New Year’s Eve, 1970

She stood in her bedroom, staring at her reflection in the mirror of her vanity. She questioned her choice of shoes, wondering if they were fancy enough for where she was going. Also, if perhaps she should choose a slightly higher heel. She decided that comfort was paramount, and no one would be looking at her feet anyway. She gazed, considering her red dress with its white lacy collar peeking out from her perfectly styled blonde hair. She had carefully pinned it up in a half-up ‘do, just like her mother, a hairdresser, had taught her. She decided her whole look was hitting exactly the right chord for the evening, but also that it was quite flattering. She leaned in, touching up her pale pink lipstick, took a deep breath and stepped back for one final look.

“Well fluffy, I think that’s as good as it’s gonna get,” she remarked to her cat who was sprawled on her bed, watching her get ready, but mostly drifting in and out of sleep.

When the doorbell rang, Nancy jumped a little, pulled from her daydream. She immediately felt her stomach turn itself over and drop into her pelvic floor as she remembered exactly what was happening tonight. It was a blind date. She would be joining this mystery man and his whole family at a New Year’s Eve dinner party before heading to a house party with Jerry’s brother and sister-in-law, which is also where her brother Stan and sister-in-law would be later that night. It was a sort of six degrees of separation situation.

Nancy skipped down the stairs, Fluffy in tow, meeting up with an urgently barking Laddie and Nikki in the front foyer, as she headed to the door. Of course, there was no way to know that Elaine, one of the conspiring matchmakers, was deathly afraid of dogs. Nancy opened the front door, vacuuming a blast of frozen air into the house. Before her stood Jerry and Sam, two brothers who couldn’t look more alike if they were twins, and a quivering Elaine cowering in sheer terror behind her husband.

It was a bit chaotic with all the pets and the lights and the potential trauma to Elaine, and she was eager to just get on with the evening, so Nancy grabbed her coat and purse, and shuffled out the door as quickly as she could. She smiled to herself at the thought of leaving Fluffy, Nikki and Laddie an empty house in which to enjoy their New Year’s Eve celebration.

It wasn’t until Jerry opened the backseat car door for her that Nancy finally got a good look at him. He was not tall, stocky, with dark hair and twinkly eyes. He had a very kind face, a certain energy she couldn’t quite identify, but also couldn’t help getting caught up in. He wore glasses and smelled great. Nancy could tell he was a little nervous. Good, she thought. As she gingerly took her seat in the car making sure she had solid footing on the frozen driveway, she noticed that the summersaults in her stomach were turning from a foreboding thudding to something more akin to butterflies. This is a good sign she thought to herself.

They arrived at the Tamarack Golf Club, probably the most well-regarded venue in Peterborough, giving the air that they double dated like this all the time. Nancy decided to take that as a good sign as well.

Navigating through the maze of tables, the invisible partitions of smoke and perfume, they reached their party. Before her sat Jerry’s family. Like, his whole family, all his brothers and sisters and their husbands and wives and dates. Nancy girded herself, shielding any perceptible nervousness with her big square smile. Her dad always told her what a beautiful smile she had, and Nancy had learned long ago that it was also effective armour in situations like this. It put people at ease and conveyed a level of confidence that she could only strive for internally. But even she had to admit, however vain some might think it to be, she did indeed have a beautiful smile. It was one of her best features.

Taking their seats, Nancy felt a sense of familiarity, or comfort…or something. Which was surprising given she just met her date not twenty minutes ago and was now in for a whole evening with his nearest and dearest. She shook her head at the absurdity of it all.

Once they were somewhat settled into their seats, Jerry began introductions. It was a huge round table, so he just picked a starting point and went around the circle. There was Lance, the eldest brother, and his wife Marilyn. Next to them were Pam, a sister, with her husband Peter. Beside Peter, was Herb, the baby of the family, and his date, whose name Nancy promptly forgot. Across from Nancy and Jerry were Linda, another sister, and her husband Adriano, and next to them and across from Sam and Elaine were Randy and his wife Claudette. Apparently Claudie and Elaine were best friends and this blind date setup had something to do with them. Nancy’s head was whirling with new information and still adjusting to the fact that she knew no one here. She thought to herself that she must remember to ask Jerry to go through all this again and to ask about his parents, so she could get it all straight. Well, if she felt like this was going somewhere and it was worth learning all these names and who was married to whom and birth order and all the things you learn about a person’s family when you’re dating.

