"We've only just begun to live…" the sweet strains of Karen Carpenter's voice comes on Irene's car stereo as she and her bestie Suzy drive Southbound on PCH toward Newport Beach for a day of fun in the sun. Irene turns up the radio and starts singing, "White lace and promises…" and then says to Suzy, "I'll be Karen and you can be the brother." "Wait," Suzy responds, "Why do I have to be the brother? I'm not a guy. I want to be Karen" "Okay," Irene laughs, "We can both be Karen." Then they continue singing on their sunny road trip, "Before the risin' sun, we fly…"
After the song ended the two just laughed and did their friends forever pinky shake.
"Suzy," Irene asked, "Don't you have a music box that plays We've Only Just Begun?"
"Come to think of it, I do," Suzy answered, "I forgot all about it. I think it's in one of the boxes in the garage."
"The garage?" Irene said in a confused voice.
"Yes, the garage at my house," Suzy explained, "Remember when I tried domesticating with Alex Anderson five years ago."
"Oh yes, the two of you moved up North to San Jose," Irene commented.
Suzy shook her head in agreement, "What a joke that was."
"Yeah, Irene agreed, "You packed up and moved away with him and your mom was in tears. Then two months later you're back…"
"Yes, and my mom was like, 'I told you so,'" Suzy affirmed.
At 9:00 am the next morning Suzy called Irene.
"Hey Irene, how's things going?"
"Hot, the air conditioner stopped working and it's unbearable in this house."
"Well, why don't you come over here? My mom is making some iced tea."
"That sounds good Sue. I'll be over in an hour."
When Irene arrived the garage door was open, and Suzy was in the garage with an old Red Rider wagon.
Irene walked over to the garage, "Hey Suz! What's up?"
"I'm going to bring these boxes inside. They’re from my time with Alex."
"Ah, the music box," Irene commented.
"Yes, it's got to be in one of these three boxes."
Suzy struggles to lift the first box onto the wagon.
"Here let me help you," Irene offered as Suzy started on the next box.
They managed to get all three boxes on the wagon. The third was the hardest because they had to put it in top of the other two boxes.
Irene had to help Suzy push the wagon as it was too heavy for Suzy to pull on her own.
Once inside the two opened the first box with great anticipation of what would be inside. The boxes had been sitting in the garage for 5 years and Suzy forgot most of what was in them.
From that first box Suzy pulled out a blue and white porcelain vase which Alex gifted her filled with a dozen multicolored daisies.
The next item was an electric can opener, "This can opener came in handy. I have always had trouble using a manual can opener for some reason," Suzy mentioned.
They got through the first box, but the music box was not in it. So, they started in on the second box. Irene took the lead on this box and pulled out a picture book of famous paintings by classic artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and so forth. Irene held the book up, "Look Suze remember this?"
"Yes, you gave that to me for my 16th birthday. Such a thoughtful gift. It was proudly displayed on our coffee table in San Jose."
After getting through the second and third box the music box was not found. Suzy was saddened by this. "Where is it? My grandmother gave me that music box when I was eleven years old. It was special to me. Grandma loved the song "We've Only Just Begun." She originally bought it way back in 1972. She was 28 then."
"Where do you think it could be Suzy?"
"I'm not sure, “Suzy answered, "Maybe Alex has it."
"Why don't you call his cell phone number?" Irene suggested.
"I guess I can do that," Suzy looked through her contacts, "Ah, I don't have him in my contacts."
"How about one of your older phones?" Irene asked.
"That would have been two phones ago." Suzy replied, "I reset that phone and sold it on eBay for a hundred and twenty dollars."
"One hundred and twenty dollars?" Irene exclaimed.
"Yes, those iPhones resell for a good amount. Plus, I had the charger and the original box it came in." Suzy brought the conversation back to Alex, "But how do I contact Alex?"
"Weren't Tommi Byers and Alex pretty good friends in high school?" Irene suggested, "Why don't you call Tommi?"
