Inheritance — Chapter 9, Part 1: Sundown (adult material)

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Laurette had been a little reluctant to go over to Art’s for an early supper, but she was glad she made the effort. It was good to get away from Pond House every now and then. Light seemed cleaner here, and she felt more like herself.

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Maybe it was hearing about someone else’s troubles. Kitty was plainly still upset about Inez. “I just don’t know what’s happening to this world,” she said to Laurette.

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Art just wouldn’t take it seriously. “It’s the same thing that’s always happened, Aunt Kit,” he said, smiling,  as he walked past with the burgers. “Marriages end. Life goes on.”

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I understand, Cherie,” Laurette said. “It’s hard to watch someone you love do wrong.” Hadn’t Laurette spent years shaking her head over Greg’s nonsense with women? Some of them were even married! At least all that was before his own marriage and after poor Felda passed away. She couldn’t imagine how awful it would be to watch one’s own child break her marriage vows.

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“Now, Kitty, people are still getting married, you know,” said Mimi. “In fact, we’ll have a wedding of our own to think about soon. When Ella gets back tomorrow, she’ll be able to give us a date and we can start planning.”

But of course, Art had to put his oar in. “Presuming she’s passed the typing paper test,” he said.

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“Typing paper test?” Lucas looked at his mother. “I’ve heard of the brown bag test, but this is a new one.”

Mimi sighed. “Your father is determined to think the absolute worst of David’s family.”

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“All I know is, Ella’s letters are happy and excited and her visit has gone well,”

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Artie opened his mouth as if to say something, then pressed his lips together as he slapped the meat on the hot grill, making it hiss.

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A wedding! How wonderful! Surely that would cheer Kitty up! Laurette smiled at her friend. “Have you met this young man? What is he like?”

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Kitty stood up. “He is very handsome and polite,” she said. “Excuse me. I need to check on the beans in the oven. I’ll be back in just a minute.”

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Only after she heard the screen door close behind Kitty did Laurette remember. Of course Kitty had met the boy — He was a Baghill, and Kitty had told Laurette about it a couple of times. Oh, how could she be such a ninny? What must Kitty think of her? She’d gone and upset her friend, made her think heaven knows what!

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Laurette was afraid to look up. Was she going to see Mimi staring at her the way she did sometimes these days?

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But when she did raise her head she saw Mimi was arguing with Lucas. “You are going to need to make an effort with your sister and David, you know,” Mimi was saying. “There is going to be a wedding and you are going to have to be part of it.”

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“I know, Mom,” he said.

“Are you going to even try?

“Yes, Mom. I promise.”

She needed to show Kitty she was all right, she wasn’t some completely feeble, senile old woman. When Kitty came back, Laurette was standing, waiting for her. “Cherie,” she said, “I am so sorry for being so forgetful. Of course, I know his name. It’s David Baghill. And you told me all about meeting him. Now, is there something I can do to help in the kitchen instead of sitting around…”

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Kitty smiled. “Honey, such talk! All I did was peek in the oven and give the beans a stir, and I think I can do that by myself. Let’s sit down and gab about something other than my troubles.”

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***

By the time Artie announced, “Dinner is served,” Laurette was hungry, even for hamburger sandwiches.

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Mimi and Art started one of their arguments, this time about whether or not he should have carmelized the onions he put in the meat patties. “You kids cut it out,” said Lucas as he passed them with his plate, and they laughed, but continued to argue.

“See, that’s how a marriage is supposed to work,” said Kitty.

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“Abel and I fought, but it almost never got ugly. Weren’t you and Artiste the same?”

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“Well, he did have that husbandly habit of telling me what I would do instead of asking me about it first. But that’s what men do, isn’t it?”

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“Not all our advice is bad, you know,” said Lucas, who’d taken a seat at the table. He took a bite of his burger, swallowed. Something was plainly bothering him. “Sometimes, we have things worth saying.”

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The two ladies eyes met and they smiled.

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“So sensitive!”exclaimed Kitty.

Artiste and Mimi settled down on one of the benches, their plates in their laps. Lucas told them about his ideas for the Rose. The upstairs rooms were wasted as office space, now that the big office building had gone up downtown, and the smaller lobby that was being used as an entrance would be a good place to set up a tour desk.

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“Is your father in agreement with you about this?” asked Kitty, and Lucas shrugged. “He will be. I’m working on it.”

“Now hon, you go lightly on that,” said Kitty.”Some of the worst family fights I’ve ever seen have been about property and how to use it.”

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“That is so,” said Laurette. “Artiste and I once had a terrible fight when he wanted to add a room right where my herb garden was planted. We fought over that for more than a month. It was awful. I was afraid nothing would ever the same after.”

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Kitty said something about her father and his fights with Mimi’s father over replacing the dance floor in the upstairs ballroom, but suddenly, Laurette found it hard to listen. Something was wrong about what she had said about the herb garden. She had to stop and think.

No. It hadn’t been Artiste she’d fought with over the new room.

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It had been Cassie.

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Beautiful, beautiful Cassie.

It still amazed Laurette that someone so elegant, so clever and strong, could have loved her back.

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Where was Cassie? The light had gone dirty again. It made Laurette feel she had to grope for things that once were always in plain sight. It made her feel as though she didn’t belong, not as she had once, when everything was so bright and green and clear. Back then, in that other place, there’d been no shadows. None at all. Why had she ever left it?

“Tante…”

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“Tante…”

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“Tante…”

She felt a hand touch her gently.

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“is everything all right?” Lucas asked.

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**

Once the dishes were cleared away, Art said “It’s time for some music,” and Kitty brought out her guitar.

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Art and Mimi saw close together on the bench. Their arms were around each other.

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And Kitty’s fingers strummed out the opening strains of that old Island favorite, “Elaro.”

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No, Laurette thought, please. Not that song. It was like fingers reaching into her chest drawing out pictures, sounds, scents that made her heart hurt.

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Kitty wasn’t singing, but Laurette could hear the words behind every note.”

Dark eyes that look across the years

Strong hands I long to reach for me…”

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Shadows were growing. The music was making them, longer, and Laurette felt tears stinging her eyes, her lips trembling.

Cassie always said she would take care of her.

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She needed to go back. She needed to go back right now.

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Once again, someone was calling her.

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“Laurette, where are you going?” asked Mimi. “Is something wrong? Have we done something to make you angry?”

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Why were they constantly pestering her, interfering? Mimi resembled her father. Ugly, mean, greedy, just like Jack Reckoner.

“Leave me alone!”

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“Stop pretending you care about me!”

“Laurette!”

“You don’t like me. None of you do. You just want my house. You want to take it away from me!”

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“No, no, Tante, please, don’t say such things…”

Kitty was beside them now. “Laurette, where did you get such an idea? Everyone here loves you. You know that. It’s not like you at all to be so angry. You’re just tired. Really, it’s my fault for playing that sad song.”

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“That’s right. Kitty’s going to apologize, right now,” said Art. “We all are.”

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“Please,” Kitty said. “Please forgive me, sweetheart. Please tell me we’re still friends.”

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Laurette looked from face to face. Had she been mean to Kitty without realizing it? What was she doing? What had she said? This wasn’t what she’d meant at all. And how could she speak so curelly to poor Mimi, who couldn’t help her father being a Reckoner?

“Come on, let’s not quarrel,” said Lucas. “We’re all a little tired and cranky today. How about we all sit down and have some tea and anisette? Then maybe go inside and watch some television?

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Laurette sat down at the table again with Kitty, who said, “I’d love some tea, Lucas. Thank you.” Behind her, Laurette could hear Art and Mimi talking about something very quietly and seriously.

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**

They watched Huntley Brinkley, then they watched something else, a show about cowboys. It was so nice to sit in a bright little room with people around her, talking and laughing.

After Gunsmoke, Kitty kissed everyone goodbye and went home. Laurette was going to go home too, but they convinced her to stay for the night so they could all go out together and have breakfast at the Rose. “I’m staying, too,” said Lucas. “Just can’t face the drive to Theodosia this late.”

So she went to bed in Ella’s room, wearing one of Mimi’s night dresses, and she slept very well.

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Until she didn’t.

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She sat for a moment, her feet resting against a rug that didn’t feel right. She wasn’t where she belonged.

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This was a young girl’s room. Not her’s. What was she doing here? She looked out the window and saw the Eastern Highway. Her house was over there, across the road and just a little down aways.

She had no business staying here so late. She needed to get dressed, pin her hair up and go home.

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Inheritance: Chapter 8, Part 2 – Commitment

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By the time they got back to the house, it was late afternoon.

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Suddenly, everything seemed very, very serious.

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She had no idea how his conversation with his father had gone. Once she walked into that front door, everything could change. The conversation with Hamlin had unnerved her more than sehe realized. What if Mr. Baghill said they couldn’t get married? Would David still give her a ring? What would her last night on the mainland be like?

As soon as she walked into the parlor, and David turned towards her, she knew everything was all right. Mr. Baghill looked very serious, but David smiled at her and took her hand.

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“Sweetheart,” he said, “would you take a walk with me?”

She had heard the expression, “walking on air.” Now she truly knew what it meant. She barely noticed the neighborhood that had become famliar to her over the past three weeks. It didn’t feel as though they were walking, more as if they were gliding across smooth water, two ships sailing to their destination.

They came to the little park, and he led her to an area she said she had liked, solitary, maybe not as well cared for and a little wild, but pretty. A good place.

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“Ellie…” he said.

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“I know three weeks isn’t very long to get to know people. But I think you’ve seen the best… and the worst of my family.”

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“You’ve learned about us, and we’ve learned about you. I’ve learned more about you, and what I’ve learned is that you are the kindest, dearest, loveliest person I’ve ever met. And so…”

He smiled, and got down on one knee.

“Let’s be traditional about it!”

He had the ring in his hand.

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“Could you do me the very great honor of being my wife?”

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When they got back to the house, it was dusk.

“We don’t suppose anyone here is surprised to learn that Ellie and I are going to be married,” he said.

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“Not at all, son, not at all.” Mr. Baghill offered one of his rare, rather wintery smiles and bowed his head in a stately nod. “Congratulations to you both.”

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Blair gave her a hug. “Thank goodness my brother has finally taken my advice!” she exclaimed. “At last I have a sister I can really talk to. And a reason to visit a tropical paradise aside from the stuffed shirt you’re marrying. Maybe I’ll even learn to surf!”

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“You’ll always be welcome. And of course, when you come out for the wedding, my father can show you around. He and my brother know every inch of the Island!”

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“I can’t wait. Of course…”

The sound of a footstep behind her seemed to freeze Blair for an instant.

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“Mother!” she turned. “I thought you were lying down. David has wonderful news! He and Ellie are getting married.”

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Mrs. Baghill said nothing. She stopped in front of Ella. She stood as though she were waiting.

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“Your son is the most wonderful man I’ve ever met, Mrs. Baghill. I am so happy! ” Ella held out her arms.

 

 

Mrs. Baghill stepped back.

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Then she looked Ellie up and down. “Who the hell do you think you are?” she asked.

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“Someone who will be your daughter-in-law. And, I hope, your friend.”

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Mrs. Baghill closed her eyes and clasped her hands. She drew in a deep breath  and almost whispered, “Oh, don’t. Please don’t.”

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“Don’t come wagging your tail at me, hoping for a pat on the head and congratulations. The sight of it makes me sick .”

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“Mother…” said Blair

Mrs. Baghill ignored her. “Dear God, how can you look in a mirror and not see how stupid you are? You think he’s going to be happy with you? You think you’re going to spend the rest of your life being bathed in loving looks and tenderness? Really, that’s what you think?”

“Dad, for pity’s sake, do something,” Blair said quietly.

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“Oh yes, for pity’s sake DO SOMETHING! DO SOMETHING ABOUT MOTHER! SHE’S TELLING THE TRUTH AND WE CAN’T HAVE THAT, CAN WE?”

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Ella could hear David behind her, breathing hard. Why wasn’t he saying anything?

