If You Believed In Love, Ch 19, 20, Epilogue

Chapter 19

They walked slowly down the sidewalk, neither wanting the night to end.  For Elizabeth, it was like holding onto life, or more to the point, feeling life holding onto her.  His hand, twined through hers, spoke of him being right there with her, not just physically but in every way and all ways that truly mattered down to the bottom of her soul.  She looked over at him as gratefulness to God for putting him there and not taking no for an answer drifted through her.

Strange, they’d only been to dinner and a movie.  It was hardly creatively romantic, and yet in a strange way it was because it was so normal.  Normal and wonderful like she’d never experienced with anyone else.

“So, what’re you doing tomorrow?” he asked as they ambled slower and slower the closer to her apartment they got.

“I don’t know.”  She gazed up at him.  “What am I doing?”

He caught the question and smiled as he glanced down at her.  “Well, I was going to take a walk through the park, maybe find a nice shade tree and do some reading.  You interested?”

“It sounds wonderful.”  Wrapping her other arm around his that held her hand, she pulled him ever closer.  How they kept from tripping on each other’s feet, she had no idea, but she didn’t really care.  She loved every moment she spent with him, and all she ever wanted was to be as close to him as she could get.  Nothing else in the world really even mattered to her anymore.

At her apartment, he slowed further until at her steps he stopped completely. She went up a step, but he did not follow.  Instead, he was standing one step down from where she had ascended, and the understanding that he had stopped moving jarred her to a halt as well.

Turning, she fought not to admit the night was ending.  “You’re not coming up?”

There was such a look of tumult in his eyes that worry slid through her.

He shook his head slowly. “I don’t think so.”

Disappointment knocked against her heart.  She tilted her head playfully. “Would it matter if I said I wanted you to?”

That only added to the confusion in his eyes and caused more worry to settle in her heart. Why did he suddenly look so conflicted and sad?

“Jonathon, what’s wrong?  Didn’t you have a good time tonight?”

He backed up, physically, disengaging from her hand before running his fingers through his hair.  “That’s just it.  I had a great time.”

Not comprehending what he wasn’t saying, she came back down the step and leaned on the baluster.  “Okay.  You mind telling me what that means? If you had a great time, why wouldn’t you want to come up?”

He looked at her then, full on, and pure anguish washed through his eyes.  “I’m not going to lie to you, Elizabeth.”  His gaze dropped to his shoe.  “I wanted to do this right by you, to do it the way you wanted, to not be like the others, but…”  The distress in his gaze was palpable when he looked at her.  “This is killing me.”

“What is?” she asked, genuinely concerned and yet feeling like she was about to get her heart smashed.

“This… Us…  Being… friends or whatever it is we are.”  Putting his hand in his pocket and backing up another step, he shook his head as his gaze stayed on his shoes.  Another moment and finally his gaze came up to hers. “I don’t want to be friends with you. I can’t.”  Pain slashed over his face.  He closed his eyes and the battle of how much to say and how to say it raged there.

“Jonathon, whatever it is…”

“I…”  His gaze captured hers, and words fled her grasp. “I love you, Elizabeth.  I have ever since almost that first day. I lay awake at night thinking about you, and it’s like I can’t breathe until I can see you again. I’ve fought it. I’ve tried to rationalize it, to get it to leave, but it’s not leaving, and… I don’t really want it to.”

He took another step away and ran his fingers through his hair before shaking his head as if to clear it from some impossible to think thought.  “I know I was supposed to wait until you fell in love, and I’m sorry…”

Appreciative guilt for all she’d put him through slid through her, making her laugh softly.  “Oh, Jonathon…” Her heart pulled her to him, and she laid a finger on his lips.  The touch thereof yanked the breath up into her lungs.  “Please, don’t be sorry.  I’m not.  The truth is, I never really thought you were possible,” she said, looking right at him.  “I never thought any guy could put what I wanted above what he wanted, and not make me feel guilty or less than for that, but you have.  Over and over, you have.  Every time I’ve asked you, you have.  I didn’t want to admit it, and I’ve fought it with everything in me because I was afraid of getting hurt again, but I guess I’m a little like Elizabeth in the book.  I had to be hit upside the head with the fact that you’re not just a guy who looks good on the outside.  You actually back that up by being a truly wonderful, caring, thoughtful person on the inside.”

Something akin to hope drifted through his gaze.  “Does that mean what I think it might mean?”

She laughed softly.  “I really shouldn’t tell you this, but I’ve wanted you to kiss me since that night at your place.  I didn’t want to want that because of everything I thought it said about me, and I tried so hard not to even let myself think it, but I did…” She sighed. “I so did, and it’s only gotten worse since then. You have a way of wearing down a girl’s best defenses, you know that?”

