Last Dance: A Novel

Prologue

May 10th, 1963

The beach landscape was like a dream on that warm spring day in 1963. Bright sunlight, like a relentless lamp overhead, pierced through the thin layer of buttermilk clouds. The sand baked like a cake of grainy crumbs and little scales of gold light danced on the sea. In the distance could be heard the unwavering, yet soft, sloshing of the waves against the posts of the Santa Monica Pier.

Out at the edge of the sea, a little boy sat playing with the wet sand. He was about four-years-old and small—even for his age, but his face was healthy and like that of an angel, with cherub cheeks and a soft smile. A crown of reddish-blond ringlets framed that face, adding a final, perfect touch. As he took up a glob of sand with his chubby little hand and examined it, a small wave came up and enveloped the child's crossed legs. He screamed—but by his grinning mouth and smiling blue eyes it was obvious that it was a scream of excitement rather than a scream of fear. Standing up, the child dropped the glob of sand and ran away from the water on small, stubby legs. It was here that a cluster of seagulls caught his attention. He walked to them, a frown of curiosity on his face. They fluttered up and then landed some feet away.

About ten feet behind the child, his parents could be seen. The young mother sat on an ice-chest right next to a small transistor radio lightly playing the Beach Boy's latest hit. She shared a striking resemblance to the boy. Her curly blond hair was secured in a high ponytail, only the puff of her bangs being free from the hair-tie, and she had the same light blue eyes. She was dressed in a red bathing suit speckled with big white polka-dots, and the gold Star of David she wore about her neck shimmered in the spring sun. The young father sat next to her in a beach chair. His frizzy jet-black hair was greased down and cut in the ducktail style, and he wore a pair of sunglasses across his prominent nose to shade his green eyes from the glaring sun.

"Anthony," the mother called out to the child. "Don't go too far, okay?"

"Mommy!" the child returned in excitement. "Look! Birdies!" He pointed to the cluster of seagulls that were desperately trying to evade him. The child picked up a little handful of dry sand and threw it towards the birds, which—this time—dispersed in all directions. The father frowned at this.

"Anthony," he began sternly, "be nice to the birdies."

The child suddenly looked at his father with watery eyes. "I'm sorry, Daddy," he said, beginning to cry. The father got up and walked to the child, kneeling before him.

"Don't cry, Anthony," he told him. "It's okay. Just don't do that again. It isn't nice to throw sand at the birds.

"I'm sorry," the child said again, still feeling bad that he had thrown the sand at the seagulls. The father smiled softly and picked the child up, setting him on his shoulders.

"Do you wanna see something cool?" Daddy asked Anthony. The little boy nodded and said, "Yeah!"

A few yards away, there was a neat, little tide pool filled with all kinds of small creatures. When they had reached it, Daddy set Anthony down in the sand and the child peered over the rock into one of the smaller pools. Inside lived a plethora of various sized green and pink sea-anemones.

"Watch this," Daddy said, taking an index finger and lightly touching one of them in the center. The little rubbery tentacles suddenly engulfed Daddy finger. Anthony brought his small hands together and squealed in delight.

"Why'd it do that?" the child asked in perplexity. Daddy freed his finger from the anemone's green tentacles and said, "Well, that's how it catches its food. See? When a little fishy is swimming by and it touches the anemone's tentacles, the anemone grabs the little fishy and eats it!" Daddy grabbed Anthony and began to tickle him. Anthony writhed and giggled, trying to escape, and when he did, he pointed and said, "You're silly, Daddy!"

Daddy smiled. "I know. Let's go back to Mommy, okay?"

Daddy took Anthony's little hand in his own, and they both walked back in the direction of the brightly colored beach umbrella.

"Stanley!" Mommy called out to Daddy as they neared. "They're playing your song on the radio!"

