[WIP - PG13]
Prequel to Persuasion, set in the late 20th Century. Location: Kellynch University, USA.
"Ladies and gentlemen, for Thursday's lecture, continue reading Spengler's Decline of the West and come prepared to discuss how his organic theory of history either fits or fails to fit the civilization upon which your final papers will be based. I expect everyone to turn in the outlines for your papers today. I will be conducting office hours this evening, from 5:00 until 6:30, should any of you need to speak with me. Good afternoon."
With that, Martha Russell, Ph.D., left the lectern from which she taught senior level Historiography, the Philosophy of History, at Kellynch University and swept out of the hall. The students she left behind began gathering up their belongings, some muttering over the unreasonableness of a professor requiring them to read Spengler's original works, and not a synopsis of his theorems.
"Anne, may I borrow your copy of Decline of the West?" Edward Wentworth leaned forward over Anne Elliot's seat to ask, positive that she had completed Thursday's assignment in advance. An intelligent and able student, Edward harbored no hope of competing with Anne for the high grade in Doctor Russell's class.
However, he knew that his friend would gladly help him earn an "A" in the last course required for his Bachelor's Degree in Catholic Studies. Edward was studying for the priesthood, earning the first degree demanded by the Society of Jesus, that erudite order of religious men. His preferred course of study was Theology, and upon completion of his B.A., he would immediately begin post-graduate work in that field. An older student, the twenty-five year old Edward had taken a three year break after his freshman year, working in Latin America before returning to KU to finish his degree.
Anne was a member of an old KU family, her father, Walter H. Elliot, was the Dean of Admissions and a member of the Board of Trustees. The student center, Horace W. Elliot Hall, named for her grandfather. Their family was important not only at the University, but in the social whirl of the small town for which it was named. No party in Kellynch was considered successful unless one or more of the Elliots were in attendance. Walter Elliot reveled in the prestige that accompanied his appointment as Dean as well as in the contributions made by Elliots throughout the university's history. That prestige was his very highest priority, followed by the family's position in society and only a very distant third by his daughters and concerns unrelated to his position at KU and in society. Ironically for a manso firmly entrenched in university life, he cared little for academics, and found being a professor quite boring. Being a dean-the title and the deference that came with it-was of far greater value in his limited mind than educating students had ever been. As a student himself, his performance had been perfunctory at best, degrees and positions at KU resulted from his name rather than academic merit.
For their part, Anne's sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, shared their father's priorities and made no effort to understand Anne. Elizabeth, a KU Law alumna, determined before graduation that the actual practice of law, requiring long hours and producing little glamour, would unduly detract from her social visibility. Preferring to remain a big fish in KU's small pond, Elizabeth chose to use her degree and the Elliot name to recruit students to KU's renowned law school. More than pretty, Elizabeth was often called gorgeous, just as had been her namesake, their mother.
She was tall and rail-thin with dark silky hair and dark-lashed blue eyes. A fervent participant in Kellynch's social whirl, Elizabeth was admired by town and university society alike. Elizabeth saw her name and status as conferring both rights and duties upon her: the right to be haughty and self-righteous and the duty to be a social butterfly. Elizabeth intended to marry soon and marry well, as she believed their parents had done.
Mary was a master in the art of being the center of attention. Neither as beautiful as Elizabeth nor as intelligent and capable as Anne, Mary was as caught up in the prestige of being an Elliot at KU as her father and eldest sister. Her grandfather's name was on the student center; her father was both Dean and Trustee. Her sister was a past president of the sought-after sorority of which Mary was an active member. Mary could work a room even better than Elizabeth, if she felt it necessary-which she often did. With little to recommend her, Mary was more traditionally popular than Anne had ever hoped to be at KU.
Despite this illustrious history and to the chagrin of her family, Anne's only goal was an education. Her voracious appetite for knowledge and understanding made her a keen student, quite popular with the faculty, regardless of her name and connections. In her last semester, finished with every prerequisite except Historiography, her course load was full of philosophy and sociology electives. She and Edward Wentworth not only shared much of this class schedule, they frequently shared resources and ideas. The years at KU had emented a friendship that had its genesis in their mutual passion for philosophical debate.
Naturally retiring, Anne felt quite at ease with Edward and genuinely liked him. Some at KU avoided him, uncomfortable with his deep-seated religious beliefs, not yet secure enough in themselves to accept his true piety. Anne, while not terribly religious, appreciated the sincerity of Edward's calling. Rather than being uncomfortable on the spiritual plane, like her peers, Anne was uncomfortable on the physical plane those peers occupied. Edward's commitment to his vocation enabled them to develop a truly platonic friendship, untainted by those corporeal considerations that so daunted Anne.
While others caroused all night, using liquid courage to connect with the opposite sex, Anne and Edward argued philosophy, proofread one another's papers and were frequently escorted from the library at closing. They had more in common than intellectual thirst; both were misfit middle children, Anne for her lack of social ambition and Edward for his desire to devote his life to the Church.
Anne, well aware that she faded into the woodwork when either or both of her sisters were present, was content to carry on as an actual student. Her friendships were deep and true, consisting mainly of Edward and Nancy Smith, nee Garvey, a bright and cheerful young woman who graduated at the end of Anne's sophomore year, but by whose guidance Anne had carefully navigated the occasionally murky waters of freshman year. Nancy had since braved the world of post-graduate studies, where she was promptly swept into romance and marriage by the persuasions of the handsome and charming entrepreneur Alan Smith, a college dropout. Although marriage had made Nancy an infrequent correspondent, Anne never doubted her sincere friendship.
Digging into the maroon knapsack in which she carried her textbooks to class, Anne produced a well-read and dog-eared copy of the requested text for Edward. As she passed it over the back of her seat, she laughingly teased, "I don't know why I even waited for the question, I should have known you'd need mine! It's a good thing I finished my outline last night, or you'd be in serious trouble, my friend."
"Anne, you're as dependable as the Energizer Bunny -- you just keep going and going and going! I'll give this back to you as soon as I put the finishing touches on my outline. My brother is coming in tonight and we're going to buy the rest of my books after dinner, so I promise I won't have to borrow it again."
"Frederick is in town? What brings him to Kellynch?"
Frederick Wentworth was well known. At age twenty-three, he wrote a computer operating system that worked far better than anything Bill Gates and his minions had ever dreamed of. Despite a lack of formal education, his genius with computers was taking him far; Silicon Valley was collectively salivating over his concept and wooing him as an employee or trying to buy the operating system. "Whiz-kid Wentworth," as Time, Newsweek and People dubbed him, was riding high on the waves his invention created.
"He's coming to see me before he goes to California. He's been in Europe talking to SAP and in Canada talking to some company up there, so we haven't seen each other in months. He expects to be in California for a while, so he wants to have a long visit first."
Edward's elfin face lit up with a smile, "Why don't you have dinner with us tonight? He'd love to meet you; after all, I've done nothing but talk about you for three and a half years!"
Anne paused and cocked her head, considering a meal with intelligent conversation versus another mind-numbingly dull evening at home listening to her father and sisters drone on and on about their "important" social engagements and the prestige of the Elliot family at KU. After all, even if Frederick turns out to be a pocket-protector geek, Edward is always fun to talk to.
"Sure, I'd love to. Where should I meet you?"
Edward's smile broadened; his secret wish to introduce his best friend and his charismatic younger brother, one of the few men in the world that Edward knew was capable of valuing Anne and all that she offered, was about to come true. "Frederick wants to take me out for a real meal, so we're going to Ruth's Chris. We can pick you up in about forty-five minutes or so. Our reservations aren't until 6:30, but if we get there early, we can watch the sunset from the bar while we wait for our table." Edward wanted this introduction to take place in as romantic a setting as he could manage.
"Ruth's Chris? I'll have to change." Glancing first at her faded jeans and then at the simple Timex on her wrist, Anne added, "I have a meeting with Dr. Russell in ten minutes. It won't take long; she just wants to review the outline for my paper with me. About an hour?" When Edward nodded, Anne continued, "Great, 6:00 at my house. Don't worry about coming to the door, I'll come out when I see your car." Elizabeth feared that if they dared introduce Frederick to her family, her father would spend the entire time pronouncing why "Whiz-kid Wentworth" was an inferior species as a non-student or non-alumni of KU. She dearly longed to skip such "pleasantries" both for herself and for Frederick's sake.
Being well acquainted with her family, Edward readily agreed, "Sure, Anne." Backpack on his shoulder, Edward headed to the door of the now empty lecture hall, his lanky figure reminiscent of a newborn colt, all legs and awkward grace.
Smiling to herself, Anne headed to the office of her advisor, the dreaded and feared Dr. Russell. Anne could never quite understand why her classmates found Dr. Russell intimidating. Anne found her to bewarm, supportive and understanding. Anne unconsciously placed her in loco parentis for the mother she lost as a teenager. Dr. Russell's advice and comfort reminded Anne of the sensible teachings and unswerving devotion of which she'd been deprived with her mother's death.
Through Anne, Dr. Russell rediscovered the joy of teaching lost after lecturing bored twenty-year-olds on the intricacies of the philosophy of historical theory for thirty years. Anne's intensity not only echoed that of a younger Martha Russell, it reminded the professor of her dearest friend, Anne's late mother. Lonely years as a childless widow trying-and usually failing-to imbue her own love of theory to her students had jaded Dr. Russell.
In Anne, she recognized potential she no longer possessed, and that had been lost with the death of Elizabeth Stevenson Elliot. Dr. Russell fervently hoped that Anne would continue her education, and follow the Elliot tradition to a professorship at KU. Anne was her hope for salvation, so to speak. Should Anne become the inspiring professor that Dr. Russell no longer aspired to be, and that her mother ceased to be after marriage to the pretentious and shallow Dean Elliot, perhaps Martha Russell was a worthwhile teacher after all.
After approaching Dr. Russell's door and finding it closed, Anne peered into the office that housed the secretarial staff of the History Department. "Hi, Kelly. Hi, Ms. James. I have an appointment with Dr. Russell, is someone with her?"
