We Can Take What Was Wrong
Baby, I don't understand, why we can't just hold on to each other's hands
This time might be the last, I fear, unless I make it all too clear
I need you so
Take these broken wings, and learn to fly again, learn to live so free
When we hear the voices sing, the book of love will open up and let us in
Take these broken wings
Baby, I think tonight, we can take what was wrong and make it right
Baby, it's all I know, that you're half of the flesh and blood that makes me whole
I need you so
So take these broken wings, and learn to fly again, learn to live so free
When we hear the voices sing, the book of love will open up and let us in
Take these broken wings, you've got to learn to fly, learn to live life so free
And when we hear the voices sing, the book of love will open up and let us in
Baby, it's all I know, that you're half of the flesh and blood that makes me whole
So take these broken wings, and learn to fly again, learn to live so free
And when we hear the voices sing, the book of love will open up and let us in
Take these broken wings, you've got to learn to fly, learn to live your life so free
When we hear the voices sing, the book of love will open up for us and let us in
I was standing next to the web press, watching the huge roll of paper as it wound through the machine, seeing it transform from pristine white to a blur of gray as the ink took the form of words. Somehow, I never get tired of watching the finished product come out of the press, whether it is individual pages from a Docutech, signatures from a sheet-fed press, or huge rolls from the web press. It all fills me with such a sense of accomplishment.
I was wearing ear protection, of course, because the machinery is loud; and I was so involved in watching the paper feed through the press that I didn't even notice Chad standing beside me until he nudged me and motioned toward the door. With one last look toward the blur of gray, I followed him from the cavernous room, pulling the orange foam plugs out of my ears as soon as the door closed behind us.
We walked halfway down the hall before Chad turned to face me. "So I hear congratulations are in order!" I had no idea what he was talking about, and thankfully he didn't leave me in suspense long. "How long has Joy been walking?" he asked with a grin so proud he looked more like father than uncle.
"Uh...I don't know. A couple of days?"
"Is she still faltering, or is she confident?"
I heard his question, but it registered only in the back of my brain; I was trying to think if I'd seen Joy take any steps. No, the last time I saw her, she was crawling. How many days has it been since I've seen her anywhere but asleep in bed? "Joy's walking?" I said aloud.
"Yeah. Jane told me that she was toddling all around the kitchen today while they were talking about the Thanksgiving craft fair. Boy, what a job that's going to be. I don't know how Lizzy even fits those sorts of things in on top of everything else she does--Jane's never as much help as she wishes she could be. Hey, Joy's just past eleven months; isn't she your earliest walker yet?"
Craft fair? Eleven months? "Uh, let's see--Megumi was walking three days before she turned one, and Wes was walking more like a week before his first birthday. Joy was born...let's see..."
"December 1st, Will."
"That's right! Smack in the middle of that huge printing job for Josephs."
Chad's eyes widened, and I swear that he was trying to conceal a look of disgust, and almost succeeding. "Darcy, you need to spend more time at home." He turned and took steps down the hall, steps that somehow cried anger and aversion.
"Wait, Chad." He stopped mid-stride, but didn't turn to face me. "You haven't called me Darcy in probably 13 years. What's up?"
He slowly rounded, and his blue eyes were blazing with resentment that was no longer hidden. "You're my friend, but Lizzy is my sister-in-law. You know what she means to Jane, and how much I love her. It just irks me..." His hands balled into fists, and his shoulders tensed. "...to see you keeping track of Joy's birth in terms of what we were printing then. You didn't even know she was walking until I told you. " His eyes narrowed. "What were your kids for Halloween, Will?"
"Uh..." Let's see. I think Megumi's costume was mostly black. Wes was...Wes was...did he have a bandana tied around his head? "A cat, and a pirate, and..."
"Megumi was a princess, Will. Wes was an army guy. You know he has that fascination with rifles right now, and Elizabeth was trying to..." He squinted at me again. "You didn't know Wes had a thing for rifles right now, did you?" I hesitantly shook my head. "And when I talk about the Thanksgiving craft fair...you don't have a clue, do you?" Again my answer was no. "You don't even know your own family. Go home, Will, before you don't have a home to go to."
His words hit me like a punch in the stomach. Being on the receiving end of a stern lecture from someone as mild-mannered as Chad is enough to inspire some reflection; I avoided the freeway and drove home along the back roads to give myself time to think.
Elizabeth and I have been married nine years, and I love her today as much as I did the day we got married. But I'd be lying if I said that our relationship is the same as it was then. Sometimes I sit in the same room with her for more than an hour, and can't think of a single thing to say to her that isn't related to the children. I can't immediately remember the last time we were out--just the two of us--together. When I look at her, she still takes my breath away; I'd do anything she asked me to. But she never asks. And I never offer.
A gust of wind blew fallen leaves across the street in front of my truck. Even porch lights and streetlights seemed to glow differently in the cold nights of late autumn than they did in the heat of summer. But our home glowed welcomingly as I pulled down the long driveway and into the garage. Warmth seemed to leak from every window.
I walked through the front door and straight into the living room, flipping on the TV to catch the last few minutes of the ten o' clock news.
"Home so early?" Elizabeth was passing through the next room, and paused in the doorway to smirk. "I think Megumi is even still awake, if you want to go give her a kiss or something."
"I'll wait until the commercial."
I turned my focus back to the TV, but I could still see Elizabeth stiffen and her joking grin evaporate. Suddenly my mind wasn't on the news, but on what Chad had said. You don't even know your own family. Go home, Will, before you don't have a home to go to. Slowly, I raised my eyes to Elizabeth's. Her expression was an odd mixture of pain and strength.
"Do you need dinner?"
When I spoke, my voice was so quiet I could hardly hear it. "No. I got a sandwich while I was waiting for the press to start up."
"Ate at work. What a surprise."
She looked in my eyes for two seconds longer, then turned and walked toward the kitchen. There goes the best @ss in the west, I thought. A perfect @ss, on an angry woman.
I'm not a curser. Even when the most important business deal goes awry, the worst you'll get from me is a "drat" or a "darn" or a "blast." In truth, I'm famous for it in the industry--everyone thinks I'm unflappable because I don't swear. Really--I don't swear. Chad could vouch for me.
But for some reason, Elizabeth's backside is the exception, and has been since the beginning of our acquaintance.
It all began with Chad. By chance we were assigned as roommates our first year in college, and by luck we meshed and formed a steady friendship. Not that our characters are the same; Chad is open, easy tempered, and ductile, while I am, by nature, reserved, quiet, and headstrong. Despite those differences--opposite sides of the coin, really--we got along perfectly. I appreciated the way he found the fun and mirth in every situation, and he seemed to value my common sense and analytical observations.
When I graduated and went to work for my father I persuaded Chad to come, too. After I finished my graduate degree I suggested he should go get an MBA, and he was only too happy to oblige. The thing that surprised me, though, was his choice of school. I figured he'd go to The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, allowing him to still be involved in the company and retain his position as much as his classes would allow.
Oddly, he chose Brigham Young University, 50 miles away in Provo. Provo. At first he commuted from Salt Lake, but before the end of the semester he moved to Provo. It made work at the press difficult, but at least I thought it was a sign of dedication to his studies. I thought.
It turned out instead to be a sign of attraction to a fellow student named Jane Bennet.
I found this out a week before Christmas when I finally was able to reach Chad at home; I'd been trying for at least 10 days to locate him and invite him to my family's annual Christmas dinner on December 23rd, but I always got voice messaging instead, and he never returned my calls. Finally on December 15th he was home. "Gee, Chad, you been busy with something? You're almost impossible to reach lately. Hey, what are your plans for Christmas week?"
There was a longer pause than I expected on the other end of the line; when Chad finally spoke, I thought I heard hesitation in his voice. "I'm going to stay here in Provo for the holidays, Will."
"Provo? What the heck is in Provo, Chad?" I was well aware every living Bingley relative was within 15 miles of Salt Lake City, and that he didn't know a soul in Provo when he chose BYU.
It sounded like he was blushing--even his voice was blushing as he said, "Jane Bennet."
"Jane Bennet? Who's Jane Bennet?"
"She's a student, finishing up her undergrad in business management. She'll graduate in April, and we..." I had often seen Chad in deep like before. He stepped into infatuation more often than most men stepped into the shower. It was like he was born without any defense against a sweet smile or a tinkling laugh. Thank heavens he was likewise born with an insurmountable fear of commitment. Each sweet smile was an infatuation and nothing more.
So to hear that he was going to spend Christmas with her family set off alarms. I'm going to have to find a way to meet and evaluate this Jane Bennet, I thought. Two weeks later when Chad invited me to Provo to have dinner with Jane and her sister, I jumped at it. "You bet," I said. "When?"
"Friday. We'll meet at my apartment at...5:45?" He seemed ready to adapt to my wishes.
"It's your date, Chad. I'll accommodate your schedule."
This was the first time I'd been to Chad's Provo abode; I was introduced to the lovely Miss Jane Bennet, and I was obliged to climb into the back seat of his Toyota 4Runner. I don't even remember the last time I was in a back seat; on the rare occasions I'm not driving I'm in the front passenger seat. But not when I'm a third wheel on Chad's date. It took us a while to navigate the streets of Provo toward Jane's sister's home, but I have to say, in twenty minutes of conversation I couldn't find anything to dislike about Jane. She spoke softly, but intelligently. She made more effort to include me in the conversation than Chad did. And while she had a sweet smile and a tinkling laugh, not to mention a beautiful face and attractive body, I had to admit that she was substantial. Not just fluff. No wonder he's beyond infatuation this time, I thought.
We drove right past anything remotely metropolitan in Provo and straight through toward the mountains. We passed gas stations and convenience stores less frequently. Houses started to thin, and I could see open fields behind what houses there were. We pulled into the driveway of a good-sized, "normal" suburban house; I expected Chad and Jane to go to the front door, but instead they walked toward the garage, and then climbed some steps built alongside. These stairs led to a tiny apartment built above the garage--I couldn't imagine there would be room for more than one person inside, two if all furniture were removed. We knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Jane pulled out her keys and let us in.
We sat in the very small living room--there wasn't even room for a coffee table, only a loveseat and an overstuffed chair--and waited. Thankfully, we didn't wait long. We heard a pounding outside on the steps, the door flew open, and a ball of energy barreled inside. Suddenly, the room seemed claustrophobic, like there wasn't enough space for all of her liveliness. She had brown hair piled, twisted, and clipped haphazardly to her head, and her face was smeared with dirt. She was wearing baggy sweatpants, a loose shirt, and a cavernous fleece jacket; she looked like she must weigh at least as much as I do, despite being a foot shorter. Jane smiled and said, "Hi, Lizzy!"
Chad walked over and pulled her into a bear hug, laughing. He whispered to her. In a room that size, I couldn't help but overhear: "Lizzy, did you remember I was bringing a friend?"
She slapped him on the backside and responded in a stage whisper of her own: "I guess I'm not making a good first impression, huh?" She walked the three paces to the chair where I sat and held out a grimy hand. Now that I was closer, I could see she had a film of perspiration on her face. "I'm Jane's sister, Elizabeth," she said. She had nice lips and white teeth. Her eyes were even sort of striking. (Okay, really striking.) But where I come from (which is an hour north of Provo) we call girls like Elizabeth sweet spirits. They're the kind of girls whose exteriors are so unappealing, you hope what's inside can compensate; meaning that they might have a good personality--or fine eyes--but no other redeeming qualities. The sort of girl you go out with only if you're roped into a blind date.
"Will Darcy," I said, grasping her palm with my fingertips and shaking it like I'd shake dust off a rag. "A pleasure."
She flashed me a grin and said, "Clearly."
Jane's eyebrows were knit and she looked worried as she watched our meeting. She said, "Lizzy, we don't have very long tonight, since we have Mr. Darcy with us..."
"Please, Jane, call me Will."
She cleared her throat. "Will...iam..." She stumbled through the familiarity--we had, after all, just met ourselves. "...probably wants to get home at a decent hour."
Elizabeth curtseyed, pulling her sweatpants wide. "I'll hurry, milady. Do you guys want to show Will the greenhouse while I shower?"
"Sure!" Chad enthused.
It was a very nice greenhouse, as greenhouses go. It was about two miles from Elizabeth's over-garage dwelling, and the sign outside said "Bennet's Greenhouse." Succinct. Boring. Inside were row upon row of flowers and greenery: springtime and summer in the first week of January. Each table introduced new floral scents to mix with the fragrance of moisture and soil and trimmings. Jane led us to a door, through another, smaller greenhouse filled entirely with seedlings and planting trays, and into an expansive greenhouse filled with vegetables. Tomatoes ripening on the vine, grow boxes filled with carrots and cabbages and spinach, whisky barrels filled--Jane informed me--with potatoes; all this with two feet of snow on the ground outside the transparent green windows. In addition to selling plants to the public, Elizabeth and her father evidently had a very lucrative business providing fresh produce to local restaurants in the winter.
We arrived back at the garage a little more than a half hour after we had departed and Chad tapped on the horn. Jane jumped out of the car, but before she made it up to the door, her sister emerged. At least I assume that's what happened--Jane was blocking my view. They stood talking in the cold for a few moments, then came to the car.
I couldn't have been more surprised. In clothes that fit, Elizabeth was less than half the woman she had appeared to be. She was wearing khaki pants and a brown coat unbuttoned and revealing a thin v-neck sweater the color of emeralds. Her damp hair hung in waves well below her shoulders.
They opened the doors, Jane sitting in front and Elizabeth sliding in next to me. Now I could see her hair was halfway down her back and had auburn highlights. I could even smell the clean scent of her shampoo. She turned and smiled at me; without dirt on her face she was not bad looking. Until she smiled--then she was almost pretty. "Sorry for the delay, Will. My distributor was late for pick-up. I ran home as fast as I could after the truck was loaded."
"Jogged. Whatever," she shrugged. "It's just two miles. I only drive when the weather is really awful."
We went to an Italian restaurant. All four of us ordered the salad and pasta bar dinner, but Chad and I finished filling our salad plates first. "What do you think?" Chad asked excitedly, in a hushed whisper.
I spoke in my usual volume. "Jane is nice. Pretty too, although she smiles too much. Does she have a good head for business?"
"The best. Her grades are good, her people skills are amazing...she's going to be an asset to some lucky company in April when she graduates," he said in his hoarse whisper. "And...?"
As much as I wanted to feign ignorance, I couldn't. I abhor lying and games. "And Jane's sister is a sweet spirit." Chad's eyes went wide; then he looked determinedly at his salad plate and started eating, neglecting the etiquette that bid us to wait for the ladies to return.
"You know, Will, coming from you that just might be a compliment," Elizabeth said amiably, sitting down in the chair on my left. She looked up from her plate, flashed me a smile, and started talking to Chad. In fact, she conversed effortlessly with Chad and Jane all through the meal, but never said another word to me. Miraculously--somehow--she managed to snub me thoroughly without being offensive. She answered questions intended for me; she turned the conversation toward people I didn't know and places I'd never seen so I couldn't participate; she expounded at length concerning whether our waitress was a sweet spirit or a sweet dish, all while smiling innocently. Chad and Jane had to redouble their efforts not to laugh at me outright.
When we dropped Elizabeth back at her apartment, she said, "I'd invite you all in, but I wouldn't want to keep Will past his bedtime. I've already inconvenienced him enough." Never mind that it was still before 8:00 pm. She opened her door so the interior lights came on, turned, and looked unblinkingly at me with her dark eyes. "Thanks for a great evening, Will Darcy. It isn't often a sweet spirit like me gets to have dinner with a buck like you." She winked saucily. "G'night, Chad. G'night, Jane," she said. And then she was gone. I had half a mind to see her safely up the stairs, but she was inside the door before I could even get out of the truck.
Chad and Jane made every effort to include me in their conversation as we returned to Chad's apartment, but I was too distracted to follow their train of subjects. By the time I pulled onto the freeway, I realized that Elizabeth was pretty when she wasn't smiling, and darn near beautiful when she was. After ten minutes I was silently laughing at some of her jokes and admiring her wit. Twenty minutes later yet, I realized I had been reviewing everything she'd said in depth, and I was impressed with her vocabulary and the way she strung words together. By the time I was back home and had brushed my teeth she was so vividly implanted in my mind I could even imagine her in a nightgown. Enough of that, Will, I said, banging my head on the wall--both to clear her out of it, and to knock some sense into it. I had behaved terribly, and I knew it.
I hoped that Chad would invite me again to Provo. I didn't detest the town so much now, knowing that she lived there. No place could be entirely bad if she liked it. But nearly two weeks passed, and Chad didn't even mention her name. On Thursday afternoon I waited, knowing he was in the building for a meeting, watching for him to pass my office door. When he finally did, I called, "Chad!" trying to sound more casual than desperate.
He walked backward until he was framed in the doorway. "Yeah?"
I cleared my throat. I had not prepared a satisfactory speech, so I was going to have to wing it. "How...uh...is the greenhouse?"
He smiled. It was almost imperceptible, but I could see the corners of his mouth quirk upward. "The greenhouse is fine," he said, making like he was going to walk away.
"Well." This time he waited outside my door, his eyebrows raised.
"Great. That's...uh...just great." I think I heard him gag back a chuckle. "When did you...uh...see her...last?"
"The day before yesterday. She and Jane came up and had lunch with and me, and spent an hour here watching me catch up on office work. She's fascinated by people who shower before work and spend all day in a cubicle or an office."
All I could think was She was here Tuesday. In this building. For an hour. "What are you guys doing in Provo tomorrow night?"
Chad was smiling openly now. "Jane and I don't have specific plans yet."
"Because I'm not doing anything. I could come along and..."
"Was it that fun intruding on our date last time?"
"Well, if I came then Elizabeth wouldn't feel so awkward."
Chad laughed out loud. "Awkward? Hardly! She is one of my favorite people, and Jane is her sister. It's almost like the three of us belong together."
"She's one of your favorite people? Chad, you're not..."
With a knowing smile, he said, "No. I'm dating her sister. Seriously, I might add."
I released the breath I didn't even know I was holding, oblivious to the carrot he was dangling about his relationship with Jane. "So what do you think about tomorrow?"
"You are welcome to come with us wherever we go," he said, smiling. "But Lizzy already has a date, so she won't be joining us." Darn. Beautiful girl like her--of course she has a date. She probably has a boyfriend. Maybe even a fiancé. I focused on Chad, who was stifling laugher as he watched me. "However, Saturday we'll all be in Salt Lake for the afternoon. We'll probably go to lunch and a movie. They have some shopping or something they want to do in the city." I held my breath again, waiting. "You can come if you want."
Saturday was only slightly more successful than the Friday two weeks previous. I managed not to insult Elizabeth again. And she said very few words to me--even though we were next to each other for nearly six hours straight--but she softened the rejection with the genuine smiles she gave me, and the comforting pats on the arm when I said something totally idiotic (which happened every half hour or so). Chad watched us with undisguised curiosity; most of the time, when asked a question, he revealed that he wasn't even following the conversation. Words passed in one ear and out the other, and he never stopped watching us.
