“Allô Monsieur – Mister Rocinante? Bonjour, are you with us today?”


I dropped my pencil and snapped upright in my chair, as I suddenly realized that she was waving and gesturing to get my attention.

“Do I need to repeat the question?”

“Sorry, Madame Soliel, could you?”

I surely deserved the question. I’d been day-dreamily drawing in the back of my humanities class. My pad contained a nearly complete sketch of a familiar looking woman with long curls of hair framing her face. I’d captured that same silhouetted form that stood before the class waiting patiently for my response. Hands upon her hips, she was illuminated by effervescent daylight streaming through the bottom portion of the tall windows that ran the length of our lecture hall. The half-lowered blinds added to the effect as the afternoon sun reflected oddly off the highly polished floor. I supposed that having her for both French and humanities gained me a little forbearance, when she rephrased the question. The lightly lilted accent her words carried enchanted me further, but somehow I withdrew from that infatuation and formed a coherent answer, which she accepted and then continued on with the lesson, occasionally calling upon other students.

It was a glorious spring day and a light breeze blew the flowering trees outside. The iridescence of the white dress she wore must have induced my stupor, because I usually paid close attention in humanities, since it was one of my favorite classes. Today, however, my mind had flitted between the spring weather outside and my professor’s feminine contours. The way the sun was beaming in through the partially lowered blinds, accentuated her long flowing white sunlit dress and it captivated my gaze entirely as I refocused intently upon her while my hand continued working the pencil.

The lecture wasn’t boring, it was about the height of the European renaissance and she brought a distinct French flavor that made it very interesting with lots of side references. That era fascinated me deeply; it seemed to be the seed that had germinated into our modern culture. My thoughts today were mixed with wishing I could have experienced that period and how her striking beauty seemed to personify any number of the women we’d seen, captured within paintings or sculptures shown during the lecture, somehow brought to life in front of us.

At some point, she regarded me drawing and observing her as she finished describing the slide and paused before proceeding. The room seemed to disappear and our eyes locked. I knew I was staring, had been staring, was continuing to stare, but I couldn’t help myself. There was some type of mental block that prevented me from looking away. She knew I was agaze and there was the smallest trace of a blush upon her face as she turned her attention back to the next slide in her presentation. The darkened room contributed to the translucency of her dress that had so captured my attention. Her form beneath it was clear in the brilliant sunlight and I couldn’t avert my vision away as I continued to fill in details of my sketch.

The rays of light danced in her long golden curls and shone off her alabaster skin as she turned to the class after each slide. A small pang of loss seemed to encroach upon my thoughts each time my view of her visage was interrupted as she’d turn her back to us to describe in detail, every nuance of the art depicted. Her words were soft and alluring as she gently strode to and from the front of the class. She’d extend the pointer to the projection screen as she softly caressed along the shapes and artists strokes. Slide after slide she continued the lecture; each new slide seemingly more profound than the previous. She was a graceful raconteuse who lithely led the class towards one of her renowned climatic finales.

When the lecture was over, I saw her staring at the finished sketch I’d drawn of her. Embarrassment instantly spread warmth throughout my body and face. When she finally looked up with a perplexed expression, I felt momentarily immobile as if the force of our eyes locking had effected my entire being. Fortune had her attention redirected by another student asking her a question, which allowed my escape as I fumbled closing my notes for several protracted moments and quickly hurried from the hall. Urgency directed me on instinct alone towards my next class. Blinded by tension building inside me, I could only process the path directly in front of me as I replayed the incident over in my head endlessly. I was nearly halfway across the quad, when someone grasped me gently by the hand. Then suddenly, time froze and I found myself turning in slow motion to discover her there as if delivered from a dream.

“Monsieur Rocinante, you seemed peculiarly distracted today. Is everything okay?”

“Oh, no. I – um – I think it’s this lovely spring weather,” I answered, surprised by the interaction and her soft hand still holding mine.

