-1The day was warm and the sun was shining cheerily. The world was announcing that it was May and high time that humans and animals get out and enjoy all of the flowers and ripened fruit. Picnics were being held and many took advantage of the cool water of the creek.
Nathan breathed in the scent of sun-warmed apples as he drove through the streets of Delaware, waving to the occasional acquaintance. Because it was Mayday, Timothy had insisted that he take work off and enjoy himself. So now Nathan found himself wondering what he could possible do with his free time. What better place than the bookstore?
He pulled up in front of the Davis and Cockney Bookstore and pulled out a list of books he needed. After glancing over it once, he nodded and stepped into the store. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light inside and he saw splotches of different colors. Then he began his hunt.
The book hunt began alright. He found the first three books on his list with ease. And then, as he was walking into the Classic Literature section, he was looking down at his list and failed to see the ladder in front of him. As was unavoidable, he walked right into the ladder and there was a cry of surprise as a young woman fell from the top of it, barely managing to slow her descent by grabbing onto one of the rungs. Nathan caught her in his arms before she hit the floor and exclaimed, "I'm so sorry, Miss! Are you hurt?"
The girl, flustered and embarrassed, squirmed out of his arms. "That's quite alright, really! I'm fine." She stepped back and they both froze.
"George!" Nathan gasped.
George blinked once in surprise and then her cheeks flushed with pink. Her eyes flickered from his face to the floor. "Hi, Nathan. Fancy seeing you here!" Though she tried to appear light-hearted, there was no mistaking the awkwardness in her voice and it made Nathan's intestines squirm.
He bent down to retrieve her book that had fallen and handed it to her. "What are you looking for?" he asked.
George smiled hesitantly. "Cyrano de Bergerac," she admitted with another blush. "I gave you my only copy and it's been hard to replace. But I found one at last!" She showed him the book he's just handed to her. Then her manner became timid and unsure again. "What are you looking for?"
Nathan snapped out of his reverie. "Oh, just some educational books." He forced a crooked smile. "I got that job, you know? That one I've been wanting as a traveling teacher."
"Yeah. I leave in August."
"You'll do really well."
"Thanks. I sure hope so."
George nodded. Nathan nodded. They both looked down at the wooden floor, deep in thought. "So how are you?" Nathan managed to ask. It came out little more the a wistful, desperate sigh.
The earnestness in his eyes made George look away. Calm down, she told her wildly palpitating heart. He doesn't love you; he doesn't love you. "I'm alright," she replied, unable to keep a hint of sadness from her voice. "I got accepted to the RANY, you know?"
"Oh really? Congratulations!"
"Thanks." A dimple appeared in her cheek as she forced a smile. "When do you leave for your new job?"
"In August. I'm getting all of the books I need right now."
"When do you leave for school?"
"Today, actually. My train leaves at three."
Nathan felt a sudden tug at his heart. So soon? She was going to be leaving? "Th-that's in two hours," he stuttered stupidly, fumbling for his pocket watch and then staring at its face without seeing it.
"Yeah. I wanted a book to read on the train…." George looked at the book in her hands, turning it over and over.
Nathan continued to stare at his watch, trying to calm the panic inside of him and make sense of what she'd said. After a painfully quiet minute, Nathan said softly, "I think my clock has stopped."
"Oh dear." George bit her lip and leaned forward as if to inspect the watch for herself.
Nathan felt her nearness and it made his heart ache. Do something, his mind screamed at him! Tell her you lover her! Beg her not to leave! "Yeah," he said. "I need to get that fixed." He put it back in his pocket.
George stepped back again and continued to turn the book around in her hands.
Nathan took a deep breath. "And your family? How are they?"
"They're good. Em and Albert are building a house in California."
Nathan nodded. "Good. That's good."
George nodded too. They both stood there in silence again, tearing themselves up inside. Both sensed the other's awkwardness and inner pain. George indebted Nathan's to his love for Amelia and Nathan indebted George's to feeling that she was forced to talk to this man who had been so close to joining her family and who now meant nothing to her. Both, feeling that they were nothing but a nuisance to the other, looked at the floor.
"It's a nice day," George finally said, in an attempt to be cheerful.