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“You pathetic little trollope. You may have blonde hair and blue eyes, but don’t kid yourself, yaller gal. He’ll marry you, but you’ll never mean anything to him. An artist? Don’t make me laugh. You’ll be his maid. Oh no, I forget, labor’s cheap there, isn’t it. He can hire something. You?  Poontang. That’s what you are.  Nothing but a cute little island nig-”

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SHUT UP YOU HATEFUL OLD LUNATIC!

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I KNEW YOU WOULD RUIN IT, THE WAY YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING MY WHOLE LIFE! YOU EVER, EVER CALL ELLA NAMES LIKE THAT AGAIN, YOU EVER SPEAK TO HER LIKE THAT AND SO HELP ME GOD I WILL STRANGLE YOU!

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___

Ella found out that night she was a coward.

Instead of helping, she had just watched as they crowded around Mrs. Baghill and David, his father pulling David back, Blair pulling her mother back, everyone shouting about calm and pills and calling Dr. Cable.

Now she stood out on the porch in the darkness, listening to the sound of crickets.

Nobody had ever called Ella that before. Nobody had ever used that word.

Or even half of it.

Pop had warned her. Pop had said it could happen if she left the Island.

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She looked up at the stars.

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Her father used to point out the constellations to her, but the only one she really recognized was Orion. There he was, with his belt, and his club.

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An old friend. Seeing him made her feel better. Tomorrow she would be home. She would be back where she beloned and truly engaged to David, far, far away from this unhappy place.

She heard the door open and close gently behind her.

“Ella…”

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“I guess I should say ‘I’m sorry,’ though that doesn’t seem like nearly enough. We’ve packed Mother off to bed. She’s upstairs and sedated and I promise you, she won’t come back down again tonight. David is… Ellie, David is almost beside himself. He’s sure Mother has wrecked everything, that you’ll never forgive him. Could you… could you please come inside and talk to him?”

He stood in the parlor. He looked so lost Ella wanted to hold him, but the memory of him shouting at his mother reaching for her, that horrible hoarse roar in his voice,  made her little afraid.

“Please don’t say anything yet,” he said.

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“I told you this afternoon you’d seen the worst of us,” he said. “I guess I was wrong. I’d understand if… It would kill me, I won’t lie about that, but if you can’t stand to be with me after this…”

“No,” she said, “No. Don’t talk like that.”

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“Your mother is ill. I told you I understood that, and I do. And she’s not you, not you at all.”

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“She’s an unhappy person who needs your love and ours, and I promise you, I will always be a good daughter-in-law to her, no matter what.”

“Oh Ella,” he said. “You are such an angel.”

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“I can’t quite believe I deserve you.”

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___

It was morning.

Louise was empty again.

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At least she had slept. The pills did that. They made her sleep through the night, but she still felt all hollowed out when she woke.

Get up. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Make your bed. Get dressed.

Do all these things, her mother once told her, and you’ll still have half a foothold. You won’t go completely under.

So she did those things. She always did those things. Then she sat in her chair and watched as the room grew light again. Then she listened to the rest of the house starting to move.

They were loading the car now. The driveway was under her window and she could hear voices, the crunch of gravel, doors opening and shutting. Blair would take them to the airport.

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Cho-Cho-San hopped into her lap, purred and blinked up at her. Louise pent to kiss the cat gently on its nose.

“Nothing more to say,” she whispered. Then she raised her voice so the other cats could hear. “Nothing I can do.”

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Everyone was singing out goodbyes downstairs.

The final car door closing. The engine. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

She’d done her best, but it all came out wrong, as usual. It was as if her voice were a horse she couldn’t control. Some devil inside her leapt onto its back, whipped it bloody, and rode it off in directions she never intended.

The sound of the car faded away.

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The front door opened, and closed. Footsteps downstairs. They went into the study. Another door closing. Once again, it was just her and Bart.

She would listen and if she heard footsteps again, the front door open and close, the sound of his key, his car, then she would come down. Maybe he would stay away long enough for her to sit in the garden, talk to Roscoe.

She’d tell Roscoe what she’d told the cats. She’d tried.

She really had.

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Inheritance Chapter 8 Part 1 — Straws

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It was the last full day of the visit. The next morning, she and David would start back to Touperdu Isle.

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Last night in her bedroom he’d said, “We need to talk, first thing in the morning. We’ll have coffee on the porch together.” He’d touched her cheek with one finger, moving it so softly down towards her throat her heart had begun to beat quickly again, and she’d wanted to close her eyes, pull him closer. “There things we need to discuss, darling,” he’d whispered in her ear. “Grown-up things. About the future.”

And his lips had moved to her throat, and so lightly, so warmly brushed her skin, and she had reached for him…

Sometimes, she felt as though they were still touching, even as they sat across from each other the next morning on the porch drinking Ingrid’s watery coffee.

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“Well,” he said. “I’ve made an appointment with my father.”

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“Ridiculous, isnt it?” he smiled, but his eyes were sad. “An appointment with my own father. But that’s how he is.”

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“We are going to talk, Father and I, and it’s going to take a long time. In his study. With the doors closed. A good part of the day, I’d guess.

Do you understand sweetheart?”

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All she could do was nod. Her heart beating in a way it never had before she met David. Not painfully, like when she was frightened, but sweetly, wonderfully — as if it were leaping in water and and making ripples that spread through her whole body. She tried to look solemn, but could not stop smiling.

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“I’d like it very much if you’d take another trip into the city with Blair today. A girls’ afternoon out. She’s been dying to take you shopping, you know. She’ll come by in about an hour to pick you up.”

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He set down his empty cup, and they both stood. He took her hand.

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“Oh my love, my darling…” he said.

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“This moment,” she thought, “The smell of the wet grass, the sound of a bid chirping, our lips touching, will always, always be with me.”

It would be more than a memory. It would be a beautiful, green, fragrant instant of time now grafted onto her, a piece of her heart she would carry with her always.

 

She hated shopping for clothes. Visiting a department store or going from boutique to boutique was not her idea of fun.

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But Blair was so obviously enjoying enjoying herself. And every time Ella thought of what David was doing at that moment, what he and his father were discussing, she’d feel that wonderful, light ripple in her heart. She couldn’t stop smiling.

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“Sister-in-Law.” Beautiful, sophisticated Blair would be her sister-in-law.

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After they had lunch downtown, they went to Blair’s favorite boutique, Ella finally let her buy a dress for her, one that they both liked. Blair had checked it out, then mentioned a stop on the way home. “It’s not too early for you to have a drink, is it? Hamlin and Darby will be there,” Blair said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

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Of course she didn’t mind.

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It was nice to get to actually sit and talk with them.

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She’d been kind of curious about Hamlin. David had described him as the “family eccentric,” and he did look like one, with his shirt unbuttoned and sandals instead of shoes and socks. As Blair and Darby gossiped about artists and dealers they knew. Hamlin fixed her with his intense eyes and said, “So have you gotten to know the family?”

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“As much as I can in one week.. And everyone has gotten to know me, I hope.”

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“Which is what Father and David are talking about today.” he smiled. “Well, you’ve made it this far. I doubt you have anything to worry about.”

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Worry about?

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“Of course she has nothing to worry about!” said Blair. “Don’t listen to my idiot brother, dear. David just wants to talk with Dad about living on the island. Living for two.”

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“Ah, our sultry homeland!” exclaimed Hamlin.

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“We have friends who’ve visited the place and rave about it. Darby and I would love to go there for vacation sometime. Is it really as beautiful as people say it is?”

And for the next few minutes she talked about home, the beaches, the weather, the food…

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Only later did it occur to her she must have missed Touperdu more than she realized.

Blair finished her sherry, looked at her watch and exclaimed over the time. “I left a necklace over at Stoneman’s to be repaired. It’s just around the corner. Do you mind if I dash over there to pick it up while you finish up?”

“Run along, dear,” said Hamlin. “I’m sure we can entertain ourselves.”

“Be good,” Blair said, her eyes on Darby.

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And then she was gone.

In the silence that followed, Hamlin lit a cigarette. He cocked his head and looked at Ella, a slightly arch gesture of assessment and calculation. “Alone at last,” he said.

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“My dear, I am not just the family black sheep. I am the family truth-teller. I suspect baby sister has left you with me and mine  to make sure you have at least a fighting chance.”

“Is there something in particular you want to say to me?”

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He sighed out a stream of smoke. “You’re blonde. You’re pretty. I don’t think you have anything to worry about as far as being accepted. Darby tells me you’re smarter than you let on, and I believe it. If you weren’t, Blair would barely give you the time of day. Like she said, David and Father are probably just working out the logistics of life on the Island for a married couple.”

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“And that’s something to be thankful for, because you obviously love your home very much. When I say, ‘fighting chance,’ what I mean is, don’t let David ever talk you into moving back here with him.”

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That made her smile.

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“You don’t need to worry about that,”she said.  “David loves living on Touperdu as much as I do. And he’s told me about a hundred times he’d never subject me to a Pennsylvannia winter. He calls me his Tropical Flower.”

“I’m very glad,” said Ham.

“Sweetheart, the weather here is the least of it,” said Darby. “Tell her about the straws, Ham.”

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Ham grinned. “Our father,”he said, “Collects straws. Live near him and you’re bound to hear about them.

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“The man positively treasures them,” said Darby.

“Mostly in increasingly dark, cold silence.” Hamlin continued. “When he gets to the last one, he tosses it into a pot with all the other straws, brings it to a boil, and dumps the whole thing over your head. Those last straws can burn.”

“I’m one!” Darby raised his hand.

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“And I thank God for it,” said Ham, his eyes on Darby.

“But seriously,  hon,” Darby said to her, “Old Mr. Baghill can be a rough customer.

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“You’re a nice kid. David’s a nice kid too. I guess. I’ve barely talked to him. We’re not recieved at the Baghill manor, you see. That’s what happens when you’re the last straw.”

“I’m relieved by what you’ve told me, Ella,” said Hamlin. “I’m afraid I don’t talk to my brother much, so I’m never sure what he’s thinking or planning. If he intends to stay on the Island, that means he’s trying to get out from under Father.”

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“And that,” Hamlin said, letting out another long, smokey breath, “can only be good.”

 

Hamlin paid the check, and they went downstairs to wait for Blair. While Darby was in the restroom, Hamlin took out another cigarette. “By the way, Blair tells me you’ve been very kind about Mother. ‘Kinder than I’ve ever been,’ she told me. Thank you for that. Mama and I used to be close, but now… Well, when it comes to my private life, she and Dad are united. She won’t have me in the house, so I only hear from Blair how things are going for her.”

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“I don’t think Mrs. Baghill likes me very much,” said Ella. “But she’s not well, and I’m a stranger. And I do understand how all of you must feel. My father has the same kind of problems, though not in exactly the same way.

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“David did tell you about her, didn’t he?”

“Only after I found that shrine in the back yard. I know it’s not something that’s easy to bring up.”

“Oh, yeah. Poor Roscoe.” Ham grimaced. “So you have some idea about what I meant when I told you about Dad.”

“Well, surely it’s not his fault the poor little thing got run over?”

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For a moment, Hamlin was silent.

“I’m not going to ask you what you’ve been told, or who told you about Roscoe, because I really don’t want to get into that,” he said. “I’m just going to tell you what I know.”

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“I was the one who gave Mama the dog.”

“It was before Darby, before I was told never to darken the door of their house again. I was worried about her. Mother seemed so alone in that place, even though David and Blair were still living there. She’d already cracked up twice, and I had learned to read the signs – walking around hunched over, mumbling, getting uncommunicative and scared, never leaving the house…”

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Mama has always loved dogs. So, for her birthday, I brought her Roscoe.

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People make jokes and kind of sneer at those little, yappy pugs, but really, Roscoe was a sweet little animal. Friendly, trusting…

Mama was in love from the first moment.

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“But Dad…”

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“All Dad said was, ‘Thank you for bringing us that smelly little roach for my wife to fondle.'”

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By that time, I’d already stopped giving much of a damn about what Dad thought. All I knew was that in the weeks after Mother seemed better,  had started smiling again.

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She was going outside the house again. Went for walks. Always with Roscoe. Having a dog with her offered her a way to connect with people, something to talk about with them.

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For a while, it seemed to me that things had stabilized.

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And then apparently, Dad decided he’d had the last straw.

