Wayward Ep. 2

II.         THE ONE

I took five courses in my first semester of my third year at Windsor and I had brought my attention, my focus and my best to every class. But not that week. I blamed it on Lewis, of course, and his silly unmentioned provisions for happiness. I sat in the hollow halls in the middle row or whatever seat was empty and within hearing distance to the professor, scanning the faces of the girls, eligible or not. I came to the conclusion after History of Great Thinkers on Wednesday that philosophy majors were as unattractive as the professors. I had two other classes to attend that week so I kept my eyes ready.

Lewis invited me to lunch alone on Thursday and we met at the mantle in the Den and I asked how his classes were going, to which he replied: “Painstakingly boring. I want to fall asleep more than the students do. I feel bad for you.”

“Why? I’m not becoming a lawyer.”

He was wearing his usual gray suit, but this time with a blue and white checked shirt and no tie. I looked at his watch for the majority of our meeting, its pearl face glowing amidst the sparkle of the band.

Lewis managed a laugh in spite of my comment and asked me how my “progress” was going. “Why do I have to confine myself to the campus?” I asked.

Lewis winced while thinking on it. “You don’t,” he said finally. “It’s just the easiest.”

Easy things were more appealing, I thought, agreeing with him enough to listen to his theory.

“Let’s take a tour,” he said, setting down his drink on the nearest table and then waving his arm toward the restaurant door.

Windsor College was ancient. It produced more working lawyers, doctors and teachers than any other school in the county. Its performing arts academy, something the “real” students despised being associated with, was even revered. Its campus wound and stopped and began again throughout the public conservation area and had its own community in which if you did not attend you did not enter. Potter’s School for girls was established before the legacy of Windsor began and hence, Lewis took me there first.

We looked up at the dormitory, a colonial house with a large porch, and it stared back at us. “They only accept the best in the province,” Lewis said.

“The best?” I asked. “What does that mean exactly?”

Lewis frowned. “I don’t know.”

The best looking? The best dressed? I didn’t know but as girls rushed out of the white front door, I knew it meant both. They filed out like a military brigade, proper and refined, looking too fierce to approach and passing us both without a second glance. I looked at my own clothes, wondering if they were the cause for the shunning response. I was wearing jeans, dark-washed and just the right length. I had a button front shirt; white with two breast pockets, rolled up on the sleeves because they were too short anyway.

“Too cold?” I said about the girls.

“I was going to say too young,” Lewis said. “But that sounds about right too.”

He took me to the theatre next, saying, “Actresses, they have to be nice to look at.”

We sat in the back row of the dark auditorium watching auditions for The Importance of Being Earnest. We slumped in the cushioned seats, unimpressed, watching one girl after the other. They recited their lines from the center of the wooden stage, shouting at us; their voices cracking with every enthusiastic note. I frowned and concluded: “Too loud.”

Lewis and I took to the grass outside to watch field hockey practice. We stood, arms folded, squinting under the sun, as we watched the girls team; a bunch of brawny-looking girls running the length of the field in red plaid skirts, forcefully pushing one another out of the way. Before I could react, Lewis shook his head and pushed me aside, saying, “No. No, no.”

Defeated, we walked outside the main dormitories, new complexes built to blend in with the old Victorian cityscape. “We have to go where you’re not used to going,” Lewis said as he looked around us. Then: “Library,” he concluded as he snapped his fingers with his moment of epiphany.

“Are you making a jab at me?” I asked.

“At you?”

“At me not being a scholar.”

“If you were one you’d be studying law or medicine.”

“My major isn’t a result of my ability but more about my interests,” I defended. Lewis continued to stare at me blankly. “I go to the library a lot,” I confirmed.

He inhaled, frustrated. “Where to then?”

I didn’t want to go anywhere with him after that so I waited until he came up with another suggestion or until I had to say, “I have to go to work.”

“Café,” he said, suddenly smiling. He was already half way down the street where a small coffee and paper shop sat. I reluctantly picked up my feet to join him, hoping he’d see that the venture was a waste of time and I, for once, would be the right one.

The location was, yes, a place I rarely entered. It was full of loud, bubbly girls high with caffeine dressed in the latest fashions, and smart-looking boys, too smart for their own good, alone in solitude and dressed in black and tight scarves with dark-framed glasses.

