Thursday, February 26, 2015

The circle has been broken.  My first cousin has died.  The service will be in Santa Cruz area where he was born in 1947.  Paulie was a sweetheart, always with a smile on his face even though there was heartbreak in his heart.  He was one of my Santa Cruz cousins.  Back in the day when the Beach Boys sang songs about surfing, when "Wipe Out" was a favorite song on the radio, we felt proud to have real surfers in our family.  Even my son did his senior project on surfing using one of the  Baker boys for a mentor.  Paul and his brother Rowland worked at Beulah Park for several years, a camp meeting in the Redwoods with their dreamy, crush-worthy friends.  Santa Cruz is also know for the Boardwalk.  Paulie was a mechanic there.  Santa Cruz was our destination for a yearly trip to a Christmas tree farm where an Indian motorcycle was embedded in a tree that had grown around it over the years.  It inspired motorcycle envy.  Paulie loved to ride.  Capitola was the beach where I was first buried in the sand. 

Paulie brought home movies of this kind of surf in Hawaii
that gave me nightmares for years...

His family also took me on a trip over the boarder into Tijuana where Paulie went his separate way to places a young girl could not go.  Boys.  They enjoyed scaring me on the way back saying I looked too dark, Mexican even, and that the authorities might not let me back into the good ol' USA.  Paulie went for a spell to college, painted his room purple with a small artist paintbrush, and caused more than his share of consternation on campus at Pasadena College when we lived in Pasadena.  But when they came over, he was just my cousin Paulie.  Our cat would run and hide as soon as their car door shut because his dad, Uncle Paul, when literally rub her fur backwards.

Family gathered around their home making memories.  I even went there by myself for a vacation in ninth grade.  It was a magnetic place.  They had bacon, cokes, and barbeque potato chips, cherries in season, rare treats at my house.  There were trips to the river and to the beach always and sometimes water skiing at Lake Bereasa.  I remember their father, Uncle Paul, threatening to put a board down the middle of their bed because of the brothers fighting.  I'm sure he had made good on that threat in the past.  Their home was a haven for their friends as well as well as for foster and adopted ones.

dog tags of over 58,000 American servicemen who died in Vietnam.

I remember Paulie before he went to Vietnam and when he came home.  He had his huge speakers and electronics purchased overseas that filled the living room belting out "Wendy" and other songs of the day.   But Vietnam broke him.  Deep in his heart, there were hurts and memories he tried to drown out, his own personal war.  When alzheimers caught him in a trap, he was worried that they were going to draft him again and send him back to Nam, marked for life.

He eventually found a good woman and raised two beautiful daughters.  They stood by their man.  Perhaps that was the crowning achievement of his life broken by sorrow knowing he was loved by his girls and his family.  He was still and always will be sweet Paulie to me, my hero for winning his battle.

"...the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear;
 for the battle is the Lord's..."
I Samuel 17:47

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


A short story by

Celia Jolley

"Always the groomsman, never the groom," he hoped at least for now. That was the only vow Jake wanted to make.  He was flat wedding-out!  All his friends had finally walked down the aisle but him.  It had taken two years to squeeze them all in, to max out his vacation time and spend a few thousand dollars he should have used to pay back student loans instead of renting tuxes by flying to destinations, staying at hotels, throwing bachelor parties, and buying gifts.

First there was Robert's wedding in Hawaii the first June after graduation.  That was fun, but expensive!  The marriage did not last a year.  Their footprints in the sand washed away much to quickly.  Robert was now living with some gal none of them had ever met.

Then there was Tim's Celtic wedding.  The groomsmen put their foot down, and only the groom wore a kilt sweating in the wool in the August heat.  He still wears the skirt while his wife wears the pants in the family.  Now Tim is a stay-at-home dad.  Nothing wrong with it, Jake guessed, if it made family life work especially now that they had twins.   


Then there was James' Catholic wedding as traditional as it gets.  He converted in order to get the bride.  Then he tried for an annulment, but had to go for the traditional divorce six months later.  Worse than that, he made enemies in her very large family.  He had to move far away to get a fresh start and not have to fight every male related to her.

Jed's country wedding was in a  barn and the couple rode off into the sunset on horses.  How was the groom to know that he would end up with a broken pelvis on his honeymoon when he got bucked off?  He seemed to be doing alright with a pickup, horse trailor, and a dog minus the wife.  She took off with the horse farrier.

Harry's wedding was at the lake, a ceremony out on a dock.  The bride was still angry about the bachelor party and pushed him off into the frigid water as soon as the vows were exchanged.  Jake didn't blame her.  He doubted even that sobered up the groom.  He suspected that his wife stayed mad most of the time.

Andy's wedding was in the snow which made for beautiful photos but the bride ended up in the hospital with pneumonia instead of off on her honeymoon.  They seemed to be doing okay but it has only been a few months and the snow hadn't even melted yet.
The last wedding, the biggest disaster, was in Las Vegas.  He had walked out of the bachelor party after five minutes.  It was disgusting, a sin city thing.  Evidently the bride got wind of it and left Chase at the altar.  The groomsmen all waited in the front of city hall having to listen to an Elvis impersonator for the no-show woman in white.  He was relieved that was one wedding that got nipped in the bud.

He frankly was ashamed of all of his friends.  Long ago they came to be friends at church youth group.  At one time they had all been on-fire Christians.  They joined campus ministries.  One by one, they began to let down their standards, hang out at the other kind of parties and taken to drink and wild women.  Eventually they tried to settle down but had only a flimsy foundation for  marriage. It turned out to be as empty a life as the beer bottles after a party and smelling just as sour.

 There wasn't anything wrong with their ceremonies and settings, he just wished they put more into the premarital sessions of counseling than the wedding planning, more on the anticipation of the wedding night than the months of living together before the ceremony, more about the purity of wearing the white dress than the expense of the gown.  They owed so much for their degrees, then the added expense of the wedding and honeymoon, that they would be in debt until they retired.  That was another pressure stacked against them. 

