Wretched (Conclusion)

It was only a matter of a few seconds before Adam correctly guessed that the footsteps belonged to his mother.  He backed away from me, straightened out my hair and his jacket a bit and then grabbed my hand and brought me inside.  Then he announced rather loudly, “Mother?”

A dark blond haired woman with streaks of grey all arranged neatly in a bun was standing by the foot of the stairs.  I quickly glanced up the stairwell to see what looked to be a rather cozy sort of upstairs.  There were two plants near a stained glass window and a bookshelf off to the left.  The shelf was stacked with books, and combined with the smell of rose petals I could detect a dusty, sweet cinnamon.  Then I looked behind his mother and saw what appeared to be a sitting room with uncomfortable, but elegant and ornate furnishings.

His mother looked nearly confused.  Although I could tell that she didn’t want to be confused.  She kept trying to smile at me but then a look would come to her eyes that told me she wondered who in the world I was and why I was there.

I suppose it was rather odd for some unknown young woman to appear in your house on a week night out of virtually nowhere.  And I admired her deep desire to be gracious combined with her firm grasp of the peculiarity of this situation.

“Mother, this is Clara.”  Adam let go of my hand and put his hand at my back.  It all felt almost too familiar and yet I wasn’t scared.

Oh.  Yes?”  She said with a voice made of graham crackers, tea, toast and maybe a bit of gin just occasionally.  She was a little plump maybe even, but her perfectly tailored lace dress accentuated her seemingly infinite respectability and prepossessed grace.  It was a natural and slightly awe-inspiring beauty that I found myself longing to someday embody.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Clara.”  She extended her hand and I accepted it.

“It’s very nice to meet you.”  I smiled and she looked at me with a mixture of suspicion, whimsy and indulgence.

Then she beamed a little and continued, “I have a little bit of reading to do before I retire for the night.  I hope you’ll both excuse me.”

“Yes, mother.  Goodnight then.”  Adam responded quietly.

We were there for just a second more before Adam considered me and with great emphasis said, “That’s mother.”  I giggled.

Nobody else was apparently interested in emerging from other rooms to meet me in that moment.  I wasn’t sure why, and I couldn’t really guess, but I didn’t mind it.  I was feeling shy.

Adam played a few songs on the phonograph and then we ate cookies by his mother’s stove in the kitchen.  It was a beautiful house.  I couldn’t figure out why my Aggie had been so apparently opposed to the idea of us seeing more of each other regularly.  I imagined she would find him every bit as impressive as Andrew, if she only knew.

“Do you see lots of girls?” I asked cautiously, on the way to Susanne’s house.  He had insisted on walking me there.  It had started raining and a chill was in the air.  We both carried umbrellas he gathered from the closet near the front door.

“No.  I don’t see that many.  I brought Laura Peters to the winter dance, and there was a young lady my mother wanted me to take an interest in.  She’s the daughter of one of my mother’s friends in the rotary club.  We’ve been out together a few times this spring.  Why do you ask?”

“I’m ashamed, but, I should be honest.”  I didn’t know where to start.  “My mother, isn’t really my mother.  She’s my father’s second wife.”

He stopped walking then and shifted to regard me.  He had a captivated grin.  “This sounds like the start of a story.”  A knowing look in his eyes stared right into me and then he looked beyond toward the schoolyard.  “Lets go discuss this, if you like.”

I sighed.  I was worried about leaving Andrew to his own devices too much longer, but I decided he’d be more than fine without me and it was silly to worry.

This was a rather complex conversation to have.  So, I let Adam direct me to the schoolyard and find a reasonable place to rest before I started again.  We finally sat down under a large tree.  It was getting dark now and I felt quite chilled.  Still, I really didn’t want to be a pest.

“Well, my mother died after falling in a horseback riding accident when I was a very little girl.”  I said simply.  He acknowledged me and seemed intrigued.

“My father remarried a woman named Agatha and well-”  I had a hard time continuing.  “Lately.”  I cut my words off and examined my thoughts.  “Maybe it’s been longer.  Anyway, I think of her as a mother and not just my father’s second wife.  And sometimes I find myself wanting to call her my mother.”