“I don’t think so,” I said after we stepped inside.

Lewis smiled and patted me on the back. “Let’s get a drink.”

“I don’t like coffee.”

He looked disapprovingly at me and glided into the line-up in front of the cash counter. We stood by the newsstand and there was a girl there, scoping out fashion magazines, who I nearly bumped into. Unbalanced as I was, with my hands in my pant pockets, she scooted behind me in the crowded space to get a better look at the autumn/ winter issues. She excused herself so I did too, which really didn’t sound like actual English words at all.

Lewis watched her and I didn’t want to because I knew from the look on his face, he was ready to pick her. The quizzical frown he had when examining her was so obvious, I hit him in the arm. He relaxed his brow and asked, quietly: “Do you know her?”

“No.”

He shook his head casually and shrugged. “Seemed like you knew one another.”

My eyebrows sunk down into a frown. “How?”

The queue was shrinking in front of us; the magazine girl took a spot behind us with her choice from the paper shop, staring absently into space. I turned to see her quickly, to get some kind of impression of her, before darting my eyes away.

“What do you want to drink?” Lewis asked me.

“I don’t want to drink anything,” I told him, annoyed he didn’t understand me the first time.

“Hurry up, I need to meet Alice.”

“Then what are we doing here for? Let’s go.”

Lewis smiled at the magazine girl, gently moved me aside and said, “You can go ahead.”

She smiled politely. It was all of her expression I saw because I looked away again with only the tiny curve of my lips.

Lewis stood with me. “We’re leaving?” I asked, hopeful.

He held up his finger, telling me to wait, as he watched the girl pay for her magazines. I finally looked at her; she had a smart jacket on which floated around her middle, showing no sign of her shape. Her jeans were the only thing tight and maybe her flat shoes, revealing the top of her foot, looking too white against the black leather. She had dark hair, I wasn’t sure how long it was because it was pulled back. She had a brown leather tote and I couldn’t see inside it. She walked past us, bringing a breeze so fast I couldn’t see her face.

Lewis’s eyes followed her, watching through the large storefront window pane, eager to follow her so much so he suggested it.

“What?” I exclaimed. He was already half way out the door. “You can’t be serious.”

He smiled and went outside. Rolling my eyes, I followed him. He scanned the faces and the backs of students’ heads before catching a glimpse of the magazine girl at the intersection. “There,” he said, walking too swiftly to be inconspicuous.

“This is stupid,” I declared when he stopped to pick her out from the crowd again.

He huffed. “I lost her.”

“What does Alice think of you chasing girls?”

“I’m not chasing her for me. I’m chasing her for you.”

“How do you know I’m even interested?”

“Marty,” he said firmly. “I know.”

I never quite understood what he meant when he said that and he said that often. I frowned on the sidewalk. I could see the magazine girl quite clearly, but I wasn’t about to point her out. She looked both ways before crossing the avenue in front of the dorms, the setting sun catching the plains of her face.

I sighed loudly.

If my brother said she was the one, then…she was the one.

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New Story Series Begins Today

WAYWARD

or

ALL HE ATE BEFORE GRACE

“Vanities of vanities,” says the preacher, “all is Vanity.”

I.     Lewis and Alice

My brother always told me that it all depends on how you look at it. His advice, he told me later, applied to everything; an over-priced leather jacket, an expensive meal, a back-up television, life—girls. It all depends on how you look at it. Or her in this instance. This instance being this story.

My brother, whose name is Lewis and who is a minor four years my senior, prided himself not in his work or wisdom—his work being law and his wisdom being the fear of the Lord—but in his possessions, undoubtedly thinking too highly of his taste and opinion.

That being said, his house and all his earthly assets were fine. His house was a country dwelling built some hundred years before he bought it and its furnishings just the way I would have them if I were to have a home and a family to occupy it; large wooden things, dark and traditional with fancy linens and fine china. He owned a car that was black, sleek and shiny which he drove to the office wearing one of his various suits; usually of grey twill that he paired with a shirt sometimes of small plaid, and a skinny coloured tie with matching gingham pocket square.

Even his appearance, to match his clothing, was fine. He was a tall man built like my father with a good jaw and a healthy hairline; a crown of light brown hair kept short and parted to one side. But it was not his hair or suit or house he ranked the highest, but a wife named Alice.