"Oh yes, Tommi would have the number," Irene answered.
Irene pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed Tommi's number. The phone rang twice and Tommi answered with excitement in her voice, "Hi Suzy!!! Long time no hear!"
"Tommi! It is so good to hear your voice. How are you?"
"I'm doing great," Tommi responded, "Finally, after being unemployed for about two years I found the perfect job for me. I was applying everywhere. I even resorted to fast food thinking they would hire anybody."
"Oh, Tommi you're not just anybody," Suzy interjected.
"I know Suzy, but my confidence was low," Tommi answered, "I applied at Chick-fil-A, Carl's Jr, and In-N-Out but none of those places would hire me and when I checked further none of them offered Transgender-Inclusive Health Insurance Benefits. Finally, it was Home Depot that hired me. I would have never applied there, because they seem to be such a mucho macho place, but a friend of mine suggested I try them. It ends up that Home Depot is a very progressive company with great benefits and very open and affirming to the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, the elderly, and women. Home Depot is an equal opportunity company. I've been there for five months, and I am so happy. I can be myself. I don't have to hide who I am."
"That is great Tommi," Suzy said, "What department do you work in?"
"I work at the paint desk," Tommi explained, "actually I'm the department supervisor of the paint department. After working there for 2 months they realized I could run the department, so they offered me the promotion plus a one dollar an hour raise. Of course, I took it."
"That is so great Tommi," Suzy exclaimed with joy, "I can hear it in your voice. You sound so happy. Anyhow, I am calling for a favor. I need to get Alex Anderson's phone number. Do you, have it?"
"I haven't spoken with him since the reunion, Tommi mentioned. "He kind of shined me on. But I still have his number in my contacts."
"Great,'' Suzy responded, "Can you text it…" At that moment Suzy received a text notice. "Well, that was quick. Thank you Tommi."
"You're welcome Suz anytime. I gotta go, my break is over. But we'll chat again real soon."
"Okay, nice talkin' with you Tommi. G'bye," Suzy responded in a pleasant manner.
"I just love Tommi," Suzy said to Irene, "I am so happy that she's doing well."
"Ditto," Irene commented back, "Such a strong person. C'mon let's call Alex."
Irene opened Alex's phone number directly from Tommi's text. This automatically dialed the number, and the phone began to ring.
The phone rang eight times and then the voicemail message came on, "Hi, this is Alex please leave a message at the beep."
"Hi Alex, this is Suzy Meghrouni. It's been a long time. I hope you're doing well. Anyway, I am calling because I had a music box that played the song "We've Only Just Begun" and I can't find it. I was wondering if I might have left it behind at your place. Give me a call. Talk with you soon. Bye."
"Uh, I was hoping to talk with him. That music box is really important to me."
"I know Suzy," Irene responded, "He'll probably call back in a few hours."
"Yeah," Suzy glanced over all her belongings sitting on the floor, "You wanna help me take all this stuff up to my room?"
Irene rolls her eyes, "Yeah, sure."
Three days went by without hearing from Alex. This had Suzy very concerned.
The next few days were exceptionally busy for her as she was bidding for a new high-ticket client and put all her efforts and thoughts into it.
Suzy sat down at her computer to compose a proposal as to why she would be the best designer to design next year's line of patio furnishing for Newport/Irvine Furniture Design.
Right as she began her proposal her phone rang. Her heart raced in hopes that it would be Alex. She hadn't spoken to him in so long and she became nervous. But as she looked at her phone it was an unknown number.
"Hello," Suzy spoke into her phone.
A man with a deep voice spoke, "Hello is this, Suzy Meghrouni?"
Suzy responded quickly, "Alex, Alex! Is this you?"
"No ma'am," the man responded, Suzy's heart sank. She really wanted it to be Alex. "My name is Jon Mooney. I am the Chief Executive in charge of design with Newport/Irvine Furniture Design."
