If You Believed In Love
Body, heart, and soul, Jonathon froze. Had he just heard what he thought he had? On his toe, he turned back, lowering his eyebrows into the center of his head questioningly. “Did you just call me…?”
Her smile was slow and amused. “I should’ve known I couldn’t keep it up forever.” Then her smile broke even wider. “Some people just won’t be put into a box no matter how hard you try.” Laughing she pointed at his chair. “Please, don’t go. Have a seat.”
Eyeing her, as complete bewilderment flooded through him, he came back in and sat carefully.
When he was down in the chair, she shook her head. “You’re impossible, you know that?”
His smile filled his heart. “So I’ve been told.”
And all of a sudden, it wasn’t hard at all. The nerves were gone, and he felt like he might float right off the earth.
“Now, about that paper.” She leaned forward on her forearms. “Are you really going to write it? You don’t have to, you know.”
He shifted, using his elbow to push himself forward. “No, seriously I want to. I just… I’d like to know, you know, what I should focus on while I’m reading. I mean, should I be looking at individual characters or overall theme or what?”
Surveying him carefully, she let the back of the chair catch her. “Are you planning to take the tests too?”
That sent questions into him he hadn’t even considered. “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of that. Does it make a difference? I mean they’re just Scantron, fill in the bubble things, right?”
A moment and she stood and walked over to the windowsill. With a small watering can, she poured a little water on the two small plants sitting in the window. “Surely you know me better than that by now.” Setting the can down, she turned and leaned back on the sill. “I don’t really care if you can fill in little bubbles. I want to know how the works move you, what you think about them, how they affected you. I can’t do that with bubble letters on a Scantron.”
He should’ve figured as much, but still he was intrigued. “So what then? Do we come in for a blood ritual or do you just crack our heads open and take a look?”
Her laugh brought his out too. She came back to the desk but instead of sitting down, she leaned on the back of the chair with her wrists crossed in front of her. “No. My tests are all essay. At least two per test. Three if you want extra credit.”
“You’re a big fan of extra credit, aren’t you?”
Then, for a long moment, she narrowed her gaze at him, considering, and he wondered just what was going on in that marvelous head of hers. Finally, she swung around the chair, sat down, and pulled forward. “Can you keep a secret?”
It was hard to keep up with her. He backed up slightly as if unsure about joining her little adventure. “What kind? Because you know, I don’t do torture real well…”
She laughed. “No, not that kind of secret.” Her smile fell into seriousness. “I really don’t care much about the stuff most English teachers are into. You know like the literary terms and the whys and the wherefores. I mean, I know them. I just don’t think they’re all that important.” She leaned forward even farther as if drawing him into her strictest confidence, and she glanced around as if the room might be bugged. A second and her gaze came back on him. “I think that stuff is for people who have no real soul. You know what I mean? They want to act all important, like they know so much more than the rest of us.”
Jonathon leaned forward as well, glancing over his shoulder as if to make sure no one else heard his reply. “Don’t say that too loudly. There might be bugs in the room.”
Her slow smile and the light in her eyes said she understood the joke completely. “That’s why I don’t give bubble fill-in tests. I want to know what you really know, not if you can tell me what I already know.” She sat back and splayed her fingers on the desk. “So in answer to your question, by the end of this section, you’ll need to have some answers for all of those things—overall theme, character analysis, plot points and counterpoints. Eventually you’ll use most of it, if not all of it.”
As he thought about the students’ workload, a frightening thought occurred to him. “Is this the only class you teach?”
“No, I’ve also got Freshman Comp and Literature 101, too. Why?”
His face fell into a frown. “And you do this killer schedule stuff with them too? How in the world do you keep up?”
“I don’t do it so much in the others.” She sat back again. It was like she couldn’t stay in one position very long at all.
He was becoming as intrigued with her as he had been that very first day. “Why not?”
“Because Victorian and Austen are my favorites, and I just want to know what everyone else knows and feels about them.”
“Okay.” It was as if he was absorbing every fragment of information about her that he could find. “So why Victorian? Was Robert Browning really good-looking or something?”
“No.” She smiled again. “Austen’s actually my all-time favorite. That’s why my class focuses so much on her. I did my dissertation on Pride and Prejudice.”
“Really? Why that one?”
That seemed to push her back into Ms. Forester mode, and she reached up and readjusted her glasses. “A lot of reasons I guess. Most of which are not really all that fascinating nor important.” She sat up and glanced at the two books in his hands. “So what about you? Are you taking other things besides my class?”
“Nope. This is it. I figured I’d start out slow. You know, only do like five papers and seven tests before I really hit my stride with an easy class.”
Interest traced through her eyes, and she tilted her head. “So, are you enjoying the class? I mean really. Honest truth.”
“Honest truth?” he asked, and she nodded, her intent gaze right on him made it impossible to tell her anything but. “I’m enjoying it more than you will ever know.”
When Mr. Danforth… Jonathon left nearly an hour after he’d first come, Elizabeth tried to get right back to work but found she couldn’t shake the feeling of him being in the room with her. He was much nicer than she had at times thought him to be, funnier too. With a smile, she decided to leave a little early for English Comp. It was going to be hard to wrap clear-headedness over this undeniable feeling of pure exhilaration. She only hoped her students could put up with her.
Where had all the junk come from? Jonathon couldn’t at all tell as he stood in his apartment at the nexus between the living room and the kitchen. The junk was everywhere. In stacks, in piles, in heaps all over the floor, down the hallway, and on every available surface in the entire apartment. In the kitchen, dishes and pans draped the kitchen sink and every counter. He wondered if anything was even left in the cabinets. The living room was strewn with pizza boxes, newspapers, and beer bottles. The hallway had piles of clothes and more dishes. It was strange that he didn’t remember it being this way the last time he was here.
The last he remembered it was a beautiful space filled with light and love. Now it looked on the brink of needing a wrecking ball. He ran his hand over his hair. “Abby would absolutely kill me if she saw it like this.” His gaze slipped over to the little wood and glass case on the far side of the living room. It was the only thing in the whole place that had only one thing on it. A picture of the only love he had ever known.
Stepping over the piles and junk, he walked to it, sensing her once again coming close to him. When he stopped in front of it, his hand moved as if not even part of himself, and he picked up the golden frame. She looked like light and love itself. The blonde hair he had loved so much blowing gracefully in the wind. The lips that thrilled him. The smile that still did funny things to his heart. He had loved her from the first time he saw her.
Gently he traced her face with his finger, missing her once again with both an ache and an acceptance that had never been there before. “Abby.” Closing his eyes as the pain cut through the denial of nearly 18 months, he pulled the picture to his heart. A moment to let the exquisite ache do its damage, and then he pulled the picture from him. He looked at it, at her. “I miss you so much.”
I miss you, too. But I am safe now. It’s time for you to be all right too.
