Her hair was dark and gleaming flowing softly to her shoulders curling slightly at the ends. The cut had been feathered in blending layers away from the gentle lines of her face. Her head was bent in concentration while she carefully examined the illustration lying on the desk.~~~~~~~~~
He stood by the door reluctant to interfere with her absorption. She sighed and without looking up from the sheet in front of her reached out and found a drawing pencil, bringing it back to slash dark lines across the top of the diagram she was working on.
David Christopher was held by the sensuous movements of her body, the gracefully directed activity of her hands as she worked on the sheet in front of her. He felt an unreasoning jealousy against the inanimate recipient of all this lovely intensity.
She looked up. Their eyes met. Her eyes sharpened with surprise. He suddenly felt drunk and as he moved forward was amazed to find his walk steady and sure.
She moved out from behind the desk saying, “Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you. May I help you?”
Her voice fit the rest of her perfectly. He had the craziest desire for her to keep walking right into his arms.
Mentally shaking himself back into the real world, he directed a smile at her before explaining, “I’m trying to locate a friend of mine. Art Haddox but I seem to have been given wrong directions.”
Something intangible swept over her face. She began to draw the pencil through her fingers slowly from one hand to the other.
He found himself following the movements of her hands. Seeing no wedding band, he felt his heart pick up momentum as he looked past her making a survey of the top of her desk and beyond to the shelves.
Still no ring.
He felt wonderful.
She leaned against the desk, her head tilted to the left. “Well,” she said, “you have the right company but the wrong office. Art is in the Legal Department, Office 19. Just turn left as you leave and it will be the second door on the right.”
He managed to thank her before he turned around and moved out into the hall.
He found the door where she said it would be. The words, “Legal Department” made of thick, heavy gold-plated metal with the number nineteen under them were fastened to the handsome oak door.
A wave of apprehension displaced the expectation and sense of satisfaction in finding Art. His hand hovered over the doorknob. How would he be received? Would Art refuse to talk to him? He hoped not but after all why should he expect a warm welcome. It had been he, not Art who had turned his back on their twenty-year friendship.
He gripped the doorknob firmly and opened the door.
He found Art pouring over a sheaf of papers in an inner office. As he entered the room Art glanced up then slowly leaned forward, placing the documents on the desk. He seemed to be squinting behind his thick wire-framed glasses while he inspected this unexpected interloper on his time.
But in seconds the characteristic wide welcome grin broke and spread throughout his face.
“Dave? Dave! You, son-of-a-gun! I can’t believe it. How’d you find me?”
Art’s obvious pleasure at seeing him and the unreserved acceptance Dave felt from him brought fresh regrets and shame into sharp focus.
“Art... I know it’s been a long time. But... I’ve got to say how sorry I am before anything else is said. I -- ”
Art sobered instantly as the memory of Dave, the last time he saw him, forced itself between them. His voice flowed with the force of emotion he had lived with for five years.
“Dave I have always understood. Losing a wife like Janice and the illness. Well...”
Art’s strong eager handclasp brought relief and gratitude to David Christopher which removed any further misgivings about how he would be received by his old friend.
Dave smiled, “You’re a hard man to find. Once you began changing jobs I had my hands full. I started looking for you about three years ago -- on my own. Then I decided to hire a private investigator and he got the lead that led us to John Thompson. He told me you had worked for his firm until last year when Graphics Public Relations lured you away through salary seduction.”
Art, smiling again, said, “Thompson’s a good man and he’s basically right. This is the kind of work I’ve always wanted, plus the salary does wonders for my ego -- and my pocket.”
He stopped talking to gesture toward the chair beside his desk as he settled back into his office chair.
Dave pulled the chair around so he could face Art.
“The fringe benefits aren’t so bad either,” he said as he sat down, explaining his comment by describing his meeting with the dark beauty.
“Oh, yes -- Cathy.” Art mused.
Glancing toward a sound coming from the hall, he then brought his eyes back to Dave, “So, you’ve met our Catherine Chandler. She’s not only beautiful, but she’s also a sensitive and fine person. Extremely creative in her work, efficient and hard driving. And -- in the words of her boss -- the best Account Executive in the business.”
Art paused and turned to the window on his right without seeing it. Then swinging his head back he went on, “I’m speaking of what I know about her here at work. The rest of her life is somewhat a mystery -- at least to me -- but I’ve only been here a year.”
Remembering his wife’s reaction to Catherine Chandler, he said, “Dottie saw her the first time she came up to see the office. You should have been here. You know how Dottie reacts to any potential threat. But, it didn’t take long for her to relax after watching Cathy working. She saw instantly the dedication to her work and the silent walls she raises whenever there is an attempted approach by anyone on a personal level.”
He lifted his hand from the arm of his chair. Taking a breath, he said, “Say! Dottie will be glad to see you too. You will stay for dinner, won’t you? We can talk and fill each other in on the last five years? Let me call Dottie right now.”
