Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 7 Part 2

“Shall we go to the library first?” he asked.

“Sounds good.” We started walking in the direction of a large Renaissance-style building. “How did you get into writing, anyway?” I asked.

“One of my friends was doing NaNoWriMo several years back and he challenged me to do it with him – for moral support. I think I had a couple of drinks in me at the time because it sounded like it might be fun, despite the fact that I had never written anything but school papers in my life, and even those I kept to a bare minimum.”
“So, what happened? Didn't you think better of it in the morning?”

“I had given him my word that I would do it – I couldn't go back on it,” he said as we climbed the library stairs. “Anyway, I soon discovered that, talent not withstanding, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.” He held the door open for me. “It was like a painting, except with words. I had to tell readers everything that I would normally show them in a painting. It was a creative challenge. I liked that. I still do.”

“Oh my goodness! This is amazing!” I exclaimed as we walked into the rotunda.

“Told you! I knew you'd love it. Take a deep breath. You can actually smell the books from here.” He was right. You could just breathe in the accumulated wisdom of the years simply standing there. The rotunda had these incredible marble columns that led upward to an impressive amber glass dome.

“Wow! They just don't make buildings like this anymore, do they?” I said as I admired the surroundings.

“Shall I show you around?” he offered.

“Yes, please do.”

We headed to the left into a separate room which was filled with reference materials and computers. “When I was younger, this used to be the art and music library. I would spend hours in here just poring over the books. There was so much to discover. I interned here at the art museum when I was in college and my boss used to send me over with a box full of unidentified slides and I would have to do my best to identify them. It was like being on a treasure hunt. A few years back, they changed it into the technology center. Art had to make way for progress.”
“They didn't get rid of the books, did they?”

“Oh no!” he assured me. “Thank goodness, they didn't do that. They just moved them into the regular book section. The music got moved downstairs with the videos and DVDs. Somehow it's not the same, though. There was something about being able to say that I was going to the 'art library.'” he said wistfully.

We continued on to the other sections of the library. It really was an incredible place. “So many books, so little time,” I sighed as we walked out. I was carrying the few books I hadn't been able to resist.

“Are you actually going to have time to read all those?” he asked.

“Don't worry. I'll make time. There is always time for a good book! Besides, I'm a fast reader.”

“I'm not,” he admitted. “One book can last me a whole month.”

“No kidding?” I asked, surprised. “One book can last me a day – maybe two.”

“I prefer to savor mine,” he said. “I treat them like a fine wine.”

The doors to the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum (that is quite a name, isn't it?) were mammoth wooden structures with impressive lion head knockers. “Those knockers remind me of the ones in A Christmas Carol,” I said as we entered. “I half expected the ghost of Jacob Marley to appear as we entered.”

“No, no ghosts here,” he said. “That would make a good story, though, wouldn't it? – a ghost in an art museum.”

“You are always on the lookout for a good story, aren't you?”

“Well, November comes around every year. It's helpful to have ideas to work with. I jot them down in a notebook as a 'just in case' file.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Maybe I'll have to start doing that, too.”

“You should. You never know when inspiration might strike.”

We were still standing in the entry to the museum and the guard was starting to look at us rather suspiciously. “Which way would you like to go?” I asked Mike as I looked around. There was a massive staircase to my right, a gallery in front of me, and a hallway to the left. “It looks like we have a few options. What's your favorite part of the museum?”

“There are some great exhibits here. My personal favorites are the plaster casts I had told you about, but that's not where I wanted to take you.”

“It's not?”

“Nope. Come with me.” He led the way to the right, underneath the stairs, through a door, and down a narrow staircase.“Watch out for your head,” he cautioned as we descended.

“Where are we going?”

“To the classrooms.”

“Are we supposed to be down here?” I asked hesitantly. “It's awfully dark.”

“Here. I'll get the light switch. . . Let there be light.”

“Seriously, are we supposed to be down here? That security guard was pretty intimidating. I don't want to get sent to jail for trespassing or anything.”
“Stop worrying. It's fine. I teach classes here. The guard must be new, but I’ve got my ID if he questions us. I'm allowed to be here. Anyway, I wanted to show you where I fell in love with art, and, if you are up for it, give you a lesson.”

“Me, do art? . . I don't think so.”

“Why not? You said you wanted to learn how to see and think like an artist. Right?”

“Well, yeah . . .”

“Well, nothing, here's your chance. I'm a firm believer that anyone can create art. They just need to be given the opportunity.”

“I'm not totally devoid of creativity. I'm just not good at painting or drawing or stuff like that.”

“I don't believe you!”

“Ugh! . . . how do I get myself into these things?”

“By hanging around with me,” he answered jovially. “Life with me is never dull.”

“Thanks for the warning. I'm beginning to find that out for myself.”

“Here's an apron so you won't get your clothes dirty.” He put one on as well.


“Don't look so down. You're going to have fun. I promise. Now, what do you want to try working with? We have pastels, watercolors, acrylics, or we can try doing some pottery if you would like.”

“You're asking me? I honestly have no idea.” I paused to think. “Alright, how about pottery? I mean, that's probably the easiest, right?”

“I don't know if I'd say that. It was the class that I had the hardest time with at school. It took me quite a while to even be able to make a serviceable bowl, but it is a good stress reliever.”

“Great. Now I'm even more nervous.”

“Don't be. The beautiful thing about pottery is that if something isn't coming out well, you can just smush it back into a big ball of clay and start over.”

“Why do I get the feeling I'm going to be doing a whole lot of smushing?”

“First, you are going to be doing a whole lot of kneading. Come over here.” He opened up a big container and scooped out a clump of clay and smacked it on a table.

“Have you ever kneaded dough?” he asked.

“Oh sure. My mom and I used to enjoy making bread for the holidays.”

“See, you're ahead of the game already! This is the same thing, except the dough is thicker and it takes more muscles. This is the stress-relieving part. You have to work the clay until it is nice and warm and all the air bubbles are out of it.”
We stood side by side working the dark earthy clay. It started out sticky and hard to work with, but I soon got a good rhythm going. I liked the feeling of the clay in my hands. Mike was right, though. It was certainly a workout for the muscles. I could feel my shoulders starting to get sore. It was a good sore - the kind that lets you know your body is working hard doing something physical. It was also a reminder that I hadn't been exercising as much as I should be. Mike looked over every now and then to check on my progress, offering encouragement. I wondered if his muscles hurt, too. I looked over at him. He did have a very nice physique. I wouldn't mind running my hands over those muscles. Get a grip, Lucy. He's not interested.

“This is quite a workout,” I commented in an effort to break the silence and get my mind back on task.

“Told you! Pottery isn't my favorite thing to do, but whenever I am stressed or upset about anything, I come and pound clay. It always helps clear my head. I'm glad that you chose to do this. I figure beating the clay might do you some good as well.”

“About the other night . . .,” I began, not sure at all what I was going to say. “I wanted to apologize.”

“For what? You have nothing to apologize for,” he replied, still working on kneading his clay. “You didn't do anything wrong.”

“Yeah, but I shouldn't have burdened you with my problems.”

“You needed to tell someone. I'm a good listener. People tell me their problems all the time.”

Great. I had to tell my problems to the Dear Abby of men. He probably has a file somewhere in order to keep track of them all.

“I bet it was a big relief for you to finally tell someone,” he continued. “Besides, your secret is safe with me.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.” I may have been one of many who confided in Mike, but as he hadn't told me anyone else's secrets, I took him at his word that he wouldn't share mine. That was a comfort.

“How's the clay feeling?” Mike asked, changing the subject.

“Um . . .I'm not sure. It feels warm and soft.”

“That's a good sign,” he said. “Can I check it for you?”

“Sure. Be my guest.” I moved away from the work table so Mike would have room to maneuver. He kneaded the clay a few times and pronounced it ready to use.

“So what do we do with it now?” I asked.

“The easiest thing to start with is simply to make rolls of it and start using it that way." He took some of the clay and began rolling it to demonstrate. I did the same. Soon, I had a long snake of clay about two feet long.

“This is fun,” I said. “I haven't done this since I was a little girl”

“I'm glad that you are enjoying it! That should be good,” Mike said, looking over at my efforts. “Do you want to try making a bowl with it?”

“Sure, why not?” He showed me how to begin coiling the bottom and then slowly build up the sides.

“Wow! Look at that!” I exclaimed as I admired my handiwork. “It actually looks like a bowl!”

“You're a natural. I knew you could do it!”

“Now what happens to it. I mean, it's not done yet, right?”

“You can leave it that way if you want it to be terra cotta colored or you can put some slip on it if you want it to have some color.”

“I like color. Can I try that?”

“Sure thing. Color it is.” He walked over to a few jars on a shelf. “Do you want red or blue?”

“Blue's good,” I replied. He brought over one of the jars and poured something that looked like very watery clay into a bowl for me to use.

“Here you are,” he said as he handed me a brush. “Just brush this on all over the bowl. You don't need to do the bottom. That will stay as it is. Actually, before you start applying the slip, why don't you put your initials on the bottom?” He took a wire and slid it under the bowl to release it from the table and then gently turned it over. He handed me a tool to write with. “Don't press too hard – you don't want to cut through the clay. Just do it deep enough to leave a slight indentation.” I took the tool and gently scraped in “L. L.” and the date.

“See. Now it's official. You've made your first bowl!” he said as he flipped it back over. “Now you can apply the slip.” I took the brush and began applying the greyish liquid.

“Are you sure this is blue?” I asked. “It doesn't look blue.”

“Don't worry. It will once it is fired. It will be beautiful,” he assured me.

“Working with clay is a lot like going through life. You have to go through a bit of fire before true beauty comes out.” Something in the way he looked at me when he said that made the butterflies come back.

“I think I'm all done,” I stammered as I applied slip to the last recesses of the inside.

“Great! You can leave it there to dry. There aren't any classes going on today or tomorrow in this room. I'll come back tomorrow and put it in the kiln.”
“What are you going to do with your lump of clay?” I asked, trying desperately to regain my composure.

“I don't know. I didn't really have any plans for it. I could just throw it back in the clay bin. The clay can be reused.”

“Oh, OK. It looks sad just sitting there, though. It looks like it wants to be used.”

“The clay looks sad? Are you sure that you're feeling OK? Maybe the fumes down here are starting to get to you.” he laughed. “I guess I could do something with it. I could try making a pot on the wheel. Like I said, though, I'm not great at it.”
“That's OK. I would like to see how a pottery wheel actually works. When I was a little girl, there was a pottery wheel in a toy catalog. I wanted it so much. I asked Santa for it in a letter.”

“Did you get it?” he asked.

“No, but I did get a dollhouse my father had been working on for months. That was good, too. I spent a lot of time playing with it, making up stories with my dolls.”

“You must have been so cute!”

“Oh, I don't know about that,” I smiled, “but I still would like to see how the wheel works.”

“Alright, I'll give it a shot - just for you.” He moved over to the pottery wheel.
“Come on over.” I obliged, pulling up a chair next to him. “You know I'm not making any promises on how this is going to turn out.”

“I'm sure you'll do fine. You seem to be able to work magic with everything you touch.” Did I actually just say that? “Artistically. I meant artistically.” He laughed.

He plopped the clay on the wheel. “OK, clay, be kind to me. We have an audience.”

“Do you always talk to your clay?”

“Some people talk to their plants. I talk to clay. I figure it can't hurt.”

“I'll remember that next time I try working with clay.”