The student worker and the department secretary looked up and smiled at Anne, a staff favorite. Each was seated behind a small institutional desk in the spacious but sparsely furnished office, but there the similarity ended. Ms. James's desk was decorated with framed pictures of her four cats and her beloved show-quality Yorkshire Terriers as well as with the detritus invariably left behind by the stereotypical absent-minded professors who expected her to sort it out on their behalf. What desktop space she had not cluttered up herself was buried under syllabi, textbook lists and marked-up drafts of academic papers. In contrast, Kelly's desk was spotlessly clean with an unblemished blotting pad, neat pencil holder and bud vase complete with freshly picked flowers.
Ms. James consulted a seemingly unintelligible calendar tacked to the wall beside her desk before answering, "No, she's expecting you, go on in."
Kelly couldn't help teasing Anne just a little, "How does it feel to be the only student in Historiography to turn in their outline on time?"
Anne took the comment as intended and shot back, "It's great, too bad you'll never know!" and laughingly backtracked to Dr. Russell's door.
Dr. Russell's door was now open in anticipation of her scheduled meeting with Anne, star pupil and beloved daughter of a cherished friend. After the necessary discussion relating to Anne's analysis of the rise and fall of the Tokagawa Bakufu, resulting from the competing forces of cultural intransigence and forced entry by the Americans, Anne closed her notebook and prepared to take her leave when she was forestalled by Dr. Russell.
"Anne, I've been invited to dinner tonight by your father. Chancellor Shepard will be there, and we very much hope to speak to you about graduate school."
"Dr. Russell, I appreciate your interest, but I'm really not planning on graduate school. It would be frivolous when I don't intend to become an academic. Besides, I won't be home tonight. I'm having dinner with Edward and his brother. In fact, I must run, they're picking me up in half an hour and I have to change."
Dr. Russell raised a brow in surprise. "Dinner with Edward and his drop-out brother? Anne, is that wise this early in the semester? You don't want to fall behind in your reading, perhaps you'd better cry off. I know Chancellor Shepard really hopes to persuade you to sit for the GRE's. After all, taking the test is not a commitment to graduate school."
Anne smiled gently as she hung her knapsack over her slender shoulder. "I promise I'm not behind in my reading at all. I do appreciate all that you and the chancellor are advising me to do, Dr. Russell. It's just that I've explored this field as far as I want to, at least for now. I'm really looking forward to taking some time off to consider my options. Besides, do you really think that I should pass up a steak dinner with `Whiz-kid Wentworth'? Any tips he can give me on navigating Windows might make the dinner worthwhile in and of itself."
"Anne, do you realize what a promising scholar you are? The chancellor and I do not want to see you waste yourself in some dead-end office job, or teaching in the public school. Without a graduate degree, there really are no other options." Dr. Russell sighed, "At least I don't worry about you running helter-skelter into an early marriage like Eliz . . . so many bright young women do."
Dr. Russell's words recollected for Anne a constant conundrum that coughed around her psyche, causing her to pause in the doorway, "I know I've asked this a hundred times, Dr. Russell, but why in the world did she marry him? Yes, he's an Elliot, and because of that he's a dean; but she was truly wonderful, both beautiful and brilliant. Whatever possessed her to sidetrack her career for marriage to a man so different from herself?"
Dr. Russell sighed again. "Oh, Anne, many women make foolish mistakes in the name of love. Your father impressed your mother when she first arrived at KU. He's handsome, he's charismatic, and when he was younger, he was even more so. Your mother was as susceptible as anyone to the vagaries of romance. His appointment as Dean cemented everything for her. She believed she'd found her Mecca: a handsome, charming, well-connected dean at a prestigious university; he was her dream lover, at least at first. Love is dangerous, even more so for women who hope to excel in demanding careers. You remember her as unhappy because despite all of the things that she believed made him an ideal match, he never was her equal in either intelligence or common sense, and his value system was simply incomprehensible to her. But by the time this became clear, you girls had been born. You became her world while his remains to this day his stature and prestige as an Elliot at KU. She was bitterly disappointed, and had she not had three beautiful daughters, I cannot imagine that she would have stayed."
Dr. Russell's words replayed throughout Anne's short walk home and as she dressed for dinner. This account of her parents' marriage coincided with her own memories - a beautiful and cerebral mother wearied of her slightly dim but handsome husband and his constant attempts to immerse them in society. Anne never heard her mother complain, certainly not! However, Anne's observations and intuition told her more than words: romance had failed her mother. Rather than the scintillating company of other intellectuals the young doctoral candidate Elizabeth Stevenson counted upon, physical attraction and ambition drew her to Walter Elliot and away from her own dreams. Years of exposure to the quietness of her mother's despair and the regret caused by the exercise of her sexuality coalesced in Anne's deeply held belief that love, romance, physical attraction, sex and all that these entailed separately and together were never worth the risk of bitter disappointment. Anne chose celibacy and was, in her way, as committed to it as Edward, for vastly different reasons. Romance, love and marriage were pitfalls and prudent, sensible Anne rarely fell into pitfalls.
In this contemplative frame of mind, Anne was watching for Edward's silver blue Corolla from the window of her father's study when her sister's plaintive voice interrupted her reverie. `Anne, can I borrow your diamond earrings for the mixer tonight? Yours are so much nicer than mine; I can't understand why Daddy let you have Mommy's. After all, I lost my mom, too."
Anne sighed and turned to face her younger sister, who was dressed "to the nines" in a black suede mini skirt, tight red sweater and high-heeled pumps. Expensive perfume saturated the air around her. Obsession, again, thought Anne. Anne saw Mary's attire as advertising "AVAILABLE", and loudly, for all of Fraternity Row to see, but knew from experience that any well-intentioned suggestion for a more subtle approach would fall on deaf ears. Sympathy for the very young girl Mary had been when their mother died kept frustration and contempt from appearing in either Anne's voice or her demeanor. "Dad didn't `give' them to me, Mary. Mom left them to me in her will, just as she left you her pearls and Elizabeth her engagement ring. But, yes, you may borrow them, they're in my jewelry box."
Mary had just squealed her thanks when Anne was momentarily blinded by the setting sun caught in the windshield of a late model Ford Explorer turning into the driveway. It was driven by a young man whose features were similar to Edward's. Correctly surmising that the driver of the SUV was Frederick, Anne made her way from the study window to the Explorer waiting at her front door.
She opened the car door, intending to voice a cheery greeting. Instead, their eyes met and her world spun off its axis. The subtle, almost spicy scent of him seeped into her pores as his intensely green eyes mesmerized her -- was he seeing into her very soul? Cheeks flushed and heart racing, Anne lost the ability to speak, to breathe, to think, to do anything but grip the handle of the car door and feel him, smell him, taste him, be him. When the world finally ceased spiraling around her, she felt an inexplicable need to laugh out loud, to cry, to jump and twirl with glee. Wordlessly, he told her that he felt it too, an instantaneous connection pulling them into a vortex of privacy. His broad, long-fingered hand reached out to hers and giddy with anticipation, she stretched to meet it.
Inconsequential details jumped out at her, the freckles on his skin from which sprung curling blonde hairs, the broad, weathered leather watch band on his right wrist, the calluses on his palm. Was that her heart beating, or his?
Each whispered the other's name intimately as their palms slid together and their fingers grasped. Anne's heart was lodged in her throat; Frederick's shone through his eyes. The moment their hands met, Frederick whispered "holy god" and with his words, Anne's blinders were ripped off. A woman who believed herself immune to love and its vagaries, Anne was charting unknown territory called "Love at First Sight" and finding undiscovered country in her heart, a place named `Frederick'. With a squeeze of her hand, Frederick conveyed his understanding of the mysteries she faced and offered his support in their unraveling. For the first time, Anne knew more than pain could come with love, and it was because of him. Anne burst out laughing, not really knowing why, but unable to contain her joy any longer.
"I suppose we'd better head over to the restaurant. Edward's waiting for us." His even voice rippled through her blood, heating it and forcing a blush back to her cheeks.
Breathless with laughter, she replied to him: "I suppose you're right. Shall we?" With that, Anne jumped into the seat, pulling the car door closed and Frederick pulled away from her family home; their hands remained clasped close.
She could feel every ridge and ripple of his handprints, every callus. She wondered at the heightened nature of her every sense, but could not be but thankful for the taste and feel of him for they brought her such incredible fulfillment. Surely no one expected her to actually eat, swallowing would be impossible, food tasteless, after this.
Idle pleasantries seemed inane; both accepted that they were already well past the getting acquainted stage. Their silence was not awkward but ripe with all that was being said wordlessly. It begged to be savored and savor it they did. Anne watched his profile as he drove; memorizing his face, similar to Edward's but different.
For all that Edward was older, he still appeared to be growing into his looks. On Frederick those same looks reached their fruition and culmination. Features that Anne knew well, the patrician nose, strong brow and lantern jaw fit Frederick where they were disjointed and jarring on Edward. Frederick was color, Edward was black and white; Frederick was stereo, Edward a gramophone.
His head turned toward her at a traffic light, and the smile on his face echoed the one on hers that resulted from her perusal of his face. "I'm glad Edward asked me to pick you up so that I could meet you alone. This would have seemed weird if other people had been around."
Anne nodded in agreement. "It's strange enough as it is! It seems odd that we've never met before. I feel I've known you forever."
"You study philosophy, Anne, don't you think we have known each other forever? Is meeting face to face the only way? The minute you opened the door of your house, I knew you, here." Frederick tapped his chest with their joined hands as he spoke and each tap sent a current of his power down her hand into her arm. Holding their clasped hands to his heart, he said, "I've always known you, and you've always known me. We're synergy -- parts of a whole that's greater than its parts.
"What a beautiful idea." Anne paused, and then went on, "I've never believed in connections like this before, I don't really know what to make of it, but I think I like it! How odd and yet so right that it's you."
"What's odd about it being me?" The light changed and Frederick was forced to turn his visual attention back to the road, but Anne knew that in every other regard his attention was solely hers.