Jonathon grinned, and then gently, he reached up and brushed the hair off her forehead before sliding his fingers down the side of her face to her neck.  “Does this mean that you have fallen in love with me, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Fallen in love?  Uh. Yeah. That’s an understatement.” Looking into his eyes, she felt like she must be drowning. “I am totally and completely in love with you, Mr. Danforth.” Her breathing had caught on an irregular current, and all of her strained to get closer to him.  “Jonathon.”

And then, with only one small pause to let that settle between them, he leaned toward her and his lips found hers.  Warm and gentle, soft and promising, they loved her until her whole being opened up all the way to the center of her soul.  Heart, body, mind, and spirit she fell into his love and into him, and nothing in her ever wanted it to end.

When he came up for air, Jonathon laughed.  “Wow.  Now that was worth waiting for.”

Teasingly, she tilted her head.  “Oh, yeah? How about this?”  She kissed him then, not like a friend but like she wanted only to be his forever because she so did.

His breathing was coming in gasps when she let go of him.  Reaching up, he scratched the side of his head.  “Um, yeah.  That too.”  Then he looked up the street one way, and down the street the other.  “Um, do you mind if we continue this somewhere not so… I don’t know.  Public?”

The thought knocked into Elizabeth, and she laughed out loud.  “What?  Are you afraid somebody’s going to get the wrong impression?”

“I don’t know about them, but I’m getting impressions I don’t really want everybody else to witness.”

She laughed again, took his hand, and together they went up to her apartment.

***

It was an hour of holding hands and kissing and marveling at what those two simple things could do to him before Jonathon came back to reality enough to tell her he really had to go.  At her door, he kissed her once more and then once more again.  He could really get used to this.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes, you will.”

***

The whole world looked painted in a way Elizabeth had never seen it.  She wondered if it had always been like that, and somehow she had just missed it or if it had truly come alive with purples, pinks, yellows, and greens.  The trees, the flowers, the sky itself—it all looked so incredibly, gloriously alive.

She pulled in a breath as they walked slowly across the grass in the little park. “I love Spring.  Everything feels so new and possible.”

“Oh, yeah?  Like this?” He pulled her to a stop under a tree and wrapped his arms around her.

The feeling relaxed all of her into his arms, and she laid her head on his chest. “Hmm. Yeah, like that.”  She exhaled in a long, slow breath.  “So did you ever think this was possible?”

“Possible?  Man, I was sure hoping so.  I would hate to have to explain signing up to audit English for the rest of my life.”

She laughed as she put her hand on his chest.  “Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m going to do with you.”

“Yeah?”  He pulled away to look down at her. “Well, I have one or two suggestions.”

“Oh, yeah? Like what?”

“This.”  And he leaned toward her and kissed her gently. “And this.” He kissed one side of her neck.  “And this.” It was completely unbelievable what that did to her.  If she had every word in the dictionary, she still couldn’t have explained it, so as her spirit surrendered to him, she gave up trying and just let herself feel it all the way into the depths of her being.  It was all she ever wanted from life forever.

***

The day had been one moment after another of showing her just how much he was in love with her. As such it was one of the easiest, most wonderful days of his life.  Under the tree, walking, talking, and even stopping for lunch at the little bistro neither had ever noticed was there before—every minute was one Jonathon wanted to capture and put in his pocket.  Several times he had to stop and simply let himself marvel at how effortless it was to be with her.  The light in her eyes now shone like a beckon in a cold, hungry world, and only gratefulness for that light came close to touching the love in him every time he looked at her.

The afternoon sun bathed the world in warmth as they strolled down the sidewalk, sprinkled with those who had the same idea as they did on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

“Oh, look,” Elizabeth said, her excitement bubbling again to the surface as it had intermittently all day, “a fruit stand.  Oh, I love fresh fruit.”  However, she seemed as if she wasn’t even going to stop.

“Let’s go see what they have.”  He angled their steps that direction.

She allowed him to pull her over to it. At the bins, she perused the selection.  Mangos.  Pears.  Strawberries.  It was truly a feast for the eyes.  He might have even bought something if he wasn’t still so full from lunch.

“Oh, look at these apples,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him to one bin.  “They look incredible.  Don’t they look incredible?”  She looked over at the stand owner. “How much?”

“Two dollars a piece.”

“Two dollars?” she asked, angling the comment only to Jonathon.  “Wow. They don’t look that good.”  But still she melted slightly at the sight of them. “Man, I haven’t had a really good apple in ages.”

“Tell you what.”  Jonathon dug in his pocket and came out with a couple of bucks.  “You choose one, and we’ll share.”

“Oh, you don’t…”

But he’d already paid the stand owner with a smile.  Yes, he knew it was highway robbery to charge two bucks for an apple, but it was more than worth it to see the look on her face as she chose one.  Finally, she came up with her treasure.

“That it?” he asked.

She nodded, her eyes shining.

“Good.”  He turned back to the owner.  “Thank you very much.”

“Come back.”

If it made her this happy, they would have to make it a point to come back—regularly and often.  Once again they headed back up the sidewalk, her clutching her new prize.

