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.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chapter 64

What a weekend. Here’s the first part of what happened!

“Oh, he’s here!” I called out excitedly when the doorbell rang. “Are you ready? How do I look?”
“Well, let me see, girlfriend,” Sharon said coming in from the adjoining upstairs room, motioning me to twirl around. I complied, my emerald gown swishing around my ankles in elegant swirls of satin. “Gorgeous!” grinned Sharon as I beamed. 
   “It is gorgeous, isn’t it,” I said, none too modestly, admiring the way my engagement ring sparkled next to the satin.
   “Yes, IT is, but I meant you, Maggie. You’re gorgeous, especially with your hair piled up like that,” Sharon said.
   “You just say that because you love me, but I’m still plain little old Margaret Riley, emphasis on the old ... but I do like what you did with my hair. Hope Colin does. Normally he likes it down.”
   “Up or down, the poor man won’t know what hit him. Maybe you should wear that dress for the wedding? It’s fantastic!”
  “No, no,” I laughed, swirling around one more time just because it was fun to feel so girly. I had to admit the elegant gown was about the most beautiful one I’d ever owned, and certainly the most expensive. Not to mention the most daring, with tight-fitted high-neck bodice, billowing skirt, full length sleeves, and the added surprise of absolutely no back. 
“The wedding is simple, and this, well, this is a party dress!” I turned to Sharon. “But let me look at you! Twirl, yourself, Phelps!” I let out a low whistle as Sharon obliged in a floor-length jeweled tight-fitting red gown with low neckline and elbow-length sleeves that completely covered the burn on her upper arm. “You look wonderful! Has Doug seen you in it yet?”
  “Absolutely not! When we got back from Dallas, I hid it. Neiman’s dresses are always so worth the wait, don’t you think? Thank goodness Winston made this party for the museum addition a formal affair. It’s so fun to shop for glamour!”
  “Definitely, my friend,” I agreed, admiring us both as we posed together in front of the mirror. We turned our heads towards the door as male voices drifted up the stairs. Reaching for my matching wrap and evening bag, I said, “I love that you brought me over here to dress ... we can regally descend the staircase. I’ve always wanted to do that, by the way. Like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Wow, you in scandalous scarlet and me in elegant emerald. Why, those guys don’t have a chance!”
  “Amen. Let me get my things and we can go down. Doug’s probably already given Colin a beer, and most likely had two himself, so we’d better go now if we want them to be conscious enough to appreciate us.” Returning from the next room with her evening bag and coat, she put her arm through mine and said, “Let’s knock ‘em dead!” 

   At the top of the curved staircase, Sharon cleared her throat loudly enough for Doug and Colin to turn around and look up. Staring open-jawed at the women coming toward them, they then grinned broadly. Doug said, “Colin, I don’t know where Sharon and Maggie are, but let’s take these beautiful creatures and go party. I’m taking the one in red sparkles.”
   “Fine with me. I’ll take the brunette in green. Matches my eyes,” teased Colin. 
    As we descended, my heart started doing the now-frequent flip-flops as I looked at my new love. Resplendent in black tuxedo, he was truly drop-dead gorgeous as Amanda had said. What’s that line from the movie Funny Girl? “The groom was prettier than the bride.” I think I’m one lucky old woman. Thanks, again, Lord.
    Just over two hours later, I would again be saying prayers, but much more fervent ones.

   The Wind Museum had been transformed into a winter wonderland for the late January gala, celebrating the completion of the first phase of the massive expansion made possible by the Arbuckle’s generous donation. Although the museum was not quite as resplendent as Mother Nature had done three weeks earlier, it was hard to believe you weren’t in a snowy fairyland. Miniature white lights crisscrossed the ceiling behind hundreds of yards of filmy, gently draped white material. Sparkling silver and white floral arrangements topped the dozens of dinner tables, and thousands of small glass mirrors attached to white satin ribbons hung floor to ceiling in front of the fabric extending down the walls, reflecting the candlelight and sparkle back on to the partygoers. 
   We were amazed as they walked inside, looking up and around, dazzled by the splendor. 
   “Wow. They sure know how to throw a party,” Doug said, still gaping.
   “Or at least how to decorate one,” Sharon said, winking at me. “Mags, let’s find the ladies room first, the wind wasn’t kind to your hair. I need to fix it. Doug, sweetie, we’ll meet you at our table. I’d love a white wine.”
   “Me too?,” I asked Colin, “then I need to briefly check on the media.” At least two local television stations were covering the gala for their 10 o’clock newscasts, as well as my reporter friend Jake from the A-J along with his staff photographer. Charlie, the university’s official photographer was there, and would handle any requests from the others, but I had told him I would check in with him when I arrived to see if he needed assistance. 
