by Steve Joos
A single uncle and aunt try to reunite niece and nephew.
|"Do you think the rumors are true?" Melanie Lowe asked of her date one Friday night.
"What rumors?" Steven Harris replied with a sheepish tone.
"The rumors about the owner of this place," the striking young woman with short dark hair whispered. "That she's also a private detective who specializes in reuniting lost lovers."
The passably attractive man sitting across from Melanie in the intimate booth at Connie Malone's lounge shrugged a bit.
"As weird as this town is, who knows?" he sighed. "There's also a rumor at the firm that one of our best investigators has a day job delivering pizzas."
"Oh! Tony Reed?" their server chirpily intoned. "Yeah, he's worked with the boss a few times!"
The server leaned over and spoke to Steven out of one side of her mouth.
"If you're in some kind of trouble, I can have the bartender call Flannigan's and see if Reed's working tonight," she cracked, eyeballing Melanie. "You'd have to get something to eat, but if you bring her along, you'd get a discount."
"That's all right. Mr. Reed's done some investigative work for my law firm, so I have a bit of an idea how to get a hold of him. We would like to order now."
"A tough detective who delivers pizzas?" Melanie chuckled. "You're right, this is an unusual place. Where else could a kid set up his spinster aunt with his girlfriend's eccentric uncle?"
Melanie's mood seemed to become more somber almost as soon as she mentioned her nephew.
"What's up?" Steven asked, noticing the sharp drop-off in his date's mood.
"It's Jeremy," Melanie quietly replied. "I don't think he's very happy in school."
"I'm not sure, but I think your niece may have something to do with it."
"Uh-oh. What happened?"
"I wish I knew."
Steven thought for a moment and then flushed a shocked red.
"You're not thinking of checking out those rumors?" he nervously enquired.
"Oh no, although it might be tempting."
“Well, don’t give in to that temptation. I’ll ask about Marcie and you check out Jeremy, but please don’t do anything we’d both be sorry for, please?”
Just then, their server brought the check for their meal. Steven gave the server his card, then signed a receipt and noticed something else.
“Note from the boss,” the server said with a wink.
’What was it?” Melanie asked excitedly.
“It says ‘If you need to see Tony Reed and bring the lady along, remember this,” Steven read. “If she wears boots, her meal is free.’”
Steven glanced admiringly at his date’s legs and then sighed. Maybe we’ll get pizza next week.
Steven's self-confidence became rattled as the weekend progressed, as he considered just what his lady friend might have up her sleeve. He did notice that Marcie was a little sad when was at her parents' house to watch football on Sunday afternoon, but any further discussion was quickly brushed aside by talk of how exciting freshman year was supposed to be, especially with her big brother Kevin om Northwestern High's unbeaten football team.
"We missed you Friday night," Marcie's dad crowed to Steven during a commercial.
"Well, we had tickets to the Pops and Mel wasn't too crazy about sitting in the rain."
"Well, you've gotta come this week. Central's the biggest game of the season so far, and everybody has to come out to back the Knights. You're gonna be there, right?
"Aren't you coming Uncle Steve?" Kevin chimed in. "The team families sit together for a tailgate party before the game. It's great!"
"I'll have to see."
Marcie shyly walked up and put her arms around Steven.
"Could you bring Miss Lowe?" she whispered. "She took Penny and me out to lunch yesterday. It was a big surprise and we had a lot of fun. She even told me how Jeremy was doing."
Steven nodded and smiled sheepishly.
When he returned home, Steven quickly dialed his lady friend's number.
"Steven! How are you?" was the ecstatic reply. "Dinner at my place! Tomorrow night at seven. Be there! Aloha!"
"Can I get a preview tomorrow around noon at Hunter's in the Central Building?"
"I think we can work that out.”
Melanie then worked on the previous day’s missed connection after Steven hung up.
“Hey handsome! How’s my favorite nephew?”
“I thought you wanted to talk to me? I can call over Chad,” Jeremy replied.
“No silly! I want to talk to you. We missed you Saturday.”
“I was going to come by with a couple friends of mine,” Melanie purred. “But you were at the library.”
“Term paper,” Jeremy sighed. “Sorry Aunt Mel.”
“OK, I guess. No! I don’t like school! I’m not in any classes with Marcie or Penny, the kids I’m in class with make fun of me all the time, I had to sit through that stupid homecoming pep assembly Friday and I cried all the way though that dumb thing!”