Jake kept in touch but had tired of their company.  He still valued the friendships hoping they would return to their shared faith.  He was afraid it was going to take hard times to turn them around and didn't envy them their life lessons.  Some people just slid down the banister of life with all the splinters pointed upward. 

Jake himself had become too busy to stay involved in campus ministries, but tried to make it to church and an occasional Bible study group once in a while.  He had gotten a studio apartment off campus that provided the quiet he needed.  Since he had accepted a job in the same town putting his degree to work, he kept his housing since it suited him.  Besides, his landlady named Ardith made him the best chocolate chip cookies he ever ate.  Yes, he saw more of her, a sweet lady in her eighties, than any other of her gentle gender. 

Somehow, those who wanted to settle down had paired off already, wedded or were living together.  The ones left were not, dare he admit, the pick of the litter.  To be fair, he lumped himself in that category of left-overs.  There were many singles or those on their second or third time around looking for hook-ups to be found at the bar scene, but that wasn't for him.  He had to maneuver carefully to avoid the clutches of the desperate which meant staying as far away from his church's singles group as possible.  If Jake needed a date, he asked Ardith who happily took his arm to a dinner, a concert, or a movie.   She had taken to cooking him dinner most nights too.  He still had to do his own laundry and make his own bed, but it wasn't that bad a life, was it?

He had dated a lot his first few years of college, but found that most girls wanted more of him than he was willing to give, were more aggressive than he was prepared for, seductive even.  He wasn't proud of himself knowing he had failed to keep to the standard he felt God had for him.  So, he asked forgiveness, felt sorrow over those he had hurt, and vowed to avoid being put in compromising situations even if it meant group dates rather than being alone too long. 

There had been one, Ann, who seemed to be growing into more than a friend.  They studied together, ate out together, and even went home to meet each other's families.  They were a couple.  But she was an unbeliever.  Ann was nicer than most Christians he knew, sweet in fact.  But Jake couldn't ignore God's warning about being unequally yoked.  How could they plow a field together, so to speak, if they were yoked facing opposite directions?  After a week of fasting and prayer, he broke it off.  She cried, screamed even and swore at him, a side he'd never seen before.  She threw herself at him trying to tempt him beyond what he was able to bear, but he found a way of escape.  Then she became spiteful, almost suicidal leaving him notes in his apartment, on his car, in his books, and forever texting him.  He blocked his phone and computer access and considered moving.  Finally she moved in to be miserable with the next guy that came along.  He felt sorry for her and still prayed for her but thanked God for sparing him.

There had been no one since Ann.  He wasn't a woman-hater, just extremely cautious.  Then again, the field was pretty picked over.  Fine by him.  Jake poured himself into his new career.  Maybe someday he would have the house, the dog, a hamster and a picket fence, even a little woman, but he was in no hurry.  It had all been too plain: there was nothing worse than a bad marriage, and nothing better than a good one, like his parents, but they were rare indeed.

Jake wasn't looking.  That's when it happened. Ardith had not mentioned that her grand niece was moving into her spare room.  Now there was an extra plate set at the table.  Jake was miffed that she gave him no warning, that their twosome was being threatened by a third party. 

"What's this, Ardith?  Are you expecting company?"  He had asked.

"Yes.  Since you've kept the apartment over the garage, I have invited my sister's granddaughter to stay here in the house with me while she finishes at state.  It was an arrangement we had planned long ago.  I'm sure you won't mind."

But he did mind.  The home cooked meals he had savored in her dining room now were threatening to be unbalanced.  Small talk with a stranger would have to be suffered through now.  Ardith had never tried to play cupid, a fact he had appreciated, and he hoped she would not start now.  However, he did not like the twinkle in the elderly woman's eye. 

He felt a quiet presence before he saw her and caught a whiff of lemon verbena.  She hung back in the doorway like a startled doe.

"I did not know you had company, Aunt Ardith," she said.

"Oh, Jake's not company, dear.  He and I go way back now.  Jake rents my apartment over the garage and eats most his meals with me.  In exchange, he takes me out to some nice restaurants on the weekends.  I think you'll enjoy the arrangement too.  You won't mind taking us both out, will you, Jake?"

He stood up from his chair bewildered but muttered, "No, of course not."  Then he offered to shake the girl's hand, her's small hesitant one in his big paw.  "Hello, I'm Jake."

"I'm Camille.  Nice to meet you.  I had no idea Aunt Ardith had boarders."

"Well, Jake's not exactly a boarder.  He's just my fella," Ardith winked at him.

Jake couldn't help grin back at her spunk, but Camille flushed a pretty pink.  Her eyes were almost golden and quite arresting.  Jake's glance caught and froze looking into them.  He sat down quickly knocking into the table spilling the gravy. 

Ardith kept the conversation going mostly asking Camille about their relatives.  She was the youngest, the last one out of the nest it seems in their extended family.  Her older siblings were all married.  He gathered that this was the first time she had been away from home. The girl seemed to be an innocent.  Jake dreaded for her to be set free into the pack of wolves at the state college.  With her beauty, they would be nipping at her heels in no time. 

"So what is your major, Camille?"

"English literature.  I want to be a writer, but will most likely have to start either teaching or be an editor or something."

"We have a lot of family stories that Camille has written up, quite fascinating.  Not everyone in the family is happy that she has let the cat out of the bag on some family secrets, but I think it very brave of her and quite entertaining," Ardith bragged.

"Do you have secrets, Ardith?" Jake couldn't help asking.

She winked at him again.  "Wouldn't you like to know.  I will leave it up to Camille to trust you with her stories, and you can decide if any of them are about me.  She has changed the names you see to protect us from the scandalous judgment of the world, but we in the family know who we are.  It's quite delightful to see them huff and puff about it.  She has real talent, that one."

"I will let you decide Camille if and when you will allow me to read your stories.   I must say I'm intrigued.  I wouldn't be surprised to find that Ardith was a spy or a secret millionaire with her gold buried in the yard under the apple tree."

