cover

 

 

It's All in Your Mind

By Ann Herrick

 

Digital ISBNs

EPUB 978-1-77362-487-7

Kindle 978-1-77145-128-4

WEB 978-1-77362-488-4

Amazon Print 978-1-77362-489-1

tmp_4ce5c25e037b2cdf7c5d8a3848fe1b23_Ej5Bko_html_m15054807.jpg

Copyright 2013 by Ann Herrick

Cover art by Michelle Lee

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter One

1959

 

If I had to pinpoint exactly when I started denying reality, I'd say it was the night I went to The Exit.

"Turn off the engine, and let's go in," Caprice said.

"I just want to hear the end of 'That'll be the day.'" I did like the song. But what I really wanted was a few more seconds to gather myself. The dingy building with the dim light struggling to shine through the grimy windows was not exactly in New Haven's new Urban Renewal. "Are you sure it's okay for us to be here?" A mist of cold sweat formed on my brow as I watched people filing in. "Everyone looks ... older. What if they throw us out?"

"Vija Skalbe, would you cool it just for once? It's a coffeehouse, not a bar. No one here is over twenty. Trust me." Caprice snorted her snide, stifled laugh. "You'll be glad I dragged you here."

I doubted that.

Caprice lit a cigarette the second she stepped out of the car. "Just this one," she said. "I'm trying to quit."

I'd told her Karl had warned me not to let anyone smoke in his car. I took a deep breath as we went inside and ordered coffee from a rough-looking guy with a Frankenstein forehead. Caprice pulled me toward a mushroom-sized table near the low platform that served as a stage. I sat down and wrapped my hands around the mug of acrid liquid. Caprice drank hers black. I had enough cream in mine to turn it white, but still could hardly stand to swallow the bitter taste. My folks loved the dark brew, but my coffee-appreciation gene must have been recessive.

Blue smoke hung in the air from all the people puffing on cigarettes. One girl with long black hair touched a black cigarette holder to her lips, and blew a thin stream of smoke that swirled in the hazy light. Her over-sized black sweater hit mid-thigh on her black-tights-clad legs.

I slid my feet under my chair, pushed myself close to the table, and tried to hide. As usual, I didn't quite fit in. Ever since my family finally decided to emigrate from Latvia to Connecticut when I was eleven in order to get away from the ravages of World War Two, I had one foot in each country. I wanted both feet planted firmly on American soil. But my parents constantly reminded me that our roots were in Latvia.

I'd asked Caprice what I should wear, and all she'd said was, "Something somber." My black pleated skirt and mustard-colored sweater with matching cardigan turned out to be as out-of-place as I felt. I should've guessed, since Caprice had been wearing mostly tight-fitting black for the past two years. Her white lipstick, however, was new. Not a look out of Seventeen. Not that I was either. I tried to follow the latest fashions, but seemed to latch on to them just as they were ending. I was not what you'd call hip.

During most of the week The Exit held readings. "Beat" poetry, radical writers such as Jack Kerourac, that kind of stuff. I'd read in On the Road. I lost track of how many times the characters drove back and forth across the country on the open roads. I wasn't sure there was any purpose to it, but I envied them their freedom, if not their dreariness. My parents viewed American coffeehouses with profound suspicion. They would be appalled if they knew I was here.

On Fridays, instead of readings music was featured. I liked music, and that was one reason why Caprice was finally able to strong-arm me into going.

Caprice and I had become friends in the middle of sixth grade, soon after I moved to the small shoreline town of Chatfield. I was extremely shy. Caprice lived just a block away then. We found ourselves walking to and from school together, and something clicked. She helped me with my English, and radiated confidence. I admired people with confidence. Caprice enjoyed coming to my house where there was a father and a brother. She had neither. She liked bugging my brother, Karl, and he liked to tease her. Caprice and I became best friends. For a long time she was my only friend, and even now I was not what you'd call popular.

Caprice and I even had a ceremony to make ourselves Spit Sisters. We were both too chicken to actually cut ourselves in order to become Blood Sisters. So, instead, we spit into each others hands, rubbing them together to "absorb" the saliva. We figured one bodily fluid was as good as another. We cut a lock of each other's hair and clipped the tip of each other's pinkie fingernail. We dug a hole and buried the hair and nails. Then we marked the spot with a pile of round rocks we'd collected from our back yards.

