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Long ago…

It was another glorious week in late June. A light and viscid wind puffed several scuds of little white clouds along the endless sea of azure blue sky over Thatcher Blake. School was out and long, lazy days were in again. The air, though hot and heavy, did little to scare anyone determined to enjoy the vast outdoors. Life carried on as it always did. Kids played outside while their screams and joyous laughter competed with the droning buzz of lawnmowers. Harried mothers with little ones in tow dashed up and down the busy downtown streets, shopping and doing other errands. Others pitched a lawn chair or sat on their porch, watching the world go by while their minds drifted and dreamed.

On this lovely late June afternoon, Jeanmarie Hollem had one thing on her mind: The Fourth of July. Each year, her group of Sunday school kids performed at Redeemer Evangelical Church’s Fourth of July celebration. It was quite a popular event, and has been, for the last 6 years running. About 32 kids between the ages of 10 and 12, were working on a cute little old patriotic number for this one. Under her skillful tutelage, they practiced singing George Cohan’sYou’re a Grand Old Flag in A Cappella these past three weeks. Jeanmarie had a sudden epiphany one night that it would be cute if the group played a little kazoo solo at the end.

“It sure is gonna be a whizzbang of a party!” That’s what her young assistant said when Pastor Bales told the congregation that the planning committee already ordered the food for the barbecue. “And, as always, the big fireworks display will start about 9:30PM, give or take, so bring a friend and stick around after the food!” Planning:There’s still so much to plan, so much to do!Jeanmarie rushed out of her tidy two-story house and into her car. In about 10 minutes, give or take, she’d be back in the church basement, ready for another practice session.

Jeanmarie’s car turned down a neat little tree lined street roughly six or seven blocks away from the Hoppity Sam burger joint. Another block later, she pulled into a parking lot and stepped back out into the afternoon sun. There, the beautiful edifice of Redeemer Evangelical stood with its mighty singular steeple piercing the sky like a lancet.Hallelujah! Thatcher Blake, and its roughly 160,000 residents, seemed to have two claims to fame: Trees and churches. Jeanmarie chuckled cynically to herself when she recalled hearing a man at the downtown Sears and Roebuck trading quips with one of the salesmen in the hardware department. “Seems like this place has a church on every corner! I mean–how many churches does one town need?”

How many, indeed, as many as the Good Lord sees fit.

She crossed the parking lot and headed towards a side entrance, used on most days of the week when there was no service. A trio of butterflies ambled lazily in the air. Jeanmarie noticed the few other cars in the lot and saw that Syn, her young assistant, was already there. “Afternoon, Miss Hollem!” the girl chirped while a group of kids mobbed the Sunday school teacher. “Good afternoon, everyone.” Jeanmarie greeted apologetically. “I apologize for being late today. I think I just lost track of the time!”

“That’s okay, Miss Hollem, we’ve already started and everything’s going great so far! Pastor Bales just heard us on his way out and he says it sounds perfect!”

Whatever would I do without you? Jeanmarie gushed. Synnove Ersson, her rock and right hand, flashed the music teacher a winsome smile.

Synnove Ersson had come to Jeanmarie 5 years ago by accident. The 21 year old student teacher was assigned to her last minute when her preferred placement at North Haskell fell through. She wanted to teach music classes to high schoolers, but a scheduling mix-up brought her to Bernard Fisk Middle School instead. Jeanmarie remembered the girl’s first days at Fisk and smiled faintly. The girl would often stare at her, though the 48 year old music teacher couldn’t get a gage on why. She thought, maybe at first, that Syn was disappointed with the placement her adviser, Dr. Dahlgren, had assigned.

Miss Jeanmarie Hollem, dedicated music and chorus teacher, has been teaching for the kazak escort last 23 years at Fisk, and the last 11 years with Redeemer Evangelical Sunday School. Around a month and a week into her placement, she learned that Syn was actually a member of the church. “I don’t go very often.” The girl confessed. “Mom and dad kinda pester me to go. I love singing and I tried to join the choir, but there wasn’t any openings when I asked Pastor Bales.”

“Well, when one door closes, another opens…so I’m told.” Jeanmarie said. “I head the preteen group of Sunday School classes. Plenty of singing goes on there, and I certainly could use the help.”

“God, really–“

Jeanmarie inhaled sharply and her eyelids fluttered. “Synnove, please don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. I realize we’re in school at the moment, and there’s a planning period, but let us choose our words carefully.” The music teacher, seeing the girl’s face, noticed she appeared unfazed. “Gee, I’m sorry about that, Miss Hollem.” Syn said plaintively. There was a sincerity in her voice Jeanmarie never expected. She was old and a schoolteacher through and through, but the last thing she wanted was for her students–or Syn, for that matter–to think she was uptight. “That’s okay, Synnove, you didn’t know.” The music teacher said, trying to sound reassuring. “If you like, I’ll be happy to give you a little time to think it over.”

“No need, I’d love to, Miss Hollem!” Syn said. “When do I start?”

