I twist the wedding finger on my ring finger. It’s what pulls me back to my senses.
“Let’s go inside before anyone sees us,” I suggest.
I fold my arms over my breasts because I am self-conscious that I am cold and not wearing a bra. Carl says, “Through the kitchen -- you can throw your shirt in the drier. In the laundry room, there is a buttondown you can put on while yours dries. I was just starting tea.”
A distant loud thud reminds us that the storm is moving out.
He calls after me, “Honey with your tea?” I peel off my shirt. His shirt, a blue denim is lying on the dryer. It smells like lavender. I check out his laundry detergent. Tide with Lavender. Says he’s a traditionalist with a gentle side. I roll up the sleeves, then squeeze out the water from my tee shirt into the deep tub sink by the washing machine. I pull out the load from the drier. All towels (blue) and sheets (queen, paisley). I start folding to forestall the return to the kitchen. The tea kettle whistle alerts me that the tea is almost ready. Count to thirty and I have the rest of the load folded. I pause on a random pair of men’s underwear that has clung to the sheet. Boxers. I would have thought nothing less. Cardinals. That could mean he likes birds or baseball. Hmmm.
“Julia, you’re spending too long in there. Come have your tea.”
“Would you mind turning off the light? I would hate for the night watchman to see me in here at this hour.”
I move into the kitchen where the table and chairs are lost in dusky light. Carl is sitting on one of the chairs, rocking back on two legs. He holds his Whately Prep mug in both hands. I pick up mine and blow on it.
“Reminds me of that morning we arrived in Rome at 4:30 in the morning. That storm lasted a good hour. Remember how you ran out and danced in the fountain until some mounted police came? I warned you, but you were ready to argue with them. Thank goodness for our passports and hotel reservations. I think we would have been international felons otherwise.”
“Were we ever really that young?”
“I know I was. The pictures prove it. What really convinces me is coming back to Whately Prep. This place resembles the Whately Prep I remember, but time has marched forward. The new gymnasium is impressive. The Vegetarian and Vegan menus in the dining common, now that's a change. It strikes me as removed as can be from the slop they served us when we were students.” Carl’s smile moves from his mouth to his eyes predictably every time.
“I look forward to being on campus with you again -- we will have a good time working together, Carl.”
“Is there going to be something more? What brought you here, Julia?” His voice was sweet, so quiet I could barely hear him.
“I don’t have a clue why I came, Carl. I was out of my skin and I needed to see you. I don’t know why. I don’t know what it means.”
I put my hand over his. The legs of his chair tip forward, touch down, then connect with the floor.
“Go. Light is starting to break. You can’t afford to be caught anywhere near here, Julia.”
I get up and cross to the back door.
“I’m sure my shirt isn’t dry, yet. I’ll get it some other time. Thanks for the tea.” I give Carl my best effort at a smile. It wobbles. For a reason I don’t understand, I want to cry.
Carl crosses the room in two easy strides. He lifts my face toward his using one finger of his right hand. He looks at me. Really looks at me. I forgot that a look can do that, make my legs go jelly-like. His kiss lands square in the middle of my forehead.
“Take care, little girl.”
I leave on a run. I head down to the Athletic fields, doing four laps around the football field until the light is bright enough that it makes its way through the trees. At long last, I can run to the river.