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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by spazmom on 28 February 2007 - 2:38pm. |

It was another glorious day in Astoria, and perfect for driving. I wished my little Honda was a convertible, but, I sighed and leaned back in my seat, we can’t have everything.

This time I drove up to the guardhouse and waved to the guard. He grinned, apparently remembering me and stepped out with a little clipboard.

“Afternoon, Ma’am. I see you got your flat fixed.”

I smiled at him as I signed my name to the visitors list. “I sure did. Thanks.”

He waved me through and as I parked in the visitors parking, Sean came out of the door to the main building. I felt my pulse quicken, knowing he must have been waiting for me.

As I watched him come over, the blood in my veins slowed, feeling like warm molasses. This man did something to me that I couldn’t explain. I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I just didn’t want it to stop. I hadn’t taken much notice of his attire this morning because of the rush and confusion, but what I saw now convinced me his ex-wife had to have had an eye problem.

He was wearing soft brown casual slacks and a tan shirt that looked like it might be silk, the way it clung to his form. His wild geometric tie was loose again, and that made me smile as he came up next to me.

“Hey, beautiful,” he drawled, leaning into the window opening.

It took my breath away, but I seemed to have enough left to say, “Hello, yourself.”

“Want to take a tour?” He asked, his eyes not once leaving my face. It made me warm all over and I realized the blush was going up again.

I rolled my eyes and Sean grinned, reaching over to tap my warm cheeks. “I love it,” he said softly.

Some kids came out of the main building and their voices broke into the heated silence. Sean looked up a little irritated and then shook his head before looking back at me.

“I forgot where I was,” he admitted with a wry smile. I nodded my head in agreement. “So, which do you want to do first? Lunch or tour?”

I took a deep shaky breath. “I think we’d better do lunch first,” I said with a weak smile. “I’m feeling a little shaky right now.”

Sean’s look told me exactly what he thought of that remark and I shook my head. “Stop that!” I told him firmly. “Where are we going for lunch?”

He grinned and opened my door. “A place on the docks.” He reached in and rolled up my window. “You’ll love it.”

I grabbed my purse and let him help me out of the car. I watched him lock the doors and it reminded me of his car.

“Have you found out who did your tires?” I asked as we walked to his 4Runner.

He shook his head as he opened the door for me. “No, I didn’t expect to.” I pondered his statement as he went around and got in the driver’s side to start the car. “It was just to let me know that they weren’t happy with me.”

I looked at him startled. “What do you mean? You said you didn’t know who it was.”

Sean sighed, a deep tired sound. “I lied," he said flatly. "I know what’s going on, Angel. Someone has decided the Academy is the best way to smuggle drugs into Astoria. Dave found one of the stashes by accident and when he reported it, they had him beat up. I just couldn't tell my dad, he's having a hard enough time knowing this little stuff is happening to me, that would be just more stress.”

I shook my head at his words. “Was that why they were picking on him last week?” Sean’s father was right to worry after all. He was right about the whole thing.

He shook his head. “No, this happened about a month or so ago. He ended up in the hospital. He wouldn’t finger anyone, so we are no closer to the truth.” He sounded so grim, I was sure he was more involved than he was telling me.

“Why were they beating up on him this time?” Dave’s bruised and cut face floated with grim clarity into my thoughts.

Sean shrugged. “Dave told me that he thinks it was meant to be a reminder. They weren’t sure he got the message the first time, and the school is starting to get nervous about the publicity.”

I shook my head. “Nothing like the steamroller effect,” I muttered, feeling my joy in the day evaporate slowly at the information I'd received. How could that kid possibly feel safe? I looked out the window, realizing we were at the docks area and Sean was parking.

“We’re eating here?” I asked in surprise. I didn't know there was any place to eat out here.

Sean grinned. “The best!”

He got out, opened my door and proceeded to lead me across the walk way to a large old wood sided building. It was tucked down under the buildings surrounding it, but it had large windows so you could see everywhere from the bridge in one direction to almost the locks.

“This is nice!” I commented as we were seated.

He smiled at me, leaning back in his chair. “Only the best for you, Angel,” he stated, his words sending a delightful shiver down my spine.

Suddenly my breath caught in my throat and my heart raced. What was this man doing to me? I kept telling myself I needed to get back in touch with reality, but nothing else seemed more real than him.

