By Kris Calvert
Shawn could feel her warm body shudder in his arms, and he knew it wasn’t because she was chilly. Snow began to fall right on cue as if he’d ordered the white stuff from the heavens himself, and he stared into her eyes and thought of nothing but kissing her.
“Well, this is what awkward looks like,” she said looking everywhere but his face.
“No.” Shawn pulled on her hands begging her to catch his gaze. “Awkward would be having you in an embrace like this,” he said, pulling her so close their hips collided. “And your ex-boyfriend, grandmother, or priest happened to catch me.”
Her breath quickened, the clouds of warm air giving away her excitement. “Catch you…what?”
“C’mon,” he said, pulling her along the pathway and quelling his urge to engulf her red lips. “I want to show you something.”
They walked in the gentle quiet the blanket of snow provided, as he weaved the two of them hand in hand through the lower part of the park. Content in their silence, Shawn lived on the intermittent squeezes she gave his fingers each time he ran his thumb across her knuckles.
When they made the turn into the Shakespeare Garden, Shawn turned to take both of her hands as he walked backwards. “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,” he said. “Quite over-canopied with lush woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
“Why are you quoting A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream?” Joanne narrowed her eyes and gave him the kind of suspicious smile that said she didn’t know where he was headed with his reference, but she was willing to play along.
“Don’t you like Bill?”
“Shakespeare. I might be an architect, but I believe in art—art in structure, art in performance, and most certainly art in words.”
Shawn let go of one hand to beckon Joanne into him. Looking to her feet, she reluctantly agreed to follow and rolled her eyes, nervous as to where he was taking her and the conversation.
“Well, just like you choose your words carefully in your video blog, which by the way I loved the post about scarves. I think you’re absolutely correct. They are fashion statements and not just something to throw around your neck in the winter.”
She dropped his hands, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Now you’re just mocking me.”
“I’m not,” he exclaimed. “I think you’re right. Form and function.”
Unmoving in her stance, Shawn knew he had only a moment to put the magic back in the moment.
Moving into Joanne, he refrained from touching her but matched her posture, crisscrossing his arms over his chest. “This is my point exactly. Words matter. It’s why one needs to choose them carefully. If you don’t,” he said, leaning his forehead into hers. “Someone might get the wrong impression.”
She broke into a smile. Shawn knew he’d finally tapped into the unspoken feelings he always believed were hidden just the below the surface of their friendship.
“Come here,” he said, pulling her farther into the garden. “I’ll prove it.”
“Prove what? she asked, taking his hand once more while he pulled her along begrudgingly by the arm.
He stopped them both in front of a twenty-foot granite bench that curled inward at each side. Placing his hand in the small of her back, he ushered her to the right hand side of the bench, setting her snuggly against the curve.
“It’s cold,” she said as he walked away.
“It’s worth it,” he replied. “Something remarkable is about to happen.”
Walking to the opposite end, Shawn sat and winced. She was correct. The granite was freezing.
“So?” she asked.
Shawn gave her a sly smile, turned his back, and began to whisper as softly as he could into the frigid granite. “Welcome to the whispering bench, Jojo.”
She didn’t have to say a word. The look on Joanne’s face told him everything he needed to know.
“What is this?” she whispered, turning into the bench herself.
“This is the whispering bench. Here, you can only tell the truest truths ever known.”
“What kind of truths?” she whispered into the bench.
Her words were loud and clear in Shawn’s ears.
“The kind of truths you keep to yourself deep in your heart. And remember, words matter.”
Shawn and Joanne sat in silence for only a moment.
She wasn’t sure if it was the buzz in her head or the butterflies in her stomach that spurred her bravery, but she opened her mouth and exactly what she was thinking came out. “I’ve always thought you were handsome.”
At first, she was stunned at her words but then she took a deep breath, deciding to buy into the only truths rule of the whispering bench. That and the fact that she didn’t have to look him in the face when she said it.
“I’ve always thought you were beautiful.”
“What?” Joanne said at full volume.
Shawn laughed soft and low as he turned around to gaze upon her flushed face. Circling his finger, he silently asking her to turn around again. Shawn leaned into the cold granite and whispered what he’d longed to say for years. “Jojo, I’ve always loved you.”