Rosalind moved carefree and exuberant on this sunny June 5th morning in Houston. She didn’t mind the heat and humidity for she intended to spend a cool day, with friends, at her local community swimming pool. What made everything better was that it was her fourteenth birthday, and the first day of school summer holidays. She was dressed for the day in a wrap over a matching new turquoise swimming suit, a birthday gift from her mother. The modest one-piece swim-suit fit perfectly and accentuated her form as well, if not better, than a bikini could have done. She rode her bicycle to the pool and when she got there she surveyed the area. She took in the shading patterns of the surrounding trees; the brilliant blue water; the lanes cordoned off for lap swimmers; and the life-guard seated high on his perch. She evaluated options. The lifeguard interested her immensely; he was young, obviously athletic, and, she thought, intensely good-looking. His presence added interest to the day. She knew that he had to be at least eighteen but instinctively she took him to be someone whom she, and her friends, would like to meet. She selected a spot which was partially shaded by a huge oak tree while commanding a good view of the lifeguard. She wanted to make sure that he saw her so she went to the lap lanes and dove in. For a split second the cool of the water bit her skin, then she swam with ease enjoying the luxury of freely slicing through water in this park-like setting. Soon her friends arrived and she climbed out of the water to greet them. Her swimming suit shone, wet in the hot sun and she could sense, without looking, that the lifeguard was watching.
Her senses were right for the lifeguard, Justin, had noticed Rosalind and was watching. At this early hour there were only a few children swimming affording him the luxury of being able take long scans of the activities away from the sparkling water. As he watched, their age differential didn’t factor into his conscious, all he saw was a beautiful girl. He watched her talking to her friends. He heard their ‘happy birthday’ exchanges. Over the shouts of children he could also hear crickets humming and beyond the faint roar of traffic but none of these sounds interested him, for his attention was focused on Rosalind’s party. He could see that she was the soul of the group and sensed her captivating vivacity. When they swam he watched them enjoying playing ball in the water together. Later he saw her settle down to read in the shade of an umbrella, while her friends lay motionless, sunbathing on deck chairs.
To Justin this girl, in a turquoise swimming-suit, exuded everything which he saw as good in a woman; beauty, spirit, joy, and the ability to quietly sit and read. When he blew his whistle for the obligatory ten minute out-of-the-water break; he didn’t join the other lifeguards from the adjacent pool, instead, he climbed down and approached her. His skin shone with a healthy glow acquired from sitting outside surveying the pool. His muscles rippled as only those of a fit eighteen-year old athletic young man can do. He looked good and knew it.
He crouched beside her. “May I join you?” he asked as he gazed at her with an affectionate glow apparent even in the intense tropical Houston sunlight. She looked up from her book. Her dark glasses hid her eyes but the rest of her face gave him a half hesitant sweet smile. She was surprised by his attention even though this had been the focus of all her activities that morning. She responded with a slight nod and he immediately pulled up the adjacent lounge chair.
He spoke again, “You look engrossed; it must be a good book. What are you reading?”
“Middlemarch,” She held it up so that he could see the cover.
You’ve read it?”
“Yep, it’s quite a long tome with several interwoven plots!”
Rosalind gave Justin an encouraging smile, ‘Well, since you have read it, tell me does the story turn out Okay; – all those dysfunctional relationships?”
“Sort of,….” Justin was about to go on, but she smiled and held up her hand.
“I shouldn’t have asked so don’t tell me. It might spoil the tension of the story. I have already deduced that there is some kind of happiness in store for Dorothea – after all, Elliot gave a happy ending to Silas Marner didn’t she?”
Justin nodded thinking to himself ‘This girl is amazing, she shares my love of literature.’ He waited, while he savored the moment, the innocent, beautiful girl before him, the sun beating down on his back; its warmth equaled by the warmth coming from the inside. “I’m Justin, what’s your name?”
Things were moving faster than she had dared to hope: she stretched out her hand. “Pleased to meet you; mine’s Rosalind.” Both their fingers tingled when their hands met; they smiled happily and laughed to relieve tension.
