Welcome to the third installment of the saga!

 

Lyric credits in this section include: "Save The Country" by Laura Nyro; "Your Cheatin' Heart" by Hank Williams (via Patsy Cline); "Music" by Carole King; "Have Another Piece of My Heart" by Janis Joplin; Ruby Tuesday" by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (via Melanie).

 

"Cellie's poems" are, as always, my creation.--- Lorraine A. Balint

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY

 

Cellie and Willie enjoyed the most peaceful period they had ever known since their marriage, as June passed into July.  Cellie had taken her husband's and aunt's admonitions to heart. When she wasn't working the abbreviated schedule Barnabas insisted upon, she immersed herself in domestic pursuits, and also gave her fullest attention to her husband's health and schoolwork. In spite of her previous attitude, she did settle down to knit and crochet a dainty sweater, a crib afghan, a bonnet, and and booties. She became so obsessed with finishing these projects, she would sometimes stay up until one or two in the morning. Willie, who couldn't sleep if he sensed his wife wasn't lying next to him, would wander downstairs, and lead the dazed needle-worker up to their bed.

 

Cellie, who had a way of letting her own appointments with Dr. Hurley slip her mind (she tired of hearing the same admonitions about using her ability), made sure Willie saw the internist her doctor had recommended. Willie went, on his own, and only complained mildly about the tests he had to undergo. The internist, to Willie's and Cellie's combined relief, found no ulcer or more serious condition, although he warned about the long-term effects of stress and anxiety. "Try to

relax more, Mr. Loomis," he advised, while writing up a prescription for the strongest antacids he knew of.

 

Cellie quizzed Willie the night before he took his American history exam, and then shared his delight at the 'B' he earned. "I guess I have that much to thank Barnabas for, besides you," he told his wife. "All that yacking he used to do about how things were, way back when.... Even when he got over his problem, he would still read books about it, trying to catch up with all the other stuff that happened after 1796, and he'd say something to me, when I passed by him, doing my chores.

I guess he had to share it with someone, and all he had was me. It seems more of it stuck than I really thought about at the time."

 

Willie took Cellie out for dinner to celebrate that , and the arrival, by special delivery (courtesy of Mrs. Texeira), of Cellie's diploma, with an honors citation tucked into the leatherette case.

 

"I suppose I could have been valedectorian, or that second banana, the saluta- what- cha- ma- call- it," Cellie commented. "But I'm just as glad, that Hallie was valedectorian. She's really come a long way, being able to give a speech in front of all those people, even with all of her worries over Paul on her mind." At least, she thought, Paul's latest letters contained no hint of falling-tree imagery. Either he hadn't had to shoot anybody lately, or something in Hallie's latest epistles had convinced him not to report on that aspect of his service, for the time being.

 

Willie said, "She's gotten to be a lot like you. She can put the bad stuff out of her mind, and then go in and do the job. She'd probably fight the war and get it over with for Paul, if she could."

 

After dinner, Willie took Cellie to visit the Detweiler-Braithewaites in Chartville, before he took her dancing. Lisa and Arnold's baby, Seth Detweiler (they had agreed to adhere to the patronymic tradition for their children), had been born at the end of April, and this was the second time the Loomises had seen him. Cellie whispered to her husband, "He's going to be a little Arnold for sure. All he needs are those glasses." Willie forced himself not to laugh out loud. But they

 

both admired the way Arnold carried his son all over the place, introducing him to customers, constantly kissing him and loving him up.

 

"I can't help it," Arnold said. "I had a younger brother who died of leukemia when he was six, and I was eight, and I was the only kid left. So you could say, I developed an appreciation for children, the hard way. If Lisa doesn't object too strenuously, I hope we have a dozen."

 

"We're looking for four, ourselves," Cellie said, "a couple of years apart."

 

"I'll take 'em when I can get 'em, and I've already decided, they're all going to be jewelers and goldsmiths. Seth already goes nuts when he sees the boxes of loose stones his mom works from. Keeps his eyes busy, that's for sure. They like glittery things, I guess, even at his age."

 

"Kids aren't the only ones who go nuts for that stuff," Willie sighed.

 

Cellie stroked his back, and said, brightly, "I can see Seth, when he's, like, two, with jeweler's tools in his hands, just like his Mom." She gave Arnold the present she'd brought for Seth, a rubber teething toy, shaped like a big silver-grey ring, set with an absurdly large yellow "diamond". The baby reached for it immediately, to everyone's amusement.

 

After they left "Lisarnold's", Willie took Cellie to a tavern in Chartville to dance. Though she got bigger and felt more uncomfortable every day, Cellie still got worked up when Willie held her, and she could sense that he was getting amorous, even before he whispered a suggestion in her ear. (Dr. Hurley, who had some modern ideas, didn't give them a specific deadline to desist from lovemaking, saying instead, "You'll know when to change your habits." And they had, in some ways, but they weren't about to give it up completely.)

 

"Let's get home right away," Willie said, pulling Cellie toward the door. Outside, it was extremely warm and humid.

 

"It's a good thing you let Barnabas give us that air conditioner, after all, hon," she said.

 

"When he and Julia said it was a graduation present, I wasn't about to squawk about it," he chuckled. "It's the least they could do, after what we went through, to get their love life squared away." Julia and Barnabas were back in the Old House, and had reported no further disturbances; in fact, they said they felt completely alone in the house for the first time since Cellie had moved out. What was more, they felt that there would be no further trouble, even when they brought back Josette's furniture from Bangor the next week. Barnabas had been coming into work, looking a little peaked these days, and when Willie and Cellie went to dinner at the Old House, they both noticed that Julia looked more cheerful than usual. "I guess we know what they've been up to," Willie commented. Cellie counted the passing of the days, until she should hear the announcement her aunt was dying to make.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

"No, Cellie. I guess it wasn't meant to be, this soon," Julia said, sadly. "We're still going to try, but Dr. Hurley says, now, that it may only be a matter of months before it's too late."

 

"Don't get too desperate yet, or you'll freeze it up, Aunt Jule. You know, I can work on getting you relaxed, but I doubt Barnabas would let me get that close."

 

"Well, if next month goes by, and nothing happens, desperate measures may be in order. I had Dr. Hurley call a clinic in Boston. The earliest appointment they can give me would be the second week of August. If I end up going, maybe you can come with me, and we can visit your mother and Ernest."

 

"If Will lets me go. I want to see Mom again, before the baby comes. And since Ernest passed the bar, finally, he and Lillian are working on starting a family. Apparently there's a little problem there, too. You and Lillian can commiserate." Cellie sighed. "I wish Dad was still in Boston. Even if he doesn't want to see me, if there was an emergency, I'd like to know he was available. He'd come see me if something went wrong, wouldn't he, Aunt Jule? If he got sick, or had an accident,

 

I'd go see him in a heartbeat."

 

"I'd like to think so, Cellie, but at that time, he was adamant. He has a way of being stubborn about things, but then, we both do. Once he had a friend who became a prosecutor, and of course, the day came when Walter had to argue a case against him, and lost. I don't think he ever spoke to his friend again. And then, I had a boyfriend, Mark, back when your father and mother had been married about a year, and already had Ernest. Our father was terminally ill, and Walter, being ten years my senior, felt he had the right to act in loco parentis.

 

“Well, when we went to dinner at Walter's house, Mark just said a few things about lawyers, and as the conversation degenerated, somehow he managed to imply that he'd gone all the way with me, which wasn't, well, exactly true. At that time, I was already planning to become a psychiatrist, and my head was full of scandalous psychological ideas, so of course I had to put in my two cents. Walter and Mark almost came to blows. Janice held Walter back, and I had to make Mark leave.

 

"Afterward, Walter told me I would not be welcome in his home if he heard I was still seeing Mark, or, in fact, anyone who so much as reminded him of Mark. I wasn't that crazy about Mark anymore, after he'd been so indiscreet, but I thought Walter was far too harsh. He said some things that really hurt my feelings. So, as he'd requested, I didn't visit him, or talk to him, even in the hospital, when we happened to visit our father at the same time, or at our mother's place, for almost six months, until my father's funeral. And then, I had to make the first move, acting as though it had all been my fault."

 

"That's perfectly awful, Aunt Jule," Cellie said. "But it's different now. I mean, I can understand why he was angry with me. I really did something wrong. I own up to it. But I'm married now, I'm trying to make it good. Barnabas came to understand, even if it was for his own reasons. You understand. My Mom understands, and so does Ernest, and practically everyone else, except the Knowltons. It makes me sad to think that my Harvard-educated father could have the same obstinate viewpoint as a loser like Jack Knowlton."

 

"As you've probably figured out by now, one's level of education has little to do with one's deepest inner feelings and thoughts," Julia sighed. "The most education can do is to give you some guidelines for dealing with problems, and, hopefully, a little perspective, even if you can't solve them. And, remember, with the exception of Ernest, all the men in your life, including your husband, are very posessive. You're stubbornly independent, and posessive in return. You're simply fortunate that Willie is so easy to manage."

 

"I don't want to manage Will! I want him to be able to manage himself. And as for my Dad, I want to share what's going on with in our lives, even if he's not with Mom. I'm having his first grandchild, damn it." Cellie began to cry. "I used to climb in his lap, and he used to read to me, whatever he was reading. And he carried me on his shoulders, and he taught he how to throw a ball like a boy, and he used to pull my braids and say that my hair was more exactly like his, and Grandma Muriel's, than Ernest's or yours. 'We'r-r-re the r-r-real Fr-r-rasers ar-r-round he-r-re, lassie,' he'd say, imitating Grandma Muriel's burr. And now, I don't know if he'll ever do those things with my baby. That's all I want from him now. He doesn't have to love me, but if he doesn't soften up for my baby...."

 

"He might, someday, Cellie. You were his favorite, and that's one reason he acted as he did. And you did something as wrong as he did, and that unsettled him. But even if he doesn't come around eventually, you'll still have all of us. Whether or not Barnabas and I have our own baby, you'll always like our own daughter, and while Barnabas is hardly the playful type, he'll happily treat your child with the same affectionate regard he has for you. Your child may learn how to throw a ball from Willie, but he or she will probably learn classical Latin from Barnabas. Both of these skills are valuable, in their own way, especially if they're taught with love."

 

"And my skill? Why can't something positive happen between me and my father from that? Why must we always be in opposition?"

 

"A close similarity in temperaments, an ability to block out each other's emotional needs.... who knows?" Julia sighed. "I hope he comes around.... I hope no such estrangement ever occurs with a child of ours. But things like that have a way of happening---history tends to repeat itself, over and over."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Margene and Marcus Sherbrooke, with baby Marcus Cecil in tow, visited the Loomises the first week of July. Cellie and Willie offered their own room, bravely determined to sleep in the hot spare room, but were secretly relieved when Margene said, "No, that's okay. We saved some bread we got at our wedding. We didn't have a honeymoon, and we hung onto it so we could take a little vacation. If the baby was a better sleeper, though, we might have taken you up on your offer. I'd rather keep some other tourists up nights, than my old Cell-mate and her cell-mate."

 

Willie was puzzled by this reference. "I though they treated you good in that Home. They didn't punish you for anything, did they?"

 

"It's just a private joke, hon. It's true, though, getting used to being pregnant and being kept away from you made me feel like a prisoner, I guess."

 

Margene said, "It was a little worse for my girlfriend here than the rest of us. Many's the night she would be up till, like three A.M., staring out the window, or writing those poems." At that moment, Baby Marcus, a plump infant, who resembled his mother, began to whimper. Margene reached into a large carry-all bag she always kept at her side, extracting a bottle full of formula, and a small notebook. As she popped the bottle into her baby's mouth, she said, "This little guy is on a diet already, if you can believe it. The doctor freaked when the scale said seventeen pounds! I have to write down everything he eats or drinks."

 

In a few minutes, Margene was rocking the baby on one arm, and recording his intake with her free hand. Cellie noticed that Margene's red pencil bore her name, stamped in bright gold. "My folks gave me a big box of these on my thirteenth birthday," Margene informed Cellie. "That's

a teacher's idea of a lasting gift--- I STILL haven't used 'em all up! That reminds me, Cellie---what did you do with those poems you wrote at two A.M. every night? You had a whole shoebox-full!"

 

"I still have 'em, upstairs. You want to go through them with me?"

 

"Yeah, maybe when I come back by myself, tomorrow. Marcus G. promised me a whole afternoon off from Marcus C., just so we could hang out together."

 

Cellie clapped with delight. "That's so neat," she sang. "I'll have to take you to visit my friends Hallie and David, and Pavlos at the Koffeehaus. You remember all of them from my wedding reception."

 

Willie felt a little left out. His wife would be out all day with her young friends. He was always welcome at the Koffeehaus, but even that establishment was more oriented toward a young crowd. Not for the first time, despite Cecily's insistence that it didn't matter, he was aware of the age gap between himself and his young wife. He sensed the collapse of their idealistic illusions even before he left their bedroom every morning. He wondered what would happen, as the years went by, when Cellie approached the prime of her life, while he felt he'd already passed his own, that day five years ago....

 

Cellie sensed her husband's growing sad resentment. She reached for his hand. "We'll have to come back early, though, to look over those poems, and then, I'll be starting on a very special dinner, to which you and your two Marcuses are invited, of course."

 

Margene watched the interaction between Cellie and Willie. She saw how he brightened when she announced that she wouldn't be spending as much time away from him as she'd implied at first. "Poor Cell-mate," she thought. "That old man of hers sure is jealous." Marcus G. wasn't nearly so possessive; in fact, Margene sometimes thought he was too detached (though he was, at least, devoted to the baby.) She was a little fearful for her friend. Then Willie bent to kiss his wife, and touched her middle, in a touchingly un-self-conscious manner that made Margene change her mind. "He needs her, even more badly than she needs him, I guess," she thought. She said to Willie, "Maybe you and Marcus can do something together while we're here. I know you don't think you two have too much in common, but he's really a good listener, and he follows all the sports, and he might give you a rough idea of what you're in for when Will Junior shows up."

 

Just then, Marcus G., tall, solemn, and bespectacled (not the wild-eyed radical activist Cellie had imagined), having just been given a guided tour of the Antique Shoppe by Barnabas, came into the kitchen, and scooped the nearly-sleeping baby from his wife's lap. Baby Marcus came awake, and was about to roar, but smiled and reached up when he saw his father. "Margene," Marcus G. said in a serious tone,"Did I hear you say something about me?"

 

"Just taking your name in vain, babe," she said. "Seriously though, I was planning your week for you. We're invited for dinner tomorrow night, and probably for leftovers the rest of the nights."

 

"Oh, cut it out, Margene," Cellie laughed. "We were planning a boy's night out for you and Will, Marcus. I'm sure you'll be thrilled."

 

Marcus stood and rocked his son, who was almost sleeping again. "Well, maybe we could watch the Orioles game, on Thursday, I believe. I see you don't have a television here, though."

 

"It's up in our room," Willie said, almost apologetically. "We don't look at it much. It only gets three channels, anyway."

 

"The one in the room at the Inn works fine. We'll split a six-pack."

 

Willie looked at Cellie. He hoped she didn't think he was going to get drunk or something. She smiled at him in an approving fashion.

 

"I guess that would be okay," he said.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie sat with Margene at the kitchen table in the Shoppe, poring over the hundred-or-so slips of paper scrawled with Cellie's poems. The two girls had spent a busy morning, picking up Hallie and visiting with David at Collinwood ("Now that I finally got a good look at that monstrosity, I can see how you might think ghosts were busting out all over," Margene commented privately to her friend.) When David and the girls hit the Koffeehaus, Pavlos treated them like V.I.P's, serving them special "on the house" sandwiches, and dubbing Margene with one of his whimsical sobriquets. After hearing her harmonize with Cellie on a couple of blues songs, he called her "Diva."

 

Cellie almost didn't want to leave. She convinced Margene to sing one more song. David accompanied them.

 

"Come on people, come on children,

come on down to the glory river....

Gonna lay that devil down,

Gonna lay that devil down. . "

 

"Cell-mate," Margene said, "You're sure hung up on the Sixties. The moldier the oldie, the better."

 

"That song is only, what? Six years old? You should hear the stuff that turns Will on. Some of his favorites are older than I am."

 

"They work, though, don't they?" Margene winked, and nudged Cellie.

 

"Damn straight. And here's the living proof." Cellie rubbed her ever-expanding girth. "What works for you and Marcus?"

 

"Anything that gets the kid to sleep for more than twenty minutes."

 

Cellie and Margene came back to the Antique Shoppe around one, and were making a rush job of reviewing Cellie's poetic efforts. Every three poems or so, another customer came in, and Cellie jumped up to assist Carolyn. Then, there was a lull in the business, and Carolyn took the opportunity to go out for a late lunch. While she was gone, Cellie cut up some vegetables to accompany the main dish she'd prepared the night before. Margene offered to help, but Cellie said, "You're the guest. Tell you what. Read a couple of those things aloud."

 

Margene began, "As the dark green of shame gives way to the orange sun of desire...."

She made a face. "Yuck. Not one of your better efforts. What were you thinking, girl?"

 

"Hormonal surge, I think. Try another."

 

Margene scrutinized the next paper. She then read, solemnly:

 

"The moon sits in the sky.

A silver coin tossed high,

And held in place.

(It wears my face.)

Never to fall,

And settle, once and for all,

Must I stay or shall I fly?"

 

The two girls were so engrossed by what they were doing, that neither heard the front door bell, at first. Then they both turned their heads, to see an attractive, tall, well-dressed, bearded middle-aged man leaning against the kitchen doorpost, apparently enjoying the reading as much as they were.

 

Cellie dropped the carrot she was peeling, and said, in a regretful tone, "I'm so sorry, sir. Nobody's come in for at least an hour, and I guess we got preoccupied. How may I help you? Are you looking for anything in particular?"

 

"I have some items in mind, but I'm in no great hurry. In fact, I found the poetry reading inspiring. Is that a regular event here?"

 

"No, no, my friend Margene was just reading me some stuff I wrote, so I can hear how it sounds. Having authors come in and do readings from their works---now that's a new idea. I'll have to sound out my boss about it. I'll demonstrate some antique tools, though, if you'd be interested."

 

"Not the swivel candlestick holder, though," Margene laughed. "She just told me she was getting so-o-o tired of turning that old thing up and down."

 

"Margene!"

 

"Oh, that's all right," The man chuckled. "Your friend is quite humorous. You can just show me around, I suppose, after I hear some more of your work. I'm an editor in a small publishing house, and publishing new writers is one of our specialties."

 

"May I ask your name?" Cellie said.

 

"Bernard Neville, of Paugasset Press, at your service. We're based in Connecticut. Our bread-and-butter work includes travel guides, cookbooks, and such, but, as I said, we have division for new works. It's sort of a sideline, actually, but when our writers move on, and become famous, people go back and purchase the earlier works published by our outfit. It's not the richest division, but we do better than break even, and the new writers get the exposure they need." He took Cellie's hand. "And what is your name, my dear?"

 

Cellie tried immediately to read this almost aggressively friendly stranger, and found, to her dismay, that there seemed to be a wall around his inner self. In Cellie's experience, this didn't necessarily mean trouble. Many people were almost as hard to "read." Cellie decided it would do no harm to keep him talking, and, hopefully, she would make a sale, either of an antique, or of her poems. She did wish that Carolyn, at least, was there to lend a hand, in dealing with this customer, who behaved more like a glib, fast-talking used-car salesman than a book editor.

 

"I'm Cecily Loomis, and this is my friend, Margene Sherbrooke, who's visiting us this week."

 

"I'm on a little vacation myself. This is a wonderful part of Maine, so full of the quaintness of the other tourist attractions, but nowhere near so crowded."

 

"So you've visited here before?"

 

"Yes, I've passed through these parts, in days gone by." Mr. Neville's face had assumed a faraway look, almost wistful. "Loomis. Loomis," he mused. "That's a familiar name."

 

For some reason, Cellie began to feel uneasy. Maybe this man knew something about Willie's past. She said, hesitantly, "My husband. He works here." Willie was in the shed out back, but Cellie didn't want to let the stranger know, until she had more time to size him up.

 

"And your boss....You have two, I observe. The sign outside says 'Barnabas Collins and Carolyn Hawkes, proprietors.' "

 

"You know them?"

 

"In passing.... It's been some years. They probably wouldn't remember me."

 

"You'll find out soon enough. Carolyn will be back in about twenty minutes."

 

"Mr. Collins isn't in, then?"

 

"No, but he'll be in around four, if you'd like to see him."

 

"That's alright. I'll have to be on my way before then."

 

"Perhaps you'd like to be shown around right away, in that case."

 

"May I look at some of your poems first?"

 

"I suppose so." Cellie pulled out a chair for Mr. Neville, then sat down herself. She was relieved to have an excuse to sit. Even though her ankles weren't swollen, her legs were tired, and her back ached, from transporting the extra burden.

 

Margene got up. "I have to get going. We'll all be back at seven. I'll go out and say 'ciao' to good old Will out back." She went out the kitchen door, and saw that Willie was coming back to the house.

 

She said, "Cell-Mate's got a tough customer in there. Pushy son-of-a-gun. I don't like the dude. You better check him out."

 

"Is he bothering Cecily?"

 

"You have to see for yourself. Tell me what you call it." Margene flounced out the gate.

 

Willie peeked in through the screen door. The man in question, his back to the kitchen door and his face not visible, was leaning rather close to Cellie, while reading some of her papers. Willie wondered why his wife was showing off her private cache to a total stranger, when even he hadn't had a chance to sit down and go over the poems with her.

 

He heard the man say, "These verses all seem to be specific to a particular event. They build up to a kind of conclusion."

 

"I wrote most of them while I was separated from my fiance. I gave him the last one, when we got back together, and married. He keeps it with him at all times."

 

Then Cellie got up, and walked to the espresso machine. She saw Willie, and beckoned to him. She was filling two cups, as he walked in. When she'd set them on the table, she said, "Mr. Neville?"

 

The man lifted his head. Willie was sure he'd seen the man before, but he couldn't, for the life of him, remember where. He could tell, from the way Neville looked at him, that he knew him. Was this some friend of Jason's that he had nearly forgotten? They had been involved with so many different people in those days. His memory was so quirky, and right now, it was positively cloudy. He hoped the man wasn't someone who'd tracked him down in order to get even with him over something.

 

"This is my husband, Will Loomis. Will, this is Bernard Neville. He's vacationing from Connecticut. He's a book editor in a small publishing company that might be interested in printing some of my work."

 

Mr. Neville rose, and shook Willie's hand. "My pleasure, Mr. Loomis.Your wife's poetry displays a true, budding talent. If you don't mind, I'd like to take some of these papers with me, to send to the senior editor at Paugassett Press."

 

"No. Not right now." Willie sounded stern.

 

"Why not, Will? This would be a good way to get a little writing career going for myself. And if it really sells, well, we sure can use the money." Cellie smiled, patting her belly.

 

Willie tried to think quickly. He knew his wife would be able to tell he was a little jealous, but there was more to his uneasiness than that. For reasons even he couldn't understand, he simply didn't trust Mr. Neville. At the very least, he might take the unsigned papers and have them printed under his own name. Willie was surprised that his ordinarily shrewd, sophisticated big-city bride didn't even stop to consider this.

 

He thought up an explanation that would satisfy everyone, and still not spoil Cecily's opportunity, if the guy was really on the level. "It's just that they're in a, what do you writer people call it? A rough draft condition. Cecily has very nice writing, but she wrote these in a hurry, and some of them are just a scrawl. Give her a chance to type them out, at least." And sign them, he thought. And take them to some legal eagle to make sure this smoothie couldn't rip them off.