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“I wasn’t there. I only heard about it second-hand from Blair, but I’ve been on the receiving end , seen Dad enact his little one-act play, ‘Patient Man Pushed At Last to the Limit,’ before dumping his boiling bucket of grievances over your head. With me it was when I was in high school and I had to hear about how embarrassed he was to go out in public with a son who was a ‘mincing little fairy.’

Mother gets that kind of showerbath at least twice a year. This time, it was ‘People in the neighborhood cringe when they see you coming because they know they’re going to have to listen to you babble about that disgusting animal.'”

“Which of course, put paid to her going outside and actually communicating with anyone.”

The next time I saw her, she was a mess. She wouldn’t leave the house and she wouldn’t put down Roscoe. Ever.”

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“She kept telling me ‘If I leave them alone together, your father is going to take Roscoe away from me.’ Nothing I said could convince her it wasn’t true.”

“I asked Blair about it, she just rolled her eyes the way she does and sighed and said, ‘Oh Ham, you know how Dad exaggerates when he’s angry.'”

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“So, Mother got sick again. So, Mother had to go into the hospital. So, Roscoe got left behind. And was gone within a week.”

“But… but surely you don’t think your father deliberately…”

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“I think it was all right with him for Mother to believe he’d do something like that.”

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“Isn’t that bad enough?”

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Inheritance, Chapter 7, Part 2 — Being Human

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Lately, Ella had been thinking about the time she’d been cruel.

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That was the label she put on that moment in her childhood. “The time I was cruel.”

She must have been almost nine. They were on the girl’s playground at St. Nicholas Grammar, and she’d noticed the new student — an off-islander.

Hallie.

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Ella wished she could remember what she was thinking. Was she planning to be unkind? She hoped not.

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All she could recall was that she’d walked over to her because Hallie was standing alone.

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She did remember — and this hurt — that Hallie had smiled.

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They had talked about who knows what. Things little girls talk about when they meet.

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She could tell Hallie felt nervous and out of place. And she felt good because she, Ella, was not.

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This was her, Ella’s home, they were surrounded by her, Ella’s people, and nothing made that clearer than looking into the new girl’s uncertain eyes.

Hallie had gotten confident enough to talk about the things and people that scared her a little.

“My Momma says we can’t go swimming in the waves here like we do on vacation at Myrtle Beach. She says it’s too dangerous. And one of our neighbors told us there’s  a maniac on the island who’s not locked up or anything. He went off to a war and I guess he got shot in the head because he came home all crazy. I’m afraid of crazy people.”

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She had known who Hallie meant.

Knowing this, she’d smiled at Hallie. And knowing exactly what Hallie was going to say, she’d asked, “Who is this crazy man?”

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“He runs that big restaraunt on the main street across from the beach. That place called The Rose.”

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How good it felt to pretend to be shocked.

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How good it felt to see all the newfound confidence vanish from Hallie’s eyes as her own eyes narrowed, to see the new girl’s horror as Ella hissed, “That is my father!

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To sense that her friends, Ella’s friends, were turning as she shouted at Hallie, “You called my father crazy! You’re mean! I hate you!

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To hear Hallie saying, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” over and over again sounding like she was about to cry.

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She’d actually been proud of herself. That’s what trully killed her about the memory. She’d gone home all smug and happy about being the big strong girl defending her poor, afflicted father’s honor.

But then, late that afternoon, after school when she was upstairs playing in her room, Mom came in.

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“Ella,”

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“Could you please come downstairs for a moment. I’d like to talk to you.”

Downstairs was where Mom or Pop had “serious talks” with either Ella or Lucas.

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Ella knew she was in trouble, but she thought it was about her grades. She’d made a C on her last math test.

“I just got a phonecall from Mrs. Preston. Hallie’s mother. She’s a very nice woman. She put her daughter on the phone and made her apologize to me.

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“Mrs. Preston wanted Hallie to apologize to you personally, but I felt Hallie was too upset. Ella, she was crying so hard she could barely talk. Mrs. Preston told me Hallie came home in tears, saying everybody hated her and nobody was going to be her friend because she’d been mean to you. She’s so ashamed she doesn’t want to go to school tomorrow. Could you please tell me what happened? What did she say? What did you say?”

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So Ella told her. In general at first.

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And Mom, being Mom, asked the questions Ella had hoped she wouldn’t ask, like “…And when she mentioned the crazy man, what did you say?”

And Ella had to tell her.

“Oh, now Ella, that was cruel.”

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“I know you love your father. We all do. But you deliberately put Hallie in the wrong.”

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“You could have changed the subject, couldn’t you? But you didn’t. And later on, you  could have let her know that your father runs The Rose, so she wouldn’t make that mistake, wouldn’t say something she’d regret, something that would get her in trouble. That would have been the right, the Christian thing to do.”

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“Instead, you invited her to say more — and don’t try to tell me you didn’t know what she was going to say!

Tomorrow, I would like you to go to school and be nice to Hallie Preston. You need to accept her apology, graciously and kindly. And most of all, you need to assure her that your father is a good, gentle man who would never, never hurt anyone. You don’t have to be friends with Hallie if you don’t want to be, but I won’t have you turning your friends against her. That is unkind, Ella.”

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She had never before thought of herself as mean. But she knew her mother was right.

For the first time, she understood what it was to have done something you couldn’t undo. Yes she’d be as good as she could be to Hallie, but she’d still hurt her. On purpose.

It must have shown on her face because Mom had smiled. “Oh sweetheart, we all do wrong…”

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“We all do things we wish we hadn’t. It’s part of being human. Hallie was being human, and then you were being human. Humans make mistakes.”

And now, years later, as they sat in a restaurant lounge in Pittsburgh waiting for everyone else to arrive, Blair Baghill was being very, very human.

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“…I mean, the woman hasn’t always been completely gaga…”

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“When we were kids,  she was just a bit barmy. And she wasn’t some fat, slobby pig!

 

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“It drives Papa a bit mad himself, and I don’t blame him. God, people like my mother make me angry. I mean, Jesus Christ, why can’t they just make a Goddamned effort?

Blair sighed. “But you shouldn’t have to listen to me kvetch about my mother.”

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“Let’s talk about happier things. How do you like the city? The gallery were I work didn’t bore you too much did it? I’m sorry we spent so much time there, but there were some things I had to take care of. We’ll pay a visit to Kaufmann’s before you leave, I promise, just two girls together trying on clothes having fun!”

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So that’s what Blair thought of her, was it? “I wasn’t bored, Blair. I enjoyed the gallery.”

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They’d met Hamlin Baghill there, the oldest of David’s siblings, a handsome man, with strange eyes.

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“Exalted” was the word that came to mind. Darby, his roommate and very good friend, was with him. She’d liked Darby who’d been as calm and pretty as a Persian cat. Blair had tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Do keep her entertained for a bit,” before walking over to talk to some girl in black holding a clipboard.

Darby had smiled at Ella.

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“Don’t mind her. I can tell you want to look around,” he’d said. “Check out the pieces they’ve hidden over in that area.” He’d cocked his head to the right. “But save them for last. Otherwise, everything else will be an anticlimax.”

And so she’d wandered happily, looking at the paintings, the statues,

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and as he instructed, she’d saved that obscure little corner he indicated for last.

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They were wonderful. Lovely. They made her think of champagne.

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She kept leaving them to look at other things, then going back. Darby had been right. They made everything else boring.

The third time she went back to look at them, Blair had joined her.

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“Oh him?” Blair raised one shoulder in a negligent shrug. “A local boy who ran off to New York to make money. He’s in advertising. Draws shoes.”

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Which brought her back to the present. “Of couse, dear, I keep forgetting you’re  interested in being an artist,” Blair was saying. “Really, we must set some time aside for you to draw something for me before you go. I’d love to see it! It’s just I’m so busy, busy, busy these days!”

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“All right,” Ella said.

Ella opened her purse, took out her small sketchpad, and opened it to the drawing she’d already decided on. She gave Blair her best wide-eyed,  little-ol-me smile as she carefully tore it out. “I like this one,” she said as she handed it over.

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Blair looked startled, but then quickly put down her drink and arranged her face into an expression of kindly interest as she took the sketch.

Ella watched her expression change as she looked down at it.

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“Oh,” Blair said.

“Well…” Blair took a drag from her cigarette. “You’re a dark horse, aren’t you. You did this from memory?”

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“I started it the day after I arrived. Finished it up the next morning.”

“It’s very good.” Blair smiled. “But then, you know that, don’t you? Can I keep this?”

“Of course.”

“Have I made a complete ass of myself?”

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“No, no, please don’t think that, Blair… But… could you do something for me?”

“Anything.”

“Could you please not talk about your mother that way? It makes me very uncomfortable.”

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“I realize you have no way of knowing but, my father is… He’s sick in the same way.”

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He’s a sweet, sweet man, and I love him very much, Blair. And it’s so horrible for him.

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He’s had to go to the hospital too, like your mother.

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And for me, words like ‘gaga, and ‘barmy,’ and ‘booby-hatch…'”

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Oh my God!

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“Ella, I am so, so sorry.” She took a sip of her drink.  Please believe me, I had no idea!”

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“I know you didn’t.”

“Does David know?”

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“Yes. I told him the week we started dating. Fact is, everyone on the Island knows about Dad. David probably knew before I said anything about it.”

“And he didn’t warn me, Damn him. He knows how I go on about Mother! You’re right, you know. Those words I keep blathering when I’m on one of my tears…”

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“They hurt.”

 

 

Inheritance Chapter 7 Part 1– Normal

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It wasn’t that Tante was having a bad day.

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She smiled. She seemed cheerful.

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But still, it wasn’t exactly a good day. And he’d been hoping for a good day when he brought Janet over to meet her that morning.  He’d been hoping for the Tante he’d known, kind, but with a shrewd edge that could come out unexpectedly.

Three times Janet had called  him, asking him to introduce her to Tante. He wasn’t sure how to take this. After all, she was Aunt Kristal’s daughter, and there was that simmering dispute over the property. Could she be a sneak? Up to something the way Aunt Kristal got up to things? Finally, he’d run out of excuses and agreed to bring her over to Pond House to meet Tante — if she didn’t mind getting up early to do it.

She didn’t.

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Tante’s edge was absent today, leaving only a vague sweetness. Twice, he’d had to remind her of Janet’s name. The second time, she’d called Janet “Miss Roselyn,” and he’d had to remind her her name was “Abbott.”

“Not…Not Baranca?”

“No Tante. I told you, she’s Aunt Kristal’s daughter.”

“Oh. Kristal…”

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Then Tante looked at Janet and said, “She was a cretin, you know.”

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“Really?”

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“But my mother cured her.”

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“How did she do that?”

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“It was an old recipe.”

They waited.

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“Well…” said Janet when it became apparent Laurette wasn’t going to elaborate. “That was very kind of your mother.”

“I thought so, then.” said Tante.

“Now Tante,” Lucas said, ” I’m sure you’re exaggerating. Aunt Kristal might have been very quiet when she was little, but…”

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She shook her head, a small line appearing between her brows. “No, no. I am sure the pauvre petite was dumb. Couldn’t talk at all. Just made awful noises. She…” then Tante turned her head. “Laney!”

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He’d known one of the Dudays was going to come by that day, but he’d expected Judith or Marion, not Elaine. And her little girl — Bea, that was her name. He just couldn’t get used to that. Strange enough to see his old schoolmate an adult, a wife, but a mother too? Impossible.

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“Tottie!” crowed Bea, opening her arms to Tante. And now the Tante Laurette he remembered hwas smiling and standing to take Bea from her mother’s arms, looking at the child with keen, assessing eyes.

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“Oh, such a big little buzzing bee,” Tante exclaimed. “She has been eating all of her carrots and peas and drinking all of her milk hasn’t she?”

“That she has, Tante,” Laney said, leaning forward to kiss her great aunt. “Hello Lucas.  And…?” She looked at Janet and cocked her head smiling.  “I know I’ve seen you somewhere before…”

“Elaine Tesange Cottingham, this is my cousin, Janet Abbot.”

