If I Had You

 

Prologue

January 1944, London

Daniel Menteith stared blankly at the letter in his hand. Then suddenly snapping himself out of his reverie, he shrugged and tossed the letter on his desk with a wry expression. Following his natural inclination, he decided to swallow the news philosophically; it was a practice that had served him well throughout his life. He dropped into his desk chair and picked up the letter again.

"I have met a man named Vincent..."

Vincent, eh? Daniel smirked, realizing that the postmark was New York City, not Boston. He tilted back in his chair, inventing a history of this man named Vincent.

Hmmm... New York, somewhat theatrical name... stage actor? That would appeal to Cindy. Twenty-year-old upstart? Or... fifty-something has been? Daniel considered, and found the latter proved more diverting. Got it -- a sugardaddy. Excellent. If I'm lucky it might mean I'll have to pay less in alimony. Because we are getting a divorce, Cindy my dear. Wonder if she's living with him? Bet she is.

He placed all four legs of the chair back on the floor and exhaled patiently. Really, he had been expecting something of the sort for the past few months at least. Cindy's letters had become increasingly shorter and more infrequent. And something of a change in style and substance had given him vague premonitions. He knew that it had to be only a matter of time before this letter came.

And now that it had come, Daniel found that he didn't care. Not the way he should have. Because in the past year and a half that he had been at war, he had gradually ceased to love his wife.

At war. Daniel snorted, for 'at war' for him for the last five months had meant a London Intelligence office. He had still been combat capable after his leg injury, but was sent to Intelligence after his shoulder wound and broken arm. But at least wading through Intelligence bureaucracy proved less monotonous than the tedium and drudgery of Army life in the European Theatre.

I should have joined the Navy. He knew that the Navy bore its own brand of monotony, but he would have preferred it. He had grown up near Boston, not far from the Navy Yard. But he couldn't join the Navy because he couldn't fight the Japanese, which he would probably have done. The Germans, the Italians -- the war was their fault, but Daniel thought the Japanese were different. They almost had to build their empire -- had been forced into it by the Europeans, by centuries of mercantilism and imperialism. Not that it could excuse everything, but it was different from the Germans and the Italians. Though Daniel doubted that many shared his theory. His theory? No...

Ellie.

Miranda Eleanor Matheson.

It was her theory; yet again she had managed to infiltrate his actions, his thoughts, his beliefs, without even trying to.

Ellie.

The woman I should have married. The woman I was expected to marry. The woman who understands me like no other. Who is my confidante, my best friend, my...

Daniel swore. He didn't love her. He never had. He didn't know why -- God knew he had tried. It was confounding; it was ironic; it was tragic. Because he was certain that once he did, everything would fall into place. Everything would be right.

He fumbled around in his desk, seeking matches. Holding the letter up, he noticed a part he had missed in his first hasty reading.

Well, I'm sorry about this, Daniel, but you still have Eleanor Matheson. You may give other women your name, or even your heart, but she has and will always have your mind.

Dan raised an eyebrow in surprise. Probably the most profound thing she's ever come up with in her life. He scolded himself for that thought -- for in light of it, no wonder he didn't care if she left him. Cindy wasn't that bad -- he couldn't blame her for not having Ellie's mind. She was right, remarkable as it was, she was right. And she had been right, more than two years ago...

You resent me for not being Eleanor.

What? Of course not!

Oh, wake up, Dan. You resent every woman you're attracted to for not being Eleanor.

Nonsense!

But it wasn't nonsense. It was a flash of genius and insight from a mediocre mind.

Ellie.

He didn't resent her for it. It was impossible for him to resent Ellie for anything. It was true -- he did resent other women for not being Eleanor, but mostly he resented himself.

You can't be truly faithful to a woman you love if another has your mind... what a recipe for domestic misery you've cooked for yourself, Danny.

He struck a match and held it to the letter. Nothing happened; the match went out. Frowning, Dan struck another match. A corner of the paper caught fire and burnt, then the second match went out. The third time, the flame nibbled at the singed corner for a moment, then burned his fingers. He dropped the match on the floor, crushing it out with his shoe.

Should have known better. Eleanor always says nothing ever catches on fire when you want it to. Ellie, Ellie, always right.

Daniel leaned over in his chair, and taking a less dramatic approach, neatly deposited the letter in the wastebasket. Only the divorce proceedings and then Cindy would be gone. Out of his life. Wonderful. He looked down a his wedding ring. Now, What to do with this... He slid the narrow gold band off his finger. Gold. He hated the sight of gold now; it reminded him of Cindy and the perfect blond hair, the tawny gold-tinged light brown eyes, the eternally tanned skin. Gold -- so like Cindy and so very much unlike Eleanor.

He walked over to the window. It was raining, steady and gray in a very English manner. He chuckled quietly as he thought of some melodramatic poet comparing the weather to his melancholy at being left by his wife. Wrong on both counts -- for he liked the rain and was frankly relieved by the end of his marriage. A rather apt metaphor after all, he mused.

He opened the window and peered down at the Thames. Holding the ring speculatively between his thumb and first finger, he calculated whether he could throw it far enough for it to land in the river with a satisfying splash. So now who is being melodramatic, Dan? Ah, if Ellie could see you now, doing that... He pocketed the ring and walked back to his desk, drawing pen and paper to him.

My dearest Eleanor...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

March 1944, Washington D.C.

Elderly women looked at her approvingly; men offered her their seats with no thought of an ulterior motive. She stepped off the bus and navigated carefully around the puddles -- part rain, part snow, part sleet, part mud. At the apartment building, she smiled and nodded politely at the doorman and collected her mail from the box. She was tired from her job at the War Office, but she did not abuse any of the staff about the state of the weather, the price of heating fuel, rations, or anything else they had no control over. She never did; she was Eleanor.

In her apartment, she sorted her mail into neat piles. The last letter was from Daniel Menteith. With a thoughtful glance, she set it aside. Eleanor perused through the other mail and made herself a cup of tea. Then, she carefully slit through Daniel's envelope with her letter opener. As she pulled out the letter, a plain gold band fell out. Daniel's wedding ring.

My dearest Eleanor,

The inevitable has occurred and all I can say is I don't care -- no, I am relieved -- and you were right. Not that you said anything; you are not like that, but I knew you could tell it would end this way. A 'man named Vincent.' In New York City. My theory: stout, balding, mediocre has-been stage actor in his late fifties. Fairly plausible, given Cindy, I think.

Eleanor pursed her lips, trying to grasp the exact tone of the letter. Sardonic, perhaps, yet it did seem as if he wasn't hurt. She sipped her tea meditatively and continued reading.

And as I said, frankly I don't mind. Because, Ellie, I don't love her any more. You can believe me or not, but I swear to you it's true. Though knowing you, you've most likely realized that already. Maybe months ago, who knows. It always works like this, Ellie.

Eleanor's mind skimmed over the meaning of this enigmatical statement, then decided she would rather not pursue it.

About the wedding band -- do what you will with it. Personally, I think the most sensible thing for you to do with it is dangle it in front of my nose every time you see me doing something damned silly with a woman. We are getting a divorce -- no question about it. Actually, Cindy doesn't know this yet, as I plan to write her about a week after posting this to you. Don't raise the general outcry just yet (what am I saying -- I know that you won't) because I'm going to wait until Cindy writes back before I start telling my family, hunting down the divorce lawyers, all that.

