Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dear Miss Moreau: Secrets

            Edie sank deeper into the couch, pulling a fleece blanket up to her chin, as her mother wove the lights intricately through the tree’s branches. Her childhood home was engulfed in darkness, save the twinkling points that dotted the eight-foot Christmas tree around which Edie’s mother had been spinning herself for nearly an hour.
“Okay, do you still see a gap at the top?” Louise Moreau asked, the exhaustion apparent in her voice.
“No. It’s perfect, Mama.”
“Good. Let’s unplug them and get to bed. Charlotte wants us to wait to put the ornaments on when she’s here.”
“I’m good here I think.”
“Edie, you can’t sleep on the couch again,” her mother admonished.
“It’s comfortable, and I’m too tired to drag myself up the stairs,” Edie asserted as she adjusted the heavy cast on her left leg and settled in for the night, fanning her hair across a red and green plaid seasonal pillow that had been a part of her mother’s Christmas d├ęcor since Edie was a young girl.
Louise Moreau unplugged the tree lights, leaving the contents of the Moreau living room visible only by the light from the nearly full moon. She crouched to kiss her daughter’s forehead.
“Goodnight, Edie. Wake me if you need anything.”
“I will.  Goodnight, Mama.”
Edie lay motionless in the darkness. She was exhausted from the day’s events. She had insisted on accompanying her parents and her sister, Charlotte, to the idyllic tree farm her mother had discovered to select a Christmas tree. Eager to have a reason to wash her hair and leave her parents’ house, Edie hadn’t given any forethought to the perils of navigating a tree farm while on crutches. She had improved quite a bit on her crutches in the weeks since arriving home, but her skills were honed on the smooth floors of her parents’ house and proved useless when she was confronted with the uneven dirt paths that snaked the tree farm.
Still, she considered the physical strain of the trip worth the effort now as she lay in the shadow of the eight-foot tall tree she had insisted they purchase. Edie had always been particular about Christmas trees, and this one was stunning. Perfectly symmetrical and wonderfully tall, its branches were ideally spaced for hanging the many ornaments it would be burdened with the following day when Charlotte arrived.
Edie felt small and young on the couch, tracing the outline of the imposing tree with her eyes now that they had fully adjusted to the darkened house. Over a decade had passed since she last slept on the couch in her parents’ living room beneath a Christmas tree. She smiled as she remembered her attempts to catch Santa, attempts that were always thwarted by her father’s strong arms scooping her up, her body heavy with sleep, and carrying her upstairs to deposit her in her bed. 
She was craving another pair of arms now. Despite the blanket of familiar warmth that had cocooned her since her return to Louisiana and the army of family and friends holding vigil to meet her every need during her convalescence, no one and nothing in the Bayou State could soothe the ache that commenced the day she boarded a plane, dragging her injured leg and nursing a fragile heart, and left Dr. James Foster behind in Boulder, Colorado.
During the weeks of separation he had written her faithfully, constantly, as evidenced by the almost daily arrival of a crisp white envelope bearing her name and her parents’ address in his scrawl. Their letter writing fetish was a bit more expensive now that they were not only off campus, but in different states, but the cost of stamps was a price they were both eager to pay. 
Edie wanted to respond to his letter she’d received today, but her stationary and the ink pens she loved were sitting on her desk in her room upstairs. A trip up the stairs at this hour would send both of her parents, her wonderful, hovering, worried parents, flying to her side, and she was certainly not going to wake them. They needed their sleep considering the deluge of friends and relatives about to descend on their home in the coming days.     
Christmas was days away. A plane carrying James Foster was scheduled to land in Louisiana in less than forty-eight hours. Dr. Foster would soon make the acquaintance of the one person in Edie’s family who was unlikely to be impressed by James Foster’s easy smile, chiseled jaw, emerald eyes, or sweater vest collection.  