“First cousin, once removed,” said Tante, still looking down at Bea, who was giggling as Tante bounced her gently. “She is your father’s first cousin. Isn’t she, little one? Isn’t she?” Bea let out a long, musical coo that might have meant “yes” as Tante took her seat again on the bench.

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“Oh my!” Laney said, as she settled next to Tante. “Of course, you’re the concert pianist! I saw you playing in California, at Castle Green!  How nice to meet you at last. Is it true that you’ve come home to the island for good?”

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“Yes,” Janet smiled.  “I want to be an Islander. I mean, I’ve been all over the world, seen lots of places, and now I think I’d like to feel like I fit in somewhere for once. And, of course,  I’d like to live closer to my mother.”

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“I know exactly what you mean!” said Laney. “When I was a little girl, we moved to California, and I love LA, don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful, exciting city but…” She threw up her hands.

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“Nothing beats the place where you feel like you belong. Nothing beats a home.”

“Speaking of California,” Tante said, “Have you sent your grandfather a recent picture of Bea?” She kissed her niece’s head gently. “He should see how much she has grown.”

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“I sent one last week,” Laney said. “We’re hoping he’ll come out for another visit, soon, but you know how Poppy is these days about leaving Ojai, even for a little while. I swear it’s like he’s taken root.”

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Lucas was uncomfortable. He’d always felt somehow responsible for the Greg Dudays leaving the island the way they did. He couldn’t help connecting it to that conversation he’d had with Pop when he was a kid and asked about the Dudays having “family secrets.” Before that talk, Lee Tesange and Mom had been close friends. After it — all he knew was that things were never quite the same, and Greg, his daughter, and her family moved mainland.

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And now Janet and Laney were talking about getting together sometime, comparing notes about people Janet knew that Laney knew in Santa Barbara. Janet seemed to be someone who could make friends instantly. How did folks do that? How did they find common ground so quickly, interesting things to say to each other?

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Suddenly, he was aware that Tante was looking at him.

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Her eyes were no longer vague. They were gentle and aware and resting on him thoughtfully. It was as if she’d noticed something that made her feel sorry for him.

He would wait until a pause in Laney and Janet’s conversation. Then he would rise to his feet and smile and say it was time to go, they were due at the Rose for an early lunch.

 

“You were absolutely right,” Janet said. “This is much better than the Spotswood.”

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“Especially when you order off menu,” he said. “That’s what most Old Islanders do, anyway. Now, as an Old Islander, you know to ask for the Red Perlow. Or if you want to stick to what’s advertised, try the Shrimp Stew. That’s Tante’s favorite.”

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“I liked her,” said Janet “She looks like she must have been kind of formidable in her day.”

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“Oh yes, she could be,” he said.

Janet took another bite, her eyes on her plate

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“Lucas…”

“You know, don’t you, that she may not be able to live by herself for much longer?”

“Yeah,” he said.

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“Janet, I’m so sorry for what she said about your mother. Believe me, a year ago, I couldn’t imagine her saying such a thing!”

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Janet was shaking her head. “That’s not what bothered me. It’s… I had a music teacher in New York. Mr. Collini, a fine, wonderful old man. He was brilliant, and talented and he taught me so much, but one day a couple years ago when I was in town I came in for a visit, and I knew something was wrong. Something was missing. Before Laney arrived, Mrs. Macana reminded me of him.”

“I should have done something about Mr. Collini, but I didn’t.”

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“I told myself it was my imagination, and I didn’t call his daughter and share my concerns. A few months later later, he walked out into traffic and got hit by a car. It was right outside his apartment, but they said he’d looked confused, lost. Mr. Collini was pretty badly hurt. He didn’t die, but he did end up confined to a wheelchair.”

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“I’m not saying something needs to be done now, this instant, but you mustn’t wait until she has an accident.

“The whole family is worried about Tante.” he said. “That’s why we try to make sure someone’s always with her during the day. Dad, Mom, the Tesanges, Aunt Kitty, the Dudays. My sister, when she’s around. The Cottinghams.” He smiled. “We take it in shifts. Her house is pretty close to Mom and Pop’s, so it’s not too hard. ”

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“That’s a relief.” Janet picked up her fork again. “Do you think your father would kill me if I asked him for this recipe?”

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Lucas laughed. “No. He’d just give it to you minus an important ingredient. That’s what Great-Grandpa taught him to do.”

 

He told her stories about the island — Deep Gertie, the ghosts and wolves that were supposed to haunt Swede’s Hill, Saturnus Reckoner and Long Lamen. After their meal they went inside so she could see the painting of Great-Great-Grandmother.

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“Her eyes,” she commented. “They’re like Grandpa’s. Don’t you think?”

That had never occurred to him, but now that he looked, he could see she was right.

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It was strange. At that moment, the painting seemed more than just a picture. He saw Roselyn, just for an instant, as someone who lived and breathed and saw things with those dark, intent eyes.

Judith had turned away and was looking at the picture of Great-Grandpa.

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“Isn’t it odd to think of the people he knew?” Janet said. “Ellen Reckoner herself. Dr. Henri Teach. Mordechai Street… Really, the things he saw when he was young? Imagine what he could tell us if he were still here.”

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“Now you’re making me miss him,” he said.

“You knew  him that well?

“I guess as well as any kid could know someone so old. He was pretty good to me. Got me through some hard times.”

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“He tried to teach me to cook once. A jambalaya. That’s when we both knew I’d be working in the Rose’s office doing accounting instead of in the kitchen stirring pots.”

“I wish I’d known him better,” she said. “I wish I’d known everybody in this family better. Maybe if I hadn’t been so much younger than everyone I would. Really, it’s hard when your cousins are old enough to be your parents.

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“My brothers, too, really. I mean they’re great, but we were never equals, we were never children together.

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“I wish I could have spent my childhood playing with other children in the family instead of just always pretending not to hear while older people argued and talked.”

 

When they stepped outside, she tilted her head up and smiled, and he knew she was enjoying the feel of the sun on her face, the scent of the ocean. “I want to explore,” she said.  “I want to drive all around the island. I want to learn about Touperdu.”

“Well, I’ve been collecting Island lore since I was a kid. Ask me anything.”

“Okay.” She pointed to the north. “What’s the story behind that place?”

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“Ah.” He walked with her towards the road and they looked at the house for a moment. Using his best Boris Karloff voice, he intoned “the CAHHHSTLE.”

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“That,” he said, “is Pittime Point. And that house is old Madame Duday’s. Tante’s mother, who must be about a hundred years old by now.”

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“You mean the witch? Old Gwennoelle Du…”

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“Shhhhhhh,” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “She who must not be named!” he said, still in a horror-film whisper.  “The story is, if you say her full name, wherever you are on the Island, she can hear you.”

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“And if she doesn’t like what she hears… well…”

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“Bad things can happen.”

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“Accidents, illness, backed up sinks, bad tv signals, lost car keys…”

“Oh my God.” Janet shook her head. “That explains it. My mother won’t say her name if she can help it.”

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She calls her, ‘The Old Woman’ or ‘Herself.’ Tries to sound sarcastic, but you know, I really do think she’s afraid. My God she’s such an Islander!”

“Lots of us are,” he said, smiling. “I might joke about it sometimes, but believe me…”

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“many people take these stories very seriously. Especially about her.”

“Are you talking about our own Lady of Shalott?” Pop asked.

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He was carrying the case with his kitchen whites that Mom had laundered the night before. “Little Cousin Janet all grown up!” he said, bending to kiss her on the cheek. “It’s good to see you again. Is Lucas telling you island stories? He’s an expert.”

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“Cousin Artiste,” she said, suddenly looking a bit abashed. “I’d meant to call you when I got in, but…”

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“I understand, believe me. My son has fed you I hope? And shown you the picture of our great-grandmother?”

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“Yes. He was telling me about the lady in the Castle.”

“Oh yes, everyone knows about her. She hardly ever leaves it, you know. Her grandson, Leon, tells me she’s addicted to the soaps, but I don’t believe it. She’s probably spending her days molding wax figures of the locals or crooning over a crystal ball.”

He looked at Lucas. “Your mother wanted me to tell you we got a letter from your sister today. If you stop by after work you can read it.”

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“I will.” So far, Lucas had gotten no letters at all. Ella was plainly still angry with him.

Pop turned again towards Janet. “Mims and I are so glad you’ve moved back. It’s not right when relatives don’t know each other. Come by the house sometime for a real family meal. Are you still at your mother’s?”

“Only for the next two days. After that, I’m renting a place in Theodosia near Out East.”

“Well, I know you’re pretty busy now, but give us a call once you’re moved in.” He turned towards the restaurant, glancing over his shoulder at Lucas. “Don’t be too long, son. There are some things I want to go over with you before the dinner rush.”

‘Okay, Pop.”

Lucas was relieved. Given Pop’s feelings these days about Aunt Kristal, he’d been a little worried about how he’d react to Janet.

“He’s so nice!” she exclaimed. “I am so glad he’s willing to be friends.”

“Of course he is,” said Lucas. “Pop’s a nice guy.”

“Oh dear. I do go on, don’t I? I’m sorry. It’s just I’d really like to make friends here. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had friends. I’ve had lots and lots of friends all over the place. But not in the family, not really. Shouldn’t you be friends with people in your family?

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“Wouldn’t that be normal?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

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Did he have friends in the family? People he felt he could really talk to, confide in instead of protect and worry about? There’d been Pop when he was kid but… He pushed that thought away. Great-grandpa? He’d always felt great-grandpa was protecting and worrying about him.

The fact was, he always had trouble making friends, inside or outside of the family. There had been lovers — Henry, Rhonda, Babette… That had been fun, but they hadn’t even really broken up properly. It was like they just ran out of things to say to each other, shaken hands and moved on.

Maybe that’s why he started collecting Island stories. They not only interested him. They gave him something to say.

“I’m working today,” he told her.

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“But I’ll be off on Tuesday. If you’d like, I can take you on a tour of the Island, show you some interesting places We can meet here. !0:00 am?.”

“That would be great!” She exclaimed.

“How are you getting home? Do you need a ride back to Theodosia?”

“No, no, I’m going to Glaspells to do a little shopping. Mother and I are meeting later this afternoon at The Spotswood. for a drink. I’ll ride back with her.”

“Oh.”

He was never sure how to take his leave in these conversations. Say “See you?” “Have fun?” “I’ll catch you later?” He was trying to decide when Janet took it out of his hands by leaning forward and kissing him lightly, affectionately, on the cheek.

“Until then, Cuz!” she said.

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“Yeah.”

He watched as she walked away, her pony-tail bobbing

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and realized, with some surprise, that he was looking forward to Tuesday.

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Inheritance, Chapter 6, Part 2 – The Family Baghill (Mature sexual content)

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The Embers Restaurant was very modern on the outside, but inside it was like the house — low lighting, old furniture and dark, hard wood. The Rex Baghills were already there, in the private room they’d reserved, at a long table with a couple of seats open at their end.

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The whole point was for her to meet Rex and Sheila and the kids. It was a little like a repeat of last night, with the table divided between two territories, Mr. and Mrs. Baghill and Blair at one end, David and Ella and the rest of the Baghills at the other.

Dr. Rex Baghill, who was some years older than David, sat next to Ella at the head of the table. He was a pediatrician. He said “hello” as coolly as his mother had, and at first she thought he didn’t like her.

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Over the salads he mainly talked across her to David about the new house he and Sheila had bought. But then, after the steaks arrived she laughed at a joke — an awful joke about a hunter carrying a dead deer over his shoulder, but he really was funny. And suddenly he seemed to decide she was all right. He asked her about Bailey and his family and what kind of art Bailey made, and what kind of art she made, and he pronounced himself on her side when it came to realism, shaking his head every time she insisted it wasn’t about “sides” and Bailey was actually very, very good.

“Maybe you can draw Stephanie and Debbie! That would be great. We’d have an Ella Macana original! I bet it’ll be worth a lot some day! ‘That’s by Ella Macana,’ I’ll tell people. ‘I knew her before she was famous!'”

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Sheila sat across from her.

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She seemed nice. “Touperdu sounds so exotic and romantic,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get Rex to take us there for just ages.”

