Readers; If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have been posting segments from a novel in progress. I am going to do that again, here and now, but I want to say a few introductory words to keep you from getting angry and frustrated and, I hope, to get or keep you interested in this story. First I will apologize for being repetitive – at least somewhat repetitive. If you read this post, you will recognize that other forms of it have appeared here before. But I am posting this again because I believe I have improved this passage substantially from before and I want to get it out there and see your reactions to it. Now a bit of background in the hopes of making this passage – which is from the middle of the book – intelligible to you as you read it here today, out of context.
This segment is a conversation between the two main characters in the story – Rachel Thompson and Jacob Eaton. They are on an airplane as this conversation takes place, en route to Belgium where they will begin a search for some treasure hidden in a cave there. Rachel, in an old house she recently bought, has found a map that they believe will lead them to riches hidden away hundreds of years ago by the Habsburg Emporer. She has retained (sort of) Jacob Eaton to help her in that quest. He is a Wall Street lawyer with expertise in art transactions and all sorts of high connections in Europe.
But, Jacob and Rachel have a history together. They were close friends in high school, some 20 years before this conversation takes place and they dated, sort of, for a few weeks just before they graduated. That relationship ended on a rather sour note. On oneof their very informal “dates” Rachel ends up leaving the party with another guy – David Dunnigan – and leaving Jacob there alone.
Although this signaled the end of their “dating” they nonetheless attend their senior prom together the next weekend. It was too late to make other plans. Dresses already bought, arrangements already made with friends, you know the drill.
At the end of that evening, just as they leave the dance, they find that someone has taken all of the lug nuts off of the wheels of Jacob’s (actually his father’s) car. It is raining at the and it just so happens (so it appears, at least) that David Dunnigan is driving by at that very moment. He offers to take Rachel home and out of the rain.
So much for background. Now the passage from the book:
The white noise of the plane was muffled and the flight was smooth and Rachel was asleep in her seat only minutes after she finished her bagel. When she woke she found Jacob asleep beside her and it was then that she began to consider how she might approach the subject of their trouble in high school; how she could explain and apologize for her thoughtless treatment of him so many years ago. Soon she admitted to herself that the problem was not in the planning or the manner of execution, it was simply in working up the courage to be plain about it; the resolution to do it.
When he woke, she put her hand over his on the seat arm between them as if to get his attention in the tenderest way possible.
When he turned to her she tilted her head and smiled at him in a way that she had not done for twenty years. She looked and smiled at him with that look and smile that had come so easily and naturally when it was, for that brief interlude, just her and him together. She had not planned to do this, but she knew that she had to tell him, even before she spoke a word, that what she was going to say was different from all this guarded and prosaic business that had gone on between them in this late chapter. She was speaking now not as John Thompson’s widow and an old and lost friend, but as Rachel Robinson, the girl he once knew and had never forgotten. And when she did, he recognized that smile and it warmed him and he felt his body relax and in his heart rose an old joy that astonished him. He thought he had remembered everything, but seeing this smile, this smile that was once just for him, even the old memories were overrun by new and renewed emotion. He caught his breath.
“Jacob, you remember prom night?” she asked.
As an attorney who regularly handled sales and negotiations where millions of dollars might ride on the raising of an eyebrow, Jacob Eaton was practiced at maintaining a poker face. But Rachel’s question touched a wound that had been suffered long before Jacob learned his craft and the young, unpracticed heart, beneath all of his professional polish, was pierced and she saw in his eyes the start of emotion before he recovered.
“Of course. Of course I do. I don’t dwell on that or even hold anybody responsible.” He shook his head in dismissal. “We were kids. That’s all.”
She tried to again muster that telling smile. “No. That’s not all. And I want to tell you the rest. I hope you’re willing to hear it.”
Jacob raised his open hands and tilted his head. “It isn’t necessary. I don’t hold any grudges. Being seventeen is enough of an explanation as far as I’m concerned.”
“No, it isn’t. There are some things that I did to you that I want to apologize for and some things I want to explain.”
“It’s okay, Rachel. Really okay. But I’m willing – more than willing – to listen to anything you want to say.”
