Janine and Jonathan exited the side door of St. Bartholomew's Church, and descended the stairs at a rapid pace.
“Thank you so much for getting me out of there, Johnathan, I just could not stand it any longer,” she said with exasperation. “ Those damned hypocrites! Acting like they are so sad she is gone. They used to snicker behind her back, you know, say she came from the sticks, called her a country bumpkin!” Johnathan awkwardly patted her arm, but her anger was not lessened.
“She was the best of them! The one true original in the whole batch! That's why Uncle Lucien fell in love with her, he used to tell me the story when I was small.”
Jonathan flagged down a taxi, and told the driver to take them the twelve blocks to the south entrance to Central Park. He listened quietly as Janine related how her uncle had delighted in telling the story of their courtship, making her aunt blush like a new bride, despite the intervening years. He had been considered “quite the catch” he would say smugly, and had his pick of the fine young debutantes making their entrance into society that season. But “his” Ruby was a rare gem indeed, and he determined to make her his own. She had played “hard to get” leading him on a merry chase. But finally he had worn her down, and claimed her for his bride. At this point in the tale, he would reach out and take his wife's hand in his, and the years would fall away making them, for the moment, young again, with love shining in their eyes. Janine choked back a sob.
“I wish I had met her,” Jonathan said. “She sounds like a grand lady.”
“Oh, she was, she certainly was...”
The taxi took them up Park Ave., then left on 60th, and dropped them at the Grand Army Plaza, where they passed the yellow striped awnings of hot dog and ice cream carts, and entered the park. With no particular destination in mind, they started to walk.
“You know, Janine, the more I here about your aunt, the more I think she must have been a lot like you,” he said, glancing sideways at her.
Janine was startled, “I never thought about it before, but I would like to be. Like her, I mean.” She looked up at him. “That probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!” she hugged his arm tight, as she looked away, smiling for the first time that day.
“I know this probably isn't the best time for this, but something has been on my mind for a while now, Janine. Something I wanted to ask you.” He hesitated.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” she cut in, desperate to stop his next words. “Aunt Ruby left me some property in her will.”
“She did? Well that's to be expected, I suppose,” he said, sounding distracted.
Janine worried that she knew exactly why he was distracted, and spoke quickly to forestall his next words. If this conversation was going in the direction she suspected, she wanted to stop it before anything was said that would be embarrassing for them both. This wasn't the first time she had faced a marriage proposal. She'd even been tempted to accept a time or two. But air-headed as her family believed her to be, she was piercingly shrewd when it came to matters of the heart. She realized that she was different, that her free spirit and unconventional ways were attractive to men, especially those that found themselves unexpectedly trapped in the corporate maze, unsure why their dreams of success failed to shine as anticipated and unable to envision a way out. She knew they saw her as an escape, a momentary break from their controlled world, but knew also, it could never last. When they found her unwilling to attend formal parties and business functions, dangling like a pretty bauble for them to show off, their interest quickly cooled, and they moved on to more biddable girls. She had hoped this time would be different, Jonathan seemed genuinely interested in her art, in her dream to live a simple life, but deep down, she knew that hope to be false.
“ Yes, I suppose it was,” she continued. “It's a farm, you know, near a little town in Washington,” she explained, “the state,” she added, anticipating his question. “I am planning on heading out that way right after Ellie's wedding. Maybe see what's out there, if there's a market for my work.”
“But, that's a long commute, Janine, why would you want to travel so much?”
“ I don't intend to travel, Jonathan, I'm going to live there,” she said quietly.
“Live there? Live there? Why would you want to live there?
“Jonathan, you know I've always wanted to live on a farm, you know that, why are you surprised?”
“Well, sure, you always talked about it, but that's just one of those things people say! Like, 'we should open a bar' or 'we should start a band'! No one actually does those things, their just dreams! Real people do normal stuff for a living.”
“Oh? I'm not real? Huh? I always knew I wasn't normal, but I did think I was real.”
“I didn't mean it that way,” he mumbled. “I just meant, well, I always thought... Well, you and I, I thought we had an understanding. This is unexpected.” He turned aside, rubbing the back of his neck.
“I am trying to understand here...”
As they walked along in silence, along East Drive, past The Pond, Janine tried to think of something to say, something to magically fix this impasse. But she knew it was impossible, he was he, and she was...
“This is silly, Janine, you don't have to exile yourself out in the boondocks, just to have your art and a garden. Marry me, I'll make sure you have all the time in the world to paint, you can attend the best art schools, learn anything you want. We'll buy all our food at that greenmarket you love, we won't have to tell anyone you're a hippie, you'll see it will work!”
“And what about your work, all those cocktail parties and fancy dinner engagements, how will you explain your wife's absence from your bosses weekend retreats? You know how important they are to your career, that you have to make the right impression. I won't be responsible for holding you back, Jonathan. That is the world you crave, the world you fought to be apart of, the world that has no place for me.”
“That's not fair, Janine.”
“I know it isn’t, but it's true. I know you never thought I meant all those things I said about getting out of here, living in the country. I know,” she said sadly. “It isn't fair, to you or me.”
He reached out and drew her into a hug. “I guess we can try a long distance thing, people do it all the time,” he said without conviction.
“Sure,” she said, “we can try...”
“Oh my God, I miss you so much already!” Ellie said dramatically, as they stood outside the security check at LaGuardia Airport. “I can't believe you're really leaving!”
Janine hugged her close. “I'll be back in time for the baby shower, El, I promise.”
“And the birth, you promised you'd be there, you promised!”
“I wouldn't miss it for the world, that's my little god child in there,” she said, patting Ellie's slightly rounded belly. “I have to make sure you know what your doing!”
“As if you have a clue, you're not a farmer yet, my girl!”
“Nope! Not yet!” but soon, Janine thought, soon.
It had taken her longer than she thought to get everything in order to move across the country. There were legal issues and choices to make, and the packing had been a nightmare, deciding what to take, and what to leave behind. She had made two trips out to Washington already and determined that the house was too small. Ellie had helped design the new addition, a guestroom, which she planned to help decorate, and already referred to as “their room”. David missed the open spaces of his native land, so they planned to visit frequently. Then there was Ellie and David's wedding, which had been a lovely affair, with buttercup yellow bridesmaid dresses and impossibly purple roses. Janine had designed the flowers for the event, and thought she might really have a talent for it. At least everyone said they loved them. She had enjoyed getting to know David, and was anticipating their visit next month. He wanted to “check out” her property, and help her “choose decent stock for the place”. How perfect that her best friend was married to an expert in just the kind of stuff she needed to learn, he was ever so patient with her endless questions, she had already learned a lot. But today was the real thing, the day she left the urban sprawl of the east coast, to find what the west had to offer.
It was her turn to suffer the indignity of airport security. She removed her shoes and placed them, along with her purse, into the gray plastic tub provided by the uniformed guard. She hefted her carry-on and watched as her belongings slid down the conveyor belt, then turned to Ellie one last time.
“Be safe, be good, write to me soon!” she said.
Ellie laughed, “Write to you, are you kidding? I plan on calling you twice a day, and expect me to stalk you on Facebook! Just be happy, OK? I've always said you deserve to be happy, Janine.”
“You know something,” she mused, “I think, for the first time, I finally believe you...” and with a final quick squeeze, she walked through the metal detector, and gathered her things.