Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chapter 27

Sorry, but way too tired to blog last night. Here’s what happened yesterday on July 4. 
   Comfortable in sneakers, capris and a sleeveless cotton blouse rather than my usual summer linen suit, I put in a few hours at the office this morning. I was, after all, the only one in the building, so no need to dress up. I locked up to walk the few blocks to St. Elizabeth’s, and as warm as it was, I was thankful for the lighter clothes. Besides, it was supposed to be a holiday, even if I had to be reminded.

Just as I reached the top of the esplanade key, I stopped at the sound of bells behind me. According to my watch, it was one o’clock–and I looked at the towers and wondered why the bells were ringing? Recognizing The Star Spangled Banner, I held my hand over my heart and watched the American flag on Memorial Circle flutter slightly in the breeze. Goodness, it was hot. The few other souls in sight dutifully did the same. When it was over, I resumed my journey to the street fair.
   From my office window, I’d seen the crowds gathering on Broadway just after noon, and even before stepping off campus, I could smell the delicious aromas of street fair food floating on the hot afternoon breezes. My stomach rumbled, but I bravely resisted the barbeque, corn on the cob and hotdogs offered in the booths I passed, remembering Colin had mentioned St. Elizabeth’s was selling tacos. I could certainly hold out for three more blocks for the sake of loyalty to the church. Then come back to sample the others later.
   Colorful patriotic bunting and banners, balloons, kites and throngs of happy people decked in all manner of red, white and blue swarmed like bees on a hive. Music seemed to pour from everywhere, from rock ‘n roll to reggae to mariachi. The infectious excitement captured me even before I spotted Colin in khaki shorts, sandals and a fairly new Notre Dame shirt and cap. He was helping preschoolers with a bean bag toss. Thankfully, Father Sean, next door at the ring toss booth, had on his cassock, so it was easy to tell them apart even from a distance.

   Monsignor Fitzpatrick was there, too, donned in his own regal light-weight cassock and seated up on the sidewalk under the shade of a canopy. Seems he was the official prize-giver-outer, so any child who won a prize — and they all won something — had to come up to him. He talked quietly with each one, telling a joke, or somehow coaxing a smile or giggle from even the shyest of youngsters. It was hard to tell who was more delighted, the children, their parents or the Monsignor.
   I bought a taco and bottled water, downing both with lightning speed as I stood among the crowd watching Colin interact with little children. A few minutes later he spotted me and quickly recruited my assistance. I helped move kids in line to the appropriate throwing point, and retrieved errant bean bags, wishing my granddaughters had been here. They would’ve loved it.
   Almost an hour later, when Colin’s replacement finally arrived, we said our goodbyes to the priests and headed east up the street. Colin glanced at my sunburned nose and declared I needed a hat to shade the blazing sun. He found several being peddled at a nearby booth.
  “No, really,” I protested as he placed a cowboy hat on my head. “I don’t look good in hats.”
   He looked at me critically, taking the hat off and trying on another, this time a broad brimmed red straw hat. Once more he looked at me critically, so this time I comically crossed my eyes at him.

Reaching up to take that one off, too, he said, “You’re right. You don’t look good in hats.”
  Didn’t I just say that? 
“Here, just plop on my cap and maybe no one will notice.” He handed me his Fightin’ Irish cap. He bought one of the straw cowboy hats for himself, which looked quite fetching, I thought.

Adjusting the size of the cap, I laughingly pulled it low over my sunglasses. “Thanks ... I think.”

   Stopping next for “meat on a stick” and fresh lemonade, we walked and talked companionably for the next hour, weaving our way through the heavy crowds, trying our luck at some games of chance, stopping to admire crafts, or listening to one of the dozens of entertainers up on small stages dotting the sidewalks. It was hard not to bump into each other often, and I have to say I felt each touch, inadvertent or not, enjoying the moments, pushing all thoughts of “what’s next” out of my mind. 
   Colin sometimes reached up to gently steer her elbow or put a hand on the small of her back to guide her, and he, too, felt each connection as if it made his hand tingle. He knew exactly what he wanted to happen “next,” but was taking it slow and gentle, as brother Sean had requested. Maggie laughed easily at his wit, and he was enjoying her company, deciding he definitely liked making her smile, hat or no hat. 

   Professor Colin Murphy seemed to be well known, as he exchanged greetings with dozens of people, most of them either college-aged men or middle-aged women. I was introduced to everyone he met as Margaret Grant. Interesting. Not my friend or my date, but just Margaret Grant. Not even Maggie. 
   It was especially interesting when we ran into Dixie, his lady friend from La Diosa. She popped out of the crowd squealing his name and jumped up to plant a messy kiss before he could even speak. Gushing about how happy she was to see him and why hadn’t he called her, she was oblivious to me. I’d stepped back, watching the normally in-control professor turn bright red as he tried to hold Dixie at bay.