The impending meeting of David Moreau and James Foster kept Edie’s mind occupied until nearly two in the morning. Louise Moreau insisted it was not yet time to inform her husband of the marital status of Dr. James Foster. Edie and her mother had, as a united front, approached their father and husband and slowly but pointedly explained to Mr. Moreau that the man who would soon be his houseguest for the holidays was employed as an English professor by the university responsible for his youngest daughter’s graduate education. Mr. Moreau’s reaction to that information was the catalyst for Louise Moreau’s executive decision to delay imparting the news of Dr. Foster’s forthcoming divorce.
“Are you sure, Mama?” Edie had asked again in a hushed whisper as the two women sat drinking decaf a few nights prior.
“Oh, Edie, trust me. I like James, I do. He was wonderful while you were hospitalized. He’s obviously brave, coming here, planning to stay in our home for Christmas. Well, brave or madly in love.”
“Or both,” Edie said with a grin as she took another sip of coffee.
“Well, anyway, I think it best that your father meet him first. After learning he is your professor, your dad’s probably picturing someone his own age, or older, and I think simply seeing James will help.”
“Really?  You think so?”
“I do. When he’s out of a suit, he looks, well, his age.”
“I guess you’re right. It feels terrible though. I don’t like keeping this from dad.”
“I understand that, but I think this is best. Let’s all spend a little time with him and have a nice Christmas, and then in time if you and James—” 
“If we what, Mom? Were you going to say if we’re still together?”
“Well, yes, sweetheart. You haven’t known him that long, Edie, and the fact is he is not yet divorced.”
Edie’s leg prevented her from nonverbally expressing her exasperation with her mother by standing and stomping out of the room, so she closed her eyes and took another slow sip of her coffee before glaring at her mother and speaking.
“Mother, what exactly are you implying?”
“I’m not implying anything other than the fact that he is still married. Unless that has changed in the weeks since you’ve been home.”
“No, it hasn’t, and you know it. Divorce doesn’t happen overnight.”
“I realize that, dear.”
Edie wondered if her mother was thinking of Leah, Edie’s aunt who lived with the Moreaus after she left her husband. Unable to move past his affair, she eventually divorced him. Leah was remarried now and had a two-year-old daughter Edie adored.  
“Are Leah and Jack and Michelle coming Thursday?”
“They should be in town sometime Wednesday night."
“I told him about Leah and Randall.”
“Really?  Why?”
“I don’t know. I felt helpless, I guess. He bore his soul to me, and I seemed to have nothing to say, no way to empathize.”
“Well of course you don’t, Edie. You’re twenty-three years old.”
“Anyway, I told him about the time Leah spent with us.”
“You were fourteen that summer, Edie.”
“I know. But some things leave an impression. I was fourteen, Mom, but not an idiot. I listened. I knew how torn up she was.”
“So what other family secrets have you divulged?”
“I didn’t realize it was a secret. I don’t regret telling him. I’m glad they’re coming. I haven’t seen Michelle since August. I think it will do James good to meet them, too.”
“Yeah, you know, life after adultery.”
“Ah, I see.  Edie, sweetheart, I think James is well on his way to healing. The way he looks at you . . . I don’t know if he could pick his wife out of a lineup. Or, his ex-wife, rather.”
Edie just smiled into her nearly empty coffee cup before draining it.
“Well, we need to get to bed. So, we’re agreed, then? Not a word to your father yet?”
“Yes, agreed,” Edie nodded, handing her coffee cup to her mother as Mrs. Moreau stood and walked toward the kitchen.
Edie’s mother hadn’t mentioned their agreement again in the past few days. The opportunity hadn’t presented itself, what with the shopping, and cooking, and general busyness that had consumed Louise Moreau’s days lately, all of which she did in between caring for Edie, who could do little to help her mother, or even herself, from her niche on her parents’ couch.
After the tumult she left behind in Boulder, Edie hadn’t minded the endless hours spent reading and writing since she returned to Louisiana. She was almost finished with Sense and Sensibility, a favorite of hers she hadn’t read since high school. She much preferred hearing Edward Ferrars’s lines delivered in James’s voice, for he had begun the reread for her during her hospital stay in Boulder. She regretted not hearing him deliver what she considered to be Edward’s best line, “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours,” though she knew James could not convincingly pull off Edward’s orthodoxy and awkwardness. From the moment she met him, James Foster had taken liberties that would shock both Edward Ferrars and David Moreau.
