Life went on in the Hamilton house. Martina graduated, but with the usual lack of interest or fanfare. Neither she nor her parents attended the ceremony, and her diploma was held hostage until someone who actually cared arranged for its retrieval.
For a while, mother would make comments about Callie. Martina quietly grieved and asked mother to stop talking about her friend as if she, and they had escaped some kind of plague.
One day, mother excitedly called Martina into the parlor. “Dear. We are going to be entertaining the Taylor family this weekend, so you must be on your best behavior.”
Martina politely nodded affirmation. Mother smiled like a proud mother hen as she said, “they have a son named Randall. He’s a bit older than you, but he is one of the most eligible bachelors in town, and I think the two of you would hit it off famously. He’s the sole heir to their fortune, you know, and I hear that he’s looking for a proper wife.”
Martina had faded back into the quotidian routine world that Callie had so desperately wanted her to escape. As if she had finally surrendered, she smiled and agreed as mother told her which dress she would wear.
The Taylors arrived and Martina was properly introduced to Randall. They were placed side by side at the dining room table, perhaps to inspire some lively conversation which could lead to further interest in getting better acquainted.
Martina listened as Randall boasted about the family business. She immediately found him to be obnoxious and exasperatingly arrogant. There was nothing remotely attractive about him physically, at least not to her, and he seemed to be quite full of himself. She listened for what seemed like hours, as he offered his rendition of his future role in the family business. “When father retires,” he said, “I will take over the business and instill a newer, more modern view of how it should be run. Then, I shall marry.”
Martina asked, “and will your wife help you run the business?” Randall, seemingly amused, chuckled and said, “good heavens, no. Women aren’t business minded. The roll of my wife will be to give me as many heirs as I desire, and of course, keep me happy.”
As Martina began to fantasize about life with him as his wife, she surprised herself when she interrupted dinner with an unusual and loud, very unladylike-like laugh.
It was clear by the icy cold look from mother that Martina had embarrassed the family, and a quick apology was demanded. Martina obliged by saying, “I do apologize. Randall just reminded me of a story I once heard about a woman who set her husband on fire while he was sleeping.” Unsure of exactly what to say, everyone at the table rescued Martina by joining in the laughter.
She sat quietly for the rest of the dinner, but smiled as she thought of Callie. The remark she made was exactly the kind of thing Callie would have said. She missed her quick wit and biting badinage.
As the visit neared its end, Randall came over to Martina and said, “it was charming to meet you, and I hope you will grace me with your presence again in the near future.” Martina watched the cheeky grin slowly leave his face, when she smiled and said, “I’m sure I would rather be put to death than spend another minute with the likes of you.”
Insulted, but being a gentleman, he said, “may luck be with the unfortunate sap who next encounters such a wretched soul as yours.” She was suddenly amused, and quite impressed with his cleverness. He reminded her of Callie.
“Touché,” she said. They both smiled and for some strange reason, Martina thought they might indeed encounter each other again some day, but not yet.
Later that night as Martina looked at herself in the large, ornate mirror that hung over her dressing table, she thought to herself, “is this really who I want to be?”
The next morning, she summoned Mr. Morton to the parlor. “I would like for you to drive me into town.”
“Very well,” he replied. “And where do you wish to go?”
“There’s a place called ‘The Middle of Nowhere’,” she said. “It’s in the center of Packard Square.”
Mr. Morton was aghast and said, “does Mrs. Hamilton know where you want to go?” Martina looked at him and said with a smile, “no, she doesn’t, and you will not tell her. Do you understand?” Mr. Morton begrudgingly agreed, but Martina wasn’t sure he wouldn’t betray her to mother.
The Middle of Nowhere was where all the college kids hung out between and after class. She was entering unfamiliar territory as she nervously sat down at a small table near the door. She had never seen so many young people at one place. It wasn’t like high school, where they dressed the same, and were contained in a small room, pretending to listen to disenchanted teachers, rambling about uninteresting cliched subjects.
These people were different. They looked happy. Their bodies were decorated with tattoos, and parts of their faces had strange piercings. They were dressed the same, but differently. They wore blue jeans and various tops, along with strange shoes. Suddenly, Martina realized that she had never owned a pair of jeans, or a t-shirt.
Feeling out of place and standing up to leave, someone suddenly caught her eye. She was looking at Callie. Her heart was pounding, and she wondered if her face might crack from smiling.
Like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, Callie was moving from table to table, leaving a trail of infectious laughter that seemed to take form and bounce around like a pinball. She had everyone’s attention, which didn’t surprise Martina, and seeing her again after all these months, was like breathing a breath of fresh air.
As Martina watched, her mind was racing. Almost in a daze, she wondered if she had made a mistake in coming there. Should she walk over to Callie? Should she speak to her? If she did, what would she say? Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted when she heard a voice say, “well look who it is.”
Martina stood up and uncharacteristically gave Callie a hug. Callie hadn’t lost her sense of humor when she said, “you’re either drunk, or you’re lost.”
When Martina asked what she meant, Callie said, “you’re standing in The Middle Of Nowhere.” She smiled when she said, “pun intended. This is a little outside your milieu, isn’t it?”
Martina asked if she could sit and talk for a few minutes, but Callie said, “I’m working, and then I have to study for a big test, but maybe…sometime.” Martina was disappointed, but said she understood. She had by default, more or less abandoned Callie. Her all but brief touch of rebellion had withered away without a whimper, and most likely in Callie’s mind, Martina had made the choice to merely exist in her pompous, strait-laced world of prodigious wealth.
Callie had invaded her world, and now Martina wanted to invade Callie’s, but she wasn’t sure how. She was virtually unarmed. She quietly walked out without a backward glance. It was obvious that things were different. That special bond they once had seemed to be broken, and she had no one to blame but herself, her lack of intestinal fortitude and possibly, unfairly…her mother.
When Mr. Morton arrived with the car, she asked him to take her to Neiman Marcus, and wait for her.
When she walked in, it was like landing on foreign soil. She had never been in a store. A salesclerk walked up, introduced herself as Carmen, and asked if she needed help. Martina said, “yes.”
“What can I help you find?” Carmen asked. Martina smiled and said, “everything.”
Carmen laughed and said, “Okay. Are you looking for formal wear, casual wear, or maybe lingerie?” Martina said, “I want what they are wearing in college. Blue jeans, t-shirts, and some kind of strange-looking footwear.”
Carmen again laughed and said, “so, you are looking for a complete wardrobe makeover?” Martina said, “yes. I want to walk out a completely different person than I was when I walked in.”
Armed with bags full of new clothes and shoes, Martina motioned for Mr. Morton to bring the car around. He said nothing as he loaded the items into the trunk, although she did catch a silent opprobrious look.
As soon as she got home, she put on a pair of jeans, an over-sized t-shirt and her brand new Doc Marten boots. When she went downstairs to the parlor, she asked Mr. Bradley to summon mother. With is familiar “harrumph,” he agreed.
Mother walked in and seemed to freeze in mid-step. “What is this? What are you thinking?” she asked. Martina said, “this is my new look.” Mother said, “not in this house it isn’t. You will go back upstairs and put on your proper clothing.”
Martina walked over, looked straight into mothers’ eyes and said, “no. I won’t.” Mother was outraged. She said, “I shall speak to your father about this.”
Martina said, “good. When you do, tell him that I enrolled in Balfour Community College, and I begin classes in two weeks.”
Mother raised her voice and said, “I will not allow it! A community college? Can you imagine the shame you will bring to this family?”
To be continued____________________