The way I see it, I'm in an excellent position -- comparatively speaking. Who knows how many thousands of men today are receiving a "Dear John" letter as well. Men in combat zones. Men in hospitals. Men who will receive the letter many months after it was written, so long has it chased them around Europe. Men who will die tomorrow. Men who died yesterday. Or men who truly love their wives and the news will shatter them.

What am I left with? Nothing worse than a shoulder that hurts only every now and then, a broken arm that is healing quite nicely, and the usual cuts and scrapes. A desire to never again see Germany or France. A thorough knowledge of military tedium and inefficiency -- but in all fairness, of military capability and strength. No more danger of 'enemy action' than the air raids. And finally... a release from a marriage that I never should have entered. If you want to be terribly Freudian about the whole business, obviously, I was 'victim' to my lust as most men; I thought I was better than that, but apparently not. No, it wasn't that, I did love her. There was just nothing substantial in it. But now I'm out, I'm free -- and honorably. Because no one can say "poor Mrs. Menteith" -- I am the wronged innocent. And that is not something that I find particularly agreeable... it seems sneaky. Because I am not one of those men who will be heartbroken and distraught. I don't deserve the same sympathy. I don't want the same sympathy.

Ellie, I... you know that with you I am nothing but absolutely straightforward. If I could do anything, I would fall in love with you. I've been close before, very close, but it never happened. And for the life of me, I can't understand why not.

Eleanor flinched inwardly, though no one would have known it by looking at her. He was always so honest with her, so brutally honest...

... I should have married you. I wanted to marry you -- I still want to marry you. Even assuming that you would want to marry me, it looks as if we'd have to settle for a platonic marriage. And granted that you are more of a romantic than you care to admit, you would never agree to that. And I can see that it would be impossible for me to marry any other since I esteem you more than any other women I have met or ever will meet... and as Cindy so graciously pointed out, you have and will always have my mind. I dread and despise being lonely (perhaps another plausible reason I married Cindy -- and at 23!). Given that, who know what I may do, though I know better. I gave up too soon. Because think of what it could be like, Ellie...

Quite a predicament, eh my dear?

Love,

Daniel

"Quite a predicament..." Eleanor echoed quietly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Summer 1946, New Hampshire

Will you be
My sunshine forever
Or will you be
Just a friend of mine*

Daniel Menteith hummed as he shaved on an early Saturday morning in his small apartment in a wing of the large dormitory house. One thought ruled his mind.

Ellie's coming.

He had avoided seeing her since his return to New England a year ago after the war. He had wanted to see her, but had instinctively put it off until a time when he really needed her. Like now.

He had spent the past year teaching history at his old boarding school. Despite a few troublesome problems, it had been a pleasant experience. It had been a place to... breathe again; to slow down, finalize his divorce, get used to civilian life again. But the question hung in his mind -- was this what he wanted to do for the rest of his life? He didn't know -- and he hated that.

He glanced up and studies himself in the mirror for a minute. Short dark brown hair, hazel eyes, the longish, slightly patrician face that easily twisted into a wry expression, medium height and build, inclining towards the thinner side -- he supposed that he looked much like a typical American WWII volunteer officer turned loose into civilian life. Then he thought about it a bit longer and he decided only typical for his class. And where he lived. And his ethnic background. And profession. Then he gave up generalizing and decided that there really was no 'typical'.

As he buttoned his shirt, he wondered whether he would stay. He knew could if he wanted to -- despite that mess that had originated and had been largely conducted in his first period class.

But it didn't matter. The administration had never held him to blame for the intense hostility between the two students that had at times threatened to take over his class. He had done his best to diffuse it -- but he could never shake off the feeling that he could have done more. It bothered him, deeply. To leave the school -- would that be to run away? He wasn't sure.

Suppose I do stay. Suppose... Sinking into a chair, slowly, deliberately he posed the question to himself: I stay... and I marry Eleanor.

He could see it clearly. The picture was so vivid it almost startled him... it was always this way. They would occupy one of the larger faculty apartments in the dormitories; just the two of them didn't justify an on-campus house, and Dan liked being the dorm advisor. Eleanor would be excellent in helping him with that -- refereeing and diffusing the squabbles, listening to personal anxieties, counseling the seniors on college and career decisions, straightening out academic difficulties. Dan had no doubt that the students would respect her, listen to her, like her. Yes...

He looked around his rather dark and sparse rooms with the hodgepodge battered furnishings. Eleanor would change all that, he knew. He knew how she would do it, tasteful and classic and subdued. Some things she already had, like the dark upright piano, the impressionistic art she had inherited from her grandparents, delicate glass and china vases and some of her mother's Waterford for flowers. And lots and lots of bookcases.

Daniel could even see how her books would be. Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquei, Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, Descartes would be at the forefront, carefully organized (he wasn't sure of the method) and valued. Hobbes, Marx, Engels, Hitler, Machiavelli, Owen, Malthus, etc. -- the grudging logic of 'you-have-to-know-them-if-you-want-to-defeat-them.' And hovering in a sort of moral and philosophical no man's land, Nietzsche, Disreali... Nietzsche, Disreali... there were others. Hmm... Daniel Webster? Yes, he was there, too, though Dan didn't know why Eleanor would classify him as such. Maybe it was something to do with the Federalists vs. the Democrat-Republicans? No... there was something more to it... he just couldn't remember. And I teach American History?

Dan shrugged. He didn't know why Eleanor's philosophy books were suddenly such a bone of contention.

His thoughts shifted to another direction. Ellie wasn't the typical housewife type -- she wouldn't be Ellie if she was. And truth be told, there wasn't much to do in the rural New Hampshire town. Though Eleanor was always good at occupying herself -- she would could read, and write... there was the piano, her jigsaw puzzles. Still, she should have something more... Nearly all the faculty was male, but the administration could probably find some job for her that she would like. Anyone with any sense at all would want Eleanor to work for him.

Daniel sighed. She was at Dartmouth now... why would she want to leave and come to this rural backwater -- for him? He couldn't ask her to do that. But he didn't have to stay. He could go back to Boston and edit the history books again... or what had he had planned before the war intervened? He had toyed with the idea of politics... nah. Not for him. Business? Perhaps -- but in what? He hadn't the slightest idea. Law? That was a possibility. Maybe. Maybe not. There was still Boston and the history books... and Eleanor. Would Ellie come with me, if I asked her? Even if she didn't marry him. Even if they just stayed... like they were.

Or... Dartmouth. Dartmouth again. Before Cindy.. before... before what? But if it could finally be different -- if he did marry her...?

The most vivid image his mind conjured up was always the one where he came home from work -- whatever it was -- and Eleanor was there, or would arrive a few minutes later. Dinner in progress would quickly materialize through the efforts of both. He would toss off his jacket, loosen his tie; Eleanor would take off her high-heeled shoes, maybe pour them something to drink. She would open the newspaper on the kitchen table -- it would be The Wall Street Journal, he knew. And then they would talk...

Daniel jumped out of the chair and rummaged hastily through the desk drawers. The daydreams were not new. Daniel tightened as he forced himself to remember that they had been present during his marriage.

