Marigold watched her boyfriend Thule sleep. Even while sleeping, he managed to look tired these days. Stripped to nothing but a pair of shorts, he lay with on his back with one arm flung across his eyes. At least he was coming back to the house to sleep now. For a while, he'd been crashing in his dorm room on campus to avoid even the twenty-minute drive from there to here.
He was getting a full six hours of sleep s night now, too. He'd refused to sleep any longer than that since the attacks on New York and Washington. He'd gone from being the silent owner of a security firm to an active participant almost overnight. Coupled with the rigorous class schedule and the trial he was testifying in, he had little to no free time.
Marigold had tried to convince him to sleep more and take a less active role in the business. But, Thule had an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. A number of FBI agents had gotten themselves suspended from the bureau for helping him investigate the Vandevoorts. When Thule had managed to cash in on his notoriety over the case, he'd used most of the money to start the company and hired most of the suspended agents. Now, he considered the success of the business to be part and parcel with his responsibility to do right by those first employees. Marigold admired him immensely for his attitudes, but the work made him so tired sometimes that she was afraid he was going to literally work himself to death.
She'd tried to talk to him about it, but chosen her timing particularly poorly. He'd gone to sleep one night as Marigold was getting home from a study session. She'd made dinner, spent an hour studying another subject, gotten ready for bed, and entered the bedroom just as his alarm clock went off.
"Thule," she asked. "Are you getting up?"
Thule nodded, "I've got a ton of reading to do for physics and some documents to look over for the current round of financing. Then, I need to work out and eat before class."
"Thule, isn't there anything you can delegate?" Marigold asked. "You can't keep up this pace."
Thule shook his head as if even that tiny bit of physical effort was taxing. His eyelids were still heavy with sleep, "What am I supposed to delegate, Little Flower? Nobody can study for me. Nobody can eat or work out for me. And, I have to do due diligence on RSS's financing. I'm the owner."
Marigold couldn't argue with any of the points he'd made. So, she said, "I don't know, Thule. I just worry. I go to sleep, you're working. I get up, you're working. I almost never see you..."
"I'm sorry, Marigold," he said quietly. "I know I'm ignoring you. I'll make it up to you soon."
The idea that he would give up what little sleep he was getting to spend time with her alarmed Marigold, "Thule, I don't want you to make it up to me." She smiled at him, "Come back to bed, just for a couple of hours."
Thule scowled at her, "I can't, Marigold. I told you I would be busy this year. Why can't you understand that?"
It had deteriorated from there. Thule had thought Marigold was complaining that he didn't spend more time with her. Marigold didn't realize that he thought that. He kept promising to make it up to her. She kept telling him not to. He took that to mean that she wanted his attention right now. He'd come as close to storming out as Marigold had ever seen him. Instead, he left calmly, saying that he could think better at the library. Marigold had gone to bed in tears, more afraid than ever that Thule wasn't going to get the sleep he needed to survive.
That had been the last serious conversation they'd had. The next day, Marigold had seen him working far into the night on the financing agreement and painfully regretted the time she'd cost him the night before, arguing.
After that, she'd started spending more time away from the house. She loved Thule and wanted to spend time with him, but was horribly afraid that he would sleep less if she were there, wanting to spend time with her. Worse, part of her wanted him to and she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to reign in that desire.
Up until that point, she'd been slow to make friends at school. She didn't really have a lot of experience making friends at all. Most of her "friends" throughout high school has been people with whom she was more interested in currying favor than actually bonding. The two people she really considered friends were Dawn and Thule and it wasn't like Harvard had a "people like Dawn and Thule" club.
Plenty of people had made overtures to her. More correctly, plenty of men had made overtures. Once she made it clear that she wasn't interested in jumping into bed with them, many of them went away.
Still, she had made a few friends or, at least, protofriends. She made a conscious decision to spend more time with them. The opportunity arose next when she was in the offices of the chemistry department.
"Hey, Goldie," said Alan Hall. It wasn't a nickname she particularly liked, but she'd never bothered to object to it. "What brings you to our dusty, little neck of the woods?"
