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Submitted by kerry blair on 23 May 2007 - 10:57am. |

Chapter 2

The word ALONE she understood very well, and knew how much it expressed.
(The Snow Queen, Story the Fourth: The Prince & The Princess, 1845)

Libby slid into the chair farthest away from David Rogers and wished it were farther. They’d spoken fewer than two dozen words to each other and already she knew all about him. He was self-absorbed, cocky . . . and deluded if he thought she was going to give him the time of day, let alone a date. It was men like him—or at least a man like him—that she’d fled LA to avoid. She instead focused her attention on one of the few men she admired: patrician principal Max Wheeler.

Perhaps if he’d been forty years younger… she mused. Of course, forty years ago Max was already married. The good ones always are.

Why was it that since she’d turned twenty-six, worthy single men seemed harder to find than iced tea at a ward social? Most of the “eligible” men Libby knew were either divorced and looking for another chance to make an “eternal marriage” last longer than their car payments, or egocentric flirts like David Rogers who couldn’t spell “commitment” to look it up in a dictionary. Libby had been engaged to a cretin in the not-too-distant past, and wouldn’t make that painful mistake again ever.

Ever, ever, she told herself as she caught a glimpse of David’s strong, male profile from the corner of her eye. Despite herself, her chin gravitated after her eyes. And why is it that You give men like him the huge spaniel eyes and thick, curly brown hair? She still awaited God’s explanation when David turned toward her. Libby looked quickly away, then propped an elbow on the table so she could lean her chin on her palm and cup her long fingers into a blinder for her traitorous eyes. Ever!

Hoping to overcome a painful past, Libby had come to Amen to cultivate a life of books, gardens, and solitude. It was true that in another life she was Elisabeth Jamison, CEO of Jamison Enterprises, but as soon as she completed the corporate sell out that was in the works she could retire to obscurity as Libby James. She’d worked for a life of her own choosing and planned now to cherish it. Alone. Words mean different things to different people. To Libby “alone” meant “sans a man” and that in turn meant “safe.”

Max cleared his throat in preparation for yet another year at the helm of his slowing sinking ship of knowledge. Libby pushed aside her thoughts of Captain Rogers and smiled up at the principal in encouragement. Max was six semesters past the age when he’d hoped to retire to the serenity of a fishing boat on the Hassyampa River. But with nobody to replace him, he stayed in the traces instead of a trawler. That, among other things, made Max Wheeler one of the Greats in Libby’s book of unsung heroes.

There were 117 children enrolled in Amen Elementary School this year, Max reported, down ten from last year and sixteen from the year before. Two new teachers had replaced the ones who had fled back to the city after the previous term. Omar had married the local veterinarian and David had come courtesy of a Teach America! Grant to impoverished areas. Omar stood and bowed after the introduction while David made a gesture that approximated a wave.

“Isn’t he so scrumptious you could eat him right up?” LaVerne Payton asked in a stage whisper that couldn’t possibly have carried farther than Sacramento. Her penciled-on brows reached almost to the bangs of her freshly hennaed hair as she grinned at Libby.

Libby sighed. With so little happening in Amen about which to gossip, LaVerne considered it her civic duty to generate intrigue as best she could. She’d concoct a lurid affair between Libby and Captain Rogers and have it spread around town before dusk unless Libby responded correctly. “He’s very handsome,” she said. “Too bad Dr. Jen saw him first.”

“Not the Egyptian, Libby!” LaVerne cried. “The astronaut!” She thrust her chin forward rather like a gila monster about to take hold of prey in its powerful jaws.

Libby knew that, like the lizard, once LaVerne latched onto something, she might worry it to death but she’d never let it escape. Never let her escape in this case. She cast David a scalding look. This was his fault. If only he weren’t single. If only he weren’t gorgeous. If only he weren’t here!

And what was he doing here, anyway? This was her town. Her ancestors had settled it. Their son had discovered the rich ore deposits and improvised a way to mine copper. This man, her great-great-great-grandfather, had built the Amen Mine, and while building it amassed the tidy nest-egg that his son invested in the railroad, which his son rolled over into early aeronautics on the West Coast, and that his son parlayed into a fortune in defense contracts in the World Wars. It was his son, Libby’s grandfather, who had quadrupled the already considerable wealth manufacturing microchips in California’s Silicon Valley.

Elisabeth and her older sister, Geneva, had been born in California almost a century after the first of their ancestors left Amen. A quarter century later they returned—like generations of Jamisons before—to bury their dead in the family cemetery outside of town. They had come veiled in black to avoid prying media cameras that followed them everywhere after their parents’ brutal murder. Geneva Jamison had taken one look at Amen from beneath the layers of netting and vowed never to go back. Elisabeth Jamison had taken a longer look and vowed never to leave.

