NO MAN AN ISLE II
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After taking the first semester in his new position to settle in and develop his courses, Kurt, with the dean's encouragement, taught a limited number of classes and worked on his doctorate at a nearby university. From time to time, he received a brief note from the chief to which he always replied, assuring him that he was okay.
To lessen the pain of loss he felt whenever he had time to think of the past, he spent every possible minute in his studies to the extent that after two years work, he was able to submit his dissertation on trends in contemporary American fiction. He successfully defended it at the end of fall semester, though his degree would not be formally conferred until the graduation ceremonies in mid May.
Without the pressures of his own study, he devoted himself to his teaching. Though demanding, the keen wit he displayed in his lectures increased his popularity until his classes were the first to close out on registration day, some students lining up as early as four in the morning to be assured a seat.
His colleagues shook their heads in amazement, for with them he remained as distant as ever, never entering into their gossip sessions around the coffee pot in the departmental common room, nor participating in faculty social events. His constant solace came from books, his studio flat so filled that books were stacked on every available space, the overflow in piles on the floor, leaving a precarious path for him to thread his way from room to room.
In early April as he sat reading a new novel with the thought of including it on the reading list for his class in contemporary fiction, the doorbell pinged. When he opened the door, a messenger thrust a florist's box into his hand and raced across the hall to catch the lift before the door closed. Holding the slender box brought Kurt a twinge of emotional pain. There would be no card, the significance of the date an indelible memory. Twice a year since he'd left the house on the Outer Banks, this scene had been repeated; the chief never forgot. Knowing the box contained a single red rose, he picked up a bud vase and went to fill it with water. He set the rose on the table by his chair, staring at it intently for several nostalgia filled minutes until he could see the chief's weathered face clearly in his mind.
The chief! Of course he should know. Kurt checked the address book on his computer and wrote a brief invitation to him with hope, knowing the man's responsibilities at the station and the distance made it unlikely for him to make the trip given such short notice.
Kurt's mind wandered during the conferring of the master's degrees, wishing it were Don's graduation he was witnessing, perhaps Erik's, too. 'God, how I miss them,' he thought. 'They gave purpose to my life.' He started at the realization that, though their faces remained crystal clear in his mind's eye, he had thought of them without the usual twinge of pain.
He arose at his name and walked to the front of the stage, to receive his degree and the president's congratulations. Behind the guest speaker and administrators, Kurt and the one other newly minted PhD led the procession out of the hall. As the other graduates quickly dispersed at the bottom of the building's steps to be surrounded by family and friends offering proud hugs and handshakes of congratulation, he paused, consciously feeling his solitude.
He turned to be enveloped in a bear hug from an older man in dress uniform of the Coast Guard.
"Chief! You came!"
"Hell, boy, did ye think I wouldn't fer something like this?"
"But with the station and the distance ..."
"Spen' too damn much time there. It can git along without me fer one day."
"You're not driving back now; it's too much of a trip. Stay with me tonight. We'll have dinner together and catch up."
"Ye got the room?"
"For you? Of course. If you don't mind a sofa bed."
"Slept on worse in my day, I can tell ye." The chief stepped back and looked him over. "ye look damn elegant in that get up, son. I'm proud of ye."
"I feel ridiculous. Hot, too." Kurt handed the chief his mortarboard and slipped out of the hood and robe. "Ah, that's better. Let's go."
Near the entrance to the parking lot, the chief stopped him as he was about to walk on. Kurt looked at the chief's new car enviously. "Good heaven, Chief, why didn't you get fancy on us?"
The chief grinned. "Old truck I had give out. Decided to get somethin' reliable that'll last me."
"But a Land Rover?"
The chief patted the shiny hood of the vehicle. "A mite expensive, but it does everything I could ask. Go anywhere, too. I 'spect this'll be the last vehicle I own, lessen Ski don't take it apart first. I swear, every time I look outten my office window he's got 'is head under the bonnet. Well, we a-goin' or we a-goin' to do our talkin' here? A drink would go pretty good 'bout now."
"Follow me, Chief."
"Ye still got that old Jeep?"
Kurt nodded. "Same one."
"Good. Ain't likely to lose sight o' that in traffic. Bet it's the onlyest one in this here town."
The chief looked around the flat, the plethora of books, while Kurt fixed their drinks. "I swear, I though Paul was bad 'bout books, but yer worse. Damn, ye even got 'em stacked all over the floor. Wonder ye ain't fell over'em and broke your neck. Ye sure ye read all of 'em?"
"Afraid so. A lot of them I had to get for my studies, but I read a lot for pleasure, too. One of my professors put me onto a firm that discounts heavily and does remaindering also. Had it not been for that, I couldn't have afforded so many. Have a seat."
He settled himself and sipped at the bourbon and water Kurt handed him. "I can't thank you enough for coming, Chief. While I was watching the others after graduation, I was suddenly aware of how alone I am. I suddenly needed someone to be here for me and you are. It's wonderful of you."
"I thought ye might be feelin' that a-way. I wish yer Uncle Paul could o' been here fer this. He would o' busted with pride. And I ..." he paused and looked into Kurt's eyes, "I'd hoped this wouldn't be the onlyest graduation I could attend."
"I know. While I was sitting there, I was wishing it were Don instead of me. But as I was thinking about him and Erik, I realized it doesn't hurt any longer. I could see them and remember the good times we had together. I have to thank you, too, for always reminding me with the roses."
"I'm glad yer finally over the hurt, son. That be the way it should be. As fer the flowers, well, I was just includin' ye in the rememberin'. I have something fer ye. I almost didn't bring it 'cause I didn't know whether it would cause ye any hurt or no. With what ye just said, I'm glad I did."
He reached into the pocket of his uniform coat and extended a small photograph in a silver frame to Kurt. The smiling faces of Don, Erik, and the chief looked out at him, bringing a smile to Kurt's face.
"Course it would look better if me ugly mug weren't messin' the picture up, but I'm sure ye don't have this one."
"I don't, but I remember taking it with Erik's camera." He looked at it again. "It wouldn't be complete without you in there. Thank you, chief. I can't think of anything I'd rather have."
"There be somethin' else." He dipped into his pocket again and held out a closed fist. "I've been hangin' on to this since one o' the new men was puttin' 'is gear in the locker Erik had and found it. It'll mean more to ye than me, 'cause I ain't a member of yer church." He opened his hand revealing a worn silver chain and a cross centered with the medallion of the Luther rose.
Kurt took it and pressed it to his cheek, his eyes closed. "I remember Erik wearing it all the time. I thought it might have been on him when ..." He opened his eyes and looked at the chief. "Are you sure?"
The chief nodded. "If he was here, he'd want to give ye something personal, an' I got that nice pen and pencil set ye give 'im to remember 'im by."
Kurt stood and held out the medallion to the chief. "Would you put it around my neck?"
After he had closed the clasp of the chain, the chief hugged Kurt again. Kurt wiped his eyes, the medallion warm against his chest. "Thank you, sir. It ... I could almost believe it was Erik for a minute there." He glanced at his watch. "If you've finished your drink. I'll take you to a small restaurant I like. I haven't had time to do much cooking since I've been here."
After they had given the waiter their orders, the chief looked across the table at Kurt. "Well, now, Doctor Lawrence, what ye plannin' to do with all that education?"
"I'm glad you're the first to call me Doctor; I can hardly believe it yet. I'm going to stay at the college. It's a pleasant place to work and I have some excellent students. The chairman of the English department is retiring the end of this semester and the dean and the trustees offered to consider me for the position and a full professorship with the stipulation that I finish my degree by that time. If I get it, it will be a lot of responsibility, but I haven't much else to occupy me now."
"I be a mite surprised. I mean ye ain't been there that long."
"It is an unusually fast promotion, but there's only one more PhD in the department and he doesn't want the job. So unless they bring in someone from the outside, I should be first in line."
"Paul would be bustin' the buttons offen his shirt iffen ye get it. I just hope ye don't get caught up in what he said was all that academic in-fightin' went on where he taught."
Kurt smiled. "Fortunately, there's very little of it in our college. It's mostly the universities and larger colleges where that takes place."
"Ye ain't seein' nobody?"
"Haven't had time with my classes and working on the degree. Besides, who'd want an old one-legged grind like me?"
"Seems to me like anybody with good sense would. Ye ain't that old no how. What are you, now, 'bout thirty-one?"
"Almost thirty-two. I'm getting old."
"Hell, that ain't old. I always figured a marriage was more likely to last if them as was gettin' married was old enough to o' sowed all their wild oats and was ready to settle down. 'spect ye ought be thinkin' 'bout it."
"I suppose if the right person came along, I might, but I'm pretty settled in. Changing my way of living now might be more of a change than I'm willing to make."
"Ye'll make it and gladly when ye find that special someone. I thought the same, 'specially what with bein' in the Guard and movin' 'round so much when I were younger, but Katie changed me mind. She was too good fer me, but we had a wonderful life afore she was took. It was hard losin' her and my boy within a year of each other, and it seemed like I was reliving it with you all. But like ye, now I got the memories o' happy times. Ain't often a man gets so much twice't in his life. I just want to see ye findin' some pleasure in life agin, like ye had."
Once the waiter had cleared the table and placed their coffee before them, the chief asked, "When ye coming back to home?"
"I haven't given it much thought, chief, but I suppose I should. At least to check up on the place and take care of things."
"Ain't that much. I was by there last week and everything looked pretty good. Course, the grass needs cuttin' now an' agin, but I don' mind doin' it."
"You shouldn't do that, Chief. I'll be glad to pay someone, if you can think of someone reliable."
"Ain't no problem. My place ain't that big and I can take the time. Got Ski to work on that old ridin' mower o' yer'n, so doin' it ain't even decent exercise. It's good spending a little time out o' doors. Since ye ain't tied down with yer studies now, it would be mighty good to see ye once't in a while. Iffen ye don't want to open the house, ye can allus stay with me. I got a spare bedroom."
"Thanks, Chief. If I get the department chairmanship, I'll have to be here for summer session, but as soon as that's over I'll have a couple of weeks. It would be good to get away and relax after all the hours I'm going to have to put in."
"Good. I'll be looking forward to seein' ye."
After the chief left the next morning, Kurt spent the rest of the weekend relaxing. All that remained of the school year were exams and graduation.
On his way out of the building Tuesday, after grading the exams he'd given that morning, he stopped in the mailroom to check his box. He leafed through the grade sheets and announcements he pulled out and started to return them to the box when he saw the request slip from the dean asking him to meet with him the next morning.
'Guess he's going to give me the bad news,' Kurt thought as he pushed the papers back in his box. 'It would have been a lot of work, but I certainly have time for that.' He shrugged and walked on out to his old Jeep.
The dean's secretary smiled at him. "Please, go right in, Dr. Lawrence." She closed the door behind him as the dean stood and held out his hand.
After Kurt had shaken hands with him and taken a seat, the dean smiled broadly. "I'm delighted to tell you that the board of trustees and the administration have unanimously approved you as the new chairman of the English department. Congratulations."
Kurt smiled. "I rather thought you were going to tell me that the position had gone to someone else."
"I'll tell you in confidence that no one else was considered for the position, especially as you received your PhD with honours and maintained your teaching load here with the highest standards. The staff will move you to the department office the day after graduation. Unless you have some objection, Mrs. Hendricks will remain in her position as your secretary."
As he walked back toward his office, Kurt wondered how he could establish a smooth working relationship with the older woman who had so devotedly served the former chairman. In past encounters, she had never smiled nor evidenced any particular warmth toward him, causing him to wonder if he had inadvertently offended her.
The next morning he went directly to her office and placed the arrangement of flowers he'd ordered from a florist shop on her desk. She looked up in astonishment.
"I'm certain that by now you have heard that I will be taking over Dr. Johnston's position upon his retirement. I hope you will keep in mind that I shall have to learn everything from the ground up.
"How kind of you to bring me such lovely flowers. I'll be delighted to help you in any way I can."
"Thank you. The department runs so smoothly, I can see no reason to make immediate changes."
Her sudden smile eased Kurt's fears. "I'm so relieved to hear you say that."
"I shall be leaning on your expertise rather heavily until I learn the internal operation of the department, so I may wish to discuss confidential matters with you from time to time."
"Please, and you may be assured of my discretion. I'm delighted they have chosen someone from inside the college. I shall look forward to working with you, Dr. Lawrence."
"Thank you again, Mrs. Hendricks."
Kurt left her office with a lighthearted feeling, knowing how an efficient secretary would ease his transition into a new job.
The staff had transferred his books and papers and he took time the first day to arrange the office to suit his preferences. He looked up as Mrs. Hendricks stepped through the door. "I thought you might like to take a break and have a cup of coffee, Dr. Lawrence."
"Thank you. I appreciate the thought, but I don't expect you to make coffee for me. You will certainly have all you can possibly do while I'm learning."
"Dr. Johnston always insisted that I have coffee ready any time he wanted it."
"Then I've just made the first change in routine. You may fix coffee for yourself at any time, of course, but I shall fix my own if I wish any. I happen to prefer tea so I will bring an electric kettle." He smiled. "But that cup of coffee will be most welcome just now. Thank you."
She set the mug on his desk and went back to her own, thinking, 'I can't imagine why I've always thought him such a self-centered man.'
When the old files had been purged and the first few weeks of long hours given to acclimating himself to his new position were over, Kurt took an evening for himself to catch up on delayed reading. The chime pinged. Kurt laid the book aside and answered the door. He looked at the young couple in their mid-twenties standing before him, but it was to the woman that his eyes were drawn. She was one of the most exquisite women he'd ever seen. The tall man beside her smiled as much as the fine network of scars across his face would permit.
"Kurt! I'm so glad we found you. May we come in?"
Kurt searched his memory for some recognition. Had he taught either one of them? No, he would have remembered the scarred face, the beauty of the woman. Yet, something about the man's face seemed familiar. He opened the door wider and gestured toward the sofa opposite his chair.
Coastie roused from his cushion and made his way to stand in front of the man and utter his plaintive cry.
