It was a beautiful day in early May when Mary O'Connor came out of the heavy oak door of the university's Freemont Hall. She paused for a minute on the top of the steps and surveyed the scene below her. The green lawns of the New England campus were heavily speckled with students in various states of undress, reclining under the dogwood trees and cramming for final exams. Mary turned her own face briefly upward to feel the warmth of the sun and someone behind her said, "Dr. O'Connor?"
Mary turned, recognized the student, and repressed a sigh. He was a very large, very amiable, not very clever young man who had, for reasons she could not fathom, decided to fall crashingly in love with her. Considering the fact that the highest mark she had given him all semester was a C, his devotion was a mystery to her.
It was not a mystery, however, to Bob Fowler (the large student) or, indeed, to at least a dozen other men, both young and old, who had come in contact with Mary Catherine O'Connor during the year she had been teaching at this university. It was not, regrettably, her Ph.D. in literature or the impressive scholarly reputation she had acquired upon the publication of her book last year that was the cause of all this male admiration. Rather it was the fact that she was twenty-six years old and beautiful.
As she stood now, poised on the top of Freemont Hall's steps, male heads in the area swung around instinctively. It was an attention Mary scarcely noticed, she was so accustomed to it. She stood listening to Bob Fowler for a few minutes with exemplary patience, shook her head in refusal of his offer to carry her briefcase to her car for her, turned resolutely away from him and started down the steps.
There was a blinding flash of light and instinctively she stopped and looked toward its source. There was a photographer standing at the bottom of the steps and as she looked at him the camera flashed again, twice. "Who are you?" Mary demanded.
"Mary O'Connor? Doctor Mary O'Connor?" the photographer answered crisply with a question of his own.
"Thank you, doctor." The man sent her a smile and turned to climb back into his car. She hesitated, then shrugged her slim shoulders and watched him drive off. It was probably someone from the campus newspaper, she decided.
Ten days later Mary was once again coming out of Freemont Hall where she had her office. It was an extremely warm day and she was wearing the jacket of her beige poplin suit slung casually over one shoulder in order to get the cooling benefit of her short-sleeved navy polka-dot blouse. There were several students clustered on the stone landing outside the building and they were all talking in excited whispers.
"I'm dying to go talk to him," Mary heard one girl saying. "I wish I had the nerve."
"But what can he be doing here?"' said a male voice. "Have you heard anything about a movie being shot on campus?"
Slowly Mary looked down the stairs to the man who was the cause of all this excitement. He was leaning against the hood of a smart red sports car and looking around him casually, as if he owned the place. He seemed entirely unaware of all the watching eyes, entirely at his ease. Mary supposed that when you possessed one of the most famous faces in the world, you got used to being watched. "Damn," she said under her breath.
Bob Fowler looked around and saw her. "Dr. O'Connor," he said enthusiastically, "take a look at who's standing there at the bottom of the stairs. It's Christopher Douglas!"
"So I see," she replied coolly, and once again surveyed the tall slim man leaning against the red car. He was looking off down the campus toward where an impromptu soccer game was going on on one of the lawns and his splendid, arrogant profile was clear as a cameo. As she watched he seemed to lose interest in the game and turned back to the building in front of him, looked up, and saw her. Instantly he pushed himself off the car and stood upright, moving unself-consciously and with all the lithe grace she remembered so well. He kept his dark eyes on her the whole time she was descending the stairs, unaware, as was she, of the breathlessly watching students.
She stopped in front of him and looked up. She had forgotten how tall he was, but then she had not seen him in almost four years. "Hello, Kit," she said to her husband. "What are you doing here?"
He didn't answer for a minute but stood looking gravely down at her. "You're wearing your hair differently," he finally answered, "but otherwise you haven't changed."
"Nor have you," she replied, returning his regard. One forgot, she thought to herself, inwardly not half so calm as she hoped she appeared on the surface, one forgot he really looked like this. Extreme, completely male beauty is a very rare phenomenon, and Christopher Douglas had been blessed with it in abundance. "What are you doing here?" she repeated, clutching more tightly at her briefcase.
"I. came to see you." The movies, she thought, had never done justice to his voice. It took the theater to ' allow him its proper range. "I had no idea of your home address," he was going on, "so I tracked you down here. I have to talk to you, Mary. Something has come up."
