tagRomanceJosiah, Emergent

Josiah, Emergent


CHAPTER 1: A Dance and a Song

Josiah Langer looked around the VFW hall. Older people sat at cafeteria tables, talking over the music which was just a bit too loud. There were pitchers of beer or Coke and baskets of potato chips and pretzels about. Lots of younger children were running here and there. One girl looked about his age, and he didn't want to look away from her as long as she wasn't looking at him. He'd be a freshman in high school soon, and he liked girls.

She was beautiful in a sleeveless summer dress: big eyes, dark hair, thin, and quite animated talking to her relatives in the dim room. She sat on a metal folding chair among some of her family, at a long cafeteria table covered with a paper linen. Josiah didn't think he'd ever seen her before. After some furtive glances and much courage-building, Josiah made his way across the room and stood before her. She wasn't talking to anyone just then, and she looked at him. He felt insignificant.

"Hi. Would you like to dance? With me?" he stammered, and he feared she'd laugh. He felt eyes on him. The woman across the table stifled a smile. The girl was looking at him, not in surprise but consideration. When she didn't answer right away, he said, "I don't know anyone here but the guy playing the music."

"Who are you?" the girl asked.

He smiled sheepishly. "Josiah. I'm Josiah."

She hesitated as if it were a hard decision to make. She looked over at the woman he assumed was her mother, who nodded shortly. The girl said, "My name's Erin. Okay, I'll dance with you."

She got up. She was an inch taller than he and probably a year older. They walked over to the dance floor, not touching, and waited for the end of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" and the start of the next song.

Roy saw them waiting and started in surprise, then smiled and shook his head. Josiah averted his eyes and felt his face flush; he'd hear about this, sooner or later. Roy was Josiah's friend Patrick's big brother, in his early twenties, and Josiah was along to help him set up his speakers and hook up the wires because Patrick was at a tennis match. Once the music started, Josiah had no work until the reception ended.

"My Way" soon concluded, and Roy held up a cassette. He announced into his microphone, "This is not a professional recording, but it's a good song. I play it at every reception, and people always request it again. 'Of Hope and Love' by Ava Fortner." He put the cassette in his machine and a thin voice sang a beautiful song, the first time Josiah heard it.

Josiah held Erin close because that was all he knew of dancing. He delighted in the feel of her arm on his, her right hand in his left, her left hand on his shoulder. They shuffled about, bodies occasionally touching, her hair smelling of Prell. After some minutes, Erin let go of his hand and clasped both hers behind his neck. He felt her back under his fingers. Every touch was electric.

The recording was amateurish and raspy in spots, but the melody and lyrics were gentle and hopeful about losing someone but never losing love. It was romantic. The girl singing it had a pleasant, clear voice.

Josiah and Erin looked at one another's eyes occasionally, but mostly they looked aside. Speaking quietly and nervously, they exchanged ages and schools and small talk, but mostly they were quiet. He was careful not to hold her too close; she might think he was trying something. They turned in languid circles until the song finally ended. Josiah looked at her for another second with his hands on her waist and hers on the back of his neck, and then he held her hand and escorted her back to her family's table.

"Thanks for dancing with me," Josiah said.

"You're welcome," she said back.

He hesitated, but he couldn't think of anything else to say, so he wandered off. He looked back and saw Erin talking to her mother, who was smiling.

The rest of the evening he wondered if he should ask her again, or just sit with her and talk, but he couldn't find the courage. Now when his glance went her direction, a few times she was looking back at him, and he blushed.

All wedding receptions end, and Roy announced it eventually. As her family left, Erin looked over at Josiah and tilted her head. He waved, and she smiled and waved back. It was simple and adolescent. Two kids danced, perhaps for the first time for each. It was wonderful to have a girl in his arms.

He helped Roy pack up his equipment, and he fell asleep on the ride back to Greenville.

The next day was a Sunday, and Josiah visited Patrick's house that afternoon, like many afternoons. They listened to music in Patrick's living room. Patrick's dad insisted on good music systems. He worked for a small recording studio in Mt. Healthy, on the Hamilton road from Cincinnati, and often handed them tapes that he'd rejected for some reason.

Roy walked through, carrying the big suitcase in which he stored his music.