Even Camille laughed along with Ardith's hoots.  "You may not be sniffing as far from the trail as you thought," she added.  "I promise I will think about sharing them sometime after I'm more settled."

Ardith had succeeded in breaking the ice, and Jake felt more comfortable with her great-niece than he had thought possible.  His eyes kept straying to her face, her perfect brows like dark feathers above her long lashes, her nose slightly freckled, her lips...well, never mind her lips.  He looked away to Ardith's wrinkled but smug face.  She had caught him looking. 

Friday night dinners out were the highlight of his week.  He took his two ladies out on the town enjoying fine dining from seafood to steak, from Chinese to Italian.  He would let them pick.  Then Ardith began making excuses and bowing out.  She said her stomach hurt, or she was going to the movies with her gal friends.  It was Camille and him, like a date.  Sometimes they took in a movie too if there was something decent to watch.   Jake found that he did not mind at all, but insisted on the three of them going out after church on Sundays.  He had switched to Ardith's small church to avoid the singles group pressure at his old church.  It was like belonging to a family except they all assumed he and Camille were a couple.  Well, they were and weren't but it was no use to explain.

It was all comfortable until the rain storm.  He had dropped Ardith off with her umbrella at the church steps, but Camille had planned to join them later.  When she slipped in beside him, she was soaked through and shivering.  He had gotten pretty wet too, but he took off his coat and put it around her shoulders.  He could smell her lemon verbena very strongly against the damp of her clothes that clung to her.  She looked up and smiled at him and he fell, completely, totally, swallowed whole by her sweetness.  He was surprised to find he was still sitting in the pew gazing down at her when he shook off his trance.  It felt like he had picked himself up off the floor.  He only knew it was a good thing that they were in church or he would have kissed her then and there.  He was scared stiff, to the core, over his head drowning in this new sensation. 

As soon as church was over, Jake made a lame excuse and asked Camille to take Ardith out without him shoving a couple of twenties into her hand.  Even that contact shook him as their hands touched.  He could not look at her.  Ever. Again.  Friday nights were out.  He might have to even start missing Ardith's home cooking.  He had to separate himself from their company, her presence. 

Jake told himself she wasn't right for him, was too young, was not his type.  He was not right for her either.  He tried to make a list of her undesirable qualities.   The only thing he could think of was that she liked sushi, and he did not, and that she had not told him yet of her family's secrets, had not showed him her stories.  Jake tried to hold it against her.   He chewed his pencil until he snapped it in half with his hands.  Then he made a list of his undesirable qualities:

1.  He was not the marrying type.
2.  He lived in a tiny garage apartment.
3.  He had been unlucky in love and did not want to break another girl's heart.
4.  He wasn't at a point in his career to take on the responsibility of a wife.
5.  His college debts weren't even paid yet.
6.  He wasn't ready to start a family.
7.  He was still wearing his clothes that he had worn in college and had not been inside a shopping mall in five years.
8.  He still drove his parents old Ford Fiesta, not a girl magnet.
9.  He did not want to be like his friends and rush into anything making the mistakes they did.
10.  He wrote it again in capital letters: "I AM NOT THE MARRYING TYPE."

That night he was quiet at supper and did not look around giving one word answers if asked.  When he took his plate to the kitchen, Camille stopped him.

"I finally unpacked those stories I told you about, Jake.  Do you still want to read them?"

He felt the heat on his neck as he looked into her eyes seeing her eagerness.  She was totally unaware of his torture.  His heart pounded in his ears.  He could only manage a husky, "Thanks."

As soon as she handed them over, Jake escaped to his room, left the television off, stretched  out on his bed, and began to read.  He imagined her writing them: it was as if he were listening to her tell the stories.  He could hear her voice, see the secret smile quivering on her lips, the slight dimple in her cheek, her hands twirling the tip of her braid.  He groaned.  He sat up and went to his small kitchen table and kept reading until he was swept up in the lives laid bare before him.  It had to be Ardith though another name was used.

The story told of a family caught in World War II.  The Germans had marched in and taken
over Austria in one day without a fight.  Then the Jews began to be rounded up.  They had to pay half of all they owned as a tax to go into exile in other countries.  Those who did not had their homes and belongings convescated anyway and were forced into small apartments and the starving began.  They were no longer free to work.  Their businesses were looted and smashed.  Then the Jews were loaded up onto trains to be taken to concentration camps.  Ardith was a very small child, only three years old.  Her parents were able to smuggle her out to Austrian neighbors who sent her away out of the country with an underground system to save what Jewish children they could.  The little girl ended up in England, adopted by a family in the country.  Her memories of her parents were stolen as well by that traumatic night.  She never saw them again.  Years later the records proved their deaths.  What was discovered was that her mother had sewn all the wealth they had, money and jewels, into the lining of that little coat.  Her adoptive parents refused to take it and saved it for her until she came of age, left there hidden in that little coat.  Ardith used it to come to America and buy a home, this house.  She never married, was a self-sufficient woman.  Because of her adoptive parents, she was raised in a Christian home and was now a Messianic Jew. 

Jake had seen her gold necklace, the Star of David.  He had not thought twice about it since she was a nice little lady, a Protestant who went to a small little house of God.  The story was captivating, heartbreaking, yet a vivid retelling of history, the history of her family.  He suddenly had to speak with them, with Ardith and Camille.

They were taking tea in the kitchen when he burst in without knocking setting their teacups rattling on their saucers.  He was holding one of her picture frames in his hand he had grabbed off the buffet.

"It is you, isn't it Ardith?"  Jake kissed her gently on the cheek.  "I could see you as a little girl, being torn from your parents, traveling so far, being adopted and taken to the country with a new family, then coming on an adventure to America."

She only smiled with tears in her eyes.  "Bless Camille for capturing it in this story," she patted Camille's hand.  "I could only give her pieces of my story at a time.  It still is hard to talk about.  I was more fortunate than many because I was taken in by a good Christian family after being smuggled out by kind neighbors who risked their lives to save mine."  She shook her head.  "I hope I have been worth it."