Dating! Nancy quickly snapped herself out of her daydream. What was she even thinking? Dating? She just met this guy. Yeah, she liked him so far, and yes, she felt comfortable and excited with him, and damn, those twinkly eyes. But Nancy was a practical woman and wouldn’t let her emotions run the show. She just wanted to manage to not have an awful time and ring in the new year without catastrophe.

Besides, she thought, even if this were love at first sight, Jerry lived in Cincinnati! That’s in a whole other country, over 500 miles away. What could possibly come of this?

Shit thought Jerry. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell was he doing? Why on earth did he agree to this? It had been a great Christmas break in Canada, but did he really want to end his vacation with a potential disaster of a blind date? No. No thank you, ma’am.

Even though he’d been coming to Peterborough since he was a kid, he never imagined that this is where his whole family would eventually call home. Not him, not Jerry Peters. He was an Ohioan to his core. But he had to admit to himself, he really did love Peterborough. Maybe not so much in the winter, but practically a lifetime of spending his summers on Rice Lake at the cottage resort with family and friends made this stubborn goat admit he had quite a soft spot for the place.

But loving Peterborough and being surrounded by family didn’t change the fact that he lived an 8-hour drive away.

So, when Sam and Elaine insisted that he bring a date to the New Year’s Eve parties they had planned, Jerry thought, well, yeah, that would be nice. Even if it couldn’t go anywhere, it would be great to have the company of a lovely woman for the night. As was his motto in high school when it came to girls, he had to give ‘em all a chance. Not to mention, it would be great not to be the 13th wheel as it were.

He knew her name was Nancy. That’s about it. Elaine had never actually met her; she just knew she was the sister of a friend of hers from work. Or something. Why was he trusting his sister-in-law again?

Jerry sat in the backseat of his brother’s car, trying to catch his breath and slow his heart rate. They had just picked Nancy up and after a bit of dog-wrangling and hasty introductions, they were finally in the car, on the way to the Club. Nancy sat to his right, but he dared not stare at her for too long or else he’d surely make her uncomfortable. But all he wanted to do was stare. Nancy was beautiful. He couldn’t believe that this angel would be his date for the night. She was tiny, 5’2”, small and delicate, long blonde hair, perfectly coiffed. She was so refined and well-mannered. Jerry immediately felt out of his league, but at the same time, like he’d known her his whole life or something. She was wearing a red dress under her black pea coat, very light make-up and just a subtle whiff of the most intoxicating perfume. She had beautiful hands. A strange observation he realized, but they looked so soft and small and perfectly manicured. He was oddly transfixed by her beautiful hands.

But of all the things that added up to make this vision beside him so stunning, there was one thing that stood out. Jerry had simply, in his 29 years on earth, never seen a smile so magical. Never mind lighting up the room, Nancy’s smile could light up the galaxy.

The dinner was going well. Jerry had done all the introductions, fully expecting Nancy to forget everyone’s name and whether they were a brother, sister, spouse, stepsibling or just some guy sitting at their table. Nancy seemed to be enjoying herself and Jerry was impressed by how easily she seemed to fit in and make conversation. She wasn’t a wall flower. How refreshing.

As the dinner progressed and Jerry had a few glasses of courage coursing through him, he felt his nerves disappear, his stomach settle, and the lump in his throat melt away. As he was telling Nancy a particularly impressive story about one of his many crazy fraternity stunts (usually a hit with dates), he was caught up in the moment, showing off, tipping back on the back legs of the chair, balancing heroically. And then, without warning he thudded to the floor as the chair shifted under him, dumping him on the carpeted floor of the dinner club. Surrounded by his siblings, a full dining room, servers, and other staff Jerry had just made the biggest fool of himself, and he knew it. He quickly joined in on the laughter from his siblings to hide his hurt pride. It was bad enough to have fallen in the first place, but that he fell in front of Nancy was most embarrassing. He was never more thankful that the lighting at the Tamarack wasn’t the best so maybe Nancy didn’t see the ruby shade that had crept over his face.

He was mortified. As Jerry began to gather himself up from off the floor to resume his place at the table, his cheeks flushed, his stomach butterflying once again, he slowly looked at Nancy to face his (deserved) reprimand. To his utter shock, what he saw on Nancy’s face as he made his way back to an upright position in his chair, was that magical, gorgeous smile. Nancy was not reprimanding him, she wasn’t ready to scold him for acting like a fool, she didn’t even seem like she would give him a slap on the wrist.

