After an easy downhill run on skis, Susann arrived at the Dubois’. There was a path shoveled to the door, but only one pair of skis leaned against the door jamb. Rather unsure of herself, Susann knocked and wondered what explanation she could give for her coming. The realization of what she had done had made her fainthearted.
Jacques answered, she was thankful for that. He held a book in his hand, his thick dark hair rumpled and his dark blue eyes squinted in the blinding white light. But when he recognized her, a pleasant smile broke across his face.
“How nice, Susie,” he said excitedly. “Do come in.”
His quick words of welcome was heart warming and the softened nickname sounded unexpectedly sweet. After stamping the snow from her boots, Susann stepped into the hall. “I–I ran away,” she said like a truant child.
“Ran away?” Jacques’ brows knitted together, quite quizzically at that. “You mean you came without permission?”
“I just couldn’t stand it another minute,” she said, nodding. “Sometimes I really hate being with girls, girls, girls!”
“Of course you do,” said Jacques rather soothingly as he led her into the dining room, where also there was a low sofa drawn close to the open fire. Although he didn’t ask for any explanation, his eyes were gentle and full of understanding.
Susann shivered as she looked on, watching the flames leap.
“Why don’t you take off your jacket?” he asked. “I’ll go make some hot chocolate. That should warm you.”
Settled upon the plush sofa, Susann stretched out her hands to the blaze, all the while blinking back the tears that sprang to her eyes. She was grateful that Jacques was thoughtful enough to give her this chance to collect herself. Somehow, he understood without words. She listened to him clamoring around in the kitchen making cocoa while allowing her plenty of time.
When he returned, bearing two mugs on a tray, rather weakly she smiled up at him. And reassuringly, he grinned back. For the first time she realized how deep and clear his eyes were, how tender the expression around his mouth. Why, I like him, she thought. I like him a lot.
“Where are your parents?” she asked, abruptly, leaning over to sip from her cup.
“They skied down to the village to see if they could hire a sleigh,” he said softly. “Dad says they’re both getting burnout from overwork. Anyway, it’s been a long week.”
Agreeing with Jacques, Susann nodded. “For you too, I suppose?”
“Oh, endless,” said Jacques rather emphatically. “There’s nobody around here–nobody I can possibly talk to.” Then despairingly, he spread out his hands. “Artists can be darned well uncomfortable to live with. They get so completely absorbed that most of the time they forget I’m even around.”
“Not really,” said Susann, shaking her head. “Not really. Why you mean everything to them. It sticks out all over them when they look at you.”
“Who are you kidding?” Jacques laughed, derisively. Then once more the aggrieved note that Susann remembered from another conversation crept back into his voice.
“You don’t believe me?”
“No. Quite frankly, I don’t.”
Susann leaned far enough to set her mug down on the hearth, then turned to face the young man, her forehead frowned with concern. “How can I explain?” she asked, shrugging as one shoulder shot upward. “They’re doing what they think is right for you…”
“Uh, huh. I know that.”
“Well, they treat you sort of–casually I would think, because they don’t want to hold you too tight.”
“Tight!” exclaimed Jacques with a snort. “They have me in a vise, if you really want to know. Absolutely tied to a kind of life I hate!”
Susann winced. She was afraid she’d just opened up a can of worms.
“Do you know what I’d like to do most in the world?”
“I have no clue.”
“To be like other people,” he said, slamming a fist into the sofa. “To live in Alaska, or New Mexico, or anywhere except a big city, with an ordinary father and mother who don’t globe trot all over the place!”
The bitterness in his tome made Susann realize how sincerely he meant this, and her heart and soul quickened with comprehension. Instead of sympathizing, she scolded him. “Oh, you make me sick!” she exclaimed. “At least you have a father and mother, and they keep you with them. Oh, please, you’re better off than most of my classmates at school. And you’re better off than I am.”
When she looked up, she caught his glance. He’d shot her a dirty look.
However, this last statement wasn’t quite true, she thought, and silently prayed her father would forgive her, but she had to make Jacques stop feeling sorry for himself.”
“So, what’s the big deal?”
“My mother died when I was eight…so long ago that I can’t even remember her face very clearly.” Shocked that she’d mentioned her mother, she stumbled on, driving the point home. “At least you have two parents, and they love you enough to keep you with them.”
Jacques shook his head vehemently.
“Yes, they do, Jacques Dubois, and don’t tell me they don’t!”
Then he looked outraged. “I haven’t said a word!”
Realizing her blunder, Susann burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, Jacques. Of course you haven’t. And this is the second time today I’ve lost my temper. And wow, aren’t people weird!”
Jacques looked at her for a long moment, as though he was trying to size himself to this change of mood. “I never knew a girl anything like you,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you this winter. Do you know that?”
The masculine harshness in the way he asked the question made Susann cringe and lower her eyes. His hands reached out and covered her clasped fingers, and there was something infinitely comforting in the pressure. “Do you, Susie? Because I mean it.”
Without looking up, Susann whispered, “I know you do.”
In the end she told him nothing of Maxine and the bitterness and injustice of their quarrel. She just sat curled in the corner of the sofa while Jacques lounged beside her. Like very old friends, they talked when they felt like it and otherwise sat staring into the fire.
Finally, and with reluctance, Susann stood up. “I’ll have to start back now if I’m to be in time for tea,” she said. “Awesome, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to be on time for anything ever again?”
“I want days to have a shape, be structured,” he said, shaking his head. “I even want meals to be on time. Is that weird?”
“It’s like you, fits you to a tee,” she said, grinning. “You’re a dependable person, Jacques. What my father would say–‘he’s a right hand man’.”
She pulled on her jacket, tossing her hair, and Jacques came over, standing next to her. “Can I come along?”
“Heavens, no! There’d be hell to pay.” Susann pulled the drawstring on her hood and tied a neat bow under her chin. “As it is, most likely I’ll get a severe punishment…”
“Being forbidden to go skiing. Madame is very strict about breaking rules.”
Jacques took her to the door. “I’ll call and find out how things go,” he said. “And maybe if Mother calls and is persuasive, they’ll let you come and spend next Thursday with us.”
“Thursday? I like that,” she said, smiling back at Jacques.