speaking voice is deeper, and she talks much more slowly.”

“With a subtle sexy Quebecois accent,” says Cal, smiling quizzically at his friend. “So why do you say she’s Laura?”

“I think she has Laura’s soul. Or her spirit. Maybe they’re the same thing.”

“What about the Laura in England?” asks Cal, chewing thoughtfully on a delicious French fry. “Does she share her soul with Yvonne or did it somehow leave her and enter Yvonne?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, shrugging. “I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t know how to else to explain it. Yvonne doesn’t just remind me of Laura. She is Laura. And that’s why I’m not going to the party tomorrow. Because the only way to end this madness is to avoid her whenever she manifests in my life. And I hope she never does again.”

“But you love her,” says Cal, frowning. “Maybe this time she’ll want to be with you and not leave you for someone else.”

“Why would she be any different this time?” asks Andrew, still pained by his memory of the moment Laura told him she’d found a new love. “If she has the same spirit, then she’ll act the same way. Right?”

“Maybe she’s changed. Maybe she’s evolving as you’re evolving. Maybe this time she’ll be ready to make a life with you.”

“I doubt it,” says Andrew, sipping his beer. “Though I do love the idea of souls evolving together. And maybe she won’t even be interested in me this time.”

“Oh she seemed pretty interested in you,” says Cal, loving the fish and chips. “That’s why she invited us to her party three seconds after she met you.”

“Maybe I won’t be interested in her this time,” says Andrew, wanting to sound disinterested.

Cal rolls his eyes. “Maybe you’ll grow wings and become a bird.”

“So what if she breaks my heart again?” says Andrew, abruptly changing his tune. “Maybe that’s part of the evolutionary plan.”

“So you are going to the party with me,” says Cal, laughing. “I hope so. And I hope you do fall in love with each other and you stay in Canada and then I won’t feel so alone.”

Yvonne’s mother is named Charlene. Her farm is an idyllic place, ten acres of level ground seven miles north of Vancouver, eight of the acres in permanent pasture, one acre for summer vegetables, the remaining acre occupied by a big old farmhouse and a rundown cottage and a flower garden and outbuildings for chickens and rabbits and pigs.

Charlene is fifty-two with long brown hair going gray. She speaks English with a strong Quebecois accent and has lived on her farm for twenty-one years, having moved here from Montreal when Yvonne was in utero.

“I was a singer, too,” says Charlene to Andrew as she gives him a tour of her farm—the birthday party in full swing at the farmhouse. “But when I got pregnant with Yvonne, I thought, ‘No, I’ve had enough of this struggle. I will go west and live in a quiet place near the ocean. I had some money from my father, so I bought this farm and we have been very happy here.” She smiles as she remembers her first years on the farm. “Of course I sang to my daughter and taught her to play the piano and the guitar, but I never thought she would try to make singing her career as I did. She is more successful than I was, but still she makes her living as a waitress.”

“This is such a beautiful place,” says Andrew, wondering why Charlene singled him out for the tour and not Cal. “How far to the ocean?”

“Two miles,” says Charlene, stopping with him in front of the dilapidated cottage. “Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here. Perhaps you would like to fix up this cottage and make this your first home in Canada.”

“Oh I’m not moving here,” says Andrew, embarrassed by the mix up. “My friend Cal is moving here.”

“Yes, I know,” says Charlene, nodding, “but Yvonne says you are thinking of moving here, too, and if you will do the work on this place, I will give you free rent for two years, and, of course, pay for all the materials. She told me you are handy with tools.”

“I’m a fair carpenter,” says Andrew, intrigued by the cottage. “But I’ve mostly been a landscaper. Built decks and sheds and…”

“Well this is like a big shed, isn’t it?” says Yvonne, beaming at him. “A sophisticated shed with a toilet and shower and kitchen and living room and bedroom.”

“Maybe Cal could live here,” says Andrew, imagining settling down on Charlene’s farm for a while, playing music with Cal and getting to know Yvonne. “Can we have a look inside?”

“It’s falling down,” says Charlene, pushing open the front door of the little house. “You would mostly be building it all over again.”

“I’d need a place to stay while I was doing the rebuilding,” says Andrew, warming to the idea of a Canadian adventure before going to graduate school. “There’s no room for me where Cal is staying.”

“I have an extra bedroom in the farmhouse,” says Charlene, nodding assuredly. “You would be welcome here.”

“But you hardly know me,” he says, taken aback.

