(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-45 in earlier Blogs )
The Hidden Words
During the next week it seemed that every free moment they could be together held an excitement all its own. Every meal that they could steal together was an attempt to seize life and drain its cup. John soon realized, though, that Maddie was perpetually in search of the ultimate culinary experience, whether aChicagohotdog orFar Eastcuisine in the square, her tastes were very particular.
Tonight they had chosen Delitalia, as much for food as for a quiet booth in the corner. “John! Are you serious? Puerto Rico? But that was last summer! You’ve known you liked me since last summer?” She had stopped in the middle of sipping her lemonade.
John got up and slid over to her side of the booth. “Maddie, I told you, I liked you from the first day I laid eyes on you. Remember that first day I walked in to the office?”
“I…” She was still very affected by close proximity to John. She wondered when it would wear off.
“You were laughing with Lisa, and you were walking out the door. I almost bumped into you.”
“Oh yeah, I remember. You were kind of rude too, you were staring, or something.”
“I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I couldn’t draw any air either.”
“Oh, go on. Be serious.”
“It’s true. And then, you seemed to take such a dislike for me, from then on I was always on your bad side.”
“Oh no,” she wailed, mortified. “John, I’m sorry. It’s just that you frightened me a little,” she confessed.
“Frightened you?” He frowned.
“Wait, wait. What are you talking about?”
“Well, I didn’t like the way you made me feel, all flushed and stupid. And you seemed like such a predator. Your reputation had preceded you, you know.”
“Oh, don’t even try to deny it, you know what I’m talking about.”
“Well, I figured out what I must look like to you the day I heard you and Lisa talking about your virginity.”
“What? Uh, what could you possibly be talking about? I never…” He watched as consciousness suddenly flicked over her eyes and she blushed in embarrassment. “You overheard that? Where were you?”
“I was in the back room, working the analytical balance and nursing a hangover, which by the way, you were responsible for.”
“I am so confused. What are you talking about now?”
“Remember when you brought Craig to the party last year?”
“Well, I thought he was your boyfriend.”
“So you got drunk and chased all the girls, that was very logical.”
“And I made you disgusted with me. I realized that after you spilled the beans about what qualities you admired in a man, and about how you yourself have lived your life. God, you blew me away that day. I never could have dreamed anybody could be so clean, so high-minded,” he said, seriously.
“Now John, stop it, I don’t want you putting me on a pedestal. I’m just an ordinary human being…”
“Maddie! Don’t you realize how unusual your life style is nowadays? Don’t minimize what you are. I seriously admire you.” He grew more serious. “And I want you to know, you’re not going to get any pressure from me to break your…I mean, well, you know what I mean.”
“Thank you John. You’re so special.” She whispered, as she reached up to touch his face. “The more I get to know you the more I admire you too. And I’m sorry, so sorry, if I made you suffer. Maybe we would have gotten together sooner if I hadn’t run away from my feelings so much.”
“No. It’s good that it happened like this. I think I needed the time, to shed some old habits and get used to thinking a different way. Do you know what I mean?”
“Not sure,” she said.
“I mean, that whole summer in Puerto Rico, thinking things were hopeless, that you and Craig were together, and probably going to get married. Oh God, that was torture. But it also showed me where my heart was, and that I could discipline my body to follow my heart.” He cleared his throat. “Maddie, I want you to know, that I haven’t… been with anybody since then. I’ve been faithful to…the possibility of us.”
Maddie was looking at him dumbfounded. She couldn’t fathom the depth of this man’s love for her. Or that she had been the cause of such a transformation in anyone. All she understood at the moment was that she had occasioned pain by her callous disregard for another human being’s potential. She had not been able to look beyond the sexy exterior and recognize the true gem inside. And so they had been kept apart for much longer than necessary. It was a shame that she had scoffed at the gift that God had given her, placed right under her nose. She was so grateful that she had been given so many chances that it was causing a constriction in her throat. And these feelings only intensified when she understood the full extent of John’s pursuit of her. She began to question how it was that he had stayed atMadison, when he had had so many other opportunities.
“John!” She now had her hands characteristically covering her mouth. “John, the N.C. State position? Did they offer it to you?”
He nodded his head faintly.
“Oh my God. You turned that down, because of me?”
“Maddie, it’s no big deal. I’m doing perfectly good work here—“
“No big deal? No big deal? You turned down an assistant professorship at a land grant university…for a measly post doc, to stay here and…and…” her eyes were tearing up.