Not wanting the day to end just yet, Jonathon leaned closer to her. “What do you say we take a little side trip back through the park?”

“Sounds good.”

They walked in silence for a ways, and he was beginning to wonder if she was going to just hold that apple or actually eat it.  Just before he asked, she picked it up so she could look at it.  And then, completely out of the blue, she laughed softly.

“What?” he asked, wanting with everything in him to be let in on all of her secrets.

She shook her head.  “Nothing. It’s just a game I haven’t thought of in a long time.”

He picked his head up to look down his nose at her. “And this game would be what exactly?”

Ducking, she walked three more steps.  “It was just something the kids at school used to do.  You take the apple.”  She held it up.  “And you twist the stem one turn for each letter of the alphabet.”

He nodded as if she was explaining the components of a Space Shuttle launch.

“Like you start at A, and you spin the stem once for A, once for B, once for C…”

“And the point of this is what?”

Embarrassment drifted over her face.  “Well, whatever letter it breaks on is the initial of the person you’re in love with.”

“Ah.” He lifted his chin in understanding as they made it to one of the benches.

She stopped, so he did too, still looking at her in fascination which was the only way to look at Elizabeth Forester.

“So did you like have a favorite letter,” he asked, interested because he was so interested in her, “or did you just randomly twist?”

“Oh, my gosh,” she suddenly exclaimed, her eyes going wide with the thought.  “Oh, my…” Excitement burst through her as she looked at him and then at the apple.  “No way.  No possible way.”

He laughed at her.  “What?  What’s so oh, my gosh?”

She put her head down onto her thumb as she shook her head. “Okay, you’ve really got to promise not to laugh.”

“Why would I laugh?”

“Because…”  Taking a breath, she turned to him, holding the apple between them.  She giggled, ducking before she could get the story out.  Then she picked her head up again, but her gaze never quite made it to his. “Okay, you’re really going to think I’ve lost it with this one, but…”  The exhale was accompanied by another shake of her head.  “I always tried to get it to come off on D.”

“D?” he asked, not really sure why that was so funny.

“Yeah. D,” she said, looking at him with eyes that said this should be connecting.

It took him another moment before it started to.  Then he nodded slowly catching her meaning.  “For Darcy.”

Soft disbelief slipped into her eyes as she nodded.  He let his hand fall forward from his elbow to brush back her bangs blowing in the breeze.  “Lucky guy.”

And then her gaze came up to his, and it stopped him with the seriousness there.  “But now I’m thinking that maybe I had the right letter, just the wrong name.”

The seriousness of the words slammed into him one second before the import of them did.  Fully understanding every nuance of what she was telling him, he grinned.  “Danforth?”

She nodded, begging him with her gaze not to laugh.

“Well, then the only smart thing to do is to test this theory of yours.”  He took the apple from her as his heart jumped inside him.  He looked at her long and hard.  Then before he began, he held the apple up between them.  “This should determine it.”  He put his fingers on the stem. “A…”  The letter was drawn out with the maximum mystery.  “B…”

***

Elizabeth could hardly stand it.  Between telling him about this most embarrassing but closely held secret of her life and watching the teasing seriousness he was twisting that stem with, it was almost more than her heart could take.

“C…”  He let his head down, eyeing her with great solemnity.  “D…”

This letter was dragged out past the point of her sanity.  A moment, and he took one more breath.  “E…”  With that final twist, the stem relinquished its hold on the little red fruit, and he held up the two pieces—the stem in one hand, the apple in the other.

“It didn’t work,” she breathed. Her gaze fell from his as mortification poured through her.  “It was just a silly game anyway.”

“What do you mean it didn’t work?  It was my apple.”

She looked at him in confusion, and he tilted his head, bounced his eyebrows upward mischievously, and smiled.  It took her the span of an instant to understand. The smile started at her heart and slipped into all of her. “You did pay for it, huh?”

Grinning, he slid closer to her.  “That I did.”  He put his arm around her and then took a generous bite of the apple.  “Hmm. You were right. That is good.”

Tilting her head up, she watched him.  “So are you going to share or just torture me?”

“Oh?  You want me to share?”

She put her hand on his chest, pushing him a little.  “That would be nice, but it’s okay. I know how you are.”  Turning, she folded her arms in front of her.

“Oh, yeah?  How am I?”

“You want the list alphabetical or chronological?”

He picked up the edge of her hair and slid his finger down from her ear to her neck.  “Surprise me.”

She swatted at his hand.  “Stop that.  I’m trying to be mad at you.”

“How’s that working?”

“Ugh.  You are hopeless.”  However, when she turned, his eyes were sincerely serious.

“Hopelessly in love.”

How could she not smile?  She shook her head.  “You shouldn’t do that to me.”

Tilting his head slightly he leaned just closer. “I know, but is it working?”

