Note: Here's a little side-project I'm working on in spare time, focusing on Albert J. Peterson's parents. His father is not given a name or even much of a mention by Birdie playwright Michael Stewart, but in my story I've decided to name him James, and I like to think that Albert's infamous middle initial "J" stands for James as well.
James and Mae:
The Story of Albert Peterson's Parents
By Gabriella Giocomo
New York City; October, 1925
Ms. Ingrid Baker was sitting in her parlor, having her usual after-lunch wine glass and chat with her girls. To her left was her daughter, Rebecca, who could've been mistaken for her mother's younger twin. She was twenty-six and would soon move out of her mother's home, as she was engaged to a handsome doctor.
The other two girls were living in Ingrid's building (she'd bought a small boardinghouse for girls in New York City after Mr. Baker died) and had befriended her over the months they'd been there.
One was Diane, a sweet twenty-four year old with black curls. She was cheerful and always eager for these talks. She'd lived at Baker's Home for almost a year.
The other was unmistakably Mae, Ingrid's sister's daughter. She'd been living with her aunt and cousin at the building since she was fifteen. Her parents had died around the same time Mr. Baker had, and Ingrid was sort of like a second mother to her. She was easy to spot, as she was rather short and had bright red hair waving to her shoulders.
"Pour me another glassful, won't you?" she asked. She was twenty-three years old and had her own special brand of spunk. Other than that, her personality was a mix of mildly sweet and, unfortunately, incurably sour and sarcastic.
"Uh-uh-uh," Ingrid said, wagging a finger, "Remember what happened last time?"
Mae folded her arms. "What do you mean?"
"Rebecca told me what happened last week when you and the others from your high school days went up to the lake for the day –"
"Rebecca, you didn't!" Mae looked furiously at her cousin.
She faked innocence. "Oh, Mae, I only said how you were sitting with us and drinking that awful New Jersey stuff, and then how when all of us were resting and chatting under the stars –"
"–That you and the Peterson boy were talking in the sand –"
"And, goodness, how you were giggling!"
"Rebecca!" Mae cried desperately.
"And then – don't try to deny it, I saw you – you kissed him!" she finished defiantly. Diane tittered and Mae blushed fiercely.
Ingrid nodded. "And that must have been a result of having too much to drink… unless you've actually taken a liking to that James." She smirked.
It had seemed impossible, but Mae turned even redder. "Oh, please," she said, "That's what it must've been - too many drinks. Anyway, he doesn't leave any inclination that he might make that obsession over me into something worthwhile…" She trailed off, resting her chin on her hand. She noticed the others looking at her and smiling knowingly, and she cleared her throat and sat up. "A-and besides, he's so gawky."
The girls snickered. After a minute, Diane stood and glanced out the window, staring at the street from three floors up. "Oh my gosh, there he is now!" she cried.
"Who?" asked the rest.
"What?!" Mae shot up and ran to the window, peering out. Sure enough, there he was – tall James. Handsome James. Awkward, nervous, endearing James.
"Well, what could he be doing here?" Rebecca asked.
"Of course he's paying a visit to his dear little Miss Mae," Diane teased. But her target wasn't listening. She ran out the front door and down the stairs to the front hallway to greet her caller. First – a mirror check. Knee-length black dress smooth, faux pearl necklace secure, hair just right. She exhaled and opened the door at the three soft knocks.
"James!" she said, as if this was a complete surprise, "What are you doing here?"
"I… erm… I j-just wanted to st-stop by and… see if you would mind me visiting you and Mrs. Baker and the rest," he stammered.
Oh, if he could only be bolder!, Mae thought. "Fine," she said coolly. "Come on upstairs."
"Alright." He followed her up, watching her intently. Over their years at school, they were only acquaintances, but he'd always been enamored with her for reasons unknown, especially to the boys who'd convinced her to go places with them before. They'd all given her nicknames like "Merciless Mae" and "Queen Mae," and they'd all given James fair warning. Still, he was madly in love with her, and that was all that mattered to him.
Before she opened the door to her aunt's apartment, she whipped around and placed her pointer finger in the center of his chest, stabbing him with her fingernail. "Now you listen here, James Albert Peterson," she said in a sharp whisper, "You are not to bring up that night at the lake. It meant absolutely nothing." She was pretty good at lying. "And if you do, I swear I will take you up by the collar and toss you out."
James gulped. He nodded, scared into silence without taking into consideration that he was nearly two feet taller than little Mae, who could only carry out her threat if she had a sudden burst of extreme strength.
"Hello, James," the girls said slowly in unison when the two walked in, and then went into a fit of giggling. Except for Ingrid, that is, who simply smiled and looked the young man over. Even if Mae was completely opposed to it, they looked adorable beside each other.
"Have a seat, dear," Ingrid said. The three women shifted around the room to make the only empty places be on the two-person sofa. Mae glared at them, but James awkwardly sat down, staring at his shoes.
With a dramatic sigh, Mae joined him.
"So, James," Rebecca began, "What… or who… brings you here today?"
He glanced over at Mae. "W-well, I just thought I'd pay you ladies a visit."
"Oh, nobody in particular?" Diane asked carefully.
James looked at the woman beside him again. She'd told him not to bring up the night at the lake, but she hadn't said a thing about anything else. So, he gathered his courage. "…Mae. I came for Mae," he ventured, gazing at her as she went red as her hair. "I came for her," he continued shakily, "I wanted to… to ask you… if you'd go to the Andersons' party tonight. With me. You know my father was a good friend of Oliver, and I'm invited every year."
Oliver Anderson held a party at his apartment once every year in September. Timid James had wanted to ask Mae to it for years, and had finally found the nerve in himself to do it.
"Well, Mae, don't keep the poor boy waiting," Ingrid said. James wasn't quite a "boy," being twenty-three, same as Mae, and being so tall.
It didn't take Mae long to decide. "…Alright. I will."
"Yes, well… Thank you. I'll be 'round again at seven." He stood awkwardly, waving to the group while keeping his eyes on his redheaded maiden. Excited, he grinned to his reflection in the mirror once in the hall.