Laurie agreed with Bill — they were meant for each other. But would he still think so when he knew the secret she kept locked in her heart?
Dateline: January 1949
She had a secret that made her different from other girls. Rightly or wrongly, she believed it made her unlovable. Laurie was never a “party girl.” She was quiet, sensitive, unassuming. Was there a man who would find her attractive? He was vivid in her dreams, but did he really exist? When she meets Bill, she recognizes her soul mate, but fears he’s too good to be true.
Why do we focus on what we’re not and let our insecurities run us ragged? Laurie was a gentle soul who required an equally gentle man. It was all about finding the right fit (isn’t it always?)and believing we are perfect just as we are. Are Laurie and Bill truly matched for each other? Are they destined to live happily ever after? [[In love, unlike politics, we don’t need a majority — we need just one.]]
Miracles are out of date; dreams don’t come true, people say in discouraged voices. But I can tell you that isn’t so. Something unbelievable happened to me, one December evening, something I’d dreamed about for years, something so beautiful I’d told myself it must always be—just a dream, never reality. Yet it did become real, in those few hours, and no one can ever take away the memory, or tell me that such things don’t happen.
It was a perfect time for a miracle —one of those rare winter nights when new snow lies deep on the city, hushing its cries, quieting its restless movement. And in the strange sweet stillness, people realize the meaning, of Christmas, the goodness, in things, and in each other.
But as I left the small hotel where I lived and worked, and headed down the short block to the park, I wasn’t expecting any miracles. I was simply happy, loving the sharp, crystal air, and the music I could hear floating out over the pond from the Skate House. In a moment I’d be there, and then, in the spell of the dark and the music, I’d let myself dream again, for a little while, that my fantastic wish could come true.
All girls have dreams, but I was aware I shouldn’t expect to find mine. Something had happened to me, three years before, that made me different from other girls. I can’t tell you what it was, just yet, if my story is to mean everything to you that I want it to. But I can tell you that it made me know, much too exactly, what the only man I could love must be like.
He’d be nice looking, of course, but that was only a minor item. Besides that, he had to be gentle and understanding and strong—the kind of man I could share all my thoughts with and trust with my fears; the kind of man who wouldn’t want his girl to be the life of the party, because I could never be that kind of girl. I played the piano for a living, quiet music in the hotel dining room; but at parties, I’d rather sit a little apart and let other people make the fun. And the man in my dream was the man who would rather sit with me.
It was too large an order, all detailed like that, I knew; men don’t grow, custom-made, to fit a girl’s needs. So I’d steeled myself not to expect to find him. And when I left my home town in the summer, to come to the city, my grandmother had warned me, too.
You’re a pretty girl, Laurie, with your spun-gold hair and spindle waist,” she said. “If you must go off on your own, remember—don’t let yourself dream that each man you meet is the man you wish you’d meet. You don’t know city men, child, and besides—you must be more careful than other girls—”
Through the months that followed, when I was introduced to people at the hotel, I faithfully kept my hopes from clouding my common sense. But a girl just past twenty can’t quite shut her dreams away in a box and lock it.
So when winter came and I found the skating pond in the park, with its hours of lilting waltzes, and its snug Skate House offering steaming-hot coffee and a crackling fire—I couldn’t resist temptation. I went every night that skating was permitted, and when I’d swing out on the ice, with the crisp bright air swirling around me, I’d let my hopes out of the box of my caution.
It could happen, I’d let myself think at last. He could be one of the other skaters. I might just bump into him.
That night in early December, I checked my coat and shoes in the Skate House, and when I came out into the music-spun dark, the familiar excitement caught me. Ice was snapping and dropping from the trees around the edge of the lake, lending a delicate, wild accompaniment to the Strauss waltz lifting gently over the rhythmic grating of skates. I stood still above the pond a moment, glad to be there in my secretly enchanted world, glad that my black-velvet skating dress fitted me trimly. Now—now for a little time, I could forget common sense, and let myself dream.