In the early evening when the ladies were getting ready to drive back to Provo, Chad pulled me aside. Jane and Elizabeth stood a few feet away with their backs to us, quietly talking; Chad whispered, "I just have to ask you what's going on. I thought you and Elizabeth would hit it off--that's why I lined you up two weeks ago. But when you insulted her, I figured it wasn't going to work out. Then..." His mouth contorted and I could see effort and thought on his face. His voice lowered even further. "...And then...today. Will, you're...you're..."
I invited myself along this afternoon. I'm obviously attracted to her. I'm following her around like a puppy dog, hanging on her every word.
"What do you think of her?" he finally managed.
I responded at my normal volume. "I think she's got a great @ss."
Elizabeth stood statue still, but a slow, almost involuntary smile spread across her lips. She slowly turned her eyes to meet mine, and quirked one eyebrow upward. For the first time I met her gaze straight on and smiled at her. Smiled for her. When she grinned in return--when her striking eyes sparkled and her look of amusement was focused on me--my stomach turned inside out and my heart started to pound. I have to see her again. And find a way to make her smile at me again.
And now, almost ten years later, when she smiles at me my stomach still turns to jelly. But mostly she walks away. I like to see her @ss, but I like her smile even more. When did I stop making her smile?
After the news I ambivalently slid into watching The Late Show with David Letterman. His second guest was walking on when I realized how late it was, how tired I was; out of habit more than anything I went in search of Elizabeth, but realized the entire house was already dark. She was lying in our bed, close to the edge on her side, breathing rhythmically. She had locked the doors, turned off lights, and retired for the night without saying a word to me.
Mechanically I readied for bed, then climbed in on my side, rolling to face the wall, my back toward the gulf between us. Her deep breathing continued, and I thought back to the early days of our marriage--the nights when there were no sides, when there was no gulf, when we slept entwined in the middle of the bed, far from either edge. I remembered the feeling of her hair tickling my nose, the way my own pillow smelled like her shampoo, sleeping deeply when she was in my arms and waking when she wasn't. Where had that gone?
I rolled to face her across the king-size bed. I could hear her over there, breathing, sleeping. Gently I moved across the expanse until I began to sense her warmth. I didn't want to disturb her, so I merely lay nearby, smelling her hair, hypnotized by the rhythm of her inhales and exhales. Without even thinking, I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder where I could feel the gentle rise and fall caused by respiration. Her skin was warm beneath the thin cotton of her sleeve. My fingertips trailed along her arm to her hand, and gradually to her hip and side. Before long I had moved so that my chest was touching her back, my legs curled under hers; I was lightly caressing her stomach, remembering the first time it expanded, remembering how I slept every night for eight months with my hand on her belly, thinking of the child we'd created. Her smile. I thought of her smile--the one that I used to see regularly. I knew she was happy--I knew she loved me, just from looking in her face. My fingertips moved to trace her lips--to feel for the now elusive grin. I skimmed the curve of her nose, which I knew so well even in the dark, even with her back to me. I smoothed the hair away from her forehead, and moved to the curve of her cheeks. I thought I felt moisture there, but after a few passes with my fingers her skin was dry, so I wasn't sure. I fell asleep with my wife in my arms.
I woke in a big, empty bed.
I grabbed breakfast on the way to work, as usual; I worked a long day, eating both lunch and dinner in the office, checking often on an important job that had been delayed because errors were found in the press check and new plates had to be burned. And all day long, I couldn't get Chad's words out of my head. You need to spend more time at home. You didn't even know Joy was walking until I told you. You didn't know Wes had a thing for rifles. You don't have a clue. You don't even know your own family. Go home, Will, before you don't have a home to go to.
So I left the shop earlier than had been my habit, at 7:30 pm. I made it home in time to hear the children's prayers before bed and to help Elizabeth tuck them in. She carried Joy down the stairs and walked toward her recliner. I walked behind her, placing my arm around her waist and pulling her close to me. "Why isn't Joy in her crib?" I whispered in her ear.
"I have to feed her before bed, William." She removed my hand from her waist and moved to sit in the chair and breastfeed our youngest.
I leaned against the armoire. "How long will that take?"
"I don't know, twenty five minutes or so."
"And then I have to do dinner dishes and tidy the kitchen," she said. The look in her eyes wasn't affection.
More than an hour after Joy was finally in her crib, Elizabeth was still sweeping the kitchen floor. "Is there anything I can do?" I asked, trying to hint that I was home early, for once, and we could be using the time very differently.
"No, I'm almost through. I just have to toss a load of laundry in the washer, and then I'm done."
Done didn't mean bed-bound, though; she settled onto the sofa with a book. "You know Elizabeth, I almost get the feeling you're avoiding me."
She looked at me, her eyes wide in what could have been either genuine or feigned surprise. "Avoiding you?"
"Yes. You've been puttering around for nearly two hours. Why don't we go to bed?"
"William, I have no time to myself during the day. Even when I'm in the bathroom I usually have at least one person in there with me. This is what I do at the end of the day to unwind, to remember who I am. This is where I reconnect with me."
"There's more than one way to unwind, Elizabeth."
Her lips pressed together tightly, and she gave me an incendiary look.
"You're not avoiding me?"
"No more than you're avoiding me all day at work," she said in the politest voice, with a spark of impertinence in her eyes.
I flopped down on the other sofa and watched her read, still pondering Chad's words, and also thinking of the night before. How long has it been since we really held each other? I wondered. How long since she kissed me and meant it? I felt discomfort gnaw at my stomach. I couldn't remember the last time Elizabeth was affectionate. When was the last time she touched me? When was the last time she snuggled into me in bed? When was the last time she even needed me?
I stared at my wife--so engrossed in reading her novel--and realized that I didn't even know if she still loved me. She never said it, except perfunctorily, in front of the children. Perhaps she not only didn't care that I was home early--perhaps she wished I wasn't.
The discomfort in my stomach became emptiness in my chest. Elizabeth loves me--I had always taken it for granted. No matter what else went wrong, I knew she would be at home--constant, faithful, accepting, loving. Loving. But what if she wasn't? What if she didn't care? What if she was only here out of duty instead of desire? The weight on my chest was crushing. Is it possible my wife doesn't love me? Doesn't even care about me? The thought was too painful to bear. She has to love me. I depend on it. My life would be meaningless without it.
I desperately thought backward from that moment, trying to find some proof that Elizabeth still loved me--that she had ever loved me. I tried to think of a look in her eye, a brush of her hand, a word from her lips to give me hope.
Of course, she didn't start out loving me. In fact, she disliked me. She delighted in antagonizing me. My reaction to her during our first meeting cemented in her mind an impression of me that was...hard to overcome. To say the very least.
A few weeks after I met her, I invited myself to Chad's on a Friday evening. He told me that he and Jane had asked Elizabeth over for dinner and to play a game or something. Perfect. I showed up at 6:50, earlier than even Jane, with a bag of fried chicken from the nearby grocery store. I reasoned it was better than anything I could cook. Jane arrived a few minutes later with a big green salad, and Elizabeth came several minutes after that carrying a large pot. I couldn't take my eyes off her from the moment the door opened. Her hair was damp again, as it had been the first time we went to dinner together, and she was dressed in faded, fitted jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, wearing a gorgeous smile.
When her eyes locked with mine, her brows knit and her smile faded. She accepted a hug from Jane and kissed Chad's cheek while greeting them happily. She walked past me with a confused, "Hi, Will. What are you...I didn't know you were coming tonight."
"I called Chad this afternoon and invited myself."
"Don't you have a girlfriend or something in Salt Lake to keep you busy?" she asked, looking more perturbed than interested in the answer.
"Nope. Until last September I had a best friend, but he moved to Provo."
Her face was half grin, half confusion. "Well, I can see why you'd miss Chad." She turned away from me, toward Chad. "Shall I get out dishes? We might as well eat while it's hot."
I ate plenty of fried chicken and some of Chad's garlic bread. Elizabeth's pot was filled with a creamy broccoli soup. The broth part was delicious and I ate several bowls, leaving the broccoli. Since she was sitting beside me, she had an excellent view of the contents of my dishes.
"So, Will, I'm guessing you don't like broccoli."
"Not at all," I said emphatically. "Not raw, not cooked. The, uh, soup part tastes wonderful, though." She looked at me unblinkingly, a serious expression on her face, no hint of accepting my compliment. "I'm not a huge fan of vegetables in general. "
"Which would explain the conspicuous lack of salad on your plate," she said.
I glanced at Jane. "No offense, of course. It's a very...nice salad. Lots of variety and all that. I just don't..."
"I'm not offended, Will," Jane said with a hint of amusement.
Elizabeth put down her fork and turned all her attention to my dishes. "What do you eat then? Bread and meat?"
"Do you eat fruit?"
"I love apple pie."
"I'm talking about fresh fruit, Will. Something recently alive, to give you vitamins and minerals and fiber."
"I eat fruit."
"Yeah. That wheat stuff tastes like cardboard."
"The white stuff compresses to 1/3 its original size! It's all air! How do you expect to nourish your body with air?" she exclaimed. I should have been offended. She was openly criticizing me. But she spoke with such passion, her eyes were blazing with indignation, and her mouth sometimes almost turned up into a smile. She was irresistible.
I grinned at her. "You haven't eaten any of my fried chicken."
Her eyes opened wide with disbelief. "Are you honestly equating avoiding dark-meat drumsticks, fried in heaven knows what, with not eating salad, broccoli, or whole grain bread?"
"Well, I could sort of be insulted because you're not eating what I brought..." I joked.
She grabbed a drumstick off my plate and took a big bite before tossing it back down. Chewing, with her mouth full, she said, "There. Are you happy? I ate your chicken."
Was that flirting? I wondered. I couldn't suppress a grin. "Yes. Very happy."
She wiped the grease from around her mouth with a napkin. "Now eat some of Jane's salad," she commanded. I wondered if she had a clue that I was feeling anything but adversarial. Even her demands were attractive. She stared at me and I stared at her; it was a contest to see who was going to back down first.
Chad stood and carried the salad over to the refrigerator. Jane started gathering dishes. "Are you done with this, William?" she asked politely before taking my plate away. The competition ended just as it was getting interesting.
The next Thursday Chad called me, extending an invitation for Saturday night. He was careful to say that Elizabeth had invited me to join them all for dinner in her garage apartment. I wondered where she would find room for all of us, but I enthusiastically agreed. Suffice it to say that every item on the menu was whole wheat and/or filled with vegetables. She served a generous portion of salad to me with a warning that I'd better eat every single leaf and chunk--broccoli, carrots, spinach, bell peppers. In the main dish, she had cut each vegetable into pieces so tiny that I couldn't separate them out from the other food even if I wanted to. She had a most attractive smirk on her face as she handed me my plate, and watched me with interest during the meal.
I ate every bite. When she took my dishes, she said, "I hope you enjoyed it," with more than a little irony in her voice.
"It was delicious," I said. She looked at me disbelievingly. "No really, it was great. I'd eat vegetables more if they always tasted like that."
"You mean if someone blended them up so you couldn't separate them from the other food."
I walked over to her until I was standing close, staring into her eyes. "No. It was fantastic, Elizabeth. Every single thing."
Her impertinent expression melted into a scowl. "Well, I uh...have to do the dishes...uh..." I felt an inordinate sense of accomplishment that I had discombobulated her. I dared to hope that I affected her as much as she affected me.
Not so. She didn't care for me at all. She had only invited me to dinner to annoy me. When I proved I could eat vegetables and whole wheat bread, she lost all impetus to improve me--to even pay attention to me. She ignored me almost completely. But I didn't give up; Monday morning I walked to Chad's desk and asked if he could get us all together again the next weekend. Thus began our weekly dance: for the next several weekends I tagged along with Chad and Jane, who, by some stroke of luck, convinced Elizabeth to join us as well. We made some little headway: Elizabeth would speak right to me, would allow conversations about which I could cogently converse, and mocked me occasionally rather than constantly. I could tell by the sparkle in her eyes when she was going to tease me, and I was flattered that she had learned enough about me to know how to jab me in the ribs. I was falling hard for Elizabeth Bennet.
But she wasn't falling for me. Most of the time she didn't even remember to say goodbye to me at the end of the evening. She never sought my company--she only spoke to me if I was nearby, and if it would be rude not to. No, she didn't start out loving me.
But she did come to love me--the more I thought about it, the more I knew it was true. I remembered when we used to sit side by side on the sofa while we watched a movie--that she would curl up next to me, and usually be asleep before it was even halfway done. I used to say, "You never even see the movies, Elizabeth. I don't know why we bother to put them in."
"Because I'd rather sleep in your arms on the couch than alone in the bed," she replied. But that was before Joy was even conceived.
I remembered when she would keep meals warm for me when I had to work late, and sit with me at the table, talking about her day, listening and caring about how what I had done. But she had stopped keeping meals warm for me. Why? And when did we stop talking about each other's lives?
I remembered when we could spend an entire day talking and not run out of things to say--that I would sometimes take a day off work just to be with her--talk, and do nothing else. I remembered when a quick trip to the grocery store was an excuse to be together and hold hands. I remembered when she shared her favorite books with me, reading aloud while we drove somewhere, or in front of a blazing fire after Megumi was in bed. I remembered when she used to hold me and kiss me at the end of a work day like she had really missed me--like she was glad I was home. I remembered when she wasn't already asleep when I climbed into bed.
She used to tell me she loved me. She used to laugh at my jokes. She used to care about my schedule and when I'd be home. She used to lie close to me at night.
Elizabeth is the only one I've ever been with. Some of my friends were incredulous that I made it all the way to age 26, but it's true. In fact, it is by design. I never believed that sex was something to be had on a whim, something that could mean everything or nothing, or anything in between. For me it is sacred, a union of bodies and souls, lives and goals, making two halves whole. No matter how any of my friends or the rest of the world viewed it, it is something sublime and glorious and I saved it all for one person.
I wouldn't change anything, even if I had it to do over again. I'm her only one as well. I'm the only one who has ever felt the velvety softness of her skin next to mine. I'm the only one who has ever seen that look in her eye, the look that clearly says she wants me. She has never wanted anyone else in the same way. I've heard men say they were glad they got their practicing done on other women, so they would be experienced for their wives; I can honestly say that neither of us were damaged at all, either by our practice, or the resulting proficiency. (Often, I'd even call it perfection.) That we started the adventure together has been nothing but an asset to us.
Elizabeth was sitting across the room from me, still reading her book, while I had been thinking about all of these things--staring at her, watching her, admiring her, loving her. She glanced up at me and then quickly down at her book, but a slow smile crept onto her face. She looked at me again, then back at the page, up at the ceiling, at the page, and finally her gaze returned to me. "What are you doing?" she asked with a grin.
I held my breath and basked in the light of her smile. "Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?"
The smile faded into seriousness. "Not lately enough."
I moved to the sofa, next to her. I put my arm around her shoulders and looked into her eyes. "You are beautiful, Elizabeth. I love you."
Ten minutes later found us lying on the sofa making out like teenagers. My shirt was totally un-tucked and half unbuttoned, and my hair in disarray from the constant attention of her fingers. Elizabeth's hair clip had long since been removed, her waves tumbling across the pillow I'd managed to slip under her head. Her cardigan was wadded up on the floor, her shirt was very rumpled, and half of her stomach exposed so her skin touched mine. Her hands roamed my back, my shoulders, and my hair. Then they strayed lower and did something very married. I stood and gathered my wife in my arms, and carried her into the bedroom. She looked at me with that look. "I love you, William." Even in the haze of passion, I could feel the weight lifting off my chest. She loves me. She loves me.
That night was like an oasis to me. In the middle of my vast desert of doubt--Does she even care about me any more?--that night was my rain shower of Yes, she does.
This time, when I woke, I wasn't alone. Elizabeth was still asleep, her back nestled against my side, her hair piled on the small bit of pillow between us. I could see the smooth skin of her shoulder in the pale light of early morning. I rolled onto my side and pulled her closer to me, feeling her warm back against my chest, wrapping my arms around her. My Elizabeth. How deeply I love her.
She began to stir in my embrace--she stretched one leg and ankle, then the other; she pressed closer to me, then arched and moved away. "What time is it?" she said, her voice thick with sleep.
"Just past 6:00."
She groaned. "Time to get up."
"When will the kids be up?" I asked.
"I have to get Meg up at seven; I let the others sleep until breakfast is ready."
"We have a while yet before 7:00, you know..." I kissed her earlobe and neck.
Elizabeth grew still and very stiff. She may have even been holding her breath. "I have to hit the ground running, Will, or I never catch up." She unceremoniously pulled my arms off of her and wiggled away from me, climbing out of bed. "I have to shower and get dressed and get a handle on my day..." Without even a backward glance she walked into the bathroom. (But I did have a fine view until she was through the door.)
I lay in bed until I heard the shower turn off. I hadn't meant to linger, but my mind was full of Elizabeth--of the night before--her hands, her eyes, and her mouth. How could I have ever doubted she loved me?
I walked into the bathroom just as she was wrapping herself in a towel. I pulled her into my arms, feeling her moist, warm skin under my fingers, dropping my lips toward hers. "Good morning, my sweet."
She gave me a short, little peck, then turned her head. "Are you getting in?" she asked.
"I guess so..."
"What time do you have to be at work today? Are you leaving soon?"
"I'll leave after breakfast," I replied. Her surprise was evident. "I'm sure I'll get there in plenty of time."
"Breakfast is...just oatmeal." She looked adorably perplexed.
"I haven't had oatmeal in ages."
"Because you don't really like it."
"It'll be perfect."
"Okay," she said, her eyebrows still wrinkled in confusion, "have a good shower."
When I walked into the kitchen Elizabeth was fully dressed--in fact, she looked incredible. The oatmeal was on the stove, and she was straightening Megumi's shirt. "This is almost getting too small, Meg. Didn't we just buy this?"
"Before school started."
"Wow. I can't believe how you're growing! I'll go to a few stores and see if I can find another shirt this color in a bigger size. It looks so good with these pants."
"'Kay, Mom," Megumi said. She turned around to grab her shoes and socks, and saw me standing behind her. "Daddy!" She ran and jumped into my arms.
"What are you doing here? Don't you have to work today? Mom, can I stay home from school if Dad's gonna be here? I never see him..."
"Hold up there, young lady. I'm going in to work as soon as breakfast is done," I said.
Megumi's little face wrinkled up in confusion just the same way Elizabeth's always did. "Why...? But...but you're always gone before I wake up on work days. And you usually don't come home until after I'm in bed. Why are you still here?"
"Because, sweetie," I said, grabbing her and tickling her sides while she kicked and squirmed and squealed, "I heard your mom was making oatmeal for breakfast, and I knew I couldn't miss it."
She stilled and looked at me in utter disbelief. "Dad, we always have oatmeal. You miss it all the time."
"Well," I stammered, "maybe I shouldn't miss it any more."
She shrugged and squeezed my waist. "Whatever."
"Meg, get your shoes on, please," Elizabeth admonished. "We're running a little late, and I don't want you to miss the bus."
"What can I do to help?" I asked.
