Much to his astonishment and dismay, Lord St. John Davies has fallen in love with an alleged spy, Lady Ellis Cavanaugh. Things would have been so much simpler had he fallen for one of the other, more suitable ladies of his social set; someone to keep his house and fill his nursery—in short, someone pliant, proper and utterly dull. However, Lord Davies has not been so fortunate.
Instead, he finds himself helplessly smitten with the stunning and sensual Lady Ellis. She is bold, brash, irreverent and indomitable, not to mention reliably unpredictable and wildly funny. Lord Davies finds that his head aches with the exertion of keeping up with her wit and his body aches from the strain of constantly containing his laughter. Added to all her charm is her notoriety; Lady Ellis is a famous, haute couture-wearing novelist. She has written an obscenely popular (and reportedly autobiographical) work on the life of a British female spy during World War II. If the novel is to be taken as gospel, this means that, in a former life, Ellis was a spy, and was married to a fellow agent. Moreover, it means she and her husband were both betrayed and sent to Dachau. Lastly, it suggests that, while Ellis made it out alive, her husband did not.
Lady Ellis? A former spy and concentration camp survivor? A tragic widow? A bloody fascinating, mysterious woman. A dangerous woman. A woman any man should have the sense to stay away from. Evidently, Lord Davies hasn’t any sense.
Occasionally, Davies glimpses the frailty in her, carefully hidden beneath the impenetrable armor of her wit. He also sees something else; something that he cannot quite put a name to—something perilous. And he intends to figure out what it is. He is given the perfect opportunity when a terrible crime takes place on her family’s Shropshire estate and he is swept along for the ride. At first, it appears that Ellis has brought him to her family home merely for her own entertainment. However, things with Ellis are rarely what they seem.
At one moment, Davies is entranced by Ellis’ charms. At another, he is astonished by the seemingly callous unconcern she feels for her father—a man who has been wrongfully accused of gruesomely murdering his best friend and long-time estate manager. Can she really be so cruel, so flippant? Or is she the loyal and deeply affectionate woman he suspects her to be? Davies intends to find out who Ellis really is and why he has been brought to Felix House. In the process, he intends once and for all to convince Ellis to marry him. And he will be damned if he takes no for an answer.
Dizzily, asthmatically funny, with wit as sharp as a knife, Ellis will sweep you effortlessly up in her adventures and leave you breathlessly behind when she’s done with you. Try and keep up, and if you can’t, stay out of her way. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
I don’t travel well. In fact, I would prefer not to travel at all. I prefer intertia. This is because I frequently confuse inertia with security. I travel for three reasons: 1.) There are a lot of people that I love and I can’t seem to force them all to live in the same city as me. As it turns out, I have very little control over other people’s decision making, and I hate that. 2.) My husband is a free spirit. If he were any freer, we’d be living in a nudist colony, where he would spend his time running through the trees and I would spend my time hiding in the thickest foliage I could find. He has this innate and utterly expansive spirit of adventure (which already exudes from every pore of Little Boy’s body). Adventure to me means watching an action movie (i:e. bad adventure) or reading a book of historical fiction about Renaissance Europe while cuddled up under my red cashmere blanket (i:e. good adventure). And, 3.) I love my husband and I want him to be happy. It’s the least I can do. He does a ton of crap for me.
In spite of my lack of enthusiasm—nay—cooperation, travel seems to happen with alarming regularity in our house. My husband talks it up—a lot. I say no—a lot. I cave. He dances and sings. He doesn’t know the proper lyrics to any song ever written. But this doesn’t stop his singing; not even a little. We pack up our oh-so-sporty minivan. We go. I grumble. I crab. I’m a really bad sport about it. My husband tries to encourage me. He reminds me that mommy sets the mood for the whole family. This is strangely true. “Will I use my power for evil or for good?” I muse. I weigh my options, unsure of what will happen. But thankfully (for the sake of mankind), I seem to have a pretty powerful conscience.