Alice was a farmer’s daughter who seemed to mysteriously have everything of an aristocratic upbringing. To me, she was ideal; a honey-haired, brown-eyed woman; a pretty thing so much so her height and weight were of no consequence in the matter. She was agreeable and caring; never weak, never over-bearing. She was coated in grace and she liked me a lot. She often made Lewis look better than he really did and when asked on the subject my brother always replied that her attraction to him was a result of exactly that reason.

Lewis was a bachelor through most of his years at Windsor College where our father and our father’s father studied architecture. He was in his last year of studying law, mind you in the middle of his class (something he manages to leave out when telling the story) when an English major crossed his path and she, innocently thinking nothing of their eyes meeting, never engaged in a pursuit, not realizing he already was. He followed her around campus in the fall, waited outside her classes in the spring, learning a great many things about her. Upon graduating and starting low in the ranks at Doyle and Doyle, Lewis never forgot about his college girl and that’s when he finally employed her in his life. They weren’t inseparable as almost are romantic couples are; they dated only three years, engaged for one and wed the next. My brother, nearing thirty and his wife, four years younger, had been married two and a half years when he entered the gates of Windsor again.

It was determined before either one of us were born that we’d attend Windsor, Mum’s hopes for us becoming just like our father, and we agreed that our time behind desks and in the lecture seats were going to be ours alone. And my years were—until my brother Lewis became guest lecturer Lewis Wahlton in the law department.

Luckily enough for me I wasn’t in law. I was enlisted at Windsor to study Philosophy and had been for three years, passing my twenty-first birthday six months before my sophomore year. I got along quietly, rooming in a red brick Victorian townhouse with my cousin, and managing to pay tuition with the money earned working as a nightly secretary for Loney and Wills, undoubtedly because of word sent by my brother in the law world. It was October when my satisfyingly dry life at Windsor ended.

I had just barely past my mid-term examination in Topics in Contemporary European Philosophy and I was sitting in that very class, listening to Professor Mayseck discuss phenomenology and its approach to classical philosophy problems (Today: the distinction between “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description”) when I realized I should have read the recommended texts.

I chewed the end of my pen as I stared at the clock on the wall, high above the teacher’s bald head. I was torn between counting down the minutes and wanting them to drag on and on and on. I knew at precisely 12:46 pm Prof. Mayseck, who was never late and never early, was going to dismiss us, some one hundred students, and I was going to have to run across campus to my housing, drop off my books and run all the way back without working up a sweat.

Alice had invited me to lunch.

The clock struck the time mentioned and I was off. My shoes skidded along sidewalks and I stopped cars at crosswalks, a few of my unconfined papers blowing away in the wind. I climbed steps to the townhouse, fumbled with my keys, my pen still between my lips, and I stomped up the winding staircase inside to my apartment. I tossed my textbooks and my book bag, ignoring my cousin on the sofa, and grabbed my tie from the back of one of the kitchen chairs. I was back on the sidewalk, crossing avenues and slow students on the way, all while pulling the black tie over my neck, watching my fingers fiddle with the silky fabric.

The Den was a dining hall at the college, one I liked because of a sentimental photograph of my father as a student standing by the mantle with his mates and raising a glass.

I raced over the terrace and stopped.

I took in a deep breath, clearing my head and straightening my tie.

Through the French doors, I could see them, sitting at a table on the other side of the hall. I cracked my neck and the doors opened for me as if by magic.

I sat, staring at the mantle in the Den; six feet wide with a mirror overhead, reaching the excessive height of the ceiling. The fire in the hearth was flickering. My brother and my sister-in-law sat across from me in the wide room barely busy with the autumn sunlight catching the crystal on the empty tables. Lewis was reciting a story about when we were boys, one he forgot to tell at Thanksgiving the week before, as he finished his meal when I realized that this reoccurring lunch was going to happen daily for whatever time Lewis was given as lecturer.

“Are you working often?” Lewis picked up his drink and showed off the cuff of his shirt sleeve; navy and red check which he paired with Dad’s skinny black tie and navy pocket square.

I inhaled deeply as I looked from the mantle to his face and let out my breath slowly. “Not enough.”