We started to drift apart in junior high. When we started high school, Caprice announced that she'd dug up our hair and fingernails and scattered them. She didn't want to be Spit Sisters any more.

This spring I turned seventeen and my brother joined the Navy rather than wait to be drafted. He left his old Chevy in my care. That's when Caprice started getting friendly again. Maybe it was our history together—as well as the car—that renewed her interest in me. We certainly weren't in the same circle. Of course, my circle was much smaller than Caprice's, so I was more willing to adapt. I struggled to find my place in the world.

"Well, Vija ...." Caprice lifted an eyebrow. "What do you think?"

"What do I think about what?"

Caprice let out a loud sigh. "What do you think about The Exit? Is this a cool place or what?"

What could I tell her? That The Exit felt like a journey to an alien world to me? That my parents, instead of asking me the usual twenty questions, would've grilled me with thirty questions if I'd told them my plans to drive into New Haven at night. It was only a few miles, but to my parents it was another galaxy. I told them I was going over to Caprice's. Since she'd moved across town a couple years ago, it made sense that I'd drive. I just didn't mention that we were not staying at Caprice's. "Yeah ... it's ... cool."

"Maybe we'll meet some guys."

"Me? Meet a guy? Yeah, right." I crossed and re-crossed my ankles. What if I did meet a guy? Then what! Caprice talked about trying to meet "men from Yale." Yale! Guys from our own school made me nervous enough. But of course I couldn't tell Caprice any of that. When she'd been convincing me to drive into New Haven and spend the first Friday night of summer vacation at The Exit, she made me think I'd be a failure for life if I didn't.

Caprice just shook her head. With her naturally flirtatious manner, she couldn't possibly understand what it was like to be drab in every conceivable way. Besides, I wasn't interested in just any guy. I wanted to wait for someone special. Of course, back in junior high when I told Caprice that she laughed and said I was afraid of life. Maybe she was right.

"Cast an eyeball on him." Caprice gestured toward a lanky, dark-haired guy in a far corner. "He's a cool cat."

"Um. Yeah." He looked kind of gloomy to me.

The lights blinked and the room's discordant chatter turned to a soft murmur.

"Here comes Nolan Shar." Caprice nodded toward the stage. "I've heard he even plays gigs in Hartford."

"Yeah, I know. You've told me." A hundred times. As if Hartford was the center of the music world. Of course, what did I know? Caprice said this guy was a folk singer. I loved rock n' roll, especially Buddy Holly's music. He was killed in that awful plane crash a few months ago, and I still mourned him.

Nolan Shar stepped out of the shadows, up onto the platform, carrying a guitar. It was rumored that he'd attended Yale for a semester, then dropped out of school to sing. He was the kind of guy Caprice would set her sights on. I saw him only from the back, and took in the sandals, striped shirt, and chinos. A Kingston Trio look. As the lights dimmed, except for one casting its gentle, muted light on him, he turned. He looked out toward the audience—and smiled directly at me.

A swath of dark curls fell casually on his forehead. His stubbly five-o'clock shadow gave his face a slightly dangerous look. He moved with nonchalant grace as he placed himself on the tall wooden stool in the center of the stage. His hands gently cradled the guitar. He spoke two words. "Aura Lee." Then his long, slender fingers caressed the strings, and he started to sing in a quiet, yet almost gravely voice. "As the blackbird in the spring ...."

The music, I realized, had been used for Elvis's "Love Me Tender." But these original lyrics had a haunting quality, and filled me with a sense of peace and satisfaction.

Every word pulled at me. Or maybe it was Nolan's voice.

I applauded, too enthusiastically apparently for Caprice, as her mouth was tight with displeasure. I realized then that steady, rhythmic clapping was the approved method of The Exit crowd. Still, in the dim, smoky atmosphere, I allowed myself an intense smile.

Through his set Nolan sprinkled in a couple of lively songs with high humor. But the general tone of the music was soft and yearning. After his last song, he simply acknowledged the final applause with a nod, and put his guitar its case. As the lights came back on, he stepped down from the stage.

