CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE SECOND TIME
While they were on their way, she thought how could he not see what was so obvious. How could he taunt her with this ignorance of his was incredulous to her. In bitter frustration, she pushed a stray strand of hair that she felt was annoying her to her limits, but the action was done so carelessly and distractedly that the end could not be achieved and the hair kept falling on her eyes again and again, obstructing her view.
“Oh God” she muttered under her breath and wildly pushed it back again.
“Calm down, Jennifer” he told her patronizingly, at least it seemed so to her. He slackened his pace to allow her time to complete what she was doing and took one look at her stained, dishevelled face before saying.
“You are far too impulsive, my dear, and emotional. It is a very big disadvantage at times to be so sensitive and easily overwhelmed. There, now, all right. Let me” he told her and systematically pushed her hair and tucked it behind her ear. "There" he told her with a smile.
“It’s just that the hair’s been cut so unevenly that when one has been tucked away, another makes the whole strand tumble down” he told her comfortingly.
“They haven’t cut it properly” he remarked, thinking he was pacifying her.
“They are bangs. They are meant to be like that” she told him bitterly.
“Oh! And they look very pretty too” he told her unaffected and she looked disbelievingly at him with flashing eyes.
“Have I done or said something wrong?” he asked her in a worried but an appeasing manner.
“Don’t you see what’s wrong with me?”
“Now, now Jennifer, no need for a scene. You are feeling volatile and emotional and trying to find some vent. It is natural, my dear but there are less patient and understanding people than me and they would conceive wrong opinions about you. Others won’t stand it” he told her as gently as he could in the manner he would have used to a petulant child.
“Less understanding?” she said with a sarcastic snort. “Can anyone be so blind as to what’s wrong with me?”
“Jennifer” he told her sternly.
“Control yourself. You shall do or say something you regret and that would also make a bad impression upon me” he told her sternly and she stared back as if she’d been struck.
Then, she desperately tried to regain control over herself and stood there, her body racking with the effect of the tumultuous affections and emotions that raged within her and gasping for air, silent tears staining her face again.
With a strenuous effort, she eventually calmed down enough to weakly mutter, “I am sorry”.
He looked at her with a puzzled expression on his face, moved both with pity and concern for her, yet he did not know how to handle her in situations like this.
He sighed an immense sigh and said, “This is how these little outbursts of yours end, doesn’t it. It doesn’t have to be that way Jennifer, but it’s okay my dear, you’ll eventually become mature and self restrained and know how to carry yourself in public”.
“Is it that what you find so despicable about me?” she asked, flaring up again and starting to weep loudly.
“Jennifer, for both our sakes, I am going to leave you alone now. In such times, the absence of the cause of your anger usually does you much good. Good bye now” he told with an anxious expression and started to walk away without looking back.
“No, please don’t” she called after him and ran to meet him.
He looked away wearing a distressed expression.
“I am sorry, I am sorry. You are right. Please, sir, I have no other person whom I trust so well. If you can’t advise me I can turn to no one. Please hear what I have to say and don’t judge me for it” she told him, apprehensively.
“Certainly, certainly” he replied, hesitantly and urged her to take a seat and sat himself down beside her.
“Tell me, what’s the matter?” he asked, regaining the ring of authority in his voice.
“There’s this person I love” she started plunging straight into the matter, evincing a sort of wince in him.
“This person, whom I had thought I ceased to love, by means of constant contact and casualness in his manner towards me as to all, has awakened feeling for him that I had convinced myself were silly. The worst part is that” she said pausing thoughtfully and rather sadly too.
“... is that he is kind and good to me inspite of all my childish misbehaviour to him. He is a thorough gentleman, sir, much like you. He is understanding, considerate and in my sight, he is all important. He is always assertive and knows what to do even in the worst of situations. He is kind and polite to people. He is also genuinely concerned about them. He is even chivalric. There is none like, and none will ever be like him. He is thoughtful, sensible, intelligent, good natured, gentle and ever so magnanimous and generous towards his offenders. Now tell me, sir, is it wrong for me to love a person like that and whom I know has always behaved so respectfully and compassionately towards me?” she asked him with pleading eyes and a heartrending sob.
He was taken aback and could not reply for the moment.
“But in this one matter, he is as clueless as ever. He thinks I love him one moment and the next that I don’t. And when I am upset and cry and weep, he is so kind and sweet to me but somehow, can’t understand the meaning of it all. What do you think may be the problem with him and I thought he was so intelligent too?” she asked with with a sudden surfacing of all her bitterness.
A sort of moistness came over his eyes and he looked away. He was so unprepared for this and her genuineness touched him more than he could tell. Then with a deep inhalation he turned to her grimly.
“Have you ever paused to listen as to what considerations and difficulties he may have in accepting your love?” he asked her gravely.
“If he doesn’t like me” she said pausing sorrowfully, “if he doesn’t. He only need tell me and I’ll” and she paused again overcome by sadness.
“You’ll threaten him emotionally?” he asked darkly.
“No. I won’t trouble him any longer”.
“What if he can’t love you because he cannot view you romantically?”
“Meaning he does not like me” she asked, this third person game becoming very convenient to both of them.
“You say he’s a gentleman and if you are a lady, you’ll let all your passions go for his sake?” he asked her, gently.
“This is the second time I’ve shamelessly thrown myself at him, expecting different results. I can handle his rejection as many times as she chooses to reject me” she declared more bravely than she felt.
“Meaning you’ll keep repeating your professions of love?” he asked her.
She said nothing but remained silent.
“Jennifer” he said.
“Jennifer, look at me” he told her sadly.
Something about her pitiable, blurry eyes moved him more deeply than they had done the last time and he was conscious of a deep dishonesty in thinking he would be indifferent to her after he rejected her. He swallowed and looked pensively at her. He couldn’t speak, he tried desperately, but he couldn’t.
He thought what he was doing was an act of sympathy and yet even then, he could not deny that the fondness that he felt for her would deepen into something more over time. He knew the disastrous effects his second rejection would have on her and resigned himself to his stressful fate.
“What will you do, if he rejects you a second time due to the original aforementioned reasons?” he asked her as a sort of a last resort.
“I will resign myself to my fate” she told him valiantly.
“Will you, Jennifer, will you? Think carefully before answering. Supposing he has rejected your proposal this very moment, what do you feel?”
She felt burning despair and unutterable pain, then dejection, horror and then coldness. All this happened in a flash of seconds.
“Then, there would be nothing more to live for” she told him quietly, implying the uncertain.
He shuddered inwardly.
“Jennifer. I am leaving this college as soon as I hand in my resignation letter. I cannot let my reputation here suffer any more loss than what it already has had to suffer. If this is my lot, I shall accept it uncomplainingly. I cannot bear the respite of people, their contempt towards me, the tarnishing of the repute of the college or the bad example I am going to set for my students by what I am going to do”.
She unfortunately, could not make sense out of the statement and stared blankly at him having heard nothing after he proclaimed to leave the college.
“You’re leaving?” she asked with horrified disbelief.
“Yes” he told her, sensing that she has not understood his meaning.
“You’re leaving because of what I did? If there is any dignity remaining in me, I’ll be the one to leave” she said and broke down anew, crying into her hands but he stopped this with reproachful sensibility and said, “Listen, Jennifer, look here” he told her sharply.
Then getting up meditatively, he took a look at her and knelt at her feet making her gasp in surprise.
“Ms. Jennifer Brett, will you marry me, Charles William Wright?” he asked her.