First, though, I’d better see about my hair. I led Sharon down the hallway to the left. I knew the larger new restrooms were in the other direction, but here, close to the main offices, I remembered an older, smaller one that might be less crowded. Entering the short corridor, we encountered Winston, dressed in a dark blue tuxedo, velvet bow tie and an enormous blue brocade cummerbund that surprisingly looked appropriate for him. He was coming out of the office area, closing and locking the door behind him.
“Oh, my dears!” he said as he planted light kisses on our cheeks. “How wonderful you look!”
   “Thank you, Winston,” Sharon said. “The museum looks amazing. You’ve done a marvelous job with the decor, especially for an engineer!”
   “Why thank you, Dr. Phelps, but much of the credit goes to our lovely Margaret Grant here, you know what I mean?”
   “Uh, no, I don’t know what you mean,” Sharon said as she studied my now blushing face.
   “Why, it was she who suggested the theme for tonight and even did some sketches for the decorators.”
It was a small favor for Winston, and I hadn’t thought to mention it. I don’t believe favors of kindness needed to be discussed. I much preferred to keep it between the recipient and myself... and God, of course. 
   “This is so much more, though, Windy,” I said. “You’ve brought the fabric all the way to the floor. It’s really spectacular. Um, we were heading down to the ladies room?”
   “Yes, yes, of course. Keeping it for the hired staff, tonight, but you ladies go right ahead. I need to attend to my other guests. Can’t make Miss Katherine do all the work!” and he stepped quickly away.
   Before dinner, hors d’oeuvres and wine were served to the guests as they chatted happily at their assigned tables, listened to the Tech Student Chamber Orchestra, or wandered the museum floor, examining the new exhibits. Purposefully, a large area at the front of the renovated museum, about one-quarter of the floor space, had been left empty for just such an occasion as this. It would also make a perfect classroom, Sharon had said, even though plans for the next phase included an extensive educational wing. 
   With most of the displays toward the back of the building and the west, but close enough to make guests at any table feel a part of it, I thought it also would be a perfect site for business meetings, or receptions, or even weddings. Windy had told me that was exactly what he had in mind. A little added revenue, he had said, although it probably meant putting on additional staff to handle it. But the publicity would be great. And everyone knew he loved publicity.
   Across the entire front of the museum, the old small windows had been replaced with a half-dozen sets of elegant French doors that opened to a huge flagstone patio, extending the party outside and doubling the capacity for events. But not tonight, as the late-January evening was much too cold. 
   As in the previous exhibit, windmills of all shapes and sizes were displayed throughout the area, some of them spinning ten- to fifteen-foot blades on motors that purred contentedly. Winston had successfully exhibited the full-size modern wind turbine blades and a motor similar to the working turbine outside — two of the blades were buried about one-third into the floor with the third massive blade reaching high up into the three-story addition. Winston’s pride and joy, it was the hit of the evening, as patrons marveled at its size. Somehow, out on the plains, and even out front, the white metal blades didn’t look quite as big!
   Windy had outdone himself, I thought to myself as I read an exhibit plaque about the Aermotor windmills, manufactured since 1888. Sharon had begged off a few minutes before, saying she’d read and seen all she needed to read and see about windmills for the evening, and where could she find more of those delightful shrimp thingys? Doug and Colin had eagerly offered to help her in her quest. Traitors, I thought. Me? I was fascinated by the exhibit, and wanted to look a few minutes longer, promising to join them at their table shortly. How could there possibly be this many styles and sizes of windmills? 
   I was interrupted by a familiar voice, and turned to see a shyly smiling Jamie Chavez, handsome in short-waisted red waiter’s coat with crisp black pants and bolo tie, offering one of the glasses of wine he expertly balanced on a silver tray.
   “Jamie!” I exclaimed as she took one of the proffered glasses. “How nice to see you. Thank you. I didn’t know you were working here tonight. How are classes going?”
“Going well, Mrs. Grant. Thanks. I, um, I haven’t had a chance to say, I mean, congratulations and all. I think it’s great, you and Murphy. Really great.”
  “Thank you, Jamie,” I said, thinking how his words didn’t match the sadness in his expressive eyes. Maybe I needed to talk with him again about his mother? “I think it’s pretty great, too, Jamie. Thank you. Murphy’s back over that way someplace,” I said, looking out over the crowd. 