Marigold smiled, "I'm here to see Dr. Cordero. I didn't understand some of his lecture points in Organic Chem today and was looking for some extra help."
Alan smiled back. As she'd been several times before, she was keenly aware of how startlingly handsome he was, "Dr. Cordero isn't in, but maybe we can help with your problem."
Marigold hesitated. Alan had made it clear that his interest in her went beyond friendship. But, unlike other guys who had done so, had continued to be friendly and easygoing with her when she'd made clear that she did not return his interest.
This time, she brushed away her hesitation and let Alan and the other students in the chemistry department help her. She discovered that not everyone who was spending time in the department's offices necessarily worked there. Most of the people taking chemistry at Harvard wanted to be doctors either for the prestige or because of a legacy of doctors in their family. The people who hung around the chemistry department either didn't want to be doctors or didn't fit in with their classmates. Somehow, Marigold found a place with them. Sitting in the chemistry offices, she'd had her first serious college-level debate on the subject of livestock and antibiotics and discovered herself completely unable to hold up her end of the debate. It had taken several such debates for her to feel comfortable arguing strenuously.
Not wanting to appear the intellectual lightweight that she was starting to be afraid she might actually be, she'd chosen her battle, waiting for her moment and brought up a subject on which she'd done her research: genetically-altered food.
She'd felt good about the discussion. Even though everyone else in the room disagreed with her, she held her own well, making point and counterpoint. She might have won too if Dr. Anton hadn't chosen that particular day to make an appearance.
"Dr. Anton," said Eric Volmeyer. "Welcome back. How was Soweto?"
"Very trying," said Dr. Anton. "I do not know where the pro-starvation protestors get the stamina needed to convince so many people that they can eat pretty words."
"Maybe you could ask Marigold," offered Jennifer Wickman. For some reason, Jennifer had taken an immediate disliking to Marigold when they'd first met. "She was just explaining why she disagrees with your work."
To Dr. Anton's credit, he didn't rise to the bait. Instead, he shook his head and retired to his office. It was Marigold who pursued the subject.
Coming into his office, she said, "Dr. Anton, I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions. I'm not one of your students, but..."
He smiled, "Seeing as how I have no students, that's something of a certainty. You're the young woman who was arguing against genetically modified food. Marigold, was it?"
"Yes, sir," said Marigold.
"Did you come to argue with me today?"
"A pity," he said. "Would you like to?"
"I beg your pardon," said Marigold.
"You may or may not know this," he said. "But, I am one of the world's foremost authorities on genetically modified food. As such, I've been trying to write a book about them for the general market. But, since I am such an authority, no one wants to argue with me about it. As a result, I have to guess at what people are thinking. Would you like to argue with me about it?"
"I don't think I can," said Marigold. "I'm not really qualified..."
He indicated a stack of photocopies on one of his shelves, "That is a copy of the source material I've gathered for the book. If you read it, you would be qualified to be my devil's advocate."
Marigold looked at the stack, "That's quite a lot of reading. I've already got a lot on my plate."
Dr. Anton fixed her with a stare, "Marigold, do you want the Harvard experience?"
"Yes," she said automatically. She'd heard the phrase so many times that she didn't need to think about it.
"This is the Harvard experience," he said. "Become an expert on something and argue about it with leaders in the field. I'm going to Iowa for two weeks. When I get back, I'm going to start working on my book. I would like to have a devil's advocate to make my arguments strong. Steel sharpens steel after all."
Marigold was unable to resist the challenge. For the next week, she brought whichever article she was working her way through with her wherever she went. By the weekend, she'd managed to clear away all of her class-related work and focus on the denser, more scientific articles. Some of the articles presumed knowledge that she didn't have which led her to the library.
She was sitting in the library late Saturday night. Wearing her reading glasses, she'd pinned her hair up rather than spend the time fixing it. She was dressed in blue jeans and a Harvard sweatshirt. Not that long ago, she'd sworn to herself that she would never wear sweatshirts again, but amended that pledge soon afterwards to include the words "out of body shame." This was strictly a matter of convenience.
