Thursday, 23 March, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Jon starts to lean on the edge of her desk, then thinks better of it and straightens up again. He appears to be almost but not quite ready to ask a question.
“What else can I do for you, Jon?” Kate prompts. “Should I bring more donuts next time?”
“Yeah!” Jon laughs, but his smile is fleeting. “Well,”he says. “I was, ah,” he swallows, looking at the desk surface. “Thinking maybe we could go to lunch sometime.”
With the words finally said, he takes another second and at last manages to lift his gaze to her face again. His facial expression looks like he just asked her to give him a root canal.
Kate looks up at him, and her heart warms. Jon is such a good guy. All at once she feels as though she understands much more about him than she would have if this had happened just a couple of weeks ago. Things are bad at home for him. Trouble with his wife, mistrust and anger. He still wants a relationship with a woman, not having given up on the whole idea as some might. Yet he is not quite brave enough to face his actual fear. If you magically stop the world and ask Jon Dunham, right now, what he is so afraid of, and if he were magically endowed with enough supernatural calmness to be able to answer, he would say that he is afraid of rejection
by Kate, in this apparently-but-not-really small matter of going out to lunch. But that would be a lie. His real fear is of going home and confronting the problems that have developed between him and his wife, and wading in to fix them or not, once and for all. Knowing this, Kate would never consent to go out with him even if she did not have a compelling reason of her own not to.
That thought gives her pause. Does she have a compelling reason not to go out with another man? Why should Chris mean that much to her, when he has barely acknowledged her existence? But that is a question for another time.
“Oh, thanks so much, Jon,” she says. “But I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Blinking as if she had taken a swing at him, he nods, looks down, glances up again, then fixes his gaze on her desktop. Several different expressions cross his features in the space of two seconds, all half-formed and none of them happy.
“Yeah, you’re right, you’re right,” he says. “The Wendy and everything. Probably best.” He looks up again and emulates a smile. “Well, you know, we’ll all go out together again sometime. That would be good.”
“Anyway, thanks for the donuts!” he says, still nodding.”That was great!”
She wants to say something else, but hesitates for one uncertain instant, and he is gone, fleeing her modest office, hurrying back into the hallway and out of sight. Staring into the hall after him, Kate takes a deep breath and releases it slowly.
It is not possible to fix everything that is wrong in the world. It is not even possible to fix every wrong thing that comes across your path in life. And even if you somehow could, should you? People have to live their own lives. This fact is suddenly more clear to Kate than it ever has been before. People have to live their own lives or it wouldn’t be any good. If someone just whacked them on the head with a magic wand and made everything all better—that would be no good to them at all, not in the way that really counts. No good to their souls.
She blinks at this thought. Does she believe in souls now? After a moment’s reflection, Kate knows that she does indeed. Did she not just see one exposed?