That was five years ago, and ever since, Jeanmarie Hollem and her merry group of kids couldn’t be happier. Synnove Ersson stood at average height for a girl her age. The now 26 year old had a quiet and dignified beauty that Jeanmarie greatly admired. Always a joy to be around, her presence filled both church and classroom. Her stunning smile and musical laughter turned heads and lit up any room she entered. And Pastor Bales adored Syn and her interest in praising the Lord each Sunday through song.

Syn could play piano and get the whole church basement roaring with laughter from the students with her jokes. When she graduated from Blake, she was offered a position to teach Treble Clef and A Cappella choir at Talcott High School. Of course, Syn jumped at the opportunity. And although Jeanmarie was a little sad when they parted ways at the end of the school year, she was happy her young assistant was able to get what she wanted in the end.

A sharp clap and shrill whistle brought Jeanmarie back to the present. “Come on, everybody, let’s get in place!” Syn commanded while the kids scrambled to form three rows. She brought her pitch pipe to her lips and paused. “Let’s show Miss Hollem how hard we’ve been working. Ready?” Syn blew, and a reedy note rose in the air.

You’re a grand old flag

You’re a high-flying flag

And forever in peace may you wave

You’re the emblem of

The land I love

The home of the free and the brave

Ev’ry heart beats true

Under red, white and blue

Where there’s never a boast or brag

But should old acquaintance be forgot

Keep your eye on the grand old flag

A comical chorus of buzzing refrain followed. The way some of the kids leaned forward, while others puffed their cheeks, showed they’d really put their hearts into their kazoo melody. Jeanmarie erupted in a burst of rapturous applause when they were finished. “Goodness gracious!” She breathed, the ever-present lilt to her voice was pronounced. “A week left, and you all sound perfect!Per-fect! Synnove Ersson, you do our little congregation proud!”

The class went on for another hour. When they were finished, Syn stayed behind with Jeanmarie while the kids charged out of the room and upstairs to meet their parents and talk with Pastor Bales while they waited. “Hardly got any sleep last night.” Jeanmarie said, making light conversation. “That Richard Dunaway across the street…” She muttered, referring to her neighbor’s 17 year old son.

“Fireworks again?” Syn asked.

“In the back yard. He must’ve been at it for three whole hours before I heard his father threaten to drag him inside.” Jeanmarie said. “My windows istanbul bayan escort were rattling from the sound!”

“Fireworks on my side of town too.” Syn said. “Fireworks everywhere.”

“Well, the Fourth is coming soon.”

“And my fan broke yesterday. I didn’t have another one. The heat in my little apartment’s been brutal! I took a shower before coming here, but I’m still irked…”

“Oh dear.” Jeanmarie said. “You know, I have an extra fan you can use. As a matter of fact, you can have it.”

“Wow, really? How much do you want for it?” Syn asked.

“Nonsense! Why don’t you come on over and I can fix us a light supper. Sandwiches and potato chips. I’ve got some potato salad from the A department head if memory serves–“

The girl’s lips stretched in a strained line across her lovely face. “Miss Hollem–Jean–can you keep a secret?”

“I’d like to think that by now, we’ve become very good friends; very close.” Jeanmarie said. “Of course I can keep a secret.”

“I’m not like the other girls.” Syn said plaintively. She stared at the remains of the chicken casserole she’d eaten so far, looking for all intents like she was in agony over exactly what to say next, or how to say it. A few painful seconds of silence passed between them before she continued. “Some people–a lot of people, actually–would call me a deviant.”

Though Jeanmarie often seemed prudish and unaware, she wasn’t. “Oh, I think I see.”

“I’m a lesbian. I never really liked boys.” She heaved a gusty sigh and her hands were shaking. “Please don’t tell Pastor Bales.” She pleaded. “I–I don’t wanna lose my job at Talcott if anyone found out–“

“Nonsense!” Jeanmarie scoffed. “I’ve known Lillian Tunison and Velma Blount for several years. And their…deviance, as you put it, has never gotten in the way of their reputation and professionalism. Besides, who am I to judge?”

Syn was incredulous. “Really? Miss Tunison was one of the teachers who recommended me for the position at Talcott! I had no idea she was–“

“Well, dear, I–I’m glad that you trusted me with such a secret. But for now, why don’t we finish this wonderful casserole before it gets cold. Potato chips don’t tend to hold up well when they’re part of the leftovers.” The growing tension was broken and they both had a good laugh.

The conversation moved on to other topics: Stories about Jeanmarie’s college days, Syn’s music classes at Talcott and an upcoming fundraising event for Treble Clef, and anything else the two friends could think of. But soon, the conversation took another turn. They’d finished eating and stepped the few paces to the tiny living room where they sat on the sofa talking about first kisses. Jeanmarie’s was with Porter Cheadle, a man she dated in college many years ago. “I was 19, and it was sometime during my freshman year.” She explained. “He stopped me on the lawn and offered to carry my books for me. Of course, I allowed him, gentleman that he was. I accepted when he asked me out to dinner and a movie in town.” The whole story sounded corny, and they both erupted in a fit of giggles.