Lunch passed in a delightful haze as we ate the finest I'd ever had. We feasted on shrimp and scallops with cheddar cheese potatoes, a cole slaw I had never tasted the likes of, and a sourdough bread worthy of San Francisco - all served by a waiter who seemed totally uninterested and half asleep on his feet, although his service was faultless. The above, combined with the stimulating company of the man across from me, made it the lunch of dreams. It seemed like the more time I spent with Sean, the more fascinating I found him.

I felt a twinge of fear as I looked across the table at him, lounging back in his chair, looking totally relaxed. I was beginning to wonder about our relationship and where it was headed. He felt so perfect to me, so comfortable. He seemed to feel the same way about me, but how could I be sure?

I had felt sure about a couple of men before, and it had been an awful experience. Marriage was a scary word to most, but that's where I wanted any relationship to head at this point in my life. What if Sean didn’t want to get married? Who could really blame him with his past experience?

I sighed inwardly, wishing I could lighten up and just enjoy the times I had with him. They would be fantastic memories for me to treasure...

“Angel,” Sean’s deep voice interrupted my train of thought as he reached over and took one of my hands in his. “Are you okay?” The expression on his handsome face made my heart beat faster. “You seem to be thinking deep thoughts,” he raised his other hand to ease the lines in my forehead. “Thought’s which aren't happy ones. Do you want to talk about it?”

I managed a weak smile. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that,” I admitted, my voice husky with nerves. “I’m not sure where they're headed yet.”

He cocked his head to one side, regarding me with such a steady gaze, that I was sure he could read my mind. “I’ll be here whenever you want to talk,” he assured me after a few moments, easing my worries. He leaned forward again, his expression earnest. “You know I’m here for you, don’t you, Angel?”

I nodded, feeling the warm touch of his skin as his fingers caressed mine. “I know that,” I replied, knowing inside that it was true. I knew I could always count on him. That was a wonderful thought in and of itself. It had been a long time since I’d thought I could really count on anyone. Especially a man.

Sean’s watch beeped suddenly, making me jump and surprising him. He groaned, letting go of my hand to look at his watch.

“I can’t believe it’s one o’clock already!” He ran a hand through his hair before waving for the waiter to bring our check. “I’m sorry,” he said, casting a look my direction filled with such regret it was almost palatable as he took out his wallet. “I forgot I have a meeting this afternoon, and it’s starting now!” He sounded irritated with himself and the prospect of having to end our lunch and I reached out to touch his hand as he put down a tip.

“Sean,” I said, trying to calm his anxiety. “We have lots of time. You can give me the tour another time.”

The look he gave me sent my senses into confusion as he leaned over and kissed me hard on the lips, letting me feel some of his frustration. I blinked as he stood up and pulled out my chair so we could leave.

“We don’t have lots of time,” he disagreed huskily, walking quickly out of the restaurant. He pulled me along the dock to the car, walking so fast that it was hard to keep up as I wondered what in the world he was talking about.

"What are you talking about?" I finally gasped out, as we reached his car.

“You leave in 14 days,” was the abrupt answer, settling me in the car and then starting it. He backed out of the spot with a squeal of tires and headed back toward the school, his expression hard to read.

“14 days!” he repeated, almost spitting out the words. “How the heck am I supposed to show you anything, help you get to know me or develop any kind of relationship in 14 days?”

I swallowed at the emotion in his voice, the passion I could sense emanating from him. I watched in amazement as he shook his head, his eyes on the road.

“I was so sure we could do everything I wanted to do, get to know you - really - for myself in the time you were going to be here,” he continued, driving like a race car driver down the freeway. “I figured by the time you left, you would promise to come back for Thanksgiving and we would be set.”

I chewed on my lip in absent-minded jitters, clutching the arm rest in an automatic gesture, my mind on his words more than his actions. He sounded like he had planned how my whole trip was going to be, and the next four months too. That didn’t sound like someone who was going to dump me when I went home.

The last sentence he’d said finally sank in and I held my breath. What in the world did he mean by set? I sat up a little and turned to ask him, but we were already at the entrance to the school and driving through the gates. Sean parked and dashed around to open my door.

“I can’t walk you to your car, Angel," he said hurriedly, helping me out and glancing up at the school. "I’ve got to go, please just...” he groaned and ran a hand through his hair, this time making some of it stand up, giving him a wild look. “We’ll talk later, okay?” He looked down at me intently, waiting for an answer and I gulped.

