LOVING SWEET HAZEL
by Anton Wills-Eve
<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/born-to-be-with-you/”>Born to Be With You</a>
she desbribes herself, does she not?
LOVING SWEET HAZEL
A couple of weeks ago I felt obliged to miss a holiday and stay behind with a chap who had broken his leg and had to pull out of our University college students’ trip to Rome. Peter was a catholic and had never been to Rome. He had saved like mad that year to enjoy the trip. Then a week before we were due to leave for the Easter two week visit to the eternal city he came off his bike on the the ‘High’ and broke his leg in two places.
Several of us felt really sorry for Peter but we gathered round his bed on the week before we were due to leave and promised to send him daily email videos and hoped he could make the holiday the following summer vacation. This was the point at which I wondered whether I should stay behind and cheer him up, but he would not hear of it. “John, you can’t miss the trip. Anyway I’ll be poor company stuck in this bed for the whole time, so I insist. Off you go.”
What happened next was quite unexpected. The holiday club that our college languages students had set up always managed to get good reductions on travel fares and accomodation on our various visits to cities around Europe. We were limited to twenty travellers on each holiday we arranged which meant a mad rush for any last minute reduced tickets and hotels if anyone pulled out. Several people called on the the door of the travel club, that year I was secretary, to see if there were any spare places. I was inundated and both tickets, the only two I had, were gone by 9.00am. As I commiserated with an Australian fellow and was about to shut my door to my rooms, a panting girl rounded the corner and managed to ask, “Am I too late?” I was nodding my head when I realised the poor soul was trying desparately to hold back her tears. I had to ask,
“I say, are you okay? I don’t think we’ve met but I’ve seen you at lectures. What are you studying?” She was amazed that I seemed to care about her at all. She blushed furiously and said very sadly,
“Oh I’m in my second year of Italian and I so wanted to visit the country. But never mind. I probably never will now.”I was just not prepared to put up with this and asked her why ever not. She turned away and I could see she was really badly upset. It was no ordinary disappointment it was something bordering on a fit of depression at the thought she would never do the one thing she had always wanted. I could not let her go back towards the college quad in such an obvious state of sad disappointment. She looked up at me as I asked her.
“Look I’m just locking up here, you wouldn’t like to come out for a coffee with me would you? I’ve nothing to do for a couple of hours. Then if there are any more last minute cancellations you’ll be with me and I can see that you’ll get a place.” She was overjoyed and then became rather hesitant. I could tell that she was not being completely honest when she said,
“Oh, but I’ve got this work to hand in, but if you could keep any place that came along open for me I’d be very grateful.” There was something more nervous than devious in her voice and I was unable to work out what was getting at her. Then an idea struck me. I had not yet asked her her name and this of course was necessary if I was going to reserve anything for her, so I took a step towards her and half laughing said,
“But hang on a tick. I don’t know your name . Who are you and where do I contact you if I find a place for you?” She went pale and I could have sworn a shiver went up her spine. She didn’t seem to want to tell me about herself at all, and yet at the same time realised she must. Now, as I was going to play along with her I let her take her time and then she told me, “It’s Hazel French, even though I am reading Italian, and I’m in room 12 on the second staircase. Look I’ll give you my mobile phone number as well. I’m sorry if I seem uncertain of what I’m doing but I have got behind with my work.” I accepted this as I was starting to work out a plan of my own. Also her expression, ‘if I seem uncertain of what I’m doing,’ was exactly how she came across to me. I closed the conversation by taking a visiting card out of my pocket and handing it to her so she could get hold of me at any place and at any time. What struck me most forcibly, however, was the very definite sob I heard as I saw her disappear round the corner of the quad. The Ivy wall muffled the sound but not enough to convince me that she was not going through a very rough patch in her life.
There were three days to go to the ‘off’ for the Rome trip and a lot of us, seven girls and twelve boys, were getting excited at the prospect. But you may have noticed that we were only nineteen instead of the twenty originally booked. Only a few minutes before lunch on that Wednesday a chap had had to call off as his father was ill and so I had a place for Hazel. I was really glad to be able to ring her with the news, but both texts and phone calls went unanswered. I decided to go round to her room and see if I could find her. She was just coming out as I ran up the gothic hallway to her door.
“Hazel, Hazel. Hang on a minute I’ve managed to get you a ticket.” My voice was full of obvious delight but not the tone of her reply.
“John? John, have you really? Oh I hope it isn’t too late to make all the necessary arrangements.” She sounded almost relieved that she had found an excuse for not having to go. I could sense beyond doubt that I had to play this very carefully. My first thought was that she was ill in some way and did not think she could manage the journey. I was closer to the truth than I could have imagined. But I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery and, given the time of day, I suggested we go for a drink and a sandwich and iron out any problems that she thought were insurmountable. The reaction was sudden and frankly frightening.