“Evening, Miss James.” The rink attendant’s voice came up to me from the wooden terrace where he always stood, right there where you stepped down onto the ice.
“Hello, Joe,” I said, going down carefully on my narrow blades.
“Fine crowd, tonight,” he remarked, as I stood alongside of him. “Must be the moonlight.” All the regulars, doing their figures there in the middle, and a few new ones. But if you don’t mind my saying so, Miss James—always, you’re the prettiest.”
I grinned at him. It was nice to hear a compliment from a sweet old soul who wouldn’t lie if you gave him five dollars. I must have been at the pond thirty nights by now—it had been an early, cold winter and I’d heard Joe talking to dozens of skaters, and he’d never once said the same things to any of them that he said to me.
He held my elbow in his funny little gallant way, as I stepped down from the wooden platform onto the ice, and I patted his arm appreciatively and then glided off.
Cutting around the oval I knew so well, the dark came alive for me; as it always did. The lifting, easy grace of the waltz seemed to swing the fresh night breeze with it, and the breeze and the night and I were partners, sailing serenely together past the bordering trees, full circle back to the house, and then around and around again.
For a while, I needed no person for a companion. The night was my escort, and the magical moonlit world was all mine, glistening around me. At last, slowly, I let myself look into the box of my dreams and imagine how it would be if the man I loved were there with me, sharing the magic. And I knew it would be better—so very much better.
Perhaps it was thinking of him that made me aware, quite abruptly, on my fifth or sixth time around, that someone was skating behind me, steadily keeping pace with me, never gaining, never falling back. I realized, then, that I’d known for some time that someone was there, but I’d been too bewitched with the night to notice. Now that I had become aware of him, however, I couldn’t think of anything else.
Here, on the edge of the rink where I always stayed, there was rarely another skater. I liked to circle by myself, away from the crowd. Closer in, I’d be gripped by my constant fear of crashing with someone, perhaps falling and making an exhibition of myself; and besides, it was only alone, on the outer rim, that I could feel the presence of the night, and dream my forbidden dream—that my hopes might come true.
Odd as it was, however, the blades behind me kept stroking on smoothly, precisely the same distance away. My breath quickened, and I told myself sharply to be sensible. It meant nothing. People had skated close to me for a while before, and all that had ever happened was that presently they whisked off into the dark and were gone forever. It could never actually be—he!
Yet I went twice more around the pond, changing my rhythm now and then, a little faster, a little slower, and never lost him. I was sure, by then, that it was a man. I didn’t turn to look, of course, but I could tell by his long easy strokes.
As we passed the Skate House the next time, Joe called out, “How’s the ice, Miss James?”
“Never better,” I called back, a warm feeling of pleasure running through me. It made me feel safe to have Joe there —one friendly voice in the vast, dark city.
I was sweeping on toward the further end of the pond again, when I knew with shock that the person behind me was finally closing the distance between us. He was coming up beside me. My breath jammed foolishly, and my heart pounded in my ears.
“Forgive me, Miss James,” said a deep, quiet voice with a gentle inflection.
He had actually spoken my name. My heart seemed to quit on me entirely, and I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t even turn. I only knew that he was tall, and there was something—a quality of repose in him—that I sensed instinctively.
I made myself go on skating, as though I were unconcerned, but the voice began going on, evenly. “You seem to he alone, and I’m alone, and skating is better in two’s, Miss James. I’ve been wondering—would you consider going along with me? The name’s Bill Coles—”
Just an ordinary pick-up, I warned myself fiercely.
“I like to skate by myself,” I said with determination, and swung on a little faster.
He held his position beside me. “Don’t you ever skate with anyone else?” he asked gently.
“Certainly not with people I haven’t met,” I replied, and was proud of my air of dismissing him though I didn’t want to dismiss him at all. I was sure, somehow, that this man was nice—not cheap or rude. His tone was so gentle. Yet my mind made me keep skating on in rigid silence.
