Path of Dreams

Chapter 3

Senior Companion

A knock and the bedroom door opened. A shaft of light spilled into the room. Melanie asked, “Elly, are you all right?”

Elly sat up as if shocked by a cattle prod. She touched her cheek. Her skin was damp with tears. Yes, she was awake. She was in her bed, in the condo on Ninth East she shared with Melanie Crandall, her once and forever senior companion. Elly put her hand on her chest and felt her heart pounding inside her rib cage. She took a deep breath, exhaled.

Melanie stepped into the room. “I thought I heard you moaning, like you were sick or something.”

Elly’s face flushed red hot. Thank goodness Mel hadn’t turned on the light. She looked at Mel’s blurred figure silhouetted there in the doorway. “I—I’m fine. It’s just that—I don’t know—for a minute I guess I forgot where I was. You know, still in Japan.”

Melanie smiled. “Yeah, jet lag. You’re sure you’re okay?”

“I’m okay, Mel.” She repeated herself in Japanese for emphasis, “Heiki desu.” Saying it aloud did make her feel better.

“I’m going jogging. Want to come?”

“No. And I don’t want to tomorrow either. Really.”

“Hmph,” said Melanie. “Not all of us gaijin are blessed with those skinny genes you Japanese girls have.”

A-kan-beh—” Elly said, sticking out her tongue. “Anyway I’m haafu.

“Then you got the half that counts. I’ll be back in thirty minutes. Put on a couple of eggs when you get up, would you?”

“Yes, senpai.”

A year and a half ago, Melanie Crandall had been her first senior companion. Her senpai. And in Japan, once a senpai, always a senpai. Not that Elly minded the relationship playing out that way. Two weeks after her mission ended, she’d flown back to Utah to start summer term at BYU. It was too much change in too short a time. But Melanie had taught her how to be a missionary. Now Elly hoped Mel could teach her to be a normal person again.

After the past several months in Japan, she was looking forward to a large dose of normality.

There were the dreams, to start with. At the end of the long, hot days, she found herself looking forward to the dreams. She looked forward to them, even knowing that in the morning she would be left haunted and alone, plagued with guilt, wondering in what deep, dark well of sin these dreams had been born.

And then there was Susan.

Pairing up with Susan Eliason, her last companion, had been a “favor” to the mission president, President Takada, which only proved that no good deed went unpunished. A year into her mission, Susan had been Dear Jane’d by her fiancé, who had the gall to write that he was sure it was an inspired decision.

Elly knew that if God had anything to do with it, God would have told the jerk to wait another three months.

So instead of being assigned a greenie to train, Elly’s task was to persuade her companion to see things through. Their first week together, Elly had to restrain herself from smacking her and yelling, “Snap out of it!” like Cher in Moonstruck. But she didn’t figure that was what President Takada had in mind.

She tried empathy instead. Susan was delighted when Elly told her that she’d hardly ever dated before her mission (true). She certainly didn’t have anybody waiting for her (true). But Susan chalked Elly’s abstention up to an iron will and concluded they were kindred spirits. Elly didn’t bother dissuading her. Yes, men didn’t deserve them. Yes, men were pond scum. Yes, their brains were in their pants. A pox on all their houses.

Elly didn’t tell Susan about the dreams. She had a hard enough time telling herself. And then her mission ended and she went home to Kobe, where her father was the mission president. (Somebody in the Missionary Department must not have compared notes.) Traveling from the Osaka Mission Home to the Kobe Mission Home was all of a forty minute train ride. But the dreams haunted her less.

Then they stopped.

Now they were back.

Somehow, when she was in Japan, she’d never cried out in her dreams. The feelings and the intensity had never been as strong as now. Shimatta. Where had she picked up that expression? But her heartbeat quickened even as she cursed the beautiful, intoxicating dreams.

The front door opened and closed. Melanie trotted into the kitchen. Her hair was fashionably disheveled, her face streaked with sweat. Still, she looked great. Melanie could run the Boston Marathon and cross the finish line looking like she’d jogged around the corner to get a quart of milk. She tossed the Daily Herald on the table, peeled off her sweat top and draped it across the chair back.

Elly couldn’t understand why Melanie was always teasing her about her (lack of) weight. The only fat Elly could see on Melanie’s body was right where it was supposed to be, tightly contained within her sports bra. She had a chest that Elly envied, breasts that actually got noticed.

One day while they were proselyting Melanie said to her, “You know what I like about being on a mission? I don’t have to spend an hour every morning preparing to face the world. All that time wasted getting ready for dates—what a relief!”

