Authors: Kelee Morris
We headed to the airy cafeteria upstairs. It was quieter here, with a scattering of students drinking coffee, studying, or watching CNN on a large screen TV. We both chose the salad bar and found a table next to a large, sunny window. As we ate, I tried to explain athletics from Lily’s perspective—the pure joy she found in pushing her body to its limit and discovering that her abilities were often greater than her estimations. Caroline nodded. “Kind of like getting through
I smiled. “I bet no sports writer has ever made that connection.”
Caroline chewed a mini heirloom tomato thoughtfully before asking, “How do I know if a guy likes me?”
I put down my fork. “You shouldn’t worry about that. Focus on what you want. Is this a guy you really want to spend time with? Does he deserve you?”
“I just want to know what’s going to happen after the game. Is he going to want to have sex or want me to pay for my ticket?”
“If he wants both, run the other way.”
My cell phone interrupted our conversation. It was the head of the human resources department at Tim’s office. She asked if I was available tomorrow for an interview.
I sent a brief email to Nina, telling her that I wouldn’t be in the next day. I still hadn’t heard a word from Ashland. It was becoming increasingly obvious that either he regretted what had happened in Matilda’s Nest as much as I did, or he was angry that I hadn’t spread my legs for him then and there.
The interview at Morgan, Grossinger, and Hepler went better than I expected. Tina Baumgartner, the human resources director, had two girls about Anna and Mackenzie’s ages. She understood what it was like to be a working mother and had found her bosses to be very flexible. Our conversation devolved from an interview to a casual chat about work/life balance. She took me to meet two of the partners, and when she finally had to end our meeting two hours later, she walked me to the lobby doors. “I really enjoyed meeting you, Julia,” she said, shaking my hand. “Of course, we’re interviewing other people, but you’re definitely at the top of my list.”
I called Matt in Tulsa to tell him the news. “That’s great,” he enthused. “Maybe you should go ahead and give your notice at the university. You can take some time off before you start another job.”
On Thursday, I returned to the library. “Who won?” I asked Caroline.
She thought for a long moment before replying, “I have no idea.”
“How much did the ticket cost?”
She smiled mischievously. “I don’t know that either.”
I went to my alcove and tried to focus on my work instead of Ashland Stewart. My translation skills had improved considerably. I only occasionally searched out an archaic word or phrase. Now I could lose myself in the 16
Century, fully absorbed in Brother Ferreira’s journey.
The monk had found no better reception among the Koreans than Fr. Xavier had with the Japanese. Neither he nor the Japanese castaways spoke a word of the local language, so he tried to share the gospel using illustrations from his Bible. The Koreans were polite, but they had little interest in a strange God who became human and died on a cross.
Friday arrived. I wasn’t scheduled to work today, but after watching Mackenzie climb on the bus and taking CC back in the house, I headed over to campus.
I could have sent him an email, or even addressed it to Nina. But my certainty now that he had been avoiding me since the party made me angry. I knew he had office hours this morning and I wanted to face him in person. I had no intention of bringing up Matilda’s Nest. I would tell him that he would have to find another translator. I had found another job, and I was resigning effective today.
As I strode determinedly past the rare books library on my way to the archeology building, I felt a twinge of sadness. The truth was, I enjoyed my translation work. Brother Ferreira’s journal would likely yield no new insights into Magoa, but it felt very satisfying to bring lost history back to life. I probably wasn’t going to receive similar gratification from my new job.
I mounted the dusty stairs to the third floor, encountering nobody I knew. I had never been to Ashland’s office, but I found it easily, tucked into a corner at the end of the hallway. The door was closed, so I knocked softly. There was no answer. I confirmed by the sign on the door listing his office hours that he should be here, so I rapped again. I could come back, or send him an email, but I needed to finish this before the doubts I could feel gnawing at the back of my mind came to the fore.
I tried the door. It was unlocked. I pushed it open.
Ashland’s university office was neither as large nor as opulent as the one in his home, but I could still feel the man’s strong presence here. Thick books were neatly arranged on tall shelves. His desk, built from rich, dark maple, was solid and masculine. A few papers were stacked neatly on top of it. Other than a large coffee cup, there were no personal affects in sight.
I stood uncertainly, wondering what to do now that I had invaded his private space yet again. I stepped to his desk. A small notebook lay on it. I hesitated before opening it. It was blank—no secrets here. I looked around but saw no pen. Checking first that the hallway was still empty, I slipped behind the desk and sat in his richly padded chair.
I pulled open the wide top drawer and immediately spotted a pen. I reached for it and noticed a photo in a simple framed tucked under some papers. Checking the door again, I slipped it out.
The colors were faded, as if it had once been displayed where the sunlight could find it. I immediately recognized Ashland, his hair full, his face alive and happy. His arm was wrapped around a woman’s thin waist. They were standing on a beach, smiling for the camera, an azure sea behind them. She was considerably smaller than him. Her blonde hair, caught by the wind, whipped across her forehead. Her green eyes were as bright as his. She was beautiful. I was sure she must be Adriana, his dead wife.
I replaced the picture quickly and closed the drawer. I should never have snooped. I quickly wrote out my note to him.
I tore off the paper and wadded it up. I started again.
Dear Dr. Stewart,
I was hoping to speak with you in person, but I think it’s more important to let you know that I need to resign my position as translator because of another opportunity. I appreciate getting the chance to work on such an important project. Good luck.
Reading over my note, it sounded impersonal, but what choice did I have?
I enjoyed smashing face with you the other night, but it’s clearly a mistake we both regret.
