Jack Dawson looked at his watch for the umpteenth time in the last fifteen minutes or so, rolling it over his wrist and picking at the silver links. He sighed, twirling the bent plastic straw in his cup of cold coffee, making tiny swirls against the white mug. He silently berated himself for coming here so early. The union was quiet today, it being Saturday and nearly the end of the semester. There were a few stray students, noses buried deep inside their books and calculators, spread over the sunny stone patio, cramming for upcoming finals. He could remember all too well, those long, suppressive sessions of his own. And why shouldn't he. That had been only two years ago, when he had roamed the campus of UCLA instead of Berkeley, as he completed his Master's thesis. He couldn't deny that the change of scenery had been good for him. And achieving the status of a full time professor at his age, especially here, was a feat to be reckoned with. But often times, his own restlessness still got the best of him, and it was these very lonely moments that seemed to define his personal story all too well.
Maybe it appeared as a fairy tale to some people- the small town kid from a place in Wisconsin that nobody in their right mind had ever heard of- stealing the coveted job of an art history professor at Berkeley. But underneath that very thin veneer of Jack's identity, lay several extremely saddening aspects of his past. Raised on a small farm in Chippewa Falls, he had learned the ravages of grief at much too early an age. He was an only child, born late in life to two very caring parents, who had supported his love for art and his lust for life. His mother had been killed when he was only seven years old, in an automobile accident he still did not quite understand. And in 1991, only two months before he was to head off for California, his father had succumbed to his ongoing heart problems-the father Jack had grown so close to, living without a mother for so many years. Jack knew that his leaving had been viewed as an escape by many of his neighbors and friends, but there seemed to be nothing left for him in a place full of such dismal memories. But what his parents had bestowed upon him was the ability to move past the horrible hands dealt him, and immerse himself in creating a future they had never been given access to.
If one thing plagued him now, it was the reputation he had developed, of being a loner and a person sincerely incapable of speaking too many words at once. His painting and his classes absorbed much of his time. This summer would be the first time in many years, that he would be free of responsibility. And he planned to use the time wisely. He just wished that he had someone to spend it with. A sarcastic chuckle escaped him as he recalled bitterly, the many failed relationships he had experienced in the past few years. Women who seemed to view him as a "good catch", and absolutely nothing else. It always somehow ended, even before it had begun, and each time, he would feel miserable and regretful. And on top of that- it seemed that everywhere he went on campus, he was dodging drooling co-eds. He didn't give them much to talk about, just smiled faintly and walked on. Still, though it was an incessant problem. He guessed that would wear away with time. The average age of a teacher here WAS at least 60. Maybe he was just fresh blood for the time being.
Becoming suddenly frustrated, Jack pushed some hair from his face, squinting to see if anyone looked as if they might be journalism major. Seth had promised that his student would be on time for the interview. "Intelligent and mature, Dawson. I promise- she'll have you fixated inside of a minute. So concentrated." Those had been Townsend's exact words. But where was this punctual princess now?
"Seth, pal, you'd better be right," he whispered to himself. All he needed at this point was another gushing young woman. The afternoon wind was calm and cool, and he tried to close his eyes for a moment to relieve some tension.
The rustling of leaves and a set of hurried footsteps on the nearby stairway caught his attention just as he felt a tiny bit better. His eyes opened quickly, focusing in on a curtain of bright red curls, belonging to a woman who at the moment was kneeling over carefully to pick up some sheets that had flown from her spiral notebook. Jack took a deep breath and watched patiently as this girl fidgeted with her papers and re-adjusted herself into a standing position. Her face came into view, and her full lips seemed to move ever so slightly, as of she were coaching herself. Jack smiled, immediately admiring her stunning features. She seemed so vibrant and colorful, from her hair to the flowered summer dress she wore. He could see that her cheeks were flushed, out of excitement or anxiety- he really could not tell, but the raw beauty in her face kept him mesmerized for several seconds.
His breath caught inside his throat as she began walking, moving closer with every second, to his table. She was looking down at first, but soon her eyes centered in on something. It took Jack a minute before he realized it was him. He swallowed hard, feeling for the handles on his chair so he could stand up to greet her. Never had he imagined that his heartbeat would interfere with this interview, or that his knees would grow weak in the instant he saw who would be asking the questions. As he stood, a look of what appeared to be gratitude and nervousness balled into one, swept across her face. Rose smiled, and soon she was only a few feet away.
