CHAPTER Twelve: A LITERARY DISCUSSION

      Greg poured himself a cup of coffee, picked up the book he had been reading, walked outside, and sat on the steps in the sun. He tried to make himself believe that he wasn’t there waiting for Victoria – Vic – to show up. It didn’t work; he was waiting, hoping she would be there today.

   He worried a little bit about having such feelings. After all, if she did appear, it would only be the fifth Saturday sit-down, and there were only two or three other days when they’d spent any time together. Their topics of conversation were mostly silly or “safe” (neutral), but they were definitely getting more personal. Today, if she showed, he was purposely planning to make it a little more personal. Was that a good idea?

  Then, suddenly, there she was. Sister Mandy sometimes walked with her on Saturday mornings but, this time, she was alone. “Want company?” she asked, as if she needed to.

   “Sure,” he replied, nonchalantly. “Have a seat. Want a cup of coffee?”

   “You know I don’t drink that stuff! Any tea?”

   “As a matter of fact, I do. I figured if you keep horning in on my morning reveries, I’d have to get some.”

   She sat beside him. “I’m not horning in. Besides, I think you like it. I think you might have even been waiting for me.” He didn’t take the bait. She leaned back, and took a deep breath. “I don’t like coffee, but I do love the aroma.”

   He looked at her. “It is nice, isn’t it?”

  “Delicious. And I won’t have tea this time, but I will next time I horn in.”

  He thought he might be staring a little bit, so he looked away. “So, where have you been walking this morning?”

   She giggled. “Well, to tell the truth, I’ve been more loitering than walking, waiting for you to come outside. You certainly took your sweet time about it!”

   He turned back to her. There was a little awkward pause, but he didn’t want to say anything too telling, yet. “You know, we talk so much alike, it’s kind of eerie. Sometimes, when you talk, I think I’m hearing myself. When I talk, I think it’s you. Have we always been this way, or are we getting absorbed into one another?”

   “Always? Like in all the couple weeks - all the couple Saturdays!  -we’ve known each other? Well, let me think about that a moment.” She thought. “No, I don’t see it – or hear it, I mean. When I talk, it’s always forthright and confident. You can be sort of wishy-washy.”

   He pretended to seriously consider that. “Okay, I’ll concede that difference. And, of course, I could never giggle like some eight year old girl on the playground, like you do.”

   “I do not!”

    “You do.”

   She giggled. “Yes, I guess I do. I should work on that.”

   “Don’t you dare! I love it… I mean, I find it very appealing.  In a young woman,” he finished, a little lamely. But he rallied back. “In any event, not forgetting those minor differences, I don’t think it changes my original premise. We use the same kinds of words, we arrange our sentences the same way. Ergo, we sound alike.”

   “So, we’re compatible.”

   He had been looking away; now, he glanced back at her. “I had been thinking that.”

   She giggled, maybe a little intentionally. “So, having brought that momentous discussion to a close, what are you reading?”

   He held up the book so she could read the spine of the old-looking hardbound copy. “John McNab. Do you know it?”

   “Nope.”

   “Do you know John Buchan? He was an British writer of adventure novels, most of them pretty far-fetched, but fun to read. His most well-known is probably ‘The Thirty-nine Steps.’”

   “I think I saw that movie,” exclaimed Vic. “A war-spy story?”

   “Yeah. It’s okay, but I always think it a little confused, and confusing. I like a number of his other  books better, but this is my favorite. I re-read it about every five years, just for fun, I enjoy it so much.”

   “What’s ‘John McNab’ about?”

   “Well, let’s see. Three gentlemen – kind of bigwigs in British government and business – are suffering from ennui.”

   “I know ennui. That’s like boredom, right?”

   “True. These guys have good careers, and they mostly like what they’ve done with their lives, but they’re just tired of it all. They’re just burned out. They all think there might be something physically wrong with them, and they go to their doctor. It turns out that they all have the same doctor, and he gives them all the same advice.”

   “Which is?”

   “Get out of your rut. Do something entirely different. Do something dangerous, even, and he didn’t mean just dangerous physically. He advised them to do something that, if they got caught, might seriously affect their careers or personal lives. His example was for them to do something like stealing a horse.”

   “Wow! Some doctoral advice. But he’s right; that would certainly get me out of my ennui. So, what do they do?”

