Posted on Sunday, 15 July 2001, at 4:05 a.m.
It was beautiful the way they moved around the subject, like dancers avoiding the edge of the stage for fear of plunging into the unknown, only to get up, brush themselves off in embarrassment, and pretend nothing ever happened. Neither of them knew that they each secretly harbored the same wish that the other one would make the mistake and step into that unknown territory. However, as it remained, both of them were either too stubborn or too cautious, and nothing was ever said about it.
"Emma!" Shawn Knightley waved at her excitedly from across the field. She smiled as he weaved his way through the runners circling the track and jogged toward her.
"Sorry, Coach Woodhouse!" Emma called, though she didn't feel the least bit repentant.
Her father, in his Bruins cap and heather gray sweats, gave her an indulgent smile and went back to supervising the practice. As the other members of the track team ran the curve that passed in front of where she was standing, they called out her name and grinned, almost knowingly, as Shawn engulfed her in a hug.
"Ach! You're sweaty!" Emma pushed him away, her hands remaining on his bare chest a second longer than necessary. She didn't blush outwardly, but her insides quivered slightly. It bothered her that the sight of his bare torso could still make her insides flip when she had seem him much the same way since they were babies sharing baths together.
"Oh, I've got wonderful news!" If he noticed her discomfiture, he didn't say anything. Shawn pulled out an envelope from his back pocket and handed it to her. "Read it!"
She slowly took out the letter, a feeling of unease creeping upon her. The quick flash of the return address and the word "Boston" started the queasy feeling in her stomach. Unfolding the missive, Emma glanced over the words and fell quiet.
"Well?" He asked, his handsome face beaming with such pleasure. "Isn't it fantastic?"
Emma nodded. Oh yes, of course, she thought. Fantastic. My best friend is leaving me. Well, isn't that great? "Super." She forced out, tears suddenly pooling in her eyes.
You know everything that I'm afraid of
You do everything I wish I did
Everybody wants you, everybody loves you...
Back in January, Shawn had been waitlisted at Harvard. Though disappointed, he had been accepted into UCLA full scholarship and Emma had been ecstatic. Her father's legacy at the university made her acceptance go that much swifter, and Emma hoped beyond hope that her friend would also attend with her. Since being waitlisted wasn't a guarantee that he would be getting in, Shawn had accepted his fate and was resigned to becoming a Bruin with Emma.
But now, after months of secretly hoping, they had written back that there was a spot for him in their incoming freshman class. Imagine his surprise and gratification at such a statement. Finally those years of hard work were going to pay off.
"Why aren't you happy?" He asked, confused.
Emma plastered on a bright smile. "Oh, I am. You're going to Harvard! That's so great! I can't believe it." She hugged him again, tighter than her usual embrace. I can't believe it.
I know I should tell you how I feel
I wish everyone would disappear
Every time you call me, I'm too scared to be me
And I'm too shy to say...
Shawn studied her carefully, but since she was hiding whatever she was feeling, he didn't pry. Emma would tell him eventually, on her own accord.
"So what are you doing here?" He asked finally. For the past few weeks she had been going home early with her friend Harriet because a knee injury kept her out of track practice. Normally, she would run with boys while her father watched. Now, she could only watch with longing as they raced when she was ordered to take it easy until her knee healed.
What am I doing here? She asked herself, feeling stupid and emotional. "Oh, Jane asked me to give this to you." Emma handed over a folded sheet of light pink paper, her hands shaking ever-so-slightly. Earlier that morning, Jane Fairfax had asked her to give this note to her friend; she had asked so sweetly, in that maddeningly nice tone of hers, that Emma was hard-pressed to do as she wished lest other people think her rude. There was something about Jane Fairfax that Emma could not like.
It may have had something to do with the fact that Shawn was head-over-heels in love with that simpering blonde twit. But, of course, if asked, Emma would heartily deny it. Why would she have any reason to hate lovely Jane? Surely she could not begrudge her friend his happiness? Emma would have liked to think she could not, but the fact remained...