"Ah, Coastie, you do remember me." The man picked up the cat, cradling it gently in his arms and buried his face in the fur.
Kurt stared in amazement. For the first time in over eigtht years, someone other than he or the chief had picked Coastie up without being clawed and bitten. But how had this stranger known Coastie's name?
The scarred face lifted, the eyes looked into Kurt's. "I'm not surprised you don't recognize me. I'm Kevin."
"Kevin? Kurt shook his head in disbelief. "Kev, I can't believe it's you! How on earth did you find me?"
"The chief told me where you were. This is my wife Ann, Kurt. We're on our honeymoon. I just had to take her down to the house and the station, because I wanted her to meet you and Don, Erik and the chief, but the house was closed and you were gone. I didn't know what had happened, because I had only that one letter from all of you, the one with the pictures. I'm sorry I never answered it, but as you might guess I was in no condition to do so. I came across the letter and those pictures not long ago and the memories of you all returned. That's when I convinced Ann we must spend a part of our honeymoon on the Outer Banks. We went to the station and the chief told me everything."
"It's good to see you, Kev. So much happened after you went home with your aunt and uncle."
Kevin looked at him compassionately. "I know. I had a lot I wanted to say to you, but now I haven't the words. But after all you did for me, I had to see you, to know you're all right."
Kurt smiled at him. "I'm okay, now, but there's something that will aways be missing. But what of you?"
Kevin told him of his recovery, his education, the accident in the lab which had left him scarred, and his love for Ann.
"Do you still play?"
She spoke for the first time. "Brilliantly. He could have chosen the concert stage instead of science, if he'd wished. But I'm glad he didn't, because he would have been traveling quite a bit and we have little enough time together as it is. He took a double degree." Her look bespoke pride mingled with adoration.
"I'd love to hear you play, but, "Kurt shrugged slightly, "there's nothing here."
"You didn't bring the harpsichord?"
Kurt shook his head sadly. "No. Music has reminded me of too much. I haven't played since that day. I hope you'll find time to come this way again, Kev. If you go back to the beach, ask the chief to give you the keys to the house, because I want you to see the portrait Don painted of you just after you went home. It was the best thing he ever did. We hung it along the stairway with the others." Kurt smiled. "He always called that our rogues' gallery."
Kevin chuckled. "That sounds like him. I had hopes of seeing him and playing some of the works for two instruments with Erik. I've dreamed of coming back. I hope they know that at last I did."
"They do, Kevin."
The few minutes of conversation seemed winged, yet Kurt could not intrude further in such a private time. He closed the door behind them, grateful that Kev had remembered and thought to seek him out, then placed the card Kev had given him in his address book, reminding himself to write on occasion.
After they had gone Coastie wandered about the flat searching, crying until he could stand it no longer. "No, poor Coastie. It's only a memory." He picked the cat up, holding it in his lap, stroking it, until it fell asleep. He, too, dozed off, the book lying forgotten by his chair.
A few months after the visit to Kurt by Kevin, the crew at the station lolled about in anticipation, knowing it was another of those days when the roar of the chief became muted, when he spoke to no one more than necessary. In the eyes of his crew, his actions on these days seemed erratic. No explanation had ever been offered, neither the station cook nor the motor mechanic, the two crewmen remaining from the old days, would enlighten them. But it was the cook alone, who seemed to know in advance. No matter what the weather and always the same dates: in late spring and on Christmas Eve the ritual took place. They waited, growing silent as the station jeep halted before the door and a young seaman hopped out, picked up a florist's box, then entered the station and knocked on the chief's door.
A few moments later, the chief, dressed in full uniform, passed oblivious to their presence and drove off across the dunes in the station jeep.
"Where's he going?" Asked one of the newer men.
"None o' yer damn business," the cook snapped and headed back to the galley.
The chief unlocked the gate, opening it enough to pass through. His eyes did not waver nor his pace slacken as he walked the drive past the house to the spot in the garden. He laid his cap on the iron framed wooden park bench he'd assembled and placed under the spreading oak a year before. His large hands trembled slightly as he lifted three red roses from the tissue in the box and placed one on two of the three graves before him. As he held the third rose, he looked down at the bronze plaque - Donald Warner Lawrence, then at the second - Erik Jan Lindstrom. The chief placed the rose on each of the plaques, offered a brief prayer, then sat on the bench in reflection for a few moments before he stood, positioned his cap precisely on his head, and retraced his steps back to the station Jeep. Back in his office, he slumped in his desk chair. He had delayed the inevitable long enough. He picked up the phone with resolution and dialed.
Kurt had eaten dinner and returned to his chair, resuming his reading from a slim volume of poetry. The door chime pinged. He laid the book aside and moved slowly across the room to answer. A boy wearing a messenger's cap thrust an envelope into his hand and, after Kurt had pressed a dollar into his hand, turned back to the lift. With a slight frown, Kurt ripped open the yellow envelope, unfolding the telegram.
Retiring 30 April. Joe.
Kurt checked his desk calendar. Yes, day after tomorrow. With the college granting two days of study time to the students before exams started, there was nothing to hinder him. He must go to honor his anchor to life, his one constant friend as he, himself, had been honored.
The young seaman on duty straightened from his slumped position as the old military-model jeep skidded to a halt. There was an air of a senior officer about the black-haired, stern-faced man who slipped from under the wheel. The crewman drew himself to attention, ready to render a smart salute.
"Your ID, sir?" He asked when the stranger's stride failed to slacken. He was thrust aside casually as the man strode through the door and down the hall towards the station office. Confused by the unexpected action, the crewman raced after the man, calling, "Stop, sir. You can't ..." the words trailing off as the intruder opened the office door without knocking. The crewman stopped, mouth open in shock, as the chief arose, arms outstretched, and embraced the man without a word. The crewman pulled the door shut and walked back to his post, where several of the other crew had gathered after hearing his cries of challenge.
"What's going on?" Asked one.
"How the hell should I know? That guy walked in here like he owned the place. Almost knocked me on my ass when I asked for his ID."
"Who is he?" Asked another.
The crewman shrugged. "Ask Cookie. He knows everything that goes on around here."
The men trooped to the galley.
After hearing the story, the station cook nodded. "He drive an old Jeep?"
For one of the few times they could remember, the cook's face broke into a broad smile. "He come like the chief figured."
Without answering, the cook removed a florist's box from the refrigerator and carried it to the chief's office. He entered without knocking or speaking, placed the box on the chief's desk, and left.
Those who had followed the cook to the hallway were puzzled. It was not a time for the strange ritual, yet a few minutes later the chief and the dark haired man came out, climbed into the man's jeep, and drove away.
The Jeep came to a halt in front of the house. The two men crossed the garden. When they retraced their steps a short while later, two roses lay on each grave.
The chief unlocked the door of the house with his key and swung it open. Sunlight filled the hall as the man beside him stepped inside and stood gazing at the portraits hanging along the stairway. Long minutes passed in silence as he stood in reverie. Slowly, he turned to face the chief. "I'm home now."
The chief looked at him steadily. "Be glad remembering the good times, as I am."
Kurt placed his hand on the chief's shoulder. "I'll always regret that I was so immersed in my own grief I couldn't share yours. I let you carry the whole burden."
"Ye weren't in no condition to do no different. It was hard, 'cause I was reliving my own son's passing. They meant that much. Now, I cherish the memories I have."
The next morning, Kurt and the chief in dress uniform left the chief's small house in the village for the station.
The crewmen were in dress uniform, ready for the impending change of command ceremony. It was brief and once the chief had formally passed command of the station to the lieutenant with a salute, each of the crewmen stepped forward to salute the chief and shake his hand. The reception in the station mess hall was elegant as the crew could manage with limited resources. The newer men at the station watched fascinated as the cook and Ski engaged the tall black haired man in continuous conversation with rare smiles, curiosity that remained unsatisfied for he was not introduced. As the reception wound down, the chief and Kurt walked to the door of the station. The chief placed his old AWOL bag in the Land Rover.
"What will you do now, Chief?"
"I got my house, son. I'll be good there, fer I'm close to the station and the men, but far enough away so's the lieutenant won't feel like I'm lookin' over his shoulder at the changes he'll make afore he closes the place down." He shook his head slowly. "At least I'm spared that. It would hurt to close this place down myself after all the years I've put in here. But I'll make content with bein' where my roots are. What about you?"
"I don't know, Chief. As you know, I got the position I was promised. Though it's a good bit more responsibility than I anticipated, I enjoy it. Perhaps someday..." he paused, a far away expression in his eyes, "someday I may come home to stay."
In the first week of September, Kurt found a seat in the far back corner of the lecture hall. Opening faculty meetings never varied. Now, after four years, he could predict, almost quote verbatim, the remarks of the president. There would be an introduction of new faculty, a rehash of policy - nothing to interest. He wondered idly which of the three candidates for the vacancy in his department the administration and trustees had chosen from the résumés he had passed to them without a specific recommendation, for his predecessor had conducted the interviews. He blanked out the people and the sounds around him. No one had spoken to him, nor taken a seat next to him for which he grateful.
Kurt raised his eyes from the doodles on his legal pad to meet the gaze of the president.
"Ms Dietrich is new to your department. I trust you will act as her mentor while she settles in?"
Kurt nodded, dropping his eyes back to the pad without looking over the assembly. 'Damn, damn, damn,' he thought, trying to remember her résumé, 'now I've got to baby sit some kid straight out of college.'
The meeting continued without his being fully aware until the others stood at its end. Standing near the far end of the room and looking at him intently was a statuesque blond, her long hair worn in two braids circling the back of her head, accenting the clear skin and classic features. Her look was old-world, much like the women Kurt had seen in Scandinavia. He noted with pleasure that she was not a kid fresh out of college, but nearer his own age.
He stood as she walked towards him. "You are Doctor Lawrence?" Her rich contralto jerked Kurt into the present.
"Yes," he mumbled, embarrassed at having been caught staring at her.
"Kathy Dietrich. I shall try to be as little bother to you as possible." The frigid reserve left no doubt in Kurt's mind, the rumors had already reached her.
"Is there anything I can help you with at the moment?"
"No, thank you. If I should have questions later on, perhaps you will be good enough to answer them."
"Of course. My office door is always open."
The icy voice thawed slightly. "Thank you." She turned abruptly and swept regally from the room.
Kurt picked up the now worn leather briefcase his son had given him their first Christmas together and left. During the drive to his apartment, he kept seeing the remarkable face. Clearly she was aware of her beauty, using a minimum of make-up to enhance her features and daring to wear her hair in an unpopular style because it best suited. The expensively understated suit she had worn accentuated her excellent proportions. He was disturbed that he felt an attraction on such brief meeting, the walls of his solitude breached.
At the opening departmental meeting the next morning, she accorded him rapt attention. Trying to avoid her piercing blue eyes within the confines of the small room, he stumbled several times in his presentation.
"Have you gotten settled?" He asked her at the close of the meeting.
"Yes, but the room I've taken temporarily is dreadful. I know this is outside your responsibility, but I would be most grateful if you happen to hear of a small apartment available."
"There's a one-bedroom flat just vacated in my building, though you may not care for it. It's small and the building is in an older section of town."
"As long as it's comfortable."
"I find it so. I've lived there several years now and the building is well maintained. I'll ask the manager what time he can show it and give you a call, if you like."
She jotted down a phone number and handed it to him. "Thank you."
As the faculty took their places to begin student registration, Kurt motioned for her to take the chair next to his, knowing he would have to assist her in the process. Instead, after a few questions she carried more than her load with an efficiency that pleased Kurt. He was delighted at the graciousness with which she helped each student. When she remained to help him sort the cards by class period, he glanced at his watch. Nearly six, and they'd had only a sandwich and a soft drink at their places for lunch. As she stretched a rubber band over the last stack of cards, he spoke. "That should about do it. May I offer you dinner for your assistance?"
She looked at him approvingly. "I didn't mind helping and, yes, I think that sandwich vanished long ago."
Kurt chose a quiet out-of-the-way restaurant that offered excellent food.
"I find you an enigma," she said, as their coffee was set before them.
"I heard the rumors even before I set eyes on you. Perhaps you thought me rude, but I was prepared for a surly egotistical hermit. Instead, I find you a cultured, caring gentleman. Why do you allow such rumors to persist?"
Kurt smiled. "I started and encouraged them so that I would not become tied down by minutiae. I must have a certain amount of time each day to spend solely as I choose. I suppose that sounds anti-social, even selfish, but I prefer it this way."
"But why? Surely ..."
"I'm sorry, but it comes from the past. It's intensely personal."
"Oh, dear. I apologize for appearing inquisitive."
Kurt smiled to remove any censure from his words. "I might say the same for you."
"Yes, I suppose. I had an unfortunate experience while I was at my last school, that's why I was delighted to be accepted here." She looked up. "This is far too personal for each of us. Let's drop it."
A week later the studio flat two floors below his own was approved and leased. Kurt stood in the hall with her until the manager left. "Would you care to come up for a drink?" He asked hesitantly when she made no move to leave.
"That would be pleasant. I've found apartment living unconducive to meeting people. It will be nice to know someone in the building."
'Oh, no.' Kurt thought, regretting his impulsiveness.
The conversation over their drinks was limited to their work, and while expressing her admiration of his library, she remained cordially aloof. When she arose to leave, Kurt rode the lift to the street with her. His surprise when she stopped at the Jaguar convertable showed, for she laughed. "Exactly why I bought it. It's atypical of what people expect. Besides, I dreamed for years of having one."
Though he hated meetings, Kurt held a departmental meeting each month as he worked to smooth the department's operation, careful to keep them brief. Since Kathy was the only teacher new to the department, he visited her classes on two separate occasions, complimenting her on her teaching ability and standards.
Several weeks into the semester, she pressed the bell push at the door of Kurt's flat one evening, hearing a muffled, "Just a moment." As she stared at the blank wooden surface before her, she wondered why he was taking so long to answer. The door opened a crack and he peered out. "Oh, it's you."
"I ... I'm sorry to disturb you, but I need to borrow a cup of sugar. I seem to have run out."