 

Cellie was, initially, irritated at her husband's interference, but she began to see the sense in his advice. She felt like a curtain was lifting from her eyes, as she said, "That's all very true, I'm afraid. I didn't write under the best of conditions, and it shows. Let me type them out, and edit them a bit. My husband and I haven't even discussed between ourselves which of the poems we'd like to see published. We're kind of close, that way."

 

Mr. Neville smiled, but both Willie and Cellie had a feeling he was, at least, disappointed, if not disgruntled. "Of course. I understand. By all means, pick out what you'd like to share, and type them out." He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small business card. He reached for a pencil on the table, and wrote a phone number on the back of the card. "I'm staying at a private home near the beach for at least another week. If you finish typing by then, give me a call. If not, you can reach me at the company. Now, if you don't mind, Mrs. Loomis, I'd like to have a look at your merchandise. I have very specific items in mind, an ormulu clock, and small hand mirrors."

 

"We have quite a few, and if they don't suit you, I can call on other dealers. Right this way." Cellie walked with Mr. Neville into the showroom. Willie could hear her ask, "Mirrors, Mr. Neville? For yourself, of a lady friend?"

 

"For myself. I'm a collector. I don't gravitate toward any particular style or period, but I like them small. And lidded, like lockets, if you have any."

 

"We have some."

 

Mr. Neville paid over a hundred dollars, in cash, for an Edwardian ormulu clock, and three mirrors of more recent vintage. Cellie carefully wrapped and packed the delicate items in a wooden crate. Willie offered to carry the box to the customer's car, but Mr. Neville insisted on carrying it himself. Cellie held the door open for him as he made his way to a blue Dodge parked some distance up the street. When she'd closed it, she said to her husband, "Will, why did you make such a big fuss over the papers?"

 

"I spent five years working with a crook. That Neville has 'con man' written all over him, like Jason. I don't want anyone to pull one over on you. I just don't get why you were so ready to just hand those poems over to him without even putting your name on them. You're way smarter than that, Cecily."

 

"I'm sorry, hon. I don't know what came over me. Must be this pregnancy business. Just makes me susceptable to easy compliments,

 

I guess."

 

"That's not true either. It's that Neville. There's something familiar about that guy, but I just can't put my finger on it. I got a memory like a sieve sometimes." He put his arm around his wife. "If it means that much to you to get those things printed, we'll get Tony to check out this Paugasset Press place, and if that doesn't work out, we'll find some other publisher. Only, let ME read 'em first, please?"

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Carolyn Hawkes ran up the sidewalk to the Antique Shoppe, trying to shove her keys into her purse as she moved. She brushed them against the clasp, and they sprang from her hand to the cement. She stopped abruptly, and bent to retrieve them, almost knocking over a man carrying a large crate. She straightened up and began to apologize immediately. She glanced quickly at the man's face, and, at first, he was unfamiliar to her. She thought, "A beard but no mustache. Like an Amish!" Then she looked into his eyes, and suppressed a gasp. She didn't want him to know she recognized him.

 

"Are you sure you're alright?" she stammered.

 

"Yes. No damage done," he said pleasantly. Carolyn rushed into the Shoppe. As he turned to watch her go, he thought, "Long time no see, Mrs. Hawkes. From the look on your face, I believe something must be done to keep you from tattling to Barnabas, until I'm ready to deal with him, myself." He walked on down the street.

 

The first thing Carolyn did when she came in was to find Barnabas. Fortunately, he had just come in through the back entrance at the same time she'd come in through the front, and had gone directly to his office. She poked her head in, to see Willie already talking to Barnabas about the visitor.

 

"He bought a clock and some mirrors, for cash. That was straight enough, but I didn't like the way he almost got those papers away from Cecily. Maybe he does work for a publisher, but he was, like pressuring her, without being nasty about it, if you know what I mean. I thought up some good excuse that made Cecily think twice, and he was out of here, right after he bought the stuff."

 

"I have to commend you for your cleverness in this instance, Willie. Perhaps there's nothing to be concerned about, but, at the very least, those poems are highly personal, and reflect a unique empathic experience Cellie had. They may be publishable, but some discreet editing may be necessary."

 

"Margene read some of them."

 

"Margene very likely believes they were simply an outgrowth of the unwed maternity experience she and Cellie were both going through. If there's anything that strikes her as odd about them, she may be a good enough friend to keep her reservations to herself. She certainly looked after Cellie while they were at the Home."

 

"She's the one who put me wise to Neville in the first place. I think, like me, she was afraid he'd rip Cecily off. That's what I don't get, Barnabas. Cecily is usually hip to someone who's trying to fool her, and there she was, kissing up to that guy, like we were living in a country that only had one place that printed books, Paugasset Press.

 

He gave her a business card, and a phone number, but that doesn't prove anything."

 

"That can be checked out easily enough. Perhaps Tony knows of a good private investigator," Barnabas said, looking toward Carolyn who'd been standing, quietly, in the doorway of the office. "Is something wrong, Carolyn? To coin a phrase, you look like you've seen a ghost." He smiled at his little joke.

 

"I just ran into your mystery man. Literally. He seemed very...." her voice trailed off. She couldn't remember what she wanted to say.

 

"Very what, Carolyn? Willie was saying, before you came in, that this

 

Bernard Neville seemed familiar, but he couldn't place him. He seemed to know something about us, and this place. Is he one of your acquaintances?"

 

"I--I can't say. I'm not sure." Carolyn turned to leave the room. Before she stepped away, she asked,"Where's Cellie? I don't know why, but I'm worried about her."

 

Willie said, "She's upstairs, trying to decide what tent she's going to wear later when the Sherbrookes come to dinner. I suggested it, so I could talk to Barnabas alone."

 

Carolyn said, "She's not going to be too happy about being treated like a helpless doll, even if it's for her own good."

 

"We're just comparing notes," Barnabas said. "If there's something to worry about, she'll be warned in due time. I just don't like the fact that this man had such a strong effect on her judgement. She's become so good at analyzing even her faintest impressions."

 

"That's another thing, Barnabas," Willie said. "Just before she went upstairs, Cecily said, 'you know, Will, I couldn't even read him. He was like a block of ice.' What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

 

Carolyn suddenly remembered what she wanted to say to Barnabas. "Barnabas, I know who he is. His name isn't 'Bernard Neville.' I didn't recognize him at first, but that's because he didn't have--- I mean--" she lost it again.

 

"Try harder, Carolyn," Barnabas urged.

 

The knowledge floated up, like soap in a murky tub. Carolyn grabbed at it. "He was--he was--" her tongue thickened, and she began to choke a little. "I have to tell you--" She gagged violently, as Barnabas and Willie hovered above her.

 

"Write it, Carolyn," Willie suggested. He grabbed a pencil and paper from the desktop, and put them in her hands.

 

She tried to form letters, but the pencil fell from her fingers, and she crumpled to the floor. Just then, Cellie, who heard the commotion as she came downstairs, ran into the office. She saw Carolyn on the floor, and observed the thickened tongue clogging her throat. Without hesitation, she inserted her finger into Carolyn's mouth, and gently manipulated her friend's tongue, until she cleared a small airway. Carolyn took a couple of short breaths, but was still terrified.

 

Cellie began to absorb some of Carolyn's fear. The older woman relaxed. Cellie took her finger out of Carolyn's mouth. Carolyn tried to speak, but choked up again. Cellie kept moving Carolyn's tongue.

 

Then, breathing freely, and calm again, Carolyn had an inspiration.  She pushed Cellie's hand from her mouth, and managed to rise on her own. Without speaking, she led the others to the Shoppe bookshelf, and ran her finger down the rows of volumes until she found a name printed on the spine of a particular book. She pulled out the old book with elaborately decorated binding, and covered the first words of the title. Before she covered them, Cellie saw that they read, "A Visit From Saint--." The name she left unblocked for the others to see, was "Nicholas."

 

"Nicholas Blair." Barnabas's voice was grave. "Oh, my God. I thought he was dead! How could he have survived? What is he doing here?" He gazed at Cellie with a concern so intense it made her feel ill.

 

Carolyn could feel her tongue begin to shrink back to its normal size. She sighed deeply, as she said, "That's what I was trying to tell you. I didn't know him right away, either, until I looked into his eyes. He's got a beard but no mustache. He looks completely different that way. Younger, too, as though he's had plastic surgery. But I suppose a warlock doesn't need plastic surgery."

 

"A warlock?" Cellie asked. "Oh, yeah, now I remember. He was buddy-buddy with Cassandra, I mean Angelique."

 

"He certainly wouldn't be, now," Barnabas said. "Actually, she hated him even when they worked most closely together. And he punished her when she defied him. Much of her defiance came from her stubborn affection for me."

 

"You said he was dead!"

 

"Well," Barnabas explained, "We thought, the last time he was here, that a curse intended for Carolyn's late husband had been turned against him. I guess he managed to negotiate a reprieve for himself, when he was pitched back into Hell. He's done that before."

 

"I wonder what he's got against the Collins family this time."

 

"I'm worried about that, but I'm even more worried about his effect on YOU. Thank God, Willie thought of a way to keep your poems here. Not only do they detail your empathic state, but they are in your own handwriting. I wouldn't let any personal posessions get into his hands."

 

Cellie thought a moment, and said, "Margene's pencil! She took it out of her purse to do some spelling corrections, and he used it to write on this card!" She pulled the business card from her pocket, and handed it to Barnabas, before she ran into the kitchen to search for Margene's personalized pencil. "I can't find it! He probably hooked it, and we never noticed. He wouldn't do anything to Margene, d'you think?"

 

"Perhaps not," her uncle said. "She's nothing to him, unless she obstructs him in some way. Maybe you should cancel this dinner tonight."

 

"But she did do something against him, Barnabas," Willie said. "She told me to keep an eye on him with Cecily, and that led to me telling him not to take the papers."

 

"I don't want to cancel, Barnabas. Maybe it would be a good way for me to keep an eye on them," Cellie said. "I just wish they weren't staying the whole week."

 

At that moment,the phone rang. Cellie answered. "Hi, Margene, I was just about to call you---what? Little Marcus has a fever? Just came on like that? Well, if it gets worse, Dr. Hurley is in practice with a good pediatrician, Dr. Heard.... You already called him? That bad?" Tears ran down Cellie's face. "The emergency room? Sweet Jesus. Okay, I won't keep you. If you want, we can come down to the hospital to wait with you. Okay. Okay. Faith, Margene, faith. Babies get high fevers sometimes. Okay. Love to you and the little guy. Love to Big Marcus." She hung up. "That God-damned Bastard!"

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

Willie and Cellie arrived at Collinsport General Hospital just minutes after Marcus G. and Margene carried in Marcus C. They stood behind their friends as they stammered out their problem to the admitting nurse. Cellie touched them both lightly, when their responses were delayed by tears. Surprisingly, Margene was the first to calm down.

 

"He got a fever of 104 degrees within, like, an hour."

 

"Examining cubicle three. Dr. Heard is waiting." The nurse motioned for the Loomises to stay in the waiting room, and led the Sherbrookes down a corridor flanked on both sides with curtained-off partitions.

 

Willie sat with Cellie in his lap. She hid her face in his shoulder, crying quietly. "It has to be that Blair. It's too much of a coincidence," she sniffled. "If he wants to get to me, for whatever reason, why drag poor little Marcus into it?"

 

"Like Barnabas said, before we left, he may be after our baby. I just remembered, we were invited to dinner with Lisa and Arnold next week. We'd better cancel that. I don't want someone else's baby to get sick."

 

Just then, Marcus G. came back into the waiting room area, walking directly toward the Loomises. He'd obviously been crying. Margene had told her friend that he acted less than deeply involved with his family. But Cellie sensed that he was, in fact, almost too attached to Margene and his son, his feeling deepened by the guilt he carried over having nearly given up on them, before little Marcus's birth. He just couldn't express himself, and now, he was overwhelmed.

 

Marcus G. said, "It doesn't look good. He had a convulsion, right there on the examining table. I'm going to call our folks back home. This will kill them." He sobbed quietly. "My little boy. He's dying,

and I can't do anything to help him." He couldn't speak. Cellie held him and Willie patted his shoulder awkwardly.

 

Willie said, "I know what it's like to see something terrible happen to somebody you care for, and you can't do anything about it. Even way back when I was a kid. I had to take care of my baby brother when he had measles real bad, and my Mom was stuck working. She had to, or else there'd be no money for the doctor when we finally had to get him.  I thought Paul was going to die, but he got better, somehow. Maybe there's still a chance for little Marcus." Willie got a faraway look in his eyes. "Midnight," he said, and was silent.

 

Marcus G. lifted his head. "What does that mean, man? You mean if he lives through midnight? The doctor says there's little chance of that." He began to cry again. Cellie rubbed his back, and carried his sorrow with her own before she fed it back to him. After a while, he sighed, and said in a broken tone, "I guess I'm pulled together now. I'd better go make those calls." He stood up. "I didn't want Margene to be in there on her own, so I asked the doctor if her friend could come

 

in while I was gone. He was going to say no, until Margene told him who you were. He said, as you are 'Julia's niece' and you're also a patient of his partner, Dr. Hurley, of course you were welcome to join Margene in the examining room."

 

 

Cellie walked down the row of curtained cubicles, and, hearing Margene's voice behind a curtain, pushed it aside to join her friend.

 

Margene was alone, standing over a crib-like examining table. Baby Marcus, so lively and cheerful earlier that day, now lay, almost rigid, breathing hard. Margene said, an a dazed voice, "He's burning up. Almost 105 degrees. Dr. Heard is calling in specialists from some big hospital in Bangor. That's so far away. By the time they get here, my baby will be dead. Dead. Dead! How didthis happen!" She began to scream, her control gone at last.

 

Dr. Heard rushed back in, to find Margene clenched tightly in Cellie's arms, as the younger girl tried to get a fix on her friend's hysteria. "I think a tranquilizer might be in order," he announced, regretfully. One of the emergency room nurses heard the commotion, and came into the cubicle. Dr. Heard motioned to her, and ordered a medication.

 

"Don't knock me out, Dr. Heard! I'll calm down, really, I will," Margene begged. "I don't want to leave my baby."

 

"It's a very mild tranquilizer, Mrs. Sherbrooke," the doctor assured her. "You'll be able to stay with your baby, don't worry." The nurse came back, with a cup of water and two pills.

 

Cellie looked the doctor in the eye, just before Margene took the pills, and decided he was telling the truth. She nodded to Margene, who obediently swallowed the medication.

 

In a minute, Cellie was sorry the doctor didn't give Margene a knock-out pill. The baby began to convulse again. The doctor, joined by two nurses this time, attempted to relieve the child, while Cellie and Margene watched, clutching hands. Marcus had come back, and held his wife.

 

Cellie wondered if there was something she could do to the baby, to ease its distress. She tried to "read" little Marcus, but her mind was already overloaded with the emotions from the adults in the room: Big Marcus, nearly hopeless; Margene's tranquilized being still bursting with despair: the medical people concealing their own feelings of increasing helplessness, even as they kept working, quickly and efficiently.

 

A voice in Cellie’s  mind said, "Not alone. Not alone. Not alone." She reached her hand up to her throat, and touched her cross. Nobody noticed when she turned on her heel, and left the curtained cubicle. She passed through the waiting room. Willie was talking to Barnabas and Julia, who had come home from work just in time to get her husband's call.

 

"He's still hanging on, but he had another convulsion," Cellie said.  "I don't know how much longer this can go on. I don't know what can be done to counteract the spell or whatever it is, that's on the baby, but I just had an idea of how to keep him going, until....until...."

 

"Midnight," Barnabas said. "Why midnight?"

 

"The 'witching hour,' " Cellie said bitterly. "Maybe there's a natural lull in Nicholas's power around that time, or maybe that's when he goes to sleep. Whatever. We have to run with what we have." She looked toward the pay phones. "How much change are you folks carrying on you?"

 

"Who are you going to call, Cecily?" Willie asked.

 

"Well, first I'm going to try Father Rondini. Then, I'm calling St. Dymphna's."

 

"Are you going to ask the Father to perform an exorcism? I think it's a bit more complex process than just giving a priest a call," Julia said. "If I recall correctly, the bishop has to become involved.... it might call to much attention to this situation, and possibly move Nicholas to even more drastic action."

 

"I know all that. I'm just going to ask them to pray their brains out for this baby. There's help somewhere, but something told me that we couldn't do it alone. I trust the Lord has still got one up on Nicholas. If there is a God, and not just light and darkness."

 

"What makes you think this baby's special enough to be saved, when so many others die every day, in spite of the most fervent prayers?" Julia asked.

 

"This baby is a stand-in for my baby. Mine is special enough, or so I was told. Marcus C. is special enough to be made to take the fall for my baby. That's all I have to know. Either this works, or it doesn't. What do we have to lose?"

 

Julia went up to the admitting nurse, who recognized her, and consulted in whispers for few minutes. Then, she came back, and said, "You can save your change. There's another phone, in an empty office down the hall." She led Cellie past Marcus C.'s cubicle. One of the nurses was wheeling the crib, with the baby's parents close behind, towards an elevator.

Cellie ran to Margene.  "They're taking him up to Intensive Care," the young mother said in a dead voice. "He just keeps hanging on. His fever's up to 106. The doctor said, if he lives, he'll be messed up. Well, he didn't put it quite that way. But it's like, we'll probably wish he had died. I went through so much to have him, you know?" Margene's voice was that of a little, frightened girl.

 

Cellie took both of her friend's hands, and looked deep into her eyes. "You're not alone. Do you hear me? You and Marcus are not alone. I have to do something first, then my aunt will see to it that I can go up to join you. But, till then, you are not alone."

 

"I'm not alone," Margene repeated. Marcus, who'd gone ahead to the elevator, signaled his wife to join him, as the doors opened, and then closed around the sad procession.

 

Cellie trotted down the hall, to the office, where Julia was standing. Julia said, "You know I have consulting privileges at this hospital. I might even call in Virginia."

 

"Margene said Dr. Heard called doctors from Bangor."

 

"It'll be some time before they show up. I'm here, and Virginia is ten minutes away. What's more, they know I've been involved with cases like this, before. I'll go up to talk to Dr. Heard You get busy with your calls." She left the room.

 

Cellie talked to Father Rondini first. "Of course, I'll come down to the hospital, if you'd like," he said. "Are your friends Catholic?"

 

"No, but my friend lived with me at that school I told you about. And I don't know the minister of the Baptist Church around here. This child needs all the help he can get."

 

"I'll call Reverend Parkins. Even if he can't make it, I'll be there in a while."

 

Then, Cellie called St. Dymphna's. As she'd hoped, Sister Innocent answered. "Cellie," she said happily, "What a pleasant surprise! We love getting your letters, but it's a treat to hear your voice. How are you, my dear? And your husband? All is well there, I trust?"

 

"We're okay, Sister. How's George?"

 

"His doctor is trying some new treatment. He's still hanging on. Where there's life, there's hope, as they say."

 

"I hope it works out. I almost wish I didn't have to tell you why I called tonight."

 

"What's the problem, Cecily?" The nun's tone became grave.

 

"It's Margene's baby, Sister. She and her husband were visiting us this week, and the baby got very sick, all of a sudden. He's got a record-breaking fever, and he's not expected to live, probably beyond midnight."

 

"That's dreadful." Sister's voice broke. "Margene was one of our favorite girls. There are still some girls here who remember her, and talk about her. What can I do for her? Is she there with you?"

 

"No, she's with Big Marcus, in the I.C.U., watching Little Marcus pass away." Cellie began to cry.

 

"Have you tried to do for them what you did for me?"

 

"Yes, Sister, but their combined grief is too overwhelming. I had to take turns with them, and right now, it's only coming in spurts. That's why I called. I already called the local priest, and he'll try to get a Baptist minister. They'll be here soon. But I need you to pray. Maybe it won't save the baby, but something tells me that's what has to be done. We'll know by midnight."

 

"Of course. I'll get the other nuns, and any of the other girls who are so inclined. It shouldn't be difficult. For the first time since I can't remember when, they're all Catholics."

 

Cellie had one more call to make. There was a lot of noise on the other end of the line, when Pavlos answered. He shouted, "Wait! Dimitrios, hang this up when you see me signal from my office." A minute later, there was silence behind him, and his richly accented voice boomed. "Little Flame! To what do I owe this honor?"

 

"Depends on what you consider an honor, Pavlos."

 

"You are sad, Cellie. Is your Willie in one of his bad states?"

 

"No, thank God, he's okay, and so am I. It's Margene, you remember, we came to visit you today?"

 

"What is troubling our Diva?"

 

"Her baby's horribly sick, and might die."

 

"So suddenly? I know well, the little ones take sick , and recover, just as quickly. He is far worse than that, then?"

 

"He's here at the hospital. They don't know how he'll survive the fever he has, or if it's even worth trying to save him at this point."

 

"It is always worth a try, Little Flame. I know what you want. I will pray for Diva's Marcus C. And for her husband. I can imagine his state of mind. Everyone gathers around the mother, while the father feels alone."

 

"I got that covered, Pavlos."

 

"Of course you do. You are one who thinks of everything. I will leave now. Dimitrios can handle things here. I will be at the hospital soon. The child may not survive beyond midnight?"

 

"How did you know?"

 

"That's a favorite cut-off point for crises of this kind, as I recall."

 

Cellie hung up the phone, awed, thinking about how much she didn't know of Pavlos's life, and how he knew about so many things.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie sat in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit. One had to wait for a special signal from the nurse's station to be able to visit a patient. Only relatives were supposed to visit, but Dr. Heard had that taken care of. So, Cellie waited patiently, alone, while the specialists from Bangor made their examinations. Finally, the nurse signalled. Cellie passed by the two unfamiliar doctors, who walked with Dr. Heard. One of the doctors was from India. He leaned close to Dr. Heard, and said, "Remarkable. The child survives convulsion after convulsion, and hangs on by a thread. It's as if he's waiting for something to happen, before the fever takes a turn, either for the worse, or the better."

 

"The child will be fortunate if it doesn't recover, at this point. Amazing, though, the strength of his survival instinct," the other doctor said.

 

"There's more to it than that," Dr. Heard said. "Did you see the brace of clergy and well-wishers downstairs? It's more like, he's not being allowed to go. Well, power to them, I say. We've done all we can. It'll be midnight soon. We'll know by then." The three doctors vanished into an office.

 

Cellie walked into the cubicle where little Marcus lay, tubes inserted into several body orifices. Margene sat near him. Big Marcus stood by a tiny window, which looked out onto the roof of the small parking garage. Seeing them separated thusly, Cellie wondered what turn their relationship would take, once the main reason for its existence was gone. She knew they loved each other, but maybe the weight of this tragedy would prove to be too much.

 

Big Marcus said, "I just need to go downstairs for a few minutes. I'll get some coffee. Margene, why don't you come with me? I doubt anything will happen, and Cellie will watch over him for us."

 

"Don't want to leave," she muttered. "See if you can bring it in here."

 

Marcus stopped as he left the tiny room, and kissed his wife gently, on the ear. Margene drew a sobbing breath, and Marcus, putting his hand to his face, departed hurriedly. A nurse came in briefly, checked the child's temperature, noted no change, and then looked over the equipment. She left.

