The Wanderings of Amy Ch. 27bycaligula97236©
Chapter 27 - The Final Summer
At the end of May Burnside was in a rare upbeat mood when she returned from Europe with Wendy. She had met with the directors of several economics institutes and obtained what she wanted, scholarship slots for several of her students to study in different locations in France, Belgium, and Great Britain. Burnside already had picked the students. Now they were on their way to Europe, for stints ranging from six months to a year.
Burnside's way of operating was to make the scholarship arrangements first, then tell the student in question. There was always a backup student in her mind in case her first pick could not, or did not want to, go. Burnside hated making promises and raising people's hopes unless she was absolutely sure that she could deliver. The only thing that Burnside hated more than a person who made undelivered promises was one who cheated. Burnside was a good judge of character as far as picking promising students for the overseas scholarships program. Only once in her career did her first pick turn down one of Burnside's scholarship arrangements.
Two weeks after Burnside returned from Europe she sent an e-mail to Amy. The wording was typical.
See me in my office at 9:00 am tomorrow. Confirm receipt of this message. - Burnside -
Amy showed up at Burnside's office the next day. Typically, she did not know what to expect. Typically, Burnside got right to the point. She asked Amy to sit down, a good sign.
"Amy, you know that this department has student exchange programs with the EU. I was in Europe making arrangements for students from here to represent our economics department at institutes in Brussels, Paris, London, and Edinburgh. You are the pick for London. You're going to London for the next academic year."
Amy stared at Burnside in shock. She had known Burnside for almost two years, and yet the professor never seemed to run out of ways to confound her student. London. A year in London.
Burnside continued. "Sorry about not giving you prior warning, but I don't like promising things to students and then have them fall through. Anyhow here is your packet." Burnside handed several thick envelopes to Amy. "Do you have a passport?"
Amy shook her head.
"Well, you'll need to get one. Here's a passport application"
Amy still did not know how to respond. She never would have guessed that she was a candidate in the department's Europe exchange program. Burnside, looking at her stunned student, prodded her to speak.
"Well, Amy, do you have any thoughts about this?"
"I...I...don't know what to say. I'm...honored. I never guessed that...you wanted me."
"Well, I have my reasons. You'll make a good representative of this university and of the US in Europe. I can guarantee you will have a tough time over there. Over there they hate Americans and they think we are a bunch of idiots. The bad thing about it is that the Europeans are right. We are a bunch of idiots. We're a nation of fluff. You'll need to convince the people you come across otherwise."
"But why me?"
"Real simple. You can handle Europe. People there won't like you because of where you're from, and you will be able to overcome it. You'll acquire knowledge over there that you can bring back with you. Your work is excellent and you will be able to make a contribution here when you get home."
Burnside's sharp eyes scanned her student. She continued.
"Amy, you're smart. You have character. You proved to me that you can learn under any circumstances. You're tough. What I like about you is that you don't look tough, which makes people underestimate you. But you are. You survived the streets. You screwed up twice under me and got past it. You can make mistakes and recover from them. I'd rather have that than a student who never made a mistake and then falls flat on her face when hit with a real crisis for the first time. I've seen that and I can tell you it isn't pretty to watch."
"Get that passport application turned in ASAP. Read over your papers and write down your questions. Some of this stuff is complicated so it will fill up some time. Be back here tomorrow with everything filled out. You can e-mail me if you need any help with the paperwork."
With that Amy was dismissed.
At first Amy was elated. London! She was going to London!
It was not until Amy saw Paul later that morning that she began to realize the huge sacrifices that she would have to make to go to Europe. They previously had agreed to meet for late morning breakfast and then spend the rest of the day together. Amy's mood suddenly went from elation to an overwhelming feeling of impending loss. She realized that she would go a year without seeing Paul. She would not see Suzanne, or Wendy, or Robert. She would be on her own, in a somewhat hostile environment. Suddenly she no longer wanted to go. The personal sacrifices would simply be too much.
