That little muscle in Jonathan’s jaw twitches whenever he thinks of departmental politics. If only he had a few trusty companions to help him vanquish his enemies! But Jonathan became a loner long ago…
16. The Childhood Shows The Man
As Jonathan drove her home, he said, “My father seemed anxious to be alone with you.”
“Yes, he wanted to give me his personal thanks for helping with the papyrus. I told him it was my pleasure.” She felt no guilt whatsoever about the slight lie of omission.
He seemed to accept this. Jennet wondered whether to try to make conversation. She was interested to know more about his family, but if she started asking him questions, she might unwittingly touch a tender spot. “Mrs. Sebelius, your mother…” she said tentatively.
“Died in 2006. Leukemia,” he said.
“I’m sorry.” He nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. That didn’t go over very well. She sat silently for a while, and then a thought occurred to her. He was a workaholic, devoted to his job. “Do you know anything about a departmental merger between Classics and English?” she asked.
“What?” He looked over at her, surprised. “This isn’t something Templeton cooked up, is it?”
“No,” she said, a little miffed at his dismissive reference to her Chair. “Michael’s not interested in a merger with you. As a matter of fact, none of us is.” At least not that kind of merger.
“Then whose dumbass idea is it?”
“I think it’s the people in the Rhetoric program.” As she spoke, she saw his hands grip the steering wheel more tightly. A little muscle moved in the side of his face. “Tilda Blumenthal came to see me. And Bill Jenko went to see Juniper Jamieson about the same thing.”
“Tell me everything,” he said grimly. “Everything you can remember.”
There wasn’t much to tell, but she gave him as detailed an account as she could, including the way Tilda Blumenthal had dismissed the study of Classical rhetoric as irrelevant to her work. “What is it that they do in that program, anyway?”
Jonathan laughed grimly. “They’re like the antimatter to our matter. The more obviously trivial and banal a text is, the more they’re attracted to it. Gerhard Dahl, for example. He studies grocery receipts.”
She chuckled. “How come it’s okay for me to study laundry lists, but not for Dahl to study receipts?” She rather enjoyed provoking him.
“You’re a historian,” he said impatiently, “trying to piece together a lost world. You work with whatever clues you can get. If you’re forced to choose between discovering Paul’s laundry list and a new epistle by Paul, I’m pretty sure I know which one wins.”
She silently agreed, but said, “Maybe what they’re doing is a sort of anthropology.”
“Then let them go to the Anth department, and get the hell out of English.”
“Nice try, but none of them has formal training in linguistics.”
Now they were pulling up at her door. “Want to come in for a snack?” she asked casually, trying to sound as though she was only being polite.
His face and body visibly tensed. “Thanks, but no. I have to go… do some prep for my class tomorrow. I’m behind schedule.”
“Okay. We’ll talk soon,” she said, shutting the car door. He drove off without another word.
Sebelius was of two minds about the Woman’s visit to his father. Dad had nagged him mercilessly until he agreed to bring her around to discuss the papyrus. He hated having to ask her for anything, especially a personal favor like this. Somewhat to his surprise, she seemed quite interested in meeting Stefan. The two had adopted an almost conspiratorial manner with each other from the moment they met, he thought disapprovingly.
Her attempt to make conversation on the way home put him on guard, at least until they started to talk shop. He didn’t want to discuss his mother. His thoughts drifted thirty-five years back in time to the eve of his adoption, and he saw again, through the eyes of his seven-year-old self, Mr. and Dr. Sebelius sitting on the couch in the living room of his foster home, waiting to meet him. Nancy Sebelius had been an orthopedic surgeon. Like many surgeons, she was no-nonsense, a drill sergeant, and not known for her bedside manner. Most days she drove to the Mayo clinic in Rochester, and worked long hours. She’d always been kind to him, but it was Dad who took him to movies, who bought him ice cream, who cared for him when he was sick, who never missed a fencing tournament.
In the foster home, as he ventured out to meet the two intimidating adults, he had clutched his most precious possession, a ragged children’s edition of The Three Musketeers. Mr. Sebelius, a high-school English teacher, immediately asked him about his book and said it was one of his own favorite stories. When he turned ten, Dad had given him a nine-volume set of Dumas, bound in leather. He still treasured it.
He could no longer pretend he didn’t desire the Woman, but sharing his personal history with her was out of the question. After what he mentally referred to as “the bout” with Jennet Thorne at his house, he’d forced himself to stay away from her, and to think about her as little as possible. True, his desire —even his need— for her was always present, always on the edge of his consciousness. Now that he had tasted her, the thought of Jennet Thorne sharing her body with some other man made him feel a kind of wild despair. But he couldn’t get involved with her. To continue having sex, when no relationship was possible, would be unfair to someone like Jennet Thorne, who was kind and generous. Swetnam’s second law was Observe Distance, he reminded himself again. There is no better way to get the true observation of distance, but by often practicing with thy friend, or in private, in a chamber against a wall…. Oh. Swetnam’s words brought certain vivid images to mind, and he resolutely banished them from his thoughts.
But the news that Jenko was sending out feelers about a departmental merger… that was information worth having. Swetnam’s third law was to To Know the Place, where the next blow from one’s enemy might land, and where one’s own weapon might best be applied. What does Jenko have to gain from a merger?
Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss
Notes: What is distinctive about this story, as opposed to my others, is the twin perspectives, hers and his. Often in romance stories, we are denied any knowledge of what is going on in the mind of the hero, except for what he tells us himself. It’s part of his allure, that not-knowing. Think of Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth. Austen gives tantalizing hints, but we don’t know for sure until their declarations of Love. So this story was an experiment. Can one reveal what the Man is thinking, yet still maintain some suspense?