Learning a Little, Learning A Lot
Since Theo has to work all day today and Olivia is spending her evening with William, I’m kind of left to my own devices. I think it’ll be a good opportunity to hang out with Betty, Evelyn, Ethel, and Mary.
As soon as we get home, Evelyn goes straight for the kitchen to start dinner. Most of the girls take turns cooking dinner, but Olivia and I never do. It seems they never push the issue since they know we can’t cook to save our lives.
Evelyn puts on a cute little apron and starts getting pots and pans out of various cabinets. I watch from the door and I’m a little jealous. I wish I could make the amazing meals Evelyn does.
“Can you teach me?” I ask, walking into the kitchen.
Evelyn glances back and smiles.
“Sure. Come on over and cut some vegetables. I’m making soup,” Evelyn replies. She hands me an apron and helps me tie it. I wash my hands and stand beside Evelyn.
I watch at first while Evelyn shows me how to cut the carrots and celery so they’re the right size. Once I’m confident enough with that, Evelyn leaves me to do something else.
I cut the vegetables slowly, trying to get them just right. I’m still cutting when Evelyn comes back over. She laughs sounding like a wind chime.
“They don’t have to be perfect, Paige,” she says.
I let the tension out of my shoulders and continue cutting the vegetables. I finish just in time for them to go into the pot.
It’s a lot different from cooking at home. The stove is older and there’s no microwave. Pizza rolls are the extent of my culinary skills.
I know I only have one day, but at least I’ll be able to cook one homemade meal when I move out of my mom’s house.
Mom always wanted to teach Olivia and me how to cook, but neither of us was ever interested so we never learned. Looking back, besides learning basic life skills, I think my mom was using it as a chance to spend time with us.
Olivia took her up on it more than I did because Liv enjoyed spending time with Mom. I’ve never been especially close to Mom, and I don’t even really know why. It seems like maybe it was because we don’t have much in common. She’s much more like Olivia. I should have made more of an effort. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. I roll my eyes at my thoughts. I can always fix it when I get home though I won’t have much time.
Evelyn and I chat in the kitchen while we wait for the chicken noodle soup to finish cooking. It’s starting to smell wonderful, and it slowly brings the other girls to the kitchen.
“You’re helping with dinner?” Betty asks when she sees me in an apron.
“Yeah, don’t act so surprised, jeez,” I reply, faking hurt.
“She wanted to learn. At least she will know how to cut vegetables,” Evelyn says, giggling.
Betty smiles at us as she gets plates, utensils, and glasses out for Ethel and Mary to set the table.
“Well, thank you for helping with dinner tonight,” Betty says as she walks past me to the dining room.
The five of us sit down at the table for our nice home-cooked meal. Olivia and I haven’t eaten at the house much since William flew to the island and I started going out with Theo. It’s nice to do it again. There isn’t a lot of time left for us to do the things that matter most before Olivia and I leave.
Betty says a quick prayer and ladles soup out into each of our bowls. I sit back down and an easy conversation begins around the table.
“What should we do tonight? It’s Friday night, we should go out,” Ethel says.
“We could go to the dance hall. We haven’t been since Paige and Olivia got here. I think it would be fun,” Mary suggests.
“That sounds good to me,” I reply in between sips of the scalding soup. It’s good and I’m proud I helped make something so delicious.
Betty nods at the dance hall suggestion. It’ll be a good chance for Betty to dance with Mary. What better cover than a large group of girls? Though she shouldn’t need a cover.
After dinner, we all help put the food away and do the dishes before getting ready. Even though I’m more than capable, I let Betty do my hair again.
“I’m nervous,” Betty whispers.
“What for?” I ask.
“I don’t know how to do this with Mary,” Betty replies.
“Just ask her to dance. You should take her on a date; like to dinner or something. It’s no different than if one of you were a guy. One of you has to make the first move,” I say.
“I think I already did when I told her how I feel.”
“Yeah, okay. You’re right, but if Mary’s too scared to make the next move just do it yourself,” I respond.
Betty is quiet, but I know she’s taking in all I said. Betty is such a strong personality, and she commands the presence of everyone in the same room as her. It’s difficult to imagine her as a shy person when it comes to relationships.
It isn’t long before we are heading down the now familiar streets to the dance hall where I first met Theo. It makes me wish he was here with me, but friends are important too and I shouldn’t forget that. It has already been a fun night.
I hear the same forties music coming from the hall and feel a sense of dèjá vu. We walk into the hall and sit at a table together.