Finally, realizing the urgency, I nodded without a word and he kissed me fiercely, then was gone before I could open my eyes.

“Oh my,” I whispered, trying to gain my equilibrium. “That was strange!” I turned and headed slowly toward my car, feeling like I’d just survived a twister. What was going on with that man?

I had just gotten my keys out when I heard a voice call my name. I looked up in surprise to see Dave coming toward me, looking sharp in his school uniform of pleated slacks and white shirt with a dark blue tie.

“Hey, Dave!” I said, happy to see him standing. “How are you?”

He shrugged, a lazy smile on his face. “Not bad.” I could see the bruises on his face were starting to heal, only a light orange and green now. “What are you doing here?” He tilted his head in the directions of Sean’s car. “Mr. Palmer?”

I smiled at his observation. “Yep, went to lunch. What are you doing?”

He shrugged again, glancing around. “Just have an hour or so before my next class. Have you had the tour yet?”

I shook my head, putting my keys back in my purse. “Nope. Sean was going to take me and forgot he had a meeting.” I stopped, wondering if Dave really wanted to show me around or was being polite.

“Well then, have some time now? I could show you.” He seemed a little nervous, his face was a slight pink, and it made me chuckle.

“I was hoping you would offer,” I admitted, slinging my purse over my shoulder. “Where do we start?”

The next hour was informative and relaxing. Dave, who was I learned in his third year at the school, was an apt guide and had a sense of humor that had me laughing most of the time.

I was impressed with the school. It was well laid out and a well healed facility. He was showing me the auditorium where the talent show was going to be held the following night, when a group of kids came in, obviously going to rehearse their number.

“I guess we’d better go now, huh?” I asked as we watched them climb up on stage, talking to one another. He shrugged, an expression I couldn’t read on his face.

“Yeah, sure." He turned turned around to open the door for me, but he didn't seem to be thinking about what we were doing, he tried to walk through the other closed door. He looked at me funny, and then shook his head as we walked out.

I followed him back to my car, wondering what was on his mind. “Are you going to do something for the talent show?” I asked him as I pulled out my keys, thinking he was worried about his performance.

He gave me a disgusted look. “Heck no!” he stuck his hands deep in his pockets, his mouth twisted in mockery. “I don’t have any. I’m just going to watch everyone else make fools of themselves.”

I grinned at his expression. “Oh - well. It would have been fun to watch you do something.”

He relaxed and grinned before shaking his head. “Yeah, right!”

“Thanks for the tour, Dave,” I said. “It was fun.”

He shrugged. “No prob. Be careful driving home.”

“I will. Thanks!” I got into my car and I watched him in my rearview mirror, noticing he stayed there as I drove out the gate before turning and walking away.

Sighing, I started down the highway, rolling my window down and running a hand through my hair. What a day! I felt as if I had been up since 6 a.m. - but yet I felt restless, like I needed to do something. I groaned as I rubbed my face. I was going insane, I knew I was!

I needed to think about what Sean had been saying at lunch. I needed to figure out how I felt about the whole thing, and I needed to do it away from everyone - especially the Palmers. I wasn’t really in the mood to talk to Mari or Bill right now.

I turned off the highway onto a side street that went alongside the beginning of the hill and spotted an art supply store. Feeling slightly guilty for buying anything when I had all the supplies I could ever want back at the Palmers - I went in and purchased some sketching and watercolor supplies before heading up the hill to the column.

I had always loved going there when I was a kid. I was always fascinated with anything remotely associated with the ocean, and the column was it's own fascination - looking like a detached turret from a castle. I’d had all sorts of daydreams about it being Rapunzel’s tower, or a lighthouse on some distant shore, or even a castle turret where I was a captured slave. (I had quite the imagination).

I drove up the winding road to the top where there was a large grassy area around the column and to the sides. There was a token chain around it as if to notify that it wasn’t supposed to be entered. It was a brilliant white in the afternoon sun, and I sighed as I shut off the engine, relishing the cloudless summer day.

I loved the quiet, as if there were no one for miles. For some reason, the tourists weren't out in force today, and I had the place to myself. I could definitely get some thinking done here. I gathered my supplies which included a short stool and walked leisurely over to the grassy area to the east of it. I already knew how I wanted to sketch it. In fact, I really wanted to catch it in watercolor, so thus the purchase.

