In the Middle
I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.
Mr. Darcy Pride & Prejudice, Volume III Chapter XVIII
I was a walking contradiction. I threw myself into my work voluntarily, arriving early and staying very late by choice. But at the end of every day, when I dragged myself through the door of my home, I resented every extra moment I'd spent at the office and with clients. I wished with every exhausted piece of my body that I had something else to do besides work.
I wearily walked through the living room toward the kitchen and noticed the message light on the answering machine was blinking. I loosened my tie while the message played:
"Darcy? Um, Mr. or Ms. Darcy? Your pictures have been developed and waiting for pick-up for three months. We're cleaning out the old pictures from the files, and yours are going to be thrown away unless you come today or tomorrow to claim them."
I could hear other people in the background, most likely customers and employees going through their daily, boring lives the same way I went through mine. I expected the line to go dead and the machine to beep.
"Oh, I'm calling from Allen's Camera and Photo. We're open tonight until nine."
Who needs dinner anyway? I thought, feeling sorry for myself. Who cares if I ever even come home?
I left my briefcase where it was, right in the middle of the walkway, and turned around to get back in my car and drive to Allen's.
Two hours later I'd retrieved my near-doomed developed photos, eaten a semblance of dinner, cleared away my dishes, and prepared to retire. I lay on my bed staring at the envelope of photos; I hadn't so much as opened the flap yet. I suspected it would span a year or more of my uninteresting life, and I certainly didn't remember everything I'd shot, but I remembered a few of the pictures very well. Those few were the reason I procrastinated taking in the film for two months after I finished the roll, and the reason that I'd let the pictures languish after they were developed.
Under the dim light of a single bedside lamp, I slid the stack of pictures into my hand. I immediately recognized the woods around Charles and Jane's house. These were photos from my visit five months earlier. I flipped slowly through, seeing scenery and a picture here and there of Jane and Charles standing in front of a landmark, or Charles and me standing by a grill covered with steaks...
My breath caught in my chest. Elizabeth. There she was, sitting beside Jane, head thrown back in laughter. I remembered making a show of capturing the vivid sunset behind the trees, when in truth all I wanted was a picture of her. Even before we'd spent a week together in the same house I knew I admired her; after two days I was head over heels in love with her.
I loved the way she looked when she padded out of the bedroom in the mornings, no make-up and hair mussed from sleep. I loved the way she gently teased Charles and elevated Jane. I loved listening to her talk, because if I followed her comments carefully I could almost see her unspoken thought progression from subject to subject. I was a moth, and she was a candle; no, she was a bonfire. I had never been so drawn to, so totally enthralled by anyone in my life.
At the time I figured everything would work out eventually we'd begin to date one another, we'd grow serious, she'd fall in love but in the meantime I wanted a picture or two. I was terribly wrong about the first, and in my heartbreak I'd purposely ignored the second those surreptitious pictures, meant to capture the expression on her face and the sparkle in her eyes.
I flipped to the next photo. I had zoomed in from halfway across the back yard. I didn't remember she was looking into the camera. Elizabeth stared out at me, her hair glowing golden, backlit by the sun. She was smiling widely, and though I knew it was in response to Jane I wished the smile were for me. Elizabeth. The reason I'd thrown myself so completely into work. The person I wished for every night when I came home.
I lay my head on my pillow, staring at the picture of Elizabeth in my hands. I wished I could see her, hear her, touch her; I wished she would smile at me. I wished she could see the good in me, or even tolerate being in the same room with me.
As I stared at the curve of her cheeks and the amusement in her eyes, I thought of the day when I had resolved to bare my heart to her, and had instead insulted her in almost every possible way. What was I thinking? I wondered for the thousandth time. Why couldn't I confine my words to what I was feeling, rather than everything that had kept me from confessing? Any anger I'd felt at her response had long ago been redirected toward myself.
I fell asleep with Elizabeth's photo in my hands, and woke with it crumpled under my cheek. I stifled a curse that I had creased my only token of her; it took me half a day of self-recriminations to realize that I could, if I wanted, have another photo made from the negative.