Under the lofty, tranquil tree Edie mentally ran down the growing list of secrets she shared with those she loved, checking for gaps in her defenses. She quickly realized she needed to ask her mother what, if anything, Charlotte knew about James Foster’s marital status. Charlotte hadn’t pried during the brief time she spent at her sister’s hospital bedside in Boulder, but she wasted no time in asking questions the moment Edie's plane landed in Louisiana. Charlotte listened attentively, the grin never leaving her face, as Edie relayed the story of her first semester in graduate school, and admittedly it was a story Edie loved to tell, especially when a certain redhead was omitted from the list of characters.
          Soon, her mother would not be the only one under the Moreau roof with whom Edie had an alliance. Edie and James had an understanding that the details of Edie’s fall were never to be spoken of in her parents’ presence. It had been over a month since the night Edie fell and shattered her leg, the injury that curtailed her first semester in graduate school, and still she remembered no more about the confrontation with James’s estranged wife than the day James informed her of Shannon Foster’s presence that night.
Edie shifted on the couch. She again wished she had paper within reach or that it wasn't almost one in the morning in Boulder. He told her to call him anytime, and she knew he meant it, but she wasn’t going to wake him, and especially not to discuss her unease over his approaching visit, a subject that had resulted in what she supposed was her first true fight with James Foster. It was a battle waged entirely over the phone, the first skirmish taking place mere hours after Edie’s plane landed in Louisiana. 
“Is it snowing now?” she had asked him once she was settled in her room at her parents’ house.
“It is. You and your mother would likely still be here if you hadn’t taken off when you did. It’s been coming down all day.”
“I miss it.  I miss the cold and the snow already. It’s sixty degrees here right now.”
“So the cold and the snow get top billing?”
“You know I miss you.”
“Well, I can rectify that.”
“Rectify is a ridiculous word, James,” she said, laughing a little and reclining on the bed she’d done her homework on in high school.
“Is my vocabulary giving away my age?” 
“Your age and your profession, sir.”
“Soon I’ll officially be on hiatus for a month, which is by far the best perk of my job.  Well that and the impressive vocabulary.”
“What about me?”
“I hate to answer your question with a question, but what about you, dear?”
“Am I not a perk of your job?”
He laughed. “I guess you are, baby. How do you feel? You sound so tired. And maybe a little doped up, if you don’t mind my saying.”
“I’m both. I'm exhausted, and my mom made me take a pain pill on the flight home. I don’t like taking them. I feel so . . . so off when I take one, but I was miserable on the plane. I may’ve moaned aloud once or twice. So forgive my critique of your vocabulary.”
“Forgiven. I think I like the way you sound. Will you take a pain pill for me when I’m in Louisiana?”
“Oh James, it’s a given I’ll be taking something when you meet my dad.”
“So when will I have that honor?”
“I’d like you here for Christmas." 
“Is that the consensus in your home?”
“We haven’t discussed it. I fell asleep on the ride home from the airport. When we got here it took both my parents to get me upstairs to my room, after which we all fell into our beds.  Charlotte will be over here tomorrow, so don’t worry, there will be ample opportunity for me to broach the topic of your visit.”
“Is there not a bedroom on the first floor?”
“My parents’ room is on the first floor. I don’t want to take their bed though. My mom’s been sleeping in that hospital room for weeks. I may try the couch tomorrow night.”
“I just hate this, Edie. I’m getting angry all over again.”
“Don’t. There’s no point.”
“I don’t like your resigned tone. I’m hoping that’s the meds talking.”
“Well I didn’t say I was going to give up, never to walk again. I have an appointment to see a doctor here day after tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll have me in therapy soon.”
“Good. You’re just so wonderfully tall, tall and graceful. I like to watch you, like to see you happy and mobile. It’s something I never realized, never gave any conscious thought to, until I saw you in your hospital bed and then watched you wince every time you shifted in your wheelchair earlier today. It’s hard enough to know you’re in pain and unable to do anything for yourself, but the fact that this is Shannon’s doing . . .” He trailed off with a frustrated grunt.
