CHAPTER Thirty-nine: FOOTBALL, AND A LIE DETECTED

 

    Sunday morning, Greg was up early. He took a quick walk into the woods area, and saw a few warblers, but no significant numbers of anything. With time to spare before his dance lesson, he decided to check out some of the refuge ponds. The hunt activity at the east end of the refuge had acted to congregate most of the ducks in the closed area, and there were large numbers of a variety of species. He also found a few whistling swans, the first arrivals of the season. Overhead, he was surprised that there were still barn swallows present, even though their insect food supply had obviously dwindled in the late season.

    Back at headquarters, he cleaned up a little bit, then headed for town. Mandy had already moved the furniture around to give them a larger dancing space.

   “Have you practiced every day?”

   “Almost every day.”

  “Good. You want to do it enough that it just becomes automatic – you don’t find yourself counting your steps, or anticipating your moves. And do the guidance part – the little moves to tell your partner where you want her to go -  even if it seems a little weird when dancing by yourself. Well, let’s try a little.”

   She started the record player, then waited for him to take her in his arms. “Do a box,” she directed. He did, and while they were executing that move, she told him to do another. “Now, move us ahead. And again.” She stopped them, and turned off the record.

   “Not bad, but we weren’t very smooth, and we stumbled a little bit. Do you know why?”

   “I think it was because I was listening to you, and trying to anticipate where we were going next.”

   “That’s exactly what was happening. Why was that messing us up?”

   He looked at her for clarification.

  “When we dance, Greg, you are the leader. You decide what we’re going to do, then you give the little body suggestions to me so I know where to move. You had this backseat driver trying to take control, when you’re the one who should call the shots.”

   Greg laughed. “So, you were purposely messing with me.”

   “I was. Now, let’s try it again, and you decide what steps we’re going to take, and where we’re going to go.”

   She started up the record, and held out her arms to him. They moved around the room, with him varying their steps between boxes and progressions forward. He even turned her slightly a couple of times (a move she hadn’t shown him) so that they eventually made a circle all the way around the room.

   “That felt very nice! Hey, Mom,” she called. “Can you come in here a minute?” Alice appeared in the doorway. “Come and dance with my pupil. I want to see his moves from a distance.”

   Alice didn’t need any encouragement. She and Greg moved around the floor as gracefully as Greg had moved with Mandy.

   “I thought so,” said Mandy, when the record had finished. “You are ready for another dance step. Thanks, Mom.”

   Alice gave Greg a good hug and a kiss on the cheek before leaving. “Thank you, Greg. That was lovely!”

  “Let’s sit a minute,” said Mandy. They both settled on the sofa. “You really are getting good, Greg. But remember, Mom and I are just stand-ins for the ‘dream girl’ that you are planning to literally sweep off her feet. Keep practicing, particularly in making your moves fluid. The waltz isn’t really a sexy dance, but it’s – what’s a good word? Sensual? You want to make your moves a subtle suggestion of what  might happen later that night.”

   “You’re not supposed to know anything about later happenings, young lady.”

  “Hah! So, now that you are – or maybe I am – making me blush, let’s change the subject. I want to start you on another dance, the fox trot. Like the waltz, you can use it at every dance you go to. It’s a little upbeat compared to the waltz, but pretty easy to learn the basic steps.”

   She got up off the couch, and went to the far end of the room.  “This is sort of like a waltz step, but it’s a different tempo. I’m you, so I start on my left foot and take a long, slow stride forward. I do the same with the right, then move quickly to the side, and bring my feet together. So, it’s slow – slow – quick-quick. Again: slow, slow, quick-quick. Come up, and we’ll do your moves side by side.”

   They did a few moves together. “That’s good. Now, we want it to be smooth, not jerky. So, even when we go to the side, it’s quick but smooth. Does that make sense? Slow – slow – quick-quick. Maybe the quick-quick should have an exclamation point after it, to remind that it’s smooth but quick. Now, let’s do it  as partners. Remember, like in the waltz, you’re going to make little moves with your arms or body that alert me to where I should go.”

   They tried a few, without any problems. “See, it’s a pretty easy basic step. But we’re still pretty rigid. The secret of the fox trot is that it’s a little more show-boaty. We do what we were just doing, but we start with our knees a little bent – our upper bodies are a ways apart, but our knees are flexed so that they’re almost touching. Then, when we take our step, we kind of slink along. Do you get what I mean? Here, I’ll do it by myself, so you can watch for a distance.”  She took a few steps with the extra crouch and “bounce.”

   “I’ve seen couples dance like that. It does look kind of show-boaty, but kind of sensual, too.”

   “Exactly. Shall we try?”

   The first tries weren’t perfection, but Greg was getting the idea.

   “Let me put on a record, and we’ll do a few more advances,” said Mandy. They did, and it was going pretty well by the time the record ended.

   “That’s a good start. Next time, I want to show you a couple of variations in the waltz, and then add some moves to the fox trot”

   “That sounds good. I won’t be able to do it next weekend, though. I’m going to watch a football game with your sister, but with night times together before and after.”

   “I suspect you will both enjoy the game.”