"It is. I'm going to do some yard work when I get home."
George nodded. After another minute of silence, she sighed. "Well, I'd better go now. Ethan will be wondering where I am."
Nathan felt his heart plummet to the abyss of his stomach. "Yeah, I'd better go to." And there was an unmistakable note of longing in his voice as he said, "It was good to see you."
George bit her lip and again tried to calm her heart. He doesn't love you! "You too," she said. And then, unable to bear the overwhelming torrent of emotions any longer, she hurried past him.
Nathan felt the last light of his life leave with her. She was leaving. He would never see her again. Despite the sunny day, he drove home in a dark, weeping rain cloud. It seemed the sun would never shine again for him.
When he reached his house and got out of the car, he just stood in the driveway, looking at the unkempt yard. Maybe the work would help to keep his mind off of her. So he pulled out the rake and shovel and gloves and clippers and set to work. First he mowed the lawn. The smell of the freshly-cut grass reminded him of the time he'd first seen George at the Dawson's barbeque. First she'd tumbled down the stairs with the rest of her sisters and some cousins, laughing at him because of his obvious nervousness. Then she'd been playing tag in the grass with the other children, her dog barking and joining in the fun. He smiled as he recalled her impish smile when she'd shaken his hand and left a handful of dirt in it. What a little monster she had been! Now he couldn't help laughing at the memory. She'd grown much within the last year.
When the grass was trimmed, Nathan set aside the rickety mower. Apparently that job hadn't served its purpose in helping Nathan to keep his mind off of George. So he moved on to pulling the weeds.
As Nathan gripped a young dandelion and uprooted it from its place in the grass, he remembered the time that George had handed him a head of dandelion seeds, keeping another one for herself. "Make a wish," she'd said.
"A wish?" Nathan had repeated.
George had laughed. That wonderful, contagious laugh. "Don't tell me you've never wished on a dandelion! You have to close your eyes, make a wish, and then blow and if you blow all of the seeds off of the head in one breath than your wish will come true." Then, as if to demonstrate, she'd pinched her eyes closed, thought a moment, and then blown mercilessly on the little head of seeds with all of her might. As her breath had begun to run out she'd opened her eyes and frowned at the stubborn remaining seeds and blown harder still until she could blow no more and was forced to wheeze for breath. "Humph" said she, tossing the stem and remaining seeds over her shoulder. "Those silly things never work. I don't know who came up with that idea in the first place!"
Nathan chuckled at the memory. And then, returning to the present, he frowned. Obviously, pulling weeds wasn't a good distraction either. So he started watering the grass. To his frustration, he'd hardly turned on the hose when he remembered the water fight George had started with a hose last fall. He hadn't even been a part of the game, but still he could remember it all perfectly! Nathan turned the hose off with a violent jerk and picked up the clippers. If this didn't work-! He began clipping the hedge in a bestial, unorganized manner. Upon finding that this did distract his mind, he smiled in a wicked satisfaction and continued chopping away.
He chopped and chopped, enjoying the harsh sound of the snapping twigs and the sight of the flying leaves. He chopped his way around the front of the house and to the spot under his bedroom window, where he stopped. The branches were broken here, beneath his bedroom window. Ah yes, this is where George had fallen. In fact, there was still a torn piece of fabric attached to that twig there… dirty and weather-worn. Nathan dropped his cutters with a frustrated groan and slumped to his knees. Was he to live the rest of his days in this torment?! Would he never forget that childlike face? That spunky smile? That contagious laugh?
At that moment Nathan was one inch away from leaping to his feet and driving to the train station to beg George to marry him. The only thing keeping him here was his knowledge that she didn't love him and would probably be frightened if he tried to kiss her. He thought bitterly of the way she had behaved when she'd run into him at the bookstore- how awkward and uncomfortable she had looked- how quickly she had brushed past him to escape. She didn't know how to behave around him now that he was no longer engaged to her sister. There had been pity in her eyes, he was sure of it! She felt sorry for him. Sorry for the poor fool that hadn't proved good enough for her sister. How these thoughts hurt him! He didn't want her pity; he wanted her love! How he wished he could tell her that it was he who had called off the wedding, because he was in love with her, George!
