Chapter 12 Unheard melodies
=== Claude's apartment ===
Claude had called the office of the Smithsonian as early as possible and now listened to the explanations of the secretary. “There is only your name on the front page, Dr. Carver, I assure you.”
“That's not right,” he said aloud and fumbled for the cup with the meanwhile cold coffee. “There must have been a mistake…”
“Do you want to withdraw the application because of formality issues?”
Claude only hesitated for a moment. “No,” he decided. “Thank you for your time. Goodbye.” He hung up and wiped over his eyes. He would not ruin their chance to get that grant! Hanging in the chair of the living room, he thought about what to do next. He had to figure out, who tried to sabotage that application, if necessary with the help of the police. First of all, though, he wanted to talk to Marybeth. Hopefully, she had calmed down a bit and they could have a reasonable conversation. He wanted to assure her, that no matter what, he would share the funding and keep her position open. With that in mind, he felt a little bit better again. He swallowed an Aspirin, rinsed with the rest of the coffee, and got ready to leave.
=== Home of the Dunnhill's ===
The house was still quiet. Only a few birds gave their morning concert. Claude went around to the porch. And yes, there was someone. However, not Marybeth but Terry, who enjoyed a morning cigarette.
“He!” He grouched, recognizing Claude. “What do you want here?”
“I have to talk to Marybeth.”
“I'm pretty sure she does not want to see you.” Terry leaned over the balustrade. “Take a hike!”
“Did she hire you as her bodyguard?!” Claude stepped closer. He thought to have seen someone inside the house and called for Marybeth. But the shadow vanished again.
Terry blocked his way. “Look. You're trespassing. Either you get your ass back to the car, or I make sure you crawl back there. Have I made myself clear?”
“Abundantly.” Claude turned around. He was not up to a fistfight with Mr. Leatherjacket Biker!
=== Later at the Institute ===
As it was a weekend, only one of the interns was on watch duty. The girl did not bother with her boss, as Claude showed up. He sat down at his desk, but was too tired and exhausted to do any work. After a while, he went down to the nursery to see how the pelican was doing. The intern had fed the bird, but he had not taken very much. Nonetheless, he seemed to be a bit better than yesterday. Hearing the human enter, he turned his head, watched him curiously, and blinked several times before deciding the strange two-legged being posed no threat. He put his head down and dozed again.
Claude leaned against the wall and stared into nowhere. What hurt him the most meanwhile, was how readily Marybeth had accepted that he would have betrayed her. I have lost her forever, he thought. Or better, I was delusional enough to think we had something going… He closed his eyes and cried.
That was how Jordan found him later. “Hello, Claude!”
God no. The boy… He inhaled deeply. “Hello.”
“Have you been crying? Dad says boys don't cry.” Jordan dropped next to him on the plastic box in front of the cage.
“I cried a lot when Mom died. Have you lost someone, too?”
“Yes… No, not in the way that someone died, though.” He sighed and wished the boy would leave him alone.
“Dad said you're a bad man.”
“Then maybe you should not come here.”
“I know better!” The boy leaned against Claude and smiled, radiating the innocence and trust of his age.
“Jordan, when you go home later, will you relate Marybeth something from me?”
“Tell her, I did not cheat on her. If we get the grant, she will have her job. And … and tell her, I love her… No… wait, don't tell her that.” He sighed. “Don't tell her anything. I don't –“
Another sound caught Jordan's attention. A dog's barking! “That's Zeus!” The boy jumped up, grabbed Claude's arm, and dragged him along.
“We can't be sure. There are a lot of dogs in the neighborhood, Jordan.”
“No, it's him! I know!!!” They ran outside, down to the jetty. There, Jordan discovered his lost friend. “Look, Claude! On that crate! And there is Roxanne, too!”
Claude shielded his eyes with his hand. Yes, he was right. A dolphin's back at least shimmered in the midday sun. But without binoculars, he did not dare to decide if it was indeed Roxanne. The dog's tail did not stop wagging in excitement, and the dolphin jumped a pirouette. If only Marybeth could see this… He turned to Jordan again. “Be careful. Don't hush him away.”
The boy's hand vanished in his pocket and came back with a load of half-crumbled dog pellets. “His favorites!” He ran further. “Zeus! Zeus come here! Look what I have!”
Now the orange-brown scruffy fur-ball tilted his head and his pointy ears back and forth. He barked again, finally sniffed the pellets as well as his human friend – and sped up to him.
At least one happy ending , Claude thought, seeing the boy and his dog embrace each other. Slowly, he walked toward them. Jordan raised his head, while Zeus' nose searched for more pellets in his pockets. “What if he runs away again, Claude? Because he wants to be with Roxanne?”
“I don't think he will do that. Look how happy he is to be with you again! And… and Roxanne has probably had a few words with him about running away.” A little white lie could not hurt…
“You also think they can understand each other?!”
