I parked my car on a side street and walked from one end of town to the other. It took less than five minutes. I never understood why Dad preferred living in such a small place. The college where he worked was twenty miles away in a city not that much bigger. He said Mom felt safer here. At least traffic wasn’t an issue.
Not much had changed in fifty years. Most of the buildings wore the same tired outsides. A new bank sat across from what used to be a soda shop, now a restaurant and bar. The post office was no longer on its usual corner. The gas station/garage on the corner of Main and Church had doubled in sized. I’d noticed the new wing on the high school as I drove into town and decided to walk the three long blocks there to find out what else had changed.
I saw the statue as I neared the school and froze when I realized who it was. Ms. Fontaine started teaching English my senior year. I enjoyed reading, so I signed up for an Advanced Placement course. It was love at first sight—at least for me—when I walked in the room the first day of classes and saw the new teacher with her shoulder length auburn hair, red lipstick, and perfect teeth peeking through a perfect smile. She wore a gray sweater and maroon skirt, the school colors.
My cheeks warmed when she called my name while taking attendance. I spent that first class avoiding eye contact by writing in my notebook, or staring at the back of Jake Davis’ head.
The only time she spoke to me outside of the classroom was to congratulate me at my graduation ceremony and to tell me how much she enjoyed having me in her class. My cheeks warmed once again, as a thank you stumbled out of my mouth.
I never forgot Ms. Fontaine. I considered reconnecting with her after college. She was only four or five years older than I. I never did. Instead, I married Emmi Lou, and she and I raised three wonderful children. Emmi died eight months ago of pancreatic cancer. I miss her a lot.
I stopped at the memorial park where the statue of Ms. Fontaine now resided and read the plaque. According to the inscription, after twenty years of teaching, she became the school superintendent, and after retiring from that job was elected mayor, a job she retained until she passed away. No cause was given.
I returned to the old soda shop, sat on a stool with a cracked leather top, and ordered the turkey platter. Two men sat a couple of stools away. One of them looked kind of familiar. I waited for a break in their conversation before asking about the statue at the school. The one who looked familiar asked if I knew Ms. Fontaine. I said not really.
“Well, she was quite the woman. No one expected her to stay here for any length of time. She sure surprised us. And she was a wonderful human being to boot. Most of the town folk believe she’s still with us.” The man paused to sneeze into a faded, flannel shirt sleeve. “Thomas here saw her walking around last Halloween watching out for the little ones.”
“That’s right,” Thomas said.
“Others have seen her at the football games. Some think she was responsible for us winning a state championship last fall by keeping everyone’s spirits high, even when we were behind.”
The familiar-looking man went on, about how much Ms. Fontaine meant to the town, while Thomas grunted approval. After finishing my dinner, I decided to return to the statue.
I sat on a metal bench and took in the marigolds surrounding the base. Emmi loved marigolds. Medium sized stones provided a border. School was out for the summer, so it was quiet. I found that relaxing. I closed my eyes and pictured Ms. Fontaine as she appeared that first day of class. I took a few deep breaths and felt my shoulders relax. They tightened again when I heard a familiar voice say my name.
“Royce, is that you?”
I opened my eyes and saw Ms. Fontaine standing next to her statue. She looked older but had retained that youthful smile. She wore a skirt and sweater, the color matching the statue, as did her skin and hair.
“Ms. . . . Ms. Fontaine?”
“Yes. I’m glad you finally returned home.” She sat on the bench, our legs nearly touching. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.” I looked around to see if anyone was watching.
“Don’t worry. No one can see me. Not really.” She reached for my hand. “Only you.”
I couldn’t believe it when my cheeks warmed once more. “Did you know. . .?”
“Know how you felt about me? Almost from the beginning.” She squeezed my hand. “By the end of the semester, I felt something for you, too.”
We sat silently and enjoyed each other’s company until darkness fell.
I rose to leave, and she stood with me.
“It’s time for me to go,” I said.
“I know,”she replied. “Would you like me to come with you?”
“Won’t the town folks miss you?”
“I’ll always be in their heads and hearts. That’s my legacy.”
“And a fine legacy it is,” I said, as I took her hand and we walked toward the horizon.