Daley’s Eight 16

“No,” Rowan said defiantly, “I won’t.”

Ms. Daley didn’t immediately respond to him. She was studying him, deciding, strategizing.

“Fine, I’ll teach you,” she conceded. “And you better not refuse that, or your out of this house in a moment. Do you understand me?” She grabbed his chin with her hand, and she pointed his face directly at hers as she spoke.

Rowan nodded, and she let go of him. She smiled and licked her lips after this as a thought crossed her mind. “Now take off your clothes,” she said.

Rowan did not promptly comply. But he was unable to refuse, and he began by taking off his shirt and then stripping fully naked in front of her.

Their interlude on the floor did not end until Ms. Daley decided she was sufficiently satisfied and Rowan had learned enough of his lessons for the day. They dressed, and she continued on the tour, making no mention of their brief interruption, though Ms. Daley seemed to be traipsing on the air as she walked. She smiled broadly, and her face shone. All of that imperiousness was gone as she took him to the tennis court and through the gardens and walked him on some of the paths in the woods in front of the house. She was kind, deferential, even a little bit flirtatious. She had transformed from the overbearing mistress to a young school girl trying desperately to be charming to boy she had a crush on. This Ms. Daley Rowan liked.

When they came around to the back of the house. Rowan wanted her to take him through the woods back there, and he asked her, “Can you show me what’s back here? I saw a pond with a boathouse and a well.”

There was something of a shocked look on her face. Her air of imperiousness returned in an instant, and she said, “You are not to go into these woods. They are off limits. The others should’ve told you.”

“Why?” Rowan asked, somewhat cowed.

Realizing she’d reacted too strongly, Ms. Daley tempered her response and said, “They don’t belong to me, at least no further than about 50 feet from the house. They belong to a neighbor of mine, and he doesn’t like college students tramping around through them. You see he likes to go out hunting, and there was an incident several years ago when a pair of Scholars got drunk and went out there one afternoon, and he almost shot them. He was extremely irate. So, you see, it’s in consideration of your safety that I say this. And there’s nothing of interest out there anyways. Besides the lake and the well, it’s just trees. The well is all dried up, and that tiny lake is artificial. My neighbor uses it for fishing. There, you know everything you need to know. Come now, let’s head inside for lunch.”

In the early evening, Sophie was called away from the house to pick someone else up. She left alone, without Ms. Daley, and didn’t return for several hours. When she came back into the house with her charge, there stood Timothy, sharply dressed and smiling. He looked around the house, smelled deeply of the air, and announced, “Man, it’s good to be home.”

The Daley Scholars had been lined up in the entryway to greet him, the four men on one side and the four women along the other. He shook each of their hands and was introduced to all of them in turn. He was practiced at being introduced to and meeting new people. Each time a new name was given, the engines in his brain started to life, crafting some mnemonic to permanently stamp the name upon the brain, such that by the end, he had memorized, the names, class years, and majors of all eight of the Daley Scholars.

Only then did his mother appear, walking slowly down the stairs and examining him from a distance. He smiled to his mother, to all appearances pleased to see her. She said to him, “You have grown even more handsome. I see you’ve taken care of yourself. I am glad to see you healthy. I understand you received a clean bill of health, so that is a comforting thought.”

“Good to see you too mother,” he said with a warm smile. He reached out his hands, inviting her to a hug, and she accepted.

Rowan saw her face while she hugged him, and she seemed scared and a little sad. She squeezed her face tight for a moment while she embraced and her face was invisible to him. But she had a matronly smile on her face when they let go of each other, and she told him, “Welcome back. This calls for a feast.”