"Well, you can go upstairs and wake up Wes and Joy." She turned to the stove to stir the oatmeal.
"And get them dressed," Megumi offered helpfully. "Mom always helps them pick out clothes and changes Joy's diaper before she brings them down for breakfast."
"But Dad can just bring them down. I'll dress them later," Elizabeth said without even glancing over her shoulder.
"I know how to dress kids," I said. "I've been a father for seven years now."
I went into Wesley's room first and tried to wake him. Tried. I gently shook his shoulder, I rubbed his arm, I pulled his blankets off, I spoke to him...nothing roused him. I walked into the girls' room and lifted Joy out of her crib, figuring I could hold her while I woke Wes. She began to howl and call, "Mama!" But even her screams didn't wake her brother.
Ten minutes later when I had them both awake and only moderately unhappy, I figured I could get them dressed. I chose an outfit for Joy, but couldn't find a clean diaper anywhere. Meanwhile, every shirt and pants combination I presented to Wes for his approval was summarily dismissed; he demanded his blue pants and red shirt. I found two different red shirts and at least three pairs of blue pants in his drawers, but none were the right ones.
In defeat, I marched down the stairs with two pajama-clad, scowling children, just in time to see Megumi off for the bus. "Have a great day, Meg," I said, kissing her forehead as she ran past.
"Thanks, Dad! Hope I see you later!"
In the kitchen, with no little exasperation, I said, "Liz, can you tell me how the red shirt and blue pants Wes is asking for differ from the other red shirts and blue pants in his drawers?"
She took the squirming, near-frantic Joy from my arms and said, "Wes has a favorite outfit. He wears it at least two days out of three, but I washed it last night. Come here, Wes." She took his little hand in her free one. "Let's find your clothes." They walked to the dryer and Wes pulled it open and sorted through until he found a gray shirt with red stripes and a pair of denim overalls, which he began to pull on right on the laundry room floor.
As Elizabeth passed by on the way back to the kitchen, she conspiratorially said, "It makes potty time terrible. I have to hook and unhook those straps. I can't wait until he grows out of it."
I followed her, awed at how effortlessly she knew the kids' preferences, how she took care of their needs. I impotently said, "I couldn't find a diaper upstairs for Joy."
"Oh, they're in the bottom left drawer, with the wipes." I handed her the outfit I'd chosen. "And this will probably be a little too cool for autumn weather. I suppose I should have put it away in a box, but it was warm for so long this year...anyway, I'll run up and get her something else."
It had taken me 25 minutes to accomplish nothing; in barely five minutes with Elizabeth in charge, they were dressed, shod, and sitting at the table eating oatmeal. While she tidied their hair and bustled around the kitchen I ruminated. I knew nothing about my kids' schedules, their favorite foods, their preferred outfits, or the games and activities that kept them occupied. I didn't even know how to find a diaper upstairs. I hadn't even really realized that Wes was potty trained, although, as a boy of four, he probably had been for quite some time. I didn't know which cupboards in the kitchen housed which dishes, where the oatmeal was in the pantry, or how much to make to feed our family.
And Elizabeth was not only keeping the house and the children running, she was doing extra things--like making Halloween costumes and putting together a Thanksgiving craft fair. I felt so ineffective. Helpless, even. What total idiot would be clueless about everything going on around him? I'm sure Chad knows how to find stuff in his kitchen, I berated myself. And he not only knows his own children's likes and dislikes, he knows my children's. How can I be oblivious to something so important?
Perhaps, where Elizabeth is concerned, I specialize in oblivious. In those early days I misinterpreted her every mood and signal. I believed she liked me because I wanted to believe it.
Despite an absolute lack of encouragement from Elizabeth, I continued to drive to Provo on weekends under the guise of spending time with Chad. The fact is I was in love with her before she even liked me. I had never felt so strongly before. I had never been compelled to spend time with someone who didn't care about me in the least. I was self-obligated to do everything in my power to make her think well of me. I wanted her to like me--I needed her to like me. I spent time during the week wondering what I could say, how I could act; I read books she mentioned, listened to CDs she had referred to in passing; I wanted to be a friend, and so much more.
Gradually our relationship progressed past annoying one another to a level of constant, good-natured sarcasm. She joked about my faults, about my job, about my clothes--about everything, really, and I tried to joke about her, too. I was conveniently able to hide my genuine admiration inside sarcastic remarks, saying exactly what I thought but making it sound like I was teasing. Anyway, we were comfortable together, and when Chad and Jane left us alone for short periods we could actually maintain a conversation without argument. (Of course, she had no idea that I went home after these evenings with my heart pounding and my mind racing, thinking of how close she had been to me, or how she smiled at me when she spoke.)
My courage rose: one Friday evening when we went to a movie, I grabbed her hand as we walked into the crowded theater. It was so small inside mine, and the skin was so soft. "I wasn't going to wander off, you know," she said with a grin.
"You were talking about that other movie. I just wanted to make sure you make it into the right theater."
"Oh yeah? Maybe if you keep holding on to my hand, I'll drag you off with me to see that action flick instead of this mushy love story." She had sparks in her eyes, daring me to dare her.
Elizabeth, I would follow you anywhere, I thought, gripping her hand even tighter. The best part was that I knew we looked like a couple. I knew that the people around us saw us holding hands--smiling, talking, and laughing--and thought we liked each other. Loved each other. They were half right, and I held on determinedly, hoping that everyone else thinking it might make it real. I managed to keep possession through the movie, too.
I hadn't realized that my constant invasions every weekend were actually impeding Chad. He was still dating Jane after multiple months, I reasoned; what could be going wrong? They had all the weeknights to be alone, anyway.
Chad was growing uncharacteristically serious about this relationship, and all the weeknights weren't enough. He wanted to have a significant discussion about their future together, and I was getting in his way.
Knowing he was in the building, I walked to his desk Thursday morning. Without even looking up from his stack of papers, he said, "No way, Will."
"No way what? Nice to see you, too, Chad."
His voice was strong and steady. "Not this weekend I want to be alone with Jane. If you want to see Lizzy, you call her and ask her out yourself."
"I don't have her number," I said, hoping he'd do it my way.
He scribbled out a number on the blank corner of an invoice, ripped it off, and handed it to me. "Now you do."
I had no idea what to do if Chad wasn't going to help me. I couldn't go two weeks without seeing her. I puzzled for half a day before I came up with an alternate plan. I called Jane. "Hi, it's Will Darcy." I tried to sound casual, like I always phoned her at her apartment, pretending like I hadn't called directory assistance to get the number.
"Hi, Will," she stuttered. No matter how natural my voice sounded, she knew I'd never called before.
"What's up this weekend?" I asked, trying to make it sound like I was logically a part of whatever was going on.
"Chad and I are going to Sundance for dinner. Why?"
I cleared my throat. "Does Elizabeth have any plans?"
I thought I could hear a grin in her voice when she replied, "I honestly don't know."
"Would you mind if she and I joined you?"
"Not at all," Jane said sweetly.
There was a protracted silence on the other end of the phone, during which I began to panic. But Jane put me out of my misery. "Sure, Will."
Since Sundance is located between Salt Lake City and Provo, it made sense for me to meet them all there. I arrived first: I was anxious for things to go well, so I started getting ready 45 minutes earlier than I needed to. I had plenty of time to myself at the resort before they were due to arrive.
Chad had been angry that I had found a way to intrude on his date; he called me up and, in his fury, let more information slip than he intended to. He told me he wanted to marry Jane, that he needed to talk to her seriously and privately, that I could leave them alone for one weekend, for heaven's sakes. But by the time they arrived at Sundance, he'd forgiven me. (More accurately, since Jane was looking particularly lovely that evening, by the time they arrived at Sundance he had forgotten me.)
Elizabeth wasn't in Chad's car, and I worried that she wasn't coming. "Jane, is Elizabeth still...?"
"She should be here any moment, Will. She's driving her own car up here."
I decided to wait for her by the doors, leaving Chad and Jane to get settled at our table with candlelight and a menu; my decision had nothing to do with giving them time to talk seriously and privately.
I wandered into a shop, always keeping my eye on the main entrance. I watched her sweep through the door: she pulled off her coat, revealing a light pink sweater engineered to mirror her curves exactly without being too tight. The color emphasized the blush of her cheeks and the soft pink of her lips. She took my breath away.
My feet were rooted to the floor. I couldn't make myself move. I would have just let her walk away if she hadn't looked into the shop that very moment and locked eyes with me. She smiled with her eyes as much as with her lips, looking for all the world like she was happy to see me. I was tempted to pull her into my arms right then, but settled for holding her hand and escorting her to the table.
Dinner was lively, as it always is with this group. Elizabeth was clearly in a good mood, which was all I needed to be happy. After dinner we set off across the wooden bridge and stone walkways to explore the buildings and grounds of Sundance in the cool spring evening.
After a minute, Elizabeth placed her hand on the crook of my arm, exerting gentle pressure backward. Toward her. I was eager to follow her lead. We slowed our pace, and in two more minutes Chad and Jane were completely out of sight. "There," she said triumphantly. "Let's stay here."
I realized that she had put her hand on my arm to benefit Jane; that knowledge did nothing to temper the electricity I felt at her touch. We wandered back to the bridge and stood side by side, looking at the patches of remaining snow and watching the water flow over smooth, rounded rocks. I couldn’t think of anything to say to her, however much I wished to converse, but our silence was a comfortable one.
"It's cold out here tonight," she said, puffing condensation clouds into the air.
She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. "Are you one of those men who never gets cold?"
"No, I get cold. I'm just not noticing it tonight."
Her cheeks and the tip of her nose were red. "Not noticing it?!"
"Not right now."
"Well I promise you, there's no better time to notice it. For springtime, it's freezing! I'm tempted to wait inside. In fact, maybe I'll head home. I can warm up in the car..." She turned, but before she could walk away, or even move, I reached out and grabbed her hand. She looked at her hand in mine, then at my face. "What?"
I put my hands on her shoulders and gently turned her toward me. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I traced a finger along the curve of her cheek and across her jaw line. I had the unmistakable feeling that I had loved her forever--it didn't matter that I'd only known her four months. I ached to hold her. A cold breeze was blowing her hair over her shoulder. I touched one of the waves as it wisped toward me.
Her eyebrows knit, and her beautiful dark eyes looked at me questioningly. Slowly, slowly I leaned forward and dropped my lips to hers, kissing her lightly while my soul stirred deeply. She looked at me with a mischievous glint in her eye and said, "Why did you do that?"
"Why did you kiss me? I mean, you don't even like me..."
I interrupted. "Yes, I do."
She thought for a moment. "Are you sure?"
"I thought you only tolerated me because I'm always around when you hang out with Chad and Jane."
"I only hang out with Chad and Jane if I'm sure you'll be around."
She raised her eyebrows and the look on her face was doubt mingled with surprise. "I find that hard to believe! I have never caught any hint of you..."
If she wanted one, I was going to provide her with an obvious hint. Interrupting her sentence, I kissed her again. I put my arm around her and pulled her gently toward me, caressing the back of her neck before twining my fingers in her hair. The very air I breathed changed somehow--it became sweeter. Warmer. All sensation of cold disappeared as her petite body nestled close to mine. We were bathed in warmth and light. New life flowed through my veins--new purpose, new joy. New love. Everything else seemed to fade away, as though Elizabeth and I were alone, the only two people that mattered. The river ran past, carrying with it any neutrality I might ever have felt toward her. All I wanted was to give my heart and my life to her. I pulled back only a little and whispered, "Now you know."
I walked her to her car that evening with my hands in my pockets. She watched me carefully; I don't know if she wanted or expected more, but she did seem almost disappointed when I turned away to cross the parking lot. I asked Jane for Elizabeth's cell phone number and, as soon as I was out of the canyon, I dialed. It had been less than twenty minutes since I stood next to her, but I was glad to hear her voice when she said, "Hello?"
"Hello, Elizabeth. This is William."
She was silent for a few seconds. "Hello, Will."
"May I call you?"
I heard a snicker. "I believe you just did."
"No, I mean when I return to Salt Lake, and you get back home. May I call you there?"
Again a silence of several seconds. "Sure. Do you have my number?"
Memorized. "I think so. Is it 801-555-8085?"
"I'll talk to you later, then."
I called her the moment I got home, and I talked to her about everything I could think of. I had her undivided attention, and I wanted to keep it. What's more, I wanted to prove that I liked her. If she had honestly never seen any sign, I had to show her. I wanted to convince her. I couldn't leave room for her to doubt.
I called her every evening that week, and as far as I could tell, things were going well. Really well. She seemed to be warming up to me. There was far less sarcasm in our conversations, and more seriousness. I actually learned things about her, and told her things about me. I felt so comfortable with her that I finally asked her to be my date--at a company picnic potluck dinner, Friday late afternoon.
I asked her to meet me at the press. I wanted to share that little part of myself with her, to have her see my work and meet my friends. More importantly, I wanted my coworkers to see her. They spent hours teasing me for not having a girlfriend, and I was approached more often about blind dates than raises. I wanted them to see Elizabeth.
She was late--a fortuitous circumstance. Earlier in the day we'd fired a night-shift press worker. He had been sexually harassing coworkers, and there was a particularly ugly episode that morning. He had physically forced himself on someone's assistant when she went for a ream of paper in the supply room, though she was rescued before anything dire happened. I assigned two men to watch him while he cleaned out his locker and left the building, and I was still dealing with final paychecks and HR reports and employee complaints when it was time for Elizabeth to arrive to meet me.
A half hour later the receptionist rang me in my office, informing me that Elizabeth was waiting in the lobby. I walked out to meet her, emotionally worn out but looking forward to the evening. If I had paid better attention, I would have noticed that she was likewise somber. Neither of us spoke much during the picnic, and the games and frivolities held no interest for us. I cursed circumstances for making our first real date so glum, but I felt all the weight of leadership which my position gave me, and hoped I was behaving properly under the circumstances.
I was poised to apologize when we finally arrived back at her parked car. "The parking lot is still full," she said, looking at all the vehicles around the building.
"Presses run 24 hours a day. The evening shift is here now, and the night shift will come at midnight." The words night shift reminded me, again, of everything that had happened that day. I heaved a tired sigh. "Listen, Elizabeth...I want to apologize for the way this evening has turned out. I had something to deal with today that sapped all my emotional energy. I'd like to make it up to you, though." I reached out for her hand but she took a step backward, away from me.
"There's nothing to make up," she said.
"Well, I wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs tonight..."
"No problem." She turned and began walking toward her car. "I don't mind. Thanks for dinner."
"Wait." I reached her side just as she pushed the key into the lock. "Wait. You don't have to leave so quickly." I looked at my watch. "It isn't late yet, we could go somewhere else or something..."
"Oh, that's okay. I'm tired, and you're out of emotional energy." I was used to her jokes, but this sounded...serious. Almost insulting.
"I'm not quite ready to let you go, though," I said.
"You never had me to let me go," she said. I swear I could hear anger in her voice.
"Let's call it a night, Will." She unlocked and opened the driver's door.
"Well, I'll call you tomorrow, then," I offered.
"Don't bother," she said under her breath, climbing into her car.
I wasn't sure if I heard her correctly, but I felt panicked. "Pardon?"
She sighed and looked at me angrily. "I learned a lot of things about you this afternoon Will--about the way you treat your employees. Geez, Gage had two bodyguards following him around the building just because he'd taken stuff from the supply room! I mean, I don't advocate stealing, but..."
"Gage?" I asked.
I was totally and utterly confused. "Did you meet Wixom somewhere, Elizabeth?"
"I parked my car next to his. His trunk wouldn't stay open, so I held it for him while he loaded his boxes. He told me he was fired today because he'd lifted a few small things from the supply room. No warning, no second chance. And he told me that the wages here are low, the benefits terrible, and it's a stressful, unrewarding place to work. He said the supervisors are all stuck-up slave drivers. He doesn't like you much, Will, and it sounded like he has good reason not to."
"You were out here talking to Wixom?"
"Yes, alone! The poor guy had just lost his job and had been unceremoniously kicked out of the building. He needed a hand, and I was here at the right time to give it to him! Sheesh, Will...are you too selfish to even consider things from his perspective? Try, for once, to imagine how he felt--how humiliating it must have been to be fired, and then be followed around--in front of his coworkers--like he was in prison rather than cleaning out a locker! To be left outside the doors, alone, when he needed help! Are you even capable of thinking about others, Will?"
This, coming from the one person I'd been thinking about non-stop for months. I should have been angry. I should have been indignant. Incredibly, all I felt was sadness--loneliness, despair. "You believed him," I said in a quiet voice.
"Well...of course I did. Why wouldn't I believe him? He told me everything..."
I looked right in her eyes, and I'm sure I didn't hide the pain I felt. "You believed him. You knew him for minutes and me for months, and you still believed him."
"You honestly thought me capable of every bad thing he said."
She bit her bottom lip but stayed silent.
I struggled to get a grip on my raging emotions before I spoke. I couldn't look in her beautiful eyes as I said, "Drive home safely, Elizabeth. Don’t worry, I won't...bother you...again."
I turned to walk to my truck. I didn't look back. I climbed in and pulled out of the parking lot right behind her. When she turned right at the next intersection, I turned left, just to get away.
That night I lay in my bed, numb. I didn't know what to feel. Was my heart breaking? Broken? How much did I really like her? Love her? How much did her opinion of me matter? I hardly slept, and I didn't leave my home the next day. I didn't even get dressed--I stayed in a holey T-shirt and sweat shorts, sitting on the sofa flipping channels with the sound muted, not watching anything. I got up once or twice for food, but stayed on the couch watching the flickering lights and trying to sort through my feelings.
The doorbell rang. I looked at my watch: 7:05 pm. I'd wasted the entire day. I didn't make any move to answer it, though, until the bell rang a second time. I had no interest in whoever was on the other side of that door. I pulled it open without flipping on the outside light.
It was Elizabeth, looking sad but beautiful. I was so surprised I didn't speak--didn't even say hello. "Hi, Will," she said, not quite looking in my eyes. "I just came to say...to say...I'm sorry. I talked to Chad today, and he told me the whole story. I...I can't believe what Gage did, and how easily he lied about it. And I can't believe..." Shyly she raised her eyes to mine, and the color rose in her cheeks. "I'm sorry I believed him. You didn't deserve that. You've earned more trust and friendship from me than...than...that."
She breathed deeply, bit her lip, and peered uncomfortably at everything but me. Her gaze settled near her shoes. "So I asked Chad how to find you, and I just came to apologize for saying such terrible things, and for being so rude after...after everything. Everything you've done."
Slowly she raised her eyes to mine again, and looked at me for a full minute while every scenario passed through my head--angry retorts, self-justifying speeches, forgiving hugs, long conversations, short pardons. But it all stayed in my head. She bit her bottom lip again and said, "Goodbye, Will. I really am sorry. Maybe... Bye."
She turned and walked away. I saw her get in her car--I watched her drive away. I watched until the taillights were out of sight, and still I stood there with my door open, looking at where she had stood. By the time I closed the door I was shivering with cold--cold without, and cold within.