“But you look great now!” Elly exclaimed. It was a good thing Melanie didn’t make herself up, or she’d draw a crowd for entirely the wrong reasons. Japanese schoolgirls constantly asked her, “Are you a model?”

Melanie shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose.” She rarely resorted to false humility. “But girls like me attract the sort of men who expect us to look like this all the time. I guess I got used to living up to their expectations.”

Melanie had taken a more realistic measure of men’s expectations since her mission, and had modified her vanity schedule accordingly. Simply having a pulse, she exceeded the expectations of most men.

Elly drained the water out of the saucepan, added cold water, and set the pan on the table. “Mugi-cha?”


She poured two cups of barley tea, then sat down at the table and took a sip. “Mel,” she said, “mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure, go ahead.” Melanie pushed aside the paper and picked up an egg. She hit it once on the table and rolled it between her palms.

“Have you ever, you know, with a boy—”

Melanie flashed her a look of mock horror. “Elly, how could you think such a thing! I’m not that kind of girl!”

“No, no, no. I didn’t mean that. I meant, like, when you were in high school—”

“You mean, making out?”

“Yeah, I guess. Those Young Women’s lessons always seemed so abstract. I wasn’t very socially active in high school. Or since. I’m not saying my Christmas Cake is going stale tomorrow. Well, maybe it is. But even in Japan, girls don’t start panicking when they turn twenty-five anymore, and—”

Melanie allowed herself a wistful smile. “To tell the truth, Elly, I was that kind of girl. Okay, not that kind of girl. But I was in the ballpark. If not on the field, then in the stands keeping the box scores. Salt and pepper, please.”

Elly slid the shakers across the table. “I followed the rules. Most of the rules. The important rules. I didn’t start really dating until I was sixteen. I did date non-Mormon boys. And allowed them a few more liberties than I should have. But I kept it above the waist.” She smiled again. “It wasn’t hard drawing the line in high school. Teenage boys are so immature. Being an early bloomer makes the contrast so obvious. And I promised myself that I would only marry a returned missionary.”

She passed the salt and pepper back to Elly. “The only time I really let myself be tempted was during my sophomore year. I had myself an honest-to-goodness returned missionary. Shawn Nance. A real nice guy. Marrying him wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. I got his wedding announcement on my mission. I was very happy for him.”

“How tempted?” Elly asked a bit too breathlessly.

Melanie shrugged. “Let’s just say that on more than one occasion we were rounding second base, headed for third. I’m sure it looked like an in-the-park home run.”

Melanie was a Physical Education major. She’d played fast-pitch softball in high school.

“But you didn’t—”

She shook her head. “You see, all those Young Women’s lessons, they were custom-made for me. Like giving me my own third-base coach saying: Hold up, hold up. The cut-off man’s got a strong arm.”

“What’s a cut-off man?”

“The guy who relays the ball from the outfielder to the catcher. Anyway, the moral scold in my head made me pause and say to myself, Mel-baby, home plate is still there. It’s going to be there tomorrow. It’s going to be there the day after. Don’t rush it. So, I went on a mission. I know bishops aren’t supposed to encourage girls to go on missions, but Bishop Broadbent was convinced that sooner or later I would be the downfall of some good elder. He was more than happy to see me off to anyplace-but-here.” She finished her egg. “Pretty lame reason, no?”

“Better than mine.”

Melanie shrugged. “A guy doesn’t need a reason. He’s simply expected to. It’s a giri thing—duty and honor and maybe even some actual conviction. Or because his girlfriend won’t marry him unless he does. Any reason a woman’s got is better than that.”

Elly smiled. She’d long ago resigned herself to the fact that she’d never have a body like Melanie’s. But common sense didn’t depend on genes or fashion sense.

Melanie read her thoughts and shook her head. “You’re a lucky girl, Elly. You’re smart and you’re real cute. But you don’t walk around with your own portable klieg light shining on you. You don’t have to wonder whether the boy who falls for you hasn’t fallen in love with the thought of how good he looks with you. With me, men begin with this and these.” She pointed at her nose, Japanese fashion, and then at her breasts. “And I can only let them down when they get to the other categories.”

Elly said, “I really don’t think they care.”

“I know. That’s the problem. I think living up to somebody’s expectations is ultimately easier than living down to them.” She disposed of the egg shells and plucked her sweat top off the chair. “See you in class, girl,” she said and marched off to the shower.

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