(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-35 in earlier Blogs )
Malby’s bar was not in a room apart from the main dining area, only set off on a platform to one side. This was to his advantage, for as he made his way past the small dance floor and tables he was able to scan for Maddie and her parents.
He settled at the bar and ordered a ginger ale; he wanted a clear head tonight. Oh yes, a very clear head. He took the glass off the coaster and raised it to his lips and in that instant saw the distinguished, black couple on the right hand side of the dining area, near the edge of the dance floor. And there was Maddie, sitting with her back to him, though he would have recognized her anywhere. The older woman by her side was beautiful, and though a few pounds heavier and with shorter hair, she bore a great resemblance to her daughter. John got up and put a bill on the counter to pay for his drink, loosened his tie a bit and took his half-finished drink with him. Breathe, John.
He sauntered over to the table, coming up behind Maddie and taking her completely by surprise.
She looked up a little startled and didn’t answer. Her parents looked up and he extended his greeting. “Good evening, how are you all tonight. I’m John Pitts. I’m at the department with Maddie.” His hand went out even as Maddie’s father got up from the table.
“Oh no, sir, don’t get up.”
Mr. Hawkins took his hand in both of his and shaking it heartily, said “Well now, son, we’re pleased to meet you. I’m George Hawkins, this is my wife, Cora.”
Maddie’s mother smiled warmly. “Hello!”
Maddie mumbled something inaudible.
Maddie’s father was still standing and had retained John’s hand in that firm grasp. He seemed to be trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together. “Now, John…Pitts. Your name sounds familiar. Yes!” He pointed emphatically at John’s chest. “Maddie’s told us about you!”
His heart skipped a beat. She had told her parents about him? Dare he hope…
“Yes.” Mr. Hawkins continued, “You’re the young man who rescued Maddie from that attacker. Please join us Mr. Pitts.” Mr. Hawkins indicated the vacant chair.
Now John understood. He didn’t like remembering that nightmare. He took the seat between Maddie and her father. “Just for a few minutes. I don’t want to interrupt your celebration.”
“You’re not interrupting. My wife and I have always wanted an opportunity to thank you, son.”
John waved his hand. “Please, sir, it’s not necessary. I’m just glad I was there,” John answered. He had never spoken truer words. He cringed when he thought of any alternative outcome.
“Well, yes, it is necessary. You know, our baby here,” and they all looked at a blushing Maddie, “is more precious to us than gold and it was your gallant action that kept her…”
John was getting acutely embarrassed. He wanted this to be over. He wanted to stick his head under the table. He felt that Maddie’s eyes were glued on his face. “Please, sir.”
Mercifully, Mrs. Hawkins interrupted, “George, honey, you’re embarrassing the boy. Mr. Pitts, if you don’t have pressing plans would you have dinner with us?”
John struggled to control his face. Jackpot! This was more than he had hoped for when he walked up. “Actually Mrs. Hawkins, I’d love that, if you and your husband would please call me John.”
“All right, that’s fair,” she said “will there be anyone joining you?”
“No. I’m on my own. And I couldn’t have found more pleasant company. May I say, ma’am, that you ladies are looking very beautiful tonight.” The words had just rolled off his tongue; he didn’t even know he could speak like that.
“Why, of course you can say such a thing. A lady would never object to hearing it. Isn’t that true, Maddie?”
Maddie looked cornered, like she didn’t know whether to say yes or no. She was probably wondering what he was doing here, having dinner with her and her parents, insinuating himself into their presence. That was okay, let her wonder.
The waiter came up to bring an extra menu. Mr. Hawkins asked that their order be put back a few minutes to coincide with John’s meal.
“Well, John, tell us about yourself,” Mr. Hawkins began and John proceeded to briefly relate his life history, his origins in Montana and the circuitous path by which he had arrived at his current post. He was used to giving interviews, hell, he’d had enough of them over the last couple of months. But he had never cared so much about making a good impression as he did tonight. He was speaking for Maddie’s ears, with a view to letting her know him. All the while, as he directed his comments to her parents, she was sitting there, looking ravishing in her designer dress (what was that color? coral? tangerine?). Her teardrop earrings emphasized the glow of her skin and delicate line of her neck.
