Chapter 2 - Peter’s Journey: Awakenings
How could he wait until Monday to talk with her again? He hatched a plan to run into her over the weekend in the dining room. She had to eat and Saint Finbar's dining hall was still under construction. He would take his books and catch up on Shakespeare and calculus while he watched for her. His teachers would be impressed. School work came very easy for him and he often just did the minimum. It could be a long weekend of waiting.
It had been a long day. By the evening meal on Saturday he was tired of studying, tired of waiting, and ready for a nap. He stretched, glancing up toward the door for what seemed like the one thousandth time and there she was. She was walking and talking with a shorter brunette girl her eyes casually roving the room, looking for him? When she saw him in their usual seats a smile brightened her face. Her friend noticed the change and noticed him. Giving him a grin she waved and went across the room.
"Well, look at you. Studying hard?" April teased.
He waved off the comment, "Just catching up, and looking for you."
A blush of pleasure swept across her face. "Really? Well then, let's get some food, shall we?"
As they walked toward the food area, through the crowded tables and chairs, a clumsy student pushed back his chair too quickly falling over into the aisle and nearly right into April. Peter who was close behind her pulled her back against him to keep her from falling. They stopped, shaken at the near miss and waited until the student collected himself and moved out of their way. It was the first time Peter had been this close to her. Close enough to breathe in the light scent of her hair. Close enough to feel her body leaning slightly against his. He hadn't counted on the rush of emotions or the jolt of almost electricity he felt at her touch. She turned to him looking shocked, surprised, and a little shy, had she felt it too? He leaned down to speak in her ear.
"Are you all right?"
She looked at him, her face very close to his and nodded. He smiled into her eyes. They were beautiful, a light green with flecks of yellow in the center, and a dark green rim around the edge. Reluctantly, he looked up, the way was clear. He didn't want to end the moment but they couldn't stand there any longer. They were already starting to draw attention. He stepped back and gestured for her to proceed. He barely noticed what he picked out to eat. She was quiet too, distracted.
As they took their seats across from each other, they both spoke at once, "I..." they laughed and smiled. He took the lead, and was surprised at the first words out of his mouth.
"Thank you," she said softly, her face flushed.
He almost took her hand across table, but fought the urge. He cleared his throat, they needed to get back to safer ground, he thought practically.
"Tell me about your family," He thought that might be a good way to find out who, or what, she really might be.
"My Dad, is well, overprotective of me, but you might have gathered that," she smiled when he grimaced. "My Mum works really hard and puts up with quite a bit. Elisa is the light and joy of the family. I was eight when she was born. Life got better after she arrived.”
At his puzzled expression, she explained. I had another younger sister, Trisha. She was born when I was four. She was too early and very ill. She only lived for two weeks. Her death was really hard on my mother and father. They retreated into themselves and really only came out again when Elisa was born. I was grateful to have my grandmother around. She took care of me during that dark time. She encouraged my love of dancing. She was a dancer too. No one knew that but me, but she taught me all she knew. We went on long walks through the forest. She taught me the names of all the trees, told me... no, I can't say it out loud. You will think I'm daft. I've never told anyone before."
"Go ahead," he encouraged. "You can trust me. I'm good at keeping strange secrets."
"Grandmother said that all of the trees had spirits, that long ago in a different time they would come alive and dance. I didn't have many friends my age, so I used to pretend the trees were alive and they would dance with me. My grandmother died last year, and her dying wish was that I go away to school and learn to dance professionally. So, my family has worked very hard to send me here. That is why they made the trip to see the performance. It was my grandmother's dream."
Her voice broke and her eyes welled with unshed tears. He took her hand and squeezed it gently in understanding. They were quiet for a few moments each with their own thoughts when a loud, rude voice broke in.
"What is going on here?! This is a place to eat, not to date!" It was a member of the staff, one not especially kind or forgiving.
"Young lady, you should go back to Saint Finbar’s immediately."
Peter started to gather his things.
"Alone!" she said and gave him a pointed look.
April left to empty her tray.
Food flew from behind them and the staff member went to investigate. He felt frustrated and bereft. How could they end the conversation there? He thought quickly and took out a sheet of paper. He scribbled a note: 'wait ten minutes and then meet me out front."
He got up with his bag and tray and went in her direction. If he could time it correctly...yes! He was able to slip the note into her hand as they passed. She glanced up quickly and he winked at her. Trying to hide a smile she continued out of the room.
He quickly moved to his room to stow his backpack. With a nod to Edmund, he threw the pack in the room and sprinted out the back way and around to the front of the building.
She was there! They walked quickly across the quad and across the street to her school. It was Saturday evening and many students were milling around. Not much place for conversation here.
"Peter, this way," she said softly.
The path led away from all the students to the side of the campus. There was a copse of trees ahead and soon they were in the quiet coolness of a few birch and oak trees. There was a small flower garden and a bench off the path.
