Sunday, October 16, 2011

THE SCARF, Chapter Two

Coming into the cafeteria after my 11 o’clock history class I see Fairfield standing in line. I turn my back and move over to the salad bar station with my head down. Stupidly, I hadn’t figured on running into him like this. Stupidly, I thought after leaving his class I’d be safe. But there he was behind me like an apparition or spook. Putting some lettuce on my plate, I tell myself to calm down. He can’t make me talk.           

I note out of the corner of my eye where Fairfield is eating, move to the other side of the room and sit down with my tray. There are three girls and two boys at the table.
I say hi. They say hi, and then continue their chatter. I feel uncomfortable at this table with these kids. I feel uncomfortable in this place of learning with or without Adam Fairchild. I don’t know why. Isn’t it what I’ve always wanted? To be in college? Even before I met Ben? Wasn’t I smart in high school? Didn’t I even get a scholarship to Ohio State that I was too broke to use? So what if I do like my classes here? So what? After living with Ben Gold, the four-year age difference between my classmates and myself feels like an abyss. Toying with my salad I feel sick and tired of always being the other—a misplaced college student, a misfit in Ben’s lavish house, an escapee from my mother’s booze—but have no idea what to do about it. Newly widowed, newly out there on my own after going from my mother’s bed (a double bed costs half as much as twins) to my husband’s, fenced in by poverty, then by marriage to a dangerous man, I am as new in the world as a paroled convict or a recanted nun, trying to find my place.

The next day as I leave my ten o’clock psychology class I see Fairchild standing in the hall, smiling at me.
“Miss Brady,” he says, “you left some papers in my office.”

I stare at him. I left no papers in his office.
 “Room 321. Twenty minutes,” he says, and vanishes down the corridor as I stand there, confused.

I know he’s trying to get me into his office for another interrogation. I also know I want to go. What is wrong with me? Later, I understood  I was lonely. Later, I understood  I wanted a connection with someone. Later, I understood I only thought I had resisted that face and magnetic field.
So telling myself that I can handle whatever Fairfield dishes out, I proceeded to room 321 after ducking into the Ladies to check my hair and lipstick.

He opens the door to my small knock.
"Thank you for coming,” he says.

I step inside. “Mr. Fairfield, I didn’t leave any papers here.”
"How else could I get you to come?” he says, smiling.           

I want to wipe that infuriating, exciting, smile off his face. What does he want of me?
“What do you want of me?”

"Please sit down,” he says.
I stand. “I’ve told you everything I know.”

He settles down behind his desk. He clears his throat. “I confirmed what you told me last week.”
 Curious, I sit down. “How?” I ask, remembering my lies.

“I have my ways,” he says.
“Well, well. Good for you.”

“I don’t blame you for being upset,” he says. “It’s my fault. I handed the interview badly. Please accept my apology.”
“No,” I say. I’m beginning to enjoy myself.

“Look, Miss Brady—Kate--I was just doing my job—nothing personal.”
On my guard, I get up and head for the door.

He stands up. “Coffee? Please? Danny’s Deli at 5? I’ll wait for you.”
I run for my life.

But I show up at Danny’s. Of course I do.
Fairfield rises from his table and holds a chair out for me. The room smells of pickles and pastrami. Coffee.

And then somehow, mysteriously, I feel as if  I belong somewhere. Even if it is a dinky deli with a man I’m afraid to trust.
He sits down. “Thanks for coming. I didn’t know if you would.”

“Either did I, “ I say.
“Coffee? A sandwich?”

“Just coffee.”
He signals the waitress as I wait, absurdly content.

He sips his coffee and looks at me. “So can I lure you back to my class?”
“You’ve already lured me here.’

“Yes. Absolutely. But I’d really like to see your lovely self in the last row of my classroom.”
“So you haven’t given up.”

“Given up?’
“Information. Trying to get information.”

“You’re wrong. This is not for information. You checked out. I told you.” He flashes that irresistible smile. “My dear Kate Brady, can’t you tell when you’re being flirted with?”
I look at him. “Yes, usually, but not by you,” I say, thinking, bad cop in his office badgering and insulting; good cop in the deli flattering and flirting.

“Why not me?”
“I think you know why not you.”

He folds his arms. “Okay, you just won’t believe me. And that’s the way it is.” He signals the waitress for the check and pushes his chair back.
I don’t know whether his anger is real, or another strategy to get me to talk. But If  I’m getting set up, I don’t care. After all my caution, suddenly, I don’t care. I look around at the smattering of people sitting around the tables—grown-ups talking quietly, regular people I could understand. I reach across the table and touch his hand.

He takes it and leans forward. “So are you free for dinner Saturday?”
“I thought professors can’t date students.”

“I’m not a professor, I’m an instructor sent here for public relation purposes by Hoover. Dean Conroy agreed to hire me on the condition that enough students sign up. So many kids enrolled he’s considering getting a permanent criminal justice professor for next year. But it won’t be me.”
He stops and clears his throat. “So what about dinner?”

I sip my coffee. Stalling. Thinking. Well, why not? So what if he is trying to get information. Adam Fairfield underestimates me if he thinks his looks and charm and apologies will get me to talk. The truth is I am twenty two years old and tired of  being a recluse. The few dates I’d had so far were disasters. I had to fight off the swimming coach who licked my ear like a friendly puppy; a student from my history class who bored me to death; the boy I met in the cafeteria who took me out for jazz and beer and seemed so young, too young. With Adam Fairfield I feel something like gravity pulling  me in. I felt it in the classroom. I felt it in his office even when he made me mad. I feel it now sitting across the table from me in Danny’s Deli.
“So Kate? Dinner?”

“Okay,” I say.
Seven thirty?”

But don’t I know better than to allow an F.B.I. agent into my life? What’s wrong with me? I feel as confused and fragmented as one of my mother’s messed-up jig saw puzzles.
I sigh and give him my address.

I dress for the date feeling again that my life is in pieces, that Ben Gold, invisible and vicious, is like some buzzing fly that you keep swatting and missing, swatting and missing, that keeps circling back and back and back. I don’t believe in reincarnation—and anyway, even if I did, I’d expect Ben to come back as a vulture— not as a big buzzing fly that’s beginning to drive me crazy with nutty fantasies that it’s him.
I look in my closet among the beaded chiffons and close fitting, low-cut gowns that Ben bought me, searching for something quieter to wear. Fairfield needs to be reminded that I am not some gangster’s moll.

I decide on the dress I had bought for Ben’s funeral, dressing it up a bit with a pretty scarf and high heals. No jewelry except for my emerald earrings—the rest of the jewels Ben had given me are in the Safety Deposit box at the bank, along with the million dollars I discovered when the Probate officer had opened Ben’s box and discretely left.

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