“Spending your time getting to know any new friends?” Alice asked, hoping; her delicate hand sweeping away her blond hair which had fallen into her eyes. The rest of her hair was pulled back, revealing her earrings, the ones with the grey stones she had imported from Barcelona.

“No,” I admitted. “Studying too much.”

“And how is Dan?” Lewis asked next, leaning back in his seat. “You should invite him to eat with us next time.”

Next time, I knew it. Dan was our cousin and my roommate. He was a good-looking lad with dark hair and a giant smile all the girls swooned over. He wasn’t involved in any extracurricular activities like me so our time together was frequent.

“Is he setting you up on any dates with any of the girls from Mallory?” Lewis teased.

I laughed out loud. “Of course not. All those girls are too young, taken or if they aren’t, there has to be a reason why.”

“Marty,” Alice said, disappointed.

Marty. It only sounded sophisticated when she said it. Martin Theodore Wahlton was the only way my name could sound important.

“There are tons of pretty girls here,” Alice said. “You can’t tell me that you’re not fond of one of them.”

Pretty girls. Sure, there were pretty girls here. There were plenty of pretty girls everywhere. Pretty wasn’t what I was aiming for. I smiled at her politely, avoiding an answer.

“We’ll just have to find you one,” Lewis chimed in, looking around the room as if to pick one right there and then.

“There may have been a lot of beautiful girls here when you were in college and you picked the best of them,” I said, watching Alice grin bashfully at the compliment I paid her, and smiling too. “But it’s like all the girls here are too disinterested in me and I don’t really mind.”

“Well, have you shown any of them encouragement?”

By this time my brother and I were both sitting exactly the same way, something our mother always laughed over. We leaned with one elbow bent on the back of our chairs and the other arm resting on the edge of the tabletop, looking far too unimpressed with one another.

“No, why would I?” I asked. “I don’t know any of them.”

“That’s not the point, Marty. Listen,” Lewis got excited about it, leaning over the table with both arms, destroying the symmetrical image. “Girls like it when boys show up first.”

I truly had no idea what he meant and I sat out of sorts for the rest of the meal until the conversation unfortunately continued outside on the terrace.

It was warmer outside than it should have been, nevertheless leaves on the trees lining the paved walks and gravel footpaths amidst the parks and tennis court were changing and giving the dull limestone buildings a perk.

Alice was back in her cardigan, her heels clicking in between my brother’s long strides. I walked along with them, my hands in my pant pockets like they usually were—something my mother told me was a terrible, terrible habit. I was wearing a pair of chinos, rolled up a bit to reveal the high top of my sneakers, and a blue chambray shirt with my tie looking too much like Lewis’s.

“You can’t tell me you’ve spent three years here and not one of these girls has caught your eye,” Lewis said.

I frowned, watching my feet as I thought about it a while before answering. “Not really,” and I shrugged.

I didn’t know if it was my looks or my personality that didn’t cause a frenzy of girls to giggle or surround me when I was in the presence of any. I didn’t feel that it could be either. I wasn’t as good looking as Lewis or as smart but I was…good enough. I didn’t look like my father, Lewis did. I looked like Mum who had tanned skin and blue eyes. Her hair was darker than mine but it framed our faces similarly, and to my regret I still looked too boyish. Mum said I would always look like a boy and never a man. Sadly, Lewis agreed, probably basking in his manliness entirely.

“I’m going to find you one,” Lewis said as we walked closer to his parked car, that beautiful smart-looking car that I envisioned speeding down the highway in my shiny aviators and loving life finally.

I sighed longingly as Alice laughed at her husband’s declaration. I opened her door for her and she patted me on my shoulder, thanking me for coming. After shutting her up inside the car, her flowing skirt sliding on the leather, I looked to Lewis on the other side of the car. He leaned over the top with his key in his hand.

“Trust me,” he said. “I’ll have you head over heels for some lucky girl by the end of the week.”

“Why are you so intent on it?” I asked, smiling at his ridiculous bet.

He shrugged and opened his door: “I want you to be happy.”

His words struck me kind of funny and I frowned, watching him hop into the driver’s seat, saying, “Tell Danny I said hello,” before shutting the door.

If anyone could find me a girlfriend it would be Lewis, and because I respected him with a little too much esteem, I had no problem letting him.