“Yvonne says you are wonderful,” says Charlene, matter-of-factly. “That is good enough for me.”

So a few days later, after he drops the van off at a car rental place in Bellingham, Washington, Andrew returns by train to Vancouver and begins a new chapter of his life.

Having brought very few things with him, he moves into Charlene’s farmhouse with a small suitcase of clothing and a knapsack containing notebooks, pens, dark glasses, a few books, a Swiss Army knife, and a camera.

His parents are surprised by his decision to stay in Canada, but understanding, too, and they ship him a box of clothes and shoes. Cal is thrilled with Andrew’s decision to stick around and comes to the farm every day to help with the renovation until a committee assisting American draft evaders gets him a job as a dishwasher and janitor at a college cafeteria, after which he can only help on weekends.

Charlene’s boyfriend Walter, a roofer, outfits Andrew with most of the tools he needs, shows Andrew the best places to buy building materials, and lends his expertise to Andrew when the going gets tricky.

And what of Yvonne? She is delighted to have Andrew living on the farm and staying in her former bedroom. Throughout the summer, she comes for supper a couple times during the week, and every Sunday she spends the day and sometimes the night at the farm.

She is greatly attracted to Andrew, as he is to her, and they spend lots of time talking, playing guitars, going to movies and plays, and walking on the beach. But they rarely touch and never kiss except on the cheeks as French people do when greeting each other and saying goodbye.

As the weeks and months go by and summer turns to fall, the cottage lacks only a new roof to be ready for Andrew to move in. Charlene’s beau Walter does the roofing job with Andrew assisting him, and Walter is sufficiently impressed with Andrew’s skills and strength and amiable nature to tout Andrew to a builder he knows, which results in Andrew being hired for eight weeks of good-paying work that gives him a nest egg for the winter.

Charlene loves having Andrew on the farm and hires him at a decent wage to help around the place a couple hours a day.

Not being in school or working for his father as a landscaper for the first time in his life, Andrew starts writing songs and stories, and he discovers he is much more interested in those art forms than in acting.

On a Sunday evening in early December after the supper dishes are done, Andrew and Yvonne and Charlene and Walter and Cal and his sweetheart Terry gather in the living room to hear Andrew read a short story he’s been working on for some weeks now, The Precipice. This is the first time he has ever shared his writing with anyone other than Cal, and though nervous at first, he grows more confident as he reads.

“That was so moving for me,” says Charlene when Andrew finishes reading. “I was on the verge of tears from the beginning to the end.”

“Really good,” says Walter, nodding in agreement. “Kind of a fable, but it seemed very real, very true. Just great.”

“I loved it,” says Terry, smiling wide-eyed at Andrew. “I know an editor at The Weekly Blitz who might want to publish it. Can I show it to him?”

“I need to polish it,” says Andrew, overwhelmed by the praise. “But yeah, that would be wonderful.”

“You’re amazing,” says Yvonne, gazing at Andrew as if seeing him for the first time. “Will you read it again to us when you finish polishing?”

“I… yeah,” says Andrew, blushing. “It really helped knowing you were listening. I mean… I read my stories out loud to myself, but it’s not the same as reading to an audience.”

“Same with a song,” says Yvonne, wanting to kiss him. “I always think of the audience as the final ingredient.”

The response to his story from his new family of friends ignites Andrew’s writing fire as nothing ever has and he starts waking early every morning to write for a few hours before doing his farm work or going off to a carpentry job. He writes in the evenings, too, if he’s not going somewhere to hear Yvonne sing or visiting with Cal.

Andrew’s parents offer to fly him home for Christmas, and to please them he flies from Vancouver to San Francisco a few days before Christmas, spends seven days in Redwood City with his mom and dad and brother, sees a few old friends, and flies back to Vancouver in time to attend Charlene and Yvonne’s New Year’s Eve party.

The day before the party, Andrew gets a phone call from the editor of The Weekly Blitz, a guy named Joe Ganz. “We would love to publish The Precipice,” says Joe, his voice deep and gravelly. “I can pay you twenty-five dollars. I know it’s not much, but that’s what we pay for feature stories. And I’d love to see anything else you want to show me. We don’t often publish fiction, but this story fits us to a T.”

Which means the New Year’s Eve party is also a celebration of Andrew’s success, and Yvonne asks him to read The Precipice to the fifty or so party goers, many of them artists and musicians and writers.

