Chapter 8

=== Home of the Dunnhill's ===

The next day, Marybeth woke up, for a moment musing how nice it would be if someone would make breakfast again… Then she pushed aside those lazy thoughts and swung her legs out of the bed. Work was waiting!

However, at the breakfast table, first, she had to have a few serious words with her daughters. “Nora, Judith, about yesterday and the phone call…”

“Yes?!” The girls answered almost unanimously and beamed. They already anticipated a happy-ending story.

“I know, you probably meant well, but I would appreciate it if you would stop plotting that way behind my back, okay? Terry and I, we have to sort things out first.” At the moment, she was not even sure she wanted to sort them out, though.

“Yes, Mom,” Judith said now, poking in her scrambled eggs. “We just thought, you like each other and needed a little—“

“We will see what will be next summer. Maybe. But for now…” Marybeth inhaled deeply. “Let's just leave it that way.” They ate in silence for a few minutes. Then, she continued: “I will work very late today, so you will have to make dinner on your own. There are vegetables in the fridge and a few leftovers. You know where the rice and potatoes are.”

“Did something happen at the Institute?” Nora asked.

“No, I'm sitting on a new application for a research grant; with a colleague. So we can all stay here on the beach in the vacation zone, right?!” She finished, trying to lighten the mood. But none of the girls chimed in when she laughed.

Later, when Marybeth was gone, Nora and Judith sat brooding on the porch and stared out onto the beach, which had lost all its appeal.

“You heard what she said. I'm working with a colleague on a new application.”

“She did not say, with Claude Carver. Could be Becky. Or that guy from Africa”, Nora answered.

“Olavunde is Carver's assistant. He is not in the position to apply for anything!” Judith rolled her eyes at her sister. “He has a scholarship or something.”

“It still does not mean, Mom is working with Carver.”

“He's after her, or her ideas. Or both. Have you seen how he looks at her when he thinks no one notices?! I DID notice!”

“But maybe… Mom is right. It's not our business.”

“It's our family! Do you want to be sent to boarding school by Carver, because he suddenly thinks he's our Dad or something?! Do you want him to sit in our kitchen and order us what to eat and drink and so on?!”

“So, what are we going to do?”

“I don't know.” Judith sighed. “I don't know yet. Let's go skating!”

 

=== At the Institute ===

Claude had worked at home almost up to three AM. He had managed to rephrase Marybeth's and his own so-far done research results into new compelling sentences and filled a table with numbers. Now it was time to look it over with Marybeth.

When he arrived at the Institute, the climate was icy and the hostility quite palpable. It seemed that Becky had told everyone about his ‘devious machinations'. Normally, he would have given a sarcastic comment and then ignore it. But today, he was still too tired. As he felt a headache coming up anyway, he decided to go down to the basins and feed their dolphin guests. It was about half an hour earlier than scheduled, but they surely would not mind if breakfast arrived a bit earlier. And Ole would not mind having less work!

Claude had just distributed the last two fish from the bucket when Marybeth arrived. She waved to him and came right over after she had put her bicycle in the shed. “Good morning! I thought you'd be up there sweating over our application!”

Our application! Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?! “I was doing that last night,” he answered. “And upstairs, it is not quite cozy right now. Obviously, the others are convinced that I'm out to steal your research and the grant for my own.”

The dolphin next to them, it was Oldtimer, jumped and thus sprayed them both with a fountain of water. “Here we go again!” Marybeth laughed. “We could work on the boat if you like. So I can also have an eye out for Roxanne.”

“That's a good idea! I'll get my paperwork and the laptop. And a dry shirt.”

“And I bring my sandwiches, at least.” She padded on the basket hanging on her arm. “After you had ‘stolen' my folders yesterday!”

 

=== Later on the boat ===

“So, let's see…” Claude took the paper with the just crafted lines and read the paragraph aloud: “…and therefore it can be implemented that there are multiphonic patterns throughout the vocabulary. On this basis, we will construct the outlines for a translation matrix.”

“I don't know,” Marybeth shook her head. “We should say ‘we could' or ‘we might be able to construct'. There are so many variables we don't know yet. We don't have enough data. I'm simply not sure we can manage it.”

“But you should be! Imagine I'm the speaker of the Smithsonian commission that got your application as number 450 out of 500 other brilliant applications. And you stand before me and say ‘I'm not sure, because we don't have enough data'.”

“But—“

“You have to be as sure and as convincing as possible!”

“What if there arise obstacles we cannot foresee?”

“There are always obstacles. The commission knows that. But if you sound too cautious from the start, they will think you cannot pull this through. You HAVE to be sure, aggressively sure!”

“It always comes down to that – a woman is too insecure and frail and needs a strong male to tell her how to be successful!”

Claude saw the shadow of her ex-husband threatening again and cursed silently. It always comes down to THAT! He spread his hands. “I want us to succeed, Marybeth.”

She stood up, walked back and forth in the small cabin of the boat. “I know,” she finally said. “Sorry, I'm … a jerk sometimes.”

“Well, me too! – So, maybe we should just take a break and eat something. And later, we'll take a look at the budget section first.”