But it was never to be. George could never love him. Him, with all of his dramatic ways and quiet dullness. She was so fun and clever! She'd only befriended him at her sister's request.
Sighing and pining like a lovesick mule, Nathan reached for his cutters. They'd bounced under the hedge when he had dropped them. There was a crinkling sound as his hand clasped the metal handle, like that of paper. He looked under the hedge curiously and found a folded piece of paper, dented and browned from being left out in the rain and sun. "What's this?" he murmured under his breath. The paper was delicate from the abuse of the weather, and it crinkled like an ancient document as he unfolded it carefully.
Nathan's breath caught in his throat as he recognized the impatient scrawl of George on the paper; smeared and blotched from the rain. However, it was still legible.
I hardly know how to say this, but I feel that I must. I cannot just stand by and allow this marriage between you and my sister continue! Can't you see that it's a mistake? She doesn't understand you, Nathan. She'll never understand you! Not like I do! She sees you as a shell- something pretty to show off to her friends. Could she make you happy? No, I feel certain that she could not. She doesn't even understand your poetry! I have to explain each stanza to her like she's a child.
Oh, Nathan! I'm not a dramatic person, and I feel like such a wicked, heartless person writing all of this when I know that you're engaged to my sister, but I'm in love with you! I don't know how it happened, but it did. I love you so much that I can hardly stand it when Amelia is babbling on about her wedding plans. I know that you could never love me, and that's alright. I just can't go on living without letting you know how I feel. Perhaps it would be in your best interest to just stay away from my family completely! One sister who wants to marry you but could never make you happy, and another who wants nothing more than to see you the happiest man in the world, but who you could never care about yourself.
Ugh, I can't write another word. This must all sound so silly to you.
Nathan stared at the little paper in disbelief. He read it again, and then again, several times over. Could it be real? How had this note appeared here? He looked at the indent in his hedge where George had fallen so many weeks ago and wondered. Had she been trying to give this to him that night? Perhaps it had fallen out of her hand when she'd landed….
Suddenly Nathan stood. Could it be true? Did George really love him? It was almost too good to believe. But he had to know! He couldn't remain in this misery if there was a chance that she just might care for him, even a little bit. Nathan dashed to his car and sped to the Dawson's house. His mind was a whirlwind of questions. Why hadn't she ever mentioned this note before? That night at his house, had she been trying to give it to him? Or had she already given it to him, without his knowledge and had she been trying to get it back? Was it all just a prank? Please no, he though! It couldn't be a prank, not this time.
Once at Dawson Place, Nathan leaped out of his car without even turning it off. Mr. Dawson was standing in the driveway with Aunt Grace and Uncle Mark, whose children were running around on the front lawn. All three of them stared at him with wide eyes and raised eyebrows as he ran towards the house. "George!" he cried. "I need to talk to George!"
"You just missed her," Mr. Dawson said as Nathan rushed past him.
Nathan skidded to a stop and turned around to stand in front of them frantically. "What? What do you mean?"
"Ethan just left to take her to the train station. The rest of us would have gone with them but we have to-"
"How long ago?" Nathan demanded. "How long ago did they leave?"
"Only a few minutes. Is there something wrong?"
Nathan laughed in relief. He could still catch her if he hurried. "Mr. Dawson," he said quickly. "I want permission to marry your daughter."
Josiah Dawson's eyebrows rose. "Amelia's already married," he said.
"No, not Amelia," Aunt Grace cried. "Josiah, you're getting old. He means George, of course."
Uncle Mark threw his arms into the air. "What next? Before you know it he'll be after LaRue!"
Nathan took Mr. Dawson by the shoulders. "I mean George," he confirmed. "I want permission to marry George."
"Go ahead! Marry her, if she'll have you."
Smiling brightly, Nathan bounded back to his car. "Thank you, Mr. Dawson!" he called over his shoulder. His heart pounded as he drove to the train station. He prayed that this wasn't all just a dream- that the note wasn't some cruel prank. But even if she did love him at one point, would she still love him now?
George leaned forward again to see if the train was coming yet. Ethan laughed. "Be patient, George. Are you really so desperate to leave?