“I’ll give you two guesses, but you won’t need more than one.”  She bridged the distance between them and kissed him solidly.  Then she backed up.  “Now give me that apple.”

“As if I could say no after that.”

Laughing, she huddled closer to him as he put his arm over her shoulder and let his head fall backward to the sky.  “Man, feeling this good should be illegal, and it’s all your fault, you know that?”

“Yeah?  I can’t wait to find out what the punishment is.” She giggled, feeling like she could say any silly thing that came to mind, and he would both catch it and never take advantage of it.  Crunching on the apple, she sat and chewed.  “Man, this is a good apple.”

***

For the next week, it was only with the greatest reluctance that they parted each day.  Half the time, one or the other would come up with some brilliant plan to extend their time together, and the other happily complied.  They’d eaten at his place twice and the little bistro once.  One night they got thrown out of the library because they were still there behind the bookshelves when it closed.

Elizabeth still wore the plain cotton dresses with the boots, but at Jonathon’s insistence she had added a couple of tops and a new pair of jeans to her wardrobe.  Those were employed on their Saturday and Sunday walks through the park.  She found herself giggling for no reason and daydreaming when she should’ve been working.  If she was acting like a teenager with a new crush, she could hardly find the heart to blame herself.  Anyone who wouldn’t have a massive crush on Jonathon Danforth should have their head examined.

Still, she tried very hard while in class to keep their relationship under wraps.  It was important to her to never appear improper although that was getting more and more difficult the more he held her and kissed her and teased her and challenged her.  If May 10 didn’t come fast, she might very well lose the battle to not declare her love for him right there in Room 103.

On Tuesday, the first of May with only the paper due the following class period and finals left, Elizabeth couldn’t help but be a little sad to see this magical semester go.  Once again, how many things had changed in this room slipped into her spirit, and she marveled at how blessed she truly was.  As the students filed in, she was afraid she might start crying.  It was so totally overwhelming.  Saying good-bye to them might kill her.

He came in the back doors and strode down the steps, looking far too much like the Jonathon who sat on her couch and on the bench, who walked beside her, and listened, and held her, and showed her that life was worth living.  How could she ever conduct class with all these things racing through her veins?

Knowing she was hopelessly at a loss, she let her eyes fall closed for only one small moment.  “Show me, God.”

***

Wishing the semester never had to come to an end, Jonathon settled in his seat and pulled out his notebook and pen.  He’d already decided what he was going to write his paper on.  In fact, he had most of it already typed, but that was hardly the point of coming to class. It was more to see how she might blow his whole concept of life apart and put it back together again.  She was so very, very good at that.  Her gaze chanced to him, and he smiled as the message of quiet connection passed between them.

“Okay, if everyone will have a seat, we’ll get started,” she said, turning for the desk.  “I hope you all realize that this will be our last official class.  You may drop your paper off either here on Thursday or you may drop it at my office before Thursday.  Next Thursday is the final.”  Letting out a breath, she perched on the edge of the desk.  “So, any last thoughts on Pride?”

“Wickham is a jerk,” Susana said.  “He so used Lydia.”

“I thought he was such a gentleman,” Letty said, drawing out the word.  “But Darcy saw right through that.  He knew what Wickham was from the start.”

“It’s weird because Darcy seems like such a jerk at the beginning,” Adam said, “and Wickham seems like this nice guy.  But they turn out to be just the opposite.”

“And all the things Mr. Darcy did for Elizabeth. Ugh.  That is so romantic,” Letty said.  “I mean he wasn’t trying to get credit for it.  I don’t even think he thought he had any kind of chance with her.”

“I think he got leveled by the fact that she didn’t just swallow his b.s. like all the rest of them.  She challenged him to stand up and be a real man,” Mr. Cruz said.  “She wasn’t all ‘Mr. Darcy, you’re so great’ like all the rest of them were.”

“No, Elizabeth is definitely not a yes-woman,” Susana said.  “She knew how to stand up for herself.”

“But she almost got taken in by Wickham,” Mr. Thomason said.

“He was too charming for his own good,” Letty said.

Jonathon cleared his throat, wanting to speak but not sure he could get the words out.  “I like what Jane says when Elizabeth is trying to explain that Darcy is not a bad guy, ‘There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men.  One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.’” He cleared his throat again. “I think that’s a real trap for men.  Some can look real good on the outside and get everyone to think they are so wonderful when they are really just play-acting a part they don’t really believe in.  Others are really, truly good, but they don’t know how to be that and not get run over—in life or by the women they love.  So they play games or they try to act all tough or be something they are not when it’s not real.

“I’m not sure why it’s so hard to be ourselves, but it was only when Darcy broke out of that mold of trying to be what everyone else was telling him he should be or had to be that he finally became the man he always was.”

Her eyes melded with his.  “And Elizabeth?”

He smiled softly. “Well, she had to realize that what’s on the outside isn’t always the whole story.”

