They found themselves alone within a small alcove actually, comfortable chairs and books about them. They were acquainted, respected each other well enough to be deferential and found that an hour or two worth of unexpected quiet and reading could be bearable within each other’s company.
He chose Dicken’s “The Pickwick Papers,” and she thought that if he had to pick her least favorite author at least it was his best novel. She chose “The Consolation of Philosophy,” by Boethius and he was sure she was showing off.
He could have thought that she was trying to impress him. The idea half formed in his mind and he quickly pushed it aside disdaining his ego and giving her a fair assessment that she should read what she likes regardless of appearing a tad pompous.
As they settled down near the low fire, leaning their heads back into the deep leather library chairs, he glanced over at her, somewhat shocked that she didn’t make some sort of vague comment on the tranquility of the room. Most women felt compelled to state the obvious idea of pleasure verbally, however, she was already well ensconced in her chair and her book. She seemed small almost comical but well contented. His heart swelled into a shocking wave of gratitude toward this woman. She understood the gift that the day had miraculously given and fell to immediately. He felt an odd sense of comradeship that allowed the opening of his book an easy and an anticipated task.
On her part she was determined to study and not read for pleasure. The day was not done and the idea of finding a favorite work of fiction and then abandoning it due to obligation was too much to face. She meant to stay productive. Boethius was mentioned by C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters; to find it here in this small out of the way personal library was a sign to her. She wasn’t sure why she felt compelled but meant to be led by the find for the few hours that had bequeathed upon them.
For an hour they read, not conscious of each other’s movements, shifts, page turns, smiles, frowns or pursed lips. She was younger than he by a good 15 years or more so she heard the sound, while he remained oblivious. It was a small tap or scraping sound. She looked up from her book, frowning. He noticed her movement and so looked up from his book as well, with a questioning expression.
She shifted her gaze to him thinking that perhaps he heard what she had heard. He was looking over at her with raised eyebrows, his shocking blue eyes glowing in the gray atmosphere of the room, a pair of thin wired, gold, reading glasses upon his nose. His expression was that of a question – mutely he was asking, “what?”
“I thought I heard something,” she shrugged and smiled, it must have been a mouse.”
His eyes shifted back to his book and he frowned in a fatherly sort of way. “Oh, I hope not. A mouse would play hell on all these fine books.” He had forgotten about her. His voice, deep and melodious was teasing her but he had left her mentally. For her part she was suddenly aware that the man across from her was beautiful. Stunning actually; tall, self-contained, well dressed, and soothingly masculine. Her heart was thudding and she was not sure when that thudding had begun. At the sound of his voice? At the movement of his strong hands upon his book? At the way he studiously read the words upon the page with a frowning attention? She stopped asking herself questions for she found herself fighting the urge not to love him, even though he read Charles Dickens but especially because he was so calm, so at ease within his masculinity, so content — these had no cure for her.
Mentally grasping at anything that would keep her calm she knew that she needed to preserve this moment, for her own sake. She needed to preserve that evasive feeling of attraction and love; for despite her physical realization she also recognized that her belief in her spirit-self or soul, redoubled in waves of faith in that she was capable of something not quiet explainable. He would never understand. He would think her mad and perhaps she was but she knew that once they both stood up the intimacy she felt would dissipate, vanish for she was certain the attraction in the room was one sided.
She settled herself back into her chair and willed her body to relax. Then with clandestine exactness she raised her eyes from the book she was holding and stared at him.
She stared unabashedly. She stared with all the will power she could muster and willed her mind to imprint upon its conscious and subconscious matter the picture of the man she loved. She followed the relaxed but firm way he held the volume he was reading, his fingers wide apart. She followed the line of his dark suit that enhanced his body, the whiteness of his shirt and the exactness of his tie. She imagined him putting on his tie, the mindless way he would knot the thing while thinking of the responsibilities of his day. She felt she could watch him knot his tie daily as she used to watch her father shave every once in a while; a young girl’s adoration for the first man in her life mixed with the idea that she was with the last man in her life.