At least that mistake is easy to fix. How many things I would undo if I could! How I wish I could go back, and tell her how I really feel. Would she be open to me, if I'd expressed myself differently? I thought about the letter I'd hastily written her, telling her the entire truth about George Wickham. I should have done that right from the start, the moment she asked me what I thought of him. I didn't remember the contents very well, having handwritten it in a dark and passion-filled mood, but I suspected it contained as much bitterness and self-pity as pertinent information. I wish I had another chance.
For an hour that afternoon I closed the door to my office. I settled at my desk with a sheet of stationery and the crumpled photo of Elizabeth smiling. I imagined her sitting in front of me; I imagined having an opportunity to go back in time, and not make the same mistakes. Forget time travel, I thought. I'd take any opening to make it right even now, even with all that is behind us.
I wrote from my heart every feeling, every thought. I didn't bother to proofread or finesse sentences, I just let my affection flow onto the paper. I folded it in half and placed it in my drawer, on top of my pens, pencils, and paperclips. I forced myself to focus on work for the remainder of the day; it wasn't until my secretary had gone that I pulled out the note I'd written and reread the words that I'd penned.
ElizabethI miss you.
I was wrong, Elizabeth. I was wrong to focus on the negative. Every family every person has negatives as well as positives, my family included. Myself especially. There are so many good and admirable things about your family, and I didn't mention even a single one.
Did I ever tell you you're wonderful?
Did I tell you how much I love to see you smile? Did I tell you that your eyes light up?
Did I tell you that you're the last person I think of before I go to sleep, and the first I think of when I wake?
Did I tell you that when I close my eyes, I can smell your perfume? I can almost feel the silk of your hair against my fingers.
I love you, Elizabeth.
I'm sure I never mentioned that I thought of marrying you. I probably should have stopped thinking about it when you turned away from me in the height of your anger, but I didn't. I still think of marrying you. I think it so often that I sometimes half expect you to be at home when I get there. I don't think I could ever see children playing in a front yard, hear them calling me Daddy, unless they were your children.
A feeling almost overwhelming in its intensity overcame me, a mix of truth, hopelessness, and urgency. I felt compelled to be near her knowing that I couldn't knowing she wouldn't welcome me. But there is a place where I can immerse myself in thoughts and memories of her. I packed an overnight bag, and without any phone call of warning I drove to Charles and Jane's.
They were both very accommodating when I arrived on their front doorstep. Jane was in the last month of her first pregnancy and not really in any condition to be a hostess, but she was welcoming and gracious. "I wouldn't even dream of sending you to a hotel, William, when we have an empty bed here for you! Sit down and have some dinner with us, and then Charles will take you up to Elizabeth's room. We've made the other room into a nursery since your last visit."
Elizabeth's room. When they bought this three-bedroom home, they joked that they had one bedroom for their future children and one for Elizabeth. The 50-mile distance was the greatest separation the sisters had ever experienced and Charles and Jane wanted her to know she was always welcome with a place prepared. For more than a year there had been two guest rooms, and both times I visited I had stayed in the one that had, apparently, been made over into the nursery.
So I spent a restless night looking around a room I knew she'd slept in. I felt her everywhere around me and I had no peace. I finally went as quietly as I could down the stairs and chose a novel from a bookcase, but then I spent an hour or more staring at the first page without comprehending a single word. Instead I read and reread the note I'd written about Elizabeth, imagining for just a moment that I'd said things differently, and that we had fallen in love; imagining sharing my life with her, seeing her every day, kissing her, holding her.
After a long night and little sleep I passed Saturday morning making small talk with Charles and Jane on every subject besides the one which really interested me, asking them everything except what I really wanted to know. I was tortured by memories of Elizabeth, seeing her in every room; she surrounded me, and yet she was conspicuous in her absence, leaving me drained and empty. With thanks for their hospitality and apologies for my unannounced arrival, I re-packed my bag and left for home. As they walked down the drive to my car, Jane said, "It's too bad you can't stay longer. Lizzy is coming this evening to stay for a week, and I'm sure she'd love to see you again." Suddenly I was even more anxious to be in my car and driving away, while simultaneously wishing I could stay long enough just to look at her.
