Treacherous Waters


Heathcliff Manning was a gentlemanly sort of character.  He filed his nails to perfection, held doors for women, and always meticulously ironed every article of his clothing.  He was neat and orderly in all his ways, storing his cherished label maker in the top side drawer of his desk.  Despite all of these obvious perfections, he had yet to woo and marry.

Heathcliff sat in his paisley arm chair stirring his morning cup of French Roast coffee.  He had exactly two minutes and forty-five seconds to stir before his beverage would reach his optimal drinking temperature...plenty of time to contemplate the life plan which lay before him.  He eyed the typewritten document with hazard, knowing the contents of what he would read even before he dared to glance at the pages.  He passed the two minute mark, and leaned over to grasp the file.  The title page was before him, written in bold ,"Plan of Action: The Premeditated Goal Timeline of Heathcliff Manning".  Planning had always brought him comfort.  He checked his watch with a smile...fifteen more seconds.   He flipped to page three in the timeline, feeling the gratification of accomplishment as he perused the bullet points.  Under "Section III: Early Adult Life" he had already fulfilled subpoints A-E completely on schedule.  Yet there it was, the ominous subpoint F.  It had been so simple to earn his degrees, gain employment, begin his investment portfolio, and learn to make homemade doughnuts, but this...where was he to start?

He read aloud once more,  "Subpoint F: Find a mate.  Accomplishment date: May 15, 2010."  Forty- three, Forty-four, Forty-five.  Ahh, it was time.  Heathcliff tenderly sipped his coffee, so as not to corrupt the tidiness of his freshly combed mustache.  "I can do it," he thought, "I must do it!  I must!...or I'll never finish Section III and progress to Section IV: The Middle Ages."  Determination fueled his spirit, for after all, Heathcliff was orderly in all he did.  Having a plan of action was at the very core of his being.

The walk to work was a brief one.  A loft apartment for sale above the job he was offered was a selling point for him.  When he accepted the position, it was with the many minutes he would save commuting in mind.  Just think how many subpoints he could accomplish in the quiet of his own home, rather than in the noisy subway!  Another organizational triumph.

His desk was at the rear of the office, facing away from the windows, an angle he preferred.  The distraction of the pedestrian traffic would interfere with his performance at work.  Today, however, Heathcliff spun in his chair to observe the people outside.  He watched in silence, mentally adding notes to his "Qualifications of a Potential Mate" memorandum.  His statuesque concentration, however effective, was distracting to his coworkers.  Jeffrey Beale was an accountant at the next desk.  The sudden appearance of Heathcliff near his cubicle was unnerving.

"Heath, do you know how creepy you are right now?" he blurted.  "Can you impersonate a manequin at your own desk?".

Heathcliff snapped back into reality.  "Oh, yes, certainly," he stammered, unconscious of the embarrasment he should have felt. "I was just...".  He paused, glancing at Jeffrey.  "Never mind."

Jeffrey was generally not a man of sensitivity.  He spent the bulk of his post-work time watching sports, boxing, and consuming foods that would make Michelle Obama's heart break.  It was very odd to see Heathcliff pause mid task, though.  His curiosity was piqued.

"Heath, what is it?  I've never seen you so..."  What?  Unnerved...too calm. "So...distracted."

Heathcliff blushed.  To him lack of attention was a cardinal sin.  Focus was key to accomplishment.  "I'm sorry, Jeffrey, I was actually pondering something of great import to me."

Jeffrey leaned forward in his chair.  He wasn't sure what 'import' meant.

"You see," Heathcliff continued, "I'm trying to find myself a wife."

Jeffrey's mouth opened slightly, for it had never occured to him that a man like this had any romantic DNA in his interesting assumption coming from Jeffrey.  Jeffrey rubbed the stubble on his chin.  "Well, uh, are you dating someone?"

A new thought.  "Why no, I've never been on a date before.  Could you help me?"

A bachelor himself, Jeffrey was a little intimidated at the prospect.  He soon realized that even his dim romantic sensibilities were more likely to charm a woman than Heathcliff's, so he agreed.

"How utterly fantastic, my good coworker!" Heathcliff exclaimed. "Do you by any chance have a list of appropriate females in the vicinity?".

Jeffrey sighed, he would definitely need some help.


