I looked up from my roster to survey the class. The students gazed back at me expectantly and I took a deep breath. My first day. My first day behind the teacher's desk. My first day in a brand new school, a brand new town. I smoothed back my dark brown hair and read the roll.
As the students dutifully answered I noticed a group of young men in the back of the class sitting on a long bench. They looked a little older; in fact, they appeared to be about my age. Their eyes remained on me and one would nudge the other every now and again. I watched them covertly as I said each name until finally the last had been called and none seemed to belong to any of the fellows sitting in the rear.
"Excuse me," I spoke a little nervously. "I do not seem to have any of you on my roster."
"Oh, well, we aren't in your class, ma'am," responded one of the men. He had dark hair and mischievous blue eyes.
"Then what are you doing in my classroom?" I asked.
He smiled, white teeth gleaming. "We came to see the pretty new teacher."
Cheeky fella, I thought as I ushered the group out of the class. I sure hope I don't run into him again.
I was in a small rural southern town, not at all like Columbia, South Carolina where I grew up. I was soon to realize that in a place this provincial, running into people, however undesirable, was simply unavoidable.
"Afternoon Miss Moore," I heard a voice say from within the pharmacy alcove not long after. I was passing by on my way home.
I kept walking. He ran up next to me.
"Name's Wyatt," he said.
"Good to meet you," I responded politely, picking up my step a bit. He was simply too forward.
"I was wondering if you'd wanna go out some time," he said with a grin.
"Certainly not," I said and hurriedly crossed the street. As I turned the corner I looked back to see him standing on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, staring after me with a strange smile on his handsome face.
Oh yes, he was very handsome. In fact, that was one of the things that made me so uncomfortable when he was near. I had been out with my share of good-looking men, but there was something about this one I just couldn't put my finger on.
I finally agreed to a small date about a year later. I think it was probably the hundredth time he had asked. And about a year after that I agreed to become his wife.
We were so different, he and I. Friends have always described me as "prim and proper" while Wyatt was nothing short of a rascal. I wouldn't put anything past him. But he worked hard and he did it with a smile and I couldn't help but fall in love with him.
I'll never forget the day he told me about the tattoo. I hate tattoos. Had spoken vehemently against them on many occasions. It wasn't long after World War II and so many of the boys had gotten them while in the service. I had always said, "I'll never marry a man with a tattoo."
The week before our wedding Wyatt put me to the test.
"Mary Caroline, I have to tell you something," Wyatt said to me. He wore a somber expression on his face. "I've gotta tell you before you marry me that I have a tattoo."
I looked at him. My mouth must have dropped open most unbecomingly. "You what?"
"I have a tattoo."
"Well." he began. "It's on my rear."
"Of what?" I asked. I had to know.
"A butterfly," he said.
I could scarcely believe it. The man I loved possessed one of the things I hated most.
"I had to tell you, please say you'll still marry me." His blue eyes were imploring.
I could not speak. This may not seem like such a big thing in today's time, but to me, back then while I was on the brink of my life, it was horrifying!
I walked down the aisle with him anyway. I loved him and no tattoo could change the way I felt. You can believe my relief when I later found out that no butterfly marred his fair skin.
I hold his hand now and think of the 30 some odd years that have passed since the day we met. No longer the soft white hands of our youth, but hands that together cared for and loved two children as well as each other. How could the years have gone by so quickly?
His eyes are the same merry eyes that look up from me from the hospital bed. But the face is different, haggard by the years and by cancer. His voice isn't even the same one that spoke to me from the back of the class. It is rasping and harsh from the many operations. The smile is just as dazzling and mischievous if not as broad. And inside he is the same man I fell in love with, for just a moment ago he joked with the nurse about the cigarettes that triggered his pain. We were together through it all and we will be together in the end.
The machines that help him breathe are unhooked and he struggles to do something that we all take for granted. And as he takes his last breath I smile through bitter tears.
He wasn't on my roster, but I'm so glad that he was in my life.
April is a full time mother and part time webpage designer. "The Roster" is based on the story of her grandparent's chance meeting and romance. Please visit her cyber home at http://www.aprilrain.com or e-mail her at email@example.com.
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