“Okay. First my guilt and then my explanations. I was wrong to go off and leave you at Rhonda’s party that night; the week before prom. You remember that, don’t you? Don’t tell me you don’t. I won’t believe that.”
“Yes. I remember.”
“I told myself that it was okay; that you and I had purposely and consciously kept things at such an open level that I was free to do what I did. I told myself that for a while. But you would never have done that to me and if you had, I would have been hurt; mortified is more like it. And I can’t deny that even then I knew down in my heart that what I was doing would hurt you. I halfway convinced myself otherwise for a while, thinking that you would have had no right to be offended, since we had no understanding between us then. But that illusion didn’t hold up for very long.
“So, I’m guilty there, and I am sorry for it. Now here is the part that I want to explain. I’ve wanted to tell you this ever since it happened, but the time was never right.” She paused and looked away and dropped her head and closed her eyes for a moment. Then she looked at him again. “I mean that I have never had the guts to tell you, as common decency would require. I did not know that David Dunnigan had taken the lug-nuts off of your dad’s car that night. I really didn’t. You did find out it was him, didn’t you?”
“Never for sure. I suspected him, though. I got the lug nuts back and I wanted no more of that drama. Nothing to be gained by it. I knew that you and I were over.”
“Well, it was him. I know that because I saw the lug nuts in the back of his car as he was driving me home that night.”
“I don’t know if I can get across how that made me feel when I saw them. Of course I knew then what he was up to. He had set the whole thing up to get me away from you and into his car. That was mean and dishonest. I was scared for myself then. At that moment finding out just how deceitful he was and how he had planned to get me alone. And the lug nuts in his back seat. He knew that I would see them. What did he think I would think of that? Did he think I would approve? Did he think I was that callous; that conniving?
“I thought of the danger, the hurt and insult to myself until I ran out of his car at the bottom of my hill. I walked home in the rain, Jacob. There in my high heels and that blue gown, through the muddy lawns. I must have been quite a sight.
“But once I was safe my mind turned to what this would mean to you – how I would explain it all to you. I sat on my bed and cried so hard that I shook. I thought over and over again about what I could say, how I could approach you. And I got stuck, Jacob, because every explanation I could come up with sounded empty. How could I explain – how could I claim – that I would never have left you there as a part of any plan when I had done the same thing, more or less, only a week or so before? I had walked away from you – my escort, the guy who had picked me up at home and spoken to my parents – and I had just left you there. I had my reasons then, but they were all selfish. Maybe what I had done was not quite as devious as what David did that night, but it was in principle the very same. I had done what was convenient for me without regard for you; without regard for your feelings; what I knew your feelings to be.
“I do have to tell you now what you surely have figured out yourself if you have thought this over at all and if you have been at all charitable to me in your thinking. I was scared then, Jacob. Scared of what might have happened between us. We were one step away from commitment then and I will admit that a part of me wanted that; that I could see us happy together. I saw so much in you then and everything that has happened since has only served to prove me right about you. But I was scared. I did not know what that kind of commitment would bring. I didn’t think I was ready for that. And I saw myself on the threshold of a new freedom. A freedom I had been longing for. That is what motivated me. You might forgive me some, if you accept all of that, but it does not diminish the wrong I did and it does not diminish my regret and remorse.
“I simply couldn’t find a way to speak with you about what had happened without revealing to you a selfish and cowardly part of me that I didn’t want you to see. It was something that I didn’t want to look at or think of, much less confess or admit.”
Rachel exhaled and looked away for a moment. She turned back to Jacob and spoke again.
“I knew what you thought of me, Jacob. It was precious to me. It was what I hoped and wanted to be and I could not bring myself to tell you that I was not that. That’s why I didn’t go to your father’s funeral. I was so wrapped up in myself – my image of myself. I could not face it. That’s maybe the worst thing of all. That’s why I have never spoken to you of it.”
“Rachel,” he said, “it was a long time ago. We were kids, that’s all.”