“Very well,” he said calmly, after a moment. And to my amazement, I thought he finished with a chuckle.
And then it happened—just as it had happened so often before. Abruptly, he picked up speed and sprinted away. He was gone. It was all over. Other times, there’d been no words, so I’d had no cause to feel disappointed. But this time—well, there had been a few words, nice words, all polite and soft-spoken. And I’d sent him away, not wanting to. My heart cursed my common sense and, more slowly, now, I went on by myself around the rim toward the Skate House, feeling chilled and curiously alone. The next thing I knew, Joe caught my arm.
“Miss James—please—would you stop a moment?” he asked, and there was urgency in his voice I’d never heard before.
I cut into the railing. “What is it, Joe?” I said, not sorry to have my rueful mood broken.
“There’s a young feller here, Miss James,” he went on quickly. “He wants to meet you. He’s one of our regulars. I know him, like a son. Like I know you. D’you mind?” Fast then, before I could object, he hurried on. “Miss James, this here is the finest young man on the rink—Mr. Bill Coles.”
Bill Coles did chuckle that time. And my heart sneered triumphantly at my common sense. A person with a chuckle like that had to be nice—it was such a dry, wise, friendly chuckle. Suddenly, my happiness came flooding back. I reached out my hand, and the hand that grasped mine was cool and slim and strong.
“You’re a man who gets what he wants, aren’t you, Bill Coles?” I said with a grin I couldn’t hold back.
“Am I?” He let his question trail off. “That depends on you, still. You said you skated only with people you’d met, but you didn’t say you skated with all of them. Do I qualify?”
It was my turn to chuckle. “I guess Joe’s recommendation is good—for once around the pond, anyway,” I told him.
“Joe’s a ‘good Joe,’ ” Bill Coles said, with a smile in his words for the old man, as he took my arm and we struck out together down the long, smooth surface.
He held me close to him, politely but firmly, and as we swept along together, the touch of his arm and the feel of swinging along with him, as one, sent strange little shivers of delight running through me. He was so tall, my shoulder rested just above his elbow, but he cut down his stroke to match mine. Once more I was sailing through the soft, waltz-filled dark—only this time my partner was real, and the night now was sparkling with a surprising new magic.
We must have gone nearly the length of the pond without saying a word, yet I’d never known such a sweet, peaceful silence. There was something in the gentle strength of Bill Coles, and something in the very fact that he didn’t rush into any let’s-get-acquainted remarks, that made me feel as though we were old friends, and made me—despite knowing that I shouldn’t—trust him.
We were rounding the turn, when he broke the silence.
“You like music, don’t you?” he said in that rich, low voice of his. “Every movement you make is rhythmic, as though you felt every single slight change in the tempo, and melody, too.”
“I do,” I said, amazed that the very first thing he said should strike so close to home. “You see a lot in a short time.”
He chuckled again. “It wasn’t so short. I’ve followed you around the lake for nights, and tonight for so many rounds I lost count, before I decided I couldn’t go on any longer without speaking to you,” he confessed.
Then his tone sobered. “You won’t hold it against me, will you? I didn’t mean to be fresh. But I just had to speak to a girl who skated so exactly the way I like to skate—free and easy and happily, as though she and the music and the night were all one.”
The words were so right, they stopped my breath again. But I fought to be sensible. City men often had very smooth lines of talk, I understood. And Bill Coles was undoubtedly a city man.
“That’s a pretty speech,” I told him.
“No speech at all—” he contradicted. “You know you move beautifully—”
“What do I say to that?” I retorted, my determination to be cautious weakening under his sharp honesty, but my mind forcing me to fend off my trust in this man who was so incredibly like—him.