Maddie was in a world all her own. But right in there with her, in all its forcefulness, was the presence of John Pitts. Even as she was listening attentively to him talk, the wheels were grinding feverishly in her brain. She realized for the first time the danger she was in. She could so easily fall for this guy. He was so darling. He had saved her from a rapist. He was the smartest, hardest working guy in the department, truly excellent almost without effort. He was considerate and kind of protective, and he had a zest for living. And God, he was so good looking she felt like such a ninny in his presence. But that was just it. That was the problem. He was such a ladies man, a sexual animal. Although she must admit, she hadn’t seen him with anyone lately. But if he got involved with a woman you could bet there was only one direction it could go in.
Maddie’s parents noticed how quiet their daughter was and exchanged a look that was imperceptible to the other two. Mr. Hawkins kept encouraging John to reveal himself. During the meal they got past the small talk and waded into subjects of world affairs, social problems and economic trends. Maddie was finally drawn into the discussion and argued her views quite fluidly. During these times John would just sit back and watch her. Catching one of these looks, Maddie’s mother began to develop her own theory about the dynamics that were taking place. At a break in the conversation she rose to excuse herself and her daughter, saying they were going to “freshen up.” John and Mr. Hawkins lingered over coffee.
They were standing in front of the mirror in the ladies lounge while Cora reapplied her makeup. “Honey, that’s an awfully nice young man,” she said. “Is he something special to you?”
“To me?” Maddie’s voice went up a pitch. “No, nothing, Mama. Why do you ask?” Maddie suddenly became interested in her eyeliner.
“Well, Maddie. I think it’s pretty clear he’s interested in you.”
“In me? Oh Mama, that’s crazy. There are so many women after this man you wouldn’t believe it.”
“So what? What does that have to do with you?” her mother asked.
“Well, he doesn’t need–”
“Baby, maybe you’re the one he wants. Why would he spend an evening making himself presentable to your parents if he’s not interested in you?”
Maddie rolled her eyes. “Mama, that was just a coincidence that he was here.”
“I think it’s a mighty big coincidence. How often does a penniless grad student go out to dinner by himself at a fancy restaurant?”
Maddie was looking at her mother as if she had lost her mind. To imply that John Pitts had come looking for her and her parents at Malby’s was ludicrous. And yet… it was so peculiar the way he had gotten himself invited to have dinner with them. Well, if he was interested in her, then her mother ought to know better than to be throwing Maddie in his path. He was such a wolf! The problem was that Mama probably thought his intentions were honorable. But she knew a lot more about reading human nature in her own generation than Mama did.
Cora Hawkins was seriously concerned about her daughter. She knew that Maddie was a virgin, but what troubled her was that she felt Maddie was as much an emotional virgin as she was a de-facto virgin. She’d never really cared deeply for a boy despite the many boys who had cared for her. She was really quite untouched. Cora felt that if Maddie had actually fallen in love with John Pitts, this would be a first. She wondered whether Maddie would be aware of her own feelings or know how to handle them.
“Well, shall we go back, Mama?” Maddie put the top back on the eyeliner.
“Sure, honey, I’m looking forward to cutting a rug with your father,” Mrs. Hawkins said.
Maddie put her arm around her mother. “Oh, mom, you never change!”
Back at the table Cora demanded immediately, “Well, George, aren’t you gonna ask me to dance?” The live jazz band had a vocalist who had started crooning at nine and the small dance floor was filling up fast.
“Excuse me, John,” George Hawkins said, “but this is required.” Turning to his wife he said, “Cora Hawkins, would you do me the honor?”
“I sure would,” she replied. They glided easily onto the floor leaving John and Maddie looking after them.