“John, John look please just leave me alone. Stop pestering me and let me lead my own life. I can’t make the Rome trip and that’s all there is to it. Okay?” Then she burst into tears and raced away from me, out of the building and looking awful. I let her go. I was sure that this called for a much more subtle and medically well informed approach than I could possible manage in barely three days. But One of my closest friends from school who was at a different college was studying psychiatry. I hoped he could help.
What wonderful things mobile phones are. Within seven minutes Stephen and I were sitting next to each other over a pint of beer and he was fascinated by my mystery tourist.
“John, the key to all this, if I’m right, lies in the first morning you saw her. How upset was she at not getting a ticket on the trip or was it all play acting?”
“Definitely not acting, Steve. More as though she had screwed her courage to the sticking place and could not believe she’d been thwarted at the last minute. I think it was the obvious change in her attitude that intrigued me after that.” My somewhat pompous and self opinionated friend rubbed his hands together and said,
“Case solved, John. But it will take very careful handling if you are going to get her on that plane by Saturday evening. John she has has a fairly common but seldon correctly diagnosed phobia. It is half agoraphobia and half claustrophobia. Now here’s what you have to do.” I’m so glad I never doubt my friends, maybe that is why they are my friends.
I calculated it would be around five pm that Hazel would return to her room. For a start Stephen’s diagnosis had explained how Hazel had managed to get such a coveted billet. Obviously the senior college tutor had been told what was wrong with her and had done all he could to help. I felt sure her fellow second year students just thought her family were very rich and had bribed the college. Poor thing, that was the last thing she needed. Anyway, I was leaning up against her door post as she rounded the corner to her room at ten past five. She was startled to see me and just froze on the spot. Thank heavens Steve had primed me really well.
“Hullo, mystery girl, “I smiled at her. “Please just don’t hyperventilate until you have invited me in for a drink, which, naturally, I have provided. I hope you drink Champagne, most people with acute anxiety neuroses do. I have a chilled bottle and a couple of fluted glasses in my attache case here so why don’t we dive in before they get too hot?”
This was the moment I was not expecting. She burst into floods of tears. Then taking a quick step towards me she flung her arms round my neck and said, “Thank you John. Oh, thank you so much. How on earth did you know? Only my family do and they did not want me to come up at all as they thought the strain would be far too great. But, look I’m soaking you. Oh, I am sorry John. But did you mean it about the Champagne? I can’t stand it hot. And her lovely smile completely transformed her features. I wasn’t sure but I think that was the moment I fell very deeply in love with her.
The bubbly was consumed at a rather Formula one pace and Hazel was delighted to discover that I had a second bottle in my electric cold box. We both seemed to know instinctively that we didn’t want to be separated for even a few minutes and so I quickly got the problem out of the way by saying, “Oh, I’ve changed the hotel rooms and plane seats round, so you won’t have any trouble managing the tricky parts of the holiday. I shall be at your side at all times. Finally, on a practical note, my love, do you have serious trouble managing crowded or deserted places on your own, only, or are you ok as long as someone who understands your illness Is with you?”
She giggled deliciously. Actually John, I don’t know. When the really awful attacks hit me there is nothing I can do but hang on to someone like you. But I never get any warning.” That would be an eye opener for Steve, he assured me that could never happen. But it solved one problem for me. All I had to do was make sure her passport was as it should be and I could have her on that plane whenever I wanted.
“Hazel, don’t take this the wrong way, but I really do love you so I would hate to spoil this holiday for you by doing anything that might morally or otherwise upset you if you were treating it as a sort of pilgrimage to help you get better. Are you?” Now it was my turn not to know what to do. She replied,
“Yes, I am a Catholic and I was hoping this might show God how much I was prepared to put up with to deserve his help in curing me.”
I didn’t know what to say, so didn’t. I just gave her an affectionate hug and promised her I would never come between her and her God. She said she had never thought I would.
Throughout the visit to Rome several of my friends noticed how close Hazel and I had become, and we were the pair who usually made sure that some emails were sent to Peter every night. But more than that we were really happy together and on the Sunday morning of the Papal audience in saint Peter’s square I felt the first stirings of religious or spiritual love moving me and in an odd way drawing me much closer to Hazel. On the last night I asked her,
“My darling, where do we go from here? I want to marry you as soon as possible, it’s been very hard not making love to you, but I did promise. Can you teach me what I have to do to be able to marry you soon?
She gave me a lovely answer. “I am starting to feel a lot better already, John. Just carry on staying close to me and we’ll both get what we want very soon”.
And to show you just how true her words were we are incorporating pushing Peter round the eternal city after our exams in May, when he gets his wish, and we get our honeymoon.