Melanie pounced as soon as the door closed. “His name?” she demanded.
Elly brushed by her. “Connor McKenzie.”
Melanie followed hard on her heels. “Rank? Serial number?”
“He’s a graduate student in linguistics.”
“And you met where?”
“On your mission? Oh, how Happy Valley is that?”
“He wasn’t a missionary when we met.”
“Obviously, if he’s a grad student. Did you meet at church? When you were in Japan, I mean.”
Elly strode through the living room to the kitchen, arrived at the stove, had no idea what she was doing there, spun around and paced back to the living room, nearly colliding with Melanie coming after her. She was giddy and afloat, high in every sense of the word. All revved up and no place to go. She ran her hands through her hair and locked her fingers across the crown of her head.
“Elly, will you stop!”
She came to a halt between the kitchen and living room and leaned her forehead against the closet door.
“What’s up with you?”
Elly didn’t plan on saying what she said next, but couldn’t help herself: “I so totally want to sleep with him.”
“Good grief. You didn’t tell him that, did you?”
“Of course not!”
“Okay. Calm down and think this through. Does he love you?”
“He loves me. Good heavens but he loves me.”
“Setting the sleeping-with sentiments aside, do you love him?”
“I’m in love with him,” Elly hazarded.
“You’re in love with him, but you don’t love him?”
“Give me a break. I’ve never felt like this before. I always expected the gooey, romantic stuff to come first and give me time to get ready.”
“Really? Never? Not even a steady in high school? Have you told him that you’re in love with him?”
Elly turned and shook her head and leaned back against the door. She felt exhausted.
“Well, don’t. Toss out information like that on a first date and most guys panic. The rest take advantage.”
“It wasn’t exactly a date.”
What else do you call having dinner at a guy’s apartment? I take it you did have dinner?”
“We had dinner with his aunt.”
“He lives with his aunt? Huh.”
“It’s not like that. He has an apartment in the basement. And as far as aunts go, she’s pretty cool.”
“Well, relatives first, in-laws second.” She returned to her previous question: “And you’re sure he loves you?”
“I don’t know what to make of that.” She sighed. “You’re not going to the fireside?”
“No, I’m going to take a nap.”
“All right, but no pining into your pillow.”
“I don’t pine.”
“No, you become unhinged.”
In her room, Elly closed the curtains and lay on the bed. The dark, warm air gathered like a blanket around her. Once they decide on a thing, Wanda told her, you can’t fault them their loyalty. Did she say that to every girl Connor dated? She doubted it. Like everything else about this curious relationship, the message had been custom delivered.
When Connor got back to the house, his aunt was in the living room, reading the Sunday paper. Golf was on the television. He didn’t think his aunt was all that interested in golf. It was on because Uncle Walter had liked watching golf on Sunday afternoons. The wooded fairways, the muted voices of the commentators, recalled something of his presence. It was company, at least, and company that didn’t interrupt and politely left when asked to leave.
“Elly said to thank you for dinner. She didn’t mean to leave without telling you.”
Wanda glanced at her nephew over the rims of her reading glasses. “It was quite my pleasure. Elly is a very nice girl.”
She said, not looking at him, and with no added inflection to her voice, “You know she’s in love with you?”
Connor let the full weight of the question sink in before he answered. “Yeah, I know.”
“Just so’s you do,” she said, with a small, knowing smile.
Elly sat up, stretched, yawned, and rubbed her eyes. She couldn’t see a thing. “Blast,” she said, groping around on the nightstand for the eyedropper to unglue her contacts from the insides of her eyelids.
It was six-thirty. The house was quiet. Melanie must have left for the Marriott Center (with an escort or two) to attend the fireside. Elly turned on the bedroom light and extracted the Alesse box from the back of her underwear drawer. I’m getting married, she’d told Dr. Starley. She might have come to that conclusion first, but she wasn’t the only one.
Hoisted by my own petard. She hadn’t been playing fair when she’d mentioned yobai. Recalling Connor’s reaction, she couldn’t help smiling again. But the smile soon vanished. In Heian culture, it wasn’t the third night the lovers spent together that sealed the engagement. But the third morning. That morning he had stayed with her in their dreams until the moment she awoke.
Now all he had to do was ask, and all she had to say was yes.
She punched the pill into the palm of her hand. In the kitchen she ran a glass of water and swallowed the capsule without a second thought. She gave more consideration to what she was having for dinner.
Connor emailed the terminology lists to Nobuo Sunday night (Monday morning Japan time). In his p.s. he wrote, “Yes, we’re dating.”
Walking to class Monday morning, Elly found herself searching for his face in every crowd she passed.
Melanie said, “So, when do I get to meet him?”
“I’m sure the time will come soon enough.”
In Japanese 301, Elly now paid as much attention to how her uncle lectured as to the subject. Mentally outlining her 101 class at the same time left no time for the frivolous business of being-in-love.
Lunch with Melanie, then to her office to prepare for her class. She poked her head into the Reading/Writing Center. “Is Connor in?”
The guy behind the desk checked the schedule. A short brunette sidled up to her. She at once defined for Elly the living personification of perky. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Alicia.”
“Connor’s got Tuesdays, twelve to six, and Thursdays, two to six. If I see him, I’ll let him know you stopped by. Elly, right?”
