“None for me, dear. I’ll be asleep before it drips. It was nice to meet you, James.”
David Moreau nodded his head in acknowledgment, gave Edie a smile and a quick kiss on her head, and disappeared down the hall leading to the bedroom he shared with his wife.
“Well? What about you two?”
“I’d like some. Edie?”
Mrs. Moreau joined them at the table once the coffee was dripping.
“Well. Long day, for all of us,” she added. “Have you taken your medicine, Edie?”
“I have. I’ll be lucid for another half hour or so.”
“I don’t want to hover, but given your situation,” she said, gesturing to Edie’s leg, “where are you planning on sleeping? I’d like you to sleep in your bed. I don’t think you sleep well on the couch, and with James here there will be someone else up there if you need help in the middle of the night, you know, with whatever.” She trailed off, unable to say aloud that Edie might need James to help her use the bathroom in the middle of the night. It wasn’t like her mother was suggesting they shower together, but it suggested an intimacy her mother wasn’t going to confirm by vocalizing it, and Edie knew it.
“Why don’t I pour our coffees, take them upstairs, and then get you safely up there before your medicine kicks in?” James offered.
“That sounds wonderful." Mrs. Moreau answered before Edie had a chance.
James left the kitchen moments later flanked by rising steam from their mugs.
“Mom, I love you. You’re precious, you know that?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You couldn’t bring yourself to say bathroom? That he might need to help me if I have to pee?”
“Oh Edie. I don’t know the details of your relationship with him. I just don’t want to embarrass either of you.”
“He knows I pee, Mom.”
“Yes, thank you for pointing that out. I just—." She sighed before continuing. "I don’t want to tell you your business, honey, but I feel uneasy about what we’re keeping from your father. That burden would be more bearable if I knew you were not upstairs in bed with him.”
“Mom, do you think I’d sleep with him in your house? In dad’s house?”
“No. No, I don’t.”
“I’m here because I can’t do much of anything on my own. Whatever your concerns, at least put them aside until I have two good legs again.”
Louise Moreau said nothing, and after a pregnant silence Edie continued. She hated lying to her father. She wanted to attempt honesty with her mother.
“The first time he slept at my apartment we were fully clothed. He spilled his guts to me. His honesty broke me, and I asked him to stay. I slept in a turtleneck and corduroy pants. There may’ve been some rubbing.”
“You do love corduroy.”
“Yes I do. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
“The first time?”
“He spent a total of maybe five nights with me. There were weeks we rarely saw each other outside of class unless he came over at night.”
“I presume the two of you weren’t working on your thesis all night?”
“I want you to finish your degree, Edie. I want you to heal, return to Boulder, & not be burdened by what is an emotionally messy situation. I don’t want you embroiled in a scandal!”
“He’s resigned as my thesis advisor. His name isn’t on any of the official paperwork. His supervisor knows we—”
“She knows what?”
“She knows he is more than my English professor. There are no rules against consensual relationships, especially considering I am a twenty-three-year-old graduate student. I am not a mindless eighteen-year-old child fresh out of high school.”
“I know you’re not mindless.”
“Thanks. Is there anything else?”
“I guess not. I like him, Edie, I do. I understand that people find themselves in difficult situations. I understand that his marriage is over.”
“Yes. It is.”
“I don’t like keeping secrets from your father. This one just feels pretty big, what with him here now, upstairs getting your bed ready.”
“I understand that. I do. If you want to tell dad, tell him.”
“Are you ever going to tell him?”
“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
His voice startled both of them.
“Well, goodnight kids,” Mrs. Moreau said as she stood. “James, the sheets on Charlotte’s bed are clean. There are towels in her bathroom in the closet to the left of the sink. Make Edie ask you for whatever help she needs. She has a stubborn and independent streak that doesn’t couple well with her temporary dependence on others.”
“Stubborn and independent?” he echoed as he helped Edie up. “Goodness, I can’t imagine.”
“I’d say let me know if you need anything, but I am planning to sleep very deeply knowing you have this one up there with you. So, unless there's a fire, I'll see you both in the morning.”
Edie loved the nod and smile her mother gave James as she exited the kitchen, hitting the light switch on her way out and leaving the pair in relative darkness.
“You ready?” he asked, nodding toward the stairs, his voice deep and raspy. Edie wondered if he meant ready for sleep.
“Yeah. Definitely. I want to get out of these clothes, and I have a letter for you. And our coffee’s getting cold.”
“Damn, girl. All my favorite things.”
She laughed. “Oh, sorry. I should’ve been clear. I want to get out of these clothes and into my plaid flannel Christmas pajamas.”
“I desperately want to see you in your plaid flannel Christmas pajamas,” he said just before covering her mouth with his.