Alone, lonely, and restless on a Saturday evening, I was dissatisfied with my short trip to the Bingleys' and I was trying to escape my own thoughts and ruminations. Nothing on TV held my interest. No CD or DVD captured my mood. I stalked from room to room, searching desperately for something to distract me. I found myself standing before a bookcase, scanning the titles on the spines without reading a word. I wasn't interested in books last night either, I thought, turning on my heel and pacing toward the window. I can't escape my thoughts, and yet thinking produces nothing. I thought of lying in bed, a novel on the pillow beside me, the folded note to Elizabeth lying on top of it, and I sighed. After a couple of minutes with my forehead against the cool glass, I turned to find the note that contained the thoughts of my heart.
I don't remember packing the note into my bag this morning. The alarm I felt at this thought quickened my steps, but I fought to walk evenly and calmly. Where else could it be, but in my bag?
I searched every piece of clothing, every compartment in my bag, and every inch of floor in my bedroom. I looked under the seats in my car, even though I knew it was ridiculous to think that a piece of paper could somehow hide from me. I hunted through the trunk even though my bag was on the passenger seat during the trip home.
Think. Calmly now. Think! Where could the note be? Again I thought of Charles's novel on the pillow beside me as I drifted off to sleep. Where was the novel this morning? I never saw it. And the paper was beside it, or on top of it...
The thought that the book had fallen behind the bed and taken the note with it occurred to me, accompanied by a wave of nausea. I can't have left it there, I thought, every moment becoming surer that I had. And Elizabeth is due to visit this evening, and she's staying for a full week.
I quickly hammered out an e-mail to Charles. Among the business talk and the thanks for hosting me unexpectedly, I asked, "Why is Elizabeth visiting?" I closed with my best wishes for an enjoyable week, and I hoped my purpose hadn't been too obvious.
I assume Charles didn't check his e-mail until Monday morning, because I didn't receive any response to my message until after lunch on Monday. I was almost as nervous to read it as if Elizabeth had written it herself.
Lizzy is spending the week with Jane because Jane's nesting. Evidently it's pretty common. A woman at the end of her pregnancy gets this bizarre urge to scrub every nook and cranny, vacuum every closet, and dust under every bed, not to mention wash and fold every piece of laundry. Even draperies are not exempt. The windows need to sparkle, the books, CDs, and DVDs must be alphabetical. As if the baby will notice any of this??? I just smile, nod, and do as I am commanded. Anyway, Elizabeth has taken a week off work to help Jane with the tasks that her enlarged abdomen won't allow.
So Elizabeth was there to dust under every bed. My goose is cooked, I thought. Unless I can get to that note before she does.
I had projects that needed attention, so I worked Tuesday in order to be able to take Wednesday off. I would have left for Charles's house immediately after completing work Tuesday, except that I knew Elizabeth was already sleeping in the only guest bed. Even so I set out indecently early Wednesday morning and arrived at their house before the sun had even risen. Afraid of waking everyone, I went to a local café for breakfast; but my stomach lurched in nervous rebellion and I ended up with only a glass of orange juice.
I arrived again just after 8:00, and with a shaking hand and a feeling of both urgency and anxiety I knocked on the door. Elizabeth opened it in all her morning glory hair mussed and pulled into a clip atop her head, wearing pajamas that seemed to both hide and accentuate her curves. She smiled and I couldn't even speak.
"William! I thought it would be the newspaper boy or maybe the mail carrier at this hour. Are you staying in the area? Would you like to come in?" She opened the door wide and ushered me through. "Chuck is upstairs getting dressed for work. Is he expecting you? Jane and I were just whipping up some breakfast if you'd like some..."
She seemed so comfortable, so at ease. She spoke to me as though we were friends with nothing but happiness in our shared past, as though our insults and arguments had never happened.
In contrast, I was a mess. I couldn't speak a coherent sentence, I stuttered, I stammered, and I couldn't look her in the eye. To add insult to injury, I realized as I stepped foot through the doorway that there was no possibility of me just slipping into Elizabeth's room and looking under the bed for the note. The best I could hope for was that it would stay there unnoticed and untouched. If it really is there, I thought dismally, looking in the direction of the staircase as we walked to the kitchen.
"Are you okay, William?"
"Wh-wh-why do you ask?"
She smiled. "That was a pretty big sigh." She looked at me a few more seconds, her eyes holding mine and a hint of a smile on her lips, before saying, "How have you been since we last saw each other?"
