Winterfest logo Winterfest Online 2010

Classic Round Robin

Chapter 6

by Joan Stephens

 

 

But the best laid plans…

 

While Rebecca and Olivia were figuring out a way to get Nancy to New York, fate was conspiring against them.

 

“Oh, that was wonderful,” Jenny said as she clung to the tall, handsome man walking beside her.  “Thank you so much for convincing me that I needed a night off.”  Just this afternoon she had met John MacRonald.  She had been chosen as his American publicist and was thrilled with the idea, as not only was he gorgeous to look at–coal black hair and emerald green eyes-but the book was currently number one in the British Isles.  He was from Scotland and had written an historical novel based on one of his ancestors: “The Sword and the Plaid.”  She loved the burr in his speech and could listen to him all day.  They had hit it off as soon as they were introduced.  She had suggested that they collaborate over lunch, and he had swiftly agreed.  As they were leaving the restaurant, he had spied a handbill about the symphony in the park.  After seeing that it was playing that night, he had asked her to have dinner with him and then go to the concert, to keep a puir, wee Scotsman from spending a long, lonely night in his hotel room.  She’d accepted with alacrity, laughing at the woeful face he had pulled to convince her.  Now, as she was trying to find a way to make the evening last a little longer, she offered to show him Central Park.

 

Strolling through the park, she’d caught a glimpse of Cathy hurrying to somewhere.  But where could she be going at this time of night?  It was dangerous to be in the park alone after dark. 

 

“John, I’ve just seen a friend of mine in the park alone.  I’m afraid for her.  Would you mind coming with me?  I’ve got to keep an eye on her.”

 

“Not at all.  I was really thinking of some way to keep the evening from ending.”

 

“Oh, thank you,” Jenny said, thanking him for more than just helping her.  She tugged him in the direction that Cathy was headed.  Was she meeting someone?  But she didn’t know of any current boyfriend.  In fact, Cathy had split from Tom Gunther shortly after her unexplained ten day disappearance.  She hardly went anywhere these days.  Being as curious as a cat, Jenny had to find out what she was doing in the park at night.

 

They followed Cathy deeper into the park and up to a large cement culvert.  Jenny was about to call out to her friend when she disappeared into the culvert.  Almost pulling John off his feet, Jenny came to an abrupt halt.  A culvert?  Why would Cathy go into a culvert?  Jenny dashed into it only to find it empty, but there was a soft sound of something clicking shut.  There was no door, only the closed off end of another large tube.  Now Jenny might seem flighty and chatty to some, but everyone who knew her well knew she had a good mind and was a problem-solver.  She solved problems all day at her job.  She just hadn’t been able to solve the boyfriend problem yet, but she would. 

 

She spun around, looking for anything that would help her solve the problem of her friend’s disappearance. 

 

“Where did she go?” John asked, ducking his head as he entered.

 

“I don’t know,” Jenny answered, totally confused.  “There’s nowhere for her to go.  She can’t have disappeared into thin air.  That’s not possible.”

 

“No, it’s not,” John said and began tapping on the walls of the culvert.  “The walls are all solid.  There’s only one possibility, and that’s this round piece of metal set in the wall.”

 

“But that’s just silly.  How would you open it?” 

 

“I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a secret entrance here…somewhere.  Maybe there’s a fairy prince here…somewhere, who has swept her off her feet,” he said, hoping to ease some of Jenny's concern.

 

It didn't work.  “Oh, do be serious, John," she said with exasperation.  "This is Cathy, one of the most down to earth people I know.  She doesn’t even believe in my dreams.”

 

“You have the gift?” John asked excitedly.

 

“Gift?  I don’t know that you’d call it that, but sometimes I have, what seems to me, to be prophetic dreams.”

 

“Och, you have the gift then.”

 

“Well, whatever," she grumbled.  "I guess it’s no use staying here in this cold, damp culvert.  Would you like to come back to my apartment for a cup of tea?”

 

“No,” he said and then smiled at her crestfallen look.  “Not tea, please.  A nice dram of single malt whiskey would be great.  If you have any, that is.”

 

“We can pick some up on the way.”  Tucking her arm in his, she led him from the mystery of the culvert.

 

***

***

Jenny gasped as she took a sip of the whiskey.  “Wow, this is potent stuff.”

 

“Not when you’ve drunk it all you life,” John replied.  "I should have told you to sip it."

 

“Not all your life,” Jenny said.

 

“Well, no, you start with watered down drinks.  We Scots call it ‘the water of life.’”

 

“More like fire water if you ask me,” Jenny quipped.

 

Simultaneously they moved from the bar to the couch.  Jenny snuggled in one end, turned so that she could see him, while John settled his large frame against the other arm of the sofa with a leg bent so as to rest on the middle cushion.

 

“You have a problem,” John said, taking a healthy swallow of the whiskey.

 

“Yes, I know,” Jenny agreed.  She set her glass on the end table.  “Do I tell her what I saw or not?”

 

“Not I, Jenny, but we.  What we saw.  Do you ignore it or confront her about it?”

 

“I don’t know.  I’ll have to think about it.  Please don’t tell anyone what we saw tonight until I have decided what to do,” she said earnestly. 