They were not quiet on the way up the stairs. Edie hoped her parents were asleep. Her medicine was making her punchy, and her fits of laughter set James off in a way that would make him nearly unrecognizable to his students who saw him only in the classroom, a man in a pristine suit who lectured about serious things like literature and culture and theory.
He settled her on her bed and immediately left to change his clothes, claiming he didn’t want to taint her sheets with his airline germs. Having wrestled her pajama bottoms over her cast, Edie was buttoning up her plaid flannel top when he appeared in her doorframe.
“What are you doing? Put on a shirt.”
“It’s very warm up here.”
“Well, your blood pressure trends low. One of your nurses in Boulder told me that. Your medicine may well be lowering it further. Besides, we both know you’re not going to have sex with me under your parents’ roof regardless of what I am not wearing.”
“Listen to you. You could be dressed in a potato sack and still lecture with complete command.”
“It’s a gift.” He smiled and stretched across her bed. “So you were serious about the flannel, I see.”
“Yes. I love them.”
“They’re adorable. Now if you want, I'll get a shirt. I take only minimal pleasure in being a tease.”
“No, it’s okay. I should've made you take your shirt off more often in the fall.”
“I’d have resisted. You know I was on my best behavior then. Most of the time,” he added with a smirk.
“Now you know my secrets. Now I know you love me. If you’re done talking, I’m going to take advantage of your drugged state. Although I do enjoy the way you’re beginning to slosh your words.”
“I’m not sloshing my words.”
“You’re not as sharp as you usually are. Between my partial nudity and your pain meds, you’re clearly distracted and had best just listen to me.”
“The only thing of consequence you’ve said is that you won’t sleep with me.”
“Not true. I said you wouldn’t sleep with me.”
“We just don’t shut-up, do we?”
“I enjoy the talking, crave it at times. Being away from you is not pleasant.”
“Here, help me?”
Edie raised her arms so he could shimmy her toward the half-dozen pillows situated at the head of her bed. Once she was reclined, he settled himself on her unbroken side, his legs sandwiching her fully functional right one. Edie closed her eyes and savored the moment, the delicious feeling of his weight pinning her to her mattress, the ridges and planes of his back under her fingers, the tickle of his lips as he pressed them to her neck, the lingering smell of alcohol on his breath as he kissed one cheek, and then the other, finally silencing her, his insistency muting them both.
* * *
“Merry Christmas.” His breath tickled her ear. His face was inches from hers, his sleepy smile the first thing she saw when she rolled over. Edie lifted his arm off of her like a lever and sat up.
“What time is it? she whispered.
“Have you heard anything?”
“I don’t know, a parent.”
“No. I think they’re still sleeping. I don’t smell any coffee.”
Edie sighed and sank back to the bed.
“So are you going to go mess up Charlotte’s sheets?”
“What? I can’t make a bed when I’m a guest in someone’s house?”
“It’s fine. My mom’s so tired. I bet she doesn’t even make it up here today. It’s going to be a long day.”
“Relax, baby. I know. All your relatives are coming, and you’re nervous, and you’re anxious because you want everything to be perfect, but look at us." He ran his hands through her tangled hair. “Look at us, Edie,” he said with a mix of awe and pride.
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Remember when you called me Eddie?”
“You were very good at masking your burning desire for me, sir.”
“I tried. Well, I tried for a brief period of time. Then I quit trying.”
“I’m glad you quit. Look at me, the student who snagged Dr. Foster. Merry Christmas to me.”
“I think you’re still under the influence, baby.”
“The pain in my leg says otherwise.”
“Stay here. I’ll bring you coffee.”
She watched him stand and move around the room, bringing her crutches over in case she needed them and straightening her covers.
“Okay, shirt, and then coffee.”
“No, no. Go down as you are.”
“Ha. Sure. Merry Christmas, Mr. Moreau. Yes, I am half-naked in your kitchen. I kept your injured daughter up far too late giving her a shiny red Christmas hicky.”
“Shhhh! James, hush. And please tell me you’re kidding,” she said as she ran her fingers over her neck.
“Wear a turtleneck, sweetie,” he said as he descended the stairs.
As much as she wanted to stay in bed and wait for her coffee, Edie had to use the bathroom, and she had to see exactly how long she’d be wearing turtlenecks.
The mark on her neck was awful. The mark on her neck was glorious. She was still leaning on the bathroom vanity holding her hair back gazing at it when he knocked on the door.
“Come in,” she mumbled.
“Coffee’s on your nightstand if you’re about done staring at that.”
“Wipe that smirk off your face. I can’t believe you did this. When did you do this?”
“Um, you were there.”
“Remember when we used to have adult, academic conversations,” she asked as he helped her back in bed.
