Friday, September 28, 2012

My Gift to You: Jaguar Sky

In gratitude for all the friends and fans who have supported my writing endeavors all these years, I am sharing something special with you all: a novel I have written, entitled Jaguar Sky. In the story, college student Maddie Phoenix is compelled by a nightmare to participate in an archaeological dig at a Maya sacred site in Central America, where she accidentally awakens powers she never knew existed. Destiny, perhaps? You be the judge.

I will be serializing the novel, with one chapter every Friday, so stay tuned to this blog for the next installment. In keeping with the Mayan theme, I will post the final chapter on Friday, December 21, 2012. I hope that day is as transformational for you as it is for my main character.

I shouldn't have to say this, but the world being what it is, here goes: Please respect my copyright. Do not copy or repost this work anywhere, in any way. I don't want to have to sic a lawyer on anyone.

If you would like to share the story with your friends (please do!) then simply share the link for this blog. I will also be posting a notice on my Facebook page every Friday when I share the next installment, so that's a good way to keep up as well.

And now, for your reading pleasure, the first installment of Jaguar Sky:

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Wednesday
November 17, 2010

        The mud oozed into the tops of her hiking boots. It soaked her socks, wetting her skin. She sank deeper into the earth as large drops of warm rain spattered down, splashing onto the waterlogged ground.
        She smacked a mosquito on her cheek. She held out her hand and squinted at the red-and-black smear on her work glove.
        She wiped the sweat off her forehead, smearing mud from her glove across her skin and into her hair. The brim of her hat protected her face from the sun and the rain but it did nothing to relieve the muggy Central American heat or deter the onslaught of stinging and biting insects.
        She fished a bottle of bug repellent from one of the many pockets on her utility vest. She stripped off one sodden work glove, squirted a blob onto her palm and applied it to her face, neck and arms. Immediately the rain and sweat diluted the creamy film and caused it to run.
        She put her glove back on and squatted in the mud. Her eyes narrowed as she examined the surface of the ground, neatly divided into one-meter squares with strings and stakes. She peered at the center of the nearest square.
        “Why does this quadrant look different?” she wondered aloud. The other team members were intent on their own work and offered no explanations.
        She prodded the muck with the tip of her trowel. Nothing but mud. She shook her head, irritated at the odd impression. She thrust the trowel into the ground and slung a blob of mud into the bucket at her side. She poised the trowel and thrust again. The trowel blade chinked and gritted on stone. She recoiled, scowling at the ground. She set the trowel down and reached her hand toward the spot.
        Her gloved fingers slid into the warm, wet mud. She scooped both hands full and deposited the muck in her bucket. With growing excitement she lifted away handfuls of mud until she had birthed the edge of a large stone out of the earth. Her heart drummed in her chest and her hands quivered.
        “Hey guys, I found something!”
        The other archaeologists remained bent over their work.
        “Come on, help me! I think it’s a stela – a Maya commemorative stone!”
         No one responded.
        “What the hell happened to teamwork?” she snarled.
        She tore at the wet clumps of dirt around the edge of the stone. It lay tilted on its side, buried beneath nearly a foot of waterlogged soil. She estimated the monumental limestone slab to be at least six to eight feet in height, weighing half a ton or more. She visualized the rope-and-pulley system they would need to lift it out of the depression where it lay mired in the mud.
        “I’ve got to get it loose before the rain gets any harder,” she commanded herself through gritted teeth. “It might commemorate an important event.”
        “Yes, it certainly does.”
        She leapt up, startled, mud dripping from her work gloves. She stood facing a Maya woman who stood barely four and a half feet tall.
        “Where did you come from?” She blinked in astonishment.
        The woman was topless, her bronze skin glowing against her colorfully embroidered orange cotton skirt.  Her dark brown eyes sparkled. Her sloping forehead and hooked nose reminded the young archaeologist of the figures on Maya temple carvings. The woman smiled and her front teeth gleamed with green jade inlays. She opened her mouth and spoke unaccented English. 