"This is my favorite spot on campus, it reminds me of home."
She smiled and looked up to the very top of the trees. He looked too, unconsciously taking a step toward her. She had moved too. Looking back down he found they were very close. His hand moved to her cheek and gently traced her jaw. All he could see was her beautiful eyes when he moved in closer.
Their lips had barely brushed when a shouting and laughing came from the path beyond. Startled, they stepped back as three girls came running through the trees. One said, "Sorry," as they raced by. He smiled at her ruefully.
"Can you come see me tomorrow?" she asked.
"I don't think I can. I don't want to get you in trouble. You worked so hard to get here."
She bit her lip in thought. "But, I have to eat breakfast don't I?" she said in a conspiring tone.
He laughed and caught her hand. Bringing it to his lips, he kissed it, lingering a bit longer that he had been taught it polite. Stepping back, he bowed to her.
"My lady, I will be honored to breakfast with you tomorrow morning."
As he walked back to his campus, it hit him that they had almost kissed. Had he really only known her for a week? It seemed much longer than that. There had been a few girls he had been fascinated with in Narnia but his duties and diplomatic pressures as King kept them from being much more than friends. So, he had always kept himself apart. To realize how interested he was in April was a shock. He decided to see if there were any forest-like spots on his campus, he needed to be alone with his thoughts.
Peter sat in his spot at the dining hall waiting for April the next morning. It didn’t take long for her to arrive. To his surprise Lucy was walking with her. They saw Susan and Edmund and Lucy introduced April to them. Soon they were all talking and laughing as they came up to the table. They greeted Peter and then sat down. Edmund was laughing so hard he could hardly stay on the chair.
“What’s so funny?” Peter smiled.
Edmund continued with the story. “And, then my dear little friend said, 'and who do you think you are?' And Peter said all high and mightily like, ‘I am High King Peter, The Magnificent!’”
Peter couldn’t believe his ears. Edmund was telling a Narnia story in a loud voice, where everyone could hear and in front of April. He turned red. This was not just any story, but an embarrassing one! Edmund continued.
“And then Susan said, 'I think you could have left that last part off'." The dwarf smirked and said, "Probably!" in laughing sarcasm.
They all hooted with laughter. April looked at him and said, “You, magnificent? Why on earth would you call yourself that?! Edmund, tell me another one about Peter!” she laughed.
Peter stood up in outrage. He had never been so angry, at…at...everyone! He heard a strange bell sound. He jolted awake sitting straight up in bed. It was a dream! He was sweating and steaming. He was still so angry, but relief flooded through him. It was only a dream!
He was still shaken when he sat down to breakfast. Why would he dream such a thing? Was he crazy for starting this with April? He still could not come to terms with Narnia and this world coexisting for him. Was the dream a warning or just his insecurities? He looked toward the door and saw April coming in and Lucy was right behind her. To his disbelief, there were Susan and Edmund just like in the dream. They were all coming toward him laughing. He stood up ready to bolt out of the room when they stopped.
“Why Peter, what is wrong? You look like you have seen a ghost,” said April.
“Hey, you look pale, are you sick? You should sit down,” exclaimed Edmund.
“Isn’t this fun?” asked Lucy. “I was hoping to introduce April to everyone and now we can all eat breakfast together.”
Peter sighed. At least it wasn’t turning out to be the nightmare, yet. He and Edmund walked toward the cereal bar.
“What’s wrong with you Pete? You look ill.”
Peter told him about the nightmare. Rather than laugh Edmund sympathized. “Wow! That would shake me up too."
Peter was surprised. Edmund had grown up some. He decided to relax although he still wanted to talk with April alone about her grandmother.
Edmund was still talking, "You really like this girl, don't you?” At Peter's nod he said, "Well, then, let's get to know her!" He elbowed Peter in the ribs. Peter shot him a wary look.
When they got back to the table the girls were deep in conversation.
“Peter,” said Lucy. “We all have the whole day free. We thought we would go to the pond and fish. What do you think?”
“I think that is a perfect idea,” said Peter. ”Who ended up with the fishing gear?”
“I have it," said Edmund. “And, I’ll go get it. You girls grab us some drinks and snacks and get a couple of blankets. Peter and I will meet you there."
Peter was thrilled with the idea of spending time with April. Being chaperoned by his family was much better than the staff watching them.
It was a perfect spring day. The pond was actually a large shallow lake not far from the school stocked with fish. The older students with good marks were allowed to come here on occasion and Susan had gotten permission from the school for them all to be there. There were plenty of trees for shade and yet sunny areas as well.