“Are you certain that is all?” she asked with that ever-present hint of French accent.

“Yes, Mrs. Soliel, I’m enjoying the course. It’s very interesting – too interesting even. I just get so wrapped up in thinking about how it must have been. The renaissance had so much happening, people were into so many different areas of study and everything was new.”

“Well, that was certainly so for the upper class.” After a moment longer, she moved her hand to my shoulder. “Did I perceive that your thoughts were elsewhere today?” she asked demurely and blushing brightly as if she were surprised at her own question.

“Sorry Madame – um – sorry. I didn’t mean any disrespect. I shouldn’t have stared, it’s just – uh – your dress today – it was – it is – beautiful. Mr. Soliel is a lucky man,” I babbled the words out tactlessly. “Sorry, I’m an idiot. I – I hope I haven’t offended you,” I offered, half expecting a slap.

“Your grades tell a different tale, but no offense taken,” she added promptly, but then seemed temporarily speechless. Moments passed and she rattled off some nervous words, “La fièvre printanière arrive. Perhaps this beautiful weather has made fools of us all. I shall see you in French, tomorrow; à bientôt, Paul,” she said, with what I could have sworn was a wink.

Was it a wink? I wondered. Perhaps it had been the sun playing tricks on my eyes or a wishful thought I’d envisioned during my idle daydreaming. I regained my senses moments later, she’d said good-bye, but we remained standing there like two awkward debutants, wondering how to extract ourselves from this self-inflicted enchantment.

“Yes, it must be ‘spring fever’ as you say, until tomorrow Mme.” I agreed, as I finally attempted to break the spell and started turning to leave.

“Could I see it again?” she asked quickly before we parted.

I carried the thick leather wrapped pad everywhere with me; I didn’t think I had much talent, but I’d always drawn. This pad was maybe my tenth or eleventh since I’d started drawing things as a child. I’d even taken a few art electives, before I’d decided to select business as my major. I pulled it from under my arm, flipped to the middle and leafed through several other pictures until I reached hers.

“Here it is,” I said at last.

Her head tilted, she studied it with a smile on her lips and then said, “You have some talent and it’s quite flattering.”

Not sure, what to say to her compliment, I asked, “Would you like to have it?”

“Actually, I would – I’d love it.”

I folded the thick sheet along the small perforations several times and carefully tore it below the spiral binding, leaving behind the stalk.

“Would you sign it for me?” she asked.

“Sure thing,” I said. I placed it on the hard surface inside the front cover to sign it with a flourish that touched lightly against the background of the sketch. “Here you are.”

“I don’t think I have a frame that will do this justice. I’ll have to buy something nice to put it in. Thank you, so much,” she said accepting it.

“My pleasure, you have a great afternoon.”

“I will and you do the same.”

She turned slowly to walk back in the direction she’d come. Languid steps carried her away from me as she continued studying the sketch. I remained frozen and watching; still transfixed to the dress blowing in the light breeze, alit in sunlight. I felt that I should hope she hadn’t seen the desperate arousal she’d caused, but somehow I believed she had and maybe she’d taken some enjoyment from the physical response she’d given rise to.

My business class didn’t go much better as I devoted a fresh page to a new sketch of her from memory. Honestly, this one was better than the first as I regarded the finished piece. The question and answer period got me another startled inquiry as I stared out at the trees blooming in the quad again. I actually heard this one and responded appropriately, but a follow on question had tripped me up. It seemed I wasn’t the only one with my head in the clouds because after a few more repetitions of this with others in the class, the professor gave us an early dismissal.

As I strode back towards my dorm, I was convinced it’d been that dress and her figure I’d seen through it. The image was emblazoned in my mind and I couldn’t keep my thoughts off of her. I’d known she was married; she’d covered Madame versus Mademoiselle the first week of class during my freshman year. She’d taught much of the first week speaking only French and her flashy engagement ring had a matching wedding band. It had been one of the many props she’d used to get everyone conversing. I’d already had a year of French in high school, but those rings had stuck in my memory.

