Free Souls, Chapter 14

“Hey, Sandy, over here!”  Tracey’s voice cut even through the hubbub of the entire Architecture school student body assembling in the School Commons.  “Hey, Sandy, I’ve saved us some seats!”

Sandy met her eye and had to admit defeat.  She hadn’t planned on sitting with her friend for this Thursday’s weekly all-school lecture; at least, she wasn’t planning on sitting where Tracey had established herself, in the upper middle and towards the center of the semi-circular, raked hall.

These events were one of the few times she could get a good and sustained view of Jeff Chesters.  He usually sat down towards the front on the right hand side with some of his male friends from Sutpen’s studio, so the left hand side about ten rows up, that was the best place to gaze at him and contemplate the beauty of his genius and the genius of his beauty.  From there she could see and delicately drink in most of his Grecian profile while ostensibly having her eyes on the speaker at the podium.  Up where Tracey wanted to sit today, all she would be able to see would be the back of Jeff’s shining head.  If that.

But unless she wanted to be the subject of Tracey’s good-natured but ribald humor, she had to join her there.  Two weeks before they had sat together in Sandy’s favorite spot, and just as the students were quieting down for the principal to introduce the speaker, Tracey had followed Sandy’s eye to the object of her admiration. “Oh, there’s your Apollo!” she had exclaimed, loud enough for the entire section to hear. Then followed it up with a wolf whistle. Sandy could have died of shame. Thank God “Apollo” had a perfectly innocent art history connotation and no one around her seemed to connect it with Jeff. But it had been a close call.

Well, thought Sandy with resignation, there was no danger of that happening where Tracey wanted to sit today.  She trudged up the aisle steps and excused herself through the row till she gained the seat the other girl had saved.  Settling into it, she found that she was wrong.

“Thank you, Jesus!” By moving her neck just a little to the left and sitting up very straight, she could direct her gaze without obstacle between the ranks of student shoulders and heads until they rested on her inspiration.  True, it was only the fall of his tawny curls and a sliver of his sun-bronzed cheek she could see, but it was something.  Tracey was paying no attention at all to what Sandy was up to; if anything she was seeking out boys she thought were cute so she could point them out to her friend.

The speaker, one of the principals of the famous firm of Richardson & Greene in Wapatomekie, was a little late.  As they all waited Sandy rested her eyes on that hair and  that cheek and thought with awe what a beautiful mind lay under it.  All the ideas that were emerging from it at such a young age!  She thanked God, not for the first time, that Jeff had pulled a high draft number and so escaped being called to go to Viet Nam.  What a tragic waste it would be if he were to go there and be maimed or killed!  What a contribution to the architecture of the world would be lost even if he were to come home safely!  For she couldn’t imagine anyone being exposed to the horrors of that terrible war and returning with his artistic vision intact.

Suddenly, even as the thought was in her mind, Jeff turned and looked straight up the lecture hall, right at her.

She felt her face flame red.  But had he, really?  No, it wasn’t possible.  Not at her.  Surely he could not have felt her eyes on him and turned around to see who it was.  Surely, he was looking for someone else, someone in some row above her.

In her alarm and confusion Sandy wasn’t going to sit still to find out.  She bent her head down, pretending to find something in her notebook, and tried to breathe till the warmth in her cheeks could subside.  Then resolutely turning to her friend she said, “Hey, Tracey, isn’t it great that Stanford Richardson is going to be speaking to us this afternoon?”  Just now she was glad Tracey was with her, breathlessly glad!

Sandy’s tone was over-bright but if Tracey noticed she wasn’t saying so.  “Sure,” she replied.  “I hope he talks about the new Federal Street Building.  I hear the site was almost impossible!”

“I heard that, too!” she replied with a shade too much enthusiasm.  And she kept her friend in conversation until a general shushing went around the room signalling that the great man had arrived.

Now she was safe. Down towards the front on the right hand side of the Commons Jeff was again facing harmlessly forward, his eyes on the speaker.  Had his looking her way been on purpose, or mere coincidence?  Surely the latter.  But she was more careful after that.  No one must catch her staring at him in All-School Lecture or anywhere else.  It might be misconstrued.

And she must not be misconstrued.  What she loved about him was his intellect and his ability.  His exterior was merely a worthy vehicle for his brilliance.  To regard him as an attractive man or to assess him specifically as a male creature seemed . . . disgusting somehow.   And it would be a breaking of her vow as a Knight of the Single Eye.  How could she demean him so? She wouldn’t!

But that didn’t stop her from wanting to be where he was. Or from being absurdly thankful to look on him every chance she could.

_________________________

by Catrin Lewis, 1983; revised 2013 & 2014.  All rights reserves

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