“Well, I guess I should try to do something with this. Let's see. The first step is to get the wheel moving. There is a pedal underneath that makes it go.” The wheel started turning. “That should be good. Next step – try to make a bowl. This is the fun part. I need to stick my thumbs in the middle and try to make an opening.” I watched him working the clay. Sure enough, it was starting to look like a bowl. “Now, I need to try to thin out the sides. This is the hard part.” He pulled gently on the clay and the walls of the bowl began to move outward. Then, they collapsed!
“See, I told you this was hard!” He smushed the clay back together. “But, you can always try again. Do you want to try?”

“Oh, I don't know. If you can't do it, I doubt I can.”

“Think of it this way. You can't do any worse.”

“I guess that's true. OK. I'll give it a shot. Will you help me?”

“Of course.” I sat down in front of the wheel. He sat behind me. “OK, start the wheel turning.”

It took me a few seconds to get a feel for working the wheel. “There you go,” he encouraged. “You want it to go at a nice steady pace. Not too fast or your clay will go flying.”

“Do you know that from personal experience?”

“More times than I care to admit. But, it looks like you've got it at just the right speed. Now start forming the clay. Try to get it into the shape that you want.”

“What shape do I want it?”

“That's up to you. This is your world. You are the potter. It is the clay. Do with it whatever your heart desires.”

“Well, maybe I'll just try to make a bowl – see how that works out.”

“Alright, then, once you feel like the clay is ready, stick your thumbs in the middle and gently start pushing against the outsides to make the walls thinner.” I tried to oblige. It really was much harder than it looked.

“Here, let me help you.” Mike wrapped his arms around me and guided my hands over the clay. I could feel his warm breath on my neck. I could feel my heartbeat quicken. My mind was on everything but the clay. I tried to concentrate on the sensation of the warm clay sliding through my fingers as I attempted to shape it into something resembling a bowl.

“I feel like Demi Moore in 'Ghost.' Except, she knew what she was doing of course!”

“You're doing fine! As I said, you can't possibly be worse than me at this, and I spent a full semester of college working at it.”

“Oh no! It's falling apart!” Sure enough, as I tried to thin out the walls more, they started getting wobbly and then crashed in on themselves.

“Don't worry about it,” Mike said. “Just smush it back together into a big lump.” I happily did so.

“Bad clay!”

“See, now you are talking to it!”

“I guess you're right.”

“Do you want to try again?”

“No, I think I've had enough for today.”

“Well, let's clean this place up, then, so that I don't get in trouble with my boss.”
I helped him put the clay away and clean off the tables. He placed the one bowl I had completed up on a shelf. “See, at least you have one thing to show for today's adventure,” he said.

“Absolutely. Thanks for bringing me here. I had fun!”

“I'm glad. I had fun, too. I always enjoy hanging out here.”

We climbed back up the stairs and headed out into the quadrangle. “We never did get to see the exhibits,” I remarked.

“That's OK. It gives me a good excuse to bring you back here again sometime.”

“I appreciate that, but you don't need to feel like you always need to be taking me someplace, like I need to be taken out or anything. I know you have other friends. . . “

“Don't worry about it. I like hanging out with you, and I do still get to see my other friends.”

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Friday, October 30, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 7 Part 1

Chapter 7

Mike called me Saturday night. “Hi! I was just calling to see how you were doing.”

“I'm doing great. How was movie night?” I asked.

“It was fun. It's always fun to hang out with the kids eating popcorn. We watched a Star Wars movie and then we battled with light sabers.”

“Sounds like it was a good male bonding experience,” I laughed.

“Yes, it was. It would have been nice if you had been able to join us, though. Maybe you can come another time,” he said.

“Yes, I think I would like that.”

“There was another reason why I called,” he sounded serious.

“Oh, what's that?”

“You don't have to, of course, but I was wondering if you would like to come to Church with Sara and the boys and I tomorrow.”

“Uh . . . I don't know. It's been a while. . . ”

“I know, and I know you are mad at God, but you can't run away forever. I thought it might do you some good – help the healing process along. The priest won't know you and we have a real friendly congregation. We go to the children's mass. There are lots of kids and lively music. I think you'd enjoy it. I could pick you up or you could meet us there – whatever you want. We usually go out to eat after. You are welcome to join us for that as well.”

“It's very thoughtful, really . . . I'm just not sure. . .”

“Please come.” There was something in the way that he said it that made me agree.

“Alright, you've convinced me. Here, I’ll give you directions to my house.”


Sunday morning, I was so nervous. I hadn't set foot in a church in nearly a year and a half. I had always enjoyed going to mass before Alan died. I found the prayers and the music so soothing. I had always liked churches when they were empty – to just sit in the silence and be in the presence of God. Yes, I knew God was everywhere and I could be in his presence no matter where I was, but there was something special about being in a church. I had blamed God for everything, but deep-down I knew that it wasn't really His fault. Alan had chosen to cheat on me. If there was any blame – it lay with him, or perhaps, with me. Maybe I had taken my marriage for granted. Maybe we weren't meant to be together in the first place. And his death? Well, God may have been responsible for that, or it may have been that it was just Alan's time. He was meant to save those children. It was time for me to find someway to forgive – God, Alan, and me.

I was thankful when Mike finally pulled into the driveway. I rushed out to meet him.
“Good morning! How are you?” he asked as I stepped into the car, which, I noticed, had actually been cleaned.

“Terrified,” I answered honestly.

“Don’t be. You’ll be fine.”

“I hope so,” I whispered. The butterflies flying in formation in my stomach were not so sure.

We met Sara and the boys in the parking lot. They seemed to know everyone as we went in. They greeted so many people by name. It seemed strange to me to find such a sense of community in a city. It was a modern church, with pews on three sides of the altar, very different from the traditional church I had grown up going to. There were beautiful stained glass windows all around the church, each highlighting a different name of Jesus. We sat in the front row. “Do we have to sit up front?” I anxiously asked Mike.

“It'll be fine,” he said. “We always sit up front. The kids like it up here. They can see everything that is going on.” Sara sat between the boys. I sat next to Tommy and Mike sat on the outside. He said he had to sit there because he helped out passing the basket when it was time for the collection. Tommy was busy doing the puzzles on the kid's bulletin while I knelt down to pray before mass. I said a quick “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” and then sat down. The prayers helped calm my nerves. Mike smiled reassuringly at me. That helped, too. One nice thing about being Catholic is that no matter where you go, the mass is basically the same. Once mass began, the rhythm and beauty of the prayers and ritual quickly came back to me. Mike was right – the music was very uplifting and it was great to see the children going up to the altar for the homily. Tommy and Johnny scampered over me in their enthusiasm to get a good seat. I wished my parish up in Vermont had something similar. The homily was geared for children but it spoke to me as well. Sometimes things are better in simple terms. I found a true sense of calm being there. It was something I hadn't felt in a long time.

“So, did you survive?” Mike asked me as we left the church. “Yes, I did. I'm actually glad I came. You were right; it felt good to come back.”

“Oh, good, I'm glad. With the look you had on your face when we walked in, I was worried.”

“Just a few initial butterflies,” I admitted. “Once mass started, I was fine.”

“We usually go to Friendly’s for a late breakfast after mass. Would you like to join us?”

“Sure,” I nodded enthusiastically. “That would be great! I'm starving.”

Breakfast was good. As I savored my French toast, Tommy and Johnny maintained a running commentary. They told me all about school and Star Wars and Pokémon. It really was quite an informative conversation. When we left the restaurant, they ran ahead with Sara. “I should have warned you – they can talk up a storm,” Mike apologized.

“Don't worry about it! It was fun to listen to them. They certainly have a lot of energy!”

“Yes,” he agreed. “They are definitely little boys. So, what are your plans for today?”

“I honestly didn't have any. I figured I'd probably work some more on my story. It seems like a good day for writing,” I said as we walked back to his car.
“Could I possibly interest you in doing something else?” he asked. “There is someplace I'd love to show you.”

“For the head of this writing group, you certainly have been keeping me from writing!” I teased.

“Yes, I know. It's really all part of a sinister plan on my part to keep you from getting to 50,000 words. I can't have you reach your goal and me not. It would make me look bad!”


“No,” he assured me. “But there is someplace I would like to take you. Are you up for it?”

I took a deep breath and looked around. “Why not?”

“OK. Just let me tell Sara we’re taking off.” We walked over to Sara's car and said goodbye to her and the boys.

“No getting into trouble, you two,” she admonished as we walked away. “Don't do anything I wouldn't do!”

“Does she think something's going on between us?” I asked once we were out of her earshot.

“Yeah – I keep telling her we are just friends, but she doesn't believe me. She's another one always trying to fix me up. Even with her failed marriage, she is still trying to marry me off! I'm convinced it is a conspiracy on the part of all the women in my life.”

“Well, I promise I won't try to fix you up with anyone,” I told him. After all, even if he had no interest in me and I wasn’t really ready for a relationship with him, I still wasn't going to push him in some other woman's direction.

“So, where are we off to,” I asked as I buckled my seat belt.

“I thought I'd surprise you.”

“OK,” I said uncertainly. “You're not going to take me anywhere frightening, are you?”

“No. I promise. You'll like it. I know that you haven't seen much of Springfield. I'm just expanding your knowledge – showing you all the city has to offer.”
Within a few minutes of driving through downtown streets, we arrived at a parking lot surrounded by a wrought-iron gate. “What is this place?” I asked as he pulled into a parking spot.

“This is the Quadrangle – it's four museums – two art, one science, one history, and the library. It's the place where I told you I went to art classes when I was young and one of the places I teach now. I wanted to show it to you. We can stop by the library, too. It's beautiful – you'll love it. There are lots of old books to sniff,” he said as he smiled at me. “Besides, all the museums are free when you live in Springfield. How can you beat that?”

We got out of the car and began walking toward the museums. “Look, it's the Cat in the Hat!” I pointed to a metal sculpture in the middle of a manicured green.

“Yes, it is. That's the Dr. Suess memorial. Did you know he was from Springfield? He grew up just a few streets from where I live.”

“Yeah, now that you mention it, I think that I did read that somewhere. I love his books. They are great for story times with the kids!”

“A lot of his stories were set right here in Springfield,” he added. “Mulberry Street is only a couple of streets from here. Of course, it doesn't look anything like it did back when he was describing it. No horses and carts have gone down it in quite a while! His father worked at Forest Park.”

“You are just a font of information. I'm amazed by how much you know!” I complimented him. “Oh, look – it's Horton!” I pulled a camera out of my purse. “Will you take a picture of me with him?”

“Sure. Smile!” He took the photo, then handed me back the camera. “Over there is the full text of Oh the Places You'll Go.” He pointed to a large metal book. “Have you ever read the book?”

“Yes, I have. It's very encouraging, isn't it?”

“My mom gave it to me as a graduation present when I graduated from high school,” he said. “I think she expected great things from me.”

“And you have delivered, haven't you?”

“Well, she was always supportive of my art, but I don't think she would've objected if I had become a doctor or lawyer or something. I don't think my being an artist was her first choice.”

“Yeah, my parents used to lecture me about my 'lack of direction' as well, but they figured I would get married and have kids and take care of them, so if I didn't have a great career, it wasn't that big a deal. They thought I could always help out with the farm if nothing better came along.”

“Wasn't there anything you ever wanted to be?” he asked. “I mean, I know that you like working at the library and all, but was there anything else? - something you loved when you were a kid?”

“When I was kid, I wanted to be a ballerina.”

“Do you dance?” he asked.

“Not a bit! In fact, I have been told I have no natural grace at all.”

“I don't believe that!” he said.

“Spend more time with me. I'm sure you'll discover it for yourself!”

“OK, so dancing was out of the question. Was there anything else you liked to do?”

“I loved writing. I would make up all sorts of stories.”

“So, this novel project must be right up your alley.”

“Not really.” I shook my head. “It's been a long time since I've written anything. My novel isn't very good, but I'm trying to take your advice and ignore that. It does feel good to be writing again, though.”

