Here By Mistake?
- Chapter 1 Is Here.
Out Of Dust
©By Duke Stevens
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“As a silver birch in a pine-wood,
flashed and was gone.”
Louise Ravin pushed the plate away tears welling in her eyes.
“I don’t think I can finish this,” she said to him as she opened her purse to look for a Kleenex.
Dr. Howard Chandler sighed inwardly covertly glancing around to see if anyone in the restaurant had observed her distress.
Shifting his position in his chair he experienced a sudden shaft of panic. It had not been his intention that the crisis come during their meal. How dare she take this moment to act out her whimpering jealousy allowing the lobster to get cold and ruining his own meal.
He fought the swelling impatience and anger that threatened to invalidate his own cleverness.
Leaning forward in his chair he told her to stop being ridiculous insisting coldly that he had barely glanced at the stewardess on the plane. After all, he asserted, was it his fault the woman had found him attractive and had done everything she could to get his attention?
Louise Ravin dabbed at her eyes with the tissue struggling to control the growing sense of fear and desperation overwhelming her. Her mind felt numb, inexorably pulled and pushed by invisible wires impossible to resist.
What was happening to them? Why was he so cold and unyielding? Why was he denying the episode on the plane? She hadn’t imagined it she reassured herself. He had provoked and then encouraged the attention of the stewardess.
As she watched him jab at his salad his face grim and set she placed her hand gently on his arm.
“Howard, I don’t understand what is happening to us. You called me and asked me to share this evening with you... and now you act disinterested and deny the attention you gave the stewardess... We used to laugh and talk together.”
Her hand began to tremble as tears rose to the surface again. She breathed-in deeply continuing, “Now we only quarrel... You either act as though I don’t exist or you pay inordinate attention to the closest good-looking woman... Are you punishing me for something I’ve done? If so, let’s talk about it... What’s wrong, Howard... Why.... Why....”
Her voice wavered gradually weakening then broke off completely.
She slowly lifted her eyes from the damp tissue still clutched between her fingers. His eyes were alive with waiting. For long seconds she felt suspended in time, his eyes locking her eyes to his. There was no escape. A childhood memory of a small rabbit caught helplessly in a snare floated before her.
Suddenly the sickening realization of the truth spread throughout her body. He had manufactured the crisis and had directed her to this moment.
A wonderful sense of power flowed through him as he saw she could not remove her eyes from his. This was the time he had been waiting for. He pushed his chair away from the table -- pushing himself away from her -- thrusting himself forever out of her reach. It felt good to him. His timing was brilliant. The execution of the symbolism perfect!
“You should be satisfied, Lou. You finally have what you have been working for so long.”
His voice came to her softly, deadly. It came to her with just the right touch of sorrow mixed with regret.
“This can’t be happening,” she thought wanting to cover her face and then uncover it finding herself somewhere else.
Her voice rose fighting hysteria, “What are you talking about, Howard? What-in-God’s-name-are-you-talking-about?”
He stood up. Looking at this watch, he wanted to distract her. Speaking low, he said, “We have to get the car back to the airport. If we don’t get started we’ll miss the plane back to Dallas.”
Leaning forward gripping her arm hard, he said coldly, “Let’s go... We’ll talk in the car.”
She tried to get up but her legs refused to obey orders. He let go of her arm to remove his wallet from his back pocket. Placing a tip on the small black tray on the table he turned away from her and began walking toward the restaurant lobby.
She promised her legs all the help she could muster and managed to get up and follow him. “I should have applauded,” she thought bitterly.
They left the restaurant, backs stiff, walking distinctly apart from the other. She didn’t dare look at him so she concentrated on counting the steps it would take to get to the car but she stopped counting when she reached the number thirteen.
At the Chandler home, the telephone in Howard’s study rang just as Mike breezed through the kitchen door asking if she’d seen his tennis racket anywhere.
“It’s in the front hall closet... the balls are in the garage.”
Catherine watched his retreating back for a few seconds longer reflecting that though he was somewhat leaner his arms were as hard and his shoulders as broad as his father’s. He also seemed to have inherited Howard’s manner of bearing which conveyed a compelling “presence” whenever he entered a room or when attention was directed at him forcing him center-stage.
Catherine smiled when she heard Mike’s muffled speech coming from the interior of the closet, “Mom, do you want me to get Dad’s phone?”
She raised her voice slightly to reply, “No, I’m on my way... Get home by six -- Okay? We’re going to the Judge’s for dinner.”