“Not tonight,” says Andrew, hating to disappoint her. “I’m feeling shy and I’d rather not be the center of attention. If you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean,” she says, putting her arms around him. “But I really want you to read that story for everyone. It’s just what we need to hear right now. Please?”

So Andrew agrees, a microphone and amplifier are set up, Yvonne plays a beautiful guitar tune to get everybody’s attention, and exactly an hour before 1970 gives way to 1971, Andrew reads his story to the assembled host.

All the usual clichés apply. You could hear a pin drop. They hang on his every word. Again and again he has to hold for laughs. There isn’t a dry eye in the place. And when he reads the last word of The Precipice, there is a collective gasp and the crowd goes wild.

At midnight there is much hurrahing and hugging and kissing, and when Yvonne and Andrew kiss, they cease to hold back from loving each other, though they do not take the physical loving beyond their kiss.

In the days that follow, Andrew gives himself so entirely to his new life, he forgets all about trying to get into graduate school. He works on the farm, takes the occasional carpentry gig, writes for hours every day, plays music in the evenings with Cal, and he and Yvonne start spending big chunks of time together on Saturdays and Sundays, exploring the city and the coast, and reveling in their friendship which continues to deepen in spite of (or maybe because of) their unspoken agreement not to become lovers.

 ∆

One day in early summer, as the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Canada approaches, Andrew and Yvonne sit shoulder-to-shoulder with their backs against a driftwood log on a gorgeous beach a few miles north of the farm.

“The thing is,” says Andrew, smiling out at the sparkling sea, “I feel married to you. Yet we are not lovers. Which means…”

“Soul marriages aren’t about sex,” says Yvonne, taking Andrew’s hand. “They might include sex, of course, but they aren’t founded on sex.”

“Do you think if we had sex we’d lose our soul connection?” He frowns. “I wonder if that’s why we haven’t. Because we’re afraid we might.”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Our souls will always be connected, even if we never see each other again. But I do think we’re afraid that becoming lovers would complicate things. And it would. Sex always changes everything. Don’t you think?”

“I’ve only been sexually involved with one woman in my life, and we started having sex right from the get go, so there was never any question of changing the relationship with sex.”

“I’ve had a handful of lovers,” she says, sounding somewhat bitter about it, “and in every case, the minute we had sex, even really awful sex, they thought they owned me, as if entering my body gave them dominion over me, and I hate that.”

“I think that’s a primal belief among most humans, don’t you? Claiming each other by having sex. I’m not saying it’s right, but I understand why people feel that way. Not just men. It’s not just cultural, it’s biological.”

“It’s learned,” she says, angrily. “Taught to little boys from the day they’re born.”

“What is taught to little boys?”

“That they are superior to girls and should be able to dominate them.” She frowns at him. “You don’t think so?”

“My darling, Evie,” he says, smiling at her. “I have two brilliant older sisters and learned ten thousand times before I was seven that girls are stronger and smarter and more capable than boys in every way except, eventually, in terms of brute strength. And I’ve never liked brutes.”

“So if we become lovers you won’t think I’m your exclusive property?”

“You mean will I be okay with you sleeping with other people?”

“Would you be okay with that?”

“Well the thing is, I wouldn’t want to be in a sexual relationship with you if you want to sleep with other people. But I’d still want to be your friend.”

“How is that not owning me?” She pouts. “You would own the exclusive rights to me sexually if I wasn’t allowed to sleep with other people. Right?”

“No,” he says, laughing. “I just wouldn’t be in a sexual relationship with you. You can sleep with a different person every night if you want. Or two. I just don’t want to be involved in that kind of sexual dynamic with you or anybody. It’s not who I am.”

“Hmm,” she says, pondering this. “Because I really want to make love with you, A, but I can’t promise sexual fidelity.”

“Are you sleeping with anyone now?” he asks innocently. “I won’t mind if you are.”

“I’m not,” she says, pouting again. “I haven’t in over a year. Since a few months before I met you. And every time I’ve been tempted since then, I always think, ‘But I like Andrew so much better than this guy. Why would I ever sleep with this guy if I can sleep with Andrew?’ And then I don’t because I want you instead.”

“I’m flattered,” he says, holding out his arms to her.

They embrace and feel marvelous.

“So let’s make a pact,” she says, kissing his chin. “If we do sleep together and sleeping-together doesn’t last for some reason, we’ll always be friends.”

“Sounds good,” he says doubtfully, “but we can never know in advance if we’ll always be friends. We only know our souls will always be connected, which is not necessarily the same thing as being friends.”