She was always so smart that way, knowing exactly what he needed to hear and when he needed it. He tilted his head as he looked at the picture and felt her spirit recede from his. “I’ll never forget you.”
The whole weekend when he needed a break from cleaning—which was often, the trash alone took eight trips to the dumpster—Jonathon read the coming material. The story twisted and turned like a soap opera. There was the dashing Willoughby, whom Jonathon had thought sure to win Marianne’s heart and take her away, who was now acting like a total jerk. There was Colonel Brandon, the reserved, quiet, duty-prone man, who loved Marianne but was aced out by Willoughby or so it seemed until Willoughby started acting like an idiot.
As Saturday turned to Sunday and Sunday to Monday, Jonathon began putting pieces together with what they had read in Browning before. With the coffee table now clean enough to work on, he had each book and his notebook with him where he sat on the floor, making notes and flipping back to the poems they had read. And then he made a most remarkable discovery. Going back and forth and back again, he confirmed it. With a smile, he wrote it out in his notebook. He couldn’t wait to share it with her, and he really hoped he got that chance.
Elizabeth was deep in discussion with three students down front when she saw Jonathon come in the back door. It was strange how in her thoughts and dreams she now referred to him that way. He looked like a Jonathon, on the tall side with nice shoulders and a quiet intelligence about him that was both interesting and attractive. Coming down the stairs, he went to his new desk in the third row, and when his gaze found hers, he smiled, and she smiled back although she had to drop her gaze to break it from his. A glance back, and she realized he was still there, and still looking at her.
He wasn’t in the tie and black slacks today. Just a nice gray sweater and that tan suede jacket he had worn on Friday. Her cheeks flamed to life as she remembered those few moments with him in her office. He settled in and removed the jacket, which caught in her heart and refused to let go. She had to get started. It was time, but as crazy as that sounded, all she wanted was to stand there and watch him like this. What had he said about enjoying the class more than she would ever know? No pressure there.
“Oh, God,” she breathed on her way to the desk, “help. I can’t do this.” She closed her eyes for only a long blink, but it helped as much as anything could. “Okay, if everyone will settle in, we’ll get started.”
Settled was hardly how Jonathon would’ve described himself. Just looking at her made his whole being light to life, and he couldn’t shake the feeling of being drawn right into her magnetism. It was incredible.
“So,” she said, coming around the desk in that soft green dress she wore. It, like all of her dresses, graced her lithe frame all the way to the black boots that peeked from beneath it at the floor. When she sat on the desk, she pulled one leg up so that the skirt of the dress fanned out and down nearly to the floor, dropping with plenty of room to allow her even more movement if she so chose. “You read this weekend, I hope. Any great insights or understandings?”
“Marianne needs to seriously get a grip,” Letty said. “She is like completely annoying, all blubbering about Willoughby. I mean, he’s being a jerk, but good grief.”
“She got her heart broken,” Susana said from the other side. “He said he loved her, basically said he was going to ask her to marry him, she fell for him with her whole heart, and then he shows up with another lady and she’s supposed to just accept that?”
“Well, Elinor’s doing a pretty good job of just accepting it,” Letty said. “I mean, what’s the deal with Lucy and Edward? Is that for real or what?”
“I think Elinor’s a lot more torn up about it than she’s saying,” Mr. Thomason from the back said. “She just doesn’t go into fits of crying like Marianne does. That doesn’t mean she’s not upset. Just that she shows it different.”
“Sense and Sensibility,” Elizabeth said.
As he watched her, he thought how funny it was that that’s how he now thought of her. Elizabeth. Though he probably should’ve thought more along the lines of ‘Dr. Forester.’ His mind drifted back to her in her office. She was so different for those few minutes—lively, excited, fun. Not that she wasn’t all of those now, but in a far different, more muted way.
He cleared his throat, hoping he could get this out as clearly as it was in his head and heart. He raised his hand, still holding his pen in it.
“Yes?” She looked right at him with a smile that shared her secret with him. “Mr. Danforth?”
The smile attacked him so suddenly, he almost laughed out loud. “Um, well, I was going back over some of the Browning poems that we did earlier in the semester, and I came upon this line.” He anchored his attention to his notebook, lest he fall right into the interest in her eyes. “It’s from, Now.” He paused to off-set the line. “So you make perfect the present—condense,/In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,/Thought and feeling and soul and sense.” The last words, he said slowly, emphasizing each in turn. His gaze came up to hers. “I just thought that’s what Sense and Sensibility is about—thought and feeling and soul and sense.
“It’s not about being one or the other because either extreme has flaws. It’s about learning to integrate the two so that there is a balance between holding on and letting go, between using your head and going with your heart. One without the other traps you in a world you really don’t want to be in.”
Emotions flowed through her eyes—admiration, interest, and respect. “You’re starting to put pieces together, Mr. Danforth.” She seemed to consider that for a long moment. Her gaze went to the others even as she continued to think through whatever it was his comment had triggered in her. He couldn’t wait to find out what it was.
“I think a lot of times,” she said as if caught up in the thoughts, “that we take reading a story or a poem as a singular task. We look only at this piece we happen to be reading at this moment.” She walked to Adam’s desk and put her hands on either side of it. “We look right here, and we put blinders on that there is more to the story… for us.” Her gaze went across them as she backed up. “Here’s a question. Is Mr. Reynolds’ desk the only thing in this room?”
Jonathon wasn’t at all sure where she had gone, but he wasn’t nearly as confused as the others seemed to be.
“No,” Letty said. “There’s like 75 desks in here.”
“Yes, but this is the room, right?” Elizabeth said, going again to Adam’s desk again, taking hold of it and shaking it. “This is all there is to the whole room, right?”
“No,” Roman said. “We just said there are other desks.”
When she looked at him, there was such intensity in her eyes that it captivated Jonathon. “But that’s how we read, isn’t it? We read this poem.” She put her hand sideways and touched Adam’s desk. Then she moved to the next desk—an empty one. “Or this novel.” She moved to the next desk. “Or this magazine article.” Then she straightened, and her gaze swept across them. “And we never realize that it’s not this, and this and this, but it’s all connected. They aren’t separate things. They are each a piece of the whole puzzle.” Swirling her arms, she indicated the whole classroom.
“Life is not about small incremental boxes. English and math and science. Or poems and novels and television. What you learn over here—” she strode to the other side “makes what you learn over here make more sense.” And the mystery was back in her eyes. “If you let it. See, it’s only when you start connecting things this way.” She moved her hand horizontally. “And this way.” She moved her hand vertically. “That you begin to get a glimpse of the immensity of life and all the things it has to teach you.”
Then like a shot, she headed for the board. Jonathon saw it, the same vivacious excitement of her spirit moving through the universe, gathering, understanding, collecting, experiencing, thinking that he had witnessed ever-so-briefly in her office. It fascinated him to a depth and a breadth he couldn’t even describe.