This weekend, our trip was to visit some of our belovedest friends. We met in grad school. Cory and I started together. We were studying God, which is a pretty big and complicated subject, or so we thought. We were (are?) both intense, contemplative even, and maybe a little too solemn. We both tend to push ourselves from one difficult question to the next without stopping to catch our breath; racing from one measure of music to the other without enjoying the music inherent in the rests. I hadn’t yet learned not to take myself too seriously. Since then I have learned to laugh more often. Hard. At that time, we were both a bit reclusive. He still is. I am not so much. Okay, so maybe I still am.
He was brilliant, I was competitive. I was quiet, he was quieter. I talk a bit more now, he still doesn’t much. I liked to whisper irreverent, sardonic remarks under my breath during class. He liked to listen to them. For no good reason that I can think of, besides the ones briefly stated, we were instantly fast friends. We still are. Two peas in a pod. Or in a seminary. Anyway, it’s been about seven years now.
It was strange. I’m not usually particularly close to guys, or at least I hadn’t been close to a man besides my husband since I met my him. But, for whatever reason, Cory and I just clicked. He wasn’t married at the time, and then his beautiful wife came on the scene and I instantly fell in love with her, too. The first time I met her, we just hugged each other so tightly. It is not unusual for her to be one of the first people I think of when I wake up in the morning. I often find myself homesick for her. These are people who never fail to feed my soul and make me glad that I am alive. Whenever I am with them, I will at some point pee my pants. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I have taken to just keeping a spare pair of pants around whenever I am with them. It saves time.
These are people who never fail to make me laugh until I find myself wishing for a brief hit on a high grade oxygen mask and, as often as not, they make me laugh at myself. They always make me think; generally in ways that I would not have otherwise. They remind me to be good, to pray, to be kind, to be considerate when I don’t want to be. They remind me to be thankful for whatever God gives and for whatever He chooses not to give. They remind me that anytime I win an argument, love loses. They share our passion for having good conversations about important things, as well as good conversations about really, really unimportant things. And, only slightly less significantly, they also share our passion for cut-throat game playing, peppered with a decent amount of trash talk.
We drive down I-77. J is happy. Little Boy sings songs to himself in the backseat. I glance down at my watch every few minutes, thinking about how I always get sucked into these things. Thinking about how I should just put my foot down. Thinking about how, if I did that, my life would end up being really boring.
“But I like boring.” I think.
“No you don’t, J-C!”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you’re an incubating Jacques Cousteau. You just haven’t been born yet. Your wings are coming, little caterpillar!”
“Chocolate-covered horse shit!” I fume.
These are the two sides of my nature. They are virtually always at war with one another. I wish that one would just win and kill the other so we could be done with it already. But if I am not mistaken, these spiritual struggles are part and parcel of what it means to be a person—to be a human. And if I gave up these inner tugs-of-war, I would lose part of my humanity, not to mention the fact that I would become unbearable to live with. In fact, I would become a monster. And nobody likes monsters—except possibly for Maurice Sendak and Muammar Gaddafi (though for different reasons). I am now contemplating all of this as we drive. The things happening in my brain begin to verge on the philosophical. Oh, crap. It’s going to be a long three hours.
We spend the last hour on hairpin roads. I am driving. J makes a point of slamming his feet into the floor and hanging dramatically onto any handle he can find anywhere. I send him dirty looks out of the corner of my eye. I don’t dare do more; if I take my eyes off the road for even a second we will be airborne. I internally grumble about what a good driver I am.
“How dare he act like he has a right to be nervous.” I think, indignantly.
He does, actually.
I am not a good driver. It’s not that I’m a bad driver. I’m not terrible or dangerous. It’s just one of those things I never been totally comfortable doing, on top of which I sort of drive on every road as if it were the Autobahn. I am not a patient person and driving below seventy miles an hour is not something I am likely to do (I get more like my dad every day. Interestingly enough, I also get more like my mom every day, too. It leaves me feeling a bit schizophrenic. And frankly, exhausted. They are both complicated, though delightful, people).
In fact, this race-to the-finish is my general approach to most things. “Get it done! Get it done!” My mind screams. Conversely, my mind also expects things to be done perfectly. The first time. An impatient perfectionist. Yeah. It’s as exhausting as it sounds, and this is possibly why I have a history of working myself into the ground. That, and because I am a neurotic middle child with a practically perfect sibling on either side of me.