He breathed deeply and finally found the pack of cigarettes in the back of a drawer. He smoked rarely, only when uneasy or agitated. Lighting the cigarette, he began pacing around the room.

Intruded. The fantasies of marriage with Eleanor, especially that one image, had intruded upon his marriage. Cindy had never known; everything had existed inside Daniel's head, but it had undermined their marriage from the inside out. He realized this now; he hadn't known it then.

Of course, Cindy most likely would have left me anyway, but... He suddenly wondered whether Ellie might have known... he remembered the letter he wrote her the day he received Cindy's letter. What had he said... had there been anything that might make Eleanor think... Eleanor think...

Anything that might make Eleanor think the divorce was my fault -- and it was because of her.

Oh God, please don't let her think it was her fault.

"Damn," he said emphatically. Outside his window, two squirrels arrested their game of tree-tag to look at him. "Damn."

He looked at his watch. A quarter after eight -- he'd have to meet Eleanor's train soon. A few minutes. He turned on the radio to distract himself from the unsettling thoughts.

I don't want you,
But I hate to lose you,
You've got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.

What does it matter anyway? Eleanor would never marry me -- that, at least, seems clear. So why plague yourself with these ridiculous fantasies, Daniel?

I forgive you,
'Cause I can't forget you,
You've got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.

He slammed the door to his apartment and strode rapidly towards his car.

I ought to cross you off my list,
But when you come knocking at my door,
Fate seems to give my heart a twist,
And I come running back for more.**

As Daniel drove to the station, he wondered if Eleanor had changed. Since returning to the U.S., he had written her and called her. She still sounded the same; she seemed the same in her letters. He could remember her perfectly -- the remarkably steady grey-blue-green eyes, the dark reddish brown hair, the faint scattering of tiny, barely discernible golden freckles. The slow, quiet, ironic smile. The way she talked. Her calm, objective reasoning. She never told him what he should do; she made it so he could see his way clear on his own.

Daniel shook his head. She couldn't have changed, not much. I would know by the letters, talking to her. Things change... Ellie endures.

She was 'the girl next door' -- literally. (Or at least as next-door one could get in the large, semi-rural lots.) He had been eleven when her family had moved next door to the Menteiths' brick colonial just outside Revere, Massachusetts. It had been May, and he had fallen out of a tree.

Daniel grinned at the memory. It had been a early Saturday morning, and he had looked down and seen her. He was gradually beginning to realize that not all girls were entirely silly and worthless beings, and something about this one struck him as being most decidedly... not silly and worthless. Something about her was pixie-like; she was so small and dainty; she was wearing a green and white dress and flowers in her hair, and she was skipping and singing. She intrigued him; he didn't know why. It was just something. He had leaned farther out on the branch... and had fallen abruptly into the flowerbed right as she was passing by. The pixie had seen him, and was about to speak to him, he thought, when his mother called him in the house for breakfast.

Miranda. Her name was Miranda. But she was almost always called Eleanor. He wasn't sure why, and neither did it seem that anyone else was -- it had started that way, once, and had continued.

Appropriate, though, if for no other reason than association with males, Dan thought with a smile. Eleanor, the oldest of the Matheson children, had three brothers in addition to a sister. Daniel was the second of five brothers.

Later that day, the families had been introduced (their fathers were friends and business partners) and Eleanor had given him an amused, quizzical smile. He had blushed, acutely aware of the tree incident. They were the same age, and while their brothers had roughhoused, Dan for some inexplicable reason had sat on the porch of the Mathesons' white Georgian house and talked to Ellie instead. And she seemed to read his half-articulated thoughts long before he finished speaking...

Dan had arrived at the train station and was leaning against his car, immersed in his reverie. A touch on his shoulder roused him and he turned around.

"Oh, Ellie..."

*Come by Me, Harry Connick Jr.
**Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Ted Koehler-Harold Arlen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dan started and turned around. "Eleanor..." He took a step forward. "I... I've missed you."

"Ah... That's very sweet of you."

"Heh! -- Is that all I get? No 'I've missed you too, Danny'?"

Eleanor smiled mischievously. "If you think I have, it can go unsaid, can it not?" She raised a questioning eyebrow at him.

"Hmm... With you I never have the slightest idea half the time -- which is probably better than most can do."

"Ah, well... For someone who has missed me so much, you have taken some rather impressive measures to avoid me this past year." Again the questioning look.

"Well... you know..."

"Yes. I know." Eleanor looked up at him and smiled.

Daniel watched her face carefully, listened to the inflections of her voice.

She knows.

They got in the car and Dan began driving towards to school. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself. "I haven't seen you since that time you were sent to London, just before Germany surrendered."

She glanced over at him for a brief moment. "Mmm, yes..." she trailed off. Her face was impassive. Feeling his eyes on her, she turned to look out the window.

Cautiously, he began, "Miranda..." She turned in surprise at his mention of her seldom-used first name. "Miranda, I... London... sorry -- very sorry... I don't.... I can't... what I... did... tried... I know I said... I..." Frustrated by him pathetic attempt to voice his sentiments, he began gesticulating wildly with both hands. "Miranda, I have no idea why I --"

"Drive?"

"Eh? Oh!" Dan placed both hands firmly on the steering wheel. "Hmm.... sorry about that. Ahem... back to the point -- or rather, ah..."

"Dan. Don't worry about it."

"But, Miranda! What I..." He started again. "Miranda, I have no idea what possessed me to tell you those things that night, to ask you to... to... I'm sorry. I don't know why I -- actually, I do, I suppose, because I --"

"Daniel, please. You don't have to do this. I've never..." Eleanor began to say something, but Dan spoke again.

"Yes. I do." He looked at her. "You know, I don't can't even use the excuse of alcohol. That makes it even worse. Maybe very slightly tipsy, I believe, but definitely not drunk -- desperate perhaps?"

"Come on, Danny. Don't worry about it. I'm not mad at you, really. You never did anything, after all..."

"But I -- what would be the word? propositioned? -- who knows what... I don't even know what I intended."

"Danny," said Eleanor slowly, "you would never have done anything in the end."

He wrinkled his nose. "I don't think --"

"I know you."

"Well..."

"Please, Danny, it's fine. Just forget about it."

He gave her a quick, knowing look. "But you haven't forgotten, have you?" His tone was gentle and worried.

"Well, I..."

"Then it's not fine."

They drove in silence for several miles. Chewing her lip, Eleanor pressed her fingers against her forehead, trying to choke back the hard knot of guilt that always formed and always refused to diminish.

"Never did anything -- well, nothing, perhaps, I shouldn't have done anytime years ago," Daniel muttered grimly, not realizing he was speaking aloud.

"Danny..." murmured Eleanor quietly. He didn't hear her.

"In fact, it wasn't much more than I did do eight years ago. Well, I'll be damned," he continued bitterly.

Eleanor paled. ""Danny!" she implored.

"What?" he looked at Eleanor, and realized with a shock that she had heard all of his sour tirade. "Damnation." He sighed. "I'm sorry, Ellie."

"Nooo... I understand." She said it with a kind of quiet irony he found difficult to fathom. Then she turned to him and smiled. "Now, tell me what the trouble is. Why did you call me down here. I know some of it -- but what's bothering you? What do you need to discuss?"