***

“Say, Mr. Danforth,” Letty said when class broke, “I don’t know if you’re interested, but some of us are getting together on Tuesday to study.”

Jonathon pulled his satchel off the floor.  “Oh?”

“Yeah, we’re going to meet at the Student Union in the coffee shop.  You’re welcome to join us if you want.  We’ll be there about 7:30.”

Feeling like he’d just been let into some exclusive club, he nodded. “I’ll be there.”

She smiled.  “Great.  See ya then.”

He waited a moment for her to head up the steps before he turned for the front.  Ten days and he would never have to find an excuse to do this again.  Then again, he would probably never have the chance again.  At the desk, he waited as she erased the board.  The door at the back thumped closed, and he glanced back at it.  Alone again in Room 103.  Thoughts of all the times he had ambushed her here spread through him like wildfire.  So much had changed, but the one thing that hadn’t was his fascination at just being in her presence. “Um, I know you have a policy about not having coffee with students,” he said as if she really might turn him down.  “But I was wondering if you might bend the rules for somebody who is hopelessly in love with you.”

She turned, smirked, and then smiled. “You never give up, do you?”

He captured her in his gaze. “Not when it’s important I don’t.”

Chapter 20

“I’ve been thinking about what comes next,” he said, looking only at his coffee because it was hard to look at her and think about the future without putting everything in his heart on the table.

“Oh, yeah?”

He nodded slowly.  “I know I don’t want to go back to what I was doing, and I can’t audit English classes for the rest of my life.”  He smiled at her. “So.”  The exhale was hard and followed by a long pause.  “I think I’m going to apply to be a consultant for the college.”

“A consultant?”

“Setting up projects—fundraising, student interaction—that kind of thing.  I thought I’d go and talk to Dr. Marsh tomorrow if you think that’s smart.”

Elizabeth spun her coffee.  “So you want to work on the college level then?”

“Well, I’m not much of a teacher, but I really liked what you said about touching the future.  These kids can be a real legacy, and I would love to facilitate scholarships and projects that can help them attain what they are reaching for.”  He shrugged.  “Give back. That kind of thing, you know?”

She nodded slowly.  “And what about the money?  Does New York Central pay enough to get you flashy cars and nights out on the town at the echelon you’re used to spinning in?”

Jonathon didn’t look at her for a long time.  This was getting into real couple territory, and the truth was that was a little more than a little frightening.  “I told you that last deal made me more than most people make in several lifetimes.”  His gaze came up to hers and held there.  “For all intents and purposes, I could not work the rest of my life and be just fine.”

The understanding knocked into her eyes and pushed her backward.  “I see.”

He pulled forward on the table. “Add to that the investment portfolio I was building long before that deal, and let’s just say I could buy Mr. Darcy’s place and have money left over for a pianoforte if you would like one.”

Again she was nodding.  “Okay.”

He looked at her sitting there with her head down, and he knew even doing it gently, she was having a hard time.  “That’s not what you expected, huh?”

Her gaze came up to his.  “For you?  From you?  It’s exactly what I expected.”  She let her gaze fall.  “But for me?  No.”

“No, as in you don’t want someone who is well off?  Or no you never want to be well-off?”

For a long moment she sat and said nothing.  Then slowly the words came.  “I grew up literally without any money to my name.  Even when I came here, I went on grants and scholarships and the money I scrounged around to work for.  Since I graduated, I’ve pretty much either been putting the money back in case of an emergency or sending it to Sister Agnes who took over for Sister Clarisa.”

Confused and interested, he pulled forward a little more.  “So you’re not church mouse poor then?”

She shook her head.  “No. But I hated flaunting the money and wasting it on things I didn’t need.”

“Like a decent place to stay?” The full reality of what she was telling him cracked over him.

“I think that was pretty much tied up in the ‘I don’t deserve it’ ball of chains.  I’m still not sure I could move, but…”

Going for broke.  He had to say it.  “I don’t like thinking about you living there.  I mean I haven’t said anything because… well, I didn’t think it was my place, but it’s creepy and all the yelling, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all of your next door neighbor is selling drugs.  I’m pretty sure he’s using them.”

She jerked her gaze up to his.  “How do you know that?”

“The smell.  I knew it the first time I went up there.”  He put his hand across the table onto hers.  “Elizabeth, you deserve better, and I want to help you find a place that’s not falling down and dangerous.”

“Falling down and dangerous.  Do people really live somewhere that’s not?  I certainly haven’t.”

“What do you say we find out?”

***

It took two days to find a place and one day to get her settled.  By Friday night just after he left, Elizabeth sat on her new couch in her new apartment, wondering when all this had happened.  She felt like a pauper who’d just been admitted to the palace.  There was no yelling, no gray paint on the walls, no fear of what might happen all night.  Best of all, Jonathon had been right there beside her the whole time, stepping in when she got overwhelmed, stepping back when she needed to do it on her own.

