“Why do you have to do that Miles? Can’t you find somewhere else to play?” Nora whined at her eight-year-old son Miles, who rolled a ball back and forth over the green speckled linoleum floor of their third floor walk-up. She should be getting ready for work but is distracted by the letter she’d just received from the bank. Unbeknownst to her, Nora’s husband Noel had taken out a large loan against their business just a few months before he’d died, and now the jewelry store, the one her father had opened forty years ago, is being forced into bankruptcy. Nora hadn’t been too keen on being proprietor of the store, but the forced sale meant giving up her only source of income and her father’s legacy.
After months of negotiating with the bank, Nora had finally admitted defeat telling the banker Tollson that she was not going to be able to keep up payments on the loan. He informed her that the bank would begin foreclosure proceedings and advised her to hire a lawyer who could help her decide if she needed to file for bankruptcy or if she could sell off the store and its assets to settle the debt. Since she’d already been selling off what little inventory there was to make the monthly payroll, mortgage, and loan payments, there really wasn’t any other choice but to let go of the two remaining employees, and file for bankruptcy. Her only hope was that the property sold enough to cover her mortgage with the bank.
Nora gathers her handbag, coaxing Miles into his jacket and heads out the door. Her landlord Sean, an Irish gentleman and fellow jeweler, owns a store in the next town over. He nods his head in sympathy as Nora explains the latest developments in her soon-to-be unemployed predicament. Sean is the only one Nora has confided in concerning the loan and it is he who has been helping her sell her wares to other store in the area.
Noel, Nora and Miles had moved into Sean’s three decker building after Noel and Sean met at a jeweler’s show three years ago, and had struck up an unlikely friendship. They’d been living here less than six months when Noel died suddenly of an abdominal aneurysm; that was almost sixteen month ago. Sean is the complete opposite of Noel, who’d been a quiet, precise, practical kind of man. One who’d always remember your birthday but would give you an iron. Sean, boisterous, adventurous and a bit of a meshugeneh is proveing to be a steady, loyal, and gentle friend. Since Noel’s death, Nora has come to rely on his friendship and advise.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. We’ll fix this up and find something for you. And don’t you worry about the rent till you find work.” Sean turns back to the hedges as Nora leans on the handrail watching his heavily freckled, muscular arms tirelessly work the clippers trimming back the new spring growth. Imagining dinner, putting Miles to bed, the clinking of dishes as they cleaned, dancing around the kitchen, his arms holding her as they spin into a kiss…
“Did Miles ask you about going to the game?” Sean held the clippers up to her face giving them a quick snip-snip to get her attention. “Nora?”
“What?” Nora said when she realized Sean was addressing her.
“Where you at lass?” Sean’s eye narrow, watching Nora’s face with intent, keen on picking up signs of depression.
Nora gestured, hand fluttering out, “I was out there, I guess.” Her laugh was a tad trill, “What game?” Nora asked, visibly shaking her head.
“The season opener of the Red Sox of course.” Sean deliberately stared at Nora wide-eyed, mocking her for the ignorance of such an important event. Giving him a half-smile and a squint of annoyance, she replies, “Of course he can go, how could I deny him such an honor.” She really is grateful, Sean has been treating Miles as she imagines he’ll he treat his own son someday and he has thrived under Sean’s sports tutelage even playing on a Pop Warner football team last fall.
Two weeks later Nora has found a position in the town library’s business office, working nine-to-five, for the summer as a bookkeeper. Work she likes and is skilled at, but it has forced Nora to ask her former in-laws to watch Miles during the day while she works, a situation she can’t stand for long.
“Nora, what have you been feeding him? He looks like a street urchin who hasn’t eaten in weeks. Why don’t you come stay with me and Bernie?” Nora politely refuses, inwardly shuddering at the idea. Her in-laws are not bad people but they are overbearing and relentless in their pursuit of ferreting out the slightest flaw in people, especially Nora.
Live with her in-laws? Not a chance. She’d rather throw herself at the banker Tollson who keeps asking her out. And he’s a uncouth pig. Her in-laws question everything she says or does, every decision she makes, leaving her feeling incompetent and lonely. It’s as if they think Noel made all the decisions alone or that she can’t think without him there to tell her what to do. In all fairness she had let him make most of the decisions during their marriage but he was by no means acting without her approval. Yes, he had decided when they should get pregnant, he had decided to take over the jewelry store from her father when his health faltered and he decided they should move to Sean’s building, but she had agreed to all these things, hadn’t she?
Nora has yet to tell her in-laws of the mysterious loan or about the forced sale of the business. When pressed as to why she is working at the library, she’s made it sound as if they’d been desperate for a bookkeeper and she is doing them a favor. She again wonders whether she should ask her father-in-law if he knows anything about the loan but is afraid they would never let on if they were the ones having financial trouble and she just can’t admit to them that she didn’t know about it.
Just as the summer is getting into full swing, new neighbors are set to move into the first floor apartment, a widower, Gabriel, his young son, Marcus, and their terrier, Tommy. A cousin of a cousin of Sean’s, Gabe and son arrive in Boston July 3rd, just in time to enjoy the 4th of July celebrations.
