The following week, I was ready. Ready to sit as far from Rick as possible. Ready to pretend nothing had happened the week before—and really, nothing did, except, maybe, in my head. No sparks, no hearts on fire. I was pretty sure it was simply my wild imagination, getting the better of me. So now, I was ready to focus on the class and on my writing. I would even make it a point to talk to some of the other students. Yes, I could do this and achieve great success. It was just a dumb crush, after all. A 24-hour bug. And my plan almost worked, except for one thing.
It didn’t have a chance.
At the break, the lady who wore a green sweater to the first class, grabbed a pink floral one that she had earlier flung on the back of her chair, and stepped out of the classroom. Other classmates followed, chatting aimlessly, carrying on conversations about who knows what. They were happily heading outside for a 10-minute smoke or maybe just for fresh air, completely oblivious to any feelings, any pining, on my part, for Rick. I was conflicted. I wanted to talk to him, yet knew what could happen if I did. So I decided to stay put and use the break to work on the poem I had read in class. It was one about strawberries on a blue plate. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending.
Like the others, Rick, too, stood up. He used both arms to push his chair away from the table so he could stand. This made the table tremble a bit, much like my insides. His arms looked strong, firm and limber, yet not too muscular. Just the right amount of tone. Like he’d been kayaking all day on Lake Washington.
Instead of making a hasty exit as the others had, Rick ambled over to where I was sitting.
“Let’s go outside,” he said softly, in barely a whisper, as if we were conspiring something.
I looked up at him. Gray flecks in his green eyes cast a light on his smile that made my heart churn. So much for my fortitude. So much for my resolve. I was under his spell. He was like Bela Lugosi in Dracula and I was his next victim. If he had asked to suck my blood, I’m pretty certain I would have said, yes.
I followed him out of the building, down four steps to the walkway. To the right were the other students, deep in conversation, in groups of three or four. Rick walked towards the left, a safe distance from the others. Still in sight, but out of earshot. The night chill made me realize I’d left my jacket on my chair in the classroom. I began to shiver, but not enough to want to retrieve it. Not enough to want to spoil the moment. He sat down on a low brick wall, and motioned me to sit beside him. Great, now my rear would be cold, too.
“Tell me about the strawberries.”
For a second I was puzzled. Then, I realized he was referring to the poem I had just read to the class.
“What’d you want to know?”
“Well, I love the imagery. How did you put it? Summer reflecting on the blue plate between us, with breakfast crumbs and jam? Is that how it went? I do remember one line, ‘Longing it to last forever.’ I feel that way sometimes. Like now. But, just who were you writing about? “
Frankly, I was surprised that Rick was even quoting my poem. I’d only read it aloud once and yet, he seemed to almost have memorized it. Which excited me, but also made me wonder, was he really just interested in my poem?
I thought about G, who rarely showed interest in my poetry, which was probably for the best, since quite a few were about him and the insecurities I felt about our relationship, ever since I found him with another woman when I visited him back in college. And ever since Joanie stopped talking to us upon learning that G had proposed to me. Ever since. Yet, he did encourage me to keep writing, and he was most enthusiastic when I signed up for this class, but I just figured it was because it helped assuage his guilt about not being around much anymore, now that he was in grad school. Little did he know, little did he know.
I started to tell Rick about the inspiration for the poem, how I wrote it for an old family friend from Venezuela. It was on a day that he spent with us, which turned out to be one of his last, for he died soon after. We drove up to Hyde Park, New York, to visit the Vanderbilt and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt mansions. We only made it through the first mansion, though. He was already ailing and appearing frail. The trip and walking around the grounds had proven too much for his middle-aged, diseased body.
So, while the others toured FDR’s home, he and I sat on the river’s bank, taking in the serenity of the day. He’d been so kind to me then, happy to indulge this young girl’s fancy that she could write, and listened contentedly while I read my poetry to him. He treated me like a grownup and not the kid I still was. How I cried when I learned of his passing, barely a month later, causing me to write this poem.
Rick listened attentively. When I finished, the pain of losing our family friend seemed to course through my veins all over again. I was about to tell Rick that I felt the poem needed more work, that the ending felt incomplete, but, when I looked up, I noticed that the other students were pretty much gone. Besides us, only one other student remained outside, and that was some skinny guy who was smoking the last bit of his cigarette. No doubt, he, too, felt that ten minutes was not long enough for a break.
“Looks like we better go back,” I said halfheartedly.
Rick hesitated. Clearly, he was still thinking about my story. Perhaps he felt he needed to console me in some way, or acknowledge the connection between us. For the next thing I knew, he reached over. Taking my hand in his, he began to lightly brush his fingertips along mine.
This is where I should have pulled away and said something like, “I beg your pardon!” Or, “How dare you!” Something to that effect. Anything. Instead, I met his touch with gratitude, with sheer pleasure, welcoming the fleeting feel of his fingertips on my skin.
Then, grasping my hand, he pulled me up and continued holding on to it while we raced back to class. My head was reeling with emotions, and they all said one thing: Don’t let go.
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