My throat closed as he started toward the door.

"Nolan, wait." Caprice's voice shot across the table. She arched an eyebrow. "Join us?"

Nolan stopped. He looked at Caprice, then me, then at Caprice again. He shrugged, grabbed a chair from another table, and sat down.

I stared into his peacock-blue eyes. I could not open my mouth. Fortunately, Caprice never had that problem. She launched into a monologue about Chatfield, folk music, and, of course, herself. Word after word tumbled off her lips, effortlessly, like rain off a roof.

Nolan sat, apparently fascinated, staring at Caprice, nodding occasionally, tossing out an "mmm-hmm," now and then. Finally, the flow of words stopped. Caprice reached out and placed her hand over Nolan's in a possessive gesture. "Can I get you a coffee?"

Nolan shook his head. "Sorry. Gotta split." He pulled out a pen, tore off a corner of my paper napkin, scribbled a phone number on it, and shoved the piece paper at me. "In case you'd like to talk some time."

Then he left.

For a second Caprice gawked in stunned silence. Then she sat bolt upright. "I can't believe he asked you out!"

"He ... he didn't ask me out."

Caprice rolled her eyes. "He gave you his number. Same thing."

"Yeah, right. As if I'd ever call him. Girls don't call guys."

"Maybe prissy little girls don't. But some of us do."

I looked down at the piece of paper and traced my finger over the number. I folded the paper in half, and in half again, then tucked it in my pocket.

From the moment Nolan strummed the guitar I knew he was someone special. I suddenly realized what I'd been waiting for. I'd always wanted to fall in love with a folk singer.

 

Chapter Two

 

The first thought in my mind the next morning was, Do I have the nerve to call Nolan?

I pulled the sheet over my face, embarrassed at the mere thought. I pulled off the sheet. It wasn't as if I was going to ask him out. It was a just a phone call. Now that I thought about it, I had called a guy before. Okay, maybe it was only Joel the Genius, to get some help working out a tough math problem.

But that was just the point. Calling Joel had been nothing to get shook up about. Why should it be any different with Nolan? What was it he'd said when he gave me his phone number? In case you'd like to talk some time. I would call. Just to talk. No need to sweat it.

I threw off the covers, almost knocking over one of my favorite ceramic horses, Goldenrod, off the dresser. I carefully put Goldenrod back in his place, then slipped my robe on and headed downstairs for breakfast. Mama was on the phone. I could tell she was fielding a call from one of Papa's customers. I saw Papa in the back yard, cleaning grass out of one of his mowers.

Mom put her hand over the phone. "Vija, run outside and tell Papa that Mrs. Holland over in Monroe insists that she needs her hedge clipped today."

I was familiar with Mrs. Holland's hedge. It was huge, and it took a lot of time to trim it. I went out back and tried to stay on the stepping stones so I wouldn't get my feet wet in the cool morning dew. "Dad, it's Mrs. Holland on the phone. She wants the hedge trimmed."

Papa rolled his eyes. "I asked her last week if she wanted me to do it this week. But, of course, she said no." He shrugged. "You'll have to help me, Vija. Tell Mrs. Holland, jâ."

I moaned. Ever since Karl went into the Navy Papa's eyes landed on me whenever there was extra work.

Even though it hurt my bare feet, I stomped back into the house to show my displeasure. "Papa said to tell Mrs. Holland we'll be there."

It wasn't fair. It was bad enough that I was built like Papa, tall and lean. With all the yard work I'd been forced to do lately I was developing muscles too! Girls weren't supposed to clip hedges and be muscular. They were supposed to be short and soft and curvy, and do stuff like field calls and handle the bookkeeping for their husband's yard-care business, the way Mama did.

I stamped around the kitchen, not caring that I was leaving damp footprints everywhere I went. How was I going to call Nolan if I had to work with Papa all day? It wasn't fair!

Okay, Papa always paid me each month after he totaled up my hours. It was a nice supplement to my occasional baby-sitting money. But still, it wasn't fair that I had to work today of all days!

I poured myself a big glass of milk and gulped it right in front of the refrigerator.

"Vija, for goodness sake, don't drink your milk standing up," Mama said. She gestured toward the table, which had a tiny vase of violets in the center and place settings for three.

