LOVE ON THE LANE excerpt
Their grandmother had been the last to speak at their grandfather’s funeral.
She stepped to the podium and in a quiet voice retold the love story they all knew by heart—and none ever tired of hearing. How she and Grandpa had grown up down the block from one another, how he’d been five years older (practically another generation!), how they’d only known each other in passing, and how a chance encounter made them realize that the person they’d each been looking for had been in front of them all along.
Then she’d turned her gaze to the six young women, all cousins, seated together in a row near the front. “My sweet granddaughters,” she said, smiling through her tears, “I have
just one bit of wisdom to offer. No matter where you end up, from Maine to California or somewhere in between, make sure you don’t search so far and wide you miss out on the bachelor next door."
On a bright Saturday morning in August, Elizabeth Gordon opened her mail, spilled her coffee and came face-to-face with her life. It wasn’t pretty.
The dark liquid streamed across the letter she had laid open on the kitchen table and poured over the edge like a waterfall to the scuffed hardwood floor below. She jumped to her feet and snatched a handful of napkins from the holder, blotting at the spill as though she could lift the words from that single sheet and make them disappear. As if it would make her forget what she had just read ...
If you’ve gotten this letter, it means you’re coming up to your ten-year high school reunion. Can you believe it, Iz? You’ve been out of high school ten years already. So, here’s what you’re doing for a living right now: you’re a movie director. Or, okay, maybe an assistant director. That’d be all right too. Or even an assistant-to-an-assistant.
As long as you’re doing what you want to do—and not what Mom and Dad want. Tell me you didn’t marry some guy they thought was perfect and become a trophy wife. On a shelf. With 2.5 perfect kids.
Because, Izzy, if you did, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m eighteen. I’m about to graduate from high school and go to college. I don’t want a husband. I want to do something fun, exciting, rewarding. I want to work in film. You want to work in film. So, Izzy, that’s your future. The movies!
I can’t wait to get there. I can’t wait to read this in ten years and know that I’m doing something I love—just like they said I couldn’t.
Love and kisses, xxxooo from yourself,
It had been an English class assignment her senior year—write a letter to yourself describing what your life would be like in ten years. The teacher had collected the letters and said they would be mailed out with the reunion invitation.
She’d forgotten all about it. Slowly she lowered herself into her chair. What had happened to her dreams? Somehow she’d fallen into a lifestyle—pattern—rut. How had she let her life come to this, this moment where her loss of direction seemed exquisitely obvious? Suddenly she had the sensation that she was floating, looking down at herself like they say you do when you die.
She snapped back into her body and focused on the willowy blonde in the doorway, her roommate Shelly Kent. Though her name was actually Michelle, she’d been called Shelly ever since her little brother had been unable to pronounce her name as a toddler. With her fine-boned features, Shelly could have been a model, but she rarely wore makeup outside of work and paid just enough attention to fashion to make sure she wasn’t out of style.
“The mail came already?” Barefoot and wrapped in a fluffy pink robe, Shelly padded toward her and reached for the small pile of bills and junk mail.
“Yeah.” Years were passing her by and she hadn’t even noticed. Dreams were passing her by. She’d meant to get into film and instead ... She cringed.
“What’s the matter with you?” Shelly glanced up from the mail. “Did you get on the scale this morning? Because I thought we decided we’d only weigh in every—”
“I’m the traffic manager at a little cable TV station,” Izzy said with disdain. “Traffic manager.”
“So? I manage the video inventory. I maintain the advertising logs. I schedule on-air promotion. I don’t do anything remotely related to making movies.”
“And I’m the weather girl. A weather girl—not a movie star.”
“Yeah, but traffic manager was never on my list of dreams. Weather girl was on yours.”
“Only if I didn’t make it as a movie star. And you may have noticed, Hollywood hasn’t come calling yet, although when they do, I’ll be ready. Until then, it’s cumulus clouds for me.” Shelly poured herself a cup of coffee, refilled Izzy’s mug, and slid into the seat opposite. “I’m sure traffic manager is on somebody’s list of dreams—just add it to yours. So, what’s this really about?”
Izzy picked up the damp letter and slapped it on the table in front of Shelly. “Read this. How would you feel if you got this in the mail?”
As Shelly read the letter, she pressed her lips into a tight line. “Like a loser. Especially if I got to my reunion and discovered everyone else had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.”
“I’m just kidding.” Shelly pushed her chin-length hair behind one ear and took a sip of her coffee. “I’m sure it won’t be like that. When you’re eighteen you don’t know anything about life or what it takes to succeed. You didn’t have a clue how hard it would be to break into directing—”
"I hardly tried. My parents knew the manager at the cable station, so I landed there—and stayed. Dreams be damned, it was just easier. You were right the first time. Loser. At least I have a boyfriend.”
Shelly made a gagging sound. Tilting her head, she considered Izzy thoughtfully for a long moment. Then she shoved back her chair, rolled up her robe sleeves, and began to pick through the garbage in the wastebasket beneath the sink.
“There’s food in the pantry. Just because we’re dieting doesn’t mean you have to resort to scraps.”
“Haha. I finally sorted through that mountain of old junk mail and magazines on my nightstand yesterday,” Shelly said, still digging. “And wouldn’t you know it, today I need something I threw away. You always wonder why I keep that stuff for so long, well, this is why. Because—here it is!” She pulled a brochure from the bag and wiped a swath of coffee grounds off the front.
“Here what is?”
“Your salvation. The Americana Documentary Film Contest for amateur and student filmmakers.”
Mug halfway to her mouth, Izzy froze. “What?”
