Sunday, December 23, 2018

Dear Miss Moreau: Introductions

The excerpt that precedes this can be found here.

           Edie had been awake for half an hour contemplating hobbling to the kitchen on her crutches to start the coffee when she heard her mother stirring.
“I’m on my way now, Edie. You want cream or sugar?”
“Just black this morning, thanks.”
“So, how are we handling tomorrow?” Mrs. Moreau asked as she handed Edie her coffee and sat beside her on the couch.
“You know, who’s going to the airport, what do you want to do for dinner?”
“Oh. Right,” Edie answered before taking a cautious sip from her mug. “Well, obviously I think I should go get him, but someone will have to drive me. Clearly that should be you or Charlotte.”
“Whatever you want, dear.”
“Well what do you think?”
“We can ask Charlotte when she comes over to do the tree. If she’s free you know she will want to go.”
“Oh, I think she will make sure she’s free,” Edie said with a laugh, the coffee finally bringing her out of her morning stupor.
“So that leaves dinner then. Assuming his plane is on time.”
“Mom, don’t worry about it. We can go through a window on the way here or something.  You have way too much to think about to worry about cooking his meals while he’s here.”
“Edie, if you don’t want me to cook then your father and I can meet y’all somewhere for dinner, but I think it’s important for us all to sit down together at least once before everyone else descends for Christmas. I don’t want to tell you your business, sweetie, but not only is James meeting your father, he is going to be bombarded by our relatives soon. Let him get to know us before your grandfather is in his face asking him awkward questions or Michelle is insisting he play hide and seek with her.”
Edie smiled listening to her mother describe the predictable chaos that ensued when all of their family gathered beneath one roof to celebrate, well, anything.  
“Well?” her mother prompted.
“Oh, oh right. Yes that’s fine. We’ll meet for dinner somewhere.”
“Good. That just leaves the sleeping arrangements,” Mrs. Moreau said, obviously attempting nonchalance.
Edie shook her head and laughed but said nothing.
“Edie, I’m serious. At least tell me what you have in mind so I’ll know which set of sheets to change.”
“What does that even mean, Mom?”
“Well if you stay on the couch, he can sleep in your room. If you want your bed, I need to clean up Charlotte’s room and put clean sheets on her bed.”
“He can have Char’s room, okay?  I’d like to keep my options open,” Edie said, not meeting her mother’s eyes.
“Well, now that that’s settled, why don’t you finish your coffee and then try and sleep until Charlotte gets here.”
“Mom, I’m on this couch enough. I get plenty of sleep, I assure you.”
“Well, you look tired. And, I don’t know, gaunt.”
“Really, Mom? Gaunt? Thanks,” she mumbled as she groped the floor for her crutches, determined to do something productive.
“Sorry, Edie, but you look a little frail. We should ask the doctor about some vitamins or something when you go back.”
“I don’t need any vitamins, Mom,” she mumbled as she stood on her right foot and propped herself up on her crutches.
Without saying a word, Louise Moreau picked up Edie’s unfinished coffee, followed her hobbling daughter into the kitchen, and placed the coffee in front of her on the kitchen table once Edie had maneuvered herself into a chair.
“Thank you,” Edie said as she took another sip of coffee. “I think I’ll finish it in here.”
“I’m making eggs for your dad. He’s jogging, but he’ll be back soon. You want some?”
“Yes, please,” Edie answered, staring out the large window that framed the table.  “With cheese,” she added.
The two women remained in the kitchen for quite some time. Edie drank her coffee and watched her mother drift from the refrigerator to the stove to the sink before making the journey again.
“Yes, dear?”
“When you get a chance, can you go upstairs and get his letter I got yesterday?  It’s sitting on my desk on top of—”
“Your gel pens and your stationary,” she finished for her daughter, already rounding the corner to make the trip up the stairs.
“Thanks, Mom,” she offered, but her mother was out of earshot. 
Edie would see him sooner than any letter she might mail would reach him, but she wanted to reply to his last letter anyway. She knew he’d enjoy it if she hand delivered her response and ran her hands through his hair while he read. Something about yesterday’s letter had left her unsettled, but her father’s voice chased away further thoughts about what exactly was niggling her.
“Edie, good to see you off the couch,” Mr. Moreau said as he walked through the door, panting from his run.
“Thanks, Dad,” she mumbled into her coffee mug.
“Where’s your mother? I mean I assume you’re not the one cooking all this,” he said, gesturing to the disarray in the kitchen.
“She’s getting something for me upstairs.”  
Edie hated the way she felt, tiptoeing around the matter of James Foster with her father.  Hers was a family of communicators.   
“So, when does Mr. Wonderful arrive?” David Moreau asked as he sat down across from Edie. 
“James, Dad. His name is James.”
“All right, when does James arrive?”
“Tomorrow night, hopefully. The forecast doesn’t look all that promising right now though.”
Her father just nodded. His mouth was full of eggs as he looked from his daughter to his wife as the latter returned to the kitchen, Edie’s requests in her hands. There was relative silence as the three of them ate, sipped coffee, and read. The local paper was scattered on the table, and Edie was thankful her dad’s head was buried in a section of it while she reread James’s letter.