 

“I won’t say a word until you tell me I can.”  

 

“Thank you.  I’ve had a wonderful time tonight even with the mystery of my friend.”

 

“So have I.  You’re a fun companion, Jenny; I’d like to see more of you than just at the office.”

 

“How about dinner tomorrow? I’ll cook.”  At his doubtful look she stated, “I’m a very good cook.  My mother taught me.”

 

“I’ll look forward to it then.”

 

They spent the rest of the evening chatting, learning of each other’s background.  She learned that he was the caber champion back in Scotland and what a caber was, and he learned that she was the state champion in long jump.  They thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and the clock had chimed two in the morning when he finally took his leave after a lengthy and sensuous kiss.

 

Closing the door, Jenny realized that no other man’s kiss had ever affected her as his did.  She wondered what it would be like to live in Scotland.  She shook her head.  Get a hold of yourself, woman, she thought, you’ve only just met him.

 

That night Jenny had the recurrent dream she had about Cathy: she was seated in a cave with children sitting around her on the floor and a lion lying by her side.

 

***

 

John was waiting for her when she arrived at her office the next morning.  There was definitely something between them, as the smile he gave Jenny curled her toes. 

 

“Won’t you come into my office, Mr. MacRonald,” Jenny said as she ushered him in.  He took a seat by her desk as she stuck her head around the door and said to her secretary, “Maggie, two cups of coffee, if you please.”

 

“How are you this morning, John?”

 

“Fine, and you?”

 

She crossed the office floor and stood in front of the windows.  “I don’t really know.  I had that same recurrent dream about Cathy.”

 

“You had it again last night?”

 

“Yes.  It’s so weird though.” 

 

“Tell me about it.  Maybe we can figure out what it means between the two of us.”

 

She settled on the window sill and told him.  “Cathy’s in a large cave with lots of candles.  It’s all golden.  She’s reading to a bunch of children arranged around her feet.  She’s gloriously happy.  I can see it in her eyes and feel it in my bones.  But the strangest thing is that a large, golden lion is lying next to her, and now and then she pets him.  She’s not afraid of him at all.  See what I mean about weird?”

 

John steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them.  “Every dream has a meaning.  Is there any part of the dream that you can explain?”

 

Maggie came in with the coffee, and wonder of wonders: two blueberry scones.

 

“Maggie, you’re amazing,” Jenny said as she took one of the scones.  “Where did you come up with these?”

 

Broad face beaming, Maggie said, “There’s a Scottish bakery next street over, and I knew Mr. MacRonald would be here this morning.”

 

“And how would you be knowing that?” he asked.

 

“I have my ways,” Maggie smirked and closed the door.

 

“Are we that obvious?” he asked.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I’m attracted to you, and unless I miss my guess, you’re attracted to me.”

 

Flustered, Jenny hurried to her desk, placing the scone and cup of coffee on it.  She was embarrassed.  She’d never met a man so direct in all her life.  She felt herself blushing, something she hadn’t done in years.  “You’re awfully bold,” she almost squeaked.

 

“It takes a bold man to win a bold lassie, and I mean to win.”

 

“Oh, well…”  She picked up a pencil and began to fuss with it.  “In that case…  I suppose…”  She looked him square in the eye and said, “I’ve never been kissed like that before, and I liked it.”

 

“I thought so,” he said smugly.  “Now that that’s settled, let’s get back to your friend.  What can you explain about the dream?”

 

“I know that Cathy loves and wants children, that lately she’s begun to use a lot of candles, that she’s happy most of the time; but then there are times that she seems to be so very sad…as if the world is sitting on her shoulders.  And I know she has a secret of some kind.  I’ve made gentle hints, but she just turns them aside.”

 

“Well, I think she definitely has a very big secret and that it has to do with that culvert in the park.”

 

“I think so, too.  But what do I do, John?  Tell her or forget about it?”

 

They were both silent for a few minutes and then spoke at the same time: “She’s endangering herself.  If you think she’s in danger…”

 

“I’ve got to tell her what I know and that I’m afraid for her,” Jenny said.

 

“If that’s what you think you should do, then do it; but don’t wait too long, either.”

 

“Can we postpone dinner until tomorrow?  I’m going to see if I can get her to come over for dinner; she eats like a bird.  I’ll fix something she’d like and invite her over.”

 

“Well, since it’s for a good cause…but maybe I should be there.  After all, I know about her secret too.”

 

Jenny laughed.  “I can use you as an excuse to get her to come, as she is in despair over my choice of boyfriends.  She’ll be curious.”

 

“Had a few?  Boyfriends, that is.”

 

“Yes, and I’m sure you’ve had your share of girlfriends,” Jenny shot back.

 

He grinned saucily at her.  “Yes, I have, but none so intriguing as you.”  He turned serious, “Jenny, I know this is rather fast, but I’m going to be in the States for a while, and I’d like us to be together.  Would you like that?”

 

The thoughts that raced through her mind he didn’t need to know.  She had been thinking that she’d like to spend every day with him, maybe even go back to Scotland with him.  “Yes, I’d like that.”