“Gee, that name!”

“Ah, I know, but that really was his name.” Jeanmarie said. “Sounds like something out of a Dickens novel, doesn’t it?”

“Or P.G. Wodehouse!” And they giggled some more.

As for Syn, her first–and last kiss–with a boy was during her junior year. She went to Walker High, and a boy named Ricky Reynolds kissed her at the Homecoming dance. “I went to the dance alone.” She explained. “Well, not exactly alone. I went with my best friend, Kerry.”

“Kerry Jewell?” Jeanmarie thought she remembered the name. Syn talked about her from time to time during their visits together.

“Yeah, Kerry was a year older, but we were best friends. We did just about everything together. She…was also my first.” The girl looked up, and their eyes met briefly. “Gosh, I’m sorry.” She muttered, shifting a little to one side, trying to put a little distance between her and the middle aged woman. Jeanmarie saw the bright pink in the girl’s cheeks.

“What…is it like?” Jeanmarie asked. “To kiss another woman?” She was both curious and flustered azeri escort and the feeling startled her. At the time, she knew she was probably overstepping her boundaries and putting their friendship in jeopardy. But she wondered. She really, truly wondered.

A wistful smile, and a look resembling relief, lit up the lovely features of Syn’s face. “Soft and sweet.” She said. “The touch of another woman’s lips, why…they feel like rose petals. And it doesn’t really matter whether the kiss is soft or hard, or whether it’s quick or deep. The feeling is incredibly tender and sensual.”

“Oh, my…” Jeanmarie breathed, unsure of what else to say.

“Exactly.” Syn said. “And if you’re lucky, and you find someone special–someone who understands you–the whole world just sort of slips away. It’s just the two of you, kissing and loving each other. I don’t really see how God would think that’s wrong.”

“I’m sure I never felt that way before with Porter.” Jeanmarie quietly said, feeling a bit punched in the gut by her own admission. “Or anyone else…not that there has been anyone else. Not for many, many years.”

“Geez, I’m sorry to hear that, Jean.” Syn put a hand out, touching Jean’s, as she said this. “I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable talking about this.”

A strangely pleasant warmth filled the middle aged teacher, and the top of her hand tingled as Syn’s fingers and palm brushed against hers. “Oh, it’s perfectly all right.” Jeanmarie stammered, and she looked down at her lap. “I’m sure the Good Lord will send somebody my way someday…if it’s his will to do so.”


SCREEEEEE–POP! The drawn out whistling squeal was followed by the sound of something exploding somewhere overhead yanked Jeanmarie Hollem back to the present. She’d already pulled into the driveway of her tidy two story home. Seconds later, another car pulled up to the house and parked on the street.SCREEEEEE–POP! There it was again. A smell of smoke and something like burnt paper filled the music teacher’s nostrils, and she wrinkled her nose against it. “Tommy, come on in, it’s time for dinner, hon!” The neighbor two doors down, Mrs. Winters, motioned her son to come inside from the porch.

“Aw, mom, just five more minutes!” The kid protested. “Please?” He was out there on the sidewalk with three other kids, a girl and two boys. One of them held a bottle rocket and looked like he was about to light it. “I’m not even hungry right now!”

“Listen up, Tom, your mother went through all this trouble to fix us a nice meal.” Mr. Winters appeared behind his wife. “The least you can do is come in and eat it.” A cigarette balanced precariously from his bottom lip, bobbing as he spoke. “You kids better go on back home. Tom’ll be out tomorrow.” The man took a drag from his cigarette and crooked a finger at Tom. “Get in here, Tom, and wash up, or you’ll be in a world of hurt when you’re grounded for the next week!”

Defeated, the kid just turned and went inside while his friends walked away. For a brief second, Jeanmarie felt a little sorry for Tom Winters. Sure, he needs to mind his mom and dad, but it’s summer vacation and the (now) early evening was just too beautiful to be inside. Syn got out of her car and followed her middle aged hostess to the back porch and up the steps. They went through the breezeway Jeanmarie referred to as the “four seasons'” room and stepped into a spacious kitchen.

“Kitchen is a little disorganized, I confess.” Jeanmarie declared. “I was doing a bit of cleaning earlier today and a few things were scattered around. I guess I was so busy I’d forgotten all about it.”

“But the kitchen looks spotless…immaculate!” Syn observed.

“You’re very kind.” Jeanmarie said. “Too kind. One of the things I like best about you.”

Syn wasn’t wrong. The large kitchen, with its light colored walls and light colored curtains, looked so spotless and organized, you could eat off the floor. A small table and three chairs were in front of a window looking out onto a deeply verdant yard lined with beds of white and purple coneflowers. Snapdragons formed a multicolored fairy ring around the base of a mighty Accolade Elm. Jeanmarie offered her young guest a seat at the table, and the girl smilingly obliged. “Are you hungry, dear?” The music teacher asked. “Would you like one sandwich, or two?” She opened the refrigerator and pulled a small container. “Looks like I bought macaroni salad instead of potato.”

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