He wanted nothing more to stretch out on a blanket in the sun and watch April try to fish for the first time. Edmund was showing her how to bait the hook and she was squirming as much as the worm was. Edmund ended up laughing so hard he had to quit and handed the pole and hook to Peter. Peter deftly placed the worm on the hook and then began to show her how to cast. April looked so nervous and unsure of herself, he felt sorry for her.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered, “I’ll show you.” He placed the pole in her hand and reached an arm around her back.
“Just relax, twist and throw your arm out like Edmund over there.” He gently turned her torso and she jerked her arm up. Peter was still standing close and she hit him square in the jaw by accident. He staggered back stunned. She dropped the pole and was instantly repentant. His siblings gathered around. Seeing that he was okay, they started ribbing him about getting almost knocked out by a girl.
He had to smile in spite of the pain. He had had worse. But April was miserable. He told the others to go away and helped her over to the blanket.
“I’m fine April,” he said.
“This was a bad idea,” she mumbled and put her head in her hands. He lifted her chin to look at him.
“I don’t know if you can fish, but I’ve never seen a finer right hook,” he said.
She smiled tentatively and looked in his eyes. He didn’t know how long they sat there memorizing the color of each other's eyes. The next thing he knew Edmund and Lucy were jumping for joy, they had caught a huge fish. After the big fish was thrown back in, they all sat on the shore dipping their feet in the water laughing and talking of teachers and classmates, sporting events and fun times at school.
As the day waned it was time to return ‘to the rigidness’ as Susan called it.
“This has been a great day,” Lucy said, “Almost like the ones in uh…” She caught herself, “At the professor’s house.”
They smiled for they all had all been thinking the same thought.
“And, just like then I can still run faster than the both of you!” Edmund taunted.
“Oh no you don’t!” Lucy and Susan said together. They took off like a shot. Peter and April followed slowly behind them.
“I really like your family,” April said.
Peter looked at her and smiled. He gently took her hand and intertwined their fingers. It was a perfect fit. He squeezed her hand, she looked up at him.
“I hope that means you really like me too,” he said.
She squeezed back and teased him. “Maybe just a little, but then didn’t you know? I only try to knock out the people that I like the most.”
They gathered at their table in the dining hall to eat. They were ravenous after the day outside and food gave them cheer and energy. They started telling stories on each other from when they were younger. April was enjoying the stories immensely, especially the ones about Peter. And, there were many jokes about how she could be a prize fighter if her dancing didn’t work out.
Peter, remembering his dream, wondered how the stories would turn out, but they were all told in fun and even the embarrassing ones were okay since April instead of mocking him, either laughed in fun or just looked at him sympathetically. He was beginning to realize what a prize he had found in her. She seemed to be the perfect blend of sweetness and fun. At first he thought she was timid, but once he got to know her he found she was just quiet and calm.
The next week was one of the happiest that Peter had known. He and April ate all their meals together. Sometimes the others joined them which was fun. He was glad his siblings liked her. They talked of their growing up days, what life was like in The New Forest for her and in London for him. They had much in common and found much to laugh about together. Something about her friendship loosened the parts of him that had been locked away. He felt free to be himself for the first time since returning from Narnia. He was becoming whole again. Perhaps it was her trust in him. The way she looked at him told him he was something special. She had a presence about her, an easy and peaceful air, and a simple innocence. A simplicity he had once known in many of the creatures of Narnia. In fact, he was beginning to wonder if she was Aslan's answer to his plea.
On Saturday, they all went to the pond again. April, with Peter’s help, caught a fish. It was a day full of fun and laughter. On Sunday, they walked down the street into the township and enjoyed just being together. Peter and April spent the day looking in the shop windows holding hands and talking of their dreams. Hers were set and simple. She wanted to dance on the Royal stage. For him, it was cloudier. He assumed he would go into business perhaps banking. Although what he really wanted to do was be a leader again. But, there didn't seem to be many job openings in London for a previous High King. He tried to express it April.
"I know I need a mission, a vision for my life. Something that will guide me along the path I am supposed to go. I just don't know where to find it.
"You'll find it Peter. You have many gifts and talents. You are really good with people."
She was always encouraging him, building him up. He was so grateful for the respect that she showed him. He had never heard the mocking grating tone of voice that she had in his nightmare. The thought made his shudder. How could any guy be with a girl that belittled or constantly tore him down?
He looked at April and smiled. It was easy now, between them. Yet, Peter felt a restraint in him toward her. She was dear and precious and as much as he wanted to show her how he felt, he realized that he was her protector, that he held her heart and not just her hand. She trusted him and he responded to that trust with the deepest respect for her.
They all ate dinner in the local inn and then walked back toward the schools. Peter and April lagged behind and when it came time to separate he pulled her into the shadows. “I had a great day,” he whispered and kissed her lightly and ever so softly.
“Hey you two," Lucy called. "It’s time to go.”
They smiled at each other and parted. “See you tomorrow at breakfast,” he said.