A final pas de deux to round out the dance.
26: The World Was All Before Them
Jennet was exhausted from the interviews she’d given that afternoon. Thankfully, Michael loved the limelight and was happy to discourse at length on the implications of the papyrus for Pauline studies. He even suggested that it could cause Roman Catholics and other Christians to rethink women’s priestly roles. Jennet wasn’t holding her breath on that one.
George didn’t like surprises, and he’d seemed dazed and irritable until one of the reporters said, “Dean Tennison, the internet is buzzing with suggestions that this could be the most important Biblical discovery of the twenty-first century. Could we get your reaction to that?”
George smiled and his face assumed the expression of decanal pride that he favored on occasions like this. “I always say that our faculty here at Parnell State University are top-drawer, and this discovery by Prof. Thorne proves it yet again. The Classics department will be organizing an academic conference on the papyrus and inviting world-class scholars to continue the discussion.” Michael winked at Jennet when he heard this, and pulled a bouquet of paper flowers from his sleeve to present to her on camera.
As soon as she could get away, she made a call on her cell phone. “Jonathan? I’m sorry to bother you, but the cat’s out of the bag with the papyrus.”
“I know,” he replied. “A couple of the reporters are here at Sunnyvale. My father’s holding court with stories about the Bishop, and he’s ecstatic. He hasn’t had this much fun since Minneapolis got a hundred inches of snow in the winter of ’83.”
Jennet laughed. “As long as you’re OK with it.”
“Jennet,” he suddenly said. “Will you have dinner with me on Saturday?”
“Dinner?” she said. This was a shock. “Jonathan, are you asking me on a date?”
“I thought we’d eat early at Le Bec-Fin in Philly and then take in some Baroque chamber music. If you’re interested, that is,” he said, sounding nervous, as though he thought she might refuse. Jennet caught her breath. Le Bec-Fin was one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia, and from what she’d heard, very romantic. “I’d like that,” she said.
“Good. I’ll pick you up at five,” he replied, and hung up.
She had the rest of the week to ponder the meaning of this new development, and to consult with Kyle on what she ought to wear to Le Bec-Fin.
“Jonathan and I both go around campus in jeans most of the time,” she admitted. “I haven’t worn anything formal in years. There’s that bridesmaid’s dress I wore in San Diego when my friend Tracy got married…”
“If you wear that, I’ll kill you,” said Kyle. “Something classy, in a solid color, that fits like a glove, but not too tight. Rose, if you can find it. That’s a good color on you. And heels. You could use the height. Get a haircut the same day and have them style it for you. Should I come down and do it myself?”
“No honey, I’ll be fine. You’ve got your hands full with Caro. But thanks.”
On Saturday, Jennet felt oddly nervous, as though it was a blind date. She’d decided on a sleeveless dusky rose-colored sheath with a deep scoop neck. Her arms were toned enough to get away with it, and she had a matching bolero jacket to wear indoors in case it was chilly. With this she wore a pair of black heels and a simple rhinestone necklace and earring set with the requisite amount of sparkle. She had sheer black stockings, and new, lacy black underwear. Her hair was fluffed into a flirtier style than she usually wore. She let the stylist shape her eyebrows, but refused an offer to make her up. Cosmetics weren’t her style, though she did favor a little floral perfume from time to time. She dabbed on some Vera Wang Bouquet, the same scent she’d worn the first time she met Stefan.
She didn’t know how the evening would end, but just in case, she packed a little tote with a change of clothing to leave in the Land Rover while they were dining.
When she opened the door, she was stunned. Jonathan was wearing a navy suit, with the faintest of pinstripes, that dazzled on his tall, slim, muscular frame. She’d never seen him in a tie before. The one he wore now with his crisp white shirt was a silky burgundy charvet. The biggest surprise was his hair. He’d had it trimmed short around the sides and back. Only the chestnut layers on the crown of his head, full and wavy, hinted at its former glories. A stray lock curled over his forehead. It was disorienting, as though he’d shaved a bushy beard to reveal suddenly smooth cheeks.
“Oh! I think I’m going to miss your hair,” she told him. “But that style makes you look… younger.” His scar was more noticeable now, giving him a rakish look. He was so handsome, in fact, that her knees felt a little weak.
“Does it?” he said, stepping in the door. “I thought it was time for a change.” He handed her a little pot full of paperwhite narcissi. “My mother used to grow these. The scent… reminds me of the way you smell sometimes.” She thanked him and set the paperwhites on the kitchen counter. She couldn’t stop staring at his blue eyes, which glinted like jewels in the low light. She wanted to run her hands through his hair. Would the hair above his collar be as soft as it was before?
He took her in his arms for a kiss. She was taller, in her heels, and he didn’t have to bend as far for their lips to meet. It felt like a first kiss, until his tongue touched hers and a thrill of recognition seized her. “Jennet,” he said into her ear. “You are beautiful. Let’s go, now–before I tear this dress off you.”
He opened the passenger door of the Land Rover for her and helped her in. On the way to Philadelphia, they chatted lightly of the papyrus and Michael’s blog entry, and the reporters from CNN and CBS and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Stefan had been in his element, said Jonathan, and was now a minor celebrity in the retirement home. He’d even attracted a large number of female admirers.