Jake put his hands gently on her shoulders, "I am grateful for your brave parents who allowed you to slip from their side to your rescuers.  You are the grandmother I never had."

Camille let a tear slip down her cheek unchecked.  "We all are grateful for you dear Aunt Ardith."

Jake just thought of something.  "But what about your sister, Camille's grandmother?   Did she escape with you?"

Camille and Ardith exchanged glances.  "No, she was my adoptive parents' daughter.  We were raised as sisters.  She and I did not always get along so well though.  I think she resented no longer being the baby of the family.  Knowing I had the wealth of my family hidden in my coat coming to me instead of helping to provide for their whole family was a constant friction whenever we had to do without, which everyone did in the war especially.  It was one reason I came to America, to let Edith have her space.  I was able to send her money to help her immigrate after our parents died.  We get along a little better now.  Time has a way of healing old hurts."

Jake sat down and handed the story back to Camille.  He took a cookie and studied it in his hand as if counting the chocolate chips.  "That was well written, Camille.  You have a gift.  It will leave a lasting impression upon my soul, I know."  He could look up at her face, only where her hands were twisting the napkin. 

"Thank you, Jake."

"Good night, ladies."  Once again he gave a kiss to Ardith's cheek.  "You are one special lady."

The next night Jake came to dinner, the pot roast smelled delicious.  "I'm famished, Ardith.  It sure smells good."  He suddenly stopped noticing there were only two places set at the table.  "Who's not eating tonight?"

"Camille has a date."

Jake suddenly felt sick to his stomach.  He did not know if he could eat a bite of dinner.  When he found his voice he tried to sound casual as he asked, "What's his name?"

"Oh, Nick something or another.  They have literature together."  She looked at him with a hint of a smile and said, "Do you have a problem with that?  He was a gentleman and came to the door and introduced himself.  Should I have called you down so that you could give him the once over?"

"No, of course not."  But he was angry just thinking about Camille going off with some guy he didn't know or trust. 

He did manage to eat enough to keep Ardith satisfied though she looked as if she knew a secret he didn't.  Finally after a slice of blackberry pie with ice cream he asked, "What?  Do you want to tell me or ask me something?  You have that look, you know."  He grimaced knowing the rack she had put him through on other occasions, especially concerning his old girlfriend Ann.

"Oh, I was just wondering how you felt about our Camille dating is all.  You seem a little put out.  Don't you think she should enjoy going out now and then?"

"We go out all the time, you, her, me.  But of course she's free to make her own plans, her own friends.  I just know what most guys are like, and don't trust them with her.  I think Camille is a little innocent when it comes to men."

"You are welcome to sit up with me and wait for her to come home then.  Maybe you can meet him when he walks her to the door."  She was goading him now.

"Sure, I'll sit up with you.  I want to check this guy out and make sure he doesn't try any stuff with her."

"He does go to that big church you used to go to.  He took her to one of their singles activities, bowling I think."

"Nick?"  Jake wanted to growl.  "I know Nick.  Wouldn't trust him with my dog and certainly not with Camille.  He likes to be a little too forward with the ladies, or so I've been told.  What was Camille thinking?"

"Probably that you are too slow.  You won't even talk to her anymore, let alone look at her.  She asked me if I knew what was wrong, if she had done something."

"What?  No!  Of course not."  Jake paced the kitchen.  It's just that...that...she's too young and I'm too old, not right.  I'm not the kind of guy who should seriously date anyone."

"Is that what you've been telling yourself?"  Ardith laughed.  I've seen the way you look at her, and you're a goner.  Don't let her get away, Jake."

He looked up into her face lined with years of living yet beautiful.  "How come you never married, Ardith?"

"I was in love once.  But there's something I've never told even Camille.  Her grandmother and I both loved the same man.  When he choose her over me, that's when I came to America.  He broke my heart.  I've never loved another."  She had a far away look in her eyes.  "He was a fine man though.  It just wasn't meant to be me.  Edith always made a competition with everything concerning me.  When he asked me out the first time, she began to figure out how to steal my beau.  She succeeded.  That's why I know that if you sit back and wait, love can be lost.  Don't do it, Jake.  You don't want a life time of regret like I've had."

He held her hands gently in his.  "You are a lovely woman, Ardith.  He was a fool to choose Edith over you, but then you wouldn't have Camille then, would you?"

She laughed.  "No, but that's why I practically claim her as my own granddaughter.  That's why having her living with me is so special.  There's a little bit of her grandfather in her, in her smile, in a look in her eyes, in her mannerisms."

"Thank you for telling me, Ardith.  You are right as always.  Someone like Camille only comes along once in a lifetime.  I don't want to let her get away.  But do you think she cares for me in that way?  I know we're friends and all..."

"Oh, she cares.  You've made her cry by ignoring her.  I think she is going out with Nick for spite, to get your attention, and it worked."

"She got my attention, all right.  I've never felt so jealous in my life."

Ardith got up and went over to her buffet and took a small wooden box out of a drawer.  "I always wanted to give this to Camille some day.  It's the only one I never sold from all those sewn into my coat for me.  Perhaps you'll find an appropriate use for it.  I've been grooming you as a groom, you know."  She winked, then beamed.

Jake was looking at a three caret diamond, perfect in its rosette cut.  "I can't believe it!  How many were there in your coat?"

"About a hundred, but this was the largest and finest.  I guess my father was a jeweler by trade before the war came to Austria." 

Just then the phone rang.  Ardith answered it.  "Yes, dear, I'm so glad you called.  I do need you to come home.  All right, see you when you get here, and hurry!"

"What was that about?  Is she alright?"

"Yes, we had this little code worked out that if she was uncomfortable with how her date was going, she would call and I could tell her I needed her at home.  Simple as that.  She's one smart girl, that one."

Jake was pacing again after putting the box back in the buffet.  "If he tried something, I can't promise I won't hit him in the jaw."