 

It was so quiet in the room. The baby barely breathed, as did Margene and Cellie. Cellie held Margene's hand. Cellie closed her eyes briefly. Willie had wanted to take her home, but she insisted on staying. Dr Hurley told him, "If she collapses, she's already in the hospital. Anyway, this should be over soon." Willie, loyal to the end, camped out in the waiting room, getting an update from his wife now and then. He hovered over Marcus G. when he came down, needing a break from the tension upstairs, following him to the hospital chapel. and then to the coffee machine.

 

Margene squeezed Cellie's hand, in something like a panic. Cellie jolted awake. "Is Marcus--is Marcus--?" She saw a mist forming by the plastic bassinet. Sarah Collins stood before them, with a tiny cloth bag in her hands.

 

She walked to Margene, and proffered the bag. Margene didn't believe it was a real bag, until she held it gingerly in her hand. It was made of linen, and was rather heavy, for its size. Margene said, "I remember you. You came to the Home."

 

"I saw you. You looked so silly, hiding under the covers like that. But you're nice. You were ever so good to Cecily, when she missed Willie so much." Sarah turned toward the crib. "Marcus Cecil is a sweet baby. I like babies. When Cecily's baby comes I'm going to be around it all the time, 'cause she said we're close, like buds."

 

"Buds. How nice," Margene faltered. "You didn't come because Marcus is going to die, did you?"

 

"No. No. I came because I help Cecily, and she loves you. I have to help anyone she loves, if I can. I came because I was real sick once, the way Marcus is now."

 

"That's not how you--how you---ended up like you are, now."

 

"No, that happened, later. This is different. Someone bad is making Marcus sick. Someone made me sick, too. But then she gave me medicine, and I got better. Almost the same kind of medicine will work for Marcus. She gave it to me. It's part of her penance."

 

"Why didn't you come before?" Cellie asked.

 

"All those prayers blocked the bad person, but I still had to wait until he was weakest."

 

"So, what's in this medicine? How do we use it?" Cellie took the bag, and sniffed the contents. She recognized the pungent smell of Yarrow.

 

"Cellie, we can't use that stuff. Maybe it's really poison."

 

"No it's not, Margene," Cellie replied.

 

"It's just dried flowers from around here, and some kind of tree bark," Sarah said. "You mix it up with hot water, and you feed the baby some of it, and put the rest in a poultice on his chest. But you have to do it by midnight, or all is lost." Sarah pointed to the clock. It read twelve minutes to twelve.

 

Margene's dull eyes lit up. "I haven't got a choice, it seems. Okay, I'll do it. Thank you for thinking about me."

 

"And one more thing. While the bad person is here, you have to go home. I don't know when he'll go away. But I know your baby will only get better if you use the medicine, and then you can go." Sarah kissed Margene, then Cellie, and vanished.

 

Margene looked at Cellie. "The bad person. I'll bet I know just who she meant. If I ever get my hands on---"

 

"Forget it, Margene. Look what he was able to do, just using your pencil."

 

"That's right, I did miss it after I left your place. Okay. Get me to a hot-water faucet." They swiped a small, new plastic vomit basin from the maintenance gurney. They went into the ladies' room, and got the water hot. Margene mashed the herbs with her hands. They rushed back to the room, and, to their dismay, a nurse was there. "Six minutes, Cell-mate." Margene began to sweat. Cellie hid the vomit basin behind her back.

 

Fortunately, the nurse was ready to leave. "I wondered what happened to you, Mrs. Sherbrooke," she said.

 

"I had to go, and Cellie came because she thought I might fall over. There's no change, one way or another?"

 

"No. But the poor little fellow's still holding on, God knows how."

 

"Yes. God knows," Cellie commented. The nurse walked out, just missing the sight of Cellie switching the basin around. "That was close," she breathed.

 

"We'll try rubbing it on, first," Margene said. She took a handful of the mixture, and plastered it on her baby's chest. The baby didn't move. He was as breathless and hot as before. "Oh, damn. I don't know how I'm going to get this down his throat."

 

"Take some on your finger, and see if he'll suck. We haven't much time."

 

Margene inserted some of the greenish, odd-smelling stuff into little Marcus's mouth. At first he recoiled, but instinct took hold, and he sucked greedily, gasping loudly between swallows.

 

"Margene, what on earth are you doing to that child! What is that muck?" Marcus G. stood in the doorway.

 

"It's the only way, Marcus. It's almost midnight!" Cellie said.

 

"I won't have my child tortured with some nature-food cure you thought up, Cellie. Did this come from some old book you read?" He seized the vomit basin.

 

"Please, Marcus, please. I have to....He's going to die, one way or another. The doctors just about gave up," Margene wept. "My little baby.... I wanted him so much, and now---" It was three minutes to midnight.

 

Margene and Cellie began to wrestle Marcus for the basin, when a nurse came in, followed by Julia. Cellie looked wildly at her aunt. "Please, Aunt Jule. Make him let us do this!"

 

"Let your wife and my niece have that basin," Julia said in a steely voice.

 

"They're going to kill him!" the young father shouted.

 

"I don't think so. Do you want to take the chance you're wrong? I'll call Dr. Heard, and the other doctors. They know I've seen cases like this before, and the cures can be unorthodox."

 

"I'll sue all your asses, and have my wife and your niece tossed in jail, if you're wrong," he threatened.

 

"That's your prerogative, Marcus." Julia looked him directly in the eye. "Give Margene the basin."

 

"No, I---ow! My appendix!" Marcus clutched his abdomen. Margene grabbed the basin, and fed the baby as before. Thirty seconds. The baby had a couple of spoonfuls left to go.

 

"Home stretch," Cellie said, releasing her grip on Marcus's insides.

 

Suddenly, the baby began to convulse again. Margene would not be able to get him to swallow the last mouthful. She began to cry. Marcus grabbed her, and held her, not in anger, but to shield her from seeing the final moment.

 

Cellie suddenly recalled what Dr. Hurley had said about her empathic spells being like convulsions. She might be able to absorb the baby's convulsion long enough for Margene to shove the last dregs of Sarah's cure down his throat. The minute hand on the clock had passed midnight, but Cellie figured, "Midnight lasts sixty seconds. And maybe, this clock is fast, and there's really more time." She concentrated on the baby with all her might.

 

She hit the floor at thirty seconds past midnight. Everyone bent to help her, but she managed to gasp, "Feed! Feed!" Margene rose, and scooped the remainder of the herbs into the mouth of her now-relaxed son. Cellie writhed as the baby swallowed. The minute hand cleared 12:01. Cellie lay still, as Margene announced, "He's sweating! He's sweating! He's drenched! Thank, you Jesus!"

 

Julia took her niece's pulse, as the Sherbrookes stood over their son with relieved expressions on their faces. Cellie's face was almost as red as a beet, but she breathed normally, and her eyes opened. Dr. Heard came in. He was followed by Dr. Hurley, who'd come in to consult on this case, and had ended up having to spend some time with one of her Obstetrical patients, who'd arrived in labor, and had rather quickly given birth, shortly before.

 

Marcus G. turned briefly from his wife's side to gently lift Cellie to a chair. Dr. Hurley checked Cellie over, and said, "For all intents and purposes, she's had a convulsion, and yet, she has no condition that would have predisposed her to such an event. Even her blood pressure is normal. Still, she should stay overnight, just in case something else goes wrong. What on earth was she trying to do here, anyway? I've warned her about the strain caused by exercizing her empathy."

 

"I had to. I had to save the baby."

 

"What about your own baby?" Dr. Hurley asked, sternly.

 

"I wasn't alone. I wasn't alone. My baby knows, I can feel it. And I won. I won."

 

Dr. Heard turned from Baby Marcus's bassinet. "A miracle. Whatever this crud is, it helped break the boy's fever. His responses are all normal. I'd like to have this stuff analyzed. Maybe it's a once-in-a-lifetime, may-never-work-again kind of a thing, but there may be something worth studying."

 

Marcus G. said to Cellie, "I don't know where to begin, to tell you how grateful we are, and how sorry I am about what I said before. You were right, and so was Margene. My boy is going to get well. My God...." His voice trailed off.

 

Margene said, "I took care of my Cell-mate in the Home, and now she's taken care of me. Of us. How can we make it up to you?"

 

"You can repay me in one way. Take a mutual friend's advice, and take little Marcus home, until everything's safe around here," Cellie whispered. "We'll get together again soon, God willing."

 

Margene asked,anxiously, "But will you be safe?"

 

"I'll get by, somehow. I couldn't leave, much as I want to. I don't think it would do any good. I have to see this through."

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

 

The next day, Willie brought Cellie home from the hospital, and put her to bed. When she fell asleep, he went downstairs and confronted his employer. As usual, Barnabas said, "Please don't fret about the hospital bills, Willie."

 

"Again, she almost got herself killed, doing your dirty work," Willie said. "I have to get her away from here."

 

"If that would really help, I would be the first one to endorse the idea, pack your bags, buy your tickets, and put you two on a plane to miles from nowhere," Barnabas said. "But you cannot escape Nicholas."

 

"Sarah said Margene and her family would be safe."

 

"Margene wasn't Nicholas's original target. What happened to little Marcus was in the nature of a warning. Well, we're heeding the warning, so he should no longer have any use for the Sherbrookes, as long as they pose no further obstruction to his plan."

 

"But what are his plans? Even I would have figured out it had something to do with our baby, sooner or later. Is the baby like Cecily? Why didn't he just go after Cecily, months ago, before we made the baby?"

 

"Perhaps, as Julia, Elliot, and I have conjectured, Cellie's powers were increased by your intimate experiences, and by pregnancy. Maybe Nicholas had to wait until her skills were improved by this natural progression."

 

"They're improving too damn much," Willie complained. "I noticed, she doesn't even get sick, anymore, from easing someone's sadness, or making someone else feel bad. But having someone else's convulsions!"

 

"I know. Don't you believe me when I say it's frightening to me, too? Even without the threat of Nicholas Blair hanging over our heads! I love that girl like my own daughter."

 

"I guess I believe you, up to a point, Barnabas. But, far as I'm concerned, you still got quite a way to go before love, to you, doesn't mean using somebody. I hope you get that straight, even before Julia runs off to that baby-making doctor in Boston."

 

"I'll learn that, the day YOU realize that love doesn't mean trying to hide someone from from facing her destiny."

 

Willie sighed, and stood up. "So, what are you going to do next?" he asked.

 

"Well, actually, I've done quite a bit, this morning. I called the Connecticut number on this business card, and I found out that, yes, there is a Paugassett Press, located just two miles from St. Dymphna's Home for Girls. There was, indeed, a Bernard Neville, who was the editor-in-chief of their fiction department."

 

"You said 'was.' Let me guess. He's pushing up the daisies somewhere."

 

"Inelegantly put, but, alas, very true. Mr. Neville suffered a most unfortunate end, in a totally inexplicable automobile accident, shortly after he left the diner near the Home, back in March."

 

"Blair caused it."

 

"It wouldn't be beyond him. Perhaps he'd gotten wind of Cellie's poetic efforts. Apparently they were well known, and a source of comment, when she lived in Fairbeach."

 

"What's your next move gonna be?"

 

"After the Sherbrookes are safely on that train, tomorrow morning, I will be tracking down, and then, paying a little visit to 'Mr.Neville'."

 

"He'll love that. So much that he really socks it to my Cecily."

 

"I've been giving her protection a lot of thought. For one thing, until Blair is gone, I don't think Cellie should be left alone for a minute. I'll be passing the word to Carolyn, David, and the Stokeses. Another thing, Willie--- I think you two should come stay at the Old House, or at Abijah's Cottage. You would be surrounded by people every day at work, and you'd have instant access to myself and Julia at night."

 

"I'll tell Cecily when she wakes up. I have to check on her, right now."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie and Willie stood on the train platform with Margene and Marcus G. Cellie held the wriggling Marcus C. "He lost a little weight," she commented.

 

"Yeah," Margene said. "The doctor wanted to keep him a little longer, because he got dehydrated so fast, with all that sweating. But we're anxious to get away from here. It was nice of your mother to invite us to stay at her place in Boston, overnight. And I can't wait to see Sister Innocent and show her our little guy is okay. Cellie, I was never one to believe in all that prayer jazz, but you really knocked yourself out, organizing the whole thing, and it worked."

 

"I guess it really works best when a group of strangers focus their thoughts on one purpose, one wish, one vision."

 

"Well, if you're ever in need, I'll get the whole diocese of Baltimore cracking." Margene began to cry a little. "I'm going to miss you, girl. When all this trouble is over, you and your Will can visit us. We'll do the town right. I'll even take you to see Edgar Allan Poe's grave, so you'll feel right at home. He's buried near this really spooky church with folks buried downstairs. It's said you can hear 'em, sometimes."

 

"I'm always happy to make new friends," Cellie laughed. "Seriously, though, Margene, I live for the day we're free to leave, and not have to worry about bringing tragedy along with our luggage."

 

"All we want to see with your luggage is a basket with your baby in it,"

 

Marcus G. chimed in. Cellie gave him his son, who grabbed at her bright braid in his reluctance to leave her arms.

 

The train slinked up toward the platform. Cellie and Margene clutched at each other. Margene hugged Willie, then took baby Marcus from her husband. Marcus G. embraced Cellie warmly, and Willie awkwardly. Cellie heard him whisper, "With me the whole time. Thank you, brother." Aloud, he announced, "When you come down our way, Willie, I'll take you to an Orioles game."

 

After the Sherbrookes boarded the train, Margene managed to jam the window open. She stuck out her arm toward Cellie, and the last words Cellie heard, as the train moved away, were "Remember, Cell-Mate!  Gotta lay that devil down!"

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Barnabas had traced Nicholas to a cottage just down the street from where Julia, Cellie, and the Stokeses used to live. He drove down the sand-dusted beach road, full of gloomy foreboding about the upcoming confrontation. Alongside his anxiety, a trivial thought rose, that it seemed like years since he and Willie had met Cellie in one of these cottages. When he realized he could no longer recall which cottage, he felt, absurdly sad, as if he'd lost an irretrievable part of his past,

a past where Cellie was still young and innocent, Julia was looking forward to a placid marriage with Elliot, and he and Willie had a lonely, but peaceful future ahead of them.

 

So much, turned around in just nine months, and all because a precocious, good-hearted girl found something to pity, then love, in a misfit. Two misfits, really. Barnabas hadn't realized how far he'd parted from normal human affairs until Cellie forced the issue and made him see the light. They had their differences, but she had developed into a valuable apprentice, almost as much as he'd hoped for, when he discussed her future with Julia, so many months ago.

 

And now, he went forth, to defend her right to continue in the life she had chosen, with the man she'd chosen, and their coming child. Her choices had angered and chagrined him, but she couldn't reach her goals without them; he'd heard it for himself.

 

Barnabas had no idea what he could do to Nicholas, now that he was mortal, and had to defend other mortals. If only Angelique was here,

 

he mused. She ultimately couldn't control Blair, either, but she acted as a check on some of his activities, until she irritated him beyond tolerance. Barnabas grimaced as he remembered when Nicholas had turned Angelique into a vampire. She had almost turned Barnabas back into one, and succeeded in turning Tom Jennings into one. Her influence had caused poor Joe Haskell to betray his cousin, Tom, and to break off from Maggie, the first in series of traumatic events that eventually led to his confinement in WindCliff, and then, his departure from the area, once he recovered.

 

Of course, in the end, Angelique had succeeded at turning the tables on her tormentor each time Nicholas tried to throttle her.

 

Cellie was right about one thing: having been a vampire's victim seemed to be more traumatic for a man than a woman. Barnabas recalled his own dismay at his weakness then. Women were more used to not being in control of things, he supposed. Then he would think of Cellie, and the deft way she handled catastrophe after catastrophe, without even stopping to consider the notion of impossibility. He wondered, fearfully, what would happen if she was ever exposed to that horrible condition.

 

Whatever Blair had in mind would surely prove as devastating. Barnabas parked his car in front of the house closest to the beach. Blair, he recalled, seemed to have a preference for being near the sea. The light was on in the living room window. Barnabas approached the door with trepidation. It opened before he had a chance to knock.

 

"Mr. Neville, I presume," Barnabas began. He, like Carolyn, was amazed at the difference in Nicholas's appearance. Perhaps he resembled the deceased Neville this way.

 

"No need of pretences between such old acquaintances, Barnabas. Do come in," Nicholas said, pleasantly enough.

 

"Well, at least you didn't say, 'between old friends'," Barnabas replied, as he entered. He observed that the parlor, similar in size and structure to Julia's old cottage, was virtually nondescript, containing only the bland, cheap furniture one found in these rented places. Nicholas was obviously determined not to attract too much attention to himself on this trip.

 

"An old adversary is much the same as an old friend, I suppose. There's a similar knowledge of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and an appreciation for each other's personality, that, in any other circumstances, would bring them together on the same side." Nicholas motioned Barnabas to sit. "So, Barnabas, you've been through a few life changes since we last met. How's the wife and family?"

 

"You know perfectly well. We would all be fine if you were elsewhere. What is your game, this time, Nicholas?"

 

"Who said anything about a game, Barnabas? Of course I'll tell you why I'm here. It won't cost me anything, as regards my plans. I enjoy letting people know every detail about that which they can do nothing to change." He opened a liquor cabinet. "Today I purchased what I've been assured by the wall-eyed proprietor of the local package store is the finest 'Char-doh-nay' available in these parts. Join me in a drink, Barnabas?"

 

"As if I would. I'm surprised at you, Nicholas, sinking to the level of living in a dumpy little cottage, and drinking cheap wine. Your Master must be displeased with you, perhaps, on account of your last failure, with the Leviathans."

 

"Nonsense," Nicholas said, though it was clear he was stung by the remark. "Just a little incognito. Of course, it didn't work too well for you and Carolyn. I'm sorry I inflicted that little joke on dear, dear Carolyn. You know, Barnabas, after all the years, and all the women I've entertained, I'm always surprised to make a new discovery, especially of someone I once took for granted. Now that I've had plenty of time to recover from my last disappointment, I believe I can say that Carolyn has emerged as my favorite. But, alas, she squandered her favors on Jeb even after he lost his powers, on that miserable creature Adam, and, I understand, is currently doing so with someone I recall very well. Tony Peterson. She's seeing him, tonight, even as we speak."

 

He extracted a small, lidded mirror from his pocket. Barnabas recognized it as one from the Antique Shoppe. Nicholas opened the mirror. "Hmmm. Interesting. She's rather inhibited, but she's giving it the old college try. Too bad. I daresay I could show her a better time. Want a look, Barnabas?" He held out the mirror.

 

Barnabas looked away, quickly. "I will not look at your mirrors. Tell me how you survived , and what you came back to town for."

 

"Or else what, Barnabas? Don't worry, you'll know in due time. I can share a few details of my seemingly miraculous 'resurrection'. Suffice it to say, my Master knew that I was still useful, and also knew that I would always put His will first, forever after, if He allowed me another chance. I have satisfied His whims on so many occasions since the Leviathan debacle, that He personally entrusted me with a new assignment in this neighborhood, because I already knew the territory so well. Say, Barnabas, what would you give for that which you most desire?"

 

"I have everything I desire, and all without foolish or dangerous bargains."

 

"Of course you do," Nicholas smirked. "You have a clingy, middle-aged wife who's probably barren, a tiresome business to run, and a toothsome niece who's married to your former slave. And now, he uses her body, even as it is now, to satisfy those puny lusts he had to hold back, while he was forced to watch you pursue the objects of your lust. Ironic, isn't it, Barnabas? Willie got the prize you would have killed to have, once. But you have all you desire. I understand. Pity. I wanted to have a reward in store for you, in case you chose to assist me. It doesn't matter, all that much. I'll get what I want, without your help, but I thought it would be considerate to ask anyway, seeing that we're such old acquaintances."

 

"Stop it, Blair!" Barnabas protested, though his face reddened. "What you say about my relationship with my niece--- it's a damnable, filthy, grotesque lie! I love my wife as a husband should, and I love my niece, like a father. Even if I did want her in that way, she's happily married, and she's expecting Willie's child. I had the idea, that's what you were after, Nicholas. This whole dismal business with the Sherbrooke child.... It's Cellie's baby you want, isn't it?"

 

"Anything to evade those deep personal issues, eh, Barnabas? We'll explore those again, later. But yes, you've caught me, in a way. I am interested in your dear niece's child, and I will endure not even the most trivial interference. By the way, you must congratulate your niece on her perspicacity. She certainly proved herself worthy of better things, even if she doesn't appeal to my Master. I had no intention of killing the Sherbrooke child, but once I realized that she would take on the challenge, I allowed matters to take their course, in hopes she'd turn matters around at the last minute. Which she did, literally.  A splendid example of empathic transference."

 

"That was a cruel joke, indeed, Nicholas. I can imagine Cellie's feeling of sorrow and guilt if her sacrifice had failed. She knows why Marcus C. was stricken, and already believes herself to be the cause of his suffering."

 

"That is precisely why she is not suitable for my plans, and my master's. She has, in spite of her failings and missteps, an immutable, almost solid conscience, and a massive dose of compassion for the unworthy. Without these drawbacks, and with her gifts of intellect and charm, imagine what power she could have had! It's come to my attention that she favors biographies of powerful, brilliant women. Catherine the Great, Boudicca, Elizabeth the first, Eleanor of Aquitaine. All of them enjoyed long-lived success because of some intuition they had about men, whether the men were their spouses, or those leeches who knew they could not gain power on their own without currying their ladies' favor. But alas, while our Cecily has both pragmatism and determination, she lacks the ruthlessness that would ensure her dominance in a man's world."

 

"So, you intend to take over her child, and inflict it with these essential qualities. Tell me, Nicholas, what have you discovered about Cellie's child that makes it suitable for your plans?"

 

"Need you ask, Barnabas? Isn't it obvious? The child will be an empath, perhaps to a degree beyond its mother. And much, much more.  I can tell you that it will be telepathic, as well. The possibilities open to such a being, even in a mortal state, are virtually endless! You notice, I hold but one secret. The child's sex. That's purely for innocent fun, and even I agree, there's little enough of that when I'm around. Baby Loomis's parents deserve at least one pleasant surprise,

 

I suppose. It will comfort them while their little one is being brought up to rock their world. That is, if I permit them to live, longer than it's necessary to bring a healthy child to term. Willie is most solicitous of Cecily's vitamin intake, and her regular check-ups. She may be a stickler for detail, but she's atrociously negligent when it comes to her prenatal care."

 

Barnabas replied, "You create a situation that brings risk to her condition, and then you complain because she forgets doctor's appointments!"

 

"No more than you did, a few weeks ago, when you cajoled her into helping you tie up some loose ends with your uncle and former fiancee."

 

"Touche. Still, you forget one thing, Nicholas. Whether or not its mother survives, the child could inherit Cellie's character, and her virtues. That could throw your plans out of whack."

 

"It could just as easily inherit its father's so-called character, and lack of virtues," Nicholas pointed out. "The unpleasant aspects you robbed from Willie's personality, could resurface in his offspring, male or female."

 

"A child with his attributes may inadvertantly defeat you!" Barnabas said, with an odd feeling of satisfaction at the concept. "Even before we became 'acquainted', Willie was a decidedly inept criminal, when left to his own devices."

 

"I rather doubt that the father's ineptitude would surface. Willie's wife has an I.Q. approaching 200. Even half of that would be sufficient to lift the child to the degree of competency necessary to fulfill what I have in store for it. And I'm confident he or she will inherit a good deal more than half."