Ooh, I got a crush on you
I hope you feel the way that I do
I get a rush
When I'm with you
Ooh, I've got a crush on you
A crush on you...
She had only begun to realize her feelings for Shawn during the past few months. It had sparked with the first realizations that their time together was limited and soon fading fast. The school year would soon be over, and then college and separation. Emma couldn't bear to think of what she would do without the gentle guidance of her friend.
Needless to say, when Shawn had been denied immediate acceptance into Harvard, Emma was selfishly pleased. But now, it seemed everything was tumbling down.
"She said yes!" He pronounced cheerfully. "Jane said yes! Oh, I can't believe it. Today must be my lucky day!"
It hurt her to see him so happy, when she felt so miserable. Deep inside, despite her selfish tendencies - which she did not deny - it hurt her that she had it in her the impudence to envy his happiness.
"What did she say yes to?" Emma asked, glumly. She already knew the answer, but felt required to ask him anyway.
"Remember how I asked her to prom a week ago? She said she had to think about it and that she'd give me an answer later. Well, this is her answer!" He waved the note in her face. "Yes!"
"Mr. Knightley!" Her father called imperiously from across the track field. "We would appreciate if you would resume practice sometime this decade!" Some of the other runners snickered and Shawn colored slightly.
"Right on it, Coach!" He called right back, turning to Emma with a rueful smile. "I got to head back or the boys will think I'm getting special treatment just 'cause I'm friends with Coach's daughter."
"But you are." She pointed out.
"Well, yeah. But I don't need to remind them of the fact." He smiled roguishly. "Talk to you later, Em. Okay?"
"Sure." She watched him rejoin the group of sweating teenagers. He smiled at her once more before focusing back on his training. It was only a few more weeks until Prom. Then after that, who's to know what would happen. Maybe his infatuation with Jane would come to an end after he finally realized what a bore she was. At least, Emma thought she was a bore.
And of course she wasn't prejudiced at all. No siree. Not Emma Woodhouse.
She was beginning to think she had better take Frank Churchill up on his offer.
Prom Night. It was appropriately titled "Because You Loved Me" after the particularly cheesy, but nevertheless beautiful, Celine Dion song. The hotel ballroom the school had rented for the occasion was marvelously decorated, despite the unfortunate theme of the dance. Emma rather thought the Prom Committee had a field day exploring all the lovey-dovey, mushy possibilities the theme afforded.
"You're not having fun." Frank Churchill said quietly, pulling her away from her thoughts.
It wasn't that Frank was a bad guy, maybe a little misguided. He was certainly handsome, in the sort of bottle-blonde, muscular football-player type of way. Emma liked him well enough to accept his offer to take her to Prom.
Her senior Prom. And she wasn't even spending it with the one person she wanted to share it with the most: Shawn Knightley.
Look at him, she thought. He was dancing with none other than Jane Fairfax herself. I hope he's happy. I hope he's really happy, that stupid boy.
"I'm sorry, were you saying something Frank?" She replied a few minutes later, distractedly.
He shook his head regretfully. She really wasn't being fair to him, really. It was his senior Prom, too. Unfortunately, Frank had gotten himself stuck, however innocently, with Emma - who had subconsciously decided she wasn't going to have any fun at all.
"Why don't we rest a while?" He spun her to a stop. "I'll go get you a coke."
"Yeah, sure." She felt him walk away, but didn't really care all that much.
The song that had been playing ended. Emma watched as Jane whispered into Shawn's ear. He smiled, nodded and let go of her hand and she walked away. As she wondered where Ms. Perfect was going, Shawn spotted her and was soon walking in her direction. Emma tried to subtly disappear, to make herself less conspicuous, which was a hard thing to do when one was wearing a poofed-out pink confection worthy of a Southern Debutante.