Melanie sighed a bit and reached into her handbag, pulling out a piece of paper.
“You wouldn’t believe who I wanted you to meet Saturday,” she said, glancing at the paper. “There were these two gorgeous creatures who really wanted to see you.”
“Aw, Aunt Mel,” Jeremy said with a sigh.
“Young man, I will have none of that. How’d you like to have dinner with me Friday night? I might bring a friend or two.”
“Well, you could be a little more enthusiastic. Let me talk to one of your folks.”
After the weekend, Steven definitely wanted to know what Melanie had been up to.
“What did you do with my niece Saturday?” he asked at lunch the next day.
“I took Marcie and her friend to lunch and uh, a little shopping,” Melanie simpered a bit. “You know, girl stuff.”
“Don’t tell me you went to Malone’s or Flannigan’s! Please?”
“The tea room at Harbour Brothers in the Centre. Then we went to the shoe department at Harbour’s and each bought a new pair of boots.”
Melanie then lifted her left leg and pulled up her skirt to display her new footwear.
“Do you like mine?”
Steven would have been a little more approving under different circumstances.
“Nice,” he sighed. “Did you swing by Jeremy’s so Marcie and Penny could show off theirs?”
“I thought about it, but when I called his house, his mom said that Jeremy had gone to the library.”
Steven blanchched slightly, not knowing whether to give out a sigh of relief or be sad at the missed opportunity.
“However, I did call Jeremy’s house last night and got his folks’ permission to take him out to dinner Friday night.”
“And you want me to..”
“Are you up for a double date?“
“Am I going to have a choice?”
“You bring the girl, I’ll bring the boy. Malone’s Family Room Friday night at 6:30!”
Steven shuffled back to the courthouse for an important meeting only to run into his brother Ray.
“Hey Steve! Got a few minutes?”
“Great. First, could you give this to Mel?” Ray asked, handing Steven a check.
“What’s this for?”
“Treating Marcie and her friend Saturday.”
“So, are you coming to the game Friday?”
“Come on, Steve. You’ve only been to one game this season. Kevin’s team is the best in the state.”
“Well, they’ve played two toad games, one of which was three hours north of here and the other started early while I was still at work. And the weather last week..”
“What about the Pekin game?”
“Mel wanted to watch the second half of The Guns of Navarone.”
Ray shook his head slightly as the two entered an elevator.
“Mel, Mel, Mel,” he grumbled slightly. “Oh well, she did have some fun with Marcie and Penny Saturday. Oh well, she’s a good sport.”
“Well, helping Marcie kind of come out. You know, maybe she can give her some help with turning a boy’s head.”
“I don’t think that’s what Melanie had in mind.”
Ray’s eyes bulged.
“Do you mean to tell me that she’s primping my daughter for that idiot nephew of hers?”
“Well, I, um think so,” Steven said, his hesitation gradually giving way indignation. “Wait a minute! Jeremy’s not that bad a kid! The few times I met him, he seemed to be pretty nice. Just because he’s not a jock doesn’t mean he’s a bad kid. And he likes Marcie just the way she is! Ever stop to think of that?”
A stunned expression crossed Ray’s face as his youngest brother continued laying it on before telling him that he was borrowing Marcie for dinner Friday night before the game.
“And then what happened?” Melanie asked that evening at dinner.
“He said OK after I promised to get her to the stadium as close to game time as possible. Then Ray went off saying the next thing I'd do was try and get them rooms at one of those sleazy motels down on Bellvue Road.”
“Didn’t they just have a big crackdown there?”
“Yeah. I also asked him a question about history. When Ray couldn’t come up with answer, I told him ‘Jeremy would know that! Would any of those jocks?’”
Steven gave out a loud sigh.
“I don’t know what got into me.”
“Sorry I got you in trouble with your family,” Melanie sighed. “But Jeremy and Marcie seem so much like-“
“What does Jeremy’s family think of her?”
“That she isn’t much to look at.”
“They think he should be coming home with Miss America on his arm?”
“His mom gave him a list of people to call in case Jeremy felt lonely at school,” she said. “I asked if she could add my name. Guess who he’s called the most?”
Steven pointed at Melanie and she nodded with a blushing grin.
