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An Excerpt from Chapter 8


Doll - Johannesburg

I clutched Michael’s arm as if he were my life preserver in the middle of the ocean. My heart raced, making me wonder for the first time if I should have listened to my doctor and gone for the stress test. A few months ago I had been able to race around Keegan Bay Park like a teenager. Who needs an artificial stress test when real life had handed them to me several days in a row? But now here I was, clinging to Michael, my fiancé, all the time hoping I would soon see Barclay, my husband, while at the same time thinking I might die before I make it to the administration building of the Auckland Park Kingsway Campus of the university. All my feelings of loss, anger, grief, and hope crowded, jockeying for position in my mind.

“We’ll go on to the library, Doll,” Larry said, pointing left.

I nodded at him and watched as he and the others continued walking. Michael and I stopped. The sign in front of us read hoofingang, translating to main entrance. A part of me was tickled by the Afrikaans words. My mouth went dry. Michael walked me through the door and into a large reception area with a marble floor. African themed artwork as well as photographs of the university decorated the high walls. A glass-covered directory hung on the wall to the right.
 
Plastic chairs with cushioned seats lined the walls. We walked to a circular information desk at the center of the room.

“Yes, we have Professor John Carruthers here. And your business with him?” the attractive young receptionist asked.

“He’s a relative Mrs. Reynolds hasn’t seen for some years. As we’re in South Africa for only a few days, we hoped to meet with him.”

“Yes, sir. I can check his schedule and then get back to you. Where are you staying?” She held a pencil poised over a notepad.

“Today!” I blurted. “I must see him today. You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this moment.”

The girl’s eyes grew wide. “Madam. Ya. If you will have a seat, I will find someone to help you.” She scanned the room, presumably looking for help. A man in uniform approached her desk. “Would you be kind enough to mind the desk while I help these people?” She tilted her head in our direction.
 
The middle-aged man looked toward us and grinned broadly. He reminded me of Sidney Poitier, a famous actor from the fifties and sixties. Handsome devil. No matter what character he played, I loved him, but especially in Lily of the Fields.

“Doll.” Michael nudged me.

“What?”

“You’re staring.”

“Am I?”

I turned away from the guard. “Just remembering.”

“As long as you remember why you’re here.” He sounded grumpy.

“Michael, are you unhappy that we came?”

“In a way, but I do want your status settled once and for all so we can be married.”

“Sounds like I’m part of a Middle Ages melodrama. What if Barclay wants to come home? What do I do then?”

“I assumed you thought all this out before we embarked on the trip.”

I shrugged. “Sort of. I mean, you and I talked it to death. If he’s alive and doesn’t remember who I am, I have to decide whether or not to help restore his memory, especially if he’s happy being here. He might even be married. If he is deliberately avoiding me and our life together--” I stopped. I didn’t want to think about that possibility. “If it’s not him, we continue to search.”

Michael sighed as I watched the receptionist approach with a tray bearing coffee cups. “I called Professor Carruthers. He will meet with you following his morning classes.”

“How long will that be?” I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted this entire day, this entire trip to be over. I could find out where he was teaching and go kill him right now for messing up my life so badly. Frustration gnawed at me. My hands shook when I accepted the coffee.“He has an early day today and should be here within half an hour.”

“Good. We’ll step outside while we drink our coffee. We won’t be far, if you don’t mind letting us know when he arrives.” Michael helped me to my feet.We stepped outside. This time I observed the immaculately landscaped and groomed grounds of the university. The buildings were all attached in a circle around a massive green dotted with cypress trees and other larger shade trees I didn’t recognize. A fountain played in a pool just ahead of us. We settled on a bench not far from the entrance to wait.

~ * ~

More than an hour later, after Michael and I had taken turns pacing the walkways, skirting the fountain, tossing coins into it, pacing again, the girl came out of the building.“Professor Carruthers just called and said he’d be right over.”

My right hand went to my throat as I gasped for breath. “This is it,” I whispered. I suddenly thought about all the weight I’d gained in the past five years, but then I’d lost a lot as well. Maybe I look the same as when he disappeared? I reached for my face. Haggard. I had to look haggard after traveling for two days. Why didn’t I think to wait a couple of days to acclimate to the new time zone?

Michael put his arm around my waist and led me back into the building. The sudden contrast between the brilliant sunshine and the dimmer interior turned the people inside into silhouettes. Two men stood at the counter. Three students walked across from one hallway to another. I heard murmuring voices. Was one of them Barclay’s? Without thinking, I pushed Michael’s hand away while I waited for my eyes to adjust. When I recognized Barclay’s form, his back to me as he spoke with the security guard, I took two staggering steps in his direction.

“Barclay,” I managed to choke out in a barely audible voice.

He turned around.

My eyes filled with tears making everything a blur.

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