"So let me get this straight," Barbara said, "You want me to find someone for that weird guy to marry?".

Jeffrey approached the countertop at which his sister was working.  "No, no, I don't need you to find him a wife, I just need help making him...well...normal enough for...".

"...for a woman to not run away screaming?"  Barbara snipped at the rose stems automatically.  

"That's a little on the mean side, isn't it Barbie?"  

Barbara paused, "Well, no, not really.  Keep in mind that I've actually met this guy before.  He's not a bad man, I know, but he is so strange and formal and...just weird."

Jeffrey pulled a stem from the cloud of baby's breath near him.  He knew his sister.  She was feeling bad for calling Heathcliff names, a sign that it was time to go in for the kill and get her commitment to help.  "Yes, poor guy, I know what you mean.  I just feel so bad for him." That was a stretch.  "I mean, if you had just heard the way he spoke of having a family to call his own.  He's really very lonely." Also a stretch.  Now time to pull the trigger.  "I just kept thinking the whole time, if it were me..." Making himself tear up just a little, he continued, "If it were me, all alone in the city, without mother or sister to turn to, lonely, uncertain, with only the best of intentions, I sure would wish that someone would be able to find a few minutes," he paused here, looking toward the window, letting the sunlight shine on his upturned face. "Just a little time to help change my life...and help me to be happy forever."  In his dramatic fervor, the flower had been snapped in half and lay now in Jeffrey's clenched, tear-dampened fist.  It was quite a performance.  Worse actors than Jeffrey grace the red carpets on a regular basis.

Barbara eyed him suspiciously.  She had the sneaking feeling that he was trying to manipulate her, for after all, she knew her brother and his lack of imaginatory zeal.  However, his words had stirred a feeling of mild regret for her harsh opinion of Heathcliff.  And so it was, out of regret, kindness, a cautious helpfulness, and perhaps even a little curiosity, she assented.

"I guess he'll just be my own little 'Pygmalian' project," the practical Barbara hypothesized aloud.

Jeffrey, happy with his maneuvering, was leaving.  "Come on, Barbie.  Just go out with him a couple times and teach him some manners.  There's no reason to call him a pig!" he shouted from the vomitorium.


"Heathcliff, our first stop will be my flower shop on the corner of Oak and Vine.  You can take this road here to Oak, then turn left.  It's only a few blocks from there."  He automatically obeyed.  For what purpose could they be going there?  A sudden thought.  He was supposed to initiate conversation.  He slowly commented, "I had no idea you owned your own flower shop."

She replied, "Oh yes, I do.  Of course, what your date does for a living would be a much better place to start a conversation than your life plan subpoints."


"You're doing better, Heath.  Keep trying to make conversation, just keep the gravity out of your statements.  Try stating something about your emotions."

"Okay, um, I feel that you must have a lot of deductible expenses to claim in your line of work."

She smirked.  "Actually, this one will be your deduction.  You're buying me the flowers of my choice, and I'll even give you a receipt."   How thoughtful of her.  This was, however, a small stab of her hurt feelings at play.  Barbara had taken on this venture out of the goodness of her heart, or well, the goodness of Jeffrey's heart.  For Heathcliff to be so unfriendly and business-like about their "arrangement" made her feel a little ridiculous.  She also wasn't the type of woman who was used to getting a check and receipt from a man at the end of a date.  She had decided afterward to make this next lesson as ridiculously out of Heathcliff's normal realm of activity as she could think up.  Her plans after the flower shop included a quick meal at a bawdy barbecue joint, a stop at a nearby Italian Ice stand, which featured over 85 flavors, and last but not least, a ballroom dancing lesson...which ended several minutes after his designated return time.  The evening did not disappoint.  His second best blue conservative suit was soiled with honey barbecue sauce, it took him a full 17 minutes to process and evaluate all the icy options, and as for the salsa lesson...let us just say that the end of the week would find Heathcliff in front of his television in his pajamas working up a sweat.  

Defeat did not sit well with Heathcliff.  He took this outing as a direct challenge.  It was now his mission to shock Barbara with the realization that he could beat her at her own game.  There were advantages to being an organizational mastermind.