“Now, if we have any luck at all ...” Shelly opened the brochure and scanned the copy. “Thank God. The Outline Submission Round doesn’t close for four days.”
Izzy almost choked on her coffee. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Do you want to go to your class reunion as the person who didn’t even try to follow her dreams? They’ll probably present everyone’s letters and goals in some big PowerPoint presentation—or posters hanging on the walls.” Shelly waved a hand through the air. “I can almost see it. Column one—what each person wanted to do. Column two—a gold star for those who succeeded and a sad face for you, because the one thing you accomplished was the only thing you told yourself not to do—settle down with some guy your parents thought was perfect.”
Izzy stared, flabbergasted, as her friend kept talking without waiting for an answer.
“Let’s try this, Izzy. All we need to do is submit a one-to-two-page summary proposal describing the documentary film we plan to make if we get chosen to progress to the Video Submission Round.”
Shelly grinned. “We, baby. You want to be a director. I want to be a star. We might as well chase our dreams together.”
Izzy snorted out a laugh. “Go back to bed and get some more sleep. You’re delirious.”
“Delirious? Replace the r with a c and I’m delicious.”
“Face it, Iz, it’s an absolutely delicious idea. And since we’re practically starving ourselves to lose ten pounds, delicious is a word I’d like to have in my vocabulary right now even if it only relates to making a movie.”
This was absurd. Totally and absolutely absurd. And totally and absolutely tempting. “What happens if we progress to the Video Submission Round?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” Shelly turned her attention back to the brochure. “Two weeks after the Outline Submission Round closes, ten entrants will be selected as finalists by a panel of judges,” she read aloud. “Finalists will then have two months to create a six-minute short documentary expressing the topic presented in their outline.”
The idea began to cozy its way deeper into Izzy’s mind. “And the winners are announced ... when?”
Shelly dropped into her chair and tossed the brochure on the table. “Ten days after that. This whole contest will be wrapped up in three months—in plenty of time for your class reunion. Feels like it was meant to be, doesn’t it?”
“I’m merely asking a few questions. I’m not actually considering it. I mean, what would Andrew think?”
“Andrew would think you’re being silly and impulsive, that you don’t have a prayer of winning so why enter, that if you become a finalist you won’t have as much free time to be the perfect girlfriend to him.” Shelly straightened in her chair and raised her mug. “Who cares what Andrew thinks?”
“No! No, you don’t! Come on, Izzy, it’s the chance of a lifetime. You get to follow your dreams and I get to be in front of a camera discussing something other than weather patterns.”
Izzy pursed her lips and silently debated whether her roommate was brilliant or deranged. There was such a fine line between the two.
“It could be a real bonus for your career. I mean, think if we won. Doors would open—”
“Could open.” Izzy stood and refilled her mug. Shelly could be on to something. Or not. She did have a penchant for jumping to wild conclusions.
“Probably open. For both of us. No more traffic managering for you. No more weather girl for me.” She arched a hand through the air. “From now on it’ll be top billing for both of us! Come on, Izzy, help me out here.”
“Shelly, what if—”
“We submit a proposal. What could possibly go wrong?”
Actually, she couldn’t think of a thing, short of Andrew getting exasperated with her. But if they finaled, Andrew’s exasperation would be the least of her concerns. The corners of her lips curved upward as she considered what it would feel like to attend her reunion with her head held high, as a finalist—maybe even the winner—of a documentary film contest.
“Come on, what have we got to lose?” Shelly urged.
Nothing. Izzy exhaled. “Okay, we’ll write an outline.”
“We will?” Shelly jumped to her feet and danced over to wrap her arms around Izzy. “You’re the best!”
“Oh, stop. Just two pages, right? On any American topic?”
"That’s what it says. Got any thoughts?”
“I don’t know ... football? That’s pretty American.”
Shelly stuck two pieces of wheat bread in the toaster. “Football skews male. What if some of the judges are female? How about something with cooking ... apple pie?”
“Skews female. And boring.”
For the next several minutes they bandied about ideas, discarding each in turn for one reason or another.
“What about that property your parents own? That old resort up in Wisconsin.” Shelly sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on the toast, and handed a piece to Izzy. “Isn’t that place steeped in Americana?”
Izzy shrugged. “They don’t own the resort—only the land. And they’re selling that, anyway. My great-great-grandfather gave some guy a hundred-year lease and finally it’s coming due.”
“Hmm. That could be an interesting angle.”
“Yeah, well, the broker told my parents it’s getting run-down. Who wants to see a documentary about a seedy resort?”
“No one.” Shelly’s face fell.
Izzy bit into her toast and contemplated their options. A memory of her grandfather telling stories of the old days popped into her mind. “Unless ... what if we don’t do a documentary about the resort? What if it’s about the gangsters?”
“My grandpa used to tell me stories that his father told him. About growing up there during the twenties. How gangsters from Chicago used to come to northern Wisconsin for vacations and—”
“You mean like Al Capone?”
“Yeah. And John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson and—”
“Are you kidding me?” Shelly set her coffee cup on the table and leaned forward onto her elbows. “Did they ever stay at your resort?”
“It’s not our resort—”
“Yeah, yeah, only the land. Did they ever stay there?”
“That’s what he said. Course, he always loved to tell a good yarn.”
“Good yarn? Gangster Getaways in the Wisconsin Northwoods. Izzy, it’s perfect!” Shelly reached excitedly for the contest brochure and knocked over her mug, spilling coffee on the ten-year-old letter once again. As the dark liquid poured over the table edge to pool on the floor beneath, Shelly grabbed a handful of napkins and began to sop up the mess. “Good things are coming our way, Izzy, I can feel it. Clear skies ahead!”