"Oh-all-right."

"And don't gulp, Vija," Mama said in her gentle, nagging way.

"Okay." Mama and Papa raised me and Karl with a steady drip, drip, drip of instructions. Mrs. Moreau, Caprice's mother, believed in letting her daughter be creative, which seemed to translate to no rules at all. I thought I could enjoy that particular approach. Mama and Papa were simple folk compared to Mrs. Moreau, who was, as my parents put it, "quite flamboyant." It was unclear what had happened to Mr. Moreau, or even, it was whispered in tones of scandal, if there really ever was a Mr. Moreau.

Papa came in and carefully wiped his feet. He sniffed the air. "Mmm. Saldskabmaize." He loved the sweet-sour rye bread that Mama made from scratch with finely ground rye flour. Such bread was the result of much labor, which was considered holy in Latvian culture. Papa walked over to Mama and kissed her cheek, then washed his hands, sat down and slathered a large slab of saldskabmaize with poppy butter, made from ground poppy seeds.

The one good thing about being tall and lean like Papa was that I could, as he said, "eat like a sparrow—because a sparrow can eat ten times its weight every day."

As soon as I finished breakfast I dashed upstairs to put my hair in a braid to keep it off my face for work. My blonde hair was probably my best feature. I was one of the few girls at school who didn't have short hair. I thought it was easier to take care of, because it was long enough to wear loose most of the time, or I could braid it. I didn't need to sleep on rollers. When Karl was home, he'd tease me and say I looked like a beatnik. Then he'd howl with laughter at his own joke, because he really thought I was a total square. And much as I struggled not to be, I was. In fact, I was worse. I was a cube. Still collecting ceramic horses at my age, Karl said, was proof of that.

I put on one of Karl's old T-shirts, dungarees, and the heavy work shoes Papa insisted I wear when I helped him. "You don't want to lose a toe," he said. Papa was nothing, if not cautious. He also insisted I wear a hat, so I slapped on Karl's old baseball cap. Except for my size, I felt like one of the ragamuffins I'd seen in the old Our Gang movies on TV.

As soon as I was dressed I hurried down to help Papa finish loading the truck. Papa checked his list of customers for Saturday. "I think we'd better do Mrs. Holland's place first, before it gets too hot."

I just moaned and climbed into the truck. By the end of the day I'd be drenched with sweat. As we chugged and bounced our way to Mrs. Holland's house, I tried to picture myself after a long, hot shower, sprawled on my bed to catch a breeze as I talked to Nolan.

Too soon we pulled up to the curb in front of Mrs. Holland's place. I helped Papa unload the big mower. As he started on the lawn, I hauled out the two ladders and set them up next to the hedge. I unhooked the wooden tailgate and placed it on the ladders high enough for me to reach the top of the hedge. I plugged the electric cord into the outlet on the side of the house, and looped the cord through my back pants belt so I wouldn't trip over it.

The electric clippers were heavy, which was one reason my biceps were developing. Even though it was still early morning it wasn't long before I was enveloped in sweat. If I couldn't be spending the summer getting clothing discounts, I should have at least been able to work in air-conditioned splendor checking groceries at the new Shopsave, like Caprice. What if someone I knew saw me looking like a wet dog?

I tried not to think about it, and concentrated on giving the hedge an even trim instead. It was hard work. Papa loved hard work. He'd dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family. His idea of relaxing was to work on one home project after another.

About halfway through the job, Papa signaled me to take a break. He poured me a cup of cold lemonade from the thermos and we sat in the shade of a maple tree in Mrs. Holland's back yard. As I gulped my lemonade I noticed a curtain in an upstairs window part ever so slightly. Papa said Mrs. Holland always kept an eye on him to make sure he didn't charge her for any break time. I waved to the crack in the curtain, and it quickly closed.

In the back yard was a garage facing an alley. In this part of Monroe garages were not to be seen from the street. Too tacky or something, I guess. This garage had once been a carriage house, and, with arched doorways, shutters at the windows, and a weathervane on the roof, was grand enough to be a home if it were in Chatfield. In fact, Papa once mentioned that there was an apartment in part of it. At one time the Hollands had a full-time groundskeeper who lived there. Apparently, for the Hollands, the days of live-in help were over. But I think I could've struggled along nicely as lady of the manor with the cleaning crews I'd seen going in and out of the house.