No, Nancy, his beautiful, young, blonde, date for the evening was laughing. She was laughing! When he finally righted himself on his chair next to her, she gently reached for his hand and gave him a reassuring little pat. Jerry knew in that moment that this young woman was special. He felt electrified, a kinetic energy he’d never felt before.

That was it. He was smitten. He was in deep smit, as the kids say. Nancy had his attention, his interest, his heart. They’d only spent a couple of hours together but there was something inside of him that had lit up in a way that he couldn’t ignore. All he could think about was how he was going to manage to spend more time with this extraordinary woman.  

It had gotten colder by the time they made it to the party at Patty and Bill Clayton’s house. Nancy barely noticed though. She was still hot from the bustling club where they’d been before…and maybe a little bit from the wine too. She couldn’t believe it, but she was having a great time. She had such little faith, and admittedly, maybe a little embarrassingly, no confidence that this night could have been anything but a disaster dressed up as a favour to her brother.

Nancy had found Jerry’s brothers and sisters quite lovely and amusing. She still wasn’t sure she had all their names right or understood fully who the siblings were and who the siblings’ spouses were. But, really, did it matter? It’s not like she’d see these people ever again.

Nancy laughed a little to herself under her breath as the four of them made their way to the door of the apartment on Clonsilla Ave. She was giggling because she would have never, in a million years, imagined she’d be here – on a blind date, set up by people she didn’t know, on New Year’s Eve, with this football-coaching, high school-teaching, Prom King All-American guy – and that she’d be having the time of her life.

She could still feel the butterflies, but they were less about nerves and more thrilling now. Sam, Elaine, Jerry, and Nancy entered the apartment to ring in the new year with friends and fanfare.

The condition on which Stan had ultimately managed to convince Nancy to agree to this setup was that when they got to the party at Patty and Bill’s, if she was having a bad time, all she had to do was let her brother know, and he’d take her straight home – no questions asked, no fuss. All she had to do was give him the signal.

But Nancy had all but forgotten their deal when they joined the party, excitedly taking Jerry’s extended hand and weaving through the crowd to snag a glass of champagne for the big moment.

Before he knew it, midnight was minutes away and Jerry was suddenly gripped by the thought he’d been actively avoiding all night. To kiss at midnight or not to kiss at midnight? And if he did kiss her, what kind of kiss? A sweet peck on the cheek? An innocent light brush of the lips? Go for it and lay it on thick? So many options, and he didn’t know quite how to read Nancy. Maybe she’s not even thinking about this! Maybe she is and is hoping that he doesn’t kiss her! What if he’s been misinterpreting the whole night and she’s not interested in him at all? What if she’s just been polite like the well-mannered young woman she seems to be? Oh no, now Jerry was all discombobulated and suddenly worried about something he was so sure about not 10 minutes ago.

Everyone at the party was starting to gather in the living room, passing around glasses of champagne and noise makers for the big moment. Jerry took Nancy’s hand and led her into the heart of the crowd, grabbing two glasses of bubbly on the way. It was one minute to midnight now, and as he stood there, scandalously close to his date, he was overcome. He wanted to kiss her so badly, and he was sure that’s what she wanted too, but what if he was wrong? The last thing he wanted to do was offend her or make her feel uncomfortable.

But he wouldn’t be feeling all these lightening bolts and fireworks if she wasn’t either, right? Jerry considered himself pretty good at picking up social cues, especially when it came to the ladies, so he had to be right. Right?

It was happening. 10, 9, 8, he turned to face Nancy, pulling her ever so slightly closer to him, 7, 6, 5, 4, he looked down at her beautiful face, staring into her (slightly glossy) eyes, 3,2…1. Jerry took a sharp breath and leaned in for a kiss. It was soft and light, modest and respectful. But it was on the lips. And to Jerry’s thrill and relief, Nancy kissed him back. He felt vindicated, his confidence in his intuition restored.  And what a feeling that was! He’d never wanted to kiss someone so much before, and he’d never been so glad he did. Yup, this little woman was inching her way into his heart with every minute that passed.