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 8 (end of Volume I)

[3]

Elliot Hawthorne’s letters outnumbered his birthdays. They outnumbered Grandpa Samuel’s too. Elliot had written ninety-two letters to his father and ninety-two letters to his mother, each set with the same words exactly. He kept those letters (having no address to send them) under his bed until the day he ventured out onto the parkway with only his guitar and a week’s worth of clothes.

The first letter he had ever written was on his sixth birthday. In his letter, he explained what he and Grandpa Samuel did to celebrate that year, in fact it was what they did every time the two had a birthday to celebrate.

It went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. I turned six today. Grandpa took me on the ferry to see the windmills up close. It was raining and cold. P.S. I think I would like to meet you someday. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

Elliot sat on the bench on the edge of the highway. In view, across the lake, were those windmills, staggered along the horizon of his treasure island. In his hand was that letter. He leaned over his knees, his guitar case leaning against the old wooden bench, and he watched the ferry part from the dock and drift to the middle of the lake.

After that first letter, Elliot decided to write one every birthday, every month or just when he felt like it. One went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in him like Grandpa and I do? I suppose you do. I imagine if we don’t find each other here on earth maybe we could find each other in heaven. What do you think? Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

As he got older, his letters grew in words and wisdom, one went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. Today is my eleventh birthday. Grandpa took me out on the ferry again so we could see the windmills up close. I’ve seen a lot of that island across the lake, it seems better over there. I like to call it my Treasure Island. It’s silly I guess. Have you given any thought to our plan to meet yet? I hope I see you soon. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

Another went like this:

Dear Mom and Dad. How are you? Although it has been a while since I last wrote there is nothing new to tell you really. It’s summer now. Dad—Grandpa has been telling me stories about Mom when she was a kid. I find it interesting to hear things about her because I am forever wondering if I am more like you or more like Mom (most people tell me I’m a mirror image of Grandpa Sam at my age). But Grandpa can’t tell me much about you. I don’t say it’s because he doesn’t want to, but I like to imagine you would give me much advice about girls and other things that are on my mind. Grandpa tells me you used to play the piano. I tried the other day and well, I guess it wasn’t in me like it was you. So I bought a guitar and guess what? I’m pretty good. I took music class this year in school. Mr. Horner told me to try out for the band. They put me on percussion. I can play the violin too, just like Grandpa people tell me. Anyways, I will be fourteen in a few months, maybe then you and Mom can come to the house for an hour or two. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

And another:

Dear Mom and Dad. I wonder if you two like music as much as I do. I hadn’t really noticed how much I did until Grandpa’s Hi-Fi broke last week. So I’ve decided to take up reading. Grandpa tells me it’s a rather valuable hobby to have. Do you have a favorite book? I’d sure read it if you did. I’ve read through all Grandpa’s books (I do like that Frankenstein and I can’t say that Dickens and I get along very well, but Keats and MacDonald are my favorite.) and most of Grandma’s (Except for those Jane Austen’s. I tried, I really did but I just couldn’t justify it.) I haven’t taken too much interest in contemporary authors (“Not too much imagination”, Grandpa says of New York Times Bestsellers). I’m beginning to think that this growing up thing is going to be a lot harder than I had imagined. I sure would have liked it if you two were here for it. I hope I am making you proud. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.”

A more recent one went this way:

Dear Mom and Dad. They’re making us apply to colleges this month at school. I don’t know what I want. I don’t have any real goals. I don’t think I want to make jam for the rest of my life but I don’t know what else I could do (maybe play my guitar). What do you think I should do? Grandpa’s friend Art took us out on his sailboat last weekend. Art told me I sailed better than his own son. He said I could have his sailboat if I ever needed it. I thought that nice of him, wouldn’t you say? Maybe when you come to visit, I’ll take you out on the lake. Love, E. H. Hawthorne.

The letters seemed to go on forever, but the last letter he wrote went like this:

To Mom and Dad. Today I am eighteen. I am sorry to say that I have given up trying to meet you. I know that hurts me a lot more than it will hurt you. I can guarantee that. Grandpa is getting sicker and I know that I will be on my own soon. But I know this won’t upset you because that was your original intention, wasn’t it? I might stop writing you soon; I haven’t quite made up my mind. But I don’t think you will mind either way. Good luck. E. H. Hawthorne.”

