When I began Elizabeth's Story I had a very definite idea of where it would go, how it would progress, and when and where it would end up. I followed my outline in some respects, especially in developing my secondary storylines (Georgia Darcy, Charlotte and Collins, Jane and Bingley, Will's cousin Rick Williams), but the William and Elizabeth line is very different than I originally envisioned. Will was supposed to be surly, quiet, distant, and unapproachable--that's how I imagined him. But when I started writing him, he insisted on being charming and pursuing Elizabeth openly and early. I tried to conform him to my ideas, but he refused. He had his own way of telling the story. So this is really a little summary of how I thought the story would go.
Once upon a time there was a boy named William. When William was very young, he was convinced the whole world belonged to him, because all the land as far as he could see, and most of the places he visited, were part of his father's farm. His back yard was 20 acres and the front yard was 15, and the house was so big his mother sometimes had to search high and low for his little sister.
William was exceptionally bright; he was reading before he even went to kindergarten and he understood most subjects effortlessly. He didn't even have to struggle for his excellent grades. But his passion was working the earth. He loved to plant a seed and watch it grow; he left behind the plastic shovels and the sandbox, favoring a trowel and loamy, brown earth. William wanted to be outside among things that grew, and he wasn't afraid of hard work.
As the years passed, he gradually became aware of the world beyond the farm. And he became aware of girls. Most boys his age were dying for a little attention from the opposite sex; William made every effort to get away from them. He was barely in junior high school and already the girls liked him because he was cute and his father was rich. So William avoided girls, and learned how to fix tractors instead.
In college, he discovered the girls still chased after money and looks, so he invested full-time in his studies and farm work. Of course he hoped to find a woman he could love and respect eventually, but he stopped searching. The mask of indifference he wore became part of his armor and part of himself. In every way he seemed unapproachable and disinterested.
It was with some surprise that he found a woman who was everything he desired when he transferred to a new university, and with shock that he realized she cared nothing for either his looks or his money. He had no idea how to win her heart; he had never pursued a woman in his life.
The first day I met my new roommate Georgia Darcy, her brother William was helping her move into our apartment, carrying a steady stream of boxes from their car. He didn't complain when she sat in her bedroom, chatting with her roommates. He only smiled and nodded as she introduced all of us to him. I thought Georgia was very pretty: tall, thin but muscular, light golden brown hair and dark eyes. But Georgia's brother was gorgeous. He was taller than Georgia, very well muscled, dark curly hair--sun-lightened on top, with golden brown eyes. The sort of guy who never gives me a second look.
William--or Will, as Georgia calls him--was no exception. He didn't even seem to notice any of us. He just brought in Georgia's boxes, and then told her they'd meet up later. But she detained him; she ran and grabbed Will's arm before he could leave. "Tell us what you all do for fun here! We know nothing about this place!" she said. Georgia and Will had been attending the University of Iowa, and neither had ever set foot in Meryton or Longbourn University.
I was born and raised in Meryton. So when Georgia asked, all eyes turned to me. "Well, there is a shopping mall at the northwest corner of town, with a few movie theaters. There are other dollar movie theaters in the southwest corner of town. There are restaurants in just about any direction you look. Um, let's see..."
"So for fun you guys eat or watch movies, huh? Oh, yes, and shop?" Will asked. The tone of his voice was undeniably sarcastic.
"Those are some of the diversions, yes," I said weakly, wishing I'd mentioned my favorite bookstore or hiking trail first.
"Is everyone at this school as shallow and self-involved as you?" he said, his eyes flashing his distaste.
I was stunned, and I'm sure my face showed it. All of my roommates seemed shocked that he had said such a thing out loud to someone he hardly knew, and Georgia punched him in the stomach. The room was quiet for a few seconds after he spoke while every kind of rude retort flashed through my mind; but I liked Georgia, and didn't want to alienate her; so with his shallow and self-involved echoing in my ears, I merely said, "I really couldn't say." All my roommates collectively exhaled. It was a good answer.
Will's gaze dropped to the floor, then he looked at me almost apologetically. He said, "I should start unpacking. I'll see you later, Georgia," and he practically sprinted down the hall.
