I wish it were in a different room, he thought. He managed a smile. “Ruth, would you like me to go first?”
“If you have something, yes.”
“I do.” Philip lifted his right hand and pulled off his newly received 1979 Clarawalk High School class ring. “This is for you, not only as a present, but for you to always know I’m yours.” He smiled as her eyes widened. “I’ll never ask for it back. It’s yours. I’m yours.”
It wasn’t exactly a marriage proposal, but for the couple consisting of two eighteen-year-olds, it had the force of one. Tears welled in Ruth’s eyes as she took the ring. She wrapped her arms around her boyfriend and hugged him tight. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew it from the first moment I saw you.”
Philip laughed. I may not know much, but I know I want to face the future with her! “I did good, Ruth!”
She pulled away and crinkled her nose. “You did good? You did well!”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.” He raised his eyebrows. “So?”
“Tell me when you knew it—when you knew I was the one for you.”
Philip assumed a thoughtful pose. “It was—the Sadie Hawkins Dance.”
Ruth laughed. “Oh God! I was so scared to give you that note. So it was because I asked you?”
“It was what happened after we got to the dance.” He hugged her. “Most girls, Gail for instance, get on the dance floor and try to show off. They try to show everybody what a great dancer they are regardless if they have a date or not. From the moment we hit the dance floor, you never took your eyes off me. You danced with me. And I tried to keep moving with you.”
“Darn right I never took my eyes off of you. And that’s when you knew?”
“That’s when I knew that you were more interested in being with me than what it would do for your reputation. That’s also when I knew you saw me different than I even saw myself.” He turned to her. “I knew you were the one on our very first date.” He smiled. “I gave you your gift.”
Ruth raised her hand with the massive ring dangling from her middle finger. “After this, I’m not sure I can compete.” She hopped off the kitchen chair and disappeared into the living room. Ruth returned carrying a Christmas-wrapped rectangular box.
You didn’t buy me clothes, did you? This thought was interrupted the moment he took the box. Holy cow, this is heavy. “What is it?”
He opened the box in a flourish and stopped.
“You don’t like it.”
“I . . . I never expected this.” He finished unwrapping the blue leather-clad book that was titled in gold letters: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. He smiled. “Thank you.”
“Open it. I wrote on the inside.”
He opened the book and grinned wide as he read Ruth’s inscription: “To my athlete and scholar. I look forward to many more Shakespeare talks with you. Love, Ruth.” He laughed.
“Do you like it?”
“I do, Ruth. I do.” He pulled her close and said the three words again. “I love you, Ruth.”
Philip consented to sit in the back for the Pittsburgh trip as his father drove and his mother sat in the passenger seat on December 30, 1977. He hated not driving but hated the thought of parking his Chevy Impala in the metropolis of Pittsburgh worse. He brought the Shakespeare book and leafed through it as they wound their way through the circuitous Pennsylvania roads.
Although he would never admit this to anyone but Ruth, Philip began to understand the old English of Shakespeare. If I can get into the context of what’s happening, I can figure this out. He read Hamlet and found himself stumbling over references that only now made sense. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Upon the discussion of Hamlet seeing his father’s ghost, Philip pondered. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. He grunted as the centrifugal force from a sharp turn pushed him against the door. “Aren’t we going to get on the Interstate soon?”
“I told you that you shouldn’t try to read when we’re driving,” his mother commented.
“Once we get to Interstate 79, it should be a lot smoother.”
After twenty minutes of sharp turns, small towns with not much more than a main street, signal lights, and a slowdown for a deer sighting, the Bennet clan turned on Interstate 79 and headed south toward Pittsburgh. Philip resumed Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
There were the characteristically colorful characters, and Philip particularly liked the bawdy exchange between Hamlet and Ophelia, but in the end, he found the play to have a disturbing and common thread with Othello. Claudius is just like Iago: he wants the success that Hamlets’ father, the king, achieved, pours poison in his ear to kill him, becomes king himself, and marries the queen, and the result is total destruction—of the new King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Hamlet, and nearly everyone around them.
Philip closed the book and sat back. Does it have to be like that? Does all achievement result in the appearance of an Iago . . . of a Claudius? He frowned, deep in thought. Because the appearance of an Iago results in destruction. He thought of Ruth and nodded. I have to pursue success and a great cause. I have to! With his size and newfound calling, there was the nascent idea of a great cause—of a career—forming in his mind. I just have to realize an Iago will appear. What then? He worked his young mind to come up with a plan. Trust! That’s it. I never lose trust of Ruth, and I need to be very careful of whom to trust, particularly if they pit me against someone else.