Elliot folded up the wrinkled letter and put it in his jacket pocket before standing up. He tore his eyes away from his Treasure Island, mounted his garage-sale yellow bicycle again and steered it back onto the road. And to his much needed delight, around the crook of the road, his new beginning awaited.

This concludes Volume I of LETTERS TO ELLIOT HAWTHORNE.

But never fear, he will return. He always does.

New Story Series begins next week

WAYWARD (1)

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 4

[4]

In the spring of Gemma’s fourth year, Mrs. Lumley took it upon herself to attract a friend for her shy and timid daughter. The Welles family lived down the road from Reverend Lumley’s church house. Their youngest was a moody child whose attitudes regarding fire, hammers and destruction frightened Mrs. Lumley, so she was not the obvious choice. But the next year, Bridget was admitted into Gemma’s kindergarten class, and church picnic after school field trip after bus rides home with one another, the pair became inseparable.

Bridget’s father, Dale, blamed her daughter’s temperamental disposition on Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday because their soulful music was always playing in young Bridget’s room. He blames that on his wife’s sister giving Bridget a record player and a stack of vinyl for her sixth birthday. Bridget’s mother, Judy, blames Mr. Welles for letting her read On the Road at too young an age because ever since Bridget had been running around asking people if they’re one of the mad ones, ranting on about burning all the while. Gemma’s mother, Mrs. Lumley, thought that all too corrupting, and so Bridget was also a contributing factor for Gemma to be sentenced to an all-girl preparatory school some forty-five kilometres outside of St. David’s.

Gemma begged Mrs. Welles to enlist Bridget to Potter’s and she was delighted to give it a try. She said that it would be nice if Bridget had a class of well-mannered young women to look up to. But their plan did not succeed because when applying to Potter’s every girl must pass a psychology examination and as you may have guessed, Bridget did not pass.

RESULT OF EVALUATION:

Bridget Elizabeth Welles is a problem child. She is still very impulsive and under-socialized; and not able to harness the constant energy discharge observed in younger children. At the moment, she faces significant psychological problems because of her inability to see and accept boundaries. Her repressed and disrespectful attitudes toward all school learning will make academic progress very difficult. She needs to be seen in psychotherapy to address these developmental delays.

Mr. and Mrs. Welles were not happy about this. They said that Bridget should have tried harder. They said that if she were just herself, she would have liked Dr. Alma and Dr. Alma would have liked her. Bridget said in response: “I was being myself” and “I did like Dr. Alma; before she brought up, well, everything.”

Mr. Welles was put off by words like PSYCHOTHERAPY and DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS and was moved to concern for his only daughter, suggesting to his wife they might better look into getting help for her after all. Yet reading further on down the report, his opinions of Dr. Alma shifted.

PURPOSE FOR EVALUATION:

This thirteen-year-old student BRIDGET E. WELLES from BOWER, ST. DAVID REGION of English descent was referred by her biological parents (DALE and JUDY WELLES) and MRS. GUTHRIE, DEAN OF STUDENTS POTTER’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, for assessment of her academic ability and mental status.

RESULTS OF THE MENTAL STATUS EXAMINATION:

The results of MSE revealed an alert, attentive individual who showed no evidence of excessive distractibility and tracked conversation well. The patient was casually dressed and groomed. Orientation was intact for person, time, and place. Eye contact was appropriate. There was no abnormality of gait or posture. Speech function was appropriate for rate, volume and fluency with no evidence of paraphrastic errors. Vocabulary and grammar skills were suggestive of intellectual functioning within the average range. However, when mentioning FAMILY LIFE, the patient’s disposition, demeanour, and overall attentive nature disappeared. She appeared aggravated, insulted, and unsure. She complained of her parents (DALE and JUDY WELLES) arguing when she was a child, which lead to their “unavoidable” divorce. They are surely to blame for Bridget’s unstable ideas which could lead to irrational actions, and in turn hurt herself or others.

It went on and Bridget soon had to defend herself to her outraged parents, saying: “I didn’t say that!” and “I didn’t do that!” Mr. Welles swiftly concluded that no child of his would ever set foot in an establishment that excused “ill-mannered head-shrinkers who know nothing of real people’s problems.” Later, adding, “She’s a crook! They just want our money! I’m not paying tuition to a school like that! I never in my life…”

Bridget was torn. To stay in Bower and attend the public high school across the road, which really only produced farmers and football players, was a fate she had always planned on, so it was of no deep disappointment, aside from losing her best friend that is.