“I'm glad to hear it. It always feels good to do something that you love, and I'm sure it isn't as bad as you think. In fact, I'd be willing to bet mine is worse!”
“Well, maybe we could have a contest – writer of the worst novel wins?” I suggested.

“Of course, that would mean you would have to let me read yours!”

“Are you going to let me read yours?” he countered.

“Not in a million years!”

“I guess we have a problem, then. We'll have to just call it a draw,” he laughed.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 6 Part 2

“I'm not sure where to begin,” I hesitated.

“Why don't you start at the beginning?” he encouraged.

I took a deep breath. “I was married.”

“Are you divorced?”

“No, I'm a widow.”

“Oh. I'm sorry. That must be hard. How did he die?”

“In the line of duty – he was a cop, but that's only half of the story.”

“OK. So, what's the rest of the story?”

“It could take a while.”

“That's OK. I have all night.”

“Let's see – the beginning. I met Alan when we were in high school. As you know, I come from a small town. Everybody knows everybody, but still, Alan and I most definitely did not move in the same circles. He was hugely popular – wealthy, handsome, captain of the football team and all that. Every girl wanted to date him, and the most popular, outgoing girls did. I was the bookworm. Honestly, I might have been invisible. He might have known my name, but that was about it. Anyway, after high school, I went off to college and Alan became a cop. He got to know my father from the local bar. Neither of them were big drinkers. They mostly just hung out there – watching sports on television and playing pool. It's a small town - It was just the men's hangout.

“Anyway, after my mom got sick and I moved back home, Alan started stopping by the house. He would spend some time helping my dad with the farm, and would end up having meals with us. We ended up spending more and more time together. Turns out, he wasn't just a pretty face – he really was a good guy. It seemed like he had grown up a whole lot since high school, and so had I. A lot of the people he had hung around with in school had moved away. We didn't have all that much in common, but we got along well. He had a good sense of humor and could make me laugh which I desperately needed at that point in my life. I love my mother, but caring for her every day and seeing her so sick – it was tough. Alan was a pleasant distraction. I fell in love. I had never been in love before – not really. I had dated in college, a few dates here and there, but no one serious. Most of them just seemed interested in hooking up, not in an actual relationship, and I really wasn't into that kind of scene. Alan seemed like a knight in shining armor, as corny as that sounds. I was so happy when I was with him. He treated me like a queen – he would bring me flowers and buy me jewelry and always picked up the tab when we went out to eat. He was always such a gentleman.

“After my mom's cancer went into remission, he asked me to marry him. My mom wasn't thrilled. He wasn't Catholic and that was a big sticking point with her. He was willing to go to Church with me though to make her happy, so that kind of smoothed things over a bit. For my part, I worried about his wild side. He liked to drive his motorcycle too fast, liked to party a little too much. I thought that he couldn't be happy with me – that I was really kind of dull and that he would eventually get tired of me. After all, I wasn't anything like the girls he used to hang out with in high school. He assured me that he had changed, however – that he truly loved me and wanted to be with me forever. So, I happily said 'Yes.'

“We were married a few months later in a nice small ceremony. It was everything I wanted in a wedding. My father walked me down the aisle and I got to wear my mother's wedding dress. Best of all, my mom was feeling much better and could be there. I was so happy that day. Standing there in the church with Alan by my side – I didn't think life could get any better.

“Alan had some money saved up and we were able to buy a small house near where my parents lived. We had some adjustments as newlyweds. All couples do, I imagine. Still, I thought we were doing pretty well. We each had our own lives. Alan liked his police work – it wasn't like it was a high crime area or anything, but there was always someone who needed help. And I was still helping out on my parents' farm. I got a job as a waitress and I also started volunteering at the library. The only thing we didn't agree on was when to start trying to have a family. I wanted a baby and Alan kept saying he wasn't ready. We were both young. I figured we had time to wait a little while.

“Life was good, or so I thought, - until the day I got his cell phone bill and noticed that there were a whole bunch of long distance calls to a number I didn't recognize. I dialed the number and a young woman picked up the phone. I told her I had the wrong number. Of course, then I was suspicious. I decided to check out his email account. I probably shouldn’t have, but the password was saved on the computer. I was crazy. I had to know what was going on. There were hundreds of emails to and from a woman whose name I recognized. She was a girl Alan had dated in high school. Apparently they had reconnected on one of those reunion sites on-line. I sat there reading message after message. He was having an affair. He had told her he planned to leave me and go to New York to be with her. I didn't know what to do. I was so angry. I printed out a whole bunch of the messages, planning to confront him when he got home from work. I wanted to scream and hit him and tell him how much I hated him. A huge storm had started outside. There was lightning and thunder and driving rain. The storm matched my mood. I sat near the door, the letters in my hand, waiting for him to come home.” I paused to take a few sips of water.

“What happened when he got home?” Mike asked.

“That's just it. He never came home. One of the other guys on the force came to bring me the news. I knew as soon as I saw John coming to the door that something had happened. I turned the letters I was holding over and put them on the coffee table and let him in. The first words out of his mouth were 'I'm so sorry.' Apparently, as Alan was driving around doing his rounds, he saw a lightning strike hit a house and set it on fire. He called the fire department and then ran in the house to see if anyone was there. There was a young teenager home. He could hear her screaming. By the time he got to where she was, she had passed out from the smoke. He carried her out. She came to as they got outside and told him her baby brother was still in the house. Alan ran back in. He found the baby upstairs, but by then the fire was too severe. He stood by the window with the baby. The firefighters had arrived and put up the ladder. Alan was able to hand over the baby who ultimately recovered, but it was too late for him. He was badly burned. He died in the ambulance.

“He was celebrated as a hero. After all, he had saved two children. His funeral was attended by everyone in town. And I was the hero's widow! How could I tell anyone the truth? – that he was cheating on me – that he didn't love me anymore – that he was planning to leave me. I didn't even tell my mother. Whenever I saw anyone, they were always expressing their sympathy, telling me what a wonderful man Alan was; how much he loved me; how they were sure he was in heaven. I was so angry with God – I didn't even want to think about heaven. I was mad at God for the fact that my husband was cheating on me, and mad at God that he had let Alan die before I had the chance to kill him myself. You know the worse part? – I had to email his girlfriend to tell her that he died. I figured that she would want to know. She actually had the nerve to show up at the funeral! She cried and cried and cried. It was all I could do not to scream at her right then and there – call her every name in the book and smack her across the face. But I couldn't, because I was supposed to be the grieving widow and I didn't want anyone to know the truth.

“I thought that in time things would get better, but it didn't. People stopped mentioning Alan so much, but they still looked at me with pity in their eyes. I was still filled with so much anger, but then the sadness mixed with it. The thing was, as much as I hated Alan for what he did and for the fact that he died, I missed him, too. I had really loved him, and I thought he loved me. I have to believe that, for a little while anyway, he did.” I could feel the tears start to stream down my face and I stopped to wipe them away. I couldn't believe I was saying so much, but once the words started coming, there was no stopping them. I had kept them bottled in for so long. I could feel Mike's gentle blue eyes on me. At times it honestly felt like he was looking, not at me, but through me, straight into my soul.

After a couple moments he spoke, “When did you decide to leave and come here?”

“It was after about a year. I just couldn't take it anymore. There was no one I could talk to. Everyone knew Alan and had such a high opinion of him. My parents and the couple of friends I had just thought I was having a hard time because he had died. I stopped going to Church. I tried to avoid our parish priest whenever I encountered him anywhere. Like I said, it's a small town – there was just no escape. I just couldn't take it anymore – pretending all the time. I eventually decided to sell our house, and move here and start over. I had some life insurance money to help out with a new beginning. My mother was so sad that I was leaving, but she knew I had reached a breaking point – that I needed to do something, or I was going to have a breakdown. I don't miss much about home, but I do miss her,” I admitted.

“I'm sorry,” Mike said.

“For what? - You didn't do anything.”

“I'm sorry that you have been hurting so much. I'm glad that you told me.”

I wiped away a few more tears. “Yeah – I'm probably really going to regret this in the morning.”

“I hope not. I won't tell anyone. I just want to be your friend.”

“Thanks,” I smiled. “I could really use one.” A pregnant silence hung between us.

“Could I ask you something?”

“What?” he said.

“How did you move on?”

“From what?”

“Your girlfriend – the one you were supposed to marry. She found someone else. How did you manage to forgive her and go on with your life?”

He took a deep breath. “It wasn't easy. Like you, I was angry and sad and brokenhearted, but in the end I just realized that it wasn't meant to be. We were something very special for a while and I'll always have those memories – I told you I've never really gotten over her, but – it was just a chapter in the story. Well, maybe a couple chapters. There was still a whole lot of the story left to be written.”

“I guess you're right. I admire you – and Sara. The other day at the party when I was talking to her I was really amazed by how she has been able to pick up the pieces after her husband left her. My pieces still feel like they are all over the floor! I want to be able to move on.”

“You will – it just takes time. Some hearts take longer to heal than others. It's been years since Amy left me. Sara, on the other hand, has always been a pretty tough cookie.”

“Yeah, well I wish the healing process could speed up a bit.”

“You can't rush it. You need to let it take as long as it takes. The hurt won't ever completely go away, but one day you'll wake up and it will hurt less.”

“You sound like you know what you are talking about.”

“I do.”

“Do you think you'll ever fall in love again?” I asked.

“I don't know,” he answered. “I'd like to. I'd like to get married and have a family – if the right person comes along. I used to think that there was only one person for each of us, and that Amy was mine, and I lost her. I don't necessarily think that anymore – I think that there is more than one potential mate for each of us. I think there are second chances – I mean there has to be, right? Look at all the people who get divorced and then get married again.”

“Maybe they just didn't find the right person the first time around,” I suggested.

“Maybe – or maybe finding the right person is only half the battle. Maybe choosing to stay in love after the initial rush wears off is the harder part.”

“Yeah. Apparently it is.”

“I look around at married people I know and most don't seem to realize how lucky they are to have someone to love. I mean, look at Sara's husband. He just didn't see how fortunate he was to have Sara and the boys. He threw it all away! Or your husband – obviously he didn't realize how lucky he was to have you, or else he wouldn't have gone looking elsewhere, right?”

“Oh – I wasn't that much of a prize,” I said. “You should've seen the girl he was leaving me for! I think she was actually a model – that's kind of hard to compete with!”

He looked at me intently. “Don't ever sell yourself short like that. Every woman – every person has their own specialness. If someone has been blessed enough to see that specialness in someone and have someone see it in them, they should do whatever it takes to hold on to that.” He turned and looked out the window for the moment, seemingly collecting his thoughts, or perhaps recalling a memory. He turned back to me. “Look, I know I've never been married and that it is hard, probably much more so than I realize. I’m not trying to condemn anybody. I just don't think people should give up as easily as they do, that's all. Love's worth fighting for. If I find love again, I'm going to hold on to it forever.”

“She'll be a lucky woman, whoever she is. I hope someone will feel that way about me someday.”

“Oh, I'm sure of it,” he said. “There is some man out there just waiting for someone like you.”

“I hope so,” I said in a whisper.

“I know so,” he replied. “Hey, in the meantime, we have each other, right?”

Mike's cell phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and looked at the number.

“Excuse me,” he said. “It's Sara. I need to take this.”

“Sure, I'm just going to go to the ladies' room,” I said and got up.
When I got back, he had his coat on.

“I'm sorry. I need to go home. Sara just got called into work for a few hours and asked if I could watch the boys. I know it probably wasn't in your plans for tonight, but would you like to come back with me? We'll probably just watch a movie or something. If you don't want to - if you could just drop me off, that would be great.”