By now the rest of Rosalind’s group had noticed Justin’s presence and gradually began to drift up to join them. No-one wished to be left out of the fun. They exchanged introductions and disclosed that it was Rosalind’s birthday. Midst giggles and laughter they filled the rest of the water-break with gossip. When Justin majestically returned to his post, and blew his whistle both his and Rosalind’s hearts were pounding faster than normal. Instinctively they recognized a strong attraction. Rosalind tried to read and ignore Justin but every now and again she stole a glance in his direction, and, if he wasn’t looking toward her, she stared unabashed until he turned and met her gaze. Then they both averted their eyes even though they both knew that the other was stealing glances and found the thought invigorating.
From then on Justin spent all his breaks at Rosalind’s side, and she planned her visits to the pool to coincide with his shifts. He discovered that she lived, with her parents, in the modest housing on the north side of the park and she, that he lived with his mother in the low-rent apartments to the south. One day in early August he invited her to go to a movie with him, naturally she agreed to the date.
Justin called at her house to pick her up and was met by her mother; a talkative woman with blond hair and features similar to an older version of her daughter; except where Rosalind’s features were soft and loving; her mother’s face was hard and worn. They stood and surveyed each other. Rosalind’s mother inquired about Justin’s family, and gradually became decidedly less friendly. Justin recognized her displeasure to be horror at his origins and financial status, or lack thereof. She deftly parlayed her snobbism and disapproval into comments about Rosalind’s age and the fact that she considered Justin, at eighteen, with an optimistic interest in gaming and computers and no college prospects, as a poor match for her daughter. Both parents had plans for Rosalind and they most assuredly did not include a liaison with an older apartment-lad whose only prospect was a computer game.
The date went off as expected with Justin gentle and responsive. Rosalind gave every indication that she wanted to be kissed. Justin held her in his arms and obliged. When they blended into each other they both knew that something lasting and special had taken place. They wanted the date to last forever but Justin managed to deliver her home before midnight. At her door they were met by her father, who told Rosalind to go to her room, and Justin, that no more dates were in order. Justin attempted reason but her father wouldn’t discuss options and soon dismissed Justin by closing the door in his face.
In the days before electronic media Rosalind’s parents might have been able to instantly curtail the young couple’s contact with each other, but they both had cell phones and I-pads, and so communications went on with increased intensity. In addition they managed frequent meetings at the pool. By the end of the summer they were committed. Justin told Rosalind about his computer game and his dream of starting a business based on computer games. He spoke of the time when he expected to be affluent enough to be able to get married, a time, which he confidently predicted, to be when Rosalind was old enough to do so. Up until then Rosalind’s parents had always dictated her future; but now she luxuriated in Justin’s plans. She found them exciting, convincing, stimulating, and good enough to be written into a novel.
At the end of the summer, her mother discovered that Rosalind and Justin were meeting at the pool and communicating electronically. She talked to her husband and made her ultimatum, “This young man is far too old for you. You are only fourteen. Your father and I insist that you immediately cease all communication, and don’t think that you can go behind our backs. If you try we will permanently ground you.”
Rosalind thought the ultimatum to be unreasonable and cruel. She was tempted to argue with her parents that fourteen is not too young for love and a mutual attraction with a man only four years her senior. She even considered pointing out that Priscilla Presley was fourteen when she and Elvis first met. She could remind them that it took several years until Priscilla was old enough to get married. However, she didn’t bring up her objections for she could see from her mother’s face that decision was inflexibly made. Instead, she humbly begged for, and was given, twenty-four hours to ‘wrap things up.’ She shot off an e-mail to Justin asking him what to do. He responded that, at present, she needed her parents more than she needed him and that they should oblige by ceasing communications until she was old enough to legally make her own decisions. He told her that it was best for he intended to move to Austin where he could better market his game. He suggested that his move would make their temporary separation easier. Rosalind didn’t like Justin’s response. She cried all night. She wanted Justin now. She knew that she loved him, but she was realistic; and he had not offered an alternative. At times she even told herself that his response was a brush-off and that he obviously wanted to break-up with her. Facing this sad thought, she calmed down. At dawn she capitulated.
The next six months passed quickly with Rosalind focused on her school work. Her dedicated studies didn’t help her to forget. Every time she opened a book she thought of Justin. Every time that she went out she sought his image. Sometimes she would see a shadow or a profile which she thought might be his and her heart would beat faster while she rushed to investigate. Once she had spent an hour trailing a young man in the Gallaria because, when she first saw him skating on the ice she was convinced that he looked like Justin. Every few days she searched the Internet for his name hoping to find something, anything, but nothing came up. It was as though he had vanished from the earth. The following February she received an anonymous Valentine’s card with forget-me-nots on the cover. Inside was handwritten:
One who cares
On the back, in very small print was a note:
Handmade especially for you.