We all sat silently, listening to the door slam. "I'm so sorry," Georgia said, turning to me. "He's usually nice. I have never heard him say anything like that in my life! Please, don't hold it against him." My tendency was to hold it firmly against him. He was proud and disagreeable, so handsome that he had no reason to be amiable. I'm sure he had women flocking around him no matter how he acted. Well, I was not going to be one of those women.
Georgia asked me many times over several hours to give him another chance. Later that afternoon, he returned bearing a message. He knocked on the door as Mary, Charlotte, and I sat in the living room discussing good-looking men who think they are better than everyone else; when the door opened and everything became silent, he had to know we'd been talking about him. He cleared his throat and looked at the wall above my head. "My roommates and I would like to invite you and your roommates for pizza tonight." He seemed uncomfortable, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, but his eyes locked with mine. "Miss Bennet..." he said, and he paused. I nodded, waiting for him to continue. "Elizabeth, do you have a favorite pizza restaurant?"
"Actually, I do. Heaps," I said, in my best I-don't-care voice. Its official name is Heaps o' Pizza, but everyone just calls it Heaps.
"We'll go to Heaps, then, if you're all game."
Will didn't say much of anything at the restaurant; by the end of dinner, I felt like I knew all five of his roommates better than I knew him. Chuck Bingley, in particular, was easy to talk to, and not bad looking, either, though he wasn't really my type.
In fact, Will never said much of anything. When he came over to the apartment to visit Georgia, he hardly spoke to anyone. He seemed to hide away in her bedroom for the short time he visited, and then left quickly without a word. After a month I figured we had exchanged perhaps ten words total.
Chuck and I became instant and fast friends; we studied together, walked across campus together, and went out for Mexican food together when we didn't feel like cooking. He told me that although Will was a little serious, he was very smart and a good conversationalist. Really? I thought. He actually speaks? Chuck seemed to value his friendship and place some importance on his opinions, although I couldn't for the life of me see why.
By October there seemed to be a subtle shift where Will was concerned. He still rarely spoke, but I could feel his eyes watching me when we were in the same room. Sometimes I caught him staring. He was so beautiful and yet so unpleasant. I didn't like him, but I was nice for Georgia's sake--she had become a good friend.
At the end of October, Chuck and my sister Jane met for the first time, and the electricity was almost tangible. I had never seen Chuck so enthusiastic, and I'd seen him pretty constantly for two months. Jane, who was usually the picture of reserve, was oozing happiness whenever Chuck was near. Will sat back and watched all of this with a grim expression, which occasionally he turned to me--like it was my fault they liked each other. I wanted to glare back at him, but I smiled as sweetly as I could.
Through November I thought I noticed a gradual increase in the time Will spent at our apartment--and he didn't hide in Georgia's room, either. He seemed to stay in our little living room, and very nearly contributed to our conversations. But whenever he seemed poised to speak, he stuck his nose in the air, looked haughtier than ever, and remained silent. I told Charlotte, "I don't know why he even comes here. Do you think he's trying to make us uncomfortable in our own apartment?"
"I have no idea, Lizzy," Charlotte said, using her nickname for me, "but he seems to be looking at you constantly."
"Because he hates me the most, I'd guess," I said. Char chuckled. "Remember? I'm so shallow and self-involved!" Charlotte and I both dissolved into laughter, and it almost seemed William was frowning at us. I got a devilish glee from proving his perceptions to be right.
I don't know if I even heard a word from him through most of December; everyone seemed to be busy with the last two weeks of the semester and with studying for final exams. Even though he was around, neither of us spoke until the last day of finals, just before he and Georgia left to catch their flight. Georgia pulled me into a hug and said, "I'm going to miss you! Have a Merry Christmas, Elizabeth."
"You, too, Georgia," I said, squeezing her just as tightly. "Be safe! I'll miss you!"
She looked at William, then at me, and with a small jolt said, "Oh! I forgot!" and ran to her bedroom.
William and I were alone in our living room. Mary was done with finals and had returned to our family's house; Anne and Harriet had already left for the holidays, and Charlotte was taking a final. Except for Georgia, there wasn't another soul in the apartment. William stared at me with his golden brown eyes. I smiled an uncomfortable smile, wishing he'd look somewhere else or walk out the door or even follow Georgia to her room, but he didn’t. He just gazed at me steadily, and I was hard-pressed to find disapproval anywhere on his face, although I knew he must be feeling it. He bit his bottom lip. "Merry Christmas, Elizabeth," he said.
