“To be honest, not a great deal.” He had met an assistant professor at a gender politics conference in Honolulu. “We only knew each other that one night but he raved about the Omaha campus and his brilliant students. Anyone will tell you UNO’s practical research is highly regarded. I can look up my friend—I’m sure he’d remember me.”
“Do you mean to say the position they’re forcing you into is Dean of the entire Poli-sci department? President and chancellor—what else could it be?”
“It is. You think it’s a promotion?”
Duncan smirked and waved his hands as if Zach’s complaint had been a bad joke. Which made Zach wonder—maybe it was. Had certain members at the Younger Institute not claimed Vida as their princess whose honor he had failed to uphold, never mind that he was merely abiding her wishes, Dorothy wouldn’t be telling him to leave. But perhaps that was only one factor. She might have sounded him out even if he were still among the rainmakers. She knew, as did everyone, Zach was getting divorced. He wasn’t tied to New York. If Nebraska’s not-insignificant Poli-sci department wanted leadership, who better than Zach?
As he and Duncan walked along the river, Zach recalled his dynamic style and positive energy, both badly sapped by tearing apart his and Beth’s hideously conjoined identities. That, thank God, was finished. Time to reclaim his vast powers of persuasion and charm; his clean, honest ambition. All his magnetic force surged through him—or resurged.
Duncan asked, “What’s the rush?”
For Zach had increased the pace. While slaying his monstrous marriage for nearly a year now, he had lost the habit of tapping into his fount of determination. Reinvigorated, he only needed to see Vida to win her forever. She had wanted to marry him as recently as last year. Instead of bowing to her restrictions, he should have wooed her with all his charm. Rather than slavishly follow her into the lap of luxury where his furious energies fell into a sweet lull, almost a slumber. No more!
Clamping a hand on his friend’s shoulder—a first, Zach touching Duncan rather than flinching from him—he thanked him for pointing out the only way.
They rounded a corner and Zach said his love for Vida superseded all other goals. Duncan recited an amorous phrase.
“Is that from a famous poem?”
“No, the lyrics from an old torch song. I’ll email it to you.”
“Ordinarily, Duncan, I’d say no thanks. But to get Vida back, I need fresh bait.”
“Exactly,” Zach said. “Better late than never.”
Duncan sighed. “Have you ever suffered unrequited love, Zach?”
“It doesn’t exist.”
“You might find out differently. Be prepared.”
He laughed. “You do know that’s my motto, right?”
Hurrying to his apartment in Lenfest Hall, Zach pulled out an iPad and declared his love just as Duncan had described it. He had never written a love letter and never imagined he would.
Dear Vida, I’m writing from my heart, he wrote. No proofreading, no revision: I refuse to take back a single word. My love for you is unbound and uncalculated from now on.
He sent the email. And when he saw her—either this evening or tomorrow morning—he would break the news about Nebraska. He was starting to play Sudoku when she called.
“Zach, you cannot visit me.”
“I must, Vida.”
“You must not. You cannot. My sister Samantha is here. She’s taking care of me.”
“That’s wonderful. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“No! Zach. Don’t come. You’re not invited.”
“But two days ago—you said… Vida, I’ve told my wife about the babies. And am pushing full speed ahead on the divorce because I want to marry you. I need to be with you.”
“During the last two days, Zach, I’ve changed my mind.”
“Having you here would make me uncomfortable. You haven’t seen me in months. Then, too, I owe Samantha. She hates you, Zach. And if she knew you better, she’d hate you more. And you would hate her. Think of the kind of woman you hate the most and intensify everything about her—that’s Samantha. The two of you wouldn’t last ten minutes in the same room.”
“Vida, you don’t know that. But you’re right about us not having seen each other in months. You don’t know how I’ve reclaimed my powers now that I’m free. Remember my enthusiasm? Remember my terrific charm? My magnetism? Intensify them and—that’s me now.”
Vida hung up and the next morning Zach visited a jeweler who designed a ring for her. A big, pink sapphire flanked by twin pink pearls. He sent her another email, quoting the Johnny Hartman ballad Duncan had downloaded for him. He considered just sending her the song but if she were distracted, she might not get the lyrics that Duncan found so moving: “A lifetime with you would be one heavenly day...”
He spoke to his lawyer, saying “Give Beth whatever she demands. I want to marry someone else.” Convinced that the position in Omaha was indeed a promotion, he arranged for an interview next week. The UNO president sounded excited. If Zach could stay two days, he said, the chancellor and vice chancellor would be equally eager to meet him.
He was crossing the campus when his phone rang in his pants. Vida’s sister, Samantha Freeman said, “She had a C-section an hour ago.”
“She did? Is Vida all right? And the babies?”
“They’re all doing well. Both girls weigh more than five pounds. They’re perfect. Excellent apgars.”
“Excellent apgars!” Zach shouted. “Can I talk to Vida?”
“She’s still in recovery.”
“I’m on the next plane.”
(click here for the next episode)