(Comments and suggestions welcome… Chapters 1-3 posted earlier.)

THE FIRE TRAIL, a Novel
Copyright Christine Sunderland, 2014

Chapter Four, Zachary

Friday morning, around the time that Jessica Thierry was meeting with her advisor on campus, Zachary Aguilar headed for the Fire Trail for a coveted hour of running. He had heard about the murder, but Berkeley was full of such crime and he had grown numb to the news, trusting his own instincts. At twenty-six, he also trusted his own strength. While he was of average height he considered himself fitter than most. He ran the trail regularly and pushed iron for upper body stamina at the Cal gym. Fridays were unscheduled, usually devoted to working at Laurie’s Fine Books on Telegraph or his exercise regimen (his teaching was assigned to Mondays through Thursdays). Later, in the afternoon, he would help his mother at Comerford House with her docent tours or whatever she needed. He hoped he would have a chance to practice the Beethoven on the grand piano in the music room with the perfect acoustics. He still dreamed of one day playing with CCMS – the Comerford Chamber Music Society – but he wasn’t good enough yet.

There was no piano in Zachary’s room on Short Street, west of campus. Nonetheless he could listen to the Beethoven on his phone, streaming through earbuds as he made breakfast on the hotplate in the kitchenette. He liked to create his own meals, control his intake of calories and nutrition, and keep his expenses as low as possible. He scooped espresso, finely ground, into the Krups holder, slipped into place, and turned it on. He spooned his mother’s homemade granola into a bowl, poured nonfat milk over the grains and seeds and dried fruit until they swirled and surrendered,and perched on a stool next to his only window.

The window faced east and Zachary enjoyed the morning sun on his skin, his free Vitamin D, as he listened to the Beethoven and watched the street wake up. Even over the Beethoven he could hear Mrs. Zimmerman bustling downstairs and shouting to Mr. Zimmerman who suffered hearing loss and who could not remember to wear his aids. Zachary knew she was making coffee, for the aroma, rich and moist and loamy seeped up through the floorboards, or perhaps up the stairs and under the door. As he gazed out the window, watching a helmeted young man race a motor scooter down the street, Zachary could see the day promised to be fair. He set his bowl in the sink and watched the Krups pump out the double espresso, capped the cup, grabbed his keys, and headed for the door.

He paused briefly before his books, lined neatly on the shelves covering every available wall space. Books framed the narrow bed, surrounded the rickety chest of drawers, and rested neatly under the window sill. He guessed he must have crammed over a hundred volumes into the room, and he was proud he had arranged them alphabetically by author. The collection was mostly English Literature, with a smattering of American, and now he searched for the slim volume of Elizabeth Barrett Browning he had acquired last month while working at Laurie’s. His long index finger found the title (no dust jacket, yellowing pages, fair-to-good condition) and tenderly pulled it from its home between William Blake and EBB’s husband poet, Robert Browning. Clasping it firmly, he bounded down the stairs, waving to Mrs. Zimmerman. He closed the front door behind him, flipped to the red leather bookmark, and glanced at the poem he had chosen to memorize, "How Do I Love Thee?"

He had the first three lines pretty much down, he thought, as he inserted a key into the ignition of his Volkswagen bug. If Elizabeth Barrett Browning was to be the subject of his doctoral thesis he wanted to understand her thoroughly. He motored up University Avenue, the windows open to the fresh air, and recited, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight/For the ends of being and ideal grace." By the time he reached the trailhead at the top of Panoramic, he thought he had it down well enough to begin the next line. He parked, checked the page and read the fourth and fifth lines: "I love thee to the level of every day’s/Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light."

He locked the car and turned to the trail, slipping on earbuds and touching the app on his phone for his MP3 playlist. Soon Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, entranced his aural senses. Zachary smiled with satisfaction, recalling that the Russian composer Alexander Borodin wrote the piece as a love song to his wife Ekaterina, setting to music their falling in love in Heidelberg twenty years earlier. For Zachary, the most beautiful of the four movements was the third, "Notturno."

As the cello and violin sang to one another, Zachary repeated his Browning. He soon fell into an easy stride, his soul overflowing with words, music, and beauty. But behind the words and beneath the music, somewhere on the edges of his mind and his memory, Zachary watched for the girl. Would he see her today on the trail? And if he did, what would he do?