She knew, instantly, why he had come. There was a very strange feeling in the pit of her stomach as she said, "I don't live very far from here. Do you want to follow me home? My car is parked in the faculty lot--over there." She gestured to an eight-year-old Buick and he nodded.
"All right. That's your father's old car, isn't it?"
"Yes. Daddy passed it on to me a few years ago." He waited for her to move away before he opened the door of his red car and got in. She backed slowly out of her space, moved into the narrow road that crossed the campus, and drove toward the main gate. The small red sports car followed.
"This is very nice," Kit said as he followed her in the front door of the small white clapboard house.
"I'm only renting it," she answered, putting her briefcase down in the hall and leading him into the living room.
He looked around him slowly, taking in the furnishings. "You've still got the rocker," he said. "And the drop-leaf table." His long fingers caressed the wood of the table lovingly; he had stripped and refinished that table himself.
"Yes." She bent her head, not looking at him. "Can I get you a drink?"
"I'll take a beer, if you've got one." He sat down on the sofa, which was new and held no memories, and stretched his long legs in front of him.
"Yes, I have beer. I keep some in for Daddy when he comes to visit." She walked into the kitchen, hung her jacket over one of the kitchen chairs, and opened the refrigerator. She was annoyed to find her hands were shaking. She opened the beer, got out two glasses and then poured herself a stiff Scotch. She brought his beer into the living room, got her own drink and went to sit in the rocker.
"How is your father?" He sipped his beer and regarded her inscrutably over the rim of the glass.
"Fine. He hasn't retired, but at least he isn't accepting new patients anymore. He and mother actually went to Europe for a month earlier this spring." She ran a finger around the rim of her glass. "I think they finally feel they've got me off their hands."
"You landed yourself a very good job," he said, "in a very prestigious university."
She shrugged. "It was about time." She changed the subject. "You're looking very fit. California life must agree with you--you're dark as a gypsy."
"The weather is good," he agreed. He took another sip of beer. "Even you might tan a bit out there."
"Me?" She glanced down at her bare arm. "I doubt it. I've never had a tan in my life. Sunburn now, that's different."
He looked at her for a moment in silence and then said, slowly and deliberately, "I have never seen skin as beautiful as yours."
Damn him, damn him, damn him, she thought. "It's Irish skin," she answered lightly and took a gulp of Scotch.
"Irish eyes too."
She put her glass down with a sharp click and stared at him. "All right. Kit, we've traded compliments and upheld the social amenities. Now perhaps you'll tell me why you came here." She sounded annoyed. "You could have gotten my address from Mother, you know. You didn't have to look me up right on campus, in front of a gaggle of star-struck students. How am I going to explain that?"
"I didn't like to call your mother," he answered a little grimly.
She picked up her glass and took another swallow of Scotch. Better to get it said and done with, she thought. "I imagine you're here about a divorce." Her voice to her own ears sounded hard and flat.
"Is that why you think I've come?"
"I can't imagine any other reason. In fact, I can't imagine why you didn't divorce me years ago."
"I might ask you the same question."
He had the darkest eyes of anyone she had ever known. She found it difficult to keep looking at them and gazed instead at her elegant foot, sensibly shod in a plain navy pump. "I thought I'd leave it to you," she mumbled.
"You were the one who threw me over," he replied. "You were the one who said you would never live with me again."
"Mmph," she said.
"For an English scholar you're damned inarticulate." His voice sounded distinctly amused.
She glared at him. "I didn't divorce you because a divorce isn't going to make any difference to me. You know that. I can't marry again. But you can, so if you want a divorce I'll give you one. I don't believe in being a dog in the manger."
"Do you know, I thought that might be it," he said softly. "So there isn't anyone else?"
"Good God, Kit," she replied irritably, "you know my family. The O'Connors are more Catholic than the pope. No, I'm stuck with the single life." She looked at him challengingly. "And I find it very much to my taste. One marriage was quite enough for me, thank you."
"I see. So you plan to hide yourself away in a cloister for the rest of your life."
