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When my son, Drew Kelly, told me he met Carmen alphabetically, I smiled and asked him what her last name was.
“Kim,” he said.
“Does that mean her cubby is next to yours?” I inquired.
He nodded his head in response, listening as I continued, “Are there any other Ks in junior kindergarten, or are you two the only ones?”
“No, there’s a Kaplan on the other side of me; he doesn’t like spelling the way Carmen and I do, but he’s good at soccer,” said Drew, pulling open the refrigerator door before adding, “Carmen took my phone number. She’s going to be calling. Okay?”
“Sure,” I said, covering my mouth in case he turned too quickly and saw my twitching lips. It was hard not to react to the news that my four-year-old had a girlfriend. Plus, it was only his third day of school.
Later, when the phone rang during dinner and it turned out to be Carmen, my husband John and I exchanged meaningful glances, our eyes twinkling with excitement at the prospect of this new phase in our precocious little boy’s development.
Drew was the eldest of our three sons; Matthew was 2 and Bobby one month. The only person, other than his grandmother, with whom Drew spent time on the phone was his best friend, David. And by “time,” I mean three minutes, tops.
Carmen and Drew’s conversations were just as short. I would have preferred one long call instead of the eight to 10 we began receiving most evenings, even when Drew wasn’t at home.
“Speak to Drew,” “Speak to Drew,” Carmen would say, wasting no extra words on telephone etiquette.
By October, John and I looked forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays, aware that those were the days when Carmen had piano lessons and ballet.
We were on a precipice, teetering between smiles of amusement and irritated eye-rolls, mostly hovering toward the latter.
One morning before school, I tactfully suggested, “Drew, do you think Carmen would like to come over and play instead of calling all the time?”
“She’s not allowed,” he said, reaching for an apple.
“What do you two talk about?” I dared to ask.
Shrugging, he said, “Well, sometimes I sing to her.”
“Only a bad person would try to shut that down,” said John when I reported this to him later.
For John and me, the calls were like intermittent static on the radio. We put up with both.
One chilly afternoon in April, after Drew got off the school bus, I could see something was wrong. His head was hanging and his shoulders were slumped as he dragged his backpack along our front walkway like an uninvited younger sibling.
He didn’t speak as he stepped inside and handed me his jacket.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, lifting him onto the kitchen counter, our foreheads almost touching.
“Carmen won’t be calling any more,” he replied, dejectedly.
“Tell me what happened,” I said, trying my best to sound sympathetic when, in fact, I was already picturing my husband and me later that evening, happily toasting the silent telephone.
But the sight of my little boy’s wounded expression crushed my delight like a steamroller.
“I was playing soccer and Carmen was on the swings … with David,” said Drew. His shrug was world weary as he stared at the tiles on the kitchen floor.
“She’ll call. Don’t worry,” I said – just as the phone rang, same as always.
“Speak to Drew,” said Carmen.
My heart was thumping with relief and my smile was sincere as I handed him the phone and squeezed his arm before hurrying out of the room.
Three minutes later, I tiptoed back to the doorway. Peeking inside, I saw that Drew was sitting in the same spot, gazing blankly at the phone in his hand.
“What did she say?” I asked, walking toward him.
He shrugged again as he slowly lifted his head and rested his eyes on mine. Then he said, “She wanted David’s number.”
Hanna Kelly lives in Ottawa.
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