   “I suspect we will. Thanks, Mandy.”

***

Mandy to Vic

Tuesday morning, Oct. 19

   Here, Sister dear, is the manly-appearing chain for your beloved’s ring. I like it. I think he will, too. Mom’s mailing it this morning. (I didn’t tell her exactly what she was mailing - just that it was a birthday trinket -  because I didn’t want to end up talking about the rings. That’s your problem.)

  Jeannie says hello. She wondered how you two were doing.

  Mom says don’t worry about paying her back for the ‘trinket.’ She’ll just deduct it from your inheritance. (I guess that means I get a little more!)

   Greg stops by occasionally, when he is in town. It’s nice to see him. He says your football session this next weekend will last through a couple of nights. I bet you both enjoy that game!

   Well, enough of my sly innuendo. I need to make sure this gets in the mail.

 I love you, Sis.

 Mandy

***

   Chuck and Greg spent most of Monday and Tuesday in the office, finishing up the narrative report and getting it ready to mail to the Regional Office. Greg added as much miscellaneous wildlife and habitat information as he could think of, but was still somewhat dissatisfied at how boring was the report. Chuck just laughed. “Narratives are boring. That’s how God made them!”

   Wednesday, they drove together through the refuge to the hunting area. Just beyond the “narrows,” a golden eagle flew up off the road. Two more were circling over the marshes.

   “Probably going after crippled birds,” Chuck observed. “If waterfowl are wing shot, they may be able to glide on into the closed area, but then the eagles are looking for easy meals.”

   At the Fish and Game check station, the checkers were a little restless. There were only a few hunters still out, although there had been more, earlier in the day.

   “How have they been doing?” asked Greg.

   “Generally,  only fair,” said Todd.  “Two or three birds per bag, mostly. With it so clear, the birds have flying pretty high, and I think there’s been a bit of ‘sky busting’ – maybe more cripples than usual, with hunters trying for the long shots.”

   “Yeah,” said Chuck, “We saw several golden eagles down the road; looks like they were scouting for easy pickings. Well, we’ll leave you to your boredom; probably be back through later.”

   Back in the truck, Chuck suggested they grab a burger while they were this close. Greg didn’t need to be coaxed. At the diner, there was one car in the parking lot, and two men – obviously hunters – were drinking coffee inside.

   “I know these guys,” whispered Chuck, as they entered. He went over to the table. “Doug, good to see you.” Doug rose, and shook hands. “You know Paul?” He gestured to his companion.

   “Seen him around. Hi, Paul. This is Greg, my assistant.”

   Cora came over with the coffee pot. ”You here to arrest these loafers, Chuck?”

   “Not today. We were hoping for burgers, if you’re not too busy.”

   “Jackson, you hear that?” Cora yelled to the cook, then turned back to the table. “If you had come to make an arrest, I was going to have to reluctantly give these guys an alibi. They spend more time in here drinking my coffee than they do out hunting.”

   “Come on, Cora!” protested Paul. “It’s cold out there in the marsh. The government hasn’t installed heaters. We have to come in here to thaw out.”

   “You want to join us, Chuck?” asked Doug.  “I think Cora has at least one table in here large enough to seat four grown men.”

   “Grown is right. Sure, mess up another table. I’ll be here all day just cleaning up after you.” She finished pouring coffee, and went back to the counter. The four men moved to a larger table.

   “Do any good this morning?” asked Chuck.

   “Fair,” Doug replied. “I got three, Paul bagged four. Birds are flying awful high. You have to get pretty lucky to have something come close to you.”

   “How often have you been out?”

   “Let’s see. We were here for the opener. Didn’t get a limit but, what Paul? We both got five?”

   “Yeah. We’ve been out twice since. Pretty much bluebird weather, but we’ve done as well as anybody, I think.”

   “Fish and Game treating you okay?”

  “Oh, sure. We miss Cal, but this new guy – Todd – he’s pretty likeable.”

  Cora brought the burgers. Doug stood up. “We better get going. Cora gets pretty grouchy if she has to serve more than two people at a time.”

   She met them at the cash register. “I don’t want to see you boys back here. You’ve already ruined our record for fewest customers in a day.”

   Doug leaned across the counter, and kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll always come back for you, Cora my love.”

   Jackson was just coming out of the kitchen. “Watch it, Doug. That’s my woman you’re toying with.”

   Cora made shooing motions toward the door. “Get out of here, you two, before you break up my happy home.” They left. “My stars!” said Cora. “The impudence of that boy. Why, I’m old enough to be his…” She paused. “Old enough to be his sister!”

   Jackson had sidled over next to her. He kissed her on the cheek. “Good save there, dearie!”

  Chuck and Greg had been alternately eating and taking in the sideshow. Jackson and Cora came over and joined them.

   “Busy morning?” asked Greg.

   “We had a few bunches early. Nobody but those two for the last hour or so,” replied Jackson. “Are there more to come?”

   “I think Todd said there were only two parties still out, He was going to close up shop as soon as they leave.”

   They chatted about the hunt for a while. “Your moving plans coming together, yet?” Cora asked Chuck.

