Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 12

   

“Aye? You’re sure? What time is it there?”

“I don’t know; it’s too dark to see the clock,” she said, still sleep-addled. A reluctant deep chuckle answered her.

“I am sorry; I tried to calculate the time difference, but must’ve got it backward. Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“That’s okay, I had to wake up to answer the phone anyway,” she assured him, and laughed.

“Aye. Well…” She could hear the answering smile in his voice, and eased herself back against the pillows, shoving tangles of hair out of her eyes, slowly adjusting to the here and now. The feel of her dream was still with her, more real than the dark-shrouded shapes of her bedroom.

“It’s good to hear your voice, Roger,” she said softly. She was surprised at just how good it was. His voice was far away and yet seemed much more immediate than the far-off whines of sirens, and the whish! of tires on wet pavement outside.

“Yours, too.” He sounded a little shy. “Look—I’ve got the chance of a conference next month, in Boston. I thought of coming, if—damn, there’s no good way to say this. Do you want to see me?”

Her hand squeezed tight on the receiver, and her heart jumped.

“I’m sorry,” he said at once, before she could reply. “That’s putting you on the spot, isn’t it? I—look—just say straight out if you’d rather not.”

“I do. Of course I want to see you!”

“Ah. You don’t mind, then? Only…you didn’t answer my letter. I thought maybe I’d done something—”

“No, you didn’t. I’m sorry. It was just—”

“It’s fine, I didn’t mean—”

Their sentences collided, and they both stopped, stricken with shyness.

“I didn’t want to push—”

“I didn’t mean to be—”

It happened again, and this time he laughed, a low sound of Scottish amusement coming over the vast distance of space and time, comforting as though he’d touched her.

“It’s all right, then,” he said firmly. “I do understand, aye?”

She didn’t answer, but closed her eyes, an indefinable sensation of relief sweeping over her. Roger Wakefield was likely the only person in the world who could understand; what she hadn’t fully realized before was how important that understanding might be.

“I was dreaming,” she said. “When the phone rang.”

“Mmphm?”

“About my father.” Her throat tightened, just a little, whenever she spoke the word. The same thing happened when she said “mother,” too. She could still smell the sun-warmed pines of her dream, and feel the crunch of pine needles under her boots.

“I couldn’t see his face. I was walking with him, in the woods somewhere. I was following him up a trail, and he was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying—I kept hurrying, trying to catch up, so I could hear, but I couldn’t quite manage.”

“But you knew the man was your father?”

“Yes—but maybe I only thought so because of hiking in the mountains. I used to do that with Dad.”

“Did you? I used to do that with my dad, as well. If you come back to Scotland ever, I’ll take ye Munro bagging.”

“You’ll take me what?”

He laughed, and she had a sudden memory of him, brushing back the thick black hair that he didn’t cut often enough, moss-green eyes creased half-shut by his smile. She found she was rubbing the tip of her thumb slowly across her lower lip, and stopped herself. He’d kissed her when they parted.

“A Munro is any Scottish peak more than three thousand feet. There are so many of them, it’s a sport to see how many you can climb. Folk collect them, like stamps, or matchbooks.”

“Where are you now—Scotland or England?” she said, then interrupted before he could answer. “No, let me see if I can guess. It’s…Scotland. You’re in Inverness.”

“That’s right.” The surprise was evident in his voice. “How did you know that?”

She stretched, scissoring her long legs slowly under the sheets.

“You roll your r’s when you’ve been talking to other Scots,” she said. “You don’t when you talk to English people. I noticed when we—went to London.” There was no more than a faint catch in her voice; it was getting easier, she thought.

“And herrrrre I was beginning to think ye were psychic,” he said, and laughed.

“I wish you were here now,” she said impulsively.

“You do?” He sounded surprised, and suddenly shy. “Oh. Well…that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Roger—why I didn’t write—”

“You’re not to trouble about it,” he said quickly. “I’ll be there in a month; we can talk, then. Bree, I—”

“Yes?”

She heard him draw breath, and had a vivid memory of the feel of his chest rising and falling as he breathed, warm and solid under her hand.

“I’m glad you said yes.”

She couldn’t go back to sleep after hanging up; restless, she swung her feet out of bed and padded out to the kitchen of the small apartment for a glass of milk. It was only after several minutes of staring blankly into the recesses of the refrigerator that she realized she wasn’t seeing ranks of ketchup bottles and half-used cans. She was seeing standing stones, black against a pale dawn sky.

She straightened up with a small exclamation of impatience, and shut the door with a slam. She shivered slightly, and rubbed her arms, chilled by the draft of the air conditioner. Impulsively, she reached up and clicked it off, then went to the window and raised the sash, letting in the warm mugginess of the rainy summer night.