I spent the greater part of the next two weeks deep in thought, wondering why she had believed him. The anger had faded, soothed by her apology, but I still wanted to figure out where I had originally gone wrong. Everything Wixom said seemed to corroborate her already poor opinion of me. I accepted my share of blame for everything negative in our past, and I wanted to make it right--at least, to make myself right. I realized, with some gentle prodding from my closest friends, that I came off as arrogant and aloof, while Wixom was friendly and engaging. A little too friendly and engaging in some cases, and it got him into trouble.
But arrogant and aloof served me no better. Elizabeth thought me to be stuck-up, rude, controlling, and ignorant of others' feelings, even after knowing me for four months. Whatever Wixom said just diminished her already poor opinion of me.
As long as we were cataloging my faults, Chad hastened to add selfishness to the list. He presented as proof the entire Sundance episode--calling Jane, having her call Elizabeth, not leaving them alone when he specifically asked me to. It did sound terrible when he said it that way. I remembered that Elizabeth had called me selfish, too. So I tried to notice when I was focusing on myself and taking advantage of others. I made every effort to be friendly, kind, and accessible--to express my thanks for a job well done, to reward hard work. Managers reported that workers seemed very content, but mainly I hoped that I was becoming the person I always should have been.
The Saturday evening two weeks after the picnic, Chad unexpectedly knocked on my door. He was in Salt Lake with Jane and--surprise--Elizabeth. He said he stopped by to discuss something about one of his accounts in the upcoming week, but I suspected it was a fabrication. It could have waited until Monday, or been handled on the phone. I hardly paid attention to what he was saying--I was too absorbed in looking at Elizabeth. She seemed uncomfortable. She hardly looked at me and was atypically quiet. But she was so beautiful. Without doubt I was in love with her, and even if she could never love me in return, I wanted her to feel comfortable in my home. "Would anyone like some water, or juice? Or, um, let's see, I just bought some grapes. It isn't much, but..."
"No, thank you, I'm fine," Jane said softly.
"Nothing for me!" Chad said.
But Elizabeth remained silent.
"May I get you anything, Elizabeth?"
"Some cold water would be...nice." She finally looked into my eyes.
I stood, and on impulse I extended my hand to help her stand. "Would you like to come with me to the kitchen while I get it?" Wordlessly she put her hand in mine. She only nodded or said yes when I asked about the size of glass and whether she wanted ice and if she wanted it filtered or just from the tap. As soon as she raised the glass to her lips, I took my opportunity.
"Elizabeth, I'm sorry about that day when you came to my door. I was...well, I was feeling sorry for myself, and I'd been thinking about you all day and I couldn't believe you were really here, standing in front of me, and I didn't know what you wanted me to say. Or what I wanted to say to you. My brain and my tongue just wouldn't cooperate, and I..."
I felt her hand on my arm, and realized that I'd been speaking without pause, and without looking at her. She smiled at me tentatively, with a hint of sadness still in her eyes, and said, "You have nothing to apologize for."
"Well, I was rude."
"No, Will, that wasn't rude. Not considering what I'd done the day before."
"That's pretty generous."
Of all the possible emotions, laughter won. I couldn't help chuckling as I replied, "I must have made a terrible impression on you. It is my fault for behaving so badly."
"It is not your fault." I could see unshed tears in her eyes.
"Elizabeth, I am sorry for all the negative things in our past. I would really like a chance to change them--to make them right."
With the tears still glistening in her eyes, she nodded her head faintly, and opened her mouth as if to speak. Just then Chad burst into the kitchen, yanking Jane along behind him. "Come to think of it, I will have some water!" he said, a little too enthusiastically. I suspected he was "saving" Elizabeth--although I have no idea what he thought I was doing to her.
They stayed for maybe five more minutes, but before they left Elizabeth smiled at me three times. Perhaps she was only expressing relief that the Wixom episode was behind us, but I almost thought I saw something more there. The next evening I called her. (Actually, I dialed once, then hung up before it began ringing, then paced around the room, dialed and hung up again and paced more, and finally dialed again.) Our conversation was a little awkward at first, but we both relaxed after a couple of minutes. I discovered a side of Elizabeth I'd never seen before--accepting, encouraging.
I took things very slowly. I decided to act as though our months-long history hadn't happened; after all, she really hadn't known me, she only knew the version of me she wanted to see. I never used Chad and Jane as an excuse to see her again; when I thought we were ready, I made plans with her myself. I drove to Provo and spent an evening with Elizabeth in her little garage apartment, surrounded by her art and books, sitting on her furniture, cozily embraced by the tight quarters, eating broccoli. Yes, broccoli. She was determined to make me like the stuff. I was determined to spend time with her and convince her to fall in love with me, even if I had to eat broccoli to do it.
I was still sitting with my empty bowl after Wes and Joy had finished and Elizabeth had tidied up the kitchen. She came and sat next to me at the table. "Are you going to be late?"
"Who cares? I'm the CEO. I can show up whenever I want."
She laughed. "How many times have I told you that? Now say that bit about leaving."
"I can leave the office at 5:00 like the rest of the day shift."
Her jaw dropped in feigned surprise. "Why, Mr. Darcy, you do listen to me, after all."
I took her hand in mine. "More than I let on."
"What's that big sigh all about?"
"You are like wonder woman or something--keeping yourself, this house, and three kids running without a hitch. Wes showed me his Halloween costume upstairs. You made that?" She nodded. "And Meg's princess dress? And how do you have time for a craft fair?"
"Yeah...well, they needed someone to be in charge of booking the hall and organizing clean-up and renting out individual booths..."
"That's what I mean, precisely. You do all these things and I'm just a total loser who doesn't even know where the diapers are upstairs." She grinned. A genuinely happy grin. It would have warmed my heart, if it didn't seem the totally wrong reaction. "Why are you smiling at my ineptitude?" I asked. "Are you glad to see I'm still as incompetent as I was when we were dating?"
"Will, honey, you're comparing your weaknesses to my strengths."
"It would be the same as me saying, 'Look at me, I can't even change this oil filter. And Will runs that whole company by himself!"
I couldn't help chuckling. "Those aren't even the same thing."
"But don't you see, Will? That's just what you're doing. Why should you be able to run this house? That's my job. I can't do yours, either. If you could do everything around here, what would you need me for?"
A moment of pure understanding. I took her face in my hands, and said, "I do need you, Elizabeth. You make me whole. I need you so much."
She pressed her lips together tightly and blinked hard, like she was trying not to cry. "Are you going to go run the company today, or do you want me to try?"
I kissed my wife long and hard before I left for work.
With the Wixom misunderstanding resolved and a fresh start to our relationship, I was hopeful that I'd be able to convince Elizabeth to fall in love with me. However, my father threw a wrench into my optimistic plans. Not that he objected to her; we hadn't even really met one another's families yet, but I suspected he'd be as charmed by her as I was.
No, he had no clue about my feelings for Elizabeth or my determination to court her when he made his announcement. "William my boy," he said, with the widest smile on his face, "you're moving up. How would you like to run the print shop by yourself? No more managing while I hold the strings--just you!"
"But..." I sputtered, "...but Dad you're in great health, and you're really too young to retire. You're not retiring are you? You said you'd hang around until you were 70, and even then we'd probably have to kick you out..."
"You know how we've talked about expanding to the west coast? Getting all those printing jobs out of L.A. and Seattle? I found a place in Spokane that I think will be perfect once it's fitted up, and I want you to run it, my boy." I could see plainly on his face that he considered this the very best opportunity anyone could ever receive.
And I could only think of Elizabeth. "Spokane? Me?"
"That's right! Spokane. You. I was going to start fitting up the shop today--ordering presses and paper--but I figured you might want to do that. You know what sort of business you want to draw, after all." He beamed at me.
I groaned inside. Spokane. Alone. For two days I wrestled with my opposing instincts to (1) accept the new position gratefully, and (2) tell my dad to shove it in his ear and spend all my non-work time with Elizabeth. I could see merit to both plans. I drove to Provo directly after work on Friday afternoon and went straight to Elizabeth's apartment. Before I could think of a way to broach the topic with her, Chad and Jane arrived unexpectedly. We ended up leaving a minute later with them to see a movie and then out to dinner afterward, when I really longed to be alone with Elizabeth, to talk to her about everything. It was too early yet--our relationship was still too young and too tenuous for me to make any declarations, but at very least I hoped to be able to discern a little of what she felt for me. Which I would only be able to do if I could speak to her about it...
"So, Will, what's new with you?" Chad asked casually, not even taking his eyes off Jane.
I gulped and introduced the subject. "My dad is opening up a print shop in Spokane. He's asked me to be in charge of it."
"That's great!" Chad gushed, clapping me on the back. "What's your title? I mean here you're general manager. Are you moving up to CEO in Washington?"
Before I could answer, I heard Elizabeth's voice. But it was very quiet. "You're moving to Spokane?"
"Within a week or two--he's actually buying an existing shop and expanding it, so it will be ready to go...soon."
My father asked me to leave two weeks later. Two frenzied, hectic weeks later. Two weeks with no personal time. But I decided I was going to Provo Friday night before departing. Definitely going to Provo--I wanted to connect with Elizabeth if possible, to see if I could call her while I was away, if I could see her when I came into town. If I could make everything between us as right as it had always felt to me.
We never got a chance to be alone. We never talked about what was behind, nor what lay ahead. When it was time for me to drive back to Salt Lake, she gave me a loose, short hug and wished me a safe flight before turning away.
That was the first night I ever in my life cried about a woman. I could see Elizabeth's emotionless face in my mind--could see the eyes that looked at me emptily, the lips that barely even said goodbye, much less smiled or frowned or showed any sort of remorse that I was leaving. I was head over heels for her, and she didn't even care that I was moving 900 miles away. Couldn't even be bothered to wish me good luck. Never said she would miss me. I was glad I was alone in my car when the tears started falling.
The satisfaction I felt about being the big boss at the new press didn't mask the emptiness in my heart. I muddled through my days competently enough, but at night, when I went to my bare apartment and ate my take-out or warmed up a can of something for dinner, I ached to be with her. I wanted to see her face, to feel her arms around me, to share my ups and downs, to listen to hers. I no longer wanted to be alone--ever again--and the woman I wanted to share it all with didn't even care. I tried to focus on her encouragement rather than her emotionless farewell when I called her to assuage my loneliness; she laughed and joked and listened and made me miss her even more. Somehow I couldn't tell her how much I wished she were with me--instead I basked in her attention, her voice, and her happiness, and I let them fill me. And I called her whenever I needed filling again, every few days.
After two full business weeks in operation I flew home to report to my father. But it wasn't my father I wanted to see. Chad picked me up from the airport, and Jane and Elizabeth were with him. As soon as I saw her standing there, in the same state, in the same room, nothing else mattered any more. I didn't care how lost I was, it was worth it to fly back to Utah just to see her smile and sit next to her--whether she cared about me or not.
She did smile. The smile was so big, I wondered what had made her so happy--I had never seen her that way before. I even looked behind me to see if she knew someone else on the flight. But no--she walked toward me. With every step closer her speed increased, until she was almost jogging. I barely had time to drop all my bags on the floor before she had thrown herself into my arms, embracing me tightly. "Oh, Will, I'm glad you're back," she said, with her arms around my neck and her mouth next to my ear.
I couldn't even speak--my heart was breaking and mending at the same time, and tears had leapt into my eyes. I just held her close to me, feeling her breath on my skin and her back under my fingers. I was in heaven, filled with hope.
Chad and Jane walked much more slowly, and were now standing beside us. "So, Will..."
Elizabeth loosened her grip a little so she could look at Chad and Jane, but kept her arms around me. I could hardly breathe.
"...do we take you to the old homestead now, or do you want to hang out with us for the evening?"
"Is Elizabeth hanging out with you guys?" I asked
Jane said, "Yes," Chad nodded, and Elizabeth turned and smiled into my eyes. Her face was close to mine and I wanted to kiss her. I almost did.
"I'll go where she goes," I said, looking only at her. I couldn't stop myself from opening my heart up like that--I couldn't veil the truth. I needed her more than I needed food or water or air, and to soften it or deny it felt like holding my breath or starving myself.
She turned very shy. She dropped her gaze to the floor and awkwardly removed her arms from my neck; but even with her face turned downward, I could see her smiling. I reached out and took her hand; she intertwined her fingers through mine, and she never let go. She looked everywhere but at me, but she held my hand tightly and never let go.
We stopped at a sandwich shop and picked up dinner, then drove up a small canyon and found a place to park and spread a blanket. I couldn't concentrate on anything Chad or Jane said--Elizabeth had to nudge me whenever they were expecting a response. After a few minutes, she even began helping by rephrasing the question, so I'd know how to reply. At the same time, I couldn't tune out anything Elizabeth did--every word, every breath, the way she folded the paper around her sandwich, the way she leaned toward me when she spoke, the way the breeze blew her hair--all these sensory stimuli and more crowded into my brain. I couldn't let them go. I wanted to gather each one and store it permanently into a mental scrapbook.
I didn't even notice when Chad and Jane left or where they had gone, but I didn't miss a detail about Elizabeth finishing her sandwich, discarding her trash, or standing to stretch her legs. "Do you want to see what's down one of these paths?" she asked
"Absolutely." I stood and pulled her hand into mine. "Which one?"
She smiled. "I'm not sure. They all look the same from here. How about..." She pointed at a few of the different paths while she appeared to be silently reciting something. She ended with a path to our left. "...that one?"
I followed her toward the chosen path. "What was that all about?"
"That pointing thing you did?"
"Oh, one of the many choosing rhymes I learned as a girl."
"Yeah. There are dozens of them. Sort of like eenie, meenie, miney, mo."
"Do you make all decisions this way?" I asked jokingly.
She looked at me with mock solemnity. "Only the most important. Trivial matters I feel comfortable leaving to chance, but one must have a reliable method for making the essential decisions, don't you think?"
I laughed; it was all I could do to keep walking and not pull her into my arms.
The path we chose led uphill, as all of them probably did--we were in a mountain valley, after all. At first the slope was gradual and we were able to converse unaffected. After a few minutes it grew so steep that we were both short of breath. "Do you want...to go back...and find a...another path?" I panted.
"Wimp." Her eyes flashed amusement. "Think about it. Paths don't grow. There must be something worth seeing at the end." She wasn't panting like me. Either she timed her speech better than I did, or she was in better shape.
Another minute proved her right. The trees started to thin and a forbidding rock wall 20 feet high appeared before us. "See?" she said, beaming. The path followed the base of the rock, and then climbed alongside it as it curved up the mountainside. Even Elizabeth couldn't talk as we scrambled up toward the top. This huge platform of rock with a flattish top jutted out of the mountain, and once we were atop it our reward was an unobstructed view of the valley below us to the west, and the red-orange sky of the setting sun. To the east and north we saw mountains bathed in soft, evening light. And to the south, a never-ending slope of pine trees and quaking aspens.
"Beautiful," Elizabeth whispered. She perched on the highest part of the bumpy stone surface. She took my breath away. Her face was flushed with the exertion of climbing, and it reflected the rosy glow of the setting sun. "Wasn't this worth the work?"
"I've never seen anything more beautiful," I answered, staring only at her. Her eyes were at the same level as mine. "I've missed this view for two weeks." I put my arms around her back and raised my lips to hers.
She put a finger over my mouth. "Hang on." In my disappointment I didn't notice she was fishing in her pocket. "Aren't you thirsty? My mouth is so dry." She pulled out a lifesaver candy, bit it, and slipped half between my lips. "That will help."
Every single thing she did--even giving me half of her lifesaver--made me love her more. I tightened my arms around her and softly began placing little kisses on her lips, so quick that she didn't have time to kiss me back. After several seconds her fingers were in my hair and she was pulling my mouth to hers, kissing me earnestly, holding me close with an arm wrapped snugly around my shoulders.
At first I concentrated on feeling her in my arms, on the way her lips moved, on the wintergreen flavor of our kiss. Then I was swept away by emotion. I'd certainly kissed a woman before--but never that way. Never had I felt as though I was giving a part of me to someone else; never had I felt such a connection, a pull and a draw. There was nothing outside that moment, that link, that kiss. Only Elizabeth and me. There was nothing more important that her acceptance. There was nothing more vital than her lips on mine and her tight embrace.
She pulled away and looked at me, with an expression in her eyes I had never seen before. "Do you kiss everyone like that?" she asked breathlessly. She was searching, watching, judging.
"I've never kissed anyone like that." Touching her soft neck and hair, I said, "I've never been kissed like that." The subtlest of smiles played upon her lips. "I didn't even know kisses like that existed, and I assure you my life will never be the same." And I'll do everything in my power to make sure yours isn't the same, either. I kissed her again. I tried to make her understand how much I had missed her, how I thought of her constantly while I was in Spokane, how I wanted to give my life and my heart to her. If her response was any indication, on some level she understood.
I had possibly the smoothest, most trouble-free day of work I'd had in years--probably because I couldn't get my mind off Elizabeth. I thought about her needing me as much as I needed her, and I was buoyed by her encouragement. And I was driven to distraction by her acceptance and affection the night before.
Though I had arrived later to work than usual, I left just before 6:00 and arrived home in time for dinner. I hugged the kids as I walked through the door and promised I'd be right back, then hurried to the kitchen. Elizabeth was facing the stove, concentrating on the meal, and didn't hear me come in. I slipped my arms around her waist and pulled her back into my chest. "Hello, sweetness," I whispered in her ear.
"You're home early!"
"I couldn't wait to see you again."
"I, uh, wasn't really expecting you. Dinner is almost ready, though. I just need to put some more beans in the pot. Or--did you already eat?"
"I figured I'd make it home in time."
"You did. Will you...uh...did you see the kids when you walked in?"
"Yup. They're all playing in the living room."
"Would you mind checking on Joy? Sometimes they forget about her, and she gets into mischief..."
"Sure. There's nothing I can do in here to help you?"
"Oh, no, I think I have this well in hand."
I was covered with children as soon as I reached the living room.
Megumi and Wes spoke simultaneously. "Daddy! You came home early enough to see me!" "Dad's home! Dad's home!" Joy merely babbled and toddled around my legs.
Hugs turned into wrestles and Daddy dogpiles, and before I knew it I was exhausted with three bundles of energy still climbing Mt. Daddy. "Dinner is ready." Elizabeth was leaning in the doorway, watching us. She was smiling and her eyes were sparkling, and my heart started pounding from something other than exertion. Meg and Wes jumped off me and ran toward the kitchen. Joy hurried to Elizabeth's arms. I was still an exhausted lump on the floor. "Did they wear you out?" she asked with amusement flashing in her eyes.
"They're going to try to talk you into round two after dinner, you know." She offered me her hand, to pull me up.
I stood, keeping her hand in mine. "I was thinking about a second round, too, Liz--but with you, not them."
She blinked as though in disbelief, and said, "Come on. Dinner's getting cool."
After dinner I read four books to the children while Elizabeth finished up the kitchen. Wes helped clear the table and Meg even loaded a few things into the dishwasher, but the bulk of the work fell to someone taller than they were. We got them into pajamas--well, mostly Elizabeth did--and listened to their prayers, and then we put them in bed.