   “No, we probably won’t know anything for certain until spring. I’ve started to put some feelers out – trying to get some advance ideas about what might be available. Problem is, there just aren’t that many refuge manager positions that come open at any given time. You have to be ready to get your oar in, quickly.”

   “Greg said you were thinking about North Dakota?”

   “I think that’s our choice, if we can get there. Alice and I are both feeling a little homesick, and with our ageing parents all there…”

   “North Dakota!” snorted Jackson. “How could anybody want to go back to that flat, bitter cold, God-forsaken place?”

   “Be nice, Jackson,” Cora chided him.

   “Just kidding. ‘Home’ is location, but also sights, sounds, smells, family, memories… Probably, mostly memories.”

    “You got that right.”

   “I guess southern Idaho is home for us. We haven’t lived many places, but this has always seemed good. Right, Cora?”

   “I’d say so. What about your home, Greg?”

   He thought about that a moment. “I don’t think I know. My few places and my accumulating memories are not coalescing, yet.”

 

   As they left the diner, Greg asked Chuck about Jackson’s and Cora’s family. “They had a boy. He died in his ‘teens. Some kind of agricultural accident. I think Cora has a sister around here someplace. There may not be anybody else.”

   Two groups of hunters pulled into the parking lot as they pulled out. Not far behind was the Fish and Game truck. Chuck stopped alongside them, and rolled down the window. “Everybody out, now?”

   “Yep, all closed up.,” replied Todd.  “Those last couple of groups didn’t get much – finally gave up from discomfort and frustration, I think. See you later.”

   Greg and Chuck continued on to headquarters. The eagles were still surveying the water areas near the “narrows.”

   “I’ve been planning to take tomorrow and Friday off,” volunteered Chuck. “I have a little accumulated leave to use up, and Alice and I have some plans. No problem for you, is it?”

   “No, I’ll be fine.”

   “Well, I think I’ll head for town just as soon as we close up here.”

 

***

   Vic’s week was pretty quiet. She had a few things to share with Greg, but not enough to really write in a letter – and he probably wouldn’t get it before he arrived, anyway. She was still interested in the “peace march” that did or didn’t occur, and decided to take one more look at the newspapers in the library. Obviously, she couldn’t read every article in every paper. She thought the best she could do was look in the May editions for headlines that mentioned a march. She didn’t find anything like that, but in the May 24 edition, she found that the Young Democrats had hosted a meeting with Senator Frank Church to talk about Vietnam. About 100 ISU students and faculty had attended. Senator Church had stated pretty plainly that he didn’t think a military victory was possible in Vietnam,  and he favored a negotiated peace. In what seemed to Vic a rather contrary message, he said he did favor the heavy bombing of the country now going on, but only to bring the other side to the peace table!

   Looking a little farther ahead, on August 1 she found that the newly-organized Young Democrats of Bannock County had elected officers. They included several ISU students. The article noted that, up to that time, the Young Democrats chapter at ISU was the only one in the county, and that they would continue as a separate entity. She didn’t find any additional mention of the organization in relation to Vietnam.

   A librarian came over, and asked if Vic was finding what she needed.

   “No, I was trying to find some information on a ‘peace march’ that was supposed to have taken place here last spring. I don’t find any mention of it.”

   “Hmm. I don’t remember anything like that. Dr. Obeler would be the one to talk to. He follows that kind of thing closely.”

   “Dr. Obeler?”

   “He’s our head librarian. He writes letters to the editor, and speaks at political forums, and such. He’s not on campus right now, but he’d be the one to ask.”

   “Thanks. That sounds like a good lead.”

   “Oh, there’s somebody else, too. Dr. Obermayr in the Art Department. A few years back, he helped some Negro men try to integrate a café in town. There was a fight, where one of the employees pulled a knife, or something. I don’t remember the details. Anyway, Dr. Obermayr ended up as a witness in court against the employee. He’s also written some letters about Negro rights. Oh wait, I remember now that he wrote a letter about ‘peace marches’, just a couple weeks ago. I think I can find it.”

   She did find it. On September 14,  Dr. Obermayr had responded to an earlier letter, in which the writer had condemned all “so called freedom marches” as excuses for vandalism and riots, and mostly planned and instigated by the Communists.

   The librarian came back to check on Vic. “Wow, that is really interesting. Can we find the August 27 letter that Dr. Obermayr was responding to?”

   The earlier letter, signed only with initials, started out as a condemnation of vandals who had recently  used their cars to tear up a city park. According to the writer, this was all part of the breakdown of law and order, also characterized by the recent riots in Los Angeles and by “freedom marches.” If not actually instigated by Communists, they were certainly welcomed by them. He compared the effects of the riots in Los Angeles to the riots of natives in the Congo. His point wasn’t clear, but Vic was pretty sure it was racist!

   Well, she’d have some information to share with Greg – just not what they thought.

***


   Greg wouldn’t meet Vic until noon, but he left early. He chatted for a while with the Fish and Game folks – pretty quiet hunt day – then went on to Pocatello. Although Christmas was still a long ways away, he wanted to be sure he got to a good book store before then, to get Vic something he thought she would really like.

