Free Souls, Chapter 20

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 20

A chilly draft from the window roused her. Outside it had begun to snow; she could see the scattered flakes in the light of the street lamp. The temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up, its cold breath penetrating the cracks between the single pane of glass and the wooden sash. “I need to get the landlord to caulk that,” she said. “Or maybe I’ll do it myself and send him the bill.”

But she mustn’t let herself be distracted. Putting her plate in the sink and returning to the sofa, she considered. Could Eric’s behavior this afternoon by any stretch of the imagination mean he wanted to take their relationship much farther? No, not possibly. Of course he wouldn’t. But even if it did, she wouldn’t be able to let him. She could not bear it if he should love her and it didn’t lead to marriage. And with him, it could not.

It wasn’t just her and her standards. She’d once heard him say he was willing to live with a girl, but he didn’t believe in marriage. Maybe it was that time long ago when he’d told her about his father’s neglect and his mother’s struggles. And she wouldn’t sleep with– let alone live with!– a man without it.  So she couldn’t let him love her. She must not let him know she already loved him.

But how was this a problem? “Come on, Sandy!” she told herself. “You’re good at keeping your feelings hidden from him! You’ve done it well enough in the past!”

“Yes,” said the objecting voice. “But what about Jeff? Didn’t your feelings for him leak out around the edges?”

“Ha!” she squelched it. “If he’d known my true feelings down in that room, he would have tried to seduce me, not rape me!” Good thing he hadn’t. No telling what lifelong disaster a relationship with him would have led to, for despite her prayer, she did not see Jeff Chesters as good marriage material. At least, he wasn’t then.

“So I could go on disguising my love for Eric, if it came to that . . . ” But that wasn’t really the problem, was it? Her question was, how much of it was really love?

“I do get infatuated with men I look up to. That’s my fault– hero worship. That’s what happened with Jeff. That’s what could happen– all right! It’s what probably already is happening with Eric!”

She long had been unabashedly enthralled with his design ability. She even now had an exalted view of his character and intellect. “But from a safe distance. Always from a safe distance.” As things were, she didn’t have to know what really lay in his heart. She was able to be blissfully ignorant of whatever he did in what free time he had, with his male buddies, or with Leah Matthews or any other woman.

“Yeah, that’s it. If I can keep the status quo,” she thought ruefully, “he can stay safely on his pedestal and I can just go on adoring him and thinking how wonderful he is!”

But if she let him get closer, if he should begin to open up to her . . .

“What if I find out he’s not the good man I’ve imagined him to be? He’s not a Christian . . . I already make myself overlook things that remind me of that . . . He doesn’t know how I feel, but it still affects what I do and how I treat him . . . What if I can’t love the man he really is, and I lose all respect for him? What if that changes how we work together– or makes it impossible for us to work together at all?”

The loss would be devastating. Not just the loss of him, but also having to give up the work they were doing. No other architectural firm in Wapatomekie was engaged in design that was as good as Eric’s, and she was convinced that included Richardson & Greene. And even if those companies were, she would not be allowed, at this stage in her career, to have a hand in it. It would be nothing but drafting and product research for the likes of her! Especially as a woman. One of those large firms would never make her an associate so early. They would never–

“Oh, that’s a good one! I got upset this evening because Eric wants to make me his associate, but now I’m afraid that knowing him better might make me need to leave him and go somewhere where they would not!

But what if he opened up to her and he turned out to be different– not worse, just different– than she imagined him to be?

This image she had of Eric, this– this– “Forgive me, Jesus, this idol! . . . I made it myself. Oh, yes, I started with bits and pieces of who he is. But I did the whole design-build project on it. It’s mine!

“Right now I have control over our relationship . . . in some bizarre way, I do . . . If I really know him and let him off the pedestal . . . Oh, God, am I really that kind of controlling female?”

It was possible she might be.

“I can just see it, me claiming the right to force him into my mold! Like nagging him into becoming a good Christian, for starters! And getting critical and angry at him when he refused! Man, that’d make for some good times around the office! And some really great architecture!

She faced this ugly image of herself square on. “Oh, yes, the man I love has got to be my art project! Eric, I’ve got you all sculpted and carved the way I want you, now you stay on that pedestal and don’t you dare get down!

“What am I supposed to do? . . . Maybe I should just stop admiring talented, accomplished, and beautiful men. Maybe then I’d wouldn’t make them into idols or put them on pedestals! Maybe I could stop wanting to control them and engineer who they are!”

But that was wrong in the other direction. It was right for anyone to admire talented, accomplished, and beautiful men. And it was right for her to hope that God someday would unite her with– well, if not with Eric, then with another man who had at least the first two qualifications (it might be too much to demand that he be beautiful).

“Besides, I know myself. Even if he were the kind of guy who’d be more at home in a gutter, I’d still want to be in control!”

This was more than hypothesis. She had put the proposition to the test and it was true. For in college, after Jeff , there was Marvin.

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