"Hey there, Em. I haven't seen you all night. Where've you been hiding?" He was all smiles. It irritated her.
"I was dancing. Frank likes to dance, wouldn't you know?" She didn't see the flicker of jealousy pass through her friend's eyes. "You wouldn't think that when you first saw him. Apparently he has hidden depths." When she finished her commentary, Emma looked back at him.
He was wearing an unreadable expression. "You look nice, Emma. Like a princess." He finally said, in that unbearable soft voice of his. He only talked that way when he was thinking intensely about something, like when they used to camp out in the mountains, lie underneath the stars, and spout on about philosophy and concoct their own theory on life.
"Th-thanks." Emma wasn't used to receiving compliments from him. Shawn usually commented that her clothes were too tight, too gauche and always inappropriate. "You look nice, too."
"Thanks." He involuntarily tugged at his tie, his eyes scanning the room. Probably looking for Jane, Emma thought miserably.
You know, I'm the one that you can talk to
And sometimes you tell me thing that I don't want to know
I just want to hold you
And you say exactly how you feel about her
And I wonder, could you ever think of me that way...
"So, how are things going tonight?" Emma ventured. Frank was nowhere to be seen, that lout. She didn't want to be in Shawn's company if he was going to be fantasizing about another girl.
"Good. Great." He turned to her. "Are you having a good time?"
"Oh, just super." She said with so obvious a touch of sarcasm that his eyebrows went up.
"What is it?" Shawn asked.
Emma couldn't believe he was that stupid. She had been staring at him with such lovelorn constancy for the past few weeks that even her father had noticed a change in her demeanor. "Why aren't you eating?" He had asked. "What's wrong with you, Emma dearest?" But she had waved him off, as she would with Shawn. If he couldn't figure it out by now, she wasn't going to help him.
"Nothing. Oh look, Frank's back." She gave him a perfunctory smile. "I'll see you Monday."
"Yeah, bye." Shawn called after her, with an uncertain look on his face.
Ooh, I got a crush on you
I hope you feel the way that I do
I get a rush
When I'm with you
Ooh, I've got a crush on you
A crush on you...
Graduation was on a Tuesday afternoon. It was a traditional affair, dignified. Graduates wore their navy blue robes with pride, some with silver, light-blue or golden yellow cords around their necks. They gathered at a neighboring school's football stadium. Parents and friends out on the bleachers, the students walking with perfect decorum down the football field to the rows of chairs set before a stage. The summa and magna cum laude speakers gave their addresses with poise mixed with sentimentality. The school principal regarded them with pleasure and satisfaction for four years well done.
"Well done! Well done!" Her principal gushed, tears coming to her eyes. Emma thought she sounded like she was ordering a steak, but kept her observations to herself. If only she could see Shawn. But alas, her last name set her several rows behind as the students were seated in alphabetical order.
After a grueling hour under the sun, the district superintendent pronounced them the Class of 2001 and the graduates roared with pent up excitement, tossing their caps and cheering. Emma searched the crowd for her father. She had caught a glimpse of him earlier that afternoon, his eyes filled with tears.
"Don't cry, Coach." She had hugged him. Her father was never one for emotional displays. "It's all right, Poppa." She had added quietly after he was under control.
"My little girl. My Emma." He had said, pride filling his voice.
"Emma!" She swiveled her head to the side. "Emma!" The voice yelled again. She looked around for the mysterious person, but the crowd of students and parents swarmed around her in a massive, homogenous body that she could not detect the caller.
"Emma!" This time the voice was closer. "Turn around, silly!" She turned around, her heart beating wildly as a pair of strong arms wrapped around her and swung her around in circles.
"Shawn!" She gasped as she caught her breath.
"We did it. Can you believe it? We actually graduated!" He was so happy.
Ooh, I wish I could tell somebody
But there's no one to talk to, nobody knows
I've got a crush on you
A crush on you, I got a crush...