 

Barnabas became quite depressed, as the conversation went on. He felt like he was slowly, inexhorably, sinking to the bottom of a deep well. "I suppose there is nothing I can say, or do, to change your mind."

 

"An opportunity like this only comes along once every couple of hundred years, or so, Barnabas. I would, indeed, be remiss if I didn't permit myself to take advantage of it. Admit it, you've considered some similar arrangement to serve the purpose of what you, in your presumption, call 'Good'."

 

"I would never separate a helpless infant from its mother, or threaten the lives of both parents!"

 

"That brings us back to our original discussion. I, too, have grown rather fond of the delightful Cecily, as I'm sure you already are, much more than you care to admit."

 

"Nicholas--"

 

"Please, Barnabas, hear me out. I wouldn't harm a hair on her head, if I could avoid it. Sound her out about my idea. Let her understand, she wouldn't be shut out entirely, from her child's life. And, if you succeed, in return, I could make it possible for you and she to part, amicably, of course, from your current spouses---"

 

"I'll do no such thing! I've told you before, and will, again and again, I harbor no such feelings for my niece. My NIECE, Nicholas. It's incest, even without a blood tie between us."

 

"I could make that possible, too, if you're obstinate. It's clear, from her poetry, that Cecily has, at least, a nodding aquaintance with that way of life."

 

"Her knowledge of that is purely second-hand. I don't think foisting vampirism on either of us would be practical, if you wish to maintain an appearance of normalcy about these arrangements. And then, there's no telling what Cellie might do in return. In order to save her child from you, she may go to an extreme. She's already gone to extremes to save her husband, as well as the Sherbrooke child."

 

"Ah, the troublesome Willie. He's more of a bother than your wife. Julia might be persuaded to go along with matters for your sake and her niece's. Willie, in his childish posessiveness, may give trouble, initially. Still, if you feel squeamish about eliminating him, he can be transformed, again, into a most tractable and compliant underling, useful for any purpose you and Cecily can dream up."

 

Barnabas's face was dark red. "I don't know.... I don't know.... How can I stop you?"

 

"Well, you can forget the prayer vigil manuever. That only works sporadically, I'm afraid."

 

"I was surprised that you haven't harmed any of those who participated."

 

"Remember, I didn't originally intend to kill that child. And quite frankly, it would have been tedious, picking them off. It would have drawn a lot of attention. The whole point of the exercise was to teach you and your niece a lesson. That was successful."

 

"What about the spirits who've been assisting her?"

 

"You know, as well as I do, that spirits can do some harm, but their ability to help humans in any way is extremely limited. I, myself, have a limitation or two, but I can handle that obstacle, easily." Nicholas held out the mirror again. "Want to take a look, Barnabas? I can bring forth images of the recent past, as well. I have in mind, one special night, about a week ago " 

 

Nicholas held the mirror close to his face. "Oh, my," he said, leering. "I had no idea Cecily was still so limber, at this stage of her condition. And Willie---why, I've never seen him so kinetic, if you catch my drift." He thrust the mirror at Barnabas. "Come on, Barnabas, you must, at least, be curious. See his skin pressed to hers, his fingers in her hair, his mouth, well.... Compare that to your deflated passion for the over-eager, but uninspiring Julia."

 

"I'll never look!"

 

"I can arrange it so that every reflective surface you encounter shows you an image as sharp and vivid as though you were present in their bedroom."

 

"I shall not give in. That much dignity, you can't take from me."

 

"I can take that, and so much more. Think about it very carefully, Barnabas."

 

"You won't harm her---them, at this time?"

 

"I already told you. I want a healthy child, and even someone as powerful as myself can't get that from a dead mother. In my own way, I'm as concerned with their welfare, as you are. You could say I've got my eye out for them." Nicholas snapped the mirror shut, and chuckled.

 

"I must go, and consider what you've told me."

 

"Absolutely. Things work so much better if there's mutual consent."

 

"Good evening, then, Nicholas."

 

"Just try to have a pleasant evening, yourself, Barnabas."

 

Barnabas got back into his car. He was just about to look in the rear-view mirror, when he remembered Nicholas's warning. He would have to try to look back, over his shoulder, for oncoming traffic. He swung his car onto the deserted beach road, and had traveled less than a mile, when the interior of his car lit up. A car was following too close behind his. He pulled to the shoulder, and let it pass. When he was ready to go again, he looked over his shoulder again. He had to back out a little, to avoid hitting a large rock just ahead of him. A car zoomed up behind, from around the bend, and almost rear-ended him. Instinctively, he glanced at his rear-view mirror.

 

What he saw made him sit in the parked car for such a long time, that a policeman driving by, slowed to ask him if he needed assistance. Barnabas turned his head away as he replied, "No, thanks, I'll be fine in a moment." His eyes were filled with guilty tears. He felt pain in his heart, and his stomach. The truth was, he didn't think he'd be fine, ever again.

 

Barnabas arrived at the Old House. He almost didn't want to go inside. He didn't want to face Julia. Fortunately, he wouldn't have to face his niece and her husband right away. Willie had decided to take Cellie to Abijah's Cottage. If what Barnabas had seen was typical of their nocturnal activities, it was probably just as well.

 

He went in, and tried to put off going upstairs as long as possible. He made a cup of tea, and only drank half. He couldn't look at the television; the screen surface was highly polished. He was too distracted to read. Finally, he had to go up; if he didn't, Julia would come down to look for him, anyway.

 

She was half-asleep in her own bed, but rose when she heard him come in. He sat on his bed, his head turned from his wife.  She sat next to him with a look of concern on her face, and put her arms around him. "How did it go with Nicholas? What sort of danger are we in for, this time?"

 

"He wants Cellie's child. The baby will be empathic and telepathic. He made it clear there's little to nothing any of us can do about it."

 

"Barnabas! Of course we'll think of something. I've never seen you so defeated, this early in the game. I wonder why you didn't immediately go to the cottage to tell Cellie and Willie."

 

"Perhaps I didn't see the point of disturbing their rest. What can they do about it at this hour of the night?" He covered his face with his hands. "You tell them, Julia. I can't face them, with my--my failure."

 

"I don't understand, Barnabas. It's too soon to tell if you've failed. And it's not all on you, to see this thing through. Cellie is strong and resourceful, and she's got both earthly and spiritual support in every sense of the word. You must tell them, anyway--- only you know all the details. What has Nicholas done to you, to make you feel this way? Did he threaten to turn you back--"

 

"Among other things. That's not the problem, Julia." He took her hand. "You believe I love you deeply and truly, don't you, Julia?"

 

"Of course I do. And you know I love you." She kissed him gently on the forehead. "You know you can tell me anything, Barnabas. You always have, before, even the worst things. What happened to you? Why can't you look at me?"

 

"Nothing I can't handle, I suppose. Perhaps I'll feel better in the morning."

 

 

"Would you like me to stay here, in bed with you? Would that help you sleep, or do you also need a sleeping pill?"

 

Barnabas felt uncomfortable about having his wife in bed with him, when his mind was so full of those disturbing images, but he was reluctant to arouse her suspicions by refusing. "Yes, to both proposals," he said, managing a smile.

 

"Perhaps Cellie can help you, if you're still this tense tomorrow," Julia said, as she rummaged through her medical bag for the pills. "Here," she said, holding out a vial. "Take two, with a whole cup of water."

 

Barnabas, careful not to glance into the vanity mirror as he left the room, went down stairs to the kitchen, to avoid facing the new bathroom mirror. By the time he came back up, Julia had dozed off, again, in his bed, and this time, she didn't wake up when he came in. Barnabas laid down on her empty bed, and fought the temptation to get up and gaze at the mirror.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

It was Julia, ultimately, who called Willie the next morning, and carefully explained to him what little she had learned from Barnabas.

 

"I'll get Cecily right away, and we'll head over to the Old House," Willie said.

 

"Not just yet, Willie. There's something wrong with Barnabas.

 

I have the impression that he'd rather not see either of you, but he's very specific that he doesn't want to see Cellie, at least. I'd rather you not say anything to her, at this point, but you might be able to get him to give you more details. Perhaps he'll be willing to talk with her, later."

 

"Well, she was planning to go to the beach this morning, with David and that Annette. I was against it at first, but if what you say is true, she and the others will probably be safe. I don't think Nicholas is going to scare up a tidal wave, or anything. Maybe by the time I pick her up, Barnabas will be okay. I'll come over as soon as Cecily leaves."

 

"He's already gone to the Antique Shoppe. It's as though he couldn't bring himself to stay here. He didn't even have breakfast."

 

"It's eight in the morning! He must really be upset. He's never in before nine-thirty, even during tourist season. I'll be down there in a while."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Barnabas sat alone in his office, staring at the collection of framed family photographs on his desk. Pictures taken at his wedding, at Cellie's and Willie's reception, and the most recent, taken by David, of Willie standing behind Cellie, his hands over hers, tenderly rubbing her abdomen. This last was set in a double frame, the space beside it empty. David explained that it was meant to be a "before and after picture"; when the baby was born, he would shoot the parents in a similar pose, but holding the baby over its former location.

 

Just then, a shaft of sunlight hit the glass on the frame in such a way, as to create a reflection of the window behind. Barnabas shut his eyes just as the image began to shift to the one he both feared and craved.

 

Barnabas wracked his brains to think of ways to avoid his niece in the near future. She only worked a couple of hours a day, now, and he could easily arrange buying trips during the time she spent at the Shoppe. Avoiding Willie was, however, impossible. Willie burst into the office just after eight-thirty. He saw, right away, that something was amiss with his employer.

 

"I know you're not okay, so don't tell me different," Willie began. "You look like I used to feel, way back when. Nicholas pulled something on you, like he did to me and Cecily, and Carolyn. I already heard from Julia, that he told you what he wants from us, and he's worked you over so you can't talk about it much. Is that it?"

 

Barnabas looked at his desk, and was silent. Then he whispered, sadly, "Willie, don't press me."

 

"You have to tell me, so I can protect my family, Barnabas. Look, I'm not mad at you for not telling right away. I know how that can happen. But you're the strong one. You have to snap out of it, somehow."

 

"I don't know if I can, this time, Willie. I'm so sorry."

 

"When Cecily's here, later, she could, you know, work on you a little bit. I know you don't like the idea of her messing with your head, but she understands what to do with you, even more than Julia, I think."

 

Barnabas turned away. Willie could hear him sob. Barnabas, of all people, breaking down in a crisis!

 

Willie said, reassuringly, "Honest, I really don't mind what you and Cecily got going, if that's what's upsetting you. Or her and David, not much, anyway. She's really gotten me to think over all the bad stuff, and I kind of understand, now, we were all suffering, through that time. You and me, we're kind of stuck with each other, I guess." He patted Barnabas's shoulder. "I'm supposed to pick her up at twelve, but I could get her earlier, if you want. I might, anyway. She's sure to get sunburned as hell if I don't. She doesn't think about stuff like that, and David will be too busy with Annette to notice."

 

"I can't let her see me like this. I can't."

 

"You'll have to, sooner or later. But if you can't hash it out with Cecily, or Julia, or me, you have to spill it to someone. Go see the Professor, at least. He remembers what happened with Nicholas."

 

"I believe I shall, Willie. Thank you for suggesting it. After all the times I hurt you...."

 

"It's past. We have to stick together now. It's like these cats my mom used to have. They just couldn't get along---always fighting over the food dishes, the windowsill, the porch, you name it. And the older cat lorded it over the other. But just let another cat come into the yard, and, man, were they ever buddy-buddy then, ganging up on it, and chasing it away. That's how we are when someone tries to take away something we both want."

 

Barnabas forced himself not to turn his head away when he caught the last phrase. After Willie convinced him to have some coffee and a piece of Cellie's zucchini bread, Barnabas felt up to visiting the Professor. He called first.

 

Elliot heard the strange, sad note in Barnabas's voice, and told him to come over right away.

 

"I'll drive you over, if you still don't feel good," Willie offered.

 

Barnabas thought about how difficult his drive to the Shoppe had been, this morning, stopping everytime the mirror caught his eye, and starting out again, always having to look back for oncoming traffic. But at least, he'd been alone. If he rode with Willie, he might catch sight of the station wagon's mirrors, and then be mortified when Willie saw his reaction. Or, he could sit with his eyes closed, and arouse Willie's curiosity.

 

"I'll walk. It's a pleasant morning, and the air will do me good. The bungalow is only a mile away."

 

Twenty minutes later, Barnabas arrived at the Stokes' home. The Professor, attired in a Hawaiian shirt and slacks, for a picnic he planned to attend at the Ellsworth Portuguese Club with Fatima

Texeira, welcomed Barnabas in. "I just called Fatima, and told her an emergency came up, and to go on to the picnic without me. It'll be going on all day, so I won't miss much, before I get there."

 

"I'm so sorry to interrupt your plans."

 

"Nonsense. You sound like you need help desperately. What's happened to you, Barnabas? I realize dealing with Nicholas can be difficult, but even I can see you're depressed, almost to the point of requiring medical help. Didn't you talk to Julia?"

 

"I could only share so much with her. It's too--too upsetting."

 

Elliot put his hand on Barnabas's shoulder, and looked directly into his eyes. "What did Nicholas do, Barnabas? Whatever you tell me will be kept confidential, though I hope I can change your mind about telling your wife."

 

"This is what I was able to tell Julia, and Willie. I didn't want them to tell Cellie, just yet. Nicholas has foreknowledge about Cellie's baby. The child will be telepathic, as well as empathic."

 

"You believe him? How do you know this isn't some scheme of his to get even with you for disrupting his Leviathan endeavors, and for nearly getting him killed?"

 

"That's part of it, but the main point is, he wants Cellie's child, to rear in such a fashion, as to cause great harm, not only to the Collinses, but to the world at large. He would make a deal with both Cellie and myself, but he is determined to prevail, even if that doesn't come about. I believe his determination is, indeed, fueled by his earlier failure---perhaps this really is his last chance. I don't

know. But this time, I don't think he will fail." Barnabas fell into that peculiar, sorrowful silence.

 

"What does he have on you, Barnabas? The last time I saw you in nearly this much despair, was back in 1970---just before you went back to 1840. The situation was grim then, but we won that round against the powers of darkness."

 

"In 1970, I didn't have the most tantalizing offer put before me, if only I should desist from pursuing my quest."

 

"What will Nicholas give you, if you hand him Cellie's baby?"

 

Barnabas said, "I can't even tell you, Elliot."

 

"You are sorely tempted, I can tell that much. But you are resisting, somehow, so I know your heart is still in the right place. But, Barnabas, you know his offer is a lie. He won't come through, even if you give him every child Cellie may have in the future."

 

"I know that, but he's created a situation, where I can't miss seeing what I might possess, if I take him up on his offer. In every mirror---he loves playing with those damnable mirrors--- I catch a glimpse of the prize that, until he showed me, I didn't even realize I wanted."

 

"Is it a woman, Barnabas? If so, I can see why you wouldn't want to tell Julia, but I believe, based on your past history with her, she would understand completely."

 

"Not just any woman. If only it was any other woman. I couldn't hurt Julia that much, to tell her that I would even consider such a vile offer."

 

"Very well, if you can't tell Julia, perhaps Cellie can--" Elliot broke off, when he saw the stricken look on Barnabas's face. "Dear God," he whispered. "He offered you Cellie? I hope you told him no."

 

"Of course I did, Elliot! If it had ended there, I wouldn't be here now. I almost had several accidents, because I can't bear to look in the car mirror, or even the bathroom mirror this morning." Barnabas fingered several small shaving cuts. "I will never be able to look my wife or my niece in the eye again. When Willie showed me compassion in my distress this morning, my shame was so great, I craved death. How can I relieve this crushing lust in time to help

my family gird themselves against the real threat before us?"

 

"I could try hypnosis, but in this case, it would only be a temporary measure. I can't help you get around seeing Cellie. You can't abandon her because you're facing up to an uncomfortable fact of life, that no matter how happily and deeply one is committed to one's marriage, one can find himself or herself attracted to other people. Sometimes, the attraction can be strong. You and Cellie have a lot in common, and she is, even in her condition, a beautiful girl. But you understand

 

the limits of the attraction, and, if she has similar feelings for you, she must, also. I have never known her to be less than affectionate to her husband. And as for you and Julia, well, you both are more reserved, but I notice the way you look at each other, and talk with each other. You both are far better together, than apart."

 

"Coming from you, Elliot, that is a compliment, indeed."

 

"I have forgiven, and all but forgotten, that misunderstanding. I get on very well with Fatima."

 

"Thank God someone is sure of their affections in this world."

 

"You are, too, Barnabas. But for some reason, that goes beyond just pandering to a normal middle-aged man's fantasy, Nicholas is able to reach his fingers into your soul, and shake it to its foundations, with his tricks. There is more to this, than a fear of seeing sordid images in a mirror. It reminds me of those awful days when Roger was married to Cassandra. I've asked you, time and again, if there isn't something else that happened to you in the past, with her, or Nicholas,

to justify this obsession you have about concealing details of your early life."

 

"Someday, Elliot, when I truly feel all these travails are truly behind us, if that day ever comes.... My family knows, and they support me. I wish I could be as forthcoming with them, right now, as I have been, in the past."

 

"I know one thing, Barnabas. If you can get past this obstacle, you will find it easier to deal with Nicholas in the future. I just don't have an answer for you at this point. There must be a solution. We can't give in."

 

"I don't want to," Barnabas said, gloomily. "But defeating Nicholas is usually more a matter of luck than strategy."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Carolyn was at her station, behind the jewelry counter at the Antique Shoppe, when Willie came in with Cellie around eleven o'clock. "My God, Cellie," she said. "You look like you escaped from the lobster pot at the Inn."

 

Cellie examined her reddened arms, and glanced toward an elaborate mirror over the red velvet settee, at her sunburnt nose, cheeks,and chin. Her eyes had an odd, raccoon-in-reverse appearance, dead white where her large sunglasses had covered them, contrasting with the red skin around them. The upper part of her bosom, exposed by the low-cut bodice of her sundress, was crimson. Even her sandal-shod feet were bright pink. Only her legs, shaded by the long skirt of the tent-like dress, were shell-white.

 

"I told you, with skin like yours, you have to stay covered up, or under the umbrella," Willie admonished. "I can't believe you never got burned like that before, the way you forget."

 

Cellie answered with asperity, "I didn't just want to sit under that umbrella for three hours, and it was too hot to put anything else on. And my hat blew away on the ocean breeze. Next time, I'll make sure you're around, telling me what to do every minute I'm trying to relax." She folded her arms, and winced. The insides of her elbows were red, and it stung to bend them. She examined a wound on her arm. "Oh, Geez, what's this?" she asked in dismay.

 

"It's a blister, and it's opened up," Willie replied. "Come on upstairs, I'll take care of it for you." He gently touched her shoulder.

 

"Ouch," she complained.

 

"Cecily, you have to be more careful. People with real pale skin can get sick from too much sun," he said.

 

"That's true. I got sun poisoning when I was about ten," Carolyn chimed in.

 

"Okay. I bow to your superior wisdom, Will. I'll go quietly." Cellie took her husband's hand, as he led her upstairs.

 

Carolyn watched them go, with concern. Their bickering seemed so trivial, in the face of the threat before them. Even without Nicholas to worry about, it was hard to believe that they would be adequate parents to a helpless infant. Willie was barely competent as a pretend-daddy to his young wife, and, in spite of her flashes of maturity, Cellie occasionally behaved like a petulant, rebellious thirteen-year-old.

 

Then, Carolyn tried to shake the anxiety from her mind. Of course, they would be able to pull themselves together, and care for their baby. She was just a worry-wart these days. Tony commented on it, last night. She'd told him about Nicholas's return, without going into detail about the probable motivations for his visit. Tony tried to comfort her.

 

They almost ended up in bed, something that had happened twice already. She couldn't unwind enough to let that happen; she couldn't tell if it was because of her current anxieties, or if it was her upbringing catching up with her. She thought she had changed from the naive bride she had once been. It was almost three years since she saw Jeb's agonized face slip beyond her view, to those rocks beneath Widow's Hill....

 

She began to cry a little, wiping her tears with the back of her hand like a child. She realized what held her back from being with Tony.

 

It wasn't morality, or anxiety. When Tony looked at her in a certain way, she recalled how her late husband had gazed at her in their few secure, relaxed moments, up till the evening he was killed. When Tony wore that lazily-affectionate expression, all she could see were the rocks that had waited for Jeb, obliterating any good thing that had happened up to that moment, mocking the meaning of any tender gesture, any loving touch. "Sound and fury, signifying nothing," she thought, dispiritedly. "I guess I know what that means, now."

 

Something moved near her. She rose, half-expecting to see Cellie standing there, waiting to console her, as she had a couple of times before.

 

It was Willie. "I have to run to the drugstore," he said. "I got Cecily's blister bandaged up, but she needs some salve for the rest of her burns. You need anything from there?" He looked closely at

her face. "You were just crying."

 

"I'm worried. About Nicholas, and Barnabas. About you and Cellie. About a whole lot of things."

 

Willie touched her hair in a comforting way. "You and Tony ought to get away from here," he said. "Is he gonna marry you, or what?"

 

Carolyn tried to smile.  "I think it's too soon to tell."

 

"Cecily and I were able to tell in way less time than that. You have to get busy. We're stuck, but there's a chance for you."

 

"I'm a trouper. I wouldn't desert you guys for the world. And there's the rest of my family to consider. This, too, shall pass, I'm sure."

 

"Well, if you ever need someone to straighten Tony out--- call Cecily." Willie smiled. "Look how she has me trained." He turned to go. "She's resting right now, but if you need her down here, she'll come. Just don't go off anywhere. Barnabas said she can't be left alone. I'll be back in twenty minutes."

 

Carolyn listened to the noise of the station wagon, as Willie drove away. She went into the kitchen to get some coffee. The front door bell rang. She went into the showroom, coffee cup in hand. She almost dropped it.

 

Nicholas stood before her. "Mrs. Hawkes. I'm sorry I didn't re-introduce myself to you, when we nearly collided a few days ago. Confusion of the moment."

 

"No confusion on my part, Nicholas," she replied, hostility in her voice. "Why can't you leave us alone?"

 

"There's just something about the Collins family that draws me back," he said, moving closer to her, and stroking her arm. She pulled away, spilling some her coffee on the rug. She set the cup down on an old end table. "Oh, Carolyn," Nicholas continued, "You know I've been interested in you for several years. Even when you married Jeb."

 

"I thought you wanted me to be with him," she replied. "I don't recall that you wanted me, particularly. I can't remember too many details clearly, but there was to be a ceremony, and you were there to officiate...."

 

"I assure you, giving you up to Jeb was a tremendous sacrifice on my part. If he and I could have changed places, I would have, in a heartbeat."

 

"He wouldn't have let you. And as for a sacrifice, your so-called friend killed him, anyway. Are you going to do something to Tony, too?" Tears ran down her face.

 

"Tony isn't significant enough to warrant killing. I suspect he isn't satisfactory to you, either."

 

"What is that supposed to mean?"

 

Nicholas grabbed Carolyn, and held her tightly, while he kissed her with a curious mixture of viciousness and tenderness. He loosened his grip, but she held on, and kissed him back. Then she turned away, panting, red with shame. "Don't look away, Carolyn," he said sternly. She faced him again. He looked into her eyes. He ran his fingers along both sides of her face, and gently pressed them against where her jaw joined her neck. He ran them lightly down both sides of her throat, and down her shoulders. He kissed her again. She moaned softly.