Daniel parked in the faculty parking lot. "I was going to take you around, but it's starting to rain -- you don't mind if we go inside for now?"

"Inside will be fine."

Eleanor sat on a stool at the counter as Dan busied about in the kitchen. "I suppose you'd rather have tea?"

"Please -- that's very nice of you."

"Nah, no trouble. I'll have some too -- your habits have rubbed off on me, you know." He joined her at the kitchen counter, and proceeded to tell her of the two students -- one a rebellious, fanatic anti-American with pronounced Nazi sympathies and the personality of a Prussian caricature, and the other, charming, diabolical, power driven, manipulative, and utterly ruthless. About the hostility that nearly took over his first period class, his own unsuccessful attempts to stem the hysteria and fury, the outrageous blackmail attempt.

"You see," he concluded, "I should have done something."

"You did do something. All you could."

Daniel looked at her. "Not enough."

"The administration doesn't blame you at all, you said."

"No... they've asked me if I want to continue."

"And do you," Eleanor asked, watching him.

"I don't know. Not really, but part of me thinks that..." he broke off.

"...That if you leave it would be running away and you would be guilty be default?" she finished.

"Well..."

"I take it they didn't at all take the blackmail seriously."

"No of course not." He chuckled. "Imagine -- first insinuations of Fascist leanings, the Communist! Of all unlikely things!"

"Oh for you to be either, certainly unlikely -- but they are not, I believe, so dissimilar as your tone suggests you think them."

"How do you mean?" he asked, puzzled.

"People seem to consider Fascism and Communism ideological opposites..."

"You don't, I take it?"

"Not at all. You see," she set down her teacup and assumed her deliberating pose. "They're both based in government control of the economy and totalitarian authority; why are they considered so different?"

"I suppose --"

Eleanor raised an eyebrow. "And weren't the Nazis and the Communists allied at one point? The partition of Poland."

"You win. But you must admit that it's rather unusual to have both flung at you."

"But it wasn't credible anyway." Eleanor returned to the original subject. "What do you think you'll do?"

"I don't know. If you think that leaving the school wouldn't be -- wouldn't seem -- like running from guilt or something like that --"

"I don't. But what do you think?"

"Well, no, but --"

"Then do you want to stay?"

"Not particularly. It's alright, I suppose; I did enjoy it, but I want to be out in the real world, so to speak. Not isolated."

"Away from the microcosm?" Eleanor asked dryly.

Daniel considered. "Perhaps. I suppose it is like that at times -- like the outside world in a pressure cooker."

"What will you do?"

Dan sighed and shook his head. "Therein lies the problem. I don't know. Perhaps I'll go back to Boston; the publishers will probably give me a job there again. It's not really what I want, but it's something, at least."

Eleanor looked at him for a minute. "Danny," she said slowly, "Before the war, didn't you think you might like to teach at a university?"

"Yes, I did -- history, of course. Why?"

"Well... they have a number of openings at Dartmouth. Assistant instructors. Sort of like a TA, but better. Like what I do. And I thought you might be... interested?"

Dan brightened. "That's excellent -- they have openings in history, I'm assuming?"

"American, European, and modern for you, I assume?" Eleanor murmured.

"Right."

"Of course. Now that the wars over, they're having shortages -- in instructors, that is -- because enrollment has increased so much."

"I can imagine." Daniel leaned across the table and smiled. "Very well, I accept. I'll call the administration on Monday and see what I can do to apply for a job. Thank you, Ellie."

Eleanor smiled as her heart sank. She had only thought it fair to offer the position to him, she had thought he would want to take it, and she thought he would probably get the position as well. But it would mean -- yes, she could tell -- Daniel would try to begin again where he left off -- with what he had always wanted, what he had always planned. And that would be a something to endure, to say the least, and probably much more.

Besides, she mused, would going back to Dartmouth be the best thing for him, even not regarding myself?

"Ah, Danny," Eleanor began hesitantly, "it won't be the same, you know... don't try to..."

"Do you think I'm regressing?" he asked seriously

"Er... not that, but..."

"I think I understand."

I doubt it, Eleanor thought.

"Now, let me get this straight -- you teach both English and history?"

"Well, not so much history. A bit of modern American, and the founding of the country, that sort of thing, but more philosophy, really. Enlightenment philosophy," she said happily.

Daniel grinned. "Yeah, I know about you and that.

"And then English -- some Literature, creative writing, and a bit of composition. That's all."

He smiled at her. "You puzzle me."

"Yes."

Dan looked out the window. "Stopped raining. Want to take a walk instead?"

"Excellent."

They began to walk about the school grounds. A sudden thought struck Daniel. "How is your sister?" he asked.

Eleanor caught her breath and swallowed. "Lucy? Better now, considering -- she's going back to Northwestern in the fall, still wants to be a journalist... My mother has been able to get her out and seeing people more, you know."

"Ah, good. Glad to here it. Poor girl, she took it hard."

"Yes. She was very young. That made it worse, I think, but then perhaps, it could be better as well. She still is very young -- she'll recover, I think. I hope." Eleanor sighed.

Lucy Matheson had been engaged to Daniel's youngest brother Nicholas. And Nick had been killed in the war...

"She has become quite close to your mother," Eleanor continued.

"Hmm... not very surprising." They sat down on a group of rocks overlooking the Atlantic. Eleanor was silent and thoughtful. Watching her, Daniel wondered what she was thinking of, with her wistful expression and the far away, almost dreamy look in her eyes, grey, blue and green just like the sea.

Eleanor's meditative face hid the teeming of her mind. Memories flooded her, memories and guilt. An oppressively sunny October day five years ago, her uncharacteristic bitter and disillusioned outburst, her stunned sister. The silent swallowing of Daniel's letter -- that letter. And two years ago -- the news of Nick's death in the Pacific and the storm -- the storm that flooded the streets with rain and blackened all the lights in Washington -- and the other storm that day, the one that had burst upon her and sent her fleeing outside into the rainy streets and into the first Catholic Church she happened upon, seeking some kind of atonement for she knew not what. That nice deacon who had let her cry and had listened to her choked and incoherent outpouring of guilt.

A part of it was irrational, yes, perhaps the deacon was right, but not all, it couldn't be, it was --

"What are you thinking of?" Dan asked.

"What? Oh..." Eleanor tried to find something she could tell Dan of. He didn't need to know about that, not now and probably not ever. What had the last bit been about? Ah, Catholic Church... "I'm not so sure about organized religion...."

Daniel laughed. "You're not so sure about a lot of things. Motherhood, the New Deal, women's suffrage, unions... there's a lot more..."

"Romantic love," said Eleanor, quietly but clearly.

"What?"

"I said that I'm not so sure about romantic love."

"Why, I wonder?"

She shrugged.

"But surely you want to be married some day? I would think that of you." It somehow unsettled him that she would believe this. He was certain, somehow, that Eleanor was the kind of woman that men married -- men like him. Daniel sighed and wondered for the infinitesimal time what could ever have gotten so far off course. But now, if ever, was the time to try to change that -- "You must take your chance."*

"Yes..." Eleanor began again. "But I was saying -- I'm not so sure about organized religion -- I think it may be because my father gave us so much -- maybe too much -- freedom when we were growing up. Intellectual freedom, I mean. He wanted us to think for ourselves, challenge everything -- he encouraged us to himself."