His parents drifted over in that minute. Then her father. Harriet found them easily and hugged Emma until she wasn't sure she was conscious. There were loud cheers of delight and festive music diffusing through the speakers set on the field.
Emma wasn't happy. Sure, the excitement of graduation had gotten her psyched for maybe a few days, but it didn't leave her feeling full and content. But now that the deed was done and the crowning ceremony over, Emma felt not unlike a deflated balloon.
"Come with me." Shawn said suddenly, pulling her away from the bustling group of people. She let him lead the way, knowing almost instinctively where they were going. They got into his car and drove away from the stadium without another word.
It took a scarce five minutes to reach their destination. Donwell Hill. They had escaped here together when the pressures of the world seemed like too much. It was their place as much as Paris would always be Rick and Ilsa's.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" He finally broke the silence. They were sitting atop the hood of his car, looking out into the distance. The sun was setting slowly, on what seemed to her like her former life. Never again would things be the same. "Look how the horizon is red and gold. And then everything melts off into green, indigo, and the violet. Perfection."
Emma didn't answer. For the first time in what seemed years to her, Shawn noticed her reticence. "What's wrong, Emma? You've barely said a word to me in months."
She didn't want to cry in front of him. Tears wouldn't solve anything, now. The last time she had cried in front of Shawn was when her mother had passed away over ten years ago, and even that was a quiet sniffle and a trickle of tears. But now it felt like she was suppressing a dam, trying to hold back the inevitable that she wished would not come.
Emma moved away, nearing closer to the edge.
"Why won't you tell me what's wrong? Please." There was a catch in his voice, a momentary break in that smooth masculine sound that brought her so much comfort. "Talk to me, Emma. I feel like I've lost you somehow. Please..."
"You're moving to Boston." She said, her voice level. "You're leaving me behind."
He looked at her, bemused. "What are you talking about?"
She turned on him, suddenly, her eyes looking so forlorn his heart started breaking. "You promised me that we would always be together!" She raced toward him, wanting to hit him, to hurt his as badly as he had hurt her. Her balled fists hit him squarely in the chest, but he was able to contain her arms in a tight hug as she burst into long suppressed tears. She sagged immediately, the fight gone out of her as soon as the tears started. Shawn didn't know what to do. He had never truly dealt with a hysterical Emma; an emotional Emma, yes, but never hysterical to the point of tears.
He held her tightly to him, whispering soothing words into he ear. He didn't know how long he held her like that, but it was dark long before he let go. "Feeling better now?" He asked softly.
"Yes." She sniffled. "I'm sorry about that."
"Are you going to tell me what that was about?" He asked after a while.
The timing wasn't right, Emma thought all of the sudden. She shook her head no. They got back into the car in silence.
Before they reached her house, Emma touched his arm to get his attention. His brows lifted in question.
"Just tell me one thing." She pleaded.
He readily agreed.
"Do you love her?"
Abruptly, Shawn realized a reason why Emma had been avoiding him like the plague.
"No." He answered truthfully. "No Emma, I don't."
She seemed pleased at the answer.
"How could I love her when - "
But she placed her hand over his mouth, not letting him finish his statement. "When the time's right." She said simply, and then got out of the car.
"We'll always be friends, Emma." He called after her.
"I know." She said, smiling now. He is so beautiful, she thought.
"Forever. Nothing will change that." Shawn said with conviction, his eyes burning brightly.
Emma wished that she could kiss him. It seemed like a fitting thing to do at the moment.
"I love you." She mouthed the words from her front door, and then stepped inside before he could respond.
Victory is mine, Emma thought as she scanned the crowd of fellow graduates. She had never thought four years of college could be so taxing on her nerves. But now those four years were over. True, she still planned on graduate school, but at that minute she savored the moment. A Bachelors degree in English Literature was her reward for years of hard work. And she was not disappointed.
She didn't see him at first, but she felt his eyes on her, leaving the hair on the back of her neck standing on edge. She knew that he would come. He hadn't said he would, but she knew that he would show up much like she had shown up at his graduation three weeks ago.