What Ella mainly remembered was the way little Stephanie kept wandering over from her seat next to Blair to stare at Ella over her mother’s shoulder. Every time Ella tried to catch her eye, she’d look away.

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Debbie Baghill, on the other hand, could not seem to take her eyes off Ella, every now and then getting in a question that felt somehow unanswerable.

“Are you a natural blonde?” she asked.

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Deborah,” David said.

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“Jeeze, I was only asking,”

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Ella smiled. “It’s all right Debbie. Yes, my hair really is this color.” she said.

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Debbie went back to staring at Ella while Sheila talked about getting auburn highlights at a salon in Wilkes-Barre.

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At the next lull in the conversation, Debbie spoke up again.

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“Do you live under a sun-lamp?”

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Back at the house, everyone divided into groups again. David, his father and his brother walked towards the back of the house, talking about pouring drinks and catching up. Blair, Sheila, and the two girls seemed to gather around Mrs. Baghill in a clot and walk her towards the stairs. When Ella tried to follow, Mrs. Baghill looked over her shouder at her and snapped, “You can’t come. I don’t know you!

Ella stayed in the foyer while everyone made soothing noises at Mrs. Baghill and hurried her up the stairs.

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In the back room, the men were deep in conversation. Rex seemed upset about the future of medicine. “Social security was just the beginning,” he was saying. “Next we’re going to have the government telling us what to do with our patients. Just like in Russia!” David was nodding in agreement.

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She could see some chairs on the back porch. It would be nice to get some fresh air. Ella stepped outside, just as she heard the sound of high heels entering the room behind her.

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As she settled into a chair, Blair came out, carrying two drinks.

“Rum and Coke,” Blair said, as she sat down. “Ever had one?”

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“Yes. Thanks,” said Ella sincerely. She took a long sip. It was good, but it needed a little lime.

There was the sound of small, running feet. Stephanie dashed past across the lawn, running to the other side of the house and disappearing.

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Blair smiled. “Steffie’s fascinated with you, you know. She thinks you’re terribly exotic. I I noticed her wandering down to the end of the table to take a peek.”

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“She wouldn’t speak to me.”.

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“She’s shy, like her dad. Pretty women scare him a little, but Rex is a pussycat once he decides you’re okay…”

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“….and he’s decided you’re okay. ‘A real nice girl,’ he called you in the drive over here.”

“I liked him too. And Sheila. They made me feel very welcome. I think Debbie is still kind of… Is she shy too?”

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“Oh, she might take a little longer to warm up to you.”

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“She’s the possessive type. When she was a little girl, she considered Uncle David her boyfriend. She’s never liked any of his girlfriends, so don’t take it too personally.”

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“She’s a kid,” said Ella.

For a moment there was silence as they sipped their drinks.

“Your mother. Mrs. Baghill…” Ella said.

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“I apologize for her. Without reservation.”

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 “It’s not about apologies. David told me she was ill a few years ago. Had to go into the hospital?”

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Blair let out a brief huff of surprise. “Oh, that’s what he called it?

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Well, I guess he had to say something bout that damned shrine in the back yard. ‘Hospital?’ Hah! She went to the booby-hatch, sweetie.”

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“It wasn’t for the last time, either. She’s been back since then. Mother’s weak. Cracked. Everyone knows it.”

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“It’s best to just ignore her when you can. That’s how the rest of us cope.”

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It had been a long day. Once Ella was in her pajamas and ready for bed, she knew she’d drop off the minute her head  hit the pillow.

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She wished she’d handled that conversation with Blair better.

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She should have said something. She should have pointed out that a “booby-hatch” was  still a hospital, that people didn’t ask to be sick. She should have said Mrs. Baghill was unhappy, that the cruelest thing you could do to someone like her was just ignore her, push her aside.

She should have said something about Pop.

But what did she do? Just sat there like a stuffed owl. Allowed Blair to change the subject over to the jaunt to Pittsburgh.

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Well,  no point in thinking about it now. Ella yawned. What she really needed now was another good night’s sleep.

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The faint knock on the door behind her startled her.

“Ella,” he said softly. “Can I come in?”

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“Of course.”

He stepped in and closed the door very quietly behind him.

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Her heart was suddenly pounding. “He’ll come tapping on your door at night,” Margaretmarie said. “It will be up to you. Let him in if you want. Just don’t get caught.”

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“You know I love you,” he said.
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“Yes,” She didn’t think she could have spoken over a whisper if she tried.  She was smiling, but she knew she still looked afraid.

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‘Oh sweetheart, don’t be frightened. I’m not here for that. I wouldn’t hurt you. I wouldn’t let you get in trouble.” He smiled. “You could still wear white.”

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“There are so many other things we could do.”

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He reached over to turn off the lamp on her dresser.

“Let me show you,” he whispered.

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Inheritance Chapter 6, Part 1 — Little Things

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The first thing she heard that morning was a faint, questioning, “mrrr.”

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She opened her eyes. A Siamese cat sat politely on the mattress, watching her. The door to the bedroom was shut and so was the window, so it must have been hiding under the bed or in the closet when she turned in last night.

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“Which one are you?” Ella asked. Mrs. Baghill, she knew, had four. David had told her on the plane, rattling off the names solemnly. Mamasan, Cho-cho-san, Pittysing, and Toshiro Mifune.

Ella had laughed. “Toshiro…?”

“I named the last one,” he’d said, smiling.

Ella reached out let the cat sniff her fingers, then cautiously rubbed its head. It blinked and let out a purr only as long as a breath.

“You think it’s time to get up, eh?” she asked. She sat up and heard the cat hop down on the other side.

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For a moment she rested on the side of the bed, her toes just touching the rug. Mainland. She was mainland today, in Pennsylvannia, in a nice little guestroom with heavy, rich looking furniture and amber colored walls. She listened. She could hear no footsteps or voices, but it was a big house.

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What time was it? There was no clock in the room. Judging from the light outside, she’d guess it was before seven. Maybe it was later, though. Maybe morning light wasn’t the same here as it was on the island.

David’s sister, Blair, had shown her a bathroom across the hall just before they turned in. “The guest bathroom,” Blair had said. Ella couldn’t quite believe that meant it was hers and hers alone. Maybe it meant guests just got first dibs on it. The thought brought Ella to her feet. She put on her robe, picked up the folded towel on the bench at the foot of her bed, and very cautiously opened the door, feeling the cat slip out past her.

She looked up and down the corridor. Not a sign of anyone. Ella practically hopped across the hall into the bathroom and closed the door.

 

It had disappointed her that she didn’t get to see Monroeville from overhead as they flew in. David had made sure she had a window seat, and she was planning to watch, but she’d been too excited to sleep the night before, and a little before the pilot announced the descent she had suddenly become so tired she felt all trembly inside.  Her memory of the airport was a blur, though she did recall Blair meeting them.

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As soon as they got into the car, Ella had rested her head on the car set backrest and shut her eyes just for a moment. When she’d opened them, they were pulling into the driveway of the house.

Brick, as she expected, with columns and wings and a second story, but not, she was relieved to see, what she would think of as a mansion. Not quite.

And then they were walking in, and she had the impression of dark walls and hard floors and an absolute solidity that made her feel small. For the first time she realized how flimsy and bright the house was back in Touperdu, where sunlight caught dustmotes in the air, voices echoed from other rooms and walking too hard made furniture tremble.

David had carried the bags upstairs and Blair had told her, “You should freshen up a bit,” pointing to the half open door of a handsome bathroom that was all white marble and gold fixtures. She’d brushed her hair and applied a little lipstick, and powder, wondering where David’s parents were. Weren’t they expecting him?

When she came out, David had come back downstairs. He smiled and took her hand. “Dad is waiting. Come and meet him.”

Polished wood and leather chairs and sofas. A broad, black empty square of a fireplace. Mr. Baghill shook David’s hand and patted him on the shoulder. He looked at Ella and pronounced her a “pretty little thing.”

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“Where is Mother?” asked David, as they settled on the sofa close to the armchair Mr. Baghill had taken.

“Oh, she’s having one of her lie-downs upstairs. She’ll be down for dinner.” Mr. Baghill looked at Ella. “We no longer dress for dinner, my dear. I hope you don’t mind.”

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It took her only a moment to realize he meant dressing formally, but there was still an instant of shock as she pictured then all naked aroud the table, and she felt as though she’d missed a step.

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“Oh. No, of course not.”

“The war, you know,” he said. “It changed everything.”

“Of course.”

“So I understand you’re old Amadou’s great-granddaughter. Artie Macana’s girl.”

“Yes sir.”

“How is your father?”

“He is doing very well, thank you.” The French door near Mr. Baghill’s chair told her it was still light outside, but in that room it was twilight.

“I remember him.”

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 She waited for him to smile, reminisce. He didn’t.

“Pop has changed,” she said.  “Can you believe it…” she had meant for the next comment to be light-hearted, an invitation for Mr. Baghill to laugh and shake his head say something like, “Oh, that Artie!”

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Instead, she looked down nervously at her lap, and “He’s grown a beard” came out sounding like a tragic confession.

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“How interesting,” said Blair, who had settled into the couch on the other side the room.

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I’m friends with your nephew, Baily, Mr. Baghill,” she said determined to make eye contact but feeling as though she were making offerings to some God who refused to be propitiated. “He took a couple of classes with me.”

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How do you smile at someone who refuses to smile back at you?

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“Yes,” he said. “Bailey. Hamlin’s boy. Those would be art classes, correct?”

“That’s right, Dad,” David said, and she felt his arm go around her shoulders.

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“Ella is very committed to being an artist.”

Now she could smile. She couldn’t stop smiling if she wanted to.

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With David’s arm around her, she felt she could anything.

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“Everyone on the island practically raves about her sketches, Blair,” David was saying to his sister. “Seriously, get her to draw a picture of you. I think you’ll be surprised.”

 “A picture of me?” Blair smiled. “I’ll do that.”

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She took a drag of her cigarette and let out a silky plume of smoke. “Most definitely.”

The woman standing framed in the broad doorway looked, Ella thought, like a governess, or one of those paid companions she’d read about wealthy families hiring. She thought at first it must be “Heidi,” but then the woman said, “Heidi says dinner is ready. She says it won’t stay hot forever.”

The weariness Ella had felt earlier hit her again as they all stood up. “Not a proper dinner in the dining room tonight,” said Mr. Baghill. “Our cook isn’t staying late.”

“She’s already left,” the woman said, as she turned away.

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“Well, there you are,” Mr. Baghill’s voice was resigned.

Ella felt grateful. She was so tired she didn’t think she could survive Mr. Baghill’s idea of a proper dinner.

The little table was already set for dinner at the far end of the kitchen, with a covered casserole resting in its center. Ella was surprised to see the woman who’d summoned them take a seat at the end of the table opposite Mr. Baghill.

“I’m Ella,” she said to the woman.

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As they sat down, David bent to kiss the  woman on the cheek. “Mother,” he said. “This is Ella. This is the girl I told you about.”

“Hello,” the Mrs. Baghill said, staring at the steaming casserole in its dish on the table.

Jet lag. Aunt Kitty had warned her about it. “You’ll feel like your head’s been taken off and stuck back on the wrong way” she’d said. Ella tried to concentrate on the food in front of her, a hot pile of spinach, potatoes, and other vegetables that tasted like nothing at all. Was this jet lag too, or did Heidi really not use any seasonings?

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She was conscious that David, his father and sister were occasionally talking at the other end of the table.

The other end. Weird. David was sitting right next to her, and yet it seemed almost like Ella and his mother were in one room, the rest of the family in another. Mr. Baghill was saying something about David’s two brothers.

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Rex would bring the wife and kids over from Wilkes-Barre tomorrow night. They’d see Ham when they went into Pittsburgh this weekend.  Blair said something about Ham “dropping by the gallery.”

That’s right, Ella remembered now. David had said she worked in an art gallery. Part time. “It’s kind of her hobby,” he’d said.

Ella felt something brush her legs, then a small head butting against her shin, and she smiled in spite of herself. One of the cats.

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It withdrew, she heard a faint noise of claws against tile and the sound of something soft jumping into Mrs. Baghill’s lap. Mrs. Baghill kept eating. The sound of purring rose in the room like a faint, puttering motor.