"Fine. My life is boring and I've been..." Lonely. Wishing. Dreaming. Regretting. "...I've been fine."
She smiled and nodded. "I'm glad to hear it." When her eyes gazed into mine I felt she could see inside my soul; but with a sigh of her own she turned to her sister and said, "I'll go get dressed, Jane, and then I'll get started." I noticed the gentle sway of her hips as she walked from the room, and I wished I could watch her walk up the stairs.
"So, William..." Charles laid his hand on my shoulder. "What an unexpected pleasure to see you twice in the space of a week! Do you have meetings here? Something important going on nearby?"
"Actually, I..." Actually, I have no plausible story to tell you about why I'm here. Dang. "I, um, was... yes, I was in the area. I stopped by to see if you...if you...want to go to dinner? This evening? All of you..."
"Come back in a few hours, Will. The girls have convinced me to fire up the grill and we're having hamburgers for lunch. Around noon?"
"Sure. Noon. I'll be here."
I don't think I was ever more than two miles distant from the Bingleys' home during the two hours I drove the neighborhood and waited waited for the time to pass until I could see Elizabeth again. I longed to see her smile, even if it wasn't for me. When she ran her fingers through her hair, I could imagine my hands were in her curls.
At 11:00 I couldn't stand it any more, and I returned to the house. This time Jane answered the door. "I...um, I finished early. I wondered if I could be helpful here?"
She smiled and took my arm. "I am absolutely sure of it. Lizzy was just wishing she were taller. Lizzy! I have a surprise!" She led me up the stairs and into the nursery. "Will has volunteered to do your dirty work!"
Elizabeth climbed down the ladder in the middle of the room. "Bless you, William! I was straining and still couldn't reach." With a sly look at Jane, she added, "Darn these newfangled houses and their vaulted ceilings."
I climbed the ladder, and with a marvelous economy of words said, "Happy to help." As I loosened the screws and pulled off each flower-shaped glass from the light fixture, I mumbled only a few more words, along the lines of "Here..." or "Got it?" Excellent, William. Wow her with your conversational skills.
"Would you mind helping me in the other bedrooms, too?" Elizabeth asked. "Grab the ladder, and we'll go next-door first."
Next-door. Elizabeth's bedroom. I followed her into the room and quickly removed the glass bulb cover from the ceiling fan.
"Thanks. I'm just going to run these down to the kitchen sink, and I'll meet you in Jane's bedroom." And just like that, she was gone.
Saying a quick prayer of thanks I got down on my knees and looked under the bed. No book, no note. Not a speck of dust or hairball. Maybe it got wedged between the mattress and the headboard, I thought desperately, lifting the mattress and peering into the gap. No luck. All I saw was the tucked sheets and smooth pillows of a neatly made bed.
I was chagrinned. It would be humiliating for me if Elizabeth were the one to find it, and even worse if Charles or Jane discovered it. At least Elizabeth already knew I was attracted to her; I suspected neither Jane nor Charles had an inkling of all that had passed between Elizabeth and me, and the note would have given them too much information for my comfort. Then I held onto the thread of hope that perhaps it hadn't fallen off the bed while I slept, but had vanished into thin air or met some other permanent end. But as the day progressed, as I quietly and awkwardly assisted Elizabeth with the lights or Charles with the grilling, I decided that fate had brought us together for a reason, and that I should talk to her. I'd been wishing and begging Heaven for another chance, and I couldn't just let it slip by.
Manning the grill was too big a job to trust to anyone else, so Charles sent me into the house to hail Jane and Elizabeth for lunch when the burgers were ready.
"I'm starving!" Jane said. She was out the door quicker than I thought possible for a pregnant woman.
"I'm hungry, too," Elizabeth said. "All that hard work dusting light fixtures, you know." She smiled at me and led the way out of the house and down the path toward the back yard and the grill.
"Lizzy," Jane's voice came from the backyard, "I forgot the pitcher of juice. Would you mind getting it?"
"Got it!" she yelled, and turned at a jog to return to the kitchen. She landed in my embrace, because I was right behind her on the path. Her hands rested on my chest, and I was gripping her upper arms, holding her. "Oh! William! I didn't know you were so close behind me!" She smiled up at me, her eyes shining with merriment.