Daniel nodded. Isabelle Matheson was a Congregationalist; Lawrence Matheson was a Roman Catholic. He had never forced one religion or the other on his children, opting instead to educate them about both and let them choose for themselves.

"So we never had much... direction? -- in that line. He also told us about the other Protestant religions and encouraged us to read books about them, and then when I was in my second year of boarding school, my roommate was Jewish -- and I asked her about that as well. So my mind is a bit of a muddle regarding organized religion. But in the end, I suppose I am ambivalently Catholic."

"I see." Daniel was about to continue the conversation when he caught the expression on her face: one of perplexed amusement and repugnance. He followed her gaze and quickly discerned the object.

"Yes, it is rather much, isn't it?" he asked, looking at the sprawling, emerald green, gaudy Victorian gingerbread-type monstrosity.

"It's dreadful! Why do people do such things?"

Daniel laughed. "Yes, I can imagine that my brother the architect would have some very choice words about it as well."

"Paul is in... Connecticut, right?"

"Yes. And John just got accepted into a law firm in Boston."

"Yes, I know -- I've seen him."

"You have? I didn't know that."

"I must have forgotten to mention it," Eleanor murmured.

Dan looked at her sharply. She didn't forget. I wonder... He had always been closest to his older brother, despite Eleanor being a silent wedge between them, ever since -- yes, perhaps ever since Eleanor had taught John to dance one Thanksgiving holiday fourteen years ago, with the radio in the background...

I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You.

Eleanor was silent again. The guilt over Lucy and Nick was a hard, dull ache. The guilt about John was a more acute kind of stab -- tight, twisting, sharp --- piercing and bitter and astringent.

Daniel too was thoughtful -- thoughtful and guilty. John couldn't still -- not after all these years...

John, Daniel reflected, was a very good man.

*Portia in The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

 

Part II

Daniel tried to shake off the memories. He didn't want to think about John.

"We drove up to Revere for the Fourth of July weekend," Eleanor continued.

The Fourth of July?!? Oh God...

Dan tried to appear attentive as she remarked upon various family members and mutual acquaintances she had met in their childhood town.

Fourth of July weekend.... Fourth of July... Fourth of July... first John and now this... Instinctively, he fidgeted for a cigarette, then was exasperated with himself as he met Eleanor's inquiring gaze. "Nothing," he muttered. Her arched eyebrow suggested she didn't believe him but would be satisfied with the answer; he knew that look so well.

Dan took a deep breath and plunged into a feverish account of the past year, most of which Eleanor knew already. She played along, asked questions, made a few unobtrusive corrections.

Five years ago on the Fourth of July he had announced his engagement to Cindy.

"And I suppose you know my mother has..."

His mother. The elegant delight of her voice as she interrupted him, two seconds too soon. "I always knew you would marry Miranda Matheson."

"Ah, yes, yes, oh course that's right, Eleanor. My mind, just driven to distraction today, eh?" Dan continued swiftly, "Andrew still thinks he wants to be an engineer, he'll go back to Delaware when university starts again and..."

Andrew and Nicholas. The naked shock of his youngest brothers. Andrew's characteristic blunt candor -- "But you had always planned to marry Eleanor... why...?"

"And Paul, he is doing well?" Eleanor asked.

"Very, he has..."

Paul. One year younger than them, he had an easygoing friendship with Eleanor, and persisted in referring to her, to her amusement, as his first crush and first flirtation, the girl who had guided him towards the effortless success he had with women. "Not marry Eleanor Matheson? Are you out of your mind, Danny?"

"And your father... I didn't like to ask such a thing, but he isn't thinking of retiring soon, is he?"

"Not anymore. Last winter had had thought..."

His father's voice, both gentle and shrewd; the discreet query. "Are you sure this is... what you want, Danny?"

"He hasn't said anything, of course, but I believe John may be made partner soon," Eleanor began. "Unusually rapid progress perhaps, yet if anyone deserves reward is certainly John."

John. John, always patient, always calm, with the fury in his dark eyes, abruptly pushing back his chair and leaving the Menteith dinner table. "You're a damned fool, Daniel." John, later that excruciating night, on the front lawn, pushed far beyond the normal limitations of human endurance, near snapping -- or had he? "Damn you, Dan! Have you any idea, any conception, of what you have forsaken? ...I love her..." They had nearly come to blows, and then they had, inexplicably, turned toward the Matheson's porch -- Eleanor picking up pieces of her jigsaw puzzle from the floor.

"Yes..." said Dan quietly. "John deserves far more than he has ever asked for."

 

Part III: If You Could Read My Mind

If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell...

...But for now love, let's be real
I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it
I don't know where we went wrong
But the feelin's gone
And I just can't get it back

~

She was gone. Daniel drove slowly back from the train station, collapsed into an armchair, and wondered if it was finally all coming together. Coming together or perhaps falling apart. Because for all those years, it could have, would have, should have. And it didn't. What had happened?

He straightened his slouch slightly, warning himself to keep his mind about him. It was the dress -- had it inspired or halted him? Mentally dizzy, half in love, he couldn't remember. The linen lavender sheath had been a floodgate; such a simple thing, such an inoffensive color, and such a dangerous reminder of the past.

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song;
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you.
But that was long ago...

Could it be the same dress as she wore eight years ago? He couldn't remember... yes, he could. Lightweight silk, sleeveless, pale lavender background, tiny purple... were they violets? sprinkled all over. Odd the way one could remember some things. Odd the way some things insisted on being remembered.

He would have kissed her, kissed her as he had eight years ago. But that dress... Not only the dress, but the atmosphere, so perfect, so familiar, hauntingly de-ja-vu. The resemblance had, he finally decided, lured him to a vague indefinite memory of the kiss, then had slapped him across the face with flashes of other memories, mercilessly definite. And the music... Drifting in and out of his mind insistently, suggesting so many scenes, scenes from the past that were the last things he needed to remember...

....So what's the use of all my scheming
I know I must be dreaming
For I don't stand a
Ghost of a chance with you...

~

If they asked me, I could write a book
About the way you walk and whisper and look...

...Then the world discovers as my book ends
How to make two lovers of friends

~

...I could leave my old days behind
Leave all my pals and never mind
There is nothing I couldn't do
If I had you...

Daniel caught his breath sharply. If I Had You. That had been his undoing, hadn't it? It still puzzled him, Eleanor's urgent voice, low, rapid, almost panicked -- No -- no, Danny, that isn't how it works... A year ago, more. A dark London restaurant, late at night, the singer... wistful and so slow... If I had you by my side... It seemed so long ago and yet so imperative. What had she meant, exactly? He tried to sort it through his mind. Had it even been just that she had said? Perhaps it wasn't; perhaps just one word, one single word, could be a world of difference. Perhaps.