I'm sure I knit my brows as I said, "Merry Christmas, Will." He regarded me unblinkingly, and I felt like I'd sprouted a nose in the middle of my forehead. "Do you think Georgia needs help?"
"No," her voice came from the hallway. "No." She reappeared in the living room. "I'm ready, now, Will. See you in a couple of weeks, Elizabeth."
"See ya!" I said, turning my back and walking quickly down the hall.
When Georgia and Will came back at the beginning of January, they both seemed relaxed and happy. When Will saw me across the room he even smiled at me. My stomach flopped; I had hardly ever seen him smile before, and I realized that gorgeous was an understatement. I felt lucky that he disliked me so much and that I rarely saw that grin. I might accidentally start admiring him even though there was so little to like.
By February, he was speaking to me regularly--never about anything important, but whenever he saw me at the apartment or on campus, he said hello and asked about Jane or Mary or my classes. Strangely, I saw him on campus a lot--several times a week--like he knew where and when to find me. Sometimes he walked with me as I crossed campus from my physics class to my math class, making small talk the whole way. I watched girls grabbing friends' arms and gesturing toward Will. I saw a whole group in the science building do a double take, and I noticed that every girl on the sidewalk between the door and the math building couldn't take their eyes off him. I am not blind. I know he is good looking.
By March he was smiling at me--sometimes. Other times, though, he was just as quiet and withdrawn as if I wasn't there. He surprised me when he laughed at my jokes, and he even cracked one himself. Chuck's sister Caroline was talking about what it would take to really impress the "right kind" of guy, and in stating his own preferences he described me almost exactly. I couldn't help but laugh, knowing he wasn't serious. If anything, he was trying to name everything Caroline wasn't. But he smiled at me so genuinely and looked in my eyes, and my heart leapt into my throat. I had to swallow three times while chanting shallow and self-involved before my breathing returned to normal.
We even went out to dinner once with Chuck and Jane. I tried to prepare myself to act like we were friends rather than common and indifferent acquaintances; I certainly didn't expect that he would put his hand on the small of my back to guide me to the table, or that he would pull out my chair, or rest his arm on the back of my seat as we sat and talked. I didn't expect him to hold my hand as we left the restaurant. And I couldn't explain the look in his eyes as we stood outside my apartment door.
The first day of April was beautiful. Two weeks of sunshine had melted the snow, and it was 55 degrees without a cloud in the sky. I invited my roommates to go hiking with me after classes. Georgia, in turn, invited Will. By 2:00 a group of 10 people piled into two cars, and we drove to the base of Maple Canyon. The trees were budding and the hardier weeds were green; some even had yellow or purple blossoms. The purple ones, I knew from experience, would turn into sticker weeds in another month; but at the moment the tiny flowers heralded the arrival of spring. We hiked a challenging trail for two miles before we paused to drink and rest. As I looked at lichen on the rock walls, I found myself suddenly very close to Will. He took a deep breath and gave me a crooked smile, and then hesitantly said, "So this is one of your favorite hikes?"
"Yes. I've been coming here as long as I can remember with my dad. I've been up all these canyons many times, but this is the best trail."
He nodded and pretended to be interested in the rock wall. "Have you ever brought someone special here?"
I wasn't sure what he could possibly mean. "Um, yes...my father. He's someone special."
Will smiled again, and looked at me with his golden brown eyes. "No, I mean a boyfriend or someone."
"No," I said, my mouth suddenly dry. I drank from my water bottle.
"Will I what?" I squeaked.
William turned his focus back to the lichen. "Will you share this part of your life with...him, whoever he is?"
I tossed my head in what I hoped was a casually dismissive gesture. "If he's lucky."
Will looked back at me. "If he's your someone special, he's lucky."
I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I turned to look across the canyon at the opposite wall. "For the life of me, William Darcy, I can't figure out why you flatter me."
"Can't you?" he asked.
"No!" I looked obstinately at the weeds and dirt before me.
He put a finger under my chin, and turned my face so I was looking in his eyes. "I'm not a flatterer, Elizabeth. I've never been able to do it."
"You just did!"