I set the stool down with my supplies and stood for a moment to decide on the best view. I walked to one side for a moment and then walked to the south of it, picturing the surrounding trees and buildings. I finally decided to leave the other buildings out and sat down to begin.

I had sketched in the basic outline of the tower against the sky and trees, and had started mixing my watercolors when a shadow fell over my paper, distracting me from my work. I looked up a little irritated to see an old woman standing at my side, her eyes surrounded by such deep wrinkles that she almost appeared to have a wooden face, staring out into the ocean, waiting for a ship to come in.

Her hair was white, gathered into a tight bun with little wispy hairs escaping and a pair of earrings that could have passed for old fishing lure any day. Her clothes were worn, but clean and she had a sharp look in those deep set blue eyes that forestalled the rude words I had been about to utter. By her side, so silent that I hadn’t noticed it at first, was a large black shaggy dog, which appeared to be a Labrador, but it needed a hair cut desperately.

"It's been a long time since someone has come here to be inspired." She stated in a gravely voice.

I put my pencil down and rubbed my hands together. Now that I was aware of things, I realized I had been sitting a while and was stiff. I rolled my shoulders and leaned back a little to observe this small-wizened woman.

"It has?" I prompted. "You've lived in Astoria a long time?"

She looked down at me, almost as if she was sizing me up. "All my life," was the abrupt reply. "My father used to be caretaker of the column."

“Wow,” I uttered, very impressed. I’d always wanted to meet someone who knew something about the column. Now was my chance. “I’m so excited!” I turned to look at her directly. “I used to pretend all sorts of things about it when I was a kid.” Suddenly I remembered my manners, and rolled my eyes. “I’m so sorry! What am I thinking?” I grinned, feeling like a child next to her. "My name is Angela Barker, and I'm visiting here for a while. Do you know the Palmers?" I debated whether to offer the welcoming hand or not. I decided she would put hers out if she wanted contact.

"Palmers...Palmers, as in Bill Palmer, the Lumberjack?" The old woman almost made it sound as if it was a title of honor, and I couldn't keep from smiling with pride.

"Yes, that's them. I'm staying with them."

She looked down at me for a minute, and then slowly held out her hand, the age-old courtesy coming a little reluctantly. "Well, then, welcome to Astoria, Angela Barker. Rhoda Mae MacAlister." I shook her hand and then she indicated her silent companion. “This is Raven. He’s the best guard dog I’ve ever had.”

I looked at her a little surprised at that information. “Why would you need a guard dog?” I held out my hand to the dog so he could see I wasn’t a threat. She watched as he sniffed my hand and then wagged his tail softly and licked me, once.

“You never know what people are up to any more,” she answered me. “He’s the offspring of the dog my father had.”

I could hardly believe I had such a source of information! Suddenly I was called back to my initial excitement. “Can you tell me anything about it?” I asked, gesturing at the column. “Like why it’s here? What the mural is all about?”

She shrugged. “Sure, but you can get all that stuff down at the information center.”

I made a face. “True, but that’s not the same.” I looked back at the column, at it’s glistening white sides apparently having had the mural freshly painted, making it look like a Roman column transported in time. “I was hoping you could tell me something a little bit more interesting, more romantic in its history, I guess.”

I got a cackle out of her at that, and it made the dog bark softly. “Romantic? Hah!” She put her hands in her pants pockets and peered at me closely. “Youth and their romance. Everything has to be romantic.”

I didn’t know what comment to make at that, and chewed on my lip under her scrutiny.

She finally shrugged and turned to look at the object of our conversation. “I don’t know that anyone cares about it anymore. It’s just the column.” Then she turned and looked at me closely. “What does it mean to you?”

I cocked my head to one side and shrugged. “Not a whole lot, just a lot of childhood dreams. I had a lot of adventures in that column. I guess I thought it would be fun to know if something really exciting happened here.”

She gave me a strange look that said told me she had secrets galore. “Well, maybe if you come again I might have something for ya.”

I turned to look at the column briefly, and when I turned back, she was gone. So silently I’d swear it was as if she'd never been there. I gasped to myself, and then sighed as I saw her just as she and the dog rounded a corner to a house down the road.

"Thank Heavens!" I muttered, turning back to my painting. "I was about to wonder if she was a ghost!"

I sat down and gathered up my paints, trying to decide if I wanted to try and finish or come back another time. I chewed on my lip and decided to do some of the back wash. As I spread it on, my mind drifted to her words, not wholly on the task.