Dan felt suddenly weary. No don't think now... more rational in the morning... call John?... Dartmouth... Eleanor... have a plan, must have a plan... plan, plan... you do have a plan... you've always had a plan, this plan... you were foolishly sidetracked before but now your eye is firmly -- Miranda, Miranda... you avoided her for a year so you could get your head together and now that you have, now that you know... marry her, marry her... everything will fall into place... now that you know what you're about, there is nothing that could possibly stand in the way -- whatever would, could? -- except Miranda herself -- No! Don't think of that, Dan, not now... it will happen, it will -- it must... conviction... half in love with her already... that's where I start... Miranda... so elusive, can't understand her, never could... but better than most... ...call John tomorrow... John knows, and yet what does he know... ...in going about this, never, ever be calculating, never... Miranda can't stand the contrived, hates it... hates... Eleanor, she doesn't take strong words, heavy words, lightly... What had happened, whatever had happened? Ellie... Ellie... Ellie...

Daniel fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take

~

Eleanor took out the small white card again.

Charles Publishing
Boston
Clark Eldridge

She turned it over and reread the handwritten message:

Miranda --
We want you back.
We need you back.
I have reason to believe an
interesting letter shall be
forthcoming, but call me!
-- Eldridge
p.s. I know Patricia and
the children would like
to see you as well.

Eleanor smiled to herself. She hadn't called him yet, but could gauge his approach from the note on the card. Miranda, Eldridge, the entire message -- he would never be so informal with most. And the postscript -- Eleanor shook her head affectionately. Eldridge was pulling out all the stops. All right, she would call him.

Eleanor had enormous respect for her former supervisor, the aggressive, uncannily shrewd editor, who looked upon her almost as a daughter. She leaned back against her seat, gazing out the window at the passing countryside. She could go back to Boston... let Clark bully her into what he knew she wanted, as it so often happened -- used to happen... why not.

Danny... What would he think of this, what would he do? And then there was John; John lived in Boston. What did he... How would she... And if Dan...

So many entanglements.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'd walk away like a movie star
Who gets burned in a three-way script
Enter number two

~

Henry Warner scanned the train, seeking -- Admit it, Henry: Companionship.

And not, he continued to himself as he walked down the aisle, merely for tonight or tomorrow but for a long, long time. It was something he had missed in his work in the East, though he had not fully realized it at the time. Perhaps to save myself from going insane, Henry mused wryly. Wiser not to dwell on something you can't have. In his years of experience, Henry had categorized women at the digs as belonging to one of three classes: older, motherly assistants; serious, bluestockings young women in a single-minded pursuit of their work and who were suspicious and hostile to his mild friendly overtures, some even seeming to detest men as a whole; and the group Henry dreaded most, the empty-headed, giddy coquettes who cared nothing for the actual work and were always in the way, who had only come East in hopes of catching a husband, preferably one with potential for academic distinction.

Of course, most of the excavation sites had been in fair proximity to British military bases, and where there were officers, there were always at least a few officers' daughters. However, Henry had soon discovered that the young officers themselves held far more lasting appeal to the fresh British misses than an older American archeologist with an uncertain duration in the vicinity.

Just to find a girl... someone unaffected and intelligent and reasonably well bred... someone who was willing, once or twice a day, to really think... tolerably attractive and, if possible, with at least something of an appreciation for archeology. He didn't ask much. Just someone who would give his wandering spirit a reason for wanting to stay for a long, long time.

Henry caught a glimpse of a scrap of paper with writing scribbled on the back lying on the floor. He dropped into the empty seat and turned to the one across the aisle, occupied by a young lady with an open book across her lap, but she did not appear to be reading. She was gazing out the window and seemed lost in thought; likely this paper was her bookmark.

Picking it up, Henry's sensitive fingers automatically noted the heavy paper and uniform size of a business card. He started slightly upon recognizing the name of the establishment. He paused for a moment, studying the profile of the pale, heart-shaped face, the slender hand cupped under the very slightly pointed chin, the wavy, dark chestnut hair. He hated to interrupt her; it seemed almost invasive to speak to her, to intrude upon her thoughts, and yet -- "Miss," he began. His mother had once told him that when unsure of the married state of a young lady, always address her as Miss; it implied that you thought either she seemed young enough to be likely unmarried, or at least you hoped she was. "Ah, Miss."

She started out of her reverie, then turned to him inquiringly.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, but perhaps you dropped this?" Henry held out the card.

"Ah! Thank you very much." Miranda smiled, their fingers touched as he handed her the business card, and... no one had eyes like that... no one.

Henry had an instantaneous deliberation with himself about the propriety of such an inquiry... but that smile... those eyes...

"Ah, Miss... I couldn't help noticing... I -- perhaps you have had association with Charles Publishing?" He felt ill mannered, and added quickly, "Please forgive my impertinence -- I ask because I will be working for them in a short time."

"I worked there," Eleanor replied slowly, "before the war." She considered him thoughtfully, trying to sort out his person in her mind. He looked about thirty-three or four, older than most ex-GIs, and yet his choice of words suggested this was not a job he was going back to, but rather an entirely new experience. His clothing also, gentleman's clothing -- not expensive, but well tailored -- was new, but fit him as if he was perfectly confident wearing it but had not occasion to in a long time. Puzzling. He wore no wedding ring. Probably tall, though it was hard to tell sitting down. Lean, athletic frame, strong agile hands. Black hair; alert dark eyes, a cheerful countenance in a very tanned face.

He stood up. Yes, tall. "Pardon me a moment," he said with a brief smile, swinging his suitcase into the overhead rack.

Eleanor murmured the customary nearly unintelligible polite reply, still observing him keenly. His suitcase, she noted, was adaptable and of excellent quality, a seasoned traveller, she concluded. However, not for leisure... a businessman perhaps, but she did not think so. His movements, his frame, his hands all suggested his was accustomed to both physical and mental labor. He was, she was almost sure, and American. He talked like an American, moved like an American -- yet there was something in his manner that was faintly un-American, a scrupulous and almost self-conscious, concern for propriety or prudence which belied the relaxed, easy charm that she had seen in his grin, that she perceived in his character. There was a trace of an almost Southern inflection in his voice, such as of Maryland or Upper Virginia, but this man, Eleanor was sure, was not an easterner.

Henry met Eleanor's eyes as he sat down. Grey, blue, green, at once dark and clear -- what could you call that color? He looked down and considered. He knew that if he deliberated too long, he would lose first his nerve, then his opportunity, so he continued almost feverishly, with the odd feeling of his voice being an entity separate from body and brain. "I haven't been here much since long before the war," he said, then a wry smile, "so I find it a bit strange to be back in the States... and I seem to be starting my second life, almost, same as fellows ten years younger are starting their first."

Eleanor looked at him inquiringly, at the same time pursuing her rapid assessment. "Really?" she asked. "Where have you travelled?" Yes... she had thought he had been abroad. He was...

"Transjordan last," Henry replied, a smile breaking through the worry. She didn't think he was impertinent, or brazen, or ill mannered. "Before the war, that is... I was in Egypt then. Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel, Turkey also -- well, I suppose I've been through most of the Mid-East at some point or another -- it's been, oh, at least twelve years, after all. I'm an archeologist."

Eleanor smiled to herself. Exactly as she had surmised. "It is fascinating work, particularly in that area. When I was with Charles I once helped an archeologist with a book he was writing... I must say that more than once I became so lost in the material I forgot I was supposed to be checking for historical inaccuracies and misplaced commas. Transjordan... hmmm, perhaps then you have studied the..."

