Symphony 134

He thought back. “I guess I didn’t. I felt my jaw give way when he hit me, so when I woke up with my mouth wired shut, I thought I knew the whole story.”

“It was more serious than you realize. The doctors tell me now that you will be fine, but we didn’t know that at first.”

Carmen took both his hands in hers and kissed his knuckles. She said, “I love you, Neil McCrae. When I thought I was going to lose you . . .”

Neil put his arm around her and drew her close. He ached to kiss her. He said, “You don’t have to lose me. Ever.”

He swept the hair back from her forehead. He admired the shape of her mouth, and the dark depths of her eyes.

“Bill offered me a job,” he said finally.

“I know. I knew about it yesterday.” She paused as if she were afraid to go on, then asked, “What did you say?”

“I didn’t say anything. It all depends.”

“On what?”

“On your answer to my next question.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to go on teaching at the same school with you, if you turned me down when I asked you to marry me.”

# # #

After Carmen left, Neil lay back thinking of the one irony everyone had either missed, or had chosen not to comment on. When it came down to blood and dust, he had believed Lisa instead of Jim Pollard. He had never even made a decision; it had been automatic. Just as automatic as the decision the community had rendered against him in Oregon a year earlier.

# # #

Bill had been right about how long it would take Neil to recover. By Friday morning he was still seeing double and he could not stand up for more than ten minutes at a time. The blows to his head had been a terrible shock to his system.

He badgered his doctor into letting him out by promising to stay in a wheelchair so he couldn’t fall and re-break his jaw if he passed out. It was nearly eleven by the time he had finished the paperwork. Janice Hagstrom picked him up at the hospital entrance, and stowed his folding wheelchair in the back of her station wagon.

He said, “Thank you for picking me up.”

She laughed self-consciously. “If ever there was a case of ‘the least I could do’, this is it. I still don’t understand why you don’t hate us all for the way we treated you.”

Neil closed his eyes against the brightness of the day and said, “That’s easy. You were just trying to protect your children. How could I hate you for that.”

“I would think it would be easy to hate us,” Janice said as she pulled out, “but I’m glad you don’t. Is it true what we hear?”

“What do you hear?”

“That you are going to keep on teaching here, and that you and Ms. de la Vega are getting married.”

“Yes and yes. June fourteenth.”

Janice took pity on his obvious exhaustion and let him sprawl quietly in the front seat all the way to the school. There she pulled out the wheel chair, and then had her hands full keeping his kids from trampling and battering him with greetings. more tomorrow

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