Almost immediately, Ethel and Evelyn find some guys to dance with. I make small talk with Mary and Betty. Several times, I try to nudge Betty’s foot so she’ll ask Mary to dance. On the last, more insistent kick, she finally gets the message.
Betty’s voice shakes when she quietly asks Mary to dance. Mary smiles and nods enthusiastically before leading Betty off to the dance floor. It’s then that Ethel and Evelyn come back to the table.
Ethel grabs my hand and tries pulling me to my feet.
“Come dance with us, Paige,” Ethel begs. I get up and let Ethel lead me to the dance floor.
I’m not a big dancer normally and never in public, but what do I have to lose? I don’t want to be an awkward, antisocial cellist with no friends anymore.
I want people to be nice to me and I want to be friends with people who like me for me. I realize that I have to put work into cultivating the relationships I have. I can’t just leave them alone and expect them to grow.
An upbeat song comes on when we reach the floor. Betty and Mary come up to us and we dance together. I don’t know how to dance in any time period, least of all the forties, but I try my best to copy Evelyn. She’s a pretty good dancer.
I feel self-conscious at first, but at some point, I think, screw it and let all my reservations go. I dance my heart out like no one is watching. It fills me with a wonderful sense of giddiness.
I laugh my lungs out as I spin in a circle with Ethel. It was probably an accident, but Ethel let go, and I go flying backward.
I bust my ass on the floor, but instead of the usual responses to the pain, I just laugh hysterically. It’s like a good shot of adrenaline is coursing through my body. Betty helps me back onto my feet and we dance late into the night.
I have no idea what time we eventually make it back to the house. It’s late judging from how dark it is on the walk home.
Like most of the night, the entire walk home is filled with loud laughter. Anyone looking at us must have thought we were drunk, but not one of us had a sip of alcohol.
It just goes to show you don’t have to drink or do drugs to have a wonderfully fulfilling, fun night out.
I’m happy I’ll remember everything the girls and I did together. It’s one of the best nights I’ve ever had that wasn’t spent with Theo.
When we walk into the front door, each of the girls is going to their rooms. Sadness washes over me as I realize that I’ll be leaving these awesome ladies.
“Hey!” I yell. Everyone stops and looks back at me. “Thanks for being my friends. I love you guys.”
“We love you too, Paige,” Betty says, smiling. I return Betty’s smile before going into my room and plopping unceremoniously on my bed and falling right to sleep.
Even though it’s only six in the evening on Friday night, I’m already in bed. William lay next to me. He fell asleep a little while ago.
I’m staring at him intently, trying to memorize every line of his face. I wish I had a camera to capture William. I’m afraid I’ll forget his face.
“What are you staring at?” William asks, opening his eyes a little.
“I don’t want to forget your face. I wish I had a picture,” I reply running a finger down his cheek.
William cups my cheek and smiles at me. He sits up until his lips meet mine and he kisses me for a long time.
“Let’s go get some pictures taken. I don’t want to forget yours either.”
“Really?” I ask. William nods at me and I jump out of bed, suddenly excited.
“Let me get ready,” I say as I dance to the bathroom.
I know the pictures will be in black and white, but I’m not afraid to admit I’m a little vain about how I look.
This picture will be all William has of me besides memories and I want to look good.
William wears a suit and I wear a nice dress William bought me as a gift. We walk together into a photography studio and tell the man what we want.
The photographer agrees and then we’re sitting in the little studio chairs getting typical pictures taken for the time.
It takes a while for the photographer to develop the pictures for us. William pays him extra to have them done the same night. We walk out of the studio and I have a little picture of my husband and he has one of me.
William and I walk the streets holding hands. We decide to walk that evening as the weather is nice… again. It’s been quiet for a couple of minutes before William speaks.
“What will you do when you get back home?”
The question catches me off guard. We haven’t spoken about my life after I get home. We never talked about what he’ll do with his.
“I—uh—I don’t really know. I’ll still have a year left of high school so I guess I’ll do that,” I reply. Come to think of it, what will I do?
“I don’t think I want to stay friends with the ones I had before. Going on this journey made me realize they aren’t very good people.”
“Sometimes when we grow and change, the people in our lives don’t follow. No one would begrudge you if you moved on,” William replies. I sigh.
“I guess. My life was so filled up with those crappy friends, an abusive boyfriend, sports, school activities, and parties that I’m not sure what it will look like anymore,” I say.