His face softened slightly. "I have some. Come in."
She followed him through the main room, dim save for the strong light spreading from one high wattage bulb in the reading lamp by his chair. She stopped in the kitchen doorway as he switched on the light.
He fumbled with the canister and finally scooped out enough sugar to fill the small plastic container she had brought, snapping the lid on and handing it to her. "Will that be enough?"
"Oh, yes. Thank you." She saw then the paths drying tears had made down his cheeks. When he shut the door behind her, she was suddenly ashamed at having intruded in his grief. She took the stairway down to her flat two floors below, wondering what could have evoked such emotion in someone so cool and distant.
Furious at her interruption, Kurt resumed his seat and picked up the small photo he always carried with him, the faces of Don and Erik smiling out at him. But his mood had been broken. 'Thank God she didn't see this,' he muttered to himself and slipped the photograph back in the plastic covering in his billfold and placed it on the table. He picked up the book of poetry, flipping past the poem that had caused him to stop reading mid-way and take out the photo. But as he tried to read, he kept seeing her face, his mind wandering to speculation. What type of woman was this? Certainly above the ordinary, nonconventional, and apparently not much of a socializer. 'I just hope her teaching stays in line,' he thought.
The next morning, Kurt parked his battered jeep and leaned over to pick up his briefcase as the Jaguar whipped into the space next to his.
"Good morning," she said stiffly.
He nodded at the greeting and strode off toward his office. 'I'm happy that's the way you want it,' he thought.
A few days later, a Friday, she tapped at the open door to his office. He swiveled his chair around and put the student's paper he had been reading on his desk.
"May I come in for a moment?"
To his surprise, she closed the door and took the chair facing him across the desk. "I'm so very sorry for interrupting you the other evening. By way of apology, I would like to offer you dinner this evening, unless you have other plans." She said diffidently.
Kurt looked at her for a moment then nodded. "Thank you. That would be pleasant, though it's not necessary. I must apologize to you for being so abrupt."
"Not at all. I shall expect you about seven, then."
After she had gone, Kurt sat pondering that evening and the invitation. He'd been upset at having the stream of reminiscences broken so suddenly. But not nearly so much that as that she had caught him showing obvious emotion which she might interpret as a weakness when he had tried to remain dispassionate in his administration of the department.
Promptly at seven, he knocked on the door of her flat. When she answered, he held out the bouquet of mixed flowers he had purchased on the way home.
"Oh, how beautiful! Thank you. Have a seat and let me get you a drink. What would you like?"
"White wine, Reisling if you have it."
She handed him a glass and indicated a chair before going back into the kitchenette. She returned to set the vase of flowers on the table then took a chair near his.
"I do apologize again for disturbing you."
"Please, forget it. It's probably just as well that you did, for my memories were of a part of my past which until a short time ago were painful for me. Even so, the emotion remains strong."
"I can sympathize, for I've such memories as well. I don't wish to use a cliché, but time does help lessen the pain."
"So I've found. It's taken over two years for me to be able to look back and see the good times without the sorrow crowding them out."
"You're fortunate. The situation I was in is still too fresh in my mind for me to see it completely objectively."
"I realize we've not known each other long, but if talking about it will help, I shall be glad to listen."
"That's very kind of you, but not yet."
She stood. "I do hope you like Wiener schnitzel. It's a recipe my mother handed down to me."
"I love it! It's been years since I've had any. My aunt's cook would fix it for me occasionally when my aunt was out of town. My aunt thought German cuisine too heavy."
After coffee and a liqueur, Kurt stood. "I have truly enjoyed this, Kathy. The dinner was superb."
"It has been my pleasure. Thank you for the lovely flowers."
As he tried to concentrate on a class report later in his flat, he found himself wondering if she would dine with him come the next weekend. Despite his trepidation in keeping the invitation, he found himself attracted to her in a way beyond the fleeting interest he had shown in few others.
The next Friday morning he went to her office and invited her to dinner that evening, surprised at the graciousness with which she received his invitation. Thus began their Friday evening dinners together. On the occasions that neither of them cared to cook, they ate out, always finding restaurants where they could be assured they would not see or be seen by other faculty or students from the college.
Some weeks later, Kathy opened the door of her flat to Kurt and looked up at him expectantly. He bent and kissed her. "Thank you, my dear. I enjoy our time together."
"As do I. I hope you don't think me aggressive, but I wanted you to kiss me."
"And I have wanted to, but I didn't feel it would be welcomed."
"It wouldn't have until now. You've been sensitive to my feelings. I can't begin to tell you how much that means to me after someone I thought loved me turned violent."
"Dear Lord! No wonder you've feared being alone with a man."
"It was a terrible experience. Once he gave me a ring, my former fiancé became brutal if another man so much as looked at me. Not in public, but as soon as we were alone, I paid. The second time it happened he kicked open the door to my flat, in a rage because he had heard someone compliment me in conversation with another man. When I handed him the ring back, he started to beat me with his fists. Thank God the man in the apartment next to mine heard me scream and came to my rescue."
"I'm so sorry you had to go through that. There's never an excuse for it."
"I think I'll be able to talk with you about it in more detail soon. Bless you for being so patient with me, Kurt."
After they had finished dinner in his flat a few weeks later, Kurt excused himself from the table for a moment. When he returned, he held out the photograph of Don and Erik.
"This is why you caught me in tears that evening you came to borrow the sugar, Kathy."
She held the photo toward the light and studied the faces intently.
"What handsome young men. May I ask who they are?"
"The tall blond was Erik, my best friend. The …," his voice broke, "the small one was my son Don."
"Why do you say was? Has something happened to them?"
"They were killed by a drunk driver while they were on the way home from Richmond after Erik played a recital for the Guild of Organists chapter there. He was a superb musician."
"How terrible for you."
"If it hadn't been for the chief I don't know what I might have done."
"I'm so glad you had someone at a time like that, but wasn't your wife with you?"
Kurt managed a chary smile. "I've never married."
Her eyes widened. "But you said Don was your son. I must have misunderstood."
"No. I adopted him a year before the accident."
She looked at the photo again. "What an adorable little boy. How tragic to have a young life cut short."
Kurt chuckled. "Don would have a fit if he could hear you call him a little boy. He was nearly nineteen."
"Good heavens! He looks hardly old enough to be in high school."
"Which he finished as valedictorian of his class. I was so proud of him. He was developing into a talented artist."
"No wonder you miss them so sorely. A son and a friend with such artistic abilities. Have you any of Don's paintings? I would love to see them."
"Not here. The few he did for me and Erik are at our home on the Outer Banks. I couldn't bring myself to move them. They belong where we lived our lives together."
"Of course you would feel that way, but you can't just set apart that time you had together."
"I know that now. When I came here I was trying to close the door on those three years as if they had never existed, but the memories have stayed with me."
"And mine with me. I hoped to forget the past also, but I couldn't." She reached across the table and took his hand in hers. "But your understanding has helped me put it in perspective. I'm no longer afraid to risk caring for a gentle man."
"Oh, Kathy, it makes me so happy to hear you say that. I do care for you very deeply, but you deserve more than I can offer."
"No one could offer me more than you already have."
"Don't say that, my dear. You at least deserve a whole man."
"But you are!"
He shook his head, then slowly pulled up his pants leg.
It took a moment for her to recognize the prosthesis. Kurt was grateful that her expression did not change when she looked up at him.
"Can you possibly think that makes any difference to me? I care for you as the man you are."
"Are you sure?"
"I thought you knew by now that I always speak openly with you, Kurt. Why would you even raise the question?"
He looked at her thoughtfully. "I suppose it comes from my feelings for Don. You see, he lost a hand while just a baby and when he was in school several of the dates he had reacted badly when they found out. He was always terribly upset and depressed afterwards. Then he found a young lady who didn't care. I guess I never thought I'd be so lucky."
She leaned over and wrapped her arms around him, kissing him. As he responded, her hand unbuttoned his shirt and slid in to stroke his chest.
"I want you." She murmured.
"Are you certain?"
"Why would you ask? Don't you want me?"
"Of course I do. But I didn't want to bring back bad memories."
"You're so considerate. Never pushing. That's why I want it to be now." They arose together.
Afterward, she leaned over and kissed him again. "I never dreamed you would be so gentle."
"It took all my restraint, but I wanted it to be pleasurable for you. I love you so much."
"And I you."
Kurt awakened to sounds from the kitchen. He dressed and found Kathy preparing breakfast for them. After they had eaten, Kathy went to her flat to get ready for school. Kurt hummed the melody of Bach's My Spirit Be Joyful in conscious pleasure as he drove through the streets.
Kathy drove to the college in a warm haze of emotion. Not until the free hour in her morning schedule did she allow herself to think of the evening before. She leaned back in her office chair, her eyes closed, as was her office door. She could see in her mind’s eye the faint blush of embarrassment that had crossed Kurt’s face as he sat one the edge of the bed and removed the prosthetic leg. He seemed wary of her seeing his stump, but it made no difference to her. Yet, his lovemaking had been cautious, almost hesitant. Strange to her at first, until she realized he'd had few evenings with women before this. Even so, she had enjoyed the experience in a way she had not with the few men with whom she had slept in the past. His gentleness a sign that she was special to him, which was all that she had ever wanted. 'He is special,' she thought, 'considerate and thoughtful, not possessive.' She smiled at the thought that the unfortunate incident that had caused her to come to this school had turned into a blessing in disguise.
Drawn by their intimacy, they took turns fixing dinner for each other most every evening. On the few occasions they went out, they still avoided places where they might run into anyone from the college, spending their time together in complete absorption, each gathering comfort from the other. They spoke openly, withholding nothing, blending their desires, fears, and aspirations, feeling their love deepen. Yet, Kathy's reserve seemed to forbid the words to express what showed when she looked at him. He, too, sought desperately, but nothing could bring his feeling for her into words which didn't sound too conventional, ridiculous. She would think him a fool.
After dinner in her flat a few days before spring break, he knew. Once she had placed desert and coffee before him and taken her chair, Kurt felt in his pocket for the small box and extended it to her. "Kathy, my dear, will you accept this?"
She flipped the lid back and caught her breath at the two-carat brilliant-cut diamond in an old-fashioned platinum setting. "It's magnificent."
"It was my mother's. I'd like you to be my wife, Kathy. I know that after having lived alone for so long I will be difficult to live with at first, and we both have major adjustments to make in our lives, but you are all I could ever hope to find to share life with me. I love you very deeply, Kathy."
She grasped his hand. "I love you, too, Kurt. We'll have to work this out together, for we are both too old to make a mistake. Let's take some time to think seriously about what it will mean for both of us."
After a lingering kiss, he rode the lift up to his floor in quiet jubilation. She had not rejected him, though she had asked for time. He grinned at the thought of the effect the announcement would bring to their colleagues who regarded them as adversaries.
The morning spring break began, the sun was just rising as she handed Kurt her suitcase to put with his in the back of the Jeep. "I still don't understand why you refuse to take my car when it's far more comfortable."
Kurt grinned. "You'll see why when we get down there."
They had lunch at the restaurant by the foot of the bridge before crossing the sound and driving on to the village. Her eyes widened when Kurt stopped in front of the trim white Cape style cottage set in a sparse lawn of native grass and framed by a low neatly trimmed hedge of yeopon. Behind each window were interior louvered shutters instead of the ubiquitous curtains she expected.
"From the way you've described it, I had pictured the house as being much larger and closer to the water."
"This isn't it, my dear. Come, I want you to meet the chief."
She pulled off the scarf and patted her hair. "Before I've even had a chance to make myself presentable? I must look a mess from the wind."
"You look lovely. I always let him know when I'm going to the house, otherwise he'll likely get a call from one of the men at the station and drive out there."
When there was no response to his call, Kurt wrote a quick note and stuck it inside the screen door.
He stopped at the small general store in the village, surprised when the taciturn owner spoke as he entered. "Ye be back. 'Bout time."
"Just for a brief holiday, but I'll be coming home more frequently now."
He bought enough groceries to make their dinner and breakfast and returned to the Jeep, telling Kathy they would shop at the supermarket in Kitty Hawk the next morning for a better selection.
"How quiet and peaceful it is here," Kathy commented as Kurt drove the beach.
"You don't mind that we're so isolated?"
"It's heavenly, especially after school. Are we near?"
Kurt turned toward the familiar gap between the dunes. "Just over the dunes here to the sound side."
He scowled when he saw the gate standing open. "I don't understand this," he said.
"The gate's open. I want you to stay in the Jeep while I see who it is."
His face cleared when he pulled up behind the Land Rover. "I'll be damned, the chief's here. I wonder why?"
Kathy stared unbelievingly at the large weathered man dressed in well-worn denims who came around the corner of the house and called, "I thought ye might be showin' up 'bout now. Come 'ere boy." He enveloped Kurt in a bear hug.
"It's good to see you, Chief. How'd you know we were coming?" Kurt asked when the chief released him.
"Don' rightly know, but I had a feelin' ye was, so I got one of them kids from the village to come help me take them shutters down on the main floor, just in case. I was tidyin' up."
"Thanks, Chief. Come meet Kathy."
She felt a bit awkward at the chief's close scrutiny as she stepped down from the Jeep, even more so when he asked Kurt, "Be ye serious 'bout this un?"
Kurt grinned. "She's accepted a ring."
"'Bout time." He held out his hand to her. "Young lady, ye gotta be mighty special to o' turned this un's head. I'm proud to meet ye."
"This is the chief, Kathy."
"Kurt's told me so much about you that I feel I already know you, sir. Thank you for being such a constant friend to him."
The chief smiled. "An' he's a friend to me. I'm glad he didn't put in none o' the bad 'bout me, but I guess that's 'cause he was talkin' to a lady."
"He has nothing but praise for you. Please call me Kathy."
"Only iffen ye call me Joe. That be my name."
"I'll try to remember, but I may call you Chief, because that's the way Kurt always refers to you."
"He's allus called me that. Guess it come from his havin' Erik around so much."
"Let me get our bags in chief, then have a drink with us."