The Jacob / Rachel Foundation.
Rosalind’s spirits rose for she knew that the card came from Justin and reconfirmed his love. She fondly read and re-read it. Then she took down her copy of Middlemarch, and slipped the card into the back of its voluminous pages. Her mother, who routinely inspected all Rosalind’s mail also saw the card and deduced that it came from one of Rosalind’s classmates, probably Tim whom she considered eminently desirable. The following year a second card arrived. Again the front image was forget-me-nots. The message inside read:
One who waits
Rosalind hid the second card in her book while her mother wondered what Tim could be waiting for. She gently began to point out Tim’s credentials and assets to Rosalind. The next year, Rosalind’s high school junior year, two cards arrived. Her mother way-laid them while Rosalind was at school. She opened them, one was clearly from Tim who signed his name. The other read:
One who cares and waits
Rosalind’s mother deduced that One who cares and waits came from Justin. She told herself that it had been sent in disobedience to her explicit instructions and took this as ample excuse for her to withhold it. She watched Rosalind read Tim’s card and obvious disappointment at there not being another card. Rosalind’s reaction confirmed her mother’s suspicions. She decided to attack head-on,
“What are you moping about?”
“Wasn’t there another card?”
“But I thought…”
“What did you think?”
“That there might be another card?”
“You mean one from that loser Justin?”
“Well yes, from Justin. But he is not a loser.”
“Since you didn’t get a card from him I’ll overlook the fact that you agreed to no communications.” Her mother put her arms around Rosalind, “Come on dear, did you really expect to get a card from that game-designer-loser, Justin? Be realistic he is four years your senior and off in the business world. He has probably got a real girl-friend by now.”
“But Mom, I am real. Why don’t you see me as real? And, Mom we were, no, are, in love,” sobbed Rosalind, “he said that he would wait. He said that we should both wait.”
“Pooh, that sounds like a man. Typical man wants you to do all the waiting while they have a good time.”
“I, I don’t think so.” Rosalind stammered miserably, “Perhaps the card got lost…”
“Come on, be real, Rosalind, he has obviously forgotten you. It is a subtle message to you to move on.”
“Yep, start dating. What about that neat boy Tim?”
Rosalind was sad and disappointed and decided to take her mother’s advice that ‘life has to go on. She began to date Tim. His family were relatively well off and her parents, especially her mother, liked his prospects. They encouraged the relationship. By the end of Rosalind’s senior year she and Tim had settled into an easy relationship. That was also the year that Rosalind’s father lost his job and they had to give up their home. They moved into an apartment. Rosalind’s mother was devastated by the move and so Rosalind did not tell her that the apartment was the one which had been Justin’s home the summer of her fourteenth birthday. Rosalind found comfort in the place for she felt that it connected her to Justin. Sometimes when she lay on her bed with her eyes closed she could almost feel his presence. She continued to date Tim because it pleased her mother and stopped her incessant nagging. When Valentine’s Day rolled around her mother again made sure that she hid the next valentine’s card from Austin. It read:
One who watches and waits
At the end of their senior year both Rosalind and Tim were offered places in several University programs. Tim suggested that they should go to the same place so that they could be together. Rosalind was not so sure but she didn’t nix the idea. Now that she thought that she had lost Justin her emotions were numb. She filled in multiple applications for financial aid along with her college applications. She and her parents knew that they needed to find some way for her to afford to go without her having to take out a debilitating student loan. Then, one day in May, both she and Tim received letters from The Jacob / Rachel Foundation. Neither could recall having applied to such a foundation but both rationalized that there had been so many applications that it could have happened. The Foundation offered a full scholarship to Rosalind for The University of Texas in Austin and to Tim for him to study Architecture at Texas A & M. The families were thrilled by the generosity of the scholarships although Tim expressed dismay that they would have to be separated. Rosalind’s mother shared Tim’s disappointment although she reminded them both that Austin and College Station aren’t too far apart and they would both be home in Houston for vacations. Rosalind remained ambivalent.