Dave nodded his assent.
Art reached for the telephone with the impish delight much in the same manner of a child who knows he will be the first to bring exciting news.
It brought back Dottie to Dave with almost visual impact. A buxom and exuberant blonde, quick-witted and shrewd of mind. Full of warmth and generosity. She fit Art to a T. He was abruptly aware that he was as happy to find Dottie as he had been to find Art again.
Moments later, Art put the telephone receiver back onto its base, pushed back his chair and said, grinning, “Dottie swears that if I don’t get you over there within five minutes, she’ll leave me. So! Let’s go!”
Catherine Chandler had watched him turn his back on her with a sharp pang of regret. She had pushed herself away from the front of her desk reflecting on the weakness that had swept over her moments earlier.
She had moved back around her desk, placing the pencil she still held in her hand absentmindedly back into the pencil jar. She had looked toward the door struggling against a penetrating sense of loss experiencing an unfamiliar wonder at what had taken place.
She had returned to her desk chair to sit down, her hands dropping to her lap, staring at the dark lines slashed across the sheet she had been working on hundreds of years ago.
Catherine Chandler felt indescribably sad.
Her eyes had wandered around the room seeking a handhold for her mind, “I stay too late, too often.”
She had allowed the small rationalization to soften the presentiment rushing to take over her unexpected response to this stranger.
Suddenly she had not wanted to stay in the room any longer. She had turned off the desk light, picked up her purse and crossed the room to the door. She had stopped, turned to survey the room and had left her office within a deep sure acceptance that something of extraordinary significance had just happened to her.
Dottie Haddox momentarily stopped her activity to listen to them talking. She thrilled to hear the happiness in Art’s voice, the jocund and spirited conversation between the two men. As Dottie opened the refrigerator door she felt a swift flash of time displacement hit her as it suddenly seemed that Dave’s wife had never died.
Removing the iced tea from the refrigerator’s interior, she brought herself back to reality by reminding herself that Janice had been dead for five years. It was enough to bring Janice back to her with keen intensity.
Poor Janice, fun-loving, quietly loyal Janice who had loved Dave from the time she was eighteen never wanting anything more from life than to be his wife. Yet it was this same single-purposed young woman who had learned to deal with inexplicable patience the events that had led to the postponement of their marriage for almost ten years.
Janice had steadfastly insisted throughout that time often with an appealing trace of smugness that to really understand their on-again, off-again marriage plans one would have to understand Dave as well as she did herself, which of course was impossible.
It had only been common sense to wait until he had obtained his Geological Engineering Degree before marrying. After all, four years was not a lifetime.
When after graduation the American Petroleum Corporation had offered Dave the opportunity to make four times the amount of money yearly working for them in Venezuela than he could make working in the states they had been excited and distressed at the same time.
Yet, it would have been unthinkable at the time to not have seriously considered the job offer. The financial advantage of eight years of pay reduced to two years of actual work was a potential windfall they could have hardly ignored since it promised the capital David had needed to finance his dream of owning his own business.
The terms of the contract which included his not being married presented the reasons for the outstanding salary. There had been possible physical risk to Dave -- difficult working conditions -- and political unrest so volatile that it could have become life threatening.
But the final decision on his accepting the job offer had been virtually predictable from the start. David would go -- they had agreed.
When he returned, the business fund had grown in two years to a handsome $180,000 dollar stake, excellent for the time. He had lost no time but immediately had set about building his dream. Once again, Janice had accepted the total financial commitment, the personal time-consuming dedication David was to expend in order to establish a foothold in an extremely competitive and demanding economy.
Before either of them had seemed to realize it another four years had passed before they were finally married.
That Janice had never once questioned David’s love for her during those years was born as much out of her profound loyalty to their relationship as it was to his own unswerving loyalty to it. To Janice, he simply had to love her and that was that.
Well, he had loved her and if there were ever any criticism due him for those lost ten years, it would never come from Janice.
Ironically, it was to come from David Christopher himself, heartbreakingly too late.
Dottie shook her head, fighting back old tears at the memory of Janice, so tiny, sick and dying defending those early lost ten years, only this time to a sobbing broken-hearted David begging forgiveness for robbing them both of those healthy childbearing years, all for the sake of economic security and fun-filled leisure she was to share only sporadically the last ten years of her life.
He had placed his head near her own on the hospital pillow, tears streaming down his face as he whispered, “I love you, Jan... I love you!”
She had smiled gently, telling him she loved him too, though she had seemed to fade faster after each tired smile she’d been able to give him. He spoke to her softly then pleading for forgiveness once again, “I’m sorry Jan...” choking on her name.
She had stirred just enough to offer Dave her own epitaph, “...For all the years, Dave... Thank you... for ALL of them, Dave...” and died, leaving behind her a room stilled by her loss and a battered man unwilling and unable to forgive himself.