"How lovely it all is. I hadn't expected such a beautiful garden. I'm glad I got to see the azaleas in bloom. The lavender ones are especially gorgeous." Kathy said when they were seated on the deck with their drinks in hand. "I shall find it hard to leave."
"I be a mite surprised to hear ye say that," commented the chief.
"Ye look like a city gal to me, no the kind would take to bein' out here. Course, I know this here's jest a short visit, but ..."
"I don't need the city, Joe, nor people around all the time. Just being with Kurt where he's happy is enough."
The chief nodded. "Good to hear. There's a might o' happy times in this old place, though there's been a few sad ones, too."
"Kurt told me. I want him to find joy in it again. I seem to sense it welcomes him back and includes me in the welcome."
"Ye be a discerning woman. Ain't no wonder ye be the first Kurt's brung here." He set his glass down and stood. "Best I be underway. I be glad to make your acquaintance, Kathy."
"And I'm delighted to meet you at last, Joe. Please come back tomorrow evening and have dinner with us."
"I'd like that. Iffen ye like shrimp I'll bring enough fer our dinner. Ed and me got a mess last evenin' when we was out."
"Thank you, chief. We haven't had any fresh ones for quite a while." Kurt said.
Kurt stood with his arm around her as they watched the chief drive away. "Thank you for being so kind to him, Kathy. He's the rock to which I've clung in every time of trouble."
"He startled me at first. I was expecting ... I don't know, but certainly not so weathered a man, but someone who looked more like an officer. You did say that he commanded the Coast Guard station."
Kurt smiled. "He and several of the men there are natives. Their lives have been rough until the last few years. Now that he's retired, they are neighbors in every sense of the word."
"He seems a fine man. I'm looking forward to getting to know him better."
"I hope you do. There's no finer person anywhere."
When they went in, Kurt switched on the hall lights. Kathy's eyes were drawn immediately to the portraits. "Oh, how beautiful. I know you said your son was an artist, but I never expected anything so fine as these."
"He started out with the seascapes you'll see in the library, but portraits were always his strongest work. I like to think he would have been very successful. Certainly his teacher thought so."
"Who is this?" She pointed to the portrait of Kevin.
"An unfortunately ill young man who had run away from the hospital he was in and stayed with us for a week until his family could be located and come for him."
"That expression is ... I don't know how to describe it, but it tears at my heart."
"It does, doesn't it? Don painted him that way because he had been unkind to him before we knew how ill he was. Don said it was to remind himself about need and kindness."
"How I wish I could have known Don. He sounds an extraordinary young man."
"He was. God, how I miss him."
Kurt led her into the library, delighted when she said, "What a lovely harpsichord. May I try it later?"
"A little. I started music when I began high school and continued through college. Do you play?"
"Oh, yes. I prefer the organ, but my ability there is limited, so what practice I've done has been mostly on the harpsichord. Erik was the fine organist. We used to play duets quite a bit. Perhaps we might do the same."
"I'd like that, but I'd better warn you that I haven't played much recently."
"Nor have I, so I expect that we'll be evenly matched."
On the way home from shopping the next morning, she was surprised when Kurt stopped at a small florist shop and came out with a box which he placed in the back of the Jeep.
Kurt nodded. "Yes. Always when I come to the house."
After the groceries had been put away, Kurt picked up the box and kissed her. "Will you walk with me?"
They walked through the garden to the ancient oak. Kurt placed the box on the bench and opened it. Kathy watched as he placed a rose on each grave, then moved the box and sat down next to her. He held her hand tightly for a few moments before saying, "Thank you for coming with me, my darling. This is the only introduction I can give you to Don, Erik, and my uncle, but they know. They would have loved you, and you would have loved them."
"I know I would have. Next time tell me so I may bring flowers also."
Kathy sat relaxing on the deck with a book she wished to finish, when she heard a car in the drive, then the chief's voice calling Kurt.
"I'm on the deck, Joe. Kurt has gone into the village."
She laid the book aside and stood as the chief came through the door from the kitchen.
"I put them shrimp in the sink."
"Fine. Kurt should be back shortly. Please have a seat. May I get you something to drink?"
"Don't bother. I'll get myself a beer iffen ye don't mind."
"Of course not. Wouldn't you like me to get it for you?"
"Ain't used to being waited on by a lady, so I hope ye don't mind iffen I make myself to home like I allus done."
"You must feel free to do as you've always done in this house. I'd not have it any other way."
"I thank ye fer that. I've allus felt as much at home here as I do to me own place."
When the chief returned and sat down near her, she smiled at him. "I can see why Kurt loves you, Joe. You're family to him."
The chief looked at her soberly. "After all we done been through together he's a son to me. Me own boy died sudden like some years ago, right after me wife was took."
"Oh, Joe, I'm so sorry. How lonely it must be for you."
"It were 'til Kurt come. Then him an' Don an' Erik come to be me family. Kurt's all I got left now. Has he told ye any 'bout his past?"
"All of it."
"Then I 'spect ye know how I feel 'bout 'im."
"I hope you'll always feel that way, Joe. I only hope that after Kurt and I are married you will consider me your daughter-in-law."
She was surprised to see his eyes grow moist. "Ain't nothin' would pleasure me more. Yer a surprisin' woman."
"In what way?"
The chief's cheeks pinked. "Ye be an educated woman, Kathy. Ye ain't used to simple folk with no much education who speak plain and live in places like this, 'specially an old man like me who ain't never knowed nothin' but a rough life on these here Banks an' in the Guard."
She got up and bent to kiss the weathered cheek. "You're a genuine person who takes life as he finds it, the good and the bad together. I love you for that, as does Kurt. You can't imagine how artificial so much of the world out there is. I grew up simply, too, Joe. I once thought if I could get an education and a good job, I would be somebody, but I've found it's an illusion. What Kurt and I have together is real, just as what you and he have is real. I want to share in that if you find me worthy, Joe. I'd treasure you as a true friend."
"Aye. Ye be all I could ever want fer Kurt. I thank ye, Kathy."
The next day rain drizzled down. In the evening Kurt lit a fire to relieve the damp chill darkness brought. When he had fixed their drinks, he switched on the stereo and placed a large reel of tape on the recorder. When it started he switched out the lights and placed his arm around her shoulders. "I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to this before. I want you to share it with me, my darling."
The organ music engrossed them for over an hour, broken by prolonged applause at the conclusion until the machine clicked off.
"Oh, how gorgeous," Kathy said, switching on the lamp beside her. "Who was playing?"
Tears filled Kurt's eyes. She leaned over and kissed him. "What is it, dear?"
"God, that was so beautiful. It's the program Erik played the night he and Don were killed. The highway patrolman who investigated the accident is an acquaintance. He brought the tape and machine to me afterward. I never thought I'd be able to listen to it, but I wanted to share it with you since you've seen Don's paintings so you could know Erik too. Don recorded the program for me because I was sick and unable to go with them."
"Oh, Kurt! I'm sorry it's been hard for you to listen to it, but it's so beautiful I shall never forget it. I hope we can save it to play on occasions special to us."
"I'd like that. It's as if they were here with us. I wish you could have known them."
"In a way I do now. With Don's paintings and Erik's music in this house I sense them here. They're happy that you've come home and they want you to find pleasure in what they've left you, my darling."
"I can, now. Thank you, dearest." He got up and went to pull an envelope from the box holding the tape. "Would you read these to me?"
She slipped a letter and two newspaper clippings from the envelope and read them aloud, the clippings paëans to Erik's performance, the short letter a condolence from the Dean of the chapter.
"What lovely tributes," she said returning the papers to the envelope. "Thank you for sharing such a beautiful part of your life with me, though it's been sad for you."
Kurt smiled. "It won't be any longer, now. But this will always be a special moment for me now that I have someone I love to share it with."
For several weeks after classes resumed, she did not wear the ring at school where her public attitude toward Kurt and others did not change. At school she remained aloof, cold; he, in turn, distant. On a Friday morning Kurt straightened as the Jag whipped into the parking space next to his old Jeep.
Kathy only smiled at him, saying nothing, her left hand draped through the car window. The sun flashed from the diamond. Kurt smiled. "At last."
"At last, my darling. But let's keep them guessing for a while longer."
Once the ring was spotted, word spread quickly through the faculty and student grapevines. At the ten o'clock break several faculty stood around the department coffee machine.
"Did you get a load of that rock on Dietrich's finger?"
"Damn right. Wonder who managed to thaw the ice queen."
"For sure it wasn't anybody around here. Say, doesn't she live in the same building as Lawrence?"
"The hermit? Where've you been hiding? They hate each other's guts."
A phone call from the manager of the building to whom Kurt had spoken briefly after giving Kathy the ring sent Kurt down to her flat in a buoyant mood.
"Kathy, do you still like living in this building?"
"You know I do. I doubt there's another place in the city more reasonable and well maintained. Why?"
"I spoke with the manager a few weeks ago and there's a larger flat on the fifth floor coming available at the end of the month. Would you like to look at it with me?"
"Marvelous! I was wondering what we would do, especially with all our books."
"You could move into the new flat until we're married and I would hold mine until then. Of course I'll make up any difference in the rent."
She kissed him. "You're always so thoughtful, my dear. It will be nice to do it that way, to have time to move and arrange our things the way we wish."
They immediately signed the lease on the flat and after the painters completed redecorating, they shopped together for furniture, their own flats having been leased furnished. Kurt helped her move her personal things, then began to transfer their books to the generous shelving the carpenter had added in a large former bedroom they had chosen to be their library. When everything was at last arranged to their satisfaction, they had dinner in quiet celebration.
"Do you wish a big wedding, my darling?"
"I have no one to invite. I'd like to keep it simple, but I would like to have it in the church. What about you?"
"Only the chief. He's been such a friend to me over the years."
"Of course. He's family for both of us."
She made arrangements for them to speak with the pastor after service on the following Sunday.
On Saturday afternoon two weeks later, they stood before the altar in the small chapel of the Lutheran church they attended on occasion. Kurt wore a new dark suit, Kathy a becoming dress. The chief, once more in dress uniform, stood with them as the pastor performed the liturgy. After Holy Communion, the ceremony ended with Kurt kissing his bride.
When they reached the door of the church, the chief pulled a compact camera from his pocket and took several shots of them. Putting the camera back in his pocket, he said, "Ye ain't told me 'bout yer honeymoon."
Kathy smiled. "We still have a few weeks of classes yet. Once they're over, we're coming to the house. I hope we'll see you often while we're there, Joe."
"No, ye don't."
"Of course we do. Why wouldn't we?"
"Ye don't want no old man 'roun' fer somethin' like that. You 'uns is supposed to be alone."
She kissed him on the cheek. "It isn't a honeymoon like that, Joe. We're too old to act like love-struck kids. You're Kurt's family and I hope you'll be mine, too."
"That's mighty good of ye to say, but Kurt might have other ideas."
"I want what Kathy wants, chief."
"Hunh. Kinda looks like I got meself some family agin. Iffen that's so, I'm gonna take 'em to dinner a-fore I heads back."
It took only two days for Kurt's secretary to notice his ring. "Why, Doctor Lawrence, you've gotten married!"
He smiled. "Yes. Since you'll be handling the paperwork, I'm delighted to tell you that Kathy Dietrich and I were married last Saturday."
"Congratulations. However, I think it's terrible of you not to have let any of us know."
"As neither of us has family, we thought a private wedding was more appropriate. We were both uncomfortable with the idea of a party and disrupting the schedule."
Once Kurt had gone to class, she quickly spread the word. That afternoon when she went into his office to leave some papers for him to sign, she looked at his notepad, delighted to find a short shopping list Kurt had made of things he and Kathy needed to complete their flat. She made copies that she passed out to those who asked.
Just before noon on Friday a phone call summonsed Kurt to the dean's office. As he came out of his office, he saw Kathy in the hall.
"Do you know why the dean would want to see me?" She asked.
"I've no idea. He wants to see me as well."
The dean stood in the hall and waved them into the boardroom where the English department faculty, secretaries, and members of the administrative staff awaited. The table held an assortment of finger food, punch, and several gifts.
"It really wasn't very thoughtful of you to get married without letting any of us know, but we want to offer our congratulations and a few tokens of our esteem. I shall take advantage of my position and kiss the bride." The dean said and kissed Kathy with dignity.
Kathy opened the gifts, two place settings of the china she had chosen for everyday use and several serving pieces of her stainless flatware.
"How very thoughtful of you all. The china and flatware will find immediate use, for Kurt and I need these badly. But how did you know my patterns? I didn't register anywhere."
The dean and Mrs. Hendricks smiled. "A good secretary knows everything, Mrs. Lawrence, and Kurt happens to have the best," the dean said.
For remainder of the semester they remained fully occupied with their professional duties, occasionally squeezing in a long weekend at the house and always visiting with Joe.
"Kurt," Kathy said as they sat working on semester final exams, "I'd love to spend our holiday at the house if you can take the time. I always feel that we’ve just arrived when it’s time to leave."
"I can think of nothing I’de like better. I'm teaching only one class this summer and there's nothing in the office that can't wait until classes begin. We'll have just over three weeks." He frowned in thought. "You remember the portrait of Kevin, don't you?"
"Of course. I'd love to meet him sometime, his wife as well. It was so kind of them to send such a lovely gift and letter in response to our announcement."
"Then you wouldn't mind if I gave him a call and asked them to join us at the house for a week? I believe you'll like Ann."
"I'll be delighted."
"I wouldn't have suggested it, but Kev's work must be quite intense. His last letter left me feeling he's in need of a rest. I hate to think that he might become ill again."
"Then by all means call them."
Later that evening Kurt looked through his address book and pulled Kev's card from it. He flipped it over and dialed the number written on the back.
"Kevin's working late so Ann will talk to him when he gets in from the lab and let us know." He said after the call.
Kathy answered the phone the next afternoon and talked at length. When Kurt came in from the office, she greeted him with a smile and a kiss. "I'm so glad you called Ann. She's worried about Kevin, too. He seems to want to come, but he's so tired she's afraid for him to drive such a distance. I suggested that they fly into Norfolk and let us meet them. I know that means a lot of additional driving for you. I hope you don't mind."
