I looked wonderful. Arnina's mom had nodded thoughtfully when I told her I needed something new to wear to lunch in the city, and it had to be something I could wear to work too. Arnina hadn't told me to add that, but Amina wasn't paying the bill. Mrs. Day flicked the laden hangers with a professional hand. She glanced from blouses to me with narrowed eyes, while I tried not to look as silly (or as hopeful) as I felt.
She extracted an ivory blouse with dark green vines twining up it, and a dark green bow ("At your age, honey, you don't need a bright one, too young") that nestled in the wild waves of my hair with definite femininity. I got khaki-colored pants with a wide belt and extravagant pleats, and shoes too. I slipped them on to wear away from the store. Mrs. Day clucked over my lipstick (not dark enough), but I stuck by my guns. I hated dark lipstick. This was not a showy outfit, but it was a definite change for me. I felt great, and as I drove the mile out of town that got me to the interstate circling the city, I felt quite confident Robin would be impressed. I felt less certain when I peeked through the one glass pane in the classroom door. As Amina had predicted, there were lots of cute college "chickies" in Robin's creative writing workshop. I was willing to bet seven out of nine wrote poetry that dealt with world hunger and bitter endings to relationships. At least five weren't wearing bras. The four men in the workshop were of the serious and scraggly variety. They probably wrote existential plays. Or poetry about bitter endings to relationships.
When the rest rose to leave, two of the cute chickies lingered to fascinate Robin. I was smiling, thinking of Amina as I went into the classroom. Robin naturally thought the grin was for him. He beamed back. "Glad you found the room okay," he said, and the young women - I reminded myself they were not girls - turned to stare at me. "Lisa, Kimberly, this is Aurora Tea-garden." Oh, I hadn't seen that one coming. Robin and his good manners. The brunette looked incredulous, and the streaky blond sniggered before she could stop herself. "Are you ready for lunch?" Robin asked, and their faces straightened in a jiffy.
Thanks, Robin. "Yes, let's go," I said clearly, smiling all the while. "Sure. Well, I'll see you in class Wednesday," he told Lisa and Kimberly. They sauntered out with their armfuls of books, and Robin tossed a couple of anthologies into his briefcase. "Let me just stow this in my office," he said. His office was right across the hall, and was full of books and papers, but not his, Robin explained. "James Artis was supposed to teach three writers' workshops and one class on the history of the mystery novel. But when he had a heart attack, he recommended me."
"Why'd you take it?" I asked. We strolled across campus companionably, heading for a salad and sandwich restaurant just down the street. "I needed a change," he said. "I was tired of being shut up in a room writing all day. I'd written three books in a row with little or no break in between, I had no exciting ideas for my next book, and teaching just sounded interesting. James recommended Lawrenceton as a place where I wouldn't have to go broke paying rent, and after I'd been staying in a vacant visitor's room in one of the men's dorms for a couple of weeks, I was grateful to find the townhouse." "Are you planning on staying for any length of time?" I asked delicately. "That depends on the success of the workshops and the class," he said, "and James's health. Even if I leave the university, I might stay in the area. So far I like it here just as well as the place I was living before. I don't really have ties anywhere anymore. My parents have retired to Florida, so I don't have a reason to go back to my home town... St. Louis," he said in answer to my unspoken question.
He held open the door to the restaurant. It was a ferny place, with waiters and waitresses in matching aprons and blue jeans. Our waiter's name was Don, and he was happy to serve us today. A local "mellow" rock listening station was being piped in for all us old rockers, who ranged in age from twenty-eight to forty-two. As we were looking at the menus, I decided to start lusting, as per Amina's instructions. While we ordered, I seemed to get it misdirected, for Don got pretty red in the face and kept trying to look down my blouse. Robin seemed to be receiving the brunt of it though. He rather hesitantly (high noon, public place, had to teach a class that afternoon) took my hand across the table. I never knew how to react to that. My thoughts always ran,. Wow, he took my hand, does that mean he wants to go to bed with me, or date me more, or what? And I never knew where to look. Into his eyes? Too challenging. At his hand? Pretty stupid. And was I supposed to move my hand to clasp his? Uncomfortable. I never was much good at this.
Our salads arrived, so we unhitched hands and picked up our forks with some relief. I was wondering whether I should try to keep on lusting while I ate, when I realized James Taylor had trailed to an end and the news was starting. The name of my town always made me pay attention. A neutral woman's voice was saying, "In other news, Lawrenceton mayoral candidate Morrison Pettigrue was found slain today. Pettigrue, thirty-five, was campaigning as the candidate of the Communist Party. His campaign manager, Benjamin Greer, found Pettigrue dead of stab wounds in the bathtub of his Lawrenceton home. Sheets of paper were floating in the water, but police would not say whether any of those sheets contained a suicide note. Police have no suspects in the slaying, and declined to speculate on whether the killing was, as Greer claims, a political assassination."
Our forks poised in mid-air, Robin and I stared at each other like stricken loonies, and not in lust either.
"In the tub," Robin said.
"With a knife. And the paper clinches it."
"Marat," we said in unison.
"Poor Benjamin," I said on my own. He'd rejected us, launched on his own new direction, and gotten kicked in the nuts.
"Smith would recognize it, right?" Robin asked me after some fruitless speculation on our part.
"I think so," I said confidently. "Arthur's smart and well-read."
"Did you ever find out if the chocolates fit a pattern?" "It rang a bell with Jane Engle," I told him, and then had to explain who she was and why her memory was reliable. He'd only met the members of Real Murders once. "She's looking for the right case."
"Do you think she'll know by tomorrow night?" he asked.
"Well, I may see her today. Maybe she will have found something by then."
"Is there a nice restaurant in Lawrenceton?"
"Well, there's the Carriage House." It was a real carriage house, and required a reservation; the only place in Lawrenceton that had the pretensions to do so. I offered the names of a few more places, but the Carriage House had struck his fancy.
"This lunch is a washout, we haven't eaten half our salad," he pointed out. "Let me take you out tomorrow night, and we'll have time to talk and eat." "Why, thanks. Okay. The Carriage House is a dressy place," I added, and wondered if the hint offended him.
"Thanks for warning me," Robin said to my relief. "I'll walk you back to your car."
When I glanced at my watch, I saw he was right. All this walking, lusting, and speculation had used up as much time as I had, and I'd just make it to work on time.
"If you don't mind making our reservation, I'll pick you up tomorrow at 7:00," Robin said as we reached my car.
Well, we had another date, though I didn't think it was strictly a social date. Robin had a professional interest in these murders, I figured, and I was the local who could interpret the scene for him. But he gave me a peck on the cheek as I eased into my car, and I drove back to Lawrenceton singing James Taylor. That was much nicer than picturing dark, scowling, acne-scarred Morrison Pettigrue turning the bath water scarlet with his blood.
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