I didn’t see Colin, but instead noticed Winston in the near corner, behind the enormous Southern Cross windmill wheel set close to the floor, talking animatedly with Bennett Boyle. Both their backs were to me and the crowd, but it was obvious they weren’t exactly exchanging pleasantries. I wondered what the problem was, thinking this definitely was not the time or place for an argument.
   “Jamie,” I said, “See Dr. Whitaker over there? Why don’t you go offer him a glass?” I thought an interruption might calm them down before others, especially one of the news photographers, noticed the heated exchange. I watched as Jamie obligingly headed in their direction.
  As he approached the men, Jamie heard Dr. Whitaker say, “I won’t do it that way, B.J.”
Rubbing his forehead, Bennett replied angrily, “You have to. I told you last week he was asking questions. Do it, or else.”
“Or else what? It’s your ...” He stopped in surprise as Jamie approached clearing his throat.    
  “Wine, gentlemen?” Jamie asked.
  “What? No, thank you, son,” Winston said. 
   Jamie held his ground and looked at Boyle. “And you, Mr. Boyle?” he said forcefully.
“No. Now get lost,” Boyle said dismissing him with a wave of his hand.
   “Sure thing, Prick,” Jamie said under his breath as he turned to leave.
   “What did you just say?” Boyle demanded as he caught Jamie’s free arm and pulled him back around, nearly upsetting the wine glasses. 
   Jamie looked up at him with disgust and pulled away. “Nothing.”
   “Nothing, sir,” Bennett said staring hard at him. 
   “Nothing, sir,” Jamie replied with contempt, turning again, putting his silver tray down on a nearby table, and moving quickly to the kitchen door, angrily pushing his way through and almost knocking down a fellow caterer. 
   “What was that all about?” Winston said.
   “I have no idea,” Bennett said. “Stupid kids. Listen, I’ve been seen by the fucking president and talked to that idiot board chairman, so I’m leaving.”
   “Leaving? The party’s just getting started, Bennett. Stay a while longer. Have some more wine.”
  “Just do as I said,” Bennett scowled as he pushed him aside, weaving his way hurriedly through the crowd toward the front door.

  Winston shook his head, smiled slightly and then noticed me several yards away. I gave him a questioning look. Winston shrugged, and picking up two fresh wine glasses from the discarded tray, made his way in the opposite direction. He beelined it to Mrs. Fauntly, a smartly dressed and extremely wealthy widow who hadn’t donated any of her millions to the museum in at least six months. “Mrs. Fauntly,” he gushed as he handed her a glass, “Don’t you look fabulous this evening!”
More on the evening next week. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chapter 63

   Nodding as he passed a frowning Sharon, Colin kept his pace steady and his eyes on me. Uh-oh, he thought, she looks angry.
   I was, in fact, angry. Angry he was here, shattering our fantasy world.  Angry my heart was doing those damn flip-flops again. Angry he’d treated me so cheaply. Angry I was happy to see him, but furious he had the gall to intrude into my life when I so wanted him out of it. I considered running, but the snow didn’t make for a fast getaway.  Considered smashing his face with the snowball in my hand, but knew I would have to stand my ground and deal with him, even as my heart cracked a little more.
   I looked at Sharon, who started to step to my defense. I signaled I could take care of it. Sharon simply shrugged and waved goodbye, heading for her car. 
   “Sharon, wait!” I called out, starting to move. “Your car. I’ll help you dig it out.”
   “Already done,” said Colin as he continued walking toward me, waving Sharon away. 
   “Okay, then, bye!” Sharon retreated quickly. Under her breath, she said, “Good luck, Professor.”  She then thought to herself if he blew this last chance and hurt her further, she’d have to punch him out no matter what Maggie said.
   “Bye! Thanks!” I said. Then turning to him I demanded, “How’d you find me?” 
   “Tracked you.”
   “Tracked me?”
   “Yep, went to your house and when you didn’t answer, found the tracks from the back door and tracked you here. Got a little confused just before 19th Street... some kids pulling sleds heading for the park, I suspect, but picked your trail back up, then recognized Sharon’s car. I dug it out and kept following the footsteps. And here you are.” He kept his green-eyed gaze steady. 
   I forced myself to turn away. “Don’t you have a bowl game or something to watch? I thought your beloved Notre Dame was playing today?”
   “They are, but I wanted to talk to you.”
   “So talk,” I said, still not meeting his eyes, but dropping my snowball and absently kicking it away.
   “Let’s walk while we talk,” he said and reached for my elbow. 
I pulled away. “I’m perfectly capable of walking by myself, thank you.”
“I know you are, Maggie. Will you walk with me to see the horse statue?”
   “The horse statue? I see it every day outside my office window,” I replied irritably.