"Not if you'll go with me."
"Of course. Ann seems delightful. I can hardly wait to meet her in person."
"I want you to be prepared when you see Kev. He still looks much as Don painted him, but he was badly injured a few years ago and his face is covered in tiny scars as a result. They came by to see me just after they were married and while he seemed familiar, I'm ashamed that I didn't recognize him immediately."
"Oh, the poor man. I'm glad you told me."
Kurt spotted Kevin and Ann as they exited the arrival gate in the small airport, but as they came closer, he suppressed a gasp. Kevin shuffled along as Ann held his arm. His gaunt pale face made the scars appear more prominent.
Kurt smiled and stepped toward them, hand outstretched. "Kev, it's so good to see you and Ann. Thanks for coming."
Kevin shook hands weakly, his attempt at a smile more a grimace. Ann kissed Kurt on the cheek. "It was so good of you to ask us. I can hardly believe we're here again."
Kurt put his arm around Kathy's waist, drawing her closer. "This is Kathy."
After Kevin had shaken Kathy's hand and Ann had kissed her, the women walked ahead, talking softly. Kurt delighted at the immediate rapport between them.
Kevin smiled. "I'm glad you finally found the right woman, Kurt. Kathy's lovely. I must admit the announcement was a surprise. I'd begun to think you'd remain a bachelor. I hope you're as happy together as Ann and I are."
"Completely. Her caring and understanding brought me back to life. I can hardly believe I'm so fortunate." He stopped at the Jeep. "Here we are."
"I can't believe you still have this. It is the same one, isn't it?"
"Absolutely. It still runs well and we need it to get to the house. Kathy has a Jaguar we use in town."
Kevin gave a weak chuckle. "Unless things have changed, I can't see you driving a Jag on the beach."
"So far we've been lucky. The road hasn't been extended, though there's some talk of it. Without a paved road, there hasn't been much development, but there are quite a few places being built in Duck, and a few more in Corolla."
While Kathy and Ann chatted in back, Kevin sat silently taking in the landscape as Kurt drove. While they waited for the gate to open, Kevin pointed to the gatepost at his right. "That's where Don found me that night," he said to Ann.
"You remember that?" Kurt asked in surprise.
"Some memories have come back selectively, but I can deal with them now. God, it's good to be here again. It looks just as it did." He said as Kurt pulled the Jeep up in front of the house.
As they started up the stairs to their room, Ann stopped in front of the portrait. "Oh, look Kev. You never told me that someone had done your portrait. It's beautiful, but you look so despondent."
Kevin stared at it with open emotion. "I was then. If it hadn't been for Kurt, Erik, and Don coming to my rescue, I don't know what might have become of me." At last he pulled his eyes away from the portrait and looked at Kurt. "You said Don had painted me, but I never expected anything like this." He tried to smile. "He might have chosen a better expression."
"That's the way he wanted to paint you, Kev. He said it was to remind him to be kind. If you remember, he was furious at you that night."
"I don't, but I expect he had every right to be. I was an awful slob back then. It took Ann to teach me to be neat."
"Oh, Kurt, looking at him makes me want to cry," Kathy said when he joined her in the kitchen.
"I know. I can't believe how bad he looks. He was fine when they came by the flat while they were on their honeymoon. Let's not plan anything while they're here. Just resting will do them both good. Ann is showing the strain as well."
When Kevin and Ann came down, Kurt fixed drinks which they took to the deck. Within a few minutes Kevin was asleep, his untouched drink on the deck beside his chair. Kathy stopped Ann as she was about to awaken him.
"Let him nap until dinner."
"But it's rude after you've been so kind to invite us."
"Not at all," Kurt said quickly. "That's partly why I called. Kev sounded tired in his letter."
"He is, poor dear. The project he's working on is so important to him he insists on checking everything himself, even though he has assistants."
"Kathy and I thought you and Kev should just rest and enjoy yourselves so we've nothing planned."
"That's thoughtful of you. This is such a lovely place and the antique pieces are gorgeous. I had expected more of a beach cottage."
"This was my uncle's retirement home and mine for the three years Don and Erik were with me. We wanted a home, not a summer place. But the credit must go to Kathy. We've redecorated most of the rooms since we've been married."
"Except the library. Kurt refused to let me touch it. It's just as his uncle left it."
"A man must have some refuge, my dear."
Ann laughed. "Something of you must have rubbed off on Kevin. It's a battle whenever I just want to dust his study. He stands there glowering at me if I dare move a slip of paper."
When Kathy picked up a stack of dishes and started toward the library to set the table, Ann stopped her. "Oh, please, don't go to any bother for Kevin and me. Let's eat in here. The view from the window is delightful and it's far more convenient for you. I expect Kevin'll feel more at home in here. He told me how they always used to eat in the kitchen."
When all was ready, Ann woke Kevin. He followed her to the table. "I'm sorry I went to sleep, but it's so peaceful I couldn't help myself."
"Don't apologize, Kev. Kathy and I want you and Ann to relax and do as you please."
After dinner Kurt lit a fire to offset the chill of the evening. They drank their coffee in the pleasant warmth. Kevin looked around as he set his cup down. "It's just as I remembered. I'm glad it hasn't changed; it makes a connection with my past for me." He walked over to look closer at the painting of the old house hanging behind the organ console. "I know Don must have done this, but I don't remember it."
"I think he finished it after you left with your uncle and aunt. Other than the portraits, it's my favorite of his work." Kurt said. "Should you wish to play, please feel free at any time."
"Perhaps later on. I haven't had time to play much lately. Have you taken music back up yet?"
"Since Kathy and I have been married. She plays also, so we often play together when we're here."
"If you would, I'd love to hear the harpsichord," Ann said. "I've never heard one other than on a recording Kevin has."
By the time Kurt had finished playing several short pieces, Kevin snored lightly.
Ann looked at him and shook her head. "I can't believe it. He's never like this at home."
"Why don't we make it an early night. I'm certain the trip must have been tiring for you as well," Kathy said.
"It was a bit. Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Not at all."
"Kev must be near total exhaustion," Kurt said to Kathy after they were in bed.
"I'm so glad they're here. This has affected Ann more than she wants us to know. I hope the rest does both of them good."
The next morning dawned bright and clear, but it was well after nine when Ann came down to join Kurt and Kathy at the table for coffee. "I hope we're not disrupting your schedule. Kevin's still asleep."
"We have no schedule, Ann," Kurt said. "Kathy and I take each moment as it comes. It's the way I've always lived here. Would you like some breakfast now?"
"Just coffee for the moment. I'll wait for Kevin if you don't mind."
"You don't have to; I'm here. I'm sorry I kept all of you waiting. God, twelve hours. I don't know when I've slept so well."
"I'm glad. I suspect you needed it." Kathy said.
"You don't know how much. I feel like a new man."
"Is there anything you'd like to do today?" Kurt asked as they finished their coffee.
"I've dreamed of one thing since Ann told you we'd come, but it sounds awful," Kevin said quickly.
"If you've got an old blanket I'd love to go down to your beach and just lay in the sun for a while. Maybe even take a swim."
"Of course, but don't get burned. The sun's rather strong this time of year. What about you, Ann?"
"I brought a book I've been trying to finish. The chaises on your deck are so comfortable I'd like to read out there for a while." She stopped with a shocked look. "Oh, I'm so sorry. Kevin and I are acting like this is a hotel and you have nothing more to do than wait on us."
Kurt grinned. "Not a hotel, but for a week it was Kev's home. We hope you'll treat it that way. I'll get that blanket for you, Kev, if it's still in one piece."
"And I'll join you, Ann," Kathy said quickly. "I have several books I want to read as well. This seems to be the only place I can find time to read for pleasure."
With the others settled, Kurt put in a good two hours of practice on the harpsichord, before getting Cokes for them all. When he walked down to the beach to hand one to Kevin, he found him asleep. Kurt patted him on the shoulder gently. "Best you turn over, Kev, you're beginning to show some color."
"Not again! I don't know what it is, but I just can't seem to stay awake." Kevin sat up taking the Coke as Kurt sat down beside him.
"You need to relax, my friend. You've been working too hard. I think the hardest lesson I had to learn was to leave work at work and not take it home with me. Of course, it's been a lot easier since I married Kathy."
Kevin smiled ruefully. "I hope I can learn. You make me realize how much I've been neglecting Ann, and I don't mean to. I love her dearly, but I tend to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Maybe it's a result of my illness."
"It could be, but I see a student or two doing the same every year. I know it's hard to change, but you can do it, Kev. Ann deserves more of your time. I can see how much she loves you."
Kevin nodded. "I never thought I'd be so lucky.” He looked at Kurt thoughtfully. “Will the boat hold four?"
"It might be a bit snug, but it won't overload it. Want to take a sail?"
"If there's a breeze some afternoon while we're here. I've never forgotten sailing with Erik. My memories of that time are fragmentary, but that one has stayed with me."
"I'm glad. We'll go out at first opportunity."
After dinner, Kevin sat down on the organ bench and looked at the stops. "I don't remember a trompette."
"Erik and Don gave it to me the last Christmas we had together. They were delighted to have surprised me. Give it a try."
Kevin played the Clarke Trumpet Voluntary, Kurt cringing at the out of tune notes.
Kevin was grinning when he finished. "It does want tuning, but it's beautiful. I can tune it tomorrow morning, if you'll hold notes."
"You're supposed to be resting," Kathy said.
"I will be. It'll be fun." He turned back and began a slow work using the softer stops.
"That was beautiful, Kevin. What is it?" Asked Kathy.
"Karg-Elert's Mirrored Moon. I recently ran across a book of his works for organ. This is the only one I've memorized so far. Now, it's time for you to play something, Kurt."
"There's no way I can match you, but if Kathy will join me, we'll do one of the duets we enjoy playing when we're here."
Between the three of them, music filled the evening. Kevin finished it by playing Bach and Mozart on the harpsichord. His face glowed with contentment when he got up from the instrument. "There's nothing like a harpsichord for demanding precise fingering."
"Absolutely," Kathy replied. "I thought I played piano half-way decently, but when I tried it I found out how much I had to learn. You play beautifully, Kevin."
"Thanks, but I certainly need more practice. You can't imagine how relaxing it is for me to spend an evening like this."
By lunchtime the next day the breeze had picked up enough for good sailing, Kevin delighted at Kurt's suggestion they go out. Ann smothered a gasp as Kurt came out wearing Bermuda shorts and using his crutches. She blushed when she saw Kathy looking at her.
"I'm sorry. It's such a surprise. Kevin didn't tell me."
"I doubt he even knows. Kurt was quite sensitive about it at first. Now, he doesn't care, though he seldom wears shorts."
"Okay, Kev, let's get the Tern rigged."
Ann and Kathy sat mid-ship, Kurt in the stern. Kevin shoved the boat out and hopped in across from Kurt. The breeze filled the sails enough to move them at a moderate speed.
Once they were around the point and in the Sound proper, Kurt turned the tiller and lines over to Kevin. "See how much you remember."
"Enough, I hope."
As Kevin took the tiller the breeze swung the boat slightly off course.
"Watch your point. The sails are ready to luff."
Kev grinned and tossed Kurt a sloppy salute. "Aye, Captain."
Though Kurt offered a suggestion from time to time, Kevin acquitted himself well, his expression one of total joy. Three hours passed before they were back on shore. As Kurt and Kevin walked back to the house, Kurt clapped him on the back. "You did well, old boy. I think you must have done some sailing since you left us."
"One of the guys at the lab has a larger boat than yours, but I haven't been out that much. I'll have to make time to go more often, Ann enjoys sailing. If we lived a little closer to a large body of water I'd buy a boat myself."
"Kurt! Look who's here," Kathy called.
"Chief, it's good to see you. You're just in time for a drink with us."
"Kinda what I had in mind when I come." He looked at Kevin. "Who be you, boy?"
Kevin smiled. "You don't remember, sir?"
The chief frowned and stroked his chin for a moment. "Ye look a mite familiar, but cain't say's I do."
"You told me where Kurt was some time ago."
"My God! Kevin, boy! How ye doin', son?"
"Fine, now, but I stay quite busy with my work. You remember my wife Ann?" He said as she joined them.
"'Deed I do. Still puzzles me how guys like ye an' Kurt done wound up with such beautiful women. Ye must o' done somethin' right."
Kevin handed drinks to Ann and Kathy, then passed the tray of hors d'oeuvres. Kurt held out an icy bottle of beer to the chief. "Try this one. I think you'll like it." Kurt remembered the chief's muttering, "Gnat's piss," the first time he tasted the lite beer Kurt favored.
The chief looked at the label. "Sam Adams! Damn, haven't had one of these since I was in New England years ago." He tipped the bottle up. "Ah, it's good as I 'membered. Where'd ye find it?"
"A small store not far from our flat has started carrying it. I remembered hearing you mention that you liked it one time, so I brought a case for you."
"That's real thoughtful of ye, son. I 'preciate it. I swear ye mind me more o' Paul every day."
"This is the life." Kevin said a bit later with a sigh. "I envy you and Kathy, Kurt."
"It is a relief to get away from the college and enjoy the solitude here." Kathy said. "I love it as much as Kurt."
"There's nothing like sitting here to quietly think of good …"
"Kurt Lawrence! I'm shocked!"
"What?" He asked Kathy with a puzzled look.
"You split an infinitive."
"Did I? That's dreadful. What if a student had heard me."
Kathy laughed. "No, it's not. This isn't school; it's a place to relax."
"But I'd best watch it. You know there's nothing the kids I teach would like better than to catch me in a slip. Besides, my dear," he said with a grin, "would you care to have me point out a few of your grammatical errors?"
"You wouldn't dare!"
Kev turned to Ann with a chuckle. "See why I'm glad you aren't a scientist? I'll bet they argue over music as well."
