Judy Garland had once sung that she ‘couldn’t ignore the boy next door’. Josephine – who loved that song beyond bearing – always thought of one particular boy whenever she caught it on her parent’s tiny tv set. He had dark, wavy hair, dreamy, large eyes, and lived – just like Judy’s quarry – right next door.
For Josephine, that boy had always been Ted Lawrence.
Ted had always been there – for as long as Jo could remember, they had been in scrapes, climbing into or onto things – running the neighborhood gossips ragged watching out for them. He was always there to read her awful poetry and help her act out scenarios for the playlets she wrote, and help Jo and Megan keep Elizabeth and Amy in line.
Their childhoods had been a strangely harmonious while being dichotomous. Ted had it easy – Ivy League-quality schools, and a grandfather who doted on him. Jos’s life had sucked for a long time – her father a chaplain in the Iraq war, had been wounded in combat and her mother and Meg had gone to care for him while he took physical therapy and, leaving Jo alone in the apartment with Beth and Amy and Auntie March whose kind dole they would live off of until her father’s benefits package kicked in.. Meg had fallen in love with a lay teacher in Bethesda and been married in a civil ceremony; they had twins, and she wasn’t likely to come back, not even if Beth – dear, sweet, poor Beth – pulled through her operation and the chemotherapy. On a purely selfish level, Jo was upset; all of this had thrown quite a wrench in Jo’s schooling, but she gave a surface appearance of not caring – she would graduate, just as mommy had planned for her, somehow, and take good care of Beth.
Only Ted knew that her stiff upper lip had a crack in it, and that Ted had held her while she broke down and sobbed on the T on the way home from Beth’s first appointment with her oncologist.
But she still valued her dreams. One day she’d leave Roxybury and get to New York – MAKE it – and Beth would be well again. They’d all see.
Her grandmother would have rolled her eyes at such sentimentality, so Josephine locked up her hopes and tucked her nose to the grindstone, and waited for her parents to come home.
After a too-brief internship, she took a job writing scripts for Hot Naztee’s production arm in Tribecca. It was as high-class a gig as she could get without having to switch coasts entirely, so she’d made her break and gotten a decent apartment in a fine section of town where no one knew she had scripted such AVN award-winners as ‘Five Cum Running’ and ‘This Ain’t Step By Step XXX”.
They were an ‘ethical’ pornographic company, so Jo didn’t have much moral compunction about her occupation. She smoked too much, owned a schnauzer named Apple Slump, and had a German professor for a lover who loved to psychoanalyze her. Beth was in remission, her parents had bought themselves a farm, and Amy had decamped for Paris.
Ted showed up in a full beard, having flunked out of Harvard due to his cocaine addiction.
She scolded the shit out of him and got to work pouring cups of soup while shooing Fritz off to his anarchist’s’ meeting . Bleary-eyed, Ted smiled at her, kissing her hand and telling her what a jewel she was.
They finally made it in her parent’s barn in Nyack, lying flat on a bed of hay, her skirt up around her waist and his hand beneath her bra. Dotting her shoulders and neck with kisses, he plunged and plunged his cock desperately into her open heat as if trying to pin her to the ground, into his heart and the moment for all time. Jo thrashed beneath the steady pressure of his thrusting, moaning her desperation as he drove nearer and nearer the heart of her sex. In the end she watched his strained expression in the lantern light and wondered at how men and women had been built so differently, yet so suited to each other.
Ted had dried out admirably, and was filled with plans for joining his Uncle’s firm and making a name for himself as a public defender. He encouraged Jo to try for a truly literary novel once more – and she started circulating a drama she’d written to various slush piles, an act that earned her no particular praise but made her feel better than any AVN Award ever had.
She stumbled upon the ring box just as she was praising her good fortune to have someone as reliable as Ted in her life. The sudden realization that he wanted to marry her shook her right to her core.
Jo knew what sort of life being with Teddy now would condemn them both to – lives half-lived, stagnated, half-recovered. In a flash, she gently turned him down.
London was cold, foggy, overcrowded with people ‘trying to find themselves’; there were peanut carts on every corner, and booksellers – she frequented them all as she tried to dance away the ache within her.
Beth had been in the ground for a full month now, a wraith compared to her gentle, stalwart self. She had nursed her through the last months in tandem with Meg and mommy, but every treatment seemed to bring her more agony; she had begged for release, and Jo had seen the peace in her eyes when she finally was.
She had been walking in Covent Gardens, studying the roses without noticing their bloom, when he caught up with her. And in his hand was the galley of her first novel, ready to be printed, waiting for her correction.
“Would you sign this for me?” he asked, a faint smile on his roguish features.
It was far too much and finally, finally, she collapsed into the tears she could never shed for Beth.
Hours later, she smiled as she fell upon her mussed bed. How wonderfully ironic life could be, she thought, twisting her wedding band around for luck as he turned on the shower. It had taken away her sister, but returned her Ted – and given her a husband to boot.
And this time, Jo vowed, he would never walk out the door again.