|Love is a Four Letter Word
Author: wingshock PM
Helen meets a blast from the past.Rated: Fiction K - English - Humor/Romance - Words: 3,839 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 1 - Published: 02-07-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2254431
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
o o o
Tom Nevers Field May 13, 1993
Fay Cochran looked cheerful as she stood behind the Sandpiper Air counter in her white silk blouse and pink earrings. The morning sun shone through the glass doors of Gate 1, giving her skin a rosy glow. She was wearing a new shade of lipstick that morning.
Punctual as always, Joe Hackett marched by her and into his office. "Morning, Fay." He said without breaking his purposeful stride.
"Morning, Joe!" Fay almost sang.
He closed the office door behind him, but a moment later he re-emerged. He hovered behind Fay as she checked in a passenger with a screaming baby. Fay's composure and customer-service skills were never lacking, but today she was at the top of her game.
"Fay," Joe said.
"Yes, Joe?" Fay asked, smiling broadly.
"Everything all right this morning?"
"Sure, Joe. Everything's fine! Why do you ask?"
"You just seem a little under the weather, that's all." Joe replied, cocking an eyebrow at her.
"Under the weather?" Brian approached the counter. "Sorry, bro - couldn't help but overhear. You know, if you practiced sarcasm more often, it might actually work for you." Brian turned to Fay. "Why Fay, you're positively beaming! Did baby robins hatch in your prize rose bush or what?"
"No, no - I'm just excited. I'm starting out on a new adventure this evening."
Brian tapped his chin. "New adventure, new adventure -" He stopped tapping and shook his head. "Sorry, Fay, not on this island."
"The spring semester at Nantucket Community School started this week, and my first class is tonight!"
"Oh!" Brian said, smiling. "Excuse me! A night class at the local community school. My, but that is an adventure, isn't it?"
"That's great, Fay." Joe said. "What are you taking?"
"Watercolors." Fay said dreamily. "I'm going to learn to paint! I'm going to paint the sea, the wildflowers, all the beautiful sights on this island. Who knows? Maybe I'll be a famous artist one day."
"I didn't know you had any artistic talent," Joe said.
"I don't!" Fay said. "But I figured, what the hay, plus my friend Margie said it's a great place to meet men." Fay grinned. "Helen's picking me up at six!"
o o o
Noonish, same day
Lowell and Brian sat at the lunch counter. Lowell was reading the dictionary.
Helen stopped stirring her egg salad and looked quizzically at him. "Lowell - you read the dictionary?"
"Of course! How else do you expect me to expand my vocabulary?" (Silly girl.) Lowell shook his head. "You know what word's not in the dictionary?"
"No - 'chiffs.' 'Chiffs' is not in the dictionary."
"That's because 'chiffs' isn't a word, Lowell." Helen responded.
"Sure it is," Lowell replied. "You know, as in 'cash in your chiffs.'"
"That's 'chips' Lowell. Chi - Ps." Helen said.
Lowell looked surprised. "Wow. Really?" Lowell looked at Brian for confirmation.
"Well, I'll be darned." Lowell said.
"I'll tell you a real word that's not in the dictionary." Brian said seriously. "'Gullible.'"
"Oh, it is so." Helen replied.
"No, it's not. I was looking it up the other night, and it's not in there."
"It is so!" Helen said firmly.
"No - it's not." Brian assured her.
Helen snatched the dictionary from Lowell. "G, U, L - gulli -" Helen ran her finger down the page. "There! See? I told you, Brian! It's right here! Gullible: Easily duped or deceived." The dictionary fell to the counter with a thud as Helen covered her face with her hands.
Brian smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Helen. I really enjoyed that."
o o o
Nantucket Community School
Most of the students were already there when Fay and Helen entered the classroom. Everyone was getting out their paper, paints and brushes. At the front of the room was a large easel for the teacher. Helen and Fay found two adjacent seats and took their places.
Helen placed a little tan tackle box on the table before her. "These things got kind of expensive Fay!" She whispered. "Thanks for sharing the paint with me."
"No problem, Helen. I'm just so glad to have a friend in the class." Fay eyed the students around her. There were several men about her age. One of them smiled at her and she waved. "But, Helen, I don't really see any men for you in here."
"That's okay." Helen said. "I came here to explore my inner artiste - not find a date."
The classroom door opened and a good-looking man with blue eyes and sandy blonde hair walked in. He was wearing khaki pants, a dress shirt and tie. Helen was searching around in the tackle box and hadn't noticed him yet. Fay tapped her on the arm. "I take back what I just said." She said, smiling.
"Hm?" Helen looked up, her eyes went wide and her mouth fell open.
"Goodness, Helen," Fay warned. "He's not that good looking."
"Oh my -" Helen covered her mouth with a trembling hand.
"Please, you're embarrassing me." Fay whispered.
