Loving Forget Me Not’s new cover thanks to my amazing designer Amalia Chitulescu at Booktrope Publishing. It’s uncharacteristically raining here in Los Angeles, so it doesn’t look too different than this outside my window! Forget Me Not: Available on September, 2015.
As soon as Teddi saw the postman from her perch in the attic, she rushed through the house and out to the mailbox. She was glad Gertrude was the only one home. The maid would be too occupied with preparing six o’clock dinner to admonish her for running in the house. Teddi’s grandmother watched her all too carefully. Though Teddi was sixteen, her grandmother treated her as if she was a small girl with muddy hands and messy hair. She was used to it. She figured it was best to keep the peace and do what she was told. It wasn’t that hard. Take music lessons. Keep up with her studies. Attend church on Sundays and important social gatherings. All of her grandmother’s rules, though miserable to endure, were reasonable. Except one regarding a certain person she loved—Liza Donovan.
Teddi pulled down the silver flap and took out a small stack of white envelopes. She shuffled through them. “It’s here!”
“Hi, Teddi! You’re looking very pretty today,” Ben said, heading up the walk of his house. Teddi waved her hand at him. He was practicing being polite to her like his mother had been training him to do with girls lately.
“Thanks, Ben! You look handsome, too,” she replied, stuffing the rest of the envelopes back into the mailbox for her grandmother to retrieve when she came home from tea, then went back to the attic. Teddi settled onto the soft decorative pillows she had strewn across the floor. The return address read: Liza Donovan, Paris, France.
June 23rd, 1938
Everyday something new happens here. Last night, Mac and I sang at Chez Bricktop. Well, he sang and played the piano, and I pretty much sat beside him chiming in every few notes. It was only for fun at first. We were a little bit tipsy. But you won’t believe this! The owner, an American woman everyone here calls Bricktop, I think because her hair is so red, hired Mac as a permanent musician! I love it here more and more everyday. I really wish that you could come, but it’s better for you at home. This life is too fast for you, but I do miss you, kid. I hope I can see you again very soon. Until then, don’t forget to write. These little notes are the best part of my week. Write back soon.
Somehow Teddi doubted that Liza longed for her letters as much as she did hers, but it was nice to hear. Liza was always very pleasant when she wrote to her, never bringing up any memory of the past. Teddi had once asked her why she and Mac left, and Liza told her that if she didn’t already know she would soon find out. In a small way, Liza was like her grandmother. They both were intent on dreaming the past away: Liza through her life abroad, her grandmother through a need to perfect her youngest grandchild.
Her grandmother did not allow Teddi to correspond with her sister, and for a time, had intercepted their letters. Liza had committed the worst crime imaginable. To Elizabeth Donovan and so many others, it was even worse than her son being mixed up in organized illegal activity. Disgraceful. Disgusting. Unforgivable. Liza had run off with a musician from New York City. Actually, Mac Binot had been born in Louisiana, a handsome man with a caramel complexion, beautiful curly black hair, and eyes that changed color with his mood or the season. Teddi had eyes like that, but her sister hadn’t noticed they were anything special until she found them on Mac.
“His kisses are like honey and lime, sweet and fresh,” Liza had once told her. Teddi’s mother would have called Mac “high yellow,” Liza explained. Teddi never heard her mother mention the term but believed her sister, seeing as how she’d spent seven years more of her life with their mother than Teddi had. Liza didn’t call him anything but the man she loved, which Teddi found both romantic and frightening. How could anyone love another person so much that they’d defy everything they’d ever known? Teddi secretly hoped she’d have the opportunity to be brave one day like Liza and Mac.
The couple met at a supper club in New York the night after Liza and her friends had run off to see their favorite jazz band play.
Teddi and Liza were in their bedroom. Liza stood in front of the mirror. Teddi hovered behind her, not wanting to see herself in the reflection. It always shocked her how thin and boring she looked in comparison to her vivacious sister. But she was happy Liza was up and out of bed. The flu she’d had for the past three days had kept Teddi on the sofa downstairs. To Teddi’s happy surprise, her sister appeared that morning, looking pretty healthy. “I’m glad to see you’re up, young lady,” her father had said, sounding as disapproving as ever at whatever Liza did. Teddi reminded him that her sister had been sick, but he only waved it off, causing Liza to charge out of the house and not return until after the sun had gone down.