I thought about it for a moment. “Thanks for the invite, but I should really go home. My dog will be waiting to go out.”

“Oh, OK. Well, can you at least give me a ride home? I'll have Sara give me a ride to the library tomorrow to pick up my car.”

“Of course. Come on.” I grabbed my coat and we headed outside.

“It's so cold, it feels like it might snow!” he said.

“Yeah – it's quite a switch from last week. When I talked to my mom a couple days ago, she said that they actually did have some snow on the ground!”

We got in the car and I put the heater on high. Mike was rubbing his hands together. “The heat usually comes on pretty quickly,” I said. We were at his house in a couple of minutes.

“Are you sure you won't come in?” he asked. “I'll make popcorn!”

“It's tempting.” Indeed, I would have liked to stay, but I knew I shouldn't. “But, I really need to go.”

“OK. I understand. Could I at least have your phone number or email or something, so I can get in touch with you without having to go to the library. Not that I mind going to the library . . .”

“Yeah, of course. Hold on a second.” I grabbed an old receipt and scribbled my number on it. “Here you go.” I handed it to him. “And Mike . . .”


“Thanks for tonight.”

“You're welcome.” He smiled then turned away and closed the door. I watched him walk into the house, then drove home in reflective solitude. It had been quite an unexpected evening. I felt like a huge burden had been lifted from me in telling Mike my secret. It was entirely possible that I would indeed regret telling him in the morning, but I didn't think that I would. The hurt and anger and sadness were all still there, but they felt lighter somehow, like their grip over me had been loosened a bit. It was a first step. As for Mike, I still didn't know what to make of him. All I knew was that I trusted him. I felt safe when I was with him, and I liked that feeling. I wanted it to stay. I knew he wasn't interested in me – not that way, but I could still enjoy his friendship and companionship.

I took the painting out of the car when I got home and brought it into the house. Lady greeted me enthusiastically at the door. “Watch out, Lady, you are going to get stepped on!” I successfully navigated getting through the entryway, holding the painting up as Lady jumped up on my legs. “Yes, I will take you out in a moment. Just let me put this down.” I put the painting on the table in the kitchen. When I came back from putting the dog outside, I went over and looked at the painting again. It really was incredible. Mike was so very talented. Where could I hang it? I picked it up and carried it around the house, trying to find the perfect place. I decided to put it in my bedroom so it could be the first thing I would see in the morning. Besides, no one went in there but me. I didn't have guests that often, but I didn't want to share my painting with anyone. It was mine and mine alone.

I let Lady back in and fed her some supper, then settled in with my writing. What had begun as a whim had become a ritual for me. The month was nearly half over. I could hardly believe it. I was almost halfway to my goal. I had decided my main character would go to France after all. I had picked up a few travel books at the library. I was writing about places I had seen only in pictures and throwing in phrases in a language that I hadn't studied since high school. It didn't matter. No one would ever read this story, and I was having fun. I realized when I was writing, I had a peace that I hadn't had for a long time. I could temporarily forget my life and live in someone else's. Even if Anna was a product of my imagination, it didn't matter. She and I were having fun!

I worked late into the night. The words flowed so easily. I was surprised when I checked my word count to discover I had written over 3500 words – in one night! I had reached the halfway point. I closed my laptop and headed off to bed, where I slept more soundly than I had in ages.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 6 Part 1

When I awoke in the morning, the ring was still in my hand. The morning light coming through the window shone on the inscription inside, Love is Forever. Except that it wasn't - at least not in my case. Did I still think that it could be? Maybe, like the older couple I always saw at the library. I thought about what Sara had said, that she didn't have time to wallow because of her children. I guess I was the opposite – I had too much time to think. Maybe that was part of the problem. I tossed the ring back into its box, disgusted with myself.

I look like crap, I thought as I looked in the mirror. My eyes were all puffy and my face was blotchy from crying. Even coffee and makeup would not help me today, but I had to do what I could to pull myself together. Please don't let Mike come into the library today.

Well, he must have because I saw that he had written notes on the NaNoWriMo bulletin board, but thankfully I didn't see him. Either he came when I wasn't working or he didn't come to find me. Either way, it was OK. I didn't want to see him.
On the bulletin board he had written on a large sheet of paper: “Week #2: Your Characters Will Start to Do Unexpected Things.” I had resumed work on my novel after my two-day hiatus. I started the week at 12,452 words so I wasn't horribly behind, although I definitely had some catching up to do. There was something remarkably comforting in typing a few paragraphs and checking the word count. I liked to watch the numbers increase, even it was only by a couple hundred words. Each word was one step closer to that elusive goal.

Indeed, my characters were, in fact, starting to do some unexpected things. Truth be told, I had considered scrapping all that I had done to date. My semi-autobiographical story was therapeutic to write, but it didn't make for very entertaining reading. I didn't even want to write it anymore. I was tired of thinking about the past. I truly believed that my writing belonged in the garbage bin. At the same time, I couldn't bring myself to hit the delete key. The point of the novel writing month, I reminded myself, was to just write and shut off my inner critic. That was much easier said than done, however, especially considering that I spent most of my life in a library surrounded by great books. Nevertheless the whole purpose of the exercise was to just keep going, and no matter how much of a mess my life was, I was going to do this. I couldn't surrender now.

That being said, my heroine, otherwise known as Anna, definitely needed to get a life. What could I do with her to bring some excitement to her world? I scanned the shelves for ideas when I was at work. Although I was supposed to write about what I knew, I didn't want to anymore. I wanted to write about something I didn't know at all. I wanted my heroine to have some adventure. I wanted to stop wallowing, once and for all. Maybe I could have her take a trip to France and fall in love with her French tour guide? Or, perhaps, she could have a quarter-life crisis and decide to quit her job, get a motorcycle and ride across country. I had always wanted to do that – the ride across country part, not the motorcycle part. There was so much of the world to see, and I had seen so little of it. Maybe my fictional character could go places I had only dreamed of. Perhaps she could come down with some serious illness and end up in the hospital where her roommate would be a wise old woman who would teach her about all the things that mattered in life. When she recovered and got out of the hospital, she would be a changed woman, facing life with a new sense of purpose. Perhaps my character could do all those things. I would need to do some research. Yes, indeed, my character was going to do some very unexpected things.

I was surprised to see Mike come into the children's room Friday afternoon, just before closing. Rachel and I were putting up paper turkeys for the annual Thanksgiving turkey hunt. He was carrying a large rectangular package wrapped in brown craft paper. He smiled as he walked toward me.

“Hi! I am so glad that you are here. I was afraid you wouldn't be working. I realized I didn't even have your phone number or address or anything.” He seemed really nervous. “I'm sorry I wasn't in the library much this week. I was writing and painting and teaching and busy with the kids and the week just got away from me.” He paused to catch his breath.

“You hadn't been around? I hadn't really noticed,” I lied. He gave me a puzzled look.

“Well, I wanted to give you this,” he said as he handed me the package.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Open it and see!” he insisted. I tore the paper off. Rachel gave a gasp when she saw what it was.

“Wow! That is incredible!” Rachel exclaimed. “You didn't tell me you were having your portrait painted! What are you doing keeping secrets like that?” She was my friend, but at that moment, I wanted desperately for her to disappear. I had to agree, though. The painting was incredible. The colors were somewhat more muted than the other paintings of his I had seen, but he truly captured the gentle light coming through the window caressing my face. It was beautiful. Mike had made me beautiful! How I wanted to see the world the way he saw it.

He was standing there, studying my face, waiting for a response. “It's lovely. Thank you,” I finally managed to say.

“Oh, good!” He breathed a sigh of relief. “From the way you were looking at it, you had me worried there for a while.”

“I'm sorry. I was just surprised, that's all. It's not everyday that you get a portrait someone has done of you.”

“I should say not!” added Rachel. She was still standing there. Didn't she have anything that she could be working on?

“I don't feel like I should accept this. Shouldn't I pay you for it or something? What do you usually charge for a painting like this,” I asked.

“You don't owe me a thing! I won't take a penny. I enjoyed painting it and I hope that you'll enjoy having it,” he stated matter-of-factly. I stood there, continuing to admire the painting, grasping for something else to say.

“There is something you could do for me, though,” Mike said.

“Oh, what's that?”

“I was wondering if you would like to go out to dinner with me tonight. Nothing fancy, just somewhere casual. I've been so busy working, I've been forgetting to eat, and I'm starving.”

“Uh – I don't know.” I looked at Rachel. “I was planning on staying late tonight to finish these turkeys and get everything ready for the Thanksgiving party we are having here at the library tomorrow.”

“Don't you even think about staying here and working!” Rachel ordered. “I can do this myself just as well. We're almost done anyway.” That wasn't true and I knew it. “You and this nice talented gentleman go off and have yourselves a good dinner. In fact, you can leave right now.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes, I'm sure. You just be here bright and early in the morning, ready to entertain those kids.”

“Alright, thank you.” I turned to Mike. “Just let me get my coat. I'll only be a few minutes.”

“OK, I'll wait for you over by the entrance.”

I found Mike over by the bulletin board, writing a few notes on people's word counts that they had posted. “How's everybody doing?” I asked, gesturing toward the board. I was still holding on to the painting. “Most are doing well. A couple of people have dropped out already, though. I noticed you haven’t been coming to the meetings. How come?”

“Oh, I’m not much of a joiner. Besides, I really do spend a lot of time here. After work, I like to go home and do my writing there. How come the people dropped out?”
He shrugged. “It happens. Life gets in the way, or people decide that they liked the idea of writing a novel more than the actual writing. This isn't a project for the faint of heart. It takes commitment and endurance, and a little bit of insanity!” he smiled. “I see that you are still going strong,” he said, pointing to my latest word count.

“Is that supposed to be a crack on my sanity?”

“No, not at all. After all, I believe my count is still ahead of yours which obviously would make me even more insane.”

“I didn't realize it was a contest!”

“It's not. I was just wondering how the writing was going for you.”

“It's going OK. There were a couple rough spots earlier this week when I was considering abandoning the project, but I decided to keep going.”

“Yeah, everybody has days like that when it seems pretty pointless. You need to just push through them.” He scribbled a “great job” on someone's note, then he turned to me, putting his pen back into his pocket. “Are you all set to go?”

“Yes. What do you say we take my car this time? It's cleaner.”

“OK, sounds good. Lead the way.” We headed out the side door into the cold evening.

“Oh, and I insist on buying you dinner. It's the least I can do after you painted such a beautiful portrait of me.” I held up the painting.

“No arguments here,” he answered. “I'm always happy to have a free meal.”

I opened the car door for him and put the painting gently in the back seat before getting into the driver's seat. “Will the painting be alright back here while we go eat?” I asked.

“Sure. I wouldn't make that its permanent home, but for a couple hours it will be fine,” he answered.

“Is there someplace special that you wanted to go?”

“No, I thought I'd let you choose.”

“Well, I don't know too many places around here, but there is a little sandwich shop over near where I live. They have a nice warm fireplace I like to sit near on nights like this. Would that be OK?” I asked.

“Sounds great,” he said.

At the restaurant, we ordered our sandwiches and sat down in my favorite spot. “This is nice,” he said, looking around. “I've never been here.”

“I come here often. They do breakfast sandwiches, too, so I sometimes stop by in the morning before work to grab something to eat then, or to order a lunch to bring with me to the library. I'm not very good at keeping food in the house, especially since I live alone. Well – not totally alone – I do have my dog. Anyway, the food here is good and it doesn't cost very much – a winning combination in my book.”

“Absolutely,” he added, taking a bite of his warm turkey and cheese on rye.

“I'm sorry. I'm babbling, aren't I?” Was it extra warm in the restaurant or was it just me?