Astoria with smugglers. It was fascinating. I knew I was going to have to talk to Bill about it when I got home. Had the column ever been part of it?

I finished the wash and then glanced at my watch with a gasp. It was almost 6! Sean was going to be home and wondering where I was.

I grabbed up my supplies and stool and tossed them in the back of the car and headed off, not quite able to put the strange old woman out of my mind. I hoped Sean or his parents would be able to tell me something about her.

I chuckled when I drove into the driveway and saw Sean outside, pacing the front porch. I knew he would be anxious about me and it was a warm feeling, knowing someone was thinking of you - wondering where you were. He was at my door before the engine turned off and opening it to pull me out a little roughly.

“Angel,” he groaned. “I’ve been worried out of my head, and having arguments with myself, and I-” he pulled me into his arms to hold me so tight I thought a rib might crack. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in my ear, “I don’t mean to startle you. I’ve just been a little worried about you. I couldn’t think where you might have gone.”

I smiled into his shoulder and gave a soft sigh. “It’s okay. I knew you would be worried. I came home as soon as I realized what time it was.” I pulled back enough to see his face, putting my hands along each side, feeling the beginning of stubble along his jaw. “I was up at the column painting, I was okay.”

He pulled me close again, obviously not wanting to let me go. I wondered if I would ever get tired of his concern. Somehow I didn’t think so. “Angel,” he said after a minute. “I was really upset that I didn’t get to finish what I had started talking about this afternoon. Can we talk about it now?”

I nodded my head, wondering if my life was going to change. I could feel my heart starting to beat harder.

“Sean!” We both jumped as Mari’s voice came to us from the door. “Sean, you’re wanted on the phone.”

He groaned and touched my forehead with his. “I hate telephones,” he mumbled and I giggled at him. “I’ll be right back,” he said firmly. “Wait for me.”

I smiled at him as he ran into the house, and leaned back against my car. I was so happy, I could barely contain myself. I had never had happiness like this before. I hugged my arms around myself and closed my eyes. I could only hope I knew the subject Sean wanted to talk about. I knew he was really upset that I was leaving in a week and a half. I heard the screen door open and turned to see him coming out, a dark look on his face.

“Sean, what’s wrong?” I asked, going over to meet him. He rubbed a hand over his face and then pulled me into his arms for a tight hug.

“I’m sorry, but we're not going to be able to talk right now,” he said, his voice hard and full of frustration. “I’ve got to go to the school. There’s been some vandalism in my classroom, and they want me to come check it out.”

“Oh, no! How awful!” I gasped dismayed. “When did it happen? You’ve only been home a while.”

He chewed on his bottom lip for a minute, looking over my head. “I guess it happened right after the classes were all let out.” He looked down at me. “I left a little early to try and continue our talk.” His eyes seemed bleak as he gazed at me, it made my heart ache. “Angel, I have to go, but we are going to finish that conversation, if it has to be at three in the morning one of these days, okay?”

I nodded with a weak smile at his attempt of humor. “It’s okay, you need to go. We can talk later. I’ll be here.”

He sighed and then pulled me up to give me a hard kiss before letting me go. I watched him climb into his 4Runner, my blood singing in my veins. What a man. I waved at him as he pulled out, and felt my heart sink - but only a little.

It amazed me that my happiness was still intact. Usually when I was feeling emotional about someone, I wasn’t happy if I wasn’t with him - I would spend the time moping and being depressed. I smiled as I gathered my art supplies out of the car and headed into the house. Perhaps it was knowing that I was living in Sean’s house, and would be seeing a lot of him. There was no reason to be depressed.

I managed to get the door open with my full hands and promptly dropped them all on a nearby chair when I saw Mari, standing in the middle of the room, wringing her hands and looking extremely worried.

“Mari!” I gasped, going to her and taking hold of her hands. “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “Oh, Angie! I'm so worried! What is happening at that school? Why would someone vandalize Sean’s classroom?”

I sighed, wondering how I could help calm her when I had some of the same thoughts. I was pretty sure I understood what was going on in her head. I pulled her close and gave her a hug. “He is going to be fine,” I insisted, trying to reassure her. “There are all sorts of security there now, no one can hurt him.”

“But what about during class time?” she persisted. “They are getting pretty cocky about what they can do. I mean, this sort of thing isn’t supposed to be happening!”

