[Note to Readers — As I have been writing the biographies of my characters who will be appearing in the novel series, I thought it would be fun to create vignettes that reveal some of their back story and share them here. At the moment, I don’t plan to include these in a novel, although some elements may come in through flashback, memories or dialogue. We’ll see. I hope you enjoy.]
With one word, he could take her all the way back to middle school, baby fat, braces and pre-teen awkwardness on this day when she thought she’d finally established herself as an adult.
“Don’t call me that, Gawk!” She buried her laughing face in her brother’s neck as he spun her around in a bear hug. When he set her down, the voluminous gown was twisted around her ankles and her mortarboard was barely hanging onto the back of her head by a hairpin.
“Kyle, a little decorum would be nice. And stop mauling your sister.” Susan Fisher gently, but firmly, nudged her son aside and with a few twitches and adjustments had set Candace’s hair and graduation garb to rights. “Darling, we are so proud of you! You’ve worked so hard for this day.” She had to bend only a little to warmly kiss her daughter’s flushed cheek.
Candace wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist for a quick hug. “I’m so glad you’re all here!” She turned to drill a pointy finger into her brother’s bony chest. “And you said it would bore you to tears. Tell me you didn’t think the First Lady’s speech was galvanizing!”
He grinned, “It was okay.”
“Move, son. It’s my turn to congratulate the new lawyer,” the older man with the smiling brown eyes and salt and pepper hair – that, as always, needed a trim – stepped forward to embrace his daughter. He murmured, “Congratulations, Princess. I can hardly believe you’re not my little girl anymore.”
“Oh, Dad. You’re going to make me tear up!” Candace wound her arms around her father’s neck and gave him a kiss. “I’ll always be your girl, you know that.”
“Um, Candace?” The deep voice came from just behind her.
“Oh! Larry! Here you are – let me introduce you.” Candace was suddenly glad that under the black gown she was wearing the silk blouse with the tie around the neck because she could feel the flush washing up her chest as it always did when her emotions were running high. There were times, honestly, when she really lamented being a redhead.
She reached out to take the young man’s hand and pulled him into the family circle. “Mom, Dad – this is my friend Lawrence Novak.”
“Please, call me Larry.” He extended his hand to James Fisher and smiled at the lovely auburn-haired woman at his side.
“And, Larry, this is my brother Kyle.” The two young men eyed each other for a moment, then shook hands.
Susan, with her usual aplomb, smiled and said, “Congratulations, Larry. Graduating from Yale Law is quite an accomplishment.” She pointedly looked past him and asked, “Is your family here today?”
“My mother’s here. She went off to find the ladies room,” taller than most people in the crush of family and graduates, he craned his neck but didn’t spot the woman he sought. “She should find me in a few minutes, I guess.”
James put his arm around his wife’s still slender waist and gave the young man a warm smile. “We look forward to meeting her. We’re having dinner at Ibiza. Will you and your mother join us?”
That was the moment when a blowsy woman in a bright floral dress that struggled mightily to contain her breasts and thighs hurried to Larry’s side on cherry red heels. She grasped the young man’s arm and smiled nervously around the group.
“So sorry to keep you waiting, sweetie. I got turned around on the way back from the ladies.”
“S’okay, Ma,” bright spots of red rode high on Larry’s cheeks, but he put his big hand over the smaller, work-roughened one on his arm and stood taller to say, “Ma, this is my friend Candace Fisher I told you about. And her mother Susan, father James and brother Kyle,” he indicated each of them in turn. “Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, this is my mother, Sylvia Novak.”
“Pleased to meetcha,” she nodded to the Fishers. “Larry talks about your Candace all the time.” She looked up at her son and loudly whispered, “She’s a stunner, hon. Quite a catch.”
Larry’s cheeks blazed redder. “Ma! Please.”
James coughed to cover up a chuckle. Susan surreptitiously nudged him with her elbow. “Mrs. Novak, you must be very proud to see Larry reach this milestone today.” She reached out to stroke Candace’s cheek. “I know I couldn’t be happier to see Candace achieving her goals. It’s not easy getting our kids through law school, is it?”
“Oh, I had little or nothin’ to do with it. My Larry, he’s just so smart, I always knew he’d do something big.” She beamed at her son and then turned to say to Kyle, ”Are you a lawyer too?”
“Oh, no ma’am. I left home as soon as they handed me the degree that said I was an official geek. I live in California now – you’ve heard of Silicon Valley?”
Sylvia Novak nibbled the inside of her bottom lip for a second or two as her mental wheels rolled through “geek” and “Silicon Valley”. “Computers and stuff, right?”
“That’s right. I write computer software…”
“Don’t get him started, Mrs. Novak,” Candace interjected. “No one can understand him after the first sentence or two.”
James said, “We were hoping that you and Larry would join us for a celebratory dinner. We have reservations at Ibiza. May I give them a call to tell them we’re six instead of four?”
Sylvia glanced at her son. “Um, Larry? You want to? I was gonna let you pick where we went anyways.”
“Yeah, Ma, I’d like to. Thanks, Mr. Fisher.”
Susan walked next to Sylvia as they wound through the clusters of ebullient families taking photos, and watched Larry and Candace hold hands as they led the way out to the parking area.
“We’ve done a good job, Sylvia. Our children have a good foundation to build themselves a secure future.”
“I always wanted better for Larry. I can stop worrying now, right?”
“What happens next is up to them.” Brave words, but Susan felt the same worry all parents do that they won’t be able to prevent their children from falling and failing as independent adults.
Larry wound and unwound a long, coppery curl around his index finger as he and Candace sat propped on the narrow bed that took up a full third of his studio apartment eating Chunky Monkey ice cream out of the carton.
“That went pretty well, didn’t you think?”
He snorted. “Define ‘well’!”
“Our moms had lots to talk about?”
“I wanted to slide under the table when my mom started telling yours how to color her own hair and save a fortune at the hairdresser.”
“My mom doesn’t actually color her hair. Yet. But she knows what it means to have to pinch every penny. One or the other of my parents was always in grad school when Kyle and I were little. You know academics never forget being impoverished students. It’s like they lived through the Great Depression or something.”
She spooned up some ice cream and fed it to him. He savored the cold, sweet bite as he thought about his years growing up in working class Norwalk, Connecticut.
“Mine has worked all my life, even before my dad died. I can’t remember a time when hamburger wasn’t featured in at least three dinners a week.”
“See? We have lots in common.”
After a contemplative, but companionable, silence, Larry asked, “Did Kyle call you ‘Piglet’??”