   He wasn’t sure what that would be, but in the book store, the first thing that caught his eye was a newly-released book by Lloyd Alexander, “The Black Cauldron.” He didn’t usually buy new, hard-bound books, but he remembered how much Vic had loved the first Alexander book about the pig farmer, and suddenly the price didn’t matter to him.

   Next, he was surprised to find a fairly recent paperback edition of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” It was an older book - published first in the ‘30s, he thought – but he had heard that it was experiencing a resurgence of interest, as were the Tolkien sequels. He had really enjoyed it, and with fairies, elves, trolls – and, of course, the little hairy-footed hobbits – he thought Vic would love it, too. He bought both books, and hid them under the seat of his car.

   After a stop for burgers, he arrived at Vic’s dorm, and again played the chauffeur picking up the manager’s daughter. They shared a quick kiss at the far end of the parking lot, then went on to the motel. They settled comfortably side by side on the couch with burgers, fries, and drinks. They didn’t say much until all the food was gone.

   “Five days apart is much better than two weeks – or three weeks – apart,” Vic offered, finally.

   “Agreed. It was better, but still long.”

   They sat in silence for a while longer, then told each other about how their week had gone. Vic described her visit to the library: her inability to find anything about the “peace march,” but about the Young Democrats meeting with Senator Church about Vietnam, and about the art teacher being involved in an integration attempt. “I didn’t know that happened in Idaho,” she said. “I’d like to know more about both of those subjects. Both professors sound like good leads.”

  Greg didn’t have much to report. He talked about visiting with the presumed “water pirate,” and about going back to Cora’s and Jackson’s with her dad. “That was a little hard for me, at the end. Your dad talked about how he and your mom know their real place is in North Dakota. Jackson and Cora were just as sure that they had all they wanted or needed here in Idaho. They asked me where ‘my place’ was, and I couldn’t tell them. I think I love the redwood area more than any other place I’ve lived, but all my best memories are here in Idaho with you.”

   She was quiet a moment. “I don’t think I’m either a North Dakotan or an Idahoan. I think maybe you and I are going to find ‘our place’ together. Who knows where it will be, but it will be ours, for sure.

   “To change the subject (but not forget it), we won’t be together for your birthday on Wednesday, and I have a present I’d like to give you before then.”

   “Does it involve a silky-looking pair of white pajamas?”

   “No.” She paused. “Well, maybe, or maybe not. We’ll see. But the part I am going to give you now is in my overnight bag. Let me get it.” She retrieved a small box, and handed to him. He opened it, and found a silver chain to hold his ring when it wasn’t on his finger.

   “Mandy and Jeannie picked it out. We thought it would be safer, and look better, than the   shoe lace you’ve been using.”

   Greg admired the chain. “It wasn’t a shoe lace; it was a very strong cord. But you’re right, this is much classier. Thanks to all three of you. I like it very much.”

   Neither was very hungry, but they decided to go out and walk around a bit, and see if they could find something interesting. It was a clear evening, and the temperature was already near freezing. They took a brisk walk, then ended up back in the motel coffee shop for pieces of pretty good apple pie. In their room, they watched a new episode of “Gunsmoke.”

   Vic excused herself, and went into the bathroom. When she emerged, she was wearing her silky-looking white pajamas. Greg turned off the TV, and they went to bed.

***

   Saturday morning, they slept late, then went down to the coffee shop for a hearty breakfast. Back in their room, they talked until it was time to head for the football game. It was a clear, chilly day – still only about 45 degrees at noon – but there was little wind, and the stadium was less than a mile from the motel. They decided to walk. (Greg was pretty sure it was almost as far from visitor’s parking to the football field.) They met Nancy and a mixed bunch of students at the gate, and once again found pretty good seats near the forty-yard line.

   The game was against the Weber State Wildcats, a Utah team, and a fellow member of the Big Sky Conference. Most pundits had picked the Bengals to win, and the first half was proving them right. On the second play of the game, the Bengals intercepted what would have been a Wildcat touchdown pass, then marched 98 yards for their own score. At half time, ISU was leading 17-3.

   It didn’t last. The Wildcats came back with a vengeance in the second half, kept the Bengals from scoring at all, and went on to win 28-17. One reporter in the Sunday paper blamed it on “a befuddled Bengal defense,” and that seemed a good description. Even so, Greg considered it a most enjoyable game in pretty perfect “football weather.” However, he didn’t share his pleasure with the disappointed Bengals fans.

   As they were walking back to the motel, they passed an Italian restaurant that looked like it might serve a good pizza. They went in, and ordered their special with all kinds of goodies on it. 

   Their pizza came, and it was delicious. “I’ve been thinking about Mandy’s birthday,” said Greg, between bites. “I’d like to get her something nice that she’d like.”

   “You’re a good man, Greg, to think about her. What did you have in mind?”

   “I’m not sure. What do you think she’d like?”

   Vic thought a moment. ‘Well, let’s see. What do girls like? Books are good, especially if it’s a book you really know would please her. They’re a little impersonal, of course. She’s a little old for dolls and toys, but sometimes a stuffed animal can have a special meaning.” She paused. “What else? Well, sexy lingerie…”

   “Sexy lingerie?”