“And somewhere in the conversation, he always talks about how lonely he is for Marcie and Penny.”
“Why are we doing this?”
“Your niece and my nephew brought us together?” Melanie softly said, answering Steven’s question with a question and a gentle kiss.
Later that evening, Melanie went into her bedroom closet and took out an old box of pictures and other items from her youth. She fondly looked at the awkward young man smiling back at her in the Oak Grove school photo from 15 years earlier.
Melanie smiled sadly and brushed away a tear as she thought about her very good friend, embarrassed at the notion that Steven might find out.
Just then, the phone rang.
“Well, hello to you,” Steven whispered flirtingly.
“What are you doing up at this hour?”
“Working, and I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
“You’re sweet Steven,” Melanie sighed. “What made you think I wasn’t doing well?”
“I don’t know, you just seemed a little down,” Steven said, his voice cracking. As he spoke to Melanie, the usually urbane young lawyer was looking at some old items of his own, longingly gazing at a yellowing piece of paper with a large heart drawn on it.
“Steve and Patty” it read.
Friday proved to be a harrowing day for Steven as he found himself more involved in one of the cases stemming from a crackdown of several low-budget motels near the city. And since we’re talking about Westchester here, one should assume that things weren’t what you might expect.
“Study tables, chaparones and swimming lessons at a no-tell motel?” Steven said with more than a little bewilderment, “And you tried to solicit a seventh-grader at Langley School? For what?”
“It wasn’t for me,” the client explained. “The OK needed a history tutor, and the kid was a whiz at history, so I thought he might fit in.”
Steven shook his head and told his client not to talk to the press before moving on. It was late in the afternoon when he was able to phone his office.
“Hi Judy, this is Steve Harris,” he said. “Any messages for me? Yeah, I’m running a little late. I know, I know, you told me that Judge Whitfield has been going a half-hour later since channel 10 moved Perry Mason back to 4:30. Could you also call United Services and contact Melanie Lowe and tell her, what? She already called? She picked up the kids, but Jeremy is in trouble and she may be too? Call her back and tell her to hang on until I can get done at court. Try and meet me at Malone’s on time!”
Steven hung up the pay phone and rubbed his brow. I’m dating Lucy with good sense, he thought to himself.
Then Ray stormed off the elevator and grabbed him by the arm.
“We’re going to school,” he growled. “Your crazy lady friend tried to disrupt a pep assembly and that idiot nephew of hers ruined one last night!”
Steven had to collar a nearby associate and ask him to cover in court as Ray barked orders while they left the courthouse. Steven’s oldest brother was still ranting when he brought his car around, and still in full froth as they pulled away from the curb, completely oblivious to the two-toned 1958 Chevy hardtop following them.
Ray was still in full rant when they arrived at Northwestern High, not noticing the Chevy which pulled in behind or the man and woman who began following the Harris brothers into the school.
“He was crying during the homecoming pep assembly,” Marcie’s father fumed. “They brought him up in front of the pep rally last night. We wanted him to cheer up and what does he do? Stands there and glares at everyone!”
“Maybe you should have had Marcie and Penny each come down and kiss him.”
Ray flushed a deep red as Steven continued.
“That seems to be one of the reasons why he hates this place.”
“You sound like that lady friend of yours.”
“Why not? She’s prettier than you are.”
Ray and Steven noticed some chuckles as they entered the school office, where Steven noticed Melanie and met her eyes with an exasperated look.
You’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do, Steven thought to himself.
“Now what?” he asked indignantly.
“We had an extra pep session for the game tonight,” the principal thundered, cutting off Melanie as she started to speak. “We wanted that boy,”
“Be more specific,” Melanie shot back. “My nephew Jeremy!”
“We wanted this boy to show some spirit,” the principal replied, pointing to Melanie. “Then this woman comes in and yanks Jeremy out of the hallway and takes two girls with her. Completely unauthorized!”
Steven looked at the group of parents and administrators facing down Melanie. By now, the couple which followed him and Ray had entered the office, as had two students.
“I don’t get this,” he said.
“This is Jeremy’s school,” his mother said sternly. “And he hates it so much!”
Glaring at Melanie, Mrs. Lowe continued to fume about how Jeremy constantly cried to aunt about some nonexistent conspiracy to ruin his love life.
That’s when the other man spoke up.