"No, I'm just sure she's not having a good time.  If it was that kind of a miserable night, she was to call for a taxi to bring her home immediately.  We had it all planned out, her escape route."

They did not have long to wait.  Jake rushed to the door as soon as he heard the car pull up and stood filling the entry glaring at her date.  "Good night, Nick."  He said it before the young man could even open her car door.  "I'll take it from here."  He strode down the porch steps and took Camille's arm and drew her into the house."

"What on earth are you doing, Jake?"  She was looking stormy.  "That was a little impolite."

"He doesn't deserve polite.  I know Nick.  I never would have given you permission to date him."

"Permission!  How dare you."

With that Jake stood very close in front of her, gazed down into her golden eyes sparkling like the diamond with fury.  He looked down at her lips until she parted them catching her breath.  He kissed her.  Gently, then deeply as she kissed him back.

Finally, he stepped back and grinned.  "Okay, I was jealous.  I'll admit it.  I don't want you dating anyone but me, agreed?"

Camille cocked her head though a smile teased and finally said, "Agreed.  I only went out to make you jealous, silly."

He kissed her again as Ardith chuckled and went to bed slapping him on the shoulder as she went by.
"You  won't forget where I keep it, will you?"

"Don't worry, I won't forget."


By Celia Jolley

"I have very little what any young person says on the subject of marriage.
If they profess a disinclination for it, I only set it down that they have not yet seen the right person."
Jane Austen, "Mansfield Park"

"It's all your fault," Richard grumbled.
"What's my fault?" his friend asked in surprise.
"This train trip.  We could have taken a plane and none of this would have happened."
"And what has happened?"  Now his friend had arched eyebrows and a tug of a grin thoroughly enjoying his friend's discomfort."
"That girl."
"What girl?"
"You know.  You can't have missed her."
"Oh, the pretty pensive one in the dining car last night."
"Exactly.  And she was in the car at breakfast as well.  You've got to help me."
"You want me to introduce you?"
"No, of course not!"  Richard shot him daggers.  "I want you to tell me if you see her so I can look the other way.   I have to avoid her at all costs."
"And this makes sense how?"
"I can't get her out of my mind, ever since I first laid eyes on her.  It's ridiculous.  I've thought of her when I try to work and when I try to read, when I went to bed and when I woke up.  I haven't thought about a girl in I don't know when, and I don't like it!  This girl is a complete stranger.  There is no reason why she is so captivating?"
"Uhh, because she's pretty?"  His friend John broke down in loud guffaws, Finally he spoke to Richard's back who was turned staring out the window pretending not to know him.  "This is too rich, even for you!  You are unbelievable. I suggested this trip because you need to slow down.  All you've thought about these past five years is work, living and breathing.  I thought you were turning in your man card in exchange for a robot's, a regular work machine."
"Well, I hope you're satisfied then."
"I am indeed.  You are positively turning human again.  Just because you had a bad experience years ago in the love department doesn't mean you should turn your back on the whole female race.  Some of them are quite attractive as you have just found out."
"I'm trying to take every thought captive like the Scriptures say, but it is not working."
"Are you having impure thoughts?"
"No!  Don't be ridiculous."
"The Scriptures say to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.  Maybe He wants you to finally think about a girl for once, even take it captive in your heart.  There's no sin in that as long as it's not in lust.  In fact, when Scriptures say that God will give us the desires of our heart, it doesn't mean He will give us whatever we desire; He will put the right desire, His desire in us.  Maybe it's her.  Maybe she's the one."
"Well, I don't like it.  She haunts me...oh, there she is," and he hid his face behind his newspaper."

"I have been meditating on the very great pleasure
which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."
Jane Austen "Pride and Prejudice"

His friend stood up just then and said, "Hello, are you looking for a seat?  I was just leaving to go back to our sleeper car.  You are welcome to sit here."
"Thank you.  That's kind of you.  The viewing car is quite crowded this morning."
"His friend grabbed the paper out his hands and said, "I will read this while I get coffee."  He gave a wink and left the two of them alone.
"Good morning," she said with a tentative smile.  I think I saw you in the dining car."
"Well, yes.  The food is surprisingly good."
"Are you and your friend on a vacation."
"A working vacation. We're on a business trip to a conference in the Midwest.  My friend wanted to see a little bit of the good old USA instead of flying over like we usually do."
"So this is your first time on a train?"
"Yes.  How about you?"
"I've had prior trips with my family, but this is my first time solo."
"Business or pleasure?"
"Escape."  Suddenly she looked away in pain.  "Do you mind if I read?"

"Not at all.  I have work to do myself."  He went back to his laptop screen but could not read a word and surreptitiously stole glances at her face as he failed to concentrate on anything else.  She looked sad, but beautiful.  Her cheeks were faintly tinged pink; her long eyelashes almost hid her green eyes; her hair was brown, yet golden like as a fire burns bright against dark wood. 

Finally a couple of hours later, she stood and said.  "Perhaps I'll see you at dinner then?"

"Yes, I plan to eat."  What a stupid thing to say.  Of course he planned to eat.  He shut his laptop and went to find his friend.

"It's not working.  I mean I can't work.  She has absorbed my thinking, hijacked my mind."

His friend put his book down.  "Did you get to know her?"

"Not really.  She wanted to read."

"You mean you ignored her, worked on your laptop, so she read."

"No, she ended the conversation choosing to read." 

"Well, invite her to join us at dinner."

"Why would I do that?  I'm trying to forget her."

"Perhaps if you get to know her, you won't like her.  Try it.  Maybe it will shake you out of your infatuation back to reality."

"Infatuation?  Is that what you call this.  Of all the idiotic...!  Of course I'm not infatuated.  I'm not a sixteen year old boy.  It's just that she has lodged herself in my brain, and I can't get her out."

"At any rate, invite her to eat at our table and then you can decide for yourself if she is worthy of taking up residence in your head.  Perhaps she will burst whatever bubble is up there clogging your thinking.  I dare you.  Take it on as an experiment to see if you can change what is stuffed between your ears.  Ask her some questions that might discourage your interest."