"Oh really?" Suzy once again was excited, "Yes, I am Suzy Meghrouni," Suzy replied in a calm and professional manner.
"Well, Ms. Meghrouni. We received some drawings and photos of you past work from Touchstone Alliance."
"Really?" Suzy commented, "I registered my work with them two years ago but forgot all about them."
"Yes," Mr. Mooney continued, "We employ Touchstone to find recruits to fill open positions. My staff and I looked at your portfolio and we're quite impressed with your work. We have the candidates narrowed down to two candidates and we'd like to schedule a Zoom interview with you."
"Wonderful," Suzy responded.
"How about Tuesday August 16th at 10 am?"
"Let me check my calendar really quick," Suzy opened her calendar on her phone, "Yes, that works just fine. Thank you."
After the call ended Suzy jumped up from her desk and ran downstairs yelling excitedly, "Mom, mom!!! Mom!!!"
Her mom came running into the living room, "Are you okay Suzy?"
"Yes, I'm more than okay," Suzy screamed, "Newport Irvine Design just called me. They want to interview me. I was just working on a proposal to send them tomorrow. But they called me first. I am so excited."
Suzy and her mom hugged, jumping up and down in excitement.
I've got to call Irene to let her know." Suzy dialed the number.
"Irene!!!" Suzy shrieked, "Newport Irvine called me. They saw my portfolio on Touchstone."
"OMG!" Irene was thrilled, "What did they say? Did they contract with you?"
"We have a Zoom meeting next Tuesday."
"You're going to get this Suzy. I can tell."
"I don't want to jinx it, but I do feel good about it."
"How about Alex? Has he called you back?” Irene asked.
"No," Suzy said with a hint of hopelessness in her voice. "It's been eight days since I left the voicemail. I guess I don't blame him. I packed up quickly and left him with no warning while he was at work. I was a dumb 19-year-old and I got scared of the whole situation. I probably should have sat down with him to let him know what was going on. But all I wanted to do was come back home where I felt safe."
"Yeah, Irene agreed, "You probably should have communicated with him. But we can't kick ourselves for our past mistakes."
"I know," Suzy said, "But it's just that music box. I will never see it again," Suzy began sniffling, "It meant so much to me."
"Ah Suze, I know how important it was to you."
"I'm gonna get off the phone now," Suzy said, "I've got a few things I want to do around the house before mom and I go to get our hair and nails done."
"Okay Suz hang in there. And congratulations on the interview."
After two wonderful hours of wine and pampering Suzy and her mom left the salon with their fingernails, flawlessly sparkling and not a hair out of place.
As they arrived back home there was a medium sized box on the porch near the front door. Mrs. Meghrouni asked Suzy, "Hon, there's a package here. Did you order something?"
"No," Suzy answered in a curious tone of voice. She bent down and picked up the box. She looked at the label and announced with tempered excitement, "It's addressed to me. I wonder what it could be." She looked at the label again, "There's no return address. Now, this is quite mysterious."
Suzy's mom replied, "Well, let's get in the house and open this package. She was equally curious.
The two sat down on the sofa in the living room as Suzy opened the brown cardboard box which was delivered by FedEx. Inside was a beautiful floral print box with a matching lid. She carefully took out the well packaged box and removed the lid. Inside she found several white foam peanuts hiding whatever was in the box. As she removed the peanuts, she began to see what looked like clear plexiglass material. She quickly emptied the box of the peanuts and there it was sitting in the box; the grand piano shaped music box that her grandmother gave her all those years ago.
Suzy felt a rush of emotions as she lifted her prized music box out of the package. That's when she noticed that sitting at the bottom of the floral cardboard box was an envelope. She lifted the envelope out of the box and opened it up. "Mom, it's a letter," she said loudly.
"Well read it," her mom responded.
"Dear Suzy, I received your phone call a few days ago. It was nice to hear your voice after such a long period of time. To be honest, many wonderful memories came back to me. I could envision your beautiful smile as I listened to your message."
