Maryanne's First KissbyDinsmore©
There is no sex in this story. It's just a sweet love story told in a narrative style.
A high school classmate of mine recently returned from our fortieth high school reunion. She had not attended one in a few years; I've stayed in touch off and on but have never gone back to my old high school town.
She emailed me a group picture of three dozen or so of our classmates. I was fascinated; while a few were easily recognizable, many were not. She helped me put names with the faces in the picture. Many had dramatically changed in appearance over the years; most had put on a little too much weight and all of the men were either balding or very gray. Among the women it was somewhat of a mixed bag. Two or three were quite attractive in their late fifties, even having become more so with age.
There was one girl not in the picture. She left for college within days of graduation. She never returned nor did she stay in touch. Her parents left the area soon after she graduated. Everyone remembers liking her; she had no enemies, far from it. She was voted, "nicest" and "most friendly". She was never part of a clique; she was liked and respected in every high school social circle. Many of us have tried to track her down but she seems to have vanished.
She was taller than her peers; I always sensed that she was sensitive about her height and slumped her shoulders so as not to appear taller than her classmates. She had problems with her eyes, a carryover from juvenile glaucoma. She wore very thick glasses. Today, the condition is reversible with laser day surgery, intraocular implants and has been for at well over twenty years.
She was shy and soft spoken; I don't remember that she had a date for the senior prom. Boys didn't pursue or flirt with her. She was not on the list of the top, hot, "cute" high school date prospects. She had soft, straw colored hair cut short, a very light complexion, skin that would freckle in the sun and Pacific ocean blue eyes. The dresses she wore were plain and loose fitting, giving no hint of her possible curves. She never wore a hint of makeup.
While she did not fit the profile of what guys saw as, "sexy" back then, no one viewed her as ugly or unattractive. If one of us had asked her to the senior prom, I believe that it would have met with approval from the other guys. "Great! You asked Maryanne to the prom. She's the nicest girl in our class." But, none of us did.
I was looking through my high school yearbook the other day; I lingered over her picture. She had removed her glasses for her senior photo; she seldom did so in day to day activities since she was legally blind without them. I wondered how I missed it forty years ago; she was a very pretty girl.
Let's assume that one of us did ask her to the prom and she accepted and start the story there.
That evening, corsage in hand, a young man went to her parent's door to pick her up and there was that flash of a Cinderella moment. Thanks to the radical new contact lens that she had just had fitted, she was not blind without her glasses but still forced to view the world through a blurry haze. The home made dress which she and her mother had made together while not sexy or revealing was quite glamorous on her tall frame. And for the first time in too long she decided that her date was just tall enough for her to stand up straight.
Why had she made that decision? The boy who had asked her to the prom, a boy who could have had any girl in the school, had always been kind and sweet to her since they had first met in fifth grade. He had been the one who had said, "dammit, Maryanne, you're a pretty girl---stand up straight." He had been the first boy who had ever told her she was pretty. He had never flirted but nor had he ever ignored her. He had for as long as she could remember always said hello, and smiled when others were too busy in their own social world to see her. He had never before asked her out on a date. As strict as her parents were, she hadn't ever gone on a real date.
On that very special night Maryanne felt pretty. As she walked into the school gym on the arm of a devilishly handsome young man, she felt special. Heads turned as the couple entered; some didn't recognize the girl in the long, elegant white gown.
For Maryanne that evening was amazing, magical and memorable. David was a wonderful dancer and an attentive partner. He treated her like a princess and she felt like royalty. Boys who had never given her a second look asked her to dance but it was in David's arms that she felt completely safe and very much like Cinderella.
He had taken her home before the affair had ended. Her parents did not want her out past 1:00 AM. On her own front steps he had kissed her; it was the first real kiss she had ever experienced. He had held her tightly in his arms and kissed her several more times.
"Maryanne, you were the most beautiful girl at the prom. I was the envy of every other guy. Thank you for a very special night; I'll cherish it for the rest of my life. I wish...we made a pretty neat couple, don't you think? I'm a lucky guy to have been your friend all of these years."
Then he was gone. They saw each other off and on during the remaining two weeks of school. They hugged each other at graduation, eschewing a kiss with her parents standing only a few feet away. Three days after graduation she was off to summer school at the state university. Her severe vision defect had caused her problems on the SATs. Her inability to read the small print had heightened her anxiety and she had not done well. Her high school record was excellent and her teachers made strong recommendations. She was admitted on a probationary basis to summer school. If she did well, she was in for the fall.
When Maryanne got to the massive college campus she had new glasses. Coupled with her new contact lenses she had a clear view of the printed page for the first time in her life. She was neither stupid nor dumb; she was gifted. Her vision, unrecognized as a legitimate handicap in those days, had held her back. Today, special accommodations would be available; back then it was, "tough luck, kid". She earned straight As in the four classes she took during those two summer terms.
It was in the gap between summer classes and the fall term that providence struck. Her parents had moved far away. The money for a trip home for two weeks wasn't available. What was available at the university's medical school was a doctor who had perfected a radically new surgical procedure which could correct her vision. It would cost her nothing. By the time fall classes began, Maryanne had retired both her glasses and her contact lens. She could she perfectly for the first time in her life.
