Caroline: The Final Chapter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is basically the last chapter of "Caroline". I'd been struggling for ages to think of how exactly I was going to end it. I knew what happened from the very beginning, but I didn't know how to put it. And suddenly it came to me in the bath and I had this thing written in 20 minutes. I understand it's extremely rough around the edges, but I like the rawness of it. Feel free to comment!

Oh, for a basic plot summary of the whole novel so you can actually understand this: Caroline was an 18 year old valedictorian who took a spontaneous summer trip with the love of her life, Jude, before returning to college. They joke about having names after songs (Sweet Caroline and Hey Jude), read books like "Jane Eyre" and "Anna Karenina" and explore the cultures of almost all the European countries. Their affair fizzled into a friendship and eventually an estrangement, during which she gets her degree and meets a stereotypical lawyer who is her parents' dream, whose name is Drew. She marries Drew, and their marriage is stressful, so she re-ensues her affair with Jude. This lasts for a few years until Drew wants to have a baby. They have Cat and Caroline refuses to see Jude again. This is when they see each other for the first time in eight years, and the end to the book.

Submitted: June 21, 2010

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Submitted: June 21, 2010

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Cat had been begging me incessantly for months to take her to New York City to ride the subway, which induced in her childish mind a sense of precocious wonder. The subway, she told me matter-of-factly at breakfast, in the car, and before I tucked her in at night, was both a significant technological feat and the cultural Mecca of New York, expressive of the identity of the city. I could not argue with such logic, especially from a daughter who I was prone to find charmingly brilliant, and I agreed to take her for her eighth birthday.
Although I had been discreetly following Jude’s career for some years, it never occurred to me that he was currently operating in the very city that captured Cat’s attention and ardor. I did not remember this momentous little detail until we were about to embark on the drive to New York City, but I soon reassured myself. Surely, a translator of his magnitude, with so many successful works, would not ride the subways. Surely he would not frequent the same locales that Cat and I would be visiting: The American Girl Doll Store, Broadway plays, the typical tourist traps that true New Yorkers did not deign to grace with their chic presence.
But on the last day of our stay, there he was, sitting across from us on the subway. For a few moments I thought I had imagined him, that some figment of my subconscious had manifested itself in the empty seat in front of me. Yet Jude looked older in such a way that my mind certainly could not have imagined. He sat slightly slouched; his hair was beginning to thin but not yet to gray. His eyes were still that penetrating hazel shade, but they were now surrounded on all sides by crow’s feet and bags. His thin lips were the same as they always had been, and his jaw still slightly chiseled. I involuntary squeezed Cat’s hand, and she yelped slightly, causing him to look up curiously from his newspaper.
For a moment, Jude was in the same state of shocked assessment that I had just entered, although my thoughts now turned inward. I couldn’t help but wonder what changes he saw in me. I knew that my body no longer had the slenderness of youth; it had grown permanently heavy after childbirth, even if the scale said I weighed about the same as I had before. Even with all of Drew’s wealth, I refused Botox and my face looked slightly saggy as a result. I was beginning to feel self-conscious until he smiled, and I noticed that he still had one tooth that was turned slightly.
My heart was pounding rapidly. It had been so many years since I’d seen him, and now here he was, as electrifying and quietly handsome as ever. There could be no harm in talking to him. Surely there was nothing wrong with catching up with an old friend. Jude had loved me in such a good and honest way, as no one else had ever loved me. I felt I owed him something.
Cat shifted slightly in her seat, brushing her arm against mine, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she were old enough now. My heart jumped ahead of my mind, formulating insanely exhilarating plans just as I had on the day I first met Jude. I could divorce Drew; he certainly didn’t love me and could find a new wife quickly, without much pain. Jude and I could be together, living in our joyful universe that we had denied ourselves for so long.