“God that’s disgusting,” said Mr. Baghill.

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Mrs. Baghill chewed for moment, swallowed. For the first time since she’d started eating she looked down the table at her husband

“Go to Hell,” she said.

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Then she bent her head over her plate again. Mrs. Baghill didn’t say another word for the rest of the meal.

By the time Ella was showered and dressed and putting on her makeup, she felt like herself again. The difference between how she felt now and how she’d felt last night was so striking, she wondered if she remembered everything correctly. Surely the food hadn’t been that bad. Surely Mrs. Baghill hadn’t been that strange.

She stepped back to get a look at herself.

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The perm. She’d had it done the week before the flight, but it still felt weird, and she was not at all convinced she’d brushed it out right.

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She heard a meow behind her.

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She turned.

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“Hello,” Ella said. “Are you my friend from earlier?”

“Meow,” it replied and blinked at her.

Heidi was very nice. She offered to fix Ella some eggs, but Ella was never hungry in the morning, and just said she’d have some coffee.

“Mr. Baghill had to go into town for a meeting, Miss Blair drove to her gallery, and Mister David is still asleep,” she told Ella, as she poured her a cup.

“And Mrs. Baghill?”

“Mrs. Baghill never gets up before eleven.”

Ella added a little cream and sipped the coffee. It was okay, she guessed. Kind of watery.   Maybe if she got up early enough, Heidi would let her brew a pot that was stronger. She noticed the sun slanting in through the windows.

Amazing what a good nights sleep and daylight can do for you. Ella was excited. She wanted to go out, look around. She wanted to see everything.

The back yard was a wide green square of cropped grass bordered by a low brick wall and rosebushes. There were a few flowerbeds in one corner, a couple of benches.

She stood for a moment, closed her eyes, and breathed in. Grass. Flowers. Earth. Wood. The sun on her skin was lovely. David had told her it got very cold in the winter, colder than she could even imagine, but now it felt perfect, like a bright spring day on the island.

“Meow.”

“Meow back,” she said. This wasn’t the same cat she’d seen earlier. This one seemed older, a bit more fragile.

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“Are you Pittysing? Or Cho-Cho-San? Or… I bet you’re “Mamasan!

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This time the meow was more emphatic, and the cat raised one paw almost as if it were  gesturing her to come down.

“Mamasan!” she said, and bent to stroke the animal which leaned against her hands, purring so loudly Ella imagined people hearing it in the house.

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She’d been walking towards the little fenced in section. She straightened up and continued towards it, the cat trotting at her heels.

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Water trickled over the marble of the fountain. On a pedestal a plaque depicted a little dog, a pug. On its top the name “Roscoe” was engraved in elegant black script.

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Beneath it were a few lines of poetry:

Parrots, tortoises and redwoods

Live a longer life than men do,

Men a longer life than dogs do,

Dogs a longer life than love does.

Ella settled down on the bench across from the plaque, her eyes going over the words.

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The cat, who had hopped onto the bench, finished grooming herself and settled in Ella’s lap.

“What does it mean, Mamasan?” Ellen asked, stroking the cat’s chin and bending to look into her blue eyes. “What’s it all about?”

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Mamasan plainly knew only the sun on her fur and the soft hand petting her. She gazed  up with drunken eyes and purred.

Then, as cats do, she suddenly decided it was over. With an irritable meow, Mamasan hopped from her lap.

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“Are you asking Mamasan about the inscription?”

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He smiled as the took the seat next to her. “She’s a cat, you know. You can’t believe a word she tells you.”

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“It’s kind of bleak.” Ella said.

“A quote from an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem. And yeah, I guess ‘bleak’ is the word for it.”

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“Roscoe was Mother’s dog.”

He shook his head. “I’m not real big on dogs myself. Cats are about as much as I can stand. But even by dog standards, Roscoe was pretty awful. One of those little, mean, yappy things, all eyes and tongue. Looked like Peter Lorre. Drooled constantly. Dad couldn’t stand him. None of us could, really. Except Mother, of course. Wherever she went she had the damned thing tucked under her arm. He slept with her, ate with her, crawled into her lap every time she sat down. It got to where she smelled like dog saliva.”

“Anyway, Mother… Mother got sick. Had to go into the hospital for awhile.”

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“It took her three months to get to where she could come home. And by then, Roscoe had died.”

“How terrible! Your poor mother!”

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“Yeah, it was terrible. Mother doesn’t believe it, but I swear to God, Ella, it was an accident. Someone left a door open, and Roscoe took off. Ran out into the road and got flattened by a car a week after Mother left for the hospital.”

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“She blames Dad. Still calls him a murderer. I think she even kind of blames Blair and me, since we were here when it happened, which is… It’s just not right.  I mean, Jeezus, we hated Roscoe, but we never wanted that to happen.”

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“So she had this thing put up. Sometimes she comes out here and sits. Blair and I gave her a couple of cats for her birthday a few years ago. Mamasan and Papasan, who begat Cho-Cho-San and the rest. Mama said once that was about right. Five cats almost make up for one Roscoe.”

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“Papasan went to his reward last year. He’s somewhere under the flowers over there. A tumor, thank God, not something she could blame on the rest of us.”

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“I’m so sorry, David.”

She lay her hand on his. He took it, squeezed it, and stood, tugging her gently to her feet.

“So…” he smiled. “Now you know the worst about my family.”

 

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“Let’s take a stroll and find someplace more cheerful to sit and talk.”

 

It seemed to her the neighborhood went on and on and on, handsome brick houses, long driveways, wide, trimmed lawns. “Mannered” was the word that kept occurring to her. Everything was very pretty, very solid, and very mannered.

David’s arm was around her waist. Once or twice they met people. A lady with gray hair walking her two Spaniels passed them, and David said,  “Hello, Mrs Payton.” A plump man in his thirties stopped to speak to them and David itroduced her to him as “My very, very good friend Ella Macana,” and the man pronounced her “lovely.” Eventually, they came to a street of businesses, more dark brick and shade, a beautiful little mannered park.

On the little mannered bridge, going over a little mannered brook, David stopped and took her hands.

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She wanted to say, “I understand about your mother.”

She wanted to tell him she knew what kind of hospital he meant.

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She wanted to tell him about Pop, who was and wasn’t like Mrs. Baghill. Pop was a sweet, loveable man, even when he was ill, even when he got upset and said things he didn’t mean. He tended to blame himself instead of other people, but he, too had to go away a couple of times. It was nothing to be ashamed of. It was a sickness like any other.

“The bench over there has a much nicer view than the one at home,” David said.

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“Let’s sit and talk about happy things.”

As they settled onto the bench, he said, “Rex and Sheila and the kids are coming over tonight.”

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“We’re all going to go out to The Embers. A little dressy, but not too much. The steaks are the best bet there. Then we’ll all go back to the house for drinks. They want to get a look at you, of course, talk to you. I think you’ll like them.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior,” she said, and he laughed.

“I know you’ll make me proud,” he said.

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Inheritance, Chapter 5 Part 2 — “Really…”

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Lucas had decided to quit early, so when Derek called, he was already getting ready to leave his desk downstairs at the Rose. “Sorry to bother you,” Derek said, “but Lee and I are at Pond House, getting ready to take Tante out to see Twelve Angry Men, and we’ve found another puddle. Salt water. Next to the bed. Would it be too much trouble for you to come by and see if you can locate the leak? You have keys, right?”

“Sure, I’d be glad to,” he said. He was heading over to the house anyway, to talk to Pop, and it would be no trouble to walk across the road to Pond House.

They mopped the puddle up before they left, of course. And naturally, there was no leak anywhere.

Even when you were alone in the house, there was always, always somebody else there. Either just in the next room.

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Or standing in the doorway, watching you.

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I’m leaving now,” he’d announced before turning around, walking back into the kitchen and out the back door.

What was going on wasn’t a mystery to him at all. He doubted it was to anybody else in the family either, though nobody would admit it. Certainly Lee Tesange knew. And Tante.

Weird that Macana Beach wasn’t haunted. That was, after all, where it had happened.

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He liked walking along that stretch of shoreline. The sound of the waves helped him to think, and he had a lot to think about these days.

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It was good to be young, to have money in hand and years ahead of him. He’d convince Pop yet about the rooms above the restaurant. Two of the offices had been vacant now for almost a year, and the new Pritchard building downtown was where everyone wanted to be. It couldn’t be all that hard to convert the rooms back to hotel suites and bedrooms. Hell, he was willing to put in a little of his annual payment from the trust to offset the cost. Tourism was booming these days, and who wouldn’t want to stay in a beautiful bit of history like The Rose?

 

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As for Pond House… Well, the smart thing would be to pull it down, rebuild something nicer and bigger, and put in a driveway so the road (which was a dead end anyway) could be dug up, grassed over and the lot reconnected with Macana Beach. That would increase the value significantly. Some would say to take out that memorial stone Grandpa had put down, but he didn’t like the idea. It was history, and if they decided to use it as rental property the tourists would like it. The ghost might even been an inducement for some, a nice bit of Island exotica.

It would all depend, of course, on whether or not Grandma Pinny minded.

He was sure she’d let everybody know if she did, and if that were the case,  no renters, no question. Only members of the family. Really, it would be up to her. Lucas had a profound respect for the dead.

But who’s to say a ghost wouldn’t like a more spacious house and a few visitors?

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Aside from the uncanny, there was the matter of liability if tourists stayed there and used the beach. No doubt about it, the currents were dangerous, but so were the currents off most of the beaches on the island and that didn’t seem to deter off-islanders. They would likely have to put up one of those blood-curdling danger signs showing a swimmer going down for the third time. But the ocean view might be enough…

He’d turned around to talk back when he saw the woman.

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At first, when he noticed the ponytail,  he thought it was Babette.

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She’d left for the mainlaind last year, but she always said she’d look him up if she came back. He’d worried about the lingering bad feelings most love affairs seemed to leave, even though she’d seemed to be okay after they broke it off. I would be nice to see her again as a friend.

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When she got closer, he realized it wasn’t Babette.

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But she still looked familiar.

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She stopped and for a moment they simply looked at each other.

“Hello,” she said, then walked to him.

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He came close to saying, “This is private property,” but she was smiling, and he didn’t want to be  rude. He knew from her face exactly who she was, and there were already enough bad feelings with that branch of the family. Instead he asked, “can I help you?” trying not to sound too annoyed.

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“I apologize for intruding,” she said. “You seemed to be thinking, but I felt like I should at least speak to you. You must be…”

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“I’m Lucas Macana,” he said. “And you must be Janet Abbot. Aunt Kristal’s youngest. The pianist.”

“Cousin Lucas! Mama says you’re the sensible one. I mean, the most sensible one! I’m sure everyone in your family is sensible…”

He smiled. “I take after my mother,” he said.

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“I didn’t mean… Forgive me. The last time I saw you I was little girl and you were practically a baby. It’s really so ridiculous we’ve not met since then, but we lived over on the Western End, all the way in Theodosia, and then I went off to boarding school and college. And Mama, well, you know Mama, she’s so busy all the time and she… I know… I love her so much, she’s my mama after all, but I know she can rub people the wrong way, really.”

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“We can be friends, can’t we?”

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“I don’t see why not,” he said, unsure if it were the truth.

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He was trying to think of a polite way of asking “what are you doing here?” but she spoke before he could say anything.

“I know what you want to ask. I’m here because Mama asked me to call on old Tante Laurette. She said I should now that I’ve moved back. But nobody was there, and then I walked across the road and looked down at the beach and saw you and I thought “that must be a Macana,” and so I walked down to meet you, which is probably not what Mama intended.  Really, I think she wanted me to look at the house and tell her what shape it’s in. ‘Make sure that dotty old dear isn’t getting pneumonia in that shack,’ she said, but really I think she wants…”

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“It’s embarrassing, but, well really… It seems like a nice house, even if it is kind of small. And I would like to meet Tante, because I’ve heard so much about her, and everyone says she’s so nice, my brother Ben says she’s ‘half-way to a saint,’ those are the words he used, even though I don’t think he’s ever really met her either. Which is such a shame, being relatives and all. Anyway, I think with Mama, to tell you the truth, I think it’s really all about the house and equity and all that, because to tell the truth, she’s little afraid of Tante. She may have forgotten, but she told me once Tante was a witch and I should keep away from her. I think she was serious, too! Mama’s such an Islander, you know,  and Islanders believe in that stuff. But really, I’m one too, I guess, so I chouldn’t talk. I love Mama, I really do, but I think she’s up to something. That’s what I think.”