Amy still had her oversized folders in her backpack. She sat down with Paul. He had no trouble figuring out that something was wrong with Amy; it was all over her face. He did not say anything until they had their breakfast ordered. The server left them with their coffee, giving them a few minutes before their meal would be ready.
"Amy, you might as well tell me what's up."
Amy sighed. She could not say anything. She simply pulled out the cover letter from her packet and handed it to Paul. At once she saw, in his face, his happiness at her upcoming opportunity, and then his concern that she would be gone over the next year.
"Well, congratulations. I'm jealous. Do you know how hard it is to get one of these scholarships?"
"They're competitive, I know that. I never guessed that I was a candidate. Burnside hit me with this when I went to her office this morning."
"So when do you leave?"
Amy thumbed through her papers. Finally she found one that described an orientation that started August 15.
"According to this I have to be there by the middle of August. I guess that has me leaving here sometime during the first or second week of August."
Paul studied Amy's face. She did not look happy at all.
Paul asked to see the folders. He thumbed through the ones that were open and was impressed by the range of material that Amy would be studying in just a year. There was no question this would be a rough year for her. She was not going to Europe for a vacation. As he reviewed the projects he suspected that she would be kept busy even between terms with reports, seminars, and extra coursework. There were seminars on the Continent she would be going to as well as ones around Great Britain.
Paul was excited for her. Upon getting back Amy would be able to get into any graduate program in the US, or even go back to Europe if she wanted. He looked up from the papers into her face. He did not like her expression.
"Amy, why the sad look? Don't you realize how lucky you are?"
"I don't know, Paul. I don't know if I want to go."
"What are you talking about? This is your big chance. Remember what I told you about Burnside last fall when she made you her student aide? That she had something in mind for you? This must have been it. She must have been thinking about sending you to Europe since last summer."
"I don't get it. Why me?"
"You'll never understand Burnside. She has her own logic. But I'm telling you that I had her figured out last fall. Now I'm sure she wanted to get you ready to send to Europe. Did she tell you why she picked you?"
"She said that she liked me because she thought I was tough. She said that I always got past my mistakes. She told me that I could handle Europe and the anti-American feelings over there."
"Well, she's right about the anti-American bit. You don't live in France as an American for a year without dealing with it on a daily basis. I've heard the Brits are almost as bad. I also think she's right about you being able to handle it and to get something out of this program."
The breakfast came and the conversation was interrupted while they ate. Amy thought about her future. Suddenly she realized her future was not in Europe. Her future was in Chicago with the people she loved. She had spent too much time alone. She needed Paul. She needed Suzanne, Robert, and Wendy. She needed to start her family and her life.
"Paul, this is not my big chance. This is nothing but a chance to spend a miserable year, by myself, 4,000 miles from here. My big chance is you. I'm not going anywhere. I'll turn the papers back to Burnside tomorrow. She can send someone else."
Paul was not surprised by Amy's announcement, but he opposed her decision. He knew Amy well enough to know that if he argued with her, she only would be more determined to stay. As painful as it would be for him, he had to force her to go.
"Amy, promise me you will think about this some more before saying anything to Burnside."
"I made my decision, Paul. I'm not going. I'm staying with you."
"Amy, just don't say anything to Burnside till tomorrow. Promise?"
"Alright, I won't say anything to her till tomorrow. I'll give it some more thought, but my decision is made."
Paul made an excuse to break away from Amy. He had to think quickly to force her to change her mind. Paul was forced into making the most painful decision he would ever have to make, but ultimately his most important one.
Amy had to go to Europe. Paul realized that if she did not go, they would enjoy each other's company over the fall and into the winter. Amy would finish her BA and they would enjoy Christmas together. She would enter graduate school, probably in Chicago. They would have a lovely year with each other.
Paul realized that if Amy's life followed that route, she would be happy, for a while. They would be happy together, for a while. Then, over time, Amy would start to wonder, "What if?" What if she had gone to London? What if she had come back after spending her year abroad? What lost opportunities would there have been for her? Then, very slowly, the question of "What if?" would begin to poison her relationship with Paul. Paul saw that happen with his parents. He saw it happen with his sister and her boyfriend.
