Days clicked slowly by. KC Carson invited me to go dancing with her and Susanna at Bobby Lee's. I didn't get horribly drunk, but I danced with an enormous fisherman by profession named Hammond, a pretend cowboy (in a port city? puh - leeze!), and a grad student who was seeking preferment.
I went out another time with Radigan; he was fidgety and nervous and I wondered why until he began asking me questions about Margaret Wills. I took a deep breath of relief and began to tell him of her interest in him.
Kimsky, in our daily e-mails, called it "a start", and encouraged me to keep saying "yes" to opportunities to meet people, do things, and get out of the house.
I let Margaret Wills set me up for an utterly repellent blind date to accompany her and Radigan, for whose new image she had fallen head over heels. When we were back to work the following Monday I assured her that if she ever tried to give me a blind date again I would hack into her computer and destroy every file she had ever saved. She only half-believed it was a joke. Had I actually had the computer skills to do so, the threat would only have been half in jest. But the awful evening was therapeutic in one regard: I was no less miserable than I had been before, but I was far more interested in classes and lesson plans than I had been. That was an improvement, at least. Students and exams versus blind dates? Let me take on teaching an extra class.
Moersgard stopped by my office and invited me out for drinks. I agreed to meet him at Serenity's at seven -- time enough for me to take a shower and change into something casual but agreeable to the eye.
His eyes were glittering with mischief -- and was that lust? -- when I slid onto the leather barstool on his right. And where is Barbie? I asked with my eyebrows.
"Lauren is visiting relatives in Anaheim," he answered me, while nodding commandingly at the bartender, who wordlessly placed a glass of my favorite wine on a coaster by my hand. "How are you, Augusta?"
"I'm well," I answered him, smiling at his smoothness. "Has she been gone so long that you needed company in your solitude?"
He chuckled. "Just left this morning," he said. "So you took off for Ohio over break, did you?"
I scowled at him. "And you knew that ... how?"
"Your little musician friend came to visit me in my office," Moersgard said, placing his right hand on my left arm on the bar as in days of old. "He was quite distressed."
"Jacob, don't play games with me. What happened?"
His bushy white eyebrows arched. "He didn't tell you? No? Why, the little fellow knocked on my door with all humility and begged me to tell him if I knew where you were and if you were all right."
"God almighty, are you talking about Valentine Teshenko? Why the hell would he be asking if I was all right?" Consternation warred with confusion in my brain.
"That's his cute name, I remember now. I questioned him about when you disappeared, just in case there was truly a reason to worry, and asked him why he wanted to know. He looked like a man stabbed, Augusta. 'Most interesting,' I thought.
"'I just didn't see her around, and there was no answer at her door or her phone and I got worried, because she never said anything about leaving ... ' he said." Moersgard portrayed Valentine as a wheedling voice. "He's a recent boyfriend, isn't he?"
"Not very recent," I said, shaking my head in puzzlement.
"I told him that you had probably taken off for Ohio to see Kimsky." Moersgard took a sip of his red wine, after swirling it in the glass and sniffing the bouquet.
"'Then you know she's all right,' he asked me. 'You've been in contact with her.'
"'No,' I told him,' but if Augusta disappears, that's usually where she goes.'
"'You don't know?' he gasped at me. 'She didn't tell you?'" Moersgard paused in his story to appraise my reactions. I drummed my fingers on the bar in impatience and after another chuckle, he continued. "'Augusta never reveals her whereabouts if she wants to be left alone,' I lectured him. The poor boy nearly swooned."
"Lay it on thick, why don't you?" I said, with a good swallow of the Italian wine, and a mounting annoyance. Gasping and swooning, yeah, right.
"'You don't seem very concerned,' he mumbled at me. 'No,' I said. 'At times she puts a stop on her mail and leaves town. She'll tell someone that she's traveling, so as to head off any 'missing persons' report, but no one else. Augusta's a very private person,' I told him. 'After ten years, she still refuses to tell me in which town Kimsky lives.'"
"That was cruel, Jacob."
"Wasn't it? I can't believe the little bastard had the gall to come to my office." He sipped genteelly at his red wine.
"I can't, either. I don't owe him any money and I didn't borrow any books from him, and he dumped me the first week of November. I saw him a couple weeks ago. He had a young lady on his arm and didn't even wave hello, so I guess he's over his worries."
"Good for him." Moersgard tapped the bar beside his glass to signal another round, the set of his shoulders indicating that he had dismissed the conversation about Valentine and was ready to move on. "And how was Ohio for you?"
I was ready to move on, too, and talk about subjects that didn't make me feel the waves of sadness rising again. "Comforting. Welcoming. Like what I would have hoped family could be like, when I was a child. A white Christmas, tons of good food, lots of laughter..."
He snorted. "Food and laughter? I take it that Kimsky had plenty of weed on hand, as usual."
"Well, yes, now that you mention it. I had a good time; every day was full and peaceful." Moersgard was still a good sounding board, so I told him about the query letters I'd sent off to Ohio universities. "I think I'm about ready to move back East again. Slower pace to life there, get my priorities about life back in order. I've been feeling weary lately."
He said nothing, and I looked up at him to find him staring intently at my eyes. "Why'd he dump you, Augusta?"
"We discovered that I'm older than his mother." I said in stillness, and rummaged around in my heart to try to find some anger to head off the hurt.
For an answer, Jacob put his big arm around my shoulders and hugged. "The fool," he growled. "My girl, taking a younger lover is always a chancy business. You just never know when the wrinkles will get to be too much. You had to realize that."
"I did; I do. But it sure made me feel old and tired out."
"He's not worth throwing your career away for, whatever else he may be. Fatzer has tendered his resignation, and found employment in Michigan. I'd like you to apply for his position."
"Ah, shit, I don't want to get stuck in admin," I groaned. "I like teaching."
"What if you could teach the teachers as well as some classes? Fatzer taught only the top level classes because he wanted the students to toady up to him for graduate work. Someone else in the department could take those classes, since you've always hated them so much. Think about it, think about it. "
"I'd fire Margaret Wills' incompetent ass," I percolated.
"Would you? Or would you call her to fulfill her potential?"
"I'd call her to fulfill her potential and when she didn't, I'd fire her ass. Is that better? Jacob, would I actually have a chance at the job?" A deluge of ideas flooded my mind and I brought myself back to focus with difficulty.
"You've played your politics well over the years. And you have at least one friend in high places," he said, running a finger over the hand that rested on the base of my wine glass. "I'd say you have a chance. Perhaps a very good chance," Moersgard hinted, with a clear message in his eyes.
I swallowed the last of my wine. "All right, I'll apply. But I'll take my own chances, thank you, my dear colleague."
"Come back to my house, Augusta, and let's continue to discuss this," he grinned wickedly.
"Right, and have Barbie return unexpectedly because she forgot her favorite shoes and find me discussing my future with you in great detail ... Nice try, but no deal."
"She called when her plane landed. Come on, Barbie will never even know."
"Are you about to say yes?"
"You just called Lauren 'Barbie,' too."