"Good evening," The handsome instructor said. "Welcome to Beginning Watercolors. I'm you're instructor, Phil Stephan. Let's start with an ice-breaker. We'll go around the room. Give your name, where you're from and your experience in art. My name is Phil Stephan, I'm originally from Nantucket but I've lived in New York for the last ten years. I used to be a corporate law attorney, and painting was only a hobby - but a few years ago I bought an art gallery, and now it's my full-time job."
When it was Helen's turn she spoke tentatively. "I'm Helen Chappel, I'm originally from Texas but I've lived in Nantucket most of my life." She looked at Phil, who didn't seem to have a reaction. "I'm a musician, I play the cello - but I haven't really had any experience with art." She sat down, then stood back up. "Not that music isn't art. I mean, 'art' is a broad term that applies to many -" The blank looks on the other students' faces arrested her rambling. "Ahem. I'm a musician, not a painter." She sat down.
o o o
2 hours later
Helen hurriedly gathered her supplies into the tackle box. As she and Fay headed for the door, the thing that she had been dreading most happened. "Helen," Phil said.
She stopped and turned toward him. "Yes?"
Phil put his hands in his pockets and approached them. "Um, I don't know if you remember me, but -"
"Remember you?" Helen said. In case this had happened, she'd planned on pretending not to remember Phil, but the sight of him standing there looking so innocent burned her up. "Of course I remember you, Phil. How could I forget?" She looked at Fay. "This is the jackass that asked me to a dance just to win a bet."
Phil looked at the floor and shuffled his feet. "Listen Helen, I just wanted to say that -" He looked back up into her eyes. He chuckled nervously. "I guess I didn't handle adolescence very well, and -"
"You sure didn't."
"If I could just go back in time and -"
"Ask Cathy McBride instead?"
Phil chuckled again. "No. Seriously, Helen. I hope that you won't hold those stupid things against me."
Then Helen wished she had acted like she didn't remember him. He must be getting some satisfaction out of knowing he'd had such a lasting effect on her. She smirked. "Oh, of course not, Phil." She said a little more breezily. She forced a laugh. "Heck, we all did stupid things when we were young. Actually, it's kind of funny now! I just knew that someday I'd look back on it and laugh." She swung her hair and laughed.
Phil smiled. "I'm glad. Listen, I'd like to get reacquainted - take you out to dinner sometime?"
(Dinner?) Helen's stomach churned and she hoped it didn't show on her face. "Uh, sure. Sure, Phil. That'd be nice."
"Good. Great. Goodnight, then."
"Night." Helen said. She turned and walked away as quickly as her little legs would carry her. She started the Jeep as Fay hopped inside, then Helen leaned her head down against the steering wheel.
Fay looked at her sympathetically. "It still isn't really funny - is it?" Fay asked.
"No." Helen said, lifting her head slightly. "It's not."
Tom Nevers Field
"Hey, can you sign for this?" The delivery boy asked Joe. He held out a vase full of red roses. "It's for a Helen Chappel, but she's not here."
"Sure." Joe said, eyeing the flowers in surprise. He signed and carried the bouquet into his office and placed it on his desk.
Joe sat in his chair and looked at the flowers for a few moments. He rubbed his forehead. Then he stood, paced around his desk and put his hands in and out of his pockets several times. He sat beside the vase and fingered the little white envelope. Then he pulled it off its plastic holder and turned it around in his fingers. He tried to return it to the holder, but he couldn't get the little plastic prongs back around the envelope neatly. He tried a few more times, then finally just stuck the envelope into the Baby's Breath. He sat back in his chair, looked at the flowers again, then grabbed the envelope once more.
"Joe!" Brian's voice startled him. Joe threw the envelope back into the Baby's Breath. Brian stopped and leaned against the door frame. "For me? You shouldn't have."
"They're not for you." Joe said without humor.
"Sarcasm, Joe." Brian dead-panned. "Give it a chance." Brian approached the desk, sniffed a rose, and then noticed the envelope. "Do I detect a snoop?" He looked at Joe, who's attempt to look innocent only made him look more guilty. "Uh huh. And obviously a very inexperienced snoop, who has no idea how this little plastic thing works." He picked up the envelope. "Helen."
"Okay, so I was thinking about snooping. Sue me." Joe folded his hands prayer-like over the bridge of his nose. Brian lifted the envelope's flap. "Brian!" Joe said in reproach.
"What?" Brian said, raising his eyebrows high. "You were gonna." He looked at the card and his eyes went wide. Then he stuffed the card back in the envelope.
"What?" Joe asked. "Who is it?" Brian looked at the ceiling. "Brian -"
"Okay, okay." Brian said. "It's someone you'd never expect."
"Someone I know?"
"Uh, yeah - sort of. A blast from the past."
"For crying out loud, Brian. Who?" Joe was losing his patience.