"Maybe you're right.  If the circumstances present themselves, I will.  She probably won't try to read her book while eating."

"My idea of good the company of clever, well-informed people
who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company."
Jane Austen "Persuasion"

The young men went to the dining car early to secure a table with an extra seat available.  When the young woman entered, Richard stood and waved her over.  "Would you care to join us?"

She blushed but accepted the chair he pulled out laying her book down beside her plate.

"By the way, I'm Richard and this is my friend John."

"I am Rose Alden.  Thank you for inviting me to sit with you."

After their orders were taken, Richard jumped right in.  "John and I are from the Bay area, business partners there.  Where are you from?"

"I'm from the northern coast."

Richard took note of her evasive, non-specific answer, but went on.  "I wondered what you think of Buddhism, Judaism, or Christianity?"

His friend practically choked on his water and looked at him like he had lost his mind.

"Oh, I'm a Christian.  I believe what is in Scripture that there is only way to the Father and that is through Jesus Christ."

"I do as well.  Uhh, do you support the current president and his policies?"

She put down her fork and stared at him.  "I am a conservative and can't wait for the current president to get out of office.  Is there a reason for this inquisition.  It really isn't the kind of dinner conversation I was expecting."

John tried to gloss over his friend's blunt force questioning by saying, "He's just a little caught up in his research project right now.  I think you can lighten up a little, Richard, and let her forgo your further questions for now."  He stared down his friend.

"Right.  Sorry.  I guess I was a little too over-occupied with my project."  He dove into his food as if to shut his mouth.  However, he could not eat with his eyes closed so he noticed every little thing she did, like how she ate with the fork turned upside down European style; how she kept her food separated and ate it in turn-meat, vegetable, rice; how she dabbed her mouth in case a drop smeared the corner of her mouth; how she smoothed wrinkles out of the tablecloth with her hand; how she dimpled when she found something amusing that John said; how she  looked up at him now and then with a questioning, puzzled look. 

He heard her describe her work in a bookstore, her favorite authors...

He jumped in again, "Is 'Pride and Prejudice' your favorite then?"

"Why yes, but any book by Jane Austen is well loved."

"I find the hero from 'Emma' more to my liking.  The gentleman seems to have his head on a little straighter, much more so than the heroine who is quite immature."

"You like Jane Austen?"

"Among many other authors.  I like to read."

Do you like the movies as well.

"Those I have not seen."

She sucked in a shocked breath as if he had committed the unpardonable sin.

John spoke up.  I may not have read the books, but I have seen two or three of the movies.  I was pleasantly surprised since my girlfriend had to drag me to the first one kicking and screaming."

"I hate to ruin a good book by a poor imitation in a movie."

She looked at him as if she had to speak slowly so he could understand.  "Often times, even usually, that is the case.  However, in the movies of Jane Austen's works, the ambiance brings out so much more to our understanding of that time that it is quite an enhancement to their reading."

He looked at her as if she were uninformed on the subject.  "I truly doubt..."

"I think you should try one before you offer your uneducated opinion."

His friend laugh-coughed into his napkin.  "She's right you know.  I dare you to open your mind to a new possibility, Richard.  In fact, since we are at our leisure so to speak on this train, why don't you two watch one after dinner on your laptop.  I'm sure you could find one of the 'Pride and Prejudice' versions.  I like each one quite well."

"It is shocking that as firmly as I like one over the other, that I change and then like the other better.  I vacillate quite frequently," she admitted. 

"Well, since time is on your side, why don't you watch the longer version first," John suggested.

"I don't know..."  Richard was hesitant.

"Exactly, you don't know.  Don't stick to your unenlightened opinions.  You might be pleasantly surprised."  Was she teasing him now, laughing at him?

"All right.  Would you care to join me in the viewing room later then, Rose?  Say, about in a half an hour?"

"I think it would be fun."  She actually smiled at him, and he went over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Soon, they were sitting side by side as she helped him find the version she wanted.  The volume was only up high enough so they could hear, but not too loud so as to bother those around them.  That meant sitting very close together.  He knew John had set him up.  Didn't he know he barely survived the ride over the falls after dinner?  Now he felt like he was skydiving with a failed parachute.

He was thoroughly taken in.  Whether or not it was because of present company or not, but he almost sighed aloud with her when it was over. 

She turned to look up at him.  The stars were still in her eyes over Darcy.  He felt jealous over a fictitious character in a book over two hundred years old wishing her glittering eyes were because of him. 

"I think it was so romantic that they never even held hands expressing such exquisitely restrained passion.  What did you think of it?"

He looked at her lips.  He could skip the holding hands part.  Finally, he blinked.  "I was surprised.  I must admit, it is the only time I have enjoyed a movie as well as the book." 

"Ha!  You admit to liking it!  That is excellent.  I'm quite proud of you, sir," Rose said beaming.

He felt a burning warmth around his heart from her words.  It finally made sense to him now why knights went around slaying dragons, if for no other reason than to hear a maiden's praise.    "I'm sure I don't understand how you can be so wishy-washy on rating this above any other movie on the same book.  Surely it could not be done so well."

"It is, just rendered differently.  Do you want to see it perhaps tomorrow night?"

"Indeed.  Is it as long?"

"Not nearly."

How about the other movies of her books?"

"None are this long.  Some are more well done than others, but there is pure enjoyment to be had with them all."

"You have opened up a whole new world for me and helped me over my prejudice and my pride."

"It has been a pleasure."  She smiled up at him again and he burned up, consumed into a pile of ashes at her feet.  "Well good night then...umm, are you alright?"

"Yes.  Goodnight," he said hoarsely from the smoke inhalation of her presence.

He found John.  "It's not working.  It's worse than ever.  Confound this blasted trip!" 

His friend only laughed.  "I must admit, I have never seen you like this.  Do you have any idea how many young women have come through our office trying to get your attention.  You saw nary a one of them."

"You are overstating the facts to amuse yourself."

"Oh, I am amused all right."