She smiled sadly.

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“Like my brother Ben always says, “Watch out when Mama’s up to something.”

 

They said goodbye just as the sun started to go down. In the meantime, Lucas had shown Janet around. “Of course, I remember the stone!” she said. ‘How nice of Tante to take such good care of it!” He took her inside — briefly — and she seemed to notice nothing amiss, even pronouncing it “really cozy.”

As dusk began to settle, her walked her to her car and they shook hands. “I guess,” she sighed, “I’ll have to report back to Mama. Do you mind if I not mention meeting you? She’ll interrogate me, and she’s such a dear really, so I hate it when she interrogates me because then I have to lie.”

Funny woman, he thought, as he walked back to the house. He’d have to mention to Pop he’d seen her, that she’d moved back to the island and Aunt Kristal was “up to something.” Not that that meant much. These days, with the fate of Pond House up in the air, Aunt Kristal was always “up to something.”

Everything he was going to say to Pop went out of his head as soon as he came in sight of the house.

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Pop and David Baghill were sitting on the porch. With drinks. David was talking. Ella was nowhere in sight.

A serious talk. Maybe the serious talk.

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As he walked up the steps to the front porch, Pop and David rose and shook hands. “I just wanted you to know,” David said, “That I am not just frittering away your daughter’s time. I’m serious. Very serious. I love her.”

“I believe you,” Pop said.

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“Hello, Lucas,” David said, nodding, without smiling. He’d never quite forgiven Lucas for making fun of him the night they met.

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Which was fine with Lucas.

“Hello, Dave.”

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They didn’t bother waving as David walked away. Lucas followed Pop inside.

Mom was sitting on the couch, and she put her book down as soon as they walked in.

“Well?” she asked.

Pop sat next to her as though he were very tired.

“It’s as you said,” he told her. “It’s not just some off-Islander fling. He wants to marry her.”

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“Remember what we talked about, Artie. We don’t want to repeat history, do we?”

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“I suppose not,” Pop said.

Lucas couldn’t believe it. “Him? You can’t let this happen!”

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Mom and Pop looked at each other, and he realized they were as upset about it as he was.

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“Yes,” Mom said gently, her eyes on Pop. “I’m afraid we may have to.”

 

He wasn’t going to leave without at least trying to talk some sense into Ella. Mom and Dad knew he would, of course, when he asked if he could stay for dinner. “She’s at the Artte Shoppe helping with inventory, so she’s not getting back until after midnight,” Dad told him.

“Now Lucas,” Mom said, “I don’t want you to bullyrag your sister. We’re going to talk to her about it tomorrow over breakfast when everyone has had a good night’s sleep and a chance to think about it.”

But he stayed instead of driving back to his apartment in Theodosia. Even after they went up to bed he sat in the dining room at the table, going over some old plans of the upstairs rooms at The Rose.

He heard her come in at about half past one, close the front door quietly behind her, and climb the stairs. She would get ready for bed, then come downstairs for the glass of water she always carried up. He waited.

When she came in and saw him, she stopped.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

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At least with her make-up washed off she looked like his sister again. He’d been half afraid she was wearing mascara and lipstick to bed.

“Could you sit down for a minute, Sis? I want to talk to you”

She settled into a chair, her face guarded.

 

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“David came over tonight,” he said. “He had a conversation with Pop. One of those ‘my-intentions-towards-your-daughter’ things.”

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She smiled.

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“I knew he would! Wasn’t that sweet? Just like him, too. David really is trying to fit in on the Island, and sometimes he goes a little overboard. He told me he wasn’t comfortable buying a ring until he’d cleared things with our parents. I guess he thought the old-fashioned approach was the best way.”

“Ella, You do realize, don’t you, that Mom and Pop are less than happy about this?”

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“If they haven’t said anything, it’s because they’re afraid of acting the way their families did. They don’t want to make the same mistakes.”

Ella nodded. “Actually, they have said something to me. Or at least, Mom has. Last week she sat me down and we had a long talk about it. She said she and Pop are worried about how I’m still very young, and they aren’t sure David and I are compatible.”

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“But they don’t know. I do! David and I are completely compatible. Like this!” She pressed her hands together.

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“Like two peas in a pod! We have everything in common. He understands me, and he’s one hundred percent behind my art!”

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Lucas had to force himself not a shake his head. “Always asking to look at it, is he? Always encouraging you to take out your sketchpad and draw? Put something on a canvas? How long has it been since you painted something?”

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“Lucas, what’s your point? We’re in love. Of course we’re going to spend a lot of time together, doing all sorts of things. He doesn’t necessarily want to just sit in some room watching me work.”

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“My point? My point is, you are twenty-one years old. You are a good, talented artist, and you know, after that talk at the bank, that you can do what you want.”

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“…And you’re going to marry David Baghill? Really?”

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“I don’t like the way you say his name,” Ella said.

She stood. So did he.

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“I am going into the kitchen, pouring myself a glass of water and going to bed. I know you don’t like David, Lucas. I don’t know why, but you behaved horribly towards him the night you met. All I’m going to say is that you are wrong. If you think he’s after my money…”

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“Your money? You mean the trust? Jesus Christ, Ella, that’s pocket change to Dave Baghill.”

“Well, whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong and you’d better just stop talking. This has been a very happy day for me, and you’re ruining it. Please go home.”

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She started into the kitchen. He was standing in front of her before either of them really knew it.

“Ellie, stop. Please. Listen to me.”

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“I know he’s good-looking. I know he’s nice to you, and he’s funny and smart, and in any other situation I might like the guy, even be his friend. No, I don’t like his politics, I’ll admit it. Yes, I think you’re too young to be engaged to someone. But that’s not why I… That’s not even why Mom and Pop are really, really worried about this.”

He took a breath. He tried to smile. “We love you, Sis. We care about you. And that night he came over, you didn’t see his face.”

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“His face?”

“Yes, his face. His expression. When he saw Pop on the porch. I could tell right off he’d never seen Pop before. He hid it quickly, but he was shocked.”

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“What are you saying?”

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“He may love you, Sis. I don’t have any trouble believing that. ”

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“…but he doesn’t love all of you.”

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“How dare you.”

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“Ellie…”

“How dare you accuse David of being some kind of…of…racist! You don’t know him at all! You’re wrong, absolutely wrong.

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“Do you know what I’m doing next month? I’m flying Mainland with him, to Pennsylvannia. He wants me to meet his parents, his family. So you see, you’re completely and utterly and unforgiveably wrong about him!”

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She turned away. “Get out,” she said quietly. “Go back to your own place. I can’t even look at you anymore tonight.”

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“Ellie….” he said.

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Inheritance: Chapter 5 Part 1 — A Lady of Means

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She was twenty-one. Not a girl anymore and certainly not a student. Now she was a college graduate with a degree in art.

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Now she was a woman.

Just as he had with Lucas, Pop took her to the Maritime Bank to talk to Mr. Rowe about the Trust Great-Grandpa had set up for her.

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Mr. Rowe was very nice, and he explained things as clearly as he could. It was, he said, a pretty simple trust.

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“Yours is almost identical to your brother’s,” he said.

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“You will receive annual payments from it until you reach the age of 35. After that, you may accept the entire benefit in bulk, or continue the payments. In any event, until the time you take complete control of it, the bulk of the trust is not available except in an emergency. And as trustee, I would have to see it as a pretty dire emergency. Is this clear?”

She nodded.

Then he told her what the payment would be this year.

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She asked him to repeat it. He did.

“Oh…Oh my!”

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He smiled. “I know it seems like a lot, but if you decide to get your own place, you’ll find it will enable you to live in modest comfort rather than luxury. These payments are, you understand, not in fixed amounts, but based on things like the current value of the stocks, interest,  etc.  I would not say you were wealthy, young lady, but I think with careful management, you can be pretty comfortable. It certainly provides you with a measure of security.”

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“Do you have any questions?” he asked.

She turned to Pop.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” he said.

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“Your great-grandfather set this up so professionals could help you and your brother manage your inheritance. Me, I’m just a bystander. Mr. Rowe is the person you need to ask.”

“If I… If I die, can I leave the trust to anyone I want?”

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“Surely that won’t be for a very long time, my dear. But it is a very good question. The answer is, no, not until you reach the age of 35.”
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“If, God forbid, you were to die before then, the trust would either transfer to your brother or be divided equally among any children you might have. Or Lucas’ children, if he were no longer living. Or, if the absolute worst were to happen, your cousins on your father’s side. The point is, only your great-grandfather’s direct descendants could inherit. Amadou was quite emphatic about that.

After your thirty-fifth birthday, of course, it will pass entirely into your hands and you can leave it to anyone you want.”

“So,” Pop asked. “How does it feel to be a lady of means?”

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It felt good. It felt exciting.

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***

She still wanted to get a job. Something at the Finnegan, or maybe she could teach a couple of art classes at St. Nicholas Grammar. In the meantime, she kept busy.  Tonight she would help with the inventory at the Artte Shoppe, and of course there was her painting — though these days, she had to admit, she was spending as much of her free time as she could with David.

As soon as they got home from the bank, she stepped out of her heels, changed her dress and unpinned her hair, shaking her head with realief. David was going to meet her at Reckoner Park and they would walk to The Rose for lunch.

On her way, she felt uneasy. Things were going so well with David. They had been seeing each other for six months now, and she kept waiting for the bumps, the setbacks she’d read about, seen in movies. Maybe this was where it would happen.

She had money now. What if… What if he were a fortune hunterlike Montgomery Clift in The Heiress?

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What if the Baghills didn’t really have lots of money of their own? Was he going to question her about the trust? She imagined him saying “When you are thirty-five? Hmmmm,” his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. Was this the part where sinister music started playing in the background?

He was already waiting for her. They kissed, then he stepped back and looked at her. “I thought you were going to pin your hair up and look like a lady today.”

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“I did. It just — the bun gave me a headache. And the heels made my feet hurt, so I changed.”

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“You don’t… You don’t mind do you?”

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“Of course not, silly.

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“How did it go at the bank? Everything squared away?”

“Oh yes. Mr. Rowe is nice! And it wasn’t complicated at all, not the way he explained it.”

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“I’m glad to hear that. See, bank offices aren’t such terrible places, are they? Even if you do have to dress like a grown-up.”

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“I… Oh, if you want I’ll run home and change…”

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“I was joking, sweetheart.” He put his arms around her. “Your hair’s not long enough for a bun, anyway. No wonder it gave you a headache. Little steps. Remember, it all starts with little steps. ”

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He didn’t even ask about the money.

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She heard no sinister music at all.

 

Inheritance, Chapter 4 Part 2 — Night Must Fall

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“It was beautiful,” Ella said. She sounded like some soppy little thirteen-year-old, but she didn’t care. They were the only words that worked. “Absolutely beautiful.”

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On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they had 8:00 am art history classes at the Finnegan. It wasn’t a popular time slot, but starting that early meant they had afternoons free and besides, Dr. Berns was one of the better lecturers. They always grabbed some coffee at the tourist stand near the beach and settled around one of the firepots. After yesterday’s kiss, she’d been looking forward to talking to her friends.

“Well, I’m glad it was worth skipping class yesterday,” said Dovie. “Was Mr. Baywreath okay with him taking the afternoon off?”

“It was more like a long lunch, really.”

“Nice to be the boss’s cousin,” said Dovie. “But really… was it that good? I’ve been kissed a lot and to tell the truth, it’s still kind of a mystery to me. Just lots of flesh rolling around in your mouth and hands trying to get under your clothes.”

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I get it, Ellie,” said Margaretmarie. “I know exactly what you mean. There’s nothing like learning what it’s all about, is there? And he’s good-looking too! And rich! Ginny Pascoe tells me the mainland Baghills are knee-deep in the good stuff! Her dad absolutely hates them!”