"Phil Stephan." Brian said.
"Phil Stephan?" Joe was incredulous. "No way -" He grabbed the envelope and retrieved the card. Quickly he read aloud: "Helen, a little something to prove my sincerity. I'd like us to start over." Joe dropped the card to his side and stared off into space as he said the name. "Phil Stephan." It sounded strange coming out of his mouth.
"Joe?" Helen was in the doorway now. "Are those flowers for me?" Then she saw the card in his hand.
"Helen, I was just -"
"Sticking your nose where it didn't belong?" She snatched the card from his hand, read it, then placed it back in the little plastic fork. She lifted the flowers and marched out of Joe's office.
"Phil Stephan." Joe said again, not quite believing it.
Brian said, "How much you wanna bet ole Phil dabbles in watercolors?"
o o o
Nantucket Community School
May 20, 7:00pm
"Hi, Helen," Phil said.
Helen laid down her paint brush and examined the paper before her. The ocean waves of her seascape were a little runny on the right side. "Hi, Phil." She turned to face him. "Thank you for the roses - they're beautiful. But, you shouldn't have."
"Oh yes I should." Phil said. "I don't think I could face you in class every week if I didn't apologize properly for being such a jerk."
"That was years ago, Phil. We were just kids. Really, you didn't have to."
Phil smiled. "Well, like I said, I'd really like to start over, Helen. How about that dinner - tomorrow night?"
Helen looked around suspiciously. "Uh, I guess there's no chance you've made a bet with somebody, is there?" She was genuinely flattered.
"Am I never gonna live that down?" Phil said, smiling. "Look, I'd really like to try to live it down what do you say?"
Helen smiled back at him. "Okay."
o o o
Tom Nevers Field
Joe approached the lunch counter. Helen was wiping the counter with her dish towel. "Helen?"
Helen glanced up. "Hi Joe."
Joe scratched the back of his neck. "I uh, I just wanted to say again that I'm really sorry about the other day - I guess I let my curiosity get the best of me."
Helen's forehead wrinkled as she tried to figure out what he was talking about. "Oh, that? That's all right. You're forgiven."
Joe scratched the back of his neck again. "So, ah - you seem to really be into forgiveness lately."
"What's wrong with that?" Helen threw the towel down and sighed. She leaned on the counter. "I don't know, Joe. Phil and I met at our watercolors class, and the next thing you know, I've forgiven him and then he asked me out."
"You went out with him?"
"Is that so hard to believe?"
Joe chuckled. "Well - no. I mean, well - yeah. After the way he treated you? "
"We were just kids then, Joe."
"Well, what's he doing back here, anyway?" Joe stood up. "I heard he had some great job in New York."
"He does. He's very successful, owns an art gallery, and he's bought a summer place on the island. He plans to spend every summer here relaxing and painting."
Joe bowed his head. "Look, Helen if you've truly forgiven him, I think that's great." He looked back up at her. "But I've got to admit - if he came walking in here right now, I -"
"Hi Helen." Phil walked in.
"Speak of the devil." Helen said happily. Joe looked straight ahead, keeping his eyes on Helen. He could see Phil's profile and blonde hair out of the corner of his eye. He tried to turn his head, but for some reason couldn't. "Phil - uh, you remember Joe Hackett?"
"Joe!" Phil said. He held out his hand.
Joe grimaced at Helen, then turned to face Phil. "Phil." He said, straight-faced. His handshake was less than enthusiastic. "Um, I'll be in my office if you -" Joe pointed toward the office. "Need -" He looked at Helen, who was gazing at Phil. "Nevermind."
When Joe was safely out of ear-shot, Phil said, "I guess I offended more people than I thought." He sat down on a stool. "I just wanted to come by and see where you worked, and to tell you that I had a wonderful time last night."
"I did too, Phil. Thanks."
"And I'd like you to come out to my place next week - after class. I'll cook out on the deck. It's beautiful out there."
"I'm sure it is."
"So you'll come?"
Helen nodded. "It sounds nice. Sure."
o o o
Logan Airport, Boston
May 27, 6:00pm
Joe went through his checklist and set his wing flaps as the passengers boarded the plane. A lovely woman with long chestnut hair squeezed in beside him. "Is it okay if I sit up here?" She asked, revealing her dazzling white smile.
"That's fine." Joe said. (More than fine.) He added to himself.
"I've never flown on a plane this small before." She was nervous.
"Don't worry - we've got great weather this evening so it ought to be a smooth ride."
"I won't feel so scared sitting up here with you."
Joe smiled. (I'll protect you.) "You on vacation?"
"Sort of." She looked out the window as they taxied down the runway. "I'm going over to surprise my fiance. He has a summer house in Nantucket."
(Just my luck.) "Must be nice."
"We're going to be holding the wedding there next month." She added. "I've never been to his house, but he says it's beautiful."