   “Greg, obviously not for Mandy! After all, she’s a high school girl, and your future sister-in-law. I don’t know what you were thinking! Now, if she had an older sister, with whom you had a very close relationship…”

   Greg realized he’d been holding a piece of pizza half-way to his mouth for some time. “Are you speaking hypothetically, or…?” He bit into the pizza.

   “Maybe, maybe not. I was just talking about what women like. Obviously, you side-tracked me from talking about Mandy.”

   “I side-tracked you…”

   “Jewelry,” she said. “That’s always nice. How about a charm bracelet? Oh, I know. She really likes the necklace that you bought me. Maybe something like that?”

   Greg was still recovering from the previous subject. “How about earrings?” he asked.

   “Earrings?”

   “Well, I see a lot of women – and girls – with them. Some look very nice. But neither of you wears earrings, do you? Don’t you have to have your ears drilled to wear them?”

   “Not drilled; pierced. There are earrings that just clip on to your earlobes, but usually the ones for pierced ears are the nicest.”

   “Would you want your ears pierced – or would Mandy? Does it hurt?”

  “No, I don’t think it hurts. They do have to make a little hole in your ear lobe, but that’s not a very sensitive area. I think you feel a twinge, and then I think the spot may be a little tender for a day or two, but that’s all. I don’t know. I’ve thought about it, but I never had any reason to wear earrings.”

   He reached across the table, and gently held her ear lobe. “Not that you are in need of any beauty enhancements, but a little star, or a little pearl, might look pretty nice here.”

   “You’re getting pizza grease on my ear,” she said, but she looked pleased. He reached his napkin across the table. “No, let it be. You can take care of it back in the room.”

   Later, back in the room, they sat on the couch, and he kissed her ear a couple of times. That seemed to take care of the problem. The excitement of the game, the brisk walk back, the pizza, and the warm motel room all coalesced around them, and they were soon asleep. It was dark when they woke.

   Greg turned on the TV, while Vic went into the bathroom. It was halfway through a new series, a Navy comedy-drama called “Mr. Roberts.” Greg had read the stage play in college, and had seen the movie, so he knew the plot – kind of a comedy “Caine Mutiny.” Mr. Roberts was second in command on a Navy ship. He just wanted to go home. The captain was a strange tyrant, who was obsessed with a potted palm tree that he’d brought from somewhere. He and Roberts were constantly at odds.

   The show looked okay, but Greg was distracted when Vic came back to the couch dressed in her pink-flowered pajamas. Greg didn’t mind the change from the new silky ones; he had some good memories of these, too. She curled up next to him, and he pulled a blanket over them.

   “Mr. Roberts” ended, and a show called “The Man from U. N. C. L. E.” began. “I saw a couple episodes of this last season,” said Vic. “It’s a crazy spy story, but I thought it was pretty good. I forget what U. N. C. L. E. stands for – something about international law enforcement, I think. Anyway, they’re the good guys, and they’re fighting a group called THRUSH, who are trying to take over the world.”

   They watched for a while, and Greg was enjoying it. Soon, he realized that Vic was fast asleep. He watched the rest of the show, turned off the TV, carried his lovely friend to the bed, and tucked her in. He took care of his own nightly chores, then crawled in beside her. They slept until morning.

 

   They stayed in bed fairly late, got breakfast in the coffee shop, then came back to tidy up the room and get ready to leave. Vic collapsed on the sofa. Greg joined her.

   “Greg, do you think I’m loquacious?”

 “Loquacious?”

  “Loquacious. It’s a word.”

   “I know it’s a word. I’m a college graduate, after all. But why are we talking about it? Did someone call you loquacious?”

   “No, no. I just heard the word somewhere, and it sounded interesting, so I looked it up. It means – well, I guess it means a number of things. Poets think babbling brooks ae loquacious, and also chattering birds, but it mostly seems to imply that a loquacious person talks too much.”

   Before he could respond, she went on. “I don’t think I am loquacious. My mind goes constantly – as you are well aware - but my mouth doesn’t. Well, Mandy and I can rattle on nonstop for hours, but the only one I really talk to is you.”

   Greg just looked at her, and smiled.

   “Greg, what are you thinking about?”

  “I was thinking about the first time I ever remember hearing that word. It was in grammar school. One of the teachers called my sister loquacious, because – as he explained – generally speaking, she was generally speaking. It was true. She and her best friend were the poster children for babble and chatter. You, on the other hand, have been known to carry on a good conversation, but I have never heard you babble or chatter. As you say, your mind never sleeps, but  your mouth does. So, no, you are not loquacious. No, I would say that the clinical terminology  would be – let’s see – maybe Cerebrum perputualam motionom.”

  “Oh, I like that! Is it Latin, like a scientific name?”

  “More or less.”

   “Oh, good! It’s so much fun being in love with a scientist.”

   They sat quietly for a few moments, then: “You know, Greg, we wrote to each other about playing chess, but we never talked about it. I like to play chess, and it would give us something to do besides… well, besides the other things we like to do.”