Clearing his throat, he introduced us, and Dixie’s smile vanished. “Nice to meet you,” she lied with daggers in her eyes, looking me over from head to toe, no doubt sizing up the competition. She sniffed, obviously deciding this plain looking woman in a baseball cap with a red nose posed no threat to her, then turned quickly back to Colin.

“Well, darlin’, call me anytime. I’m available.” Turning on her heel, she spotted another acquaintance in the crowd and called out loudly to him, making her way to his open arms. Colin quickly steered me in the opposite direction.
   The only person I knew in the mass of fairgoers was Jenny Bodecker, who was busy in a craft booth, selling birdhouses, planters filled with daisies, and, of course, her famous crosses — all items made from popsicle sticks, of course. Mrs. Bodecker already knows Colin, so I didn’t need to bother with an introduction. Jenny blushed and giggled as Colin bought one of her biggest planter boxes telling her, “You can never have too many of these beauties.”
   “Murphy!” I heard from behind us, and Colin stopped once again, turning to shake the hand of a handsome young wiry African American, almost as tall as himself. “Josh. Good to see you, man.”
   Josh smiled, then looked at me. I had recognized him the minute I’d turned. His eyes widened when I took off my sunglasses and cap.

“My angel!” he cried, picking me up in a tight hug and twirling me around — a difficult thing to do in the dense crowd.

   “Oof!” I said as he lifted and crushed me to his chest.

   “Oh, I’m sorry,” he grinned, putting me down.

It was Colin’s turn to stand to the side and watch.

    “You look great, Josh. Are you all healed?” I asked.

“I am! Just a broken arm and some cuts and bruises. You saved my life! Murphy, this is the angel I told you about. I thought I’d dreamed her, that she wasn’t real, but she called dad and gave me a blanket ... and kept me awake ... Oh, I still have your blanket ... or mom has it. She wanted me to find you so she can return it personally. I’m so glad I found you!” He took a breath and just stood there grinning.

   Colin finally said, “You’re the angel who saved him?”
   “No, I didn’t really save him. We, Sharon and I, were there when he went off the road last March, that’s all, and we called for help. The rescue squad saved him.” Turning again to Josh, I said, “I’m happy to know you’re doing so well. Sharon will be, too.”

   “Sharon. That’s the only name we had,” Josh said. “The trooper only had that one name written down, so we didn’t know who you were or how to find you. I’m telling you, mom will be so happy.”
   Colin looked from me to Josh, the two of us standing there, grinning like fools at each other. It truly was a small world. He turned to Josh, “I thought you were going home for the summer.”

“I was, but it was easier to find a job here. Too many high school kids taking the summer work back home. I’m still waiting tables at McAllister’s on 19th and University. Stop in some time, Murphy, and leave a big tip?” he said hopefully. Colin told him he’d be in the next week.

   “Say, did you hear from Jamie?” Josh asked, serious now.
   “Yeah. He called again Sunday night.”

Uh-oh, I thought. I’d completely forgotten to ask about him, although I have been keeping him in my prayers.

   Colin frowned. “Things don’t look too good with his mom. It’s cancer. He’s decided to spend the summer at home. Don’t know if he’ll be back in the fall. Keep him in your prayers, will ya? Oh, and his room is available until then, if you’re interested. Aren’t you moving in this fall when Joe graduates anyway?”

“That’s tough for Jamie. Thanks, man. Yeah, I’m next on the list, and I might be interested in moving in early. I’ll give you a call tomorrow. I’ve got to go to work in a few minutes, but listen, Ma’am,” Josh said, turning to me, “will you give Murphy here your full name and phone number so I can give it to my parents? They really wanted me to find you.”

“Um, happy to get that for you, Josh,” Colin said with a slight smirk. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow about the room.”
   “And thanks again, Ma’am. You’ll always be my angel.” He leaned down and kissed my cheek, then turned and blended into the crowd.

   “His angel, huh?” Colin asked.
   “Hmmm,” I replied. “Nice young man.”
   “The best. I’ll add my thanks to you for saving his life.”
   “Right place, right time, that’s all. And speaking of nice young men, I’m sorry I forgot to ask about Jamie. Cancer? That’s a shame.”

“Yep, it is. It’s just Jamie and his mom. Don’t think he ever knew his dad. Died when he was a baby, if I remember right.”
   “His room?” I said, just a tad bit curious.
   “His room? Oh, yeah, he lives with me and his room is going to be vacant, so I thought Josh might like to bunk there for the summer,” he said nonchalantly and started walking through the crowds again.
   “He lives with you? You live with a student?” I followed hurriedly in his wake.