“I hate Daddy, you know that, don’t you?” She stared at her reflection, pinching her cheeks.
“Yeah, so do I.”
“Oh, yeah, kid? What for? You’re his perfect little angel.”
“Why won’t you tell me why he’s so mad at you?”
“I told you. He just hates me. He wishes he’d had a boy or something, I don’t know.”
Teddi frowned. “He’s been really mean to you lately. Like last week, before you got sick, he—”
“I don’t need a reminder. Just do me a favor, and don’t wait up, okay?” Liza painted her lips red and stuck her tube of lipstick into a handbag. She was dressed up fancy. Not church fancy, but city fancy. She looked all grown up, too. Still, there was something not right. For the first time since her sister came in, she noticed that her eyes were slightly puffy.
“What did Frank do now?” Teddi asked, knowing Doc Jessup’s son was the reason she spent the two weeks before she’d gotten sick crying.
“Don’t mention that name to me ever again; do you hear me, Teddi?”
Teddi held up her hands. “Okay. I surrender, your majesty.” She fell onto her bed. “So, where are you going, anyway?”
“No place you need to know about.”
“Oh, come on. Tell me, please.”
“Tell me or I tell Daddy you’re sneaking out.”
Liza rounded on her with narrow eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Not if you tell me where you’re going.”
Liza sighed then her face split into a grin. “To hear Cab Calloway play at the Cotton Club.”
“But that’s in Harlem!”
“Shh! I know where it is, Miss Priss. Don’t be so stuck up. The mayor of New York goes to the Cotton Club.”
“But nothing, Teddi. I just need to get out of here tonight. Can you understand that?”
“Good. Now go to sleep.”
Liza met Mac that night behind the club. He’d been part of the band and helped her get in to meet Mr. Calloway, her favorite band leader, and secure an autograph. Liza’s friends, Mindy and Joan, were too afraid to go backstage with her. Liza didn’t care. She worshiped Cab Calloway and was utterly grateful to Mac for sneaking her behind “enemy” lines. They got to talking before Liza realized she better get back to her friends. Mac didn’t want her to go, so as a compromise they agreed to meet another day that week. In fact, Liza returned to the city several times over the course of a few days, using money from her savings to purchase the train tickets. Then it stopped. All of a sudden, Liza turned cold, dispirited and sad. Then it happened. And they were gone.
Regardless of what the rest of the world thought, Teddi needed her sister and knew her mother would not like it if they lost complete contact. So, Liza made sure her letters arrived in the Thursday post when Grandmother Donovan was at tea. And Teddi sent her letters to Liza through the post office on Main Street, which was exactly where she was headed as soon as she scribbled her reply on the paper she had atop the book on her lap. Teddi said what she always did: she wanted to come to Paris. Of course, that was true, but there was something in Brookhurst that she wasn’t quite finished with yet.
“Now, Calvin, can I trust you with this?” the woman asked from behind her desk, pushing her wire-rimmed spectacles up the bridge of her nose.
“I’ve been picking up your supply packages from the mercantile for the past two years, Miss Pinchley, and they’ve always returned to you in perfect shape.”
“Yes, but this is different and very important. It must make it to the post office by four o’clock.”
Calvin nodded and took the brown shoebox-shaped package from the table that sat in the corner of Miss Pinchley’s office. “I’ll guard it with my life.”
Miss Pinchley’s stern expression attempted to break into a smile. Instead, it looked as if she was passing gas, but Calvin understood the sentiment. “Now be off with you, boy,” she said, giving him the fifty cents she’d promised him for running the errand and mowing the lawn early that morning.
Calvin opened the front door and stepped outside. He gulped in the fresh air, taking in the puffy white clouds and the blue sky that held them. The serenity of his impending freedom was interrupted when he spotted Doc Jessup walking toward the gate. He’d just been there yesterday, and he was back? Calvin shrugged. It gave him a reason to stay away longer than normal. The abrasive doctor made Calvin uncomfortable. For one, he always acted as if he were doing the orphans a big favor by paying a visit. Calvin knew he just liked to lord over them.