 

"Nicholas, don't.... someone may come in. Why hasn't Cellie come down---" Carolyn gasped, as though she'd revealed a state secret.

 

"Yes. Cecily will be down shortly, but you won't be here. You have to go downstairs."

 

"Downstairs. Yes. You'll come with me, won't you?" She asked, in a dazed voice.

 

"Not right now, but we'll get together, later. Would you like that?"

 

"I have to see Tony tonight."

 

"For the last time. Then we'll get together, at my place. You'll know where to go, when the time comes." Carolyn turned to go downstairs. She gazed back at Nicholas with longing.

 

Cellie came down from her room. She had been mulling over what Willie told her while taking care of her arm, that their baby would be able to read minds as well as emotions. She was still worried about Nicholas, and about the possible problems raising such a child might entail, but she was rather proud. She put aside these thoughts, when she sensed Carolyn's distress. But she couldn't

 

bring herself to get up right away, and leave the comfortable breeze generated by the air conditioner.

 

Maybe Carolyn and Willie were right about getting sick from the sun. Cellie fought off the logy feeling, and was finally rewarded with a burst of energy.

 

"Carolyn, are you okay? Sorry I couldn't get down here sooner--" She came to the last step, and stopped when she saw Nicholas. He walked directly to her, and took her hand.

 

"Mrs. Loomis. Cecily. Just the person I wanted to talk to. How are the Sherbrookes these days?"

 

"Just swell, no thanks to you." Cellie yanked her hand away. She tried to read him, and, as had happened before, came up against an icy stone wall.

 

"Maybe you should thank me. Maybe I had more to do with their baby's cure than the God you pray to."

 

"On the other hand, maybe not. I prefer to think so. It's my baby you want, that much I know. And my husband told me why. Where's Carolyn? Why won't Barnabas see me?"

 

"Cecily, Cecily." Nicholas caressed her arm, as he had Carolyn's. But Cellie was untroubled by repressed lust. She pulled her arm away. "Dear Cecily. I'm only here to ask you a question, and then you won't have to see me for a while. What do you fear most, and what do you desire most?"

 

"You really think I'm going to tell you?"

 

Nicholas took Cellie by the arms, and kept trying to catch her eye. She moved around. Finally, he grabbed her roughly, and forced her to face him. She fought, but she was becoming weaker. He said, "Tell me what you fear, Cecily. What you desire."

 

"I desire you to get your filthy hands off me."

 

He squeezed her until she gasped. "Let's get serious, Mrs. Loomis."

 

"Alright, alright," she said. He released her. Cellie thought of some inoffensive answers. "I fear death in childbirth, okay? I fear my husband won't live to see our baby grow up. I desire to go to

college. I desire to be happily married until I'm a hundred. Do I get an 'A', teacher?"

 

"Don't play with me, Cecily. You're as evasive as Barnabas. He's another fine one for not admitting certain truths to himself."

 

"So, you pulled this crap on him, too, huh? It must have been a dilly of a head game. Well, maybe he wasn't ready for you. But I am."

 

"A child like you? What, are you going to 'read' me, and give me cramps, like you've even done to your husband on several occasions? Tell me how you feel when I tell you that, not only can I block your readings, but I can cause you to misinterpret and misdirect them? Want to take me on now, Mrs. Loomis? You know, I don't want it to be this way. You are going to bear a very special baby, Cecily. I don't wish to deprive you of it, not completely. If you go along with me, I can make it worth your while. And your husband's while, if he agrees."

 

"I don't think so. We'd all be better off dead than living in the type of world you envision, with my child as its dictator."

 

"My kind of world would have a good deal more stability and order, than the one you now inhabit."

 

"Hitler gave Germany stability, and made sure the trains ran on time. Did that justify his actions?"

 

"Even I would have to admit, he did go overboard, and, as the saying goes, there was Hell to pay." Nicholas smiled at his joke. "I can assure you, though, the same mistakes would not be made by your child. Your little one was destined for a great future from its conception. You and your Willie should be proud of yourselves, getting it right on the first try."

 

"We didn't conceive a despot, we conceived a baby to bring us joy, and hope for our future. It's not yours. It's ours."

 

"Cecily, even if the child was ordinary, you couldn't guarantee either its future happiness, or your own. My outcome would be guaranteed. You and Willie, and any other children you have, would only benefit from a new world order."

 

"I spit on your new world order!" she sneered defiantly. "Give me disorder, any day of the week. That's how things really get done."

 

"You want disorder? What if I showed you the truth about what you most fear, and what you most desire? What will you do, when you discover, they are one and the same?"

 

"That's bullshit, and you are the biggest bullshit artist I've ever met."

 

Nicholas pulled Cellie toward the mirror in the showroom. "Look into the mirror, Cecily."

 

"I'll do no such thing. And let me go. You're hurting my sunburn."

 

Nicholas stood, considering, for a moment, then said, "Well, looking in any mirror may not be necessary in your case. I have a feeling you're going to find out, on your own, very soon."

 

"I'll do that, and then call you up so I can laugh my ass off over the joke."

 

"You won't laugh, when you find out." Nicholas let Cellie go. "Give my regards to your husband, and Barnabas, if he ever comes back. And tell Carolyn she can come upstairs now. It's been wonderful, doing business with you Cecily. I'll have to call again, sometime."

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

 

Barnabas still would not return to the Antique Shoppe, or the Old House, even though he knew Julia wasn't there. She'd had to go to WndCliff to tie up loose ends, delegating some of her patients to the care of other doctors, so she could obtain the free time she would require to help her family through this latest crisis.

 

He walked around town, aimlessly, not looking into windows, in a haze of despair. Elliot had wanted to accompany him, but Barnabas insisted he needed to be alone. Heading back in the general direction of the Shoppe, Barnabas found himself near the Koffeehaus. The dark, stained-glass windows had an opaque sheen in the afternoon sun, an attractive sight to a man who'd spent the entire afternoon studying the sidewalks in an effort to avoid glimpsing a polished surface. Barnabas entered the brick building.

 

A few people sat around the stage, listening to a woman playing guitar. Barnabas glanced at her. A small sign near the stage indicated that this was Latilda, whose song had transmitted the missing clue that led Cellie to guess the truth about himself. She wasn't singing right now.

 

He approached the bar. He watched as Pavlos and a younger man, who also appeared to be Greek, prepared sandwiches, and then filled two espresso urns, both much larger than the one at the Antique Shoppe. The reflective surfaces of the urns were so distorted, Barnabas didn't fear seeing any disturbing images. Pavlos turned from his labors, and saw Barnabas, clutching his still-damaged cane. (Cellie had suggested that Barnabas let Lisa the silver-and-goldsmith have a look at it, and that if she couldn't fix it, she might know someone who could. Barnabas, who felt he needed a palpable reminder of his harsh behavior back in February, had, so far, refused to even consider it.)

 

Pavlos came right to him, grabbing a cup and saucer along the way, and placing it before him. "Ah, Mr. Collins," he said pleasantly. "This is only, what? The third time I've seen you since our Flame's wedding party. How are you?" He studied Barnabas's wan face. "You are not feeling well, I can tell. Well, have a cup of coffee, and tell Pavlos. Regular or espresso?"

 

"Regular, please. And don't fret about me, Pavlos. I don't want to keep you from your work."

 

"Talking to people---that is what I like best about this business. You needn't tell me your secrets. A little idle chit-chat can be just as rewarding." Pavlos got the regular coffee pot, and filled Barnabas's cup. "I've run into your wife at the Superette. A lovely woman. Her niece doesn't take after her much, though, but for the hair. She is much more like her delightful mother. I should have liked to get to know Janice better, but she kept talking about a fellow called 'Justin.' "

 

"Janice's employer. At that time, she fancied him. As far as I know, though, she's still available."

 

"Ah, well, if she visits you again, I would like to see her, very much."

 

"I'll have to tell Julia."

 

"And Cellie---how is she this day?"

 

Barnabas stared at the bar. "I haven't seen her today."

 

Pavlos observed him closely. "Are you having a dispute? You seem upset. I know how fond you are of each other. Is it about Willie?"

 

"Not--not exactly. I'd rather not say."

 

"I tried to call her today, to tell her the audition tape is finished. But she's out, at the beach, I understand."

 

"Yes. With my cousin David, and his girlfriend. What's an 'audition tape'?"

 

"A demonstration tape, to send to a recording company, for an audition. It was supposed to be a surprise. You see, my cousin, Aristotle, owns a professional recording studio in Boston. About three weeks ago, I had him send in some equipment and one of his recording technicians, to record some of our amateur hours, to be editted into record form. The records should come out around Christmastime. It's a promotional gesture, so the records will be quite inexpensive. There were some professional-calibre performances, and your Cellie was one of them. A record executive from New York heard her sing, and we were preparing a separate tape, with just her solo."

 

"That's wonderful. This is the first I've heard of it."

 

"Like I said, it's a surprise for her nearest and dearest, except for Hallie, who faithfully accompanied her on her walks. Even Willie didn't know. Perhaps you would enjoy hearing some of it. It might cheer you up."

 

"I suppose. I'm in no hurry to get back to work."

 

Pavlos led the way to his office, a small room with a tiny window, filled by his desk, an ornately carved cabinet with icons of some of Pavlos's favorite saints displayed on top, and a stereo with very large amplifiers. There was a cassette player hooked up to the amplifiers. Pavlos closed the door, and popped in a cassette.

 

Cellie's clear alto soprano rang out, accompanied by a piano, guitar, and drums.

 

"Your cheatin' heart will make you weep.

You'll cry and cry, and try to sleep.

But sleep won't come, the whole night through.

Your cheatin' heart will tell on you."

 

Barnabas became uncomfortable. He tried to cover his embarrassment.  He commented, "An interesting choice, for a song to impress record executives."

 

"Cellie wanted samples of several different styles. This one is a bit more positive."

 

"Music is playing inside my head,

over and over and over and over again,

My friend, there's no end to the music.

Ah, summer is over,

But the music keeps playing

and won't let the cold get me down."

 

"That, I've heard her sing to herself, around the Shoppe," Barnabas said. "Very spirited."

 

"It was one of her most popular performances. She dances around, till she gets dizzy. Occasionally, people bring children in here, and they go wild for her. Cellie has one particular fan, a young girl who comes around by herself, dressed in a most unique old-fashioned style. Very independent little person. Cellie assures me she can take care of herself."

 

"Sarah," Barnabas thought. "Pavlos sees her. When will she return to me?" Aloud, he said, "People should be more careful, looking after their children. They can be snatched from us in the blink of an eye."

 

"Indeed. The age of the child doesn't matter. And death is not the only loss. Loss of trust, loss of innocence---they sear the soul. Ah, well. One must rise to the challenge of the threat of loss. " Pavlos pressed the button again. "I suspect this is Cellie's favorite."

 

"And each time I tell myself

Well, I think I've had enough,

I'm gonna show you baby,

That a woman can be tough....

Take another little piece of my heart...."

 

"That is how I like to think of her, standing up to someone or something that would hurt her, and turning it around to her advantage. Or making peace with that someone or something, if possible."

 

"You know her pretty well. That is how I prefer to think of her, myself." Barnabas thought, "Better to think about her that way, than to think of her in bed with her husband...." His respite from his unhappy thoughts had been brief. He felt restless again. The brittle sense of encouragement crumbled, as he rose to leave.

 

Pavlos said, "We will make her a star, one way or the other. She will be the famous author-artist- singer-psychologist-lawyer-housewife-mother. So much, rolled up into one. I have faith, there will be time enough for everything. You must have faith, too, as she does."

 

"I don't know.... My faith is shaky, these days."

 

"Just getting into your car, and trusting that you'll arrive at your destination safely is an act of faith. Sometimes, one must cross the deepest river, or the thickest forest, on faith, even if there seems to be no reason to believe."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie arrived back at the Antique Shoppe a good while later than he'd intended. His station wagon had stalled out at the drugstore, and he had a hard time finding anyone willing to help him jump-start the battery. He walked into the kitchen in time to see Carolyn, standing over Cellie, who was resting her head on the table. "What happened?" he asked, anxiously.

 

"She won't say. She was like this when I came up from the cellar," Carolyn replied.

 

"You should have closed the store, and sat with her upstairs."

 

"I might as well have. There haven't been any customers in hours."

 

"That's weird. But only just as weird as my car stalling out like it did, with a new battery. Are you sure nobody's been around?" Willie studied Carolyn carefully. There was something different about her. She was a little breathless, a little hyper, not fretful like before. Something was up, but Carolyn wouldn't tell him. He would have to get Cellie to tell him.

 

"Cecily, Cecily," he whispered. "I got some medicine for your sunburn, my girl. We'll go upstairs, and I'll put some on you."

 

"Can't go. Gotta wait for Barnabas," she mumbled.

 

"He still hasn't been back?" Willie asked.

 

"No," Carolyn replied. "Elliot called here to say he went for a long walk, and didn't want company. Then Pavlos called. He stopped at the Koffeehaus, and left, as depressed as when he came in. I think we all took turns calling Julia. If he doesn't get back in an hour, we'll have to go looking for him, maybe even call the police."

 

"Why wait? You sit with Cecily here, and I'll take a run in the Beetle. I don't trust my car too much right now."

 

"No, you stay, and call Collinwood. David might be home by now, and he could help search. I'll go. I need some air right now, anyway. Any ideas about where I should look first?"

 

"You could scope out the side streets, and then head out of town a ways. He's a fast walker when he wants to be, but he might have taken a taxi if he wants to go out further. I just don't like him being out there with Nicholas, God-knows-where."

 

Carolyn left. Willie locked the Shoppe, called David (who agreed to join the search), and coaxed his wife to stand up, and put her arm over his shoulders, as he half-carried her upstairs. He was astonished to see bruise-marks on her sunburnt arms. Someone had gripped her so tightly, the large bandage he'd placed over her blister was askew. "Cecily, who was here while I was out?" He demanded. "Nicholas was here, wasn't he?"

 

Cellie nodded wearily. "He wanted to ask me something," she whispered.

 

"About the baby?"

 

"Yeah, kind of. What do I desire? What do I fear?"

 

"Don't think about that right now. Wasn't Carolyn here? I told her not to leave you."

 

"I think he did something to her. Turned her on so good she couldn't think straight. The orange light I saw, when she came up from the cellar, stung my eyes like peeled onions. But she got better by herself. Good thing, because Nicholas tired me out. She doesn't seem to remember a thing, and I do think she'll really look for Barnabas, at least right now. I just wish he was back here."

 

"I'll call your aunt, and then I'll take care of you." He left, and returned five minutes later. "She's almost ready to leave WindCliff. She'd have left sooner, but one of her pet patients went ga-ga at the last minute, and refused to be calmed down by anybody but her."

 

"Do you detect a pattern here? All these delays?"

 

"Could be. Or it could all be a coincidence."

 

" 'Paranoia will destroy yah'," she sang. Willie helped her off with her sundress. Cellie removed her chains. He rubbed the salve he'd bought all over her upper back, and shoulders. He kissed her back and neck. "Oh, Will," Cellie said, "Not while there's a crisis."

 

"It's just a kiss, Cecily."

 

"Okay. I want to rest again. So I'll be ready when Barnabas comes back."

 

"You want your dress back on?"

 

"Not right now. It feels good with the A.C. blowing over that cool stuff you put on me."

 

Willie was going to join her, when he noticed his shirt was dirty, probably from dealing with the car in the heat of the day. He took it off, as well as his chains, and lay beside her, holding her hand, as

she lay on her side, facing him. He kissed her again, but she closed her eyes firmly. In a few minutes she began to snore lightly.

 

He stayed awake, touching her middle, which vibrated under his palm, and listened for any noises downstairs. He almost dozed off, when he heard a loud rattle at the kitchen door. He looked out of the window closest to the bed, that didn't contain the air conditioner.

 

Barnabas stood below, looking up at the window. For some reason, when he glimpsed Willie, Barnabas got a queasy expression on his face.

 

Willie opened the window. "Why are you at the back door, Barnabas?"

 

"I forgot my keys when I walked out this morning. But the gate was open."

 

"Okay, wait a minute. I'll be down." Willie turned off the air conditioner, and woke his wife. She protested, but he said, a little loudly, "Come on, time to get dressed, Cecily. He's back."

 

Cellie raised her arms so he could slip the dress over her head. He put on a fresh shirt. In their haste, they left their chains on the nightstand.

 

Cellie stopped in the bathroom, before she came down. Willie went on ahead, and opened the door. Barnabas walked in, and sat without looking at him.

 

"We were worried, Barnabas. Nicholas was here, while I was out, and he hassled Cecily and Carolyn. Carolyn and David went to look for you. I thought it was best to stay with my wife."

 

"I'm sure it was," Barnabas said, a little angrily.

 

"What's the matter, Barnabas? You sound sore. I don't understand why."

 

Barnabas, remembering Willie's bare shoulders, thought, "You were so worried you took the opportunity to make love with her."

 

"I'm gonna call Julia. Maybe she hasn't left work yet."

 

"No, that's all right. She'll probably stop by here on her way home, in any case." Barnabas turned to stare at the shiny new toaster on the table. He savored the image that met his sight. No use pretending he didn't want to see it, or that he cared about whether Willie noticed.

 

"Barnabas, what are you looking at?" Willie was frightened, now. Barnabas wore almost the same expression of contempt as when he caught Willie and Cellie coming out of the shower together, five months ago.

 

Cellie scampered down the stairs. Barnabas snapped his gaze back down to the floor, and all she could sense was heavy shame and sadness around him. She stood next to where her husband sat. He automatically put his arm around her, and rested his cheek against her belly. The baby moved around. Cellie knew Willie held her like that as much for his own reassurance as hers. He was afraid of Barnabas again.

 

"Barnabas," she began. "What happened to you? How can I help you?"

 

He looked up. She sensed a deep orange wave of lust emanating from Barnabas. He was evidently experiencing a monstrous imbalance of some kind. She realized he wanted her, desperately, painfully, as much as Willie had wanted her when they first got involved. She felt a strange sensation in her chest, a reciprocal chord of desire in her own heart. She told herself it was merely a reflex, and shook it off. At that moment, Barnabas turned his head away, and she could now feel his intense shame, again, and the self-hatred she'd discovered in him, back in February.

 

She approached him cautiously. Willie tried to hold her back by her reddened arm. "I don't know what's wrong with him," Willie said. "I thought, before, that you could fix him, but now I'm not sure you should even try. At least, not until Julia gets here."

 

"I want to, I feel like I should," she answered, hesitantly. "I don't know--"

 

"Don't," Barnabas begged, his eyes filling with tears. "You don't know how bad this is, and your baby might be damaged. Next to defeat by Nicholas, that is the thing I would hate most to see happen."

 

"What did Nicholas do, Barnabas? Did he make you feel this way?" Cellie gently inquired.

 

"He cannot make me feel something that wasn't there to begin with. I'm sorry, my dear. And Willie. Sorrier than you will ever know."

 

"Feel what?" As soon as he asked, Willie knew. Years of experience had taught him the probable answer. "Cecily, don't go near him. You know what he's thinking about. Maybe you always did," he concluded in a voice of defeat. He began to wish he'd let her shoot Barnabas two months ago.

 

"But he doesn't want to feel this way. I have to help him. And you don't get it, Will. As long as he's like this, it's more painful for my insides than if I work on him."

 

"Cecily, remember what happened the first couple of times you took over MY emotions? The first time, you damn near starved to death. The second time, you ended up in the hospital. You've been straining it the past couple of days, with the Sherbrookes and their kid. And Nicholas came by and wore you out."

 

Barnabas temporarily rose above his brooding, dark feelings. "Cellie, what did he say to you?"

 

"Oh, he tried to play the mirror game on me, Barnabas. What did he make you see in his mirror, Barnabas? I can't help you if you don't tell me."

 

"Cecily, don't get too close. Wait for Julia," Willie urged.

 

"Please, Will. If you can't bear to watch, I'll go with him into the office."

 

Willie looked at her, so pretty in her low-cut sundress, even with all that sunburn; her coppery hair tied back so hastily, half of it tumbled around her shoulders. He'd be damned if he left the two of them alone. He knew he had the ability to break her concentration if he deemed it necessary, but she would just get angry if he prevented her from doing what she felt she needed to do. So he sat silently, hoping she wouldn't probe too deeply.

 

"Now, Barnabas," Cellie said, as she knelt before him, taking his hands, and gazing into his dark, tortured eyes with her clear, innocent-looking blue-grey ones. "Tell me just what Nicholas said."

 

Barnabas whispered in her ear. Cellie said, "It's a lie. Barnabas, what do you see when you look at me now?"

 

"I see you, and--and Willie---I know you two were doing something upstairs when I came here just now---I hate him!" Barnabas cried.

 

"Hate who, Will or Nicholas?"

 

"Both. I hate them both. But Nicholas will give me what I desire. Cellie, if you give Nicholas the baby, you and I---we could be together."

 

"And what will happen to my aunt and my husband?"

 

"They'll be provided for."

 

"Like hell they will. And I won't give up my child. I wouldn't give it to nice, well-to-do white Christians. I'm certainly not giving it to the original Devil's Advocate."

 

"Cellie, please." Barnabas grasped her by the shoulders. "This was meant to be. I'm no good to Julia, and as for you and Willie--"

 

"GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY WIFE!" Willie yelled. He tugged on Cellie's arm. "She's MY wife! MINE! I LOVE her! I got to her FIRST! She only sleeps with ME! She's having MY baby! YOU got your OWN wife! Julia loves YOU, and you know you love HER. THIS IS CRAZY! Barnabas, PLEASE don't take my wife away from me. You tried to before. I'll KILL you if you take my Cecily away!"

 

"Nobody's taking me anywhere. Will, let me go! I can't--can't deal with two heavy emotions at one time. I have to--have to make a choice--" Cellie shook her husband off, and grabbed Barnabas's hands. "Barnabas, this has to--has to stop. I won't leave my husband."

 

A painful wave of longing swept over her. What was happening? she thought wildly. "I don't want this, I don't---Do I?"

 

Willie, sobbing now, grabbed her, but he felt her tremble violently. He couldn't stop what was going on. An odd thought popped into his mind. Something about the jewelry they'd left upstairs. Why should he remember---then he knew. Those crosses. "Cecily, please, come with

me, upstairs...."

 

Cellie released Barnabas's hands. "Will, it's--it's okay. I'm fine, really, I think."

 

"The baby, the baby!" Willie rubbed her belly. His baby moved under his hand. "Barnabas, are you okay?" He didn't really care, but he was so relieved his wife and child seemed to be all right, he was willing to forgive and forget.

 

"I feel light-headed, empty. Cellie, aren't you supposed to cleanse the emotion and transmit it back?"

 

"I thought I did. It felt like it. I guess there's only one way to tell." Cellie broke from Willie, and impulsively embraced Barnabas.

 

"I don't feel anything at all," he began. Then, without warning, Cellie kissed him passionately, trying to force him to open his lips. Willie went into a rage. He reached for her, and tried to tear her away. She kicked him behind her. He didn't want to hurt the baby, so he forced himself to wrestle her away more gently.

 

In the first instant, Barnabas responded to her kiss, a physical rather than an emotional reaction, and pulled her from her husband. But he felt the baby thrash about as he held her close. He ran his hands down her back, not to caress her, but to find a way to ease her from the embrace. As soon as Willie saw Barnabas trying to extricate himself from Cellie's grasp, they began to work together to pry her off.

 

Cellie resisted at first. She said to Barnabas, "You know, we can make him"---indicating Willie---"Do anything we want him to do."