'The university is hardly a cloister. And I am not hiding away. I have work to do. It's the work you are doing that really counts in life--surely you of all people will agree with that"
"I would have--five years ago." His face was still and reserved, quite unreadable. Before she could ask what he meant he went on. "I didn't come to ask you for a divorce."
"You didn't?" He had, as always, thrown her off her balance. "Then what did you come for?" she asked for the third time.
"Was there a photographer around the school last week bothering you?"
Really, she thought, his habit of answering a question with a question was very annoying. "Yes," she said shortly.
"He was from Personality."
"What!" Personality was the most notorious scandal sheet in the country.
"I'm afraid so," he answered bleakly. "Have you ever seen the paper?"
"I've seen it in the supermarket. I read the headlines while I'm waiting on line."
"Well, your picture will be gracing page one next week," he said. Then, rather inadequately, "Mary, I'm sorry."
She was staring at him in stunned horror. "Are you serious?" He nodded. "I see." She swallowed hard, remembered her Scotch and picked it up. It was empty. "Damn," she said.
"Make yourself another," he suggested.
"No." She shook her head. "Another one of those and I'll be on my ear. Do you want another beer?"
"All right," she said tensely. "You'd better explain." He ran a hand through his thick black hair in a gesture that was achingly familiar. "Yes," he said.
"That's why I came."
"I don't know how closely you have followed my career," he began slowly, "or if you have followed it at all, but you must have realized that no one in Hollywood knows that I am married."
She had in fact read everything about him that came her way and she had seen all his pictures, but she wasn't going to tell him that. "Certainly, no one has ever disturbed me," she replied. "Until now, that is."
"I know. And I didn't want you disturbed, which is precisely why I kept my mouth shut. I don't give many interviews, you know, or go in for talk shows or things like that, so no one has had the opportunity to pin me down on my marital status. Everyone just assumes I'm single."
"You mustn't be terribly popular with the media if you are so unforthcoming," she said lightly.
He smiled, teeth very white in his tanned face. "I'm not." The smile faded. "I learned exactly what the media can do to you when I was making my first picture." There was a note of bitterness in his beautiful voice. "But then you know all about that."
She was staring in fascination at the toe of her shoe. "Yes, I remember."
"So, naturally," he resumed his story evenly, "if a reporter thinks he's got a good bit of gossip about me, he's keen to use it. I don't know how, but someone from Personality found out about you."
Her eyes traveled slowly from her toe to his face. "You can't squash it?"
"No. I only found out about it because my cleaning lady's daughter is a typist at the paper. She told me about it yesterday. I thought that the least I could do was warn you."
"How much do they know?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
"Not everything." He leaned forward. "They know we were married and that we split up after all the newspaper gossip about me and Jessica Corbet. That's all."
"Are you sure?" Her lips were white.
"I--see. Do they know we're still technically married?"
"Oh yes, that's the juiciest info of all from their point of view. Christopher Douglas's secret wife and all that rot."
"Oh, Kit, why?" she almost wailed. "Why did this have to happen?"
"I'm sorry, Mary," he repeated.
"You should have divorced me ages ago," she said. "Why didn't you?"
"Because I didn't want to," he answered coolly. "Like you, I saw no necessity. You are the only woman I have ever wanted to live with permanently."
"You didn't want to live with me," she contradicted him in a low voice. "You just wanted to sleep with me. Unfortunately, you had to marry me to do that." He pushed his hand through his hair once more and she smiled a little at the gesture. "I don't blame you, Kit, not anymore. I was as much at fault. I shouldn't have married you."
"Well, you did," he said in an odd voice, "and here we are." He looked slowly around the room and his eyes stopped at the overflowing bookcase. "Are you happy, Mary? Do you have what you want?"
"Yes," she answered, ignoring the pain that had unaccountably appeared around her heart. "I've made a place for myself in a world I've always loved. Yes, I'm happy."
I'm glad. But surely you take a break from academia once in a while? What are you doing this summer? Not more research?"
"No." She lifted her chin proudly. "This summer I've been invited to lecture at Yarborough."
His head came up, poised and alert. "Have you really?"