The girls had to settle for conversation through post. They sent letters when the days without one another became too long to suffer. They mailed postcards on special holidays; making doily-covered cards on Valentine’s Day and green-glittered shamrocks at St. Patrick’s Day. Gemma sent magazine advertisements of glamourous models, scribbling over the beauty’s flawless face: “THIS IS WHAT I LOOK LIKE NOW”. Bridget created mix-tapes of favourite songs on her stereo, speaking into the microphone before every new track, things like: “This one goes out to a very special friend all the way in Windsor,” and then “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers would play.

At the beginning of every new semester, Gemma sent a school photo of the entire class to Bridget. She would label each girl, not always according to their birth names. “CHARLENE CHEAPSTAKE” and “JESSICA CHUBSTER” some would say. Others would have a marker moustache or devil horns, especially the librarian Mrs. Wisner. In return, Bridget sent a month’s supply of chewing gum because Gemma was not allowed to chew gum at Potter’s, as well as a sample of the newest shade of lipstick her mother had thrown out.

They were reunited in the summer months and they spent the hot, breathless days wading the water at the Worthing Shore Boat Ramp and sleeping weekends at Bridget’s grandmother’s cottage on the far side of the Lake. But when September came with turning leaves, yellow school buses and a chill in the air, the innocent bonding of the two young women was put on hold. While Potter’s School for Girls was like something of her grandmother’s finishing school, Bridget was stuck in a white-walled, speckled-tiled, red-lockered ordinary secondary school; forced to attend spotlighted pep rallies in a stuffy gymnasium, eat cafeteria chilli fries, shun pastel-streamered dances, and listen to a very tired principal over a very scratchy PA system every morning before Mr. Horner played the national anthem on the trumpet.

It took her the entire four years, eight semesters and twenty-four compulsory credits, to ease into adulthood without the resentment she held toward her small-town narrow-minded classmates. She learned to let go of the snickering remarks made by the student council rep about her choice in sweaters or the drama department’s crude attitude about the way her hair looked in the summer time. (Bridget had such curly hair in the summertime when the air is humid; straightening with a flatiron was no use anymore, until she bought a new iron from the beauty store. Her hair has been straight ever since, but it did not come without strenuous hours before school after it had dried; clamping her long chestnut-coloured locks between the burning flat panels over and over to ensure security from waves all day through.) She even gave her teachers a break, but it wasn’t before getting detention for calling her music teacher the devil because she insistently refused not to know who Emmylou Harris was. It went like this:

Mrs. Horner: “Musical influences, anyone? Anyone?”

Bridget: “Emmylou Harris.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’m sorry?”

Bridget: “Emmylou Harris. She’s a singer.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’ve never heard of her before.”

Bridget: “You’ve never heard of Emmylou Harris? You’re a music teacher.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’ve never heard of her.”

Bridget: “You’re the devil.”

Bridget hated that music class until she noticed Philip Cespi began playing the drums. She devoted her time to loving him from afar, staring at him as he stared at the ceiling, bored mostly. Her crush on him only truly began after he mentioned liking her sweater one day when she was standing by her locker. The same sweater Evil Student Council Rep told her (well, it was to her back) that it was “the ugliest piece of fabric” she had ever seen.

Bridget figured Philip Cespi was the only person in the world who understood her or who respected that she wore what she wore; and she wore what she wore because those oversized men’s sweaters were knitted with love by her grandmother for her brother Jack when he and Mr. Welles went hunting in November. She didn’t stop loving him until suddenly Philip Cespi appeared to Bridget like a boy rather than a young man because he let his girlfriends (he had many) treat him badly and Bridget thought he should say something about it or stop making her fall in love with him.

During their final year, Bridget and Gemma made a pact to strive their hardest to receive a position at St. David’s College so they could be united together for the next four years, at least making up for high school spent apart. And when the mail was delivered that spring week in March, one large envelope sent to Potter’s School for Girls Dormitory and one large envelope sent to The Welles Residence on Coach Street, the girls’ celebration could be heard simultaneously from Bower to Windsor. They were off to spend their next educational experience together, dressed in St. David’s navy blue and emerald green. Now, the only reason Mr. and Mrs. Lumley let Gemma attend St. David’s (assuming Bridget would follow) was because Gemma’s second cousin, Tom Doyle, was accepted into St. David’s on account of his musical genius.