Dottie felt a resurgence of excruciating rage at Cancer, that indiscriminate destroyer -- that insidious invisible portent of death. She calmed herself, remembering the pain Dave had undergone, his inability to accept comfort from Art or herself, his ultimate rejection of them.
Twenty years of friendship between them seemed to have died along with Janice.
A few weeks after her death he had sold his business and moved out of the city without telling anyone where he was going or what he was going to do. A few months later, Art had been offered a better job. After that, they had moved two more times and each move had seemed to chip away at the possibility of ever meeting or hearing from Dave again.
Dottie placed the iced tea glasses on a tray, carrying it into the living room hoping that five years had healed enough of Dave’s emotional scars that seeing them would not revive the old self-inflicted wounds of guilt which had arisen out of his wife’s long illness and heart-rendering death.
Across the city, Catherine Chandler drove home slowly. She was tired, she contemplated and with a touch of sardonic humor quoted aloud, Millay’s, “‘Ah, I am worn out -- I am wearied out -- It is too much -- I am but flesh and blood, and I must sleep”
She smiled ruefully to herself, finding the words, “‘I am but flesh and blood. ‘I am but flesh and blood repeat its allusive message over in her brain as steady and persistent as her own heartbeat.
The winding driveway of her home broke through her concentration. Turning into it, she stopped the car at the front gate. As she switched off the engine, she took a deep breath, got out of her car and walked to the door.
Inside, she found the folded note left by the housekeeper leaning against the telephone. On the front of the note were the words -- “Called from Dallas” in Helen’s hurried Spencerian handwriting. Even before she unfolded the note she knew its message, “Had to stay over. Be home, whenever. Howard.”
His back to Art and Dottie, David Christopher stood gazing out of the large sliding-door glass windows overlooking the pool area. His feelings seemed mystically related to the outside scene where the calm water in the pool reflected the serenity of the enclosing night.
While Dottie gathered the empty iced tea glasses and snack plates, she began to fill Dave in on some of their friends.
Art, his eyes closed, feet propped up, head back against the comfortable sofa cushions, stirred and murmured toward Dottie an offer to help clean up later, suggesting that she stay around and talk.
Dottie winked at Dave as he turned around, remarking that she could work while she talked. Without opening his eyes, Art sighed contentedly, “Okay Honey.”
Dave smiled and turned back to the outside scene, yet intent on listening to Dottie. He heard her voice emerging from the kitchen telling him about Ron and Laurie Crandall. They lived across the street. He was a psychologist, tremendously successful, terribly busy.
“I don’t know how they do it, but they always seem ready to involve themselves in community projects,” Dottie said as she entered the living room again.
Turning to Art, she said, “You know Laurie is now jogging with the Woman’s Fitness Club? Can you believe it? She actually gets up at five in the morning, every morning.”
Dottie bent over Art, “This morning she swears she saw Catherine Chandler riding Kingpin over at the Judge’s.”
Art opened one eye and grinned at her, “Dave met Cathy at the office.”
Glancing at Dave to explain, she said, “Judge Harris recently retired from the State Supreme Court. Very well off. He has always loved horses and now that he is no longer on the bench, he spends his time developing his thoroughbreds. Kingpin is his favorite. His estate butts Clayton Park, where the women jog.”
Dave had imperceptibly stiffened upon hearing Catherine’s name. He noted the contraction of his heart at the visual memory it produced. He wanted to drag every scrap of information concerning Catherine Chandler out of Dottie she might know.
Instead, he stood there waiting.
Art removed his feet from the footstool and sat upright, interested. “Kingpin, huh? I’d like to ride that beauty myself. He is some horse, that one. Is the Judge an old friend of Catherine’s?”
“It seems that the Judge and his wife raised her.” Dottie replied.
Art looked up at Dave, “Say, Dave, why don’t you come over and sit down? Finish telling us about your plans. You’re choosing this area to relocate is exciting news for Dottie and me.”
Dave moved away from the window toward them.
Two weeks later, Dave entered the park by way of a small side path that wound its way through the thick growth of evergreen trees and shrubs then across the deep ice plant beds onto the compacted sand of the jogging trail.
He stepped onto the jogging path, filled his lungs with the early morning air and looked around. Everywhere his eyes traveled, there seemed to be various shades of green. The green broken only by the sudden appearance of white brought into focus by the advancing dawn as youthful birch trees. They swayed gently in the wind, seeming to make an early morning bid for attention against the foil of the distinctive green pattern of the park.
Every morning for two weeks he had been coming to the park, hoping to see Catherine Chandler on the back of Kingpin. Locating Kingpin had not proved difficult once he had run the jogging path. The trail came within five feet of the fence around the horse’s pasture at one point on the east side of the park
He continued up its route until he came to the pasture fence.
