Excerpt from Where Home Is

Where Home IsWhen I opened the door to Douglas Gallagher, I felt a rush of self-indulgent satisfaction that I hadn’t returned the hat. I saw undisguised appreciation in his eyes coupled with another emotion hard to name, an emotion that made me feel like a deer suddenly come face-to-face with a mountain lion. Something of the carnivore in Douglas Gallagher, I thought, but instead of fear, I felt only a confusing mixture of gratification and excitement.

Douglas brought flowers again, a bunch of violets that perfectly matched the spray of flowers on my hat. When I commented on the coincidence, he shrugged.

“You shouldn’t be so quick to credit coincidence, Katherine. In my experience, it has very little real impact on life.” I looked up from pinning the flowers onto my jacket.

“But what else could it be? You couldn’t have known I’d wear violets on my hat today.”

“No? I suppose you’re right.”

But I heard something in his tone that made me edgy. I remembered how he had known all about my family and me, how he had recited the facts of my life and how uneasy I’d felt at the time. I didn’t like the idea that I was somehow being spied upon. The thought seemed incredible, but the violets were an exact match and he was very pleased with himself.

Douglas handed me another check from his pocket. “Before I forget, please accept this in honor of Easter or spring or just because I’m glad to see you again.”

“You’re too generous.”

“That remains to be seen.” I detected the same enigmatic tone that had caused me earlier disquiet, but then he smiled and said, “I’m sure you can find a use for it that will benefit the people you care so passionately about. That’s my only motivation, Katherine.” I put the check carefully in the hall bureau drawer and turned a thankful smile to him.

“Of course we can put your kind donation to good use. Thank you, Douglas.”

The weather was perfect, sunny and as warm as June, and the day was nearly perfect, too. Douglas knew a great deal more about art than I and was an informative guide through the Art Institute.

“For a man of business, you seem very comfortable in the arts,” I told him. “I think I’m surprised.”

“You shouldn’t be. Chicago capitalists bought every painting in this place. I know each one’s history and can appreciate it for its material worth even if its aesthetic appeal sometimes escapes me.”

I lingered in front of one of the museum’s new acquisitions: a portrait of a woman in a striped dress carefully bathing her child, both dark heads bent to the water, something natural and endearing in the shared, common activity.

“Mary Cassatt,” Douglas read, “The Child’s Bath. From the look on your face you must like it.”

“I do, very much. I thought the El Greco was grand and its colors magnificent, but I’d never hang it in my parlor.” I looked at the Cassatt again, caught how trustingly the chubby child relaxed in her mother’s arms and how tenderly intent the woman was on so prosaic a purpose. The mother’s strong hands that protectively supported the child reminded me of my own mother’s hands. “This one, though, takes me back to my childhood. I could look at it every day, I think, and be comforted by its message of home and family.”

“I didn’t expect you to have a turn for such domesticity.”

“Domesticity-is that what it’s called? More like the ordinary affection of day-to-day life, which anyone can appreciate. Why would it surprise you that I can be as charmed by such tenderness as the next person?”

Later, among the sculpture, Douglas commented, “Now you really do surprise me. Not a blush.”

At first I didn’t understand what he meant but then realized I was giving a statue of a nude man the same scrutiny I gave patients.

“I’m a doctor, Douglas. I don’t think the human form holds many surprises for me any more. In my first year of medical school the professor wanted all the women students to leave the room so he could set up a screen behind which we would dutifully stand so we wouldn’t be exposed to the naked male body.” I gave an undignified snort. “As if that would have done at all! We women just refused to leave. Period. It was either continue in front of our maidenly eyes or cancel the class and fall behind, so the professor gave in. Very ungracefully, I might add, and with constant pointed asides about how progress had ruined women.”

“You’re a woman of the new century, Dr. Davis.” I couldn’t decipher Douglas’s tone and chose to respond lightly.

“Not so new any more with the first decade behind us, but times are changing. I predict female suffrage in America by the end of the next decade.”

“Women will never have the vote,” he said to goad me, and we spent the next hour in sporadic, pleasant argument.

We walked through Grant Park, most of its classic gardens just beginning to green while a few early daffodils lined the paths and brightened the shadowy spots under trees. Without quite knowing when or how, I found my hand tucked under Douglas’s arm and my shoulder pressed against him. The tilt of my hat’s brim forced me to come closer still to speak to him so that I caught his fragrance, something clean with a touch of spice, very pleasant.

As we sat on a park bench together, the warmth of the sun made me lethargic, almost sleepy, and I felt like resting my head against his shoulder to take a quick nap. I was that comfortable. We both stopped speaking and just sat there very close in the sun. As if from far away I could hear the persistent buzzing of a bee, laughter, a baby’s cry, almost as if there were two worlds, Douglas and I the sole inhabitants of ours.

He brought his mouth to my ear and said quietly, “I find myself thinking about you most of the time, Katherine, picturing you with your hair down, wanting to see the gold flecks in your eyes catch the candlelight again, my own enchanting Warm Woman, everything about you honey and velvet. Is it too much to hope that you give a passing thought to me now and then?”

I liked the murmur of his voice in my ear and his breath against my cheek. Combined with the languid warmth of the early spring sun the moment seemed very seductive, and when I turned my face to his to respond, he kissed me. A practiced, possessive kiss but very enjoyable, nevertheless, even if it unsettled me. Nothing like the fumblings of adolescents but something else entirely. You’re not a child anymore, I thought, and reacted to his kiss on a level that was definitely not childlike: instinctive, passionate, lingering.

The laughter of a real child invaded our world, and I snapped away from Douglas, hoping no one I knew was enjoying the park around us. How would I ever explain my conduct? Being kissed on a park bench would not become Hull-House or enhance the professional image I wanted to cultivate. Douglas stood up and raised me with a hand under my elbow.

“It’s all right.” His eyes glinted and I detected humor in his voice. “No one saw us.” Then, as if nothing had happened, he began to talk about something completely inconsequential and guided me along the pathway to the curb where Fritz waited. “I thought something light for supper. Sandwiches and fruit, perhaps. Fritz, we’ll go to Leonie’s.”

Inside the motorcar I sat quietly, not interested in supper. Instead, I scrambled for my composure as I mentally examined my unexpected response to his kiss with the same scrutiny I might give a specimen under a microscope.

“You didn’t answer my question, Katherine, although I admit I didn’t give you much opportunity to reply. Is it too much to hope?”

I turned my head toward him, remembering his question very well. “I do think of you, Douglas, but to be truthful only now and then. I have a full schedule and a busy life.” If my response disappointed or annoyed him, the emotion didn’t show on his face.

“Perhaps that will change. Perhaps I’ve given you more to think about.”

I turned away and settled myself more comfortably in my seat, repeating the thought I’d had before: Douglas Gallagher was very practiced with women and had demonstrated more technique than real emotion in his kiss. Just the opposite from me, I thought candidly, and smiled at the humbling realization.

“Perhaps,” I agreed.

Copyright © 2008 Karen J. Hasley.

All rights reserved.

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