   “They’re all friends, and when they find out that all are in the same boat - so to speak - they decide to team up. They’re all sportsmen, so they want their quests to be something illegal – something that could get them a fine or a little jail time, and so blemish their personal standings – but not anything that would likely hurt anybody. For example, one of them decides to shoot a stag – more like an elk, than our deer – out of season on private land, and get it away without the landowner catching him. The others have similar ideas. But, since they are gentlemen as well as sportsmen, they want to be as polite and aboveboard as one can be while doing something blatantly illegal. They invent the persona of ‘John McNab,’ and ‘John’ sends letters to three landowners, describing exactly what crime ‘he’ plans to commit, and when he’s going to do it. He sends each of them money to cover the cost of their depredations, money they can keep whether or not ‘John McNab’ is successful.”

   “That ought to cure something, for sure. So they go ahead?”

   “Yeah, and some of the individual efforts are really fun and exciting. And, like all good adventures, there is a romance included. A fourth friend, who gets roped into helping them, falls for the daughter of one of the targeted landowners, and ends up abetting his friends in their shenanigans, while at the same time trying to help the daughter.”

   “A true conflict.”

   “I’ll say.” He paused, wanting to say something, but not sure he should. He decided he would. “As I was reading this morning, I thought the heroine – Janet - was a lot like you, or you a lot like her. The writer gets her wrong, physically – he has her small, blond, and blue-eyed, which was kind of the ideal woman description of that era…”

   ‘Horrible, uncalled for, discrimination!” exclaimed Vic.

   “I agree. Give me taller, with darker hair, any day.”

    She looked at him a little oddly, and he thought he might blush. He turned away, and tried to gain control of the narrative. “Anyway, I was thinking of you because of her character…”

   “You are comparing me favorably to a heroine in a romance novel?”

   “Well, yes. If you’ll let me explain, I’ll read you a couple passages.” So, he was doing it! – committing himself to a declaration, of sorts. “I know this book almost by heart after all the re-reading. Here’s one: Archie has just fallen in the water, trying to cross a stream. ‘He waded ashore to find himself before a girl in whose face concern struggled with amusement.’ And this: ‘The ardent eyes and the young grace of the girl seemed marvelous things to Sir Archie.’ Next: ‘To have a pretty young woman lauding his abilities and appealing with melting eyes for his aid was a new experience in Sir Archie’s life. It was so delectable an experience that he almost forgot his awful complications.’ This is one I especially like: ‘I am at a loss to describe the first shattering impact of youth and beauty on a susceptible mind. The old plan was to borrow the language of the world’s poetry, the new seems to have recourse to the difficult jargon of psychologists and physicians; but neither, I fear, would suit Sir Archie’s case. He did not think of nymphs and goddesses or of linnets in spring; still less did he plunge into the depths of a subconscious self which he was not aware of possessing. The unromantic epithet that rose to his lips was “jolly.” This was for certain the jolliest girl he had ever met – regular sportswoman and amazingly good-lookin’.’ Later, when she personally sets out to stop one of the ‘John McNabs,’ I think she’s amazing in every way.”

   When he finished reading, he was aware that Vic was very quiet beside him. She stayed that way for what seemed like several minutes. He got a little worried about her reaction – or, rather, her non-reaction.

   “Let me get this straight,” she said, finally. “Although this girl has the wrong shade of hair and eyes, she is fun, pretty, ‘amazingly good looking,’ and ‘jolly.’ In the parts you didn’t read me, you said that you thought she is – and I quote you - ‘amazing.’ Have I got that right?”

   He shook his head yes, but didn’t look at her.

   “Okay. Now, you also said that she reminded you of me. Correct?”

   Again, he nodded.

   “So, in essence, you are saying that you think I am fun, pretty, jolly, amazingly good looking, and just plain amazing?”

   He still didn’t look at her. “I stand by my word.”

   “You think I am – quote – amazingly good looking?”

   “Well, certainly well above average.”

   “Greg!”

    “Okay. All true, all true.”

    “Well, look at me.” He did. “Do you think that these are appropriate feelings to have about a young woman, even if she is amazingly good looking and just plain amazing?”

     “Probably not, but – as some comedian used to say - I calls ‘em the way I sees ‘em.”

     “Well, I don’t think it should happen again – at least, not until next time. Agreed?”

     “Agreed. Now, do you want me to tell you more of the story?”

     “No, I want to read it myself. Can I borrow it?”

      “Would you really like to read it? I’d love that. In school and in my short time in the profession, it’s been really hard to find anybody interested in English adventure novels, or much of anything else that isn’t related to hunting, fishing or farming. I’ve met a lot of really nice people, but seemingly nobody with my particular interests.