So this was Seth Townsend's prize pupil. Maybe Jack owed the guy a good thank you after all.
Rose took a deep breath and mustering every ounce of courage she could, stepped forward and offered her hand to Professor Dawson. He was standing now, lifting his eyebrows as if to ask a silent question. Although not tall enough to tower over her, his form was strong and lithe as he leaned across the table. Rose smiled, her cheeks heating furiously, and nodded. "Rose Dewitt Bukater. I'm here from the paper..." She felt his warm hand slip into her own. It was slightly rough to the touch, but so very gentle as he shook her hand softly.
"Nice to meet you." Jack said these words slowly, drawing his greeting out just as long as he could. His eyes roamed her thoughtfully and appreciatively. Quite reluctantly, he let her delicate hand to slip free of his. She seemed to hesitate before speaking, and this allowed Jack several seconds to think as Rose settled down into the seat across from him. His eyes narrowed, and if he wasn't indeed going crazy, he was sure he recognized her from somewhere.
"It's nice to finally meet you too. I...I've heard a lot about you." Rose looked up to him suddenly, her hands freezing on top of the table. He was silent, but the corners of his heart-shaped mouth seemed to curve upwards slightly. She gulped, wondering just how she would make it through this, praying repeatedly that she could keep her cool. Being this close to him was so new, and Professor Dawson's face was ever the more captivating up close. His eyes, those pools of blue, were staring mercilessly at her, sending her heart racing immediately.
"I'm sure." Jack laughed and curved his hands over his knees, leaning back to take Rose in. "Seth Townsend...hmm...I can only imagine what he's had to say about me." He was teasing, obviously, and the kindness on Jack's face was almost utterly pulsating. Rose uncapped her pen and shook her head, with a sparkle in her eyes.
"Professor Dawson, I can assure you that he has only the highest praise for you...I think he's quite impressed actually. Always ranting and raving." Rose felt her face turning red, and looked down to turn to a fresh page in her notebook. Jack grinned at this and folded his hands across his lap. "So I guess we should get started?"
"Oh, yes, definitely. Fire away." Jack clicked his tongue against his teeth, throwing his head back against the wind, which at the moment was extremely soothing. Rose felt, for the first time this morning, nearly relaxed as she watched him, so comfortable, his words no natural. The deck was rather private, and now the only other person in view was a man reading a very thick book, on the other side of the huge windows.
"So where would you like to start..." Rose drummed her fingers along the wood of the table, knowing exactly where she would like to start. She wanted to know so much, so much she knew she couldn't ask. Especially as to who that overdressed woman from the theater was. But that was entirely out of the question. Rose eyed Professor Dawson, as he seemed to ponder her question. Caught up in the silence, she found herself admiring his very solid cheekbones, which outlined his face so beautifully. His skin was tanned from the sun, glowing against the soft trees behind him. He caught her gaze straight on, grinning wildly as he spoke.
"Well, Rose. I'd say the beginning is always a good place to start."
And that was right where Rose started, somehow forcing herself to concentrate on the task at hand. She had inquired about his past, asking quite candidly where he had grown up, where he was from. Only to receive a whispered answer, a solemn expression from him that seemed so out of character. Rose had flustered at this, leaning over her notes, feeling that somehow, she had touched a very sensitive subject. And just as she felt this interview going downhill, Professor Dawson had cleared his throat, tapped the table, and smiled as in a recovery from her question. He had noticed her discomfort, and to him there was no reason to involve her in his personal demons at the moment. "Didn't know I was just a farm boy, huh?" He grinned and gently urged her to continue, receiving a beautifully shaky smile from Rose. Over the course of the session, Jack caught himself numerous times, examining this woman's hands, her scrawled writing that seemed a little rushed. How every time she asked a question, her knee would shake subtly near his own. Jack was growing increasingly weaker, it seemed, as if a wall was coming down.
Rose held no limits, and bit her lip thoughtfully as she asked him about his education, his love for art, and of course, his favorite artist. She laughed as he tapped his finger against his cheek, pretending to think deeply. But the gleam in his eyes gave him away. "There's no doubt...Monet. Absolutely and forever. Monet." He nodded confidently, and Rose remained silent, pleading in some way for him to keep speaking. Jack lit up at her interest, leaning in very closely, scooting his heavy chair closer to her own. Rose shook at the concrete scraped, and the heat from his body neared her own. She brought a hand to her forehead, her eyes widening with disbelief. "I've been to Chicago...I couldn't tell you how many times, just to see his work at the Art Institute. You'd think I would get sick of them...but ever since I was little, the color has drawn me in..." Jack stopped suddenly, realizing that he had inched so very close to her, that his face was not even a foot from hers. His eyes locked on Rose's, studying the magnificent green of them, and innocently leaned back into his chair. "I'm probably boring you."