George forced a small smile. Yes, she was desperate- desperate to escape from anything that would remind her of Nathan. She'd tried so hard to forget about him, but it seemed that everything held some memory or other. And then, running into him at the bookstore today…. She longed to escape from this place.
"Did you bring anything to eat on the train?"
Ethan's question broke through George's thoughts. "Hmm? Oh, no. But Aunt Grace says that they have food you can buy on the train."
"How about money? You have money, right?"
George held up her purse. "Check."
Ethan nodded. They both sat in silence and then he stood. "I'm going to see if they have a restroom around here somewhere. George nodded and was left alone. She sighed.
What would it be like, she wondered? Living so far from home? Daniel Rochester had promised to introduce her to all of his friends in his last letter, but now she wondered if she even wanted to see Daniel. Of course she did! But he would remind her of Nathan and she didn't want that.
The sound of pounding feet met her ears and George looked up just as none other than Nathan Rochester came to a stop in front of her with his back to her, panting and looking at the empty railway. "Nathan?" she cried in surprise, unable to stop herself.
Nathan turned around and breathed a sigh of relief. So he hadn't missed her! But then, as he looked at her, his stomach seemed to tie itself into a knot and he almost wished he had.
George stood, unsure of what else to do with herself. "I'm waiting for my train," she said.
Nathan nodded, still panting from his run.
George blushed under his stare, wondering what to do. Why was he here? Did he realize how hard he was making this for her? Didn't he realize the agony she was in? "Ethan's around here somewhere…."
Nathan continued to stare, regaining his breath. "George," he finally said. "I-" his mouth hung open wordlessly for a moment. He tried again. "I had to come…." He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. For the first time in his life, Nathan was speechless.
George bit her lip. "Do you want to sit down?"
They both sat on her trunk, looking at the empty railway in silence. The train would come soon and they both felt the time pressing on them.
Finally, Nathan looked at her. George felt his eyes on her and, hesitantly, met his gaze. For a few moments, they just looked into each other's eyes. "I found something," Nathan said softly, "while I was doing my yard work." He pulled her note from his pocket and handed it to her.
George's face flushed with color as she recognized the note. She wished she could bury herself under the boards of this train station and never see another living creature again! But then she realized that Nathan wasn't laughing at her. She glanced at his face. He was looking at her intently.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he whispered.
Had she been a bowl of ice cream, George would have melted right then. She let out a shuttering breath, realizing that she hadn't been breathing. "I didn't think you would care…."
The deep look of love in Nathan's eyes sent George's heart into a most irregular pattern. She had to force herself to keep breathing when he reached up his hand and touched the side of her face. Her eyes closed at the contact and a tingling sensation seemed to pulse from his fingers into her cheek. She sighed.
Nathan's chest swelled and he brought up his other hand to hold the other side of her face. Then, ever so slowly, he pulled her face to his. When their lips met it was as if a jolt of electricity surged through them both and Nathan felt George's lips tighten into a dreamy smile, which made him smile too. They kissed again. "I love you, George," he whispered.
A tear weaseled its way out of George's eye and she sighed. "I love you too."
Nathan pulled back a little and took both of her hands in his. "Will you marry me?"
George gave a small, quivering laugh that shook loose a few more tears and nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. Yes, I will!"
Overcome with a joy he never knew was possible, Nathan kissed George again deeply, passionately and then held her. His face suddenly fell. "But I won't have anything to give you. I'll be a poor teacher and you'll have to travel all over the world with me."
"But that's exactly what I want!" George pulled back enough to look into his eyes. "Don't you see? That's all I've ever wanted." She squeezed his hands lovingly. "We'll be together. And I can help you teach! Or at least keep you fed."
Nathan smiled. "So you'll come to Africa with me?"
George nestled into Nathan's arms. "I'll follow you anywhere."
(A/N. YEEEEHA!!!! It's over! Hopefully I didn't totally screw up the ending!
I want to thank all of my reviewers and anyone who's read this! It means a lot to me. I'm going to be starting a new story soon called "Latham Manor", which I'm pretty excited about. I'm also nervous about it because it's going to be different from anything else I've written. It's going to be a mystery that takes place in 19th century England. Wish me luck on that!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! All of you! XOXOXOXOXOXO