“So how about this,” she says, moving apart from him so she can see his face. “We commit to sexual exclusivity with each other for one year with an option to renew for another year if we both want to.”

“A one-year marriage?” he says, loving everything about her. “Will we live together?”

“Yes. I’ll move into the cottage with you and save oodles not paying rent.”

“But what if we make love…” he says, pausing portentously. “And it’s really bad? Marriage annulled?”

“No,” she says urgently. “If the first time is bad, we have to try to make it better. We have to help each other in every way. Sexually and creatively and emotionally and spiritually.”

“I’m game,” he says, looking into her eyes. “What are you doing tonight?”

She takes a deep breath. “Being with you.”

The morning after their first night together, entangled in Andrew’s bed, Yvonne says, “Laura may have broken your heart, but in the ways of lovemaking she was a very good teacher.”

A few days after becoming Andrew’s lover, Yvonne gives notice she is vacating her apartment at the end of the month and starts moving her things to the farm a carload at a time. What doesn’t fit nicely in the cottage, she stores in the attic of the farmhouse.

After two months of commuting at night to and from the restaurant where she works, Laura shifts from supper to lunches so she can spend her evenings with Andrew. She makes less money, but now she’s paying no rent and can gig during the week, and she’s happier than she’s ever been. Ditto Andrew.

 ∆

In October, they borrow Charlene’s car and drive to California to visit Andrew’s folks, after which they continue on to Los Angeles where Amelia, one of Yvonne’s old friends, now lives and has arranged a couple gigs for her.

Much to Andrew’s surprise, Yvonne loves LA, and on the way back to Canada she says she’d like to live there one day.

“What do you like about it?” he asks, much preferring life on the farm in Canada.

“I love the weather, the people, the energy,” she says, gazing out at the passing scenery. “And if I really want to succeed with my music, that’s the place to be.” She turns to him. “If we got married, we’d essentially have joint citizenship and you’d be free of any hassles about living in Canada and I’d be free of any hassles about living in America. So we could live either place. Or both.”

“Is that a proposal?” he asks, deciding not to tell her he hates Los Angeles, the putrid air, the terrifying traffic, the absence of forests and wilderness, the millions of desperate people.

“Something to think about,” she says, kissing him. “I know you love where we live now, but I’ve lived there my whole life and I’m ready for a change.”

Which is why in the summer of 1973, after two years of living together, Andrew and Yvonne part ways, she to pursue her music career in Los Angeles, he to stay in Vancouver and carry on with his writing.

One evening a few months after Yvonne moves to Los Angeles, Andrew and Cal are in Angel Alley having beer and burgers, and they realize they are sitting at the same table where they first met Yvonne and Terry, who is now Cal’s wife.

And their reminiscence about that fateful evening prompts Andrew to say, “You’re the only person who could even begin to understand what I want to tell you.”

“About Yvonne?” asks Cal, knowing Andrew is hurting terribly from his loss of her. “Tell me.”

“You remember how in the beginning I said she was Laura, not in body but in spirit?”

“I remember.”

“Well I continued to feel that way until about a year ago.”

“What changed?”

“Well… I came home one day and she was on the phone with Amelia, and something was different about her. I couldn’t say exactly what it was, but she was different. Still sweet and funny and loving and wonderful, but different. And I came to realize she no longer reminded me of Laura. A particular kind of energy I have never been able to describe was gone from her.”

“Yet you still loved her.”

“More than ever.”

“So where do you think the Laura energy went?”

“I don’t know,” says Andrew, his eyes sparkling with tears. “Your guess is as good as mine.”         

fin

the song Just Love

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The Same Woman (Laura)

Andrew meets the same woman every few years and immediately recognizes her. She, however, never recognizes him as anyone she’s known before, though she is always pleased to meet him.

He met her for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was during the summer of 1962 when they were both thirteen and her name was Sara.

As it happens, she is always his age.

Andrew at seventeen has reached his full height of five-eleven. A basketball player and landscaper, he tips the scales at 170 pounds. The year is 1966, spring is in the air, and being a teenager living in the suburbs of San Francisco, Andrew has fallen under the spell of the counter culture movement that will one day be known as The Sixties.

This being his senior year at Woodberry High, and now that basketball season is over, Andrew lets his hair go untamed and takes to wearing loose-fitting trousers, T-shirts sporting leftwing political slogans such as Power To The People, sandals, and an old suede jacket.

