“What is life without love?” ~ Jonathon MacDonald
John MacDonald fidgeted impatiently in the cafeteria line as football jocks scrounged dessert selections. John scanned a well-lit dining area filled with this year’s freshmen. Their excitement masked first day anxiety at Central Michigan College.
His gaze settled on a young girl seated with other students. Short, light brown hair haloed her radiance. He locked eyes with her for only an instant, noticing a spark in her eye. Inexplicable desire held him long after she had looked away.
John surveyed the room before returning to her. Again, her glance locked on his. She smiled. John blushed and smiled. He hadn’t imagined her glimmer of curiosity. Her attention veered to a girl seated alongside.
With little thought and tray in hand, he approached the table, summoning courage as she studied him. He choked past a lump in his throat, “May I sit with you?”
“Yes you may,” She answered with a hint of a smile.
John sat across from her. “I’m John MacDonald.”
“Elizabeth Bowman – Beth. This is my friend Amanda.”
John nodded to Amanda. “It’s nice to meet you, Amanda.”
“Is this your first year here?”
“Yes, I’ve spent the last two years at Western Community College. I’m majoring in high school education, math, and business.”
“That’s a lot to focus on – this is my third year here – elementary education. After graduation I’m hoping to teach lower grades – first, second or third grade.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Haines.”
“No kidding? I’m from Glenville! We used to play Haines in sports – and mostly won.”
“Oh! I hardly think so.” Beth laughed. “What sports were you in?”
“I never went out for sports. I kept busy helping my Dad on the farm. I went to all the home games though, and most night games away if I could.”
“A farm boy, eh?”
“It’s a large farm – over 400 hundred acres of oats, wheat, peas, beans, barley, corn, and hay. And with thirty milk cows, it keeps us pretty busy.”
She asked playfully, “Oh my, how will your dad get along without you?”
“Dad knows I don’t want to farm, which is ironic since he raised me for it. Still, he always wanted better for me. I have two younger brothers still home – they’re old enough to handle chores before boarding the school bus.
“My folks and I decided it best to start at community college, not much culture shock. I guess we made the right decision. I did well at Western, now it’s time to spread my wings.”
“Well, John MacDonald,” Beth finished her lunch and offered her hand. “It’s nice meeting you. I know you’ll do well here.”
“Thank you, nice meeting you too.”
Beth and Amanda rose. “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.” As the girls walked away, John heard a faint giggle.
When they were out of earshot, Amanda chuckled, “My gosh, he’s adorable.”
“Mm…rugged, handsome, gentle, he’s okay I guess.”
Amanda laughed nudging her, “Yeah… you like him.”
John watched their departure. A hint of honeysuckle lingered. Aside from her beauty, Beth’s sincerity and kindness impressed him. Comfortable and exciting, he thought.
Now, it occurred to him during the brief encounter, she knew his life story, and he knew nothing of the pixie who had captured his heart.
* * * * *
Her face crossed his mind in math class, and then again, in business administration.
As he entered humanities, Beth nudged his shoulder, and announced, “Looks like we share a class.”
“Um…yes. This will be fun.” He sat next to Beth, a seat he would become familiar with over the school year.
During the following months, the pair became inseparable. Library visits were frequent, followed by late night strolls around campus.
* * * * *
One cold December Saturday evening, a week prior to the Christmas formal dinner dance, Beth called home to break the news about John to her parents. She informed parents of her date, then, revealed details of their relationship. Her father seemed mildly interested. Mother was ecstatic. For two hours Beth related the tale of her ‘new love,’ and assured they would meet John during Christmas break.
As Beth hung up, she recalled her last words to her mother, then, covered lips with her fingers. Would he even want to meet her parents? We haven’t discussed this! Will he be upset? Am I presumptuous in this relationship? She lifted the phone and dialed his dorm room.
“Hello?” He sounded sleepy.
“Hi, it’s me – I need to see you.”
“Hi. Sorry. I must have dozed off while reading. I need to see you too.”
She gritted her teeth. “I need to see you right now! I have something to tell you.”
“Now?” He glanced at the wall clock. “It’s 10:30. Can we talk over the phone?”
“John – this isn’t a phone thing – I need to see your face. Would you meet me at the clock in ten minutes?”
“Are you all right?” He interpreted her tone as even, relaxed, but impatient. One of many traits he found endearing.
“John! The clock – ten minutes.”
The phone line disconnected with a “click.” He smiled and chuckled, “Women!” Still dressed, he slipped on shoes, snatched a coat, and closed the door behind. Late meetings were unusual for her. Whatever had prompted her call must be bad news. He crossed a courtyard to the campus center. Snowflakes kissed his cheeks with icy tenderness.
