(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-42 in earlier Blogs )
…until, like Jacob, thou forsake thine outward eyes, thou shalt never open the eye of thine inward being…
The Seven Valleys
John was sitting across the desk from Dr. Gates in his office. The older man leaned forward over his desk, a puzzled look on his face.
“John, I don’t understand this, they called me from North Carolina for your reference. I gave you a very good one. Your thesis is one of the best this department has seen in a long time. I’m sure your other references were very good, too. You’re an excellent candidate for the job. In fact, you could pick your job, John. If you don’t like that position, any of the other post docs would be better for you than what you’re asking from me.”
“Well, I have my reasons for wanting to stay in town,” John answered. He knew his request was puzzling to Dr. Gates, but he couldn’t disclose any more about his motives.
“Well, John, you know I’ve been looking for a post doc to take on this part of the protein project. But you say you only want it for one year? John, it’s a two-year project. It wouldn’t make sense for me to hire you and then hire someone else for the second year.”
“I know. But I’ve read the project description and I think it could be done in one year if we plant in both Hancock and Arlington this summer.”
Dr. Gates seemed to consider it. “Yes, I suppose so, if you really got all your field data out this summer. But that means you would have to start immediately. Edgar has the seed ready for the Hancock planting, but you would have to duplicate the material very quickly to get it planted at Arlington.”
“How much time would I have to do that?”
“Oh, let’s see. No more than one week, John.”
Jeez, what am I getting myself into, he thought. But he didn’t even bat an eyelid when he told Dr. Gates. “Oh, I can do that. No problem.”
“Very well, John, welcome aboard then.” Dr. Gates extended his hand across the desk.
John got up and shook it. “Thank you. I promise you won’t regret this.”
“Oh no, I’m sure I won’t, John.”
After a few details concerning salary, and whom John should talk to down in the office, the interview was over. But John had one more thing to say.
“Dan, if you don’t mind, I’d like to request that you don’t tell anyone…I mean, I’d prefer if there was no discussion of what else I turned down to stay here. It’s just better that way.”
“Okay John, you know best. I’m very pleased to have you and I don’t think you’ll regret this in the long run. If we do things right, you can get at least one paper out of this, if not two.”
John didn’t tell anyone about his news. He just got the paperwork done quietly and then went to talk to Edgar Simms about the seed preparation. He didn’t want to field a lot of questions. In fact, he was afraid it all showed on his face. He had cast his hat over the wall, now he had to go and get it. But the fact of the matter was, he was feeling a lot better about ditching an ideal career move than about the alternative he had been faced with up to now, that of leaving behind the woman he loved.
He knew that if he was going to win Maddie, the crucial ingredient he needed was time. Well, now he had a year. After that he’d do whatever else was necessary. As George Hawkins had said, if he loved her, he would do whatever it took. He’d also advised him not to spook her by moving too fast. Well, he was going to be as slow as molasses. But time and close proximity would be his allies.
John Pitts didn’t know it, but of those two ingredients only one was needed, the other could have been soon dispensed with, because the tide had begun to turn in his favor.
When Maddie Hawkins heard the news of John taking the post doc, she was in the Friday group meeting. John had walked in the door with Dr. Gates, and from that moment on she was completely aware of his proximity.
She thought it peculiar that he had taken this position, very peculiar.
He went up to Hancock with them for the planting the following week and she found that he added a new dimension to the group. Edgar wasn’t so irritable when he was around, and John’s insistence that they get a piece of homemade pie at the roadside truck stop every morning didn’t even seem to phase the technician either.
Maddie found John’s gusto for the pies somewhat endearing, and his animated conversation during breakfast seemed to keep the whole group’s spirits up. Even his choice of music during the trip had its effect.
“Turn that dial, there Edgar,” he said the first morning, “that whiny tune’s putting me in a bad mood.”
“Turn it yourself,” Edgar answered from the driver’s seat.
John was in the middle seat, next to Maddie, so he couldn’t reach the dial. He decided to enlist Alex Vieira, who was sitting up front. “Okay, Alex, you turn it. Let’s get some decent music in here.”