 

"Cellie, you don't mean that."

 

"Oh, yes. If we go upstairs, we can even make him watch. Can't we?" She looked confused.

 

Willie took advantage of her hesitation. He got her freed, and forced her to sit on his lap. She had become very fatigued, suddenly, and rested with her face, hidden by her hair, against her husband's shoulder.

 

"Are you satisfied, now, Barnabas?" Willie asked, hostility in his voice.

 

"Willie, I'm sorry. She chose--"

 

" 'Sorry' don't mend the wounds. And damn it, she's still a kid. A brave, smart kid, but she really jumps in head first sometimes. There's some choices she shouldn't have to make. Barnabas, Nicholas or no Nicholas, I have to get her away from you."

 

"Perhaps you're right. I regret the fact that I'm not the wholesome influence on her, that I believed myself to be."

 

"Maybe you're a good guy sometimes, Barnabas, but there'll always be something about you---the way of life you left behind. What are you going to tell Julia when she gets here?"

 

"I honestly don't know. This may be the end of the road for us. No woman of her worth should even have to consider forgiving such an offense."

 

"She'll hate Cecily, too. My God."

 

"I doubt that. It's my fault. I could have broken from her, before she started. I was in such misery, I couldn't think straight. Now I know how it was for you."

 

"I just hope this little make-out session was the last of---OOOW!" Willie screamed. "Cecily, what are you doing? Stop! STOP!" He jumped up, Cellie still clinging to him, her face under its drape of red hair. Willie was rough with her now, trying to shove her away, but she hung around his neck. Tears ran from his eyes.

 

Barnabas pulled at her, but she wouldn't budge until she was done. Willie finally held her away from him. Her teeth-marks were on his neck, close to his shoulder. She'd managed to break the skin in some places, and blood trickled down the front of his shirt. Willie gazed at Cellie with anger, grief, and disgust. His blood stained her finely-shaped lips, her dainty teeth. She smiled slyly. "You're HIM!" Willie shouted.

 

He slapped Cellie across her sunburnt face. The sound echoed in the kitchen. She began to weep. "You hurt me," she mourned. "You said you would never hit me."

 

"Cecily, Cecily. I'm so sorry. My girl. You're you again," her husband said, crying now, himself. "Forgive me, please. I had to make you back into YOU. Please, I couldn't let you be Him."

 

"She isn't me," Barnabas said. "Not anymore. I can feel it now. She is herself."

 

"Who is me?" Cellie wept. "Who is Cecily? Is she you?" She faced her husband. "Or you?" She turned to Barnabas. "Or David, or Carolyn or Aunt Jule? Am I ever really just me? I can't remember when I was just me. Maybe when I was a kid. Even when I'm me, I'm two people." She rubbed her abdomen. "I don't know where Cecily is. She goes away when the others are here. 'In the brightest light, or in the dark of night,' " she began to sing, in a sad little voice. " 'No-one knows, she comes and then she goes.... When I change with every new day, who's going to miss---Cecily.... ' "

 

Willie could endure no more. He covered his mouth as though he was going to be sick, and ran out the kitchen door.

 

"Willie, come back! Don't leave her now!" Barnabas turned to his niece, towards whom he no longer felt that poisonous, vicious lust. She had taken it, and transformed it back into the gentle, fatherly feeling once more. But at what cost?  She knelt now, crying hard, against the seat her husband had just vacated. Barnabas decided that if Julia, Carolyn, or David didn't come back within ten minutes, he might have to take her to the hospital. He called home. No answer.

 

White mist gradually appeared near the stairwell. Sarah walked directly to Cellie, and touched her arm. Cellie looked up. "Sarah," she sniffled. "Who am I now?"

 

"Why, you're Cecily. You're my bud, remember?" Sarah touched Cellie's red face. "Poor Cecily. You're so hot. It's not good for ladies in a delicate condition to strain themselves. Mama always said so. You go upstairs, and wash your face, and lie down. I'll come up and see you in a while. Go on, you'll be safe, now." Cellie trudged up the stairs, looking back at Sarah as she went.

 

When she was gone, Barnabas sat, gazing at his sister with deep sorrow on his face. "My God, Sarah. I'm so horribly sorry. How can you stand the sight of me?"

 

"You're my big brother, and I love you, and I want to help you."

 

"But I inflicted the traces of my former self on a helpless pregnant girl, and caused her husband to abuse her because it made him relive what I used to do to him. I lusted for my niece. I can't face my wife. I betrayed everyone I care for in one sweeping gesture."

 

"Barnabas, it wasn't your fault this time. The bad person made you see shameful pictures, and it hurts you that Cecily has to be a real person when she's with her husband. She had to help you, you wouldn't have gotten better any other way, but she went in too deep."

 

"There's so much more to it---the baby. Nicholas will take it from her."

 

"All is not lost yet, Barnabas."

 

"Sarah, Sarah, what can I do to make amends? I asked you that before, and I did what was right. But now?"

 

"Barnabas, stop feeling sorry for yourself. This was necessary. Like a test. Cecily had to use her power. Nicholas may have set it up, but it will work against him, in the end."

 

"But she may grow weaker as her pregnancy advances."

 

"Not if she has Willie. They work together like those bumpy wheels that turn each other."

 

"You mean gears?"

 

"Yes. And you will be a better man from now on, so you'll help. And, Barnabas?"

 

"What, my best little sister?"

 

Sarah smiled. "Oh, Barnabas, you know I'm your only little sister. Barnabas, you have to show her love. From now on, you won't be bothered with the old fears, and needs, and desires. Your love for her is clear as spring water."

 

"But what about Willie, and Julia?"

 

"It will take time. Willie is going to be a sad man all his life, but Cecily is the bright sun for him. He just has to know she isn't going away from him, that nobody is going to take her away from him. And Julia will understand."

 

"What will I understand, Sarah?" Julia stood in the passage between the showroom and the kitchen.

 

Sarah stared at her with an expression of pity, and disappeared. Barnabas looked at the floor. Julia could see his face turn red.

 

"What happened here today, Barnabas? Why did I see Willie peel out of this street? Where's Cellie? Carolyn? Why couldn't they find you this afternoon?"

 

"I was trying to escape what I thought was the truth about our future, and Cellie's with Willie. Cellie and I drove Willie away, and I fear that he may not return."

 

"And what truth was that? What would make Willie leave a wife he loves so much?"

 

"That I will never leave my past behind, and Cellie wants to be like me to the point of co-opting my former habits."

 

"She read you, and tapped into your old vampire feelings. How clever of Nicholas, to divide and conquer in the nastiest way possible. Of course you scared Willie away. That's the central trauma of his life."

 

"You should have---No, I'm glad you didn't see what she did to him. He slapped her, to snap her out of it. That made him leave, as much as what she did."

 

"He doesn't want to return to behaving like the rotten creep he used to be," Julia said. "Oh, God, Barnabas. Now we have to reunite Cellie with her husband, and fight Nicholas. We can't prevail without their standing together."

 

"What about you and I?"

 

"Barnabas, I'm a psychiatrist. You don't think I saw something like this coming? It does hurt me. But I can see she fixed you up. And probably injured her own psyche doing so. But, of course, it was necessary." Julia sighed, rather bitterly, and touched her husband on the shoulder. He held her hand. "Where is Cellie now?"

 

"She went upstairs to rest."

 

"I'll look in on her." Julia went quietly up the stairs, and tiptoed into the bedroom Cellie shared with Willie. The girl lay propped up with all the pillows on the bed, on her side, facing the door. Julia thought she was awake, but when she walked closer to the bed, she heard Cellie snore. Cellie's sunburnt face had a fresh-scrubbed look, but Julia could see spots of blood on the bodice of the sundress.

 

Julia glimpsed a crucifix pendant on the nightstand, and hung it on the bedpost over her niece's head. She stroked Cellie's hair, and then left the room.

 

Julia came down again, and sat next to her husband. "She's sleeping peacefully. Now, we have to figure out where Willie is. And Carolyn was supposed to be out, looking for you, as well as David. We have to reconnoiter, somehow."

 

"I could go out, and check the taverns. Maybe I'll run into David or Carolyn on the road."

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

 

Cellie woke up thinking she'd slept for hours, but when she checked her alarm clock, it read seven o'clock, just an hour-and-a half since she'd collapsed on the bed. For a few seconds, she glanced around, looking for Willie. Then the realization hit her like a ton of bricks. He was gone, and he wasn't coming back. She was Barnabas, as he'd once been, long enough to frighten her husband and turn him against her forever. The baby kicked her lightly. Even this very special child wouldn't be enough to draw him back. Knowing that Nicholas would stop at nothing to get it was just another good reason for Willie to stay away.

 

Cellie buried her head in her pillows, and began to cry, a painful, tearing wail she managed to stifle, just in case anyone downstairs heard it. She felt a hand on her arm, and heard a female voice say, "Whatever Nicholas showed you, it's the truth only so long as you choose to let it be the truth."

 

It wasn't Julia's voice. Cellie lifted her head. A woman in a long white dress sat in the chair by the bed. Cellie lifted her eyes to the woman's face.

 

She was beautiful, probably the most beautiful woman Cellie had ever seen. She was blonde, and had light ocean-blue eyes set in a delicately-molded face. She gazed on Cellie with a benign, almost tender expression.

 

"Angelique," Cellie whispered.

 

"Barnabas must have described me well," Angelique said. She had the "lilting" voice, and the slight foreign accent Cellie had heard about.

 

"He also said you were good now."

 

"Well," the spirit laughed, "I would say, as far as my salvation goes, I'm definitely on the recovery list, but I have quite a way to go before I'm cured. That's why I'm here."

 

"Nicholas. You're going to help me--us--fight him. You gave Sarah the medicine that saved little Marcus."

 

"Yes. Only don't think, for one moment, these are all altruistic gestures on my part. This is part of Sarah and Ben like to call 'penance', but I also have the utterly selfish desire to get even with Nicholas. I'll have to pay for that, also, but it will be well worth it. Not that I don't like you, my dear. I can't recall, exactly, the last time I liked another woman, and one whom Barnabas fancied, at that. That part of my redemption must be taking hold. I'm not in the least jealous of you, or Julia, either."

 

"That's a relief. I kind of admired you, when I heard about you. I mean, not the bad stuff you pulled. I love the people you hurt, too much, to condone that. But you never let anyone get away with anything. I don't take crap from anybody either."

 

"Unless you love them. That's how I came to be zig-zagging back and forth in time, tearing after Barnabas. I won him over in the end, you know. But that Trask fellow who shot me---if you want to avoid making enemies, Cecily, don't ever go killing someone's father, and then stealing his betrothed and turning her into--- Anyway, I paid for Barnabas's doings, that time, and after narrowly escaping a death sentence, too. All to please him by helping his friends."

 

"I'm his friend."

 

"Rather more than that. But you re-balanced matters. Your aunt and your husband, even if they don't believe it, certainly have nothing to fear from your relationship, not now, at any rate. You have grown in your skills. Every time you use your gift, the distinction between what emotions and images you've absorbed and your own become clearer, and the use you can make of them diversifies. When the time comes for you to face Nicholas again, you will be ready for him."

 

"How? I'm pregnant. Every time I read someone, it tires me out, unless my husband is with me, and on my side. He's gone." Cellie wept.

 

"You will be able to stand on your own again, someday."

 

"But Nicholas won't wait for that! He'll be right outside the delivery room, waiting to grab our baby as soon as it's out."

 

"Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not."

 

"You can stop him?"

 

"Not forever, and not for long. I am no longer in the real world, but in the spiritual plane, so my powers are limited. But it can be arranged so that you may be able to learn what to do when the time comes."

 

"His heart is like cold, dark stone."

 

"You must seek the back door. There is always a back door. Seek out the colors. Someday you will know what all those colors really mean, Cecily. Only then, will Nicholas be done for. But that will only save your child for a time. When the child is older, a choice will be presented to him, or her, as to how his or her talents will be best used."

 

"Can I prevent that?"

 

"Could anyone have prevented you from making the fateful choices you made? From giving yourself to the man you later married? From using your power, for good or ill? I could not be dissuaded from my own course. But that is a part of life. Innocence was almost designed to be lost. The trick is to have accepted enough guidance to know when one must part with innocence, so it is to one's advantage, rather than to one's grief. And it's most important, that the individual makes the choice for himself or herself. That is what will be gained for your child, if we can defeat Nicholas."

 

"I guess I can accept that."

 

"I knew you would. You are most sensible. And you continue to learn. Who do you think has been dusting off those books for you?"

 

"You! I thought it was Sarah, or Ben, but they never said, and I just assumed---or I thought, maybe, it was the Indian."

 

"Indian?" Angelique appeared to be very interested.

 

"Yes. I believe he was killed in a massacre by Nathaniel Collins, back in 1643. He wants me to help him find someone. But I didn't think the Indians of that era read English."

 

"No, no. They didn't, unless they spent time with missionaries." Angelique suddenly seemed anxious to change the subject. "Well. You attract some interesting friends, my dear. You can count me as one. Go back to sleep, now."

 

"But I have to go look for my husband."

 

"Sleep. It's most important that you sleep, right now. Sarah is here now. She will sit with you."

 

Cellie looked to the foot of the bed. Sarah approached her, and held her hand in that peculiar light, warm clasp, like resting her hand in a pile of down-feathers. Cellie felt her eyelids get heavy again.

 

The last thing she heard before she drifted off was Angelique's voice, saying, "Two more things, Cellie. Never doubt your own identity. And we will meet again."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

David Collins tooled around the outskirts of town in the very beige Buick. He'd searched every street in Collinsport, first, for Barnabas, and, having checked back at the Antique Shoppe to find Barnabas conferring with Julia, he headed out again to look for Willie. He backtracked to Collinwood, and searched around the grounds, even peeking, a bit fearfully, over Widow's Hill.

 

He headed back to town, when he'd satisfied himself that Willie wasn't hiding in one of the familiar places, or dashed to death on the rocks. He'd actually walked into the Blue Whale, something he'd never done before, on the chance that Willie might be in there. An ugly, slobbery middle-aged blonde woman tried to follow him out of the bar, but she was called back by a sailor with whom she'd been drinking. He called her "Melinda."

 

"Jack's Mom," David thought, with both pity for Jack, and disgust at Willie. He'd overheard Carolyn talk with Maggie about the time they dragged Willie home, just as he was about to be picked up by this Melinda person, while Cellie was in Connecticut. "Oh, well," David thought, "Obviously Willie's not looking for a date with that critter tonight."

 

Emboldened now, he went into the other, newer bars that had opened up on the recently-restored Main Street, and finally went into the Koffeehaus. Pavlos had already received calls from Barnabas, and shook his head, as soon as he saw David.

 

On the road again, David was running out of places to go. He decided to take a short run up toward Chartville. Maybe Willie had run to the home of his and Cellie's newer friends, the Detweiler-Braithewaites. If not, it might prove worthwhile to check the bars in Chartville. David hoped he wouldn't have to drive to Ellsworth. He wondered if Carolyn had ever stopped back at the Antique Shoppe, discovered Willie was gone, and headed there herself. He hoped so, for the last time he'd been there, nobody had heard from her in hours, either. "Damn," he thought, "I'll be out all night looking for the whole family before the night's over."

 

He turned onto Eagle Hill Road, the older, shorter route to Chartville. He hadn't been up this way since the strange, sad little funeral of Natalie De Pres. He shuddered when he recalled Forbes's dog, and the sword singing as it flew through the trees. Cellie had helped them all that day, and he recalled the way she cleaved to Willie, when that dog would have torn out both their throats. "The good little helpmeet," he thought. He couldn't believe what Barnabas had said, about what

Cellie had done to her husband. "If you'd only seen her when she brought him home from the cemetery back in May, Barnabas. She knew how he suffered. She couldn't inflict that on him. She lived it, through him. And she knew where to find him."

 

"Where to find him." David wasn't surprised when he saw the station wagon parked near the cemetery. For someone whose most horrible memories centered on this place, Willie seemed to be inexhorably drawn to it when he felt his worst.

 

David got out of his car, and, even though it was getting dark, easily found the path to the mausoleum. Its gate was open; that was no surprise, either. What surprised David was the sight that met his eyes when he entered.

 

Willie stood in front of the secret door, holding a small pistol to his temple. He fingered the trigger. David resisted the instinctive urge to wrestle it from him. Instead, he said, "Willie. For God's sake. What a stupid thing to do. What are you going to prove by blowing your brains out?"

 

Willie said, in a tiny voice, "That He won. This is where everything began. This is where I have to finish it."

 

"And what will Cellie think, when she wakes up tomorrow, and looks around for you, and we have to tell her what you've done? What will she be able to tell your kid about its Dad?"

 

"She'll be taken care of. The baby will be better off without me, like we were when my Dad left. They'll be able to protect it better, without me around."

 

"That's all bullshit, Willie."

 

"She doesn't love me, anyway. She hurt me, like He did."

 

Then, David saw the bite-mark on Willie's neck. It hadn't really bled all that much, but the blood had stained Willie's thin shirt extensively, and the wound itself was starting to fester. "So much for husbands and wives being able to share germs," the boy thought. Aloud, he said, "Willie. Put the gun down. Come home with me. I won't take you back to Cellie and Barnabas. We'll go see Julia. She'll help you take care of your, uh, hickey. You have to do something about it, or you'll get a huge infection."

 

"Where I'm going, I won't have to worry about infections." Willie held the gun firmly, and tickled the trigger again. David knew he'd probably have to get it from him the hard way, after all. Willie continued, "No more infections. No more having to do what I don't feel up to doing, anymore. No more worrying about what He's gonna do next. I'll have peace at last. I'll be free."

 

"Right. You'll be free. You'll have peace." David's voice dripped with contempt. "You'll have peace, all right, just like Josette had, and Jeremiah, and all the other self-destructive cowards this boneyard is chock-full of. Did death give them a rest? Hell, no. And your case is worse, Willie, because you have responsibilities to live up to. Josette wandered around for almost two hundred years, before Cellie got her problem licked. Someone like you, leaving a pregnant wife, who can't do the job she was put here to do without your help, leaving your sister and brother behind like you did before, leaving your friends---I'd say you were good for at least four hundred years of miserable ghost-walking! So, go ahead, pull the damn trigger! Find peace!"

 

Willie stood still, as though he was considering the younger man's words, just long enough for David to jump him, knocking him to the marble floor. David grabbed the fist that clenched the pistol, and banged it against Naomi Collins's crypt. The gun dropped, and fired, missing David and Willie by inches. David used every move he'd learned in football practice to tackle the older man, and get hold of the gun. He struggled up, and aimed it at Willie. "Get up right now. Move!" David tried to sound like a cop in a T.V. show.

 

It was a good enough imitation for Willie. He stood up, arms hanging listlessly at his sides. "I don't have to raise them, do I?" He asked, seriously.

 

"No!  No, man. You know, it's a good thing I'm not a cop. I'd have to arrest you. Attempted suicide with an illegal weapon. Where did you get this thing? It looks more like a statue of a gun, with all that carving on it."

 

"It's Barnabas's. I snuck into the Old House to get it."

 

"He'll be mad as hell. Well, Willie, time to face the music. I don't know if I trust you to drive your car back to the Antique Shoppe."

 

"Don't worry, I'm going back. I guess I have to talk to Cecily."

 

They got into their cars, David following Willie's closely. They came to an intersection. To the right was the beach road. Willie caught sight of Carolyn's yellow Mustang heading down that road. He called out his open window to David. "Where does she think she's going?"

 

"You got me. I thought she was out all day, looking for Barnabas, and then, you. We'd better check it out." They took the right, following Carolyn's car.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Most of Nicholas Blair's cottage WAS quite ordinary. It was galling to him, that he hadn't been provided, this time, with the necessary resources to make himself comfortable while he exerted himself on his Master's behalf. He couldn't even count on his own carefully-conserved earthly investments; the worldwide economic slump some of his brethren had been fomenting had affected them adversely. For the first time since he could remember, he was, according to his standards, almost poor. He tried to be philosophical about it; if he succeeded in his present mission, both earthly and infernal rewards would be his.

 

Still, in the meantime, he managed to maintain some of his old style, including the furnishing of the master bedroom. He had refurbished the shabby boudoir he'd found himself saddled with, and turned it into an adequate den of seduction, complete with the sorts of cushions, satin sheets, and implements that women, these days, seemed to prefer. While he awaited the object of his desire, he occupied a smaller, sparsely-furnished bedroom.

 

Now, he surveyed his handiwork, wondering if, perhaps, the effect wasn't a trifle garish, rather like a "honeymoon suite" in a cheap motel, or the best room in a bordello. He remembered, the rooms at Collinwood were tastefully, if eclectically, furnished. What he'd managed to create here wasn't been up to his usual standards, but one had to do the best with what one had to work with, he thought. He was sure that Carolyn wouldn't complain.

 

Nicholas came out to the parlor to gather the bottles of Champagne he'd gone all the way to Ellsworth to purchase. As he reached for them, he heard a familiar, tinkling laugh. He turned around.

 

"Angelique," he whispered.

 

"I just can't go anywhere without being recognized these days," she sighed.

 

"What are you doing here?"

 

"A tiresome rhetorical question. What, Nicholas, haven't you been gleaning from your mirrors today?"

 

"I've been busy. I'm expecting company. Very special company."

 

"Yes, I can tell. Busy-ness becomes you, Nicholas. You look younger than you have in years. I guess your mirrors told you it was time to draw out that dainty chin of yours with a beard, and to get rid of that scratchy mustache. It's about time they told you something worthwhile. You know, Nicholas, I've always felt that it was your voyeuristic tendencies that held you back from greater things. The mirrors are a tool, not an avenue for your lustful entertainment."

 

"The lot you know about lust anymore, my dear, moving in righteous circles as you're doing, these days. My Angelique, becoming an angel at last. It's almost funny."

 

"I don't view it as a disadvantage at all, Nicholas. I see it as an opportunity for new, and different adventures."

 

"Attitude is everything, I'm sure. How's Barnabas these days? Miss him much?"

 

"Surprisingly little!"

 

"And yet, you're working for his cause. How typical of you." Nicholas's expression became crafty. "It wouldn't take much, you know, for me to put in a good, er, bad word for you in the right

places, and we could join forces, almost as before. Allowing for your current limitations, of course."

 

"I don't think so, Nicholas," Angelique shrugged. "I'm not into instant gratification, anymore. I found it wasn't really instant, or gratifying, either. And I've discovered a late-blooming affinity for members of my own sex. I'm no longer locked in perpetual rivalry with Barnabas's other women."

 

"If you had seen him with the luscious Cecily this afternoon--"

 

"But I did! And I knew immediately, who was the author of that ugly incident."

 

"Not so ugly, really," Nicholas smirked. "They make a splendid couple. They certainly sent Willie packing. Packing heat, that is. I decided he could be dispensed with, after all. I haven't checked lately, but I'm sure his tortured brains are decorating the walls of the Collins family tomb, even as we speak."

 

"How did you know he wouldn't come back and kill his wife and Barnabas?"

 

"I leave nothing like that to chance."

 

"If that's the case, check your mirror."

 

"Perhaps I will." Nicholas picked up an antique mirror, and lifted the lid. What he saw made him drop it. The glass shattered on the plain wooden parlor floor. "He's driving his car, and the Collins boy is behind him. They're headed in this direction. I shall have to do something about that."

 

"You'll do NO such thing, Nicholas."

 

"And how shall a mere ghost stop me, Miranda?"