"Flattery indicates my words were calculated for a specific effect. They weren't. I was only telling the truth."
I snorted. "Okay, then I can't figure out why you tell the truth," I said, defiantly glaring at him.
"You don't know why I would tell you that I think you're the smartest woman I know, and that you're funny, and that I enjoy the time I spend with you, and that I think this smudge of dirt..." He cupped my cheeks with his hands, and rubbed his thumb along my upper lip and nose. "...is adorable?"
"No." I almost whispered.
"You can't think of a single reason?"
I swallowed. I could actually think of one reason; with his hands on my face and his eyes focused on my lips, only one. And I couldn't say it out loud, because I knew it wasn't true. I knew how much he disliked me. I shook my head.
He looked disappointed; his fingers trailed along the sides of my neck and his hands rested on my shoulders. "I hope someday you'll think of one."
The next day, Georgia invited me to visit Iowa after graduation. "You don't want to start working right away, do you?" she asked with her hands on her hips. "You should take at least a couple of weeks off between graduation and finding a job!" It happened that I agreed, so I accepted her invitation. The rest of April was very busy as the last two weeks of the semester approached. I took my final exams while my family gathered to celebrate my graduation.
To my surprise, Will tagged along with us wherever we went, whatever we did. He brought Georgia along to family dinners and he sat by Jane as Chuck and I walked through commencement. More than half the time he looked dour and glum, but the look of pleasure the rest of the time more than made up for it, I thought. Then I chided myself for thinking anything at all along those lines. My uncle Edward asked, "What's up with this William guy, Liz? Boyfriend?"
"No!" I answered honestly. "His sister is my roommate and my friend, but William and I have hardly even spoken to each other these last eight months. I'm not even sure if we're friends yet!"
A slow smile spread across Uncle Ed's face. "I think you're at least friends," he said.
"What's that supposed to mean? Wouldn't I know if he was my friend?"
"Obviously not..." he said enigmatically.
I'm not sure how Will managed to make room for me and my suitcase in their packed car, but I climbed into the back seat amidst boxes and clothing for the ride from Wyoming to Iowa. We each took a shift driving while the others slept. I had fallen asleep almost immediately, so was well rested by the early morning. I took my turn a couple of hours before dawn. Georgia slept reclined in the passenger seat, and Will was in the back curled around boxes and luggage. I listened to favorite CDs and watched as the stars faded and the sky began to lighten, driving long, straight highways, ours the only car for miles. I sang along with the CDs and wiggled and danced to stay alert; it wasn't until the sky had turned pink in the east that I noticed, in the rear-view mirror, that William wasn't asleep. He was watching me through half-closed eyes, smiling. I tried to pretend I didn't notice, but I could hardly sing when I knew he was listening.
We arrived in Iowa after noon, following a marathon 24-hour drive. George and Anne Darcy were very hospitable and kind, but I was too tired to form an impression immediately. After a rest and a shower, I met them again over dinner. They were very interested in me, George leading the inquisition. I told my entire family history and life story to an interested audience that evening, all the while wondering why they would care about little old me.
The next day we went to Iowa City, so Georgia could show me around. In truth, I could hardly even pay attention to any of the sights, because I was so spellbound by Will. It seemed that, here in Iowa, he was an entirely different person. He wasn't quiet and aloof. He greeted everyone we passed, he carried on conversations, he laughed and smiled...he played the part of a host, caring for my opinions, worried that my needs were being met.
After a full day in Iowa City, we sat down on plump, comfortable sofas to watch a DVD. I don't remember much of the movie; I awoke in a dim room, snuggled into something warm and solid, with fingertips caressing my arm. I could smell William; I don't know how, in my sleepy state, I knew it was his scent, but I did. My heart started to pound. I raised my head from where it rested. On his chest. I could feel the weight of one of his arms around me, pulling me close to him, and I could see we were alone in the room. "I'm sorry, Will," I said sleepily, my heart still pounding. "I didn't know I'd fallen asleep. I didn't mean to invade your space like that."
He smiled at me. "I didn't mind."
I pushed away from him. "Oh, you're kind, but I pinned you. You couldn't even move, and everyone else left us here. Did they all go to bed?" He nodded. "You probably wanted to leave, too. I know you get up awfully early." For some reason, I couldn't look him in the face.
