by Jane MacDonald
Bernie's note, written in pencil, lay on his desk. It reminded
him of a letter of marque, a license from the King to sail out and
take prizes from the enemy. And this king wanted some action, fast.
July 12, 2001
Jeannette brought her fiance home to meet the
family last week. He looks great, he talks good,
he seems OK. He isn't. Never mind the reasons.
He won't do. You've known Jeannette since third
grade. Get her out of this.
Obviously, he didn't have to do it. But he remembered that
Bernie drove them to watch the airplanes take off at the
Caribou airport when they were little kids. He always got an extra
dollar when he picked potatoes on Bernie's big farm. Bernie took
him to the doctor in Van Buren when he fell off the John Deere
and broke his ankle. Bernie talked to his parents when they had
doubts about his going all the way to Orono to a real university.
Other things--too many. He owed Bernie. Still, that was a crazy
letter; he could ignore it, or tell Bernie he couldn't do it.
But what if he decided to try? If he succeeded, how would
Jeannette feel about it? He wouldn't hurt Jeannette for anybody,
not even her father. She was short and dark and fierce, and the
dearest friend he'd ever had.
George knew that nobody would ever say he had charisma.
Presentable, yes. Adequate, definitely. He'd made A's in business
school, and his boss at the bank trusted him to handle loan accounts.
He usually could take necessary risks without much difficulty, but
not always--especially when it came to women. He envied his
married friends, but he saw
It took George two days to make up his mind. He trusted
Bernie's instincts, and Carl--Carl fit the archetype of the
Boston Brahmin, not the kind of guy he much liked. Finally, he
got on the phone.
"Jeannette? How about lunch?"
"Sure, George. Where've you been, anyhow? I missed you!
See you at Au Bon Pain at noon tomorrow?"
"Okay, I'll be there at 11:50. Maybe we'll beat the crowd."
They filled their trays at the buffet before taking a table
outdoors on the patio. For once, George decided, he wouldn't
dither--he might as well dive in the deep end. He had a
plan. It was devious; it was underhanded. But it was all he could
"So how's being engaged?"
"Fabulous." Jeannette smiled broadly. "Carl hasn't changed,
he's still the soul of gallantry. Takes me out to dinner as if
we were still just ordinary people. He hasn't tried to rearrange
my life, even though I expect his mother wishes he would."
Here goes, he thought. "That's a mistake on his part.
The day you're engaged to me your life will change radically." Just
as if he were perfectly calm, George took a bite of his sandwich
and looked her straight in the eye. She couldn't see his blood
Jeannette put her fork down and met his gaze.
"Do I need a hearing aid?"
"I don't think so."
"I could have sworn you said something about my being
engaged to you."
"You heard right."
"All right. Item One, I'm already engaged. Item Two, I'm in
love with my fiance. Item Three--"
"Forget Item Three." George wiped his mouth with a paper
napkin and said, calmly, "Item One is true, obviously. Item Two
is false. I've known you since third grade, and you're not in love."
"George, I've been mad at you before, and I could get mad
at you again."
"I survived the other times, so I expect I could survive
"But why are you doing this? You're my friend!"
"Because I know you're not in love. I remember when you fell
in love with Omer Dumond in high school, and it showed. You were
over the top. This time you're not."
"George. I'm not in high school anymore, remember? I graduated.
I went to college. I've been living alone in the big city for five
years since then, making a living. I'm not a silly girl anymore. I
think this has to stop, right now." She reached for her bag.
"You can go if you want," George said, "but I'll be in touch.
And when you're engaged to me you won't be going to lunch with
old friends. Not if they're male and predatory. You'll have better
things to do."
Jeannette laughed in spite of herself. "You're not the
predatory type, George. Like you said, I've known you since the
third grade. I don't think Carl has to worry." She put the bag
down. "Look, George, why don't we just talk the way we always do? I
was back in Van Buren last
week. I'll tell you all the dirt about Lucie Levesque. I want to
finish my lunch."
"Fine with me, but just keep in mind what I said. So how's Lucie?" George
relaxed; he thought he could use a time-out.
On the following Saturday morning, George fished around
in his desk drawer, found a stamp, and wrote a regular letter.
E-mail wouldn't have done for this one, even if Bernie had been
July 23, 2001
OK. I'm working on it.
Having thus thoroughly committed himself, he reached for the
telephone and called Jeannette.
"Are you still engaged?"
"Are you still nuts?"
"You know me better than that--I've been sane all my life.
Therefore I'm sane now."
"Nope, you're nuts. I agree, it's a new departure. Still,
it's Saturday, and I'm going shopping at Copley Place. I'll
buy you lunch."
George was astounded. She had pre-empted his whole plan
of action--he had expected resistance. Breathing deeply, calling
on his reserves, he replied.
"See you there. Chili's this time? We could live it up. I'll
buy you the beer of your choice."
They ate at one of those tall tables in the bar. Jeannette
liked sitting there because she could hook her feet on the rung of
the bar stool; whenshe sat in chairs or on banquettes they didn't
quite touch the floor. She had told him long before that she considered
this just another of the many subtle ways men kept women off
balance. George had eaten half of a huge pile of nachos, which
he knew she thought were gross, before he brought up her love life.
"So you haven't dumped Carl yet."
"Look, George. I don't know what you're on about, but I
am engaged, and I'm going to get married at St. Bruno's in
Van Buren next January, and that's all there is to it."
"That's all very well," George said. "Being engaged is fine;
getting married is fine; St. Bruno's is fine. But that's not
all there is to it. There's still the question of who you're
getting married to. It won't be Carl."