She should have been off limits for any number of reasons, but today I wasn’t thinking clearly. My thoughts kept drifting back to her taking my hand, standing there in the full daylight of the quad. We’d stood right in front of Drumheller Fountain but I couldn’t remember hearing the water. It was all I could do to look her in her eyes and avert my attention from her body while the blood pounded in my ears. Her hand had been so soft and gentle. Her eyes had sparkled with joy and a hint of mischief. I wasn’t very good at picking up social cues, but I couldn’t help thinking her behavior was more than mere concern; it felt exploratory and flirtatious.

She’s probably my mother’s age and married and my professor, she’s – she’s so off limits, completely unattainable, right!? I repeatedly asked or perhaps told myself.

There are so many reasons it could never happen, was my conscience’s consistent reply that evening and many others.

After several days of these feelings, I began to think it was a good thing that the semester was nearly over. This was to be the last of my foreign language and humanities requirements. Visions of her filled my mind when I slept in my small dorm room and I found myself continuing to be visually distracted by her in class. Luckily, there were no repeated episodes with Mrs. Soliel, at least none that she noticed as I attempted to be more discrete. My thoughts dwelt on her for the remaining weeks of class.

I longed to be dispatched from this deepening enchantment; it was a hopelessly infeasible desire that could never be pursued. When the finals were done and the semester had come to an end, I found myself experiencing a dichotomous mixture of sorrow and relief. I thought that perhaps the spell would be broken, especially if I found some way to avoid this obsession that I was certain could only lead to perpetual sadness.


Propelled by worry over the depths of my fixation, I decided that I would take a break this summer. I hadn’t participated in early registration for classes because I had already been considering some type of trip. My senior year was going to be fairly light because I had attended summer semester during my freshman and sophomore years to get as many requirements out of the way as possible. When I finished out this semester with A’s in all of my subjects again, it settled the matter. Feelings of achievement made me believe I’d earned a break in addition to needing one.


I hoped that removing myself from the environment of the University of Washington might reset my perspective on things. I’d considered going to see my brothers in California but, surprisingly, what I really longed for was to go back home, despite having just been there over the winter break. I hadn’t trusted my truck enough to attempt driving to see my brothers in San Francisco, only thirteen hours away, much less heading across country on a multiple day trip to Vermont. Our family wasn’t rich and I’d gotten tuition, room and board covered between Pell grant and a scholarship from my grades. So, when I had gone home before, it’d been by the cheapest available transportation and that’d been a bus.

The dorm’s hall phone offered little privacy, so I made my way from my dorm room with a roll of quarters to the corner payphone. I dialed the number, deposited several of the coins and heard the operator tell me to insert two more for my long distance call to be completed. Once Mama was on the line, there were a few minutes of me dancing around the subject, I think she could sense the desperation in my voice and she told me to come home. Then she added the enticement that Pops would give me some money to cover the expense of the trip and some living money for helping out on the farm.

When I got off the phone, I realized that if I was being honest with myself, I was feeling more than a little homesick and lonely. I’d opted to stay on campus for most all of the summers so far and many of the shorter holiday breaks and had only returned to the farm for a couple of winter breaks. My last trip home had been nice, but it’d been winter and what I missed was the late spring and summer time of our family farm. The wonderful weather over the last few weeks was deepening my desire to see it abloom again. I hadn’t come home my second year at all, because the very first Christmas home from college had coincided with the one year anniversary of the soul crushing end of my first and only real relationship. It’d been a lonely two-week reminder of the breakup with my girlfriend since middle school.