“Let’s make another change to your vocabulary, okay? I don’t want to hear her name.”
“Certainly. Fine by me.”
“And I’m not in that much pain anymore.”
“Well not at the moment, dear. Why don’t I let you go and you can try and get to sleep before the medicine wears off?”
“We need to discuss your visit. You need to book a flight.”
“I don’t think the ticket price will rise significantly if I wait until tomorrow. I’m much more concerned about your parents’ thoughts on my visit than I am about the cost of a ticket.”
“Don’t you think my dad wants to meet you?”
“What does he know?”
“He knows I’m dating someone.”
“Yes, but that’s not what concerns me, and you know it.”
“We’re working on the rest.”
“You and your mother, I presume?”
“Yes. She knows. Everything. Well, almost everything.”
“Oh, Edie. This doesn’t make me feel any better at all. Obviously I don’t want to begin what I hope will be a long relationship with your parents with lies. What does almost everything mean?”
“Well I am not going to go into details of your divorce with her. She doesn’t need to know I saw Shan—, I saw her with that guy, that doctor, she’s sleeping with, or that I had a fight with her the night I fell.”
“Or that she slapped you and likely caused your fall.”
“Well clearly I wouldn’t tell them that, James.  I can’t even remember it myself.”
“I want you to ask your doctor in Louisiana about that.”
“My memory?”
“I’m seeing an orthopedic doctor here.”
“Oh. Didn’t your doctor in Boulder give you any follow-up instructions regarding your head injury?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll ask my mom.”
“I don’t want to let you go, but you’re tired. I feel like we’ve tied ourselves in knots, but the longer we’re on the phone, the tighter they seem to get. Clearly there are details I’d rather you not share with your family, however I do want them to know I left her because of her affair, not to chase after a new graduate student enrolled in my American Novel class this past semester. As concerned as you were, and likely still are, about my colleagues and the Administration here in Boulder, my concern is that your parents have a good opinion of me, and I have an uphill battle as it is. The deck is stacked against me, and I hate that, but I can’t change it.”
“We’re going to start with the professor bit.”
“I see. See how he reacts to that before springing the soon-to-be divorced part on him?”
“Yes. My mother suggested that. We briefly discussed it on the plane before my leg began to ache.”
“I just can’t even imagine sending my daughter off to graduate school to have her come home, her leg broken, to tell me she’s dating her sort-of-married professor. The word loathe comes to mind. There’s no way this can go well.”
“You’re not married.”
“Well isn’t this an interesting role reversal? I recall a lively young lady throwing books around my office and insisting I most certainly am married and to call her when that changed.”
“Yeah, but then you were whispering in my ear and I saw the error of my ways, sir.”
“It’s an odd line to be walking, Edie, I know. I am legally married. I despise that, but it’s the truth. But even as I speak, my wife is likely sleeping with another man, as she’s been brazenly doing for months now. So, I don’t know where that leaves me, which makes introducing myself to your father extremely difficult.”
“Do you want to wait?” she asked, grimacing in her bed as she awaited his answer.
“No. No, that’s not an option for me. I want to see you, and obviously you can’t come to me anytime soon.”
“Right, so get off the phone and book a flight.”
“Bossy, aren’t we?”
“Sorry. Today has been one of the longest of my life. I just want to know that I’ll see you soon and that we won’t have this conversation every day until I do. We both know you’re coming to see me and that you’re staying here, with me.”
“Ah, Edie. I think it’s time I tell you goodnight.”
“Okay, goodnight, dear. You know I will get my way.”
“We’ll see, baby.”
“Indeed we shall,” she said with a yawn.
That had been the first of numerous phone calls dominated by discussions of exactly when James Foster would trace Edie’s steps back to Louisiana, and, once on the ground, where exactly he would be tucking himself in at night.