"Edward has been my best friend for years, he's your brother. I love him, I respect him, I cherish his friendship and I trust him. You and I have just met. You look a little like Edward, you sound a little like he does, but you're more intense, deeper somehow and not just your voice! As strange as it seems, my feelings are the same for you, and yet they're not, they're deeper somehow, too. I know you because I know Edward, and yet I know you in spite of knowing Edward." On a certain level, Anne felt she was speaking nonsensically, but she knew Frederick understood. "So, it's odd, because you're Edward's brother, my dear friend, but it's right, because you're Frederick, Edward's brother."
Frederick laughed a low quiet laugh that tickled Anne's tear ducts. As her eyes welled up, he answered her "Jungian synchronicity, Anne, you know, the coincidental occurrence of events. You were meant to know and love Edward, who would never be to you what I will, so that we would recognize each other when this day finally came." Her tears spilled out and fell upon their joined hands.
The Explorer pulled into the parking lot of Ruth's Chris as the sun made its final bow at the horizon. Frederick was forced to release her hand in order to place the transmission into park and remove the keys, but his words held her as she brushed the remains of tears from her eyes. As soon as the keys were in hand, he turned to her, "I think I will have to pray to Edward's God tonight. There's a greater force at work than I'll ever understand and I don't want to take any chances in showing I'm grateful."
Eyes still damp, Anne studied him quietly as he spoke. She saw and felt his quiet sincerity; the unbelievably powerful love that poured from him into her, that kept them connected despite the physical gaps between them. She understood him; she too was grateful, confused as to who bore responsibility for this, but anxious to credit something, or someone. His verdant eyes saw past the lingering tears in the blue of hers to the nameless thing they shared and her blue eyes searched his for its meaning. "I'm not sure if I believe in God as Edward does, at least, I wasn't sure before tonight. But you're right. Something is responsible for this, for us. We could call it God, fate, kismet, or synchronicity. I think I'll just thank them all."
Unknown to them, Edward had seen the car drive up from his perch on the front porch of the restaurant. He watched their interaction, saw the tears, and saw the joy, the gratitude, the force that was Frederick and Anne as a tangible being with them in the SUV's cab. Nodding to himself, he slipped away to quietly convey an apology to his brother through the maitre d'; his outline was calling, he would have to leave. His work was done.
Anne woke slowly; lying wreathed in a fog of contentment. It was several minutes before anything else registered in her sleepy brain. What finally did burn through to consciousness was a replay of the previous evening with all of its delights, played in slow motion. As she remembered of the feel of his strong arms, each moment, each touch seemed more precious than it had been the night before. She stretched, luxuriating in the warmth that enveloped her, keeping her eyes closed to savor the extraordinary serenity and security she was feeling. A self-satisfied smile graced her face as she opened her eyes to greet her first "A-F" -- After Frederick day. Instinctively, she closed them again to revel in the scent lingering on her skin -- his scent -- the spicy, slightly sweet, slightly sweaty smell of Frederick with which she had become intimately familiar last night. For Anne, waking in bed redolent with the smell of a man was a new experience, one in which she intended to wallow.
In the deep recesses of her subconscious, Anne was vaguely aware of sounds outside her room, but she struggled to ignore them in favor of indulging her nascent sexuality. Unfortunately, the ruckus outside her snug cocoon was intensifying. A final, futile stab at remaining in the comfortable embrace that surrounded her was interrupted by the shrill notes of a discordant aria, the finale of which was her door slamming open to admit the shrieking.
"Aaaannnne . . . I cannot find my passport and my plane for France leaves in three hours! Not only that, but I can't find my good ski goggles. We're going skiing tomorrow, and I have to have my goggles. I can't ski without them. Get up, now! You have to help me!" The diatribe ended with Mary actually stamping her foot in frustration. Anne was reluctant to abandon her warm bed and her daydream of Frederick and their first evening together. Even his name makes me smile. However, she knew that the sooner she found Mary's missing passport and goggles, the sooner the Elliot house would regain some semblance of peace and order, allowing her the opportunity to relish her giddy happiness.
Not for the first time, Anne wondered at the incongruity of Mary spending a semester abroad. Studying in Europe certainly didn't fit her sister's personality, unless of course one considered the skiing, shopping and socializing that would undoubtedly make up Mary's "studies". She and the fellow members of her sorority who were winging their way to KU's sister university in France were hardly adequate ambassadors of academia. During Anne's own semester in France she had immersed herself in the Gallic culture, become proficient in the French language, cuisine, literature and philosophy.
She had been appalled by Mary's apathy toward the rich heritage to which she would be exposed, but today Anne cared a great deal less about the embarrassment of her frivolous sister representing her family and her university than she had the day before. Perspective -- yet another point she must credit to Frederick. She did wonder, albeit briefly, if a quick lesson on jet lag would successfully disabuse Mary of the idea of skiing tomorrow, but realized it would fall on deaf ears.
When she replied, Anne's voice was sleepily slow, "Calm down, Mary, and think. You had the goggles out yesterday with the rest of your ski gear, I saw them. I'm sure you just packed them already."
Mary stood next to Anne's bed, arms akimbo. "They're not in the suitcase with my parka and jumpsuit. Where else could they be? I bet Elizabeth took them just to spite me. Of course she's not home yet, the bitch." Anne was unable to resist a mental comparison between Mary and a spoiled toddler in which Mary did not fare well. Exasperation had Anne throwing her arm over her eyes to rid herself of this image and wishing she could make Mary disappear as easily.
"Did you check all of your suitcases? You packed three. Before you start accusing Elizabeth and calling her names, let's look in all of them, okay?"
With that, Anne removed her arm from her eyes, dragged herself up and swung her pajama-clad legs over the side of her bed. She resigned herself to putting her memories and fantasies on hold until her younger sister was on her way.
Half an hour later, a flannel clad Anne finally sat on a barstool at the stainless steel island in the middle of her father's kitchen, hands wrapped around a gigantic flowered mug of steaming tea, enjoying the recently attained quiet. Anne was both relieved and resigned. Relieved that she had managed to get her petulant sister en route to the airport and a semester in France, the infamous goggles, passport and three large suitcases containing (unbeknownst to either Elizabeth or Anne) fully half of Elizabeth's wardrobe along with her. Resigned to the fact that Mary, unfocused and silly as she was, was now the public face of the Elliot family in France. Now that she had a chance to breathe again, Anne's thoughts immediately turned to Frederick.
While neither a "serial girlfriend" like Elizabeth nor an incorrigible flirt like Mary, Anne had dated, on and off -- mostly off. Casual, uninteresting dates that had never been more than mildly fun merely served to strengthen her now shaken belief that as an Elliot, she was not built for romance.
She'd exchanged a few kisses -- some more modest than others -- with the boys she'd dated. One or two strove relentlessly to wrench some small sign of reciprocal lust from her, or at the least for more than sisterly kisses, but few received either. While by modern standards Anne was relatively innocent, she had never, "B-F", thought herself wholly inexperienced. But thrusting tongues tickling her tonsils and groping hands grabbing at her breasts had in no way prepared her for the onslaught of passion instigated by real and true desire. Anne was convinced her prior dates participated in a points race: mouth kiss, one point; tongue down throat, two points; hand to breast, three points. Any date who didn't at least try to follow this seemingly pre-determined script was either too shy to kiss her at all or else eagerly tried to rack up as many two or three point maneuvers as he could, not bothering with measly one pointers. Little wonder Anne had not known kisses were a shared experience that could be soft, sweet and gentle while at the same time dripping with ardor -- Anne's, a previously untapped well that flowed over Frederick even as he explored further.
It was still quite early, Mary having acted against type to catch her flight, and Anne expected to have the kitchen to herself for hours yet; her father and sister were not known to rise early after their dinner parties. Between sips of tea, she unknowingly hummed love songs - songs that before yesterday, "B-F", had inspired only indifference. Somehow now their lyrics . . . You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs . . . were stuck in her brain, and they no longer seemed inane but delightfully apropos.
Between sips Anne touched her fingertips to her lips with reverence, remembering the feel of Frederick's mouth on her own. After each sip the warm surface of her mug retraced his path, the glassy ceramic combined with the heat of the tea inside it to soothe the slight abrasions left by his stubble-roughened skin. She was still giddy with the response he inspired in her. Anne blushed anew, as memory alone brought a return of the feminine slickness to which Frederick introduced her just a few hours before.
Frederick's kisses were nothing like the thick-tongued frantic maulings she was accustomed to receiving. They were . . . delicate. Not tentative, but firm with a slow and sure approach that left her gasping in anticipation before their lips ever met. Frederick was certainly no a competitor in the "points race". After a dinner in which Anne ate nothing that she could remember, that passed in a blur while somehow their every exchange was etched into her mind, Anne and Frederick opted to walk along the bike paths that dissected KU's campus. KU's student body frequented those paths after dark for the relative privacy they afforded -- though Anne had never done so. Her heart raced out of control as she suggested it to Frederick, terrified but excited by her own desire for more physical contact and unsure how to communicate it, Anne was amazed at her own audacity in suggesting her first walk down "lover's lane".
Somehow, despite all of the anxiety, anticipation and flat out fright, it was all exactly right. They walked, hand in hand, talking as frenetically and passionately as they had throughout dinner, discussing every topic that arose. Nothing seemed taboo: family skeletons, politics, religion, philosophy, all were fair game. Anne enjoyed a freedom of expression that was usually foreign to her. Only in her infrequent têt-à-têtes with Dr. Russell had she ever come close to such open expressions of personal opinion. Even her famous debates with Edward had never contained the exchange of personal worldviews and joie de vivre that this first night with Frederick explored.
Anne, lost in their conversation about the inherent likelihood (Frederick) versus the improbability (Anne) of life existing in other solar systems beyond the Milky Way, was unprepared when he caught her in his arms. He stopped abruptly, wrapping his longer, stronger arms around her waist, and forced her to look into eyes that shone with the light of the stars as they lit their way into her startled doe-like depths. She gazed helplessly at his lips coming closer as his head lowered toward her. Already breathless and dizzy, the gentle glide of his lips caressing hers sent Anne into Elysium.