“Yes. Okay!” Marybeth grabbed her basket. “Let's go outside!”

They sat on the deck, legs hanging down under the railing, and shared their picnic lunch. “I like those cucumbers on the Salami,” Claude said. “Tastes really good!”

“These are the little pickled French ones, Cornichons,” she explained. “They have way more aroma than the fresh green ones from the garden. Mother told me.”

“She was right! And if we fail with our application, we can open a snack bar! I make French Toast and you Sandwiches à la Marybeth! Maybe we will make decent money. Unless the colleagues from the Institute spread the word that I put poison in the food…”

“Claude, you're impossible!” She laughed and reached over to give him a playful punch against the shoulder.

For a moment, their faces were very close, and he could see the reflexes in her blue eyes.  Does she want a kiss, or is this just my imagination?  After a short hesitation, he opted for the latter. That was, when he spotted a movement in the distance, right over her shoulder. Was that….? Hastily, he lifted the binoculars to his eyes. Yes, it was the fin of a dolphin. No, two dolphins! And one of them… “I think there is Roxanne! Look!”

Marybeth adjusted the view. “Yes! That's her! I recognize the little curb in her fin!” She started to call the dolphin, and slowly, Roxanne swam toward the ship. Marybeth reached out, but now Roxanne turned back and jumped up in a high pirouette. Then, the other dolphin closed in, and they danced playfully around each other.

“She seems to have made a new friend,” Claude said, getting on his feet. “You were always afraid she would never do that after she grew up in captivity.”

“Yes.” Her voice sounded shaky nonetheless. Now she pressed her lips together.

“She came to wish us good luck with the application.”

Marybeth squatted there for a moment longer, and then she got up as well. “Let's get back to work.”

Around four PM, they headed home to the Institute. They had managed a good deal of work, and the application was already in good shape. They still had tomorrow for tweaking and refining and searching the best additional sound samples. In case they needed yet another day, Claude had decided to send it off by courier and avoid the time the postal service would need for delivery.

 

=== Back at the Institute ===

Everyone except Becky was gone by now, and she was obviously about to leave as well. Marybeth signaled her. “Hey, imagine, we've seen Roxanne! She seems fine and is together with another dolphin!”

“That's great news! Where was it?” Becky put her stuff down on the nearest desk and waited until her friend was in the office. 

“Halfway between the torn down wreckage and the beginning of the reef. But they were farther out, for sure, almost the open sea.”

“Could you take a picture?”

“Sadly not. They just came, said hello, and that was it.” 

Marybeth walked with her friend to the office door. There, Becky halted again. “Listen… I know the past days were rough on you, and you're desperate. I wanted to say, if you need any help, you can come to me, you know that. Okay?”

“Okay, I know, that's what friends are for, right?” She embraced her colleague. “But… it would be good if tomorrow when Claude and I come into the office, we would not need a winter coat, you know?”

Becky searched for the right words to express her concern and sighed. “You have worked so hard on your project, it would be… it would be damned shit if—“

“I'm sure we make it and get that Smithsonian grant, Becky!” She turned around to Claude's desk at the other end of the office, but he was busy answering a call of someone that had left a message on the answering machine and did not look. 

“I just don't want you to make a mistake,” the other woman answered, genuinely worried. “You were the one that quit the job at this Institute because of HIM. And all those weeks since you were back, you two could barely exchange a few words before you got upset.”

“I know.”

“And you really thought this through? Please tell me you did.” 

“Trust me. “ Marybeth was not sure WHY she was that sure, all of a sudden. She just was, and for now, she would leave that topic unquestioned. She needed to focus on the application. One step at a time… “Now, I think you have to run, or your bus is leaving without you!”

Becky shot a glance at the watch. “Gosh! You're right! See you tomorrow!”

Marybeth stayed a moment in the open door, realizing that she was still or yet again, very tired. She walked back to her desk and shuffled through the mail. “I think there's nothing that could not wait until tomorrow,” she decided, turning to Claude. “I don't switch on the computer. If anyone complains, I had a glitch in the system…” She yawned. “You should also stop and head home; you look tired.”

“Ah, I love it when you make compliments!” He took off his glasses. “Unfortunately, I forgot to write the evaluation for Ole. It is due tomorrow. I have to get it done.”

“Can I help somehow?”

“If you could make a coffee? Please?”

=== Claude's apartment ===

When Claude finally reached his apartment, it was almost 11 P.M. He took a look into the mailbox, discovered some advertising stuff he threw into the trash bin nearby, and the newest issue of NATURE. That let him think of the little boy with his camera, the biker's son. Jordan was his name, yes. Normally, Claude did not bother too much with children, as long as they stayed far away enough and did not make any noise. But that kid was different. He hoped he would get attention and support – something he had missed while wandering with his camera through the coastal flora near Cape Town. 

But … not my business. He is not my son…  He entered his apartment, let everything drop right where he stood, and lay down on the couch to relax a few minutes, before making dinner. On the table in front of him, steadied against some books, stood the photo he had found in Marybeth's folder, showing her and him, with the jumping dolphins in the background. Looking at it, he fell asleep, to awake only in the morning.