“I was going to save this for later,” she said, writing quickly on the board, “but sometimes our plans need to change when the opportunity presents itself.” Four words were now on the board: Physical, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual. She turned. “In literature as in life, there are four plains of being, four layers if you will. There is the physical layer, which is on the top. Underneath, there is the emotional, mental, and then the spiritual. These are not four distinct layers, rather they move and breathe with and through each other. One illuminates and gives more meaning to the others… if you are willing to look at it that way.”
When she looked at them, she laughed. “See, what I mean?”
Now he was getting confused with the rest of them.
“Look at yourself. Right now. Look at your position in the room, in the desk, in yourself.” The excitement in her voice was dangerously close to overwhelming her sanity. “The physicality of where you are right now and how you are gives the rest of us clues about the other three layers in you.”
With her hand, she went down them on the board. “Where you are in with this class mentally, emotionally, even spiritually.” Then she stepped away from the board and across the room. “Take Mr. Cruz here for example.”
He started to sit up.
“No! Wait! Stay just like that,” she commanded, and he slid back down obviously not wanting to be like that anymore as every gaze in the room came over to him. “What does Mr. Cruz’s posture say about him and where he is on the other three layers?”
Letty, always the one to take the first stab at anything, leaned forward. “Well, he’s not really into the lesson. He’s all slouched down in the desk. He kind of looks bored and now maybe a little scared about what you’re going to do or say about him next.”
Elizabeth laughed. “You’re right, but you’re missing something important.”
Letty’s face fell in consternation. She looked for a long time. “I don’t see it.”
“He’s here,” Elizabeth said simply. “Don’t you get it? He’s here. He could’ve slept in.”
“The class is at 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” Susana said.
“Or he could’ve skipped today, or he could’ve dropped the first week. He could’ve thought the whole thing was whack and too much work or too much trouble, but he didn’t. He came, and he’s here. He’s in the room.”
Jonathon nodded though he was still trying to get the bigger picture of what she was trying to show them.
“Look at this room.” She lifted her hands to each side. “Look at the windows on this side, high up, and the back wall. It’s not really square, more rounded, and the steps and the desks and the color of it, and each of you. Because you are here, you are now a part of this room, and it is a small part of you, of your experience of life.”
Several students shifted in their desks, trying to follow but not really understanding. She strode back to the desk and picked up her copy of the book to hold it up.
“This is what we’re reading right now, but it’s not the whole story.” She lifted her gaze to the light streaming in. “It’s a window, a beautiful, glorious window, but it’s not the whole room.” Striding forward, she spied Jonathon’s copy of the poetry book. “May I have that?”
His eyebrows reached for the ceiling even as he picked it up and handed it forward.
Lifting it for everyone to see, she continued. “There are fifty poems in this book. Each one of them is now a part of the room of your experience as well. The ones you read, the ones you identified with, the ones you remember, they are no longer just some words in a book, they are now a part of your room, of your life.”
A thought passed through her eyes, though he couldn’t quite read it. “Wait!” It was possible if she got anymore excited, she might lift right off the ground as she dug into his poetry book. Man, he wished he could go on the journey she seemed to be on. Then suddenly, upon locating what she was looking for, she shook her head back and began reading.
“Shall I sonnet-sing you about myself?/Do I live in a house you would like to see?/Is it scant of gear, has it a store of pelf?/‘Unlock my heart with a sonnet-key’?/Invite the world, as my betters have done?/‘Take notice: this building remains on view,/Its suites of reception every one,/Its private apartment and bedroom too;/ ‘For a ticket, apply to the Publisher.’/No; thanking the public, I must decline./A peep through my window, if folk prefer;/But, please you, no foot over threshold of mine!”
“It’s his room,” Letty said. “It’s him.”
Elizabeth nodded, letting the understanding come to each of them as it did.
“The physical thing,” Mr. Cruz said, and Jonathon looked over at him in surprise. “It’s like looking at the outside of the room, at what the person is willing to show you.”
“It’s the top layer,” Susana said. “But that’s not all there is. There’s like this whole room, this whole world going on underneath.”
“But we don’t see that,” Letty said. “Because we either don’t look, or they won’t let us. What’s that line about looking in the window but don’t cross the threshold?”
Nodding, Elizabeth picked his book up again. “A peep through my window, if folk prefer;/But, please you, no foot over threshold of mine!”
Letty nodded. “Yeah, he’s saying, ‘I’ll show you the top layer, but don’t get any closer than that, you might see what’s really going on.’”
“That’s Elinor,” Mr. Thomason said from the back, and every gaze went to him.
“How do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.
“She like keeps everything all bottled up, so all you see is the physical, but she won’t let you in any farther than that,” he explained. “And Marianne just is. You see it all—whether you want to or not.”
Elizabeth nodded and grew thoughtful; her eyes saying softly what her mind was thinking. “As you read these books.” She held both of them up. “They become, if you let them, a part of your room, a part of your house, a part of you. And when that happens, they aren’t separate pieces anymore. When they become part of you, they become parts of the whole of you, if you are brave enough to see that and treat them that way. One.” She held up the novel. “Can help you understand the other on a deeper level.” She held up his poetry book. “They aren’t two separate books, two separate pieces. Once they go into you, they mesh and they meld, and you can take what you learned in one and use it to more fully understand the other… if you let them, if you choose to see it that way.
“And it’s the same with everything. Every experience, every song, every person you meet and choose to allow in your house, into your room, they become a part of the whole that’s you. And you can use it all, every piece you get, to more fully understand life and others and yourself… if you so choose.”
Jonathon was still spinning on that understanding when class broke. Being with her was so frustratingly wonderful he was having a hard time comprehending the immensity of it. He would get glimpses of what she was saying and the depths that were there, but every time he tried to grasp one, it was like it was made of only light, and it would not allow him to hold it. But with everything in him, he wanted to grasp them and hold them forever, though just how to do that escaped him. The others went out, and he knew he should too, but he just couldn’t get himself up and out of the desk. Instead he sat, bent over his notebook until all the others left.
When the door snapped closed on the last student out of the back, the thoughts and understandings were still weaving in and out of him in a jumble so complex, he could hardly sort any of it out.
“So,” Elizabeth said, down front, “do you plan to always throw my lesson plans into such complete disarray?”
He looked up to apologize, but she was smiling, and there was a glimmer of teasing in her eyes. She came around and sat on the desk.
“That was pretty amazing,” he said, giving voice to what his spirit was screaming.
She laughed and scratched the side of her mouth. “Yeah, well, it wasn’t me although I’d like to take the credit for it.” The soft peace in her eyes made his heart swell inside him.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t me. That’s for sure. I was all proud of myself for seeing that line the first time. The rest that you said was just… Wow.” He wanted to ask so many things, but he wasn’t at all sure it was his place to. “So if that wasn’t your lesson plan, what was?”