Maryanne had also vowed never to slump again. It was easier on the huge campus of over 30,000 students. She held several jobs throughout her college years. She had even modeled at a local department store where she got a significant discount. Her wardrobe became less home made and more fashionable. Maryanne would never be busty but the little bumps on her chest grew to a respectable B.
She was an exceptional student; her professors took note and many invited her to their homes and became good friends. Her self confidence began to bloom. She became more self assured. She took electives in the speech and drama department and lost the stage fright that had plagued her since kindergarten.
On warm springs days when shorts were appropriate the long legged natural blond with the quick, friendly smile and the sparkling blue eyes turned many a head as she purposefully strode from one building to another.
Boys noticed her. Boys asked her out. A boy introduced her to alcohol and had sex with her. She cried herself to sleep over the night which followed. Embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated and scared, she vowed that it would never happen again, at least not that way.
She enjoyed other lovers during her undergraduate years; she had a brief affair with an older professor. She graduated, Summa Cum Laude and was accepted at an Ivy League Law school in one of the first classes to admit women. At a few weeks past her twenty-first birthday she was a stunning young woman. She was brilliant. She was confident and self assured but always friendly and caring. Sexually, she was mature; she knew what she liked and didn't like and was choosy.
The environment for female law students at the time was hostile; she endured demeaning and sexually harassing behavior from classmates and faculty alike. But, "the times they were a'changing". She graduated three years later, Juris Doctorate, second in her class and editor of Law Review. She accepted a clerkship with an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Maryanne had become the beautiful Cinderella and the dreaded midnight hour was way in the past. She often thought about that magic evening with that special friend, that handsome boy who had given her that first kiss and wondered where he was and what he was doing with his life.
She had called her best friend from high school who had stayed in touch with the happenings in that small high school town. No one was sure what had happened to David. He had taken a job about fifty miles away immediately following graduation. He had been slated to attend a respected University somewhere in the South---Virginia, Georgia or one of the Carolinas. Someone thought he had gone into the military; the draft was still in effect and there was a war on.
Completing her clerkship, she took a job as an assistant federal prosecutor. The top private law firms still weren't hiring female attorneys with any prospect of making partner. A stint as a government lawyer could help her get noticed. Three years later she had excelled; by all rights she expected to be nominated within the year as a full fledged Federal prosecutor. While sexism still dominated the private arena, female attorneys had a leg up in the public sector and her record was impeccable. Many of her colleagues thought that she might just become a federal court judge by the time she was forty.
Politics was politics and administrations change; a man with dramatically less impressive qualifications got the job. Fortunately, she had been noticed; a top private firm, specializing in appeals work and reputed to have a strong commitment to developing female partners came courting. Within two years she was pleading cases in front of the Appeals Courts and winning them. Weeks before her thirtieth birthday, she became a full partner in one of the top law firms in the country specializing in constitutional law. Every one of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court knew her by name.
She was making more money in a year than her father had made in his whole life. She had no siblings. Her parents had had her late in life and had been very strict. She knew they loved her in their own unique way but her relationship with them had been distant. It had become more so as the years had passed. She had enjoyed several reasonably meaningful relationships; she had come close to marriage but it had just not worked out. She owned more house than she needed with an acre of land on the edge of the District, sharing it with a pair of German Short Haired Pointers. She was between lovers and not seriously dating anyone.
She was a success; she had made something of her life. Her always cheerful countenance toward others hid the loneliness that often haunted her. She wasn't an unhappy person but still there was an emptiness inside that she struggled to deal with. As a full partner her hours would become more reasonable. She would have free time for the first time since she could remember. It scared her to death.
Perhaps because of her fear and loneliness she entered into a relationship with a partner in the firm more than a decade her senior. He was attentive, caring and a competent lover. It was not until she had accepted his proposal of marriage and become Mrs. Blumenthal that they both realized that their marriage had been impetuous and ill advised. They were quietly divorced a year later with no animosity and remained friends. Others in the firm marveled at how well the two dealt with each other following the divorce. They were two very nice people who, having mutually recognized their mistake, chose not to compound it with animus. They had been friends and continued to be friends and that was that.
One Friday afternoon Maryanne's former husband, the firm's managing partner, graced her office doorway. "Have you got a second, M.A.?" He said, using the initials that had become her official moniker within the office and in legal circles in general.
"Sure, Leo. I'm just taking one last look at a brief that I'm presenting Tuesday to the 5th. What can I do for you?"
"With Sid's stroke, I'm trying to ensure that his key clients are suitably distributed to the partners. I know you have a full plate but I don't think this one is going to take up much of your time."
The Sid in question, Sid Fineman, had been one of the two founding partners of the firm. Maryanne had a very special place in her heart for the older gentleman. He had fought for her to be hired, fought for her elevation to partner, mentored her and thrown cases her way that had been instrumental in building her legal reputation. She dearly loved the man old enough to be her grandfather; he was now in a hospital bed. The prognosis for recovery was dim. He would likely linger in a near comatose state for some time and ultimately expire within a year or less.