Calvin galloped down the front steps, brushing passed the sour-faced man, then made his way out the front gate. “Ah, freedom.” He held out his arms before him, causing the package to rattle a bit. Was glass inside? Miss Pinchley could have warned him. He continued toward Main Street a bit more carefully.
Miss Pinchley had come to understand that once she sent him somewhere, the chainless day would capture Calvin for hours. It had become all right with the stoic woman years ago as he always returned home and always seemed to stay out of trouble. A somewhat pious woman, Miss Pinchley seemed to favor Calvin because of who his father had been. He hated that, but he hated feeling trapped even more, so he took advantage of the special treatment. None of the boys held it against him. In fact, they treated Calvin more like a hero than anything else.
The last few years at the orphanage hadn’t conquered his spirit completely. He just wondered when his brother Riley would be back for him. He’d said he’d come for him when he was older. He was seventeen now. He was old enough to live on the road, but even he knew in his sheltered existence how badly the Depression was sweeping the country. Maybe it was best for him to stay where he was for the time being.
He whistled as he wove down Main Street with Miss Pinchley’s package under his arm and two whole quarters in his wide pants pocket. He passed the movie house. That was an idea. Maybe he would catch a picture and have a hot dog and popcorn afterward. The movies played all day, so he didn’t really need to worry about what time whatever was playing started. He could catch what he missed as it rolled by again for the next show. He loved hiding in the movie house almost as much as he loved hanging around Old Leo. People didn’t bother him. People didn’t stare. He arrived at the post office, which was just two buildings over from the theater.
“Hello, Miss Donovan,” said the man behind the counter to the young woman.
Calvin knew who she was in an instant. He’d seen her a few times in town over the past few years, but they’d hadn’t spoken, hadn’t really been in direct contact with each other since that day on her front lawn. She’d grown up. She wasn’t so tall, but she wasn’t short either. Her hair fell down her back in perfect dark brown spirals, and she appeared just as neat and rich as he expected Judge Donovan’s granddaughter to look. He went and stood in line behind her, the package he was carrying now gently perched on his shoulder.
“Hi, Mr. Johnson,” she said, handing the man an envelope.
Calvin shook his head, angry with himself for being momentarily mesmerized by the line of her olive arm as it returned to her side. He wanted to say something nasty to her but was unable to think of anything particularly venomous. He decided bothersome would suffice. “You know, Miss Donovan, you could mail that letter from home, and you wouldn’t have to walk all the way into town.”
“Do I know you?”
“Thankfully, no,” Calvin said. His nose twitched. She smelled good. He didn’t like that.
“Well, then I’d suggest you mind your own business.”
“I will. As soon as you move out of my way, so I can get on with that business.”
Teddi frowned at him but stepped aside.
Calvin explained to the clerk he needed to send Miss Pinchley’s package special delivery. “There’s glass inside,” the clerk said.
Calvin shrugged. “Maybe it’s a gift,” he said.
“Okay, Mr. Wine, I’ll get that fixed up right for ya.”
“It’s Wynne, you know, like the wind?”
The clerk chuckled. “Think I don’t know you, boy? Your pop was my favorite preacher. I was just pullin’ your chain.”
Calvin shook his head as the clerk disappeared into the back with Miss Pinchley’s package.
The Donovan girl was still there, her presence curling around him like sinuous vines. He couldn’t hate her that much, could he? No. The pressure on his senses was probably because she was standing there staring at him. “Can I help you?”
Teddi looked startled. “I—I do have a question,” she said as the clerk emerged from the backroom.
Calvin took the slip from the clerk before turning back to Teddi. He detected uncertainty in her soft hazel eyes. He relented a bit. “What’s that?”
“Is it me you really hate or just my family, in general?”
Calvin opened and closed his mouth and his heartbeat picked up speed. She knew who he was. He had no idea what to say.
“I guess I have my answer then,” said Teddi.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to,” she said and flounced out of the small building.
The clerk gave Calvin a reproachful look. “Well, aren’t you going to go after her, boy?”
Calvin cleared his throat and stared at the door. “Why would I want to do that?”
The clerk shook his head. “Kids,” he said and returned to whatever comfortable chair he likely had in the backroom. Calvin heard a radio flip on and a scratchy newsprogram fill the nearly empty post office.