Henry stared at her as she spoke about an excavation that had been of particular interest to him. Good God, this girl was genuine -- but... and cynically, he remembered all those damned girls who were always in the way at the digs. But none of them ever looked like this, talked like this; he had never seen that faint, enigmatic smile on any of them... or anyone at all.

Casually, he threw out a few comments and she replied, far too knowledgably to be bluffing; the questions she asked were even further proof.

"I worked with a group of Englishmen. But as you know, not only do the British not have the protectorates anymore, but they are beginning to withdraw from the region, which makes it a bit more difficult, so..." He shrugged. "Besides, I knew I would settle down someday. My sister in Boston is immensely pleased," he chuckled. "Charles Publishing offered me a job as a sort of resident archeological consultant, as they specialize mainly in textbooks and other academic texts -- though of course you know that."

"Yes..." said Eleanor slowly. "They have asked me to return... and I think I might."

Henry felt a rush of... pure marvelous. "Well then, we would be colleagues."

"Yes, I suppose we would."

"Which means I ought to introduce myself, which I have done before and have inexcusably neglected. Henry Warner." He held out his hand.

She took it. "Miranda Matheson."

"Miranda..." Henry repeated slowly. The sound of it, the feeling of the syllables rolling off his tongue, were delightful.

Miranda... She smiled again. "However, more often called Eleanor."

"Eleanor? I must have been out of this country long indeed if I cannot quite see how Eleanor derives from Miranda," he teased mildly.

"Oh, I'd think you would have been out of it longer if you could see. Eleanor is my middle name."

"Ah, so Miranda is used only for special occasions?"

"No... they are interchangeable, I would suppose. I am called either, though Eleanor more often."

"But I suppose," recalled Henry, "really I ought to be calling you Miss Matheson?"

The steady dark grey-blue eyes flickered with amusement. "Perhaps. However, you have said Miranda so often, and in such a short space of time, that it seems rather futile to recover lost ground at this point, doesn't it, Mr. Warner?"

Her response floored him. "I sup -- if you believe that..."

"Do not make yourself uneasy," Miranda murmured.

Inexplicably, Henry looked at her and colored. That smile... those eyes...

Miranda asked him something about a particular Mesopotamian excavation, leading the conversation back to archeology. Henry recovered his poise.

The train reached the Boston station a pleasant half hour later and Henry departed, left with the delightful feeling that somehow, he had found exactly what he was looking for, only better.

Miranda Matheson remained on the train, bound for her parent's house. Henry Warner sauntered off to find a taxi, subconsciously whistling "When Love Walked in With You."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But stories always end
And if you read between the lines
You'll know that I'm just tryin' to understand
The feelin's that you lack
I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just to get it
I don't know where we went wrong
But the feelin's gone
And I just can't get it back

~

Daniel Menteith awoke the next morning to find himself in an extremely cramped and uncomfortable position in his armchair. After a brief stretch, he headed to the kitchen, and found himself challenged by the telephone.

Marry me, Miranda.

He turned around.

Call her.

He turned back.

I'm sorry for everything, anything. Marry me, Miranda.

She was at her parents' house, he recalled. Slowly, he spun the numbers.

I need you, Ellie. Marry me, Miranda.

