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Justin Campbell Justin Campbell
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Daniel Morgan [6]


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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

May 23rd, 1978


Daniel blew out the candles. It was his twentieth birthday, and he was surrounded by family – Leonard, who was finishing fifth grade at Century Public School, Beatrice, who unlike Daniel was having no trouble in tenth grade at Merivale (though she hadn’t gotten asked out yet), his father Evan, who had over the years advanced in his career to the point he was running his department and proud of his son, his mother, who doted on the cake and every little detail and was also happy for Daniel – and his grandfather, Edwin, who was all smiles and gentleness around everybody. As he looked up from the flameless candles, everyone clapped, and  his grandfather gave him a wink.


       Nick wasn’t present as he was off being a roadie for a band called Max Webster. Daniel hadn’t been close to him for at least a year, choosing to do his own thing while Nick ran around with some girl or got high at a park somewhere. It was ironic considering their families still only lived two houses apart, Marie running out now and then to ask Mrs. Masterson if they had some spare milk or butter if they ran low at the last minute before lunch or supper. But Nick’s older sister, Andrea, was there, and she too smiled encouragingly as he’d blown out the candles. Daniel hadn’t been completely sure why she was even there; she was still four years older than him and they had almost no relationship – since they were kids she’d only be there to scream Nick’s name if Daniel showed up at the front door. He had decided that in lieu of Nick, his mother had invited her – and she’d come.


        Everyone in turn presented Daniel with a gift – a TV Guide from his younger brother, a book from his sister, and a couple of records from his parents. After everyone had a piece of cake, Edwin beckoned his grandson towards the front hall.


       “You haven’t gotten my gift yet,” he said. Mystified, Daniel followed him out the front door.


       In the front driveway sat a 1975 Ford Maverick. Edwin turned around and said, “Happy birthday.”


       Daniel’s jaw dropped. He turned around and saw both his parents crowding the doorway, looking happy; obviously they’d known about this.


       “Wow,” was all he could think of. “This is…my god, thank you!” He jumped up and down in excitement. “This is too much, guys!”


       “Your welcome,” his grandpa said approvingly. “Your parents and I discussed it and decided you deserved it after getting through high school on the honor roll and quitting all that nonsense, which I know you worked hard at. Oh, I almost forgot.” He reached inside his jacket and produced keys. Shocked, the young man took them with reverence.


       The four of them stood there. “Well?” Edwin prodded. “Come on, get in it. Let’s see you start it.”


       Daniel looked at all of them – smiling, radiating happiness – and went around, unlocked the vehicle, and got in. Behind the wheel, he turned the ignition; the car roared to life.


       “Wait a sec,” Evan said. He ran inside and came out a moment later with his camera. The resultant photo of Daniel looking elated behind the wheel of the big car would go on to inhabit the same album as all the images of the three children and their parents on birthdays, summer outings, Christmases and the odd family portrait.


       Edwin hopped into the passenger seat. “Come on, let’s go for a short drive. Around the block.”


       “Really?” In the back, his mother and father clambered into the rear seats.


       “Yeah, really. Face it, young man – you’re on top of the world now.”
--
       Later that afternoon, after the little party had died down, Edwin had gone home and everyone had gone on to their own thing, Daniel walked outside to stare at the car a little bit. He didn’t want to drive it – that would only spoil the freshness of the gift, and the gas in the tank. So he just looked at it, excited.


       “Pretty awesome, eh?”


       He turned, almost startled. Standing on the sidewalk on Meadowlands, Andrea was smiling at him.


       “Yeah, I guess it is. What’s going on, Andrea?”


       “Not much.” She crossed the side lawn to the driveway.


       “I don’t see you often. What’s up?”


       She smiled. “Does there have to be reasoning behind every single action, Daniel?” She stood on the other side of the car’s big hood. “Since you’re twenty now, what do you think you’re going to do? You’re a man now.”


       “I don’t know yet. I’m taking journalism at Carleton – which is good because they have a good rep for that kind of thing. But otherwise, I don’t really plan on anything much but my part-time job and getting that degree.” Since high school, Daniel had gotten a job working part-time at a used bookstore on Merivale Road. Which wasn’t nearly as exciting as being a roadie like Nick, but Daniel also wasn’t nearly as muscular. “What about you? You’re…twenty-four. What have you…or what are you gonna do?”


        “Oh, just dabbling in this and that,” she said. Unlike Nick, Daniel had hardly a clue what Andrea was ever doing these days. But she seemed interested in telling him now, because she then suggested that they go for a drive in his neat new car.


       “Where do you suggest?” he asked her as he sat behind the wheel, fingers almost tingling; he’d never driven a girl around in a car before, especially one that belonged to him.


       “I dunno, Mooney’s Bay maybe?”


       “Are you sure? They got rid of that convenient parking lot off Hog’s Back Road, and I think you have to pay at the main parking lot.”


       “That’s okay. Come on, let’s go.”
--
       Because the parking lot situated on the peninsula between the rapids and canal had been dug up, re-seeded, and re-landscaped as green-space mixed with bike paths, tree saplings and benches, Daniel had to go further east until he hit Riverside Drive; then he had to access the much larger main parking lot which served the beach and changing rooms, where Andrea calmly paid the attendant a $2 fee. Feeling weird and awkward, he led the Maverick to an empty space in the lowest section of the three-tiered parking lot, which lay at the foot of the big hill.