  “Well, I was going to suggest we play some time, but you said – or implied – that you are very good at it.  I’m not sure my male ego could stand being trounced by a mere girl.”

   “How about if I say that I’m very good for a girl? That would leave the impression that my skills might be less than those of a virile male.”

   “That sounds better, and might be enough to entice me to play. But then, if you beat me, it would be even worse, wouldn’t it – the skills of a mere girl being enough to beat a virile male? Might that not put a damper on our whole relationship? ”

   She cuddled a little closer to him. “I think our relationship is strong enough to survive a losing game of chess. Besides, if you were really feeling bad about the loss, I might be able to come up with some suitable consolation prize.”

   “That sounds interesting. What did you have in mind?”

   “I think we have to play the game before we can know that. And what if – by some amazing chance – you beat me? Would there be a consolation prize for me?”

   “I’ve no doubt we could figure out something suitable.”

   She stayed curled up against him. “You’re in a strange mood this morning. Is everything okay?” asked Greg.

   She looked up at him. “I’m okay. It’s just so nice when you arrive, and while you’re here with me, but leaving doesn’t get any easier.”

   “Maybe we should be thinking of some way that might prolong the visits – like marriage, for example.”

   “Oh, no! Please let’s not talk about that, now. That will just get my head spinning, and I don’t want you to leave while my head is spinning.” Greg seemed to tighten up. “No, Greg, I don’t mean it like that. I’ve been thinking about marriage – I’ve been thinking about it a lot! What I’ve been thinking is that I think I definitely want to marry you sometime next spring or summer.”

   He relaxed. “Well, that’s good.”

   “Oh, it will be, I promise, but right now I’d just like to enjoy a few more minutes quietly leaning against you, until we have to go.”

   “I think that can be arranged.”


   Greg checked them out at 11 o’clock, being served by one of the regulars, a young man. Vic waited in one of the easy chairs in the lobby.

   “We’ll see the game next weekend, but won’t be staying over. However, we will be back for the Bengals’ final home game on the 5th and 6th. Will you have room for us?”

   “Sure, no problem. I’ll mark it down now.” Clearly, he had been watching Vic, whenever he could look up from what he was doing. Greg noticed, and smiled.

   “I didn’t mean to stare, Mr. Cleveland, but your wife is really beautiful.”

   “She is, isn’t she? Do you know the greatest things about her? She’s smart, and funny, is interested in a lot of things, she looks out for other people, and she cares about me as much as I care about her. I like that she's beautiful, but that's just kind of an added bonus.”

   “Wow! I’d like to find somebody like that, someday.”

   “Well, don’t settle too quickly. I’m sure there are others out there, at least one of whom will suit you just fine."

   As they walked out, Vic asked what he had been talking about with the clerk. “Football?”

   “Actually, we were discussing how beautiful you are. He’s quite enchanted.”

   “You’re lying.’

   “In truth, I am not. His exact words were ‘your wife is really beautiful’.”

   “They were? So, what did you say?”

   “I said that you are, indeed, passing fair.”

   “Passing fair? That doesn’t sound very exhuberant. It sounds like you said, ‘Yeah, she’s okay.’"

   They had reached the car. He opened her door for her, then got in his side. “That’s where you would be wrong, your error being that you don’t know some of the old language of romance. Elgar might have had you in mind when he wrote:

'Is she not passing fair,

She whom I love so well ?

On earth, in sea, or air,

Where may her equal dwell ?

Oh! tell me, ye who dare

To brave her beauty's spell,

Is she not passing fair,

She whom I love so well ?'


    “I'll sing you the other verses sometime, when I remember them. Anyway, in those days, ‘passing’ meant ’surpassingly.' In one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s plays they talk about the flowers being surpassingly beautiful, but Angelina even more so.”

   “Well, that’s a lot better, but I don’t think you actually said ‘passing fair.’ What did you really say?”

    “Let’s see. I agreed with him wholeheartedly that you are very beautiful. I followed that up with a long string of adjectives about your other charms and talents - smart, funny, caring, clever, etc., etc., etc. He was quite impressed - wanted there to be a clone of you, for him.”

   Vic was silent for a bit. “Did you not disabuse him of his belief that I am your wife?”

   “Well, you pretty much are, except for a couple of legal signatures. Besides, after the buildup I gave you - and our relationship - did you want me to confess that I was just some randy guy up here to enjoy an illicit weekend with a gorgeous college girl?”

   “No, I suppose that would be pretty disheartening for him. ‘Beautiful wife.’ ‘Beautiful wife.’ I like the sound of that."

   

   Later, they stopped the car at the far end of the dorm’s parking lot, and exchanged a long, heartfelt kiss. She leaned back, and looked at him.

   “You’re my chauffeur, and I don’t think a chauffeur is supposed to wear more lipstick than his passenger. I better clean you up a bit.”

   She did, then they drove up to the dorm entrance. He got out – like a good chauffeur – retrieved her bag from the car trunk, opened her door and helped her out. She shook his hand (wearing a grin no one else could see), and went into the dorm. Mrs. McPherson was waiting.

   “You’ve been lying to me, Victoria.”

   Vic felt like a deer must feel, mesmerized by the headlights of an oncoming car.