        “It does not matter where I came from,” said the strange woman. “All that matters is where you are going to.”
        The archaeologist took a step back. Her boots made a sucking sound as she pulled her feet out of the mud. She glanced around at the other archaeologists but they were all engrossed in their work, oblivious to the odd visitor.
        The archaeologist turned back to the Maya woman and was startled to see that the visitor was now flanked by two more women and a man, all Maya. The two new women wore no clothing but were covered head to toe with whitish body paint. Small spots had been rubbed clean of the paint all over the two women’s bodies to reveal round patches of bronze skin. The women had long thorns tied to the ends of their fingers with thin cord. They looked like participants in some ancient, macabre Halloween party.
        The Maya man stepped forward. Barely taller than the women, he was clad in a knee-length jaguar skin skirt. The archaeologist peered at the visitors. Cold prickles crept up her neck as she realized there were no footprints behind any of them in the mud. In fact, all their bare feet were completely clean.
        She scanned the treeline around the dig site, checking the thick stands of cohune palm and breadnut trees for signs of more locals. The dense, tangled vegetation coupled with the misty rain made it difficult to see at a distance.
        The orange-skirted Maya woman pointed to the enormous stone, still buried in the mud, and looked a command at her two female companions. They stepped forward and leaned down toward the stone.
        “Hey, don’t touch that!” the archaeologist shouted. She lurched toward the women, her boots suctioning in the mud.
        Before she could reach them the jaguar-women lifted the monumental stone out of the mud. The intricately-carved stela stood nearly seven feet tall, towering between the two tiny women who held it.
        “How did you . . .”
        The archaeologist touched the stone. It was spotless, without a single speck of dirt on its intricate carvings. The gray stone surface was smooth, almost shiny, as if it had only just been carved and polished that morning. The top and bottom were lined with rows of complex Maya glyphs but the center of the stone held just one large figure – the yowling, fanged face of a giant jaguar. The archaeologist gasped.
        The orange-skirted woman spoke. “Time turns. Doors open.” She pointed to the stela. “See the jaguar, Chool Eesh Kookool.”
The archaeologist scowled. “My name is Maddie, not whatever the heck you just said.” She perched her hands on her hips. “And who are you?”
        The Maya man moved behind the archaeologist, who edged away from him and toward the center of the group.  
The orange-skirted woman spoke again. “We keep the days. You are here because the days are counting down. The time is returning.” She held her open hand out to Maddie, palm up. “Give me the jaguar.”
Maddie looked at the woman, then the stela, then shook her head in confusion. “I don’t have any jaguar. I don’t even have a house cat.”
The woman moved toward Maddie. “Give it to me. Give me the Golden Jaguar of Itzamna.”
Maddie stared at the jaguar face on the stela, its mouth wide open in a hungry, sharp-toothed grin. “Honestly, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The woman reached out and seized Maddie’s wrist. “You must give me the jaguar! It holds all the secrets!”
Maddie took a step back and the woman’s grip on her wrist tightened. Maddie tried to pull her arm away from the woman but only succeeded in popping her watchband loose. The watch fell into the mud, face down.
        “What secrets?” said Maddie. “What are you talking about?”
“You must help us again, Chool Eesh Kookool. You made a vow!”
The Maya man seized Maddie’s shoulders from behind and pushed her toward the women.
“Hey, stop it!” Maddie twisted in an attempt to wrench free from his grip but he kept a tight hold on her, his fingers digging into her flesh.
The women advanced toward Maddie. Beyond them loomed the shape of a ruined Maya step pyramid. Its worn stones cast a muddy shadow across the group. As Maddie watched, the temple’s crumbling façade metamorphosed into shining new limestone that sported multi-colored painted figures on every surface.
“It is time, Chool Eesh Kookool.” The Maya woman narrowed her eyes at Maddie and began to pull her toward the temple. The jaguar-women grasped Maddie’s arms and the man pushed her from behind.