It was officially 1971. Jerry again looked down at Nancy, squeezing her hand impishly and thought, however premature or ridiculous it might seem, that he was looking at his future.

Around 2:00 am, Sam found his brother in Patty and Bill’s kitchen, talking to Nancy, looking like a fool in love. It was time to go. The would-be double-daters piled into the car and set off to drop Nancy off at home before the three of them went back to Sam and Elaine’s for the night.

When they pulled into the driveway on Dobbin Avenue, Nancy could see her parent’s bedroom light on, which meant they must have just gotten home and haven’t quite called it a night yet. She couldn’t stop thinking about that kiss. Lightening bolt city! She was hoping Jerry would kiss her at midnight, but she was too shy to make the move herself. It was intoxicating – the crowd of people surrounding them, the light head from all the wine and champagne, the closeness of their bodies, being shmooshed in that hot living room. As the countdown started, the butterflies returned to their residence in her stomach and her toes got a little tingly. Maybe that was more from the drinks than anything, though.

And then he kissed her. She felt more sparks with his innocent, unassuming little peck on her lips than she ever had with her ex-finance, Doug. Everything happens for a reason, she thought to herself as Jerry took her hand to help her out of the car, so they could say goodnight out of from under the gaze of the two very interested parties sitting in the front seat of the car.

At her front door, where just hours earlier she set out for the night with three strangers, there she stood with Jerry – a man she had quickly learned was a good, respectful, funny, smart, twinkly-eyed stealer of hearts.

She told Jerry that she had a really nice time and thanked him for the lovely evening. It was cold and the wind had picked up, blowing whisps of blonde hair in her face. Jerry reached down, gently pushing her hair aside and kissed her once again. This time it was more than a modest peck on the lips. It was the kind of kiss that made you blush. Well, it made Nancy blush. They pulled apart and Jerry took her hands and told her, with a sweet earnestness, that he hoped to see her again and that he was so glad to have met her.

As she closed the front door behind her, silencing the sound of the wind in the trees, Nancy sighed deeply. What a night. Her mom was up, sitting in her usual spot on the couch, night cap of Crème de Menthe beside her, cigarette dangling gracefully between her fingers.

“Come in here Nancy, and tell me all about your night,” she urged.

Nancy hung her coat up and slipped off her shoes and joined her mother in the living room. When her mom asked if she had a nice time and what she thought of Jerry, Nancy hesitated to answer at first. She didn’t know quite what to say.

She took a breath, looked up at her well-meaning (but totally nosey mother), and said, “Mom, I really like him, but he lives in Cincinnati! I’ll never see him again.”

She realized as the words tumbled out of her mouth, she felt she could cry. Even though she was aware of this all night, it wasn’t until then that she felt the full weight of their distance. Suddenly, she was very sad. After a gossipy breakdown of the night, you know, the ‘whos,’ the ‘whats,’ and the ‘can-you-believes,’ Nancy and her mom finally decided to turn in. As she climbed into her bed, utterly exhausted from the night, still smiling, she closed her eyes. Even if it was just one night out of the millions of nights she’d have in her life, it was going down as perhaps one of the best.

One month later

Nancy returned home with the few things her mother had asked her to pick up from the A&P. As was habit, she headed to the main floor door so she could check the mail on her way in. As she entered the house, slipping her heavy winter boots off and setting down her bag of groceries, she opened the little door of the mailbox.

Flipping through the pile that was there, she suddenly stopped, her breath catching in her throat. There was a letter addressed to her. It looked to be international mail. Her eyes quickly darted to the upper left corner of the envelope and staring up at her was the name and address of a Mr. Jerry Peters from Cincinnati, Ohio. Nancy couldn’t get her coat off fast enough, and sprinted up the stairs, dropping off the bag in the kitchen, not stopping on her way to her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and flung herself on her bed – not exactly the graceful young woman she was raised to be. She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a letter with what looked like the sharpest, most perfect handwriting she’d ever seen. She closed her eyes for a second and contained a little squeal, realizing that Jerry must have had to call around to get her address. The evidence of his efforts made her feel uncharacteristically extraordinary.

She opened her eyes and began to read, already thinking about where she had put her stationary so she could write him back.

“Dear Nancy,” it started. Everything about their night together came rushing back and Nancy noticed those butterflies flapping again and the familiar warming of her cheeks. And she didn’t even need to look in the mirror to know that her big square smile was crawling across her face.

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