 Jeffrey entered the boxing ring with his usual strut.  His boxing workout days were a time to get exercise and relax, and of course, to impress whatever women were around.  Today Barbara was along to spar.  She had much on her mind, unlike Jeffrey who typically had not much of anything in his mind.  They put in their mouth guards and began.  Jeffrey wasn't usually much of a chatterbox, but for some reason sparring brought every idle thought out of his mouth.  He began by giving her the update on his favorite hockey team.  Barbara was less than thrilled to hear the details of last night's power play, but used the opportunity to get a few good hits to his head.  Jeffrey didn't mind.  There was no way his little sister could really hurt him, right?  He moved on to baseball.  He recounted every RBI.  She got him with a great uppercut.  He changed his subject matter to the real source of his concern.

Shaking his head a little, he began again. "Barbie, how much longer are you going to be doing this pig male thing with Heathcliff?  He's getting even creepier."  She began to answer, but he kept going.  "It seems like every day he is asking me all kinds of weird things...your favorite flowers, your favorite books, what kind of seafood you if I know.  Then he gives me this stupid 'I don't approve of you' look!".  He trailed off, trying to get a hit to her body, but she avoided him.  Then he remembered more, "You will not believe what he has been doing during lunch.  The last few weeks, every day, when he finishes the same old sandwich and pickle, just when I'm used to hearing him click away on his computer again and settle down for another afternoon of quiet work, I hear this latin music through the cubicle wall.  I peeked over the other day, and I swear he had a rose in his mouth and he was shimmying around like I don't know what."

"Ah, yes, he's really been working hard on his salsa form.  We're starting tango soon, too.  He's going to be quite the dancer for some girl soon."  she panted.  It was not the vision of Heathcliff's shimmy, but the constant hoppy footwork which got her going. 

She began to laugh through her exhaustion.  "Do you know how ridiculous he looked the first time we went there?  With his oil-slick hair and buffed shoes...I didn't think he had a rhythmic bone in his body!  Look at him now, though!  Did you know he wants to audition for the Latin Dance-Off in the fall?".

Jeffrey did not know.  Jeffrey did not care.  He was tired of hearing Barbara speak of his geeky coworker with admiration.  There was a sneaking suspicion that she was actually starting to enjoy herself, and that was unforgivable.  It didn't matter that he was the cause of this new fascination.  What if she were to fall for this guy?  The thought of him watching football with his family at Thanksgiving was unbearable.  He didn't even know what a quarterback was!  What had he done?  Who could have predicted that Heathcliff of all people would transform himself into exactly what any woman wanted?  Maybe he would have to start taking lessons from Heath!  He snorted a little at the idea.  Barbara took it as over-confidence and jabbed him with fervor.  If there was anything she hated, it was cockiness.  Her emotional hitting did no damage, but laid her open to a solid hit to the left temple.  She stumbled and fell to the ring floor.  Jeffrey wasn't alarmed, he knew how tough she really was.  He sat next to her and gave her his hand to pull up to a sitting position.

"That was a good one, Jeff.  I better be done for today.  I'm spent." Barbara removed her protective helmet.  She imagined what Heathcliff would look like as a boxer.  No, that was too bizarre.  The floors here were too dirty for his taste.  He'd probably fight for his life just to avoid having to touch them.  She looked up to see Jeffrey watching her.  He usually reserved that intense stare only for playoffs and steaks.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

He didn't think, just blurted, "Are you falling for Heathcliff?".

"Me?"  as if the idea had never occurred to her.

"Yes.  You spend all your time with him and all you talk about are the wonderful things he does.  Are you still seeing the same guy I'm seeing?"  Jeffrey was becoming impassioned.

"No.  He is changed."  Her tenderness was frightening to him.  She noticed his discomfort and tried one of his own moves, "I've done an awesome job, haven't I?  Any girl would be lucky to get him now that I'm done remodeling."

Still worried, "So you are done, then?".

"Well, almost.  I have just one more thing in mind.  Besides, his marriage timeline date is coming up.  I guess I'll have to let loose of him sooner or later."  She looked away.  She was entering treacherous waters.  How could she let him loose?  What would she do with her time?  She thought of her old life watching romances and reading Jane Austen novels without enthusiasm.

Jeffrey had seen a tough brunette saunter in.  He was suddenly too diverted even to wonder what the last thing was that she would change about him.  Barbara sighed and walked away as Jeffrey agreed to spar with the brunette.  She showered and changed.  As she was leaving she glanced back just in time to see the tough girl knock the collywobbles out of Jeffrey.