“Help!” Maddie’s strangled scream rang out through the jungle. A flock of green parrots rose up from the treetops in alarm but Maddie’s colleagues remained absorbed in their work. No one even looked up.
Maddie kicked at the women’s legs and tried to wrench her arms free. Though they were small the Maya were powerful. Maddie could not break their grip on her. As they dragged her along the orange-skirted woman repeated over and over, “We need the jaguar, Chool Eesh Kookool! Time is returning! You must come!”
Maddie sat bolt upright in bed, her heart pounding, her alarm screeching. With a shaking hand she brushed long chestnut locks out of her eyes and turned off the alarm clock. She reached for her pillow and hugged it to her. The only sound was the November rain spattering on her dorm room window. With a groan she dragged herself out of bed, got dressed and stumbled off to class in the dark morning.
Five hours later she tramped into the cafeteria and dripped her way through the food line. Ben Kingston waved to her from a table.
“Hi, Ben.” She took a seat next to him. He was about Maddie’s height, with thick brown hair and a year-round tan.
He squinted at her. “You don’t look so good. You’re not getting sick, are you?”
“I just had a rotten night. Bad dreams.”
“I’m sorry. My nightmares don’t usually start until finals.”
“We can celebrate surviving another semester over Christmas break. Paint Ocala red. Or at least pink.”
Ben shook his head. “I’m not going home over break.” He pulled a few papers from his backpack. “I’m applying for the Belize trip.”
“Belize?” She felt bubbles popping in her head.
“Central America. The Maya ruins at Lamanai. You really ought to apply. It’s an official University of Florida archaeological dig. They’re only taking three students and the deadline is today.”
She stared at him, then shook her head. “I’m just a sophomore. I’ve never been on a dig before.”
“Don’t feel bad just because I have a year on you. You’re one of the best students in the department.”
        “Thanks for talking me into anthropology.” Her brow wrinkled. “But I don’t think I’m qualified for this trip.”
        “You went to the St. Augustine field school last summer, didn’t you?”
“But it’s not a real dig. And that’s all I’ve ever done.”
Ben patted her hand. “You should apply, Maddie. So what if you’re a year or two younger than the others on the team? You get better grades than I do.”
She ducked her head. “I do tend to make A’s, don’t I?”
“There you go. All the professors like you, especially Dr. Davies, and it’s his show.” He paused. “I sure would miss getting to see you at Christmas if you didn’t go.”
She scowled. “Has Colin applied?”
“Who cares if he has? I won’t let him bother you. I promise.”
“He hates me. And he hates that Dr. Davies likes me.”
Ben shook his head. “I don’t think so. Colin’s just full of himself, that’s all.”
Maddie took a deep breath and stood up.
He looked up at her. “Where are you going?”
“Anthropology Department. I need to get an application.”
He grinned and pushed a piece of paper toward her. “Here, I already started filling it out for you.”
“Wow, thanks. You’re a great friend.”

Wednesday
November 24, 2010

Maddie hurried down the stairs to the Anthropology Department office in Turlington Hall. She stopped at the office door with its “Don’t knock, just come in” sign and glanced over the papers posted on the door – a listing of the days the office would be closed during the holidays, a flyer for a free lecture on women’s rights in the Third World (given by Dr. Joan Lancaster) and a handwritten notice of a used laptop computer for sale, complete with demographic and statistical software. No list of students who would be going on the Belize trip, though.
“Damn,” she whispered under her breath. “I bet it’s on Dr. Davies’ door. I shouldn’t have come downstairs.”
She sprinted back up two flights of stairs and across the third floor to Tom Davies’ office. His door was shut and bare except for a typed list of his office hours and a small plaque noting his position as department chairman. Out of breath, Maddie leaned on the door frame and knocked loudly. No answer. She looked at her watch. 4:20 p.m. Her stomach sank as she realized he had already left. In a panic she raced back down to the department office and swung the door open.
The department secretary looked up from her computer and smiled. “Can I help you?”