"Elizabeth?" He waited until I raised my eyes to meet his. "There is nowhere else I would rather be."
My heart was pounding so hard and so loud, I was sure he could hear it. I tried to smile, but I could feel my face wasn't cooperating. "I guess I'll go up to my room...uh, the guest room...now."
He grinned and nodded. "Goodnight, Elizabeth." His voice was warm and deep. It surrounded me like a caress. I looked at him and realized how attracted I was to him--how comfortable I had been in his embrace, how much I liked his scent.
I didn't sleep well. I was too busy wondering when, exactly, I had come to be attracted to William Darcy. The next morning--not long after sunrise, before Georgia was awake--I left the house and began walking. I walked down the long driveway, and along a lane that was surrounded by fields. The ground on the other side of a fence was half-disked, the green growth turned under the brown dirt, and a tractor stood in the middle of the expanse waiting for the work to recommence. I heard a skitter of pebbles behind me and focused my energy on walking. Less than a minute later, Will spoke. "Have you been on many farms?"
I cleared my throat as he fell into step beside me. "I've never been on a farm like this, Will. I've seen some country estates that keep cows and chickens, but nothing like this."
"Have you ever been in a tractor?" he asked.
I chuckled. "Never."
"Would you like to?" he asked, grabbing my hand. He pulled me toward the fence, which we easily climbed, and held my hand as we walked to the standing tractor. I felt sparks where his skin touched mine. He helped me into the cab and then climbed in beside me, showing me the controls. He started it up and gestured for me to take the wheel.
"Oh, Will, I have no idea what I'm doing..." I protested.
"It's easy. Just like driving a car," he insisted. I inched forward slowly and probably only moved 10 feet total, and he smiled at me. Like he was proud of me. "You belong on a farm!" he said. He looked at me for a full minute before he spoke again. "I'd better go. I need to work on tractor 12."
"You need to work on a tractor?" I asked. "You mean, like preparing a field?" I had imagined that would be work for the hired hands.
"Actually, I fix tractors. I repair the machinery."
I had no idea. As far as I knew, he was an English major. Fixing machinery? "Really?"
He nodded. "It's been a passion of mine since I was young."
"What's wrong with tractor 12?" I asked. Having no idea about tractors or repairing machinery, it wasn't a good question. But I was sort of dazed by his revelation, and a little muddled by sitting so close to him.
His eyes glowed. "It might be a timing issue, but the drive train..." He spoke another language, but he spoke it fluently. He explained the problems with tractor 12 in a manner that betrayed his own intelligence, as well as his faith in mine. And he smiled at me. When he helped me out of the tractor, he lifted me and set my feet down gently, like I was a precious, breakable treasure. He grasped my hand again and guided me back to the lane. "Have a great day," he said, still holding my hand tightly. "I'll see you this evening."
Several days later Georgia insisted we go dancing. Country dancing. I hadn't brought the right clothes along, but it sounded like fun. In the entire time I'd known Will I'd never seen him dance, so I was surprised that he joined us. I figured he'd sit out on the sidelines and watch.
As soon as we walked in the building, Georgia was surrounded. She busily introduced me to her friends and acquaintances; but William paced and watched us. He looked restless and ill at ease, much like he had at Longbourn. Georgia went out on the floor with a friend, and I watched from the side as they danced. Will stood next to me, obviously uncomfortable, until the song was almost over.
"Elizabeth, will you dance with me?" He looked very insecure.
I have no idea how I looked. I know my emotions were at war, my fierce attraction to him fighting with my idea that he disliked me and disapproved of everything about me. "We probably do it differently in Wyoming than you do here," I said, not even looking at him.
"I'll do it your way."
I exploded. What right does he have to be charming? What right does he have to make me like him, when he doesn't like me? "William Darcy, why would you ever want to dance with someone as shallow and self-involved as me?" I barked.