"Your countenance perfectly informs me that you were in company last night
with the person whom you think the most agreeable in the world,
the person who interests you at this present time
more than all the rest of the world put together."
Jane Austen "Persuasion"

He stayed up late in his bunk with his ear plugs in watching "Emma," another Jane Austen movie.  He would have overslept except for his friend pulling  him out of bed when the dining car was serving breakfast.

"Good morning."  Rose joined them, not needing a formal invitation.  They were officially friends.

She looked a little less sad, her smile tilting her lips slightly in his direction.  They ordered. 

"I watched 'Emma' last night," Richard blurted out.  He had not meant to tell her.
But confession was good for the soul, and he was rewarded with her delighted expression.

"You are a true convert then aren't you!  Did you enjoy it?" 

"Yes, but not nearly as much as 'Pride and Prejudice' though. That rather has taken hold of me as few movies have."

"You are indeed much more open minded than most men I meet.  I commend you."

He stared off out the window to compose himself watching the herds of horses which raced the train.  Richard suddenly wished he was a cowboy and could throw his lasso around her and pull her to himself.  He imagined riding off into the sunset with Rose behind him, her arms around his waist. 

"Hmm?"  His friend had asked him a question.  "Did you say something, John?"

"How late did you stay up watching your movie last night?"

"Only till one o'clock."

"I've never known you to stay awake for any movie.  You slept part way through every movie we've ever been to."

"You dared me to watch Jane Austen movies, so I did.  Now I have two under my belt and am looking forward to more."

"That's not the only thing I dared you to do," John said half under his breath.

"Do either of you want my sausages.  I don't care for them this morning."

The young men each took one.  Friends shared, but Richard found himself becoming jealous every time Rose looked up and smiled at John. 

"So, where's your destination, Rose.  I don't believe you've said," he inquired.

"I'm going across country.  I haven't decided if I'll do the return trip or fly home.  I'm on an indefinite leave of absence from work."

"That must be nice," Richard said noting John's quirked eyebrow.

"That said by an official workaholic?  I'm surprised indeed!" John teased.

"It seems that I left a life before work somewhere.  This trip has been a good reminder."

"I abandoned all my electronics leaving behind my laptop, my phone, everything but my Ipod for music," she said.

"That's rather radical," Richard stated.  "I don't know if I could go that far.  What compelled you to do it?"

"Personal reasons," and she looked away.

She was an enigma.  Yesterday she had said she came on the train trip to escape.  Now she seemed to be holding her reasons privately, playing her cards close to her chest.  Rose gave unexplained "personal reasons" for cutting herself off from communication with the entire world.  Why the blush?  Why did sadness fall upon her countenance again?   She intrigued him.   He wished he could be a Tarzan and sweep down and carry her away from all that troubled her.  Richard imagined holding her in his arms so tightly that he could never let her go.

John jabbed him with his elbow out of his revelry.  "Are you finished eating?  We want to get seats on the viewing car.  This morning's a good time to see wildlife they say."

"Sure."  He took his last sip of coffee and followed them out.

He watched her sway in front of him to the rhythm of the train's motion.  It was a mesmerizing sight that he viewed through two cars, once almost catching her as the train swerved abruptly around a curve.  But it was her curves that captured him.  Richard shook his head taking every thought captive.

After lunch in the train's cafĂ©, not the dining car, they took regular seats together.  He watched her as she fell asleep listening to her music, rocked to sleep by the train's steady rhythm.  She was such a picture of loveliness, he wished he could paint her, create a masterpiece portrait of this Rose in still life.  He studied the curve of her cheek to her neck, her brows to her chin, her dark lashes.  He rested in her nearness finally closing his own eyes.

"It was a gloomy prospect, and all she could do was to throw a mist over it,
and hope when the mist cleared away, she should see something else."
Jane Austen, "Mansfield Park"

"Do you want to get off and stretch your legs," he asked when waking as the train ground to a stop.  "I think they said it will be a thirty minute stop." 

"Yes, a walk before dinner really sounds refreshing."  He watched as she brushed her hair and slung it carelessly into a pony tail.  Everything she did swallowed him whole. 

As they walked, their shoulders brushed, jarring him reminding him of Darcy and Elizabeth in 'Pride and Prejudice.'  He did not dare to take her hand as he wanted.  They remained quiet, barely commenting on the scenery past the old station content in their walk together.

"Friendship is the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love."
Jane Austen "Northanger Abbey"

That night they watched "Sense and Sensibilities." 

"I suppose there is more than one rendition of this as well."

"Yes, though this is my favorite.  I like it almost as well as 'Pride and Prejudice.'"

"It was quite good, excellent in fact.  It will linger with me as well.  I don't know how Jane Austen does that, produce such understated romance, from the sheltered life she lived."

"Not everyone is as lucky in love as those sisters."

"And you?"  He realized he was holding his breath waiting for her answer.

She looked away so he could not see her face.  "No."

"Yesterday when we met..." How could that have only been yesterday?  "you said something that I wasn't sure of your meaning.  You said you were here to escape.  Are you in danger?  I haven't been able to dismiss that worrisome thought."

"No."  Rose sighed deeply, looked up at him as if to read his character, then dropped her face to study her shoes, "I ran away from my wedding."

"You what!"  When heads turned, he lowered his voice.  "Does the groom know where you are?"


"Your parents?"


"That is astounding."  He felt a clutch in his breathing as he tried to take it in.  "Do you want to explain, or is that it: you are a runaway bride?"

"It's not a fact that I'm proud of, but considering the circumstances, I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

"Okay?"  He waited to see if she would say more.