       “Want to go for a walk?” she asked him. They got out of the car.


       They headed towards the neat little moon bridges, all of which crossed a little canal of water fed by the bay.


       “You and Nick were always inseparable when you were young,” she said.


       “Yeah, he was always around. I don’t know, we always seemed naturally easy around each other, since we were five.”


       “I remember. I always happened to be the one answering the door.”


       “Yes, you’d just yell Nick’s name and then walk away. Which is why I don’t understand why we’re here all of a sudden.”


       She sighed. “Well, all I know is that when a girl is always off to the side, often uninterested, sometimes it means she secretly likes the boy she avoids direct contact with.”


       “That’s interesting. I’ve never had that happen to me. Girls tend to not notice me.”


       “How do you know that’s true?”


       “I don’t know, is it not true? You tell me. All I know, Andrea, is that I had a crappy time in high school and no girl found my long hair or face attractive.”


       “It’s not true. And you can get smaller glasses if you think they make you look ugly.”


       “My parents won’t buy something I already have even if it means they’re smaller or less repugnant on me. But wait a second – if it’s not true, then you have a crush on me.”


       They stood together on one of the bridges, overlooking the still water. She looked at him calmly. “For several years, at least, yeah, I did.”


       “Why didn’t you ever do anything about it?”


       “Because – because you were always with Nick, always with my brother, doing whatever, staying out, always involved with him. And I don’t know, I was very shy when I was younger. Now, in my twenties, it’s not so difficult, but I’ve always kept my distance because that’s how I deal with boys I like but know it’s too complicated to go for, boys I’m too shy I like.”


       “I’m sorry,” Daniel said. He was quite flattered – and Andrea was actually pretty good-looking. He reached out and took her hand.


       “Thing is, I bury things down deep. And for a little white, I forgot about how I’d felt about you. And life went on, and we got older, and then Nick moved out, guitar and all, to be a roadie with some rock band – and then, out of nowhere, your mom invited me to your birthday today.”


       He was right in thinking his mother was behind that. But this was coming out so fast – he’d never, ever imagine something like this, even with a girl as minor a part of his life as Andrea, a girl he’d always been cordial with on the very small occasions they’d exchanged small-talk; she’d always felt like a very minor acquaintance, someone he knew through someone else and that was it. Now, to have someone like her tell him that she had a crush on him for years was almost crazy nonsense to him. That didn’t happen in real life. Did it?


       “Your mother invited me to your birthday, and I saw you as you are today, now a young man, and a lot of old stuff came rushing to the surface. So I thought I’d just bring you out here and let you know.”


       “I see,” Daniel said, feeling flustered. What was he going to do? What was going to happen next? He was completely inexperienced in situations like these. Were they going to start dating? How would he feel about that? Were they going to get physical? That idea was a crazy one in his mind.


       “So…what do you think?” she asked him. “How do you feel?”


       “I…I don’t really know.”


       “You look pale, Dan.”


       “’Dan?’ Uh, okay. Yeah. Uh, well, honestly, Andrea, this came out of nowhere for me, and, well, you are attractive…”


       “Thank you,” she immediately said, smiling.


      “But I don’t know…I don’t know what else to say.”


       “Have you ever kissed someone, Dan?”


       “Yes, I have,” he stuttered. “I kiss my mother whenever we say goodbye. On the cheek.”


       She giggled. “Not that kind of kissing.” She moved closer to him. Daniel fought an urge to step back instinctively; this was entirely new to him. He looked her up and down quickly; she was wearing a light spring fleece over a dark blue dress.


       “I meant, have you ever kissed a girl? On the mouth?”


       “No.”


       “Would you like to know how it feels like?”


       “Uh…uh…why not,” he suddenly let go. She put her arms around his sides, moved in, and, though Daniel closed his eyes at the last second, he felt her warm lips against his own, very soft and, surprisingly, kind of welcome. It hardly lasted a second before she let go and increased the space between them.


       “How was that?”


       “Uh…” He was almost speechless. But then, on the other hand, he felt that kissing was something he was actually longing for. “Um, can we try that again?”
--
       They stayed on that bridge for a long time, just practicing, in Daniel’s case. Eventually they walked back through the park as the sun set, holding hands. Very few people were about – just the odd runner or cyclist, the water was still too cold to swim in yet – and slowly they made their way back to the car. Before Daniel could slip into the front seat, though, Andrea asked him if he’d like to sit in the back instead – where they could talk.


       Pleased to prolong their evening as it was, he opened the rear passenger door and slipped in beside her.


       “You know, Dan, I never really got you a birthday gift,” she mused as they sat in the increasingly darkening vehicle.


       “Don’t worry about it, you hardly know me well,” he breezed, although he had an underlying feeling that she was on about something completely different.


       “Why not? I’m here. I might as well give it to you, if you’re comfortable and okay with it.”


       “What do you mean? What is it?”


       She smiled at him as she arranged herself in a position that told him she wanted him to lie by her, or at least come close to her – perhaps cuddle, or, he feared, something else he wasn’t ready for.


       It didn’t matter, though. Not really. He would become completely ready for it in very short time that night, and on the same day he acquired his new car, in the same general place he’d had many lasting memories, he found a new meaning to the phrase “I’m on top of the world.”


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Justin Campbell's website: http://justincottawa.blogspot.ca/

Next: The Secret