"Phil's in love with the place. He grew up there, so it's like this childhood dream of his to -"
"Phil Stephan. You know him?"
Joe's stomach flipped and he suddenly felt nauseous. "Uh, well, we went to high school together."
"Really?" She beamed. "Wow! Isn't that a coincidence!"
"Yeah. It's a coincidence all right."
o o o
Nantucket Community School
Helen knocked softly on Phil's partially-opened office door, then peeked inside. Phil was gathering some papers into his briefcase.
"Hey! I'm almost ready to go. Come on in."
"Wow, these pictures are really beautiful." Helen commented, looking at the paintings on Phil's walls. "Did you do all of these yourself?"
"Most of them." Phil said. He looked up at her. "It's funny - but they seemed more beautiful before you came in and put them all to shame." He grinned.
Helen rolled her eyes. "Why Phil, with lines like that you might want to give up art and try your hand at theatre."
Phil approached Helen and touched her chin. "Touche. But you know you're feistiness only makes you more attractive."
"If all the guys around here felt that way, I'd be one busy lady." She looked into Phil's eyes and saw a distinct twinkle there. Helen winced and then clarified. "Busy with all the dinners and phone calls, I mean."
"Of course," Phil said. He leaned slowly toward Helen, and it took her a moment to realize he was trying to kiss her.
"Phil -" Helen began.
"Phil!" Came a shrill voice from the doorway.
Helen and Phil turned to see a woman with chestnut hair staring at them. "Evelyn!" Phil said.
Helen was agape. "Evelyn?"
"I thought you were coming in on Saturday!" Phil said, shocked. "Evelyn's my fiancee." He added sadly.
"WAS your fiancée!" Evelyn declared loudly.
Helen was in shock. "I'm sorry " She pushed past Phil to the door. Evelyn rushed past her to Phil. "I didn't know."
"Who is this woman?" Evelyn demanded.
Phil looked at Helen sadly. "I'm sorry, Helen."
"Guess you aren't too good at being an adult, either."
o o o
Helen marched toward the parking lot. Then she stopped in her tracks. She didn't have the Jeep! Fay drove that evening since Helen planned to ride with Phil. She stamped her foot. (Great. What now?) She looked around for a pay phone. Then, illuminated by the orange security lights, she saw a figure coming toward her. He was several hundred feet away, but she recognized him anyway, just from the way he walked. She slowed her pace to a casual stroll.
"Helen." Joe said breathlessly when he reached her.
"Hi Joe. What on earth are you doing here?"
"Looking for you. I needed to talk to you -" Suddenly Joe realized he hadn't thought this all the way through. He'd expected to find her and Phil together. He'd planned to do the chivalrous thing: rescue Helen. But here she was - alone, and looking fine. "Uh - I thought you said you were going out with Phil after class."
"Oh, that." Helen said nonchalantly. "I gave it some serious thought, and Phil and I just have nothing in common. Yeah. I told him tonight after class that I thought we'd better not see each other anymore."
"That's great!" Joe said, truly relieved. Helen's puzzled look made him realize his error. "I mean, if he's not the guy for you, no sense wasting anymore time on him."
Helen nodded and seemed to drift off in thought. "That's right. No sense in wasting any more time." She came back to reality. "So, what did you want to talk to me about?"
"Oh, um " (Think of something, idiot.) "Ah, I knew you didn't have a ride, and I just thought maybe just in case you needed -"
"You're adding 'psychic' to your list of talents now?"
"Well, let's just say I had a feeling."
Just then they heard a commotion across the breezeway. Phil and his fiancee were walking quickly across the concrete, her heels clicking as she tried to out-distance him. "Evelyn!" Phil said. "Evie! Please! Listen to me a second!"
All that could be heard from Evelyn's mouth was a muffled string of expletives interlaced with "blonde trollop" and "two-timer."
Helen looked at Joe, who didn't seem very surprised by the display. "You knew!" Helen exclaimed.
Joe scratched behind his ear. "I flew her in from Boston." He chuckled nervously.
Helen blushed and covered her face. "Oh Joe!"
"Come on, let's go." Joe said.
They began walking. "Jerked around by Phil Stephan - again!" Helen said miserably. "You know, Joe, 'love' really is a four-letter word."
Joe stopped walking and touched her arm gently. "Well, 'loser' is a five-letter word, and that's what Phil is." He put his hands on his hips. "You know, Helen - he didn't deserve you back then, and he doesn't deserve you now."
Helen allowed herself a tiny smile. "Thanks, Joe."
They began walking again. "Wasn't it weird that Phil's fiancee was on my flight, sat next to me, and just happened to mention her fiance's name? That was such a coincidence." Joe marveled.
"Sure was. But, you know - if coincidences are just coincidences," Helen wondered aloud. "Why do they feel so contrived?"