"Oh no!" Rose shook her head back and forth, caught completely off guard. If only he knew how amazing just staring at him as he talked, really was. Just like in the theater four nights earlier, he seemed so tangled in his thoughts that his words were coming out with great emotion. "Please, don't stop..." Rose widened her eyes, sliding her gaze all over his face. "I...I want to put this in the piece. If you don't mind."
"I don't mind at all." Jack laughed, quite impressed with level on which she handling this whole thing. He imagined being in her position, interviewing him so courageously, when all the while she probably had various reservations about him already. "I just start babbling sometimes...most people can't stand me when I do that. But I can tell that you're different." Jack was quite satisfied with his own comment, and folded his arms across his chest. "Have you ever...seen any ? The Monets I mean?" He hoped that this question would spark some dialogue, for he needed just a minute to collect his own thoughts. Seth's words were swimming inside his head, and he was trying to remember what the newspaper advisor had said about Rose. That she was a junior...so she had to be at least 20 right? Possibly even older. He ceased his mental calculations, sensing that his face was betraying his intentions.
The look on his face was enough to melt Rose into a puddle on the floor in an instant, but surprisingly, she was able to answer without a full-blown seizure on the spot. Her mind was whirling, and on top of that, she had not gotten much sleep the night before. She prayed that he would not remember her from the movies a few nights ago. So far, she was relieved that he had given no indication of such. One of her roommates had woken her only thirty minutes before this interview, and her eyes seemed to try and blur every few seconds. But there was no mistaking the charming gaze that Professor Dawson was transferring to her. Whether he intended it or not, and Rose guessed that indeed he was totally unaware of his powers over her, his face was contorting into the most adorable expression at the moment. If it meant sitting in this very spot for hours, she was willing to listen to all this man had to say.
"Only in a text book, Professor Dawson. I'm guessing that seeing them up close is a completely different story?"
Jack laughed softly, the golden sound rippling gently from him. "Well, weíll have to do something about that. One of these days, Iíll have to take you over to San Francisco and show you the ones in the museum there. It is quite an experience." He watched as Rose soaked up this information. She took a shaky deep breath and her mouth seemed to quiver slightly. Now he wondered if he had gone into forbidden territory. Maybe she had no real interest in that, particularly with him. She might have a serious boyfriend who would frown on such an activity.
Rose felt a summersault in her stomach. Go to San Francisco with Professor Dawson and spend time looking at Monetís. What female student on campus wouldnít jump at that chance and he was suggesting it to her. She hardly knew what to respond. But she better say something soon. He was giving her a rather odd look.
"Sorry, Rose. I shouldnít have suggested that. Maybe you are not that interested in art."
"Oh, no. Not at all. I do love art and I would love to go." She found the courage to look him in the eye. "Itís just that with trying to get this degree, I hardly ever get out from behind a computer." Rose gave him a brief smile almost anxious now to get this over with. Sitting in the presence of this intriguing individual had clearly shaken her. On the one hand she wanted to run as afar as she could, but on the other, she felt glued to this place, if only by the magnetism of his eyes.
Rose quickly scanned her list of questions. It seemed that this was going to end now anyway. They had covered all the material that Seth had suggested. "Professor Dawson, I think I have plenty of information here. I want to thank you for your time. I promise you will not be disappointed by the story next week."
"I am glad this is in your capable hands, Rose." He leaned over her paper looking across her bold handwriting. "Here, let me correct just this one thing."
Rose felt a jolt of electricity as the professor slowly pulled the pen from between her fingers. Even the slight touch of his fingers against hers sent sparks flying. Their eyes caught and for a minute time seemed to stop. What on earth was happening to her? Sheíd had lots of boyfriends and interviewed many people. But none of those experiences had reduced her to the nervous, quaking wreck she felt herself to be now. Rose watched as he carefully scratched out the name "Meade" and wrote instead "Mead".