In the distance, he heard the whinnying of the horses in their stalls, the stable doors being opened and closed. Voices of the stable hands drifted faintly down to where he stood waiting. Beyond the stables the upper half of the main house could just be seen in the on-coming morning light.
The sudden clang of the metal gate latch coming from Kingpin’s side pen alerted Dave to the horse’s imminent appearance. He tensed in his waiting posture.
Would she be Kingpin’s gift to him this morning? It would be a more than fair trade for the two weeks of soft conversation and gentle strokes he had bestowed upon Kingpin while waiting to see Catherine and the stallion together.
The snort and high whinny cut through the morning air as Kingpin stomped his hoofs on the dew-dampened sod at the top of the rise near the storing pen. Suddenly, Dave wasn’t sure that if she were riding that he wanted her to see him there.
Before he could move deeper into the park, the horse with its rider burst into full view, hurling down toward the far end of the pasture heading straight for him.
The moment was breathtaking in its intensity. He wanted to hold that first picture of the woman and the horse within a still frame, yet the magnificent scene full of vibrant life continued to be played out through the long, low stride of the thoroughbred’s gallop directed by her easy, sure grip on his reins.
She leaned forward in the saddle her legs firm against the sides of the horse. Her hair flew freely away from her face which held a mixture of joyous delight and daring expectation.
The familiarity and skill with which she handled the stallion combined with the horses’ own black beauty set off by its graceful, immediate and eager response to her commands, quickened Dave’s admiration for them both.
“Now that’s a horse!” he uttered softly, “And that’s some woman riding him!”
As they neared the bottom of the slope he saw her straighten in the saddle, tightening her hold on the reins, pulling them back, slowing the horse to a trot.
She looked directly at him.
He climbed to the top of the fence, hooking his heels between the lower fence boards, hoping now, she would guide Kingpin over to him.
Catherine had seen him standing by the fence as they had entered the lower pasture, disappointed that they were not to have the morning to themselves. She watched him climb the fence and as she drew nearer to him, her heart quickened.
Aware now who this man was, she made an uncharacteristic choice. Kingpin was going to meet a stranger this morning. The stallion seemed to agree because he took this moment to begin prancing about, his head nodding toward the man on the fence.
She loosened the reins, clucking Kingpin forward.
Kingpin nudged Dave’s arm gently with his nose. Reaching out to stroke the long, slender neck of the horse, he said, “I think he recognizes me.”
“Do you always make friends so quickly?” she asked, smiling at him.
Grinning, he said trying to make it come out light, “Some have suggested that to know me is to love me.”
One full glance took in his wind-blown longish blonde hair streaked with gray, brilliant blue eyes, brown turtleneck sweater above faded jeans and well-worn jogging shoes.
He looked, she thought, very much like your basic Charlton Heston playing Ben-Hur.
Something in the tone of his voice drew her eyes away from his shoes to meet his gaze.
Leaning over in the saddle, she stretched forth her hand, “My name is Catherine Chandler. I believe you are the man looking for Art Haddox at Graphics a couple of week ago, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. We’re old friends. I’m moving to this area and wanted him to know.”
He released her hand from his firm grip, “My name is Christopher, Catherine.”
A feeling of confusion mingled with the thrill of hearing him speak her name so intimately caused her to look away from him toward the park’s interior.
Bringing her eyes to once again meet his, she said, “Well, then! Welcome to our fair city. I see it didn’t take you long to find our jogger’s paradise.”
“Thanks for the welcome,” he replied quietly, “And you’re right. It didn’t take me long to find the park. Especially after I found out you rode here mornings. In fact, that’s why Kingpin knows me. I’ve been running the trail every morning and now he and I can almost be called old friends.”
He felt the change in her while he talked. Everything about her stilled. He willed her eyes back to his face but she now rigidly held them just out of direct contact.
What was in them? Had he been too direct. What exactly had he said that caused this abrupt distance to come between them as sharp and slicing as a sudden cold wind descending into the valley?
Catherine began to slowly back Kingpin away from the fence. As she spoke, she turned the horse away from him, “I really must go. It was nice talking to you. Drop in to say hello when you’re at our office.”
She faked a smile.
Giving the stallion its head, she tried not to think about what he’d said to her. But the words refused burial. “... ‘After I found out you rode here mornings...’” he’d told her.
“You little idiot,” she told herself, “Why did you speak to him?” He had come to the park because of her. Her throat began to ache.
Wonder gripped Dave as he watched her go. He wanted to stop her flight and flight was what it was. He was certain of that. But why?
Hearing a group of joggers coming up the back trail, he decided to finish his run even though his heart wouldn’t be in it.
Before he took off, he glanced up the hill. A promise kindled in his eyes as his jaw tightened with resolve.
You have finished Chapter 1
Of Out Of Dust
By Duke Stevens
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