"Goldie," said a voice behind her. "You are the very model of a Harvard woman tonight."
She smiled up at him, "Hey, Alan." Seeing that he was holding a pile of books of his own, she added, "Why don't you pull up a chair before you drop those?"
Alan put his pile down, splitting it neatly in half as it teetered precariously.
"Big research paper?" he asked.
"Not exactly," said Marigold. "I'm just doing some research."
Alan picked up one of her books and glanced at the others, "Ah. Genetics, agricultural engineering, and is that 'Murphy's Abstract on Global Malnutrition?'"
Marigold nodded and yawned, "There's a lot of conflicting information on malnutrition out there and I wanted to know what the real numbers were. But, I don't understand some of these statistical methods."
Alan helped her with a lengthy explanation. He listened to her questions and elaborated. He wasn't as good at it as Thule was, but she hadn't wanted to bother Thule, who was finally getting some sleep this weekend.
"Thanks," she said. "I think I've got it now."
"Goldie, you're not still fixated on that discussion of GM food. Are you?" asked Alan. "I know Jenny was kind of hard on you, but..."
"I am, but it's not like that," said Marigold. "Dr. Anton asked me to act as devil's advocate for his book on the subject."
"Really?" Alan raised an eyebrow. "He was complaining that he couldn't find one. I offered to do so, but he said that I had the fervor of a new convert and wasn't right for the role."
"I..." Marigold said.
"I'm glad you're doing it," said Alan. "It's going to be a very important book."
After that, they'd talked more easily. Alan hadn't been present for much of the previous discussion, so she hadn't realized that he was one of Dr. Anton's research assistants. He spoke very fervently and passionately about the need for genetically modified food to combat famine.
When he made a particularly strident point, Marigold raised her hands, laughing, "Maybe we shouldn't discuss this. I'm having a hard enough time making the countercase as it is and you are a bad influence."
"A ha," said Alan. "I knew if I stuck around long enough, I would manage to be a bad influence somewhere."
Marigold nodded, smiling, then yawned hugely, "I should really be getting home for some sleep, but I'm all wound up now."
"I find that a cup of cocoa always helps," offered Alan. "Would you like to get a cup of cocoa?"
"All right," said Marigold eying him warily. "But just one. I need to make sure Thule isn't up all night staring at columns of figures again."
"Thule?" asked Alan. "Not Thule Roemer?"
Marigold nodded, rising, "There aren't very many Thules. Are there?"
Alan rose more quickly, "I... uh. Listen, I should..." He tried to smile, but it looked sickly, "I'll see you around. All right?"
"A... all right," said Marigold, thoroughly baffled at the abrupt change.
When she got home, Marigold found Thule in the residential wing. He was awake, relaxed, and playing pool with Matika. He smiled when she came in, "Ah, there you are. Did your studying go well?"
She came over and hugged him, "I think so. Did you sleep well?"
Thule nodded, "Six hours yesterday and six today. Plus, I have nothing on my calendar until ten a.m. tomorrow."
Marigold saw the frown on Matika's face when Thule talked about sleeping. If she read it right, the other woman was concerned about Thule's sleep habits, too. Marigold noticed something else. Matika was dressed in jeans and a yellow v-neck t-shirt, but very subtly made up so that she looked pretty while looking like she'd done nothing at all to get the effect. Of all the people in his life, only Jake spent more time with Thule, but Matika certainly saw more of him than Marigold herself did. Once again, Marigold found herself wondering if the former agent had a crush on Thule. She was older, but not so much older that it wasn't possible. Still, if she did, Marigold had never seen any overt sign of it.
"Am I interrupting anything important?" Marigold asked.
Matika shook her head, "No. We were just killing time until I have to leave for my plane which is..." She glanced at her wrist, "right about now."
"Have a safe flight," said Thule. "And let me know what your impression of Grycki is when you get back. I'm not sure I entirely trust him."
"You've got it, boss," Matika said, smiling. Then, she left them alone.
"I'm glad you're home," said Thule, hugging Marigold to his chest. "It's been a while since we had more than fifteen minutes of free time together. Are you free?"