“No, you're not. Besides, you have a nice voice. I like listening to you.”

“Really? I think you are the first person to ever compliment my voice.”

“I shouldn't be. It has a real nice quality to it – a gentle tone.” I smiled and began to eat. We ate in awkward silence for a couple minutes. Mike was glancing around at the other people eating dinner and the artwork hanging on the restaurant walls. “I've always liked that painting,” he said, pointing to a picture of a girl standing by a window holding onto a water pitcher. “It's by Jan Vermeer.”

“I've heard that name,” I said. “He painted Girl with a Pearl Earring, didn't he?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“I read the novel about the girl in the painting. It was fictionalized, I know, but it was a great book.”

“I've always admired his ability to take ordinary people and ordinary occurrences and make them so beautiful, so that they are anything but ordinary. I try to do that in my art.”

“I think you succeed,” I answered wholeheartedly, thinking of the painting in the back of my car and the ones that I saw in his studio. “How did you get started painting?”

“I've always loved to draw or paint. I can remember being in 1st grade. My teacher had an easel set up and if we got our work done, we could go paint with watercolors on it. The other little boys would be off building things with blocks, or racing cars, and I would be there painting. I liked to do those things, too, of course, and if the easel was being used by someone else, I was the first one there building a tower to knock down, but painting was definitely my first love.”

“You must have been so cute, standing there at your easel!”

“My mom thought so!” he answered. “She was always so supportive of my artwork – hanging it up around the house, putting it up on the refrigerator. She was always getting me new art supplies to work with and when I got a little older she began to send me to classes downtown at the Springfield Art Museums.”

“What did you study there?” I asked.

“Everything I could – drawing, painting, photography. I loved every minute of it. It was, and is, a magical place,” his eyes lit up as he talked. “They have a whole room of classical plaster casts. I fell in love with the Venus de Milo! I used to go and take my sketchpad. I could spend the whole day sketching the sculptures or trying to copy one of the paintings that hung in the galleries. After a while, the artworks there became like old friends. I felt like I knew every one of them inside out.”

“That sounds amazing,” I said.

“It was. My Dad wasn't crazy about it, though. When I was young, he didn't care much. I think that he thought it was a passing fad. As I got older, however, and continued to spend every minute I could with my art, he got more worried. After all, he sold insurance for a living and it provided us with a comfortable existence. He wanted me to do something practical, to be able to support a family and make my way in the world. As far as he was concerned, artists were poor eccentrics – good to have around for the general culture, but you wouldn't want to have one in the family.”

“Did he ever accept it?”

“Mostly. Eventually. It took a long time, though. When I told him I wanted to study art in college, he almost refused to help out with the tuition. Thankfully, I did get a fairly large scholarship thanks to my grades and my mother was able to convince him to provide the rest. I told him I would study education as well so that I could be an art teacher. That seemed to placate him a bit. At least I would have some job prospects.”

“And did you?” I asked.

“Did I what?”

“Study education?”

“Oh yeah, I got my certification and everything. I taught kids when I was a volunteer after I got out of college. You should have seen my father's face when I told him I was going to volunteer for a year.”

“I can imagine. Did you like teaching?”

“I did. I taught art in an inner-city school. The students were so poor. They had holes in their shoes and holes in their clothes, and for many of them, their sole purpose in going to school was to get the free meals it provided. For a lot of them, it was the only food that they got.”

“That's so sad.”

“Yes, it is. But the kids were great. Life had handed them a rotten deal that they couldn't see their way out of, but for the most part, they still had hope and love. We did this one project with them where we gave them each a disposable camera and had them take pictures of their world. It was like a photographic 'all about me' kind of project. We taught them how to develop the pictures (this was pre-digital) and then write about what they had taken photos of. It was amazing to see the beauty that they found in the strangest places – an old factory, a run-down house, a collection of worn-out toys. They also found beauty where you would expect it – a wildflower growing in a parking lot or the eyes of their baby sister. Those kids taught me as much about seeing beauty in the world as I ever learned in a classroom.”

“It sounds like it made quite an impression. Why did you stop?”

“The volunteer program was only for a year,” he said. “When I got back home, there were no openings in the art departments of any of the local school systems, so I decided to go back to school so that I could teach at the college level. A friend of a friend of my mother's heard about my painting ability and asked me to paint a mural in her house. She liked what I did and through her word of mouth, I was able to get a few more projects. One thing led to another, and I soon found I was able to support myself with my art. It was a good feeling. Then, after I graduated, I got the teaching job at the college. Needless to say, my father was amazed, and forced to admit that I wouldn't be penniless after all.”

“I'm glad that you succeeded. You are lucky to have found something you love so much. When you talk about your art, you have such passion. I wish I had that much passion about something, anything!” I admitted. “I wish I could see the world the way you do. You don't seem to be looking at the same world that everyone else is.”
“Anyone can learn to be an artist,” he answered. “It really is all about truly looking at things – not just glancing at them superficially, but taking the time to pay attention. Take this for example,” he held up the salt shaker. “What do you see?”

“A salt shaker?” I answered.

“Yes, it is a salt shaker, but look closer. See the facets in the glass and the reflections on the silver top. Look at the way the light is reflected. If you look hard enough, you can even see your own distorted reflection in it.” He held out the salt shaker for me to take it. I tried to really study it. To, as Mike said, pay attention.

“Wow, you are right!” I said. “I can actually see all the different ways the light is reflecting. It is really pretty.”

“See, I told you. The whole world is like that. God created this amazing planet, and most people just pass it by without paying it any notice. I want to help people pay attention.”

“Well, you have helped me.”

“Great, one person down, six billion to go!” he laughed, then grew more sober.
“There is something I wanted to ask you. If it's too personal, just let me know.”

“OK,” I said anxiously, “What's that?”

“You have a great personality and a good sense of humor and I really enjoy talking with you.”

“That doesn't sound too bad so far.”

“Let me finish,” he said. “When I look at you, and in the photos I took of you to do the painting, I couldn't help but notice that you have the saddest eyes of anyone I have ever met. Why is that? What is hiding behind that smile that hurts you so much?”

“Wow.” I took a deep breath and looked out the window at the cloudy night. I didn't know what to say – whether to say anything at all.

“I'm sorry – I shouldn't have asked. You don't need to say anything.” I could feel my eyes welling up with tears.

“I haven't told anyone. Not since I moved here, and the people at home don't know either – not really.”

“Here,” he handed me a napkin to wipe my eyes. “I didn't mean to make you cry. You don't need to tell me.”

“No, I'd like to.” It was the truth. For some reason, I felt like I could trust Mike. “Do you promise to keep it a secret?” I asked. “Not to tell anyone in the library or write about it in your story or anything.”

“I promise,” he said. I believed him.

"Through the Open Window" is available at
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 5

The sun streaming through my windows woke me up Sunday morning. It looked like it was going to be another warm day. That would be good for the party. I spent the morning doing some housework, and then Lady and I headed out for our morning constitutional. When we got back, it was time for me to get ready for the party. I looked up the address on the internet. Mike lived pretty close to Forest Park. I was known for getting lost when attempting to find new places, but I figured that I should be able to find his house without too much difficulty. I showered and threw on a pair of jeans and a sweater. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and put on some earrings and makeup.

“What do you think, Lady?” I asked the only observer in the room. She cocked her head to the side and looked at me with her big brown eyes. “Yeah,” I sighed, “That's what I thought, too.” I patted her soft head. “Oh, well, it is better than the sweats I had on yesterday. It will have to do.” I gave Lady some chewy treats. “I'll be home later. You be good.” I grabbed my keys and headed out, wondering where this day would take me. It wasn't that I necessarily found a group of six and seven year old boys intimidating. After all, I worked with children every day. Still, I wasn't quite sure what to make of my role in this day. What was I supposed to do? I would have to just wait and see.

I turned off the main street and into a residential neighborhood. Mike lived in the historic district – a section of beautiful old Victorian homes. I had only seen the ones that were on the main road. I never realized how many more homes were set back on side streets. It was like entering a whole different world, taking a step back in time. Springfield was the first big city I had ever lived in. Coming from a small town, I suffered from culture shock when I first moved here. I was struck by the contradictions. Abject poverty and relative affluence lived nearly side by side. You could be driving through a fancy section and then find yourself someplace you wouldn't want to be alone at night within a matter of minutes. It was just a matter of knowing where to go and where not to, and that took some time to figure out. Mike's area was definitely one of the more privileged ones.

When I pulled up to his house, he was attaching balloons to the mailbox. His house was huge! It was three floors, with huge columns framing the entranceway. There was a fountain right in the middle of the street, surrounded by a garden! While I imagined it would be even prettier in spring, it was still breathtaking. Mike waved to me as I got out of the car.

“Hi, Lucy, I'm so glad that you came! A few of the guests have begun to arrive.”
I nodded, smiling. “This is some place you have here.”

“I told you!” he said. “I grew up here. The house has been in my family for almost a hundred years. My parents moved to South Carolina a few years ago and they left the house to me. When my sister's ex-husband left her, she and the kids needed some place to stay so they moved in as well. I like it better that way. It was really way too big a house for just one person. Come on inside. I'll introduce you to everyone and show you around the place.”

“Here. This is for Tommy,” I said, handing him the present I was carrying. “I hope he likes it.”

“I told you that you didn't need to bring anything!”

“That's OK. I wanted to.”

“Thanks. It was very thoughtful of you.”

We walked up the stairs and through the stately front door. There was a huge entryway complete with hanging chandelier and massive staircase with a gorgeous stained glass window at the landing. “This is amazing!” I said.

“You haven't seen anything yet!” he responded. He led me to the right where there was a large living room with mahogany paneling. Our next stop was the dining room, followed by the den and the library. “I think the library is my favorite room so far,” I remarked.

“Yeah, mine, too, at least on this floor. My grandfather loved collecting books. All the classics are here. He had a number of first editions as well.”

I sank into a comfortable armchair and looked around at the bookcases full of books just begging to be read. “I could spend all day here,” I sighed.

“I know what you mean,” he agreed, “but right now we need to go find my sister and see what we can do to help. Come on,” he extended his hand to help me out of the chair. His hand was warm in mine – too warm. I let go quickly. “We'll go to the kitchen,” he said nonchalantly, apparently oblivious to the sudden case of nerves I was now experiencing. “I'm sure we'll find Sara there.” We headed out of the library and around the corner to where the kitchen was set in the back of the house.

“Mike, there you are!” a clearly frazzled woman greeted us. “I wondered where you disappeared to. All the kids are outside. Can you please go keep them entertained?” she pleaded.

“Sara, this is Lucy. Lucy, Sara.” Mike said as he headed out the back door.

“Hi!” Sara said.

“You look really busy. Can I help you with something?”

“Yes, thank you,” she pushed some stray hairs from her face. “Could you please open up the chips and pretzel bags and put them in the bowls.”

“Sure.” I went to work. “Do you want me to bring them outside?”

“Yeah, that would be great. It turned out to be such a nice day; we decided to have the party outside. We're usually not that lucky in November.”

I brought the chips and pretzels out to the picnic table. I stopped for a moment to watch Mike. He was running around the large backyard playing football with a whole gaggle of little kids. I think that it was all of the kids against him. At least it looked that way. They were all trying to tackle him. He appeared to be enjoying it.
I headed back in to help Sara. She had me bring out sodas and plates and cups and all the other party fixings. “Thanks for your help,” Sara said as she joined me outside. “These parties are a lot of work, but the boys enjoy them so much. I think we are all set, though, at least for the moment.” She noticed me watching Mike, “He's great with the kids, isn't he?”

“Yes, he is,” I agreed. “They all seem to be having a great time.”