I wanted to wrap myself around her. I wanted to kiss her lips, even if only softly. I wanted to tell her I didn't mind that she barreled into me and that I could hold her forever. "I lied," I said. My voice sounded like sandpaper, and my arms felt like lead. I didn't think I could release her at any cost.
"Huh?" Her hands dropped slowly back to her sides, her fingertips lightly skimming my chest on the way down.
Please touch me again. Please, I thought. "You asked me how I'd been since we last met, and I told you I was fine. I lied." I took a deep breath to gain control over my quivering voice. "The last five months have been very difficult for me."
Her eyes were wide with empathy, and when she looked at my face, my hair, my lips, I saw nothing but kindness and concern on her face.
"I'm sorry," I said, and with all the strength I could muster I took my hands from her arms.
Her eyebrows pulled together gently. She looked quickly down at my hands, and then leaned in with her cheek next to mine and quietly asked, "Sorry for what?"
"For everything I said the last time we were together, Elizabeth. For the defensive and hurt tone of that letter about George Wickham. I wish I'd never given it to you; I wish..."
We heard a twig crack on the path and both turned to see Charles come rushing around the bend. "Oh! It's... I was..."
"I'll get the pitcher, Chuck," Elizabeth said. She gently grasped my wrist and urged me to retrace my steps. "We'll be right there."
"Thank you. Take your...time," he replied. I could hear the puzzlement in his voice.
Elizabeth had no idea how my heart began to pound and my blood began to race when she pulled me beside her, her hand gently wrapped around my arm.
"The letter was perfect, William," she said hastily, but still in a quiet voice, looking directly into my eyes. "It was exactly what I needed to read. I am glad you gave it to me. I'm grateful you cared enough to..." Her gaze dropped to the mat in front of the door. She abruptly fell silent and let go of my wrist. She slowly reached for the knob, but her hand paused, resting there for a moment before she twisted it and pushed it open.
I followed her inside. "I should have said it differently. Some things I shouldn't have said at all."
"I said terrible things, too. Things that weren't true at all." She took a deep breath and straightened her posture, but wouldn't meet my gaze. "William, I'm sorry."
"Please don't apologize, Elizabeth. It only makes me feel worse."
She raised her eyes to look into mine.
"I've made so many mistakes with you," I said as a sensation of defeat washed through me.
She tilted her head to the side and looked at me for a few moments before she spoke. "William, you have nothing to apologize for. I...I found a piece of paper under the bed the day I arrived..."
I felt simultaneously like a leaky raft and a house on fire. Every feeling, every wish, every dream drained from me like hissing air, leaving behind a hopeless, aching love for Elizabeth. I was totally exposed and vulnerable.
"...and I wouldn't have read it except I saw my name across the top. Anyway, it apologized beautifully." She smiled just a little as she said, "I have no negative feelings about you, William. None at all."
Though I was grateful for what she'd just said, I felt the need to explain myself. I looked at the pitcher standing on the counter, rivulets of condensation trickling down the sides. "I didn't notice it had slipped behind the bed. I never meant for you to read it."
"Oh," she said quietly, her voice weak. She turned and walked a few steps away from me at the same time I heard the door open.
Seconds later Jane was in the kitchen. "I knew I'd need to come back to the little pregnant ladies' room as soon as I got out there." She looked at me, then over at Elizabeth who was standing at the sink scrubbing a spatula. "I'm sorry," she said, looking very puzzled, "if I interrupted something."
I cleared my throat. "No. I'll...uh...I'll just go out and help Charles."
But I was too muddled to help. I told him I was sorry for showing up unannounced, again, and I left. I got in my car and drove away before Elizabeth and Jane came out of the house.
The following week Charles called me at the office. "I'm going to be in town tomorrow for a meeting. I was wondering if you wanted to catch lunch together?"
"Sure. That'd be great." I paused for a few seconds before I continued, "I'm sorry I just barged in last Wednesday. How did the rest of Elizabeth's visit go?"
"It went fine. I think she's in love or something."
My throat went dry. "What makes you think that?"