I followed Elizabeth into the kitchen. "What are you going to do now?" I asked.
"Well, since the kids are in bed right on time, I figured I ought to hurry and wash the kitchen floor."
"Well, yeah. I can't do it during the day when Joy is awake, and this is my first chance this week." She got out a mop and began filling a bucket. "It won't take that long."
"Oh, no. You just go watch TV or something."
More than an hour later I walked back into the kitchen, which was scrubbed and drying, but Elizabeth wasn't there. I found her in the laundry room settled in front of a mound of laundry, folding. "Got sort of behind in folding the clean loads," she said without even looking up.
After another half hour of television, I discovered her in the sewing room with a number of open boxes around her. "I hadn't sorted out which clothes were too small for the kids since the end of last spring. I decided it was about time."
"Elizabeth," I said, "what are you doing?" Even I could hear the whine in my voice.
"I'm only doing the sorts of things I do every evening."
"What about me?"
"What about you?"
"Well, I'm here this evening. Can't you let some of these things go?"
Her voice was eerily calm as she replied, "Let them go why? Just because you're here?"
"And who would do them? You?"
"You could do them later."
Emotion began to rise in her voice. "So I should drop everything just because you have changed your routine tonight. Without warning, with no other reason than that you're here. And I should make another time to do all these things later. I should make time."
Though I tried to maintain control, my voice rose as much as hers. "What is so urgent about getting these clothes in boxes tonight?"
"You know what Will?" she said, with defiance sparking in her eyes, "I am avoiding you."
"But last night you said..."
"Last night I didn't have all day to think about my response. Last night I was trying to be polite and keep the peace. Tonight I'm being honest."
My head was spinning. For 24 hours I'd been riding the crest of a wave of bliss, almost giddy at the thought of spending time with Elizabeth again. In contrast, she was doing everything she could to forestall being in the same room together. "Why would you want to avoid me?"
"Because you're a stranger to me, Will. Do you know how uncomfortable it feels to get into bed with a stranger? You never spend any time here with us. Chad tells me more about your life and what is going on at work than you do. I don't expect you to do half the work around here, but it would be nice if you did something. How about tossing your own clothes in the hamper? How about spending some time with your children? It broke my heart this morning when Megumi asked if she could stay home because you're never here when she's awake. Doesn't it bother you, Will? Don't you care that your children hardly recognize you? That they've started calling Chad 'Daddy' because they see him more often?"
"They call Chad 'Daddy'?" I asked, stunned.
"Why wouldn't they? They see him three or four times a week. He reads to them and plays with them. And they hear their cousins calling him 'Daddy', so it seems natural."
"I read to them tonight," I said defensively. "I played with them while you finished dinner. They all seemed to know who I was."
"Thank heavens!" she said, rolling her eyes. "It's a good thing I keep all those pictures of you around." Her voice was undeniably sarcastic.
"Sarcasm isn't going to get us anywhere, Elizabeth."
"Why is it you don't see...? Forget it." She turned her back and placed the boxes on shelves.
"Forget what? There's no forget it now, Liz. We can't let this go."
"Like we've been letting it go for three years or more? I agree, Will. But we're going to have some trouble fixing it now, aren't we? Now that we're on our separate paths and hardly have anything to do with one another?"
That was the scariest thing I'd ever heard. Somehow it was different coming from Elizabeth than it had been hearing it from Chad. We're going to have trouble fixing it. How could I have been so blind? Here I was, thinking that our problems were solved--that she loved me and I loved her and that was enough--and she considered me a stranger and our marriage terminally troubled.
With a lump in my throat I took the few steps that closed the distance between us, and held her hands in mine. "Elizabeth, you said it yourself this morning--I need you. I couldn't survive without you."
"Yes you could, Will. I've even been thinking about that. You'd just start taking your clothes to a laundry, and you'd keep eating out every meal. You don't need me."
"Yes I do! Elizabeth, I need you! I need the children. You are the reason I do everything I do! Without you it would all be so...meaningless."
A single tear slipped out of her eye and rolled down the curve of her cheek. "And yet you manage to do it all without us every single day."
"I do it because of you. I do it so I can come home to you, and to Meg and Wes and Joy. I do it so we'll all have a home."
Elizabeth was crying in earnest. "You come home after the kids are in bed, and you leave before they wake up. You spend no time with them, Will--you don't even know what they like and don't like. You don't come home to them!" She sniffed, looked around the room for something, and wiped her nose on a scrap of cloth she found. "And all you want from me when you get here is a body in your bed. You don't talk to me, you don't share any of the burdens or blessings of running this house, you don't tell me anything or ask me anything beyond, 'When are we going to bed?'" Well, Will, I'm not going to bed tonight, so you feel free to turn in whenever you want."
Her words struck me like a physical blow. "Is that what you think? That I only want you to..." She stood, looking at me defiantly. "Liz," I said desperately, "I love you. Yes, I want you. Probably more than you know. But you're my best friend. You're my reason for growing up. You have given me everything good I've had in the last nine years. Am I an idiot? You say I'm a stranger, and I'm sitting here telling you that you are part of me, that I'm so connected to you that I can't even imagine my life... Do you know how often I think of you while I'm at work every day? How many times I have conversations with you in my head?"
With resentment she asked, "And do you think those mental conversations substitute for the real thing? Because you never talk to me Will. You're never here for our discussions over dinner and breakfast. I never know what's going on in your head."
"I was here for breakfast and dinner today," I began. I tried to keep my voice quiet, to calm down an eruptive discussion.
"One time! One day in three years! Tell me Mr. Darcy, how do you spend Saturdays? You golf! And then, even though you're 'not working'," she said, making the quote gesture in the air, "you run over to the press for 'just a few minutes, just to see what's going on.' And I'm wrestling three kids and trying to teach them how to vacuum and dust, and trying to let them experience the joy of childhood at the same time. What do you do on Sundays after church? You walk into your office, shut the door, and monitor everything that is going on down at the print shop on your computer! You leave me alone with a tired toddler and two starving children to make dinner. You breeze in and eat, then breeze out again leaving me to clean up everything, as always."
"As always? How many times last night and tonight did I ask if I could help you?" I could hardly control my own ire.
"Do you even know how? I've never seen you pick up a mop once in 9 years. Do you know how to clean a floor? And if you do," she continued hastily, not letting me answer, "why do you always let me do it? How about cleaning a toilet? How about wiping down the shower when you're done? How about loading your own dishes into the dishwasher on those rare occasions when you actually eat here?" The level of anger in her voice matched the pained expression on her face. "How about changing a diaper because you can smell that it needs to be done, instead of waiting for me to ask because I'm up to my elbows in dishes? How about tossing in a load of whites when you run out of underwear, instead of just informing me so I'll do it? How about offering to make dinner sometimes when I'm so sick of cooking I can't see straight? How about getting the kids in bed on the evenings I'm so exhausted I just can't climb the stairs one more time? Oh yes, I forgot, you're never here for dinner or bedtime!"
Her tears had abated temporarily in her anger; she stopped her tirade and looked at the floor, and then began crying again. "I signed on for a life partner, Will, for a hands-on father to my children. Instead I'm alone day after day and night after night, and I don't have anyone to talk to, to share duties or discipline with... Some days are just so hard. Some days I can't persuade the kids to do anything I ask them to, and my work is doubled, and then...and then..." She punctuated her sentences with sniffing and nose wiping. "...and then you get home and just make more demands after ignoring me completely."
I was still trying to make sense of everything she said, to glean from all her words what her most important complaint was, but it was evident my wife needed comfort. I pulled her into my arms. "Did you have a hard day?" I asked, rubbing her back and holding her close.
"Yes." She was stiff in my arms and barely even put her hands on me.
"What did the kids do?" I coaxed, trying to get her to talk.
She pulled out of my arms and looked at me with anger and pain again. "You just don't get it, do you? Today it wasn't the kids, it was you! Most of the time I can pretend that what we have is enough, that it is normal for two married people to see each other so little and to have nothing to say to each other. But today, I couldn't pretend. I couldn't convince even myself. And every time I looked at the children, I could only see three people I love dearly who nonetheless shackle me to you!"
This time it was I who had tears running down my face. "Shackle?" I tried to pull her back into my arms, to help her feel how much I loved her--needed her--wanted to fix things. "They bind us, Elizabeth, but no more than we're already bound. I'm yours forever. I love you--you are my past, my present and my future." She resisted my every attempt to embrace her. "I'm trying to apologize, to comfort you..."
"I don't want to be comforted. I've had enough of thinking about you and agonizing about you for one day, and I don't feel like I need to accept your hug to make you feel better!" She stormed out of the room, stopping at the door. Without turning to face me, she said, "I've had enough. Of all of you. For one day."
I heard the door to our bedroom close gently, for even in her anger she was cognizant of the sleeping children who would wake if it slammed. I lay on the sofa in my clothes, but I slept very little.
Though I had trouble sleeping, my thought patterns were not very clear. I replayed everything Elizabeth said over and over again without drawing any useful conclusions, without being able to feel anything but sorrow and pain. I could hear her saying We’re going to have some trouble fixing it now, aren’t we? over and over. I desperately needed reassurance, comfort, hope—and all of those things were locked up inside my bedroom, with Elizabeth. In fact, I didn't even know if I would find them there.
I fell asleep sometime after 3:00 am and woke again just after 6:00, unsure what to do. Elizabeth would be rising at any moment and I had to talk to her. And say what? What would I see in her eyes when she looked at me? How would we face our children with all that stood between us?
I sat on the sofa, wrapped in my own thoughts in the early morning silence. I heard the shower running. The time has come, I thought cheerlessly.
Our bedroom door was unlocked, as was the bathroom door. I had variously thought of brushing my teeth, shaving, or changing my clothes, but once my hand was on the doorknob I knew there was no turning back. I stepped into the bathroom, cleared my throat, and began. "Elizabeth, I, um... You don't have to respond or stop what you're doing or anything, but, I...I...I have to say something about last night. I..." Thinking about it for five hours straight hadn't given me the slightest clue about what I should say. I saw her soaping her hair through the translucent, textured glass, and I wondered if she was even listening. "I guess I want to say that I'm sorry. I love you, and I'm sorry. I... You, and Meg, Wes, and Joy, mean everything to me." Tears formed in my eyes and began running down my cheeks. "I love all of you. I'm sorry that I haven't been able to...able to...show you that." My voice cracked as I said, "I'm sorry you've felt alone, Liz, because we're always together in my heart."
I blew my nose and dried my face; Elizabeth continued with her shower, but was otherwise silent. "I think I'm going to..." My first inclination was to say I was going to get ready and go into the office, but I remembered her words too clearly to allow myself to do that. "I'll go in and get a piece of toast. Can I start anything for breakfast?" I asked.
Her voice was small; I could barely hear it. "No. I'll be right out."
"Should I wake the kids?"
"It's still too early," she said.
"I'll be in the kitchen, then."
I took a shower while she woke the children and put breakfast together. Elizabeth and I were both silent while we ate, but the kids chattered happily. Perhaps they didn't notice anything amiss, even though Elizabeth never looked at me once. When Meg ran out the door for the bus, I wondered what to do next. Stay and talk? Leave for the office? "I'm supposed to go and look at the hall for the craft fair this morning." Elizabeth had walked into the room, avoiding my gaze by picking up a few toys and tidying cushions on the sofa.
"And I should get to work," I said.
"Busy day?" she asked with her back to me.
"Not especially. Do you want me to stay with Joy and Wes while you go?"
"Oh," she said very softly, "no, that's okay." She turned and looked in my eyes, and I could see hers were a little pink and puffy from crying. "Jane's expecting them."
I nodded. "Well, I guess I'll be...going...then, huh? Is there anything else I can do for you before I leave?"
She smiled a weak, sad smile and shook her head. "No."
"Okay, then." I slipped on my jacket and checked the pocket for keys, then turned for the door. It was one of the most awkward moments of my life. For nine years I'd been kissing her before I left in the morning. For nine years, no matter how rushed I was, I hugged her on my way out the door. For nine years one of the last things I said before leaving was, "I love you." Now I felt I could do none of them. Everything--her silence, her body position, her facial expression--told me those things would be unwelcome. With a heavy heart, I opened the door.
I was halfway outside when I made a desperate resolution. I stepped back in, closed the door, and crossed the floor to my wife. Her arms were folded across her chest and her brow was furrowed. I placed my hands on the soft skin of her cheeks and looked into her eyes. "I love you." I kissed her warm, soft lips briefly, then put my arms around her. This time she also embraced me, resting her head on my shoulder. Maybe that was the right choice, I thought, relieved to have Liz in my arms.
I found it difficult to concentrate on anything but the past 12 hours as I drove to work; without even paying attention I made it uneventfully to the parking lot and walked mechanically toward my office, heedless of everyone and everything in my path. I would have walked right past Abby Reynolds, my personal assistant, if she hadn't pointedly called my name. "William!"
"Little distracted are we?"
"A little, perhaps," I said, sheepishly. "Do you need anything?"
"I just wanted to warn you Caro's here."
Caro--Caroline Berkley, our rep from Weyerhauser Paper Company. Always impeccably dressed, filled with a sense of her own importance. All other paper reps dealt with Chad, the VP of sales, and the individual account managers. Not Caro. She thought it absolutely essential that I be included in every meeting, every decision, every visit to our humble establishment. "Thanks for the heads up, Abby," I said, absently closing my office door behind me.
I sat at my desk, staring at a blank computer screen, mulling over my conversation with Elizabeth; a knock on the door roused me. "Come in," I called.
I checked my watch without noticing the time. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts I forgot Abby's warning until Caro popped her head into my office. "Do you mind if I interrupt?"
It took all my effort to stifle a groan. "Caro. Already time for us to stock up on paper?" I asked, rising from my seat and gesturing toward the chairs facing my desk.
"Now Will," she said in an intimately conspiratorial tone, "rumor circulating the shop is that the CEO is having problems in his marriage." She walked slowly across my office, swinging her hips carefully.
"Now where would everyone get an idea like that?" I asked, more than a little peeved.
"Well, you've been holed up in here for nearly two hours since arriving..."
Two hours? Has it already been two hours?
"...and you've been more serious than usual lately. Some even said depressed. Not to mention that you spend all your time from early morning until late at night here. That's not the behavior of a man who is anxious to be at home." She fidgeted a few seconds positioning her body in the chair.
I turned to the window. Have they all really noticed that? Paid attention to the long hours I spend here? Why didn't I see it? Why didn't I realize how Liz perceived it?
"Is it true, Will? Things aren't going well at home?"
I bristled at her invasive familiarity. "Marriage always takes work, Caro. But I'm more than willing to work."
"Yes, you've always been a hard worker," she said breathily, rising from her chair. "A workaholic. But sometimes, no matter how much work you do..." She sauntered around my desk to stand next to me, peering out the window as I did. "...things don't click. Sometimes it isn't worth the...effort."
She paused long enough for me to look her in the eye before she emphasized the last word.
"Sometimes you just need to start fresh, Will." She took one step closer.
I took two steps back. "Caro, why would I want to start over when I already have everything I want?" She opened her mouth to speak, but I hurriedly continued. "I am passionately in love with my gorgeous wife and three beautiful children."
Caro staggered backward, her jaw slack in disbelief. "I can't believe it, Will. It's her, isn't it? She's having an affair? She's the one who isn't willing to work..."
"It's nothing like that!" I snapped. Then, gaining control of my emotions, I said, "Caro, I...appreciate your concern, but this is none of your business. I am married to Elizabeth Darcy, and I will remain married to Elizabeth Darcy. The relationship that exists between you and me is strictly professional, and I will not speak with you about personal topics. They are none of your concern."
Caro took a few steps toward the door, then turned and faced me. She was a beautiful woman--thin, tall, flawless skin, flattering hair cut and color--but she still seemed so hollow and empty, so void of character. "Are you certain you know what you're giving up, William?" she asked, posing her body to its best possible advantage.
"Miss Berkley, I have given nothing up. I have everything I've ever wanted."
She stood in that spot a few moments more, until I said, "Good day, Miss Berkley."
"You have my number, Will, should you ever need it. You may call any time of day or night." She walked to the door, then winked at me before she pulled it closed.
I stood, fuming, for as long as I thought it took her to walk down the hall, then I pressed the intercom button. "Yes, sir?" Abby asked.
"Quit with the sir, Abby. May I speak with you in my office?"
"Right away, William."
Within seconds she was inside my office, shutting the door behind her. "I want you to call Weyerhauser and tell them that as of this moment they are assigning us a new sales rep. Give them Bingley's name and number as the liaison." Abby looked like she was suppressing a smirk. "And tell them if Caroline Berkley sets foot inside this building again, they lose our account."
She shook her head as she jotted something down on a clipboard. "She pressed your buttons this morning?"
"She picked the wrong day to ask for a private meeting, I'll tell you that much." I grabbed my jacket. "Abby, I'm not going to get anything done here. I'm going...out. I'll leave my cell phone on, but I'll only answer for you and Elizabeth. Only call me..."
"I'll only call if we really need you, but I suspect we can get along without you for one day." She put her hand on my shoulder. "I hope..." Abby had been my assistant for years, and was a sort of friend and confidante as well. We hardly ever saw each other outside the office, but we had an amazing working relationship. As she looked into my eyes I could see caring and concern. "I hope you have a good day, William. I'll keep the presses rolling."
"I know you will, Abby. Thank you." Thank you for understanding.
I needed to think. I yearned for comfortable, familiar surroundings, but I realized that, until I had my thoughts in order, Elizabeth and I would only continue to circle each other warily if I were at home. Nothing would be resolved. So I got in my truck and drove.
It was a beautiful day for the second week in November--cool, but not cold, sunny with a cloudless blue sky. I found myself driving up a familiar canyon. Less than half of the trees still had colored leaves clinging to them, but even the bare branches, stretching skyward, were calming. They seemed to mirror the feeling inside of me. I parked the truck and began to wander the leaf-covered path; as I ascended, the deciduous trees thinned and the evergreens grew denser. Huffing, I reached the stone wall and followed the path up the mountainside until I climbed atop the plateau. For many minutes I walked slowly over the surface, trying to pick out the bump where Elizabeth stood and kissed me, trying to gain strength and clarity from my memory of the moment I felt hope that she might someday love me, trying to rid myself of the ghost of Caroline Berkley. I sat on the hard rock and closed my eyes, feeling the sun on my face, imagining her passionate kisses and her arms around me. How had I won her heart originally? And more importantly, how could I do it again?
I returned to Spokane after a weekend with Elizabeth. For all my intentions to report to my father, I hardly even saw him--I spent my time far more productively. I had instructions to call Elizabeth every evening and to eat broccoli at least three times a week to remind me of her. As if I needed reminding of the one person constantly in my thoughts.
For the next month it continued the same way--two weeks in Spokane and nightly phone calls, one glorious weekend in Utah, two weeks back in Spokane. I wondered what, if anything, would be different if we lived in the same state, less than an hour apart; would we see each other daily? Would she be more serious about me? Would she be in love with me? Would she be dating other men as well?
