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The past followed Greg like a haunting spirit threatening to rule his mind. Caroline had retreated into the restroom to collect her thoughts and regain her composure. Maybe pacifying him would ease his pain and lift his mood. Three years ago she had married a cheerful, outgoing guy with a quick wit and sense of humor, not the glum and depressed man at the restaurant table.
A promising evening of elegant dining and enjoying the symphony had now collapsed because of Greg's bizarre behavior. Two drinks would not make him boisterous and self-deprecating. Even when drunk, he never before indicated something traumatic had occurred back in high school, yet he would not specify why it affected him so deeply. She wanted to make things right again.
Her long black hair fell over her silky red evening dress. Buying the dress now seemed a wasted effort. Whether she brought him back home or traveled into the symphony, she at least had to find the root of his problem. She nudged open the restroom door. Across the restaurant, the firelight darkened his graying hair and he stared into a half filled Champagne glass.
She crossed the room deliberately, determined to remain upbeat.
" Greg, you wanted to see that clairvoyant before we catch the train ... " She sat down slowly. As he peered mournfully through his gold rim glasses, his wide jaw dropped and he shook his head. " Greg, what is wrong?"
His mouth twisted like an unraveling knot." I don't want to talk about it."
" All right."
Greg tapped his fingers repeatedly on the white linen tablecloth and shook his leg below. He swished the Champagne around the chilled glass." You don't understand, Lina. This is an anniversary for me."
" December 20, 1968. The date of my accident."
" What accident? You never talked about any accident."
Again he was captivated by the Champagne bubbles. " December 20, 1968. I started that day with the sharpest reflexes and with two good eyes."
Caroline leaned forward, her round face tense, and she squinted her moist hazel eyes. Greg, your bad eye. You said it was congenital."
Greg looked like a man about to have the taut gallows rope draped around his smooth skinned neck. " No, it's time I told you, Lina ... December 20, 1968, at four thirty-one, p.m., I went crashing into the backboard during a high school game."
" You never told me ... "
" No, it's all right."
She held his sweaty hand, knowing he must have carried this inside for years. " That was Paul Revere High School, right?"
He continued as if he really were back in 1968. " Yeah, Reedsville, Pennsylvania ... on the Emitsburg River. I was ... good, Lina ..." He turned toward the connecting sports bar. " Yeah, I'll go see that gypsy fortune teller. Ben said this woman would scare the yell out of you!"
" My uncle can be melodramatic and he loves the paranormal."
" There were college scouts hounding me all the time. I played all the summer leagues in 68'. By fall no one could touch me. In December, we finalized things with UCLA. I was signed by UCLA, Lina!"
" Damn right. I was ready to play college ball and beyond ... Screw it, I want to hear my fortune." Greg stood, gazed toward the bar corridor and sat down again.
" Why didn't you tell me any of this?"
" Not important."
Caroline squeezed his huge hand. " Honey, this is awful. I had no idea that-"
" It all ended right in the old high school gym. Next morning when I came to in the hospital, I knew right then and there. It was all over. No UCLA. No college career. No professional career. The crowds cheering in the gym. The big games. All gone. Every-thing. It was all over, Lina."
" Listen, maybe we should go home. We can-"
" I don't know when I first started hanging around Marco St. Germaine. My big opportunity, now that I had lost basketball, to become a man. See how much I could drink. Marco is serving time for murder. I was right next to him when he did it."
" You were what?"
" We were riding around town and smashing pumpkins on the streets. You know, Halloween pranks. We were going sixty miles an hour and Marco targeted Merle Keaffer on the state highway. He killed Merle Keaffer, Caroline. He hated Keaffer and wanted him dead. I was the one who testified against Marco."
" Why were you with this guy?"
" I was seventeen and had lost everything."
He stood abruptly, Caroline rounded the table, and pressed her hand against his peppered hair. Tears glossed over his dark eyes. Maybe the fortuneteller would take his mind off the accident. She put her arm around him and escorted him into the coat room. Greg paid the attendant and retrieved their coats.
He helped with her coat. " I should have told you about this before, Lina. I feel like a jerk."
" We all have things we'd like to forget." She took his arm again and looked toward the bar corridor. " What do you say we get our fortune read?"
" Sounds good to me. I could use a little song and dance at this point." Now he sounded like old Greg again.
As they entered the smoky lounge, a jazz band played atop the hazy blue-lit stage near the bar and a few couples danced across the parquet floor. But Caroline slowed and then stopped as a white haired woman, reading Tarot Cards on a candle lit, green felt table, lifted her deep set eyes.
Greg moved past bar patrons and through the dense air. He loosened up and swayed with the music. He grabbed Caroline, spun her around, laughing, as he went forward. " This is great. "
" Ben believes in all this spooky mumbo-jumbo." Caroline tried to avoid the woman's penetrating dark eyes.
" Your uncle would drop his life's savings if this gypsy here could get it to pay off for him in the sixth race, Caroline."
" Are you saying ... Are you saying that Ben has a gambling problem?"
" Yeah, the problem is that he can't win."
" He wouldn't dare tell me that."
" I hope Ben does win it big."
He put his arm around her again as they strolled near the stage and were precariously close to the woman. Caroline compulsively turned. The old woman set the colored Tarot cards on the felt table and her dark placid eyes ignited as she stood and pointed.
" Why is she pointing at us, Greg?"
" I don't know ... the old bat."
" She'll hear you!"
The woman lowered her hand, slowly stepped onto the rug and shuffled with an almost painful gait. Her waxed face, more wrinkled at this closer distance, and her dark expressive eyes made Caroline recoil behind Greg.
" What the hell is going on here?" asked Greg.
The gypsy raised her crooked index finger toward Greg and spoke in a husky, thick foreign accent." Go home. Do not go to the city. Stay away from those forces that lurk beyond your control ..."
" Why would you tell me to go home?"
" Your life is in danger."
Caroline cringed and grabbed her husband. The old lady turned, but did not go back to the table. Instead, she squeezed down a narrow paneled hall near the kitchen. Greg broke free and chased her as Caroline trailed behind. He caught the old woman near the EXIT sign as she prepared, without coat or hat, to leave the building.
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