"Hey," Josiah asked, "do you have that song where the guy dreams of his lost love? I liked it."

Roy smiled. "Yeah, I remember it. You danced with that girl." Roy couldn't resist teasing.

Josiah blushed. "Uh, I was wondering if I could hear it again."

"Sure. Let me find it." Roy opened his case and started shuffling things around. He held it up after a few seconds and flipped the cassette to Patrick. Ava Fortner was the handwritten name on this cassette.

"It's good but just a kid playing a guitar and singing. Not in good enough shape. I knew it was slow." Roy winked at Josiah, who felt his face flush again. "Listen all you want, but I'd like it back," he said. "Dad said the songwriter passed away before he could arrange anything."

Josiah said, "Thanks, Roy."

Josiah and Patrick listened to that song over and over that afternoon, as fanciful kids sometimes did on lazy summer afternoons. They lay on the carpet in the sunbeams slanting through the plate glass window of Patrick's living room, dozing or talking or just listening. Occasionally, Josiah sang along with the tune, memorizing the lyrics by repetition, watching dust motes float in the sunbeams. He mused about his one dance, remembered Erin from the night before, and life was good, dreamy, and warm.

CHAPTER 2: Singing in a Mall

It was a very pleasant reminiscence 12 years later. Josiah felt dreamy and warm again and wondered why it came to him in a shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon. Memories of that wedding reception long ago flooded his mind: images of Erin Somebody, two adolescent kids clinging gently and awkwardly for brief minutes. He imagined Erin's body against his, smelled her hair again (do they still have Prell, he wondered?), heard her soft voice, remembered her hand pressing his. He never forgot that unique elation, so rare in his life since. It was a wonderful, gentle recollection. His eyes were closed for thought of her again, for a moment.

Another hallucination, Josiah? He smiled wryly; it was just a memory, not a vision.

The mall was noisy. Kids were yelling, hundreds of customers were talking among themselves or to clerks and salespeople, water splashed in fountains, and from the lower level there was a hint of piano music. With the echo, it was a cacophony. Josiah leveraged past a department store and the musical notes organized into a song.

It was THAT song, "Of Hope and Love," coming from the piano. It was not just Josiah's imagination.

Now, on the upper floor of the mall, he realized he was still that dreamy kid from a dozen years ago, perhaps more experienced and embittered, but a romantic at heart. He smiled to himself; he liked that kid somewhere within him. Perhaps someday he'd reclaim that part of himself.

"Positive thoughts? So unlike you," he thought.

He swivelled over to the balcony rail, now with celerity. Looking onto the lower level of the mall, he espied the piano at the bottom of the escalator, and saw the pianist. The pianist was tastefully overdressed for a shopping mall. There was a small audience gathered and watching him play. He was quite good. He was not reading music for this song, although he had a stack of it with him.

No one was singing. "It needed to be sung," Josiah thought. For a moment, he was back on Patrick's living room floor, watching dust motes and singing dreamily. He felt as if he were in a fog, the mall were unreal, and these things were not happening.

Crippling reduced inhibitions, or perhaps it was the cynicism that developed with it. It was a revelation: combat eliminated his stage fright. He was careful to avoid sneering as he made his way to the top of the escalator. That dreamy kid inside him wanted out.

The pianist intended another round, bridging to a higher key. Josiah found the escalator and stepped on awkwardly, carefully placing his crutches, and as the pianist approached the beginning and he approached the lower floor, Josiah sang, hoping he remembered all the words. He sang loudly with a conviction that a timorous rendition could ruin a song. No point in gutlessness, Marine, he thought to himself.

The pianist's head yanked around and found him leaving the escalator, but he didn't miss a note for the surprise. He changed his playing though; as Josiah sang, he reduced his emphasis on the melody and increased it for the chords. Josiah made his way over, where he could lean and rest against the baby grand. More and more people were stopping now, hearing the moving lyrics as well as the beautiful tune.

The pianist nodded and decided to repeat the final chorus, because the gathering crowd seemed to appreciate it. Josiah sang on. Some bystanders had their cell phones up for recording. Josiah wondered if this were the greatest audience this song had known. Too soon, the final chord hung in the air.

