We were sixteen, from a parochial school in Western New York, which had released us onto the city streets in Boston. It was our last day, the tours to The Garden, Rockport, and Faneuil Hall had netted us some plastic memorabilia and a live lobster pet that was residing in our hotel ice machine.
We had two hours before curfew. We stood by the Government Center T entrance in the fading Spring light, four heads together over a map and zeroed in on our next target: the Prudential Center’s Skywalk Observatory.
“It closes at 8. There’s just enough time.”
Clearly the ringleader, Sharon, a leprechaun of a girl with short sandy curls and dimpled cheeks, folded the map and started down the stairs. The other girls, not much taller than Sharon, and my tall, gangly frame followed. As we stepped from the cool night into the warm subway air, the steel-string strumming of guitar music wafted from a distance tunnel, and then slipping through the turnstiles, the chords were smothered by the rumble of our arriving train. We ran the last leg and slipped on the Green line as the doors eased shut behind us.
“Does everybody have enough to get in?” Sharon asked. Her hand was in her pocket and we could hear the few coins she had left jangling in her pocket. “I checked, I have enough with a little to spare for the trip home.”
Rather than fight the roaring sounds of subway and murmur of voices, we all nodded, and held to the silver bar, swaying with the train. I thought about the crumpled bills and the change that had worked a dime-sized hole in my pocket. I was pretty sure I had enough, but it would be close. I had been to the Prudential once before with my sister, and knew that when we stepped off the train, I would temporarily be in charge and when the train pulled to the stop at Copley I was praying that I would know which way to take my friends. In a weird way I felt responsible for the others since I had talked them into this last-minute trip.
We climbed the steps at Copley, and zipped our jackets closed. For the first time since arriving in Boston, the sky was clear of clouds and the stars were somewhere off beyond the city lights. The air turned our cheeks crimson as we easily found the entrance of the second tallest building in Boston.
We pushed through the doors of the Prudential Center to an empty lobby. The shops had their metal gates at half-mast, and behind counters cashiers were focused on their nightly closing routines. The ticket kiosk was closed and a sign directed us to purchase tickets at the top. We stepped to the elevator and waited in silence, toes tapping and eyes darting. It was five minutes before the tower closed, the lobby was eerily quiet, and our funds were running short. I reached forward and pressed the lit elevator button again, hoping that this time it would heed our call. The doors opened.
In the safety of the elevator and with the Skyline button pressed, the doors slowly slid toward each other, and the chatters and giggling began. We had just pulled out our wallets and wadded bills to pool our funds, when the elevator doors jolted. A hand reached through a sliver between the closing doors. The hand and then its attached hair-covered forearm pried the doors apart. My friends slipped their wallets and coins back into their pockets; I held my meager funds wadded in my fist.
“I caught it, Doris,” the man said and reached over to pull a white-haired women onto the elevator. His graying head nodded to us, and his eyes, level with mine, made contact and then swept over each of my friends. He pulled the woman close and stared at us as the doors closed. We stood in one corner at the back of the elevator. He stood with Doris by the lit button panel, back to the door.
Suddenly he dropped his arm from the Doris’s shoulder and his eyes widened while his and turned to Doris, his voice a whisper, “I, I, oh no, I forgot my wallet.” The plaintive ‘no’ was just short of overacting. Doris’s eyes widened and then she frowned, nodded and looked down. The man patted his pockets: the pants, the jacket, the inner jacket pocket, all in vain. He looked at us.
“You girls wouldn’t have money to pay our way in, would you? Its our last night in Boston, and it was my wife’s dream to be able to see Boston from the Prudential on a clear night.”
For a brief second it was just me and this man and my mind spun in a tornado of fear. What if this is a scam? What if he takes all of our money? I stared at the man. He had returned to his open observation of my friends and me. I glanced at the quiet woman by his arm, and turned to my friends. I met Sharon’s eyes and we both nodded at the same time. We four folded into a faced-in circle, once again pulled out our wallets and bills, and scraped together all of the spare change and crumpled dollars that we had saved for ice cream at the hotel and our eight-hour ride back to our home town. We turned and handed it to the man. Doris looked up and smiled, met our eyes, and winked.
The elevator continued its rise and we stood in an awkward silence face-to-face with this beaming couple, who remained between us and the door. The elevator chimed its arrival and the doors opened. The darkness of the empty Prudential Skywalk loomed ahead. When the man and the woman did not move, I nodded to the others and they stepped past the couple and into the corridor. I stepped out last.
“Wait,” called Doris, and we stopped.
The man held our coins and crumpled bills out, but I shook my head. I wondered, did Doris have a twinge of conscience for having taken our money?
“No thank you. We want you to enjoy your visit.” Doris smiled at my answer and then gently nudged the man forward.
“No, you don’t understand. You girls have restored our faith in youth tonight.” He took my hand and gently placed the money in it. “We’ll be paying your way tonight.”