It didn’t take long for their eyes to meet. John asked, “Would you care to dance, Maddie?”
She said a prim little “Thank you.” As she got up his fingertips were already on the small of her back, guiding her towards the dance floor.
The jazz tune was a swinging one and they were well-matched partners. Both were natural dancers. When the music changed to a slower tempo and John drew her closer and simply kept on dancing. The singer was crooning a Nat King Cole song. “The very thought of you…I’m living in a kind of daydream…I’m happy as a king…” John was right where he wanted to be and could have whispered sweet nothings in her ear, but he had to contain himself.
She fit so sweetly into his arms. Even though she was tall for a woman, she was still half a head shorter than him. He could almost rest his chin on top of her beautiful head. He could take in her perfect little ears crying to be nibbled at, and the curve of her neck beckoning to be kissed. He almost hummed along with the song as he swung her around on the smooth dance floor. “The very thought of you, the mere idea of you…and I forget to do…the things…everyone ought to do.”
Maddie was mostly staring at John’s tie knot and his neck was so close she could have kissed it. For unimaginable reasons she risked a look up and found his eyes looking straight into hers. There was a look of deep satisfaction in his eyes and, as usual, a little bit of mischief. She couldn’t break away from that look; she was as helpless as a chick mesmerized by a rattler.
Huskily, John uttered one word, laden with meaning. “Maddie,” he said.
Before Maddie could think of any reply she felt a gentle tap on her shoulder. It was her mother. “Maddie, honey, we’re going to head back to the hotel,” she said. “But that’s okay,” she raised her hands to forestall protests, “You can stay. I’m sure John will be glad to see you home.”
“Yes, ma’am absolutely.” John jumped in.
“But mama.” Maddie was trying to convey with her eyebrows what she couldn’t say out loud. “Mama, you can’t do this!”
“It’s okay, honey. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” Her mother returned a look that said, “You’re okay, Maddie. I trust you to be able to handle this.”
After general goodbyes, Cora said “You two just keep on dancing,” as she and George retreated towards the door.
As they resumed their dancing Maddie noticed a peculiar quality to the evening. She had a very heightened awareness of things. It was as if time stood still, with her in the middle. She could literally hear herself think, and the central question seemed to be, what will happen next!
John spoke. “You’re very lucky, Maddie.”
“Oh?” she answered, “And why is that?”
“Because your parents are incredible.” He paused for a moment and then continued, “Really, Lisa said they were nice, but they’re amazing!”
“Lisa?” she felt a funny little flutter in her stomach.
“Yeah. She told me you were here,” he answered, while he swung her around a quarter turn.
Here? Maddie’s brain reeled just like her feet. Lisa had told him she was here. What did that mean? Either he had come here for reasons completely unrelated to her being here, or, he had come here looking for her, knowing he would meet her parents. Why? Oh, this was so maddening!
Many dances and few words later, they left the restaurant to walk down State Street in the warm night air; John’s car was parked in the next block down. He held the door open for her and closed it when she got in. She gave him directions to the house near Vilas Park Zoo, where she rented a room from the widow Turowski.
“Are you having breakfast with your parents?” John asked.
“Oh, no. Brunch with mom, most likely, around ten-thirty. Dad will probably be up by eight to go golfing.”
“Oh, really?” he looked across at her.
“Yep. Any chance he gets!” she bubbled.
When they pulled up to the house he walked her to the porch. “Goodnight, Maddie,” he said.
“Goodnight, John. Thanks for a nice time,” she said, and then realized it might have sounded like she was thanking him for a date. And it wasn’t a date, was it?
“You’re welcome,” he said, with a peculiar look. Then he walked back to the car.
Maddie watched him drive away with a wistful feeling of wanting something more. Images of a computer room late at night…
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)
DISCUSSION QUESTION 36: Why hasn’t John made a declaration?
*(feel free to post your own question for group discussion)
*(you can also post your comment on facebook and start your own discussion with friends) ____________________________________