He has taken Drama for three years now and has a big part in the spring musical Once Upon A Mattress. He has applied for admission to Yale because of their renowned Drama department, and to UC Santa Cruz because one of his two older sisters is going there and he has to get in somewhere because the Vietnam War is raging and he desperately wants a student deferment.

And for the first time in his life, Andrew has a girlfriend. Her name is Megan and she is a pompom girl with long blonde hair. Never in a million years would Andrew have pursued Megan. She is very rich, drives a new convertible Mustang, her parents are conservative Republicans, and she and Andrew have almost nothing in common except they are human and go to the same high school.

Megan set her sights on Andrew this past December when he became a starting guard on the Woodbury basketball team, and he was powerless to resist her. His friends are chagrined that Andrew is going with Megan, in small part because she cares more about fashion than civil rights, but largely because she is wholly disinterested in poetry, music, art, and protesting the war, all of which Andrew and his friends are passionate about.

What Andrew’s friends don’t understand is that he has never had any sort of girlfriend, not counting his twelve-day romance with Sara when he was thirteen. And though Megan is not a leftist, she is affectionate, insists Andrew drive her very cool car whenever they go anywhere together, leaves love notes and little gifts in his locker, usually chocolate, and takes him to lunch or dinner at a fancy restaurant almost every weekend.

Andrew’s father has a small landscaping business and Andrew’s mother works in a bakery. Until Andrew’s sisters left for college, he shared one of the three small bedrooms in their house with his younger brother. And until Megan took him to an upscale restaurant for the first time, the fanciest restaurant he had ever gone to was a pizza parlor.

Once Upon A Mattress finishes its two-weekend run on a Saturday night exactly a week before the Senior Ball, which is a huge event in Megan’s life. She is chairperson of the Senior Ball Planning Committee and the frontrunner to be crowned queen of the ball. On the same Saturday as the Senior Ball there is an anti-war march and rally in San Francisco that Andrew and several of his friends are planning to go to.

The cast party for Once Upon A Mattress is held at the palatial Helzinger estate in Atherton, home of sixteen-year-old Marvin Helzinger who ran lights for the play and wants to be a movie producer. Megan wasn’t going to attend the party but changed her mind when Valerie Morris, the female lead, gave Andrew an amorous hug during the final curtain call and Andrew seemed delighted.

A half-hour after Megan and Andrew arrive at the party—Megan glued to Andrew as they makes the rounds of his fellow cast members—Andrew’s friend Cal mentions the upcoming anti-war march and asks Megan if she’s coming with them.

“When is it?” she asks to be polite.

The date revealed, Megan frowns at Andrew and says, “But honey that’s the day of the Senior Ball.”

“The march is in the morning,” he says, nodding assuredly. “We’ll be back in plenty of time.”

“Can I talk to you in private?” she says, smiling falsely at Cal. “Excuse us, please.”

She leads Andrew out the front door of the mansion and halfway down the wide walkway before she stops and says,  “You are not going to an anti-war thing on the same day as the Senior Ball. You could get arrested or your old car might break down. You can’t go. I will not allow you to ruin the most important day of my life.”

“We’re taking the train,” says Andrew, stunned by this outburst from his previously easygoing girlfriend. “The march starts at nine in the morning. We’ll get to Kezar at eleven, listen to some speeches and music, catch the bus back to the train station and be home by three. We’re not rioting, Megan. We’re just marching. Mike and Cal are going, too, and they’re both going to the ball, so…”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I can’t risk this, Andrew. It’s too important to me. There will be lots of other marches, but there’s only one Senior Ball. You’ll just have to skip this one.”

Andrew has never had a conflict of any sort with Megan in the five months they’ve been going together. She has never been angry with him, nor has she ever insisted he do or not do something. He wants to please her, but he also wants to march against the war that is threatening his life and the lives of his friends, not to mention the lives of millions of Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of American soldiers.

“I promise I’ll be home by three,” he says, reaching out to take her hand.

“No,” she says, snatching her hand away. “You will not go to that thing. I won’t be able to sleep knowing you might miss the ball. I’ve never asked you for anything, Andrew, but now I’m begging you. Please don’t go to that march. Promise me you’ll stay home next Saturday and take me to the ball and go to the hotel with me afterwards and we’ll make love for the first time in our lives. Like we’ve been planning for weeks. Please. Don’t ruin this for me. Please.”

“Megan…”

“No,” she says sternly. “If you won’t promise me right now that you won’t go to that march I’m breaking up with you.”