 

He let out a big sigh and then smiled that rakish smile of his.  “I see you’re as adventurous as I am, Jenny Aronson.”

 

Before she could reply, the phone rang.  Answering it, she mouthed, “Speak of the devil.”  She listened for awhile and then agreed.  “Before we hang up, can you come over for dinner tonight?  I’ll make your favorite dish.”  Looking over at John, she added, “And I have an extra good-looking dish to show you.  I have someone I would like you to meet.  He’s from Scotland and is my latest account.  You will?  Great.  Around eight?  We can have cocktails, or I’ll give you a dram of single malt whiskey that will curl your toes.”  She laughed at Cathy’s comment.  “See you then.”

 

By this time John was standing next to her and took her in his arms.  She looked up at him, startled, but settled into his embrace.  “I’m going to be nervous all day now.  I hope I’m doing the right thing.”

 

“We’ll find out tonight, but if you are such good friends as you say you are, then she should understand that you are only doing this because of the love you bear for her.”

 

“Oh, I needed that,” she said as she disengaged herself from his hug.  “Let’s get down to business, shall we?  It’ll keep my mind off what’s happening.”

 

He pulled his chair next to hers, and they bent their heads over the press releases she had had made.

 

***

 

Dinner was made and in the oven.  Jenny and John were speaking quietly when there was a knock on the door.  Jenny opened the door.  Cathy came in carrying a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine.  “It’s good to see you, Jenny.  We don’t get to spend enough time together,” she said.

 

“You’re right, we don’t.  Come in and meet John.”

 

Cathy smiled brightly and whispered, “Is he a keeper?”

 

“Couldn’t ask for better.”  Jenny took the flowers and bottle.  “Thanks for the flowers and wine.  Like a dummy I forgot to get any, since I spent all day with John.”

 

 John had risen and walked over to the two women.  “I’m John MacRonald,” he said, taking Cathy’s hand in his and shaking it.  “You’re Jenny’s friend, Cathy.”

 

“Ooo, he does have a beautiful Scottish burr, doesn’t he?  Glad to meet you, John.”

 

“Is that all you States women like us for, our burr?”

 

“Oh no,” Jenny said, “for a lot more than that.”

 

They all laughed and Jenny poured the wine.

 

“What about this whiskey I’ve heard so much about?” Cathy asked.

 

“That’s for after dinner,” Jenny answered nervously.

 

Cathy noticed that all through the meal Jenny seemed a little tense.  She wondered if it was because of John.  Were they an item?  She certainly hoped so.  Jenny deserved someone who was obviously as smitten as John MacRonald was.  Maybe Jenny wasn’t as smitten as he was.

 

After the dishwasher was loaded and they were relaxing in the living room drinking the fiery single malt whiskey, Jenny turned to Cathy and said, “I have something to tell you, Cathy, and I don’t know how you will take it; but, please, please, remember that I love you and want only the best for you.”

 

“My god, Jenny, is it that bad?  What’s happened?”

 

“Two nights ago John and I were walking in the park after the concert was over, and I saw you walking alone.  By yourself,” she emphasized.

 

Cathy stiffened and started to speak.

 

“Let me finish, Cathy.  OK?”

 

Cathy nodded.

 

“I was frightened for you, and I got John to go with me, and we followed you.”

 

“You followed me?”

 

“Yes, to the culvert.”

 

“Oh my god,” Cathy said, putting her hand to her forehead.

 

“We saw you go in but not come out.  We went in, and there’s no way out of that culvert that we could find but the way we went in.”

 

Cathy was shaking so hard she almost spilled her whiskey as she took a big gulp of it.  Sputtering and gasping, she looked at Jenny.  “How could you spy on me?”

 

“I wasn’t spying,” Jenny said defensively.  “I was scared for you.  The park is dangerous at that time of night, and there you were walking through it as if you didn’t have a care in the world.”

 

“It’s because I didn’t,” Cathy exploded.

 

“Why not?” Jenny asked.

 

“I can’t tell you.  It’s a secret.”

 

“Is someone threatening you?” John asked

 

“Yes. Jenny.”

 

“Me?  How am I threatening you?”

 

“I can’t tell you,” Cathy reiterated.  “I’ve got to go.  I need to see…  Where’s my purse?”

 

“On the counter.  Tell me that this won’t ruin our friendship.  I love you, Cathy, and I can’t imagine my life without you in it.”

 

“I don’t know, Jenny.  You’ve put me in a very precarious situation.  I’ll have to get back to you later.”  Cathy practically ran from the apartment.

 

“Oh, god, what have I done?”  Jenny buried her face in John’s chest and wept as he held her tight, crooning to her that she had only done it out of love.

                                                             

***

 

Catherine hurried to the nearest portal to the underworld and tapped an urgent message to Vincent to meet her under her apartment building.  Racing through the tunnels, she found him waiting for her when she arrived. 

 

“What is it, Catherine?  You’re as white as a sheet.”

 

She told him all that had transpired at Jenny’s apartment.  Silently he paced back and forward.

 

“What are we to do?” she asked.

 

Return to RR index page