People clapped. Josiah nodded and smiled; the pianist stood and joined the clapping and pointed at Josiah. It had been a long time since Josiah had felt notable, or had forgotten his handicap. For just a moment, he was happy.

He was holding himself up with some effort by this point, and the pianist saw his strain. He helped him to his bench. People were clapping enthusiastically, Josiah thought, and a few were saying more, or again, or one more please, and there were even whistles. Josiah was perspiring after standing so long without much support except the crutches. His doctor had ordered him never to use the braces again.

The pianist said, "I'm Sing Minh. I'm shocked you knew the words. It was good."

"You mean I sang a Sing song?" Josiah asked, smiling.

Sing smiled and shook his head. "I've had to put up with that joke since I played my first chord. No. I found it in some tapes someone sent me, saying I should listen. I did and 'Of Hope and Love' was great. I found nothing on the composer. Ava Fortner. No one heard of her. And you know the lyrics?"

"Yeah, I heard it at a wedding a dozen years ago, and my friend's dad had the tape from a studio he worked at. It might be the very one you have. They said the writer died soon after making it."

More, sing more, people were saying. Most were drifting away. A few were hopeful to hear them, and Josiah wondered: To hear Sing? He was very good.

"You do this for a living?" he asked.

"Yes. Love it. I feel lucky to be paid to do it. My greatest fear is losing hearing."

Some people were still calling for another.

"They want another," Josiah said, shaking his head.

Sing said, "Do you know 'Annie's Song?' John Denver?"

Josiah said, "Of course not, really. That was enough. Thank you. I'm no singer. I appreciate it."

Sing looked disappointed. "I think you're mistaken. Could I have your phone number?" he asked. "Or email?"

For a moment, Josiah considered giving him false information, but he put it out of his mind. He gave the information, Sing writing it on a sheet of music. Sing excused himself. "Gotta work."

He played "Annie's Song" then as Josiah wandered away. It was lovely, but Josiah was no singer.

Josiah was thoughtful as he crutched through the mall. Did Erin ever think of him? Someone probably married her, loved her, had kids with her. She should be loved by now. He shook his head as if to clear away cobwebs of doleful thought. He admitted the single dance with an unknown girl had a curious meaning for him. He doubted he'd ever have such a moment again.

He didn't treasure many memories. Mostly, he wished they'd never come back.

CHAPTER 3: Virgin Plus One

He grew up in Greenville, Ohio, playing tennis, running cross country, and singing in the glee club. He watched his parents sink into alcoholism, losing his dad to a heart attack when Josiah was 10 and his mother to exhaustion and liver cancer over the summer between his high school and college. In her years of foggy drinking, she dragged herself through life for his sake.

He had some cousins he hardly knew, an aunt by marriage to his mother's brother. They were not rich, and he knew taking responsibility for him would be a burden. There was no need. He had been practically on his own for some years. An older only child, his mother working nights, father passed, he was used to fending for himself. His mother's life insurance would pay his tuition; he would work summers, weekends, and evenings delivering flowers for a florist to pay for room and board.

"We'd be more than happy to have you stay with us, now or anytime, if you need help or just want to be a kid," Aunt Dotty offered. It was sincere, or at least Dotty hid her trepidation.

Josiah smiled. He was familiar with their situation: constantly on the brink of divorce, children young and needing attention, and his uncle irresponsible. "No, not right away. I'll be in Cincinnati, working and going to school. Mom and I talked about things a lot the last six months, I think I'm ready. If I mess something up or change my plans, I'd like to keep you as my fall-back plan, though."

She brightened at that. "Sounds like a good way to go. I may check on you every now and again. Just a phone call, you know?"

"Thanks, Aunt Dotty," he replied, kissing her cheek. He didn't think he'd want to take her up on it with her four kids under 10, but he liked her and she was a great cook. They lived somewhere near Whitley City, Kentucky, which was not near Cincinnati.

Things worked out. He saw Dotty's family at Christmas, talked to her on the phone once a month or so, and lived in a little apartment near UC. He got through school, delivered tons of flowers, and actually saved some money. Dotty dropped out of his life his junior year when she divorced Josiah's uncle. She moved with his cousins to California for work and to be away from her ex. She called Josiah once after that, but then lost contact.