Yarborough College was a very small school on the shores of a New Hampshire lake. It had, however, over the past ten years acquired considerable national prominence because of its summer dramatics program. The head of the drama department, George Clark, was a bit of a genius, and the small campus theater was a gem of acoustical and dramatic engineering. The combination of the two had produced the Yarborough Summer Festival, in which top drama students from all over the country were given the opportunity to work in a theatrical production with a few noted professionals. Each year the festival did one play and concentrated on one period of theatrical history. A prominent scholar of that period was always invited to lecture and the college gave graduate credit to all the drama students who attended.
"They're doing the English Renaissance this year," she said, "and as you know that's my period. So, for the price of a few lectures, I'll have a lovely New Hampshire vacation."
"What play are they doing?"
"They're being very ambitious. It's Hamlet."
"Hamlet! And who is to play the lead?"
"Adrian Saunders," she said, naming a young English actor who had made a hit in a recent British series run on public television.
"Ah." He smiled at her, the famous devastating smile that was calculated to turn every woman's bones to water. "It sounds like fun."
She rose to her feet and he rose also. "I think it will be."
He stood for a moment, looking down at her. "I'm afraid you're going to be bothered, Mary. Just refuse to answer all questions. Don't worry about being polite. Refuse all interviews. It will all die down in a short while, I promise you."
"I suppose so." She sighed and then suddenly became very formal. "Good-bye Kit. It was kind of you to have come." She did not offer him her hand.
"I'm sorry it was on this particular business," he replied gravely. "Do you know, no one has called me Kit for years." He turned and walked swiftly out the door.
She heard his car door slam and the engine start up. In a minute he had backed out of her driveway and had disappeared up the street. Mary sat down in her pine rocker and looked blindly at the sofa where he had sat. She had not felt so upset since the last time they had met.
She would have been even more upset if she had heard the conversation Kit had with his agent early the following day. "Chris!" said Mel Horner genially when his secretary informed him who was on the phone. "What are you doing in New York?"
"Never mind that Mel," Kit replied. "I want you to book me into the Yarborough Festival this summer."
"You heard me," Kit replied testily. "I want to work at the Yarborough Festival. They're doing Hamlet, with Adrian Saunders."
"But if they have Adrian Saunders for Hamlet, what will you ..." The agent's voice trailed off in bewilderment
"I'll play whatever they've got left." His client's voice was clear as a bell over the three-thousand-mile connection. "Laertes, Claudius, the gravedigger--I don't care."
"But Chris," his agent expostulated, "that is exactly the sort of thing you always avoid like the plague. The media will swamp you, wanting to know why you're taking such a small role..."
"Goddammit, Mel," Kit said savagely, "I don't want a lecture. I want you to get me into that festival. I don't care what I play, or how much money they offer. I just want in. Is that clear?"
"Yeah," said his agent faintly. "I'll get on it right away."
"Good," said Kit, and hung up the phone.
Four days after Kit's visit the storm broke over Mary's head. Personality hit the stands with a picture on the cover of her standing on the steps of Freemont Hall. "chris douglas married!" screamed the headline. "Wife University Professor!"
"Huh," said Mary when she first saw it. "I wish I were a professor." Then her phone started to ring and it didn't stop until the end of the term when she fled the campus and went into seclusion.
She went to Nantucket, where her oldest brother had a summer cottage. Her sister-in-law was in residence with the three children and Mike came out from Boston on weekends. Kathy was a warm and intelligent person who had the tact to leave Mary to herself and not burden her with unwanted sympathy. Mary played tennis with Kathy and went bicycling and swimming with the children. There was no television in the cottage and the only paper Mary saw for two weeks was the local News. It should have been a thoroughly relaxing time for her. She was with people she loved and who loved her, and she was doing all the recreational things she liked best to do. It was therefore disconcerting to find herself so restless and dissatisfied.
She knew what was bothering her--more precisely, she knew who was bothering her. She had thought she was over him. She had put him out of her life and her work and that, she had thought, was that. She had convinced herself that her happiness lay with things of the mind, not with a dark, slim man who had once torn her life apart and almost destroyed her in the process.
The day before she was due to leave Nantucket for Yarborough it rained. After lunch Mary took an old brown raincoat of Mike's and went for a walk. She went down to the beach and there, with the rain falling on her face and the waves crashing on the sand, she thought back to those innocent undergraduate days of five years ago when she had first met Christopher Douglas.