“I’ll make it.”
“Hi, Catherine. This is Chris Anderson. Is Howard around? He said he would call me when he got back from the Dallas seminar but I’ve not heard from him. The seminar has been over for three days.”
She started to speak when something deep within her stirred and stretched -- a rebellious shadow resenting its subservient place -- reached out of its solitary confinement to check the emerging reply.
Catherine Chandler was amazed to hear her own voice respond to his questions with a short laconic, “No, he isn’t here.”
As the seconds passed through the heavy silence Catherine felt herself weakening under its pressure. The impulsive refusal to play out the inevitable cover-up for Howard had left her unprepared for the battle going on inside her now.
Mike had paused at the study door with the tennis racket in his hand. His eyes were waiting, expectant, curious. Catherine met his eyes -- then looked away, her hand gripping the telephone harder.
Chris broke the silence with a disconcerted chuckle, saying, “Do you know where I might reach him?”
“No.... I’m sorry.”
“Would you tell him to call me when he gets home?”
Mike never took his eyes off his mother while she assured Chris his father would get his message.
“Why didn’t you tell him Dad’s at the cabin?”
“Because he isn’t.”
Mike continued to stare at her. She could see puzzled confusion rise to mingle with the questions in his eyes. She suddenly wanted to pat his arm and tell him she loved him.
Turning to go, he said quietly, “I’ll make it back by six.”
She nodded staying by the telephone while he walked away from her. Looking down at it then back toward the place Mike had stopped to listen and watch her so intently she tapped the top of the receiver wondering why now, after all this time, she had chosen to do what she had just done.
Taking a deep breath to loosen the knot coiled tight within herself she lifted her head and began walking back toward the kitchen.
At ten minutes to six o’clock, Howard Chandler drove in the driveway to find Catherine and Mike leaving for the Judge’s home. Catherine stopped her car rolled down the side window enough to say, “We’re going to the Judge’s for dinner. Will you be coming later?”
“Give me half an hour.”
“Fine,” she replied, then remembering said, “Chris Anderson called -- wants to talk to you.”
Howard, already getting out of his car acknowledged the message with a wave of his hand without looking up.
The Judge was waiting for them at the door.
“Cathy! Mike! I’m so glad to see you. It’s been too long since I’ve seen either of you. Cathy, Kingpin has seen more of you these last few weeks than I have... Do you think that’s fair? Is Howard going to make it tonight?”
Catherine hugged the Judge before answering his questions, “No, I don’t think its fair and I’m sorry. And, yes, Howard is coming.... He got home just as we were leaving. He said he’d make it.”
The Judge’s eyes echoed his pleasure at the news. Turning to Mike, he said, “Why don’t you go on into the library and pick up the Pepsi Virginia has set out for you?”
Smiling at Catherine he placed his arm around her informing her that he had recently sold his portion of the Stevenson lands which were to become the site for a new type of solar research center and that there was someone here he wanted her to meet tonight.
She was certain later that he must have said much more but she would never know for sure just what it might have been because at that moment Catherine lost sight of everything else around her when David Christopher had stepped out of the library -- drink in hand.
Their eyes locked in instant, helpless, jubilant recognition. She had floated into him -- body and soul. For one brief moment in time they were in a world where truth stood before them -- unshrouded -- unshackled - accepted.
He couldn’t take his eyes away from hers as he brought his arms together across his chest promising between the space separating them that he would hold her inside them forever. She breathed a deep, soft shuddering breath.
To the Judge, Dave had merely shifted arm positions in order to steady the drink he held in his right hand against his left arm.
To Dave, she would never be able to lie to him again.
Thinking that he had prepared for this moment Dave now found he was more shaken that he had expected to be. He tried to fill in the quickening seconds with the clever witty speech he had practiced over and over but he couldn’t remember any of it.
All he could come up with in the way of a greeting was a slight nod of his head, an acknowledging smile and the verbal caress of one word, “Catherine.”
Her voice seemed to be a whisper out of a fog, “Why... I....”
She gave up uttering softly, “Hello, Mr. Christopher.”
“You know each other?” The Judge asked, startled now because he had picked-up a subtle but definite suggestion of the personal in Dave’s voice.
Catherine felt a sudden terrible happiness.
Turning to the Judge with a light laugh, she said, “I wouldn’t say we know each other, but we have met.... At the office…”
The Judge allowed the nudge of his earlier intuitive signal back off. He chuckled, “Well then! I don’t have to introduce you. Let’s join the others in the library?”