His was not the kiss of a callow adolescent or a selfish boy bent on earning a notch on his bedpost for being the first to defrost Anne Elliot. No, this was a mature kiss of meaning, of homecoming, of love discovered and explored. The silken whispers of Frederick's lips against hers were like nothing Anne had ever experienced before. She responded to those whispers without thinking, instinctively knowing it to be their own private language -- a language in which she was immediate fluent. The stubble roughened skin of his face contrasted with the softness of his lips and his tongue as it lightly soothed the lips he abraded. Anne followed this same path unwittingly with her fingers or her mug as she remembered with wonder the agonizing pleasure of that first kiss.
Standing clinched in the arms of a man she'd only just met, but had known forever, Anne first tasted, then deeply drank of the heady elixir of desire. Her lips, cheeks and chin were scratched and torn on his scruffy skin; she begged for more. Her restless hands couldn't touch enough of him, wandering lustfully past shoulder, torso, and arm to his hair, where they sank in and held on for dear life. His own hands danced upward from her delicate waist to the slender corded nirvana of her neck where they framed her from shoulder to ear. Unquenched, kiss melted into kiss and surprised them with the intensity of yearning unleashed by such simple caresses. Anne knew that for Frederick letting her go was simply not an option; his fevered murmurings told her that he could not stop assailing her face, the eyes, lips and cheeks with love, that she was his port in a storm. Anne, less aware even than Frederick, thought of nothing. She knew that this new and devouring thirst was fed by his kisses, that each fed the other and that the growing need only he could meet was spiraling out of her control.
This enticing yet embarrassing reverie was interrupted by the sound of the automatic garage door opening. The whirring motor reminded Anne of Mary's remark that Elizabeth had not returned home yet this morning. Anne and her oldest sister had never been close, and Elizabeth remained an enigma to her. This morning merely served to underscore the lack of a sisterly bond. Anne was well aware that Elizabeth was head over heels in love -- at least as much as a narcissist can be in love with another person -- with their distant cousin, a doctoral candidate at a competing university. Elizabeth was way beyond a "crush" on William Elliot; she pined over him, planned for him, did all the things young women in unrequited love tend to do. She would have been mortified to know that Anne was aware not only of her infatuation but also that it was not returned. However, being almost wholly self-involved, Elizabeth remained blissfully ignorant of Anne's perceptions.
For Anne, on this "A-F" morning, the rub lay in Elizabeth's early morning return from last night's date. Anne had never fully understood how Elizabeth could be intimate with others while professing to feel a grand passion, but this morning she found herself stunned by the flagrant demonstration of the inconstancy inherent in Elizabeth's sexual escapades. Anne's long-standing bemusement was transformed by the fresh flush of passion awakened by Frederick and revisited in her morning meditations. How can Elizabeth let another man kiss and caress her if she loves William? Still awash in newly ignited passion, Anne felt her prior confusion and shock give way to an embarrassment that Elizabeth did not think to feel herself. Knowing that another man's touch could never replace Frederick's, Anne was repulsed by this confrontation with her own sister's differing standards; the idea of someone else touching her made Anne want to cry.
To avoid Elizabeth's eyes, Anne jumped up when she heard the car door slam and began making a second mug of tea. She was standing in front of the microwave, waiting for her water to boil when the door between the kitchen and the garage opened and shut.
Elizabeth was momentarily disconcerted to find the kitchen occupied. "Anne! What are you doing up so early? Good lord, it's only seven, do you have an early class or something?" After her initial exclamation, Elizabeth's bored voice displayed none of the embarrassment that Anne felt so keenly. The microwave pinged, and Anne busied herself unwrapping and dropping teabags into boiling water and adding sugar to the brew before she answered. By the time she finally turned to face Elizabeth, she felt capable of masking the revulsion she felt when comparing her burgeoning feelings for Frederick to her sister's behavior in the face of her professed amour for their cousin.
"Mary. Her flight's at eight, so I got up around five-thirty to help her with some last minute stuff. How was dinner last night?" Anne sipped at her tea assiduously as she found herself still unwilling to look at Elizabeth.
"Oh, right, I forgot Mary's off to France today. How many suitcases did she end up taking, ten or twelve?" Elizabeth sneered at her own joke. "There'd better not be anything of mine in her suitcases, or the ocean won't be wide enough to save her from me."
Their father's entrance distracted Elizabeth, enabling Anne to ignore her vitriolic remark in favor of fixing herself a bowl of cereal. Dean Walter Elliot, a strikingly handsome man in his early fifties, passed Anne with an absent pat on the shoulder to greet his eldest.
"Good morning Elizabeth. What a wonderful dinner party last night -- eh? The food was magnificent and served to a T. You looked stunning, my dear, that suit quite becomes you, is it new?" As Elizabeth basked in her father's praise, Anne internally rolled her eyes at her father's ability to ignore the fact that Elizabeth was still wearing the chic suit at morning coffee.
"My tailor managed to whip mine together on rather short notice, but I thought it quite smart, and it will be superb for the mid-winter Bar Association Convention in Orlando next week." With this oration, for conversation it was not, Dean Eliot postured and preened much like the famously deceived emperor of Hans Christian Andersen. Anne often wondered who would be the boy to decry him.... "Such a congenial group, it's a shame you had to miss it, Anne especially to entertain your friend's brother."
Feeling a flare of uncharacteristic indignation, Anne was tempted to repeat her explanation of the night before, that entertaining Frederick wasn't a chore -- that she chose to eat with him, or with Edward for that matter, over attending her father's crashingly dull dinners. However, recognizing the truly rhetorical nature of her father's speech, she forbore. I'm no good at tilting at windmills. Taking her bowl and spoon back to the island, Anne sat down, forced once more to abandon her own undertakings, recollections of Frederick, to the ceaseless recitations of the more assertive members of her family. I'm sure I had a far better time than they did.
"Dr. Russell looked exceptionally nice last night, didn't she, Elizabeth?" Dean Elliot paused a moment to add his customary disclaimer to any compliment issued to anyone other then Elizabeth or himself. "Although she's not getting any younger. She's wise to keep her hair highlighted, it works well to cover her grey." As he spoke, he helped himself to a cup of the freshly ground and brewed coffee that was waiting for him, courtesy of the latest technology.
Elizabeth shrugged insouciantly, confident in her father's ultimate agreement. "Dr. Russell needs a facelift, Dad. Those crow's feet aren't going anywhere on their own, no matter how nice her hair looks. There just aren't many people blessed with genes like the Elliots, are there?"
Dean Elliot passed a contrived sigh "Sad, but true. We're really quite lucky that we don't show our age as others do. You know, I'm several years older than both Dr. Russell and Chancellor Shepard, but I vouchsafe a guess that no one outside this room knows that."
Witnessing this little act that her family called conversation, in particular her father's admiration of his own self-congratulatory smile captured in the mirror-like gleam of the stainless steel refrigerator door, it was all Anne could do not to choke on her cornflakes. She was tempted to give a standing ovation for the performance. What? I don't know that his "vacation" last year was a visit to the plastic surgeon? Does he really think that the staff and faculty of KU, even his own daughter, are that gullible? C'moff it Dad, even the Elliot genes don't reverse the aging process.
Elizabeth joined their father in a cup of coffee and this round of smug vanity. "I'm so glad that I take after you, and not Mom. She was only thirty-six when she died, but she looked much older."
Dean Elliot nodded and assumed an air of contemplation as he sipped at his coffee, but this was one unfounded remark that Anne simply could not let pass. "For god's sake Elizabeth, she had cancer. How did you expect her to look?"
Elizabeth, magnanimous in her certainty that she looked younger and was prettier than either Anne or Mary, smiled condescendingly at her indignant younger sister. "I do realize that Anne, but I can remember better than you how she looked before she got sick. I'm just glad that I favor Dad."
Dean Elliot nodded in agreement with his darling daughter. "Your mother was a beautiful woman, in her day. It was such a shame that she stopped keeping up her appearance after Mary was born." Again his studied air rankled Anne's less biased memories of her mother's more truly maternal priorities. "I tried to interest her in diet, exercise and a beauty regimen, but you remember how stubborn she was." Dean Elliot postured wistfully, mirrored by Elizabeth as if the memory of a long-deceased wife and mother meant more to them than Anne knew it did. Anne was not fooled; as usual she was sickened by their capacity for self-deception and affectations.
The ringing of the telephone and Elizabeth's move to answer it prevented any more slandering of their mother's memory. "Elliot residence, Elizabeth speaking. . . . Good morning, Dr. Russell. Yes, she's here, one moment please. Anne, it's for you, Dr. Russell."
Anne gratefully accepted the receiver, turning her back on the renewed conversation between her father and sister, both relieved and gratified by this reminder that there were others whose conversation resided on a higher plane than that of her family. She was also beside herself, wanting to tell someone -- anyone -- about the night before, about Frederick. She had rightfully surmised that neither Elizabeth nor her father paid sufficient attention to her to notice that she was, well, different today. She knew that Edward would be interested, but Anne was afraid that it would be too strange to talk to Edward about Frederick, about tenderness and awakened passions. Yes, Dr. Russell was the natural choice.
Martha Russell returned the phone to its cradle with satisfaction. Meeting Anne for coffee at the KU Faculty Club before her first class would be the highlight of her day. Martha did not find her solitude lonely, but she greatly enjoyed any and all time spent with Anne. Her own short-lived marriage had ended years before with her gentle husband quietly dying with dignity in a darkened room, Martha at his side. While she missed his humble wit and simple ways, it was a restrained grief on her part, as suited their relationship. There had been no grand passion for Martha and Steven Russell, theirs was a relaxed and agreeable companionship that lent itself easily to marriage, or so Martha believed; convinced, as she was, that "grand passion" never lasted.