Shrugging with her hands on the desk so it pulled up her shoulders, she fell into seriousness. “Something about Willoughby being a scoundrel and Colonel Brandon being a scoundrel before, and how the Colonel learned his lesson and then judged Willoughby for doing what he himself had done.”
“Wow.” The depth of her understanding even in a small outline was unfathomable. “I must’ve missed that part.” He picked up his book. “Where did it say that?”
She laughed. “This was better though.” A hazy, dream crossed her face. “Much better. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us… with me. They completely blew me away.”
“Hey, right back at you.” He forced his gaze down to his books. “I think my head is still spinning from it.”
“Mine too.” There was the barest of pauses as she blinked once. “But it’s a good spinning.”
His gaze jumped to hers, and he felt the absurd desire to ask flood his whole being. How could he ask? She would think he was nuts. Then again, how could he not? How could he let this moment slip away? If he did, he would regret it forever. “Look, I know you don’t go to coffee with students,” he said slowly, carefully, “but I was wondering if I could maybe walk you to the library?”
A look of questioning confusion followed immediately by fear went through her eyes. “Oh, I…”
“I know.” He held up both hands and backed off the suggestion instantly. “I’m sorry. Forget I asked. I just…” His gaze came up to hers. He swallowed to get the words unstuck from his throat. “I don’t know what it is, but when I’m with you, when we talk, like today, even with the others around, I just… I see things I never saw before, and it just makes me want to see more and more of life and of what might be.” He smiled as gratefulness traced across his heart. “You will never know the world you have opened up for me, Dr. Forester, and you’ll never know how grateful I am for that.”
Dr. Forester? No one called her that. Her gaze went to him and held there. The words went through her head, and she never even questioned saying them though maybe she should have. “Please, call me Elizabeth.”
She saw the worry that drained over his face, and she put her head down. “I know. That’s highly improper, huh?” The smile that came from deep inside her was not to be thwarted. “But, I don’t know, for some reason, it just feels right.”
When she glanced up, he looked positively shell-shocked.
“What?” she asked. “You didn’t know I had a real name?”
“N-no. I just didn’t know anyone was allowed to use it.” He was stumbling again, like he had been at her office. “I mean… I’m sorry.” With a swipe, his books were in his hands and he was standing. “Ms. Forester.”
She checked him with one look.
“Elizabeth,” he corrected himself, sounding breathless and unsteady.
Oh, what the sound of her name coming from him did to her. She slid off the desk and went around it to gather her things.
“You have to know, I will never be able to repay what you’ve done for me.” He stepped down a step, coming toward her. “I know that sounds melodramatic or something. But it’s the truth. The absolute honest truth.” He stepped down another step and was now on the ground floor.
Her heart was about to beat right out of her chest as she stood at the desk, stuffing, and shoving things into the satchel. She didn’t even see them, and they were all in a horrible jumble. Organization and propriety slid away from her. Why had she done this again? Why had she encouraged him again? She must be losing her mind.
And then he was right there, not yards but mere feet from her. He didn’t reach out to her, only stood there, watching her. “I don’t want,” he said in halting cadence. “I don’t want to do anything to make you think my intentions are anything other than what they are.”
Breathing was becoming a real issue. “And what’s that?”
She felt how he was looking at her, softly, seriously, honestly. It gripped her so tightly she thought she might suffocate.
“I just want to get to know you.”
Getting the word out was like pushing a boulder up a hill. “Why?”
“Because you’re the most interesting, amazing person I’ve ever met.”
Her gaze came up to his then. Open and beseeching, his eyes whispered to her softly, asking her to help him see what she saw.
“Please,” he said softly. “I swear if you tell me to get lost, I will.”
Elizabeth smiled in spite of herself. She let her gaze fall to her satchel as her heart and mind sorted through the offer and all its implications. “Okay, but just to the library.” How he knew about the library drifted through her. Seeing that as a subject she wanted to dissect, she slid her satchel off the desk and put it over her shoulder. “So, what’s up with the library anyway?”
She stepped past him to the stairs, and he followed, his gaze coming over to her.
“Oh. Uh.” He scratched his ear. “I just…” At the top, he pushed out the door and held it for her. He glanced at her as they went across the lobby. “Um, don’t think I’m like a stalker or something, but I saw you there… the other day.”
Still walking, she looked over at him. “Oh? Why didn’t you come say, ‘Hello’?” It was strange, as long as it was like this, talking and just being, she was fine.
He pushed out of the lobby door into the bright sunshine beyond and held it for her. Spring would be here in no time although the February sun was barely warm. However, even after they were on street level again, he still didn’t answer.
“Where’d you go?” she asked, worried she’d said something that had caused him to spin off into the distance.
“I’m here,” he said, glancing at her but only that. Now that they were out here, he was much more guarded, and she didn’t at all understand that.
“No. You like went off into la-la land or something.”
Again he only glanced at her. “Did I? I didn’t notice.”
Confusion slipped into her, and she sensed that she was not walking with the man she had assumed she was. “So, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No.” He was walking right next to her, but it felt like he was thousands of miles away.
She tilted her head to look over at him. “How did you come to be in my class? This class? I mean I know you said it was the least worst option, but…”
His gaze snapped to her. “I’m sorry for that.”
“It’s okay.” Soft compassion touched her heart for him. “But if it was your least worst option, what were your others?”
“My others? Options?” It was completely unbelievable how solid he seemed one moment and how shaky the next.
“Oh. Well.” His chin bounced up and down as he thought about the question. “Well, I could’ve signed up with NASA and gone to the moon or hopped a jet and gone to Australia to visit the outback.” He grinned at her. “Lots of things.”
“And yet you chose my class.” Her gaze tried to pierce the bravado in his manner.
“Yes, and I’m very glad of that fact.”
At the concrete steps leading up to the library, he stopped and looked all the way up the building. Elizabeth turned and gazed at him.
“Aren’t you coming in?” she asked, absurdly hoping that he would.
“What?” He looked away from her, up the building again. “No.” Then his gaze came right back to her. “I said I’d walk you here, and now I have.”
With everything in her, she wanted to ask, to invite him in with at her, to figure out why he could be so touchingly close one minute and so very distant the next. She had never imagined someone else sitting at that table with her until now. And yet even as she thought it, she could imagine him being there with her, and it was a nice thought. However, she didn’t want to force him, and he was obviously uncomfortable although this was all his idea.
“Well, thank you.” She tipped her head to the side to catch his attention which worked. “I enjoyed the walk.”
Propriety and decorum said she should just leave, but her heart was whispering something she couldn’t quite believe it was saying. “You know,” she said, “my office hours are in the morning again. If you’re interested…”
Curiosity and panic surged in his eyes.