He blinked, his expression a mixture of surprise and pain. He seized my hand and pulled me as far from the music as he could, then stood close to me and, out of necessity, spoke loudly. "Elizabeth, I regret nothing in my life as much as I regret saying those words to you that day." He never let go of my hand. He looked into my eyes, and I felt electricity coursing between us. "I judged you. I was reacting to all the women I had known before who were focused only on appearance and money. I figured you must be just like them. But you aren't. You never have been. After an evening with you I was impressed; after a week I admired you. Elizabeth, I am deeply sorry for what I said--I have never believed you were shallow or self involved." He gripped my hands tightly. I stood looking at him, my warring feelings churning inside my head. I struggled to throw over my opinion of more than eight months that he disliked me. I found myself focusing on his eyes, clinging onto his hands. I felt like I was drowning. I felt like he was saving me. "Will you forgive me?" he implored. I couldn't speak, so I nodded. "Please, Elizabeth, dance with me."
I didn't answer. I couldn't. He pulled me toward the floor. I was hardly aware of the song, but it was slow. He pulled me into his arms but never broke eye contact--watching me, arching his eyebrows, his lips curling upward. I felt like I was drowning again.
He put his hand on my cheek, gently brushing his thumb across my skin. His fingertips played along my hair, my ear, and the line of my jaw. I felt like he was saving me again; he was my buoyancy in the churning swirl of thought. He was looking at me with such tenderness. This is all so confusing. Why is he looking at me like that? Why am I so disoriented? Why is my cheek tingling?
When the faster music resumed, he kept my hands firmly in his and led me across the dance floor. I noticed that many people were staring at us; in fact, by the end of the song, it seemed like everyone was staring at us. He didn't seem to notice. When the song ended, he kept his arm around me and stayed on the dance floor. "I'm happy to sit this one out, Will, so you can find someone else to dance with."
He looked at me very seriously. "I don't want to dance with anyone else, Elizabeth."
My heart started pounding again. "Well...you don't have to stay out here with me if you don't want to dance."
He smiled. "I didn't say that. And I don't want anyone else to dance with you."
"Stop playing with me, Will," I said, taking one step back from him.
He took two steps toward me. "I want to dance. I want to dance with you, and no one else. Furthermore, I don't want to see any other man put his arms around you." He put his arms around me. After a few seconds, he pulled me back out onto the floor. We danced together the entire evening. At first I was cognizant of all the attention focused on us, but gradually that awareness faded, replaced by my growing feelings for Will. Heaven help me, I was falling in love with him.
The next evening, Georgia had a date. She didn't want to go and leave me alone, but I assured her I'd be fine. I took a book from the Darcys' large selection and went to my room. Without turning on the light, I crossed the floor to look out at the stars; the moon was full, but there were still thousands of stars glittering in the sky. When I turned back around, I saw William leaning in the doorway, silhouetted against the light in the hallway. "How would you like to go sight seeing?"
"Isn't it too dark?" I asked.
"A little, maybe, but I think we can manage." He held his hand out toward me. "Shall we?"
I placed the book on the bed and said, "Sure."
Will laced his fingers through mine. As we passed the home theater where George and Anne were watching a movie, he gripped my hand even tighter and said, "Elizabeth and I are going out."
He opened the passenger door of his truck for me and helped me climb in. I was afraid we'd drive wherever we were going in silence; unbelievably, he started the conversation. "So what do you think of Iowa so far?"
"Oh...I, uh, like it very much."
"Are you enjoying your visit?"
"Then Georgia is a good hostess?"
I smiled, although he couldn't see it. "Absolutely, an excellent hostess. So is your mother. I feel very welcome, and I'm never bored." He nodded, seemingly pleased with my answer. Since he was satisfied, I have no idea what possessed me to continue. "But you're the reason I'm having fun."
His jaw dropped, and he shot a glance in my direction. "Me?" I think he took his foot off the gas pedal; the truck gradually slowed down.
"Absolutely. You're the one showing me how to drive a tractor. You're the one taking me to all your favorite places. You're the one dancing all night with me." I shrugged. "You're the reason I'm having fun."
He smiled at me, and the truck slowed almost to a stop. He took a deep breath and, accelerating again, said, "We're almost there."
We pulled up a long dirt drive; the bushes and greenery on both sides were overgrown and unkempt--I could see them in the light of the moon. I could see an old house at the end of the drive--it was charming, although it had fallen into disrepair. Will parked the truck and came around and opened my door. When he did, I noticed a flashlight in one hand. He held my hand with the other, and pulled me toward the door. "Come on!" he urged.
"What is this place?" I asked.
