Chapter 1, page 1
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THE NIGHT WAS BALMY, more like April than what you'd expect for the last Friday in February. It was as if Mother Nature was smiling down on Harrisburg, giving personal support to the high school Fair. Or if you believe in the Stars, Providence and that sort of thing, it was preordained that this annual fund raising affair was going to be a night to remember.
The gym had been transformed, festive looking booths along the walls, basketball hoops festooned with crepe paper that crisscrossed the room. The billowing red, white, and blue crepe paper scallops were like a giant cobweb hanging over the three hundred people in the bleachers. who were buzzing "hi, how're ‘ya doing, how are the kids, nice night.”
Over the loudspeakers there was a faint hum that became a hiss. It quieted everyone down. Then came the grand opening chords of the "Star Spangled Banner."
He noticed her right away. The bleacher seats near her were empty. She stood up with alacrity while everyone else shuffled their things and got up sort of hohumming, noticing the decorations, noticing her. He wasn't the only one focusing on the way she looked. She stood proud, stood straight, looked tall even though she was average height. Her hand was on her heart. Short cropped silver blond hair was fluffed around her face like dandelion fuzz. Was she young and naive, old, old-fashioned, conservative, exceptionally patriotic or what?
Her voice rose above the others. She sang, “What - so - proudly - we - hail” as if the flag were something she deeply cherished. Was she a professional singer? Ordinary people didn't sing the national anthem like that. It made him sing stronger and louder.
She noticed him right away. Singing “...broad - stripes - and - bright -stars...” She thought "I know him. No, I don't. Why do I feel like I do?" It was second nature for her to survey a room and see who was, or wasn’t having a good time. He was off by himself near the entrance to the gym, standing there like a soldier at attention, singing away as if each syllable were important to him.
His crew cut steel gray hair, his tall proud stance, the way they matched, made her sing “And - the - rock - ets - red - glare...” louder.
He sang “Bombs - burst - ing - in - air...” louder, and because he was enjoying the way their voices harmonized, he put his hand on his heart like a ham actor playing Romeo, and sent her a grin.
Receiving his grin, she was thinking not in words, but feeling I could sing and sing on forever like this, as their voices ascended to "...land - of - the - free..." And soared, sustained that highest note while other voices faded, and then the two of them led everyone—little kids, teenagers, big brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, neighbors, neighborhood merchants, teachers—every person in the high school gym joined in and belted out the finish, burst into cheers, whistles, hand clapping, foot stomping, a wild loud celebration of the corny 'love-our-county' pride, the unity of it, and the feeling of love for one another that filled the room.
She stood there still connected to him and the moment they'd shared, tingling with a feeling she hadn't felt since...when? A million days, years, minutes ago when her little girl self saw for the first time a line of grownups marching oh so neatly left right left, to the loud oompah-pah music in a parade.
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