“Of course, if you’re busy…”
Then a smile, slow and soft, came to his eyes and lips. “I’ll be there.”
How Jonathon tore himself from her side, he would never be able to tell anyone. It was not what he wanted to do. He wanted to go into the library with her and then take her to dinner and then stay up until three in the morning talking and holding her. On his way home, however, he shook his head hard to clear it of those thoughts. If that was even a possibility, it was so far down the road that he shouldn’t even be thinking about it.
Still, she had talked with him after class, and she had let him walk her to the library. And she had been really nice about both. He just wish he could always be impressive around her, but sometimes, when she was right there, all he could do was fumble around and make a fool of himself. Why were words so difficult? It was like one look at her scrambled all the circuits in his brain so he could hardly think from the wanting of her.
Back in his apartment, he set the satchel on the couch and went to the kitchen. Five days of cleaning had done wonders for the place. Even the kitchen floor no longer crunched when he walked on it. He reached into the refrigerator and pulled out the Hamburger Helper he’d made the night before. It would make at least two more meals. He popped some of it into the microwave and let his thoughts trail back through the day’s class and the coming of office hours in the morning.
The understanding that he needed to study up so they would have something to talk about tomorrow cascaded into him. He certainly didn’t want to sound like a flake when he got there. When the microwave beeped, he slid the plate out and grabbed a fork and a glass of water, before heading for the coffee table. It wasn’t the best desk in the world, but he’d always preferred to sit on the floor rather than at a table or even at his desk in his office. Now his desk in the lecture hall, that was a different story. He loved that.
His mind raced with the lessons he had learned there—some about poetry, some about novels, more about life. He cherished every single one. Opening the book with one hand, he ate and read and read and ate until all the food was gone, and he was just reading. Only this time he was reading not just this story but with a curiosity as to how this piece fit with all the others of his life. The blending of the two fell into a kaleidoscope of patterns he couldn’t quite fathom. Had things always made this much sense, or had nothing made any sense until this very moment? He couldn’t fully tell, and as he made note upon note in his notebook, he didn’t really care. This was fun.
“I know you said you aren’t into all that English stuff,” Jonathon said the next morning as he sat in the chair across from her desk, “but isn’t some of it important? I mean like symbolism and things like that? I had a teacher in high school who would’ve fallen on a sword in defense of symbolism, though to tell you the truth, I never really understood any of it.”
Across the desk, Elizabeth leaned back in the chair, her arms in an inverted v in front of her owing to the resting of her elbows on the chair arms. She considered the question for a long time before answering. “Remember yesterday when we talked about physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual layers?”
Jonathon nodded. “And standing at that threshold, looking in the window.”
She pulled herself up and forward. “When you do that with a book or a poem or even a person, what you’re doing is looking at the top layer to try to understand what’s going on underneath. You’re looking at the physical and trying seeing what it says about the emotional, mental, and spiritual layers.
“For example, if you showed up this morning with one brown sock and one black sock, what might that tell me about you?”
He looked down to check his socks. Thankfully, they did in fact match. “That I don’t know how to dress? That I got dressed in the dark? That I don’t care about silly things like socks? I don’t know it could say a lot of things.”
“Right. It would tell me something about you, would it not?”
Fighting not to squirm, he agreed.
“It’s the same thing in a novel. Take Colonel Brandon, nice guy, right? I mean he always looks proper and acts proper. He’s in love with Marianne, and he’s worried about her, but he chooses to let her be with Willoughby if that’s who she wants to be with.”
Jonathon nodded although he had no idea where this was headed.
“So what do his actions say about him emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?”
He thought through the question. “That he’s a guy who will put himself aside to do what is right for someone else, even if it’s hard, and even if he doesn’t really agree.”
“Right. Now what about Willoughby? What do the things we know about him say about him?”
“That he looks real good on the outside, but he’s really a skunk.”
“Precisely. And what things, physical things in the story symbolize or give us clues about how he really is—long before we even know?”
He dug into his knowledge of the book, searching for the answer. “I don’t know. That he saved Marianne and was all charming at first?”
“Yes, but there’s something else, something he was going to give her.”
“Right. The horse. He was going to give her this beautiful horse, but what was wrong with the horse?”
“It was too expensive for them to keep.”
She nodded slowly. “And that’s a symbol for what?”
Like brushing his hand through light, he tried to grab onto the understanding she was holding out to him. But it was just beyond what he could reach. “Their inheritance? The estate? I don’t know. I don’t see it.”
“You’re trying too hard,” she said softly. “Close your eyes and think about it.”
He closed his eyes, wondering how this could help anything. It made him even more nervous, which did nothing for his thinking capabilities.
“Willoughby offered to give Marianne a horse that she could not possibly afford and that would’ve led to the ruin of them all. What did the horse symbolize? What else, if she took him at his word and accepted it without realizing how expensive to her it would be, led to her breakdown?”
“Him.” It was strange how clear it suddenly became, and Jonathon’s spirit jumped.
“That’s right. The horse he offered symbolized him and his love. It was a really nice idea, and she wanted it so much. But it was ultimately too expensive, emotionally, for her own good.”
Jonathon nodded. “And Elinor knew that. That’s why she didn’t let herself fall for Edward that hard.”
“Well, she tried not to. I mean she wasn’t all gushy and ga-ga like Marianne.”
“And therefore, she didn’t get hurt, right?”
“No. I think she hurt just as much, but it was a quiet hurt. She didn’t let everyone see her like Marianne did. She had that door locked and barred and chained shut.”
“Except with Edward.” The light grew in his heart and mind. He thought about the light, and a whisper went through him. He’d been so practical about everything his whole life, these thoughts were disconcerting; however, she had a way of both letting him think them and not laughing at him when he did. “I have…” He cleared his throat and dropped his gaze. Then with a breath he picked it back up to her. “I’ve been having this… I don’t know how to describe it, this vision in my head since the other day, and I try to understand what it’s telling me, but…”
Looking right at him, she never moved. “Tell me.”
Man, he felt like a whacked out druggie on some mind-bending high. “It’s just… It’s like I see this light in my mind, and I want to grab it and hold onto it, but every time I try to, it like moves or bends or whatever, and it goes right through my fingers, and I can’t hold it.” He shook his head vehemently and pushed his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m going crazy.”
“What is light?” she asked softly.
That threw him. “What is it? It’s… I don’t know molecules or atoms or something.”
“No. Not what it’s made of. What does it symbolize?”
He thought but couldn’t come up with an answer.
“Okay,” she said, “if darkness symbolizes confusion and fear, what does light symbolize?”
The opposite, his brain screamed, it means the opposite. “Like understanding and… I don’t know.”
“Faith.” The word was like a breath. She sat forward. “I don’t know anything about you, about your real life, where you came from, why you’re here, but what I do know is that you have changed since being in my class.”