“Just admit the truth,” he answered, and his fingers tightened briefly on mine. “Doesn’t it mean anything to you that I didn’t say the obvious thing—that you’re the prettiest girl on the pond—though you are? Doesn’t it mean anything when a guy tells you, instead, a basic truth about yourself that you can’t deny? Don’t you like being honest?”
“Of course it means something to me,” I answered, my guard slipping perilously. “I don’t know how you understand so much. I left home so that I could play the piano all the time—and so I could be—on my own. But I don’t know you, Bill Coles. Maybe your guesses are just clever and glib?”
He drew my arm a little tighter into his. “Oh, Lord,” he said. “Do you have to be so skeptical—such a lone-wolf? Do you have to be so proud and independent?” He dropped his voice a little, and I knew he was looking at me hard. “Do you have to enjoy your solitude quite so much?”
For a moment I couldn’t answer. He knew me better than people who’d known me all my life, I realized dazedly. No one else, ever, had understood that I did enjoy my solitude. People back home were always feeling sorry for me at times when I was happiest—off by myself. And now this stranger had put his finger squarely on that intimate fact about me. He was too right. All my stored-up caution screamed at me to beware.
“What about you?” I said at last, veering off from his question and his dizzying insight. “Who are you?”
He drew me fractionally toward the center of the rink as we swung past the Skate House again, to make sure, I felt certain, that we wouldn’t be interrupted by Joe. Other skaters cut past us, and darted closer around, but I didn’t mind, now that I was with him.
“All right,” he said finally, when the blare of music softened behind us. “I don’t blame you for dodging me. I’m sorry if I was probing too deep, too fast. I’ll tell you about me—though there’s not much to tell.”
His quick shift to what I wanted made me instantly want to be honest with him. But now he was going on, doing as I had asked.
“Well,” he said slowly, “maybe you should know that my hair isn’t really blond, the way people think at first. It’s gray. But I’m not really old—twenty-six. Let’s see now, what else? I was in the war, like everybody. But not glamorously. I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Stars and spaces and stuff, solo, appeal to kids, I guess. But they wouldn’t take me. Too tall. Six feet three. So I got to be a radio operator on a B-29. Then there was a gap, after the war, when I—didn’t do anything much. Now I work for a company that makes radios, and I study nights so that I can be an electronics engineer, some day. See—no glamour. But you—you’re something special. A musician—
“Not a real musician,” I said quickly. “I’m not anything extra. I just love it, that’s all. I play piano in a hotel. A quiet hotel—decent music.”
His hand closed hard on mine, and my heart raced; bewilderedly, I wanted him never to let go.
My caution died then, and I couldn’t care. He was so right, so modest, so—dear.
“You have a musician’s hands yourself,” I told him softly, feeling the long, sensitive strength of his fingers.
The waltz that was filling the air lifted, just then, into a whipping, intoxicating lilt. Bill didn’t answer me, but reached for my other hand, and tightening his hold, swung me deftly into a series of lovely, looping turns, and my heart spun inside me with a joy I’d never known before.
“Funny, your saying that,” he said, when we eased into straight skating again. “They say doctors have hands like musicians—that music is close to science. I once wanted to be a surgeon, but Dad died when I was in high school, so I went to work instead of going to college.”
Suddenly, the lean, firm hands holding mine had meaning, as well as strength, gentleness, and warmth. I wanted this stranger, Bill Coles, to stay with me, to go on skating with me—forever. An ache of needing to know more about him, to prove all that I felt, or have it disproved, rose demandingly in me till I had to obey it.
“Why are you alone?” I asked abruptly.
He hesitated only a moment. “Choosy, I guess,” he said. “Sounds awful, doesn’t it? But I have to tell you the truth.”
He paused, then went on, lowering his voice to a new softness. “Just as I want the whole truth about you, Miss James. Oh, damn—” He broke off again, but only for an instant. “You do have a first name, don’t you?”
My fingers tightened on his, before I knew what I was doing. “It’s Laurie, Bill,” I said, happiness welling up in me.