No one had seen Libby’s face then, so nobody recognized it a few weeks later when she returned. Nobody but her bishop—and her eccentric next door neighbor—knew that Libby James was Elisabeth Jamison. Max Wheeler was too intelligent and too intuitive to believe the fables Libby spun in his principal’s office when first seeking a position at the school. Finally, relieved to know that Max would be her bishop as well as her boss, Libby sobbed out the true story about her parents’ death and her recently broken engagement. Max had hired her on the spot or, more accurately, he had granted her sanctuary in an anonymous, idyllic world of books and children. Each time she returned from a business trip to LA, she felt as though she had been cast back into the garden from someplace east of Eden.

If only the garden had remained serpent-free. Glancing at David, she figured she’d have to say something else to placate LaVerne, but she was wrong. Shenla Naylor swept Libby out of the spotlight and claimed center stage before the younger woman could blink.

“Libby’s not the only single gal in town,” Shenla said with an exaggerated tug on her wig of platinum curls. She’d left town in the early 50’s for the flickering lights of the silver screen, but returned to teach at Amen School a scant year later after two B sci-fi movie walk-ons and a short-lived string of car commercials. Though she had failed by Hollywood standards, in the limited firmament of Amen, she was the brightest star. “I think he’s real cute,” she said, the wrinkles on her Max-Factored face overlapping as she smiled. “Would you care to join me for dinner tonight, Captain?”

“Yes, thanks,” he said without hesitation. “I don’t think I’d survive another so-called meal at the Road Kill Café.”

In spite of herself, Libby winced. She hated to see anybody suffer and Captain Rogers surely would. LaVerne would quote him to her sister LaDonna, The Garden of Eatin’s owner and cook. LaDonna, in turn, would hold a grudge against him until the morning of the first resurrection. Possibly longer.

“Then we have a date,” Shenla said with a wink at Libby.

Max soon adjourned the meeting to Libby’s desk where she removed the lid from a tin of homemade applesauce cookies.

“Her cookies are getting more attention than the principal did,” she heard David observe to Omar with a sidelong glance her direction.

“Perhaps her cookies are more deserving.”

David took a bite. “You’re right. This is the best cookie I’ve ever had.”

Libby ignored his praise. She turned her back on him and stared at a row of perfectly aligned books. Dewey be darned; she began to pull books off the shelf and put them back on again just to pass the time until David Rogers left her library.

“I may speak with you?” Omar asked a few minutes later.

Libby turned to see that the cookie tin was empty and the room almost so. But not empty enough. David was still there, talking to Max but following her with those chocolate-colored eyes of his. She looked down at her feet, then forced her own eyes to make the interminable climb back to his face. This was ridiculous. She was the head of Jamison Enterprises, for goodness sakes. A mere glance from her in a boardroom could make a grown man blush and look away.

David Rogers didn’t look away, nor did she think that she would ever see him blush. Most disconcerting was an odd something in his eyes that hinted that, while he clearly admired her, he didn’t like her.

Why not? she wondered, then in the next moment amended it to So what? She couldn’t describe the lurch in her senses when he looked at her—or the sudden craving for fudge sauce—but it couldn’t be attraction she felt. If she made a list of things she didn’t want in her life right now she’d write “alpha male” on it six or eight times. In red ink.

“Of course,” she said, turning back to Omar.

“I have lived only here in Arizona in the US,” Omar told her, “but I would like to know about other places in your country. You, Miss Libby, were born in the northlands?”

“Um, no,” Libby said, trying to pull her mind into their conversation and ignore the fact that David was listening in. “I grew up in Southern California.”

“There it is very cold?”

“No.” She pushed an errant strand of hair back behind her ear. “It’s warm year-round.”

“It was your college education, then, that like myself, took you away from your land of birth?”

“No, again. I went to Stanford.” Libby considered the poor man’s puzzled expression helplessly. “Omar, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”

“Neither do I understand,” Omar said. “Captain Rogers told me that you, Miss Libby, are a snow queen. I ask your background only in my wonderment at how you obtained this prestigious title.”

Suddenly Libby had no trouble meeting David’s eye and knew at once that she had been wrong. The right look under the right circumstances could make him squirm. She turned back to their colleague. “Captain Rogers was using an English figure of speech known as a metaphor. I’m sure he’d be happy to explain it to you.”

Omar looked past her toward David, but Libby didn’t need an explanation herself. She’d been right about him from the first moment they’d met. What was it about her that could attract a cretin—all the way from outer space?

As she brushed past him on her way to the door he said, “I meant—”

“I know what you meant, Captain,” she said. She’d show him “snow queen.” She’d show him “snow queen, ice princess and arctic empress” besides. “You made it perfectly clear to me. It’s Omar you confused.”

Libby looked around for Max Wheeler and saw him by her desk. “Lock up for me, will you please, Max? I just remembered I left some Eskimo Pies in the oven.”

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lol I love the eskimo pies

lol I love the eskimo pies bit. Great continuation.
Gaynell Parker

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