“Of course. Marybeth did her research about it, remember?”
“There's another dolphin! They dance!”
“Yes, I know. Roxanne shows Zeus that he does not have to worry about her. She has found more friends and is happy.” Claude tousled through the boy's hair. “But I know who WILL be worried soon if you don't show up.” He straightened. “I take you two home! Come on!”
=== Home of the Dunnhill's ===
Marybeth had started to clean the house to keep her mind busy. She did not really succeed. Not only her hopes and dreams were shattered, she felt smashed into pieces herself. Those last two weeks had been hell in terms of emotions and twists and turns! Tomorrow was Monday, however, she had decided to take a sick day. She felt sick; there was no pretending necessary. Her contract would expire in four weeks. Not much time to get on the tracks again! Terry had offered her to stay with him in Miami. But Marybeth did not want to be a welfare case. She wanted to fend for herself, as she had always done.
She had been resolved not to think anymore about Claude. This chapter – if there had been any at all – was closed. Nonetheless, she could not forget his face yesterday, when he had dropped off Jordan and Zeus. He had not left his car, only looked to the door, where she had been standing behind the curtain. She tried to keep her anger up but did not succeed in this one either.
Huffing, she went into the bathroom to put the laundry into the washing machine. She checked all pockets for forgotten money or Kleenex, which always made a huge mess if undetected. Yes, there was something indeed… She fished the item from Judith's pocket. No paper tissue. A crumpled page! She was about to throw it into the trash bin when she discovered a familiar shape on one of the corners. This was the logo of the Institute! She unfolded the page. And this… this was…
Marybeth stumbled back against the wall as if the floor had just lost its firm surface. She stared at the page in her hands. Her original title page. It took a moment until she could at least start to process this. The copy card inserted into the copy machine came into her mind, that very morning, when Claude had sent out the application…
She went back to the living room and then out on the porch. The sun was still shining, but a thick layer of clouds had gathered over the horizon. Her daughters played on the beach, together with Terry and Jordan. She saw them, heard them – and yet it felt as if watching something, someone alien and beyond her comprehension.
“Judith! Nora! Come back to the house!” She even found that her voice sounded strange.
“Just a moment, Mom!” Nora called back. “Jordan wants to take a –“
“You come NOW!”
“Will anyone of you explain this?” Marybeth lifted the page. Nora looked down.
“We… we wanted… we only wanted…” her sister started, then seeing her mother's face, fell silent as well.
“Do you know what you have done? Do you POSSIBLY KNOW?! You would have almost ruined my career! My project!” Saying that her anger and disappointment started to fade in front of another prospect.
“I'm sorry. I thought… I wanted to help…” Judith started.
Marybeth did not find any answer. She could not find anything to say. She walked past her daughters into the kitchen and to the phone. But when she had dialed the first digits of Claude's number, she decided otherwise and went to get her bike.
“Mom?” Nora came after her. “Where do you go? We have a storm warning.”
Yes, she remembered now. The clouds had clustered in the meantime, although it did not look too bad yet.
“Trying to salvage my life,” was all she said.
=== Later at the Institute ===
The first raindrops left patterns on the dry ground when Marybeth reached the Institute. Claude's car stood in the parking lot, but she could not spot him anywhere. Two volunteers from the city college were just about to leave after their hours. “Have you seen Dr. Carver?” She asked one of the volunteers.
“Yeah, he's on the ship, said he wanted to check the instruments or something,” the girl answered and closed her raincoat.
“Okay, thanks. Have a good evening!” Marybeth turned her steps to the jetty, where the Institute's little ship lay safely anchored. She called for Claude but got no answer. Maybe he had finished whatever he was doing and was busy elsewhere? But he would not leave by foot, especially not in this weather!
Claude heard her calling but was resolved not to react. He took another sip from the bottle of Bourbon he had sitting next to him. It tasted awful, and that was also how he felt. Then he heard her climbing on board. He hauled himself up and noticed that even after the little bit of what was missing from that bottle, he did not feel stable on his feet anymore.
Should not have done this… it's no way to deal with things…
And there she was, her hair wet from the rain. “Claude! I was looking for you!”
“You should not be here. I am… I'm on my way to get seriously drunk.” Shit! Damned shit! I'm sure I look like an idiot.
“I need to talk to you!” Her voice sounded desperate.
“I think all there was to say … has been said, Marybeth. You believed … I had betrayed you. And…“
“My daughters altered the page! I'm so sorry! I would never have thought, they could do such a thing! … I'm so sorry…”
He realized with a tiny delay that she had put her arms around him. He wanted to push her away, or at least tell her she should go back to her family that had been so eager to get him out of the picture. Instead of all those things, he embraced her tightly.
The rain poured down on them, but they did not care.