And this is the moment Andrew makes his leap into adulthood. Not having gone through any formal transition from childhood to adulthood, he has been suspended in the netherworld of extended adolescence since he was thirteen.

But now he experiences a thrilling clarity of mind and says to Megan, “Then we’re breaking up. Because going on that march is ten thousand times more important to me than going to the Senior Ball.”

“Then you can go to hell,” she says, hurrying away to her car.

“No,” he says, amazed by this sudden turn of events, “I think I’ll go back to the party.”

As Andrew re-enters the spacious living room filled with happy vibes of triumphant teenaged thespians, Mona Wilson, who did Andrew’s makeup for the play, beckons to Andrew and he hastens to her side.

“Andrew,” says Mona, beaming at him, “this is my friend Laura. Laura this is Andrew.”

Turning to Mona’s friend, Andrew gapes at the lovely young woman and blurts, “Sara? Sara Banducci? Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re here. Did you see the play? I was in that play because of you. Oh my God. This is incredible. How are you?”

“I’m fine,” says Laura, her long brown hair in a braid festooned with white carnations. “Only my name is Laura, not Sara. And though I love the name Banducci, my last name is Rosenstein.”

Andrew looks from Laura to Mona and back to Laura. “I’m so sorry. You look just like a person I used to know.” He gazes at her in wonder. “You could be her identical twin. Down to your dimples when you smile.”

“You liked her, I think,” says Laura, arching her eyebrow. “Didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “More than anyone I’ve ever known. I mean… we only knew each other for a couple weeks but… and then I wrote to her for a long time but…”

“She didn’t write back,” says Laura, pouting exactly as Sara pouted. “But eventually you got over her and now you have a beautiful girlfriend. So alls well that ends well.”

“Actually I just broke up with my girlfriend,” says Andrew, laughing. “So of course in the next moment I would meet you again, only not really again because you’re not Sara, you’re Laura and… where do you live?”

“San Francisco,” she says, looking into Andrew’s eyes. “Why? Do you want to come live with me?”

“Probably,” he says, reddening. “Do you have room for me?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “By the way, you were great tonight. The whole play was wonderful, but you definitely stole the show.”

“I think he’s gonna be a big star,” says Mona, giving Andrew a hug. “And I’ll do his makeup for his entire career. Won’t I, Andrew?”

“I’ll insist,” says Andrew, gazing longingly at Laura. “It will be in all my contracts that only Mona does my makeup.”

A half-hour later, Laura and Andrew are standing on the patio sharing a forbidden glass of wine and looking into the living room where a mob of happy teenagers are loudly reprising all the songs from Once Upon A Mattress.

“What did you mean?” asks Laura, standing close to Andrew, “when you said Sara was why you were in the play? Was she an actress?”

“She wanted to be,” says Andrew, remembering sitting with Sara at the end of a little pier jutting out into Lake Tahoe. “Whereas I had never really thought about what I wanted to be or wanted to try to be. I was just going along working for my father and going to school and playing basketball. But when she said she wanted to be an actress, I suddenly had a vision of myself I’d never had before, though it must have been there all along in my subconscious. Or my unconscious. Do you know what I mean? It was like the idea of being an actor was just waiting to be awakened. Or awoken. I’m never sure which is right.”

“They both work,” says Laura, taking the wine from him and having a sip.

“What about you?” he asks, entranced by her. “What do you want to be?”

“I’d like to be an actor,” she says, nodding. “I’ve been in a few plays. And I love to write, so maybe I’ll be a writer. Maybe I’ll write a play for you to star in.” She laughs. “Do you smoke pot?”

“I never have,” he says, taking the wine from her and having a long drink. “You?”

“A little,” she says, nodding. “My mom smokes weed on the weekends. She’s a social worker. I have a few puffs now and then, but I don’t want to get in the habit until I’m done with high school. I love getting stoned, but it’s just so sensual, you know, there’s no way I can do anything very linear when I’m stoned, and getting good grades is all about linear thinking.”

“I’m a solid B student,” says Andrew, handing her the wine. “Which is why I probably won’t get into Yale. So fingers crossed for Santa Cruz.”

“Or San Francisco State,” she says, nodding. “That’s where I’m going. We don’t want you getting drafted, Andrew. Absolutely not.”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “We don’t want me getting drafted.” He takes a deep breath. “What we want is to kiss you. Is that something we could arrange?”

“Yes,” she says, stepping into his arms.

