Literature, Valley Voices

A Hard Place



Stephanie lay on her back on the rug, hands folded on her stomach. Zack placed a silken tasseled pillow under her head.

“You’re a remarkable girl, you know that?”

“Not so remarkable.”

“Oh, but you are.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“All right. How so?”

She was looking up at him and the large wrought iron chandelier with tiny amber bulbs that hung above his head formed a kind of crown of light, glowing, flickering. It made her think of something she might have seen in a painting in an art gallery or maybe something she had dreamed when she was a little girl.

 “How so?” She asked again.

“You’re smart,” Zack said. “You’re someone who knows what she wants. That’s unusual and that’s good. There aren’t a lot of people around here who do know what they want. You work hard. You’re good at what you do.”

“You don’t know that,” said Stephanie.

“Yes, I do. I can tell.” Zack stroked a curl away from her forehead. “And you’ve suffered a loss, a big loss. I could tell that the day I saw you in the cafeteria and you let me hold your hand and you told me about it. And I could tell you would get through it because… I don’t know… you had taken it in, I mean really taken it all in and you were grieving for your friend, Rose-Marie. I didn’t know her but I knew who she was. She must have been a remarkable person too. I say that partly because she was your friend, but also because she must have been someone who lived life to the full in her own way, even if it didn’t make her happy.” He was looking at Stephanie and saw that she was moved by his mention of Rose-Marie. “I’m sorry, I’m talking too much about the bad things in your life. But that’s part of what makes you who you are.”

“Why? Why are you telling me all this?”

“And you’re beautiful. I don’t mean just in a physical kind of way, though you are, but in spirit. You’re a good person, you know that? I believe you are. And I know you have a boyfriend. Do you love him?”

Other conversations in the room continued though they were no more disturbing than the laughter of children or the rustle of wind in the trees. “Don’t ask me that.” Stephanie continued looking at the ceiling, an elaborate construct of oak beams and paneling, stained dark by smoke and age. Near the chimney someone had nailed a collection of horse brasses, probably long ago. One had come loose and hung down out of alignment with the rest. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because I’m falling in love with you myself,” Zack said.

“Don’t… don’t…” Stephanie reached up and tried to touch his lips with her fingers to make him stop talking, to stop making her think about her own life as it was just then.

“If I asked you to kiss me right now, would you say yes?”

“No,” said Stephanie.

“If I asked you to go to bed with me right now, would you say yes?”

“No!”

“If I asked you to marry me, would you say yes?”

“No. Stop it. You’re making me…”

“What?”

“Cry.”

“You’re not crying.”

“I don’t know what I want.”

“Will you kiss me? I’ll settle for that.”

“I will if you’ll shut up.”

Zack kissed her lightly on the lips. “There,” he said. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“You’re making me crazy.”

“Good,” Zack said. “At least you’ll remember me.”

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