Maddie took several gulping breaths and brushed a strand of hair off her cheek. “I’m looking for the list of students who were chosen for the Belize trip. It’s not on your door and it’s not on Dr. Davies’ door.”
“You’ll have to ask Dr. Davies,” said the secretary. “I don’t think they were going to post a list since it’s only three students.”
Maddie gazed at her in horror. “But Dr. Davies is already gone.”
“You can ask him after Thanksgiving, can’t you?”
“Actually, no, I can’t. I need to know now so I can discuss expenses with my parents when I go home tomorrow morning. Monday will be too late.”
The secretary looked at Maddie, sizing her up. “I’m not supposed to do this but I’ll give you Dr. Davies’ cell phone number. You can call him yourself and ask him.”
“Really? Oh, thank you!” Maddie pulled a spiral notebook and pen out of her backpack. “I’d better call him quick in case he’s going out of town for Thanksgiving.”
The secretary took a sheet of paper out of a folder and laid it on the desk for Maddie. “They’re in alphabetical order,” the secretary said, pointing to Tom Davies’ name near the top of the list.
Maddie scanned the list. It included the full name, home address and phone number of all the Anthropology Department faculty. She opened her notebook to a blank page and copied Dr. Davies’ phone number. She handed the paper back to the secretary.
“Thanks a million!” Maddie beamed. “Have a great Thanksgiving!”
Maddie pushed open the glass door and strode out into the wide ground floor passageway that linked the Turlington Hall courtyard with Buckman Drive at the back of the building. She gazed at the rows of vending machines, smiling to herself in glee. She bought herself a Coke and held the can up in a toast.
“Here’s to Belize!” She took a few cold swallows, turned and headed out to Buckman Drive. She practically skipped all the way down the street to her dorm. But as she neared Fletcher Hall her bubble burst.
What if I call Dr. Davies and he says I wasn’t chosen?
She trudged up the stairs to her second-floor dorm room, got out her spiral notebook and flipped a few pages to Tom Davies’ phone number. She got out her pay-as-you-go cell phone and typed in the number, then sat there staring at the display.
“I can’t do it,” she whispered to herself.
        She looked at the notebook page. Dr. Davies’ phone number stared up at her. The image of the faculty contact list hung in the front of her mind, the letters and numbers still crisp and clear.
7249 NW 29th Place. I tried not to look at it but I did anyway.
She rummaged in her desk drawer and pulled out a Gainesville map. She had to use the street index to find NW 29th Place a couple miles north of campus. She sucked air between her teeth.
I could make it on my bike in half an hour.
She traced the route with her finger then folded the map and put it back in the desk drawer. She peered at her watch. 5:07 p.m. Trembling, she went down the stairs and out the front door to the bike rack. She swung one leg over the bike and pedaled out to the street. The sky was beginning to dim as the sun lowered toward the horizon. A cool breeze blew past her and she shivered.
The traffic was heavy on University Avenue. Maddie slipped in between two cars and headed east slowly in the stop-and-go traffic. In a few blocks she turned left on 13th Street. She gripped the handlebars as she negotiated the busy four-lane road. The first part of the trip was a familiar ride. She buzzed past the Wal-Mart where she worked weekends, then past strip malls and office buildings, her mind focused on making it to her next turn.
It took a harrowing fifteen minutes to make the mile and a half to the intersection with NW 23rd Avenue. She turned left onto 23rd, leaving most of the traffic behind her. The road curved to the right and she slowed down, looking for her turn. She pedaled furiously up a hill. An SUV whipped into the left lane and passed her, honking. Her heart pounded as the vehicle pulled away into the distance. 
When she regained her composure she realized she had missed her turn onto NW 21st Terrace. Cursing, she slowed down even more and turned left onto NW 22nd Street, which would also take her into the right neighborhood. She pedaled down the hill and turned left on NW 29th Place, her goal. She pulled over to the curb and stopped, scanning the mailboxes for house numbers.
What the hell am I doing here?