"Well, break time is over," Papa said, with a slight nod toward the once-again-parted curtains.

I was going to crack a joke about the curtain, when I saw Papa stop suddenly and grab his arm.

"Papa! What's wrong?"

"Uh ... nothing. It's nothing." He massaged the upper part of his arm. "I must have pulled a muscle. Probably starting the mower, and it just caught up to me. Don't worry. And don't mention it to your mother. You know what a worrywart she can be!"

"You're sure your okay?"

"I'm fine. Now let's get to work."

As soon we stood up, the curtains fell together.

The lemonade must've helped, because I attacked the hedge with renewed vigor. Soon enough I raked up the clippings and Papa finished the mowing. When we were done, we loaded the truck. I climbed in and Papa clapped his hand on my shoulder. "Good job, Vija."

"Thanks." I let out a sigh of exhaustion. Even though Papa had twenty-five years on me, he seemed to have more stamina.

"You know, the rest of the schedule isn't that heavy," Papa said as he started the truck. "I can swing by the house for lunch, and you can have the afternoon off."

"You sure?" I said, secure in knowing Papa would not make such a suggestion unless he was sure.

"I really needed your help at Mrs. Holland's place, but the rest I can do myself. So 'don't sweat it.'" Papa smiled at his play on words of one of Karl's favorite expressions.

"Thanks!" Suddenly, I had energy to spare.

As Papa rounded the corner, a motorcycle cut in front of him and roared into the alley in back of the Holland's house. Papa scowled. He didn't like motorcycles to begin with, and what he called "stupidity in traffic" really ticked him off. Some of the kids at school teased me for driving like a turtle, but I knew I'd be grounded until I was thirty if I ever got a speeding ticket.

As soon as we finished lunch, Papa left, Mama went back to her bookkeeping, and I took a shower. As the layers of sweat, slime, and dirt slid off my body and down the drain, I started rehearsing my phone call to Nolan.

Nolan, Hi!

Hello? Nolan?

Hi, Nolan. This is Vija.

How pathetic. Even in my imagination, I couldn't get past hello. Then it hit me. Did Nolan even know my name? I ran the scene from last night over in my mind. I'd never even opened my mouth! And Caprice certainly hadn't introduced me.

Still .... Nolan had given me his phone number. He'd told me to call him. Me. Not Caprice. Me! That had really bugged Caprice, I could tell. She'd sat in steamy silence all the way home from The Exit.

Coming out ahead of Caprice for once in my life gave me courage. I hopped out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel, and pulled Nolan's telephone number out of my box of treasures in the drawer in my night stand where I stashed it last night. Getting a phone for my room, even though it was only an extension phone, had been the absolute thrill of my seventeenth birthday. That, and Karl talking Mama and Papa into letting me "keep his car warm" while he was away in the Navy. I sat on the edge of my bed, took a deep breath, and dialed.

The phone rang once. Twice. Three times. He wasn't there. Four times. He was there, but he knew it was me and he wasn't answering. Five times—

"Hello?"

"Nolan-hi-it's-me-Vija," I said much too quickly. I fell back on my bed. Why was I such a drip!

"Vija?"

"From The Exit. Last night."

There was the slightest pause, but it sounded like forever to me. "Long blonde hair. Pale blue eyes. I should've known you'd have a beautiful name like Vija."

He thought my name was beautiful! I almost swooned.

"You're so brave to call."

Me? Brave? Nolan thought I was brave! Too bad I couldn't think of another word to say! But I didn't have to worry. Nolan came to my rescue.

"Are you free? How about if we get together for coffee?"

"Jâ!" I slapped my forehead. When I was nervous, I sounded as if I'd just landed in Chatfield. Plus, I wished I'd hadn't agreed so quickly. I had to remember to "play hard to get," as Caprice would say.

"Anywhere you want."

"Hmmm. Let's see ...,"I said. Where to go? I could see I was going to have to learn to like coffee.

"Van Horn's, Nicki's, or Rosie's Diner."