"Anything I can do to help." Maryanne replied.
"This one is one of Sid's personal clients. I'm pretty sure that he is the only one in the firm who has ever met the guy. Sid handled a copy write infringement case for him almost a decade ago---which he won---but since then any work the firm has done for him has been pretty mundane. Not a lot of billable hours here but a very loyal client with whom Sid had a special relationship." Leo, said, handing Maryanne the client's file which she began to flip through.
"Warren Davis? Are you kidding me? He won a Pulitzer for his first novel, a war story I seem to remember. Since then he's stayed near the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for the last decade, cranking out an average of one novel a year. I'm ashamed to admit that I've never read any of his stuff; I'm not that big on books about war, but wow! I had no idea he was one of the firm's clients."
"You might want to stop by the book store on your way home. He really only wrote one war story. I've read everything he's done. He's a talented author; his power rivals some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. His stories have always had a painful loneliness to them but somehow, in the end, leave the reader with a sense of hope. I mean, you cry, but the tears are decidedly optimistic as you watch his characters deal with pain and hardship and never give up when you sense that giving up would be easier."
Leo continued. "Maryanne, Warren Davis is a bit of a recluse. He was badly burned in a helicopter accident during the war. He escaped, unharmed, then went back and pulled everyone else on board to safety. While doing so he received near fatal and horribly disfiguring injuries from the intense fire. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. I understand from an article I read many years ago in the New Yorker, and from a chat Sid and I had, that he went through a long and painful series of surgeries, finally deciding that enough was enough. Sid said that the abject freakishness that burn patients suffer had been corrected but that one side of his face was badly scarred. I guess he just got tired of being stared at or asked about it over and over in interviews and dropped out of public life. He currently lives alone on a farm somewhere in upstate New York. He and Sid talked often but again, there was a real friendship---a special something---between them. He would never talk to anyone else in the firm. Correspondence has been exchanged over the years---it's all there in the file. Drop him a line as soon as you can to bring him up to date. You've always had a special relationship with Sid; maybe sharing a piece of that with Mr. Davis will help make you a more palatable substitute."
Leo said good night and Maryanne continued to peruse the file. Upstate New York and a RFD address. To her surprise she recognized the general location. It couldn't be more than twenty or thirty miles from where she had grown up. In her initial effort to get a handle on who this man was, she did a quick search of the new news data base that the firm had recently procured at significant expense.
There it was in the caption of an old picture of a group of men, heavily bandaged posing in a military hospital ward, the survivors of the helicopter crash. Brien Fineman, age nineteen, had been the crew chief and the last survivor pulled from the crash. It had been in the effort to save him that Warren Davis had suffered the majority of his injuries. The picture, included in a post Pulitzer article about the first novel did not include their savior, only a caption surmising that this incident had more or less spurred Warren Davis to become a writer. None of those shown in the picture had been willing to be interviewed.
Brien Fineman...Sid's grandson or nephew? It had to be. Maryanne gathered up some papers to include the new client file and headed for her car intent on making two stops on the way home. First, she would swing by the hospital, something she had avoided doing for over a week. Then she would stop at the book store.
Sid didn't recognize Maryanne but his wife of forty years was very gracious and thanked Maryanne for coming to visit her husband.
"I owe Sid an awful lot, Betty, more than I can ever repay him. He's been a very special friend."
"He loves you like a daughter, Maryanne. He knew from the first day he met you that you would do great things."
As an after thought, Maryanne inquired about the Fineman family. "Betty, I'm going to be handling some of Sid's cases while he's in the hospital. One in particular intrigues me. It a client named Warren Davis, the writer. I pulled up an old news photo of soldiers in a helicopter crash and..."
"Brien Fineman is our grandson. If you'd like to meet him, he and his wife are flying in from the West Coast sometime in the next few weeks. He's an aeronautical engineer and I know he'd love to meet you."
"Betty, have you ever met Warren Davis?"
"Oh heavens yes! He and Sid were, are, very close and have been since right after the accident. Our only son, Brien's father, died in a commercial aircraft accident shortly after Brien returned from the war. I guess in a sense, Sid and I kind of adopted Warren. Even though he is closer to Brien's age---he was a Captain and the aircraft commander---he became almost like a son to us. He was here a couple of days ago."
"He was here? I thought he was very reclusive."
"As far as public appearances are concerned he is very much so. His parents are deceased and his circle of contacts is very small. He has a brother who lives in Alabama and he is very close to his nieces and nephews. He stays in close personal contact with the other survivors of the crash and fire. He lives on several hundred acres in a remote area of rural New York state in a huge, rambling old log cabin. On the anniversary of the crash he invites those he is closest to up for a long weekend. He is a very warm and sensitive man, at least as far as those he cares for. A couple of times a year he comes down to the city to visit. He's painfully private. It's strange. His facial disfigurement has faded somewhat with the years and he wears a full beard. You know the second you look at him that he's been the victim of third degree facial burns but I guess when you know the man as well as we know him, you just don't see or think about his scars. I worry much more about the scars on the inside."