She would have stopped by after class, but with two weeks left in the term, Bradley and Darlene weren’t the only ones vying for her time. Even Sonia and Jane—her best students, best because they did their best while burdening her the least—showed up at her cubicle in the TA office. Elly told herself again: No more extra credit assignments!
Bradley was still hung up on the progressive forms of to come and to go. Or rather, that they didn’t have progressive forms, definitely a 300-level subject. He was still waiting at the end of the hour. He’d have to talk fast on her way out of the building.
Bradley got the door for her. There, leaning against the wall, was Connor McKenzie.
“Connor!” she said, quite aware how her face broke into a broad smile. And here was a straightforward resolution to the problem: “Why don’t iku and kuru have progressive forms?”
A question he hadn’t been expecting. He had to think for a minute. “Because they’re stative verbs. Stative verbs describe states of being. Nonstative verbs describe actions or processes.” He paused to come up with an example. “Consider learn and know. Know is a stative verb. You can know a lot or not much, but in static amounts. On the other hand, learning is a process, as in, I’m learning new things every day. Since kuru and iku are stative, they communicate the state of coming or going, not the action. That makes the progressive more akin to the perfect aspect.”
Elly said to Bradley, “You get that?”
“Yeah, I think so.” He said to Connor, “Thanks,” though the expression on his face did not communicate thankfulness.
Bradley headed north up the hall. Elly and Connor headed south. Connor said, “He didn’t look very pleased with my explanation. Too grammar-geeky?”
“I suspect he’s not pleased with you. I’m afraid the boy has a crush on his teacher.”
They came to the Reading/Writing Center. “Hey, Connor,” said Alicia. She was locking the outside door. The Center closed early on Mondays in deference to family home evening.
“Hi, Alicia. This is Elly.”
“Hi, Elly. We met earlier.”
“Then it may be too late, but I’ll warn you that Alicia is an annoying person, and always with the ulterior motives.”
Alicia took Elly by the arm and said, sotto voce, “I’m annoying even when I’m not pregnant.”
“See you two around,” said Alicia, and returned to the Center.
“She’s an interesting person,” observed Elly.
“She’s a bookie. She runs the office pool: who’s getting engaged and when, married and when, with side bets on getting pregnant and date of birth.” They climbed the stairs to the first floor.
“And what are her odds on you?”
“She’s bet against me so far.”
Elly laughed. “In other words, you don’t date much.”
“In other words.”
They pushed through the doors and walked into the hot August afternoon. On the steps down to the sidewalk her hand brushed his. As the motion of their steps brought them together again, he opened his hand and clasped hers, a touch as sweet as a kiss.
Is Alicia betting against you, now? she wanted to ask. She had to suppress the bubbly, effervescent impulse to skip along singing: I’ve got a boyfriend, I’ve got a boyfriend.
They arrived at the crosswalk outside the Wilkinson Center and waited for the light to change. Elly leaned against him. They crossed the street and wended their way through the maze of cars crowding the Law School parking lot. She asked, “Ever been engaged?”
“I dated a girl off and on last year, but it was a dead hypothetical. Alicia had no worries.”
“A dead what?”
“It’s a theory—well, rationalization—I concocted, based on the many-universes hypothesis: that for every decision presented to you there exists a universe where the choice you didn’t make is played out. But some decisions, I’ve concluded, have no hypothetical, no alternate universe of possibilities. There may be a fork in the road, but the road not taken was a dead end all along. Some facet of who you are, or who they are, or the basic nature of space and time, simply precluded that choice having any life of its own. The what if is dead.”
“You’re right, it does sound like a rationalization.”
“But it’s better than fretting about the past.”
“I do my fretting in the present. My roommate Melanie is as much a busybody as Alicia, and very protective. She was my first senior companion, you see.”
They crossed Ninth. Elly said, “You’re at the Writing Center Tuesdays and Thursdays?”
“I go there to study a lot or use the computers if I didn’t bring my laptop. I’ve got phonology mornings and Japanese Lit. afternoons, Monday, Wednesday, Friday.”
“I’m taking Japanese 301, besides teaching. I know. But like I said, it’s thanks to my third-grade Japanese education.”
They stopped at number 30. Elly hitched her backpack strap higher on her shoulder. Invite him in, she thought. But then do what? Other than what she was dying to do. She said, “Walk me home tomorrow?”
He smiled. “You know where to find me.”
A long moment followed, the uncertain actors on the stage. He leaned forward and kissed her, lightly—politely—at first, and then with a growing insistence that betrayed a deeper hunger. His hands rested on her hips, her hands on his shoulders. Their lips parted. She flung her arms around his neck and raised her mouth to his once again, pressing her body against his.
Behind them Melanie said, “Ahem.”
They flew apart—the poles of the magnet suddenly reversed. With a practiced air of nonchalance Melanie strode up the steps. She opened the front door and said over her shoulder, “As you were.”
They looked at each other, grinning like teenagers caught making out on the front porch. Connor said, “See you tomorrow.”
She let him go. They drew apart, reaching out till fingertips slipped from fingertips. He turned down the walk, and with a final glance, a smile, a wave, disappeared out of sight.
But hardly out of mind.