"She spent an entire evening talking through a movie. Not that I cared, it was something quiet and romantic. Anyway, she was talking about having misjudged someone, and receiving an apology that he didn't mean to give her, and that she hoped that at least they could be friends. But I've known Lizzy a long time and I don't think she just wants a friendship with this guy, whoever he is. She kept sighing and taking long walks in the mornings and staring at nothing. My best guess is she's already over the rainbow."
"You don't know who it is?"
"Not a clue."
But I knew. The signs were unmistakable: her misjudgment, the note I never intended her to read. With a pounding heart I asked, "Where does Elizabeth live?"
"About 20 miles away from your place, the other side of downtown from you."
He told me.
If he thought my interrogation was strange, he didn't let on. Maybe he was glancing at some document or e-mail while we talked; heaven knows I'm guilty of the same from time to time. "The building is called the Longbourn Arms, and it's at least 100 years old. There's a coat of arms over the entry. She lives in the tiniest studio you've ever seen, on the top floor. It's an oven during the summer."
I scribbled everything down. "So when do you want to meet for lunch tomorrow?" I asked, folding up the paper and tucking it safely in my shirt pocket.
I couldn't concentrate on anything the rest of the day. I tried to carefully balance the small glimmer of hope Charles had given me with the information I had at my disposal, wondering if her behavior had changed at all from the time she declared she didn't like me. I left work at exactly 5:00; with the help of Google maps I already had worked out the address and quickest route to the Longbourn Arms. The moment I got in my car with the intention to visit Elizabeth my hands began to sweat.
I arrived on her street a half hour later. I passed her building because there wasn't any available parking nearby; I drove up and down the street, getting a feeling for her neighborhood. Wanting to discover the place she called home. I'd lost my courage sufficiently that I was considering returning home when a car parked directly in front of the Longbourn Arms pulled away. Providence, I thought, and I parked my car and nervously went inside.
I considered walking up the stairs to give my anxiety a chance to calm down, but I didn't want to arrive at her door sweating and stinking from having climbed eight steep flights of stairs. So I called the elevator, stepped in, and watched as the lighted numbers climbed toward eight.
I stood and stared at her door more than a minute, glad that no one walked past in the hall. Finally, summoning my courage, I raised my hand and knocked.
The door creaked as she opened it. She was wearing snug, faded jeans and a trim long-sleeved t-shirt, and a look of utter confusion on her face. "William?"
During the afternoon I'd been thinking of all the things I wanted to tell her if I saw her. I ran it over and over in my mind like a mantra, adding things and changing the order of words; I refined it further during my half-hour drive. The final version went something like this: Hello, Elizabeth. I have really come to admire you in the time I've spent with you at Charles and Jane's. This was an understatement even she would know it, after reading that note that fell under the bed but it was somehow more comfortable than starting out cold by saying, "I'm in love with you." I would like to spend more time getting to know you, and I'm wondering if you would like to have dinner with me sometime? Just the two of us? I ran it through my head twice during the elevator ride, and I had it more or less memorized.
But when she opened the door and her eyes were on me and her lips curved into a smile, all rational thought fled. I blurted, "Hi, Elizabeth. I got your address from Charles. I hope you don't mind. I was...um...I was wondering if you wanted to go get some dinner? With me? Tonight?" And then I held my breath. I knew that if Charles's interpretation of her pensive mood was anywhere near the mark I'd discover it right away. She would either welcome me, or she'd brush me off.
She looked surprised. "I really...I really shouldn't."
My heart slid down into my stomach.
"I just put a lasagna in the oven ten minutes ago, and if I leave it will burn. Or if I take it out and leave it on the counter it will be ruined when I get back home. I made plenty though...you wouldn't want to eat lasagna here with me, would you? Then again, who cares? It's just lasagna, I mean I can trash it. Where would you want to...?"
I listened to this stream of words with a little confusion. I was in a nervous daze of my own, and she was speaking 90 miles per minute. I listened and nodded and evaluated and realized she'd asked me to stay for dinner. And then she offered to throw out her dinner and go out with me. If that wasn't a sign of hope, I didn't know what was. I reached through the doorway and touched her hand. "Elizabeth?"
"I would love some lasagna here with you. I don't want to impose, though."
She slid her hand into mine. "No imposition at all. Come in."