“I'm really lucky to have him as a brother. I don't know if he told you or not, but I would be lost without him. I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't taken me in after my husband left. He's been so good with the boys.”

“Yes, Mike had mentioned that your husband had left you. I'm sorry.”

“Oh, it's OK. It's been a while now. I have the kids to take care of so I can't really wallow in self-pity. I'm getting over it – trying to move on.”

“I know how that is,” I acknowledged.

“Mike told me you had recently moved here. From Vermont, was it?”

“Yes, northern Vermont.”

“Well, welcome to Western Massachusetts. I hope you like it here.”

“I do,” I nodded. “It's really starting to feel like home.”

“Mike must like you a lot. He almost never brings a girl home.”

“Oh, we're just friends. I hope you don't mind that I'm here. Mike said that you could use another adult to help out.” I suddenly felt very self-conscious.

“No, no, not at all. I didn't mean it that way. I'm glad that you're here. I appreciate the help, believe me!” she smiled at me. I noticed that she had the same striking blue eyes as her brother. “Oh, look, there's the pizza delivery truck coming up the driveway. Will you help me carry the pizzas over?”

“Sure. I'm right behind you.” The smell of pizza caused all the little boys (and the one big boy) to come running over. “Lucy, let me introduce you to the birthday boy. This is Tommy.” Mike rested his hands on the shoulders of a little blonde haired boy. “Tommy, this is my friend Lucy.”

“Hi, Tommy! Happy Birthday!” Tommy buried his head into Mike's leg.

“He's a little shy around strangers,” Mike said. “This is my other nephew Johnny,” he said. acknowledging another slightly bigger boy with brown hair and glasses.

“Johnny, say hello.” Johnny waved as he starting eating his slice of pizza.
After pizza, it was time for presents. Tommy was clearly in his glory. He and his brother worked as a tag team, opening cards and taking the presents out of gift bags. Tommy was so excited! “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” he said to everyone there. “I can't wait to start looking through my cards to see which ones I got!”
Mike had moved over near me. “Wow, he really does love those cards, doesn't he?” I said.

“I told you! That haul should keep him busy for quite a while.”

“He's a cute kid. They both are.”

“They get that from me!”

“You have quite a high opinion of yourself,” I teased.

“Ouch!” he said, smirking. “I think I'll go help Sara get the cake ready.” He turned and headed into the house, only to return a few seconds later with a cake with a lighted number six candle on it. He began singing “Happy Birthday!” and the rest of us all joined in.

“This cake is delicious, Sara, thank you!”

“You're welcome. I didn't make it, though. I took the easy way out and got it from the grocery store.”

“Well, it's very yummy. I love cake and ice cream.”

“Me, too!” Sara said. “I fully intend to eat another piece tonight after the boys go to bed! You hear that, Mike? I'm claiming the leftovers.”

“Not if I get to them first!” Mike retorted.

“You guys sound like my brother and I, at least when we were younger!” I laughed.

“I didn't know you had a brother,” Mike said.

“Yes, I do. His name is Bill. He's older than me by a few years. He and his wife moved out to Arizona a couple years ago. I don't get to see them much.”

“Well, Mike is my younger brother,” Sara retorted, “and as much as he hates to admit it, I can still boss him around!”

“I just let her think that!” Mike responded with a twinkle in his eye.

Parents started arriving to pick up the party guests, and soon the party was over. Johnny and Tommy retreated to the den to check out all the new presents while Mike, Sara, and I handled cleanup. After everything was picked up, Mike invited me to check out the rest of the house.

“Come on, I'll show you the part of the house I live in,” he said. “We can take the back staircase.”

“You mean you don't live down here?” I asked as we climbed the narrow stairs.

“Well, I do, but I mostly leave it to Sara and the boys. I have an apartment upstairs. I converted what would have been the servants' quarters into a space I can relax and work in.”

“Did your family ever actually have servants?”

“To tell you the truth, I'm not sure. I think my great-grandparents might have, but none that I remembered. We had free reign of the whole house when I was growing up. It was a house you could have adventures in! The boys have a good time exploring it now. They just know to stay out of my studio if I'm working.”

We stopped on the second floor. “This is where Sara and the boys sleep. There is also a second kitchen on this floor. I sometimes sneak down here in the middle of the night for a snack, especially if I'm working on a project and need some fuel,” he paused. “One more flight of stairs to go.”

“Welcome to my attic paradise!” he exclaimed as we got to the third floor.

“This is beautiful! Look at those windows!” There were three huge arched windows that allowed the attic to be bathed with light. It was a mostly wide open space with one corner used as a bedroom. The bed had not been made and was covered with clothes. Another corner was used as an office, and the rest of the room set up as an artist's studio with works in progress all over the place. Up against the wall were some blank canvasses and shelves lined with paints and cans full of brushes.

“May I look at your paintings?” I asked.

“Sure. I'm just going to tidy up a bit,” he said as he moved in the direction of his bed. “I'm sorry – my room is a mess. You've probably noticed by now, I'm not a very neat person! I'm more of a clean-up-for-company sort of guy. I didn't think I would be bringing you up here today. I thought for sure that Sara and the kids would scare you off!”

“Are you serious? They're great. I like your sister a lot, and the boys are so cute. They couldn't possibly scare me away!” I moved over toward the paintings. Mike's art was full of vibrant colors. There were portraits and still-lifes and even a painting of a dog. The painting on the easel was of an old-fashioned city street. He had small photographs taped all around the easel.

“What are you working on here?” I asked.

“It is a painting of downtown Springfield about 100 years ago.” He finished making his bed and then joined me by the easel. “Look at these photographs. I made copies of them down at the history museum. Aren't they amazing?”

“Yes, they are,” I agreed.

“It's incredible to see how much life has changed in a century. Those people walking down the street in these pictures are just busy going about their daily lives. They couldn't possibly have imagined the world we live in today. I can't help but wonder how different the world will be in another 100 years.”

“It's true. Life changes so quickly.” I pointed at the work of art. “ I love what you are doing with the painting. I like the bright colors you use. It makes all your paintings seem so warm and happy. All your work is great,” I added, looking around the room.

“Thanks!” He responded. “I hoped that you would like them.” Mike looked at me intently. Our eyes met. I walked away to go look out the window.

“This is quite a view you have here,” I said. From the window I could see all of their yard and most of the street. Some kids were riding their bikes.

“Yes, sometimes when I'm at a loss for inspiration, I just come here and stare out until something comes to me. It usually does. The natural light is great for painting by, as well,” he added.

I could feel his presence behind me. I had the sudden urge to turn around and kiss him. Where was this coming from? I’m not looking for romance. I’m not looking for romance. I kept repeating it over and over in my head. I forced myself to keep staring out the window. This whole male / female friendship thing was going to be much harder than I imagined.

“I was wondering if you would let me paint you?” he asked, breaking into my thoughts.
“Seriously?” I asked, shocked. “Are you sure you wouldn't rather paint my dog? I'd be happy to bring her over for you. I'm sure that she would make a great model,” I suggested, trying to keep the conversation light.

“I'm sure that she would, but, no, I'd much rather paint you. Standing by the window like that with the light hitting you just so – you have a very interesting face.” Hmm. Interesting face. I wasn't sure how to respond to that. “Would you let me?”
“Oh sure, why not?” I responded, not at all sure. “What girl wouldn't want to have her portrait painted?” What on earth was I doing?

“Great!” he smiled. Stay right there - right where you are. I just need to get a blank canvas.” I just kept looking out the window, not knowing what to make of the whole situation. The afternoon had just taken a very unexpected turn. Time felt like it was moving in slow motion. I could hear Mike moving things around the room. He returned to the easel a couple minutes later and removed the street scene he had been working on. He placed the blank canvas on the easel, grabbed some tubes of paint and a couple of brushes, and then turned to me.

“Are you OK? You don't look so good.” He looked worried.

“I'm fine,” I replied, not quite truthfully. “I've just never been in this situation before. I feel very self-conscious.”

“Do you want me to not do the painting? I don't have to. I admit I get a bit carried away sometimes. I see something that I think would make a good painting and I feel compelled to get it down on canvas before it disappears.”

“I guess I understand that. It's like with writing – when you have to get the idea out on paper.”

“Yes, exactly,” he nodded in agreement.

“Alright,” I smiled. “Go ahead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I'm sure.”

“I'd like to take a couple photos if I could.” He held up a camera. The light will change quickly. I'm going to try to get a quick study done, but I'd like something to work from later.

“Sure, go ahead.”

He looked at me and the window, studying us both. It was strange how he looked at me. It was like he wasn’t even looking at me – he was looking through me – as if I wasn't even there. “Here, try this.” He pulled over a chair. “Sit down. You'll be more comfortable.” He walked over to his bookshelf and pulled down a book. “You can look at this if you'd like. It'll make it easier to sit still.” It was a book about Van Gogh. “Do you like Van Gogh?” he asked as he sat back down at the easel.
“Honestly, I don't know much about him, other than that he cut his ear off. I took an art history class in college, but it was mostly focused on Renaissance art.”

He took a couple photos and then he began to work on the painting. “I love Van Gogh's paintings, especially his later works that are so bright and full of color. I try to use color like him.” I flipped through the pages as Mike worked. It did help make the time go by. I recognized some of the paintings, but many were new to me. Every now and then, I would look up a bit to see Mike working. It was as if he were in a trance, working with such passion to get the colors on the canvas. I had never seen anyone be in a zone like that. It was as if the whole world had vanished around him and it was just him and the canvas and his subject. I realized that was what I was. When he did look at me, it was as if I were an object, no different than the bowl of fruit that was sitting there on the table or the street scene in the photograph. I had the distinct feeling that I could be sitting there with my clothes off and he wouldn't even notice, not that I was going to take that step, of course. It was an odd feeling, being there in the silence. Mike hadn't spoken since he started working. I wasn't sure if I should speak, or not. I was afraid to break the spell he was under.

The light in the room began to grow dim. I could see the last rays of the sun as I looked out the window. I wondered when Mike would notice. He kept working for a few more minutes, and then he looked up at me. The spell was broken. “It's getting dark. I should stop working,” he acknowledged. “How did you like the book?”

“It was interesting. I see what you mean about the colors. It's incredible how much his art changed from the beginning to the end. I had never realized how young he was when he died.” I stood up and stretched. “I also never realized before how hard it is to try to stay still.”

“Yeah, when I was in art school, we had to take turns being the models. I never enjoyed it that much. I always preferred being behind the canvas.”

“Can I see the painting?” I asked, pointing to the easel.

“Sure, come on over. I'll turn the light on so you can see it better. It's not much to look at yet,” he admitted, “It's just the underpainting.” Nevertheless, I could see the beginnings of what the painting would become. Mike had captured the light coming through the window and the basics of my face. “What do you think?” he asked.
“I'm not sure what to think – it's definitely a work in progress.”

“You're very diplomatic,” he laughed. “I told you it didn't look like much, yet. I'll work from the photographs I took. It will get better. I promise.”

“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. I don't know much about art. I'm just used to seeing the finished products – not the work that goes into them.”

“That's OK – there's no need to apologize. It's kind of like writing. You start out with a first draft, but then you keep working and working and eventually you end up with something that's pretty good.”

“That might be true for you. If I was making a painting, I could keep working on it forever and it would never turn into anything but a mess. I have no artistic ability, at least not in that area.”

“See, so many people think that about themselves, but it's just not true. I'm a firm believer that everyone can draw and paint if they want to. You should come to one of my classes sometime. Try it out. I'll prove to you that you're wrong.”

“Maybe I'll take you up on that offer. Right now, though, I think I should be going home.”