Her life-long observations lent her a smug self-satisfaction when she compared her own to other, more ardent relationships. She and Steven had known one another well for years when they decided to marry, and there had been no unpleasant surprises to disappoint her in their union. Her husband had never raised his voice. He had never disagreed with her on any major decision in life, from selecting a home, to furthering her career, to how he would die. It had been exactly like the marriage of her parents, whom she perceived to be equally as well suited as she and Steven, and as peaceful. Infatuation was for adolescents and romance novelists, not grown-ups. Martha firmly held that any woman who allowed herself to succumb to infatuation would eventually regret it; the loss of self-control and poise caused by such untidy emotions was to be pitied. Solicitude, respect, kindness and consideration were the only reliable basis of a solid relationship.
Liz Stevenson, her best friend and Anne's mother, had been the proof of these beliefs. Unlike Martha, Liz had come from passionate folk -- her stories had been full of loud fights, pots and pans thrown against the wall, dishes breaking, and equally emotional reconciliations. Martha had been both curious and repelled when Liz had claimed that life lived without zeal was empty. Martha was of the decided opinion that such excesses were simply too messy. Just think of those broken dishes, who cleaned them up? 'Neat' was the catchword of Martha's entire existence. Liz had laughed, loved and lived by the tenets of her own temperament and, from what Martha saw and heard, had ended up unhappily married to a man for whom she had felt nothing but transitory physical attraction. Martha could not help but feel sorry for Liz, who had sought out immense highs only to find that they were inevitably followed by intense lows. Martha had frequently found herself holding poor Liz's hand and mopping her up during those lows. She'd experienced more than enough vicarious angst to reinforce her own philosophy. No, Martha was sure that order, reason and a smooth, even life was the better choice.
Martha's environs echoed her sentiments. Her home was tidy, "a place for everything and everything in its place". There were no loose papers about the house, not a single book or knick-knack was ever out of kilter. Were it not for the fresh flowers in beautiful silver or white vases and the coordinating silver framed photographs of her parents, her wedding, Liz, and Anne, her townhouse would have passed as a model in a home show. Those same flowers and photographs provided the only splashes of color to be found amid the white walls, overstuffed white sofas and white armchairs, white carpets and glass topped tables of the living room. The kitchen gleamed with white porcelain tile and shiny white appliances. The dining room was a modern marvel of chrome, glass and white marble floors.
After ending her call with Anne, Martha put the finishing touches on her egg white omelet, washed her cooking utensils, and sat down at her wrought iron breakfast table. She read a carefully folded newspaper as she daintily ate her meal, and when she finished, her plate and fork joined the pan and spatula in their assigned places in the dishwasher. Ever meticulous, her teeth were brushed, hands washed and dried, lipstick applied, suit jacket donned and hair checked in the mirror before Martha wrapped herself in an overcoat and scarf and locked the door behind her.
At the same time, Anne was hurrying out into the winter morning to meet her "Aunt Marty". She had rushed her simple morning routine, anxious finally to talk to someone about Frederick. This invitation also meant an escape from her father and sister in favor of Dr. Russell's company. Dr. Russell was not only her college advisor and academic mentor, she was a friend -- a trusted friend -- and Anne's last link to the mother she'd lost. Breakfast with her added to Anne's delight in this glorious "A-F" morning.
In the years since Elizabeth Stevenson Elliot had succumbed to cancer, the two who missed her most, her best friend and her middle daughter, had come together to share and alleviate one another's grief and loneliness. It seemed as if they alone valued and missed the wry humor, good sense and capability of Liz Elliot. From Dr. Russell, Anne learned of the enthusiasm that defined her mother's youth -- for her husband and for her work. In Anne's own memories, her mother had all but abandoned both in order to rear her three daughters; the only lasting legacy of love from husband to wife.
Even at fourteen, she had been flabbergasted by the guise of grieving widower donned by her father, who had left his rapidly deteriorating wife solely to the care of hospice attendants and the young Anne. Anne had stoically hidden her own feelings in order to spare those of her ailing mother, as Anne felt she had more than enough to cope with. She had been slightly less surprised, though no less appalled, by Elizabeth and Mary's parroting of their father's behavior. Elizabeth had begun aping her father's mannerisms quite convincingly at a young age -- by nineteen, she had them down pat. Mary, who was only twelve, had to look to someone other than Anne for direction. Even then Mary had known that for maximum sympathy as a poor motherless little girl, "stoic" wasn't the way to play this one.
Anne's emotionless facade had been convincing; the family accused her of coldness. Martha Russell alone cared enough to pierce the veil and touch the aching heart Anne had hidden behind the self-protective mask. The two women formed a friendship that came close to refilling Anne's emotional fuel tanks that had been depleted by the loss of her mother and her isolation within her family circle. With Aunt Marty, Anne felt appreciated, even if never fully understood.
As far as Anne knew, Aunt Marty had never wanted children, though she was rather maternal with Anne. Around the time that Aunt Marty's biological clock had pealed its last alarm, Anne realized that by virtue of the substitute mothering she received, any residual maternal itch had become her job to scratch.
Cool winter air was bracing on Anne's face as she walked from her father's house to the Faculty Club. From the long row of grand colonial and classically fronted homes that ran outward from the University's main drive, Anne made her way onto campus. Walking once more along the bike paths, her morning's musings returned.
She couldn't help but recall the warmth of Frederick's arms around her, the strength of his hand as it took hers when they finally broke free of each other to walk to his car. Today, she couldn't remember exactly which paths they had wandered. It could have been this one or it could have been miles away on the other side of the campus. It didn't matter; all were now a haven for her happiness.
She bustled along, rejoicing in the mild winter sun that darted back and forth behind gentle clouds in a celestial game of hide and seek. Bare trees that usually caused her an inexplicable melancholy, reminding her of the limbs of gnarled old men, today inspired comparisons to the strong masculine limbs that last night had held her breathless body. The brisk air stung the slightly chaffed skin of her cheeks, chin and lips, reminding her of his bristly face against hers and causing her to step lively as the stately brownstone of the Faculty Club rose in her sights. Anne could barely contain herself; she was eager to talk to Aunt Marty, to tell her all about Frederick and all about finding herself in love for the first time.
The KU faculty club provided a warm haven from Kellynch's chilly winter weather. Rich mahogany walls and thick carpets added to the comfort Martha always felt there. In a recent nod to trendy demand, a small espresso bar had been added to a corner of the great room. At a stool, serene and elegant as always, Martha sat waiting; ankles crossed, hair perfectly twisted into a chignon at the nape of her neck, neat black suit immaculate and unwrinkled. Through the quiet din of baristas steaming milk, pumping espresso into cups and calling out patrons' names as their drinks were prepared; Martha sipped her café brève, complacently waiting for her darling Anne.
Their relationship gave Martha much more than a renewed sense of herself as a teacher; that was a fairly recent development, really. Their relationship had been cemented three years before Anne had entered KU at the tender age of seventeen. When Liz Elliot died, Martha had quickly realized that the ongoing histrionics and blame-game Anne had to deal with at home hurt the sensitive girl behind the controlled exterior. Seeing in Anne a kindred soul in search of peace and tranquility, Martha had reached out. The relationship that grew out of grief had quickly become necessary to both. The breakfasts and lunches, which had begun as a means for Anne to avoid the displays of pseudo-grief in the Elliot home, became pure enjoyment as seasons passed. Martha was always grateful that Anne inherited her mother's blue eyes and her father's bone structure but neither Liz's overly passionate nature nor Dean Elliot's need for attention.
Now, five years later, Martha was enjoying watching Anne blossom into an exceptional student, a fine woman and an easy companion. The younger woman's balanced and docile nature was a relief to one who had watched her best friend's roller-coaster marriage break her very spirit. Martha hoped that by virtue of being like her rather than like Liz in temperament, Anne was going to avoid her mother's heartache.
Filling an order for coffee cake, the cashier clattered a plate on the counter. Startled, Martha looked up and saw Anne striding across the Great Room. The usually calm girl radiated a buoyancy Martha had never seen in her as she walked toward the espresso bar. Buoyant certainly described her, and its unexpected appearance was contagious. Her jubilant mood transferred to Martha, who smiled a rare high wattage smile as Anne approached.
Rising, Martha gave Anne a gently warm hug. "You're chipper this morning." Martha's usually composed tones took on some of the verve flying through the air around Anne. The rare force with which Anne returned the embrace reinforced her infectious enthusiasm and Martha drew back to take in her beaming face. "You must have good news. Something extraordinary must have happened to cause such a perky mood so early in the morning!"
Happiness bubbled out of Anne in gilded laughter. "Hi, Aunt Marty, I can't wait to tell you all about it! But I'm cold; let me grab a hot drink."
Anne dropped her backpack onto the floor next to a barstool and rushed to the counter to order a drink. Watching her banter with the cashier as she ordered, Martha's quasi-motherly satisfaction was in full force: her sweet girl, so friendly and open - finally coming out of her shell.
Coming away from the counter as Anne ordered was a young couple, the daughter of a professor and her boyfriend, the epitome of the starving student stereotype. The girl carried the largest cup sold - a full quart of coffee and frothed milk. Not many people purchased the largest size and the enormous cup caught Martha's attention. Turning her proud gaze from Anne, she saw the couple sit at a table for two next to her and begin taking turns drinking the coffee. Poor girl, the boyfriend can't even buy his own coffee. She's going to have a time getting rid of that one. Martha's distaste for what she believed to be the girl's gullibility showed on her face, but went unnoticed by Anne as she returned to perch on the stool next to her.
"So last night, I had dinner with Frederick -- Edward Wentworth's brother, remember? We had the best time. He's wonderful. We talked and talked all night long, I wasn't nervous, or shy or bored, like I usually am around guys. He's so amazing. I can't wait for you to meet him. He quotes philosophy and iterature; I don't think I've ever met anyone so well read. He quoted entire passages of his favorite poems. He's so smart, and he's really funny and he's gorgeous too. I have never been so glad to miss one of my dad's dinner parties!"