        The odd numbers were on the far side of the street. She pedaled slowly down the short street, counting house numbers.
“7243, 7245, 7247, 7249. Here it is,” Maddie whispered to herself. She pedaled into the driveway, got off her bike and leaned it against the post on one corner of the carport. The light slowly drained out of the autumn sky as she stood, silent, frozen.
Maddie stared at the small brick house. Dr. Davies’ elderly Jeep Wagoneer squatted in the shadowy carport. A light shone dimly through the curtained front window.
Maddie swallowed hard and walked up the front path. She stepped up onto the porch. A warm glow shone through the vertical row of diamond-shaped panes in the front door. She saw the shadow of someone moving inside the house. Startled, she punched the doorbell. Muffled footsteps sounded through the closed door. A few long moments later the porch light came on, the lock clicked and the door swung open.
“Maddie! What on earth are you doing here?” 
Oh God, this was a BAD idea.
        Tom wore khaki pants, a blue oxfordcloth button-down shirt and penny loafers. Maddie figured he had a whole closet of identical clothes; she had rarely seen him wear anything else.  Tom’s large hands and stocky build reminded Maddie of Renaissance Dutch paintings of farmers and peasants but when she stood near him she had to tilt her head up to see the salt-and-pepper hair that topped his six-foot-tall frame. And she was pretty sure he was never clumsy with those big hands.
        Maddie’s face flushed bright red. She squirmed, shifting the weight of her backpack from one side to the other.
“I, um, wanted to find out if I get to go to Belize.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Good God, Maddie, you could have asked me next Monday.”
She looked at her feet. “Actually, Dr. Davies, I couldn’t. If I get to go I’m going to have to convince my parents to give me my Christmas presents in the form of cash. I’ll have to talk to them over Thanksgiving break, before they start their shopping.”
Tom gazed at her a moment. “You made it.”
Maddie sighed in relief. “Really? Oh, that’s great!”
“Why don’t you come in. I’ll give you the rundown of what you’ll need for the trip. That will give you more ammo with your parents.”
He pulled the door wide open and motioned her in. Maddie walked into the living room and stood there.
“Not what you expected?” He grinned at Maddie’s look of surprise.
“Um, I guess not.” She looked at the tidy stacks of books and papers perched on the leather couch, antique trunk and Mission-style end tables. The furniture was simple and high quality, in coordinating neutral tones. The walls were sparsely adorned with quiet art prints and a few handwoven baskets. No archaeological knick-knacks and no Salvation Army furniture anywhere in sight. All Things Considered played quietly on the stereo.
“Look, Dr. Davies, I didn’t mean to bother you.”
“Of course you did, Maddie.” His blue eyes sparkled. “Let me get you the list for the trip. You’ll have just a couple weeks to get ready. We’re leaving the day after the semester ends.”
She followed him into the dining room and watched as he sifted through papers stacked on the bar that joined the dining room and the kitchen. He pulled out a sheet and handed it to her.
“The top list is all the things you definitely need to bring. The bottom list is recommended, not required, but I strongly suggest you bring everything on the second list as well.”
Maddie scanned the list. “Trowel, compass, flashlight, rain poncho, gloves, knee pads. OK, I can do that. But this recommended stuff . . .a plumb bob and line level?”
“A plumb bob and line level are vital for accurate measurements. If you’ll bring them I’ll teach you how to use them.”
She blinked. “OK.”
Suddenly he looked up. “Damn. Excuse me.”
He trotted into the kitchen, lifted the lid on a large pot, snatched up a spoon and stirred feverishly. He turned the burner off and replaced the lid.
“Nearly burnt the sauce.”
He looked at Maddie.
“How did you get here?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
“It isn’t the secretary’s fault! I sneaked your address off the list she showed me for your phone number.”
“No, I mean how did you get here, physically?”
“Oh, I rode my bike. It’s not that far.”
“Well, it’s getting dark out and I’d rather you not ride back by yourself in the dark. How about I drop you off?” He looked down at the pot full of sauce. “After dinner. Would you like to stay for dinner?”