Dear Edie,
These past few weeks have been so dull and tedious. The end of a semester is always filled with inane details, but this one has topped them all, and I’ve seen the end of many semesters, from both sides of the podium. I gave my last final weeks ago, but I am just now climbing out from under the mountain of paperwork required to officially close a semester.  
Obviously your absence has further aggravated me, as I might better handle the stress of these days if I knew I had you and a cup of coffee to warm me when I returned to my otherwise cold and lonely apartment. Forgive me; I don’t mean to paint such a desolate picture of Boulder since you left, but the temperature does seem to have dropped significantly in your absence, and I can’t recall the last time I saw the sun in this typically cloudless city.      
Dr. Windham has been out with the flu for a week, and her absence has created a vortex of confusion in the department. If I am ever asked to serve as department chair, or to head the graduate program, remind me to decline the invite. I much prefer holing up in my office to read, even when the reading consists of drab essays. 
When I left our American Novel classroom for the final time and walked to my office, alone, I thought of the countless ways my life has changed since I made that journey back in August. Did I ever tell you I fell completely in love with you the second time our seminar met? You wore a green dress. Don’t ever get rid of that green dress. It is quite decent, but you, dear, in that dress were a complete distraction to me in class that day and remain such even as I write.     
I hadn’t read any of Byron’s work in quite some time, but since your accident and resulting immobility, “She Walks in Beauty” has been in my thoughts constantly - -   
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Obviously you don’t have raven tresses, but I think the rest of Byron’s sentiments are applicable.
I know you’ve been spending time with Ms. Austen’s Edward Ferrars; we need to return to thesis revisions soon, dear, as we’re both drifting to the Brits of late. I usually don’t make house calls (& certainly not to houses in different time zones), but in this instance, I think it’s pertinent I pay you a visit to refocus your efforts and keep your thesis on track during your indefinite absence from campus.
Boulder and I ache for you, Edie. You’re well aware of my unease over what awaits me in Louisiana, but I admit I’m glad we’ll be under one roof on Christmas morning. I haven’t looked forward to Christmas this much since I was a child.

Yours always,

"Journeys end in lovers meeting, Every wise man's son doth know."  
–Shakespeare, Twelfth Night 

Edie took a bite of the eggs her mother had placed in front of her while she was reading.  Her green polo dress was hanging hundreds of miles away in her closet in her apartment in Boulder. She remembered the feel of the fresh razor as she bore down on her legs, first the right, then the left, the August morning she decided James Foster and his fancy suits warranted more than her blue jeans.  
She couldn’t wait to be cramped in her tiny shower again, standing up attempting to shave. She missed the city and everyone and everything that became a part of her life after her move to Boulder. Unbidden, a picture of James in her apartment, on her bed, filled her thoughts, and she recalled what in the letter had left her disconcerted the day before. 
Had he purposefully chosen the word lovers, or was he just grabbing a random Shakespeare quote about a reunion? Edie wasn’t even particularly fond of Shakespeare, as James well knew. 
She sat at the kitchen table around which her family had eaten countless meals and began composing a reply to James’s letter, a reply he would read under her parents’ roof, under her watchful eyes. Half an hour, two cups of coffee, and two eggs later, she slid the perfectly creased letter in an envelope when she heard Charlotte in the front hall, her voice alight with excitement over the impending annual decoration of the Moreau family Christmas tree. 