Colin shook his head. “Not Soapsuds and Will Rogers, but the horse.”
“The Masked Rider by the stadium? I’ve seen it, too, and I’m getting cold.”
   “No, the other horse,” he said, with growing exasperation. “I’ll show you if you’ll come with me. Please, I want to talk to you,” he said quietly.
    Whatever does he want? I thought. I suddenly had a huge deja vu and was transported back more than 30 years, remembering a similar scene with a boy I dated here at Tech — the Saddle Tramp — how ironic.  He’d wanted to talk to me, too, and I had walked with him across campus to ... to where?  Oh, the circle. Turned out he’d met someone else and was dumping me, and felt obliged to tell me why in person. Something about honor or decency, or something. All I remembered was how much it hurt. 
   Is that what Colin wanted to do? To tell me why he was dumping me? But I knew why, didn’t I. I won’t sleep with him, won’t be his “lady,” so he was dumping me. But this would be different because I was already hurt, and my heart had already dumped him back. I just hadn’t told him. 
   Fine, I thought. I can deal with this.
I nodded silently, and he motioned for me to go north out of the courtyard area, around the old silo next to the Dairy Barn. I complied and he walked next to me, careful to leave at least a foot of open space between us. 
  After a few steps, he glanced to the left, behind the English and Philosophy Building. “Bet the Headwaters fountain is frozen.” Headwaters is a huge carved pair of hands, holding a jumbled alphabet, with water rippling over it all. I glanced in its direction and nodded, but we were too far away to be sure.
  He continued tentatively as twe walked, “Did you know it was carved in Carrara, Italy? From African black granite and Kashmir gold granite? It’s by Larry Kirkland. I met him when it was installed a few years ago.”
   I didn’t comment, wondering why he was giving a description of the sculpture. Was he nervous? Confident, comfortable Professor Colin Murphy nervous? I couldn’t imagine. But I didn’t ask, just listened and walked and hurt. 
   Despite my lack of response, he continued. “The hands full of letters are supposed to symbolize the potential for communication, and the water is the unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I like the heavy feel of it. The stability. It reminds me of the bulls.”
The bulls, I knew, were the enormous bronze figures in front of the Animal and Food Sciences Building at the west end of campus. Each year at graduation, students fashion huge mortar boards and place them on the bulls’ heads. They were favorites ofmine because of their playfulness and satirical laziness — both bulls were nonchalantly resting, legs seemingly tucked up beneath their massive bodies. I imagined they looked wonderful today, covered in snow.
   When I didn’t say anything, Colin continued, “The bulls draw attention to the relationship between convex and concave forms that create shadows in the sand around them.”
   I looked at him sharply, “What’d you do, memorize the University Art Collection brochure?”
He blushed and I thought perhaps he’d done just that. Embarrassed for my childish ridicule of him, I quickly asked, “Who’s the artist?”
   “Peter Woytuk,” Colin said, suddenly reluctant to continue talking. He had, in fact, read the brochure again an hour or so ago, trying to compose just the right words so she would know exactly how he felt, thinking perhaps art, one of her passions, might help him make her understand. He was embarrassed he was reciting some of it and was making an awkward mess of things. 
   They walked on in silence, and he used the time to send up silent prayers to every saint he could think of — except Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes — he didn’t want to jinx this.
    Still heading north across campus west of Stangel, Murdock complex, they were getting close to Carpenter/Wells Complex, the once-progressive residence halls built shortly before I was a student. Maybe we were heading to the clock tower, I thought, a fairly recent addition that was an obvious attempt to bring some of the Spanish-style architecture to that end of the campus. Did it have a horse carved on it? 
  Just before the clock tower, Colin stopped and turned toward me. “We’re almost there, but I need you to close your eyes.”
  “What? Why?”
  “Just trust me on this Maggie, please?” he asked quietly.
   “Okay, but if you lead me into a ditch or wall, you’ll pay for it, Professor Murphy.” My anger had cooled, and now I simply wondered where he was taking me, and why, and how much longer I’d have to endure the pain of being close to him. 
   Closing my eyes, I felt his hand gently but firmly take hold of  my elbow. I resisted the urge to pull away.
   “This way,” Colin said, and I allowed him to lead me, hands out front a little in case there was indeed a wall I needed to avoid. 
   He turned me to the right and walked her about 150 paces. Stopping and letting go of my arm, he said, “You can open your eyes now.”
   It took me a minute to see anything as the bright sun reflecting off the snow blinded and I quickly closed my eyes again. This is why people wear snow goggles, I thought, rubbing my eyes and then squinting them open, one at a time. Once my vision returned, I spotted a sculpture, one I’d never seen, and put my hands to my heart in astonishment. 