Charles was right. It was the smallest place I'd ever seen. There was a pine armoire and a small, low bed on the left, a chair and a half, lamp, and bookcase on the right, a small table for two straight ahead, and the entire kitchen was no more than a small sink, two burners, an oven not much bigger than a toaster, and an under-counter fridge. I think my bathroom vanity had more counter space than her kitchen did.
But instantly she made me feel at home. I sat on one of her kitchen chairs and we talked while she laid out plates, flatware, fresh carrots and pea pods, and water glasses. We chatted while we sat at her table; our knees and feet were constantly bumping underneath, and neither of us complained about the contact.
Together we washed the dishes in her tiny sink. "Thank you for coming, William. It was nice to have dinner with someone," she said.
"Yes, it was. Are you..." Are you trying to get rid of me? "...tired?" For all her welcoming I still didn't know if this was just a friendly dinner or the beginning of something wonderful and permanent. I wanted to spend more time with her and I fervently hoped the evening wasn't over yet.
She lifted her eyebrows. "Not yet," she answered uncertainly.
"Would you like to...go somewhere? We could get dessert, or...I don't know, see a movie?"
"I had a long day today," she said, hanging the dishtowel to dry. "But I wouldn't mind sitting for a while, maybe watching a movie here." Again she slid her hand inside mine. "Do you want to stay?"
Forever. "I'd love to. But I don't see how we're going to watch a movie. Unless you mean look at the box."
She laughed and walked toward the armoire. "The TV is inside here," she said, opening the doors to reveal a small television and little stereo. "I don't have many movies..." In fact her entire DVD collection seemed to be adaptations of romantic novels. I was surprised when she found an exception. "Uh...how about Star Wars Episode I?"
"And we can sit..." She chewed her lip as she looked at the single chair and the bed. "As you can see I don't do much entertaining. You can have the chair, if you think it isn't too far away from the screen, and I'll..."
I captured her hand, which was nervously running back and forth across the DVDs, and I entwined my fingers with hers. "If we take off the cushions, do you think there's enough room on that chair for both of us?"
She smiled. "Maybe, but it will be tight."
"I can deal with tight."
She sat straight as a board for the first five minutes, leaning over the armrest; but after ten minutes she had settled into my side with my arm around her shoulders. I could smell her hair, I could feel her shoulders gently rising and falling with every breath. I kissed the top of her head and she looked up at me.
I wasn't paying attention to the movie; I couldn't think about anything else when she was so near. I said, "You're beautiful." With my finger I felt the soft skin on the curve of her cheek. "You're wonderful. I think you're the most fascinating person I've ever known. I can't stop thinking of you. I don't want to stop thinking of you. I want to see your face every time I close my eyes. And I want to hold you like this for the rest of my life."
Her eyebrows quirked upward in the way that I found so absolutely charming. "You do?"
"Elizabeth, you must know."
She lifted her hand and tentatively traced my cheekbone, then my ear. Next she softly ran her finger across my parted lips. I pulled her closer, wrapping her in my embrace, and slowly lowered my mouth to hers.
After twenty minutes we weren't watching the movie anymore. And after thirty minutes, she said, "We both fit in this chair better than I would have guessed."
"May I see you again tomorrow, Elizabeth?"
She nodded almost shyly.
"I could take you to dinner. Or anywhere. Do you have something particular you'd like to do? But I'd really like to show you my apartment. Maybe make dinner together."
"That sounds nice." She smiled at me and I swear my heart stopped beating.
"I'd give you directions, but I know I'll be anxious to see you again. So I'll pick you up...around 6:00?"
She nodded again. "Okay."
I kissed her again beside the door of her small studio apartment; I held her in my arms, and it was everything I'd dreamed of. Her skin was soft and warm under my fingertips as I touched her cheeks and her neck. Her hair felt like spun silk as I ran my hands through it. Her body was warm, nestled so closely into mine, and the sensation of her arms around me filled me with uncontainable joy. The kiss was exquisite, the passion heavenly; but within that moment I could feel the rest of my life unfolding within my arms. I left her apartment looking much further down the road than our date for dinner the following night.
Contents of this page © Alyson 2004
With thanks to Alicia, Tamanna, and Jean Louise for edits, and Sofie for long-distance reading and approval.
Alyson's Index Bennet Girls Home