Knowing she should grade papers but not wanting to just yet, she picked up the remote and punched the TV on.  Two more punches and Pride & Prejudice sprung to life.  Curling up on her couch, she grabbed a pillow and let herself sink into the movie.

As it slid through the opening and into the first look at Mr. Darcy, she laughed without really moving.  He was stuck up and haughty and dismissive of Elizabeth and everyone else.  However, as each of her favorite parts came and went, she began to sense that something was very different.  It was as if she was conversing with an old boyfriend, someone she had once been in love with but who now held only a passing fancy for her.

Mr. Darcy was great and would always hold a special place in her heart, but he was no Jonathon.  Three-quarters through, she clicked it off and lay in the darkness.  She didn’t need the fantasy anymore.  Now she had the reality, and it was so, so much better.

***

Saturday morning, the papers were calling Elizabeth as she finished her bacon and olive omelet in her new kitchen.  It was strange how even she felt different in this new place.  She had told herself forever that it didn’t matter where you live, that one place was as good as another.  Now she had to acknowledge that that wasn’t wholly the truth.  It wasn’t that the new place gave her the right to look down on anyone, but it gave her a sense of well being that made her want to live ever more fully.

On her couch she ate the omelet slowly as she perused several papers.  Overall, they were very good and even much improved from the first batch she had read what seemed like eons before.  Each paper—Letty’s, Adam’s, Susana’s—she could hear their voice in what they wrote.  She loved this part of teaching—getting to hear what the students really thought.  It said so much about them, so much about their lives.  The words were truly windows to each of their souls.

The omelet was gone by the time she found Jonathon’s paper, so she set the plate aside and brushed the crumbs off her jeans in preparation.

There can be many explanations for Mr. Darcy’s dramatic change in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, but it comes down to this:  He knew a good thing when he saw it in Elizabeth, and he was willing to put his pride and prejudice aside to win the prize of her love and affection.

Much of this book examines the dichotomy of what a person shows to the world versus what is real in their hearts.  Elizabeth at first judges Mr. Darcy for his detached manner and haughty nature.  She judges the outside and sees him as prideful and arrogant.  Darcy too judges and misjudges Elizabeth by what he sees on the outside of her.  He is taken in by her beauty and makes the rash error of assuming that because of his wealth and standing, she will fall madly in love with him at the first hint of his ardor for her.  However, when he asks her to marry him, he points out that he is willing to overlook her inferior birth and family.  This makes it clear that he has seen her and judged her inferior, and then realizing that he’s in love with her, he has come to the conclusion that he can overlook her “inferiority.” This is a classic case of outside-in thinking—assuming that the outside represents all it hides inside.  In a word, it is prejudice.

The paper went on to examine the pride inherent in both characters and the circling of events that ultimately lead them to see not what is on the outside, but what is truly on the inside.

Austen’s original manuscript for Pride & Prejudice was called First Impressions.  This was a short hand way of saying that a person sees only the outside, does not bother to look in the window, assuming that is all there is to the story.  But first impressions are often unreliable and not to be trusted.  In fact, they lead to all sorts of problems because the person in question is never exactly as they seem upon first meeting.  They are always much more.  The trick is to remember that when you meet someone and not make your first judgment of them be the final verdict on their worth as a person.

That is what Darcy finally did.  He looked past what he saw on the surface—the family, the wont of connections, the lack of propriety and money, and he saw instead Elizabeth’s heart and spirit.  From that moment on, falling in love with her was not even a question. This insight gave him the necessary willingness to use his given station in life to help those in her immediate family circle. Although the strategy worked in the end, I believe Mr. Darcy would have continued to try to make her life better in whatever way he could—whether she had ever returned the feelings he felt so acutely or not.

Knowing a good thing when you see it is essential in life.  Being willing to lay down your life and do what it takes to attain it is the tipping point that decides if you end up miserable or content.  On that point with regard to Miss Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy was willing to put his pride and prejudice aside and do what he had to do to win her.  Thus, it was on that point that his ultimate happiness was finally attained.

Life is rarely handed to us on a silver platter.  Even in Mr. Darcy’s case, wealth and position were not enough to ensure his happiness.  Like everyone, he had to choose his destiny.  The choice of destiny comes down to this:  Knowing a good thing when he saw it, and being willing to go for that good thing with his whole heart, being, and soul.  There is no greater quest; there is no greater happiness than when true love is finally found and attained.

That’s why I resolve right here and now to devote my life to looking past my first impressions, to being a-tuned to knowing a good thing when I see it, and then to doing what it takes to attain those things that prove to be good and honest and upright—in life, in business, in leisure, but most especially in love.  Mr. Darcy taught me that.

She wasn’t sure, but she could almost hear him writing that last line just for her.  Picking up her pen, she let her heart’s impressions flow onto the paper.

