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 appreciate his father.
Breaking Lucinda’s thoughts, Cassie came in with a couple of cardboard fruit boxes. “I found them boxes you wanted, Miz Cambridge.”
“Hmm?” She fluttered her eyes.
“The boxes for your books.”
“Oh, thank you, dear. How kind.”
“Where do you want them?”
Lucinda stood to go to the other boxes, bending down to turn them on their sides, but found she was too weak to move them. “Here. Would you help me turn them on their sides? Like shelves.”
“Sure, Miz Cambridge.
Lucinda and Cassie knelt by the books and boxes, arranging them as library shelving. As much as she tried, she couldn’t shake the memory of Vernon. “Cassie? Do you remember Vernon Singleberry?”
“Vernon? Why sure.” Cassie continued to put the boxes on their sides. “He was always kinda funny actin’, wasn’t he?”
“Not really. I—“
“Wasn’t that somethin’, what happened to ‘im? That reminds me. Nancy and her little girl are goin’ to be here for lunch today.”
Lucinda decided Cassie was not the right person with which to share her thoughts at this moment. “Yes, I know.”
“Shirley is so cute.” She giggled.
“Yes, she is.”
“Ain’t it a shame?” Cassie clucked her tongue and sighed, “Love child.”
Vernon’s voice caused her to jump and look up. She was back in her classroom. She couldn’t help but smile as Vernon, wearing an ironed short sleeved shirt, jumped around the room.
“I can’t believe it! I got a date for the spring dance!”
At first Lucinda studied Cassie’s face. It was obvious she didn’t hear what the old teacher was hearing. Lucinda stood, leaving Cassie to her task, which evidently engrossed her very much.
“So it’s spring now,” Lucinda whispered.
“This is a really great day for you to remember!”
“Of course, it’s spring, Miz Cambridge.” Cassie it seemed, was not as oblivious to the situation as Lucinda thought. “Didn’t you know that?”
Lucinda turned back to Cassie and smiled. “What, dear?”
“I got all these books stacked up the way you wanted.” Cassie stood with a grunt.
“Thank you, Cassie. That’s very sweet of you.”
Vernon was still jumping around the room like a puppy dog expressing its joy that its owner had finally arrived home. “And I’ve got a girl!”
“Are you all right, Miz Cambridge?”
Lucinda looked back at Cassie whose face was scrunched up with concern. “Yes, dear. Thank you, dear.”
“You already thanked me.”
“You better take a nap before lunch,” Cassie advised her.
“That might be a good idea.”
Cassie went to the door, turned back and smiled. “Remember, we’re havin’ chicken and stars!”
After Cassie disappeared down the hall, Lucinda was very pleased to give Vernon her complete attention. She never knew anyone who could be so overjoyed by something as simple as a date to a school dance.
“I can’t believe I finally got a girlfriend — well, one date, but at least it’s my first date,
and she’s wonder—“
“Slow down, Vernon, you’re running your sentences together.” She slipped into her rocking chair. Suddenly she was back in her classroom, sitting at her desk trying to act prim and proper. She inhaled. Yes, she could even smell the freshly mopped floors. “And be careful. The janitor mopped the floors before classes began this morning. I don’t want you to slip and fall.”
He froze in mid-whirl, focused on Lucinda and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be careful.”
Vernon inhaled intensely before resuming his ballet of joy. “I mean, I asked her out, of course, but she was really hinting for me to ask her by asking if I was going to the dance and saying—“
He nodded again and sat in the chair closest to Lucinda’s desk. A look came over him as though he were trying to recall a Shakespearean soliloquy to deliver. “She said she didn’t know who she was going with. Billy Bob had hinted he might ask her. But she said she didn’t really want to go with him.” In fact, he spoke so slowly and with deliberate conviction, Vernon’s Texas drawl almost faded away.
“I don’t blame her. Billy Bob Longabaugh is a cretin.” Her mouth tightened with disapproval.
“Now I don’t know if Billy Bob was really going to ask her or not — you know what I think?” He cocked his head as though looking for approval for his theory of social interaction among aboriginal peoples.
Lucinda smiled, becoming caught up in Vernon’s exuberance. Her mind thought of her days as a young woman, wishing she had been able to whip up such emotion in young men. Quickly she chastised herself for being so imprudent and returned to her function of educator. “No, what do you think?”
“I think she said that so I wouldn’t think she was desperate to go out with just anybody, that she really wanted to go to the dance with me.” He stated his conclusion impassively, but could not contain himself, leaping from the chair and exploding around the room. “With me! With me!”
“Close your mouth and count to ten before you start hyperventilating.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Vernon stopped and frowned, trying to remember his numbers. “One, two . . . .”
“I’m really very pleased you finally asked a nice young girl to a school dance.”
“. . . three, four . . . .”
“You know I’ve been after you all school year to expand socially as well as academically.”
“. . . five, six . . . .”
“I know it’s hard for a shy person. I was terribly shy and had a hard time getting dates for proms and the such . . . .”
“. . . seven, eight, nine, ten. I don’t care if I do hyperventilate! I can’t believe a girl as pretty as Nancy Meyers would be interested in me. I . . . .” His voice trailed off when he noticed the change in expression on Lucinda’s face. “You don’t look very happy for me, Mrs. Cambridge.”
“I am, Vernon,” she replied in her soft tone reserved for reciting poetry.
“That didn’t sound very enthusiastic.”
A wry smile crossed Lucinda’s wrinkled face. “I’m an old woman, Vernon. If I get as enthusiastic as you do, I’d have a heart attack.”
“Oh.” He ducked his head. “Then maybe I shouldn’t ask what I was going to ask.”
“Well, there’s one problem to all this business about taking Nancy to the spring dance. I don’t know how to dance.”
“And you want me to teach you.” With all of the will she had developed in decades of teaching, she kept her face expressionless.
She stood to walk towards him. “I suppose I can’t neglect that part of your education.”
Lucinda and Vernon stood opposite each other. Her heartbeat quickened as she became aware of his height, broad shoulders and large, rough hands. She could not help but tense her body.
“Anything wrong, Mrs. Cambridge?”
“Oh. Um. No. I was just trying to decide how to start,” she lied. After a pause, she continued, “All right. Let’s start with a waltz. Now, put your left hand at my waist and extend your right hand out and I’ll take it.”
“Like this?” Vernon put his left arm around her. Lucinda gently pulled away.
“I said at my waist, not around my waist,” she whispered.
Placing a bright smile on her lips, Lucinda tried to recover her propriety. “That’s quite all right. Now put your left hand on my hip.”
Vernon followed her instruction circumspectly.
“That’s right,” she said with encouragement. “Now extend your right arm.” Lucinda took Vernon’s right hand.
“Am I doing it right so far?”
“Yes, you are. Now take one step forward with your right foot, then a step back and behind your right with your right foot and a step back and behind your right with your left and repeat. One, two, three, one, two, three . . . .”
“Now you’re running your sentences together.” He grinned impishly.
“It’s really quite simple.” She chose to ignore his comment. “We’ll go slowly. Now right foot forward.”
They began to move slowly, awkwardly.
“Here we go,” he said in the same manner he would say it if he had been on a rollercoaster as it pulled out of the station.
“Then left foot forward — but not on my foot.”
“Gosh, I’m sorry.”