Kathy laughed. "All the time. It wouldn't be half the fun if Kurt wasn't such a tyrant in the classroom. He's supposed to be teaching contemporary literature, but the papers he returns to his students are covered in red ink. I think he spends more time correcting grammatical errors than he does content. He seems to take a certain sadistic pleasure in it."
"The use of the language by some contemporary writers is often an abomination. I know they would argue that it's an attempt to be relevant, but I frequently wonder if they know anything at all about English."
"But aren't colloquial variations in speech acceptable?" Kevin asked.
"Certainly. A good writer uses colloquialisms to place and develop a character. But I refuse to accept other than established definitions of words as correct speech, allowing, of course, for dialectical variations. You have only to listen to the kids to know what I mean."
"Enough, Kurt. You're not in class. Kevin and Ann don't need a lecture on the English language."
He smiled at Kathy. "You're right, my dear; kick me off my soapbox. I'm sorry, Kev, Ann, but it's a pet peeve of mine."
"It is, indeed," Kathy added. "Let me tell you a good one on him."
"Don't you dare!"
"Kevin will love it since he knows you. Kurt overheard one of his students say that his new girlfriend was cool. Kurt turned around and asked the boy if his girlfriend was frigid. The boy was so surprised he said, 'no', and asked Kurt why he would think so. Kurt told him the definition of cool meant an absence of heat; therefore, if his girl was cool it meant she wasn't very passionate. The poor boy almost died of embarrassment."
Kevin howled with laughter. "I wish I'd been there. God, Kurt, I'm glad I didn't have English under you. I'd have flunked for sure."
The chief chuckled. "Now ye know why I never went to college, boy. Scared to death I'd get a teacher like him."
Kurt's face reddened. "Now, Chief, you know a valid dialect is perfectly acceptable, as I just told Kevin. It's the way kids use words today in hope that we older ones won't understand them that I find objectionable. Besides, I think it's time to change the subject now that Kathy has exposed my failings."
They spent the next day visiting the historic sights Ann had expressed a desire to see. On the way home, Kurt drove across the bridge to the mainland and stopped at a large roadside stand. Ann exclaimed over the array of fresh vegetables, making several choices at Kurt's insistence.
"It's so wonderful to get really fresh vegetables." Ann said to Kathy during the drive home. "Kurt is a marvelous cook."
"He enjoys cooking so much that unless he's busy at the college, I don't spend much time in the kitchen." She smiled. "He does seem partial to my Wiener schnitzel, however."
With the darkness the air began to cool. After dinner Kurt lit the fire and turned out the lights.
"Kev, you were so close to Erik I want to share this with you. I like to listen in darkness so there are no distractions."
The music swirled around them. When the tape ended and Kurt had switched the lights back on, Kevin looked at him with an expression of awe. "My God! I knew Erik was good, but that was perfection. I couldn't detect the slightest error and I know most of the music. Have you anything else of his?"
"What a shame. I wish there were more, but I don't know how to thank you for letting me hear it. I'm certain we lost a potentially outstanding artist."
"I thought the same. I was hoping he might consider going to school to develop his skills as Don was doing."
Kevin's face suddenly lighted.
"What is it, Kev?" Ann asked.
"I just remembered something else from the past. Kurt, do you still make that great clam chowder?"
"Occasionally." He tried to remember. "Did I make some when you were here with us?"
Kevin nodded. "Erik brought some clams in one evening. That chowder and bread were about the best thing I'd ever tasted. Is there a chance?"
"If you're willing to do the digging. I know where Erik always dug them, but I can't use the leg in water and it'll be impossible for me on crutches."
Kev grinned. "Won't be the first time I've dug clams."
"Good. We'll have to take the boat." He stood. "I'd better get the bread dough started so it will be ready to bake for dinner."
The breeze still held the next morning; the trip down the sound was made faster than Kurt had anticipated. Kev jumped over the side and pulled the bow of the Tern on shore while Kurt dropped the sails. Kev dug and passed the clams to Kurt who rinsed the mud away before dropping them in an old plastic bucket filled with water. In less than an hour the bucket brimmed with the small clams.
Kev's smile broadened as they pulled the boat back on shore at the house. He ran toward the house carrying the bucket and calling, "We got 'em, Ann. Just wait 'til you see what Kurt does to 'em."
Kurt left the clams in salt water containing a bit of cornmeal until late afternoon to purge, then he set Kevin to peeling and dicing the potatoes and onions for the chowder while he scrubbed the clams, then steamed them just enough to open them. While the potatoes were boiling lightly, he sautéed the onions in bacon drippings and added them and the potatoes to the clams and broth already in the pot.
While Kurt and Kevin worked in the kitchen, Ann and Kathy sat in the shade on the deck. "You're fortunate to have found someone like Kurt, Kathy. He's so very kind as are you. I'm delighted Kevin wanted to come because I haven't seen him enjoy himself so much since we've been married. Watching him with Kurt I can almost see him as the teenager he would have been when he was here."
"I am fortunate. It took quite a while for me to believe Kurt is as genuinely fine as he appeared to be when we first started going together."
"It's so beautiful here, you must have many guests."
"Quite the contrary, it's too difficult to get to." She smiled. "This is our refuge. The chief comes often, but he's part of our family. Because Kurt and I have very few real friends, you and Kevin are the first we've invited. You're both special to Kurt and now to me as well."
"I'm so glad. You've make me feel we've been friends for years."
"I hope we will be, for we want you and Kevin to come often."
"We'd love it. Being in such beautiful surroundings with kind friends is wonderful for both of us."
Kevin interrupted them with a call from the kitchen. Kurt had just taken four loaves of bread from the oven and placed them on a rack to cool.
"Can Ann and I have a piece while it's hot?" Kevin asked.
Kurt grinned. "It'll never be better. Let me get the butter for you."
Kathy placed a loaf on a small cutting board and set it on the table, with plates and knives for all of them. "I'm glad Kurt and I are not the only ones who like it fresh from the oven. We often eat a whole loaf between us."
After the last bit of bread had disappeared, Kevin leaned back in his chair with a contented look. "That was wonderful. Would you teach Ann to make bread like that, Kurt?"
"Let him teach you." Ann said before Kurt could reply.
"But I'm hopeless when it comes to cooking."
She laughed. "A doctorate in biochemistry and he can't boil water, much less follow the simplest recipe!"
"That's why I married you." He smiled at Kurt and Kathy. "She's a good cook and if I didn't work it off, I expect I'd weigh a ton."
"Speaking of which, I think the sun's over the yardarm. Shall I fix drinks and something to nibble on until dinner's ready?" Kurt asked.
"Heavens, no. I don't need another thing until then."
"Nor I," Ann said. "I hope we're eating late."
"It will be a while, yet. I'll need to add the milk about fifteen minutes before we eat."
When Ann started to set the kitchen table for dinner, Kathy stopped her. "No, Ann, there's a ritual when we have chowder. Kurt insists that we sit on the floor around the coffee table to eat it. He's never told me why, but I'm certain it holds pleasant memories for him. Here are some place mats and napkins to use."
"I'm glad he finds pleasure in small things like that. I think we often abandon simple things that please us just because we feel we're too old to indulge in what might seem childish to others."
Kevin grinned broadly as Kurt lit the fire before they sat down to eat. "It's just like before. The fire, sitting on the floor to eat, and all." He tasted the chowder. "I didn't imagine it! God, it's as good as I remembered."
'Yes,' Kurt thought, smiling at them, 'it is almost like before.'
"What's your secret, Kurt?" Ann asked. "I love chowder, but I've never had any as good as this."
Kurt smiled at her. "No real secret, just something I happened on one time when I didn't have enough clams to make it the way I like. I add just a pinch of oregano. It intensifies the flavor."
The next afternoon, Ann and Kathy chased Kurt out of the kitchen, saying he must let them fix dinner for a change. He made drinks for Kev and himself and took them out on the deck.
Kev hitched his chair closer to Kurt's and gave him a slight smile. "You don't know it my friend, but this is twice you have saved me."
"What on earth do you mean?"
"There was the first time, of course. But after the accident in the lab, I woke up and all I could see in the mirror was a mask of white where my face used to be. There were two slits in the bandages for my eyes, and I could see the tip of my nose sticking through. There was a wider slit below for my mouth. I was terrified. The nurse came in and saw me looking at myself and took the mirror out of the room. I didn't see anything else until they took the bandages off. I demanded the doctor give me a mirror. If you think I'm disfigured now, you should have seen me then."
He shook his head. "God, I almost threw up, I looked like Frankenstein's monster. The doctor grabbed the mirror and told me it would all go away pretty much and I wouldn't be so bad looking. But after he left, I cried my heart out. I'd just met Ann a few weeks before and for me it was love at first sight. But all I could think of was that she'd never want to see me again.
"Then I woke up in the middle of the night. I don't know why, but I was thinking of you. I remembered that day you put on a pair of shorts like you've got on now. You were using crutches then, too. You acted like you didn't give a damn who saw your stump. It made me realize if I could take the same attitude when people looked at my face, it wouldn't bother me. Then I remembered a poem we had in high school English. I think it was by Ogden Nash, but I can't swear to it. It goes something like this: 'My face I don't mind it, because I'm behind it. It's the folks out in front that I jar.' That was the first real laugh I'd had, realizing it could have been written about me.
"It was still three weeks after that night before I'd let Ann come to see me. God, I'm so proud of her. She looked at me when she came in the room and without changing her sweet smile she walked over and kissed me, then said, 'I love you, Kev.' That was all she had to say. I knew then everything was going to work out. But if I hadn't thought about you, I don't know what I might have done. It's for sure I wouldn't have thought about these other things, because I was thinking hard about killing myself. So I'll say thanks to you again. You truly are a friend."
By the time they were packing to leave, Kevin had gained a light tan and regained the vigor of the young man he was. Ann, too, looked as happy and relaxed as she had when Kurt first met her. At the airport on Sunday, Ann kissed Kathy and then Kurt.
"This has been wonderful. I can't begin to tell you how much it has meant to us."
"We've enjoyed having you both. Let's make it an annual event, if not more often."
"Oh, thank you. We'd love it. It's been ages since Kevin has looked so well. I can hardly believe the change."
After Kevin had kissed Kathy, he turned and grabbed Kurt in a hug. "Once again you've come to my rescue. I'll never forget this, Kurt. I'll remember what you told me, too. I'll let my lab assistants assume more responsibility and spend time with Ann doing things together."
On the drive home from the airport, Kurt reached over and raised Kathy's hand to his lips. "I know this has been a lot of work for you, my dear, but thank you."
"You did most of the work, Kurt. Just seeing the change in Kevin and Ann is more than enough thanks. They're so much in love. I can hardly believe the change rest made in Kevin. I told Ann we want them to come again."
"I'm glad you did. I had a talk with Kevin about letting up some on his work. I think he realizes now how close he was to the breaking point."
"I know teaching can be stressful for both of us at times, but I'm glad it has never reached such a point. If it did, I'd quit. Making one's self ill from work benefits no one."
When Kurt returned home one evening a few weeks after the summer session at the college had begun and was sorting through his mail, Kathy hugged him. "I had a letter today from Ann. She's pregnant. She said it happened at the house. Kevin's thrilled and has cut back so that he keeps regular hours."
"I'm glad for both of them. They deserve happiness, especially Kev, with all he's been through."
Kurt & Kathy visit Kev & Ann as they're to be godparents of the new baby boy.
At the end of fall semester, Kathy took a leave of absence from her position. From the list his secretary had prepared, Kurt had already selected one of the adjunct professors to take her place.
Kathy grasped his hand tightly, her face echoing the pain until it passed. Kurt looked at her with concern. "Are you sure you don't want to go yet?"
"I think we'd better. The contractions are regular now."
Kurt picked up the small suitcase she had packed a few days earlier, and, with his arm around her, they walked to the lift. As soon as they were outside, he helped her into the Jag and drove the few blocks to the hospital. 'Thank God it's Friday,' he thought. 'I can forget school.'
Within the hour, the nurse called for the orderly. Kurt bent to kiss Kathy before the orderly rolled the gurney towards the delivery room.
"Are you sure you don't want to be with her?" Her doctor asked.
Kurt shook his head. "I couldn't bear seeing her pain."
"There won't be that much. We've talked about this."
"If she's only semi-conscious she won't be aware of me."
"True. I'd better get going. I think your child is getting impatient."
Kurt sought out the coffee shop and sat uncomprehending, holding the cup of coffee without drinking.
At a touch on his shoulder, coffee sloshed across the table. A nurse stood by him. "Your wife is back in her room, Doctor Lawrence. You may see her for a few minutes, if you wish."
Kurt raced down the hall to the lift.
Kathy looked at him drowsily.
"Are you all right, my darling?"
She gave him a slight smile and let her eyes close. "Sleepy."
He kissed her and turned to the nurse. "The baby?"
"You have a beautiful little boy. I can tell he's going to be tall like his father. He's one of the longest babies we've ever delivered here." She looked at Kathy, now asleep. "You might as well go home and get some rest. Mrs. Lawrence will sleep until tomorrow. You can see her and the baby then."
Not until Kurt walked back into the apartment did he fully realize that he was a father. 'Wow! I've got to tell Joe,' he thought, but glancing at his watch, he knew a call would awaken the man and he had no answers to the questions he was sure to ask. He opened a bottle of wine and drank a couple of glasses in celebration before going to bed.
He entered her room quietly, but Kathy was raised up in bed, holding the infant in her arms. Her eyes glowed with joy as Kurt kissed her. "Oh, darling, he's just beautiful. He looks like you with his black hair."
She turned the small blue blanket aside and Kurt looked down at his son, amazed at his size and the head of thick black hair.
"He may have my hair, but he's going to look like you, Kathy. I'm glad. You're so beautiful."
The infant yawned. She lifted the blanket over him and handed him to the waiting nurse. Kurt reached over and tipped the blanket to one side, looking at his son's face once more before the nurse left the room. Sudden tears began to course down his cheeks.
Kathy reached for his hand in alarm. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"He ... he's my beautiful son. I never thought I'd have a son of my own after Don. I'll never let anything happen to him. I want him with us always, my darling. I love you so much." He bent and gathered her in his arms.