Jenny had gone off to attend the University of Vermont in Burlington when she graduated a year ahead of me. We were both born and raised in Vermont, just outside Montpelier, as were my older brothers and sister. My sister, Emma, had graduated from the same university when I was about five and I’d been considering going there too, until Jenny told me that she’d met someone else. She done that during her first Christmas home from UVM, before I graduated high school. I finished my senior year without a girlfriend, which had somehow felt lonelier even though she hadn’t been around at all during the fall. This led to several awkward instances of being laughed at for taking my sister to prom and it initiated my generally avoiding relationships altogether. The breakup had shaped my decision to go out of state for college and I’d gone just about as far away from her and the farm as I could.

There hadn’t been any girlfriends after her and I went off to college changed. It was fairly naïve to try, but I simply cut off that part of my life and became more focused on my schoolwork, my drawing and my future. I’d thought about asking out some women in my freshmen classes, but the University of Washington women seemed more adept socially than myself and it’d felt intimidating. I chalked it up to being from a small town, living on a farm and having so little experience dating due to my long term involvement. Abstaining after the first year seemed to just perpetuate the behavior and I hadn’t been especially attracted to anyone until that day in humanities.

Mama’s encouragement to come back to the farm, made me genuinely believe it would do me some good. Emma might not appreciate her baby brother being there, cramping her space, but I figured she’d get over it when I helped around the farm. She and her burly boyfriend, Bo, were practically running the farm these days anyhow. They’d been planning on getting married for a couple years, but hadn’t tied the knot just yet for some reason. I packed my bags as soon as I’d gotten back to my dorm room and caught the very next bus home. The tiring three-day trip was another reason I hadn’t gone home much, especially for shorter breaks.


Several days and bus changes later, I finally arrived in Burlington. In the bus station parking lot, I was surprised to see Emma pull up to fetch me. I’d expected to see my mother since I’d phoned her the day before arriving, but it was nice to see her familiar face. She had driven the family farm truck with our golden retriever Samson eagerly awaiting me in the back. Tiredly, I walked from the shaded waiting area, tossed my stuff in the bed of the truck, gave Samson a good patting and joined her in the cab.


“You seem happier to see him than me,” she said, leaning over for a quick kiss.

“Not at all, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“So? How’s college going, Squirt?” she asked with a little concern and looking me over pensively.

She’d called me that forever, well as long as I could remember anyway. I’d never resisted the nickname and even now, it felt endearing. Despite her often gruff stance toward me, I could tell that she loved and cared about me. She had made a regular habit of sending me care packages throughout my time in college. My heart always leapt when they arrived; the anticipation of something from her always brightened my day. Her little gift boxes were neatly packed and contained items she thought I might need or want: homemade snacks, clothing or books she thought I might read.

“It’s going okay but I’m glad to be home. Thanks for all the care packages you’ve sent. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes being away.”

“I remember how it was when I was in college,” she said and laughed. “And I lived close enough to drive home when I needed to. Thanks for writing back.”

“How are you and the folks?”

“The late spring this year has them realizing that they are tired of the long cold winters.”

“Our spring was kind of early.”

“Yeah, the weather you have in Seattle seems rainy though. Anyway, they’re thinking of selling to me, so they can move south.”

“Huh, you have enough money to swing that?” I asked surprised.

“I’ve got some of it, but I was hoping I could pick your business brain to come up with a plan.”

“I’d be happy to help you and I’m going to be working around the farm this summer.”

“Oh, to be sure, I’m going to have you up at the crack of dawn each day,” she joked. Then after a couple moments she added, “Of course, you’ll also be telling me about school and your love life.”

“So, you’re not just here to pick me up?” I teased her back.

She mussed my hair and said, “We’re not going to start that again.”

It was a private joke she and I had shared since a particular High School dance. I’d called her to pick me up early because Jenny and I’d had an argument. Emma gave me the fifth degree about it all the way home. I’d complained something to the effect So you didn’t just come to pick me up?. The term had stuck and became code for, so you want to know about my private life. I never resisted telling her anything, she was open, helpful and genuinely concerned about me. The complaints about cramping her space only came as I got old enough to have the normal intrusions that siblings have, but she mostly launched those at me teasingly because she knew it got under my skin a little.