There was no mom to ask, no mother to tell, no shoulder on which to cry, no one definitely on his side. He was orphaned and barely old enough. College poverty and steady work occupied his attention. The whole world looked different after his mother died. He was on his own.


One girl taught him a lesson.

He met her at a party, she a little girl with a cute face and pert body wearing too much black: dark hair, dark nails, dark eyes and shadow, dark clothes. She was perhaps 20. Her black/blue hair hung straight. She was startlingly white-skinned. She seemed to be alone, and she didn't leave when he sat beside her on a couch.

"Hello, I'm Josiah."

"Ari El," she said, "two words." He shook her hand and she didn't let go, so he scooted closer to her on the sofa. They talked for a while as people moved about them, talking and laughing and drinking beer. Beer was almost thrust into their hands, and Ari El sipped as he drank. She laughed quietly, talked about her major (anthropology of some sort). She said she lived in Cooper Hall, and he found his hand creeping up her shirt as she pushed her tongue into his mouth.

"Let's find another room," she said, since people could see them, and he regretfully pulled his hand off her small breast. They found a bedroom unused on the top floor and wedged the door shut, and by the time he was satisfied they were alone she was kneeling on the bed nude with her legs apart. She had a dark bush; he thought that was unusual for a woman their age, but so be it.

She said, "I hope you like what you see."

"I do," he agreed, pulling clothes off and standing there naked and pointing at her. "You're sexy."

She sat on the edge of the bed then and took him in her mouth, and soon she was slurping on his shaft as he squeezed those little breasts. With no ado she pulled off him. She had a condom under the pillow, ripped the foil off, and unrolled it over him. She made it a sensual experience, looking up at him with a smile as she did. She lay back with her legs spread. It was as if she had a series she wanted to follow: 1. Kiss; 2. Undress; 3. Suck; 4. Fuck; 5...

"Fuck me," she said. Step four. He put his hands one behind her left and the other her right knee, spread her wider, and slid into her. He had never felt such a thing: acceptance and desire and power. They were both new to it, he was sure, and neither of them would last long. He was thrusting hard and slow, her legs now folded back to her shoulders as he gathered her to him, and they kissed as it went on. He felt the welling of his orgasm.

"I'm going to cum," he said.

"In my mouth, please!" she responded, so he pulled out and she slid the condom off (in his sensitive state it was almost too much) and as soon as those darkly-painted lips touched his cock, he was spurting, one after the other. She swallowed, smiling up at him, and somehow he knew that was step six. He felt her tongue circle his head, gathering all of it. She took a deep breath.

She looked at him and smiled in some sort of satisfaction. She said, "Thanks, that was great!" She threw her clothes on and went out the door. She was gone so quickly he couldn't tell her her shirt was inside out.

He was alone. He looked down at himself, shrunken and empty. The condom and its wrapper were beside him. Sex felt different than he expected; it felt hollow.

The number she gave him was false. The name she gave him was not registered at the school. He asked at the party apartment and no one knew her by name or description, or no one admitted it. He looked for her at Cooper Hall but never saw anyone who looked like her. He never saw her on campus.

"Obviously, there are things about girls I don't understand," he thought. It was meaningless, and he was disappointed in himself. Perhaps she'd punched a ticket in some weird game at a sorority or a bet with a roommate: they fucked and he came and she swallowed, so she won all 10 points! She probably got the super bonus for finishing in less than half an hour.

He guessed he just wasn't one of those guys who screw and walk away. He thought of Erin for some reason, and hoped that her experience was better.

He avoided college girls after that. It would wait. He was the poorest student in school. Girls wanted prospects. Women wanted achievement. He had neither. He considered possibilities. Graduate school would cost too much, his major was in liberal arts: writing books seemed like a dream but he didn't have much experience to relate. There was no group he'd been part of since glee club and the tennis team. He felt alone, cut off from society.

He lacked direction. He had no purpose. Like Barth's Ebenezer Cooke needing the perfect notebook for his epic Marylandiad, he could not make up his mind. He wanted his life to matter.

But unlike Cooke, he was not just purchasing a notebook. He wondered if military service made sense. His mother once said, "You play guns enough, you ought to be a soldier." She had meant it in jest. War was unlikely.


Women could wait.

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