But at the end of that month, my father had another surprise for me. "William my boy, I'm giving Spokane to James," he said over the phone, with no preamble.
"You're...what?" I couldn't even catalogue all the emotions that were flying through me. I was proud of all I'd accomplished; I was disappointed that he was taking away my shop after such a short time; I was angry about my father's interference and control; and somewhere, under all that, I was thinking of Elizabeth.
"I'm giving it to James. I have something much bigger for you."
"You want me to move home?" I asked. My tone was disrespectful and belligerent--meant to express my anger and disappointment, and mask my desire to move back and be closer to Elizabeth.
"No, I don't want you back here. I wanted you to prove yourself--you and I both needed to know you could handle this."
"Handle what?" I asked without patience.
"You're going to Japan."
My father had spent two years in Japan as a young man. He made a number of friends, but through all the ensuing years had maintained a relationship with one man in particular--Mr. Tateda. They kept in touch sporadically through Christmas cards, infrequent emails, and the occasional visit. Mr. Tateda was, for lack of a better term, an information entrepreneur. He kept his focus on America and, with a first-hand knowledge of his own people and Japan's economy, licensed and translated promising intellectual and economic ideas. He had his hand in no less than 15 different businesses, most of them very successful. For years I had been encouraging my father to partner with him, to set up a shop in Japan that would handle his vast array of printed materials as well as local printing business.
My voice trembled. "Japan?"
"I couldn't give the opportunity to anyone else, son. This has been your baby all along, and I think the time is right. Tateda San and I have been discussing it for more than a year now, and it has incredible potential. I don't think I could trust anyone else there to set it up and run it. Japan is yours, my boy."
My head was spinning. Later I thanked my lucky stars for a habit of doodling while listening on the phone, because I found all the pertinent details about living arrangements, expense accounts, salary, schedule, and location on a pad of paper on the kitchen counter. I remember ending the conversation without committing to anything. For the moment, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. It was an excellent opportunity for me.
And it was an ocean away from Elizabeth.
I spent a sleepless night and a totally ineffectual day thinking about everything. For the first five hours or so I squashed my niggling doubts and told myself over and over again that this was too good to be true, that it was exactly what I wanted, that I should call my father and say yes.
But after five hours, the doubts still niggled; so I confronted them, and I discovered the root of all my discomfort was Elizabeth. Just when I found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, just when things were going well, just at the fragile beginning of a true relationship, I was leaving for a different continent. It would be the end of everything we'd built together.
I was shocked as the hours continued to pass; not only did I gradually decide that I didn't want to leave her, I came to believe that she was more important to me than any career opportunity no matter how amazing. She was everything I wanted. I couldn't leave her. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to turn my father down.
By early afternoon I was out of my mind. I had no solutions, and no hope of finding any on my own. Impulsively I packed a small bag and drove to the airport, distractedly parking in the expensive short-term lot. I walked inside the terminal and up to the first counter I saw, heedless of which airline it was. "When is your next flight to Salt Lake City?" I asked.
I arrived in Utah at 7:45 pm, and hailed a cab for the long ride to Provo. I could have called any number of friends or family members to pick me up, I could have borrowed a car from my parents, but I was thinking single-mindedly and none too clearly. I arrived in Elizabeth's driveway in pouring rain just after 9:00 pm. No doubt her parents' house was illuminated, but I swear I didn't notice it. I had tunnel vision, and I was focused on the light spilling out of the windows above the garage. Elizabeth was home, and my tension started to fade.
I climbed up the wood stairs to her door and knocked, my heart almost bursting with anticipation. She opened the door the few inches the chain would allow. "Will!" She quickly unchained and threw the door wide. "Will!" She was smiling from ear to ear--the most gorgeous thing I'd ever seen. "You're wet! I didn't expect you...when did you get here?"
"About a minute ago."
"Well, come in and..." She knit her brows in consternation. "...we'll find somewhere to dry you off. Sorry I don't have more space, I..."
She was pulling me inside her little apartment, taking my bag.
"...I don't even know what to do with myself in the winter when I come home wet. I usually undress in the bathroom. Then again, I usually have clothes to change into."
She looked into my eyes, and everything suddenly made sense. I knew exactly what I needed to do, and for the first time since my father's unexpected pronouncement peace washed over and filled me.
"I suppose you have clothes in that bag, too, though, huh?" she asked, smiling.
I held her face in my hands and I kissed her. She traced her fingers down my cheeks but otherwise kept her distance because of my wet clothes.
"I'm glad to see you," she said, "but you didn't tell me why you're here."
"I needed to talk to you."
"You needed to talk to me, and you came here instead of calling?"
"Well, do you want something warm to drink? Have you had dinner? Here come sit..." She pulled my hand, and then remembered my damp shirt. "Oh."
"May I use your bathroom?" I asked.
"Sure. Just toss your wet stuff over the shower door and it will eventually get dry. I hope." She winked at me.
When I came out of the bathroom in a dry shirt she had a mug of warm vegetable soup for me; she was grinning as though it was some huge joke to give me vegetables. I took a sip. "It's delicious, Elizabeth."
"Oh, yes, I'm sure," she said, taking my hand in hers and leading me to the loveseat. "Now tell me what was so important."
I was amazed at the difference in my whole psyche, just because I was with her. Just because I was sitting next to her on a loveseat, sipping at a warm mug of soup she'd made. Just because my shirt was hanging in her bathroom, as though I belonged in her home. I took a few more leisurely sips, staring into her eyes, before casually explaining, "My dad wants to send me to Japan."
"Wow! For business?"
"Do you speak Japanese?"
"I didn't think so. For how long?"
At this point I began to get mildly nervous. "I don't know, Elizabeth. He intends for it to be a long time." Her face fell. "Months, perhaps a year or more," I continued.
She blinked quickly and looked away--at the chair across from us, at the picture on the wall. And she didn't look happy. "Oh," she said quietly. She looked down at her own lap. "Sounds like...an amazing opportunity."
"Yes, it is," I said.
She nodded and remained quiet.
"What do you think about it?" I asked her.
"I hope you...enjoy yourself. That you enjoy your work, that is...that you'll be glad you went. I, uh...I..."
I carefully set my mug down and reached for her chin, to tilt her face toward mine. She blinked several more times before voluntarily shifting her gaze to my eyes. "I haven't accepted my father's offer yet."
"But would you be foolish not to do it?" she asked.
"Yes." Again she blinked and looked away; I let go of her chin and grabbed both her hands, shifting nearer to her. "But I'd be even more foolish to leave you now."
Her eyes darted back to my face, her eyebrows knit. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I won't leave you. I've been thinking about it for 24 hours straight, and no matter how good this opportunity is, I can't voluntarily separate myself from you."
She swallowed visibly. "William, you can't give this up for me! Can you? I mean, why would you? I'm just..."
"You're just the woman I love. " That much slipped out; I screwed up all my courage and set aside my nervousness in order to keep going. "You're just the person I want to spend the rest of my life and forever with. You're just the most amazing person I've ever known."
Elizabeth was looking at me in wonder and confusion, her mouth hanging open. I did the only thing I could under the circumstances: I kissed her. It was amazing. I had never experienced the freedom and emotion of kissing someone who knew--knew--that I loved her. For once my intentions couldn't be misinterpreted.
I held her in my arms and said, "I want you to come with me."
She sighed and rolled her head backward. "I can't come with you! I can't afford to live in Japan! I don't speak the language, I'd never find a job...it isn't like my parents would just send me money every month to live in a foreign country, you know."
"I know you're not going to suggest I live with you. William Darcy, neither one of us would do that! And you must be equally sure I'd never just let you pay for me to..."
I chuckled, and it surprised her into silence. "I'm afraid I didn't say exactly what I meant." I took her left hand in mine and sat up straight. "Elizabeth Bennet, will you marry me? Will you come with me to Japan, as my wife? Will you let me spend the rest of my life by your side?" I slowly reached up and touched her soft cheek. "Because I love you. You make me whole."
I had never proposed to a woman before, but somehow I still had expectations. Specifically, I expected an answer of some kind--I hoped for acceptance, I realized refusal was a possibility, and I figured some discussion would follow no matter what the reply. Instead, Elizabeth stared at me silently. It was obvious she was deep in thought. At first I allowed myself to enjoy her intent search of my features. I commanded all of her attention, for once, and she didn't look pained or disgusted.
But as the seconds ticked by and started stretching into minutes, I couldn't help but grow increasingly anxious. "Liz, sweetheart, you're making me nervous," I said.
Half her mouth turned up into a smile. "No one calls me Liz. Only you."
"Well, your lips are moving and words are coming out--that is an improvement, at least. You did hear all that stuff I said, right?"
"You asked me to marry you," she said, her voice as soft as her very slight grin.
"Excellent. That brings us up to date. All that remains is the answer to that inquiry."
She looked thoughtfully over my shoulder for several moments before returning her gaze to me. "I can't."
My heart sunk down my body, out my feet, and into the garage below us.
"I...I like you very much, Will. Very much. But this is so sudden, I don't have an answer. I can't say yes, and I don't want to say no. I need to think, I need to envision what this all means."
She can't answer me. She didn't mean she can't marry me. My heart slowly began to climb back toward my chest.
"I'm sorry if that hurts you," she said, laying her hand on my cheek. "I don't mean to hurt you. I'm just not...sure. I hadn't really thought about it...I knew you liked me, but I didn't know you...had thought of marriage."
"I love you." I said the words that seemed to give her pause. "I love you."
"You love me," she whispered, as though trying a new phrase in a foreign language.
I wanted to pull her into my arms and kiss her until she forgot everything else but me, until she was convinced we were perfect for each other and belonged together. Instead I gently held her hands in mine and said, "I'll leave, then, so you can think."
"Where are you staying?"
"I don't know. Do any of the cars downstairs have comfortable back seats?" I asked.
She laughed heartily, and I could see her relaxing. "I don't think so." She walked toward her small kitchen. "How did you get here?"
"All the way from Spokane?" she joked, pulling something out of her purse.
"You bet. It was cheaper than filling up my truck with gas."
She laughed and flashed me the most gorgeous smile as she walked back toward me. "Do you want to stay with my parents?"
I had never even met her parents. I tried to imagine that awkward scene: Mom, Dad, this is my friend Will, who I like very much. He flew here today from Spokane to propose to me. He has nowhere to stay and no way to get around. I know he's a total stranger to you, but can he sleep here?
"No, darlin', I'll find a room somewhere."
She held out a ring of keys. "You can take my car."
"Oh, no, I can call a cab or something..."
Elizabeth closed the distance between us until our bodies were lightly touching. She slipped her keys into one of my pockets while bringing her lips to mine. "William, I'm not going anywhere tonight, and you're coming back here as soon as you're awake tomorrow. Take my car." I did take her car, but not immediately. It turns out that I was the one that got kissed senseless.
I slept deeply, but woke often--half hope, half anxiety. I rolled out of bed at 7:00, was showered and checked out by 7:25, and back at Elizabeth's by 7:36. I wondered if it was too early to knock on the door, and hesitated...for about 10 seconds. By then my curiosity was overwhelming. I heard Elizabeth's voice beckoning me inside, and I opened the door to an amazing smell.
"Good morning! Do you like pancakes?" Elizabeth asked. She was standing at her tiny stove, pancake flipper in hand, wearing her hair in a ponytail and blue satin pajamas that looked two sizes too big. She looked glorious.
"You sure?" She tilted her head. "That wasn't an enthusiastic response."
What could I say? I want to see you every morning for the rest of my life, just like this. I want to sleep with you every night. You take my breath away, and I want to come over there and take yours away.
She had a mischievous glint in her eye as she smilingly said, "They're whole wheat! Not from a mix!"
She is so completely under my skin, I thought, pulling her toward me. I kissed her ravenously, holding her head with one hand and feeling the lines of her back and the curve of her hip through the slippery pajamas.
When I pulled back she was breathing heavily, gripping my shoulders for balance. "I'm sure those pancakes are burned," she said, her respiration returning to normal.
"I'm not. Just let me cook one more batch, and then we can start eating."
She placed several pancakes on each of two plates for us, and we sat together at the kitchen counter to pray and eat. She was watching me intently; I cut my first bite and had it most of the way to my mouth when she pushed my arm back down. "Don't you have something to ask me?"
"Um...how did you sleep?"
She slapped my shoulder. "Not that...any other questions?"
"When was the last time you got an oil change? I think the sticker in your car said..."
"Not that either?"
She rolled her eyes.
"How about this then: Will you marry me?"
For a number of minutes the pancakes sat completely forgotten. "I love you," I told her as she settled back on her stool.
"I love you, too." She said it without any awkwardness or hesitancy, looking straight into my eyes.
"Oh, Liz, you don't have to say that just because I did..."
She held my face between her soft, small hands. "I'm not saying it just because you did. I'm saying it because I mean it. Eat. Seriously, take a bite." I raised my fork to my lips. "Will, I was up most of the night. At first my thoughts weren't very productive, but eventually I imposed some order. I made a long list of all the things that are important qualities in the man I marry. And then I thought about whether you fit the criteria. You know what? You do. The more I considered it, the more I realized you're everything I've ever wanted. So I shut my eyes and I let my heart go and I allowed myself to feel. Perhaps the love was there all along and I didn't realize it; in any case, I can tell you honestly that I love you and I want to marry you." She was saved from another kiss by my mouthful of pancake. "Now, how soon are you--I mean, we leaving for Japan?"
I swallowed and cleared my throat. "Um, four weeks."
"Four weeks? Four weeks?" She pulled out a calendar. "Four weeks?"
"And when shall we get married?"
Today. Right now. "Before then."
We settled on a date a little more than three weeks away. "Well Mr. Darcy, it looks like we have today cut out for us," she said, with an impish grin. "Let's see how much of this wedding we can put together in the next twelve hours."
Several hours sitting on the hard rock surface didn't make my future any clearer, but it lent some clarity to my thoughts; I focused on my love for Elizabeth and our children and resolved to do everything necessary to repair and restore our relationship. I scrambled off the rock and down the face of the mountain while mentally preparing my opening line, and I drove home as fast as the back roads would allow.
I arrived home 90 minutes before Meg's school bus was due--a good circumstance, I hoped; perhaps the other kids would be playing or napping and we could have some uninterrupted time to talk. I found Elizabeth dozing in her chair, holding a sleeping Joy. I tried to decide if I was going to wake her, knowing she might have slept as little as I had the night before. I stared at her, admiring her wavy hair, the color on her cheeks, her full lips. I noticed our baby girl had almost the exact same lip shape, and that they looked equally peaceful when sleeping.
Seconds later Elizabeth's eyes fluttered open and she saw me; her smile was genuine and full of affection, and my heart leapt into my throat. It faded from her face, replaced by a look of concern. "You're fried!" she said softly. "How did you get so sunburned? Did you go golfing?"
"No, I went up the canyon to sit and think. Sunscreen didn't even cross my mind."
"It should have," she said with a wry smile. "Does it hurt?"
"No." That much was true; I was concentrating on too many other things to notice the nerve endings in my face.
"I'll get you some aloe vera gel when Joy wakes up." She looked at me for a few more seconds and then, like a curtain falling, the discomfort of everything that stood before us descended. Her gaze dropped to the floor, and she began rocking Joy gently.
I knelt by her chair, never looking away from her face. "Elizabeth, can we please talk? Please?"
She glanced at me but didn't answer.
The urge to connect with her was overwhelming, and yet the barrier between us was almost palpable. I settled for placing my hand on the armrest of her chair, next to her elbow. "I never meant to abandon you. I've always seen us as partners, and somehow never realized that my absence left you here to do everything alone. I took you for granted. I've missed so much with the children." I paused to gather my thoughts, and I couldn't bring myself to look in her eyes; instead I stared steadily at the blanket wrapped around our sleeping baby. "Regardless of how it seems to you, I need you. I need the children. I need this house--it is a haven for me, a peaceful place when everything else is chaos. But mostly, I need you." I blinked back tears and stretched my smallest finger to touch her elbow. "You are my prop, Liz--my support, my buoyancy, my sustenance. My best friend." A tear rolled down my cheek. "My only love."
I heard a sniffle and raised my eyes to Elizabeth's face. Tears were running down her cheeks. I stood and grabbed the box of tissues from the bookcase next to her chair, gently wiping her face. "I will do whatever it takes to fix this. I must fix this. I don't want to make you cry. I don't want you to be alone or unhappy. Just tell me where to start." I put one hand on her shoulder, and the other on her face. "Just give me a chance," I begged.
She looked at me with fresh tears filling her eyes and nodded so faintly I was afraid I'd imagined it, and my soul filled with hope.
Author's note: This chapter is rated PG-13.
Elizabeth and I spent the weekend planning our wedding. I'm not sure if I even contributed meaningfully; I was so amazed and in awe that she had accepted me. Elizabeth Bennet--the woman I had admired, loved, and dreamed about--was going to be my wife in less than a month. She was holding my hand and choosing sheets for our bed, talking about our home and our kitchen and our dishes. She looked so happy, and I couldn't help but adore her.
For 24 hours we told no one of our engagement--no one, that is, if you discount all the sales clerks in the many shops we visited; but Chad and Jane and the Bennets didn't hear the news until Sunday morning when I arrived at church with Elizabeth. My parents had to wait until after church for a phone call. All were (needless to say) shocked, but none were disappointed. Mr. Bennet kept a close eye on me all through family dinner and asked several probing questions, but he seemed to be convinced, or at least resigned, by late afternoon; I think it was the glow on Elizabeth's face that persuaded him. I could see the love in her eyes when she looked at me, and it sent shivers along my spine. I believe he could see it, too.
Monday morning I flew back to Spokane to wrap up all I had been doing and begin the transition to new management. Elizabeth and I talked on the phone every night and oftentimes during the day, discussing details and making decisions. My parents met my fiancée and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for the first time the following weekend when we all went to dinner together. The following week passed in much the same way--a hectic last week in Spokane. I packed up the few things I had moved to Washington, drove back to Utah over the weekend, and had the following week to put together a wedding and prepare to leave for Japan--and to spend every evening with my lovely future bride.
The wedding itself was to be a very simple affair: a very small religious service with only our closest family and friends present, followed by an early dinner in the hotel where Liz and I would spend our wedding night. The extremely short engagement meant that extended family and distant friends and acquaintances didn't have the time to make arrangements to come to the wedding, which suited each of us just fine.
Our wedding day dawned clear and beautiful. Elizabeth drove from Provo to Salt Lake City early in the morning, planning to use our hotel room to get ready for the ceremony. I arrived first to check in, and I placed my luggage in the room before going to the front entrance to wait for her.
She wasn't dressed or ready yet, and still she looked radiant. She hugged and kissed me, I grabbed her suitcase, and we chatted excitedly as we walked toward the elevator. "Isn't it strange that it is just another day for everyone else?" she asked. "The people I passed on the freeway were driving to work, and it's our wedding day! Our whole life is going to change in less than two hours, and they'll just be sitting in meetings or cubicles!"