“I don’t understand why you don’t call her your mother.”  He said looking perplexed.

“I’m not allowed to.  She doesn’t want to disrespect my actual deceased mother.”  I was nearly shaking now from the cold.  He noticed.

“Let’s go inside.”  He gripped my hand and we walked into the school through the open front door.  In the darkness we saw a row of wooden chairs near a door down the lonely hall.  It felt a little spooky, but he wrapped his left arm around me now and we traipsed down the hall toward a set of chairs.  Yet, instead of sitting on them he sat down on the floor next to them and leaned against the wall.  I sat down next to him.  Then he clutched my hand in his and whispered half jokingly and half seriously, “This place is downright creepy.”

I know.” I laughed and looked around us.  As my eyes adjusted to the near total lack of any light I could vaguely see the doors of various classrooms and offices and the tiled floor beneath us.  It felt just a bit less frightening now.

“Please, continue.”  He admonished me.

“Well, see she doesn’t want to be disrespectful.”  I looked at him, or what I could see of him.

“I suppose that makes sense, but it doesn’t seem entirely fair.  Not to anybody.”  He concluded with a faint reserve.

“But, anyway, I call her ‘my Aggie’ mostly because I can’t call her anything better.” I fell silent just before changing the topic.   “My Aggie.  My mother-”  I was trying out how it felt to say it intentionally “She told me that I should be careful of you.  She seemed to think that you would break my heart.  At least, I think that’s what she was warning me about.”  I was questioning so many things in this moment, but a thin strand of truth ran through me.  And in that truth were feelings I had never before experienced with such intensity.

He contorted his face in distaste and sighed.  “Does she have that opinion about all of the boys you take a fancy to?”

No.  There are never very many in the first place.  But, only just recently she was trying to encourage me to go with-”  I worried about revealing too much, but I thought it best.  “Andrew.  She had a plan, I think.  Andrew and I were probably supposed to get married someday, I bet.”   I laughed.

“The fellow you drove here?”  I had told him about Andrew and Susanne while we were eating cookies in the kitchen.

“Yes.  That’s him.”

“Mm.  Well, I suppose parents usually believe they know more about the next generation than is advisable really.  They think they can sort the good and bad.  Perhaps they can, mostly.  But other times they just look at youth and don’t see anyone but the shadows of the people they knew or were themselves in their own day.   That brightens the horizons for some fellows but then there are those of us who are judged incorrectly, I’m afraid.”

He looked into my face now and I could feel his breath.  Our heads rested against the wall behind us.

“I do like girls a lot, I suppose.”  He was a little sheepish for a second.  “But, I don’t think you have anything to fret about.”

His eyes met mine.  “I’m a great deal more honorable than is probably even advisable.”  He raised his right hand and touched my face.  “I don’t think I’m likely to hurt you, and I certainly wouldn’t want to.”  Then he shifted his body and embraced me.   A fragile but eager kiss followed.

It was a kiss that felt different than the others.  He put his tongue in my mouth and I began to feel magnificently adrift in his arms.  Nothing kept us from finding each other more second by second, until he focused his nearly lucent eyes on mine and hesitated for just an instant.

“Do you think we should stop this?” He finally questioned.

“I don’t know.”  I whispered passionately.  I certainly didn’t want to stop and I guessed that he didn’t either.

“If we continue I don’t know what will happen.  I mean, I know what could happen, but-”  he contemplated something momentarily before regarding me very seriously.  “Do you know what I’m talking about, Clara?”

I did.  When I was nine years old I read a book about pregnancy I found after searching the library in a fit of curiosity.   A woman in our church was pregnant and gave birth at our neighbor’s house.  I had to assist with the delivery before the doctor arrived.

“Yes, I think I do.”  I decided.

“I want to make love to you like mad.”  Reckless longing conflicted with decent innocence in his every movement and word.  Still, I knew he was about to do.

He exhaled sadly as he sat up and plucked me from the floor.  Then he moved me onto his lap.

There we sat for minutes that felt like a carved slice of heaven, even though they were quite chaste.  Later, when we did make love, I never knew when our first truly was because there was a quiet intimacy in that moment that felt nearly unbearable.