“I knew you’d have a lovely name,” he said in a tone that made me see the grin spreading across his face, though I didn’t so much as turn.
“It had to be something cool and sweet—and wholly desirable. You see—I haven’t been quite honest with you, after all. It wasn’t just your skating, or your beautiful bright hair, or your lovely face that made me speak to you, Laurie. It was more than all those things.”
He stopped, as we swung around the curve at the Skate House end, and I held my breath until beyond, in the relative quiet once more, he resumed.
“You—you have a look about you. It’s hard to describe. But I only know that it’s the look I’ve been wanting to find—for so long—ever since way back there in the B-29. Laurie, you asked me why I was alone, and I said I was choosy. Well, that’s true. But the real answer is—I had an experience that taught me a lot. I found out I didn’t want the kind of girl that kids sometimes think they want, all fluff and gay chatter and nonsense. I wanted to find me a girl who’d like to walk by a quiet stream, a girl who’d be warm and companionable and understanding. A girl, Laurie, a man could sit by the fire with, and tell the things he wants and believes; a girl who’d share his dreams, and his hard times with the good. And a girl a guy could read aloud to, Laurie—the books he loved. And who’d like to sit and listen to music with him.”
It struck me so hard—the rightness of every word he said—that I felt as though my heart would burst with the magical joy of it. This was—the man. The man I’d dreamed of all through the years. There was no denying it. My happiness was so violent, I felt a little faint. I drew away from him, because I had to face this thing by myself. All my years of caution, all the wise things my grandmother had drilled into me, were vanishing under the spell of his deep, quiet voice, his matchless words.
Detached from him, I moved sharply off, not knowing or caring in what direction. I simply had to be away from him, not touching him, so I could think. But I never got a chance to think. In the instant of separation, I lost my way and, sickeningly, I crashed into another skater and fell headlong.
“Can’t you look where you’re going?” someone barked, dimly above me. I realized through my stunned horror.
But then Bill’s voice struck back. “Shut up, you fool!” And the next moment he was lifting me gently, setting me on my feet.
“You all right, Laurie? Are you hurt, my sweet?”
“No,” I said vaguely, still sick with the shock of having made a display of myself, as I’d always feared I might do, and just at the time when I most wanted to be independent. But Bill gave me no time to suffer pangs of chagrin. His arm was around me, and he was propelling me, without another word, toward the Skate House. Inside, he led me past the fire to a secluded corner. Then he quietly sat me down.
“You stay still for a minute,” he commanded. “I’ll be right back with some coffee.”
It was then, as he left me, that I knew I loved him. Everything he did was so completely as I’d dreamed it might be—gentle, thoughtful, and unbelievably understanding. And I knew he was fine. He’d given up his own dream of becoming a surgeon in order to take care of his family, hadn’t he? And he cared about music. And beyond all that, he’d said he wanted a girl who “would like to walk by a quiet stream”—”a girl a guy could read to.” That was the most fantastic part of it all.
It just couldn’t be true, I tried to tell myself. And yet, I hadn’t dreamed—this. A breathless tension mounted in me as I waited for him to come back. And then he was back. He handed me a mug of wonderful, fragrant coffee, and sat down close beside me, and there was no distance between us—at last. Just having him there, his fine tall body lightly touching mine, set enchantment to burning inside me.
“Laurie,” he said, “if you’ll put that fierce pride of yours down, and skate with me, after this—instead of cutting off by yourself—you’ll never get hurt again, I promise you.”
For the first time in a long while, I felt protected, almost safe. I shut my eyes tight, pressing back the tears. I wanted to skate with Bill Coles always, to be with him always. And I wanted to tell him that he was the man I’d been looking for. But he’d only just met me. He didn’t know anything about me.
“You will skate with me tomorrow night, won’t you?” he asked and tilted up my chin with one finger.
I turned my face away. “I don’t make plans ahead,” I said, rallying all the strength I could. “You don’t know me, Bill. It’s no good making plans—with people you don’t know.”