“Oh, I’m sure they were already there,” said Jennet with a smile. “He’s very charming.”
“Unlike his son,” said Jonathan.
“Not at all. Jonathan, why do you say that? You’re the most charming man I’ve ever met.” Not to mention the best-looking.
He shook his head. “Not true. For the last sixteen years, I’ve been slowly transforming myself into a bitter old curmudgeon. I’ve been anything but charming.”
She thought back to the day she’d met him, and the way he abruptly veered off toward the library rather than accompany her back to Chester Hall. Yes, he had struck her as rude and annoying. But even then, she’d found him exciting.
They pulled up at Le Bec-Fin, and Jonathan gave the keys to the valet. He escorted her in and they were seated at a white linen-clad table. The long, cream-colored dining room was decorated in grand traditional style, with chandeliers, wall sconces, and panels of flocked wallpaper. Their table was bathed in a golden light. They ordered the prix fixe menu, which consisted of eight small courses, from a truffled omelette, to celery root agnolotti, to striped bass with pickled lemon and chicken with artichoke fondue, as well as cheese and dessert. After some consultation with the sommelier, they settled on a Meursault, one of the more reasonably priced choices.
They ate, exclaiming over the food. Whenever she looked at Jonathan, she could scarcely tear her eyes away. He seemed to be watching her, as though he was waiting for some signal, some indication of the right moment to speak. Two thirds of the way through the meal, she said, “Jonathan, why did you bring me here? Is this a special occasion?”
“It is,” he said. “I want us to have a fresh start. I’ve done some serious thinking, Jennet, and I’m… I’m free now.” He reached over the table and took her hand. “Do you understand? I’m free.”
The look in his eyes made the tears well up in hers, and she blinked them back. Somehow, he had finally exorcised the ghost of Lorraine, the woman from his past. Her thoughts went to the chain he always wore. Was it there still, under his white shirt and tie? Or was it gone now, banished for good?
“I’m glad,” she told him. “I’m happy for you.”
“This concerns you too,” he said. He put down his wine glass. “Have you ever thought about having another child?”
His question took her by surprise and she looked down at his big hand, which covered hers entirely. She grasped his thumb, thinking about Caro. “I always wanted another baby, but there wasn’t really an opportunity. I never met the right person.”
“Jennet, if you should… make that choice again, I’d like to be the father.”
Jennet was silent as she absorbed his words. “I thought it was too late,” she said slowly, musing on the new possibility that Jonathan was unfolding before her. She was forty. Perhaps she was not yet too old, though there was a great deal to think about. “That’s a huge commitment for you. Have you considered? Not just to our child, but to me.”
“Our child.” He gave her a little smile that pierced her heart. “You said you thought it was too late. That’s what I always thought. There’s something you should know. I’m a one-woman man. All this time, I believed that Lorraine was everything to me. Now I know that wasn’t true. I don’t think I understood what love was, at twenty-five.”
“You know how I feel about you,” she said. “What is it that you feel for me?”
“First, there’s the overwhelming desire to take you to bed,” he said, and his words caused a melting, glowing feeling inside her. Without looking away from him, she began to wonder where the waiter was, and how soon they could leave. “And then,” he continued, “there’s the way I feel when you’re near, even if you’re out of sight. It’s a peaceful feeling. I can’t explain it, but it’s very powerful.”
The waiter came and served the cheese course, a cow’s milk cheese that was soft and white, but earthy tasting, like the black truffle in the omelette. “You’re forty. I’m forty-two,” he continued. “Someday, even if only because we’re too old, the desire for sex will start to fade.”
“Speak for yourself,” she said, laughing.
He smiled, finishing up his last bite of the cheese. “Okay. In a man’s case, they say the ability fades, even if the desire doesn’t. What I’m trying to say is that the peaceful feeling I get when you’re near me will never fade. I’m certain of that. It’s not a youthful infatuation. It’s true love, Jennet. I love you.”
She caressed the long fingers of his left hand. “I didn’t think I’d hear that so soon. Maybe not ever. Probably not ever.” A tear ran down her face.
“Don’t cry, my darling. We still have two desserts to get through.”
“And a concert,” she said, dabbing at her face with her napkin, and hoping her nose wasn’t turning red.
“About that concert,” he said. “Is your heart set on going?”
“Because I’m not sure I can wait to touch you. Let’s get a room right now. I want to kiss every inch of you. I’m going to play your body like the Stradivarius it is.”
She raised an eyebrow. Every inch of me. “Chamber music, by Jonathan Sebelius? That sounds intriguing. But in order to become really proficient, musicians have to put in a great deal of practice.”
He nodded and signaled the waiter. “Of course. So do fencers. It’s Joseph Swetnam’s seventh law.”
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Jonathan’s glory was his hair, but it also represented the past. Instead of the symbolic “haircut” he got last time around, I wanted him to be empowered enough to cast it off himself, together with his inhibitions about loving a woman. He has a lot of catching up to do.
Swetnam’s seven laws of fencing are taken from his 1617 book The School of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defense.
Le Bec-Fin was a real restaurant in Philadelphia, a landmark that closed in 2013.
Heartfelt thanks to all the readers who stuck with me to the happy end!