   About twenty feet in front of me was a magnificent life-size horse, standing assuredly in a circle of snow-covered prairie grass, his powerful curved neck suggesting an easy, confident tension. “Oh,” was all I could say as I let my breath out slowly. How long had it been here? How had I missed it in all the time I’d been at Tech? How did Colin know I would be captivated by its beauty?
   Finally, after taking a few tentative steps closer, Iwhispered, “Driftwood? No, it can’t be. It wouldn’t last.” But it looked just like driftwood and other scraps of wood shaped by nature. Twisting and writhing in form, the pieces were the lines, giving the suggestion of the animal, as if a powerful dry brush painting had suddenly become a frozen three-dimensional life form. 
   Crisp clean wind moved undeterred through dozens of openings between the sections of wood swimming in and out of each other. Somehow the artist had picked up the right pieces of this jigsaw puzzle and fitted them perfectly to form a glorious work of open-air art. 
   Colin’s tension left him as he studied her reactions. “Yes, it’s driftwood ... or was. The artist, Deborah Butterfield, takes pieces of wood and fits them together for a bronze mold. So, it’s really bronze formed from wood. This is Wind River.”
  “It’s magnificent, Colin,” I said, still staring at it, overwhelmed by the beauty of it, walking up and around and touching it everywhere as if petting the huge wild beast, knocking the snow off. 
    Colin followed and then bent down to sweep the snow off one of the surrounding granite walls on the periphery of the sculpture. Straddling the wall, taking off his gloves and watching her, he decided he’d send up one final plea for assistance ... but this time to the Man, himself. There were some times, he reasoned, you just had to go straight to the top.
   After a few minutes he said, “Sculptures of hers are all over the country. There’s one in Washington, D.C., at the National Portrait Gallery. And two that I know of in Portland, Oregon, where your Michael lives.”
   I continued walking around and touching the horse, brushing snow off of it, hearing Colin, but not really focusing as I said absently, “You’ve been to Portland?”
   Chuckling to himself, he knew she hadn’t even heard herself ask the question that required no answer. “Here, let’s sit down a while,” he said reaching again for my arm as I passed. He pulled me gently to the granite seat. Keeping my eyes on the horse, I allowed him to guide me and sat down, oblivious not only to the cold chair, but to his warmth next to me. 
   “Maggie,” he said softly. I turned and looked at him and something in his eyes compelled me to look more closely, to be drawn in. Remembering my pain, and the last time I saw him, I put my head down. He reached up and gently lifted my chin, studying. “You’re so beautiful when you smile.  Please smile for me, Maggie.” I looked up at him and love overflowed, intensifying the hurt and making me smile ruefully. Just get it over with, I thought. It hurts so much.
  “I brought you here for a specific reason,” he continued, turning his gaze to the horse. I followed his eyes and resumed my consumption of the art. He said, “This sculpture represents ... well, represents a transformation. At first the wood was trees and shrubs and had life, had purpose. Then wind and the weather changed it into driftwood, and it sat on a beach somewhere, soaking up the sun, being washed by waves, or floating in the water, not ever being tied down. Then God sent someone to pick it up and transform it yet again, into something permanent, something solid, something beautiful in a new way.”
  He paused, and I wondered why he was telling me this. Somehow, he’d taken my gloves off, too, putting my hands in his, but I didn’t pull away, didn’t feel the cold, only the warmth of his touch. Listening intently, I turned toward him again as he looked at me. 
  “That’s what you have done for me, Maggie. You have transformed me.”
   Myr heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. What was he saying? 
  “The sight of you stirs me, Margaret Riley Grant. Seeing you smile, making you smile, I feel comfortable, and you know I like comfortable. But at the same time, you stir in me a longing I never knew was there. 
  “It’s not just a longing to have you in my bed ...” Now I did try to pull my hands away, but he held firm. “... but it’s a longing to have you by my side. I want you to be there when I wake up, when I go to sleep, when I work ... when I laugh ... and when I pray. Maggie, I have this unrelenting longing for the whole you. Don’t get me wrong, I still want you in my bed in the worst way, but I want all of you. I want all of you, Maggie, always.”
   I couldn’t believe it. I whispered questioningly, “Always?” 
  He nodded and continued. “You have made me want to be permanent, to be steady and transformed. I love you with all that I am, and I am humbled by the hope you might still return that love. I’m so sorry for trying to make you into what you can’t be ... shouldn’t be ... something just temporary. I don’t want you to be temporary, Maggie. I want you to be permanent in my life. I want you to marry me.” 