Oh, the humanity!
Oh, the psychology!
At any rate, eventually, we are there. Cory and Mieke (pronounced Mee-kuh), whom I am much more likely to call Cora and Mike—mostly because I treat Cory like a faintly exasperating younger brother and therefore like the idea of calling him by a girl’s name (I admit that I am occasionally a little mean-spirited)–come out onto the porch to welcome us. We are all happy. I am happy not to be sitting in a car. J is happy not to have died in a fiery car crash. Little Boy is happy to see new and strange people who will unquestionably agree that he is the golden orb around which the universe spins. We go inside. Get settled. Eat good food. Explore their little city. Walk. Talk. Laugh a lot. Sit in comfortable silence. Watch the sky change from golden to orange to crimson to purple as the sun disappears over the edge of the earth.
All of these things are interspersed with trying to corral our errant offspring. He is in a strange place with strange people and is very busy pointing out this fact—loudly. Corinne and Mieke are patient and understanding. I am slightly embarrassed, but only slightly. He’s actually a pretty fabulous little boy. They think so, too. Mieke is expecting her first baby, so they know they’re getting a little taste of life after the blast. Parenting is a lot like Chernobyl, I think, without the benefit of radiation suits. At this moment, Coral and Mieke don’t know this, but they will. They watch our child’s delicious weirdness with interest, and hopefully, a little fear and trembling.
I sleep in a strange bed in a strange (and frigidly cold) room, which is to say that I don’t sleep. I get up feeling exhausted. I look in the mirror and see the reflection of something which could easily be mistaken for a sleep-deprived wookie. I consider a makeover, or possibly a facelift, sigh and flip off the light switch. It’s better not to look.
I stumble for the coffeepot. I am a coffee snob. Cora is the least extravagant person I know. Subsequently, there’s lots of Folgers to drink. I have a suspicion that Folgers has somehow managed to harness a technology that chemically alters crude oil so that it has the appearance of coffee crystals. This is one of many conspiracy theories that I like to nurse. I love the excitement and intrigue of conspiracy theorizing. I don’t actually believe in any of the theories, but I really want to. It’s like those people who dream of doing the Ironman, except with paranoia.
Yeah. Definitely, crude-oil coffee crystals. I’ve got it all figured out. I should have been a spy. But then I would have had to travel. It’s much easier to create a universe in which Folgers-related conspiracy theories are very possibly true. That way, I cut out actually having to have adventures and I can merely fantasize about them in various psychologically unhealthy ways. I prefer that. Bilbo Baggins very astutely observes that adventures make one late for dinner. And I really, really like dinner.
My delicately petted palate is deeply offended by Corina’s “coffee.” I immediately get the world’s most terrible case of rot-gut. I briefly consider reaching down my own gullet and pulling out my stomach just to ease the agony. (I decide against it.) Though usually a pretty tough cookie, I feel a bit squeamish at the idea of performing my own medical procedure, particularly with unsterilized hands and while eschewing anethesia. So, instead, I mentally compose a touching death bed speech. I will clutch both Cornelia and Mieke’s hands, whispering to them that I bear them no ill-will for causing my excruciatingly painful, coffee-related death. Before I croak, I will make certain that Mieke understands that I do not hold her in anyway responsible for what has happened. After all, I know she loves a good cup of coffee. Therefore, before the man with the sickle comes, I will make absolutely certain that I have lain the blame completely at Coraline’s door.
I don’t die. Instead, the rot-gut remains with me for 24 hours. We sit down to eat Mieke’s delicious breakfast. I make fun of Corabelle’s cheap coffee. He makes fun of my indigestion/ moral weakness. I make fun of his fashion choices (i:e, the nausea-green sweetshirt he wears 498 days a year). I run to the toilet. Then run back. More verbal sparring ensues. J and Mieke patiently put up with this, occasionally joining in, though they mostly look at us as if we are badly behaved three year olds.
I yawn and stretch. Munch on eggs and plain waffles, counting the hours ‘til I can go back to bed. In a daze, I watch Little Boy smearing strawberries all over everything he can find. I feel a bit grumpy and homesick, but I truly love these people, so I extend myself just a little. I try to be patient. This doesn’t really work, so I pretend that I am patient. Everyone seems fooled.