“Shhh…Honey, don’t take it like that.” He pried her hands off her mouth and pressed them against his own. “Maddie, I would have stayed here without a job if I’d had to. This is no setback to me professionally. None whatsoever. Honey, chasing after you has been the most exciting, no, exhilarating experience of my life. Listen, I had to scheme and plan, I had to stay on my toes every minute. It was like a fox hunt, and you were so skittish. Even your father couldn’t give me any good pointers…”
“My father! John, what in the blazes…”
Satisfied that he had succeeded in distracting her from her distress, he proceeded, through an involved process of storytelling, to enlighten her about her father’s role in their romance.
John had his arm around the back of the booth and he reflected that Maddie seemed to fit quite nicely into its curve. He still held her hand and was in the process of raising it to his lips when his eyes spotted Craig Berry standing at the counter.
He looked like a man who had been shot.
He had obviously been looking in their direction. As the girl behind the counter asked “Is that all, sir?” he continued to stand there, paralyzed.
John debated over letting Maddie know of Craig’s presence. It could be awkward. He had known for a long time Craig was in love with Maddie. How could he not be? Remembering the misery and uncertainty he himself had lived with until very recently, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for the man, really sorry.
The decision was taken out of his hands by the approach of Craig himself.
“Hello, Maddie. John,” he nodded in John’s direction but his eyes were boring into Maddie.
“Craig! Hi—” Maddie started.
Craig was somewhat wooden, and then seemed to recollect his thoughts. “How… how are you guys doing?”
“Great!” Maddie blurted.
John became slightly self-conscious and dropped her hand. He couldn’t quite bear it anymore and made a move to get up, “Listen, I…I’m gonna give you guys a minute… to talk…Maddie, do you want a refill?”
“What? Oh, no thanks.”
When John walked off Maddie looked at Craig and felt physical pain. “Sit down,” she said gently.
He sat like an automaton and then blurted out, “So this is it, huh, no more hope for me?”
Maddie couldn’t bring herself to answer with a brutal affirmative so she tried to prevaricate, “Listen, Craig, you know I think you’re a great guy…”
“Yeah, yeah.” Craig waved away the words. He searched her face. “I want to hear you say it—Maddie, I need to hear you say it.”
Maddie winced. “Craig, I…I’m in love with John – really, really – this is what I’ve been looking for all my life…” She saw him flinch. She swallowed and went on, “He…he feels the same way…”
“He’d better!!” Craig ground out.
“We’re planning on getting married,” she blurted, almost in defense of John, and then felt like she was nailing Craig’s coffin.
“Ahhh.” Craig exhaled painfully.
“Craig, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you…”
“No, I know. You told me. I always held out hope, that’s all. Listen, I wish you the best.”
“John is the best,” she said, trying to reassure him. “Really.”
“Yeah. He seems okay.”
John chose that moment to come back to the booth; he slid in beside Maddie, careful to maintain a distance. The two men looked squarely at each other and then Craig said, in measured tones, “Congratulations, man, Maddie says you guys are thinking of getting married.”
“Thanks, I’m very lucky she would even look at a schmoe like me,” John said, and then thought it sounded tactless because it implied Craig’s lack of luck in that department. “Uh, so what are your plans, man? What have you been doing?”
Craig seemed eager to change the subject also. “Oh well, some research just dragged on a little bit.” He looked at Maddie, as if this had had something to do with her. “But I guess I shouldn’t be dragging my feet around here any longer.” He seemed to almost make a decision in that moment. “Yeah, I’ll be taking the position at Stanford. They’ve been pestering me. I’ll be done by December here, and then I’ll move on.” He looked off into the distance.
“The Black Caucus is really going to miss you. You’ve done so much,” Maddie said.
“Josette will step up to the plate. She’s done a terrific job as vice-pres.”
“Number 64!” the girl at the sandwich counter called out for the third time.
“Oh, that’s me!” Craig seemed to suddenly wake up. “Well listen, I’ll be seeing you around. Best of luck to you two,” he reached out his hand to John as he stood up. John stood up with him.
“Yeah, Craig, same to you.”
Maddie and John were silent while Craig retrieved his order and walked out of the deli.
“That’s one classy guy,” John murmured. He took a sip of his drink. “He must have felt like blowing his brains out. I know.”
“Oh, please, don’t…” Maddie closed her eyes and tried to squeeze back the tears.
John suddenly felt very crass and put his arm around her. “Maddie, listen, it’s not your fault…C’mere. Hush. It’s not your fault that you’re so beautiful, and everybody loves you.”
“Shut up,” she whimpered.
“Shh. I love you.” He drew her in closer and nudged her forehead.
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
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DISCUSSION QUESTION 46: Revelations! What was the most interesting one?
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