   “For instance, I went through about a year of reading Greek and Roman histories, Greek and Roman drama, some Greek poetry. It was a solo project; nobody else cared a bit.” He stopped. “Well, I just remembered one thing that I had forgotten. My roommate – who I’ve known since grammar school – came in one day and found me reading ‘The Odes of Pindar’…”

  “Pindar!” she interrupted. “I think I know about him. A Roman, right? And ‘odes:’ that means poems?”

   “Almost right – and more than anybody else I know would have known. Greek, not Roman. And poems, but fancy, elaborate ones, usually written to celebrate some battle or big event, like the Olympics. Anyway, my roommate saw me reading that, and he suggested that I could name my firstborn children Odes and Pindar.”

   Vic seemed to be considering something. “Odes. Pindar. No, I don’t think we could name our kids Odes and Pindar.”

   “Our kids? Aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves here, especially when you just pointed out that we have known each other only a couple of weeks?”

   “But didn’t you just admit that we are compatible? That’s important, isn’t it?” She giggled. “Besides, I wasn’t talking about we being us – you and me. It was the hypothetical we – me, and whoever it is that I finally marry.”

   “I’m relieved. Thanks for clarifying.”

   “I think a smart woman has to think ahead, considering all options and possibilities. For instance, what if someday I fall in love with, and then marry, a History professor, who specializes in Greek history, drama, and odes. He might come to me and say, ‘Victoria, darling’… He always calls me Victoria, not Vic…”

   “And ‘darling?’”

   “Certainly. I’ll be sure to marry someone who is affectionate, and declarative.”

   “Not wishy washy?”

   “Definitely not wishy washy. Anyway, you’re making me lose the thread of my story. He’ll come to me and say, ‘Victoria darling, why don’t we name our twins Pindar and Odes?’”

   “And your response would be…?”

   She giggled. “Not on your life, buster!”

   “That is the Vic I know – or rather, the Vic I don’t know because I’ve only known her a couple of Saturdays. But, continuing to speak hypothetically, have you given any thought to what names you might give to those hypothetical twins, somewhere in your future?”

   She gave him a calculating little smile. “Is it too soon to consider Greg Junior and Vic Junior?”

  “Probably.”

  She got up. “Then, I’ll take ‘John McNab’ and go home, before my parents start to believe I’ve been kidnapped or devoured by wolves.”

   “There are no wolves here.”

   “Maybe not. But maybe,” she replied.

    Halfway across the parking lot, she turned back. “By the way, I love being compared to Janet.”

***

   Later, Greg found he was having his recurring conflict with himself. Should he be telling a high school girl that she was pretty, and pretty amazing? Should they be talking about marriage and kids – even in an obviously joking way? In some ways, he felt he might be overstepping, or at least going too fast. Maybe her father had been right to sort of warn him? He should be careful, he told himself.

   But he also told himself that he had said what he said – read what he read – because he was really beginning to like her – a lot.

***

   Greg didn’t see Vic on Sunday morning. He puttered around inside, cleaning up; read for awhile; and listened to a ball game (Spring training, he assumed; he never caught the name of the teams). About noon, the Andersons had all departed for an afternoon in town. 

   When. Greg heard a car in late afternoon, he assumed it was the Andersons coming home a little earlier than he expected them. He looked from his window, but saw it wasn’t a car he was familiar with. It pulled up right in front of the Andersons, and a man got out.  The man walked up to the door and knocked, stood for a moment, then started back down the stairs.

   Greg called out from his porch. “Is there something I can help you with?” The man shaded his eyes to see who was calling, then started to walk across the compound. Greg met him half way.

   “I was looking for the Andersons.”

   “They’re in town now, but should be back pretty soon.”

   “Of course they are! Sunday afternoon. I should have remembered.” He held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Bob Eastman, a friend of theirs. I don’t live around here, anymore, but my folks do, so I’m visiting.”

   “Nice to meet you, Bob. I’m Greg Cleveland, Chuck’s assistant. I’ve only been here a month, so don’t know many locals.  Say, they shouldn’t be long. Do you want to come in and have a cup of coffee, or maybe a Pepsi? I don’t have any beer.”

   “Sure, I’d like that. Pepsi would be good.” Greg got two colas out of the refrigerator, offered one to Bob, and directed him to the one armchair. Greg took the other can, and pulled out one of the kitchen chairs.