"Canít have this go to press with the poor guyís name spelled wrong." Jack smiled and looked reflective as he referred to the name of his high school art teacher who had encouraged him to aim high and see how far his talent and love of art would take him. "By the way, Rose, I need to get that quote to you from my thesis paper. I suppose I better do that pretty quickly. The next issue is due out next week and then youíll be leaving for the summer, right?"
Rose cleared her throat and tried to look halfway intelligent. "Well, ah yes and no. I have to have the article ready for the next issue. But Iím not going home this summer."
Jack lifted his forehead, digesting this interesting piece of news. He was fighting the beginnings of a full-scale battle inside of him. Never had he met anyone so lovely or sweet and sincere. He could see she was a little nervous in his presence, but she was probably under pressure from his friend Seth to get this interview done just the right way. For all he knew, she could be getting a grade on it. He was probably about six years older than she was and a brand new professor. She was a college student. Somehow things seemed totally off kilter here. But try as he could to ignore his feelings, he was drawn to this unusual young woman in a way he had never been to someone before.
"Youíre staying here? Summer school I suppose?" Jack was just stalling for time, attempting to figure out what was right here.
"No. Iím not going to school. In the mornings I am volunteering at a head start program. I love working with those little kids." She smiled happily as if envisioning her summer days there already. "And in the afternoons, I am getting paid to archive some old computer files for Professor Townsend. Iíll have Fridays, Saturday and Sunday to myself. I plan to read and maybe try my hand at some creative writing."
Jack was impressed when he heard about how she was going to spend her summer. There was an air about her of elegance and good breeding. He found is amazing that she wanted to spend the summer mornings patiently helping young children learn basic skills and probably have juice and cookie crumbs spilled all over her. He had to give her credit. She seemed more like a person who was interested in giving of herself, than having things lavished on her.
"Sounds interesting. If you donít mind me asking, where are you from, Rose?" He assumed that she must live perhaps in another part of the country.
She explained that she was from a suburb of Seattle, on one of the lakes, east of the city. Rose added that her mother sold real estate there and this was her busy season anyway. She expected that her mother would fly down a couple of times to visit.
Suddenly Jack looked at his watch. "I apologize Rose. I just realized that I have to meet a student in a half-hour to go through his portfolio. Lots of that going on at this time of the year."
"Well, I should be going too. I have one more final to study for. Iíll see that you get the first copy of this next issue," Rose promised. Another excuse to venture into the proximity of Professor Dawson without being obvious. She stood up and gathered her papers together. "Thanks againÖÖ.."
"Rose, wait. I need your phone number to give you that information." Jack also stood. He pulled a card from his pocket and asked to borrow Roseís pen. "When are you around?"
"I have an answering machine or if I am not there you can leave a message with my roommates. Theyíll still be here for a few days."
Jack leveled his eyes directly at her. "Iíd really rather talk right to you. Just to be sure itís correct."
"Ahhh, yes, of course." She felt that her body had taken on a jelly like consistency. Rose swallowed hard, trying to control her irregular breathing. Watching he as wrote down her number, she noticed with fascination that he wrote his sevenís in the European style with a slash across the middle of the number. He seemed so sophisticated, intelligent and of course artistic. Her mind went back to the early part of the interview when she asked about his home. The outward impressions of Professor Dawson just did not seem to match with his vulnerable inner being. He certainly was an enigma.
Jack put out his hand to Rose and thanked her for being so prompt. "This has been a very positive experience. Thank you, Rose. Iíll be in touch with that information in a couple of days."
"Professor Dawson, IÖÖ."
"Jack. Youíre not one of my students, Rose."
Slightly hesitant, she got the word out. "Jack. Thank you." She noticed how his eyes twinkled and how very at ease he looked as he turned and headed up the stairs. He carried himself lightly and moved quickly. When he reached the top of the flight, he turned once more, as if expecting to find her still there. She gasped quietly when he gave her one of his beaming smiles and winked.
Rose punched the alarm clock next to her bed, hoping to silence the squawking beast. She turned over and pushed her face into the pillow and snuggled back down again with a comfortable "Mfffffffff." To have a whole day ahead with not much to do seemed like pure bliss. This was something she had been waiting for since January, when this past semester had begun. With finals over last night, she had taken her old books to the bookstore for resale. She had only one more project on her agenda. It was the article for the paper. It was all set up and ready to go except for the information she needed from Jack, rather Professor Dawson. The interview had gone fairly well on Saturday. But it was Tuesday morning now and she was still waiting. If she didnít hear from him today they would just have to print the issue with the missing information or else she would have to have Seth Townsend call him. Somehow, she hated to have to involve him though. This article was her thing and she should be able to supply all the necessary material.