But as I gazed at my daughter’s small heart-shaped face, at her sweet brown eyes, rosy lips and tiny nose that she inherited from me, I knew that eight was not old enough. She would never be old enough to have her life torn asunder because of my selfishness. Although she might forgive me in this divorce-ridden world, I could never forgive myself. My plan fell apart just as quickly as I had patched it together. The major flaw was that Jude wouldn’t make me happy. We were as unnatural as Drew and I were, except that I longed to be natural with Jude. Even all the longing in the world would not make things so. How I admired him, but how different I was from him. How I loved him, but how incompatible we were. How I wanted to be like him, but how I knew I never could be.
Before Jude could speak, I shook my head slowly, almost imperceptibly. His smile fell and I knew I had just wrenched his heart in a complicated knot. I inclined my head towards Cat once, and frowned slightly. He nodded incrementally in response. It was so much more complicated than my daughter, and it almost felt unfair to blame my unwillingness on her existence. But how was I supposed to explain to the man that I’ve loved since I was eighteen that he wouldn’t make me happy, even though I wanted him to?
We still had five more stops until we had to get off, and I was suddenly slammed with the awkwardness of the situation. My eyes instinctively darted to my shoes, the ceiling, Cat, anywhere but into Jude’s sadly understanding face. While my eyes darted sporadically around, he managed to catch my gaze and smile serenely. He seemed to understand that this was the end of any possibility for a relationship between us, but he was determined to enjoy these final moments. Jude stared at me intensely, as if committing me to memory, while still managing to impress upon me the force of his love with those hazel eyes. I felt dizzy and gripped the bottom of my seat until my knuckles turned white and my fingertips left imprints on the gum that was stuck there.
Jude began to hum, softly, cheerfully, just for me. I recognized the tune instantly: “Sweet Caroline”. My grip slowly relaxed from the bottom of the seat. I instinctively closed my eyes and pretended that we were still in a cozy bed somewhere in Brussels or Rome, with him humming to me lazily while I was playing with his hair, and he was rubbing my back, as together we decided what journeys to take the next day. I lived in this deliciously intimate memory for a few moments until the jolt of the subway brought me back to reality and I realized I only had three more stops with him.
He switched to “Hey Jude” and we continued to gaze at each other, somewhere between grins and tears, until he rose one stop before ours. He rummaged in his bag, pulled a book out of it, and left it deliberately on his seat, right in the center, with the title facing towards me. With one last look, he told me that he loved me, and then he was gone.
I slipped the book into my bag but didn’t have a chance to look at it until we got back to Rochester. In my favorite sitting room, with the door safely locked, I examined it. It was Jude’s newest work, a hugely popular Spanish translation of Jane Eyre. I had never dared buy a copy, but I had read the rave reviews that claimed “Julian E. Molina’s rendering of Jane Eyre is so deeply engaging, emotive, and genuine that it seems he were friends with Charlotte Bronte herself. It is certainly the new definitive edition in Spanish-speaking countries.”
Taking in the smell of the fresh pages, I flipped through the book, catching a few phrases and words that I recognized from my brief sojourn into Spanish language that had been both inspired and facilitated by Jude. I couldn’t decide whether to read it or not, unsure whether Jude’s interpretation of my favorite book would be painful, pleasing, or some strange combination of both. As I flipped through it backwards again, I came to the dedication and my breath caught in my throat.
To Sweet Caroline of Rochester, who first introduced me to this wonderful work, and who has always remained as faithful to herself as the great Jane Eyre was, even when it involves not capitulating to my very Mr. Rochester-esque demands. Cheers, my lovely Carolina.
For a few moments I allowed myself to sob inconsolably, my shoulders shaking and my chest heaving, all the while being as silent as possible. When no more tears would come, I read the dedication once more and smiled to myself, basking in the warm glow of love that emanated from those pages. Then I put the book on my large bookshelf and stroked the spine affectionately. I walked into the hallway and shut the door softly behind me, wanting to keep the book a secret, as if Jude were sitting on the bookshelf waiting for me, ready to comfort me and console me in my darkest hours.
Somehow I knew that I would never see him again, whether through fate or through both of our concerted efforts. Yet here was proof that I had been loved, truly loved by another human being, in print, for all of posterity. Jude had preserved that love for me, and I knew that it was his last gift to me, and I was grateful. Whenever I felt despised or unneeded or pitiful, I could flip open this book and be reassured that although I had not yet found someone of my same flesh, as Jane had found in Mr. Rochester, I had been loved. This was enough.


© Copyright 2019 Caroline Stafford. All rights reserved.

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