The whole prospect of going home scares me a lot more since William asked me that question.
I never took much time to picture my life when I returned to the present. I just know I don’t want it to be the same. I’m a better person and I want that reflected when I go back to my old life.
“What about you?” I ask.
“I expect it will go back to normal. I will run my company and I’m sure it will be very busy during the war years. I had thirty years without you to figure out how to live. It will be harder going back now, but what choice do I have?” William replies.
“Well, I have a choice to live a better life than I used to. I’ll try that,” I say, hoping the small resolve I’m feeling keeps up until I get home.
I never want to fall back into my old ways. I don’t want to be the person who lets others make fun of Paige. I don’t want to be a part of bringing down others for circumstances they can’t change. I don’t want to be the girl who blindly stays in abusive relationships because I’m too caught up in it to see it for what it is.
I want to be kinder to others. I want to be more self-aware of how my presence affects others. I want people to look at me and think I’m a good person. I honestly don’t think I’ve given many people at school the opportunity to see me as anything other than a bully by proxy and a popular, spoiled brat. Most of all, though, I want to be worthy of William. Who I was before was not worthy of a person like him. I hope I’m getting there.
William pulls me into a fancy restaurant. Only once inside and hearing the piano do I realize it’s the restaurant William rented out for our wedding.
It has a whole different atmosphere when it’s packed with guests and bustling with servers.
William and I are seated in a corner where we share a romantic candlelit dinner. The piano music floats to us, but it isn’t so loud as to interrupt the conversation. The food is just as delicious as it had been earlier that week. I’m in heaven.
“I wish I could have met your parents,” William says out of nowhere.
“Me too. I think they would have liked you. I know Dad would have respected how hard you work and Mom would have loved you just because I do,” I reply.
“Tell me what kind of people they are.”
“My mom is so nice. She hardly ever rose her voice at Paige or me when we were growing up. She’s so patient, and she listens. She’s always been a great listener. She gives amazing advice even when we don’t want it. Besides Paige, she’s my best friend. My dad is funny. He’s always making stupid dad jokes, but he’d give you the shirt off his back if that’s what you needed. He taught us how to mow grass and change oil in the car. He taught us how to change a tire so we can be independent when we move out. He doesn’t want us to depend on a man for anything. It’s been a lot of years since I’ve done anything meaningful with my dad though. He’s always asking us to go fishing, but it’s too disgusting for me. Paige goes, but I stopped, and it kind of strained our relationship.”
That’s another thing I want to do better when I get home. I want to let Dad know how much I love and appreciate him… and his dad jokes. Maybe I can hang out with him more when Paige goes to Hawaii for college.
“What made you bring up my parents?” I ask.
“Oh, I was just thinking about our wedding. I wish both our families could have been there. Then I realized I don’t know much about them besides their names and what they do for a living,” William replies.
“What about your dad?” I ask. William doesn’t talk about him too much. If he does, it’s very basic stuff.
“I like looking back on my father through rose-colored lenses, but really I didn’t know him that well. He worked a lot and wasn’t home. When he was home, he drank a lot. Typical Irishman. I have fond memories from my early childhood before Breeda was born. It was before my family made all that money. We lived in a small house, just the three of us. My mother and father loved each other, and we did things together. It wasn’t until both Mother and Father became obsessed with the money and status it afforded that things fell apart,” William explains.
“I’m sorry,” I say, grabbing William’s hand. He holds my hand and squeezes.
“No matter now. I only hoped I’d be a better father to my own children.”
William’s tone is sad, and it breaks my heart that he’ll likely never have children of his own. Not with me, anyway.
“I’m sorry I can’t give that to you. It isn’t fair. You’d make a great dad,” I say.
“Oh, don’t be sorry, love. Nothing to do about it now, is there?”
I feel terrible about all the things William deserves that I can’t give to him. I can’t do anything about that. We’re already in too deep.
“I love you,” I say instead of all the things I want to apologize for.
“I love you too.”
William and I walk back to our hotel in the starry night. I enjoy the relatively quiet walk home.
I take a shower, and the warm water is nice on my sore body. My back is sore and I feel a hundred years old sometimes. I’m pretty physically fit, but I’ve been doing more activity than I’m used to.
I walk back to the bedroom. William is already in bed waiting for me. I climb in beside him.
The covers are warm from William’s body heat. I snuggle into him and lay my head on his chest. I fall asleep to the steady beat of his heart.