Barbara sat gazing dreamily into her mirror as she twirled her blonde curls between her fingers.  She couldn't believe it could be true.  It was actually her last date, er, lesson with Heathcliff.  She sighed, then began to capture the reckless curls into a low bun.  The room began to darken and Barbara moved to the window just in time to see the storm begin.  She opened the window to let the fresh rain scent take over her bedroom.  She sighed again.  The calm rain seemed like a mirror to her as well.  It reflected the sad, steady dread she had about finishing his lessons.  She wasn't sure how it happened, but she loved being with him, loved having a project to work on, loved not having dinner with Jeffrey in front of the big screen television.  She was really going to miss Heath when he began his dating in earnest.  She sighed a third time, then decided to dress.  She chose a pale pink silky blouse and white starched pants.  Heathcliff always liked  a sharp crease.  She paused, returning to the mirror to pin two lovely daisies to her bun.  He had sent them early, knowing her girlish passion for wearing flowers in her hair.  

She was ready when the doorbell rang.  They smiled at each other.  She took the arm he offered her and held it close.  As they drove to the lakeside restaurant, she listened to him, gazed at him, and politely didn't notice the overuse of cologne.  She should have taken out her floral notebook to mark the offense.  After all, this was his final exam and the stakes were high for him, but her heart wasn't in being critical tonight.  She took no joy in jotting down his faults as she once did.  In actuality, he had few faults to notate.  Heathcliff had always been a model student, and he had adjusted himself to fit her model of masculinity with ease.

They had arrived.  He smiled at her and held every door.  He chose this restaurant not only for the elegant seared duck breast specialty, her favorite rare treat, but for the strikingly beautiful view of the lake.  They talked and ate at a leisurely pace and Heathcliff didn't check his watch even one time.  Just as they finished the raspberry truffle cake, the musicians he had hired gathered for a serenade.  It was downright artful.  She began to tear up at the beauty of the moment, and the gentleman took her by the hand.  They stood together as the music began.  She smiled.  She had never thought of herself as a fantastic dancer, but to tango with Heathcliff was enough to make anyone feel like a star.  He was tall, stood up straight, and wasn't socially conscious enough to be embarrased.  It was incredibly fun.  She began to laugh when the other diners applauded.

He suggested a walk along the damp boardwalk now that the drizzle had come to an end.  Naturally, she agreed.  They walked close together, smelling the earthy wetness of the wood beneath them, admiring the smoothness of the lake.  They paused, leaning against a railing, to watch the sun set.  They were quiet as the subtle oranges first kissed the waters of the lake.  In a moment, those waters returned the burning color with fervor.  Barbara turned to Heathcliff.

"Heath," she began softly.  "I think this has been the best date of my entire life."  He looked at her, surprise showing in his eyes.

"You really thought everything was adequate?" he asked as he turned to face her.

She smiled softly. "Absolutely.  Nothing could have been more lovely.  It was romantic, it was thoughtful, it was meaningful, it was..." she stared into his eyes, "perfect.  You are perfect."  She felt defeated for some reason.  She continued, "I have no doubt that you could get any girl to marry you now."  Her tears began their lonesome trail down her blushing cheeks.  She knew it was time to make the final break.

He reached for her hand.  "But, I don't want just any girl.  I want you, my helper, my friend, my love."  She rushed to him, her soft tears dripping onto his shoulder.  Heathcliff whispered to her, "Barbara, marry me and help me all my days."  She managed to croak out an affirmative answer before the next round of grateful tears began.  He held her happily sniffing the time away.  After a few minutes, while still holding his lovely sweetheart, he began to maneuver his wrist up to eye level.  The sleeve of his tan suit coat covered his watch.  He tenderly extended his arm again, shifting the material free of the watch's face.  He peered with caution, then began to smile broadly, quietly, with Barbara's head still on his shoulder.  He felt supremely satisfied. It was exactly 11:59 pm on May 15.

"I can't believe it!" Heathcliff whispered excitedly.  He was in love...and right on schedule.

1 comment:

  1. I loved it! Romance and joy can cohabit. Life doesn't have to be course, evil, or violent. Good job!