That summer Rosalind took a position as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool. It began with weekends in May and, after her eighteen birthday, promised to go full time until she left for university. During the May weekend sessions she donned her swim-suit, always a turquoise one-piece, and mounted her post nostalgically making sure that she was assigned to the pool where she and Justin had met. She sat in a new lifeguard platform with a large umbrella. It was in the same location that Justin’s had been four years ago. She nurtured a sense of connection as she sat in, what she still considered, to be his perch. Now she was the eighteen-year-old surveying the activities; the eighteen-year-old who lived in the apartments, perhaps even the eighteen-year-old on whom the parents of the fourteen-year-old boys would frown. She didn’t dwell on this last fact; she concentrated on her job and luxuriated in memory of the summer of her fourteenth birthday. Sometimes she studied the adolescent fourteen-year-old boys watching them swagger and show off jumping off the diving board. Some of them had adult bodies but they all retained their youthful demeanor.
‘What,’ she wondered, ‘what did Justin see in me? I understand why he has forgotten. I was so young. I do wonder why he had to hurt me so much. But no,’ she always concluded, ‘no, he gave me a memory, a precious memory to carry with me throughout my life, the memory of a perfect man. Love is always good even when it is in vain. I cherish our love and shall always do so.’
By June the school holidays were in full swing and one hot June day, her birthday and the anniversary of the day that she and Justin had met she noticed an athletic young man dive into the water and swim laps. He swam like an Olympian slicing through the water and making smooth flip-turns at the end of each lap. Her job was to watch the young swimmers not the lap swimmers and so she missed seeing him get out of the water. When she next looked he was lying on a lounge chair reading. Rosalind did a double take, viewed from where she was sitting he looked very like her memory of Justin. She calmed herself with the thought that, over the years, especially at the beginning, she had often imagined seeing him, only to be disappointed when she got a full look at close quarters. However, when she blew her whistle for the obligatory break from the water she climbed down and walked toward him. He seemed to be engrossed in his book. She stopped beside him letting the sun cast her shadow over his body. By now she was almost speechless with emotion. She didn’t know how to address this person who so resembled her love of four years ago.
Her voice quivering she managed to say, “Excuse me, do I know you?”
He looked up, removed his dark glasses, and smiled merrily, now there was no doubt. He said, “Of course you know me Rosalind. Here, sit down and let’s talk.”
“So, what are you reading?”
“Middlemarch, did you have to ask? You even know why I read it today.”
“Yes, of course. So you came back?
“I told you that I’d come back. Didn’t you believe? Surely you received my Valentine’s cards?”
“I received One who cares, and One who waits but after that nothing. I assumed that you had stopped caring and waiting. Besides that is when Dad lost his job and we had to move into an apartment. I even wondered whether it was because of the move.”
“So you didn’t get One who cares and waits, and One who watches and waits?”
“That’s odd. I bet your mother intervened. I know that she disapproves; but Rosalind, now that I’ve made my million don’t you think that she might accept me?”
© September 2014, Jane Stansfeld
Thank you Jane – another good one that kept my attention right through. Successful teenage romance that confounds over-confining parents is, I think, probably almost of the order of an archetypal story/myth of our times. Well done.
Thank you Wyon, you are with Cynthia – a tried and true story line from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to ‘West Side Story’ – how can the formula fail?
As usual your story gripped me through to the end.
Thank you Ian
Once again you demonstrate how the Classic proves it’s mettle. Young love, at first sight, true love, fiercely opposed by family, tested by going through some kind of difficult trial period to prove itself…..how can you not have a good story with echoes of Shakespeare and the Bible resounding?
I did chuckle at the thought of a fourteen-year-old girl of today reading Middlemarch by the pool–actually I really laughed a lot at the thought, so I thank you for that image! I remember trying unsuccessfully to get through that heavy book several times, and finally succeeding, in my thirties, one snowbound winter when there was little else to do. Another good’un, Jane!
You are right about the average fourteen-year old girl, however I do know the exceptional girl who might (or did) do so. The real question is whether they could have both read it in their teens and I agree that this is highly unlikely, but if it made Cynthia laugh it was worth stretching reality. All I can do is suggest that; perhaps their schools had it on a summer reading list or perhaps they saw the movie first. Incidentally I thought that the movie missed much. That is so often the case – a movie taking away the enjoyment of a book. Anyway Cynthia thank you for your visit and for taking the time to comment. I always treasure your comments.
Ah…the summer reading list…of course! I never saw the movie, but I can’d imagine it’s being anything like the experience of the book—which was wonderfully, deeply literary and put the author in my pantheon forever!