I tried to think. Van Horn's was where most everyone from school hung out, and it was in the center of town. "Van Horn's."

"You sure?"

Didn't he want to go to Van Horn's? "Well, any of those three you mentioned would be fine."

"Let's go to Nicki's."

Nicki's was over in Monroe, and I thought it was sort of a dive. But what would happen if I said no? "That'd be great."

"Meet you there in an hour?"

I felt an odd twinge of disappointment. For some reason I thought he'd be picking me up. But of course he hadn't said that. I shouldn't jump to conclusions. Besides, he probably lived in some cheap pad in New Haven, a third-floor walk-up, I'll bet. It'd be out of his way to come all the way to Chatfield and then double back to Monroe. "An hour would be fine."

"Cool. Later." Nolan hung up.

I started counting backward. It was about a twenty minute drive to Nicki's. So I had forty minutes to decide what to wear. I wasn't even sure what meeting for coffee meant, exactly. Was it a date, in which case I should probably wear a dress? Or was it more casual? I decided it was casual. After putting on and shedding six different outfits, I settled on my tan tapered pants, my sleeveless peppermint striped blouse, and my brown sandals. I could only hope that was the right apparel for coffee in the afternoon at Nicki's.

I combed my hair and let it hang loose around my shoulders. I wasn't much into makeup, but I decided to slide on a touch of Baby Pink lipstick. I checked myself out in the mirror. I thought I looked nice. But what did I know? Did I really look like a dipstick? Oh, why couldn't I be one of those girls who just knew how to put herself together?

I told Mama I was going for a drive, probably over to Hammonassett Beach. Mama didn't say anything, and I could sense her disapproval, but she nodded, so it was okay for me to go. It wasn't as if I'd lied. I was going for a drive. Who knows, maybe at some point I'd go to Hammonassett Beach. But in any case, I'd only said I'd "probably" go there.

It was hot and humid by the time I hopped into the car. A tattered beach towel on the driver's seat kept the back of my legs from getting scorched, but it looked so tacky. I thought about ditching it. But then, Nolan wasn't going to see it. He was meeting me at Nicki's.

As I drove toward Monroe, I kept the window rolled down and the radio blaring in an effort to distract myself from the heat. When "Sixteen Candles" came on, I sang along, even though my voice is not that great.

Three songs later I arrived at Nicki's. It was right on Route One, with not a single tree on the property. Just a bumpy dirt parking lot baking in the hot sun, and a colossal pile of oyster shells just outside a door near the back. The faded green wall of the front of Nicki's was punctuated by two doors and a window. Over one door, "Restaurant." Over the other, "Bar." In the window, a neon "Ale" sign cast a thin blue glow.

Before I got out of the car, I checked my hair in the rear-view mirror. It was all wind-blown, but a quick comb with my fingers settled it in place. I wondered if Nolan was here yet. I had no idea what kind of car he had. I tried to imagine what a starving-yet-promising young folk singer would drive. Scattered across the parking lot were an ancient station wagon, two pick-up trucks, a big, black, motorcycle loaded with chrome trim, and a beat up, slightly-rusted sports car with the top down. Did one of them belong to Nolan? There was only one way to find out.

I headed for the restaurant door and hesitated only slightly before stepping inside. It took me a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. It was as dark as a movie theater in there. After a minute, I could see enough to look around. If Nolan was there, I couldn't find him. There was no sign saying I should wait to be seated, so I plopped down in a small booth.

From there I could see, through the doorway of the bar, a shadowy figure slide off a stool and stroll over to a juke box. Then I heard the clink of quarters, followed by Tom Dooley by The Kingston Trio. The shadowy figured emerged from the bar and revealed himself as Nolan, wearing a T-shirt, tight dungarees, and black boots. Definitely different from last night. Very James Dean.

"Hi." The beginning of a smile tipped the corners of Nolan's mouth, and he slipped into the booth, right next to me.

My heart turned over in response. "H-hi. I didn't realize you were old enough ... um, I mean, I'm not—"

"Relax." Nolan held up a hand to silence me. "I'm twenty. I just sneaked in there to feed the juke box. I left my fake ID at home. Joke." Nolan's face grew dark. "I don't smoke or drink." For a moment it looked as if he would say more, but he didn't.