I opened the door to the hotel room and placed her suitcase next to mine. It was a large, beautiful room, and for a moment we stood in the entry, holding hands, staring. I heard a sigh from Elizabeth, and turned to see her gaze fixed on our luggage. I watched her for more than a minute, while her scowl increased. "Are you having second thoughts?" I asked, scared to death about the answer. "It has been an incredibly short engagement."
She looked at me, her expression absolutely impenetrable. "Are you?"
I held her hand tighter. "Absolutely not." I turned my whole body to face her. "I have never been more sure of anything in my life. I don't know how I managed to live every day before I met you, and I never want to go another day without you. I can't wait to wake up tomorrow morning beside you, and to know that you'll be with me every day for the rest of my life. I love you, Elizabeth." I ached to take her in my arms. "You are the air I breathe. If anything were to happen...to prevent... I want this. Marrying you today is the springboard for all my dreams. You are my future. I love you. I don’t want to lose you." I allowed myself one last look at her, one last time thinking of her as mine--my fiancée, my future wife. My Elizabeth. Feeling that my heart might split in half with the effort, through a throat dry as cotton I continued, "But I don’t think I could stand to see you unhappy, especially if I'm the cause. Do you want to postpone the wed...?"
Before I could even finish the sentence, she tenderly placed her free hand on my cheek and said, "I'm not having second thoughts, Will." She squeezed my hand, and I could see her countenance had lightened considerably. "This is what I want, too." She put her arms around me, almost tentatively. I pulled her close in a crushing embrace, thinking I might never let go. Though her vocal cords were stretched and her lips pressed into my chest, she said, "I love you." In my overwhelming relief, I kissed her with almost total abandon, senseless of the time and forgetting everything but Elizabeth.
Gently she pulled away. "We each have a wedding to prepare for, Will," she said with a knowing smile. "It wouldn't do to get distracted now."
The ceremony was simple, short, and beautiful; Elizabeth beamed and didn't shed a tear, but at the moment she was pronounced my wife I felt a few slip down my cheeks. She gently wiped them away with her left hand and pulled me to her for our first kiss as husband and wife. I loved the feeling of her ring around my finger and her hand clasped in mine.
We took a few pictures, went to the hotel for the meal and celebration with our family and friends, and then excused ourselves, leaving as our loved ones shouted encouragement and well wishes. With each step toward the room--our room--I became more nervous. I figured Elizabeth was nervous, too. I was excited to be alone with her, certainly, but everything had happened so fast and was so new. I wondered if I really knew anything about this woman who was now my wife, whose life was now permanently sealed to mine. I felt like a teenager walking toward the front door after a first date, knowing the father was looking out the window. I was nervous and exposed and vulnerable.
But when we reached the room, Elizabeth didn't hesitate. She looked at me with nothing but the deepest trust in her eyes. She kissed me and held me with no timidity and no reserve, her warm skin against mine. She touched me gently but thoroughly. She enveloped me and consumed me and filled me.
I cannot explain what happened to us that day. I know that it was different than anything I had ever seen it pretending to be. The passion I had seen depicted was nothing compared to the way my new wife shared her love with me. It was beautiful and pure and holy--meant for just the two of us, binding us in heart, spirit, and body.
I slept that night, for the first time, with a woman in my arms; as I felt her relax against me and heard her breathing become slow and regular, I marveled at the change a few hours had wrought. I had left the dependency of my childhood for responsibility, and brought with me this wonderful, soft, trusting, beautiful creature. I held my whole world within my arms--my mind, my heart, my life, my joy, my pleasure. Now the two of us together made one. Everything that would come, we would face together--supporting, sustaining, buoying, cheering, mourning, comforting. Together.
First I changed my working hours: I left home after breakfast every morning so I could spend time with my children at the beginning of the day, and I left work before 6:00 pm as often as possible so I could eat dinner with my family; after dinner I played with the kids while Elizabeth tidied up the kitchen, and I helped get them into bed at night. Saturdays, if I needed to go golfing with a client, I was home by lunchtime; and Sundays I stayed away from my home office after church.
It was an incredibly positive change for my relationship with my children. I reconnected with them and learned all about them--their favorite books and movies, which clothes they liked to wear, their bedtime schedule, and how quickly they learn. After just a week with the new schedule, I wondered how I'd ever allowed myself to spend so much time away from them.
I also was some assistance to Liz as the Thanksgiving craft fair approached--since I was home in the evenings and Saturday afternoons, she was able to spend time on the phone or on projects that needed her attention. But I was disappointed that, as days passed into weeks, my relationship with Elizabeth didn't improve as quickly. There was far less strain between us. We could talk comfortably, and even laugh together, about many things. Our list of topics grew as I became more familiar with the children and with all the things Liz was involved in, and as I shared what I was doing at work. But she didn't integrate me into the household routine; I functioned more as a babysitter than a partner. And although I wanted to believe that we were both trying, I still sensed that she used chores and responsibilities to avoid being alone with me, coming to bed after I'd fallen asleep and often waking before me.
Along with the arrival of Thanksgiving week came a feeling of urgency bordering on frenzy. Jane and Chad had invited our family to their house for Thanksgiving dinner, but Elizabeth still had pies, stuffing, a salad, and rolls to prepare. And every day some new snag regarding the craft fair had to be ironed out--not enough booths for vendors, not enough pre-Thanksgiving hours to set up, squabbles over booth locations, etc. As the week progressed Liz grew quiet and distant, which I sensed was her attempt not to explode at any of us for things that were happening elsewhere. But still I felt as though I was walking on eggshells.
Meg, Wes, Joy, and I had a great week, though; we read books about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower and we traced our hands and made them into pictures of turkeys like Meg had seen in other classes at school. Liz turned down my offer to help in the kitchen, but at least I was able to keep the kids happily occupied while she was busy.
Thanksgiving Day was an oasis of peace and pleasantness. Our children happily roamed all over their cousins' home playing, the food was delicious, and Elizabeth was relaxed and happy. She laughed with Jane while they worked in the kitchen. She put her arms around me and told me she was thankful for our family, smiling at me. My heart leapt. Long after we'd eaten our fill and the dishes were done, we sat snuggled on a sofa talking to Chad and Jane, watching as the kids ran in and out. It was a slice of paradise.
We even made it through the craft fair without much trouble; Elizabeth was gone for an hour or two at a time through the next two days, but her organizational skills had served her well. Everything was progressing smoothly. Saturday evening after the fair was over and the vendors had cleared their booths she stayed with the cleaning crew to clean up the building. She arrived home very late after the children were in bed, and fell into my arms, worn out with effort and relieved to have it over. She fell asleep almost instantly and slept in my embrace all night. I hoped that we had weathered the storm, and that Elizabeth and I were back on track.
If I thought the week after Thanksgiving--the return to a normal schedule, and Joy's first birthday--would bring improvement to our relationship, though, I was wrong. She seemed truly grateful for my help with the children and pleased with my schedule, but when we were alone she was still distant. We were friends, but not mates; parents, but not partners. I marveled at how she could be so close to me, lying in the same bed, and how I could miss her so much--yearn to connect with her in some meaningful way. For all ground I'd regained with my children, I could still feel something between Elizabeth and I, some barrier that remained.
The first Tuesday of December was uneventful. The presses were rolling, the schedule was full, and everyone seemed to be doing their job well--even cheerfully. I couldn't help noticing all the small Christmas decorations that were appearing on the cubicles. I sat in my office looking over some statistics, figures, and forms, staring out the window at the snow-covered parking lot, feeling a little bored. So I was pleased when I heard Elizabeth's voice outside my door. I rose to go out and meet her.
"Good morning, Abby. How are you doing? It's been a long time!"
"Hi, Elizabeth. I'm fine, thanks."
"Is Will in his office?"
"He is, and frankly he's looking..."
I had reached my open door, and had full view of my wife and my assistant. "Looking what, Abby?" I asked.
"Bored, William," she said without compunction. "Everything is running so smoothly today you have nothing to do."
"It's too true," I confessed, placing my arm around Elizabeth's shoulders and kissing her cheek. "Perhaps you can rescue me from this terrible tedium. Do you want to go to lunch?"
Liz's smile was strained. "I just came to talk to you for a moment."
I tried to ignore the apprehension that assailed me. "Well, step right in here, my darling, and let's have a word. Abby, if any calls come just take a message..."
"Oh," Elizabeth said uneasily, "that's not necessary, I just..."
"Sweetheart, I'm all yours for however long you need me." I pulled her into my office and shut the door behind us. "So how are you?" I asked, trying to keep the conversation light, willing whatever was coming to be inconsequential and routine.
Liz wandered over to my window and absently stared outside for a long moment before inhaling deeply and sighing. "I came to tell you...I mean, I wanted you to see..." I had walked over next to her, and she turned to face me. "Will, I'm going to Aunt Maddie's for a little while. I packed up the car this morning, we just pulled Meg out of school, and everybody is buckled in. I came by so they could all tell you goodbye."
Elizabeth's Aunt Maddie Gardiner lived 400 miles away in Colorado. Both Jane and Liz had always been close to her, almost as though she were their elder sister rather than Aunt. Liz had spent a lot of time with her in her teens, when Maddie's kids were young, and they stayed in close contact still.
"You're...you've packed the car and the kids, and you're leaving?"
Elizabeth dropped her gaze from my face, and then looked back out the window. "Yes."
"But why?" I asked. I gently held her shoulders and turned her toward me. "Why?"
"I just need to get away from here for a while, Will."
"Get away? From what? Jane is here. You love the house. Meg has school. What do you have to get away from?" And then the light bulb turned on. "Besides...me?"
She turned her head to look back out the window.
"Oh...Elizabeth, you're leaving me. You're taking the kids and you're..." I felt like my entire world was crumbling. This morning during breakfast I had looked around the table at my family--my family. This evening the table would be empty. Meg wouldn't give me a hug the minute I walked through the door, Joy wouldn't toddle over and grab my legs. Wes wouldn't be standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for his turn to run and leap on my back. Liz wouldn't be making dinner in the kitchen.
"Why?" I asked again; only when I heard my voice crack did I realize that I had tears on my face. "I know that I was gone too much, that I left you alone all the time, that I didn't know my own children; but I've been trying to fix it, Liz, honestly I have. I've cut down on my hours here, and I've spent time with kids, and I've..."
"I know, Will. I know you have. But still, there's just something that...something that holds me back. Like I can't find the real you--is it the guy who flew every weekend from Spokane and swept me off my feet? Is it the guy who left every morning before breakfast and came home at bedtime and ignored us? Are you the man who held my hand while I was in labor with Meg, not moving an inch for hours, telling me how much you adored me and wanted to meet our baby? Or are you the guy who arrived at the hospital a half hour before Joy was born and let Jane be my labor coach, not even bothering to come to my side? Are you this father who comes home and plays with the kids and reads to them from dinner until bedtime, or are you going to change into something else? I don't know how to trust you. I don't know where your heart is. I don't know if this is a phase or permanent."
She said it all so emotionlessly, almost coldly, and yet when I looked at her face I could see her forehead was pink and her eyes swollen. She had shed many tears during the course of the morning. I was so devastated I couldn't even reply.
"I'll help Meg keep up in school while we're gone. I think I can handle second grade work well enough, and I'll keep in touch with her teacher by email. Anyway, I need to get back out to the car--I shouldn't leave the kids alone any longer. Would you mind coming out there to say goodbye? We just got started, and if I get them out of the car and bring them in it will be another hour or more before we're on the road..."
I listened to the rest of what Elizabeth said without hearing, following her out to the car without paying attention to what I was doing. For the first time I understood what years of focusing on work had cost me. I was struggling to find some thread of hope to hang onto--something that would help me make sense of my situation and not drown in the feelings of helplessness that surrounded me. I unbuckled each of the kids and tickled and hugged them, then told them to be good and have fun at Aunt Maddie's; all the while, my heart was breaking. The back of the Tahoe was neatly packed, and much fuller than I would have expected for just a short stay.
I closed the door and walked Liz to the driver's door. "Please tell me you're coming back, Elizabeth," I begged. There was a long, long silence as she looked into my eyes. In a flash I remembered our wedding day, and that terrifying moment when I thought I had lost her before she was even truly mine. Again I felt the crushing, pounding in my chest and my words caught in my throat. I put my arms around her gently. "Tell me you're coming back."
"I'm coming back."
"And not just to pack your bags. Please, Elizabeth, this can't be the end. Don't come back just to pack up and leave."
She nodded slowly, sadly. "Not just to pack up."
The relief I felt was genuine, but small; still, as I had done nine years earlier, I assured her of the truth of my feelings. "I don't think I could live without you." I pulled her to me--a hug to bridge our separation--and then I kissed her lips softly. She placed her hands on my back, and she kissed me too, our first real kiss in weeks. And then, before I knew it--born of the powerful feelings within me--the kisses were no longer soft. I wish I could say I was trying to show her my love; instead, I was trying to find hers, to draw some solace from the contact, to lose myself in her. I was trying to convince myself that everything would turn out okay. I forgot my surroundings--the cold, the public nature of the parking lot, the children waiting inside the car, the reality of my wife leaving me--and I kissed her passionately. I didn't realize the kiss was something different to her until she pushed me away, her brows knit, pain and confusion in her eyes. Only then did I realize how selfish I had been, and how inappropriate my timing.
I felt defeated. "Drive safely, Elizabeth," I whispered, and she nodded her acknowledgement. "Call when you get there."
I watched as the car pulled out of the parking lot, carrying with it everyone that was most important to me, an unspoken "I love you" on my lips.
I thought, If no one is going to be there, why go home? I'd been eating take-out and staying long hours at work for a long time; how hard would it be to return to that schedule? Going home only to sleep, otherwise living at the office. I bet I could even find somewhere around here to sleep.
But when 6:00 rolled around, I had no desire to stay. I thought about stopping somewhere for dinner, about visiting Chad and his family, about going to the mall and doing Christmas shopping, but I drove straight home to our darkened house. I walked through the tidied rooms, sometimes finding a small toy or a book out of place. I gathered them all in my arms and put them back where I thought they belonged, marveling at how quiet and cold and empty the house seemed. There was nothing to hold my interest on television; after wandering aimlessly, missing my family, I warmed up a can of soup for dinner and ate it while looking through photo albums.
First I looked at our wedding album--the pictures of our closest friends and dearest family members, gathered with us to celebrate our marriage. Elizabeth looked gorgeous in her dress, and she was smiling. Her face radiated joy as she held my hand and looked at me. And now she's gone.
We didn't have much of a honeymoon, just a few days alone together before we left for Japan. Then again, perhaps our 18 months in Japan was a long, extended honeymoon--just the two of us and one long adventure. I flipped through the pictures of our flight to Tokyo and remembered all the stolen kisses in the airplane. We were such newlyweds, I'm sure we made everyone around us ill with our affectionate displays. Everything was so new and different when we arrived, we took pictures next to everything unfamiliar--the sign at customs, the vast parking lot of bicycles outside the airport, the small shrine outside the building, the train station. I laughed at the picture of Elizabeth flipping through her dictionary, trying to buy train tickets for Sendai.
At first we took pictures of every red gate and every shrine--and we saw many of them as we rode on our newly purchased bicycles learning about our neighborhood. We ate at (and took pictures of) every hole-in-the-wall restaurant anywhere near our apartment, and tried all the unusual foods available in the little convenience store at the street level of our building. Even after I started working with Tateda San setting up the new press, we still spent our evenings and Saturdays exploring the countryside, eating whatever they sold at roadside booths. We were absolutely inseparable, and all we needed was each other.
There were a few pictures from our quick trip home for Chad and Jane's wedding, followed by the pictures of Elizabeth with her friend Kaori--her first Japanese acquaintance, fluent in English and home all day with an infant daughter. She met Kaori at a small grocery store, and they connected immediately. Liz was charmed by Kaori's daughter Junko, and Kaori loved to have an American friend who was so eager to speak English and learn about Japan. Kaori taught Elizabeth how to cook Japanese food and tutored her in basic Japanese, and Elizabeth taught Kaori how to make tacos and pizza from scratch.
Next were pictures of Liz's first English class. Most people in Japan start learning English in middle school, and all seem to have a fascination with English words and letters. Elizabeth suggested that she should teach English classes at the press--both to help add to my employees' comprehension, and to give her something else to do during the day besides cook.
The months flew by as I glanced through the pictures. Elizabeth looked happy--happy to be with me, happy to be married to me--and my heart ached. I looked at the pictorial evidence of all we were able to fit into those months, because we spent every spare moment together. My whole world revolved around Elizabeth--waking up with her, coming home to her, calling her from work. I couldn't wait to leave work to get home to her. Sometimes I didn't even wait until the end of the workday. As Elizabeth's wardrobe and appearance began to change in the pictures, I remembered sleeping every night with my hand on her stomach, wrapped around her, amazed that she was carrying our first child. We were a family, and not just a couple.
The press was functioning well after 18 months, and it was time for us to come home to Utah. We moved into the condo I'd lived in before we were married, and Elizabeth made it feel like a true home. We explored less and stayed home more--we both knew the surroundings, and Elizabeth was only two months from delivering our baby--but we were still as wrapped up in each other as we ever had been. I still left work early to be with my wife. We went to childbirth classes and practiced relaxation techniques, and I stayed by her side as our baby was born. We named her Megumi--Japanese for "blessing"--because we felt truly blessed.
But gradually, slowly, and very subtly things changed. I spent more time at work, leaving Elizabeth at home with one, and then two children. Missing dinner for emergencies became missing dinner for important projects, and then missing dinner because I just needed to check something. And then it was habit. And Elizabeth never complained, though it didn't make her happy.
By the time her third pregnancy was drawing to an end, we seemed to have developed two different lives. Liz went into labor in the middle of an intense and problem-filled print run, and (even I can't believe it now) I stayed at the office "just a few minutes" to make sure everything was in order. Just a few minutes stretched into two hours, and when I arrived at the hospital labor was well progressed--almost complete--and Jane sat at Elizabeth's side, encouraging her and helping her. I felt so terrible, so guilty for letting a printing project take precedence over my wife and unborn child that I didn't even approach. I waited for an invitation from Elizabeth. The invitation never came.
I had already glanced through Meg's and Wes's baby photos and was just beginning with Joy's when the phone rang. I ran to answer it. "Hello?"
"Hi, Will. Just wanted to let you know we arrived safely. Sorry to call so late." Liz sounded tired, but cheerful.
I could hear commotion in the background, voices and laughter and shouting. "Was it a good drive?"
"Oh, you know, the usual...potty stops every 60 miles, hungry kids, squabbles. But we made it here in one piece."
"I'm so glad," I said, knowing nothing could be truer. One piece, undamaged, whole--I couldn't bear the thought of anything else.
"It's way past bedtime, but Uncle Ed will not let the kids calm down!" She sounded exasperated, but I could imagine a smile on her face, and her eyes sparkling in mock reprimand.
"Once they're asleep they won't stir all night."