   “No woman returns from a visit to her parents with the glow that you have on your face right now – and that you had the last time you ‘went home’.”

   Vic blushed. “Is it really that obvious?”

   “Yes, but there were other signs. For instance, your lipstick is still a little smeared. More telling, however, was when you left on Friday. When your ‘chauffeur’ helped you into the car, he kept his hand firmly placed on your bottom, and you didn’t seem to mind a bit!”

   “Oh, no!” exclaimed Vic. “Now, I am really embarrassed!”

   “You can go anywhere you want, Victoria. You’re of age, and this is not a prison.”

   “Oh, I know, Mrs. McPherson, But I really need to see Greg, and you keep such good care of us – which we appreciate! – I didn’t want there to be any confusions about my going. I’m sorry.”

   Mrs. McPherson smiled. “Why don’t you come in for a bit, and tell me about Greg.”

   Vic wasn’t entirely sure if it was an invitation or a command, but she went along with Mrs. McPherson into her apartment.

   “Coffee or iced tea?” offered Mrs. McPherson.

   “Tea, please.” While Mrs. McPherson was in the kitchen, Vic glanced around her apartment. Clearly, it was part of the girls’ dorm, but it had a large living room, a kitchen, and a closed door that Vic assumed led to a bedroom. The room was livened up with a variety of Mrs. McPherson’s personal possessions. There were two large bookcases filled with books, and several books were on an end table beside a comfy-looking armchair.

   Mrs. McPherson brought the tea, and settled on the sofa beside Vic. ‘Now, tell me about Greg.”

   Vic couldn’t help but smile. “Greg. Greg works with my father at the wildlife refuge. Daddy is the manager. Greg has a degree in biology – well, wildlife management – but he’s only a couple of years older than me. He skipped over several grades in grammar school, so he was very young when he started college.

   “Anyway, Mandy – my sister – and I usually go walking before breakfast on Saturdays. When we passed by Greg’s house, he was sitting on the front steps, looking a little down.” (No need to say why!) He said he really wanted a cup of coffee, but he’d forgotten to buy any when he came from town. Mandy and I went home, but I got a thermos of hot coffee, and took it back to him. He thanked me, and invited me to share his steps. So, I sat and visited for a while.

   “I should say that I only met him briefly at dinner the night before, so we didn’t know each other, at all. Still, we sat and talked like we were old friends, then I went home to breakfast. I guess I should also explain that Mandy and I were only home on the weekends during the school year. The bus ride to and from town was so long that my parents found a place for us to board during school days. It worked out well because the family we boarded with was Nancy’s – my roommate’s, - so it’s been the next best thing to being at home.

   “So, anyway, I didn’t see Greg again until the next Saturday, then there he was, on his front steps. He had his own coffee that time, but he still invited me to sit. I did, and suddenly it was our Saturday routine – an hour or so on his porch steps, before I went home to breakfast. We just sat and talked, about my school, his work, his college, books – whatever crossed our minds.

   “After maybe four weeks, I asked him how work was going, and he confessed that he was having trouble driving a tractor. He is so smart! But he’s a city kid, and knows next to nothing about machinery. The guys were giving him a hard time  – friendly teasing, but still a hard time. I offered to teach him how to back up the tractor with a trailer behind it – that was his main problem. He was hesitant, and probably skeptical about what a high school girl could teach him. But I kept talking, and finally I wore him down. The next day, when Mandy and my folks went to town, I stayed behind, and we got out the tractor. Within about two hours – with lots of patience on my part – I had him backing up the trailer like a pro.” She laughed. “We never told anybody what had happened, so the guys were amazed the next time Greg worked with them, to find him operating the tractor with ease.  They told Daddy, and now he is perplexed, too. It has become the mystery of the wildlife refuge!”

   Mrs. McPherson laughed with her. “I suspect Greg liked you even better, after that episode. So, tell me about his books. What does he like to read?”

   “He reads everything, but I tease him that he never reads anything written after we were born. He does read a lot of really old books. He gave me his favorite, one he reads over and over again. Do you know John Buchan?”

   “I do, and I bet I can guess his favorite. Is it ‘John McNab?’”

   “It is! He introduced me to it by telling me how much Janet reminded him of me. He read me paragraphs about her, and I could see why he thought so. But we agreed that John Buchan got her wrong – she couldn’t possibly be a blonde, blue-eyed darling!”

   Mrs. McPherson gave Vic a long, assessing look. “I believe you’re right,” she said. “I never thought about it, but I can picture her tall, with long, dark tresses.”

   “See? You know what we mean!  Anyway, I read it and loved it. Later, he gave me another one with Janet and Archie in it…”

   “’The Courts of the Morning’.”

   “Right! You know that one, too. I didn’t like it as much as ‘John McNab’ – all the fighting and disguises got confusing - but I really loved Janet and the other characters.” She paused, and caught her breath. “Actually, he gave me another book before that one – one that is either is second favorite, or maybe tied with ‘John McNab.’ It’s by Nevil Shute, who I knew – mostly because of the movie – from ‘On the Beach.’ But this one was really different.”