A few weeks after the initial battle lines were drawn, Edie won the war, albeit inadvertently. She felt guilty that it was her tears, which he could not see as he listened to her broken sobs over the phone, that finally convinced him to stay in her parents’ home. They were genuine tears though; she was not one to shed manipulative tears. Edie had returned from her first physical therapy session. She was in agonizing pain, and when she heard his voice and attempted to relay the details of meeting Taylor, her therapist, and the tortuous exercises Taylor insisted she perform, she broke. It was a hard, ugly cry, and she was momentarily glad he could not see her face. 
“I just want to see you,” she managed to say between sniffles. “I want to see you soon, and as much and for as long as possible.”
“Okay, okay. My flight is booked, but I will cancel the hotel reservations.”
“Oh thank you. I’ll let my mom know.”
“And your dad, Edie. I need to know that they are both aware of my intentions.”
“Your intentions?”
“To stay in their home.”
“Right. I didn’t know if there was something else, some other intention about which they need to be notified.”
He laughed, and she did too.
“Well, they don’t need to know every last detail of my itinerary. They’d renege on their offer of hospitality for sure.”
“James, you do know I spend most of my time in a wheelchair except for my therapy and the occasional car ride while my mom runs errands. After today’s therapy session, I doubt I’ll be able to move at all tomorrow, and I have to go back to see him in two days.”
“See him?”
“Oh, yes, Taylor. He’s my physical therapist.”
“I see. Is he sixty and overweight with bad breath?”
“No, no not quite,” she answered, thinking of the tanned, muscular blonde who’d elicited language from Edie that afternoon she would’ve never imagined uttering prior to therapy. 
“Well, all the more reason for me to make my way to Louisiana, then.”
“Oh stop. You haven’t seen me lately. I am not the polished woman you knew in Boulder.”
“You don’t need polish.” 
“Polish is one thing. Simple hygiene is another,” she said, thinking that she was going to have to end her shaving hiatus before James Foster touched down in the Central Time Zone.  
“Well, be as unhygienic as you please for Taylor.”
“All right. Enough.” 
“I hate the idea that some man’s hands are all over you, okay. I can’t help that.”
“So is this what we’re going to fight about now that your travel plans are settled?”
“No. I don’t want to fight. I was just stating what I think would be obvious.”
“Let’s not dwell on the therapist I’ve met once.”
“And whom you will see again soon.”
“I promise not to bathe, dear.”
“Does he talk to you?”
“What? I don’t even know how to answer that. Of course he talks to me. He is just doing his job. I’d think you would be interested in my rapid rehabilitation. The sooner I can walk, the sooner I will be back in Boulder. Why would you ask me if he talks to me?”
“I just . . . I suppose what I meant to ask is if he makes small talk. You know, asks you personal questions, like ‘Are you seeing anyone?’ ”
“Oh. I see. No, today we stuck to things like, “No, please, I can’t. Not again. My leg is throbbing,” to which Taylor responded, “Just once more, Edie, and we’ll be done for the day.” I’ll be sure and open with the fact that I am unavailable next time I see him.”
When she finished speaking there was silence on the line for several seconds followed by James exhaling loudly.
“I’m sorry. I trust you. Of course I trust you. Please forgive me.”
“I get it, okay. We’re both tired, so no need to psychoanalyze you right now, but I understand you’re going to be slow to trust and skittish with your heart. I understand that. I’ll try not to take it too personally. And, I understand that you hate the idea of some man’s hands on me. I completely understand that.”
“You hate the idea of some man’s hands on me?”
Edie laughed. “Yes, actually I do.”
“Well that makes two of us.”
Edie had drudged through two more sessions with Taylor since that conversation, and each time had been just as grueling as the first. She was certain Taylor had no interest in her beyond his professional desire to see her walk again, and she was suspicious he might in fact rather have his hands on James than her if given the choice.
With a myriad of conversations on repeat in her muddled mind, Edie finally fell asleep on her parents’ couch in the shadow of the tree around which she would share her first Christmas with Dr. James Foster.    


1 comment:

  1. How wonderful to have more chapters to continue the journey with Edie and her handsome professor!! I surely hope the additional chapters continue until the wedding!