“No. We were old enough to be doing the things we were doing. We were old enough to have feelings and old enough to understand them. I have never in my life felt as bad and as torn apart about anything as I was then. I went on with my life and so did you and I thought that the day was past and that there would never be any reason or cause to raise the subject again. But here we are and I can’t sit here beside you any longer without coming clean. It was a terrible thing I did. A terrible, unfeeling thing. And I deeply regret it.”
Rachel’s terrible, unfeeling act was, strangely enough, the beginning of Jacob Eaton’s life. It was not that he had simply shrugged off the hurt, ginned up a new resolution, and set himself on a higher course. It was quite the opposite. What this experience forced Jacob to admit was that his life had no course at all. This love of Rachel had filled every empty space in his soul and in it had consisted his every hope. And then there was none and there was simply no answer for it. No explanation of his fault or her change in heart. The dream, the hope, the plan, the idea for his life was simply gone.
What was special about Jacob was not the disappointment he suffered as a result of the rejection of the girl he loved. More men have met with that disappointment than not. What was unique to Jacob was how he reacted to it.
He heard and rejected the voices of his friends – those who told him that this was nothing; that he should consider it nothing and be glad for the freedom and independence that was now before him. They told him that all he had thought about Rachel was wrong and that he had better simply dismiss it all as an adolescent fantasy and get on with real life. He knew better and left everything he felt about her alone. He made no effort to undermine or dilute those feelings that he knew to be true. Instead of clutching at something new, instead of rejecting and rethinking, he simply opened his hands. He stood in a dark hallway and waited for some door to open. Instead of speaking, instead of demanding, instead of complaining, he would listen, he would wait for the open door and allow the unfolding of life to lead him he knew not where.
And lead it did. To Oxford, to Chatsworth, and finally to the Wall Street law firm where he accepted what his managing partner had believed to be a loser of a case – a case that Jacob took on and, with the help of his noble friends, turned into the richest art transaction in the history of the world. In the sale of Leonardo’s “Salvador Mundi,” the “Savior of The World,” Jacob Eaton had once more learned the truth of the words of that very savior – it is the meek who shall inherit the earth and those who are crushed in spirit, theirs is the very kingdom of heaven.
As the years had passed and as he had soldiered on, turning neither to the right nor to the left, his life was one of quiet triumph. He was patient, yet he never rejected an opportunity. And with every victory came new wisdom. Some seemingly invincible foe was unmasked, some unknown strength found, some evil power rendered impotent.
But Rachel’s confession here brought back to mind that one thing in his life that had not, had never, been resolved. In this instance, no amount of humility, endurance, and effort had ever broken through. Why had this girl he had loved rejected him so completely, so coldly? He had, long since, come to terms with the idea that he would never know. That way had simply gone on to way and that what he had believed to be at stake then was actually not a part of his destiny – Rachel was not the pearl of great price he had believed her to be. He had left the hurt and the memory and gone on.
But now that very thing that he had given up all hope of ever understanding had been resolved. In the few moments Rachel had taken to unburden her heart, Jacob’s understanding of the world and Rachel and himself had deepened even further. It was as if the last planet in his universe finally aligned and he heard in his soul the music of the spheres.
What I always thought of her is true, he said to himself.
Jacob was looking away, out the window of the plane at the white clouds and the blue Atlantic below them. Then he turned away from the window and pressed himself back against the leather seat. She was afraid he wouldn’t speak.
“Well, I will give your confession what it is due – an honest response. Yes, what you did on those two nights hurt me deeply. So much had been implied between us, so I thought. I wrestled with that idea for a long time – for years, really. About whether I was right to feel hurt or whether you were completely in the right to do as you had done. To exercise your freedom as you did. I never came to any real conclusion on the matter. But time heals all wounds. I never did resolve it. But no matter who was right or wrong, it – you already know this – it never dimmed my affection for you. These things were contrary to your character, I thought. The character I had grown to admire in the years that had gone before and in the time after when I watched you from afar. All of that so far outweighed the injury that I never stopped . . . I never stopped admiring you. I still do. But I do appreciate all that you’ve said. Something is resolved now that I thought would never be resolved and I am at rest about it in a way that I never thought possible. I feel lighter. I had forgotten the weight I was carrying. And now it is gone.”