***

They had studied and argued and discussed for two hours.  Browning, Marianne, Emma, Elizabeth, Darcy—the characters and stories all but swam in Jonathon’s head.  It was strange how they all felt so much like friends now. At nine o’clock, the group began to break up.  Many had other tests to prepare for in the morning.  For his part, Jonathon was planning to go home and call Elizabeth.  Since it was finals week, he’d done his best to stay out of her way.  He knew she had lots to do, and he certainly didn’t want to be the cause of her not getting it done.

“So,” Letty said when it was just her, Jonathon, and Mr. Thomason left.  It turned out Mr. Thomason’s name was Curtis, and owing to Jonathon’s appearance at the concert, the two had become fast friends.  Letty let the word hang in the air over the table for a long moment.  “I’m just curious.  What’s the story with you and Ms. Forester?”

The question hit Jonathon square both because he hadn’t expected it and because he didn’t realize until it was finished that it was directed at him.  “Oh. Uh. We’re…”

“Don’t say friends,” Letty said, lowering her gaze at him.  “I’m not blind.”

Jonathon pulled his papers from the table, his hands shaking.  “What does that mean?”

“It means—” Letty pulled herself up in the chair. “—that we’re all curious when you’re going to ask her.”

He cleared his throat. “Ask her?”

“Okay, this dumb act might fool some people, but it ain’t foolin’ me.  I’ve seen the way she looks at you.  You’re not going to go off and break her heart, are you?  Because I believe you might have an army of very upset students come and beat you senseless if you do.”

The fact that she wasn’t at all kidding smacked into him.  After a breath he sat back, leaving the papers on the table.  “Well, I can’t say I haven’t been thinking about it.”

Letty launched forward. “I knew it.”  She rubbed her hands together.  “But you’ve got to let us be there.”

His eyes widened.  “The whole class?”

Curtis sat forward.  “I think it would be so cool if we could get it to work.  She would be so surprised.”

“Surprised?” Jonathon let his eyes go even wider.  “She might kill me!”

“Yes, but it would be worth it, right?” Letty asked.  “Come on.” She bounced her feet.  “This is like so romantic.  You can’t cut us out now.”

Knowing he was on very thin ice, Jonathon finally nodded.  “What do you have in mind?”

Epilogue

It didn’t occur to Elizabeth to be at all concerned about the length of the test until ten minutes until the final was to be over.  Never before had she had an entire class still in their seats diligently working this late into a test.  In fact, most of the time there were only a couple who made it to the full two-hours, but still they sat.  All of them, without moving, without really even looking up.

Sitting at the desk trying not to look at the clock every six seconds, she went through the test questions in her mind, trying to see which could be taking them this long.

Explain the similarities and differences between one of the following pairs:  Elizabeth and Emma; Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightly; or Elinor and Jane.

That one wasn’t terribly hard a page and a half, maybe two would’ve sufficed.

Choose three symbols from any of the reading and explain their significance.

Again, not overly challenging.

The following people are in a room with you: Knightly, Darcy, Emma, Elinor, Captain Wentworth, Anne, and Elizabeth.  Please describe the discussion.

Okay, that one could’ve taken more than normal, but still, two hours and no one had moved?  Fighting not to appear concerned, she stood.  “You have five minutes.”

When still no one moved, she sat down slowly, letting her gaze sweep back and forth across them.  No one was even looking at her.  She lifted her glasses and checked the clock again.  Only four minutes left, and that second hand sliding around seemed to speed up even as she prayed, for their sakes, for it to slow down.

What was she going to do if the final ended and no one was finished?  It wasn’t a question she’d ever really thought about, and now she could think of nothing else.

***

In his smoke blue shirt and matching tie, third row back, third seat over, Jonathon smoothed the tie, fighting to reread his answer.  He hoped it would make some sense to her later because right now, he could hardly understand anything he had written.  Strange, it had seemed so lucid when it came out, but as that clock got nearer and nearer the three o’clock mark, lucid began blurring before his eyes.

What if she said no—in front of the whole class?  The thought snagged his breath. He couldn’t believe they had all stayed.  All of them?  Not all of them.  Okay. A few maybe.  But all?  This was crazy.  She was going to think he was pressuring her into saying yes.  That wasn’t his intention, but the fact that Letty had been so vociferous in her proposition had not left much room for discussion or questioning.  Now he was questioning it.  Big time.

He reached up and scratched his head.  It was all he could do to keep himself from looking at the clock.  The second it hit three, she was no longer his teacher; he was no longer her student; and the whole game changed.  Maybe even more than that if she said yes.

“That’s it,” she said from down front.  “Time’s up.”

Nobody moved, not even a breath.  Jonathon’s heart slammed into his chest as he realized they weren’t going to.  Closing his eyes, he begged for the words he’d been practicing all night to stay in his head long enough to get them out.  Asking her would be pressure enough, to have a whole audience while he was asking her…?