"Of course," said Marigold returning the hug. "Do you know what a scary individual you are, by the way?"
"Yes," said Thule. "But, hearing it never gets old."
Marigold laughed, "I was going to grab a cup of cocoa with a friend I was studying with. When I mentioned you were my boyfriend, he ran away so fast you would have thought you were there chasing him."
"And then you came home?" Thule asked. Marigold nodded.
"Then I'm glad I scared him," said Thule. "I've missed you."
"Missed me?" asked Marigold. "I'm here every day."
"I know," said Thule. "But, that's not what I meant."
Marigold nodded, "Ah. I understand. Did you want to retire to our rooms or were you just going to ravish me here?"
Thule roared laughter, "That wasn't what I meant, either. Although, I certainly have missed that, too." Hugging her again, he lifted her off her feet, "And, now that you bring it up..." He continued the motion, throwing her over his shoulder. Marigold squealed and pounded on his back with her fists but not so hard that he actually might put her down.
Flinging her on the bed, he climbed on after her. His hands found her wrists, pinned them down, and consolidated them into one hand over her head.
"Brute," she said, her voice a breathy whisper. "I told you that you were scary."
Thule's free hand went under her sweatshirt, stroking her stomach. Pushing away the material, he lowered his head and kissed her stomach. Marigold squirmed, trying to get away, but Thule straddled her legs.
"Thule, stop..." she begged. "You're tickling me."
Thule stopped what he was doing and gave her a look of pure menace, "I know."
"Thule..." she squealed as he resumed tickling her with kisses. "Thule, wait. Wait. Wait."
He raised his head again, "Yes?"
Marigold searched for something she could say that would make the tickling stop. Unable to think of anything, she asked, "Are you sure you're up to this?"
She hadn't meant it the way he took it, but it got him to stop tickling her. Before Marigold realized what was happened, Thule had undone her pants, flipped her onto her belly, and shucked off her jeans and underpants. Lying down so that the length of him was pressed against her, he asked in her ear, "Does it feel like I'm up to this?"
Feeling his lust for her through the cloth of his pants, Marigold was just as glad she was already lying down. Otherwise, she might have gone into a swoon. Unable to come up with a more cogent answer, she whimpered again.
Thule seemed to take it as an encouraging sign, stripping both of them with silent efficiency. Keeping her pinned, he let his free hand roam all over her body, coming to rest between her legs. As he stroked her, he kissed the back of her head and neck. With her lungs compressed, Marigold could do little more than pant.
Thule took his time, stroking and fondling Marigold, keeping her pinned beneath him, letting her up every so often so she could take a deep breath and make a little bit more noise. He kept that up until she was trying to position herself so that he would slide into her, begging him with her body to make love to her.
When he slid into her, Marigold let out an animal cry of pleasure. With the long build-up, once he'd actually claimed her, Thule was savage, pinning her with his hips, driving into her, possessing her completely.
After he'd had his way with Marigold, Thule lay next to her on his back, staring up at the ceiling. When his breathing had calmed, he asked, "So, was I sufficiently up to it?"
"Mmmmmmmm," said Marigold, rolling towards him, kissing the underside of his arm. "That was good."
"Only good?" asked Thule.
"Okay," said Marigold, chuckling. "It was blackmail good."
For a long time after that, they lay in bed, talking and catching up. Marigold found that she was absurdly happy just to be with him. But, he was up again a few hours later, getting ready for class. A minor emergency at the office kept him busy the next few days and it was more than a week before she saw him looking rested again.
That week brought something into sharp relief for Marigold. This year, Thule would not have time for school, work, the trial, and a relationship. But, he wouldn't accept it. He wouldn't give up any of it. When the day proved too full, he would just not sleep. Unfortunately, knowing this fact didn't give Marigold any answers how to deal with it. She even considered leaving him for a couple of days. But, the idea was physically painful. She knew that things would get better after this year and wanted to be there for it. Besides, she expected that Thule wouldn't let her go. Then, she would just end up costing him even more sleep.