“Oh, OK. Just let me clean up a bit and I will walk you out.” I watched him as he washed his brushes and his hands. “I have to get the paint out of the brushes right away or else it will dry in them and then it is such a pain to try to get it out.”
We headed back downstairs. I could hear the boys playing. Sara was in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea, looking at a magazine.

“Hey, I wondered what had happened to you two. I thought that you had left,” she said.

“Mike was showing me his studio upstairs,” I answered. I didn't mention the painting.

“Oh, that's nice! I don't go up there too much. I can remember how messy Mike kept his room when we were kids. I'm scared of what I might find up there.”

“It's not bad at all. There's nothing to be afraid of,” I reassured her.

“Would you like to stay for supper? We’re just going to be having leftover pizza, but you are welcome to join us,” Sara said.

“Thanks. That's very kind, but I think I'm going to go home.”

“OK, well, thanks again for your help with the party. I hope that we'll get to see you again.”

“Thanks. It was nice to meet you, too.” I turned to head out the front door. Mike followed behind me.

“I'll get the door for you,” he said as he reached to open the door. “Thanks for letting me paint you. I had a nice afternoon.”

“I did, too. - I guess I'll see you at the library?”

“Yes, I'll be there,” he answered. “Have a good night!”

“Good night.”

The door closed behind me as I stepped into the cool late afternoon air. I took a deep breath and let it flow through me, right down to my toes, and then walked slowly to my car. What in the heck had just happened? I honestly didn't have a clue. Mike was one of the most inscrutable people I had ever met. He was kind and honest and obviously totally in love with life and his work. He had passion, a quality I had rarely seen up close. Most people I knew, myself included, just kind of meandered through life. He soaked it up, drinking it in. I liked being near him. His zeal for life was infectious. As much as I hated to admit it, and as much as I swore to myself that I wouldn't, I was starting to have feelings for him that went way beyond friendship. Yet as I fervently attempted to remind myself, to him, I was just a friend.

I drove home. The radio in the car was playing way too many love gone wrong songs. I had had enough of those to last a lifetime. I turned off the music and listened to my own thoughts. Life was getting complicated. I hadn't wanted that to happen. I wanted simple. I had moved here to get away from complicated. Why on earth couldn't life be simple?

Up in my room, I pulled out the small box in the center drawer of my bureau and opened it. There it was. My wedding ring – the reason life couldn't be simple. I hadn't been able to bring myself to get rid of it. I held it in my hand for a while, sat on my bed and cried. Lady curled up next to me. “Hey, pretty girl.” I petted her. “What am I going to do?” She didn't have any answers but she did lick away the tears on my face. It was good to have a friend.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 4

The next few days I settled into a routine. I would go to work, come home, go for a walk, and then write. I had to admit, I was enjoying it. The writing was therapeutic and once I got typing, I really got into a rhythm. I was meeting my daily word quota of 1600 words. Some days, I would even go over, typing late into the night. I was writing my story, and much of it was straight out of my life, but I was writing it the way it should have been. I was writing it the way I would have liked things to have been. That was the beauty of fiction, after all. I could change characters and events. Heck, I could even make my own character nearly perfect. Who said I couldn't be drop-dead gorgeous with auburn hair and striking blue eyes? It was my world. I could do whatever I wanted.

But memories sometimes got in the way. Digging up the past meant the past was always on my mind. I would dream of Alan and our time together. In my dreams, we were young and he loved me. We were happy. Then I would wake up, and remember. And it would all come back.

I saw Mike a couple times during the week at the library, but we hadn't really had a chance to talk. He was busy writing. I was busy working. I did, however, make a point of checking the NaNoWriMo bulletin board regularly. I would post my totals and check the others that were posted, making a special effort to see how Mike was doing. He was catching up on his totals. He must have figured out something to do with that sci-fi novel after all. I couldn't help but wonder if he had worked me in as a character. Was I really an alien? The prospect was intriguing. He had also left some encouraging messages for the rest of us. “Keep up the good work!” he wrote on several postings, including mine.

Saturday was a beautiful day outside, one of those rare November days in New England when the sun was shining, the air was warm, and one could get by with only a light sweater. New Englanders know those days are to be savored because the skies will soon be grey and snow could come at any time. I didn't have to work, but I did have to run a few errands, including stopping by the library to pick up my paycheck. I was surprised to see Mike there. I figured he would have other things to do on such a gorgeous day. I decided to walk over and say “hello.”

“Hi Mike!”

“Hi.” He looked up, “Hold on just a second? I need to get this thought out before it leaves my brain.” I decided to let that go without saying the smart comment I had in my mind. Instead, I sat down and waited patiently.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “You know how it is. The words start coming and you don't want them to stop. You have to get them down on paper.”

“Do you want me to leave?” I asked. “I don't want to interrupt you if you are in a groove.”

“No, it's OK. I'm happy to see you! I've been spending all this time here and haven't had the chance to talk to you at all. I'd look in the children's room and see you working, but I didn't want to bother you,” he said. “I knew that your boss was upset with you the other day when you were late coming back from lunch. I didn't want to get you in more trouble.”

“Thanks,” I smiled. “You can always come in and say hello, though. Rachel won't have any problem with that.” He had no idea just how happy Rachel would be.

“So, what are you up to today?” he asked. “You're not dressed for work.” I looked down and self-consciously realized I had on my bang-around sweats.

“No, I'm not,” I said. “I have the day off. I only have to work every third Saturday. I was just out running some errands. I stopped by to pick up my paycheck.”

“That's an important thing to do.”

“Absolutely! Anyway, it is too nice a day to be cooped up in here.”

He looked out the window. “You know what? You're right!” He closed his laptop. “Hey, have you ever been to Forest Park?” he asked.

“No, actually, I haven't.” Forest Park was a huge park in Springfield. I had driven by it lots of times, but had never stopped in.

“Do you want to go? It's one of my favorite places. I'd love to show you around.”
I was so surprised, I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Um, won’t your girlfriend mind? I realize it's not a date or anything, but does she care if you go places with other women?” I asked.

“What girlfriend?” he countered with a puzzled look.

“Jennifer?” I said. “At the kick-off party, Chelsea told me that you two were together.”

“Chelsea doesn't know what she's talking about. Jennifer and I have been friends for years, but not like that. I've known her since high school and we do spend quite a bit of time together, but her boyfriend is in the army and is stationed overseas. She just hates being alone, so I take her out to eat or to the movies every now and then.”

“Oh, I'm sorry. I feel stupid. I shouldn't have said anything.” I got up and started backing away. “I should just get going.”

“No, don't. I'm not upset with you. I'm upset with Chelsea. She should keep her mouth shut about things that she knows nothing about. I really would like to take you to the park. I'm going to head there anyway, and I'd enjoy having some company.”

I thought about it. Did I really want to do this? Did I want to start down this road, not knowing where it might lead? Was I ready for this? I looked out the window.

“Please. It's a beautiful day,” he said.

“OK.” I said.

“Great! Come on.” He grabbed his laptop and we started moving toward the door.
He held open the door for me as I got into his car. The car was incredibly messy. It looked like a man's car! “Just move that stuff out of the way,” he said. “You can toss it in the backseat.” I picked up several empty water bottles and old papers and threw them in the back so I could sit down. “I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting to be driving anyone around today. Usually, I try to clean up the car a bit if I know someone will be riding in it.”

“Don't worry about it.”

The ride was short. As he drove, I looked over at him. I really liked looking at him. He had such a kind face. I even liked the laugh lines around his eyes! I liked his voice, too. It had a soft, soothing quality to it.

“How's your novel coming along?” I asked, trying to make conversation.

“It's coming along alright, now at least,” he said. “I had to scrap my original idea and start over.”

“Really? Isn't that against the rules?”

“No, not at all. Sometimes, you have to scrap what you’re working on. Sometimes, you just can't get it to work. I know people who have spent the whole month working on a project, only to give up on it the last week. Then they work non-stop for the last few days and manage to meet the deadline. I never should have tried to write a sci-fi novel. I'm not sure what I was thinking. It violated the whole 'write about what you know' principle that I usually hold to. At least I realized it fairly early in the month.”

“So, what are you writing about now?”

“You're going to laugh,” he said as he glanced at me. I wondered what he thought of me. I really wished that I had worn something else. It wasn't like he was dressed up – just jeans and a sweater, but he wore it well. I looked like something the cat dragged in.

“No, I won't laugh. I promise.”

“I'm writing a story about the library.”


“Yeah, seriously. That's one of the reasons I've been spending so much time there. I've been trying to truly get into the environment.”

“So, what's happening in the story?”

“There is a librarian who is shelving books one day when an envelope falls out of one of the books. She picks it up and finds a letter inside the envelope. It’s a love letter, written more than 30 years ago. The rest of the story is her trying to return the love letter to its original owner. It's a romance and mystery rolled all in one,” he paused. “At least I hope that is what it will end up being.”

“It sounds great. I'd love to read it when it is done.”

“Hmm. I'll have to see about that. I've never let anyone read anything I've written in these novel projects.”


“Really. I just couldn't bear the thought of someone ripping all my hard work to shreds. It's funny. I'm an artist, right? I went through art school where professors specialize in criticizing you to the point that you never want to pick up a paintbrush again. Even today, I know not everyone will like my art. It's not easy, but I've built up a thick skin in that area. I can take the criticism. But with writing, I'm not that confident. Criticism would hit too close to home. If you read it and hated it, I would be so sad.”

“You don't know, though. I might love what you have written. You could be the best writer ever and you'll never know it because you weren't willing to share it.”

“That's true, I suppose, but I could also be the worst writer ever, and that,” he said emphatically, “I would rather not know!”

“Well, you are truthful. I'll give you that much. If you change your mind, the offer still stands. OK?

“OK,” he said. “Look, we're here.”

And so we were. We drove through the tree-lined entrance to Forest Park, and he parked the car near a big field.

“I thought we might go for a walk, if that's alright with you,” he said as we got out of the car.

“Sure. I love to walk! It is such a beautiful day. We aren't going to get many more like this.”

“That is so true. Winter is right around the corner.”

“Ugh, don't remind me! I've lived in New England my whole life, and I still don't like winter. I like snow. I think it is so pretty, but I like to look at it from inside a warm house while drinking hot cocoa. I hate the cold!”

“Well, we need to enjoy today then.”

We walked along quietly for a bit. Strangely, the silence didn't feel awkward. I felt so comfortable, so safe with Mike. I truly couldn't explain it. I hadn't felt that safe in a very long time, if ever.

“The park isn't very busy today, is it?” I broke the silence.

“No, you should see it in the summer – there are people all over the place. Even then, though, there is enough room here so that you can usually find somewhere to be alone if you really want to be.”

“How big is the park?”

“You know, I'm not sure, exactly. Over 700 acres, I think.”

“Wow, that is big!”

“Yeah, it is one of nicest places in Springfield.”

“What are those things?” I asked, pointing to some large metal sculptures on the side of the road.

“Those are for Bright Nights – it's a big holiday light display that is put on each year here. It's great! People come from everywhere to see it. It opens up the day after Thanksgiving, but it is better to wait until there is some snow on the ground. Then the lights really look spectacular. I take my nephews every year. They really enjoy it, but the truth is that I do, too. Maybe I could take you this year?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I answered.

We rounded the corner of the field. Mike pointed over to the left where there were some white trellises standing guard. “There's a rose garden over there. It's absolutely gorgeous in the summer.”

“Sounds nice. I'd love to see it when it is in bloom.”

“Yeah, this isn't the best time to see the park. It's really at its peak in the spring and summer, or even in the early Fall when the leaves are all in color.” Now, all the leaves were on the ground and crunching under our feet as we walked.

“I've always enjoyed the sound of leaves crunching in the fall,” I said.
“It is a good sound! I'm much more fond of the leaves here than I am when they are in my yard and I have to rake them!”

