The weekend that came was decidedly strange. Lucian Gerland’s death and the fiasco of his funeral had made for a long week. There weren’t many on the Island alive and active who could remember a Verecunda not dominated by Lucian Gerland, and the anticipation of what life would be like without him depended upon what side of things you were on. The government was trying to make the most of it; while skirting the sensibilities of those who did admire him (and they were many,) it tried through the media to paint a rosy picture of what the future would hold in a “post-Gerland era.”
For Jack, though, the wounds inflicted by Serelian and Verecundan alike were healing. His parents had lifted his grounding in the wake of his encounter with the CPL thugs, but until this Saturday he hadn’t been in much shape to take advantage of it. Now he made a mid-morning crossing of the Dahlia Bridge in his GTO, passing most everything else rolling on the bridge. In spite of the pain that he carried with him, his thoughts were fixed on the mission he was about to attempt. After a school year dominated by his ups and downs with Denise and the disastrous consequences of that relationship, one would think that he would either settle for less adventuresome company, but he had finally gotten up his nerve—with some help from Cat—to go where no Arnold had gone before.
As he left the bridge, crossed Central Avenue and passed into the Evan Point district, he felt butterflies in his stomach, something he hadn’t felt since his first date in Lower Division. As he pulled up towards the des Cieux house, he saw his first barrier up: the garage door was open and he could see their two cars, Pierre’s 2 CV on the left and Madeleine’s Dyane on the right. He was tempted to rev the engine and announce his arrival, but he thought better, and he almost crept into the driveway like a cat stalking its prey.
He opened the car door and eased out of the car; his cracked ribs were on the mend but not quite there. He closed the door as quietly as he could and still latch it and started walking towards Madeleine’s car slowly, with a slight limp, his legs spread a little more than usual as he walked.
The visual appeal of the scene took a leap upward as he approached the Dyane. Luke had done a good job in getting most of the paint out of the interior of the car, but Madeleine was pickier. The garage had a strong odour of paint thinner, but Jack’s eyes were drawn to the sight before him. Madeleine had donned an old Izod shirt and shorts to finish the clean-up, and she was busy getting specks of paint that Terry had left on the passenger side floor. To get there, she had crawled in over the driver’s seat, so Jack was presented with the sight of Madeleine, rear up and legs out of the car as she inspected the floor for one more speck.
“Madeleine?” he called to her. In spite of the obstacles of the wheel and roof, she came out of the car almost instantly without hitting anything. As she came to stand before him, the terror in her eyes would not have been greater if Dracula had come to draw a little blood. She took a step back, her hands over her thighs.
“Don’t be scared,” Jack said. “It’s only me. I’m sorry if I frightened you.”
“It’s okay,” she replied. “I didn’t hear your car come, I was so involved in my work.”
“That’s one of the things I came to tell you,” Jack continued. “Thanks for rescuing Cat and Terry from the riot at the funeral. You didn’t have to do that. I know it messed your car up.”
“The car will be fine,” Madeleine assured him. “They were in a very sad situation. It was what I could do. . .so, is that all you came to tell me?”
“Well, no,” Jack replied nervously. Madeleine’s view of him was changing from fright to curiosity as he worked on getting the words out. “I came to tell you that I think you’re the coolest girl in the school.”
“Me?” she asked, puzzled. “How did you come to this conclusion?”
“Anyone can blow your mind,” Jack replied. “Only you can open it. I know you’ve opened mine. I just wanted to say thanks for that. I hope you have a great time at university in Europe. And,” he reached into his pocket, “I’ve got something for you.”
“For me?” Madeleine asked, more puzzled than ever.
“It’s this,” he answered, pulling out an object wrapped in tissue and handing it to her.
She unravelled the tissue to discover a wooden crucifix that was almost too large for her hand. It felt very heavy for wood.
“My grandfather helped to start the Church of Serelia,” Jack told her. “Didn’t do me much good when I was up there. Anyway, when he left to return to Verecunda, the church of St. John the Baptist in Denton presented it to him as a going away present, since he had helped them to start the church. The guy who carved it—his great-grandfather or something actually nailed the people on Avinet Beach, so he carved a crucifix. Unfortunately, they didn’t know that Anglicans don’t use crucifixes, so my grandfather stashed it, and when he died I got it. It’s made out of lignum vitae; the Serelians think that’s the tree that will grow in heaven. Guess you’re the only one in our class who will go there and find out for yourself, so, I thought you’d like to have it.”
“It’s lovely,” she said, examining it carefully. She looked at him very softly; her eyes sparkled. “Thank you.”
“Enjoying the view?” a voice came from the back of the garage. They both turned to see Pierre.
“Mr. des Cieux,” Jack said. “Nice to see you today.”
“And to what do we owe the honour of your presence in our garage?” Pierre asked.
Jack looked at Madeleine. “I hear that you’ve been known to hang out with guys at The Mangrove.”
“It has happened,” Madeleine admitted. “But today, I am going to Hallett to play tennis with Carla Stanley.”
“Have you ever been to Hallett in a Goat?” Jack asked. Madeleine looked around Jack and studied his car—which he had seriously cleaned up for the occasion—very carefully. Then she looked Jack over equally carefully. “It’s a lot faster trip,” he promised.
“Can you play tennis again?” Madeleine asked Jack.
“I’m still a little slow,” Jack said, “but I need to get going again. You know I got thrown off of the team.”
“Then perhaps you wouldn’t mind playing one of us girls. Or perhaps you would like to take us both on at the same time.”
“You’re on!” Jack exclaimed. “But I gotta go get my racket and whites. When do I pick you up?”
“In about an hour,” Madeleine said. “I need to finish cleaning my car and get ready.”
“I’ll be here! Thanks! And thank you, Mr. des Cieux, for letting me take her to Hallett.” He turned and limped back to the car with a lilt in his step he had missed for a long time. Opening the door and easing himself in, he waved to Madeleine one more time, then closed the door and started the car. Throwing it in to reverse, he peeled out of the driveway, rolling out until he was straight into the street. Then he dropped the car into low and, burning a lot of rubber, screamed down the street.
“Do you think it will be all right to go to Hallett with him?” Madeleine asked her father.
“In his state? Of course. Besides, driving like that, I will be seeing a good deal of him.”
Jack for his part felt like he was flying as he turned left onto the Dahlia Bridge and headed across the bay, once again passing everything else on the bridge as he came closer and closer to home.
As Carla would say,
or as Madeleine would say,