Returns next Tuesday

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 3

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Gemma Lumley, unlike Elliot Hawthorne, knew the year; she knew which day of the week it was and if you were to ask her at any given point during that day she’d tell you the exact time too. She, unlike Elliot Hawthorne, came from extraordinarily conventional people. You and I both know that for this is the same Gemma Lumley named after her grandmother who grew up in the Worthing and called her great-grandfather “Captain” and the trees in the yard “The Fort”, raised by Reverend Charles Lumley and his stylish wife, Katie Müller.

When Gemma Lumley heard the story of her grandparents’ first meeting, she expected, upon growing up, that her love story would have the same degree of whimsy. However, she did not take into account the times in which she now lived, a time seemingly plagued with everything opposed to simplicity. But she worked at the Worthing hoping she, too, would fall in love with the farmhand from down the road. Much to her luck, or lack of, every new farmhand since the resignation of Gareth Walsh, had been taken, aged or ugly; indicating no initial attraction and eliminating the likelihood of a long, romantic account to tell her grandchildren. And because this haunted her at a young age, her heart set on marriage as the end-all and be-all of growing up and becoming a woman, she set her sights on boys. She liked them. In preschool she teased them, hugged them, and tried to kiss them until one day she really did. She was eight and it was right on the lips; a boy whose mother was determined to leave the church after that. This hurt her in certain ways. So much so it called Reverend Lumley and his stylish wife Katie Müller to take action. Katie enrolled junior-sized Gemma into Potter’s School for Girls.

The revival Georgian house on campus was as historic as the college itself; an icon to the school and the name it carried. The Doll House, as it was so lovingly doted by the class of ’54, was new and vintage simultaneously. Its regal allure had attracted girls from every corner of the county ever since. The city girls found it charming and the country girls thought it sensationally dapper. But Potter’s charisma began and ended with its architecture. Gemma’s first years were plagued with hazing and bullying because Girls from Windsor considered Girls from Bower (who “should really go to public school”) the unofficial students of Potter’s. But even after four years with them, Gemma was still the “outcast of outcasts”. She would wear her snow boots inside the classrooms, chew on the end of her pen during Mr. Sherman’s geography lessons and wear her hair in two braids even at the age of seventeen. So, she outgrew her talkative nature (because she took after her name sake) and tapped into her mother’s gentle demeanour when growing into her looks; subscribing to Vogue and cutting out photographs of Dior and Chanel, hoping to blend in at last.

Through her adolescence she had a habit of making her own clothes and thought a life in the fashion industry might make her happy. But it was always replaced by the want to get dirty and to wear khaki and dig up bones in Egypt; which was replaced by the want to be studious and attend seminary like her father, hoping to become like C.S. Lewis; which was replaced by the attractiveness of the three-month course be become a stewardess (she thought she would look nice in the uniforms, but her father, as you can imagine, forbade it). It came down to art and music; Kathe Kollwitz her obsession and Michelangelo her genius, but without a role model, maybe only her mother, Gemma took to singing because it was the simplest. (To quote Colin Clark on Marilyn Monroe; “She is really happiest when she sings. Perhaps it is because it is a nice uncomplicated thing to do, something she often does when she is alone or frightened.”)

The one thing Gemma did accomplish during her years at Potter’s, much to her parents’ approval, was lose her infatuation with boys in some nature. Surrounded by hoards of pesky young girls for hours on end, she was able to put her mind someplace else, devote whatever spare time she had between classes into whatever her hobby was at the time. So, Potter’s did, in fact, do some good; she was educated, well-mannered and prepared to work, live and contribute to society; and with that in mind, Potter’s School for Girls was a happy memory for Gemma Lumley and to this day she is still known to put on her navy sweater, the white school crest stamped over her heart, just as ill-fitting and unflattering. The only true trouble, the only colossal problem in Gemma’s eyes about going to Potter’s was dealing with the sudden absence of her friend, Bridget Welles.

Returns for an extra episode on Thursday

If you missed last week’s episode, catch up in the “Stories” tab in the main menu.

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