As Anne continued to describe the young man in the most glowing of terms, enthusing over everything from his height to the timbre of his voice, to the exclusion of all else, Martha's confusion grew. Where was Edward? I thought she was having dinner with Edward and the brother? This sounds like a date, not dinner with her best friend and his brother. But, however much she wanted to vocalize her questions, she wasn't given the opportunity by the newly verbose Anne.
Anne's heavily punctuated speech was so unlike her usually controlled communications that Martha was brought up short. Anne of the dulcet tones and softly nuanced hand movements was speaking so quickly and eagerly that her words fell upon each other, her hands wouldn't keep still. Startled, Martha wondered more than once why she kept touching her lips. Lord, she looks just like Liz right now. Why haven't I ever noticed that before?
Anne's resemblance to her once-exuberant mother sent trickles of foreboding into Martha's heart. Sheltered behind her smooth exterior, she forced herself to respond. "My goodness, this young man certainly made an impression on you. Where was Edward during this dinner? I recall you telling me last evening that you were having dinner with Edward and his brother?" The words were casually spoken, but her thoughts raced, tender shoots of fear creeping down her neck. She's even acting like Liz did when she first met Walter, all in a tizzy!
Surprise crossed Anne's face as she considered the question. "I don't know where Edward was. Frederick told me he was going to meet us at the restaurant, but he wasn't there." Anne's laughter trilled musically and surprise gave way to delight as she thought it over. "I think he set me up! That sneak, who'd have thought Edward would set me up?" She laughed again. "I've got to thank him. Frederick is simply the most incredible, amazing guy I've ever met in my entire life. We clicked the moment our eyes met, as if we already knew each other! You know, maybe love at first sight isn't such a crazy idea! Just wait, you'll see when you meet him how great he is."
As Martha sat still, processing her thoughts and formulating an answer, Anne leaned in to whisper, "Aunt Marty, look over there at Kim, Dr. Jeffries' daughter, and her boyfriend, Paul. Aren't they adorable sharing their coffee?" Martha watched in disbelief as Anne smiled indulgently at the lovers, and would have been aghast had she been privy to Anne's imaginings of herself and Frederick engaged in the type of sharing that publicly underscores intimacy.
Martha was astonished by Anne's reactions, so bubbly, so passionate, so sentimental. So like Liz. Martha could not stop the comparisons going through her head. Luckily, her increasing reserve passed unnoticed by Anne, who was caught up in her own excitement. "I'm happy to meet your friends, Anne, you know that. I like Edward very much, is his brother like him? Another destined for the church?" Not the subtlest approach, but Martha's disconcerting sense of djà vu was swelling the more she was exposed to Anne's elation. The nerves in her neck were tense and dread dribbled into her soul; the scene was all too familiar. She felt honor and duty bound by affection and her greater experience of life to do what she could to prevent history from repeating itself. She did not think she could bear to watch her Anne be hurt the way Liz had been.
Anne's golden chuckle gurgled out of her at the idea of sensual Frederick sharing Edward's celibacy. "Oh, god, I hope not! He's beautiful and sexy and, he likes me as much as I like him. We even walked on the bike paths for a while last night." With this shocking revelation, Anne's voice betrayed none of the embarrassment Martha expected, though her cheeks were tinged with pink. Instead of self-consciousness, bemused sensuality glazed Anne's eyes and suffused her face. Reaching fingers of fearful alarm now took full hold of Martha's heart.
Sexy? Did she just say he's sexy? Martha's horrified gaze swept over an Anne she didn't recognize. Oh god, now what? Anne's not a crazy, over-sexed girl. This isn't like her!
Anne's rosy face beamed as she stared off into space.
But she's so happy. She should be dating, all young women should date, it's normal and natural. She's just been missing out on that part of life, that's all. Martha breathed deeply as she took a long drink of her coffee, consciously relaxing. She's not going to get carried away and do something crazy. Anne's not the impulsive type; she's too much like I am. This is just new to her, that's all.
Although her internal wariness was close to full throttle, Martha decided that she would simply have to rein in her disquiet and not let Anne know how greatly this new development disarmed her. Anne will need me as a friend, not as an enemy. When this blows up, she's going to need a confidante more than ever. Settling down, she found her voice, "Will you be seeing him again? I seem to recall that he doesn't live in Kellynch, is he staying long?"
Martha's restrained response, when all she wanted to do was wrap her arms around Anne to protect her from the world, was rewarded by Anne's ignorance of Martha's internal debate.
"He's planning to stay for Edward's graduation in May, so more than three months. He'll have to do some traveling; he's got tons of meetings with all sorts of people about his operating system. Did you know he's met Bill Gates?" Anne's speech was infused with an endearing animation Martha had never heard from her before.
Anne's drink order was announced and while she was picking it up, an elderly couple came to the counter. The somewhat stooped man was nattily dressed, from his jauntily checked wool cap to the brown suede oxfords on his shuffling feet. Instead of simply ordering, he asked his wife whether he wanted a cappuccino or a latté then bickered with her answer, "Miriam, I don't want a damned latté. You never remember what I want. You order. Just don't get the one I don't like." Anne was too busy picking up her drink to pay close attention to the couple's conversation, but she noticed them nonetheless. Martha also looked on, fascinated. It was one of those snapshots of life so intriguing to those who are by nature observers rather than participants, a description that normally fit both Anne and Martha.
The man's upright, grey-haired bride dismissed him. "Harold, hush and let me order already." After placing the order for his latté and her own drip coffee, the tweed clad wife retorted, "Cappuccino is not what you want, it's a latté: Unless you've suddenly decided you like the froth you're always griping about."
Clearly not one to give an inch, her sarcasm and the obvious ease with which they abused one another were blatant to those paying close consideration. Martha looked on, her wry amusement tinged with satisfaction that relieved some of her stress. They sound exactly like Liz and Walter used to; such a discordant relationship. I'm sure Anne remembers how awfully her parents bickered, just like these two.
But Anne's feelings couldn't be farther from Martha's surmises as she watched the aged curmudgeons. How sweet. I bet they've been together forever. Look how courtly he is, taking her arm and leading her to a table. Oh, he even pulled out her chair! I wish Frederick were here, he'd love this! Love for a lifetime, it's so beautiful. Caught up in romantic daydreams, her parents' acrimonious relationship far from her mind, Anne remained blissfully unaware of how differently she was viewing the world now than "B-F". Cardboard cup in hand, Anne followed the couple with an enigmatic smile in her face until she reached the stool next to her Aunt Marty.
"Interesting couple, aren't they?" Martha spoke with a smirk.
Martha assumed that Anne, with her Mona Lisa smile and a plethora of unhappy memories of similar scenes, was as cynical about the couple as she. She didn't know that Anne simply relished the picture of an intimacy and familiarity she longed to share with Frederick; and, like Anne, she didn't bother to ascertain if they were simpatico.
The friends chatted about Dean Elliot's dinner party and Anne's perfect date with Frederick until Martha announced it was time for her first class. As she gathered up her belongings, a flood of patrons filed in to line up at the counter; business always picked up between class times as the espresso bar was very popular among those with access to it.
Martha and Anne gladly surrendered their seats to a balding, sweaty English professor with whom Martha shared a nodding acquaintance. His frazzled assistant laden with stacks of books and ungraded papers gratefully took a seat. The two leave-takers smiled at their appreciation as they walked out.
Martha was truly perplexed by Anne's behavior during their talk. There were even times when she believed Anne had been inattentive to her, something the courteous Anne had never been before. Anne had stared dreamily with that same half-smile on her face all the while Martha had discussed the chancellor's plans to expand the History Department budget to allow for another graduate assistant, a position Martha hoped would be Anne's.
And that constant touching of her lips and her collarbones, what was that about? All in all, their get-together wasn't as enjoyable for Martha as usual, and she could only surmise that this boy, this Frederick, was to blame for the change. Anne's dreamy and inattentive behavior, so different from her usual demeanor, resulted in Martha feeling, for the first time, constrained to raise the topic foremost in her mind.
At the exterior door of the Faculty Club, both stopped to don outerwear before leaving the snug building.
"Anne, I'm glad that you had such a lovely evening. Frederick sounds very nice and I look forward to meeting him, soon. But before I leave, may I please talk to you a little more seriously about something else?"
Anne looked at her curiously. "Of course, what is it?"
"Don't get angry, but I can't in good conscience let this drop. I really want you to reconsider taking the GRE. You've only a week to register for the March exam date. If you miss the deadline, you won't be able to take the test until next fall. As it is, Chancellor Shepard is making huge concessions by allowing you to enroll for next semester, without a GRE score from last fall. Neither the chancellor nor I want you to miss an entire year of graduate school. You know perfectly well if you don't start in September, you'll have to wait an entire year. That would be an inconceivable waste of your time and your talent."
Her elegantly manicured hand came up to block anticipated denials from Anne. "I know, you think you don't want to go to graduate school. But, Anne, you'll change your mind, trust me. Besides, taking the exam isn't committing to school, but failing to take it is committing not to go. I hate for you not to cover all of the proverbial bases."
Anne smiled a beatific smile. "You never give up, do you? Is it so hard to understand that I have no interest in teaching? That I'm tired of school? Until this semester I carried more than a full load every semester and every summer. Now, I feel positively luxurious with only three classes and graduation in May. I don't want to be a student anymore; I can't wait to be out for good."
"You're feeling some burnout, that's to be expected. You've not had a summer off in years, rushing through high school and undergrad the way you have. But I don't think it will last. I predict you'll be bored stiff and raring to get back by September. Just take the test, that's all I ask. Please?" Martha's voice became more pleading with every word. It was as if all of the uneasiness caused by Anne's sudden likeness to her mother and the budding romance that caused it was transferred into a need for Anne to agree to continue her education, or at least to sit for the GRE.
Martha would have been chagrined to realize that although moved by the urgency in her voice, Anne, for all her placid and pleasing personality, was not ready to acquiesce. Completely unknown to Martha, there was a small corner of Anne's mind that wondered why even Aunt Marty didn't listen to her or understand what she was sure Frederick would.