She suddenly wondered if he’d pick out her clothes for her – not every day- only when they would go out together. The idea was washing relief. She would never have to clothes shop again, he would do it all in exchange for her taking some village committee meeting for him. She imagined their walk to church not wondering if her dress was too drab or too loud. She imagined him in the old church choir, his voice perfect in pitch but somehow not quite to her liking – a secret she would keep until judgment day so she could unabashedly beg his pardon for eternity.
She forgot herself and smiled.
His voice rose up between them; “Why do you stare?”
She groaned inwardly aware that she had just shipwrecked her perfect afternoon. She could duck her head and apologize or tell him the truth. She always preferred truth because an obvious lie always clouded communication and they had the day to finish together.
“You’re beautiful, and I wanted to make sure I kept the image of you in my mind.” She spoke softly but resolutely. She kept her voice matter of fact but cringed slightly wondering if she sounded like a watcher of exotic birds or even, God forbid, like an anthropologist.
He turned to her truly surprised, his features dropped his expression of barely polite sarcasm that was bent mostly toward self-deprecation and stared at her in turn, blankly. Then he frowned and his bright blue eyes deepened to sapphire; “You’re serious.”
She felt suddenly light, even swimmingly for a moment; he was not offended, but surprised. For a few seconds she floated in her triumph and knew that this moment would be an exhilarating memory for the rest of her life if her next words didn’t drop like a bomb upon his intellect.
“Yes, it came upon me just a few moments ago -how beautiful you are I mean. When you picked Charles Dickens to read, I thought you slightly less than hideous, very ordinary actually but the mouse comment quite won me over.”
“Not to my supposed beauty surely,” he frowned and her heart began to thump in regret “the mouse comment would only have gotten me noticed.”
Damn, damn, damn, damn. She was lost forever. Not only was he a beautiful man but an exacting one.
“Yes, I suppose you are right, your mouse comment brought my notice to your physical presence rather than your pick of fiction. I can find no actual mental bridge that connects my mental process from your comment to my awareness of your beauty.”
He smiled at her, a genuine smile for he realized that she was attempting a man’s reasoning for his behalf. In most women he found the attempt grinding but because she was sincerely sticking to the truth of her actions he felt a warm flow of gratitude towards her. “My dear lady I am not so much an automaton to think that the realization of attraction within the human mind is a measurable moment but I myself surprised because you sit there so pious reading Boethius; mental bridge or no, that’s some leap you took; philosophy to attraction.”
He was giving her a path out, a way to turn this conversation away from her attraction for him to a distancing, analytical dialogue that may seal a warm regard for each other or deepen their respect but nothing further. She paused and felt that not having to think of her wardrobe for the remainder of his life would be worth extending a proverbial emotional flower of attraction to him. Besides listening to that melodious voice, even if it was quoting from the Biblical book of Numbers would be worth any hazard.
She quietly closed her book upon her lap. “I did not want to begin a book of fiction only to be interrupted; hence Boethius.” She hoped her smiled conveyed an emotional link between them. She had no hard feelings if he thought her pious in a derogatory sense, he was too beautiful to harbor resentments regarding judgments that in other circumstances would never have been realized.
“Ah,” he smiled realizing that she was giving to him the upper hand. She saw within his features a brief frowning smile; a frantic movement upon his features that conveyed his indecision. Did he want to encourage this attraction? His quiet life, well ordered, tranquilly mundane, would take a severe blow and the roller coaster of romantic attraction was a very high risk. “You are pointing out your virtues – foresight and prudence being amongst your other bevy of personal attributes.” He smiled down at his book as if he were weighing the cost of giving up Dickens or the fatigue of battle in trying to win this woman over to the great writer.
She remained silent understanding his dilemma though not the detail. She too felt that her life could change from duty, purpose and quiet solitude to nervous moments of wanting to please another human being.
His face became suddenly serious and he pulled off his reading glasses with the fluid motion of decision; “I thought you beautiful from the moment I saw you.”
She knew he lied but that he believed his own statement from that moment of mental decision; to risk giving up regard for desirability and the subsequent rush of anxiety in wanting to woo her and be accepted. She was content with his declaration. She contented herself in a settling moment that despite, she was sure, she would spend the remainder of their lives in dispute over Dickens literary worth. However her anxiety of having no personal style in dress would now be shouldered by him. Besides she had the more mercenary need of watching him knot his tie in the morning and physically learning how to untangle the barrier between them in the evening.