I engage. I try to think a little less of my own importance. It’s kind of nice, actually. I feel refreshed by it. I am reminded of how interesting other people are, compared to myself.
On Sunday, we go to church and listen to beautiful music. I am transfixed. The sermon is on the book of Daniel. The minister talks about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He says that God always appears in the midst of the fire. That He is, in fact, right there in it with us. I find these words profoundly comforting. I am well acquainted with fire. More acquainted than I would ever wish to be.
Afterwards, Coralee and Mieke take us for sandwiches and a walk by smooth green water. J and Coreen climb around in trees and get soaked in the river. They are at once grown men and small children. It will always be this way.
Little Boy yells from his stroller about how badly he needs a nap. Mieke and I walk and talk. I wish for home. And yet, I am very happy.
Eventually, we have to leave. It will be dark soon.
I am glad to go and yet, I want to stay.
I drive home like I’m pursuing a career in the auspicious world of Nascar, thinking of Cora and Mieke the whole way. J is content. Little Boy gets his nap. I am homesick for my house and for my friends living in the other direction. The trip ends. We climb wearily under our very own cool red and white sheets. Sigh of contentment. Just before I drift off, I promise myself that I will never travel again.
This morning I am at home. Little Boy slept very late. He is now playing with the fuzzy balls on my slippers. They are probably the best purchase I have ever made. We get hours of play time out of them. Everything here is in apple pie order. Just so. I make my cappuccino. Follow my morning routine. I slept under my quilts on my lovely mattress in a room that was neither too cold nor too hot. The house is clean. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place, at least until J gets home or Little Boy throws up on it. I do everything just as I want to. No one interferes or objects.
It is totally and completely boring.
Things in my closet are arranged by color. This is probably a metaphor for my life: I am always grasping to keep things safely within parameters that I can live with and easily control. Nothing ever gets out of hand. Or at least, that’s the idea. My resistance to travel has absolutely nothing to do with disliking adventure—in fact, once you get me out the door, I will (paradoxically) travel the world if you aren’t careful. Rather, it has everything to do with an almost compulsive need to keep things within steely fingers. Every closet in my house is meticulously organized so that, if you open it, your eyes are greeted by the sight of pleasant symmetry. In fact, I am probably the cleanest person you will ever meet. Towels are hung carefully aligned. A method is used when folding. Labels on boxes of food are arranged face outward. Every vase and lamp has been chosen with absolute care and total attention to detail. I have spent thousands of hours studying design and art and aesthetics in an effort to make life beautiful, pleasant and, mostly tellingly of all, safe. Our house is a feast for the senses. It smells good. It is tasteful—unless the men in my life are home, in which case, it isn’t. It is welcoming. People like to be here.
Sadly, there aren’t many here now.
I am back to my normal life—Food. Exercise. Read. Sleep. Cook. Clean. Write. I watch my usual TV shows: “The Office,” “The Tudors, “Glee,” “Bones,” “30 Rock, “Modern Family,” “The Pillars of the Earth.” On Friday, I go to the library and check out books by my favorite writers—just like I do every Friday. I clean the house. Walk with Little Boy to the park. I am not on anyone else’s schedule. Every game I engage in is played according to my own rules. I always win. Everything is perfectly neat.
I am bored.
I want to go somewhere.
I do and I don’t. But I know perfectly well that I don’t have to worry. In a day or two, my husband will think of someone or something he wants to see. I will say no. He will cajole. I will put my foot down. He will try a different tactic. I will cave. We will go. He will sing and dance. I will grumble the whole way. I will make him think I am a bad sport (while secretly delighting at the prospect of wandering around our Edenic planet). He will never know the difference. I am a really good actor. As well as a fabulous adventurer, filled with vigor and bravery. Actually, I really do remind myself of a young Jacques Cousteau.
We stay home. Point, J-C.
We go. Point, J.
And this is, strangely, a very particular order of its own. Or at least that’s the way my mind arranges it. It likes to keep things tidy.