Elizabeth had never planned to tell him she’d been thinking about him and surely not like this. She picked up her pen from the desk and rolled it between her fingers. “Remember when I picked on Mr. Cruz the other day?”
“Yeah?” He sounded as scared as Mr. Cruz had looked.
“Well, the things people show us are symbolic to where they are. They give us clues as to what’s really going on.”
“Uh-huh.” He was with her but she could tell there parts of him were not at all sure they wanted to go where she was.
For a long minute she said nothing. Her gaze flickered up to his, gauging where he was with all of this, and then fell again. “When you first came, you sat in the back row, about as far away from us as you could get. You were all in black. You came late and left as quickly as you could. Now if you were a character in a book, what might I, the reader, surmise about you?”
He understood perfectly, but it hit so close to home that he couldn’t get the words out.
She looked up at him and apology went through her eyes. “I’m sorry. That got too personal…”
“No.” He stopped her because he needed this even if he didn’t particularly want to hear it. “Finish that. What did it tell you… about me?”
The answer didn’t come immediately, and when it did, it was gentle. “Well, I think you had decided to live on the fringes of life, that for some reason you did not feel like you could be or wanted to be a part of life, much less a part of the class. But like Mr. Cruz, you showed up. You obviously didn’t want to, but you did. And then…”
The words trailed into oblivion.
“Then?” he asked, strangely not uncomfortable with this physic reading or whatever it was.
Her gaze came up to him, and in it there was a real reluctance to continue. Before she did, her gaze fell to the pen in her hand. “The other day when you showed up, you were no longer in black. And you didn’t sit in the back anymore. You came down front in the midst of the others. I can’t help but think that means you made some kind of breakthrough in one of the other layers or maybe in all of them?”
When she looked at him, it was with such softness and tenderness that he could almost feel it touching him. “I think that’s what the light means. You are seeing the light again, and that’s a very good thing.”
“Yeah,” he said, now drawn so deeply into the safety of this space that he only wanted to understand more. “But I can’t hold it. Every time I swipe my hands through it, I can’t grasp it.”
“Does it disappear when you do that?”
That was something he hadn’t considered. “No. But I want to grab it. I don’t want to let it get away again.”
“Again?” She looked right at him, right into him. However, she let that fall away as her gaze dropped. “The light is not something that is ours to hold. It is only ours to help us to see and understand. It’s like before when you were trying to understand the symbolism of the horse. It was right there, but you were trying so hard to see it, to hold it that you couldn’t. It was only when you let go and let the understanding come to you that you got it.”
He wanted to understand what she was saying, to absorb it, and make it a part of himself. He really did, but it was out there, just beyond his grasp. “But we have to. I mean, how do we make something ours until we can hold it and put it in our pocket?”
Standing, she walked over to the windowsill and leaned there. “Remember when we talked about the room and how our room encompasses all those things that we’ve put in it, the desks, the experiences, the walls, the songs, the windows, the things we’ve read, the people we’ve met?”
He nodded, trying not to scowl in his frustrated attempt to understand. “Yeah.”
“Well, are those things something we have to hold onto, or are they just there, in our room?”
“Yes, you do. The things we’ve talked about in class, are they things you have to hold onto, things you have to consciously think about to keep, or are they just… there inside you?”
That sounded way too easy. “But that’s not life. That’s not out there, making things happen.”
“No. It’s in here,” she said, putting her hand to her heart, “letting things happen and trusting that they will.” There was a moment’s pause as a new understanding lit softly across her face. “Remember when you said that in class, about the house, and all of a sudden, it made everything make so much more sense to all of us?”
“Yeah.” He still wasn’t sure how that happened.
“Well, if I had been glued to my agenda, I might have heard it, but it wouldn’t have become a part of me like it has. That only happened because I wasn’t trying to make things happen. I let them happen. I let them teach me what they were meant to teach me when they show up.”
“But how do you trust something like that? I mean it’s so, I don’t know, out there.”
Her smile was so soft it almost wasn’t. “It’s understanding that you can’t catch the light. You can’t plan for it, you can’t make it happen. What you can do is walk in faith and appreciate it when it does happen. Stop trying to grab the light, Jonathon. Just let it happen around you and believe that it will show you what you most need to see.”
“Ms. Forester?” Another student stood at the door to her office, and Jonathon about fell off his chair when he spun.
“Yes, Mr. Greenwood?” She pushed up from the window as if snapping back into being a teacher with responsibilities other than figuring out the meaning of life.
The student looked over at Jonathon. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”
And then Jonathon was moving, pulling his books up with him. “I’ll just be going…”
Her gaze was one of hoping she hadn’t overstepped her bounds and at the same time hoping he’d gotten something out of their discussion. He was sure he had. He just needed some time to figure out exactly what that was.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” she said.
At the door, he stopped with his hand on the frame. “I’ll be there.”
The circle was carefully worked out on the paper lying on the desk Thursday afternoon. Elizabeth went through the day’s lesson once more in her head as 12:30 turned first to 12:45 and then to 12:55. Students began arriving, and she wondered if she had ever been so nervous. Even her very first class wasn’t this bad—that she remembered anyway. Jonathon arrived only two minutes to one, and he sat third row, just off-center once again.
Nothing in her was sure what she should do. Should she look at him? Not? Not would be rude, but should might tip her hand to everyone else in the room. Balancing between the two, she stood and stepped around the desk. “Good afternoon, everyone. Today I’d like to talk about your topic for the upcoming paper.”
Groans. They always groaned.
“I know. I’m sorry to ruin your afternoon. This paper is to be four-to-five pages.” Turning, she headed for the board. “In it I want you to explain a relationship in the book. I want you to analyze each character in that relationship and explain how they relate to one another as well as the story arc of that relationship and where it ultimately ends up. I also want you to give some parallel between this relationship and a relationship in your own life.”
Carefully she drew a circle on the board and on opposite sides she wrote Elinor and Marianne. “We have said that this story was originally penned by Austen as Elinor and Marianne, so obviously this is a relationship you are free to use.” Through the center of the circle she drew two lines one from Elinor to Marianne and the other back again. “Now a pair of characters generally has a two-way relationship as indicated by the two lines. There is how Elinor relates to Marianne, and how Marianne relates to Elinor. As the story progresses, each changes inside of and because of this relationship.”
She wrote Edward on one side, Willoughby and Colonel Brandon in thirds around the circle. “But that is not the only relationship in Austen’s book. In fact, she was a master at interweaving the relationships between and among people. That, many think, is the strength of her work and why it has stood the test of time.”
Each character now had a line away and a line to them from each of the others. Jonathon copied the drawing in his notebook, focusing, trying to understand where this was going.