As he approached the towering clock, she shuffled toward him. She had dressed in jeans and light tennis shoes. He shuddered at the sight of tennis shoes. To her credit, she had donned a powder blue parka with imitation fur-lined hood, hanging loosely from her shoulders. Snowflakes rested atop her russet hair like a freshly frosted cupcake. He found the comparison irresistible, “Good evening cupcake.” She fell into his arms.
“Thanks for coming,” she rested her head on his shoulder, then, kissed him.
After all these months, she still melted him with a look. “What’s wrong? Are you sure you’re all right?”
She hooked an arm in his, “I’ve done something serious. Come on – walk with me,” then led him along.
“What have you done?”
“Just walk. Let me have a minute to sort my thoughts.” They shuffled quietly. While she organized thoughts, his were a whirlwind of missing puzzle pieces. Finally, she braced defiantly with eyes fixed squarely on his. John stood close, fearing his body would melt into the pavement. Her gaze pierced his soul, looking deep searching for answers when she hadn’t ask a question. She smiled. A glistening spark in her eye glowed, driving away the icy chill. She spoke softly, “I told my mother she would meet you over Christmas vacation.”
She shook his hands. “Okay? Is that all you can say?”
“Okay – that’s wonderful?”
Beth glanced at stars, and then, to him. “John!”
“What response are you looking for Elizabeth?”
She exhaled with frustration, then, led along the sidewalk clutching his hand in her mittens. Her speech animated with waving arms, body twists and stomping feet. “Don’t you see? This is big – no this is huge! I’ve never done anything like this before! I talked to my mother, and told her about you. The next thing I knew, I said you’ll meet her! Without even thinking, it just came out; like the most natural thing in the world! We hadn’t discussed meeting each others' parents for jiminy sakes!”
“Jiminy sakes?” She slapped his chest. John followed, attempting to share her enthusiasm. Her tirade seemed to warm the blush in her cheeks despite the frosty air. Wisps of hair fell from its usual tidiness. Her breath formed cloud angels and with each puff, he thought her adorable.
She grasped his lapels, pulled him close, feinting a stern smile, “Tell me you’ll meet my mother?”
“I’ll meet your mother.”
“Tell me… um…you’ll like it.”
“I’ll love it.”
Tenderness replaced her smile, “Tell me you love me.”
Silence hung in the air. John’s thoughts raced. In his mind an unquestionable answer, but this is not how he intended to tell her. In truth, he hadn’t considered telling her.
She searched his eyes for an answer, then smiled and shook him playfully, “Come on say it.”
John caressed her cheeks, pulling her lips close, “I love you, Beth,” He kissed her passionately for the first time. Each knew this kiss – this moment – signified forever. Afterward, they rested foreheads together.
Beth grinned, “After talking with my mother, I had planned to ask you about this relationship, and just what it means. I’m not sure exactly what this…this…’us’ is. I’ve never thought about it before.”
John kissed her forehead. “I’m glad I’m here to help clear it up.”
“It’s late, we’d better get back.”
John and Elizabeth walked silently, holding hands in falling snow until they approached her dorm. “Have you ordered your tux for the formal?” She asked.
He raised hands defensively. “I have all week.”
“A week? Barely five days until Friday! Five days is hardly enough time for the shop to make adjustments. Did you think you’d just waltz in and find a tux to fit perfectly?”
“Jiminy sakes! Okay, Monday morning at eleven, we’ll skip class and go downtown to get you fitted. I hope they can put a rush on it. You’re not the only person ordering a tux you know.”
“Okay, Monday at eleven.”
“Jiminy Christmas and sakes alive, MacDonald… will we be sitting with your friends or mine?”
John dropped his chin and took her hands in his, “Let’s sit with yours. I don’t have many friends.”
“You don’t, do you? Well why the heck not?”
“Because my free time is spent with you, my darling.”
“Honestly, farm boy – what am I going to do with you? When we return from Christmas break, you’re going to work on meeting new friends.” She quickly kissed his lips, “Go home and get some sleep. We’ve got a busy week ahead. Goodnight.”
She shuffled toward the door. Just as he turned to leave, he heard her call. “John?” He again noticed the sparkle of her eye. “I love you, John MacDonald.” She said, and then, disappeared through the doorway.
* * * * *
As scheduled Monday morning, she accompanied him to town for the tuxedo fitting. Before leaving the shop, the shopkeeper assured John the alterations would be complete Friday morning.