 

Angelique turned her head, at the sound of her original name, the name she'd left behind when she was granted immunity for testifying against her mentor in witchcraft, Judah Zachery, back in 1692. Then she looked Nicholas in the eye. "I have ways and means," she replied in

a level tone.

 

"I'm shaking in my shoes, Miranda. The deed is done, even as we speak. By the way, speaking of this sisterhood you seem to have joined, have you heard from your own sister lately?"

 

Angelique's normally confident expression dissolved into one of grief.

 

"I--I have no sister. Not anymore...."

 

"Of course you do," Nicholas crooned. "Medorah Du Val. Your little sister, who admired you so, until you were whisked away by the authorities, and sent into exile. Well, she followed your example, and joined our little gatherings. We needed fresh blood, once you were gone and Judah was dead, more or less."

 

"I told her not to join the coven, to stay where she was, and have a normal life if she could. I thought she grew up, married, and died when it was her time, like anyone else."

 

"Well, she's had husbands and lovers over the years. And she even became a Francophile, just like her big sister. She left Maine, and went to France, and then down to Haiti. She even took a new name, like you. She's been calling herself Desiree, though she has many other aliases. If you allow me to pursue my course, not only will I spare your friends, I will see to it that you and your sister are reunited."

 

"That is a LIE, Nicholas. You've already sabotaged Willie and David, and my sister is surely lying in her grave."

 

"Don't believe me, then. It's nothing to me, one way or the other. I will win."

 

"As I SAID, Nicholas, I have ways and means."

 

"What, your little spirit friends? Sarah and Ben, and maybe Jeremiah and Josette? Please don't humiliate yourself more than you have already done."

 

"As if I would. No, I'm not relying on my little spirit friends, as you call them. I'm relying on a gift. I have a special gift for you."

 

"Beware of ghosts bearing gifts. This wouldn't be of a Christian nature, would it? Even though I have little trouble with such trinkets, I still hate to get them."

 

"No, but it's quite unique. I think you'll appreciate it. It's pretty, really."

 

"Oh, well, show it to me, then. I can overcome the spell on any talisman you taunt me with."

 

Angelique held out her hand.

 

What Nicholas saw, made him turn away, made him blanch. "Where—where did you get that?" he demanded.

 

"A little something I picked up on my travels, from a mutual friend, you might say." She dropped it on the coffee table, next to the Champagne.

 

It was a necklace, delicately wrought of purple quahog-shell beads, with stations of carved pink quartz wolf's paws. At one station, there was, anchored between two white-quahog beads, a large, pierced English guinea, with a worn date that read "1610."

 

"Tell me where you got that!" Nicholas roared, "Or I'll--I'll--"

 

"You'll what, Nicholas? Disperse me? I don't think so. The message is clear, don't you think?"

 

"Yes--yes. You've won this round, Angelique. You and--and your friend."

 

"You know what you have to do then. And do it with dispatch."

 

"This doesn't mean forever, Angelique. I will return, and even that--" he pointed to the necklace "-- won't stop me."

 

"We'll see about that," she said, and vanished, leaving the necklace where she'd dropped it. Nicholas picked it up. Holding it gave him a burning sensation in his fingers. He laid it down, gently.

 

Carolyn would be here soon, but he realized he had no time to deal with her. There was just time to arrange the other small matter.  That, having been done with a swift glance at another mirror on the table, he prepared for departure.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie and David had a hard time keeping up with Carolyn. She sped on down the road, around corners, getting lost in the maze of nearly identical beach cottages. Finally, when Willie thought he had a clear idea where she was going, he tried to slow his car to take a corner, onto a street that would be a short-cut directly to the beach. The station wagon continued speeding, going down the tiny hill. Willie hit his brakes, again and again. To make matters worse, he noticed David's Buick, following close behind, seemed to have the same problem. They were both going to crash, probably into the lone tree he saw on the corner, and into each other.

 

Willie's last thoughts, before he hit the tree, were of Cellie and the baby. David had risked his own life to save Willie for his family, and now, both friends were going to die anyway. Willie fought the urge to close his eyes.

 

The two cars stopped dead, just inches from the tree, and each other.

 

A couple of cottage-dwellers, who'd heard the squeal of the tires in the final seconds, came running out, to offer help, and to gawk. Willie got out of his car, unaided, and went up to David's Hupmobile. David sat, shaken, but in one piece. Willie said, "We have to go on, before one of these summer people calls the cops and gets us tied up with drunk tests. Your brakes work okay now?"

 

David pressed the pedal. "Feels like it. I guess we were saved, this time."

 

"Yeah. For dessert," Willie replied, half-smiling. "Let's get out of here. I think I know where to go."

 

They waved off the small crowd that had gathered, and went down the road Willie had intended to follow. They came up behind Carolyn's Mustang, now parked in front of the last house on the dead-end road, closest to the beach. She sat in the car, staring at the cottage.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Carolyn had been driving around for hours, looking for Barnabas. She was about to turn back to the Antique Shoppe, in the hope that he'd finally returned on his own. She drove by the building Tony lived in, and, as it was after five, decided to stop by, and see if he was home. She wanted to tell him that their date had to be postponed, on account of her continuing search for Barnabas. What was to have been a simple announcement turned into a major argument, and she didn't know why.

 

Tony was still out on the sidewalk, locking his car, when Carolyn pulled up. He'd said, "Of course, I understand, Carolyn. I'll get back in my car, and help you search, if it's still necessary. Why don't you call the Shoppe from here, and find out if Barnabas is back?"

 

"No, no---I don't want to go inside, alone with you." Carolyn's tone had changed, from gentle concern to petulance.

 

"Oh, you're thinking about last night," he said, sadly. "I'll go and call if you like, if you'll just wait here." He went in, and, returned a few minutes later. "He's back, safe and sound. Now they're looking for Willie. My offer to help still stands."

 

"That's quite all right. His choice of possible destinations is smaller than Barnabas's. Either David or I will be sure to run into him somewhere, soon."

 

"If he turns up and all is well with him, will I still be able to see you tonight?"

 

"Is that all you think about?" she demanded.

 

"No. I'll understand, try to, anyway, if you don't feel up to it, after driving around all day. I just wanted to re-connect with you, to assure you that I'm not an uncontrollable sex maniac because I want to be with you, in the absence of a marriage license."

 

"I was looking for consolation, and ended up rolling around on your bed."

 

"You seemed to want it as much as I did, at first. Then you froze up. That's okay. I understand. We've both had painful experiences, in the past few years. We're not getting any younger, but it's hardly too late. We have time. I've become a rather patient man, and I do love you. If it bothers you so much right now, there's no hurry. Maybe we'll get to the point where we can start talking about marriage, and then we'll end up waiting for the wedding night anyway."

 

"I don't know if I'll ever be able to bring myself to get married again. I don't know if I can stand the possibility of being hurt like that again."

 

"You said it youself, Carolyn, you know whose doing that was. But, then again, perhaps it was meant to be this way. Just like my break-up with Lee Anne."

 

"How can you COMPARE the two events? Didn't anyone ever tell you that you should never say 'it was meant to be' to a bereaved person? Or that you shouldn't compare a major loss to a trivial one? Some lawyer you are, with your foot always in your mouth. It's a wonder you can argue

a case."

 

"Carolyn, that's not how I meant it at all."

 

"I don't think I will concern myself, any more, about how you mean anything. I'm going." Carolyn started her car.

 

"If that's how you want it, Carolyn." With a heavy heart, Tony stood on the sidewalk and watched as she drove down the street, and disappeared around a corner.

 

Carolyn drove around aimlessly for another hour or two, when she felt a sensation in her head, like a light-switch flicking on in her brain.  She remembered what she was supposed to do, and she knew where she had to go.

 

As she drove to Nicholas's house, she felt a pleasantly uncomfortable twinge. In spite of what she'd said to Tony, she did crave lovemaking. Just not Tony's lovemaking. She was panting, as she approached the cottage at the end of the beach lane. She even ignored the fact that Willie and David seemed to be following her. Nicholas would make them go away. And they did for a time, until she parked her car in front of the last house on the isolated street.

 

Both David and Willie got out of their cars, and tried to keep her inside hers. "Let me out, you morons!" She shouted. "I have an appointment with Nic--Mr. Neville."

 

"No way are we letting you go have the most fun you've had in years, Carolyn," David said, with an uneasy laugh. "You'll just have to try to find Mr. Right someplace else. If you let that creep touch you, we might as well kiss Cellie's baby, not to mention Cellie, good-bye. Bad enough I almost had to kiss Willie good-bye." He shuddered.

 

"Just stop it with all your dopey jokes, David," she hissed. "This has nothing to do with Cellie--"

 

"Damn straight, it does," Willie yelled. "If he even gets to just one of us, it's all over. David stopped me before I could work up the nerve to shoot myself, and in the mausoleum, yet."

 

This news proved sobering to Carolyn. She knew Willie wouldn't joke about something like that. She sat quietly, considering. As they waited there, the darkening sky suddenly filed with light. The windows of Nicholas's cottage became unbearably bright. David, Willie, and Carolyn closed their eyes. They heard a whistling noise. When it stopped, they opened their eyes. The windows had gone completely black.

 

"What the Hell was that?" Willie asked.

 

"It's like a nuclear bomb imploded in there," David commented. "I hate to show concern for someone like Nicholas, but I kind of hope he wasn't, like, killed or anything. I'd hate to scrape HIS guts off the walls.

 

I REALLY hope we didn't become radio-active, standing here like this."

 

"I have to find out," Carolyn shouted. She opened her car door, and broke away from her cousin and her friend before they could stop her. She ran up the short walk, to the front step, and tried the door. It was unlocked. She gingerly flipped a switch, and was surprised to see the light turn on. She explored the interior. David and Willie came to the front step, reluctantly.

 

She stepped out to join them, clutching something in her hand. She pulled the door shut. "He's gone. No luggage, not a trace of human, or other habitation, in there. It looks as though it's been empty for months. Except for this." She opened her fist. They saw an oddly pretty necklace, of purple and pink beads, with a large, brown coin for a pendant.

 

"I wonder why he would leave a thing like that," Willie said. "It looks Indian. Maybe Cecily will be interested in it."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie woke up for the second time. The alarm clock read seven-thirty. The sun illuminated the drawn shades. It was morning, and still, Willie wasn't beside her. She began to cry, as she rose, slipped on her sandals, and tiptoed downstairs.

 

She saw her husband at the table, his head resting on his arms, sleeping. He had a large bandage on his shoulder, and a different shirt. She heard the hiss of the espresso urn. She walked quietly

out to the table in the showroom, and saw David working the spigot, filling a cup.

 

"Torchtop," he whispered. "back in the land of the living, I see." He kissed her cheek.

 

"What happened? Where's Barnabas and Aunt Jule? Where did you find Will? Did you catch up with Carolyn? I had a sneaking suspicion she might have been sneaking off to Nicholas's lair."

 

"Rhymes with 'Blair'. Browning has nothing on your poetry, Cellie. What a lot of questions! To start, Barnabas and Julia went home as soon as Carolyn and I dragged Willie in. When I told them where I found him, they didn't get angry at all, thank God."

 

"Where was he, David? What did Barnabas and I drive him to?"

 

"Straight to the mausoleum, the birthplace of all his sorrows. He almost shot himself, Cellie.

As you can see, I managed to stop him in time."

 

"Oh. Oh God." Cellie wept. "He almost died because of me. What I did to him. What I did with Barnabas."

 

"No, Cellie, not because of you. You gave Willie a bad scare, but by now he should understand how your power works. He really went off the deep end because he's full of himself, in a way, like Barnabas. He lets his old problems make him forget what he should be doing, what he really wants to do. The first thing he said, when he got calmed down, was 'I have to talk with Cecily.' He'll be okay. He helped me rescue Carolyn, only it turned out, she didn't need rescuing. We almost did, though. We lost our brakes, going down the beach road, but were saved at the last minute."

 

"Nicholas, Nicholas, Nicholas. His scummy fingerprints are all over this mess. So, what do you mean, Carolyn didn't need to be rescued?"

 

"Old Nick's gone, Cellie. Lock, stock, and barrel. We thought he spontaneously combusted, but I guess simulating the bombing of Hiroshima was just his way to avoid paying a cabdriver to haul him out of here."

 

"You'll have to explain it to me in detail, later. But I can tell you who may have been responsible for his timely departure, and your rescue. Your former stepmother. Barnabas's ex. Angelique."

 

"Why would she---oh, yeah. Almost forgot. She hated Nicholas. Just so long as she doesn't hate any of US anymore."

 

"I don't think so. I'll have to tell Barnabas. What did he and Aunt Jule do when you all came in?"

 

"Willie wanted to wake you up right away, but your aunt said you needed your rest. She wanted to take him to WindCliff, straightaway, but we---including Barnabas, talked her out of it. She ended up giving him some pills, and agreed to leave him be if I stayed with him. As for Carolyn, she was all wrung out, like a dishrag. I think she had some kind of fight with Tony, before she headed for Nicholas's."

 

"Well, if she has trouble settling it, I'll help her, later. Now I have to spend some quality time with my husband. Thanks for bringing him back alive, David." She hugged him.

 

"Anytime, Cellie. Anytime. I would do anything for you. You know that." He kissed her forehead. "It's not something I can explain to Annette, or any other girl. It's a funny feeling, love that isn't thoroughly corroded with lust. A little bit, but I'm holding my own with it."

 

"The earlier you learn how, the better. The right girl will come your way, David. You have to be patient."

 

"I'll try. Now, I'll be out of here, as soon as I drink this, and have a piece of whatever cake you have here. I'll bring your stuff back from Abijah's cottage. Just call me to tell me when you're ready."

 

After he left, Cellie went into the kitchen, bearing the soiled utensils. She wondered if Barnabas would be opening the Shoppe later that day. Now that they were free of Nicholas for the time being, perhaps it would be best to immerse themselves in the trappings of normal life as soon as possible.

 

Willie stirred. Cellie wondered how anyone could sleep for hours in that position. She decided to get him awake, find out where she stood with him. She gently shook his shoulder. He looked up at her, and threw his arm around her waist. She kissed the top of his head. She could sense his internal struggle---the traces of his anger and sadness competing with his love and contrition. "I'm sorry," he began.

 

"No, no, hon! It's MY fault. I don't listen to you when you warn me. For a while there, I thought I really screwed things up. The thought that you might be dead now, except for David---It's all my fault. I couldn't stop myself."

 

"How did it feel to be Him, even for a few minutes, Cecily? How did it feel when you chewed on me?" Willie said, with a weary, taunting edge in his voice. "It's not enough that I do everything you want me to, I guess. I hated Him once, but I always loved you. I loved you even when you did that. I know you couldn't help it. But did you feel love, or hate, or anything, when you were Him?"

 

Cellie thought for a minute before she answered. She looked at the floor, trying to keep from crying, which was what she felt like doing when she saw Willie's tired, defeated face. "It's hard to call it a feeling. It's not like what I got when I had your emotions. It was a--a totality of obsession, I guess you'd call it. Obsession with dominance, and power, but no heart in it, no joy in the trappings of power. It's as if you were living in a beautiful castle with all those jewels you used to love so much, but the delight has been snuffed out. You only know you have to have the stuff around you.

 

"Even the sexual part of it---I wouldn't have cared for the feelings or pleasure of the other person. It wouldn't have mattered to me if it was Barnabas, or you, or both. There would be no real feeling of pleasure, period, except in the demolition of someone else's will. The destruction of dignity. I guess, like rape, but worse, because, in this case, the rapist doesn't even give a damn about what he's getting out of it, he's just stuck on a rape treadmill." Cellie sank to her knees next to her husband, laid her head in his lap. "Now I know what you've tried to get away from, and I understand why you think you can't."

 

Willie stroked her hair, and looked into space. "I just had that hopeless feeling, like I can't ever get away from Barnabas, and what He did, in the past. You have too much in common with Him, Cecily. You're both control freaks. I let both of you gang up on me, and run me around. But I guess it must be what I really want."

 

"Not if you wanted to kill yourself, to escape."

 

"I don't think I was really going to shoot myself. I was standing in that mausoleum for a long time, holding that gun to my head, and trying to decide if I wanted to go through with it. I was always afraid to die. Barnabas always played on that---if I wasn't so afraid of dying, of the way He might have made me die.... Well, maybe once, I worked up the nerve, in the beginning. I caught Hell for that. After, I could just barely talk Him out of stuff he wanted to do, but I could never fight with Him. Maybe I'm a better guy than I used to be, but I'll never really be brave, not in that way."

 

"If you still want to live, and stay with me, and you can still tolerate Barnabas, you're probably braver than you give yourself credit for."

 

"That's a real nice thing to say, Cecily. But I got such a pain in my mind, as much as in my neck, when you did that---I tried to tell you how much I was messed up before. I just wanted it to be over. Still, it's wierd---just like back then, I hated doing whatever He made me do, but it was a kind of,

I don't know, closeness to someone. You understand what I'm saying?"

 

"Will, we're close, you and I. Do you think our closeness hurts you? Or do you miss being close to--- Is this really about MY relationship with Barnabas, or YOURS?"

 

Willie turned away, his face turning red. "Sometimes.... But then, I get with you, and it drives all that out of my mind. I want to believe we're just normal newly-weds, jumping all over each other the way we do, even though I heard enough from other guys, that usually doesn't happen when the wife is as far along as you."

 

"So now, there's something wrong with me because I still want some kind of lovemaking? Do you think you're wierd because you still want me?

 

Do you use me to forget your other problems?"

 

"Maybe, maybe not. I can feel you work on me when we do that, a lot more than I used to. I want that, as much as the sex. It's closer than close." Willie tipped Cellie's chin up, and kissed her. He said, "It's kind of strange that other guys still seem to want you, too."

 

"Some men like pregnant women, I've heard. But you shouldn't have to worry about that anymore. Barnabas is better, maybe for good. And David accepts that we can only be friends."

 

Willie said, "I'm always trying to tell myself, Barnabas is really okay now, and you just react to the vibrations he puts out. But it's more than that. This time, you did what you once told me I always did, defending Barnabas, choosing him over me."

 

"I guess it won't do any good to argue that it wasn't a conscious choice, anymore that it was when I shielded you on the stairs, back in February, or, last month, with the dog. I admit, I was unfaithful

to you, in a way, and I hurt you." Cellie touched Willie's bandage. "How can we get past this? Where do we go from here? Do you still love me? Do you want to leave me, or would you like us to move? I guess we can just as easily face down Nicholas anywhere else."

 

He stood up, lifted her to her feet, and held her. "No, we don't have to leave. I don't want to take you away from everyone who knows and accepts us, and start all over someplace else. Not till after the baby's born, and safe, anyway. What happened with Barnabas....It's what you had to do, I guess. It's part of who you are. I'm sorry I smacked you."

 

"It's what you had to do."

 

"I won't stop you if you want to leave me because I hit you."

 

"After what I did to you, you want to stay with me. Will, we're still decent, and we still love each other. This isn't something we're going to do, everyday, continuing the 'cycle of abuse' in the Loomis family, or the slave-master hate-love thing you had with Barnabas. It's just a blip on the radar screen. Now that Nicholas is gone, we can concentrate on getting back to where we were before he showed up. Even though he showed us ugly things we keep buried most of the time,

I know we were in a good place, once. It's not so far away. We can go back there, right now." Cellie led Willie upstairs.

 

"See," he said, "We can't get enough of each other. I wonder what it's going to be like, when the baby's here."

 

"We'll start fussing and obsessing over it to the exclusion of everything else, and never leave it alone for a second. There's no half-way measures in the way we do things. The baby will probably get tired of us, long before we're tired of it."

 

When they were lying down in their room, Willie said, "Later, you'll have to see this necklace thing Carolyn found at Nicholas's. Barnabas was supposed to take it to Professor Stokes's this morning. It looks like your Indian pal has been busy."

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

 

Barnabas came back to the Shoppe late that afternoon. He walked in, very quietly, as though he was afraid he'd wake someone up.

 

Cellie was at the sink, peeling potatoes for a huge bowlful of her casserole recipe. She had sent Willie to the Superette for supplies. She sensed Barnabas's presence before she heard him---taking over his emotions had widened the scope of her ability to read him, almost as thoroughly as she could read Willie.

 

She put down the potato and her peeler, wiped her hands, and went into the office. She didn't speak at first. He was generating waves of dejection, and a little shame.

 

"Cellie, I want you to know, last night, I offered your aunt the option of divorce, or even annullment, after confessing to what we did."

 

"Oh." Cellie found her voice. She asked, quietly, "What did she say?"

 

"She was terribly hurt. She wept, and so did I. She said you're too headstrong and heedless in the use of your ability, and that I am so 'hung up', as she puts it, on what I perceive to be my mission in life, that disaster was almost inevitable. In short, what happened, would have happened, Nicholas or no Nicholas."

 

"Will said pretty much the same thing. I don't know how he can still love me after what I did, what I almost drove him to do."

 

"You weren't entirely to blame."

 

"I know that! But it hurt him something awful, seeing his worst fear come true. He's always terrified that I'll be unfaithful to him, and you're the first natural target of his anxiety, followed by David. I love all of you, but it would make things easier if we could get away from here, at least for awhile."

 

"Even if you didn't have to worry about Nicholas, would that really help?" Barnabas asked. "There are other men who might become interested in you, and you in them. That's what Nicholas tapped into, the temptation. Willie would become jealous all over again, and then, there would be no telling what he might do. At least here, you, David, and I have come to understand the rules and limits of our relationships, and Willie is held back from drastic action by his memories of what

went before."

 

Cellie looked at the floor. "I wanted a normal marriage, without having to resort to intimidation and fear to keep what I have intact."

 

"This IS what you want, Cellie. You knew, in the back of your mind, what you were getting into when you committed yourself to Willie, and even before, when you read Ben's diary, and Sarah came to you. Perhaps Willie was a means to an end."

 

"No, no, no!" She cried. "I love Will with all my heart. I wanted him from the day we met, before everything started. And he wants things to be normal, too."

 

"Sometimes, I wonder about that. Willie complains and balks at what he's called upon to do, but, even in the absence of what made him participate before, he still goes through with it."

 

"He admitted to much the same thing," Cellie said. "It's like, he was angry and unhappy, but in the end, we kissed and made up, like we always do. How can people get over things that easily, and return to the fray as if nothing happened?"

 

"It wasn't easy for Julia and myself. She stayed in the cottage overnight."

 

Cellie concluded, sadly, "So it's over. Nicholas won this round, after all. He got two pairs to break up. I don't know what to do about Carolyn and Tony, either."

 

"No, he DIDN'T win. Julia DID come back this morning. She forgave me and you. She'll come by, later, to tell you. She's had years of practice, forgiving me."

 

Barnabas recalled the morning's events. He couldn't sleep for most of the night; even if Julia didn't share his bed on a regular basis, until the last few days he always felt reassured when she was nearby. At last, he'd managed to get an hour's sleep. Then, suddenly, his eyes flew open. He glanced at the other, empty bed--- but it was empty no longer. Julia sat there, watching him sleep, with an inscrutable look on her angular face. "I've come to give you my answer, Barnabas."