Alex obliged and began scanning the stations. They weren’t too far out of Madison. When he got a Reggae tune coming through on NPR John said, “There! That’ll do. Turn it up a little.”
He sat back in his seat and hummed along, his arms folded over his chest. He looked over at Maddie and smiled. His enthusiasm was contagious.
“Now that’s a good tune,” he said. “That’s a classic.”
“Don’t you know Reggae music?” he asked.
“Not much. I mean, I like it, but I’m not really up on everything. My brother though, he was always crazy about it. I think the Jamaican rhythm turned him into a permanently mellow fellow.”
“Now there, you see, Louis and I have a lot in common.”
“Are you mellow?” she asked, looking into his eyes.
He flashed a grin. “Oh yes, definitely.”
Maddie swallowed. She felt flushed. She didn’t know where the inane banter was leading but it went on for some time. He had a quirky sense of humor.
When they got to the field Maddie caught herself looking in his direction involuntarily and listening for his voice. Everything seemed more alive, more intense with him around.
They laid the plots out according to the field map and everyone worked together to plant the different experiments. The crew at the experiment station had already tilled the fields, so they simply measured out the rows, put in the numbered stakes and began punching holes for the seeds. Since plant spacing was important in experimental plots, they used a custom-made plank with ten stakes protruding from it, which had to be held by two persons and then stomped into the ground. The seeds were then dropped into the holes and covered up.
Maddie partnered with Alex for most of the morning, each of them holding the rope at their end of the plank, placing it, stomping on it and then swinging it to the next row. By lunchtime she felt the effects of three hours of this work. The muscles on one side of her neck were bothering her.
Somehow, in the afternoon she found herself partnered with John. After hours of this routine she felt things beginning to blur. He suggested they switch sides a couple of times and that kept her from having an uneven strain. But by mid afternoon both of her shoulder blades burned. She looked wistfully at the diminutive form of Emily Mbasa crouching down and dropping the seeds in the holes. If she were doing that job she could at least kneel in the dirt once in a while, rest her aching legs. But she didn’t want anybody, John especially, thinking she was a wimp.
Planting day was the longest day of the season. After a while Maddie didn’t even care about the pain anymore. She was on automatic pilot, like a zombie. She couldn’t even muster up enough spare energy to carry on a conversation with John. She glanced over at him and thought with envy that he seemed barely winded.
But nothing could be further from the truth. John was tired too, and marveled at the fact that Maddie could keep up such a pace without any hint of complaint.
“Maddie, why don’t you switch jobs with one of the others and drop seeds for a while?” he asked.
“What? Oh…No, thank you. I’m fine with this.”
He shrugged. “Okay, you’re the boss.”
Unbelievable stamina. Feisty little thing.
All kinds of thoughts that couldn’t be voiced, that would have sounded condescending, popped into his head. What right had he to feel proud of her?
He looked at her, at the sweat beads gathering on her forehead and running down the back of her neck, her heightened color, her shapely form in profile. The dusky rose t-shirt heightening her color.
When Edgar finally called a halt to the proceedings, they all just got into the van and went to the station to wash up.
John offered to drive back but Alex was already committed.
When he got back into the van next to Maddie he noticed her glazed look. She leaned her head on the window and closed her eyes. She seemed to drift immediately off to sleep. But her head looked like it was at the wrong angle and he wanted to reach over and shift her position. Heck, he wanted to reach and pull her over to lean on his shoulder. She moved a few times trying to get more comfortable and every time she did this he held his breath, hoping she would just slide over in his direction. At one point she whimpered in her sleep as if she were frustrated, and turned her body towards him, her knees went up on the seat and she leaned her head on her elbow and curled up like a kitten.
He was so highly perturbed by her slightest movement that he kept awake the whole ride back to Madison. What would it be like to sleep next to her in a bed? Would she kick him in the middle of the night or roll over and steal all the covers? He stifled the chuckle. He wouldn’t mind being tortured like that for the rest of his life.
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
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DISCUSSION QUESTION 42: Does working in close proximity allow Maddie and John to better know each other’s character?
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