I nodded, and glanced out the window to the driveway where Sean’s car had been. This was bringing it close to home. What was Bill going to think? I was afraid it was all going to come to a head soon, and the resulting explosion could destroy everything. I sighed and lead Mari over to the couch.

“Here, lets sit down for a minute,” I said, sitting down next to her. “Mari, you’ve got to relax! You’re going to work yourself into a nervous breakdown if you keep this up."

She nodded her head, smiling weakly, her eyes still holding a worried look. I shook my head, patting her hands which were clenched in her lap. "I know you're worried about what is going on,” I said, unable to keep from glancing out the window again, as I wished her fears didn’t feed mine. “But we have to hope that things will be taken care of by the police. He knows how to take care of himself.”

She gave a sigh, letting most of her anxiety out with it, then nodded slowly. “I know. I’m just terrified of losing him again,” she admitted softly.

I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, as I tried to calm myself down, she had me all worked up now. “I can believe that,” I told her. “You guys have been through so much. I understand why Bill gets so upset about these things too.” I glanced at my watch. “What time is Bill going to be home, anyway?”

Mari gasped, glancing at the clock on the wall. “Oh my! He’ll be home any minute, and dinners not ready!" She jumped up and started wringing her hands again. "Sean’s not here, and I’m a nervous wreak! What is he going to say?”

I shook my head and nudged her in the direction of the kitchen, knowing his reaction would not be good, if the restaurant discussion was any indication. “Let’s see if we can’t make things as normal as possible before he gets here.” I figured Bill would probably want to race out to the school to confront the security people. “Maybe we can downplay this a little,” I added, rushing to get the table set.

Mari shook her head as she stirred the soup, which thankfully, was already cooked on the stove. “I don’t know, Angie,” she said with a shaky sigh. “I don’t know that this can be downplayed anymore.”

I had to admit she was right, but I hoped that some sense of normalcy would delay it a little.

We were actually able to get everything ready and set on the table before Bill walked in. He looked really tired, and I wondered what he had been doing. He didn’t do full time work anymore; just small projects that people hired him for, so I couldn’t imagine him looking so tired from that.

“Evening, all,” he thundered, a little less lively, but still loud enough to let us know he was home.

“Hi Bill,” I greeted him with a smile. “How was your day?”

He shrugged and started folding up his sleeves as he headed down the hall to the bathroom. “Not too bad,” he responded with a sigh.

I glanced at Mari who looked so relieved at what we’d been able to accomplish, that she seemed ready to plop down and cry. She watched her husband go down the short hallway, and took a deep breath.

“You look tired tonight, hon. What did you do today?”

We listened to the sound of water running and waited for him to appear.

“I measured some wood and hauled it out to the workshop.” He replied, running a hand through his hair. “I’ve got some special projects going, and I needed some special wood.” He sighed again, sitting down heavily in his chair. “I guess I’m not up to the haulin’ like I used to be.”

I grinned at him, trying to ignore the ache in my heart at his obvious weakness. “You just like to keep thinking you’re a young buck,” I declared. “You better watch out, you can’t do the same stuff you used to.”

He grinned over at me, some of the sparkle back in his eyes. “Naw. I’ll stop working when they pry the cold hammer out of my lifeless fingers!” He held up a strong tanned hand, that had seen many years of good work. “And that’s a long ways away!”

“That’s for sure,” Mari said quickly, coming over from the stove with the pot of soup. “You’ve got lots of years in those hands, and don’t let this young whippersnapper here tell you any different.”

Bill smiled fondly at his wife before leaning over to kiss her softly. I turned away, a little embarrassed at the display of emotion. It wasn’t something he usually did, and it surprised me. Maybe Sean was beginning to rub off on his father!

Mari sat back, looking a little flushed when I looked back at them, and I figured she didn’t mind one bit.

I handed her my bowl, and Bill sat back, heaving another tired sigh as Mari dished us up. I watched him warily as he glanced around and realized Sean wasn’t there.

“Where’s Sean?” He asked as he took his bowl from Mari.

She stilled at the question, and then glanced at me pleadingly.

“He had to run back to the school for something,” I said, figuring that wasn’t too much of a lie. “He’ll be back in a little while.”

“Oh.” He rolled his shoulders, obviously trying to loosen things up, and didn't pursue the subject any further.

I couldn’t believe how tired and sore he looked. I’d never seen Bill like this, and I was dying to know what kind of project he was working on.

