Chapter 30: Romans 2:1-29
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
Donna continued sobbing with her head in her hands. As Mike got up to leave, he snuck a peek at the happy couple in the crystal ball and noticed Sad Sam seeming comfortable resting on the bed on top of a lumberjack shirt. He wiped away the tears that suddenly formed and headed back to his room.
Kurt greeted him upon his arrival and noticing his reddened eyes, he asked, “Hey, Mike, you okay?”
“I’m fighting for her, Kurt. It’s hard, and it hurts.”
Phil Snider called the next morning at 9:00 a.m.
“What the fuck, Phil, it’s 9:00, and you know I don’t get up early on my day off.”
“You little fucker, everyday is your day off when you’re in college. Let’s see how well you sleep when your prostate is enlarged, and you’ve got to piss every couple hours.”
“Okay, your point is taken, Phil. Thanks for the visual. To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?”
“Well, Mike, it seems that an anonymous donation has been made in your name and trusted to the Sylvan-Northwood Times.”
“Why would someone do that?”
“I guess whoever dropped off the money order liked your treatment of the Flynn story and the RAP House because they asked that the paper be the executor and funnel the money toward causes benefiting women who have been exploited or abused. Don’s got his lawyer on it as we speak.”
“Who was he? Did he give a name? Did you see him?’
“He was a she, Mike. I didn’t get a good look at her because she requested an audience with Don, and he ushered her in and out. She looked young and probably taller than him. She had on a ball cap, some gym sweats, and dark sunglasses. He said he knew her from some of his business dealings and wanted to respect her request for privacy. It was funny, though.”
“Well, there wasn’t much privacy during that meeting. Two other people sat in on it. One of them was Chief O’Hara.”
“Weird. So who was the other person?” The background sounds that made it a dorm room took over, a sighing toilet, a muffled hallway conversation, and an arrival and departure of sunlight found space until... “Phil, you still there?”
“Yeah, yeah, Mike. I’m sorry.”
“Did you hear my question?”
“The other person was your professor, Mike. Dr. Brown.”
The benefits of a doubt, the anomalies of coincidence, the hopes of maybe, all hinged on one question. “So how much money did she donate, Phil?”
“She was good for $35,000.”
He let the shower water hit him, and he fancied that it was a special shower that was cleansing him of all the dirt he had come into contact with since September. He was on the construction-site dirt pile of his youth at the beginning, and naivete allowed for his soiling. There were gamblers, drug dealers, strippers, prostitutes, but most disheartening of all was the respected family man, business community leader, and newspaper publisher. I wonder how fit that bit of news would be to print, he thought as the water continued to wash away the dirt but struggle with the disgust. I wonder how Dr. Brown is going to handle such a moral dilemma, considering the truth and where it fits in his life. I wonder if maybe Chief O’Hara pricked himself with that badge he put on this morning. Fuck all of them. There were more pressing things on his mind.
The weather gurus were spot on in their predictions for record temperatures on Wednesday. By 11:00 A.M., the thermometer read 78 degrees, and at least one hundred students were tanning themselves on blankets by Brew Pond. Kurt and Mike were among those getting a jump start on summer in early March, and John and Andy opened up their window and placed the speakers on chairs so that everyone by Brew Pond and southward could benefit from Cat Stevens singing “Morning Has Broken.”
“How the fuck do we go from an ice storm to this in three days?” Kurt asked.
As Mike thought of an answer, they were interrupted from behind by a familiar voice. “What it is, white boys?” James Waters asked with a huge grin on his face.
“Water, what the fuck, man. Good to see you back here.” Mike got up to slap hands.
“Yeah, been talking to coach and the A.D., and even had Little John trying to pull some strings for me to get me re-instated next year. It’s looking good!”
“Water J, that’s great news!” Kurt said.