She surveyed the room as she entered, smiling hello and greetings to the guests who were making a special effort to approach her. Her head whirled with disbelief.
She felt sixteen years old as she fought down a rising giggle threatening to burst out of her as she thought of the intricate planning that must have gone into his arranging for this night to take place.
“Hi Mark! Any more hole’s-in-one?”
“Hi, Cathy! There must be a special rule for amateurs. Only one in a lifetime.”
Trying not to look in the direction David Christopher had gone she laughed at his response, “Is Becky here?”
“She’s at the piano... Where else?”
Catherine waved across the room at Becky exchanged bits of news with several others close by before continuing to move around the room.
Dave felt her laugh down to his toes as he watched her unobtrusively. He wondered if there would be anything about her he wouldn’t like. She seemed at ease with each person, friendly, interested, perceptive -- warmly elegant while still tantalizingly elusive within her own aura of mystery.
A woman named Sheila was giving him her undivided attention stopping her chipmunk-like speech only long enough to take short jerky sips of the drink she was bobbing up and down in front of him while she talked.
David was caught in mounting frustration -- not because of Sheila -- but of finding himself between conflicting areas of interest without a satisfactory way of resolving the conflict.
One part of him ached to concentrate on Catherine, another part of him urged him to take time to listen to Sheila. Even though he had been listening to her with half of an ear the word-flow held intelligence and keen insight which had begun to register enough for him to hear his inner voice requesting more attention to what she was saying.
Just as he had decided to temporarily focus on Sheila, he heard her sharp intake of breath.
“My God! I never get used to how handsome he is!”
Later, when Dave was to think about the next few minutes he would accept the fact that it had not been Sheila’s outburst of feminine appreciation which had alerted him to the man standing in the library doorway but the swift yet perceptible and distinctive look which flashed between Catherine and the young man leaning against the baby grand with a bottle of Pepsi held loosely in his hand.
The chiseled features of the man’s face bespoke strength and was an excellent backdrop for the penetrating or ‘demanding,’ Dave wondered, dark brown eyes.
The mouth slightly grim did not obscure the possibility of it bringing forth a munificent and accepting smile were the setting right for it. Wondering why it was not right for it now, Dave forgot about Sheila.
The Judge and his wife, Virginia, coming through the French doors leading to the garden lifted their hands to acknowledge the man’s arrival. They moved through the once-again conversing couples to welcome him personally.
Dave experienced a vague familiarity about this man while he watched him make his way toward the Judge and his wife shaking hands as he moved through the room.
Glancing at Catherine he noticed she had not picked up her conversation with the woman next to her since this man had made his entrance. She was staring at the man. Suddenly Dave needed to look at the young man near the piano again.
That vague sense of the familiar Dave had felt concerning the new arrival found its home in the boy. A jab of dread quickly mushroomed into a piercing certainty that the man was the boy’s father.
But what did they have to do with Catherine? He knew even while he furiously fought the truth that this man was her husband and the young man their son.
The past weeks of planning swept over him in a kaleidoscope of remembered activity in carrying out his original intentions for the move including a purchase of a home, finding land suitable for the research center and the hours spent in working out the relocation to the smallest detail.
These had been things that had needed done without ever having met her. But he had met her and from that moment the move had held a new meaning, had a new impetus and a new promise.
He felt like the fool of all fools as the weeks of planning, full of the reverberations of his two brief meetings with Catherine which had finally culminated in their extraordinary reunion by the Judge’s front door tonight withered in meaning to a bitter irony, suffocating him for a moment in a wild, impotent despair.
At the end of the evening Catherine was the last to say good night to the Judge and his wife. Waving from the porch they watched her car fade into the night.
“It was a good dinner, Ginny. It was good for us and it gave Dave an opportunity to meet some of the people that can help him.”
“I enjoyed it. I like your Mr. Christopher. I haven’t seen you so enthused about anything -- other than your thoroughbreds for a long time. I hope his ideas prove out.”
“Well,” the Judge chuckled, “I think this man has what it takes to give it a good shot.”
Virginia reached around a large plant to turn out the yard and porch light as they entered the house, “Honey, did you notice anything unusual about Cathy tonight?”
“A bit more remote near the end of the evening, maybe. But she stayed until the last as she always does. Howard left exceptionally early. Much earlier than I’ve ever seen him leave.”