   “Can I guess at that one? I’ll bet it is ‘No Highway’.”

   “Wow! Are you sure you don’t know Greg? You sure know what books he would favor.”

   “Well, your Greg sounds like a compassionate romantic – romantic, in a very good, sophisticated way. Nevil Shute wrote a number of lovely romances, but ‘No Highway’ has the adventure and the science, too.”

   “You do know him! So, I just wanted to share one other thing about his reading. In college, he read a lot of Roman and Greek things – histories, plays, poetry. One day he was reading some poems – I had heard the name of the author, but thought he was Roman. Actually, he was Greek. Anyway, I’m getting off subject. While he was reading, his roommate – who he’s known since about the 3rd grade – came in, saw the book, and told Greg that when he got married, they should name their children ‘Odes’ and ‘Pindar.’ Silly, but it’s become kind of a special joke between the two of us.”

   “Pindar. My, he does have broad tastes.”

   “I know, and I think he’s been kind of sad about it for a long time. He likes the career he chose, and likes a lot of the people he went to school with and now works with, but he’s never found anybody who shares his love for literature, or for drama. Oh, I want to tell you this: to celebrate my and Mandy’s birthdays, he took us to Salt Lake to see a live presentation of ‘Carousel.’ We loved it! Sorry to interrupt myself! What I started to say is, none of his friends or co-workers have ever had a passion for those kinds of things. Of course, they read books and go to movies and such, but their lives are mostly about ducks and geese and hunting and fishing. Most of them don’t even like watching birds – I mean, the kinds of birds my dad calls ‘dicky birds’ – warblers and chickadees and such. Greg is a tried and true bird watcher. I think that I’m the first person he’s known who loves the things that he does – and not because I love them to please him, but that I’m learning to love them, myself.”

   “It sounds like you two do have something special. Oh my, I would have loved to see ‘Carousel.’ I’ve seen quite a few ‘little theater’ presentations of musicals – some quite good – but I’ve never seen a big, live performance.”

   “It was something, all right.” Vic thought she must have pretty much worn out her welcome, but there was one other thing she wanted to share. “Just to kind of bring us up to date, I’d like to tell you one other story. When our front steps visits had been going on for a couple months, we got to talking about Viet Nam. That has been a really hard subject for Greg. He doesn’t like war, in general, but this one seems to have no point to him. He also doesn’t want to go through military training because he thinks they try really hard to depersonalize everybody – make them into machines who will obey every order, no matter what. He says he’s worked too hard for too long to find himself. He doesn’t want to lose himself, again.

   “Anyway, I got him to tell me in detail all the ways that the draft could be avoided. It turns out that, at his age in his personal situation, there isn’t much that doesn’t involve going to Canada, or something as drastic. Impulsively – and, I mean it really was, because we hadn’t even shared many romantic moments at that point – I suggested that he could marry me. (That was before LBJ said that recently-married men no longer had exempt status.) After I said it, I was afraid he’d get really upset, or maybe get mad at me. Instead, he reached over, and lightly touched my arm, and he said…” Here, Vic knew she was going to cry. “He said, ‘I’ve been thinking about marrying you, but not because of Viet Nam.’” She started to sob. “He thanked me for wanting to do that for him, but he said, ‘When we get married, it will be because we’re ready, and not to fix some situation.’ I knew right then that I had found my guy.” She really did start crying, then.

   Mrs. McPherson didn’t say anything, but just put her arms around Vic, and held her. After a few minutes, Vic composed herself, drank a little of her tea, and smiled at the older woman.
  “Thank you,” she whispered,

  “I’m glad you shared that with me. Tell me, how do your parents feel about you and Greg?”

   Vic laughed. “Oh, they love Greg. They were concerned about us getting too close, because they thought for a while that we were feeling like we obviously did just because we were living so close together, and there was nobody else around. Of course, there were. I’d had a whole high school full of boys to pick from, and I picked Greg. Mom was the first to realize we had something more going for us than just proximity. Daddy was a little slower, but dads feel extra protective about their little girls, no matter how big their ‘little girls’ get. We’re all fine, now.”

   “I assume they don’t know about your more ‘adult’ activities?”

   “No. I’m not ashamed of anything, and Greg and I take precautions, and are always thinking that we have a long life ahead of us. But generations think differently about some things, and parents and children especially so. In reality, our  ‘adult activities’ – as nice as they are – take up a pretty small portion of our times together. Mostly, we talk and read and just enjoy each other’s company.”

   She stood up. “I better go. Nancy's going to wonder if I was captured by white slavers. I really have enjoyed talking to you, Mrs. McPherson. And I am really sorry I lied to you.”

   “Thank you again for sharing, Victoria. I enjoyed finding out that your chauffeur wasn’t some randy fellow who patted women’s bottoms.”

   Vic laughed, and turned to the door. “Wait,” called Mrs. McPherson. She stood up. “You aren’t really a Victoria, are you? It’s a lovely, elegant name, and I’m sure that sometimes that is you. But I understand that the woman who is so admired around this dorm is called Vic. If you don’t mind, I would like to call you Vic, also.”

   “I’d be honored.”

 

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