“Dinner looks good, hon,” he said after a minute, and I saw Mari glance at him in surprise.

“Thanks, Bill.” She brought over hot cornbread from the oven, looking a little confused at the remarks he was making.

I didn’t know why she would react to his comment that way, he always said she was the best cook in Astoria. What an odd night, I thought with a sigh. That reminded me of the woman I’d met.

“Do either of you remember an old woman named Rhoda Mae MacAlister?” I asked, reaching for the cornbread.

Mari glanced at Bill who looked up from his bowl. “Can’t say as I have,” he said after swallowing. “Have you?” He looked at Mari, who seemed a little surprised.

“You’ve met her?” She was clearly amazed.

“Yeah,” I replied, sitting back a little. “I was up at the column doing some painting and she came over to talk to me.”

“Wow,” Mari looked over at Bill, who shrugged and continued eating.

“She never talks to anyone,” she told me, dishing up some soup.

I looked at her in surprise. “I got the impression she was bestowing a favor on me, but I didn’t think it was that unusual. When have you talked to her?”

Mari grinned. “Oh, it was a long time ago.”

Bill looked thoughtful for a few minutes before I saw a faint reddish color start up his neck.

“My heck,” I said, dropping my spoon. “What were you doing?”

Mari blushed almost as well as I do. “Well, we were up in the column one night and she was out walking.”

“Before we were married,” Bill put in suddenly, and that put things in a new light.

“Oh,” I said, grinning as I sat back in my chair. “You two were up in the column, um, looking at the view of the stars?”

Mari shrugged, grinning over at Bill. “Well, sort of. We weren’t doing much looking outside of the column though.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Like you’ve never thought of taking Sean off somewhere private?” he teased me back, and I shrugged.

“Okay, okay. So, that’s the only time you’ve talked to her?” I shook my head at their teasing, trying to get back to the subject of Rhoda Mae.

Mari nodded. “Yeah. That was so long ago.” She looked over at Bill. “Remember that night? It was perfect. There were no clouds, it was summer and warm and the stars were huge...”

Bill cleared his throat, a flush still up his neck. “I remember that night very clearly,” he stated in a soft voice. “I just don’t think I’m ready for Angie to hear about it.”

I grinned and Mari blushed. “Oh, that’s probably true,” she quickly turned her attention back to her dinner. “Never mind,” she said to me, her eyes twinkling.

I groaned. “You two! Like I never heard about making out before! C’mon! She has me very curious.”

Bill just grinned at me and I rolled my eyes. “Great, so how do I find out who she is?” I asked, attacking my soup.

Mari shrugged. “You could always go look up her father at the city building. They might have his name from his working there, since she said he had.”

I thought about that for a minute, and then sat back. “You know, I asked her if there were any stories she could tell me about the column, and she said I could read all about it in any of the brochures. But surely there was something about that column that no one tells anyone about, wasn’t there? I told her that I thought there had to have been something romantic about it and she pretty much laughed at me, but she did tell me next time I went up there she might have something for me. What do you think she was talking about?”

Mari looked over at Bill and shrugged. “Who knows. I don’t know anything unusual about it, do you?” Bill shook his head and continued eating.

“I guess that might have been a fisher to see if you would come back,” Mari suggested with a smile.

I made a face. “You know, you’re probably right. I'm such a sponge!”

Bill looked up with one eyebrow cocked. “Sponge? Nah, just gullible!”

I stuck out my tongue and Mari chuckled and we went back to eating our dinner. I kept wanting to look at my watch, worrying about Sean. I knew Mari was too, but she was sure hiding it well. Bill was too tired and sore to notice anything going on, and I was very glad.

I sighed inwardly. I had never thought I’d be involved in anyone’s life like this. I hadn’t thought it was possible. And now, here I was, anxiously waiting for his arrival, fearful for his safety, and my sanity. I looked down at my mostly empty bowl and decided I’d lost my appetite.

“I’m gonna take a walk and see if I can’t relax before I call it a night,” I told them with a sigh, getting up from the table. “I sure didn’t get much sleep last night.”

Bill grinned and Mari smiled. “Just lazy, that’s all,” he said, his voice booming across the room. “You youngun’s can’t handle a little work!”

I decided to not encourage him and went around to give him a kiss on the cheek and went to do the same to Mari. “Night, folks.”

“Goodnight, dear,” Mari said softly.