"Yes, it will."
"No. It won't."
"If you object so much to Carl, you have to tell me why. You
knew six months ago that I was sleeping with him--if you didn't
like it, why didn't you tell me then?"
"Good question. Let's see. I suppose . . . . No, that's
not it. I was going to say I was too stupid, but it's really that
I didn't see any point in it. I've never been able to tell
you what to do--you always do just the opposite of what I say."
"Then why didn't you tell me what a great idea it was?"
"Yeah, I was too stupid."
"All right, tell me now why it isn't a great idea."
"Because you're not in love with Carl."
Jeannette carefully put a bite of salad into her mouth,
chewed, then spoke:
"Granted it's not like it was with Omer, but I'm still
in love. And I'm twenty-eight years old--that's not like being
sixteen, OK? Carl is a very nice guy. He loves me, I love him. End
"No, no," said George. "Remember when we were about eleven,
picking potatoes on one of Joe Thibaut's contract farms?
I claimed you stole potatoes out of my basket? You hit me?"
"I remember it well, you creep. I did not steal
your stupid potatoes. Cochon."
"I didn't think you did, really. I just liked seeing you mad."
Jeannette giggled. "I didn't hit you as hard as I could
have. But I was mad, all right."
"That's when I fell in love with you."
"No, I'm telling the truth."
Jeannette frowned. "You have to be kidding! You never
said a thing!"
"Well, I'm not very brave, I suppose. I thought about
it a few times, but you were so popular, and I was just another guy,
even if we were friends."
Jeannette shook her head. "Well, I'm going to go continue
shopping, and putting my name on the stores' wedding wish lists
, even if you were in love with me when you were eleven
years old." She slid off her stool and gathered up her shopping
"I still am." George wiped his mouth and stood up, looking
She grabbed his head and gave him a peck on the cheek.
"See you, George. I have to get going." She marched toward
George figured he was making no progress at all. But he had
promised Bernie; he couldn't quit. So what if she told him to go
to hell? He'd survive. Or so he kept telling himself. When
he called a couple of days later, she told him her fiance was out
of town; he asked her to dinner. Once they sat down, he wasted no
"I still think I'd make a better husband than Carl."
"I'm beginning to think you're serious. That makes it worse.
Stop it." Jeannette was not smiling.
But George thought he could hear doubt in her voice.
"No. I am serious. Nobody would have put up with all
your crying when you got hurt, your crowing when you won that
puzzle contest, all that kind of stuff--nobody would have
put up with that who didn't love you."
"I just thought you were my friend. That's what friends are for."
"Of course I'm your friend. I also wanted to hold you tenderly
and dry your tears, hold you tight and kiss you, run my hands through your raven locks,
and take you off to bed right then. Still do. Preferably not the tears
right now, though."
She ran a hand through her raven locks. "Eat your spaghetti, George.
You're faint from hunger and delirious." She picked up her fork. "And
So he shut up about that kind of thing, and they talked about her
work, and his, and how lousy the Red Sox were playing. After dinner they
walked up Newbury Street for a while, looking in the shop windows, then
he took her home and she stood tiptoes to kiss his cheek and went
upstairs to her apartment.
Then it was Saturday morning again.
"George? You're home. I'm coming over."
George hung up the telephone and began straightening up his living
room. He worried. Carl was back in town. She was just being nice, but she
was going to tell him to bug off. By the time she buzzed, the apartment
looked clean and neat. She came in, looked around, took the softest
chair, and glowered at him.
"All right. You win. I'm not in love with Carl. Last night I gave him
back the ring. Are you satisfied?"
"Is he completely out, or are you still going to keep him
around in case?"
"Nope. No more Carl. I'm a free woman."
"It's kind of silly," she said. "It matters, though. He was talking
about joining some posh country club, and it just hit me--that's not me. I
don't want that kind of life. I don't think he really knows me at all.
I could almost hear his mother talking, and she's just the kind of
socialite I couldn't stand to be."
"It's really over, then."
"So I should I give you a big kiss and hold you in my arms and
take you off to bed?"
"No." She gave him a shy smile. "Not yet, anyhow. But we could
do a little experimenting. Just kind of take up dating instead of having
- George went pale.
"Uh, yeah, we could. Sure you want that?"
"Why not? I've known you forever, and I always liked you a lot. I
can depend on you, I know that. Not many people I can say that about.
George couldn't think of a thing to say. Then Jeannette burst
"Gotcha, you silly man! I just thought I'd pay you back a little
for trying to fool me. You're not in love with me, you big fake. Besides, you're
like my brother, it would be incest. And you don't like my type anyhow--you
go for big Anglo blondes, preferably the arty kind." She composed herself. "No,
I know you too well. You just did all that to get rid of Carl. Frankly,
I would never have thought you had the nerve to do it, but it worked. You
got me confused enough to make me think. I'd never admit that to anybody
else, but I decided it probably was hormones talking--I want a baby.
But not that bad. Not anymore."
To his amazement, George felt a sudden pang of grief. His color
came back, but he didn't feel quite right. True, Jeannette wasn't a "big
Anglo blonde" like the women he'd lusted after in the past. She was a dark,
trim little Franco woman like his mother. But she was--Jeannette.
"You know, you're not really my sister. I could make an exception--" He
stopped. For once, he'd taken a real risk. He hadn't weighed his words. Hadn't
worried about looking stupid. Hadn't thought about getting rejected.
So he looked her straight in the eye. "I've been in love with you
since we used to pick potatoes in your dad's field. And that's the truth."
"Yeah. I know." Her mouth curved into a crooked smile. "Took you
long enough to figure it out."