After their first long kiss he declares, “You are by far the best kisser I’ve ever kissed.”

And after their second kiss she whispers, “Would you like to come visit me at my house? Make love?”

“I… yeah, but… I’m… I’ve never made love before so you’d have to teach me.” He nods to affirm this. “If you want to.”

“I do,” she says, dimpling profoundly. “I would love to teach you.”

On the Monday morning following the cast party, Andrew finds a note from Megan in his locker saying she’s changed her mind, he can go to the march and take her to the Senior Ball, she was just caught off guard and upset when she learned the march and the ball were happening on the same day, but she’s over that now and loves him so much she never wants to break up with him. Never.

Her note, however, comes too late to pull Andrew back into his previous life, so he doesn’t meet her for lunch at their usual spot on the patio outside the multi-purpose room, which means Megan has to seek him out near the water fountain adjacent to the library where he is having lunch with his Drama pals.

“Andrew,” she says, interrupting his conversation with Mona and Cal, “can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” he says, walking with her to a place in the sun out of earshot of his pals.

“Did you get my note?” she asks urgently.

“Yeah, I did but… I think it’s good we broke up. I mean… I think you’re a great person, Megan, but we live in different worlds. I’m… I’m really sorry to inconvenience you, but I’m not going to the ball.”

She squints at him. “Did you hook up with Valerie after I left the party?”

“No,” he says, thinking of Laura. “I did not hook up with Valerie.”

“Oh Andrew,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I made a mistake. I was wrong. Won’t you forgive me? You can do whatever you want. I don’t want to own you. I just want to be with you.”

Hearing her say this, Andrew knows without a doubt that he would have resumed his relationship with her, would have gone to the ball, and would have lost his virginity with her in some big bed in some posh hotel and been miserably entangled with her for months and possibly years if he hadn’t met Laura and arranged to see her again.

But I did meet Laura.

“I’m sorry, Megan. I… no.”

“What if I go on the march with you?” she says, her jaw trembling. “And we don’t go to the ball? Then will you take me back?”

“Oh Megan,” he says, pained to see her suffering so. “This isn’t about that. This is about who we are and what’s important to us. You know almost nothing about my life, and I know almost nothing about yours. We went on dates and you were very sweet to me and I tried to be sweet to you, but…”

“You met somebody else,” she says, glaring at him. “I know you, Andrew. You wouldn’t dump me otherwise.”

“I did not dump you,” he says, his anger obliterating his sympathy for her. “You did the dumping. Remember? You dumped me.”

On the morning of the march, Andrew and Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona catch the train from Redwood City to San Francisco, detrain at Fourth and Townsend, catch a bus up to Market Street, and join the growing throng at 8:30.

At quarter to nine someone taps Andrew on the shoulder and he turns to behold Laura looking great in a purple paisley shirt and blue jeans and carrying a big sign saying Out of Vietnam Now!

“Hey,” says Andrew, embracing her.

“Hey,” she says, blushing. “Come meet my mom.”

She leads him through the crowd to a knot of middle-aged men and women, her mother a pretty gal with curly black hair and large-framed glasses and a New York accent.

“Mom this is Andrew,” says Laura, blushing a little. “Andrew this is my mother Janet.”

“Hello,” says Janet, grinning at Andrew as she shakes his hand. “No wonder she fell for you. You’re only seventeen? You look twenty-two. A handsome twenty-two. You’re coming to visit after?”

“Yes,” he says, nodding. “If that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay,” she says, letting go of Andrew’s hand. “We’ll see you at the flat.”

“I’m gonna march with Andrew, okay?” says Laura, giving her mom a quick kiss. “See you at home.”

They make their way back to Cal and Mike and Jeremy and Cecily and Beth and Mona just as the great crowd begins to move forward, the first chant to be taken up en masse End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home! End the War Now! Bring the Troops Home!  

Five hours later, Laura and Andrew leave the hubbub at Kezar Stadium and walk across Golden Gate Park to an old three-story building two blocks off the park where Laura and her mother live in the ground floor flat.

Elated and exhausted, Andrew and Laura revive themselves with guacamole and chips and Laura says, “Shall we go shopping? For some crucial supplies?”

“Aren’t you gonna show me your bedroom first?” says Andrew, taking her in his arms and kissing her.

“Not until we procure the crucial supplies,” she says, pulling away from him and picking up her purse.

“Just what are these crucial supplies?” he asks, following her out the door.