"Congratulations." The word was whispered into her ear. She jumped and spun around.
"You're here." It wasn't so much a question as it was a statement of fact.
Shawn smiled that radiant smile at her. Emma didn't think it was fair that his smile could still make her melt after all those years. He looked different. Older, certainly, and more mature, more sure of himself. He had grown several inches, filled out a little, gained some bulk in much appreciated muscle. But Lord, he was still handsome as ever.
"Where Coach?" He asked.
"Somewhere in the stands." She replied. "Come on, let's get out of here." Emma grabbed his hand and led him to where family and friends watched the ceremony. The crowd was still lively, but there were fewer persons there than near the stage where people clamored to hug each other. She could see her father, a long ways off, but he was slowly trudging through the mass of people to get to her. It would be a while before he reached them.
"You look beautiful." Shawn said, his voice serious. "You mother would have been so proud."
"I know." Emma wondered why he was here. Over the years they had remained friends, though an entire nation kept them from ever truly retaining the relationship they had had since they were children. "What are you doing here?" She finally asked.
"I wanted to tell you something."
He took a fortifying breath. "I'm moving to L.A. next term."
It was several moments before the meaning dawned on her. "Here?" She croaked. "But why? What about graduate school at Harvard?"
He placed a gentle hand on her cheek. It had been a long while since they had touched each other in this way, in comfort and tenderness. "UCLA offered me full scholarship to their Engineering Graduate Program, Em. And I accepted."
She could hardly believe him.
"Fate rarely knocks twice, Em." He brushed his thumb across her lips. "And this time, I'm making the right decision."
"What are you saying?" Emma felt rather light and airy. His words seemed to pass through one ear and out the other.
"I'm saying I was an idiot to leave you four years ago. I'm saying that I'm moving back and I want to be with you. I want to hold your hand and feel the warmth of your smile again. I want to kiss you and know that all my troubles disappear when you're near. I want to talk to you like we used to, to know what makes you tick." Shawn held her face with both hands, bringing it close to his. She could feel his uneven breath on her cheek. "I'm saying that I love you. I always have and I always will."
"You love me?" Emma repeated, a little incredulously.
You say everything that no one says
But I feel everything that you're afraid to feel
I will always want you, I will always love you
I've got a crush *
He kissed her then, doing what he had so longed to do but never found the courage to. How could he have been so blind? He attributed his ignorance to typical teenage stupidity, but really he could blame no one else but himself. Emma had loved him for so long and he hadn't even noticed. It took those years apart for him to dissect everything, to get it clear in his mind what had happened that night on the hill. And now he had it figured out so clearly it made him want to cry for the joy of it all. "Marry me." He said softly, his mouth still moving over hers.
She stopped him, regarding him closely. She knew in her heart she still loved him as strongly as she did four years ago, maybe even more.
"My father would not approve of a summer wedding." She said slowly, drawing the words out. "Much too hot."
At first he didn't understand her words, but as the meaning drew upon him, he beamed. "Is that a yes? Emma, is that a yes?"
"I'll have to think about it." She said coyly, teasing him in a familiarity they had both missed when they were apart.
"Oh how you wound me!" He cried out dramatically, his eyes flashing with amusement.
He kissed her again, this time relishing in the feel of his arms around her. "Please don't toy with." He whispered at length. "I have loved you since forever. I just didn't know it. Don't punish me for my ignorance. Please Emma."
She shivered. Oh, her father really would not approve, but she didn't care.
"Yes." She said, a blissful smile on her face.
"Yes?" Shawn Knightley, Lord help him, was sometimes as dense as a log.
"Yes, you stupid boy." She grabbed a hold of his neck and pulled him down. "Now kiss me again before I change my mind."
"You don't need to ask me twice." He said eagerly, and did as she wished.
* "Crush" by Mandy Moore