   “Four of them, actually,” he said casually over his shoulder, walking as though looking for someone or something.
   I grabbed his arm to make him stop and looked up at him squarely. “You live with four students! Whatever for?” I couldn’t comprehend a fifty-something professor actually living with twenty-something college guys.
   “I’m hungry again. Are you?” he said evasively, heading for the corny dog stand he’d spotted. Buying two, with drinks for us both, he walked to a vacant shaded bench nearby to add the necessary mustard. I stomped my foot and then followed, undeterred.

I accepted the fare and then persisted, giving him “the look.” “Talk, Professor Murphy,” I commanded.
   Between bites and gulps, he told me about his unusual living arrangement. At first, thinking his move to Lubbock to be only temporary, he’d rented a room for himself. Then, after deciding to stay, he found a small one-bedroom furnished apartment. He’d never owned a home so had few possessions and didn’t see the need to buy things even when he found a little larger, and quieter, garage apartment — again furnished. 

About six years ago, one of his promising students was having a hard time financially, and Colin tried to help him out by letting him sleep on his couch. This student was a Tramp, and about the same time that group asked Colin to be one of their faculty sponsors.
   “A tramp?” I asked. “A Saddle Tramp?”

“Yeah, Saddle Tramp, the men’s service organization at Tech.”

“I know about Saddle Tramps. Dated one in college. Hmpf...” I said as I looked off smiling wistfully. “Loved those red corduroy shirts.” Then I focused back on Colin, “You were a sponsor?”
  “Still am,” he replied with a surprised smile at the red shirt comment.

Interesting woman, he thought.

   “You volunteer to sponsor the Saddle Tramps?” I asked.
   “You don’t exactly volunteer. You have to be asked by the Tramps, and I’ve been asked for about six years now. Anyway, getting to know the Tramps a little better, seems there were others who were financially strapped, too, so I tried to figure out a way to help them. I found a larger furnished apartment and then two years ago bought one of the five-bedroom condos in the new development just over there, The Cottages of Lubbock,” he said pointing northeast across Broadway. “It’s student housing, actually, but the owner and I are poker buddies, so Tom cut me a good deal on the one in the far southwest corner. I rent out four of the rooms to junior and senior Tramps each year at reduced rates — they pay what they can — it’s a good investment property and everyone’s happy.”
   “You live with four college guys ... four Saddle Tramps.”

   “Yes. Look, most of the time I’m on campus teaching or working in the studio until late at night or just out. Sean volunteers me a lot, too. Just not there much at all, really, and I have pretty strict rules about parties, cleanliness, etc. It’s seriously not bad at all. I’m sort of like a dorm mother, but not actually,” he shrugged. “Gives us all a place to lay our heads at night and allows them to concentrate their energies on studying and serving the organization instead of worrying so much about money. It’s comfortable.”
I sat back, staring at him. “Amazing,” was all I could manage to say. Who is this man? Spends 20 years “doin’ stuff” for the government he won’t or can’t talk about, retires to Lubbock — definitely not a destination location — and helps preschoolers at a street fair and college kids at life.

   “You gonna eat the rest of that?” he said, looking at my half-eaten corny dog. I handed it to him, drinking my water while he finished off the dog along with his beer.

   “Do the Saddle Tramps ring the bells in the tower?” I asked after the last drop. “I heard them ringing earlier today.”

“They do, but they don’t, but you did. It was the carillon bells in the west tower today. Played by keyboard, I think, but not by us. Music department takes care of it if I’m not mistaken. At one o’clock every Fourth of July. Supposed to coincide with the ceremonial Liberty Bell ringing in Philadelphia, or something like that. Tramps ring the victory bells after games — in the east tower.” He took hold of my hand saying, “Come on. It’s almost time for the bluegrass fiddlers, and I’d like to grab a good seat.”

   I allowed my hand to stay in his as he led me back up the street, passing St. Elizabeth’s, where he presented Mrs. Bodecker’s craft to his wary brother. He took my hand again as we wove our way up another three blocks and found two empty chairs to watch the show. I put my hands in my lap once we sat down. Then, absorbed in the music, we clapped, whistled and stomped along with the enthusiastic crowd.

  In the end, I begged off from late night festivities — I had an early morning meeting with my latest architect and there were no fireworks because of the drought— so Colin walked me back to my car on campus. Purposefully putting my hands in my pockets, we walked companionably along, talking about my renovation. I also explained about the house-sitting duties, saying it was Doug, as in Sharon and Doug, who I had been with at the bistro.

I thanked him for the afternoon, and laughed when he stuck out his hand for yet another handshake. Instead, I reached up and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, as young Josh had given me. 
He lingered as she drove off, tucked his thumbs in his pockets, and whistled on his long walk home. 
   Only when I got home last night did I realize I hadn’t returned his cap.

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