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“I guess he’s got money,” said Ella, “but really that doesn’t matter to me. Suddenly she felt uneasy. Pop and Jerome Pascoe still met for drinks sometimes. If Jerry hated David’s father, would Pop disapprove too? What if it were like when Great-Grandpa and Old Jack got so mad at Pop and Mom for marrying? What if Pop stopped speaking to her?

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She was getting ahead of herself. It wasn’t like she and David were engaged or anything. “It’s just fun,” she said.

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“It’s nice to be seeing someone I actually look forward to seeing.”

“You be careful, Darlin’,” said Margaretmarie. “Those mainlanders are a hoot, but they can be mean and tricky. Don’t let him… well, if you do let him, you be careful and make sure he’s careful. You don’t want to end up like that poor Ballou girl.”

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“I promise I’ll be careful. And anyway, I don’t think he’s out to just… well… Please don’t laugh, but I think he’s being a gentleman.”

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“After we kissed yesterday, he said, ‘Don’t you think it’s about time you told your family we’re dating?”

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Monday was the best time. Dad didn’t work that night, and Ella’s Tuesday and Thursday classes were late, so she could sleep the next morning as long as she wanted. David would take her out for a nice dinner and pick her up at the house so Mom and Pop could get a look at him without the ante being upped too much.

“David Baghill?” Dad asked when she told him. “The kid who’s come to work for that clot Harry Baywreath?”

 

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“You’ve met him, Pop?”

“Not really. Saw him at the Rose when Harry brought him in for a welcome dinner the first night he was here. Quite the young prince…”

Mom cleared her throat.

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and Pop added hastily, “Good looking young man. Supposed to be smart.”
“He sounds adorable, Ella,” Mom said.

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“I can’t wait to get a look at him.”

 

 

Nothing more was said to Ella, but by sunset on Monday it was plain to her that word had spread in the family.

Aunt Kitty showed up at 4:30, Lucas about fifteen minutes later. Ella knew, although she’d not yet walked out onto the porch, that Lucas and Dad were now sitting at their chess table.

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Kitty was beating Mom at dominoes.

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Ella was dressed, ready, but she didn’t want to step out onto the porch until David was there. She wanted to keep to a minimum the comments from the family about how she looked.

Then she heard Kitty say something.

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“Here he is.”

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She heard Dad and Lucas get up from their chairs, some murmurs.

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She waited until she figured everyone had shaken hands and gotten the greetings out of the way.

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Dad’s expression went carefully neutral when he saw her. Lucas’ did not.

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David quickly, gracefully kissed her on the cheek before turning back to Pop.

“…of course there are a few adjustments,” he continued, “but I think it’s a job I can enjoy. It’s not just sitting at a desk, for one thing. I get out in the field with Ray McSherry, visit the plants, talk to people…”

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“…about what?” asked Dad, flashing his broad smile.

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“Processes, efficiency. That kind of thing. There’s always room for change, but you want to nail down what’s working. Don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, you know.”

 

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Dad was still smiling. “Yes, I’ve heard Ray say that. Those talks out at the plant… I assume you mean the plantation in Theodosia? Your and Ray’s visits there wouldn’t have anything to do with those worker meetings Mel Sauvaterre’s been holding at the Mechanics’, now, would they?”

David looked startled, and a little put off, and Ella heard Mom quietly getting out of her chair.

“Well, Mr. Macana, you run a business yourself,” David said. “I think we can agree that it’s important to be aware of everything happening in your place, even one that’s relatively small. You don’t want people taking advantage of your employees. Especially here on the island, where folks can be a little unsophisticated.”

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“Yes-yes-yes! It is good you have come, sah!” exclaimed Lucas in an exaggerated Island accent.  “Dis collective bargaining some speak of, we know not of dese tings! We ask only to sing and laugh as we pick de fruits of our island de good Lord has…”

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“That is enough,” Mom said.

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She smiled at David. “Excuse the men in our family. They like to tease newcomers. It is a pleasure to meet you at last.” She took his hand. “I suppose we have you to thank for seeing our daughter in a dress at last. She’s told us so many wonderful things about you.”

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“Thank you, Mrs. Macana. Believe me, the pleasure has been all mine.”

“David, let me introduce you to Aunt Kitty,” Ella said.

She looked at him closely as they walked to where Kitty was sitting. Had he been offended? David’s face was set, thoughtful, and his expression worried her.

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“David Baghill, this is my great aunt, Kitty Rose Baranca,” she said.

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“Mrs. Baranca, It’s an honor,” he said. “I first heard ‘Green Circle’ on the radio while visiting my parents in Monroeville, and Father told me you were not only the musician, but the composer. It’s a wonderful song.”

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Kitty smiled.

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“Why thank you! Your father — he’d be Jonah’s youngest boy, wouldn’t he? Your grandfather was so proud of him! I worked for Miles Baghill when he was running the theater here, you know.”

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“Wish Ella had made it clear how handsome you are. I’d have put on a little lipstick.”

 

They ate dinner outside at The Spotswood. David seemed to have recovered from his encounter with Dad and Lucas. The meal, like every other moment with David, seemed like a dance, a graceful, delightful,  intoxicating waltz. Every cliche she’d ever heard about being in love — “Head in the clouds,” “butterflies,” “Heart skipping a beat” made sense to her now.

Afterwards, they walked out onto the patio overlooking the beach. Kissing David… There were no words left for it anymore. It had only become more intense, more intoxicating.

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He drew back and he looked at her, and she thought, even if this is the end…

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…even if he says, “this was lovely, Ella, but…” Even if he gently held her at arms length and said “you are so young, and you should see other people.”

It was still worth it. That’s what she told herself.

“Ella,” he said.

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“I know this is sudden. I know this is soon but… I think I am falling in love with you.”

“I hope…” His voice was husky, and he reached out to touched her face. “I would like to keep seeing you. I’d like to see you seriously, Ella. Not just as someone showing me the island. Not just…”

“Yes,” she whispered.

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He sighed. “God, you are beautiful tonight,” he said. “Not just pretty. Not even just beautiful. You are spectacular.” David smiled. “You should wear makeup all the time. You should do yourself justice.”

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“Yes,” she said, pressing his hand against her cheek. “I will.”

 

The day did not badly at all. Judy and Marion came by just before lunch. They wanted to take her out to eat, but she hadn’t felt like going anywhere. She didn’t enjoy it much these days, and she wasn’t very hungry. So they sat on the patio and talked for awhile.

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Marion told a funny story.

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Yesterday afternoon, Leon came home from work early, and Marion heard him calling for her outside. As he’d driven in, he’d spotted Gwennie in the top of a neighborhood tree. “He was horrified,” she said, laughing.

“I came out to find him across the street, pacing back and forth under the tree. Gwennie’s  head was sticking out at the very top, and she was waving down at him and shouting, ‘look at me Daddy!’ and Leon was waving back and shouting ‘That’s nice, sweetie. Now come down!’ trying not to sound panicky. He was terrified she’d fall. I’d told him she’d been topping every tree in the area, but I guess he hadn’t really heard me.”

Laurette smiled.

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She’d been the same when she was a girl, climbing every tree, conquering it. Suddenly she could remember taking joy in the lightness of her own body,

 

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the strength and hardness of her arms and legs as she pulled herself upwards in a world of dappled green.

It occured to her that Judith was being very quiet.

“How are things with your family, Cherie?” she asked.

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“We are fine, thank you Tante.”

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“Sergei is teaching Lish so much he’s becoming very handy around the house. And Mother is feeling a little better. She went out for a walk with me yesterday all the way to vista park.”

“Is Elisha still seeing that girl?”

“The Ambriz girl? Oh yes, she still comes around.”

“And what about you? Are you seeing anyone?”

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“No,” Judith said.

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“Not these days.”

“Oh.”

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In the past, Judith would have smiled and said, “Oh yes, so-and-so and I have been going out.” She liked men, and men liked her. Sometimes, Judith reminded Laurette of Judith’s great-uncle Greg. She had not only his brains, but the same ability to charm the opposite sex, the same easygoing pleasure in flirting, loving, then moving on.

“Well, I for one am a bit peckish,” said Judith. She touched Laurette lightly on the shoulder and rose from her seat. “Would it be alright, Tante, if I went in and made a sandwich or two? I promise not to make too much of a mess.”

“I’d appreciate that, Judy,” said Marion. “I’m a little hungry myself.” She looked at Laurette. “Would it be all right for Judith to use your kitchen for a bit?”

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“Of course.”

Marion waited until Judith had closed the door behind her.

Then she leaned forward and said, her voice lowered, “Did you know she’s moved back in with her family?”

 

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“No! When?”

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“Two weeks ago. She’s worried about her mother. That last heart attack really knocked the stuffing out of poor Brigitte. Judy doesn’t like to let on about it, but I really thought you should know.”

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“Brigitte is still not herself, then?”

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Marion smiled sadly. “All the fight seems to be gone. She never gets angry anymore. Not even at Leon.  And it’s so hard now to get her to exercise, walk around, do things. Which she has to do if she’s going to really recover.”

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“I just wanted you to know. If Judy seems quiet these days, it’s because she has a lot on her mind.

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The sandwiches Judy made from the leftover roast chicken were nice. Laurette ate all of her’s, but she noticed Judy had little appetite and didn’t even finish half. Before they left, Marion and Judy asked if Laurette had plans for dinner, and she showed them the pot of Perlow Mimi had carried over earlier that day. Artie and Mimi had wanted her to come up to the house to get a look at some young man Ella was seeing, but Laurette didn’t feel like talking to strangers.

Judy needed her help. Brigitte needed her help.

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Why had she not thought of it before? Too selfish, really. She’d allowed herself to become mired in grief and self-pity. Yes, Brigitte had her own table, and could make a good tonic.

But for true effectiveness, nothing beat one made by someone with talent.

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Vinjoie, that’s what she would make. That’s what would put her poor niece back on her feet, make her take an interest in things again.

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Once, Laurette would have had no need to consult the book. Once, her hands would have moved instantly, naturally, reaching for the proper ingredients, bringing them to exactly the right measurements and temperature.

But it had been a long time, and the ancient machinery creaked. It was important to get it right. So she read, her old eyes straining as the light of day faded.

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It was dark when she truly began.

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But once she got started, the confidence began to return.

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Perhaps she moved more slowly, but she could still feel herself falling easily into her old movements.

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It felt good. It felt…reassuring. It was as though she’d been in an  unfamiliar place, and was finding her way back.

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How long did she work? Three hours? Four?

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Longer perhaps than it once did, but what mattered was that it felt right. The scents rising where exactly what they should be, the surface in the cauldron bubbling in patterns she recognized.

There. The mixture was cooked, measured out precisely, poured into a jar of exactly the right size. All it needed to turn the right color was to bubble down, uncovered in the moonlight for about an hour, and then she could pour it into a pretty bottle for Brigitte.

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She was hungry. Hungier than she’d been in a long time. That brown perlow would taste very good right now.

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It smelled so wonderful as she heated it on the stove. Brought back memories. Wasn’t a brown perlow one of the first things she’d eaten here on the island?

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She’d been so young. Six? Seven?  A baby really.

As she ate, she thought about Vinjoe. She needed to get back into the habit of making it, and other tonics. Nice gifts for birthdays or Midsummer or Christmas. Not as good as Tel’s of course. Not even Greg could make Vinjoie as good as Tel’s had been. But good enough. Artie, Mimi, Lucas, and even Ella would appreciate it. Judy too. And Laney and Kim…

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After she’d finished and washed up, she walked out into the night invigorated, happy. Yes, it was late, very late, and she was tired, but it was a good weariness. She drew in a long breath, savoring the scent of grass, the faint tang of the ocean carried on a cool breeze that touched her cheek like a kiss.

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It took her a moment to realize what was wrong.

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The scent of the ruined tonic was like rotten wood, and there was something else, something wet and salty. The smell of the ocean was no longer faint but harsh, overpowering.

 

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“Why?”

The tears were no less humiliating because no other living person could see them.

“I was your friend,” she whispered. “Why are you hurting me?”

She would have called out the name,  but could no longer even bear to utter it.

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The drowned woman.

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