“Fresh off the boat, they are.” Sean tells Nora that morning. He’s sweeping out the first floor and asks her help re-hanging the curtains he’s washed.
“Are they alone? Just the two of them? Nora says.
“They are, the boys ma got cancer. She died almost a year ago.” Sean shakes the dry mop out the window, dust swirling in the slight breeze. He looks up at Nora. Her arms and legs are bare, a slight sheen of perspiration shimmering in the hazy sunlight. He’s still afraid of her. Afraid of what could happen if he let himself touch her.
“Right, flummoxed I am. Don’t get cute and ruin it.” He mutters aloud.
“What? What am I ruining?” Nora looks down at Sean, whose face has gone beet red.
Nora steps down, “Sean, it looks like the heats got to you. I’ll get you some water.” Nora disappears up the stairs and Sean rolls his eye heavenward smacking himself in the head for uttering such foolishness “Out-loud for Christ’s sake, get a hold a yerself.” He sits on the third rung of the step ladder, head hung low, inwardly chastising himself. He isn’t aware of Nora’s return until she places the cold wet facecloth on his neck which causes him to jump up, knocking the cup from her hand and sending Nora flying backwards landing flat on her rear.
Sean is horrified, “Oh my Christ, Nora, are you alright?” He falls to his knees beside her, his brow furrowed in concern. Nora is starting to form the words “I’m fine” when Sean suddenly wraps his left arm around her waist pulling her towards him as the fingers on his right hand burrow through her auburn locks to the back of her head. A mere second of hesitation on Sean’s part is all Nora needs to shout, “Wait.” and the moment passes. He releases Nora, mumbles his apologies, helps her to her feet, saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was… I thought…it’s just…the heat. Are you hurt?”
Nora could just spit. That’s what she is thinking. Why did I have to say that? Wait? Wait for what? The disappointment on her face, Sean reads as regret, imagining she’s thinking he’d risk ruin their friendship just to make a pass. He apologizes again and rushes from the apartment, leaving Nora to stand there, wondering if he’ll ever try to kiss her again.
Nora introduced herself on her way out with Miles. “How do you do, I’m Nora Goldwyn, this is my son Miles.” Gabriel grinned widely at Miles, “Well, what luck I have, my son Marcus is just about your age. He’s staying with my cousins the rest of the week while I get us settled in here.” Gabriel is the prototypical black Irish man, inky black hair as thick and curly as lambs wool, blue bonnet eyes with thick cream skin. He is beautiful, chiseled and trim. He’ll be working on the docks for the summer but is a mason by trade. He has a position waiting for him, but the new job doesn’t start till mid-fall. Nora steps down the stairs, away from Gabriel. Miles asks a few questions only children have the nerve to do. “Why did you move here? Do you own that car? Can Marcus play with me when he gets home? Why don’t you have an Irish accent?” They all move down to the street.
“Enough Miles,” Nora flushes, she notices Gabriel’s hands as he unties the knot in the rope binding a trunk closed. He deftly maneuvers the ends through and around to loosen the twisted bindings. She flushes again when she realizes she been staring, stricken when she gazes up into his face, knowing she was caught. “I understand you just arrived in Boston a few days ago?” she said trying deflect his attention to her face and hers away from his chest. “We landed in the wee hours of the morning of the third. Went straight to my cousin Siohban’s, who threw a big Fourth of July party next day. Marcus had never seen fireworks before. We all drove over to Malibu beach to watch from the cars. It was quite the welcome.” Nora nods her head, her own thick blue black tresses swaying as she speaks, “Well, we need to get going. If you need anything just come up and please bring Marcus up to meet Gabriel when he gets here.” Gabriel watches Nora and Miles walk away, raising a hand to wave when Niles looks back over his shoulder at them. Gabriel wonders why Sean failed to mention how beautiful Nora is or that she’s Jewish.
Days later, with son Marcus in tow, Gabriel knocks upon Nora’s door. “Oh, Hello.” Nora beams down at Marcus, glad that Gabriel is not alone. “I’ve bought Marcus up to meet Miles.” Nora barefoot, dressed for cleaning in an old faded housecoat is self-conscious and wishes she could change but knowing this would look foolish. Nora does the introduction, Miles seems to be bit baffled as to what to do with Marcus till his mother mentions the new chemistry set his uncle bought him for his birthday, and the two boys are off. Nora turns to Gabriel, offers up a cup of coffee and is dizzy with relief when it is accepted.
Three hours later, the talking winds down, both Gabriel and Nora feel guilty for having taken up so much of the others time talking about themselves. Nora had just stared to speak of her trouble finding a suitable (cheap) caretaker for Miles. “The biggest problem is the hours.” She has been asked by a jeweler with a three stores to help with the bookkeeping but wants her to work in the off hours, four-to-ten, four nights a week.
Gabriel slaps the table happily “Nora, I’ll be working six-to-two. If you take Marcus in the mornings and after school, I’ll take Miles when I get home. This will solve both our problems.” Gabriel jumps up from his chair, grinning, grabs the mugs and plates off the table placing them in the sink. Nora rises from her chair, intending to protest against Gabriel’s offer but the boys enter the room chattering happily about going to the park to teach Marcus how to play football and this changes Nora’s mind. Maybe this is just what the both boys need.