“Howard didn’t surprise me. He was probably tired. He just got back from one of those trips of his. But, Cathy bothers me. There was something....”
Virginia pressed her husband’s arm, “you could talk to her. If there is some problem she may tell you. She may just be waiting for the right time.”
Looking down to her feet, she mused, “I wonder though... if there is something going on that is different this time.”
The light was on in Howard’s study when Catherine and Mike got home. She pulled her car alongside Howard’s in the garage and turned off the ignition.
Leaning her head back against the seat for a few minutes before she woke Mike she wondered how Howard intended to handle her refusal to act according to the unwritten rules.
The expression on his face when he had entered Judge’s library had told her he had gotten in touch with Chris Anderson and Chris had made some reference to their earlier conversation.
Mike had known it too.
“Mike! Wake up! We’re home.”
He lazily opened his eyes. Grinning at her, he yawned and stretched, “I should have come home with Dad. Whenever we go to the Judge’s for dinner you’re always the last one to leave.”
Lightly messing his hair, she said teasingly, “If you want to be your own man again you’ll have to get your car out of the garage. Besides, I noticed you didn’t mind staying until Jenny Warren went home.”
“At least she knows when to quit.”
Laughing, they went into the house.
The door to Howard’s study remained closed as they walked past it to their bedrooms. She could hear no movement and wondered if Howard had fallen asleep with the light on. She hoped so although she knew it would simply postpone the inevitable confrontation about the phone call.
“Good night, Son.”
Catherine entered the bedroom unbuttoning her blouse as she walked across the room to remove a nightgown from the closet. She couldn’t forget how David Christopher had looked as he had stepped out of the library without warning simultaneously speaking to the Judge and herself on one plane of casual human communication to the Judge while he had reached out on another intense level of human emotion to claim her for his own.
And, she unable to leash her joy in time had foolishly acknowledged the incredible truth of his claim.
She continued the motions of getting ready for bed automatically, emotionally going through the evening again and again. She felt all over the tugging awareness of his covert observation of her as she had moved through the evening talking to friends, laughing. Catching her glances at him with delight.
Then, Howard had arrived bringing with him the reality of the ugly truth changing David’s first cautious awareness of Howard to a terrible unfolding realization of the way things really were.
When he had retreated into the garden she had longed to go after him to comfort him. But there had been no comfort she could give.
She picked-up the hairbrush and as she raised it to brush her hair she saw her face reflected in the mirror. She stared at herself fighting back years of unwept tears. Tiredness swept over her and her hand holding the hairbrush dropped to her side.
Sitting down on the chair her mind wearily sought some relieving thought just one tiny bit of truth that would reduce the turmoil and hopelessness that had troubled this night.
Nothing came but a remembered stanza of poetry, “How beautiful it was, that one bright day... In the long week of rain! Though all its splendor could not chase away... The omnipresent pain.”
“Longfellow... I think it’s Longfellow,” she muttered aloud. She forced her mind to seek the author of the poem in her need to displace for a time the two brief meetings with David Christopher to forget him, the night itself for one clear pain-free moment.
A light tap on the bedroom door scattered her thoughts, “Just a minute!”
Looking across the bed where she had thrown her housecoat she wanted it on her before she opened the door.
Howard entered the room shutting the door quietly behind him. He leaned against the closed door with his right hand still on the doorknob.
“I said! Just a minute.”
She stood straight, her chin lifted slightly caught midway between the bed and the bathroom alcove, totally reflected in the floor to ceiling mirror on the left-side of the room.
Her right hand holding the hairbrush to her side, the ivory-color of the full-length nightgown, soft and full of shimmering highlights enhanced the deeper shade of her skin. It flowed seductively over her, playing a sensual game of hide and seek along the curves and lines of her body.
Catherine saw his hand tighten on the doorknob as the white heat of his sudden thirst for her flared within him. She walked to the bed picked-up her housecoat and put it on.
Looking at him, her eyes hard, she spoke softly with studied deliberate care, “And to think.... I’m not even in heat.”
He wanted to slap her, throw her on the bed and push up her nightgown and take her. Instead, he ran his left hand through his hair giving his anger time to punish the desire.
“Ah, yes... I have drawn the blood of bitter memory.... Sorry.”
They stood there. Two staring-eyed mannequins looking at each other.
“Would you come to the study then? I’d like to talk to you.”
You have finished Chapter 2
Of Out Of Dust
By Duke Stevens
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