“There is conflict in all books, but it most often arises because of a relationship rather than because of some outward conflict such as a war or a threat. Rather, the characters are in conflict with one another based on their motivations and character. Elinor and Colonel Brandon for example have an interesting relationship in that she admires him and is friendly, but she is not in love with him. Colonel Brandon in relation to Elinor regards her as an ally and as one he can ultimately confide his dicey past to.”
By now the drawing was a veritable web of cris-crossing relationships. “When you add in some of the lesser characters, such as Lucy Steele, Mrs. Dashwood, and John and Fanny Dashwood, the density of relationships begins to be almost a tapestry, and if you can imagine each of these lines as having a color other than chalk yellow, you could see even more fully the beauty the picture begins to make.” When she finished, she laid the chalk down and turned.
Man, it was difficult to keep his head down rather than study everything he was beginning to so love about her. Today her dress was a soft medium brown, but it still hung around her ankles and draped down her arms, and he was beginning to really like even the harsh black boots she wore. They were so quirky, so different. Just like almost everything about her. Class went on even as he began mapping out what his paper might be about.
He seriously considered tracing one of the romantic relationships, but ultimately deemed that too risky to both the current state of their relationship—such that it was or wasn’t—and to his heart. He didn’t want to let himself get in this thing too deeply if it proved not to be real or to be only fleetingly transitory. No, better to be safer with one of the other relationships.
Just as class ended, he hit upon the relationship he would use, and he smiled at the rightness of it.
“I’ll see you on Tuesday,” Elizabeth called to the departing students. “Have a good weekend.”
Jonathon wasn’t sure his presence would be welcome, but he hung back anyway. When the others were gone, he stood and walked forward as she erased the board.
“So you did have a little something-something up your sleeve,” he said when he was on the ground floor.
She laughed softly, turning but only a little from the board. “What does that mean?”
“The paper. It’s not about symbolism or alliteration or any of the other normal English teachery stuff. Relationships?” he asked skeptically it as if it had no bearing on anything.
“Yes, relationships. Do you have a problem with that?”
“A problem? Me? No. I even know what I’m going to do mine on.”
She lifted her chin, surveying him carefully. “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”
“Uh. Uh. Uh.” He shook his head. “No fair peeking. I want you to be surprised.”
After narrowing her gaze at him, she smiled a petulant, reluctant smile. “It’s not like it’s for a grade or anything.”
That made him frown. “You’re not going to grade it? Not even just to tell me how I did on it?” It would be odd to do a whole paper and get no feedback at all.
“Well, maybe I’ll just put a comment on the bottom. I’m not really supposed to grade it.”
“Because if you did really, really good on everything, you could come back and demand that the class be counted on your transcript.”
He laughed. “I think you’re pretty safe there.”
She was now ready to go in her dark brown coat with the satchel over her shoulder.
“So,” he said, standing there looking at her, wholly unsure of what came next.
“So,” she said, barely even looking at him.
“Are you going to the library?”
She hesitated. “Maybe for a little while. I’ve got a stack of freshman comp papers to grade.”
“Oh.” He gazed at her with sympathy. “So sorry. Can’t help you there. I’m a terrible writer.”
Together they started up the stairs.
“No you’re not. I read your quiz, remember?”
“A fluke, I assure you.”
“We’ll see,” she said, and the mystery was back.
“What does that mean?”
“It means, ‘We’ll see…’”
It was a good thing he was writing the paper on his laptop, or Jonathon was sure the apartment would’ve been snowbound with old drafts by Wednesday night. He had gone to her office on Monday, but with the paper due tomorrow and his inability to get what he wanted to say in an impressive form onto the paper, he had forgone the visit today. It was midnight before the paper was finally lying printed on the coffee table. Only then did he allow himself a beer. He’d done full 30-page reports on the viability of an international acquisition that had been easier.
Still, he paged through the thin sheaf of papers with a feeling of satisfaction. It was nearly impossible having poured his heart and soul into the thing to gauge what she would think of it, but he had learned a great deal from it. Right now, that was the best he could hope to say. When the beer was gone, he pulled himself to his feet and snapped off the light on his way to bed. Pushing his fingers through his hair with a sigh, he knew sleep was going to come quickly and easily as he was absolutely exhausted, heart, body, mind, and soul.
He’d only come to office hours on Monday, not Wednesday, which Elizabeth fought to make be all right in her head. However, on Thursday when he walked into class, looking a more like the old Jonathon than he had in weeks, her heart tripped on the sight. He had opted for the heavier, black coat, which made since as the frigid temperatures warranted such a switch. However, there was also a slump to his shoulders and a listlessness in his eyes that pulled worry to the surface of her heart.
Was he getting sick? Maybe he was catching a cold or worse, the flu. It had been going around. When it was time to hand up the papers, he put his on top of the stack from his row and handed them all to her with one of those little smiles that barely made it to his lips.
His eyes looked tired, almost sad, and she wondered why, if she should ask, and how she would ask if she should. In nearly no time, all the papers were in her hands, and she was back at the front.
“Are there any last questions on Sense and Sensibility?”
No one said anything.
“As indicated on the syllabus the test will be on Tuesday. It is all essay. Two essays and a third if you would like extra credit.”
Did they ever not groan?
She smiled. “I hope I won’t be saying that when I read your essays.” Laying the papers on the desk, she leaned on it. “I suggest you take some time to read over any notes you might have made. You will not be able to use any materials—books or notes—on the test. Are there any questions?”
Again no one said anything.
“Then you are free to go study. Also be sure to get the book Emma over the weekend. We will start with the first 10 chapters of it next Thursday.”
People were already gathering their things to leave. He hardly waited for them all to leave this time before he came down the three long steps. “Nice class.” He leaned in when he said it. “You get me out on the coldest day of the year to hand in a paper I will not get a grade for and so you can tell me to study for a test that I will also not get a grade for.”
Elizabeth whirled on him defensively, fully prepared to tell him he did not have to do any work on her account when she saw that devilish little smile in his eyes. “Well, I didn’t exactly kidnap you at gunpoint.”
He lowered his gaze. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
A question went through her, but she didn’t put it into words.
“So I guess you’re going to the library, to huddle on the second floor behind the double bookshelves to grade the papers?”
That he knew so much about her sent a pang of fear into her chest. “I was thinking about it, why?”
He shrugged. “Just a good day for coffee, that’s all. You know what with the temperatures hovering at, oh, I don’t know, bone-chilling, hypothermia level not to mention the almost snow.”
She checked him with a glance as the hard slap of what she had allowed him to think knocked across her. Ducking as she stuffed the papers into her satchel, she shook her head. “Haven’t we been through this?”
“Ah, yes. You have something against coffee. Or is it the students you have something against?” He leaned forward again. “Or is it just this student?”
Picking up her satchel, she settled it over her shoulder. “Mr. Danforth…”
“Ah.” He lifted his chin in mock understanding. “And we’re back to Mr. Danforth again.”