“You could have fooled me,” he said.
“Reed!” Steven exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Favor for Connie Malone,” the detective said. “There’s no conspiracy, they’re just playing one on television. Look at these and you might get at least two reasons for this kid’s disloyalty. The school isn’t exactly carrying on a one-sided love affair.”
Tony Reed pulled out two pieces of paper and handed them to Melanie.
“You could have fooled me as well,” the woman standing beside Tony added.
Steven looked at the badge on Mrs. Lowe’s jacket, then glanced at a similar one on the woman standing next to him.
Where did Melanie take Marcie and Penny Saturday?
Harbour Brothers in the Centre, the young lawyer thought to himself.
“I can give you two good reasons for that hatred, if you want to listen,” Steven said.
“And if we asked Jeremy about who he’s actually in class with, I can find a whole bunch more.”
The principal looked around the office.
“Just where are those kids anyway?” he asked.
“In the auditorium,” one of the two students said. “Getting reacquainted.”
The principal glared at both boys and then led everyone charging towards the auditorium, where they saw Jeremy, Marcie and Penny sitting together on the stage, half-giggling and half-crying.
Hesitantly, Jeremy asked a question of Marcie and then lightly kissed her cheek before she could answer.
“Oh Jeremy,” she sighed, returning the favor.
“Would somebody please tell me what is so terrible about that?” Melanie said softly. “Why do these kids have to be kept apart at all costs?”
“Public displays of affection,” the principal said indignantly. “Boy and girl petting. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, there is no conspiracy against your nephew’s social life!”
“You could’ve fooled me!” Penny’s father said to the shock of the other adults.
“Kenny!” Mr. Harris replied. “Whose side are you on?”
“Raymond!” Marcie’s mom shot back. “Look at them. They look like we did at that age, don’t you think?”
“What did Mr. Fox say after that?” Steven wondered at dinner.
“He said he’d seen insincere handshakes more passionate,” Melanie said, startling her companion by answering his rhetorical question.
“Um, if you insist,” was the befuddled reply. “I really wasn’t looking for an answer, but..”
Melanie’s eyes made a sly side glance towards the end of their table, where Jeremy and Marcie were each finishing their soda refills, their foreheads now touching each other.
“There was a boy like that when I was that age,” she said wistfully.
“As did I,” Steven added. “Ray and the rest of the family all but made me break up with her.”
As they were leaving, Melanie made sure that Jeremy was not only the perfect gentleman, but that he also, well, she put Marcie and Penny on either side of him and made sure they locked arms while walking out.
“Enjoy the meal?” the cashier asked Steven as he paid the bill.
“Oh yeah, you always do a good job here.”
“The kid with the two girls on each arm,” a voice chimed in. “Was that the son who you two were talking about last week?”
Steven turned to see the server who had waited one him and Melanie the previous Friday night. “He’s my lady friend’s nephew and yes, he is obviously feeling better tonight.”
“Where are you heading?” the cashier asked.
“The stadium,” Steven cracked. “Northwestern is playing Central tonight.”
“You better get over there quick,” the cashier said, handing Steven a piece of paper. “With our compliments.”
Steven gave a nervous grin and took the paper before leaving.
Two pizzas for the price of one with two free pitchers of Coke at Flanigan’s. With extra breadsticks.
“OK.” he shrugged. “If that isn’t enough, the y had the cashier at the tea room, the gal who waited on them and the shoe clerk where Melanie and the younger girls bought their boots, they were all snitches! There’s a spy network employed at Harbour Brothers in the Centre! Sheesh! In what department does James Bond work?”
“Menswear in the downtown store,” the cashier replied.
Steven shook his head and walked to his car. As he looked over his passengers, he finally flashed a more devious smile.
Three good-looking girls wearing black dress boots and a coupon for Flannigan’s. We’re gonna save on pizza after the game.
And the kids were happy.
Maybe the rumors were true.
Steven was much more excited as he and Melanie took their young charges home after the game, which Northwestern won when Kevin recovered a fumble and returned it for the winning touchdown.
Melanie just kept looking into the back seat, watching Jeremy with one arm draped around Marcie, while she held his hand, blinking back when he would wink at her.
Penny, meanwhile edged closer to Jeremy from the other side, blushing a bit when Melanie spotted her.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m a sucker for happy endings.”