Swiping his paper off his desk, he stood and he felt every eye in the room go with him.  Breathe, Jonathon!  Breathe! He yanked up his satchel and trying not to absorb the insanity of the situation, stepped down the three steps to the ground floor. Heat surged on him.  Was he really going to do this?  She was sitting there on the edge of her desk looking a cross between beautiful and completely perplexed.  Walking right up to her, he could hardly hold her gaze for all that was in his heart.

“Mr. Danforth,” she said as he held his test up to her.

“Miss Forester.”  The paper bridged the gap between them, and then in the next second, it was in her hands.  The room went even more silent, and he could feel every gaze on them.  A moment and he let his satchel slide to the floor where he propped it next to the first row of desks.  Then he turned back for her.  “Elizabeth.”

Fear and concern knifed through her eyes, but he held his hand out to her as if nothing in the world was strange about this.  He stood, offering only until finally with a bewildered sweep of the classroom with her gaze, she looked at him and laid her hand in his.  Standing from the desk, she followed him with halting steps all the way to the center of the room, and he felt the worry pouring off her.  However, when he turned, the love his heart held for her could no longer be denied or thwarted.  This was right.  She was right.  He knew a good thing when he saw it, and now it was time to go for broke.

***

Elizabeth wanted to scream at him, to ask him what he was doing, to get some answer for any one of the thousand questions spinning through her mind.  But all she could do was look at him with no answers to anything.  He was looking at her, begging softly for her to understand something she couldn’t even grasp.  “What…?” she started because it was becoming so clear that he had lost his mind.

“No. Shh.” He put his finger to her lips to stop her.  “Hang on. Okay? Just a second.” Then with a duck of his head and one more breath, he dropped to one knee, and the world spun out from underneath her.

“Jon…”

His gaze coming up to hers stopped her with a breath. “No, please, Elizabeth, let me say this.”

He looked so very vulnerable, and she had no idea how to put the spiraling of her feeling into actual words anyway.

Then, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a simple yet sparkling gold and diamond ring.  His gaze came back to hers, and there was no fear anywhere in it. “Miss Elizabeth Forester, I Jonathon Danforth am completely and perfectly in love with you.  Please do me the honor of being my wife.”

Her hand pressed to her heart as a gasp washed across the room. “Oh, Jonathon.”

“Grow old along with me,” he said, still gazing up at her.  His smile was soft and hopeful. “The best is yet to be.  The last of life for which the first was made.”

“Browning,” she whispered as tears jumped from her heart to her eyes.

“It seemed fitting.”  His smile widened.  “So, what do you say, Elizabeth?  Out of your whole life will you give but a moment to someone who can’t live without you?”

She looked at him and fell through the depths of his eyes.  Emotion overcame her, and she put her hand up to her nose because the tears and smile burst forth at the same time. Fighting to breathe, she remembered they weren’t alone.  Overwhelm tilted across her. She closed her eyes to block all the rest of everything out.

When her eyes came open again, there was only him, and there was only one answer.  “Yes.”

“Yes?” he asked, tilting his head as if he had thought her answer would be anything else.

Crying and barely breathing, she nodded.  “Yes.  Are you kidding me?  Yes!  A thousand times yes!”

He sprang to his feet, put the ring on her finger, and swept her into his arms just as the whole classroom erupted in cheers and whistles.

She shook her head even as she clung to his neck.  “You’re crazy. You know that?”

There was nothing other than solemn seriousness when he lowered her to the ground.  “About you.”

His lips were coming. Her heart knew it even before they arrived.  Their first touch slid through her all the way down into the final pools of helplessness and misery of the life she had lived.  That life was now over, and a new one had just begun.

Returning the kiss because her heart wanted nothing more, she resolved that for this moment, she would live, giving herself to him and accepting his love in return.  Maybe love really was just that simple. Maybe it was enough to love in this moment, forgetting the past and not worrying about the future.

She couldn’t be sure, but one thing was abundantly clear:  believing in love had never before felt so real, so right, so perfect as it did at that moment.  Her only prayer as the students surrounded them with cheering and congratulations was that together they would spend the rest of their lives teaching the world to believe in the astonishing power of love to move hearts, to heal, to hope, and to endure.  It had never before seemed so possible.

Copyright Staci Stallings 2008

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About Staci Stallings

Staci Stallings shares her heart for God with her novels, articles, and conversations. She loves making new friends, writing, and playing piano and guitar.
This entry was posted in If You Believed In Love and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to If You Believed In Love, Ch 19, 20, Epilogue

  1. Erma says:

    THIS WAS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL STORY, LOVED IT WANT MORE,
    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  2. Kathy Urban says:

    I loved it. It was a great book! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Zoya Smalling says:

    I so want to be in Elizabeth’s class. I learned so much and felt I was a student in the class as they discovered new ways of looking at life. If only I could find a teacher like her, I would certainly audit the class. The mark of a good book is one impacts your perspective. Ms. Stallings, If You Believed In Love, is a good book.

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