* * *
“Okay, so, do you want me to stay in the car or help you inside and hang back in a bathroom or what?”
“Charlotte, be serious.”
“What? I mean it. You want me there doing the awkward handshake thing instead of giving the two of you a few minutes alone?”
“I think it would be awkward if I tell him you’re hiding in the bathroom.” 
Charlotte put her car in park and turned to face her sister. When their eyes met, they began laughing, their snorts and giggles filling the car until Edie’s phone alerted her to a text.
“He’s landed. He’s already landed. Are we late?” Edie asked, not waiting to hear an answer as she threw the car door open.
“Hey, hey slow down. Let me help,” Charlotte offered, a firm hand landing on Edie’s arm. “He’ll probably be sitting on the runway for a few minutes. Let’s get inside and you can go check your face on the way to his gate.”
“What’s wrong with my face?”
“Oh, well, I don’t know. I thought you might want to put on some lipstick.”
“He won’t care if I’m wearing lipstick.” Edie wasn’t able to resist the smile that turned up the corners of her lips as she spoke.
“Ah. I see. So we’re that far down the road, are we?”
“Yeah. Yeah I guess we are.”
They’d reached the automatic doors and the airport beyond them.
“I do need to go to the bathroom, though,” Edie said, gesturing to the sign to their right.
“I need your help, Char,” she added when her sister appeared to be searching for a place to sit and wait.
“Oh, right, sorry.”
Edie didn’t want to admit how tired she was, but compared to her recent routine of reading and sipping coffee on the couch all day today had been a marathon, and it wasn’t over yet. She was thankful the forecasted rain had held off and his plane was on time. As Charlotte steadied her while she washed her hands she mentally went through the rest of the evening’s plans trying to calculate how many hours it would be before she could lock herself in her bedroom with James Foster. 
In five minutes she’d see his face again. It would take at least another half hour to get through the pleasantries with Charlotte and return to the car and fight the pre-Christmas traffic at the airport. Their dinner plans with her parents were the real wild card in terms of time as well as the potential to be lovely and relaxing or awkward and horrible. Her parents were coffee and dessert people, so she knew she was facing at least two, maybe three, hours of pleasantries and witty banter. 
“Edie, here, dry your hands and let’s go,” Charlotte said as she shoved paper towels at her sister.
“Thanks,” Edie mumbled.
“I’d ask where your head is, but I think I know.”
“Yeah, you know,” was all Edie offered as she hobbled out of the bathroom.
It seemed the airport had filled to the brim while Edie used the restroom. People were staking their claim to seats in the various waiting areas, and a line ten people deep had formed at the Starbucks adjacent the restroom. 
It was slow-going to his gate, and Edie regretted her decision to come on crutches rather than in her wheelchair. The last time she had seen James she had been in that chair, broken in every way a person can be. She wanted to show him the progress she had made in the weeks they were apart, but she also wanted to be alert and cheery for him later rather than in the foggy stupor that resulted every time she took her pain pills. 
Obviously sensing Edie’s struggle, Charlotte slowed.
“Why don’t we sit for a minute? Text him and tell him where we are. He can find us.” 
Edie’s head was bowed, her eyes on her phone, when she heard him.
“Oh, hi,” she breathed, her phone forgotten.
Not bothering with her crutches, she stood on her good leg, wobbling like an infant. Charlotte lunged for her, but he was faster, securing her to him and making no effort to hide the fact that he buried his face in her hair and inhaled and then kissed her cheek and then her lips.
“Hi, James, hi.”
He held a PhD in English literature, and all Edie could say, repeatedly, was, “Hi.” Her junior high years had not been her favorite, so she was at least thankful the seventh grade girl he brought out in her at times could hold her head high, secure in the knowledge that her boyfriend was gorgeous. 
He hugged her again and then helped return her to her chair before extending his hand to Charlotte. 
“Dr. Foster, I presume?” 
“Indeed,” he said, shaking her hand and laughing appreciatively, her reference to Marlowe’s play not lost on him. “Nice to finally meet you, Charlotte. And you can call me James.”
Edie was so happy to be seated beside him in the back of Charlotte’s car she didn’t overthink the meeting with her dad that was minutes away. Like a teenager she snuggled up next to him, her exhaustion temporarily lifting when his warm hand covered her thigh, his thumb making slow circles while Charlotte made small talk about his flight from Denver.
 “This isn’t necessary,” Edie admonished as her sister pulled into a handicap spot.
“Edie, we went to the trouble to get the hangtag. We may as well make good use of it.”
“You are handicapped, dear,” James whispered in her ear. She could feel the upturn of his lips as he spoke, his hands roaming now that Charlotte had exited the vehicle. 
“My parents are waiting inside. And Charlotte’s patience with us may be wearing thin,” she added, nodding toward her sister who was dangling her keys enthusiastically to signal she was waiting for them to so she could lock up.
“I wish I’d had something to drink on the plane.”
“What? No. They’ll love you. My mom already does.”
“Your mom tolerated me during your hospital stay in Boulder. Love is a bit of a stretch.”
“I’m going to have to take pain pills, so one of us ought to be sober.”
He paused before they entered the large dining room.
“Are you hurting?”