   I was crying, and my hands were over my mouth to stifle the sobs, and his were on my face, wiping away my tears. “Don’t cry, Love, your tears will freeze,” he said gently. 
  Finally I said, “Oh, Colin. Are you sure? Are you sure you can do ‘always’?”
  “Sure enough to want to give you this.” He opened his fisted hand, revealing an antique emerald ring, the same clear green of his eyes. “Will you wear it for me, Maggie?” 
I looked at the large stone and then at my left hand, the hand with Jim’s ring on it. 
   He looked at Jim’s ring, too, and quickly said, “You don’t have to take that one off. I don’t mean to replace the love of the man you were married to for thirty years. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t ever do that. I mean to add to it ... so you can wear this with it or on the other hand if you want to.”
   “Oh, Colin,” I said pulling Jim’s ring off and moving it to my right hand.  Holding my empty hand up to him, I said through my tears, “I love additions.” He laughed as he slipped the emerald on and leaned down to kiss me, gently. 
  I accepted his kiss. I then pulled back, looking him squarely in the eyes, smiling, and still crying. “Are you sure, Colin?” 
“Absolutely sure.” 
Grabbing him by the collar of his jacket, I pulled him to me for a much longer, much more passionate kiss — one that held a promise of things to come. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Chapter 62

Part III ~ Puzzles To Be Solved

Chapter 62
When I opened my eyes early the next morning, the first thing I noticed about the new year was that it was extraordinarily quiet. I got up and tiptoed to the window — somehow it felt like I should — and was delighted to find while I’d slept my world had been transformed into a magical white wonderland. A soft thick blanket of sparkling fresh snow had changed the landscape into an unrecognizable terrain and muffled the normal sounds of morning. The winter storm I’d passed through in Central West Texas two days ago had made an uncharacteristic wide turn back to the northwest, depositing just over a foot of the white wet stuff across most of the plains above the Caprock. It had been cold enough the past two weeks that the snow was likely to stick around for a while.
   Donning boots and jacket over my flannel pajamas, I stepped out into the crisp freezing air to refill the bird feeder and look for the morning paper. Miss Priss ran out the door as soon as it opened but halted abruptly at the edge of the snow. I laughed as the cat tested her footing, and then, sinking into the cold, white stuff, quickly jumped back onto the porch. 
   I drew in a deep breath, letting the invigorating air fill my lungs, renewing and refreshing me from the inside out. I liked to think God had made this special setting just for me, as a reminder that even if my heart was broken, the world could be beautiful. But I thought that might be a tad egotistical. I thanked Him, nonetheless. He could make everything right for me. I knew He could, and I hugged myself, content for the moment. 
   After providing breakfast for the neighborhood birds, I began to shiver, so Miss Priss and I returned to the warmth of the house — me to brew my morning tea and Miss Priss to find her litter box. As the tea brewed, I said to the cat, “Guess I can read the newspaper online later.” I hoped the paperboy had put double plastic on this New Year’s Day edition, still buried out there somewhere.
   Standing by my front picture window a few minutes later, I was enjoying the serenity of the new year when I was startled enough by the suddenly ringing phone to spill my tea. As I brushed myself with a kitchen towel, I heard Sharon on the other end saying excitedly, “Remember our sophomore year when it snowed like this and we went to the open area by the Dairy Barn to make snow angels? Meet you there in 15?”
   I laughed, “Make it 30 and you’re on, but bundle up, I’ve been out and it’ll freeze your spiked hair off!”

   I decided to walk to campus, not wanting to chance driving the side streets if ice had formed under the snow. Curbs and sidewalks had disappeared. I was thankful for my wide-soled snow boots that not only kept me warm but also allowed me to walk mainly on top of the snow rather than falling deep into each step. And once I was moving steadily, the cold didn’t seem as bad.
   I made good time, crossing 19th Street easily–there was no traffic yet. Spotting Sharon’s SUV in the deserted Hulen-Gates Residence Hall parking lot, just a few feet off the street, I said, “Uh-oh.” It looked like Sharon’s car had hit the hidden curb, spun out and was wedged up against a snow bank. Great, we’re going to have to dig her out, I thought as I heard my friend call my name from between the buildings ahead. Eerie how far the sound traveled in the hush of the snow. 
   “Maggie! Come see! I’ve already started a snowman. This is perfect packin’ snow!”
   I joined her in the open area near the old Dairy Barn, just west of the library, and smiled with delight at the immense open field of glistening virgin snow ... well, almost all untouched because Sharon had indeed “started” a snowman that was already almost as tall as her fuzzy red earmuffs. “I couldn’t wait! Isn’t this glorious? I feel like a kid again!” she beamed.
