Of all the girls in all the world, I’ve never met one quite like you, he said to her, watching her fondly skirt across the room. I’ll give you the world, Marianne. Diamonds. Rubies. The universe is an oyster, the moon its pearl, I’ll soar through its depths, open its jaws, and bring its light down for you. Tell me what you want dear girl,
and its yours.
Marianne danced around the tables in the ballroom, her lace skirt-tails brushing the chair legs as if an ocean wave rolling onto the shore. The room had cleared out so quickly, she thought. Although it was probably the booze, and the dancing, and the time — 4:00am, to be exact, she heard the clock strike against the door nearest the exit. So what is it, Mari? He asked. What can I do to make you mine.
By now, she had reached the window overlooking the plains. Although it was dark, she could hear night bugs chirping and caught the faintest glimpse of a light in the distance — Jack McCall’s place. Jack oversaw the property, as his daddy did before him, and his daddy’s father and so on. A quiet man, he never made appearances at the mansion on the property that he worked. Mari thought of the one time she did see him recently… It was a late fall afternoon, about a month ago. The sun was setting over the green and she had spent all day schmoozing with her mother and father’s friends; only the bartender (who had been slipping her extra wine underneath the table) knew of her boredom, and the only cure that could fix it. After she had enough of small talk, she decided to go for a stroll alone. Taking off her heels to let her feet breathe on the lawn, she must have walked from the party for a half hour before she collapsed beneath a tree, taking in the sunset, massaging one of her worn feet in the palm of her hand.
Tough crowd? A voice called over her shoulder, as she jumped in shock.
I’m sorry to startle you, miss. Jack apologized. I just saw you sitting there with your shoulders hunched and your toes aching and well, I figured you might need a break– you know, from all of those folk. Someone different to talk to.
And you’re not like one of those folks? She questioned him with discernment in her voice.
Not even close, Jack thought. Instead he replied with, I sure hope not, miss. As he picked up another log and piled it into his ongoing stack of firewood, she guessed it was for the big house he rarely made it up to. She saw a flash of yellow as a long-haired golden retriever came flying up a nearby hill. That there rascal is Tre, Jack exclaimed. And I’m Jack, Jack McCall.
I know who you are, Mari replied. I’ve been coming here since before I could walk. I’ve seen you a thousand times, yet you seem to go out of your way to avoid the main house.
My dad worked here my whole life, I followed in his footsteps because its the only life I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t say we belong amongst your kind though.
Oh, so now they’re MY kind? She exclaimed. I thought just a minute ago I was trying to get away from those people, but now here I am, one of them. I guess I should go back to where I came from. She began to stand as he neared closer to the tree. His stride was much more of a glide than an average mans walk, and before she knew it, one hand of his was resting on the tree trunk while the other was sitting lightly, but firmly on her shoulder. She looked up at first with indignation, and then a much weaker haze overcame her.
I like your eyes, Mari. Green like the plains, and yet as blue and deep as the Mississippi. He paused for as long as it took her to take a silent breath, and gold right in the center, like the flames circling that setting sun. He released her shoulder and said, I’m sorry I said that about you, you’re obviously different from that bunch up there. Why else would you have run from it? He walked back to his pile and hauled Tre and a few remaining logs in the back of his truck.
It took her a minute longer of staring before she realized, he knew her name without her telling him. As he began to climb in the truck, she raced to its side. So you know who I am? She asked, with more hope lingering in her voice than she think she’d ever heard in herself before.
Well of course, Misses Donahue. You’re not the only one who’s been here since before they could walk. Plus, those eyes of yours, that fire inside of them…kind of hard to forget.
As his blue Chevy began to pull away, Mari caught the glimpse of a distant memory in the dust of his tracks. Something ancient, and yet gut-wrenching. Child-like. She smelled burning wood, she sensed dancing flames rippling across her skin.
Mari. MARI. She snapped back from another memory, Jack McCall feeling more present in the distant cabin light than the man standing right next to her in the ballroom. Are you ok, Mari? So, what do you say?
She turned around to Chuck Barnett on one knee. The sight of a gaudy rock, encased in black velvet in one hand, her calf in the other. But her senses were dead…except for the smell of heat, again; she couldn’t shake it. That’s when she saw smoke rising from the staircase down the hall, and Jack and Tre racing up the steps behind it.