That week, she threw herself into her research, determined to impress Dr. Anton, even if she didn't know why she wanted to. The material he'd given her was all either in favor of GM food or of a scientific nature and not addressing the moral issues. Now, she dug up the protest literature. Halfway through the week, she went back to the chemistry department before her first class. It was early and Alan was alone in the office.
He gave her a half-smile when he saw her enter, "Good morning, Marigold."
"Hi, Alan," she said. "Do you have a minute?"
Alan had been doing something on the computer when she entered, but he turned away now, "Uh, sure. What's up?"
"I was wondering if you could help me play devil's advocate?"
He got some of his old smile back, "Not afraid I'll be a bad influence?"
Marigold smiled back, "I'll take my chances. I could really use some help."
"Sure," he said. "Where are you stuck?"
"Well," said Marigold. "I'm trying to figure out where groups like Greenpeace get their facts."
Alan laughed, "I'm afraid that I am a bad influence here, then. In my opinion, they make them up."
Marigold frowned at him, "Come on. I'm serious. Where do they get their facts?"
"I am serious," said Alan. "A lot of times, what happens is someone makes up a fact or exaggerates a point to where it might as well be a lie. Then, everybody repeats it, referring back to the original lie. Once something has a footnote, it must be true."
"Isn't that a little simplistic?" asked Marigold.
"Maybe," said Alan. "But, there's truth behind it. The protest industry trades in fear and good intentions. People are afraid of new things. Most people, when you show them something new that we've figured out how to do don't think about how it can make things better. They think about every nightmare scenario, possible or not. The protest industry capitalizes on that instinct. People don't do their research before they protest. Have you ever heard of dihydromonoxide?"
Marigold broke the word down in her head, "It sounds like water."
"It is water," said Alan. "But, if you wrote up a petition to ban its use in food production and went down to the commons, you would have a thousand signatures by the end of the day. After all, chemicals in food are bad."
"Dammit, Alan," said Marigold. "How am I supposed to argue against GM food if everything the protestors say is just made up?"
"Whoa," said Alan, raising his hands. "I didn't say everything was made up. But, the real issues aren't the sexy ones."
"So, what are the real issues?"
"Start with intellectual property," said Alan. "A lot of the companies that make GM seeds patent the process by which they are modified. And, in order to guarantee their profits, they modify the seeds so that the plants which grow from them don't give viable seeds themselves. Also, because famine and lawlessness often go hand in hand, a lot of these plantings can go on outside of the realm of regulators. I also think there are some good points in the argument that, in places like Africa, there's always the danger that decisions will be made based on the interest of the wealthy instead of the hungry."
"Okay," said Marigold. "So, I should attack it from those angles?"
"Yes," said Alan. "But, Marigold, you should attack it from the angles where you know there are no facts, too."
Marigold furrowed her brow, "Why?"
"Because you're helping Dr. Anton write a book for the popular market," said Alan. "If he doesn't address the fearmongering, people are going to assume it's because he's got no good answers."
"Alan, why did you stop calling me Goldie?"
Alan didn't equivocate, "Because I'm afraid of your boyfriend."
"Thule?" asked Marigold. "I promise. He's not violent or jealous. He wouldn't rip your arms off for buying me a cup of cocoa."
"He might," said Alan. "I'm a Vandevoort."
Marigold shook her head, "No you're not. Your last name is Hall."
"I know," said Alan. "But, my mother is a Vandevoort. My father's mother is a Vandevoort. Most of my cousins are Vandevoorts. I'm here on the Vandevoort Foundation scholarship."
"Oh," said Marigold. "Alan, that really doesn't matter--to him or me. It's a big family. We know that not everyone is like Randy or Ivan. Thule's right-hand woman is a Vandevoort cousin. He's even spoken highly of Trina and she practically runs the family now."
"Really?" asked Alan. "That's better than my mother speaks of her, then."
"So, we're okay, then?" Marigold asked.
"I don't know," said Alan. "I'm still not sure how I feel about Thule, though. I mean, the media is having a field day with Uncle Ivan, but he was never anything but nice to me. I wouldn't be at Harvard without his help."