"It's pointless, isn't it? I'm not applying to grad schools, I haven't even applied here -- you and Chancellor Shepherd did that. Why take the test? Besides, I've heard that most people are taking prep courses now for entrance exams, like that Kaplan course Elizabeth took for the LSAT, and I haven't. So, even if I registered, I don't think I'd be ready to take the test in March."
Martha rolled her eyes in frustration. "You give new meaning to the word 'stubborn'. You're making a big mistake, but I'm going to be late for my World Civ class if I don't go now. Heaven forbid I leave the freshmen unattended!" Martha smiled tiredly, resigned to continuing this conversation at a later date. Who knows, perhaps this boy will help me persuade her not to neglect her education, if he's as smart as she says he is, anyway.
They walked out into the wind together, Anne smiling up at the still erratic sun and relishing the wind blowing her hair about her face and Martha frowning as the same wind threatened her neatly arranged bun. Whipping a scarf from her pocket, Martha protected her appearance before turning to say goodbye to Anne.
Face to the sun, Anne presented a picture of composure and contentment that seized Martha's love for her and held on. As Martha watched, Anne walked away from her, back down the bike paths. She deserves this time, this happiness. I'm not going to worry; Anne will never let a silly crush ruin her life. At heart she's more like me than like Liz, she always has been.
Late in the afternoon, Anne stood before her customary seat in the front of the classroom. As she unpacked, she felt eyes watching her. Before she could turn to see who it was, there was a gentle touch on her shoulder. Edward greeted her with a smile, immediately returned in spades.
"Hey, stranger. What happened to you last night?"
"You didn't miss me, did you?"
"Not much, no." Anne still reflected on the discoveries of the night before and the joy of the first tint of love still showed on her face. "I had a great time."
Clearly affected by Anne's ebullience, Edward boasted in response. "He's a pretty great guy, my little brother. He couldn't stop talking about you. I told him we're already friends ? he doesn't have to sell you to me."
Anne laughed, a gilt-edged tickle. "I think you're the one selling. What are you up to?"
Edward looked a little sheepish, an interesting contrast to his smug satisfaction. "All I'm 'up' to is making sure two of the nicest people I know get to know each other."
"Uh-huh, sure. What's the Church's position on matchmaking?"
Any remaining embarrassment disappeared in his unrestrained hoot. "It's not like I'm pimping you! I just gave you and Frederick time to get to know each other without me tagging along."
Before Anne could reply, their professor had the audacity to begin his lecture.
Frederick. She could think of nothing but him ... kissing him. Their dinner and starlit walk played in her head, as it had in her father's kitchen, at the Faculty Club and deep in the stacks of the library where, theoretically, she had worked on her paper for Aunt Marty's class. Squirming in her seat, she relived the passion which surged between them. Mindful of the crowded classroom, she looked to see if anyone noticed her, and caught Edward's appraising eye.
Anne hoped Edward didn't suspect his brother had mapped unexplored reaches. They never discussed sex; the few times such matters came up, she said little. However, from her lack of boyfriends and uncomplimentary opinions on her sisters' behavior, she supposed he could infer innocence.
Frederick could change that.
Anne easily envisioned him touring virgin territory. Feeling exposed and self-conscious she stilled and tried to focus on the books in front of her. But the words on the page floated away, the professor's voice flotsam on the wave called Frederick as it washed over her.
-- eyes compelled and lids only fluttered closed as lips met. Fingers trailed a path blazed on tender skin which could not forget. She traveled as far as her imagination could take her -- to places she'd never been. Instinct and raw attraction filled in gaps; dream caresses and exciting kisses reached for and touched hidden recesses of Anne's subconscious, feeding the ravenous fresh fires of love.?
Fifty minutes later Anne realized class was over when everyone around her stood and began to mill about, walking toward the door. Dazed, she looked at Edward standing in front of her, obviously amused. "Would you like my notes, Anne?"
Mortification overwhelmed her ? Anne Elliot did not daydream through lectures! She hoped the professor hadn't noticed, but knew better. Aunt Marty's derision and her father's ill-placed glee -- directed at inattentive students -- had been fodder for more dinner table conversations than she could recall. Even her mother had joined in to mourn the loss of student interest. Only Edward's hand on hers called her away from the self-flagellation these recollections produced.
"It's okay, Anne. We all have off days."
Eyes teased, words sympathized, guilt eased. "At least this isn't historiography. Dr. Russell would have called me on it in class and totally humiliated me, then I'd never hear the end of it!"
"That's the spirit. I'll copy my notes for you since you lent me your book last night. After that, come down to the tavern with me. I told Frederick I'd meet him there after class."
Anne accepted, knowing her face gave away her eagerness. Disgrace forgotten, though not her manners, she asked, "Are you sure he won't mind? I don't want to intrude."
"I already told you the boy wouldn't shut up last night, and you've just daydreamed your way through class for the first time ever. Somehow, I don't think you'll be the intruder."
Anne and Edward paused in the doorway so their eyes could adjust to the dark pub which buzzed with voices, music and clanging barware. Still blinking, they meandered around tables which radiated like spokes from the bar, avoiding laden servers who scurried to and fro. As they walked past patrons inhaling pizza, nachos and fries, Anne wrinkled her nose at the smell of yeasty beer and greasy, cheesy food.
Frederick sat in the corner farthest from the door. Anne had seen him as soon as she entered the room. He leaned against the wall under a dartboard, his face blue in the neon of a garish advertisement. Her eyes threatened to brim over as they rested on him, bathed in the light of the tinted sign. Her heart raced, breath hitched in her chest; happiness taken hostage by trepidation. Niggling doubts battled his lure as they drew close. Had it been her imagination? She wanted to throw herself into his arms and sink into the floor at the same time. The unexpected shyness confused her.
As Anne and Edward approached, Frederick rose to hug her; she froze. She couldn't force her lungs to work, but her pulse threatened to break the sound barrier. She stiffened at his embrace as every pore strained to absorb him. None of the warmth bubbling inside asserted itself to melt outward reserve, even as she craved the refuge he promised. Afraid to allow herself the luxury of answering the press of his arms, afraid the strength of her response would be too intimate for public consumption, learned restraint warred against intense sensibility.
Frederick looked at her, brow raised in wry inquiry, and she cast a fleeting look around them, first at Edward and then at a rowdy group tabled next to them. He took his arm from her waist and didn't give the kiss she saw in his eyes. Relieved to tuck inside her familiar cloak of sham serenity, Anne also felt such disappointment that her revved up heart raced itself into the floor.
The bustle of finding a third chair and seating themselves around the small table distracted her briefly. After they settled in, she stared at the bartender pouring drinks across the room and avoided looking at Frederick. To Anne's relief, Frederick paid her no immediate attention; he waved down a waitress to take their order. Anne just managed to voice her request for a Coke before the waitress left and Frederick started talking.
"How was class?"
At the sound of his voice, Anne's eyes sought his. When they met, the intimacy of the previous night reignited, illuminating her from within. A warm, but still timid, smile brightened her eyes and cheeks. The cacophonous din around them receded; Edward's response almost lost in the rush of the retreating tide.
"We discussed Descartes' view of individual consciousness, but I'm afraid Anne was somewhere else."
Frederick turned toward Edward, eyes lingering on Anne until the last possible moment. "You think, therefore you are?" His keen perception immediately reverted to Anne before he addressed her. "You didn't pay attention in class? I expect you to be ready to challenge my ignorant assumptions. If you goof off, how will you and I continue last night's ? discussion?"
His reference intensified the hue of her flushed cheeks. The well-timed pause and deepening voice combined to remind Anne exactly where philosophical debate had landed them and then enhanced her titillating memories. Giddy excitement gained a momentary triumph over diffidence. Tiny bumps arose on tingling skin and vivid, distracting daydreams beset her. He intrigued her; and it presaged much more than physical attraction, no matter how strong. He drew her in and challenged her on more than one level.
Tentatively, she reached a hand toward his, only to draw back before she touched him. A new thought began to joust with barely quieted worries and desires. Though glad of evidence their connection had not been a fantasy, should they be on display? The "Anne and Frederick Show"? These fresh affections, private needs, would they tarnish if exposed? Accustomed as she was to hiding behind a cool exterior, her need for his touch frightened as much as it reassured.
He glanced at her retreating hand and caught her confused eyes. He drew his away, using it to lift his mug. At the same time, Anne felt his knee nudge her leg under the table. Though she felt as if she shot out of her seat, even a keen observer would have noticed only that her back straightened -- very quickly. Beginning to feel cheerful again, the roiling pit of her stomach calmed by his clandestine touch, Anne pressed back before pulling away and tucking her leg under her -- to avoid further temptation.
He held her gaze as he set down his beer; his expression said everything. Sensitive to her mood, he backed away from public gestures and sought to reassure her surreptitiously. Stunned by his immediate grasp of her flustered feelings, Anne was caught once more in an eddy of acceptance, fear and yearning.
Unaware of the rippling waters around him, Edward answered his brother. "You don't have to worry about Anne. She could daydream all semester and still ace the class. Why do you think she's my study partner?"
"You guys probably know more than the professor anyway. Philosophy is overrated; it's just self-important head-scratching, you don't learn anything about life that way. You have to live it, not study it."
Anne heard his underlying message: stop second-guessing. He had told her the night before something as unique as their instant affinity couldn't be intellectualized. His utter faith in this inexplicable something between them affected her but couldn't quite alleviate her need to analyze what she didn't yet understand. Her feelings for Frederick exposed a long unfulfilled wish to be valued and accepted for herself and not for the image she donned for protection. For the first time in eons Anne felt her mask slipping. She fought for cover by entering the conversation.
"I think the only thing anyone really knows is not to accept anything without seeking evidence of its truth, especially where knowledge would enhance the hypothesis. We study Philosophy to enhance our existing knowledge."
"What fun is there in that?"
"Is anything more fun than knowing what we believe is truth with a capital "T"? That there is substance to support our feelings, our intuition?"
"Why do you need support for intuition? You have to trust it, or what good does it do to have it?"
"But, if we seek evidence to prove our gut reactions, then we know we we're right, and isn't certainty the ultimate goal?"
