CHAPTER 18 – NATE
Before fifth period, when I normally have independent study, I run out to my car to retrieve the tacky plastic sword for my presentation of the Squire’s Tale. I’d considered not bringing it at all, but Miss Spindler said she’d deduct twenty points from our presentation if we didn’t have props. I was sure that my shirt wouldn’t cut it, a black tee that was given to me by distant relatives when we went to visit them in England a few years ago. Printed on the front was the Corliss coat of arms. It was my mother’s maiden name, a name she was proud of. I remember when we got back from the trip, I’d begged her to let me change my last name, complaining that Wilson was too boring and nondescript.
“It’s not about the name,” Mom told me, “it’s about the man who passed it on to you.”
I never asked her again. She would be proud of Corliss. I would forever wear the name Wilson with honor. Maybe not on a shirt– but in my heart, my father would always be with me.
I strap the belt around my waist and stick the blade through the holster, feeling rather stupid on my way back in to the building. Surely other people will have much more embarrassing costumes. The last bell rings, and I realize I’m late.
As I walk down the hallway to the classroom I only visit for about five minutes an afternoon on any given day, I spot someone who will definitely be ridiculed more than me. A girl with long, blonde hair fastened in two braids that fall down both sides of her back is wearing a full-length cream-colored dress. She paces back and forth near the doorway, her arms covered with flowing sleeves, her attention focused further down the hall.
I lose my breath when she turns around at the sound of my footsteps. “Nate, where have you been?” Emi asks, rushing up to me. Her shoulders and neck are framed with green velvet. The dress is more low-cut than anything I’ve seen her wear before. I remember she was worried that her mom wouldn’t be able to make it fit her, but she looks stunning. It fits her perfectly. She could be a bride, which makes sense considering the story she’s about to tell her class about. “Hello?” She waves her hands in front of my face.
I’d been taking her in fully, noticing how the cream color blended with her pale skin and the velvet brought out her eyes, only they look a different color now. I laugh to myself, realizing I’ll never understand those eyes. “Sorry, but you literally took my breath away.”
“Like, no one else is dressed up,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“It wouldn’t matter if they were, Em. I don’t think anyone would notice them.”
Her cheeks turn a bright pink, and the panic on her face is softened with a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
“Why aren’t you in class?”
“Miss Spindler wanted to welcome the parents first–”
“Did he come?” I ask her.
She peeks through the small window and points him out to me, a balding man who’s a little overweight. He looks uncomfortable. I scan the room for my mother, and see her sitting on the other side of the room next to Emi’s mom. They’re whispering quietly to one another.
“Our moms have met,” I tell her.
“I introduced them on their way in,” she says.
“Did you say anything to your dad?” She looks down briefly, then shakes her head. “It’s okay,” I assure her. “Are you ready?”
“I’m nervous,” she says. “I always get this way before a performance,” she explains, “but I’ll be okay once I get in there… as long as I can avoid him,” she adds.
“I’ll sit over there,” I say, pointing to a desk on the side of the room with windows, in front of our moms. “Just remember to watch me.”
“Okay,” she agrees.
“I need to go in,” I tell her. “I don’t want Miss Spindler to think I bailed.”
“Okay,” she says again.
“Good luck.” I wrap my arms around her and hold her tightly, hoping to calm her nerves. She nods when I pull away, and I hear her reciting lines as I walk into the classroom. Reciting lines. She’s going to think I look like an idiot when I get up there and try to wing it.
Miss Spindler is talking to one of Emi’s classmates in the corner, and everyone else is chatting amongst themselves. I give a little wave to Mom and Mrs. Hennigan before I glance across the room. Her father is looking at me. I set my books on the desk, but go directly toward him, taking a deep breath on the way.
“Mr. Hennigan?” I ask.
“I’m Nate Wilson,” I introduce myself. “I’m a friend of Emi’s.” I extend my hand, and he shakes it firmly. “She’s told me a lot about you.”