"I think if you met Thule, you would like him."
"Maybe," said Alan. "And that's one more reason I really would rather not meet him. I don't want to like Thule Roemer."
"All right," said Marigold. "So, don't meet him. But, that doesn't mean we can't be friends, does it?"
"No," said Alan. "You're right, of course."
"Great," said Marigold. "I've got a class from nine to ten thirty today. Do you want to get breakfast after that?"
He smiled, "You've got it, Goldie."
Things continued apace for the next few weeks. Thule and Marigold stole time to be with each other. Sometimes, Thule sought her out. Sometimes, she sought him. But, more often than not, she felt bad for what even the little bits of time cost him.
She had her discussions with Dr. Anton, but it was truly a devil's advocate position. She was a convert. She even started looking into what classes she would have to take if she wanted to be a food geneticist. She started hanging out more regularly with the chemistry department irregulars as they called themselves. Besides being a social circle, Marigold found that the group was giving her the tools that she needed to think critically about issues that suddenly seemed much more important.
Of course, they didn't give her the tools so much as demand that she develop them. They argued about politics. They argued about science. They argued about ethics. They argued about sexuality. They even argued about religion. Marigold had thought her Bible studies with Jonas to be intellectually rigorous. But, that had been two Christians who presumed certain truths arguing analyzing the details. They stumbled over religion by mistake. But, once they did, they raged back and forth about it, hammer and tongs. Alan had been raised Christian, but never really embraced it. In the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, he'd not only given up on religion all together, he now had a working theory that religion was evil. Marigold argued passionately against him, sometime going home furious at how stubborn and wrong-headed he was.
Of course, Thule was an atheist too. But, his atheism was far more genteel. He always said that he didn't "get" religion, but that was as far as it went.
As Dr. Anton continued working on his book, he would often ask Marigold to come to his office and argue some point against him. Thule teased her about these "dalliances," knowing full well that he was a married man, a grandfather, and approaching sixty.
After one session, he said, "I do hope I can maintain the momentum I've built up in the last few chapters. I don't suppose I could book your time for a week and get you to argue the next six chapters in one marathon session?"
Marigold laughed, "I think my professors might object. I'm afraid we'll have to keep doing them a few hours at a time."
Dr. Anton frowned, "I would love to, but I'm headed back to Africa at the end of the semester. I have a lot of work to do."
"Oh," said Marigold. "Well, maybe we can argue via e-mail."
Dr. Anton laughed, "As enjoyable as that might be, I'm going places where there may not even be phones, much less e-mail."
"Oh," Marigold was crestfallen.
She was in for another blow. While meeting with the irregulars one night, she heard Alan make a reference to taking some of his finals early.
"Why are you taking your finals early?" Marigold asked.
Jennifer smiled at her, "Alan and I are going to Africa with Dr. Anton. We're leaving on the Wednesday of finals week."
Marigold nodded and changed the subject. But, an idea was hatching in her mind. She approached Dr. Anton with her idea.
"I do take students with me. They even get credit for their work," said Dr. Anton. "But, it would be unprecedented for a freshman to go."
"But, would you do it?"
He considered the question, "When I say 'unprecedented, ' that's not really my word. It's the administration's. It's usually a code word for 'no.' I think you would make a good assistant, but you would have to convince the administrators."
"All right," said Marigold.
It took her a few days to decide how much she wanted to do this. The idea of being away from Thule for a whole semester seemed almost unbearable. But, the trial was coming to a head and his company seemed even busier than before. Still, she had been looking forward to spending winter break with him. Finally, she called Jonas.
"I think I want to ask you a favor," she said. "But, I'm not sure if I do."
"All right," said Jonas, uncertainty clear in his voice.
She poured out her heart to him. Originally, she'd meant to tell him very selective facts, but she told him nearly everything, leaving out only the details of her love life and any mention of Alan.
When she was finished, Jonas said, "I don't really like to use my money to influence people in this way."
"I know," said Marigold. "If I could think of another way..."
"If this is what you really want to do," said Jonas. "I'll do whatever I can to help."