Oh, that is so sweet," Suzy mentioned with tears in her eyes.
"Your music box was still on the shelf in the den where you so proudly displayed it. I forgot it was there as I never go into the den anymore. Though it was very nice to hear from you I feel it is best that we continue our separate paths. It is best that we do not contact each other anymore. Wishing you peace, Alex. "
With tears in her eyes and a sniffling nose Suzy commented, "That was a lovely letter. I am going upstairs to lie down. This one was an emotional rollercoaster for me."
Suzy walked up to her room and wound up her music box so it would start playing then set it on her desk. She then retired to her bed and cried herself to sleep while the sweet piano chords of "We've Only Just Begun" played in the background.
The next morning Suzy called Irene. "Hi Irene," Suzy somberly said.
Right away Irene could tell there was something wrong, "Suzy what is it? What's going on? I'm here for you sis."
"Oh, Irene," Suzy's voice quivered, "I finally heard from Alex."
"Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?"
"I don't know. He mailed the music box to me," Despondently replied.
"Well, that's great," Irene responded cheerfully.
"Well, let me tell you the entire story," Suzy commented.
"Okay," Irene inquisitively responded.
"So, he sent back my music box and it's as beautiful as ever. I love my music box. He also sent a letter. It's a beautifully written letter. He mentioned how nice it was to hear my voice in the message that I left. But then he said that he felt we should not contact each other again."
"Oh Suz," Irene encouraged Suzy, "Everything will be alright."
"I know Irene," Suzy replied, "But it hurt. I know I was the one that left him. But seeing that in the letter really threw me for a loop."
"Let's get out today for lunch," Irene suggested.
"Okay," Suzy responded, "I have my Zoom meeting at 10 a.m. with Newport Irvine today. So how about noon-ish?"
"That's great," Irene receptively replied, "Let's meet at the Green Tomato Grill."
Three hours later the besties are sitting in their favorite booth at the popular vegan restaurant. They both ordered a BBQ Bowl.
"How did your Zoom meeting go?" Irene asked with raised eyebrows and enthusiasm on her face.
Suzy sat there for a second with a huge smile on her face, "It went very well. They offered me the job. It's a three-month contract and I start on Monday."
Irene looked Suzy in the eyes with her demanding stare, "Spill."
"Okay, okay Irene," Suzy responded, "$84,000 for three months."
"That's good," Irene commented with a 'that's awesome' tone in her voice.
"Yeah, but they're getting their money's worth. I will be designing three sets to match three price points. As well I will be shopping vendors for fabrics and other materials. Finally, I'll work with the manufacturers in building prototypes of all three designs before they go into production."
"Flex!" Irene demanded.
"I swear you know me too well," Suzy snarked sarcastically. "Okay, this is what you're looking for. If Newport Irvine can get orders for 25,000 units, I will get a $50,000 bonus."
"Slay!" Irene shrilled out.
"Oh, but that's not it Irene. They offered me $25,000 but I negotiated to $50,000. Plus, Newport Irvine will be shopping my line to two of Home Depot's regions in the Western market totalling over 1000 stores. I will be getting that bonus."
After lunch the two went their separate ways. Irene went to the mall to buy a gift for her aunt’s 50th birthday and Suzy went back home to help her mom bake cupcakes for the women's club which was meeting at their house tonight.
As Suzy made it back home her mom yelled out from the kitchen, "Is that you Suz?"
"Yeah, it's me. I'll be right there."
Her mom yelled back from the kitchen, "There's an envelope for you on the coffee table. A good-looking young man named Zach dropped it off."
Suzy picked up the large manilla envelope and thought to herself, "hmm, I wonder what this could be?"
She opened the envelope and found two letter sized envelopes inside. One of the envelopes said, 'Read First.'
She opened the 'Read First' envelope and sat down and read the letter inside.
"Dear Suzy, my name is Zachary Gannon. If you are reading this letter, it is because I was not able to see you in person.