They talked until the nurse forced him to leave. Back at the apartment, he drummed his fingers against the desktop as he held the phone waiting for an answer.
"Joe! It's Kurt. I've got a son! ... Yes. Kathy's fine and so's the baby. I can't wait for you to see him. He's perfect."
He went back to the hospital that afternoon laden with roses.
"Have you thought of a name for him?" Kurt asked.
Her smile of adoration brought a momentary weakness to him. "I want him to have your name, and my father's, Kurt and Eric." She looked into his eyes. "And Donald in memory of your first son, if the associations won't cause you any unhappiness."
"You're so wonderful to think of that. I'd like him to have Don's name." Kurt kissed her.
Her forehead wrinkled momentarily. "But I'm not being fair to you. What had you thought to name him?"
"I thought you might not want names tied so deeply to my past, so I was going to suggest Joseph for the chief."
"Of course! How could I forget that wonderful man, he must be little Eric's godfather."
Kurt grinned. "We're really loading the little guy down with names."
"Just that many more to chose from when he's old enough. The doctor told me we can go home tomorrow."
"Wonderful. I've found a good woman who will come in daily to clean and fix your meals."
"You shouldn't have."
"I want you to rest and care for little Eric. The adjunct professor I appointed to take your place is doing a fine job."
"You know I only asked for a leave of absence. I intend to return to my classes when we find a reliable nanny."
"Are you certain? I thought perhaps you'd want to stay home with him."
"I told you I would return on a part-time basis with only morning classes as soon as I could."
"Well, then. Call Pastor and see when we can have Eric baptized. I think in six weeks time if nothing happens. You must invite the chief for that if he's to be Eric's godfather. I know Ann and Kevin can't come because of their baby, but I would like to have them named Eric's godparents as well."
"You know there's no one I would rather have be Eric's godfather than the chief, but I'm so happy you want Kevin and Ann also. Just as we're Mark's godparents. Thank you my darling."
The evening after Kathy and the baby came home, Kurt put the dishes in the dishwasher and joined Kathy in the living room they had turned into a joint study. Kathy sat in one of the comfortable chairs by the hearth. Eric's tiny mouth eagerly sought her breast. She opened the front of the housedress she wore and he began to nurse.
Kurt lowered the newspaper and smiled at them. Kathy returned the smile impishly. "And what do you find so amusing?"
"Oh, it's not that. It's just that you're so beautiful with the baby. It ... it's almost like a painting of the Madonna and Child. How I wish Don had lived to paint you as I see you and little Eric now."
Kathy blushed. "Do you think I would let him paint me as I must look just now?"
"Of course. There's nothing more naturally lovely than a mother and her baby together."
"You really are an incurable romantic, aren't you?"
"I suppose in many ways I am."
Friday evening six weeks later, Kathy answered the door. "Joe, how good of you to come."
She noticed the pink tint on the chief's cheeks after she kissed him in welcome. "Why, Joe, you're blushing." She teased.
"Ol' man like me ain't used to being kissed by a beautiful woman. Where's that young 'un I come to see?"
"Have a seat and I'll get him."
The chief set his bag down and went to the doors of the small balcony, looking down at the tree-lined street.
"Here he is." She held Eric out, but the chief took a step back.
"Been too long since I held a tiny mite like that. I might drop 'im."
"You'd better get in practice, then, because you'll have to hold him at his baptism."
"Oh, Lord." He crooked his arm and took Eric. The baby reached up and smiled at him.
Kathy was delighted. "He likes you, Joe. See how he's smiling?"
"Humph. Ain't ye just fed 'im? Most likely be gas."
"You know not. He knows who the important people in his life are already."
"Ain't sure 'bout that, but he sure be a pretty little thing."
Still holding the infant, the chief sat down in a rocking chair, still moving slowly back and forth when Kurt came in.
"Chief, it's wonderful of you to come. I'm glad you got here in time to make Eric's acquaintance before Kathy put him to bed."
The chief looked up at them, eyebrows raised. "Ye named him Erik?"
"Oh, he has a long string of names, but we call him Eric with a c, after Kathy's father. But it's for our Erik, too."
"What be the rest of 'em?"
"Kurt, of course," Kathy answered, "and Eric, Don, and Joseph. That's for you."
"Aw, hell." The chief's face pinked again. "He don't deserve being stuck with that."
"Of course he does, especially having you as his godfather. Let me put Eric in bed now and we'll have dinner. Kurt, show Joe his room."
The chief passed Eric to his mother, then picked up his bag and followed Kurt to the guestroom. He set his bag on the bed and looked at Kurt as he was about to leave.
"What be this godfather thing?"
"We'll talk about it at dinner, chief, but I hope you will do this for Eric as well as for Kathy and me."
When Kathy and Kurt had cleared the table after dinner, Kathy poured coffee for them while Kurt poured a brandy for himself and the chief. The chief leaned back in his chair. "That was a mighty fine dinner, Kathy. Kurt and Erik used to come up with some tasty vittles, but ye got 'em beat."
"Thank you, Joe, but Kurt is an excellent cook. You don't know what a relief it is to have his help since little Eric came."
"It's good to hear he's still the kind o' man I knew back when. I figured ye might o' spoilt 'im."
"I'm the one who gets spoiled, Joe. He'll hardly let me do a thing except take care of Eric."
"That's the way it oughta be. Now, what be this godfather business? I heard tell o' it, but I ain't never knowed what it was all about."
"It's mostly something to show the regard in which the parents hold the person chosen, chief." Kurt said. "In the old days it would have meant that you promised the Church that if anything were to happen to Kathy and me, you would take Eric and raise him as your own. But now it's more a matter of promising God and the Church that you'll see that we take Eric to Mass and that he learns the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism."
"But you 'uns is here and it's a right fur piece from the Banks."
"That's not a problem. It only means that you will stay in touch with us and, I hope, visit little Eric often. Too, that you might remember him on his birthday and at Christmas and, if possible, be present for any special events in his life, like his confirmation."
"Y'all know I'd do thet anyway."
"We know, Joe." Kathy said. "You are as dear to me as you are to Kurt. Even if there were someone else close to our hearts, you're the one we want as his godfather."
"Seems like the little tyke deserves better'n an old crock like me. Hell, I be ol' enough to be his gran'pa, 'sted of his godfather."
“We’ve also asked Kevin and Ann to be Eric’s Godparents but, because of distance, they will have a different relationship than I hope you and Eric will have,” Kathy said quietly.
"That's the best reason of all for having you as his godfather, chief," Kurt said quickly. "Eric won't have the opportunity to know his grandparents on either side, so we hope that you will be a surrogate grandfather to him as well. You know, take him fishing or to ball games, things like that."
They are surprised to see the chief's eyes grow moist. "Like the kind o' things I hoped to do with my own grandchildren if Billy hadn't died so young. It 'ud pleasure me a lot, 'specially when he gets older and mayhap ye'll let him come stay with me fer a few days once't in a while." He looked at Kurt. "Would mind me o' the way ye used to come to the house when ye was a kid. Paul allus used to count the days 'til ye got there. This 'ud give me somethin' to look forward to. I thank ye both."
"The thanks are ours, Joe," Kathy said.
The next morning Kurt and the chief strolled the few blocks to the business district. Suddenly the chief stepped near the window of a hobby shop for a closer look, then turned into the shop with Kurt following. He was amazed to see the chief pick up a box with the picture of a sailing vessel on it. With the purchase under his arm, they resumed their walk.
"When did you get into building ship models, chief?"
"The boys at the station give me a model o' a cutter when I retired. I didn't figure I could do nothing like that so I put it away. Not long ago, I was a-wantin' somethin' to do so I got it out and put it together. It come out a lot better than I thought it would, so I built another one with a motor and radio control. I get a might o' pleasure out'en runnin' it in the sound when the water's ca'm. But I always wanted one o' them square-rigged sailing ships like they got at the Academy fer trainin' them kids."
"I'm glad you've found a hobby you like. It helps pass the time."
"Do at that. Nights get kind o' long in winter."
Kathy was delighted to see the chief again wearing his dress uniform when they came down to leave for church.
"Oh, Joe, how handsome you look," cried Kathy.
"Aw, ain't nothin'. I just never got roun' to buying no suit. Ain't much call fer dressin' up down to the Banks, but I didn't want to disgrace ye and Kurt none up here in the city, 'specially in a fancy church."
"You could never disgrace us anywhere, Joe. I'm proud to be seen with two such handsome men."
When the pastor announced the baptism of Eric, Kathy unwrapped the blanket and passed him to the chief. He looked down at the baby wearing a long lace-worked christening gown and followed Kurt and Kathy to the font.
When the pastor took Eric from his arms and asked, "What name is given to this child?"
The chief turned slightly pale. "Kurt, Eric, Donald, and uh, Joseph."
Eric's face crinkled into a frown as the pastor poured the water over his head three times, but the frown turned into a smile when the pastor patted his head dry with a square of linen and made the sign of the cross on his forehead with holy oil, completing the baptismal liturgy.
As the pastor started down the aisle of the church to introduce Eric to the congregation, Eric's tiny hand grabbed the pastor's pectoral cross. When he handed Eric to his mother and blessed the infant, Kathy had to pry his little fingers open gently to release the cross. As the congregation completed singing the baptismal hymn, Kurt, Kathy, and the chief slipped quietly out the transept door into the hall of the parish house.
"Would ye let me carry Eric agin?" The chief asked.
"Of course, Joe," Kathy passed Eric to him, "but I thought you were worried about dropping him."
"I were at first, but it come back natural like. I used to hold Billy when he were little like this. Kind o' minds me o' them days."
"I don't think one ever forgets how. We want you to enjoy your godson."
The pleasure the chief's weathered face expressed as Eric smiled up at him thrilled Kathy and Kurt.
Kathy replaced the pot on the sideboard after pouring coffee for them and handed a heavy cream vellum envelope to Kurt. "This came for you today, dear."
He looked at the once familiar return address with a slight frown, then back to Kathy. "It's from my aunt. I can't imagine why she would be writing to me now. She's never really cared for me and she was delighted when I left for school."
"She was the one you lived with after your parents were killed, wasn't she?"
"Yes. I suppose I'd better see what she wants." He ripped the envelope open and scanned the cramped handwriting, so different from the beautiful copperplate script he remembered. He handed the letter across the table to Kathy. "I wonder how she managed to find me and know so much about me since I left."
"She wants us to visit her for a weekend." Kathy said, surprised.
"I ... I'm not sure I really want to go."
"Why? It's been so long now."
"What do I owe her? She never once wrote to me after I left her house, even when I was hurt."
"Even though she wasn't what you had hoped, she did provide a comfortable home for you, didn't she?"
"Such as it was," he said bitterly. "God, how I wanted to live with my uncle. I think what I hated most was being dragged to Mass every Sunday she was in town."
"Why did you hate that? I know you were a teen-ager, but it couldn't have been that bad."
"It wouldn't have been, but she attended a German Lutheran church. All the services were held in German back then. I had to take my instruction in it as well."
"I had no idea you are German descent. I've never heard you speak it."
"I refused to speak it as a kid, but I boned up enough to use it to satisfy my language requirement. I'm German on my mother's side. My father's people were English."
"I'm Scandinavian and German."
"My aunt married a Scandinavian. I hope she doesn't try speaking German to us. As I remember, her pronunciation was rather poor."
"I expect we can cope. It would be wonderful for Eric to be bilingual."
Kurt smiled. "We can at least wait until he begins to talk. I hope she likes Eric more than she liked me."
"I hope so, too, love. People change with time. But you told me she managed your trust so well that you've always had some financial security. She could have done far worse by you."
"I suppose, but I could have used a few expressions of love and understanding back then. I always had that from my uncle."
"No wonder you felt so close to him. She must be getting along in years."
"She would be, though she was a few years younger than my uncle. I guess we should go for that reason if no other. Do you feel up to facing her?"
"Of course. She's the only blood kin you have. You should see her for that reason if no other. I have no one."
Having assigned the students in his two Friday classes library time for work on their term papers, they left as soon as they had breakfast and Kathy had fed Eric. The Jaguar purred swiftly through the interstate traffic and by early afternoon they were in Baltimore. After lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants, Kurt drove slowly, looking at the street signs.
"You haven't forgotten where you lived?"
"Not really, but it's been so long and things have changed so much nothing really looks familiar. Ah, here we are." He made a right turn into the old Germantown district, remembering the brick paved street lined with huge oaks, the gas street lamps. A block or two further on he turned into a brick drive and stopped in front of the portico. As he helped Kathy out of the car, she gazed at the Georgian mansion. "I know you said she had money, but I never expected anything like this."
"Her husband built the house soon after they were married. It was state of the art for the time, because he ran a successful construction company. I don't remember him, because he died when I was quite young, but aunt was the financial genius of the family. That's another reason I was a disappointment to her, I hated math but loved English."
He looked over the house. "She's let things go a bit. I'm surprised, because she always kept it in perfect condition." He opened the safety straps and lifted Eric from the car seat. "Well, let's face it."
When he pressed the bell push, Kathy looked at him in surprise. "I thought you might have a key."
"I did as long as I lived here, but my aunt took it back when I left for college."
The heavy door opened. Kurt did not know the gray-haired woman in a severe black dress who stared at them suspiciously. "Yes?"
"Doctor and Mrs. Lawrence to see Mrs. Anders." Kurt said.
She stepped to one side to permit them to enter, then closed the door quietly. "Mrs. Anders is in the garden room," she said stiffly. "This way."
"That won't be necessary. I know the way."
He and Kathy walked down the broad parquet-floored hall toward the back of the house. He stopped in the doorway shocked at the sight of the thin stooped woman seated in a wing chair by the hearth, reading. Her white hair was as perfectly coifed as always, her makeup flattered someone of her age and had been applied with a light hand. Kurt was pleased, for he had seen too many older women with bright make-up applied so heavily they seemed caricatures of clowns. But, no, he thought, never so long as she retained her mental faculties.
She looked up from her book. "Who are you?" She asked in a querulous voice.
