More Than Words
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There was a pinching feeling in my chest that was making it hard to breathe, and I felt full and empty all at once. Full with the knowledge that Jessie believed in me, at least in my ability to write music. And empty because I was scared, so scared. I feared that if I had done what she’d described—once—it was only because it was an accident, or some strange bout of luck I’d never be able to re-create.
She smiled, cupping my cheek and running her thumb over my cheekbone. She looked so adorable sleepy. “Maybe you could try to think of something beautiful you’ve experienced—something that engaged all your senses—and put it to music. I know you can.” In her eyes I saw belief. In me. Her eyes fluttered and closed, her long dark lashes making crescents on her cheeks, her lips parting as she fell asleep.
I know you can.
I think you’re the most wonderful person I ever met.
Yes, Jessie believed in me—at least in my potential. She always had. Because she doesn’t know everything about you, a voice inside mocked. Maybe … but she believed in me right now, and tonight she was here, asleep in my bed. Warm and sweet and good. The far-off music I thought I’d heard at the edge of the church ruins overlooking the Loire River with Jessie the day before seemed to draw closer. I grasped a note, two, something coming together in my mind. Just a vague idea … not even a full melody, but … something. I pictured that little girl soaring high into the air and then falling quickly as the breeze rushed over her and she laughed with joy.
I know you can.
I waited for a while, watching Jessie sleep, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest, and then slipped out of bed, careful not to wake her. I shut off the light, plunging the bedroom into complete darkness, and tiptoed into the sitting room, closing the bedroom door behind me.
I think you’re the most wonderful person I ever met.
The music drew even closer, rising inside me, the melody taking form, the feeling of it washing over me. Jessie was right about what she’d said earlier—what else was music but emotion put to sound? And the emotions inside me right now felt pure and happy.
I grabbed for a sheet of ledger paper, my hands trembling with doubt, expecting the melody to fall apart at any moment, for the music to stop. But it didn’t. I glanced at the door to the bedroom, wanting to get something written down—anything, please anything—but also wanting to crawl back into bed with Jessie, to feel her warmth against me, to breathe in her scent, and to know her in the dark.
My hand captured the music that swelled inside my mind, maybe even my heart, though I’d never been able to tell the two apart. I wrote, crumpling up pages, but keeping others, and before I knew it, the light of the rising sun was creeping through a gap in the curtain, casting the room in pale shades of gold, growing brighter than the lamp I’d been using on the desk.
My hand felt cramped and my back sore as I blinked and looked around. My God, I’d written all night. My heart beating quickly, I riffled through the pages in front of me and saw that I had the entire beginnings of a composition. I scanned through the pages, humming the notes as they danced between the staves. And I thought it was … decent. I swallowed. It was getting there. Maybe. My heart beat faster with fear and with elation and with the desire to keep writing and writing and writing. I almost laughed out loud, or maybe I really did, because a moment later the door opened and Jessie was standing there, looking disoriented and disheveled and completely gorgeous. “What are you doing?” she asked, her voice throaty with sleep.
Her eyes moved to the desk and then back to me, and she smiled. “You artists,” she said teasingly, affection lacing her sleepy voice. “I have to go.”
“Yeah, okay.” I walked to where she stood and took her face in mine, kissing her lips softly. “Thank you for staying.”
She nodded and smiled her sweet smile. “Get some sleep, okay?”
Jessie pulled her khaki pants and blazer on over the T-shirt she’d borrowed and then made her way quickly to the door of my suite. “Text me later,” she called as she pulled the door closed behind her.
I went into the bedroom, flopping down on the bed with a smile. Rolling to the side, I smelled the pillow Jessie had slept on. It smelled like her, and I gathered it to me, clutching it to my chest as I fell asleep.
I dreamed, but not the dreams that haunted me—not the dreams of him. Not the dreams of his words and his fists. I dreamed of a dancing feather, just a wisp of downy white fluff, moving in the breeze in front of me, causing me to laugh out loud. I extended my arm, reaching for the feather as it swirled in the air, guiding my footsteps as I allowed it to lead the way. I was mesmerized—almost entranced—as it dipped and somersaulted, rose and spun, always just out of reach. Teasing, taunting. I hurried to catch up, my own movement increasing the push of air, causing it to fly forward, off the sidewalk, down a trail, over a slope, and along a set of train tracks, where it disappeared.
Inside an abandoned boxcar.
In the year of our Lord 1429, on the twelfth day of June
The moon is full tonight, so bright that one can see the blood still staining the grassy field where the battle was fought this morning. I found myself standing at the edge of that field staring out at it, a million questions running through my tired mind, when Captain “Horse’s Arse” Durand happened upon me on his way back to camp and inquired as to my lingering. I made a brief reference to the questions war naturally raises within one’s mind, and the impossible duff commented that only a girl would stand about philosophizing while men were injured and dying only a stone’s throw away.
I gasped in a breath of shock and said, “A girl? I’m hardly a girl, sir.”
He looked at me in that smug way of his with one eyebrow arched. “If God is designing boys who look like you, then our species is in trouble,” said the insolent scoundrel. Then he continued by saying, “Now, make yourself useful and go assist Jehanne rather than standing by uselessly contemplating the universe.” And with that he rode away.
The arrogant fool! With his big muscles and superior countenance. The way he struts through camp as if he himself owns the world and makes all the rules. Well, he does not rule me! I had been waiting in our tent all day and had assisted Jehanne from her uniform, cleaned and repaired it, and had but taken a moment to step outside for some air.
I stormed back to the tent, and though she was exhausted from the battle, Jehanne asked what was wrong, and I shared my brief run-in with the captain. She laughed, which served to smooth my ruffled feathers, and for a moment I was able to see the mirth in his ridiculousness.
“It is near impossible for a man who’s seen so much dying to understand God’s role in any of it,” said she.
“And you?” I asked softly, for my doubts are the same, much to my own shame. Why would God allow such suffering?
“Yes, me too,” she whispered, her voice fading with sleep. “But I must put my questions aside and answer the call nonetheless. That is what faith is. Knowing that though I do not have all the answers, God does, and he stands only for good.”
My heart aches to believe it, and yet how does one do so with the stench of death all around, with the blast of cannons ringing in your ears long after the fight has ended? I thought she’d fallen asleep, when a smile curved her lips and she said on a whisper, “And you, my friend, like that horse’s arse far more than you’re willing to admit just yet.”
A smile curved my own lips. I sensed a love story buried in the papers in front of me and wondered if we’d find out what became of Captain Durand and the girl dressed as a boy, traveling with an army and a saint.