“I do know you, Laurie, believe me,” he came back instantly, “as I know my own self.”
“You mustn’t say things that aren’t true,” I protested. “It doesn’t go with your character.”
“I’ll never tell you things that aren’t true,” he replied steadily. “I do know you, my darling. I can prove it. You see, that ‘experience’ I told you I had, at the end of the war, taught me to understand things I’d never understood before. Laurie, I was blind for a while.”
There was a moment of vibrant silence, as I struggled with my overwhelming amazement. Then he set my coffee cup down and took both my hands hard in his; and as I sat listening to his story, every right thing he’d said before, paled in the miraculous rightness of what he was saying now.
“I learned about people, my sweet,” he went on. “About what really counts. About the unimportance of a gay manner, and the importance of strength inside—the kind of strength, Laurie, I know you’ve got. I learned, too, about the beauty of give and take, and the joy of two people understanding each other. I saw how the foolish, bright things we go for when we’re very young don’t stack up, and how it’s the deep, still things that count. When you can’t see with your eyes, Laurie, you see so much more with your heart. I learned that those were the things I wanted of life. But I despaired of finding a girl who would understand all that—until I saw you.”
Slowly, he drew my hands against him, as I sat there hardly able to breathe. “Laurie,” he went on in a tone so low I could barely hear him. “It’s soon, by other people’s standards, to say this. But you and I don’t have to live at other people’s dull, slow pace, do we? Laurie, you and I are—falling in love.”
The wild happiness that surged through me was almost more than I could bear. But even in the dazzling white light of the miracle, I knew one thing—I had to tell him about myself before he went any further. It was the only honest thing to do.
For the first time, I turned my eyes full on him, and reached up and touched his face.
“When you understand so much, Bill Coles,” I said with a steadiness I was proud of, “how is it that you don’t understand the most outstanding thing about me?”
He cupped my face in his hands, and for an instant I could feel his eyes going over me, inch by inch. All life stopped for me, as I waited for his reply.
“Do you think, Laurie,” he said with a deep, ringing certainty in his voice, “that a man who’s been blind doesn’t recognize it in someone else?”
“You’ve known—all along?” I asked, half whispering, almost afraid that if I spoke I’d break the spell and wake up. “Is that why you told me what you looked like? Is that how you knew how ashamed I was to have fallen, why you brought me here without a word and then told me about the time—you were unable to see?”
“I wanted you to know that I knew, my darling,” he said softly, “without speaking of it directly—until you wanted to mention it yourself.”
“Oh, Bill,” I said at last, under my breath, “you are my dream. Better than all my dreams.” And I let my fingers go where they’d been wanting to go since the very first moment he’d spoken to me—up over the firm line of his jaw, along the lean planes of his cheeks to his eyes, where I found, as I’d known I’d find, that they were wide and long-lashed, and meshed with grin-wrinkles.
“Bill Coles—you’re very good looking,” I said, translating what my fingers felt with the confidence of having known it in my heart, all along.
“Not nearly so pretty as you, my sweet,” he said, the grin-wrinkles deepening; but there was a thickness in his voice that gave me the reassurance I needed—that he understood how crazily beautiful the moment was, for me. Then suddenly his arms went around me, and his lips were on mine.
“Bill—” I whispered, when we broke off our kiss. “Bill, I want you to know it isn’t as though I’d never been able to see, as though I didn’t know what things look like. I do. It’s only come on me lately, these last three years. Like an allergy?! Before then, I could see as well as anyone else. So if you’ll just tell me of the things you care about—in the sky, in the hearth-fire, in people’s faces—I’ll always understand.”
He pulled me hard against him, and his words burned against my cheek.
“There aren’t many men lucky enough—to be so intimately one with the girl they love–to be able to see for her, as well as love her,” he said.
Copyright © 1949, 2014 by BroadLit