Kurt crossed the room with Kathy. "Kurt, Aunt Margaret. Don't you recognize me?"
"Kurt? Oh, my dear, that moustache! I'd never have recognized you with it, and you've grown even taller."
She turned her head slightly; it took Kurt a moment to remember. He bent and kissed her cheek. When he started to straighten, her hands cradled his face.
"How good of you to come. I've wanted to see you for so long."
As her hands dropped back into her lap, he reached for Kathy's hand. "This is my wife, Katherine and your great-nephew Eric."
Kathy bent and kissed her.
"You are so lovely, my dear. Please, let me hold the baby."
Kathy placed Eric in her arms. As she looked down, Eric smiled and reached up. Kurt was astonished to see a tear trickle down the lined cheek.
"How beautiful he is, and so happy."
"He is a happy baby. We couldn't be more proud of him." Kathy said.
"But I think he might need changing after our drive."
She let Kathy lift Eric from her arms then rang a small silver bell. The gray-haired woman appeared in the doorway. "Ethel, show my nephew and his family to their rooms. Katherine, this is my housekeeper. If you should need anything, please ask her."
"Thank you, Mrs. Anders."
"Please call me Aunt Margaret as Kurt does, my dear. Kurt, I'm afraid I don't have a man any longer, so you will have to see to your luggage yourself."
Kurt brought their bags from the car and went up the stairs to the room where the housekeeper waited by the door. He closed the bedroom door and smiled at Kathy. "Aunt Margaret's mellowed more than I thought possible."
"You had me thinking I'd meet a real dragon, instead she's a charming lady."
"I just wish she'd been more like this when she was younger. Do you want to rest before dinner? Unless she's changed it, dinner is served at seven and she likes to rest before."
"I'd like to walk a little after that long drive. Could we go out in the garden after I change Eric? It's warm enough."
They walked through the garden coming to a swing hanging from one of the old oaks. They sat down, Kurt holding the baby, and began to swing slowly.
"I still can't believe how the old girl's changed. God, she used to be such a tartar."
"How do you mean?"
"Prickly about everything. A perfectionist. The least little slip and she'd let you have it with both barrels. I have a feeling you'll see what I mean while we're here."
After feeding Eric and putting him in his travel bed, they joined her for dinner. His aunt looked at Kurt dressed in a colorful pullover knit shirt and crisp chinos; the old nit-picking urge arose. "Oh, dear Lord," she cried, "do you still insist in wearing those awful jeans? One would think a man of your age and position ..."
"But, Aunt Margaret, he's certainly more comfortable dressed like this. It's a relief for him to wear something casual rather than the suit and tie he wears every day at the college." Kathy said quickly. "Surely you wouldn't deny him the opportunity to relax?"
"Certainly not, my dear. It just that it was always a battle to get him into anything else when he was younger." She gave Kurt a piercing look. "Have you kept up your music?"
"I didn't for three or four years because it reminded me of things which were painful, but Kathy also plays and it's a joy to play with her."
"I'd love to hear you play again. Perhaps after dinner tomorrow? I'm delighted that you play as well, Katherine. I hope you will both teach Eric when he is old enough. Surely with talented parents he has inherited the ability."
"We both hope so."
After dinner Saturday evening, his aunt had the maid bring coffee to the large formal living room where a fire flamed on the hearth. She indicated the concert grand Steinway. Kurt and Kathy played several duets, after which Kurt played a number of pieces he remembered his aunt loving. When he finished, his aunt beckoned to him. He walked over to stand next to her chair as she reached up placing her hands on his cheeks and pulling him down to give him a kiss. He took a seat on the sofa next to Kathy and looked at his aunt, who wiped her tears with a tissue.
"You remembered the pieces I loved to hear you play, and you have become even better than I had hoped. Thank you, my dear."
After she refilled their cups with coffee, she looked at them both. "I'm delighted you have such a lovely family, Kurt. I know they bring you much happiness." She paused and fixed her gaze on Kurt. "I remember how you wanted to go with Paul after your parents were so tragically taken, but you must see, now, how impractical that would have been."
"I've always felt you regretted taking me in, Aunt Margaret, especially when you never responded to my letters."
"Oh, no, my dear. Quite the opposite. I shall always regret that I didn't show you how much I wanted you here with me. As for writing to you, I tried many times, but I could never put my feelings on paper. It must have hurt you terribly."
"It did. I could have used a kind word when I was having so many problems after Uncle Paul died and when I got hurt."
"You've become very direct, haven't you? And, yes, I deserve what you say. No," she said as Kathy started to interrupt, "this has needed saying for a long time.
"Kurt, my dear, I did want you with me, but I quickly realized my inadequacy in dealing with a teenager as rebellious as you were at the time, so I left you to your own devices as a result. Your Uncle Keith and I wanted children, but I was not able to bear even one, and your presence was a constant reminder. I let that embitter me towards you, rather than showing you the affection you sorely needed and deserved. Your infatuation with Paul who could give so freely of himself made me jealous of him, because I have never been able to be so open with others." Her tears ran freely now. "Do forgive me, my dear."
He got up and crossed to her, kneeling by her chair and taking her hand in his. "I only wish I had known, Aunt Margaret. I would have understood a great many things. But I can never thank you enough for providing me with music and the financial security I have enjoyed."
"Then I am forgiven?"
"Of course you are, dear." He hugged the frail woman gently and kissed her again.
"Thank you, my darling Kurt. I have always loved you and, now, your beautiful family as well."
Kathy came quickly to kiss the wrinkled cheek. "Thank you, Aunt Margaret. I'm so glad Kurt has found you. Knowing that you love him will fill an empty place in his life."
"But how could he feel his life is not complete with a lovely wife like you and a beautiful son?"
"Because neither of us has had anyone for so long. My life began when we met, but he was still feeling the loss of his son and a close friend. That is the most terrible loneliness of all."
"Oh, how I know. When my dear Keith was taken so early I wanted to die also. If my friends hadn't encouraged me to return to my place on the symphony board and charity work, I'd have never survived." She gave Kurt a piercing look. "Kathy mentioned your son, Kurt. I didn't know that you had married before."
"I hadn't. Don was a young orphan I took in. He came to mean so much to me that I adopted him."
She gave him a tenuous smile. "Yes, you would have. You have become so like Paul, always willing to reach out and help someone less fortunate. I have always envied those having that ability. Though it has caused you the pain of loss, you must have found great pleasure in him."
"Indeed. I received far more than I gave. Now I have Kathy and my son, the chief, and, now, you also, Aunt Margaret. There's nothing more I could want."
"Could the chief you speak of possibly be the one Paul always spoke of so highly?"
"Yes. He's retired now. He's Eric's godfather."
"That's wonderful. You couldn't possibly have chosen anyone I would approve of more than he."
Kurt's shock showed. "You know the chief, Aunt Margaret?"
"Not really. I met him at your custody hearing, but his support of Paul at that time, and the way you spoke of him whenever you came back from a visit down there made me believe he is a man of character."
"Oh, he is, Aunt Margaret," Kathy interjected. "I love him as much as Kurt does even though I've known him only a short time."
After Sunday dinner Kurt packed the car and went to join Kathy and Eric in taking leave of his aunt.
With Kurt's help, she stood. "Do come again and soon. You can never know how much your visit has meant to me."
"Of course we will, Aunt Margaret," Kathy said, "I'd like that."
"Won't you come visit us, too?" Kurt asked. "We have a large flat and I would enjoy showing you the college and the town."
"I never travel now; I haven't the strength. Please come back to me and bring Eric, he's adorable." After she kissed the baby, she picked up a heavy envelope and handed it to Kurt. "This is for him. No, don't open it now, wait until you are home." She kissed them in farewell. "Have a safe trip my dears."
After Eric was put to bed, Kurt and Kathy sat relaxing with a glass of wine. Kurt got up, took the envelope his aunt had given him from the desk where he had tossed it and passed it to Kathy.
"You open it since Aunt Margaret said it was for Eric."
"If you wish, but she's your aunt. I think you should open it."
"No, go ahead."
Kathy opened the envelope and pulled a thick sheaf of stock certificates out with a gasp.
Kurt reached down and spread them in his hand. He collapsed on the sofa beside Kathy. "My God! These must be worth over a quarter million."
"She couldn't have possibly ..." Kathy began, then pulled a sheet of note paper from the envelope she still clutched and read rapidly. "It's for Eric's education and she's designated us as trustees."
Kurt took the note and scanned it. "I'd never have believed it of her. I knew she always handled her finances herself and was well off, but I have no idea what she's worth."
"With a gift like this, it must be plenty. I hope she didn't act impulsively and perhaps cut herself short. That house must be expensive to run." Kathy said.
"It must be, but she's never acted on impulse in her life. I must write her our thanks."
"This has been a semester I'd like to forget. Let's go to the house for our break."
"Are you sure?"
Please, Kurt. The weather is lovely and Eric is old enough. I'll ask Sigrid if she'll go so we can get some rest."
"I hope she will. You know how Erik loves playing out of doors when we're there. But with the water and the woods, he'll need constant watching."
"You must get over this compulsion to keep him under constant observation, darling. Use this as an opportunity to teach him to care for himself. He's old enough for you to teach him to swim."
"I know, but whenever I'm not certain where he is, I fear something has happened, just as it did with Don."
"You couldn't have prevented that, no matter what." She kissed him.
"That's in the past, my darling, let it go and live for the future."
Eric raced to meet his father as he came through the door. "Let me go, dad, please?"
"Whoa! Where is it you want to go?"
Eric waved a sheet of paper. "Joe wants me to come to the beach for Easter vacation."
"I wish you could, son; I know you would enjoy it. Unfortunately, neither your mother nor I can take you because your week off school is the week before Easter and our holiday is the week after."
"But I haven't seen Joe since we were there Christmas. He said he's built me a model boat like his so we can race them when I come down. Please, dad."
"I hate to disappoint you, son, but I don't see how we can."
"Can't you take me Friday or Saturday?"
"It's a bit far to drive to have to turn around and come right back."
"Couldn't you go to our house for the weekend and leave me at Joe's?"
"Your mother and I are giving exams and I have to review all the other teachers' grade reports before we can leave for our holiday. We'll both have to work over the weekend."
"Aw, gee. I like going to Joe's and this time I could have a whole week. Can't I go by myself?"
"Isn't there a bus or something?"
"There is one, but it would be a long trip and you would have to change at least twice. I think you're a little young to cope with that alone."
"Aw, it ain't gonna be no fun. You and mom got to work and then you get off and I gotta go back to school."
"I'm sorry, son. I wish we could be together. Let me read Joe's letter."
"Okay." Eric handed him the sheet of paper and wandered disconsolately back to his room.
"There you are. I thought I heard you come in." Kathy said as Kurt set down his briefcase and went into the kitchen where she was fixing dinner.
He kissed her and held out the letter. "Did you read this?"
"Yes. I wish there were someway for Eric to go to Joe's. He'll be miserable having to stay home while we're at work. It's awful that our holidays don't coincide this year."
"I know. I hate that he can't go. Joe never asks for anything except Eric's visits. I know Joe must get lonely at times, and Eric always has such a good time with him."
"There is a bus Eric could take, isn't there?"
"He's too young to change buses twice without someone with him."
"I didn't realize he had to make changes. I suppose you should call Joe and let him know Eric can't come."
Kurt picked up the phone and after talking with the chief at some length, hung up with a look of satisfaction.
"Joe sounded so unhappy I told him Eric could come. We've worked it out."
"How? Not on the bus, surely?"
"Eric can fly from here to Norfolk. There's a commuter flight twice a day and Joe said he'd be happy to meet him. I've seen stewardesses caring for children traveling alone and they are excellent. They'll see that he goes with no one except Joe."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. I think Eric will enjoy flying if the weather's good. You know how he likes to watch planes."
"I suppose it will be all right if Joe picks him up and he doesn't have to make any changes."
"He won't. It's a direct flight. Eric," he called.
Eric came into the kitchen, his eight year-old face forlorn.
"You still want to go to Joe's?"
"You said you and mom were too busy to take me."
"Would you like to fly down there by yourself?"
"For real? In a plane? Oh, wow!"
"Your mother and I will put you on the plane to Norfolk and Joe will meet you there, but you must promise not to go with anyone else."
He gave his father a big hug and another to his mother, before holding out his arms and running around the table yelling, "Zoom, zoom, zoom! I'm flying, daddy."
Friday afternoon Kurt and Kathy picked Eric up after school and drove him to the airport. Kurt spoke with the agent as they bought the ticket and shortly the stewardess came to the counter and introduced herself. Eric went with her to board the plane ahead of the other passengers, his excitement evident in the hurried good-bye kisses he gave his parents.
Kurt began to feel Kathy's misgivings as they drove home from the airport, but while they ate dinner the phone rang. In his excitement, Eric's words ran together until his mother asked to speak with Joe. Reassured, she hung up and let Kurt finish the conversation on the other phone.
At the end of the confirmation service, Kurt slipped the chain and medallion from around his neck and fastened it around his son's, then kissed him. Eric held the medallion out and looked at it, then turned it to read the now barely legible engraving on the back.
"I know you've always worn this, dad, but your name isn't Erik and mine's spelled with a c. Where'd you get it?"
"It belonged to my dearest friend who would have been your godfather with Joe if he hadn't been killed with Don a few years before you were born."
"Who was Don?"
"He was my son. You're named for him."
"I had a brother?"
Kurt nodded. "I adopted him long before I met your mother. That picture on my dresser is of Erik, Don, and your godfather."
"I remember now. Mom told me about how they used to live with you when you lived at the beach."
“He’s still a bit overwhelming,” Ann said when the chief had taken his leave shortly after they had finished dinner.
“Only until you get to know him,” Kathy replied. “Now I love him as much as Kurt does; for other than Kurt, I’ve never met a man who inspires such complete trust.” She smiled. “He’s family for us both.”
"I wish we lived there all the time, instead of just going when you and mom get your vacations, or you let me go see Joe."
"Perhaps sometime we will."
"I'd really like that."
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