“Yeah, it is. Listen, I’m hoping to hang with you a little on the weekend. I’ll holla at you, but I’ve got to get back. This sun is strong, and I can’t afford to get any darker. Don’t want anybody changing their minds,” he gave his infectious smile and slapped hands with Kurt and Mike.
During a brief break for lunch, Kurt and Mike noticed John having a conversation with Mary at another table. “Hopefully, they’re trying to patch things up,” Mike said. Please, God, everything is going so well. Please let me have just one more bit of good news.
Back at the Brew Pond Beach, Kurt said, “Yeah, there’s something special about spring. Once people get a chance to thaw, it’s hard to keep a cold heart.”
“That was beautiful, you hairy homo.”
“Yeah, well the sun’s now directly overhead, so this homo is going to need someone to rub this Coppertone on his back.” He handed the bottle to Mike.
“This might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Mike said as he lathered up his roommate.
“I’ve always known that you had my back, Word. We’ll always have our memories of this moment.” Then adopting a more serious tone as they sat back down, he said, “You really ought to consider taking off your shirt and letting the sun have a chance at those scars. Your back still looks like shit.”
Mike was reminded of how he obtained those scars, and he still felt the phantom pain and the emotional wounds that he suspected never to go away. “You’re probably right, but I’m not ready to go public just yet.” He closed his eyes as he raised his head to the sun’s rays.
“Hey, Mike.” Behind him a soft voice tip-toed into their conversation. It seemed tentative and unsure, but more importantly, it sounded familiar. He didn’t want to turn around out of fear that his hope had heard what it wanted to hear, and his eyes would see something different.
Please let it be her, Mike thought. Please let it be her. His courage to turn around was rewarded by the sight of Donna’s hair blowing softly in the breeze, complemented by an even softer smile. She was wearing cutoffs and a halter top, paying homage to spring, but more importantly, her eyes were smiling at him. “Would you go for a walk with me?” she asked.
She held out her hand to pull him free yet one more time. As he let her lead him, his heart was pounding as adrenaline fed his hope. Donna took him to the bridge and stopped at his favorite lookout point. She turned to him and asked, “Mike, do you believe these are the best times of our lives?”
He fumbled with the chain around his neck instead of fumbling for an answer. The artifact at its end spoke in efficient volumes. Without taking off the chain, he presented the locket to Donna. “Go ahead and open it.”
Donna pressed the tiny button to open the golden heart and saw the picture of the two of them under the Northwood street lamp, the big moon framing them with an orange halo. She smiled and looked up at him.
“Go ahead and read what it says on the back.”
She snapped it shut, flipped it over, and then read aloud. “The Best Time is Our Time.” She looked up at Mike with tears in her eyes and said, “You’re such an asshole,” and then hugged him tightly to her. Together they cried and held on to each other, and when the tears were spent, they looked into each others’ eyes and laughed.
They walked back to the bank area, arms around each other’s waists, to see that Kurt was gone but the towel remained. After a few minutes of them sitting quietly, cross-legged, looking into the sun, Donna said, “It’s such a beautiful day. Take off your shirt, Mike. Take advantage of the sun. It’ll probably snow next week.”
“I can’t, Donna. I think you know why.”
“It’s okay,” she looked into his eyes. “Let me help you.” She took off his t-shirt, grasped the bottle of Coppertone, and began rubbing the lotion into the scars on his back, erasing shame and humiliation like unwanted words in a letter, forgiving him, forgiving herself.
He had never felt more humbled by her, and overwhelmed by the gesture, Mike found new tears going down his cheeks that he quickly tried to wipe away.
“It’s okay, Mike. The vitamin D from the sun will help, and these will heal in our time. I have my scars, too, and there are so many things I need to tell you.” She hugged him, kissed him on the back of his head, and reached for the chain, taking it off his neck and placing it around hers.
Perhaps in anticipation of some offering, the ducks and the geese became close witnesses to this exchange, remaining oblivious to its significance, and living for the moment. In their primitive existence at Hillview, they too always seemed to want more.