Frustration set in. He was impossible. “I am not singling you out. It’s a…”
“Rule. I know.” He followed her up the stairs. “But couldn’t you, I don’t know, maybe bend the rule a little?” Two steps more and he opened the door. “Just a little. I mean I’m not asking you back to my place for tequila and a wild night in or anything. It’s just coffee.”
With a ferocity she had never expected, vicious memories of ghosts of her past assailed her. She blinked and swallowed, fighting to breathe. When she turned, it was all she could do not to flail at him with the most hurtful of words. “Mr. Danforth, I realize I may have inadvertently given you the wrong impression of my intentions in your regard. I apologize for that, but I have no intention of pursuing a relationship beyond the classroom with you or with any of my other students. That would not be proper, nor would it be fair to you.” Why couldn’t she pick her gaze up to meet his? It was pathetically attached to the floor.
When she tried, her gaze was met with such a heartrending pleading in his deep, brown eyes that she simply couldn’t look at him and say these words. “I would appreciate it if you would endeavor to remember that I have no desire to carry this any farther than it has already gone. Please respect my wishes if you respect me at all.” And then, though her heart was ripping in half, she turned on her heel, walked stately across the abyss of tile between her and the outside doors, and pushed through them, barely managing not to thwack it back against the stop on the other side.
Her hard breaths billowed out into the frosty air. Walking fast, she squeezed her eyes closed and wrapped her arms around her middle. How had this happened? Had she really done anything at all to encourage him? Had she been that obvious, tempting insanity to let her think he was a really nice guy that she could fall for if she was inclined to do so with anyone? No. She decided. He was simply improperly, New York pushy. She was better off ending it now before either of them got hurt. He didn’t need her in his life, and she certainly didn’t have room for anyone in hers.
When Jonathon got up the courage to open his eyes again after she’d walked off, his gaze snagged on her, already descending the steps beyond. She was so beautiful, and yet so very enigmatic. He’d thought the time they had spent together would’ve softened her resolve on the coffee issue. Apparently he was wrong. And now, it was fully possible that he had pushed her to the point of complete “back off or I’ll call the cops.” It wasn’t what he had meant to do, but it was pretty clear that it’s what he had done.
Seeing no way to make amends, he kicked his foot on the gray tile and turned the other direction. He wondered if the bed was still as comfortable in the middle of the afternoon as it had been the first six months of his self-imposed-imprisonment. It was certainly worth a shot.
All the others were graded. Elizabeth had purposely put his paper on the bottom, pulling it out only twice in the last three days. Now, however, there was no more running from the words therein. She reasoned that she didn’t even really have to read it. Skim it—that should be enough. Then she could write a little note on the bottom about his great insights or something equally generic and be done with it. He would never know the difference.
Sitting back on her couch with her cup of tea, she flipped to the first page and took a sip, fully intent that this would be the shortest read in her tenure as a teacher.
In all the world, there is no relationship so completely frustrating and perplexing as that between two siblings who do not share like temperaments.
She took another sip and set the cup to the side before shifting backward into the couch and pulling her legs up with her.
As the closest member of a person’s immediate family, a sibling is that person who has known you almost from the beginning, the one who walks with you through life, until you both enter adulthood and learn that many of your most important lessons have been honed against the stone of that particular bond. Many, I’m sure, never fully appreciate that connection. Many denigrate it in fact. However, there is a point at which one comes to the fullest understanding of just what this other person, this sibling, means to you. That, I believe, is the pivot-point in life called tragedy.
Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed on the words, and she shifted again. The next couple of pages were taken up on his reflections about the two tragic pivot points of the relationship between Elinor and Marianne—the loss of their father and Marianne’s near death from a broken heart and the madness that followed. It was both well-reasoned and well-written. But when she got to the concluding page, her need to understand went all the way through his words and right into his heart.
My sister, Janet, and I were not just born of the same mother but also only four minutes apart—she first, giving her the distinction of being the older, sensible one and me the distinction of being the younger, more prone to sensibility, one.
Elizabeth smiled. She so liked his wit. It kept her guessing as to what might come next.
I suppose it was sensibility that drove me to beat my own path, first by completely rebelling against everything my parents thought prudent and then by pursuing a career that was both audacious and scurrilous. Janet, of course, did not approve. She was constantly telling me how impractical my course of study was, how perilous my choices in life were, how insufferable my friends were. Janet had an opinion on everything, and her opinion of her younger-by-four-minutes brother was that he had no business making any of his own decisions because anything he decided was so obviously foolish and imprudent, it must be corrected immediately.
And then, for one blessed season everything changed. I made one good decision, one decision that Janet whole-heartedly approved of, and from that moment on, I could do no wrong. My job? It was now suddenly wonderful because it was so obviously important to provide well for the family I would soon have.
Her breath caught. He was married? Or had considered being married? Her gaze narrowed on so many clues that both spoke of possibly and no way. Drilling her attention even harder to the paper, she dug for answers she couldn’t even let herself articulate.
A sibling’s greatest asset is in being a cheerleader at times of great joy and conversely being a comforter when tragedy makes its grand entrance onto the stage. Janet was both for me—although I did not make either at all easy. The truth is, I have relied on her sense more than I would ever admit to anyone. It has kept me sane. In fact, I believe it alone has kept me here on more than one occasion. Although I would love for her to have just a bit of my sensibility, I would not force the trade for any amount of money. She is my rock, just as Elinor was Marianne’s rock. I only hope that I, like Marianne, can come to some—not just appreciation of—but a growth into the sense that my sister was born with. It would say something good about me, finally, but it would also greatly relieve her worries over me.
I’m afraid it may never happen, but it is something to be wished for just the same.
When Elizabeth finished reading, she let the pages fall to her lap as her head collapsed back on the couch back. What in the world was she supposed to say about that? It filled in many holes, but left many more gaping ones. What had happened to the fiancée or girlfriend or the wife? She couldn’t rightly tell which. Was that what made him so very sad and withdrawn? Her gaze tried to see it, to grasp all that was not in those few pages even as her heart worked on the puzzle as well.
One thing was for certain, Jonathon Danforth had been hurt, greatly. And her heart ached for his hurt. Her behavior from Thursday rose in her consciousness and though she tried to put it away from her, it was going nowhere. What was so wrong with having a cup of coffee anyway? It was not like she thought it might lead to something. He was just a lonely man, looking for something to fill a few hours. And she had turned him out on the cold, hard streets why? Because she was afraid of getting hurt? Because she was afraid of his intentions?
It should’ve been abundantly clear by now that if his intention was to somehow take advantage of her, he would’ve done it already. However, his greatest sin against her was asking her politely to share a cup of coffee with him.
“Oh, Lord,” she breathed. “I think I completely wrecked this one. Please be with Jonathon, and give him comfort. And please, please give me the right words—Your words—on Tuesday. Amen.”
Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008