"Thank you, Jonas," Marigold said. "It really is what I want to do."
And Jonas had made it happen. Within a week, she had permission to go to Africa with Dr. Anton.
That had been weeks ago. Since then, Marigold had told her professors, told her friends, told Dawn, told her parents. In fact, she'd told everyone but Thule. He'd been busy during those weeks, but she'd had opportunities. She'd even found herself putting off necessary preparations that would incur Thule's curiosity.
Tonight, she'd finally worked up her courage. She couldn't delay any more. She sat on the bed, watching the steady rise and fall of Thule's chest. The room was dark except for moonlight streaming in the window. She sat cross-legged and watched. Just a few more minutes and she would wake him. Just a few more minutes.
As if he sensed her watching him, Thule stirred in his sleep. Drawing his arm away from his eyes, he said, "Hey." His voice was heavy with sleep.
"Thule," she said. "I need to tell you something."
Concern etched his features, "What is it?"
Marigold told him about her plans. She tried to keep it light and stick to the points. But, as she talked about it, she found herself crying. Thule clearly didn't understand why she was crying, but he held her and listened.
"You're sure this is what you want to do?" Thule asked.
Marigold had been. Now, she wasn't sure. She shook her head, "Not sure, no."
"I can't make this decision for you," Thule said.
Marigold laughed, a hint of bitterness creeping into it, "Yes, you can. If you tell me not to go, I won't."
Thule lay there in the darkness, stroking her hair. Marigold found herself hoping he was trying to find a way to tell her not to go.
But, when he spoke, he said, "I know how important it is to you that you explore questions like what you want to do with your life." He kissed her on top of the head, "If that means you're going to have to go away, now would be the time to do it. You're barely going to see me this year as it is."
Marigold nodded against his chest, tears burning hot in her eyes.
"But, Little Flower," he went on. "I want you back. This schedule won't last forever. Next year, the trial will be over. The business will be more stable. And, I will not be a freshman. When that happens, I expect to sleep normal hours and spend time every day with you and Dawn. That's my brass ring. That's what I keep my eyes on when I think I can't keep this up. If you don't come back, I'm going to come to Africa and get you."
Marigold smiled, hugging him tightly, "I'll come back, Thule. I promise."
The day approached. Fall passed into winter. Boston was covered in a heavy blanket of snow. As the day approached, Marigold found each moment she could share with Thule more precious. Those moments became fewer and farther between. Thule always seemed to have a textbook, a contract, or a deposition in front of him whenever she saw him.
Marigold took two of her finals a week in advance. She spent the week preparing for them then Thursday and Friday taking them. She had two finals Tuesday then was flying out to Africa on Wednesday. Thule talked to her about her finals and preparations for the trip, becoming almost solicitous in making sure that she had enough time to study and pack. In hindsight, it should have been obvious what he was doing, but Marigold never saw it coming.
Instead, she came home Friday after her final to find their living room decorated for a traditional Christmas complete with a real, thick spruce in the middle of the room. Gifts were piled high underneath it. A fire crackled in the fireplace. Marigold was so stunned that she took a minute to realize that Thule was sitting in a chair off to one side and watching her reaction.
"Thule, what is this?" she asked.
Thule smiled, "I didn't think it was fair that we weren't going to have Christmas together this year, so I decided to reschedule it."
Marigold looked around the room, "Thule, you can't reschedule Christmas."
Thule glowered at her, but there was good humor behind it, "Shall we take a vote on it?"
Marigold looked around the room, "I'm pretty sure it would be a tie."
Thule said, "Close your eyes."
Marigold did. Thule placed a ribbon over them, tying it in the back.
Marigold smiled, "Do you have a present for me?"
"Well," said Thule. "I would if it were Christmas. Shall we take a vote?"
Marigold bit her lip, "Thule, that's so not fair."
Thule kissed the side of her neck, "Such is the nature of participatory democracy."
Marigold shivered, but didn't speak.
"So," asked Thule. "Can I reschedule Christmas? Yea or nay?"
Marigold shook her head, "No, you can't." She said it with an air of petulance to make it clear that she was looking forward to being convinced.