   I laughed, agreed, and we spent a happy hour perfecting Mr. Snowman, building a family for him, including a dog that looked more like an armadillo, and making snow angels everywhere we could. Our noses were red, our cheeks were glowing and our clothes covered in snow, but we were oblivious to everything except our fun. It was as if God had picked us up and set us down in a world all our own. Sheltered by the empty buildings and surrounded by frozen white crystals, the only sounds were the crunching of snow and the muffled ripple of our laughter. We were 30 years younger and giggling at the slightest joke or statement, or just at the joy of being alive and together. 
   Standing up to admire my latest snow angel, I declared it positively, absolutely the best one yet... and took a snowball hit directly in the back of the head, portions of it sneaking down my neck between scarf and jacket. Brrrr! Sharon whooped in joy at her excellent aim.
Turning quickly and ducking, knowing a second missile could be on its way, I scooped up a handful and formed my own weapon, wheeling around to fire it at my friend. Halfway through my delivery, I stopped, frozen in place by the sight of a tall figure coming around the far corner of the building. 
   Anticipating the retaliatory shot, Sharon had ducked and turned away, also discovering the intruder walking determinedly toward us. She stood and watched Colin’s steady approach.

I’m not sure how to tell you what happened next, so I’ll think about it and relate it all next week.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Chapter 61

Ben’s mechanic said he could have the heater fixed in time, but the part he needed was nowhere to be found in or around Dallas. Luckily, it wasn’t that cold when I headed back to Lubbock and heartache, but nearing Ranger, about 65 miles east of Abilene, the halfway point, it got that cold as I met an unexpected blizzard head on. As snow began falling, I stopped for hot chocolate and warmed my hands under the gas station restroom’s hand dryer. By the time I drove past Abilene, the blizzard was in full-force. Thankfully, it was a dry snow and wasn’t sticking, so the roads weren’t icing up. 
   As I made the turn north outside of Sweetwater to Highway 84, the snowstorm limited visibility to about 50 feet, and was beginning to accumulate on the sides of the road. I was actually a little concerned about making the remaining 115 miles, so, pulling over in Roscoe to warm my hands once more, I asked for a weather report at the gas station.
“Should blow o’er in no time at-all,” the greasy-haired station attendant had drawled, cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth as he rang up the cost of another hot chocolate. “Radar shows it’s mostly to the south, though, so ya’ shouldn’t have trouble gettin’ on up da road ta Lubbock, darlin’.” 
   Somewhat reassured, I continued “gettin’ on up” the road. Although snow usually delighted me as much as thunderstorms, I remembered Josh’s accident last March and was concerned with the possibility of deer, coyotes, or wild feral pigs suddenly jumping out in front of me. Any beauty that might surround me went unnoticed. Instead, I worried about running off the road and being stuck in a ditch in the blinding snowstorm. It was not my idea of a good time, especially in a car with no heat. 
   Only when I was finally back in Lubbock did I think to realize we’d been right last spring — the hundreds of white wind turbines in the area weren’t blighting the landscape — they’d been rendered invisible by the snowstorm.
  About 40 minutes later, the greasy-haired guy was proven right. As I entered Snyder, the snow was petering out, and by Post, the small town just below the Caprock, the sun was shining across a late afternoon’s clear blue sky, although it was still well below freezing. 
   Now only thirty minutes from home, I stopped at Post’s only McDonald’s for another round of hot chocolate, my third, and one more hand warming, but only because I needed to use the facilities. What is it about cold weather that makes you have to pee more often and more urgently? I don’t think it was old age, but I can’t be certain. These days I’m not certain about much, except that I do feel old, cold and sad. 
   I called Sharon to report in and was easily persuaded to come straight to the Nest instead of my house because Doug was whipping up dinner and a fire was already blazing in the den. 
   “Why won’t you call him? He’s in agony, Maggie,” Sharon said. “He’s called here every day, and you said he’d left several messages for you, as well. What in the world happened?” 
   We were seated in front of the fire after having devoured dinner. Doug escaped to the music room, ostensibly to practice, and when we finished the dishes, the we took a plate of leftover Christmas cookies and eggnog to the den. I hadn’t told her the humiliating details, and Sharon knew better than to press too hard, understanding I’d tell her if I wanted or needed to tell her. 
   “Colin wants what I can’t give him and I want what he can’t give me ... so it’s best that we just move on and forget each other.” 
   “But he loves you and I know you love him.”  