There was no point in talking to Amy now. She had made up her mind and only later would she regret her decision, when it was too late. Paul realized that there was only one way he could force Amy to change her mind. He would have to change his own life, to make himself unavailable to Amy over the next year. He would be gone, and that would force Amy to leave as well. Paul knew what he had to do.
He drove to a military recruiting office. He talked to both an Air Force Reserve recruiter and an Army Reserve recruiter. Paul decided to go with the Army Reserves. He signed a contract for a military intelligence position and training as a linguist. He would be in training over the next 11 months, starting in August. He negotiated payment of his college expenses through the GI bill. That resolved one problem in Paul's life, his increasing debt. The recruiter asked Paul if he wanted any time to think over his contract. Paul said no. He took a series of tests, then went downtown with the recruiter to have the contract finalized, swore in, and worked with the recruiter past closing time to set up his training dates. The recruiter was surprised. Paul was a quality recruit, and there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted this, and wanted it fast. By 7:00 p.m. Paul was locked into a commitment with the US Army for the next 6 years as an active reservist, 2 years as an inactive reservist. With a copy of his contract in his hand Paul went to see Amy at her apartment.
Amy's folders were on the dining room table, with several unopened envelopes full of forms. She planned to turn them back over to Burnside first thing tomorrow morning. The only reason that she had not given them back to Burnside in the afternoon was because she had promised Paul to think about it until tomorrow. Some other lucky student could go to London, not her.
As soon as she saw Paul at her door, Amy could tell that he had made a difficult decision. It was all over his face. She saw a folder in his hand. Immediately she knew that whatever was in that folder was what he needed to talk to her about. They threw their arms around each other in the doorway.
"Amy, let's sit down."
They sat together on Suzanne's living room sofa. Amy increasingly worried about the papers in Paul's hand. Obviously they were significant.
"Amy, I'm...not going to be here next year. I'm going to be in Missouri in the fall for Basic Training, then I'll be in California over the winter and spring. I'll be back in July, about the time you get back."
Paul handed Amy the folder. Amy gasped when she opened it and saw his military contract. Paul sighed, and continued.
"I'd been thinking about this anyway, because I'm worried about my student loans. It makes sense that I'll be in California...while you're in London." Paul could not look at Amy for a few moments. His eyes were moist and his hands shook.
Amy had to absorb the shock. She had been trying to get a hold of Paul all afternoon. So this is where he had been, getting his Army contract set up. She started to cry. She grabbed hold of him and he put his arms around her.
"Paul, no! Please!"
"It's done. I'm going to California. You're going to London. My contract is signed. I swore in today. I insisted on getting it done today so you couldn't talk me out of it. Now you have to go as well. Even if you don't...I won't be here. I'll be gone."
Tears ran down Paul's cheeks. Amy cried into his shoulder. He put his hand on her head and pressed his face into her hair. Amy was devastated. How could she be separated from him for a year? For a long time they sat on the sofa, crying and not saying anything.
Finally Paul managed to speak again.
"Amy, if you don't go to London, later you'll always wish you had. I can't have that hanging over my head. I can't be the reason you didn't reach your full potential. I'd rather you not see me again than for you to wreck your career because you love me. This is your big chance. You can't blow it because of me. And it's not like I'm making such a big sacrifice in my own career to get out of Chicago for a year. I need to get some money from somewhere or I'll have the collection agencies down my throat."
Slowly Amy began to realize that Paul was right. He was looking out for himself as well as for her. She had been somewhat aware of his financial problems. By now she easily had the money necessary to pay his college expenses, but she also knew that there was no way he would accept an offer from her to help him financially. Now he had found his own way to solve his financial situation. Amy respected him for that. Whatever else might happen in their futures, Amy had the assurance that Paul would never try to live off her.