Classes and mid-term exams filled his week. Friday morning, John drove to town between classes and picked up the tuxedo. Realizing Beth would be busy Friday finishing two classes, then, preparing hair and make-up, he had bid farewell the previous evening with plans to pick her up promptly at six-thirty. Since the weatherman had promised, “Snow, snow and more snow!” he opted to drive to the dance.
At exactly six fifteen, John drove the 1966 Ford Country Squire station wagon into the women’s dorm parking area. His father had purchased the car as a gift before the college year. In a small college town, the car had remained parked in the lot for months with only an occasional drive to charge the battery and keep the engine in proper working order.
John waited in the dorm lobby while students arrived to meet their dates. As each girl descended the staircase, flash bulbs flashed with compliments directed toward her. John focused on the staircase.
Finally, Beth appeared with the powder blue coat draped over her arm. She paused on the landing. John’s jaw dropped. Her black spaghetti strapped, floor length gown had transformed the girl he loved to a woman. A hint of makeup enhanced natural beauty. Blonde ringlets hung over bronzed shoulders. John said, “Wow,” as she descended the stairs. Her eyes locked on his. As he approached the stairway, his moved without conscious effort.
“How do I look?” She asked, offering her coat.
“You look – wow. I hadn’t realized I’m dating the most beautiful woman on campus – heck, the entire state.” He held her coat as she slid arms inside.
“Well thank you, Mr. MacDonald. You look quite dashing yourself.” After posing for photographs, John escorted Beth to the car. She scooted close as he drove from the lot. “I’m excited. This is fun.”
“You look – amazing.”
“Thank you, I worked hours for you.”
“Okay, except for the hair, half an hour. But it all came together easily.”
John parked at the meeting hall. Beth hugged his arm as they unsteadily crunched across an icy parking lot to file through the doorway with a dozen students. Beth removed her coat offering it to a coat-check person.
John offered an arm and accompanied her through double oak doors to the meeting hall. Arrays of dim white Christmas lights decorated the room. John estimated four hundred students and faculty milled around dining tables circling a large dance floor. Along a back wall stood a life-sized nativity scene, the largest he had ever seen. Soft music played. Scenes of a biblical Christmas lined walls. A lone reference to modern Christmas, a forty-foot tall, decorated spruce tree in a corner.
Beth and John joined a line of students moving slowly along buffet tables. Platters of roast chicken, turkey, ham, shrimp, and corn on the cob were dotted among bowls of squash, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. John passed on various salads as Beth filled a plate with fruits and vegetables.
As the line moved forward, John heaped a plate with chicken, ham, potatoes, and stuffing. Beth appeared more selective filling a salad bowl and dinner plate while John trailed.
John enjoyed the meal while Beth chatted among friends as though they hadn’t seen each other in months. Half way through dinner, Beth glanced at John’s plate. “You didn’t get any shrimp?”
“No, I’ve never had shrimp.”
“Oh, John. It’s the best!” She scooped a pink morsel with cocktail sauce. “Are you allergic to shellfish?”
“I wouldn’t know. As I say, I’ve never tried it. We don’t raise shellfish.”
“Are you allergic to anything?”
“Nothing I know of.”
“Here, try a bite. You’ll love it.”
John bit off a small piece, chewed and shrugged. “It’s okay.”
“Fair enough. Different strokes for different folks I guess.”
John returned to his meal as Beth resumed conversation. Then, John politely reached to her plate, and asked, “Would you mind?” He dipped a shrimp into cocktail sauce and plopped it in his mouth. Beneath the table, she slid a hand tenderly along his thigh.
When attendants had cleared plates, couples filtered to the dance floor. “Come dance with me?” She asked.
“I’ve not done much dancing either, but I’ll use any excuse to hold you close. Just be patient with me.”
“Don’t worry farm boy. I have a feeling I’ll be patient with you for a very long time.”
On the dance floor, John fumbled impatiently to the music. Beth relaxed on her feet, guiding him through a waltz. Unstructured slow dances came easily, though he focused to avoid other dancers.
As the evening ended, couples filtered through the doorway. John retrieved Beth’s coat and slid it over her shoulders. They stepped through the door onto a fresh blanket of snow. Large flakes drifted from a dark sky. Couples shuffled hesitantly across an icy lot.
Beth intertwined her arm in his. He noticed girls covering hair from the snow. Contrarily, Beth walked with her face skyward, extending her tongue to capture falling snowflakes. He patted her hand, “I enjoyed this evening, thank you.”
“Thank you for another wonderful memory of us. You were wonderful even if you were uncomfortable with dancing, and the shrimp. I appreciate you being open to new things. Stick with me, farm boy, we’ll educate you with some culture yet.”
“So much of this is new. College, you… us.”
He answered, opening the car door, “Not a single one.”
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