Chapter 10 continues

The story so far: Leland rejects Allen’s attempts to be friendly.

 

At half time, the score was 38 to 34 in favor of Stone Lake. While the players went to the locker room and the spectators headed for popcorn, he left Orville and went down a few rows to talk to Dave Meyers and his wife, whom he had spotted sitting together. He had not seen Dave’s wife since their first meeting in the grocery store.

“How’s the re-decorating going?” he asked her. She wore a light jacket and jeans, a white scarf wrapped around her neck.

“Just look at her,” Dave said, pointing to a spot of paint on her hand. “Her fingernails are down to the bone too.”

“Oh, Allen,” she apologized, “we’re going to have you over for dinner as soon as I’m finished. Right after New Year’s, I think. I promise.”

“You’re not going back to the cities for Christmas?”

“Oh, no. This is my first Christmas away from home. This is my first Christmas in Stone Lake. I want to enjoy every minute of it.”

“She even made me go out in the woods to cut a tree,” Dave said.

“Allen, you should see the tree. It looks much nicer — the color is so much richer — and smells so much nicer than the trees in the city. And instead of going to some big department store to get Dave a present, I’m going to shop right here on Main Street.”

“Pair of socks and a necktie,” Dave said.

Jean asked Allen if he was staying for Christmas.

He was going home, he said — back to Minneapolis for a few days first, then out to the farm to stay with his aunt and uncle for the rest of the week.

Pleased to see them happy, Allen returned to his seat beside Orville for the second half. The score went back and forth, first one team leading, then the other. As the final two minutes approached, score tied, the screams of the crowd intensified, the students no louder than the farmers and businessmen. They shouted and leaped to their feet at every opportunity. Royal Knudson missed a free throw. Ray Nord scored a tip-in. Crookston, with time running out, hit a long field goal to take the lead by one point. Don Worthington called a time-out, huddling with his team on the sidelines. Then Stone Lake went up the court for a final shot, two passes, a dribble, a miss (the crowd groaned). After that, Bill Erickson got the long rebound, set his feet and sank a 16-footer at the buzzer. Stone Lake won 51 to 50.

Allen didn’t see the final shot. He was looking at something else, something more important. He was looking at Helen Vorgt, whose presence he had just discovered, sitting on the far side of gym — all by herself, as usual.

So she likes basketball too, he thought.

***

Just before Christmas vacation, the students in his final class of the day asked if they could spend the hour singing carols. He was not particularly fond of carols, but shrugged his shoulders and said it was OK. They sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Allen was moved. Never, he thought, had a choir sung so beautifully.

They asked if he would sing a song for them. He sang the official University of Minnesota song, hoping it might encourage them to attend college someday.

Minnesota, hail to thee,

Hail to thee our college dear.

Thy light shall ever be

A beacon bright and clear.

Thy sons and daughters true

Will proclaim thee near and far.

They will guard thy fame

And adore thy name,

Thou shalt be their northern star.

He was in his best voice. The class applauded. Even Leland Bowman, leaning on one arm, squinted at him with half an appreciative eye.

***

Just before his drive to Minneapolis, he took his car into Kvist’s Standard station to have the battery charged. So far his car had never failed to start, even standing out all night with the temperature approaching 20 below. Once, however, even though the engine turned over easily, he couldn’t budge the gear shift out of neutral. Thereafter he left it in low gear so that he could at least get it moving when he had to.

He took the car in not so much to have the battery charged but, since the prediction for the next morning was 30 below, to have an excuse for leaving it there overnight. In the station, Dale Kvist told him that the car’s exhaust system was bad — that it needed a new muffler and tail pipe. Allen agreed. In all, the cost was $7.15.

That night, his car safely inside, he attended another basketball game — chiefly because he had been told that it was his turn to take tickets, but also because he was beginning to catch the fever. Again, crowds thundered in. After the game started, he waited 10 minutes for late-comers, then went up to the top row and sat by himself.

He’d seen her come in. And there she was, on the far side of the gym, sitting directly opposite him again, all by herself in the top row. When the game ended, he went outside and, amid the departing throngs, waited for her to emerge.

Under the stars, in the sub-zero night, he walked her home.

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 11