As I folded the note neatly in half and wrote his name on the outside, I did feel regret, but it wasn’t because of what happened. Deep inside, I felt a stirring, and heard a voice there whisper:
You regret that it isn’t going to happen again.
Clearly, Ashland didn’t feel the same way. There was nothing I could do but push Matilda’s Nest out of my mind and move on.
I returned the pen to the drawer, rolled his chair back into place, and left, closing the office door behind me.
As I walked to the stairway, Elena appeared at the end of the hallway. “What are you doing up here?” she asked.
“I was just looking for Dr. Stewart. He wasn’t in his office.”
“You must have been holed up in the library too long.”
“Why, what’s going on?”
She smiled, looking pleased that she had inside information. “Dr. Xan is here from Beijing. They’ve been in meetings all week, working on getting access to Magoa. Plus, his friend Dr. Reiniger is back in the hospital. That’s where he been spending his evenings.”
“I didn’t know,” I said.
I started towards the stairs. Elena called after me. “I heard you were invited to Dr. Reiniger’s party.”
I turned back and met her eyes. “I know him through a friend. It’s so sad.”
I hurried on down the stairs before Elena could ask me any more questions.
Arriving back at the library, I said a few words to Caroline before returning to my hiding place with the journal. I thought Ashland was avoiding me. Once again, I had misjudged him. I considered returning to his office and retrieving the note. Deep down, I didn’t want to trade this work for a boring corporate job. I wanted to follow Brother Ferreira’s journey to see where it led.
And you want to see where things will lead with Ashland.
It was the voice deep inside me again. I recognized it now. It was a voice that spoke to me when I was much younger, back when I got my tattoo. I was sexually adventurous then. I wanted to leave behind my repressive childhood. I wanted to explore a world of desire.
I told myself,
I’ve made my decision
I opened the heavy leather cover and tried to focus on Brother Ferreira’s elegant script, but my mind was still caught in the more recent past.
I had numerous lovers when I was in my 20s. Some of them were good; many were disappointing. When I got my tattoo, I felt like it was a beacon, calling to the man in my dreams. He never came. I met Matt, had children, and the tattoo became fading evidence of a naïve fantasy.
Pushing away my feelings of loss, I opened my computer and continued my translation. Brother Ferreira had decided to forego rescue and venture into the heart of the Korean peninsula. He was convinced that God had put him here for a reason, and he was determined to learn God’s will.
Immersed in my work, I lost track of time. Perhaps I had been in the library an hour or two. With no sun coming through my little window, the space felt as confined and focused as my thoughts.
A shadow obscured the journal. For a moment, I thought it was from the window, but it was coming from the wrong direction. I looked up and saw him standing there.
He was wearing a long coat, the same one he wore on the lakefront. His hair was tousled, as if he forgot to brush it this morning. His eyes were churning with emotion, like a storm surge barely contained by a failing levee. “Julia…” he said, his voice like a rumble of thunder.
“Dr. Stewart… Ashland. I … I shouldn’t have left that note.”
“I understand that you’re angry with me. What happened at the party was inappropriate. I should have called to apologize, but—”
“I know. Elena told about Dr. Reiniger and your meetings.”
“That’s not an acceptable excuse.”
I rose, holding onto my chair for support. I had gone from anger to… what? I wasn’t sure. There were so many emotions battering me that I couldn’t think straight. “It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the kind of stupid thing two people do when they’re drunk at a party.”
“I wasn’t drunk.”
I stared at him, watching the emotions that played across his face. I wanted to believe the worst about him, but I couldn’t.
“That’s one of the reasons I’ve tried to stay away from you.”
“Then this is the right thing to do.”
“You’re a wonderful translator and…” He stopped. His eyes were blazing, his usual coolness burnt away by emotion. “I haven’t felt like this about any woman since…” He caught himself, as if he was still unable to touch the bottom of a deep hole. “Julia, I don’t want you to leave.”
Where had that come from?
I had to leave. I had to escape before it was too late.
“I want you…” He didn’t finish the sentence. Perhaps there was no ending. There was only desire.
In that moment, I cared nothing of work, or Brother Ferreira, or his god, or my marriage, or that Caroline was still sitting behind her desk in the library lobby, easily within earshot of us. I wanted to fly near the sun. I wanted to be overcome by the heat, to feel myself plunging down into hot passion, to be incinerated only to rise again like the Phoenix.
This time there was no doubt who made the first move. I pushed my chair away and came to him. Our bodies pressed hungrily together and his lips found mine again. He was kissing me, devouring me. I bit down on his lower lip, wanting to swallow him too, engorging myself with lust.
In one smooth motion he hoisted me onto the table. I slid the journal safely out of the way and spread my legs. He pushed his body against mine. I could feel his cock straining against his tailored slacks. As his tongue found mine, he reached one hand under the thick wool sweater I had worn to ward off the library’s chill. His hands were white-hot, fueling my desire as he caressed my back, then my stomach.
He moved higher and deftly released my bra. Moving his hand under it, he enveloped my breast, taking a nipple between two strong fingers. I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart was racing out of control. I moaned as quietly as I could, afraid Caroline would hear us, but at the same time, not giving a damn. Using both hands, he pulled my sweater up over my head. It wasn’t too late. I could still stop this. I could come back to earth.
Instead, I slipped my bra off, letting it drop to the floor.
He kissed me long and deep while his thumb deftly made a slow circle around first one nipple, then the other.
I spread my legs wider, a subtle invitation that he immediately understood. His hands reached for my jeans, unbuttoning them, pulling the zipper, smoothly sliding them off my legs. My panties were a dull, boring, off-white. How would I have known that I’d be having sex today in the library?