"Brian and I were engaged about six months.  At first everything seemed to be going well, then I sensed a change in him.  I even asked him if he was sure he wanted to get married.  He assured me he did, but he was only partially there emotionally.  The day before the rehearsal, I could not find my phone, and I needed to call the caterer.  He'd left his phone on the counter, so I was going to use it when I saw things, things that were open, other girl's numbers, porn sights, stuff I never wanted to ever see.  I simply put my ring on his phone, went to pack, took a cab and got on the train.  Oh, and I left a note in my apartment to tell my parents that I was alright, just that there wasn't going to be a wedding, that I found out Brian wasn't the Christian man I had dreamed of.  He was living a double life.  That is it in a nutshell.  I'll call my parents when I get to the East coast, but I think the engagement ring I left sitting on his phone let them know it was over.  I needed to get away, as far away as possible."

"Wow.  That's pretty awful stuff to have to go through.  I feel like I need to apologize for all of Adam's tribe."  Richard found himself holding her while she cried.  "Rose, you are worth so much more than that jerk."  He rested his chin on her head trying not to enjoy having her in his arms too much as she was upset, and rightfully so!

"Thank you."  She gulped as she tried to regain composure.  "As sad as I am, I feel so relieved to have found this out before the wedding.  It could have been so much worse."  She straightened up when she realized how she was in his arms but still did not push him away.  She turned her face up saying, "I'm okay now.  I've already cried buckets." 

"I would always be willing to provide a shoulder to cry on, and a fist to plant in this Brian's face." He still had his arm around her. and she relaxed against his shoulder.

Rose laughed a cynical laugh.  "I doubt he'd learn anything even that way.  I'm only sorry that I left my parents to clean up the wedding mess, all the cancellations, and all that.  I just had to get away, from the phone, from someone knocking on my door, from having to explain it over and over.  I know IF I ever think about getting married again, it will be a very simple ceremony."

"Simple is good."

"My grandfather hopped a train, was riding a rail car when he saw my mother hanging out laundry on the line.  He jumped off the train, got a job, and then came calling.  Pretty romantic.  They were happily married  67 years.  I don't think they make relationships like that anymore."

"Well, you might as well enjoy this trip.  I know I am.  I have been married to my work for so long avoiding relationships after being burned a long time ago.  It's hard to build back trust once it's been broken.  Trust me I know."

"So you were in love and got dumped?"

"Not at the altar, but we had an understanding, at least I thought we had.  Looking back, I see it would have been a disaster.  I was in love with a vision of her, not the real person.  Now I can't imagine what I was thinking." 

"Every moment has its pleasures and its hopes."
Jane Austen, "Mansfield Park"

She sighed beside him.  "Her loss.  You are really a great guy, Richard."

"I like hearing  that, from you, a high compliment indeed.  You have every right to be a man-hater."
  He swallowed hard,  "Do you care if I ask you one more question, well maybe two."

"You might as well since I'm baring my soul to you tonight."

"Where are you really from, and do you think we can keep in touch when you get home?"

"I live in a rural area outside Stanford.   And yes, I would like that very much."

He intertwined his fingers with hers.  "I'm not asking for a rebound here, but I have to let you know that you have taken my every thought captive.  I don't think I will be able to let go any time soon, maybe never."

She squeezed his hand and looked up to smile.  He felt better than Tarzan, John Wayne, and Darcy put together.  

"It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy; it is disposition alone.
Seven years would not be insufficient to make some people acquainted with one another,
and seven days are more than enough for others."
Jane Austen "Sense and Sensibilities"

 "There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart."
Jane Austen

"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy..." Jude 24

We all need a pick-me-up sometimes...

I wonder what part of this verse applies to our frail humanity?  All of it, from the not stumbling to the blamelessness before His glory, it is Truth.  Why do we so want to diminish the Gospel into something we can handle by ourselves, filthy rags we are more comfortable in, shall I even say we strut about in them beating our chests saying, "Woe is me, my righteousness is filthy rags in God's eyes."  So by declaring ourselves unfit, we truly remain unfit for the Kingdom.

"Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong;
and the one who is filthy, still be filthy;
and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness;
and the one who is holy still keep himself holy."
"...Blessed are those who wash their robes,
so that they may have the right to the tree of life,
and may enter by the gates into the city."
Revelation 22:11, 14

Would God be happy that His children are seen walking around in filthy rags?   Of course not.  We cannot earn our salvation in our own efforts, but that does not negate that it is a judgment against Israel to be caught in filthy rags, not the desired condition but the one under condemnation in Isaiah 64:6...

""For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
...And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on  Your name...
Who arouses himself to take hold of You;...
But now, O Lord, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.
Behold, look now,
all of us are Your people."
Isaiah 64:6-9

These verses are not saying that filthy rags is our only recourse, all we can claim to hide our shame.  That is a description of those apart from God.  He wants to change us, clothe us in something new to be His people.  Arouse yourself to take hold of Him.

Then he showed me Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord,
and Satan (the Adversary or Accuser) standing at his right hand to accuse him.
The Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan!
Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!
Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?' 
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying,
'Remove the filthy garments from him.'
Again he said to him, 
'See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes'...
"Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,"
says the Lord of hosts.
...'Grace, grace to it!'"
Zechariah 3:1-4, 4:6-7
It was a promise for the giving of the Spirit to make it possible to walk without stumbling, to be presentable, blameless even: removing the filthy clothes, removing the iniquity and replacing them with festal robes.  It goes back to the definition of sin whether it is falling short of God's perfection or willful transgress.  We can walk blameless without stumbling in willful transgress refusing to go against what we know is right as long as we walk in the Spirit.  As far as the human frailty, we can still walk in the light to the best of our knowledge.  The difference that keeps us from stumbling is not letting go of His hand.  Apart from Him, we cannot walk a straight line.  
"But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests,
he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes,
and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' 
And the man was speechless.  Then the king said to the servants,
 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; 
in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,' 
 For many are called, but few are chosen." 
Matthew 22:11-14

Don't insult the Spirit of grace by hanging onto your filthy rags, not looking any different from your former self.  You may have received the invitation, but that doesn't assure a place at the wedding supper of the Lamb.  First you must lay aside your filthy rags, be cleansed, and put on your wedding clothes.   Be presentable, blameless.  He wants to take your hand, lead you out and dance with you.  There will be great joy in the presence of His glory.