As Adam and I walked down the street, now in the darkness of a quiet rainy spring night holding hands I was a little giddy and a little lost in some sort of happiness.  It was impossible to believe that this had been an entire day.  It was almost as if I had made some error in my perception at least once, because not all my feelings and thoughts held together as a cohesive whole.  Or did they?  But if they didn’t then I hoped to God that this moment was the closest to reality.

When we found our way to the door of Susanne’s house, we heard sounds of yelling coming from inside.  I glanced over at my car and noticed that it was still parked in the same spot.  I wondered what had transpired, but based on my estimation only two hours, at most, had passed since I left Andrew here.  I was suddenly worried.

“No!”  I heard the voice of someone yelling.  It sounded like a young woman.

Adam and I opened the door and the noises grew louder.  The lights were on everywhere we could see and it appeared an entire family was sitting in the parlor to the right.  I was confused and unnerved while also being very intrigued.  Adam placed his hand at my back.  I was glad he was there.

A young woman, who I presumed was Susanne, was sitting on a chair with a red face, sobbing.  She looked as though she had been at it for a while actually.

Behind her was Andrew, who was also weeping.  He held his head in his hands.

And on the small sofa in the far corner of the room, near the large window facing the street sat three little girls whose faces were glazed with fascination and a little terror.  I assumed that they were Susanne’s sisters.  They all looked younger than her.  The littlest one seemed more perplexed than worried.  I sensed that she either had no idea what was going on or had an entirely different attitude than the rest of her family, even at a her age.

A man with a beard, wearing suspenders stood with his arm around a woman’s shoulders at the other end of the room.  The woman, who looked to be in her 50’s was standing there in her pajamas with her head in a scarf, holding her hand on her chin.  One arm was resting on the other.

I wasn’t sure if I should say something or just stand and watch.  Which was more polite really?

Then the youngest sister noticed us.  She propped herself up on the sofa and screamed, “Hey!  Everyone!  Adam’s standing at the door with a strange lady.”

“Who?”  The older woman looked startled from her predicament and then moved toward us.  Once she got sight of Adam her face changed from one of unhappiness to one of mild embarrassment.

“Oh good heavens!”  She clicked her tongue and placed her hands on the sides of her face.

The father now joined us and attempting to exude an air of control and propriety he stood tall and said, “What brings you to us at this hour, son?”  Then he looked to be reconsidering something and his expression changed to one of worry.  “I hope your folks are alright?”

“Oh, they’re fine sir.”  Adam looked around the room.  “I’m not here for anyone actually.  I’m with-”  He paused and looked down at me and then continued, “I mean, this is Clara.  She’s here to see about Andrew.”

“Oh bother it all.” The older man’s shoulders fell and he began muttering something to himself that sounded like, “and a young lady drove him here, of course.  Of course.”

He began pacing near the stairwell and then walked over towards the kitchen, “No, I can’t handle it anymore Jane.  I can’t handle the rebellion and arrogance of this young generation.”  Then he disappeared into the kitchen and yelled, “I’m going to bed!”

After a moment of silence we all heard, “This better all be straightened out before I wake up in the morning.   No, I am not losing any more sleep over this young man’s irreverent and foolhardy decisions.”  His voice trailed off slightly.  Then after another moment of silence he could be barely heard saying,  “I’m going to bed, dammit.”  Then there was total quiet.

“Oh daddy!”  The young lady in the chair cried now.

“It’s going to be fine.  You’ll see.”  Andrew managed to sound reassuring as he moved over to Susanne and tried to comfort her.

“I didn’t mind driving him here at all.  I enjoy driving.  Really.”  I tried to offer something pleasant, although the moment the words came out of my mouth I knew they might be ill-advised.

“Young lady, I don’t know how your parents would feel about it, but if you were my daughter there’s no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t take too kindly to the thought of you driving alone at night with some boy.”  Susanne’s mother shook her head in vehement disapproval.