She should have written. In fact, she had written—several times, all half-finished attempts thrown away in frustration.

She knew why, or thought she did. Explaining it coherently to Roger was something else.

Part of it was the simple instinct of a wounded animal; the urge to run away and hide from hurt. What had happened the year before was in no way Roger’s fault, but he was inextricably wrapped up in it.

He’d been so tender, and so kind afterward, treating her like one freshly bereaved—which she was. But such a strange bereavement! Her mother gone for good, but certainly—she hoped—not dead. And yet it was in some ways just as it had been when her father died; like believing in a blessed afterlife, ardently hoping that your loved one was safe and happy—and being forced to suffer the pangs of loss and loneliness nonetheless.

An ambulance went by, across the park, red light pulsing in the dark, its siren muted by distance.

She crossed herself from habit, and murmured “Miserere nobis” under her breath. Sister Marie Romaine had told the fifth grade that the dead and dying needed their prayers; so strongly had she inculcated the notion in her class that none of the children had ever been able to pass the scene of an emergency without sending a small silent prayer upward, to succor the souls of the imminently heaven-bound.

She prayed for them every day, her mother and her father—her fathers. That was the other part of it. Uncle Joe knew the truth of her paternity, too, but only Roger could truly understand what had happened; only Roger could hear the stones, too.

No one could pass through an experience like that and not be marked by it. Not him, not her. He’d wanted her to stay, after Claire had gone, but she couldn’t.

There were things to do here, she’d told him, things to be attended to, her schooling to finish. That was true. More importantly, she’d had to get away—get clear away from Scotland and stone circles, back to a place where she might heal, might begin to rebuild her life.

If she’d stayed with Roger, there was no way to forget what had happened, even for a moment. And that was the last part of it, the final piece in her three-sided puzzle.

He had protected her, had cherished her. Her mother had confided her into his care, and he’d kept that trust well. But had he done it to keep his promise to Claire—or because he truly cared? Either way, it wasn’t any basis for a shared future, with the crushing weight of obligation on both sides.

If there might be a future for them…and that was what she couldn’t write to him, because how could she say it without sounding both presumptuous and idiotic?

“Go away, so you can come back and do it right,” she murmured, and made a face at the words. The rain was still pattering down, cooling the air enough to breathe comfortably. It was just before dawn, she thought, but the air was still warm enough that moisture condensed on the cool skin of her face; small beads of water formed and slid tickling down her neck one by one, dampening the cotton T-shirt she slept in.

She’d wanted to put the events of last November well behind them; make a clean break. Then, when enough time had passed, perhaps they could come to each other again. Not as supporting players in the drama of her parents’ life, but this time as the actors in a play of their own choosing.

No, if anything was to happen between her and Roger Wakefield, it would definitely be by choice. It looked as though she was going to get the chance to choose now, and the prospect gave her a small, excited flutter in the pit of her stomach.

She wiped a hand over her face, slicking off the rain-wet, wiping it casually through her hair to tame the floating strands. If she wasn’t going to sleep, she might as well work.

She left the window open, careless of the rain puddling on the floor. She felt too restless to be sealed in, chilled by artificial air.

Clicking on the lamp on the desk, she pulled out her calculus book and opened it. One small and unexpected bonus of her change of study was her belated discovery of the soothing effects of mathematics.

When she had come back to Boston, alone, and back to school, engineering had seemed a much safer choice than history; solid, fact-bound, reassuringly immutable. Above all, controllable. She picked up a pencil, sharpened it slowly, enjoying the preparation, then bent her head and read the first problem.

Slowly, as it always did, the calm inexorable logic of the figures built its web inside her head, trapping all the random thoughts, wrapping the distracting emotions up in silken threads like so many flies. Round the central axis of the problem, logic spun her web, orderly and beautiful as an orb-weaver’s jeweled confection. Only the one small thought stayed free of its strands, hovering in her mind like a bright, tiny butterfly.

I’m glad you said yes, he’d said. So was she.

July 1969

“Does he talk like the Beatles? Oh, I’ll just die if he sounds like John Lennon! You know how he says, ‘It’s me grandfather?’ That just knocks me out!”

“He doesn’t sound anything like John Lennon, for God’s sake!” Brianna hissed. She peered cautiously around a concrete pillar, but the International Arrivals gate was still empty. “Can’t you tell the difference between a Liverpudlian and a Scot?”

“No,” her friend Gayle said blithely, fluffing out her blond hair. “All Englishmen sound the same to me. I could listen to them forever!”

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