“A little. I’ll need something by the time we make it back to my parents’ house.”
“Come on,” he nodded. “Looks like there’s a bottle of wine on the table already.”
Edie was calmer than she expected, though admittedly she felt could scale Everest so long as James’s hand was thrust between her sweater and her lower back, his fingers saying what he could not at the moment with her parents within earshot. 
She watched her father stand as she approached with James. She felt like there ought to be dramatic music playing in the background, but there was only the clatter of utensils and the echoes of hushed conversations punctuated by bursts of laughter.
“David Moreau,” her father said rather loudly, his hand extended. 
“James Foster.”
Edie took in the scene in front of her. James was a few inches taller than her father, but otherwise they were eerily identical in khaki slacks and a pullover sweater. James’s prematurely graying hair muddied the age difference between him and her father, and Edie suddenly, and maybe for the first time, felt like a student dating her teacher. 
Her mother and Charlotte remained seated at the round table that had been reserved for their party of six. John, Edie’s brother-in-law, had not yet arrived. Edie was admittedly eager for his presence. As James helped settle her in her chair and then seated himself, Edie felt the familiar intimacy of the company of the three people with whom she had spent her entire life, her parents and her sister, and James’s outsider status was startling in a way she hadn’t expected. 
“It’s nice to see you again, James.”
“Thank you, you too, Mrs. Moreau.”
“Please, call me Louise.”
Edie knew her mother saw the look she and Charlotte exchanged at her invitation to be called Louise. She tried to imagine James referring to her father as David and could not.
“So, how was the flight? This is your first time in Louisiana, correct?”
Louise was hammering her new best friend.
“Louise, let the man order a drink. He’s been in airports all day, dear. There’s plenty of time for an interrogation.”
“James, would you like some wine?” Charlotte offered.
“Yes, please.”
“No. I want some water when the waiter returns. Have you all ordered?”
“Just some appetizers,” her mother replied. Her eyes were on her husband. His reprimand of her questions had not been forgotten. 
“You sure, Edie?” Charlotte was smiling broadly.
“I can’t. I’m going to take a pain pill when we get home.”
“Are you hurting, Edie?” Louise’s eyes were on her daughter now.
“Um, a little. It’s not bad yet. I can tell I’ll need something to help me sleep, though.” 
Edie felt James’s hand slide over her thigh at her words. She didn’t know if he shared her mother’s concern for her pain, or if he was suggesting he might help her sleep. She couldn’t mentally dwell on the latter option while seated with her parents. She had to plow through dinner first.
By the time John arrived, James and Edie’s mother had both finished two glasses of wine. Edie’s father, who’d begun asking questions of his own, had discovered that James didn’t watch much football. Charlotte had grown visibly agitated over John’s tardiness. Edie was rethinking her decision to abstain from alcohol.
“So, you read, I assume,” Mr. Moreau asked.
“That I do, all the time.”
            “He read to Edie while she was in the hospital,” Louise chimed in a little too enthusiastically. James’s blush was likely apparent to the patrons on the far side of the dining room. Edie and Charlotte both attempted to speak and rescue him, but he beat them to it.
            “Yes, I did. I’m sure you all know well that Edie doesn’t spend much time without a book in her hand. It was the least I could do, given her temporary issues with her vision.”
            “What do you enjoy? I mean you teach American literature, correct?”
            “Yes sir, I do.”
            Edie silently thanked her father for not finishing his sentence with to my daughter
            “I faired pretty well in my American literature class, didn’t I, Louise?”
            “Yes, dear, from what I recall. We'd just started dating. You had finally rid yourself of that horrible Melinda.”
            “What? No. We went on maybe three dates. I’d been interested in you for months but you paid me no attention.”
            “Because you were dating Melinda.”
            “Anyway, I was not an English major like my brilliant daughters, but I took a few upper level English electives and held my own.”
            “David was a history major until I convinced him that was a bad idea. Then he switched to business.”
            “A decision I’ve never regretted,” he added, leaning in to kiss his wife.
            “Charlotte, you were an English major?” James asked.
            “I was. My grades were not as pretty as Edie’s, and I never wanted to attend graduate school, but I did love my English classes.”
            “Oh Char, you made good grades. Quite an accomplishment, too, considering you spent all your time with me,” John chimed in.
            “This is true,” she affirmed, returning her husband’s grin.
            It was after nine o’clock when the last dish had been cleared. Despite talk of books and English majors and several bottles of wine they’d collectively drunk, the conversation never veered into embarrassing territory. No one mentioned that Edie met James because he was her American literature professor, and no one referred to him as Dr. Foster. 
            Nothing about him hinted at his role as Dr. Foster on the drive home. He filled the back of Charlotte’s car. He was her James as he ran his hand through Edie’s hair while she prepared herself for the next hurdle, the sleeping arrangements. 


1 comment:

  1. Lord Byron makes this chapter perfect! (I wrote a paper on Lord Byron in high school. What a character!) Petrina