Wherefore Art Thou, Emajean?
A Friends of the Library Mystery
“Won’t you sit down?” László asked, gesturing to the table.
Emajean was still hesitant as she sat. “Usually at this time the doctors are elsewhere so I come in to have a little quiet cocoa. I really am sorry if I interrupted you.”
“Not at all! Is there some place where I too could get a cup of cocoa? It’s just that it reminds me of home, and for a moment, I had a bit of nostalgia,” László said.
“I bought it at the canteen. We can go there,” she said.
He frowned a little. “No, I don’t think I want to leave this room,” he said quietly.
“Is it because doctors don’t like to be seen in public with nursing students?” she asked.
“No,” he replied. “I like that it is just us here.”
“Then I’ll share. Here,” and she pushed the cocoa to him. The mustache of cocoa that covered his upper lip after he took a deep draught caused her to start giggling.
He took on a look of mock hurt. “Are you laughing at me? A poor foreigner trying to learn American customs?” he asked.
She bit her lip lightly. “No, it’s nothing foreign about you that makes me laugh. Even American boys get cocoa mustaches. It’s just very undignified for a medical student.”
He hung his head in pretend sorrow. “Ah,” he replied. “The stereotype of the doctor being too dignified to be human.”
She smiled, and reached across the table to retrieve her cocoa. László closed his hand around hers on the mug and said, “You may not have it until you tell me your name.”
Her smile grew wider and she said, “Jean. I like to be called Jean.”
He furrowed his brow and answered, “That sounds very American, short and to the point. It doesn’t seem ornate enough for you.”
She said, “Well yes, my parents named me Emajean but it sounds so old fashioned. I wanted to be called Jean once I came here.”
László tried it out, “Emajean.”
She had never heard her name pronounced with such precision wrapped in velvet. It made something inside her warm even more to this man. “All right. You may call me Emajean, but only you. Everyone else has to settle for Jean.”
“And already you have given me another gift,” he said.
“Another?” she inquired.
“Yes, first you started my heart. Second, you shared your cocoa. Third, you gave me exclusive use of your full name, Emajean,” he said.
There was something about the way he declared the gifts and finished with his caress of her name that Emajean knew she’d be a goner if she didn’t leave the room immediately. Suddenly the door flew open and a dark haired girl looked in. “They’re looking for you, Jean! Hurry up!” she called and ran off.
Emajean abandoned the cup, straightened her cap, and fled out the door.
They both knew where they’d be tomorrow at the same time.
From their beginning with cocoa, László and Emajean tried to progress as if they were colleagues. When others were around, they struggled to ignore the currents of electricity that ran between them. But in their second year, the inevitable occurred and thrown together by long shifts and difficult patients, the electricity matured into a deeper relationship, cemented by friendship and shared challenges.
When László was in his third year of medical school, his father died. This coincided with the world-wide depression so his father’s already small pension from the Hungarian government was worthless. As the only child, László was committed to caring for his mother and was making himself sick trying to decide what was best for her.
Uncle Teodor provided what appeared to be the perfect solution. He offered to pay for his sister-in-law’s passage to America. László agreed that it was a great idea. Unfortunately, his mother refused to get onto a ship that would cross the ocean. Anticipating her answer, Teodor had been urging the young man to finish a semester early, quickly take his exams, and then go to Hungary to bring his mother back to Chicago. Teodor had picked up the current that ran between his nephew and a young Irish nurse, so his additional hope was that the trip would give the young man an opportunity to be immersed in all good things Hungarian, and the Irish girl would no longer appeal to him.
László suspected that his uncle had such an intention, but his suspicion was of no consequence to his decision. He was torn between the duty to his mother, and his love for Emajean. László also knew that if he left immediately following his exams, he would not be considered for further specialization studies, and might even have trouble finding a position practicing medicine when he returned.