"Certainty isn't better, it's just easier. What if there aren't any ultimate truths and life is a nothing but a game? You have to jump in, trusting something will catch you. If you wait for certainty, you'll wait forever."
The more Frederick pushed, the more Anne retreated. She became dispassionate, her voice quiet, and he leaned forward to catch her every word, his magnetism providing as much emphasis as the intensity of his voice. Anne knew he needed her to agree with him; she couldn't.
"I think Descartes had the right idea. Avoid preconceptions and wait to judge until your mind is clear and distinct."
"But, Descartes believed knowledge comes only with God's intervention and that means taking things on faith. If you don't take something on faith -- or chance -- then you're an empiricist, not a Cartesian. Which are you?"
Edward broke in. "I'm with Descartes, but obviously, I believe in God. You act like a skeptic, but you're not one, really, Fred. You say you don't believe in anything, but you go ahead anyway. You put your faith in fate, but it's still faith."
"I guess we're philosophically as well as genetically related. At least we both trust something. I think you have to make that leap."
"How do you trust something you don't know?"
Anne's question hung in the air. Frederick leaned away and Anne held her breath, afraid to hear his answer.
Edward rushed to fill what became awkward. "Even when you goof off, you still get more out of class than the rest of us." He shook his head. "I shouldn't have copied my notes for you. I should pay you to write my paper instead."
Anne grabbed her Coke for a sip and enjoyed her reprieve. For the moment she banished anxiety to the darkest closet of her conscious, glad to be out from under the microscope of a man so able to read her.
Anne's withdrawal shifted the conversation. The focus became Edward's interaction with his younger brother. The two kidded one another mercilessly but without acrimony. Their affectionate interplay interested her.
"If you need Anne to write your papers, you're going to be in sad shape without her next year. Which reminds me, they expect you to take that vow soon. I hear Kellynch has some randy coeds who'll help you get s-e-x out of your system."
Still awash in relief at leaving behind the murky realm of differing ideologies, Anne giggled nervously. She couldn't look at Edward, though it would have been impossible to take offense when Frederick accented his silliness with exaggerated brows and obvious winks. When Edward failed to react, his brother worked harder to ruffle his placid demeanor.
"I've heard some awful stories ? this will be tougher than you think. Once you can't, you'll want to all the time. If you don't get some now, you'll regret it later. I'm not kidding, Ed. Did you hear about that priest up in Quebec? I read about him on the internet," Frederick looked around, then leaned in and whispered "he took his vow too seriously. He exploded from frustration." When Edward and Anne chuckled, Frederick's demeanor became one of mock outrage. "Seriously."
Anne's laughter arose from imaging herself bursting with unexpressed sexuality as she daydreamed through the semester. Luckily, the Wentworths thought it was Frederick's joke that amused her, not a private one of her own. She had felt more longings in less than twenty-four hours than she had in nineteen years. For the first time she felt sorry for Edward, giving up even the hope of relief, just as she began to feel its pull.
For his part, Edward accepted the ribbing mildly, before he turned the tables on his brother. "At least I'll have a degree when I go to the seminary. What about you, Fred? Oh, wait, that's right, you dropped out ? what, three hours shy? ? to become the next Bill Gates. Where's your pocket protector today? Trying to impress Anne? She knows you're a geek, its okay, you can wear it." Edward patted Frederick's shoulder in false comfort. Anne laughed harder; Frederick, with his tall, lithe frame and masculine features, was far from the nerd stereotype Edward tried to invoke.
Frederick tossed a wadded napkin at his brother's head, and Edward threw his head back, covering his forehead with a hand. Both laughed. Such boyish banter was foreign to Anne. With only sisters, she had little experience with how men spoke to one another and, possessed of an almost affectionless family, Anne had no idea how much love could be expressed in simple teasing. The utter lack of rancor, the smiles with each verbal jab underscored their meaning to the rapt audience.
Entertained by Edward's cracks about cowboy entrepreneurs and Frederick's antic-ridden tall tales, Anne was engrossed until Edward announced he had to leave for a meeting.
"Dr. Russell asked me to come see her about my outline. Should I be afraid? Am I being fed to the lion?"
"Dr. Russell asked you to see her already? She doesn't usually ask for private conferences until much later in the semester. Why would she need to see you now?"
Edward shrugged. "Either she doesn't like my premise, or she thinks I've presented the most brilliant idea she's ever seen." Rising, he slung his backpack over his shoulder. "Frederick, I'll see you later, okay? I'd better go find out why the rise of the Maya through the theories of Hegel is so exciting."
Because Edward had guided them over a rough conversational hurdle, Anne thought his presence had lessened her surprising reserve. When he'd left, Frederick scooted his chair closer and Anne expected unwanted tension to resurface and freeze Frederick out. She was thrilled when joy refused to give way. He took her hand and the rigidity she'd felt when he'd first greeted her didn't return. The intimacy of his touch mesmerized. "I'm sorry, Anne. I didn't mean to embarrass you." He fed confidence into her with his deep green eyes. Anne felt no wish to retreat, and her other hand felt strangely empty. She brought it to rest on his forearm.
"I don't know why, but it felt weird when you hugged me ? there are all these strangers around, and Edward was here. I really wanted to see you, and then I felt so awkward when you touched me, as if they could see everything that happened last night. I'm sorry."
A squeeze of her hand further relaxed Anne. So did his conspiratorial grin. "I couldn't stop thinking about you, either. I've been lurking on campus most of the day." He replied to her next question before she asked it, "I did some research and then just walked around, hoping I'd run into you."
His confession assured her of mutual insanity. Fear of rejection -- one of the many elements at war within her psyche -- fell from the swirl of her emotions. In this private moment in the midst of public hubbub, the remaining chorus of conflicts quieted. Aglow, she reverted to the animated sprite of the night before. She peppered him with questions, excited to learn everything she could about his day.
"What were you researching? Did the library have what you wanted? Which library did you use? What do you think of KU? Where did you walk? Did you go near the Faculty Club this morning?"
"I read up on business entities, you know, corporations, partnerships and stuff like that -- boring but necessary. I have to figure out what format my company will have. Anyway, between the business school and the law school, I found what I needed. KU is nice, I walked everywhere I thought you might be, but I didn't think of the Faculty Club. Is that where you were?"
"I was buried in the stacks most of the day, but before that I had coffee there with my mom's best friend, Dr. Russell -- my aunt Marty. I told her all about you."
As Anne admitted regaling Aunt Marty with her raptures her head dipped slightly and she glanced sidelong at Frederick with a sheepish smile. He grinned back and Anne knew he was glad to know he mattered.
"Well, I gave up trying to find you and was all set to pretend to be happy to see Edward. He teased me all night -- I didn't want to hear it again, so I wasn't even going to mention you. I was sitting here -- upset because I hadn't seen you all day -- and there you were."
With an embarrassed frown, Anne recalled her inability to subdue her defensive reactions. "I knew we'd be meeting you, and I still acted like a silly teenager."
"You're not silly, but Anne, you are a teenager. Didn't you tell me you'll be twenty later this year? Uh oh, I'm a cradle robber!"
Anne laughed. His playfulness allowed her to forget the awkwardness of feeling revealed. Frederick continued in the same vein, describing her as the most unusual cradle dweller he'd ever met.
"You're almost as tiny as a baby, that's for sure. But, those baby blues hit me right here" he gestured to his heart, "just like they did yesterday. That never happened to me before." His deep voice recalled the feeling of being wrapped in sinewy arms instead of mere words.
No reluctance, no drawing back hindered them, and lips became reacquainted despite the lack of privacy. When the caress ended, Anne gazed adoringly at Frederick with awe-struck eyes.
He shifted in his chair and changed the subject. "Enough for here and now. What was your day like?"
Her unwillingness to leave the cocoon they'd spun reminded her how she'd wanted to stay buried in her dreams that morning. Anne grimaced, remembering the inelegant manner in which she'd been awakened.
"Mary -- my younger sister -- woke me up at some ungodly hour in a snit thinking our older sister had taken ski equipment out of her luggage. Turns out it was just packed in one of her other bags. I ask you, how much junk does one girl need? Anyway, I got her off to the airport and then Elizabeth showed up, still in her clothes from the night before." Anne rolled her eyes. Taking her hands from his she raked them through her dark blonde hair as she spoke. Though she was unaware, the gesture spelled out her discomfort.
Frederick whistled between his teeth. "Elizabeth is the one who thinks she's in love with your cousin, right?"
"Yes, that's her."
Her hands tried for her hair again, but he reached them first and held fast, forcing her to look at him as he spoke.
"You know you're not responsible for your sister's behavior, right? And, you and I being into each other right away doesn't mean you're anything like her, either."
Anne's eyes darted away, looking beyond him, blinking in the light of the glowing blue sign. How could someone she had met just the night before summarize her deepest fears and insecurities? Frederick's clear-sightedness frightened Anne more than her own burgeoning feelings.
Instinct warred with prudence. Anne wanted to pour out her feelings, to tell him how his support touched her, to share how it hurt to hear Elizabeth and their father insult her mother and her aunt Marty. To explain how she fantasized she wasn't related to them but was her mother's child -- sprung from Liz Stevenson Elliot's brow -- a modern Athena.
Instead of pouring out, the words percolating in her head expanded and lodged in her throat. Her fervent wish to talk to him, to confide in him, made the lump hot and thick. It wouldn't break loose. Unable to curl into his nurturing care, uncertainty held fast the bulwark of misgiving.
She smiled absently, bringing her eyes back to his. His compassionate expression nearly breached the gates but fear strengthened the dam holding back her innermost desires. She could neither move the barrier nor could she yet allow it to shatter under his loving bombardment. Anne turned the subject to his planned business venture and didn't look back.
It was done well; Frederick appeared momentarily surprised at the rapidity with which she changed conversational streams but he changed along with her, eager to speak of his plans. She listened to his enthusiasm, hoping it would cleanse her of the paralyzing qualms.
Not yet. She would tell him. Eventually. She just had to know first.
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