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 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. 

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