Maddie squirmed. “Are you sure?”
“Well, you’re here and dinner is about ready.”
She shifted from one foot to the other. “Um, okay.”
“Just dinner, then I’ll take you straight back to campus.”
“Right.”
He smiled and his whole face relaxed. “Here, set the table, please, while I finish up the noodles.”
He handed her a stack of dishes. She set plates, flatware and cloth napkins on the table.
“Am I a special occasion?” she asked, fingering a napkin.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Maddie. I use cloth napkins all the time. Lower environmental impact than paper ones.”
He set a bowl of spaghetti sauce and a platter of spaghetti on the table. He went back to the kitchen and returned with a small bowl of salad and two bottles of dressing – Italian and Ranch, both 100% organic.
“Wow, Dr. Davies, I never figured you for a tree-hugger.”
“What, because I don’t wear Birkenstocks and have a long beard?” He laughed, rubbing the ever-present stubble on his chin. “I don’t make an issue of it. It’s a simple matter of respect, that’s all.”
        “I guess you’re just not, um, outspoken about it like Dr. Lancaster is.”
        “Some people talk about it. Some people just do it. I like to walk my talk. I’ll make my mark on the world by example. Iced tea?”
He offered her a glass.
“Sure, thanks.”
“Have a seat.”
Maddie chose a chair across the table from her professor. He offered her the serving spoon for the sauce.
“Dig in. I don’t much hold with formality.”
When they had served themselves and begun eating Maddie picked up the list and set it next to her plate. She read it over again as she ate.
“Most of this looks like common sense,” she said.
“It is,” he replied. “Shorts and t-shirts will be your uniform. It’s hot down there, even in December. Cool at night, though, so bring a jacket.”
“I probably already have clothes that will do. Anything I don’t have, I can get with my employee discount from work.”
“Oh? Where do you work?”
“I work the day shift on Saturday and Sunday at Wal-Mart, the big one on 13th Street.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “All right, then. You’ll also need a pair of sturdy boots, not heavyweight hikers but something with good tread. We’ll be doing a good bit of walking.”
She nodded, scribbling down notes in the margin of the list.
“And a sturdy hat and sunscreen,” he added. “Don’t even bother bringing makeup. There’s no point, in the heat and humidity.”
She looked up at him. “I don’t wear makeup.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” he lied, examining a forkful of spaghetti. He helped himself to more spaghetti. “Don’t be shy, Maddie. There’s plenty.”
She took a small second helping.
“It’s really good, Dr. Davies, but this is a lot of food for just one person. I hope I didn’t mess up your plans for the evening.”
“No plans.” He leaned back in his chair. “I like to cook but don’t often have the time. So when I get time, I make a big batch – spaghetti sauce, beef stew, whatever – and freeze most of it. That way I don’t have to live off of microwave dinners when I get busy.”
“That’s smart.” She looked at the list again. “I think I’ve already got most of this stuff. Clothes, first aid supplies, sunscreen. And I’ve got a couple weeks to collect the rest.”
Tom nodded. “Put all your tools in your checked baggage but be sure to keep your passport on you. You’ll have to show it when we arrive in Belize before they’ll let you collect your luggage.”
She swallowed hard. “I don’t have a passport.”
“Don’t panic. There’s still time to get one.”
“I thought it took weeks to get a passport.”
“Normally it does but they also have an express service. It costs extra but you’ll get your passport back in just a few days.”
She fidgeted with her napkin. “How much does a passport cost?”
“Last time I renewed mine it was eighty-five dollars, if I recall correctly.”
“Eighty-five dollars?” she gasped.
“It’s good for ten years but I think a brand new one may be more expensive.” He gazed at her. “Money is really an issue for you, isn’t it?”
Maddie nodded, embarrassed.
“I didn’t realize,” he said. “That Christmas money from your parents isn’t for souvenirs and sightseeing, is it? It’s to pay the trip fee.”