   “Does he? Seems to me if he loved me, really loved me, he’d know me better. Know how I feel about things.”
“Well, I know he misses you and wants to see you.”
   “That may be, Sharon, but for me that’s not enough. I have to have the whole package, the whole commitment and ... and ...”
   “And I know,” she said gently, “the whole marriage thing. I know you do, darlin’... I just don’t think he can do that no matter how much he might love you.”
   I balled my fists in frustration. “Don’t you think I know that, Phelps? I know he can’t do that. He’s spent his whole life in temporary situations. Nothing permanent. Twenty years moving all over who knows where, doing who knows what for the FBI. And the man’s never even owned a house, for God’s sake ... sorry, Lord,” I said looking up. “Did I say house? He’s never even bought a couch!” 
   Frustrated, I reached for another cookie. Chomping and dropping crumbs, I continued, “The only thing constant in his life is his love for his twin brother and his passion for Notre Dame football. How pathetic is that?!”
   “Pathetic?” Sharon asked doubtfully. “I don’t know. And I thought he owned the condo the lives in?”
“But it came furnished, and he just did it to help the boys. It’s not a real home, but an investment property, he says. And, well, maybe not pathetic, but different, then, totally different from the way I live. I don’t understand someone like that. Not to want to put down roots ... not to build something solid.”
   “He makes pretty solid furniture. That’s permanent, isn’t it?”
   “No, because he gives away or sells everything he makes, never using any of it in a real home. What kind of home is an investment property? Just like the women he’s had—no investment other than bribing them with diamonds once in a while.”    
   Sharon raised her eyebrows at that, but I continued. “I like permanence ... and I can’t ...” I admitted, lowering my voice to almost a whisper, “I can’t be with a man unless he has made a promise before God to be with only me.” 
  “Are you saying you think he’s been with other women lately?” Sharon asked, surprised.
“No, no. I don’t think that at all. In fact I know he hasn’t. I think ... I know ... oh, I don’t know what I know anymore,” I said in sheer exasperation.
      After a few minutes of silence from both of us, I said, “Damn, Phelps. You know I’ve never been with anyone but Jim, and we waited until our wedding night, after we’d made public vows before God. It was amazing, and awkward, and embarrassing. I ... I ...”
   I was lost in memories and smiled wryly, tears threatening to spill. Finally I said quietly,  “It’s just ... it’s ... what Jim put inside my ring ... did I ever show this to you? No, I’ve never shown it to anyone,” I said pulling it off. “It was ours alone.”
   I read it silently, then handed it to my dear friend and turned away as the tears came forth.
   Sharon read aloud, “God and I, Always. Oh, Mags,” she said as her own tears began to fall, reaching to embrace me.
   “Always,” I whispered. “I want ‘always’ again Sharon. I won’t settle for less than ‘always’ again.” 

   I stayed the night, snugly tucked under quilts on the couch in front of the fireplace. We’d finally said goodnight after a good girlfriend cry, my heart in tatters, but determination steeling me against further involvement with Professor Colin Patrick Murphy.

   Sharon’s heart ached for her friend, and as she huddled against Doug’s warm body upstairs in bed, she prayed for a way to help, deciding the best she could do now was to be there for her. Just like she had been since college. And tomorrow she would call Carol.

   Slipping out before they were up on Saturday morning, I left a note of thanks, saying I needed to be alone so wouldn’t be joining them to ring in the new year that night as planned. Maybe I would see them the next day. 
   I thought it might do me good to go out to the cotton field, but it was so cold that morning I didn’t think I could concentrate, and I was a little tired of being cold.   
   Instead, throughout the morning, afternoon and most of the evening, with a faithful Miss Priss by my side, I steadfastly worked on a new painting, diverting my mind again in hopes of allowing my heart to heal just a little. I would keep every minute of every day occupied and ignore most of the pain. 
   I can, can’t I? Look how much practice I’ve already had, first when my parents died and then Jim. Both times I’d been devastated, but now I knew from experience that grief had to run its course — had to have its due. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t still grieve for them, but time lessens the intensity, and acceptance slowly takes its place. It had to, or I wouldn’t have been able to love again.
  So I will grieve again. Grieve for the “more” that might have been with Colin. But I won’t allow it to consume me. I will just grieve a little at a time each day, and it will fade away. Eventually. Maybe. God never gives you more than you could handle. I’d always believed that. Just now I wish He didn’t think me so damn strong. 
   Too sad and too tired to stay awake after a light dinner, I went to bed early, tears soaking my pillow as I cried myself to sleep. I missed toasting in the New Year for the first time since I was a small child.