Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to dance.
“I’m sorry. Dallas is more than neat.” He paused to reflect. “I think exciting is the word I’m looking for.”
“Yes, I’d say Dallas is definitely exciting for a young man out of college.” She sat. “Go ahead.”
“I don’t think I’ll join a Baptist church. You know, I might hunt around for something that isn’t so — Baptist. You know what I mean?”
“Turning your back on your religious heritage is not something to be taken lightly.” Lucinda thought of Nancy and how she would be taking her place at the dance. “Have you talked this over with Nancy? What church does she attend?”
“Heck, I don’t know. And I wouldn’t talk to her about anything like this. She might think I’m — well, some sort of church weirdo. You know?” Vernon looked directly into her eyes with complete sincerity. “I mean, I only talk about personal things like this with you.”
“Why, thank you, Vernon. I hope I always merit your confidence.”
“Miz Cambridge, lunch is ready!” Cassie’s voice boomed from the hallway.
He looked at the door. “That sounds like Cassie Lawrence. That’s right. You said you were living in her mother’s boarding house.” He wrinkled his brow. “I told you Nancy used to live here, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Vernon.” She pursed her lips.
“I drove her home yesterday and asked her to the dance right on the front porch.” He sighed. “I guess Nancy still isn’t here, is she?”
“Hardly anyone is here anymore except Cassie’s aunt and me.”
“I hate to see you living in this firetrap. I hated to see Nancy living in this firetrap.”
“That was ten years ago.” Her eyes twinkled with less-than-funny irony. “It really is a firetrap now.”
“Then why do you live here?” Vernon could not hide the irritation in his voice.
“I can’t afford anything else on my pension. Last December I collapsed in the classroom and was forced to retire. I moved in with my sister, but she died of a heart attack in February. So I moved back in here about four months ago.”
“The one you stayed with during the summer? The one in Galveston?”
“So she died of a heart attack.” His eyes lit with alarm. “Do heart attacks run in your family?”
“They gallop.” She stood in an effort to end the conversation which had grown too personal for comfort. “I suppose you must go now. Mrs. Lawrence will give me the most withering stare and announce the vittles are cold because the teacher woman tarried too long with her books.”
Vernon stood and headed to the door. “You’re taking good care of yourself, aren’t you?”
“As well as I can on my pension.”
“Well, do what the doctor says.”
The background slowly melted from classroom to bedroom, and Vernon’s voice began fading. “I know this sounds silly. But I want you to live a long time because us memories—“
“We memories.” She was hardly conscious she was verbally editing his speech.
“. . . we memories only live as long as the person who has the memory lives. And I like living in your memory.”
“Why, Vernon, don’t worry. Your memory will live.”
“It will?” he asked with hope.
“Even after I die because of all the other people who have these same memories of this sweet, dear young man. I know your mother has them.”
“Is mama still alive?” he persisted with another question.
“Yes, and I’m sure she visits with her memories of you every day.”
“I wonder what kind of memories Nancy has of me?”
Lucinda turned abruptly. “I wouldn’t know.”
“I guess I better go and let you eat lunch.” He was almost out the door and into the mists of yesterday when he stopped for one last question. “You wouldn’t happen to remember if I had a good time at the dance?”
“If I did I don’t think it would be ethical to tell you.” She knew her reply was evasive, but her emotions would not allow truth.
“Miz Cambridge!” Cassie called out again.
“I’ll see you later.” Vernon’s farewell was hardly audible and when he was finished, Lucinda found herself firmly affixed with her sad present tense.