One more number. Dan dropped the receiver back into the cradle and strode out of the kitchen.

~~~~~~~~

Some notes:
1. "If You Could Read My Mind" is a song by Gordon Lightfoot, written in the 60's and so a bit anachronistic, which is why it isn't technically "in" the story like the other music. As it appears here, the verses are not always in order or complete, so I didn't do it justice.

2. The other songs are, in order of appearance, "Stardust" (Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish); "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You" (Victor Young-Bing Crosby-Ned Washington; "If I Had You" (Shapiro-Campbell-Connelly); and "I Could Write a Book" (Rogers & Hart)

3. Transjordan refers to Jordan, Mesopotamia is Iraq. These, in addition to Egypt and Israel, were made British protectorates after WWII, but progressed through various stages of independence beginning in the 1920s. That's why Henry would be with a British team, and there would be British military bases.

 

Part IV: Everything Happens to Me

You may break, you may shatter
the vase, if you will,
But the scent of roses will
hang round it still
~ Thomas Moore

John Menteith glanced up from his work as the impeccable blonde glided into the room and laid a stack of files on his desk.

"I've gone through them. They should be all in order now," she said with a significant look.

"Ah, you're marvelous, Peg."

Margaret Raleigh dismissed this with an elegant shrug. "I suppose you should know I discharged that Harriet creature yesterday afternoon," she began.

John sighed and stretched his long legs out under his desk. "I hope you were easy on her? And wrote her a good recommendation..."

"Of course. I said she was very polite, obliging, easily directed... directed, Mr. Menteith -- not taught -- but no mention of secretarial skills. And I did do the child some favors, don't worry -- suggested to her quite tactfully that domestic service might possibly be a bit more in her line."

"Well --"

"Absolutely incompetent," said Peg firmly.

"Ah, Peggy, you're ruthless."

"I have to be! Otherwise nothing would get done around here, all you men are so soft. Take the silly girl back if you like, but I'll tell you this: the next time she puts your files into some unholy disorder it shall be you rearranging them and not I."

John chuckled quietly and picked up his pen, murmuring something about "who's truly the boss 'round this place." Margaret started towards the door, then smiled and turned, pulling up a chair to face John across the desk. "My Rob told me what you did for him," she said, her very blue eyes lighting appreciatively.

John looked down at the desk, murmuring in his low, pleasant voice, "Nothing, Peg really."

"But yes, you did! Because if it hadn't been for you, he knows Mr. Trevis and Mr. Albans would have never even noticed him, not with all those rich Ivy League my-father-is-your-most-important-client little boys in the running as well. I know it, John, don't try to tell me otherwise. Rob was so sure he was doomed to legal clerkdom for another year at the very least, but then you said --"

"Nothing more than he truly deserved."

Peg arched an eyebrow. "Very well, if that's how you like it. But thank you." Her eyes lit up again. "And now we shall be able to marry next spring. May or June, I believe, or perhaps even April -- I've always thought it would be lovely to marry in late spring."

John smiled broadly. "Congratulations, Peg."

"Before he was accepted Rob didn't think there was any way we could afford it until fall next year, at the earliest," Peg continued. "I've always thought it would be so dreadful to have a wedding in say, October, don't you agree?"

"Dreadful..." John echoed.

Peg was frowning. "Of course, it's likely quite nice; I just have preconceived prejudices. Have you ever been to a fall wedding?"

Miranda...

John cleared his throat, eyes on the desktop. "My brother Daniel was married in October. Five years ago." He looked up at Peg and added dryly, "The wedding itself was quite nice. My brother though... he's divorced now."

That long long day... that even longer night...

"Oh! I'm sorry."

What could you have been thinking, Danny?

"No, no, better that way. They didn't suit, never could have. But as you see, I have a prejudice against October weddings as well."

But what had she been thinking... what was I thinking...

"Well, Rob and I suit," said Peg loyally. "Though spring would be so much nicer..."

"Mmm..." John agreed vaguely. Peg left, closing his door behind her. John looked down at his desk and found himself unable to concentrate on the document in front of him. He had hated Daniel's wedding, all too cognizant of what his brother was giving up and of the unavoidable disaster this marriage would become. There was Miranda, even more distant that day than ever before. And then...

Eyes greener than he had ever seen before... please Miranda just cry... delicate pale face... that unbearably steady gaze... lamplight under moonlight late late at night... Miranda cry and tell me you love him tell me you hate him tell me he broke your heart tell me anything don't worry about me but Miranda don't look like that please don't look at me like that...

Pressing his fingers against his temples, he took slow a breath and turned back to the papers.

She's Danny's girl... Danny's girl, no matter what happened... he always planned it this way...

The door opened again. "Paperwork for the Folger case," Peg announced briskly. "Why, whatever is the matter?" she asked a startled John.

"Bit of a headache, nothing more," he said, avoiding the eye of his astute secretary.

Peg's eyebrow shot up. "I see." At the door she paused. "You really ought to get married."

She slipped out, closing the door behind her. John's eyes dropped to the desk; absently, he ran his finger along the edge.

He needs her, damnit. Stay out of the way.

"Not a chance..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The critical period in matrimony is breakfast time.
~ A. P. Herbert

"Ed?" Claire Staley set a cup of coffee in front of her husband. "Dora is in Boston now you know... I thought it might be nice to invite her over -- for dinner or something?"

"Dora?" Edward repeated blankly, then remembered pale yellow hair, huge dark brown eyes, and an oddly winning naiveté. "My cousin? How old is she now, anyway?"

Claire pushed dark hair back into place and answered patiently, reflecting that women always had to keep track of their husbands own relatives for them. "Nineteen. She has enrolled in the typist's school, remember?"

"Of course," Ed replied quickly, wondering why he should be expected to remember this, of all things. "Well, yes, I'm sure she would like that. You're so thoughtful, my dear." He gazed into his wife's dark eyes and smiled. Thank goodness for women like Claire. "I admit, I'd completely forgotten she was coming. And poor girl, not knowing anyone, coming to the big city from that little Vermont backwater..."

Claire nodded abstractly and examined her nails. "Yes... she'll be lonely... and of course there's poor Henry..."

Oh. Edward hastily swallowed his coffee. "Good Heavens, Claire, the man just stepped out for a newspaper and you're conspiring against him already!"

"I'm not conspiring!" she protested. "I just hate seeing the boy moping about with nothing to do. He hasn't been in the U.S. at all for more than two months at a time for nearly ten years. And who would he know in Boston? My brother is a very... gregarious man. He needs to be around people!"

"Claire-y..." Ed smiled and shook his head at his wife. "Claire-y. First of all, that "boy" is six years older than you --" He held up his hand to stem his wife's protestations. "A minute, my dear. I've seen no evidence of "moping", although I do admit I lack women's intuition and so forth, but nevertheless, he's starting that job soon. He'll have something to do, and he will meet people -- people, Claire, with whom he will have much, much more in common than Dora. Really, Clairey, do you think your brother -- thirty-three, well-traveled archeologist, sensible, respectable, intelligent -- can possible have much interest in a shy, simple, moderately pretty girl, who has spent all her unremarkable life in a town population five hundred -- and above all, my dear -- who is fifteen years his junior?"

Claire rose with a frigid glare at him. "You are jumping to conclusions, Edward." The indignation in her voice rose. His coffee cup was taken away from him and dumped rather noisily into the kitchen sink. "I merely thought your cousin might be interested in some of Henry's stories from Mesopotamia and Transjordan and wherever else the boy has been flinging up dirt for most of his adult life. ...And if Henry might be diverted by a pretty, sweet girl like Dora for a few evenings, then what harm?"

"Claire..." Ed groaned. But in a way it was difficult to blame her -- she had to have some sort of project every summer. Accounting continued throughout the entire year, but high school for only nine months. Last summer Claire's project had been the new curtains and wallpaper; it had been expensive, but harmless. Dora's deer-in-the-headlights expression suddenly flashed into his mind. She would be completely in awe of Henry, open-tempered, easygoing, attractive, self-assured Henry. Expensive, no. But harmless... oh no, this would be a problem.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No greater grief than to remember days of sadness when sorrow is at hand.
~ Friedrich Schiller

Lucinda Matheson stood by the mailbox in the rain, sorting through the letters. Nothing for her but one, two, three wedding invitations. All the same cream or white, delicately embossed, gilt lettering. And she would have had one, too, if not for damned bloody Hitler. Gone because he needed to take over the world. Lucy turned and ran back up the porch steps.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
~ Rudyard Kipling

Henry Warner breezed through the front door whistling, newspaper in hand.

"Henry!" his sister called from the kitchen. Claire dried her hands on a towel and came into the living room. "Henry, do be sure you are here for dinner Thursday night, please dear?"

"Certainly... is there anything...?"

Edward Staley gave his brother-in-law an apologetic look, then buried him face in the newspaper.

"Ed's cousin will be coming over."

"Oh, well..." Henry floundered -- what was Claire getting at? "That's nice..."

"Yes, I'd very much like you too meet her. She's such a sweet pretty girl, isn't she Ed?"

Her husband made some sort of non-committal husbandly noise. Henry stared at his younger sister, awash with trepidation and dismay. Damnit all, Claire...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is a mistake to look too far ahead.
The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.
~ Sir Winston Churchill

Daniel sat up in bed, breathing rapidly. It was that dream again, for the fourth time in a week. The ship, himself at the helm, the tawny golden coast, beautiful but treacherous. Get away from it as soon as possible, the ship will run aground, be careful. Gone and out, further and further into the sea, dark and clear, grey, blue, and green, deep and cool.

And now, to drop anchor. Only it wouldn't; over and over, everything done right, by the book, as it should be. But nothing happened -- as soon as he thought everything was set, the ship would continue to move. It didn't make sense. It was not what should have happened. It was a contradiction of nature. And it was weakening his resolve, maddening his mind. Why why why why why???

And it was the fourth time this week. He was a wreck. Miranda Eleanor Matheson was his salvation.

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Some women'll stay in a man's memory if they once walked down a street.
~ Rudyard Kipling

John walked back to his office building from a client meeting. The unexpected reminder of Miranda had caused an ache all day. He had steadily tried to keep her out of his mind, except with regards to helping his brother. Danny, Danny, so foolish and inept. He meant to marry her this time, John knew. At last.

If Dan could finally marry her, that would cancel out those incidents and that night and these thoughts and this unbearable guilt. And Danny thinks I'm such a paragon of virtue, John thought bitterly.

His brother could never know. It would shatter Danny. He didn't blame Miranda; her couldn't resent her anything, and evidently, he couldn't refuse her anything.

Stay. One whispered word. Dark silent drive from Rockport to Boston, wanting to say something but not sure of what it could be. Standing too close to her, catching the faint scent of her perfume. Green dress... green eyes... he couldn't think...

Ellie... Another whispered word.

John gritted his teeth -- Stop thinking about her! You'll kill yourself with this.

And they all thought he was so perfect. He swore to himself, or at himself, and nearly walked into a young woman coming from the opposite direction. "Excuse me Miss, sorry," he apologized, only half looking up.

"Oh, it was nothing," the woman murmured.

John had continued on several feet before something clicked in his mind. That voice, that... everything... He turned and stared after the retreating figure of the woman.

"Miranda..."

 

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