Calvin thought about what the man had said and rushed outside. He stood in front of the post office searching for any sign of her. She couldn’t have gotten too far. He jogged a bit down the street and turned the corner in the direction of where he knew the judge lived. He hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings. “Oof!” He ran clear into an old man, who stumbled, nearly losing his footing. “I’m so sorry, sir,” said Calvin, noticing that the Donovan girl was standing about a foot behind the old man.
“Are you all right, Mr. Paulson?” she asked him.
“I’m all right, Theodora. This riff-raff should look where he is going.”
Calvin’s heart stung at the comment, but he was too polite to say anything back.
“That’s Reverend Wynne’s son, Mr. Paulson,” Teddi said.
The old man squinted at Calvin for a moment as if trying to inspect him for authenticity, then his eyes sparkled with recognition. “Oh, my boy,” he said. “I didn’t realize. Terrible thing that happened to your family.” He looked between the two young people who both fidgeted under his scrutiny. They knew what things were running through his mind. “Terrible,” he muttered, shaking his head. He tipped his hat to Teddi, suddenly unable to meet her eyes, and went on his way. Naturally, the tension between Calvin and Teddi did not dissipate after the old man’s departure.
“Why did you say that?” asked Calvin.
Teddi shrugged. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
“Does it make me any better because I am the glorified dead minister’s son than any other orphan in town?”
Teddi bit her lip. “I—well, no, but why are you talking to me, anyway? I thought you hated me.”
“I’m sorry. I never… I mean… I really don’t know you. So, I really can’t hate you, can I?”
“You have every right to,” said Teddi, shifting her eyes to the pavement.
Calvin spent years agreeing with that sentiment. “Actually, I have no right to at all.” He didn’t. It wasn’t fair.
Teddi peeked up at him under the shade of her hand as the summer sun beat down on them and smiled a little. “So, um, why don’t you walk with me toward my house?”
Calvin looked down at her, unsure. The way her eyelashes touched the skin of her face as she slowly blinked, waiting for his answer, made him tingle a bit. He grinned. “Do you have to go home?”
“I suppose not right away. My grandmother is out for a while.”
“I was thinking…” that maybe this was a bad idea.
Teddi blinked. “I’m sorry. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking… I have some money burning a hole in my pocket, and um, well, would you chance being seen going to see a movie with a riff-raff like me?”
Teddi gasped. “Are you asking me on a date?”
“Nothing like that, so you can close your mouth.” He laughed as she blushed. “I just like to watch movies and I don’t always want to go alone. Besides, you’re too young to date.”
Her eyes widened. “I’m sixteen. And I love movies, too.”
Calvin started walking with Teddi following beside him. “You should wait a year before you date,” he went on, rounding the corner and passing the post office again. “Sixteen is still a kid.”
“Oh? And what would you know?”
Calvin chuckled. He liked her spirit. Although it was apparent to him that she was probably as sheltered as the roots beneath Old Leo and as pampered as a newborn. “I know plenty, Miss Theodora.”
“Ugh. Only my grandmother and the old guard around here call me that. Please, just Teddi,” she said as they approached the movie house, Calvin laughing but not teasing her any further. They looked up at the marquee. It read Bringing Up Baby and Daffy Duck in Hollywood.
“I love that Daffy Duck,” said Calvin.
Teddi wrinkled her nose but laughed. “Why does that not surprise me?”
Calvin poked out his lip, and Teddi laughed again. “I’m glad you think I’m so funny, Miss Theodora. Sorry… Teddi.”
Teddi smiled. As they stepped up to the counter, Calvin felt a tap on his shoulder. “Since it’s not a date, I buy my own ticket and popcorn.”
“Okay.” He was secretly glad. After he thought about it, fifty cents would hardly be enough to buy two tickets and snacks, if she wanted them.
“All right then,” she said, returning his smile.
She was pretty, that was for sure, pretty and refined, and someone he knew would never, and should never, think twice about him—the orphan, the riff-raff, the nobody. Besides, she was a Donovan. He had sworn to despise her family for all time, but that didn’t have to include Teddi, did it? Calvin shook these thoughts off quickly. Today, he was going to enjoy his freedom, his movie, and the possibility of a new friend.