Daddy and Anthony ran over and sat down by Mommy in the sand, listening to the song. It truly was Daddy's song. It was called "Don't Let the Cat Outta the Bag", and was written by Daddy and his bassist, Elijah Washington. Daddy played guitar, sang, and had a doo-wop band that was successful then. He was a rising young musician whose latest single had recently sold 60,000 copies. It was number 38 on the charts. Stanley Meyers and his band were on their way to becoming known all over the country. Only a matter of time before they went gold or rested at number one, he was sure.

"You're famous!" Mommy told Daddy. He smiled and kissed her on the cheek.

"Daddy's famous!" little Anthony repeated in enthusiasm.

"Not as famous as those darn Beach Boys," Daddy said in mock bitterness.

"Oh, but you're getting there!" Mommy told him. "It's only a matter of time before you're number one on the charts too!"

Suddenly, Anthony opened his mouth and gave a large yawn. Mommy and Daddy looked at each other.

"It's getting late," Mommy said. "I think it's time to head back home."

"I agree," Daddy added. "C'mon, Anthony, grab your blanket and your toys. Mommy and I will pack up everything else."

"Do we have to leave?" Anthony asked.

"Yes. You're getting tired. See?" Anthony yawned again, only bigger this time. "I'm not sleepy," he tried to insist. The child picked his blankey up off the sand and wrapped his teddy bear inside. These two things he took everywhere with him. He might have taken them in the water even, if Mommy hadn't have told him not to.

After the three of them had packed up their belongings, they put them in their Oldsmobile, got in, and drove back home.

November 8th, 1963

Anthony sat in his room, playing with his teddy bear. "You hafta see the doctor today, Mr. Fuzzy," he told the stuffed animal. "The doctor can tell you if you have an owie. Here—I'll take you there." The child took the teddy bear by its arm and stood up on the bed. However, the teddy bear fell out of his hand an dropped to the floor. Anthony Shrieked.

"Oh my!" he said. "Now you do have an owie!" Anthony jumped off the bed, picked the teddy bear up and walked down stairs. In the living room, Mommy and Daddy sat on the couch, discussing something.

"What did the doctor say?" Daddy asked Mommy.

"He said four months," she answered.

Anthony gasped. "Mommy!" he said loudly. "Do you have an owie?" Mommy and Daddy looked at him stupidly and then looked at each other.

"Why—no, Anthony," Mommy said.

"Then why'd you see a doctor?" Anthony asked. "Doctors fix people's owies…"

Anthony walked up to the couch, climbed up and sat in between them. Daddy patted him on his fuzzy head.

"That's right, Anthony," he said. "Doctors do fix people's owies. But they do other things too, like tell a person when they're sick—"

"Mommy! You're sick?"

Daddy laughed. "No. Mommy isn't sick. See, Mommy went to the doctor to get a check-up, and the doctor gave her a test. And when the test came back, he told her that she has a baby inside her tummy."

Anthony was fascinated by this. "A baby? Mommy! You got a baby in your tummy?"

"Yes, Anthony," she said.

"Before you were born," Daddy explained, "you grew inside Mommy's tummy too. That's what's gonna happen to the baby in Mommy's tummy now. The, in five months, you'll have a knew little brother or sister."

"Really?" Anthony asked.

"Yes—really."

Anthony hugged Mr. Fuzzy to him and smiled. "I hope I have a little sister," he said.

November 28th, 1963

It was a simple ride home from the grocery store on a rainy afternoon. Young Susie Meyers sat in her small Chevy behind the washed out traffic light, fingering her gold Star of David in thought. She looked down at her growing stomach and then up to her hands clasping the steering wheel. In the corner of her eye she could see that the light had turned green. She stepped on the gas and moved forward. For a brief second she wondered why no one else was going forward with her. That's when she saw the big Ford truck coming straight for her. She stepped on the gas harder, but nothing happened. The Chevy stalled. As the truck rammed into the driver's side of the car, she could feel the jolt, hear the awful screech of brakes, and see her life flash before her eyes. The last thing she remembered before the white came was the smell of burning rubber.

