A sudden thaw left the school grounds so muddy that Coach kept them indoors instead of letting them run outside.
"Mud season," he said, the familiar complaint this time of year. The guys groaned. Buoyed up by a good mood that even the prospect of two hours doing strength-training in Regional's tiny, old-fashioned weight room couldn't touch, Calvin O'Keefe smiled. If his luck was on, Coach would let them out early. It's not as if I'm lazy, after all,he said to himself. it's not every day I have a reason to get home.
An hour later, Calvin ducked out of the way of Eddie O'Neal's goodbye punch, stepped neatly over Chris Reed's outstretched foot, and shouldered his way towards the door. Everything, he thought, was working out. Two more months, and he'd be done with school, and then—
He didn't want to jinx it. Not, he thought, that he believed in that sort of thing, but— He remembered what Mr. Murry had said, over dinner last week, about what he was working on: quantum particles, and twinned pairs, and how he if could alter the tilt of one particle the other would tilt to mirror it, no matter how far away, and would do it instantly, in utter defiance of Einsteinian physics. "Sci fi stuff," Sandy had said, scornfully, and Dennys had added, "The theory's all very well and good, Father, but it does seem a little impractical." Mr. Murry had laughed, though, and agreed. "Sci fi stuff, exactly," he'd said. "You have to have the theory first, after all, Dennys. Who knows if someday this might mean teleportation, or instant communication unconstrained by distance, or something we can't even imagine today?"
And if teleportation was possible, even if only theoretically—and somewhere out in the universe there were cherubim, and centaurs—well, maybe Calvin couldn't mess things up just by thinking about it too hard, but he didn't want to push his luck, either.
He thought for a moment about going home, first, but his parents wouldn't be there, and wouldn't care, even if they were, so he turned his car towards the shortcut across the river that would get him to the Murrys'.
The twins were outside when he pulled in, taking advantage of the sudden spring-like weather to prune the apple trees. "Hey, Cal," Dennys said. "Meg's not home yet."
"But you can go in, all the same," Sandy added. "She should be here soon."
"Thanks," Calvin said. "But I think I'll wait for her at the star-watching rock. Tell her I'm there, would you?"
"Sure thing," Dennys said agreeably. "Here." He tossed Calvin an apple.
The path across the yard was muddy, and there was standing water in every hollow, bright and gleaming in the sunshine. It smelled like spring: mud, and melting snow, and pine-needles. The twins had added maple syrup to their garden business last year, and if the thaw held, Calvin thought, they could probably start sugaring soon.
The star-watching rock was warm in the sun. Calvin bit into the apple while he waited; it was wrinkled and mealy from being over-wintered on the tree, and cold, but nice anyway.
He heard Meg before he saw her, the crunch of her shoes was loud on the crusts of snow left in the shadows of the trees, and felt her, too, warm and loving; he'd never had the kind of connection with anyone that he had with her. She felt happy. It had been a good day, then.
She joined him on the rock, tucking her legs under her and pulling her scarf tighter. When he couldn't stand it any longer, he grabbed her hand, held on tight. "Meggie," he said, but then stopped, suddenly uncertain, even though he'd been waiting all day to tell her. Finally he pulled the letter, slightly crumpled now, from his jeans pocket, and handed it to her.
Her hug was so enthusiastic that he tumbled backwards off the rock. "Oh, Cal," she murmured. "Yale. I'm so proud of you."
There was icy water seeping through the back of his sweater, but he didn't care, because Meg was wrapped tight around him, clinging, her body warm and solid in his arms. "I'll miss you, though," she added, crossly, pulling away a bit to peer at him.
"It's only a 45 minute drive," he pointed out, and hugged her tighter. "You'll hardly know I'm gone."
"Oh, I will, I will," she said, scrambling to her feet. Stubborn and beautiful: his Meg. God, how he loved her. "But come on. Let's go tell my parents. I'll race you to the house."
The maple trees were making flickering shadows, dappling the ground with sun and shade.
On a whim, Calvin kicked off his shoes and darted down the path barefoot, vaulting over the low rock wall that meandered alongside the field beside his parents' house. All around him was the lush profusion of summertime: wild grasses bent under the weight of their seeds, swallows swooping and diving in the warm blue air, the scent of sun-warmed earth. He could run this path in the dark, and had done, but it was nice to do it now, with the cooing of the mourning doves and the tree-frogs' song for company.
At the Murrys', the twins were digging in their garden, dirt-covered and sweaty; they waved, but Calvin didn't stop. He was on a mission.
In the kitchen, Charles Wallace was at the table, a cup of tea and two books—Calvin peered closer, The Origin of Species and the Bible—spread out in front of him. "Good to see you," he said, giving Calvin a smile . Calvin ruffled his hair, feeling cheerful, and Charles Wallace grinned and ducked away."Mother's in the lab," he added, offhandedly, as if Calvin came in every afternoon looking for Mrs. Murry. Calvin snorted.
"Can't get a thing past you, can I?" Calvin asked, ruefully. "Thanks, sport." Charles smiled at the old nickname, and waved his hand towards the door to the old dairy cold-room.
"Go on," he said. "I'm busy anyway."
In the lab, Mrs. Murry was bent over her computer, a cup of coffee steaming at her side. "Mrs. M, can I interrupt?" he asked.
"For heaven's sake, Calvin, call me Kate, won't you?" she said, smiling. "You're part of this family, you know that."
"Thanks," he said, smiling back. He tugged up one of the stools that sat ready beneath the windows, dragging it over so that he had the late-afternoon sun on his back. How many times had he seen one or the other of the Murrys perched on these stools, or curled up in the armchair she kept at the other end of the room, keeping their mother company? A far cry from his own house, which had always been a house but never a home the way the Murrys' had.
"Can I offer you a cup of cocoa?" Mrs. Murry asked, dimming the computer screen. "Or coffee?"
Calvin smiled. "No, that's okay. Just—maybe some advice, if you don't mind?"
"I'm not sure my advice will be worth heeding," she said, smiling, "but opinions I've always got."
He laughed. "Well. Opinions are what I want. I just—am I crazy to want to add a PhD program, on top of medicine?"
She looked thoughtful. She was a beautiful woman, Calvin thought, suddenly; strange to think it about the woman he thought of as his mother-in-law, but still true. "Well," she said. "Maybe. That doesn't mean it isn't possible, though. Why are you worried?"
"Well," Calvin said. "My parents are hardly exemplars of academic achievement, you know? So I hardly have role models for this. But if you got two PhDs…"
She laughed. "I'm hardly a good role model either, really."
"Really, though," Calvin said. "Will—can I do it? Do you think?"
She looked at him, a moment, her gaze piercing. "I think," she said, after a moment, "that you can do whatever you set your mind to, Calvin. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a mother and am obliged to say it, either," she said, forestalling his objection. "You're smart enough, and I think if you want it, you can do it."
"But—" Calvin felt, suddenly, unsure. It felt like a crazy decision.
"Come here," she said, stepping out of her chair and tugging him into a hug. "I'm not going to tell you what you should do, Calvin. It'll mean more work than you probably want to contemplate. But if you're determined, I think you can do it."
“And Meg won’t mind?” he said. “I know you can’t speak for her, but—”
Mrs. Murry laughed. “No, she won’t mind, I don’t think, Cal,” she said. “But I hear her car in the drive.” She gave him a gentle push towards the door. “Go ask her.”
“Thanks, Mrs. M,” he said, brushing a kiss against her cheek. “I’ll go see what she says.”