“I know what you mean! There's a huge oak tree in my back yard. It was great in the summer. I would grab a book and sit in the shade and be as happy as could be. I'm going to have to pay for it now, though. I came home from work one day last week and discovered it had dropped all of its leaves. Now my yard is covered! I had planned to rake them today, but I don't think that will be happening.”
“Well, if you'd rather be raking . . .”

“No, not at all!” I laughed. “This is much better!”

We continued walking down a hill and took a right around a corner when the path split.

“We are heading down toward the duck pond,” he said.

“Sounds good!” I agreed.

“There is something I've been meaning to ask you,” Mike began.

“Oh? What's that?”

“I was wondering where you are from. The other day when we were talking at the library, you mentioned you had volunteered at the library 'back home.' I was wondering where 'back home' is.”

“I'm from a little town up in northern Vermont. I grew up on a farm.”

“Vermont? That's pretty country up there – very peaceful. I've often thought I'd like to build a log cabin and live in the middle of nowhere like that. But, look at me. Here I am in a city!”

“You're right. Vermont is very pretty. I liked it a lot, but small town life can wear on you after a while. Everybody knowing everybody can be both a blessing and a curse,” I admitted. “My parents are still up there, though. I miss them.”

“So, what brought you to this neck of the woods?” he asked.

“I guess I just needed a change of scenery. I was looking to start over someplace where no one knew me.”

“Why did you pick here? I mean, I'm glad that you did, but Springfield wouldn't be everyone's first choice. There are a lot of other places in the world.”

“Honestly?” I paused. “I knew I wanted to stay in New England. As much as I dislike raking and the cold that winter brings, I'm definitely a four-season type of girl. So, with that in mind, I threw a dart at a map of New England to decide where to go.”
“And it landed on Springfield?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “Well, at least the second time. The first time the dart landed right in the Atlantic Ocean! I decided that wasn't a good choice, especially since I've never been very good on a boat.”

He laughed. “I agree. I think that you made a wise decision to throw the dart a second time.”

“Yeah, it's worked out alright. I was able to buy a small house on the Springfield / East Longmeadow line and I got the job at the East Longmeadow library. The rest, as they say, is history.” I answered. “What about you? Have you always lived here?”
“Most of my life,” he said. “I went away to college in Worcester and then did a year as a Jesuit Volunteer down in Philadelphia. Since then, though, I've been here. I commuted to UMass when I was going to school for my Master's degree.”

“Jesuit Volunteer, huh? So, you're Catholic?”

“Yes. Irish Catholic. You? I noticed you wear a necklace with Mary on it.”

“The necklace is from my Mom. She gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday. I've worn it ever since. I'm Catholic, too, although honestly, I haven't set foot in a church in quite a while. God and I haven't exactly been on speaking terms lately. ”

“Hmmm. I went through a stage like that, too, a while ago. The good thing about both God and the Church, though, is that they both are waiting and willing to take you back whenever you're ready.”

“You sound like a priest,” I said. “Should I start calling you Fr. Duncan?”

“No,” he shook his head and laughed. “I did think about becoming a priest, though, when I was younger.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“I met a girl and fell in love. It was right after I came back from Philadelphia.”

“So, what happened to the girl?”

“Oh, she was young . . .”

“Well, being young doesn’t mean it can’t last. What happened?”
“We dated for a while. We had this incredible romance. I had never experienced anything like it, before or since. I thought for sure she was the one for me. I asked her to marry me and she said 'yes.' We planned to wait until she was older. She wanted to finish her education, which I definitely supported, although I missed her terribly when she was gone. I would drive to New York to see her whenever I could get away. In the end, though, it just wasn't meant to be – at least not for her. She met someone else at college and married him a couple of years later. It's been years but I've never been the same. I've never been able to forget how I felt when I was with her.”

“Have you dated since then?” I asked.

“Oh, of course,” he hesitated, “Well, to be truthful, not that much. I’ve never really met the right woman. I have lots of friends who are women, but I've never found anyone I wanted to have a long-term relationship with. My mother keeps telling me to find a 'nice girl' and get married. She has even been suggesting that I try an on-line dating service. I keep telling her I'm happier alone! Besides, I have my sister and my nephews to take care of. I'm certainly not lonely.” He looked at me with a pained expression. “I shouldn't have told you all this. You must think I'm pathetic.”

“No, not at all. I know what it's like to have someone you love hurt you. Sometimes it does take a long time to recover. I'm not looking for love right now, either,” I answered truthfully.

Mike seemed relieved. “Well, it's still nice to make new friends.”

“Yes, it is,” I agreed.

We came up to what looked like an old house in the distance. “What's that?” I asked, pointing.

“That's the Barney Carriage House,” Mike answered. “It's used for banquets. It used to belong to Everett Barney. He invented clips that could attach ice skates to shoes.”


“Yeah, he owned most of this land. He had a great big estate here. They knocked it down when they were putting in the highway.”

“If his house looked anything like this Carriage House, it must have been amazing. I love old houses. It's too bad they had to tear it down.”

“I love old houses, too. I think that they have a lot of character. I always imagine that they have a story to tell.”

“You seem to know a lot about this park,” I said.

“I spend a lot of time here. It's good to know something about the place where you live.”

We had reached the end of the park so we turned around and began retracing our steps.
“It's starting to get cooler,” I remarked as I wrapped my arms around me in an effort to keep warm.

“Yeah, the sun sets early these days. We'll all be suffering from lack of sunlight pretty soon. One of the few advantages of getting older is that the winter does pass more quickly. It will be spring before we know it.”

“You're right! I can remember as a child, the days went so slowly. Waiting for Christmas took forever. Now, all the days seem to pass in a blur.”

“I know! My younger nephew, Tommy, is turning six this week. He's been waiting forever for his birthday – counting down the days for the past two months. He's having his party tomorrow. He's so excited! He can't wait to see what kinds of presents he's going to get.”

“What does he want?” I asked.

“Pokémon cards, mostly,” he answered. “It's his latest thing. They go through these stages when they are just obsessed with one thing, and they basically live, eat, and breathe it for a while. Then one day, they wake up and move on to something else. It's hard to keep up sometimes.”

“Do you know anything about Pokémon?” I asked.

“Not enough to keep up with them! I've read this book all about the different Pokémon to them about a hundred times, but I don't really understand the game.”
“Yeah, I don't either. They had a tournament at the library a little while back. I watched the kids play, but I couldn't figure out what they were doing. They seemed to be having fun, though.”

“Hey, would you like to come to the party tomorrow?” he asked. “It's at one. We'll be having pizza and cake and ice cream.”

“Oh, I think I'd be out of place, don't you?”

“No, you wouldn't. My sister's real nice and wouldn't mind having another person at all. You don't need to bring a gift. Just come and keep me company. It would be great to have someone to talk to while I'm helping supervise all those little kids. Besides, you said you like old houses. I live in one built in 1899. I think you would enjoy seeing it. Please, say you'll come.”

I thought about it for a minute. “I guess it would be OK. Another good reason not to rake! Besides, I'm a sucker for cake and ice cream.”


“I feel like we have only been talking about me,” he said. “I don't know much about you except that you come from northern Vermont.”

“That's alright. There truly isn't that much to know,” I told him.

“Did you go to college?” he asked.

“Yes, I did. I went to the University of Vermont for a couple years. I didn't finish, though. My mom got sick and I had to go back home and help take care of her and help my Dad with the farm. She had breast cancer. It was rough going, there, for quite a while.”

“I'm sorry,” he said. “That must have been tough.”

“It was, but thankfully she is much better now. She's been in remission for about three years.”

“I'm happy to hear that. Did you ever get to go back to school?”

“No. Life just kind of moved on. It was never really a priority. I loved college, but I could never decide what I wanted to do. I took classes in everything. I enjoyed all my classes, well, except science – I was never destined to be in the medical profession, that's for sure! But there was never one area that spoke to me more than another. I couldn't pick just one to focus on. That's why I like working in the library so much. There are books on every topic imaginable. Whenever I want to learn about something, I can just pick up a book and study. Maybe someday I'll go back and get my library science degree. I don't know. It depends where life takes me.”

“I think you should. Of course, I am somewhat prejudiced, seeing I spent eight years in college and now teach in one,” he said.

“Yes, I can see how you would be.”

We were almost to his car when it started to rain. “I'll race you,” he said. We ran our hearts out on the way to the car. “Ha! I won!” I shouted a bit too enthusiastically as I touched the car a second before him.

“Yes, but I have the keys to the car!” he retorted, holding them up and waving them tauntingly as the rain came pouring down.

“Oh, come on! Open the door! It's wet out here.”

“Oh, alright,” he said reluctantly. He unlocked the doors and we both climbed in. “It was funny to see you out there in the rain.”

“You have a poor sense of humor!” I informed him as I tried to wipe some of the water off of me.

“Here, I'll put the heat on – it will help you dry off,” Mike said as he took off his glasses to wipe off the raindrops.

“How did such a beautiful day turn into this? It wasn’t supposed to rain today,” I mused as we drove back to the library.

“You know the old saying. If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait fifteen minutes. It'll change.”

“Yeah, I know. It's true,” I agreed. The heat in the car did help. By the time we got back to the library, I was reasonably dry, only to have to face going back in the rain to get to my car.

“I'll park next to your car, so you won't have too far to go.”

“Thanks! That's kind of you.” I paused before I got out of the car and turned to him. “Thanks for today. I had a really nice time – well, at least until the skies opened!”

“I did, too. I'm looking forward to seeing you at the party tomorrow. Oh, that reminds me, I need to give you my address. Hold on.”

He scribbled it on a napkin he had in the back seat. “Here,” he handed it to me.
“Thanks, it would have been hard for me to get there without this! I'll see you tomorrow,” I said as I climbed out and dashed into my own car. It didn't take me long to get home. It had been a good day, a very good day. Mike was different from the men I had met before. Of course, it helped that he really wasn't looking to get involved with anyone, either. That made him safe to be around. Could a man and woman just be friends? That was the eternal question, wasn't it? I admit, I didn't have much experience in that area – at least not since puberty. I suppose I was about to find out. I was willing to give it a try, anyway. If things got too uncomfortable, I could always gracefully bow out of the relationship.

I took Saturday night off from writing. Instead, I curled up on the couch with Lady beside me and watched a movie while I worked on a quilt. I didn't watch much TV – a show here and there, but I enjoyed my Saturday night movie nights relaxing with my sewing. My mother had taught me to sew by hand when I was a little girl – nothing fancy, just some simple stitches and a little embroidery. She could make the most amazing quilts. Mine were what could most kindly be termed “serviceable bed coverings.” My stitches would never be small enough, and my blocks were nothing if not simple, but I loved it. It took me about a year to complete a quilt, but that was OK. I enjoyed it, and my mother was always kind enough not to criticize my efforts. Like my mom, I liked hand sewing, the rhythm of the needle going up and down through the layers of fabric. It was soothing, relaxing and therapeutic. It was my artistic expression. I had never been good at drawing or painting, but I could piece scrap fabrics together and sew straight lines, and in the end come out with something beautiful and useful. That was a reward in and of itself.

I enjoy movies, too, although not as much as books. Still, a good movie allows you to lose yourself in the story. A great movie might even make a heartbroken girl believe in love again, at least for a couple hours. My favorites were old black and white classics – movies with stars like Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire; anything with Katherine Hepburn. Musicals were fun also. How many times had I seen The Sound of Music? I knew all the songs by heart, and that famous line “When God closes a door, he always opens a window.” My mother always used to tell me that whenever I got discouraged. It may be true, but somehow it seemed like God often made you search for the window.

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