“I’m sure those days aren’t behind us. You have a thesis to finish, and I hope you still plan to take my seminar this summer.”
Edie wasn’t ready to think about the summer or everything else in her life that was in limbo. Not today. Not when she had the chance to spend Christmas morning drinking coffee in bed with James Foster.
“Well, this is it, is it not? I mean, this is everything,” he said as they drank their first cup, their long legs touching under the covers. “I’d not cry if you lost the flannel pajamas, but still, this truly is Christmas.”
“Oh. You didn’t read your letter last night.” Edie reached for Sense and Sensibility on her nightstand and removed the white envelope she’d tucked neatly in its pages.
“You’re still reading that?”
“Oh, yeah. I picked it back up about a week ago. When I first got home my eyes were still bothering me, and it was too depressing to read it after listening to you read me the first few chapters.”
“I could read to you now.”
“Read this first,” she insisted as she thrust the letter at him.
“I need my glasses,” he said, craning his neck first toward the nightstand and then to the dresser on the wall opposite Edie’s bed where they both spotted his black-rimmed glasses.
Glasses in place, he settled back beside her, drained his coffee cup, and had read two words before he quit reading.
“Edie . . . baby . . . do you want me to read this or not,” he asked as his hand met hers under the covers.
“I’m conflicted,” she mumbled as she kissed his cheek.
“What about adult conversations? Academic conversations?”
“Sorry,” she said as she sat up straight and folded her hands in her lap. “You know I love those glasses.”
“Well give me a few years. I’ll need them to see my hand in front of my face at the rate I’m going.”
“You’re not old. You just read so much.”
“Is that what’s turning my hair gray, the reading?”
“Okay, enough about you, old man. Now read. I won’t touch you.”
He kissed her on the lips and turned back to his letter.
I love the end of a semester. I closed eight semesters as an undergrad, & I closed them with aplomb. I feel I’ve been cheated. I toiled for months, only to spend the closing weeks of the semester – my first as a grad student! - in a hospital bed, semi-conscious, & incapacitated. And, as long as I’m addressing the indignity of it all, I may as well add: catheterized.
Despite completing the work & earning perfect grades, there is an incomplete feeling to it all that bothers me still. Maybe when you’re here we can stage some sort of reenactment.
Ah, “when you’re here.” My English professor is coming to spend Christmas with me. I wonder what Windham would think of your vacation plans? I hope she is recovering nicely. We need her healthy, after all, if we’re to maintain our charade once I return to campus. She is a necessary ally.
I so look forward to making my way back to Boulder, & brightening your apartment will be first on my agenda once there. I know you love me, but my absence may not be the only reason for its drabness, dear. You need pictures, art, throw pillows, etc.
Since I’ve already mentioned my catheterization, I suppose there’s no reason to not continue to be completely honest, & so I’ll tell you that there was no thought but you in my head when I shaved my legs & donned that green dress in August. I figured if you were showing up in your fancy suits & completely ignoring me, well, I could dress up & ignore you, too. The dress awaits me in Boulder. I look forward to walking – walking! – gaily in it come June.
I hope by the time you read this some of your concerns about your visit have been allayed. Thank you for writing me these past few weeks. Thank you for your patience with me over the phone as I pleaded with you to come here, to come to my parents’ house, to spend Christmas with me, with us. I know these are major steps, & I do not treat lightly your decision to take them. Every mile you’ve traveled speaks a thousand words.
"She had no need to ask why he had come. She knew as certainly as if he had told her he was here to be where she was."
-Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
-Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
He folded the letter up along its perfectly creased seams and returned it to its envelope before speaking. “Yes, dear. To be where you are, indeed." He pressed his lips to hers. "We need to get dressed. I think your mom’s cooking breakfast. I'm open to discussing Tolstoy, or Shakespeare, or whomever you fancy when we're alone again.”
“Let’s just enjoy Christmas. We can talk tonight. In bed.” She winked as she inched toward her bathroom on her crutches.
“Do you need help? I mean, how do you, you know, how do you bathe?”
“Subtle, James, subtle.”
“No, I’m serious.”
“My mom usually helps me wash my hair with the detachable sprayer. But we washed it yesterday. I just need a few minutes and we can go down and eat and prepare for the onslaught. I need to draw you a flowchart or something with everyone’s name and relation on it.”
“That many people?”
“Yes. Some of them small children, some of them old, nosy adults.”
“Okay, well let me get changed. And Edie,” he said before exiting her room, “I want to wash your hair. I can help you. Let me do that before I leave. I know you haven’t been able to shop, so that’s what I want for Christmas.”
“Okay,” she agreed with a shy grin on her face, unable to say more, silenced by the swell of emotions that sometimes surged so strongly in his presence she felt she might burst from the roiling within her.