The words seemed to pain Stanley Meyers as he listed to the voice on the phone. Little Anthony watched him in curiosity from the living room doorway, clutching Mr. Fuzzy tightly. He couldn't understand why Daddy looked so afraid. Daddy scared the monsters in the closet away and told the dragons under the bed to leave. And you bet they did, because Daddy wasn't afraid of them. Daddy wasn't afraid of anything.

But now he looked so frightened standing there, his hand held around the phone so tight his knuckles were white. As he continued to listen, his once tan face went as white as his knuckles. The last thing he heard before the phone on the other line was hung up were the words, "I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Meyers…"

Then the dial tone filled his ear and the phone fell out of his hand. It hit the floor with a sickening clack and then bounced up, limply hanging just off the ground by the coiled cord.

Anthony watched with wide eyes as Daddy sat down on the couch and put his head down in his hands. Daddy was crying now. Anthony backed out of the doorway, frowning in confusion. He could hear Daddy's desperate sobs and the faint sound of the dial tone still ringing. Against the window pane in the hall rain was still splattering in unforgiving bands. Anthony didn't understand. Daddy never cried.

November 29th, 1963

It was silent in the car as Daddy and Anthony drove away from the police station. There, the police that had been on the scene had salvaged a few of Mommy's belongings and Daddy had gone to get them. The gold Star of David had been one of them. Daddy was holding it tightly in one of his fists now. Briefly he opened up his hand to see that it had left an impression of the star on his palm. He closed his hand again, and a tear ran down his cheek. Little Anthony saw it.

"Daddy, you're crying again," he said.

Daddy was silent.

" Where's Mommy?" Anthony asked innocently.

Daddy looked at him, pain in his green eyes, then looked back to the road. Slowly, he pulled the car over and parked by the curb, turning it off with a deep sigh.

"Anthony," he began, "it's—it's—well…" he paused and looked up in agony. "You know how we go to Temple every Saturday?"

"Yes, Daddy."

"And how we talk about a place called Heaven?"

"Yeah."

"Well, that's where Mommy is, Anthony."

"Mommy's in Heaven?"

"Yes, Anthony."

"Why, Daddy?"

Daddy looked at him. "Because that's where God wants her to be."

" But, why?"

"I don't know why, Anthony. Nobody does. That's just how things happen sometimes."

"What about Mommy's baby? Is Mommy's baby in Heaven too, Daddy?"

Sighing again, Daddy looked down at his feet. "Yes, I suppose so."

"Will Mommy ever come back from Heaven?"

"No, Anthony."

Panic rose in the child's throat at this. He couldn't fathom someone going someplace and not being able to come back. "But, why not?" he asked with a crack in his small voice.

"Because that's just the way it works, son," Daddy told him painfully.

"But, that's no fair!" the child cried.

"I know, Anthony, but things aren't always fair."

"It's no fair!" Anthony repeated, only this time, more desperate. "No fair, Daddy, no fair!" the child began to cry, so Daddy picked him up and hugged him to him.

"Oh, Anthony—I know. I know it isn't fair."

"It's no fair!" Anthony wailed this a few times before falling into a quiet fit of blubbering. It pained Stanley Meyers more that anything else in the world to see his little son so sad. As he held the small child closer to him, a steady stream of silent tears came down his tan cheeks. He winced and asked himself why.

December 2nd, 1963

The Los Angeles Airport was crowded as Daddy and Anthony sat waiting for their plane to arrive.

"Where are we going, Daddy?" Anthony asked in his small voice as he shifted on his father's lap.

"We're going to New York, Anthony," Daddy said. "That's where Mommy and I grew up. That's where our mommies and daddies live—and our brothers and sisters. Mommy would want to be laid to rest there."

"Where is New York?" the boy asked quietly.

"It's all the way on the other side of the country. That's why the big plane has to take us there."

"Are we coming back to California, Daddy?"

"No, Anthony. We're staying in New York. That's where we're gonna live from now on."

"What about your music, Daddy?"

Stanley Meyers looked at the boy and said, "My music died with your mother…"