"Stay to the road," Bill cautioned, and I grinned at him in reply.

I stepped out the front door, enjoying the quiet sounds that surrounded me. The rustling of the trees in the breeze, the call of the seagulls as they flew overhead, the occasional buzz of a hummingbird whizzing past the porch. I was so tired, but I was also wound up - anxious about Sean and what was going on at the school. I went slowly down the driveway, sticking my hands in my pockets. I didn’t think I would go far, but hopefully it would give me some air and help me relax.

Sean had said he’d be back as soon as he could, and that was almost and hour or more ago. I found myself wishing he had a cellular phone so I could call him, but knew that wasn’t fair. He had things he had to do, and I needed to let him have his space. He couldn’t prevent me from worrying, though.

I tried to distract my thoughts of worry and think about something else, the column of course coming to the front of my mind. I remembered the first time I had gone to see the tower with Bill.

I had been about 12 that year, and my parents had gone into Portland with Mari to do some shopping. Bill didn’t want to go and so he had volunteered to baby-sit (I had been so mortified to think they still thought I needed to be babysat)and we had spent a wonderful afternoon going to different spots of interest.

The first stop had been the column. Back then it was kind of a tourist attraction, and they offered tours on and off. The day we went, there were no tours, but the column was open for visitors. I had gasped with delight when I spotted that shining white building, knowing for sure it was part of a castle or tumbled down ruin that they had pulled all but this away. Bill had been amused by my reaction, letting me run around and climb the stairs and daydream for almost an hour before he decided it was time to do other things, and had climbed up to get me.

“Uncle Bill, what is it like to be on a big boat at sea?” I had asked, standing at the top and letting the breeze blow my hair, pretending we were on a huge clipper ship, heading for Africa. Bill had chuckled.

“Well now, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” he answered with a sigh. “All that sea, everywhere around you with no land in sight - just wave after wave of ocean and seagulls crying. It’s restful for the soul, it is. Grand stuff.”

“Wow,” I’d been envious of his life. “I wish I could go out on one. I’d love to be a sailor, and visit all the different countries, see the ocean during a storm...” My voice had been wistful, I had always been quite the dreamer. Bill had chuckled and put an arm around my shoulders.

“I’m sure you will, Angie. You can do whatever you want to do. You have been born at the best period of time. There is so much out there waiting for you.”

I had shrugged, not really interested at the time about my future being a wide open door, and not catching the note of longing in his voice, that I believe upon reflection, was there.

Now as I walked on that quiet stretch of road, I wondered what had happened to that open door. It certainly hadn’t remained open, and I definitely had no clear view of my future. It sure wasn’t what I had thought it was going to be.

Maybe with the renewal of painting, the door was beginning to open again, I thought, chewing on my lower lip. Avenues I haven’t thought about for years are still there, I just hadn’t wanted to look at them. I came to a stop and felt a shiver of fear and excitement. It had been up to me to open that door. It had never really closed, I had just tried to push it that way. Now, it was opening up to me again, with all its possibilities.... I took a deep breath and started walking quickly, not really seeing the beauty around me. It was like I’d had a moment of clarity, and it scared me.

I’d felt so alone and isolated for so long, it made me ache inside to realize that I had done it to myself. I had shut myself off from people and things, afraid of hurting, but, I wasn’t really living. Now, it was like I was on an edge...did I jump off, or cling to the side? Was I afraid of the short span? Or was it a minor traverse?

I folded my arms tightly, feeling a little cold and afraid. I hadn’t expected this to happen. I guess I’d expected to live in my isolation for the rest of my life, but that wasn’t reality, and if I really analyzed it - I didn’t want that. But, to change so suddenly was certainly a little frightening. I realized I was already on that road. I had begun to paint again, and I was enjoying it immensely.

Suddenly I was exhausted, and turned back toward the house. At least now I would be able to sleep. I was still worried about Sean, but I figured he wouldn’t be gone much longer. I couldn't wait to talk to him about what I was feeling, I was sure he would understand.

It didn’t take long to get back to the house, and I went inside, hoping Mari and Bill were not going to try and keep me up. They were no where to be seen, and all the lights were off except for the kitchen, so I went up to bed, feeling almost bone tired. Today had been a momentous day, I decided as I undressed and slipped under the covers. It almost made me wonder what tomorrow was going to be like, but I was too tired to dwell on it. I fell asleep hoping Sean would wake me up when he got home...

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