I am Alex Anderson's cousin. You and I met once back in 2015 at the El Modena High School carnival. I think you were a junior.
Anyhow, Alex wanted me to contact you to let you know what has been going on the past few years.
In 2017, actually the two of you were living together at the time, Alex was diagnosed with esophageal cancer."
Suzy dropped the letter and began yelling, "Mom! Mom! Alex has cancer."
Her mom ran into the living room, "Oh honey." She sat down next to Suzy and held her hand as Suzy continued reading the letter aloud.
"He didn't tell you. He was ashamed and afraid, and he didn't want to scare you. Instead, he shut you out. He pushed you away. That's when you moved back home with your mom. Alex didn't want you to see him suffer."
Suzy handed the letter over to her mom as she was sobbing and couldn't read anymore. "Read it to me mom," she said as she cried uncontrollably.
Her mom continued reading the letter:
"In the summer of 2018 he had radiation treatments for the cancer. He responded well to the radiation, and he was doing well for a while. At that time his doctor told him that early detection was a big help. But then Christmas 2019 the cancer came back. This time around they opted for a more aggressive treatment, and he was scheduled to start chemotherapy treatments in April 2020, but COVID hit us, and his treatments were postponed until August 2020.
Initially he was scheduled for 3 months of chemotherapy, but the cancer was more stubborn than anticipated and the treatments went on through January 2021.
The chemo was rough on Alex went from 175 pounds down a gaunt 132 pounds. He looked so frail and weak. His skin turned a greyish color and his hair fell out. The worst were the body aches.
The chemo worked and Alex was cancer free for over a year. Then three months ago the cancer came back. But this time it metastasized to his spine. They gave him options of surgery and chemo but by now Alex was tired and opted to live his time out.
Alex passed away on August 9, 2022."
Suzy buried her face into her mom's shoulder and began weeping incessantly. After about five minutes Suzy stopped crying and she sat up, "Don't we have some cupcakes to bake?" She said in a bittersweet optimistic way.
"Yes," her mom responded, "let's get this going. The girls will be here in three hours."
As they got up to walk to the kitchen Suzy stopped and looked at the second envelope still sealed on the coffee table. "Wait mom, there's the second envelope."
"We still have time to read it," her mom assured her.
Suzy stared at the envelope for a minute, "No, I've had enough of this roller coaster for now. I will read it later. We've got a women's group to prepare for."
After an hour and a half in the kitchen baking the most delicious German chocolate brownie cupcakes Suzy's mom went upstairs to take a shower while Suzy grabbed that second envelope and took it upstairs to her room.
She sat at her desk and held the envelope in her hands underneath the desk lamp staring at it.
Slowly she opened the envelope. But she was afraid to take out its contents. She sat there and finally she reached inside the envelope and removed the folded letter and began reading.
I don't know where to begin. I have missed you every day since you left our apartment.
I know that I drove you away and I apologize for that. But as you now know I had my reason.
Suzy, I never stopped loving you. You were my dream girl. You were the one for me.
Your hands were so soft and gentle, and your heart was pure and filled with compassion.
Every time, I looked at you all I wanted to do was hold you in my arms and rub your back and make you feel safe at home.
I dreamed that this cancer would go away, and I would one day get on my white steed and ride back to town and bring my fair maiden back home with me. But that was not to be.
I pray that one day our souls will meet up again. That we shall intertwine and once again be one.
Until that day my damsel, my love for you is forever. Forever together. I love you Suzy… Good night."
Suzy felt a calm come over her after reading the letter. She folded it up and set it down on her desk. Then she wound up her music box and with a feeling of peace she sat there listening to the gentle melody of "We've Only Just Begun."
I want to give a quick thank you to my friend Irene Economou for giving me the prompts to write this story.
Also if you enjoyed this story you may also want to check out the related story: "The Pinky Promise"
About the Creator
Writing is a distraction for me. It takes me to places unknown that fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and a soothing of the breaks and bruises of the day.
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