"I have always loved this house," he said, opening the door. He switched on the very bright flashlight. "It seems like just the sort of house a farmer should live in. Don't you think?" He stopped and looked at me, waiting for my opinion.
"I've only seen this one room." It was a living room. The hardwood floors were thick with dust and the wallpaper was peeling off the walls, but the woodwork was charming.
He pulled me gently. "Let's go."
We walked through a large country kitchen. I could almost smell the bread baking, could almost see the dust on the counters as flour. A broken table stood in one corner, and I imagined it had held many hearty meals. We walked through a breezy laundry room. There was space along a wall of windows for a table and a sewing machine. We saw a bathroom with an old claw-foot tub and pale pink tile. "Not my color," I said.
"But it somehow suits, don't you think?" he asked, his face awash with wonder and excitement.
"Yes," I concurred. We came to a flight of stairs, the treads and runners bare wood. "I don't know, Will. How long has this house been vacant?"
"Probably 20 years."
"I'm not sure we should try the stairs."
He let go of my hand and tenderly put his arm around my shoulders. "They're fine. I built them."
"You built them?" I asked in confusion. He nodded. "Why?"
He urged me up them. "Because I've always loved this old house, and I wanted to see upstairs."
"But..." I sputtered. "But you don't own it."
"I would imagine no one cares if I'm improving the place. Building sturdy stairs isn't exactly vandalism."
"No," I countered, "nor is it the usual behavior in a house that doesn't belong to you."
He shrugged. As we walked through the bedrooms and bathrooms--all covered in dust, but with the same charming woodwork and personality of the rest of the house--he told me about his love of building, his love of farming, and his hope that he would someday have a farm of his own. Maybe even this farm. "I could buy this house and the surrounding 500 acres, and I could have my own place." He practically beamed.
"You'd be wonderful," I said.
"I wouldn't want to do it alone," he replied, not looking in my eyes.
We returned downstairs and went out the kitchen door to a small covered porch off the back of the house. He shined the flashlight on a swing and asked, "Would you like to sit?"
My first thought was for safety; then I noticed the look of pride in his eyes. "Did you build the swing, too?"
He looked up at the sky. "I needed a place to sit and think when I looked over the land."
"It won't fall down?"
He shook his head. "It's anchored into beams. It's solid."
It took a few minutes for my eyes to get used to the light of the moon after he shut off the flashlight. I sat in the swing, and Will sat by me. He put his arm behind me on the back of the swing chair. "Do you miss the mountains?" he asked. I almost thought I could hear melancholy in his voice.
"Oh, I do love the mountains. But Iowa is beautiful in its own way, Will."
"I think so," he replied very quietly.
I thought about all the things I'd done and the places I'd seen since coming here. I thought about the old house, overlooking acres and acres of dirt. "In fact, I can almost see myself here," I said, absently thinking of making bread and watching through the window as children played in the sunshine.
"Doing what?" he asked, his voice almost a whisper.
"Living on a farm," I said. I caught myself before I added, "raising children and working the land." Good heavens. Where did that come from? I wondered.
Will was silent beside me until I shook off my ponderings and looked at him. "Come," he said, taking both my hands in his. He walked backwards a hundred feet, pulling me by my hands, until we were standing in weedy dirt. "This is the garden, where they would grow their greens and vegetables." He nodded toward the house, as though it was filled with a family.
I looked up at the sky. "Millions of stars. Have you ever seen so many? They're beautiful."
His gaze never left my face. "I can see them reflected in your eyes. They are beautiful."
My breath caught in my throat. Were the stars beautiful, or the eyes? His grip on my hands tightened, and he pulled me closer to him as his lips touched mine lightly. He kissed me softly, gently winding his arms around me.
He pulled his face away from mine; the moon lit his features clearly. "Elizabeth, I love you. I have loved you longer than I can say." He kissed me quickly on the cheek. "I have never felt anything so strongly in my life. You are beautiful. You are wonderful. I want to live the rest of my life with you."
I stopped breathing, stunned by his confession. Love? He loves me? Still holding my breath, I moved my hand up to his chest. As his face dipped toward mine, I could feel his unsteady breathing. He kissed me again. Passionately. Deeply. In a weedy garden under a full moon, I felt like I was home because I was in his arms.Contents of this page © Alyson 2003, 2004
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