“Callie…will you please sit down and stop staring at me like a specter rising out of a grave?” He brought a chair to me and rather forcefully pushed me into it. “Now start over and I’ll try to understand you.”
I held my head high—queen that I was—and my cheeks burned hot. I would not stoop to repeat that strange and revealing torrent. I had already said too much—shown my wounds too deep—and all I could hope for was that he had listened to none of it. He stood again and brought me a cup of tepid coffee.
“We have no cream or sugar,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
I stared into the black, oily depths of the cup and thought of the irony—I’d never known a thing to be so alike my own soul.
“Why don’t you pause and reflect for a moment?”
“On what?” Bitter, coffee-stained tones.
“On this hurlement de rage.”
“I don’t speak French, remember?”
“The deuce you don’t. Please, Cal—quit acting like a hydrophobic raccoon; I’m half frightened at that vicious sparking of your eyes.”
“It was you who started it.”
“By talking about your…your stupid yacht!”
“You don’t have to go, Callie. I thought you’d enjoy the chance to relax with some of the people we’ll have you friendly with someday.”
His humble, cautious tone somewhat tamed my umbrage. I stirred the lukewarm coffee with one finger and dropped my head. All the fire dwindled out of me and left only a smoldering coal. “Sorry.”
“Exploding, rather. But all is forgiven and forgotten.” How easily he said those words—yet I knew he meant them and it was no flippancy. “Callie—I won’t make you be a guest at my yachting party.” His gaze was steady and brown—corduroy breeches with a teddy-bear sheen.
What's this? Disappointment? Callie—what is up with you? You practically shrieked at him that you didn’t want to go.
“But as your boss I am assigning you to work the party. You’ll have all the privileges of a guest, but I expect you to earn your keep. There—does that please the rabid vixen?”
“Does it please her? Gee, Mr. Barnett! You are fabulous!” I actually tipped over my coffee, dashed over to him, and gave him a hug. The lapel of his woolen jacket was rough against my cheek, and his chest solid. My arms dropped limp as soon as I realized what I had done, but Mr. Barnett only laughed and his eyes danced like the ‘netted sunbeams’ in Tennyson’s poem.
“Callie Harper—make sure you don’t show the public this upsy-down side—they might take you for the charmer you are and then it would be all up with us.”
“What is that supposed to me?”
“Nothing and everything in particular.”
I bit my lip and my cheeks flamed again—this time with excitement. “Then while we’re playing at riddles, may I ask a question?”
“Prying, gentle, direct, or merry-go-round?”
“All of the above?”
“Are you any different than everyone else?”
Mr. Barnett sat down on his desk with a hand on each knee. “Jove, She’s turning philosophic on me.” His quick gaze traveled to my face and lingered there. “I could answer that each of us is created differently. But that would not satisfy you.”
“It would not.”
“Methinks you are driving at something a bit more insinuating.”
“You are wondering whether I am like the common rabble…whether I behave like them in every respect. The fact that you ask the question belies a reluctance to believe it…why then, Miss Harper, do you wish it to be untrue?”
I wrapped myself in a hug and turned from him. “And I thought I was the one doing the digging.”
“Never try to beat a lobster at his own pinching-game.”
-Fly Away Home