A ringing next to the bed startled Rose once again. Her hand flew out once more to turn off the alarm, but this time, she could not stop the incessant ringing. She shook her head and sat up slightly realizing at last that it was the phone that was making the noise. With half closed eyes, she reached out and felt for the receiver.
Jack smiled to himself as he heard her groggy voice come through the receiver. "Good morning, Rose. Iím sorry if I woke you up."
She rubbed her hand over her face and shook her head. "Who, who is this?" she said, wondering what man could be calling her this early in the morning.
She pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at the receiver in confusion. Her mind was still not focusing. Who did she know named Jack? "Jack?" she questioned into the mouthpiece.
"Yes, Jack. Jack Dawson. You interviewed me." He thought that comment would surely jog her sleepy mind. But all he heard on the other end was silence.
Unseen by Jack, Rose, sat straight up in bed. She ran her fingers through her hair and quietly cleared her throat. Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself, she finally found her voice.
"Yes, Jack. Iím guess I was still a bit sleepy. I was expecting to hear from you." She only hoped that her excuse did not sound too idiotic. It seemed that Professor Dawson had the same effect on her over the phone as he did in person. With all the effort she could muster, she struggled to put together another sentence. "Have you got that information for the article?"
Jack chuckled softly. "Yes, that is just one of the reasons I am calling."
Rose listened carefully as he slowly read the quote that he wanted her to include in the piece about him. "I have that. Thanks very much. I appreciate you calling me in plenty of time. Iíll be sure and drop by later in the week when the paper comes out."
"Well actually, Rose, I was kind of hoping that I might see you later in the week for another reason."
Rose frowned. She could not imagine any activity where she would run into the savvy professor. "Well, where? There is not much going on this week."
Jack sighed. Rarely when he asked for a date was he refused. But Rose was different. She was independent and seemed to have so much spirit and enthusiasm. He really wondered if she would accept. "Rose, I had hoped that we could have dinner together on Friday." He decided to keep going and maybe give her some time to think. "There is a lovely place called Lalimeís. We could walk over there. Iíll be done with classes. School will be over. I thought about 7."
Rose was grateful that several miles of phone line separated her from Jack Dawson. Her jaw dropped open and her heart skipped several beats. She had to think and rethink about what he had said. He was asking her for a date. To go to dinner with him. Jack Dawson, one of the most sought after and talked about person on the entire campus. And he was asking her to go out with him?
"Rose? Rose? Are you still there?" He knew she would be surprised. But he at least had expected some kind of answer.
"Yes. Iím still here." She blew her hair out of her face and looked up into the ceiling. "Give him an answer, you fool." She heard the words in her head. "You already looked like a ninny at the movies and you werenít so poised at the interview either. Now pull yourself together and say something." One more deep breath. "Iíd like that very much. I, I really would." She put her hand over her chest to quiet her pounding heart. Hopefully, he would not be able to hear that over the phone.
"Great. Iíll pick you up around seven. Rose, Iíve got your phone number, now I need your address." He listened while she told him where she lived. "Iíll find you. Listen, Rose, Iím looking forward to this. Iíll see you then."
"Jack, Iím looking forward to it too. Iíll see you then. Bye." She listened as he too said goodbye. Gently she put the phone back in the cradle. Rose jumped up and looked at the calendar on the wall. Today was Tuesday. She pointed to the days of the week, like an excited schoolgirl. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Her hand went up to her already flaming cheek. In just about seventy-two hours, she was going out with Jack. How on earth this had come about she had no idea. She had three days to figure out what to wear and get herself calmed down. She leaned back against the wall and slid down to the floor. "Well, Rose," she said to herself. "Youíll be the envy of every girl on campus."
Jack looked down at Claude, his dog, who was lying beside the desk. "Well, old buddy, maybe this time we found someone who likes dogs." In the few days since he had seen Rose for the first time, he had not been able to stop thinking about her. That she was someone special was without doubt. He just wondered what she thought of him. "Friday, Claude. Weíll find out. Can you wait that long? I donít know about you, but never have three days from now seemed so long." Claude's patient answer was the rhythmic thumping of his tail on the floor.