   Bob picked up the conversation thread. “Well, as I was saying, I don’t get here very often. I’m a news correspondent, and travel all over the place. I made a special trip home this time because I wanted to be sure to wish Vic a happy graduation.”

   Greg caught a personal note in that. “So, you’ve known Vic – and the Andersons – quite awhile?”

  “Since about the time they moved here. Vic was, what – twelve or thirteen, then? I was almost ten years older, but not long after I met them, Vic was engaging me in the most intelligent conversations – smart, witty, sometimes hilarious, and always deeply introspective and caring. I fell in love with her almost immediately, and we’ve been close ever since. She’s a most remarkable girl.”

   “Young woman,” corrected Greg, without thinking.

   Bob looked at him a moment, then laughed. “You’re him! She finally found you.”

   Greg was confused. “I don’t know what you mean, found me.”

   Bob stifled another laugh. “You’ve been here a month, you said, and you clearly know that Vic is a young woman, definitely not a girl. You’ve had some long talks with her, already.”

   It was Greg’s turn to chuckle. “Saturday morning, sitting on my front steps, has become a wildlife refuge  institution. It started the first Saturday I was here, but in a pretty embarrassing way – for me, anyway.”

   “How so?”

  “I’d only met her the night before, at family dinner, and didn’t exchange more than a half dozen words with her. After the dinner, I visited with the Johnson boys for awhile. We drank red wine – apparently quite a lot, although the details are fuzzy. I’d never had it before – I seldom even drink beer – and I ended up with a disgustingly messy house, and a horrible headache. Vic found me on my porch, chastised my condition, then ran home to make me a thermos of coffee. After that, she sat on the step by me, and we talked awhile.”

   “Yes, that sounds like my Vic. So, then…?”

   “Somehow, each Saturday morning, she appears on my porch steps, next to me. We don’t see each other all week, because she’s in school, and we don’t plan anything. She’s just suddenly there. She’s so alive, she almost scares me. She must affect everybody she meets that way.”

   Bob gave a little dismissive gesture. “No, no. Vic may be outgoing, and bring some joy – and maybe some confusion and frustration! – to various lives. I would be willing to testify under oath that she has never had Vic-Conversations with anyone – ever before, I’m sure – with anyone but me.”

   Greg just stared at him. “Look, Greg. I love Vic, and she loves me. We’ll always love each other. But, from the start, it has always been big brother-younger sister love. I’ve been waiting for the day when she would find a different kind of conversationalist. I think that day is here.”

   Greg still hadn’t replied when they heard car tires on gravel. “Sounds like they’re home,” observed Bob, as they both went to the door. The Andersons had pulled up next to Bob’s car, and had piled out and were looking for the owner. Bob was halfway across the driveway when Vic saw him. She ran to meet him, and almost launched herself into his arms. He hugged her tight. “Hi, Vic,” he whispered. They held tightly to one another for a few moments, but by then the rest of the family had joined them. The hugs spread to Alice and Mandy, and finally to a firm handshake with Chuck. “It is so good to see you all,” said Bob.

   Chuck suggested they go to the house, and they started moving that way. Greg was still on his porch, and Chuck called to him, extending the invite. Greg waved him off. “Thanks, but I have something I need to get done here. It was great to talk to you, Bob,” he added.

   “Likewise!”

  Greg didn’t have anything he needed to do, except think.

***

   Bob couldn’t stay long, but they had a good, quick visit. Vic walked him to his car, enjoying the feel of his arm around her shoulder. “I’m glad you’ve found somebody to talk with, Vic,” he said, quietly.

   “What do you mean?”

   “When Greg and I were talking – about you, by the way – he corrected me when I called you a girl. ‘Young woman,’ he muttered. Only a month, and he’s already getting to know the real Vic!”

   “That doesn’t mean anything,” she protested, but she found herself feeling unexpectedly pleased. “I was just teasing him when I said it. I was just trying to get his mind off how bad he felt after his wine drunk.”

   “I believe that. Look, we know each other pretty well, after all this time. I’ve always seen the two sides of you: the little girl, with an innocent, joyous outlook on life, but also the young woman who has, for a long time, been able to see life more seriously than most people of her age – or, of any age! Finding somebody who sees – and celebrates – both sides of Vic will be a wonderful thing.”

   He gave her a last hug, kissed her on the forehead, and started to get in the car.

   “So, what are you telling me to do?”

   “I’m not telling you to do anything. Just be who you are. Be Vic!”

 

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