Susanne lifted her golden head and chimed in,”But mother.  It isn’t as if this is a wretched tragedy.  It’s romantic.  We’re in love!”  Then she stood and proudly threw her chest out and shoulders back in bold and sudden defiance.  She gazed at Andrew, “Aren’t we darling?”

“Yes.”  Andrew walked over and stood beside her, bravely.  “We are.”

“Oh good heavenly doodads!” exclaimed the mother.

“Mommy, can we make popcorn?  This is just like the movies.”  One of the sisters asked in earnest, but nobody answered her.  The entire conversation, with all its fragments had come to an impasse.

And within about fifteen minutes I was told that it was much too late for anyone to be driving on the unlit gravels roads between Edenberg and my home.   My Aggie had already been called earlier and apparently she, my father, and Bertha were worried after we didn’t return for four hours.  It had been longer than I realized.

Bertha was particularly concerned.  She had sent her brother out looking for us and when he didn’t discover anything he called all the sheriffs he knew for miles.

Somebody had suggested that we might have run off together, Andrew and I, and eloped on some sort of romantic whim.  Another idea that had floated about involved drowning.  And one of the more humorous ones had us joining the circus.   I’m not sure where that last theory originated.

Since it was too late to go home and Mrs. Jennings, Susanne’s mother was too upset after talking with Bertha on the phone to talk to us about almost anything significant (she just charged up the stairs and slammed the door after telling us we couldn’t drive home), we were left to our own devices.  Apparently Aggie, (who from then on I secretly called mother around my friends and strangers), and my father assumed I would be alright once they learned where we were.  Perhaps they were just so happy to finally know that I was safe that they then could no longer fend off sleep.  I don’t know.   But, I had to figure out somewhere to stay for the night.

“Do you think they’ll be together someday?”  I asked Adam as we walked in the cold mistiness back toward his house.

“I don’t know, but if they’re truly in love then I wouldn’t rule it out.” He looked thoughtful.

“I hope they will.  I want them to be happy.”  I added with solemnity.

“So do I.”  His grin was almost audible as we shuffled along.  And somehow I knew they would.  I just knew it.

Mrs. Lowton, Adam’s mother, wasn’t phased one iota by almost anything we shared with her when we returned.  She was sitting alone listening to the radio when we got there.  I wasn’t sure why she was still awake.  Perhaps she was waiting for us.

“Oh you kids.  Young people always have a certain knack for knowing how to find trouble.  Or maybe it just finds you?”  She giggled and wiggled her eyebrows in a sweet silly way.

It was decided that I would go stay the night with Adam’s sister, Ruth, who lived two blocks away with her husband and their two children.  Adam was the youngest of four children.  He had two older sisters and one brother.  Ruth was the oldest.

This was by far the best and most dramatic day of my life thus far.  As melodramatic as I’m sure that sounds, I cannot deny it.  It was.  Why, just earlier I had been sitting in my living room, at home, miles away thinking about how distant I felt from life.  Now, here I was, in the middle of something that would surely consume me almost entirely, and it had all occurred without warning.

We were in the back of the house, preparing to leave and behind me sat Adam, on a bench, smoking a cigarette.  I turned around to look at him there.  In his face I saw my heart.  I saw my future and somehow my past too.  But none of it startled him the way it did me.  That was his beauty.  Nothing much startled him, I don’t think.

His eyes met mine but I couldn’t smile.  I turned away and upwards to see the spire on his roof towering above us.  It cut into the dark, stormy sky like a reminder of God.  I felt fear and some sort of joy.  But I had to look down.

The ground was drenched, even though it was mostly just misting.  Straight ahead was the park, with green trees in the darkness.   It was eerie and strangely dazzling.  And I felt incredibly alive.

“We should go to my sister’s house before it gets too late.”  Adam mentioned.

Holding myself with my arms, like a bulwark against all this wildness, I looked him over and then wearing a mildly coy grin he added, “Since I will have to walk back here alone, of course.”

A bit shocked I looked at him for a second longer than I should have before he  shrugged and winked at me again.  We resided in that moment observing each other for a while longer before he rose from the bench and walked over.

“Come along.”  He held me again by his side and I had the sense this time that he wasn’t letting go.

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