The sounds on the other end of the phone grew louder, and I suspected Elizabeth was distracted watching some new fracas. I glanced over my shoulder at an album filled with baby pictures and realized anew all that was amiss and absent. "I miss you." The feelings were so strong they were almost overpowering, and yet I could no more than whisper it. I don't know whether she heard me or not, because her only reply was silence.
After half a minute, Liz said, "I won't keep you, I just wanted you to know we're here."
"Thank you for calling."
"I'll try," I said half-heartedly, knowing that the bed was too big and cold and the house too quiet to really sleep well.
"I'll talk to you again tomorrow, Will."
"I love you, Elizabeth."
There was a long silence, followed by sniffing. "Love you. Bye."
She hung up before I could even say goodbye, and if I knew anything about my wife of nine years she had made a hasty escape from the roomful of people because she was crying.
I functioned fairly well at work--any time my concentration lapsed, Abby covered for me. But each night I returned to the cold, empty house, waiting for the phone to ring so I could speak to the children about winter in Colorado and all their adventures with Mom and Aunt Maddie, and so I could talk, even briefly, to Elizabeth.
I had worked my way through all our photo albums several times, mostly in an effort to fill the void with images of the people I loved; but one night I was particularly stricken with the most recent years' snapshots of Elizabeth. She was still as beautiful as ever, but I noticed that sometimes her smile did not reach her eyes. Even worse, in some pictures there was a distinct air of discontent or sadness. The happy, unfettered woman from every Japanese picture was gone, and in her place someone who wanted to appear happy, but couldn't quite. I lay in bed a long time without sleeping, haunted by the pain in Liz's eyes. Pain mixed with strength.
I woke up with my heart pounding. It was only a dream, but it had seemed so real. Everyone was gone--Liz, Meg, Wes, Joy, all gone. At first I didn't know if they were just away from the house and would return, but the more I searched the more certain it became that I would never see them again. I woke up not knowing if my family was dead or alive--the sort of dream that you need to hold someone after, but there was no one to hold. The sort of dream that propels a father out of bed to check each of his children, but their beds were empty. I had never felt so alone in my life, and so unable to find comfort.
It was 2: 40 am when I dialed Liz's cell phone. It rang a few times before I heard her very sleepy voice. "Hello?"
I couldn't even reply for the sob that escaped my mouth.
"Will? Is everything okay?"
"No, Liz. Nothing is okay. Everything is wrong. I need you. I've never needed you so much, and you're not here. I need you to hold me. I need to know I'm important to someone on this earth. I need to hear the steady breathing of my children while they sleep, Liz, and no one is here."
"What happened?" she asked, worry clear in her voice.
"I had a dream, Liz, and you were gone, and the children were gone." Again my sobs hindered further explanation.
"I'm so sorry, Will. I'm sorry you had to wake up alone."
"I love you. I never want to wake up alone again. Liz, please come home. I need you. I need you." I caught my breath in a heaving sigh. "I need you."
"I'll leave in the morning."
"Really?" I asked.
I could hear she was crying, too. "Really. We'll be home tomorrow."
I don't remember the rest of what we said; none of it was important, and mostly we cried together on the phone. I think it is even likely that I fell asleep while she was still on the line, needing the comfort of her voice.
I didn't even go into the office that day; I knew they had 400 miles to travel, but I was so anxious to see them again I didn't go anywhere. I even found myself standing for long periods by the front windows, or wandering out to the garage to look for something--I don't know what. I was so relieved when they pulled into the driveway mid-afternoon, I ran to the car and unbuckled the children, helping them out after many hugs and tickles. "You have no idea how much I missed you guys," I said.
"And we missed you, Daddy!" Meg said with a crooked smile.
"Yeah!" Wes agreed. "Hey, where's my army guys?" he asked, running toward the house.
Liz stood stretching beside the car, watching the kids hop out and run to the house with an amused smile. I saw her there and my heart leapt into my throat. I didn't trust my voice to stay steady through anything I might say, so I just hugged her gently, relishing the feel of having her in my arms. She rested her head on my chest and wrapped her arms around me, and we stood embracing for several minutes without saying a word.
"I missed you so much," I whispered.
"I missed you, too," she said, and I heard her sniff.
I pulled her face up to look at mine, wiping a tear from her cheek. "I want to replace all this sadness in your eyes with joy, Liz. I love you so much. I want to be your best friend and your partner. I want to be strong for you, so you don't have to bear everything alone. I want to be here for you whenever you need me. I want you to be able to believe me and trust me."
She placed her head back on my chest and held me even tighter.
The afternoon and evening passed away in unpacking bags, sorting laundry, and getting them settled back into the house. I read to the children and we listened to their prayers and tucked them into beds, and walked down the stairs hand in hand. "What do you want to do tonight?" I asked her.
"I'm exhausted. I think I just want to go to bed," she said. So I led her into the bedroom and began changing into my pajamas. She brushed her teeth and then went to the laundry room; I followed her.
"What can I do to help?" I asked.
"Oh I was just going to toss this load in the dryer and put another load in the washer, and then come to bed."
I placed my hands gently on her arms. "Elizabeth, let me help you. Teach me what to do."
She smiled. "Let's do a load of light colors. Start filling with warm water, and we'll sort out just the kids' clothes for this load." It was short, just a few minutes, but we worked side by side. And then she really did go to bed--no extra jobs, no avoiding me. I lay down on my pillow, and Liz climbed in to her side, and then scooted next to me, resting her head on my chest.
I held her tightly, thankful that the house was no longer empty, and that I wouldn't wake up alone. "I'm so sorry, Liz. I have at least four years of I'm sorries. I had so much to think about while you were gone, and I realized how long I've been pulling away, how long I left you on your own. I hope that knowledge is power, and that I won't do it again now that I'm aware of it." She traced patterns on my chest with her left hand while I played with her hair. "When Dad died and I took over the press I didn't know how to balance my time; and then you were so incredible at doing everything here without me, I thought you didn't need me. At first I stayed long hours at the press because I felt like I had to, and then I stayed because I decided they appreciated me there, and I was unnecessary here."
"It wasn't only you, Will. Things like this are never one-sided. When your dad passed and your responsibilities increased, I wanted so badly to be everything you believed I could be, I stopped relying on you. I tried to carry both our loads, to be both mother and father until you adjusted. And then I grew resentful, and I took over the house because I thought I was the only one who cared. You were a visitor here, not an equal. The more you stayed away, the deeper my resentment grew, and the less I treated you like a husband when you came home."
"I want to be your husband. I want to be a good father. I want to see the happiness that covered you and permeated you when we were first married. Liz, can I make you happy? You are my everything. I want to make you happy."
She lifted her head to look in my eyes, and I saw the beginnings of tears pooling in them. "Will, you're my one shot. You're the father of my children. You're..." She took a deep breath and a single tear tracked down her cheek. "...the only man I've ever loved. I want to believe in you, and in the promises we made to each other, because I don't want to be alone." She placed her hand on my chest. "This is the only place I'll ever find a partner and a lover. This is the only family I'll ever have."
"I love you, Elizabeth."
"I love you, too."
I kissed her lips very softly, and she lay her head back on my chest.
"I was serious about the laundry," I said. "I want to help you when I'm here. I can do more for you, sweetheart. I can help with dinner, and dishes, and laundry..."
She chuckled quietly. "I'd love it."
"The resentment is very old, Will, and I'll work on letting it go. It would be very nice to have your help when you're here."
"I can do it."
She plucked at the neckline of my t-shirt. "I know."
"I've already learned so much about the kids. I now know where to find the diapers upstairs, and I've almost figured out how to talk Wes into wearing different pants when his overalls are dirty."
She laughed--music to my ears.
"For a long time I stopped making you smile, Elizabeth. And then I started making you sad. Do you know what a relief it is to hear you laughing?"
"Keep talking like that, and next you'll hear me crying," she said. Her tone of voice was light-hearted, but I knew that she was serious.
"There is still so much to be said. We need to get the words and the tears out, so we can heal. I have a very absorbent shirt on for your convenience."
She laughed again, and sniffled.
"I love to have you in my arms, to feel you next to me. There were so many nights--too many--when we were on opposite sides of the bed. I couldn't even feel your warmth. You went to bed without saying goodnight. That's when I began to realize how much trouble we were in. I had almost forgotten what it was like to hold you. Even in your sleep you pulled away from me."
"I remember," she said softly.
"You were awake?"
The sniffling increased. "Of course. How could I sleep through that? You were so gentle. I had no idea if you even loved me anymore, and there you were, in the darkness and quiet, caressing me and nestling my body into yours. It felt so good..."
"I thought your cheeks felt wet--you were crying."
I kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry. I love you--I always love you--I didn't know you needed reassurance."
She looked at me, pain and strength mixed in her eyes.
"Oh, Liz," I said. "I'm so sorry. You've been so strong all by yourself. May I be your strength now?"
Her face crumbled as tears began falling freely.
"That's why we made love the next night, isn't it? Despite all you were feeling about me? Despite everything that stood between us?"
"I needed to know you cared," she whispered. "I didn't want to be alone. I needed a friend and a husband, even if only for one night."
I turned on my side and pulled her tightly into my arms. "You're not alone. You make me whole. You're the other half of me, Elizabeth--there is nothing you can do to get rid of me." I rubbed her back and caressed her hair, waiting for the storm to subside, regretting my failures and our self-perpetuating misunderstandings. "And the next morning you told me that our jobs fit together, and that we need each other...but then that night you said you didn't need me."
She looked into my eyes. "I never said I didn't need you. I never said it." More tears slipped from her eyes. "I only said you didn't need me."
"Yes I do."
She closed her eyes as the tears continued to fall.
"I need you like I need air and water and food. I need you like plants need the sun. I need you..."
She opened her eyes and said quietly, "As much as I need you."
"You fill me up, Liz. I'm not talking about meals or laundry here--I'm talking about the way I feel because I'm married to you, and because I know you're the person I'm coming home to at the end of the day. But you said I am a stranger to you...that we never talk and have nothing to say to one another... You said you were shackled to me."
Her eyebrows knit. "And you said we were bound--not by our children, but by our love. I like your explanation better."
"Do you believe that I love you?" I asked her.
"Do you believe that we can change? That we can fix everything and be happy together?"
"I want to believe it, Will. I have to believe it. We have too much behind us, and too much to lose. Love is too important."
We lay wrapped in each other's arms, talking; we talked for hours, until Elizabeth fell asleep on my chest mid-sentence. All night she slept with her arms draped over me, her head on my chest, shoulder, or arm, her warmth nestled into my side. I didn't move--it was worth the stiffness and aches the next day to have had Elizabeth by my side all night.
Author's note: This chapter is rated PG-13.
I continued amending my work schedule, and Elizabeth made a place for me in our home. My hearted melted when she smiled at me as I walked in the door, even if I knew I was shortly to be clearing up dinner dishes and folding laundry; with those tasks came the pleasant side effect of conversation with my wife--jokes, laughter, and love. For the first time in years I truly felt like a husband and a father, and I thanked God that I hadn't missed any more of my children's lives, that I hadn't continued to make Elizabeth cry.
Christmas quickly approached, and Elizabeth and I worked together to create a simple, meaningful holiday for our children. Often she sent me to stores during the day, and we stayed up at night wrapping presents and talking. We were partners, and our home was filled with joy.
The Friday evening before the week of Christmas was the annual Darcy Press Christmas party. In recent years I'd had a hand in planning the event, but with my newly shifted priorities I left it entirely to a committee of volunteers. Still, Elizabeth and I intended to attend what, since the days of my father, had always been a swanky party.
Our preparations mingled with our combined attempts to get the children fed and ready for a night with babysitters and their Bingley cousins. Of course, as always happens when parents are in a hurry, there were more than the usual number of mishaps--Wes arguing with Meg over the number of reindeer on our Christmas tree (as if either had ever counted), Joy spilling water all over her dinner plate and throwing spaghetti across the table, Meg bossing the other two in hopes that they could leave for the Bingleys' earlier. The final disaster occurred shortly after we had both begun to dress in our nice clothes--wailing that unquestionably signaled injury. I ran up the stairs two at a time to see Meg with her hands under her nose, catching the dripping blood. "Wes collided with my nose!" she howled. We tried to sop up the puddle in her hands with tissues, and then I carried her to the bathroom to wash her face and hands after the bleeding stopped; I also noticed blood on my shirt when I glanced in the mirror.
Desperate for peace I settled the kids on a sofa with a short video before I returned to finish dressing. "It's a good thing I have two of these shirts," I said over my shoulder to Liz as I peeled everything off my upper body. "Meg had a bloody nose, so this one is..."
I turned to see Elizabeth in a simple royal blue velvet dress, cut to perfectly show her beautiful body without being provocative or revealing. "You look stunning," I said. "Absolutely gorgeous."
She looked troubled as she took two steps closer, running her fingers over my chest and abdomen. "You're a handsome man," she said, placing the smallest of kisses on my chest. "Do you know that? You look just as amazing as you did the day we married." She ran her hands over my shoulders and back. "You're so...and I've changed so much..."
"You have the best @ss," I said, placing my arms around her.
"I looked a little different after Meg was born, but everything changed after Wes and Joy. And you're still the same..."
I raised her chin so I could look in her eyes. "Elizabeth, whatever you think might have happened, it changed for the better because I can't imagine any body more attractive than yours."
She snorted. "Will, magazines are full of them."
"Are you serious?" I asked. "Is it possible you truly don't know? Elizabeth, I love every centimeter of you--every freckle, every mole... You are so smooth and soft, and you're perfect."
"I have stretch marks."
"Stretch marks that came from bearing my children." I turned her around to look at herself in the mirror, placing my hands on her stomach. "You are so beautiful when you're pregnant. I love the way you look when you're carrying a child." I kissed her neck. "And I love the way you look now. I couldn't love another body if I tried--not after all the wonderful, amazing things yours has done. Not after the way we've loved each other." I kissed her ear and her neck, and she turned in my arms, pulling me toward her, kissing me until I was weak in the knees. "We don't have to go tonight, you know," I murmured in her ear. "I could drop the kids at Chad's and be back in 20 minutes."
She chuckled. "No, my love, I want to see you in that tux."
"I'll wear whatever you want."
"What you were just suggesting had nothing to do with wearing, and you know it," she said, lifting an eyebrow. "And I want you in that tux."
The catered dinner was delicious, the hired entertainment (a gifted pianist) amazing. Liz and I shared a table with Chad and Jane, Abby and her husband, and one other couple, and the conversation was comfortable and interesting. But the part that I looked forward to and enjoyed the most was dancing with my wife. I held her in my arms on the dance floor, spinning her in time with the music.
"What are you smiling about?" she asked. "I know you don't like dancing this much."
"I enjoy it immensely when the most beautiful woman in the room is my partner. I'm so glad I'm the one you're dancing with."
She playfully slapped my arm. "No need to flirt with your own wife, Will," she scolded.
"Not even when she has such a great @ss?" I asked.
I pulled her close to me, smelling her perfume, feeling the silk of her hair against my cheek. I whispered in her ear, "I love you."
She turned her face up to look at me, and the expression of pain was gone. She seemed happy. I could see love in her eyes. I dropped my lips to hers.
It was late when we left the party, and later yet when we buckled our tired children into the car at the Bingleys' house. Liz carried Joy to her bed, and I carried in Wes and Meg--all three had fallen asleep during the short drive home. When we were sure they were settled, we walked into the closet in our bedroom to prepare for bed. I was tired--until I turned and glimpsed my wife. She had slipped her shoes off and hung up her dress; she was standing in bare feet and a lacy slip, and had an expression on her face that I recognized but hadn't seen for too long. Immediately my pulse quickened. I stepped toward her, sliding the strap down her shoulder, placing a kiss there, brushing my lips up the curve of her neck. She gently removed my tie, draping it over a hanger. She slid my jacket off my shoulders and began unbuttoning my shirt.
I saw the deepest trust in her eyes, mingled with unfeigned love. Any barriers that remained between us were removed, stripped away, until my wife stood before me like a new bride--open and vulnerable, filled with hope, trust, love, and dreams. Every caress, every touch, every connection proved that she was giving me another chance--another beginning--another opportunity to be the husband I promised I would be: a best friend, a companion, a lover, half of a whole.
God has given me many gifts in my life--more than I can even count or acknowledge; but that night was a complete miracle. The children all slept soundly, without waking, until morning. And Liz and I forgave, loved, and healed through the night until the sky began to lighten. Our sleep was short, but our hearts were full.
Christmas came and went, one of the happiest Christmases I can ever remember. The New Year dawned cold and clear, and it felt like a completely new start on a wonderfully promising love. We had gained so much ground. We made so much progress.
The second week in January Elizabeth again stopped unexpectedly by the press. I heard her voice outside my open door. "Hi, Abby. Did you have a Merry Christmas?"
"I sure did!"
"Was my husband generous with the Christmas bonuses?" she asked with a teasing voice. "Or do I need to exert some influence with him?"
"Rock and a hard place, Elizabeth. Yes, he was generous. But if you can influence him to be more so..."
I stared through the doorway at my assistant and my wife. "You're pushing it, Abby."
"As always, William. Your wife is here."
"Really?" I asked, glancing at a radiant, and smirking, Liz. "Send her in. And hold my calls."
"Hi, hon," she said, kissing my cheek.
"Hello, my love," I said, sweeping her into my arms for a real kiss. "What brings you here. Are the kids in the car?"
"No." She fidgeted just a little, shifting on her feet and twirling a ring around her finger. "I left them with Jane for a few minutes."
"Do you want to go to lunch?"
"I'm sorry, I ate...and I told Jane I wouldn't be gone long. I just...wanted to see you. Just thought I'd drop by. You know." She looked at the items on my shelves like they were precious classic tomes rather than paper samples, printing samples, and trade magazines.
"I'm always glad to see you, Liz, but you never just drop by."
"I am today," she said, shrugging. "Just wanted to stare at my handsome husband's torso for a moment."
"Can I help you with that?" I joked, pretending to unbutton my shirt.
She tenderly placed her hands over mine. "Later."
Two or three more minutes passed with no real subject being introduced, and as suddenly as she had arrived she announced, "Well, I suppose I'll be going. Have a great day, sweetie. What time will you be home?"
"Um, 6:00?" I was totally bewildered by her odd behavior.
"Perfect. I'll see you then!" She kissed my cheek, grinned at me, and was out the door--bidding farewell to Abby--before I could even respond.
I didn't discover the cause of her mysterious visit for a full 10 minutes, at which time I found a note on my desk that said, "A late Christmas present--for both of us," accompanied by a home pregnancy test with a pink plus in the window.
Eight and a half months later our third daughter was born. I was by Liz's side, supporting her through labor and birth. We named her Suki, which means beloved, but most of the time we just call her Sue.
That was two years ago. Has the road always run smoothly? No. No road ever does. But I can honestly say that both Elizabeth and I are trying, and that things are going well. Really well. I know my wife loves me, and I absolutely adore her. We are a part of each other's lives, and we make each other whole.
The only thing we need--and we both agree on this--is a little brother for Wes. We're having a wonderful time in that pursuit, and with persistence, luck, and love, we'll be a family of seven by this time next year.
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