“I have enough money saved from my job to pay the trip fee,” she said. “The Christmas money is for gear and supplies. I guess I’ll have to spend most of it on a passport, though.” She smiled a thin smile.
He looked at her with concern. Maddie squirmed in her chair, avoiding his gaze. He sighed and surveyed the table. 
        “Help me carry these things into the kitchen if you would, please.”
She carried the dirty dishes into the kitchen, setting them in the sink. Tom brought in the spaghetti, sauce and salad and set them on the counter. He rummaged in a cupboard and produced a few Rubbermaid food storage containers and a lot of reused containers from organic cottage cheese and yogurt. Maddie leaned on the counter and watched as he spooned sauce into the containers. He pulled masking tape out of a drawer, stuck a length on each lid and scribbled ‘spg sauce’ on each one with a Sharpie. Maddie giggled.
“Don’t you like my organizational methods?” He shoved a container into her hand. “Stop snickering and help me put them away.”
He handed containers to her, one after another, and she stacked them in the freezer portion of his refrigerator. She set them next to many similar containers labeled ‘broc chs soup’ and ‘bf stew.’ She closed the freezer door, turned back around and squinted at the pot.
“There’s still some in the pot but it’s not enough to fill a container.”
“That’s dinner tomorrow so I don’t have to cook.” He dumped the leftover spaghetti into a bowl and poured the sauce over it.
“But tomorrow’s Thanksgiving,” she said, horrified.
“Now Maddie, don’t go feeling sorry for me. My family is all in California. I rarely see them except every few years during the summer. Thanksgiving is my quiet time. I get to spend four days reading for pleasure. I might even go fishing.”
Maddie looked him up and down, trying to picture him with a fishing rod and a hat stuck full of flies. She shook her head and glanced at her watch. 7:42 p.m.
        “It’s getting late. I’d better get back to campus.”
He nodded. “You rode your bike here, eh? Very resourceful. I bet the traffic on 13th Street was a challenge.”
She shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
        Tom motioned her through the kitchen and to the back door. He held the door open for her and she stepped down into the carport.
        “I left my bike over here,” she said. She lifted the bicycle upright.
        Tom sized it up. “It ought to fit in the back of my Jeep.”  After a good bit of shifting and wiggling, the bike slid far enough into the Wagoneer’s cargo area that he could close the door.
        “Had that bike a long time, have you?” he asked.
        “No, actually, I bought it last year. I found it used in a classified ad in the university paper. I got tired of taking the bus everywhere.”
        “I can understand that.”
        He opened the front passenger door and beckoned to her. She got in and he closed the door for her. He backed out into the street and retraced Maddie’s route toward campus.
        “Well, Maddie, I’m glad to have you on my team for this trip. You have a lot of potential.”
        “Thanks, Dr. Davies. I’m pretty excited. I’ve never done anything like this before. This is the real thing.”
        He nodded. “This will be great for both of us. All you have to do is follow directions and keep your nose clean and you’ll have a couple nice lines for your C.V. plus real skills and experience. And I’ll have a new yearly dig site for the department.” He turned onto 13th Street and headed for campus. “Where am I taking you?”
        “Fletcher Hall. It’s on University Avenue.”
        “All right.”
        They drove on in silence. Tom continued on University Avenue. A few blocks down he turned onto Buckman Drive and pulled up at the curb. He got out of the Jeep and walked around to Maddie’s side. She hastily swung the door open before Tom could reach the handle. The edge of the door whacked his shin.
        “Oh my God, Dr. Davies, I’m sorry!”
        “No problem,” he winced. “Let’s get your bike out of the back.”
        He opened the back door and slid her bike out. He stood it up and she reached for it, squinting in the darkness to avoid touching his hands.
        “Thanks for everything, Dr. Davies.”
        “You’re welcome, Maddie. Good luck with your parents.”
        “Thanks.” She wheeled her bike toward the rack in front of the building. He got back into the Jeep and drove away.

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Stay tuned for the Maddie's arrival in Belize right here on Friday, October 5.