"And I say I can," said Thule, laying his hands on her shoulders.
"See?" asked Marigold behind the blindfold. "A tie."
"I say he can too," said Dawn from the far side of the room.
Marigold pulled her blindfold off over her head, "Dawn?"
Dawn was already halfway across the room when Marigold's eyes focused. She was dressed in a black dressing gown and a floppy, red "Santa hat" complete with white trim, her hair still damp like she had just gotten out of the shower. They met in a hug that turned into a passionate kiss. When it broke, Marigold asked breathlessly, "Dawn, what are you doing here?"
"Playing hooky," answered Dawn. Glancing at the wall clock, she said, "Well, not anymore. Now, I'm spending the weekend with my girlfriend and our boyfriend."
"The whole weekend?" asked Marigold. I thought you were going on a ski trip with Scott this week."
"I'll be joining Scott on Monday," said Dawn. "Were you really going to leave without seeing me?"
"Things were just so crazy," said Marigold. "I didn't see how I could get down to Mannsborough. And you had..."
Dawn leaned down and kissed her, effectively stilling all protest. When the kiss ended, Marigold turned to Thule to ask him a question, but he leaned down and kissed her just as passionately. Marigold looked from one to the other, her breathing already somewhat ragged.
"I'm in big trouble this weekend, aren't I?"
Dawn laughed. Thule smiled down at her, "If you're up to it, I think it's time to decorate the tree."
Marigold looked around, "Decorate the tree? You guys didn't..."
Thule indicated a pile of boxes. Some were unopened packages of spun-glass balls. A couple were packing crates with UPS stickers on them.
"I... I'll just go get changed," said Marigold. "Then, we can decorate."
She managed to get out of the room and nearly to her bedroom before she was overcome with emotion. She sat on her bed crying, unable to tell why.
When she emerged, she was wearing a white sweater and navy blue skirt. She'd also reapplied her makeup. Thule and Dawn had just finished unwrapping all of the shrink wrap from the Christmas balls. If they noticed that she'd been crying, they gave no sign of it.
As they hung the first wave of decorations on the tree, quarters were close enough that they both noticed she wasn't wearing anything under the sweater or the skirt. Marigold had been unsure of whether or not to dress like that. Christmas traditions had a certain childlike innocence about them that she was afraid might be sullied by being too adult about the holiday. She soon found that the gentle, almost surreptitious touching they did while they decorated made her feel more loved and cared for than she could have imagined. It might be a week too early, but it was rapidly becoming the best Christmas ever.
Once all the balls were up, Marigold asked, "Is there a star?"
Thule grinned and indicated the UPS boxes, "I think it's in one of those."
Marigold opened the topmost of the boxes and unwrapped one of the newspaper-wrapped bundles inside at random. She recognized it immediately. It was a ceramic Santa Claus she'd made in the sixth grade.
"Thule," asked Marigold, knowing immediately who would have arranged this sort of thing. "How ever did you..."
Thule chuckled, "Jonas and your mother are going to be in Hawaii for Christmas. They're not decorating a tree at home. So, I asked if they could send some decorations that would remind you of home."
Marigold nodded and put the ceramic Santa up near the top of the tree. Each bundle revealed another ornament she'd made or been given as a gift. There were more than a dozen in all. When she came to the last one, her hands trembled picking it up. The newspaper wrapped around it was yellow with age and displayed the date "January 18, 1986."
She didn't need to feel the shape of it to know what it was. Tears filled her eyes. Thule looked concerned, "What is it, Little Flower?"
"This is the ornament my father gave me the year I was born. After my mother married Jonas, I never hung it on the tree again. It just didn't seem right."
Thule held her, "We don't have to..."
"No," said Marigold. "I never should have stopped hanging it in the first place. I didn't... didn't understand things. But, it definitely belongs on my tree now."
With trembling fingers, she undid the yellowed tape, lifted the tiny brass saxophone from its wrapping, and placed it as high as she could reach.
The star turned out not to have been in the shipping boxes after all. Thule produced it after the last ornaments were hung, handing it to Marigold.