“Food for supper,” she says, locking the door. “I told Mom we’d cook tonight. Spaghetti and meatballs, vegetables, and something yummy from the bakery for dessert. She’s got three friends coming. Oh. And we need to get condoms. Heard of those?”

“I have,” he says, lowering his voice. “In fact I brought some.”

“How many?” she asks, dimpling provocatively.

“Three,” he says, laughing self-consciously. “Cal gave them to me.”

“We’ll need more than three,” she says, taking his hand. “And we’ll get the kind I like.”

Groceries and pie and condoms purchased, they return to the flat and find Laura’s mother and two of her women friends in the kitchen drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese.

“We’ll start making supper in a couple hours,” says Laura, unpacking the groceries. “But first I’m gonna show Andrew my etchings.”

The women laugh appreciatively and Laura’s mother says, “I’ll cook tonight, sweetie. Take your time. We’ll call you when the pasta is perfecto.”

“Thanks Mom,” says Laura, giving her mother a kiss. “I owe you.”

“So much,” says her mother, laughing.

Laura leads Andrew down a long hallway to a bedroom at the opposite end of the flat from the kitchen, a bedroom with a bed not quite as big as a queen but nearly so.

She closes the door and they kiss hungrily as they undress.

And when they are naked and lying down together Laura says, “Now be honest with me, my darling Andrew. How much do you know about a woman’s body?”

“Well,” he says, taking a moment to catch his breath, “I have two older sisters, so I’ve seen the naked female.”

“Yes, but do you know what lies beneath her surface?” she asks, guiding his hand to her sex.

“Not really,” he says, on the verge of his orgasm.

“Oh honey,” she says, caressing his sex and sending him past the point of no return.

“Sorry about that,” he says tearfully. “I… there was nothing I could do. Except let it happen.”

“Don’t ever be sorry for being sexy,” she says, kissing him. “Now here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to explore my body with your hands and your eyes and your mouth, with me as your guide. Okay?”

“Yes,” he says, surrendering entirely to her wisdom and kindness.

Before they sit down to supper, Andrew calls his parents to tell them he’s okay, and when his mother asks to speak to Laura’s mother, Andrew hands the phone to Janet and the mothers talk and laugh.

After supper, Laura and Andrew do the dishes and go for a walk around the block in the cool night air before returning to the flat to resume Andrew’s lesson.

And as they lie in each other’s arms, resting, Andrew says, “Tonight was the Senior Ball. I’m so glad I missed it.”

“Tonight was mine, too,” says Laura, sitting up to look at Andrew. “Guess how many boys asked me to go with them to the ball?”

“A hundred?” says Andrew, feeling so finished with high school he can’t imagine sitting through another six weeks of classes.

“Four,” says Laura, getting out of bed. “I’m starving. Come to the kitchen with me.”

“Shouldn’t we get dressed?”

“If you want to, but my mom sleeps like a log, so…”

Andrew in his underwear, Laura in a skimpy robe, they sit in the kitchen eating cold spaghetti and drinking wine and feeling marvelous.

“Tell me, darling,” says Andrew, affecting a credible British accent. “Have there been many before me?”

“More than five and less than seven,” she says, clinking her glass with his. “One was very good, one was not bad, four were not very good, and I didn’t love any of them, but I liked them, so…”

“That makes me number seven,” he says, feeling jealous of her former lovers, though not very. “Was I good?”

“The best of all,” she says, setting her wine glass down and putting her arms around him. “Because I love you and because you’re strong and beautiful and you get better and better the more we practice.”

“You make me happier than I’ve ever been,” he says, kissing her.

“You know what I think?” she says, closing her eyes.

“Tell me,” he says, loving the sight and the sound and the scent of her.

“I think we should get married in seven years. And if we lose touch before then, we’ll find each other again and be writers and actors together and have two children and a dog and cats and a big garden. Say yes.”

“Yes,” he says, though he knows if they lose touch he may never see her again.

And they do lose touch, though not until they spend a glorious summer together, a summer made of many weekends in her San Francisco flat, and a fall full of amorous visits, he enrolled at UC Santa Cruz, she at San Francisco State.

But then she meets Don, a graduate student from Bristol, seven years her senior, and she is so smitten with him that when Don returns to England, she goes with him.

This time, though, she is the one who writes to Andrew every week for months and months, but he is so hurt by her choosing another over him that he cannot write her back and she eventually stops writing to him and he lives on without her.

 fin

song