“If that’s true, I’m surprised you even came over here,” he says with an anxious laugh.
“She’ll come around,” I tell him. “Give her time.”
His brows furrow in confusion, as if I’ve caught him off-guard. “Of course,” he answers quickly. “I will.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say, returning to the desk just in time for Miss Spindler to welcome our parents to the presentation of the Canterbury Tales. The blinds are all pulled up, letting the bright sunlight into the room. She shields her eyes as she explains the story and the assignment to everyone.
“Each student has five minutes to tell us a little about the character who tells the story, as well as the tale that their character shares with the other members of the group. Our first storyteller is Emi Hennigan, and she will be explaining the Knight’s Tale.”
Miss Spindler walks to the door and goes out of the room briefly. Our teacher appears once more, telling the next student who’s presenting that he can go prepare in the hallway. After he leaves, Emi walks into the room gracefully, her head bowed down to the floor. She looks sweet and demure, just as Emily should look, just as Emi wanted to look today. The blonde wig is pretty on her, but the color looks unnatural against her skin. Even still, she looks beautiful.
Emi folds her hands in front of her and starts speaking about the knight. She walks slowly across the front of the class, back and forth, keeping her eyes low but projecting her voice, as she talks of chivalry and honor and respect and love. Once she finishes with the character description, she stops in the middle of the class and finally lifts her head.
The sunlight catches her eyes, bringing back the color I’d learned, that I’d recreated, that I’d committed to memory and would never forget.
The second she starts speaking as Emily, her voice now softer, more feminine and delicate, her focus comes directly to me. I swear my heart stops. Again, I can’t breathe. A smile involuntarily spans my face. She smiles right back at me, and I can hear other people turning to stare in my direction, but I can’t look away from her.
The eyes of Emily hath slain me.*
Although I’d only read the Knight’s Tale once, the line stuck with me then and speaks to me now. No, it shouts at me. Heart ceases to beat. Air refuses to enter my lungs. Dead. Slain. Unable to go on.
The eyes of Emily hath slain me.
Unable to go on without her.
“Nate, let’s be friends,” I hear her voice in my head. I watch her lips move, but they aren’t in sync with what I hear. “Not today, but someday.”
The eyes of Emily hath slain me.
What have I agreed to?
I keep her steady gaze as my breath returns in quick gasps. She breaks character slightly, I can tell. She looks concerned, and I realize I’m sweating. I still can’t look away. I nod at her, signaling that I’m okay, and she continues on. No one else seemed to notice her pause. My friend– just a friend– relates the story of Palamon and Arcite, the two cousins who vie for Emily’s love.
Arcite, who prays to Mars for strength to win the battle– to win her hand. Palamon, who prays only to end up with Emily, however Venus chooses to make it happen. Venus, Mars– Zeus himself– I’d pray to whomever I needed to, but above all, I’d fight for her. Not today, but someday, I will fight for her.
Emi had told me that she thought the princess in the story would have picked Palamon. She said he loved her more, but I don’t believe either man loved her more than the other. They were equal suitors, comparable men who did everything for her love. By doing that, they’re both respectable, both worthy of her.
In the fable of these two deserving men, though, Palamon was defeated and lost his right to be with her– at first, anyway. Arcite fought a good battle, and he won his fair maiden. Even though his fate was sealed, Emily would be by his side all the remaining days of his life. How had he beat Palamon?
He abided by the rules.
I’ll play by her rules.
Arcite knew the prize, and never forgot how cherished she was.
I know that I need her. I think that I love her.
Arcite knew how to win her.
I know what I have to do. When she’s ready for love, I’ll fight for her.
It was courtly love, and chivalry, honor and bravery and patience– such patience and perseverance– that brought Emily and her rightful knight together. I am capable of all of these things. I’m capable of them all today, but patience is what will bring Emi to me, the man who will love her best…
©2012 Lori L. Otto
*The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling ©2009 Peter Akroyd
**Stay tuned for a prologue that will be published… someday. Subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter to find out when you can read it.