For a long time Paul and Amy sat quietly, holding on to each other. Finally they calmed down enough to deal with their immediate problem, filling out Amy's scholarship packet. Paul got a butter knife out of the kitchen, held it to the flap of one of Amy's envelopes with paperwork, and cut it open. He passed the open envelope to Amy and cut open the others. With the envelopes opened Amy now was committed. She was going to London, no matter what. Paul felt a huge sense of relief, mixed with huge sadness, as he watched Amy pull the papers out of the first envelope he had cut open for her. He passed her a pen.
The next day Amy was in Burnside's office. For some reason she felt the urge to confide her doubts with her professor, even though the paperwork was filled out and back in Burnside's file cabinet. Amy told Burnside about her doubts, the fact she initially decided not to go, and the fact that Paul had forced her to change her mind by joining the Army Reserves. Burnside looked at Amy intently and listened with interest, but not with her usual fierce expression. She had suspected that Amy would have a hard time accepting the offer because of Paul.
Burnside thought about Amy's boyfriend. He loved Amy enough to worry about what was good for her. He loved her enough to sacrifice a year from his own life to assure that Amy could reach her full potential. Burnside already had a favorable opinion of Paul prior to this morning. For a political science student he was respectable, even if he was committed to majoring in a field of fluff. Now Burnside saw Paul's true inner strength. He really would do anything for Amy, including let her go. Burnside hoped that the relationship between Paul and Amy could weather this year of separation. If Paul and Amy could get back together after a year of separate experiences, their relationship would something special indeed.
Burnside was relieved that it was Paul, not Amy, who settled the situation. Amy would be forced to complete her year in Britain, because until next July, she would not have Paul to go back to. More importantly, Amy had faced and overcome her doubts here, instead of confronting them in London. Amy truly was ready to go.
Wendy spent June and July repairing the relationship with her parents. At first her father seemed more willing to treat her normally than her mother. Wendy's mother still was convinced that the best thing for Wendy would be for her to return to Taipei and find a husband through her uncle. To the surprise of both Wendy and her mother, Wendy's father disagreed. Her father insisted that Wendy needed to begin training to take over the family business immediately. Wendy was shocked when, within a week of her return from Europe, her father asked her to accompany him to work. He opened his books to her, tried to figure out what Wendy already had picked up in her classes, and began to explain the day-to-day operations of his business transactions.
Wendy spent 14-hour days with her father throughout the first half of the summer. They worked together seven days per week as Wendy's knowledge of business quickly surpassed anything she could have picked up in her classes. There was urgency in her father's behavior as her pushed her to learn what she would need to know to take over. There was no hint of his reluctance to have a woman run his business, no comments about women's incompetence about money. There was no mention of Wendy's foray into gambling the previous year.
What Wendy did not know was that her father had visited her great grandmother's fortune teller while she was in Europe. The fortune teller told Wendy's father that an unnamed disaster was about to strike down the family.
Wendy finally broke away from her father on the last day of June to spend an afternoon with Amy. Wendy's first task was to turn in the final set of her comic strip drawings to Suzanne for publication. After having lunch with Suzanne and Robert they went to Robert's office to get Wendy's jewelry back. With her pendent around her neck and her ring and earrings back on, Wendy knew that her crisis had passed. Amy was happy to sign the paperwork ending her power of attorney arrangement over Wendy's finances. Wendy looked with surprise at her balance when Amy handed her checkbook back. Amy had done an excellent job in managing the paychecks from Wendy's book and her art. "I need to talk to my father to see what he thinks I should do with this." There was no indication that Wendy would squander her latest income. She truly had recovered from her gambling addiction enough that she could now control her urges.
After lunch, Amy and Wendy went for a walk along the lakeshore downtown . Amy noticed how much Wendy had changed from last year as they walked next to the shore, enjoying the breeze from the water. Wendy seemed happy, but also driven and determined. She had changed, and with Amy headed to Europe, they would be going their separate ways. Both Wendy and Amy felt a sense of regret that the paths of their lives would soon separate them, but each held a special place in her heart and her memories for the other. They stopped on the sidewalk in a spot where they had a rail to lean on, and for a long time looked out over the lake and the boats clustered along the shore. Wendy finally spoke, her voice full of emotion.