 

Barnabas rose from his bed, and sat next to his wife, with a supplicant expression on his face, and in his voice. "Whatever you've decided, will be alright with me, Julia. I hurt you terribly. Perhaps I was over-optimistic about our chances for success in our marriage. But I swear on my mother's grave, I DO love you. If you forgive me, I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you. If we must part, I would beg you to consider remaining my friend, as you were before.... Alright, that IS a tall order. Then, let us be allies, for Cellie's sake, if you're disposed to forgive her---"

 

Julia nodded. "I have! She wasn't responsible for this mess. And, after a long night of wondering what's been happening to you, as I spent so many nights in the past, I can't do anything else but forgive you as well. You're a weakness of mine, Barnabas, an addiction, without which I can't survive long." Julia sunk her head on his chest. He held her for a while, then, like any other husband making up with his wife, pulled her down on the bed, and sealed their truce with an enthusiasm that surprised them both.

 

"You ARE human, after all, Barnabas," Julia whispered afterward. "Now, if only a child could result from this.... It would be like a new beginning for us." For once, her husband put aside the impulse to make his standard arguments against such longings, and simply nodded.

 

Barnabas became very warm when reliving that part of his memory, something that didn't go unnoticed by his niece, who smiled understandingly. Then, Cellie said, "Will's just getting started on a lifetime of forgiving me. You know, Barnabas, I sense that, every time he forgives me, he's forgiving YOU, little by little."

 

"Perhaps, what you're doing is akin to homeopathy, where he receives small doses of his former ill-treament, and becomes a little better able to withstand the pain of his memories."

 

"That's not how I would have chosen to help him, if I really had a choice," Cellie replied. "I was sickened by what I did, once I got straight. When I saw his blood smeared all over my mouth, I threw up."

 

"That's precisely what I wished I could have done, the first time I attacked someone," Barnabas said. "You see, I wasn't immediately transformed into the cruel wretch I later came to be. For a long time after I was cursed, until I was chained in the coffin for so many years, I tried to maintain my old interest in human concerns, and I hated to cause suffering."

 

Cellie stared at the floor. "I know I do. I knew it even before I ever turned someone's stomach. It's not what I want to do with my abilities. I don't want Will to confuse what I can do with what you did."

 

"Admitting that you're capable of such behavior, and wanting to change it, would be the first step, in your case. You are fortunate, in that you can learn to control your actions, and even refuse to practice your skill. Even though I restrained myself on many occasions, I had no choice, in the end, but to find another.... resource."

 

"It had better not be too late, for me and my resource," Cellie said. "I think Will's been comparing us since he first noticed that I could relieve his temper. He called us 'control freaks.' You know what that complimentary phrase means, don't you?"

 

"You and I have similar characters," Barnabas admitted. "That much is clear. We both like having things, and people go our way. But there's a parting of the ways, when it comes to love, and being honest with oneself as well as with others. You are also not the self-justifying type. I realize you are honestly dismayed at the paths your abilities sometimes lead you down, and that you are confused at times. But you aren't afraid to voice your doubts, or ask for help, or just advertise your distress in hopes that the answer will come to you. Perhaps, as you once told me, it is the heightened expectation for red-headed boldness that carries you along."

 

He smiled, then continued. "I was always a quieter sort. I carried that reserve into my night-life. The necessity for self-preservation dictated that reserve govern every part of my existence, and once I was cured, I still had to hide my past. I couldn't just shake it off, even when I married your Aunt, who knows everything about me, and loves me anyway. And as for making excuses for myself! It's like I told you that night, two months ago. I justified every terrible thing I felt compelled to do, by telling myself it was worth it to advance my family's interests, even if it meant snuffing out certain family members, or permitting them to be snuffed out."

 

"What about now?" Cellie asked. "How does Aunt Jule feel about your future?"

 

"She told me she still wants to try to give me a child."

 

"Even with this threat still hanging over our heads?"

 

"You will give birth soon, yourself. We must live as normally as possible, while we have a respite. Having a child is betting on the future. It gives one a reason to fight for a future, to make that it's a good one."

 

"You're right. And we have help in the fight."

 

Barnabas pulled the shell necklace from his pocket. "The Indian has been at work, I see. Elliot identified this trinket as being a part of a sachem's ceremonial dress, either for a funeral, or as a talisman used in rituals to bring vengeance down on one's enemies."

 

Cellie said, "I believe the Indian was summoned by someone who's interested herself in our mission, someone you know very well. Angelique. She appeared to me last night, and announced that defeating Nicholas is a part of her penance that she won't find particularly distasteful."

 

Barnabas replied, "I guessed she wasn't far from us, when you told me about baby Marcus's cure. That's just what she did for Sarah, once I agreed to marry her--- the biggest mistake of my life, I used to think."

 

"Perhaps it wasn't a big mistake, in the long run, if her desire to help is sincere. I sensed that it was."

 

"That still doesn't explain why a Native American talisman should cause Nicholas to up and leave, when all his plans seemed about to come to fruition."

 

Cellie replied, "I remember, Angelique's ears perked up when I mentioned the Indian, and then she clammed up quickly. It's as though she recalled something she'd forgotten, and was saving the information for future reference."

 

"Now that you mention it," her uncle said, "when Nicholas taunted me about the spirits who might come to our aid, he mentioned neither Angelique, or the Indian. He must have blind spots and vulnerabilities we haven't guessed at. He and the Indian must be connected in some way."

 

"I told Angelique, I thought the Indian was one of those massacred in 1643. The coin on the necklace, Barnabas. It has a date on it. Is it from 1643?"

 

"No. It says 1610. I wonder---wait a minute. Nathaniel Collins was born in 1610. It could have been his. Perhaps his father gave it to him, as a memento of his birth, or christening. He was said to be a great friend of the sachem whose family he ended up killing. He may have given it to him, in friendship, or the Indian may have seized it, to use in a ritual of vengeance. But this would mean the chief survived his family's murders. That part was never made clear in the family and Native histories."

 

"What about Nicholas? Was he involved? Just how old is he, anyway?"

 

"That's part of his mystery," Barnabas mused. "I used to believe he entered mortal life during the time of Nostradamus. He certainly affected the trappings of an earlier age during his preferred rituals. But he could have been present at the massacre, or, what seems more likely, incited it in some fashion. Gross physical violence was never his way. The games with mirrors, and visions, and psychological manipulations are much more to his taste. These separate him from the actual acts, and make it harder to pin him down."

 

"Well, maybe we'll have to incite him to some physical act, in order to catch him at his game," Cellie suggested grimly.

 

"I hope that won't become necessary. But we have a little time on our side, now, to learn more about the threat, and to prepare ourselves to meet it."

 

"Thanks to Angelique. By the way, Barnabas, she's what one might call 'liberated' now. She assured me she had no problem with you being married to Aunt Jule, or with what we were doing yesterday."

 

"It's always amazing when I get to thank Angelique for anything. It's more amazing that she's become a, what do they call it these days? A 'sister.' "

 

"Like they say, 'Sisterhood is powerful.' " Cellie grinned. "May it keep working to our advantage."

 

Barnabas handed Cellie the necklace. "Keep this around, for the day Nicholas comes back. That's what your 'sister' would have wanted."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

A couple of days later, everything was almost back to normal. Cellie was grateful for the rapid recovery from near-disaster. Business had returned to its high summer level. Cellie had reconciled with her aunt. Willie returned to his classes. As for Carolyn.... well, it was a bit harder for her life to fall back into place. She knew she'd truly hurt Tony, even though she understood she'd been under Nicholas's influence at the time, and in spite of the fact that Tony had injured her feelings with his comments. She came into the Shoppe every morning, smiling when facing a customer, fighting tears when left on her own. At night, she went out alone, fortifying herself with liquid courage in the new, slightly classier taverns on Main Street.

 

Cellie couldn't very well call Tony up and beg him to come by to see Carolyn. The best she could do was to station herself between Carolyn and Willie, and try to draw off some of the older woman's dejection.

 

It was getting harder and harder to do this; her pregnancy seemed to have caught up with her.

She could, she thought, probably muster up enough empathic energy in an emergency, but it was so much easier to work with her husband. He experienced so many extremes of sympathetic emotion when he observed suffering, that it was relatively easy for his wife to absorb a little at a time, to jump-start her functions. Without it, Cellie became as fatigued emotionally as she was physically and mentally. As it was, she spent more time sleeping these days, and seldom spent more than four hours a day working in the Shoppe, on and off.

 

One day, Carolyn walked into the kitchen and observed Willie and Cellie kissing, while the husband tenderly massaged his wife's ever-expanding middle. Cellie put her arms around Willie's neck, and whispered something that made him chuckle and turn red. He hid his embarrassed smile in the ruffled shoulder of her sundress.

 

Just then, Cellie sensed a great chord of despair, which vibrated in her mind like the snapping of a harpstring. She had gradually acquired the ability to distinguish who in the vicinity was experiencing strong emotions. She knew it wasn't a customer in the showroom. She broke away from Willie, and faced Carolyn.

 

"Sorry I interrupted," Carolyn said, trying to laugh. "You'll have to restrain yourselves during working hours, kids. The customers are looking for their sugar-carbohydrate fix."

 

"What does that mean?" Willie asked.

 

"My extra coffeecake. They polished off the first three already?" Cellie asked. She had been too tired the night before to make more than four, even with her husband's assistance, and now, it

was only five o'clock. Three-and-a-half hours to go, and only one coffeecake left!

 

"The cool snap really whets their appetites, I guess. Cellie, I'm disappointed in you. You usually make at least six."

 

"I know, but I got so logy last night, and it was almost ten-thirty by the time we finished. Will helped me, but he had to get up extra early this morning to take that trip to Augusta, so he collapsed at eleven on the dot. You know, I haven't noticed any contributions from your end lately. You and your oven aren't speaking these days, Carolyn?" Cellie sounded a little angry.

 

"I've been on five buying trips this past week, and it's not fair to ask Mrs. Johnson or my mother to make up the deficiency."

 

"So it's all on me," Cellie replied. She tried to hold back her irritation. "Tell the truth, Carolyn. You don't need to make all those trips. Barnabas was all set to go on at least three of them,

but you nearly begged him to let you go, instead."

 

"I had to get out of here. All your romancing and fussing over Junior is driving me wild!"

 

Cellie'as face turned dark red. "Our what? Carolyn, this isn't the first time you've walked in on us necking. Do you suddenly have a problem with husbands and wives showing affection? Maybe you're just jealous."

 

Carolyn began to cry quietly. Willie said, "Cecily, go take care of the customers right now. When you cool down, come back."

 

Cellie bowed her head. "Yes, hon. Sorry." She took the cakeplate out to the showroom.

 

Carolyn was surprised. "She's obeying you these days, Willie," she commented. "That must be a novel experience for you."

 

"I'm not bossing her around, and you know it. It's just that she's listening better when I make a suggestion. She may be the emotion expert around here, but the pregnancy thing is throwing her out of whack. She's moody as Hell, sometimes. When she gets like that, I have to step in. I'm all that stands between you and the worst belly-ache you ever had in your life."

 

"She wouldn't be that petty, would she?"

 

"I wouldn't blame her if she went ahead and---Carolyn, why are you like this? So cranky? Why aren't you making it up with Tony? Cecily doesn't want to fight with you. She tells me, all the time, that she would help you if you'd just let her get close enough. She can't fix it on her own. I wouldn't let her, if she could. We're coming down the home stretch with the baby, and I wants things settled, before she really gets stressed out."

 

"It's not something that can be settled easily and conveniently, in time to accommodate Cellie's confinement," Carolyn sniffed.

 

"Well, all I can see, is that you're acting up almost the way I did when Cecily was sent away. You work like a dog during the day, and I know you've been hitting the Main Street bars by night."

 

"David's been tattling to his big pretend brother, I see."

 

"He's worried," Willie insisted. "Your mother's worried, I heard. We all are. You're going to crash, Carolyn, and maybe nobody will be around to save you, like you and Maggie saved me in the nick of time."

 

"Maybe I don't want to be saved. I thought seeing Tony would save me, and look what's happened."

 

"It DID save you. You just had a stupid fight. Cecily and I have stupid fights, and serious fights all the time. You can't break up just because of a fight."

 

"I picked a stupid fight. You should have heard me."

 

"It was Nicholas. He tried to mess everyone up."

 

"It wasn't just Nicholas. He was someone to run to, to get away from the real problem."

 

"What was the real problem, Carolyn?" Cellie stood in the kitchen doorway. "Will, the lady out there wants the small desk with the inkwell put into her station wagon. Now scoot, and let the expert take over." Willie left the kitchen, pulling on his wife's braid as he passed her. She made a pert face at him.

 

"Are there any other customers out there?" Carolyn asked.

 

"Yes, but Barnabas came out of the office finally. You'd think he was preparing the state budget, the way he locks himself up with those ledgers." Cellie walked into the kitchen, and checked the cabinets. "If I'm to bake for the masses, I'll have to get Will to take me to the Superette."

 

"Cellie, I'm sorry I nagged you about that. I really don't have anything to do later, so I'll bake tonight. I'll go to the bakery in a while, in case we run out of cake this evening."

 

"That's not the problem. You're going around in circles, and I'm following you. Let's get to the point. What's keeping you from working things out with Tony?"

 

"That I was ready to let Nicholas have his way with me."

 

"That isn't news to me. I knew he put the move on you the minute you came up from the cellar that day. But, like Barnabas said to me, he couldn't make you feel something that didn't already exist. You were already upset with Tony. I was up in my bedroom, and I could feel your sorrow, before Nicholas even came in."

 

"I was feeling down. I wasn't able to---" Carolyn broke off, and blushed. "I don't know if I should tell you."

 

"What can you tell me that's any worse than what I've heard since I came to town? Some people say they've heard it all. I can say, I've heard it all, and felt it all. But if you'd rather talk to my aunt,

or some other doctor, I won't press. Just promise me you'll talk to someone."

 

"I don't need professional help," Carolyn protested. "I'll get over it, somehow." Suddenly, she leaned over the table, clutching her middle. "It hurts so much."

 

Cellie knelt, close to her. "What hurts, Carolyn?"

 

"I love Tony. I really do."

 

"I know you do. What went wrong?" Cellie held her friend's hand.

 

"My whole life. Screwed up since day One."

 

"It's only as screwed up as you allow it to be, at this point."

 

"I tried to explain it to you, months ago. The fatal flaw strikes again. I loved my husband, and he's gone. I love Tony, and he loves me. He wants me. I thought I wanted him, but I'm afraid."

 

"Afraid he's going to die like Jeb, is that it?"

 

"Afraid it won't be worth the effort, if it ends badly anyway. He looks at me sometimes, like Jeb did, on the good days."

 

"They weren't all good days, then?"

 

"No. Something important had been taken from him. But he said I made up for it. Then, one night, when we thought we were finally safe and free, we made plans to leave, and we were happy until--until---it turned out neither of us were safe after all...." The pitch of Carolyn's voice rose from a near-whisper, to near-hysteria. Cellie barely managed to keep her friend quiet enough, so as not to be overheard in the showroom. Carolyn continued, "Jeb died to save me....It looked like the rocks swallowed him up!"

 

"And Tony reminded you of that day? The good days, anyway?"

 

"Yes! It scared me and made me happy at the same time! But I couldn't stay in bed with him, because I was more scared, it turned out. Still, I would have gone back, and tried again, until he said.... he said...."

 

"What did he say?" Cellie couldn't even imagine Tony saying anything cruel to Carolyn.

 

"He said, maybe Jeb's death 'was meant to be.' Like his broken engagement."

 

"Oh, Carolyn! I'm sure that's not how he meant it. The worst thing you could say about what he said was that it's a tactless remark. But don't you see? It may be true. You loved Jeb an awful lot. I know how that is. Yet you said he was unhappy. Maybe you'd have ended up unhappy too, I don't know. If he really loved you, though, he would have wanted you to go on with your life. Not right away---there has to be grief and mourning, and you did that. For over two-and-a-half years! I'd say you fulfilled that obligation, and then some."

 

"I just thought it was more 'over' for me than it was."

 

"So what will you do now?" Cellie asked. "Take more pointless buying trips during the days, and toss down more Harvey Wallbangers at night?"

 

"I don't know if he'll take me back."

 

"Carolyn, Tony was so upset about breaking off from you in the first place that, according to my brother, he didn't even date anyone for two years after he moved to Boston. He missed you so much after five years, that he put off his wedding at least three times before he saw an opportunity to be near you again, and broke his engagement for good. He must just be one of those men who wait for one particular woman. A rare, and precious breed. I wouldn't let this one get away."

 

"Maybe you're right. The roadblock story you told. I remember. I'll call him right away." Carolyn went to the phone, dialed, asked for Mr. Peterson, and listened. Her face grew downcast. "He's not at his office. His secretary told me he was going out of town on business. To Boston." Unspoken were the words, "Back to Lee Anne."

 

"Maybe he's still home, packing."

 

Carolyn dialed his home number, and stood listening. "Twenty rings. He's gone. Maybe you were wrong, after all, Cellie." Carolyn began to cry again.

 

"I don't think I am. Maybe it's just an innocent business trip."

 

"You're just a hopeless romantic, Cellie. At my age, I have no business being one. I have to get out of here. I think I'll put in a special guest appearance at the Blue Whale. At least I won't have to worry about drinking and driving. Maybe I'll even catch a ride, if you know what I mean." Carolyn ran to the cabinet where she kept her purse, yanked it out, and headed through the showroom, past where Barnabas was talking to the new customers, to the front door. She opened it without really watching where she was going, and bumped into a man coming in. She looked up, half-expecting to see Nicholas there, just like she had a couple of weeks ago.

 

"Tony," she said, falteringly.

 

"Carolyn," he replied, glancing towards Barnabas with an embarrassed expression. He said, more quietly, "I wanted to talk with you before I took my trip. Where were you going in such a hurry?"

 

"No place special," she fibbed. "Early dinner, I guess."

 

"If you don't mind, I'd like to join you, briefly. I have a train to catch, but there's some things we should discuss. I believe there'll be enough time." Tony touched her hand.

 

Carolyn simply answered, "Yes. Please."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

A few days later, Cellie was getting dressed to go to the Superette. Willie always insisted on making an occasion of their few trips away from the Shoppe. He still got a charge out of people looking at him parading around with a pretty young wife, even though she was quite large already. Cellie was tolerant, and even kind of pleased to be displayed in this manner. She always attracted surprisingly favorable attention, and curiosity from her friends. She knew they were dying

to find out how she could stand to spend days and nights with such a dangerous character as Willie, but they were also counting on her to provide the inside scoop on being pregnant. She was nothing, if not blunt about her discomforts. She told her husband, "I guess I'm a trailblazer. Blazing a trail right to the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic."

 

She wished she could spread the news about just how special her little "mistake" was going to be. But that was out of the question. The problem of Nicholas Blair aside, she and her husband didn't have a clue as to how they were going to bring up such a child, without having the added pressure public disclosure might bring.

 

Cellie managed to force such thoughts from her mind when she was going out. There was no point in borrowing trouble. She had enough anxiety about her upcoming ordeal. She and Willie had attended one natural childbirth class, and it became clear they weren't going to go that route. ("Just kick up a fuss till they knock you out just to shut you up," Margene had advised.)

 

She examined her appearance. Willie loved buying those frilly sundresses for her, especially if they had a trace of turquoise in the pattern, as the one she was wearing now. She wondered what she was going to do with them when she had the baby. (She didn't intend to get pregnant again for at least three years.) She did look pretty darn good, she thought, now that her sunburn had peeled and faded. But she missed her jeans.

 

Willie had been lying on the bed, watching her primp to his specifications. She was braiding her hair on one side, when he got up, and went to shave. "Hey, not so fast," she said, grabbing his

belt-loop as he passed by. "I told you I want to see a beard by the time the baby comes."

 

"It's just not going to work," he said. "I never got more than patches of fuzz here and there, except over my lip, and you don't care for that by itself. I just can't figure it out."

 

"Okay, okay," she said. "I guess your male hormones had better things to do than grow facial hair." She gently bumped him with her bulge.

 

"They did good work," he replied, as the bulge jiggled visibly beneath the thin cotton fabric.

 

A half-hour later, they arrived at the Superette. As always on a Saturday, the parking lot was jammed full of half the cars in Collinsport. Willie found a space near the exit, quite a long walk

for Cellie, but he didn't like to drop her off, go scouting for a parking place, and then try to find her in the crush of Zoo-Day customers. He had done that once, and Cellie had narrowly missed running into Melinda Knowlton.

 

Willie and Cellie, in their forays around the parking lot, had looked out for the vehicles of troublemakers. They didn't detect any. They went into the store. They walked around, conversing amiably, unlike most of the married couples who were in there. Among the partners who weren't arguing outright, there was a fair percentage of situations where one spouse, usually the husband, pushed the cart along in dispirited silence, becoming bored and resentful.

 

Willie wasn't the silent type. He showed his usual obsessive concern with his wife's care and feeding. After loading the cart with extra-large sacks of flour and sugar, plus a few other baking ingredients, he led Cellie around. He picked up extra bottles of vitamins, reading to her from the labels, and selected all the green vegetables that made her gag, especially broccoli and Brussels sprouts. (He was kind enough to leave some of his former selections, such as his personal favorite, cabbage, off his list, when she complained of feeling queasy after eating them.) Cellie was sometimes annoyed at his bossiness, and when Willie read aloud, even quietly, she felt

 

embarrassed. But she smiled, replied sweetly, and patted his arm indulgently. He meant well, she knew.

 

People watched them as they made their way through the crowded aisles. The crowd seemed a bit on edge today. The brief cool snap had been followed by several days of record-breaking heat, which may have quelled the usual bemused tolerance others displayed when confronted by the former felon and his teen-aged bride. When Cellie, who was pushing her cart, inadvertantly cut off another shopper coming around a corner, the other woman was downright hostile, waving away Cellie's profuse apologies, and muttering about "tramps and thieves" under her breath.

 

Tears sprang to Cellie's eyes. She was getting so sensitive these days. She hoped she would return to her former level of impeturbability as soon as possible after the baby was born. "Oh, Geez, I still have post-partum depression to look forward to," she remembered. That would be all she needed---to catch everyone else's misery, and mix it up with her own.

 

Willie hadn't heard what the woman said to his wife, but he saw Cellie's reaction. He walked closer to her, with his arm around her waist, like they were out taking a stroll in the park, ignoring anybody who saw them. In a few minutes, Cellie sighed and relaxed. They resumed their former attitude, taking turns pushing the cart, talking quietly.

 

They made it to the checkout line. Hallie and Annette both had registers open, but Willie chose a different one because it had a shorter line. "Hon, how many times have I explained it to you," Cellie admonished, "The reason a line like this is so short is because some nitwit pulled out a check-book, and that means Jorge Texeira has to practically contact the F.B.I. to make sure her checks are good? We'll be here till closing, with all the stuff that twit has in her cart. Jorge hates those $100-plus checks."

 

Willie replied calmly, "Well, we're here now, and there's two other carts behind us already. I don't see the other lines moving. We're better off staying put."

 

"I guess you're right," his wife sighed. "Hey, I just remembered something! I had a box of laundry soap I wanted to return. It's in the station wagon. Would you be a sweetie and go out to get it, and then bring it up to the courtesy desk for me, while I'm stuck in line? Here's the original receipt," she said, opening her purse, and retrieving a small slip of paper. "Geez, I hope the stuff hasn't melted into rock formation, in all this heat."

 

"Sure. And when I get back, if you're still in line, I'll relieve you. You could go sit on the bench over there," he said, pointing to where it stood, near the door.

 

Cellie had quite a wait ahead of her. She moved in small steps, and finally had a chance to start emptying her cart, just as she saw Willie return with the soapbox, and get into the (mercifully) short Courtesy line.

 

The cashier, a young girl whom Cellie didn't recognize, began to examine the items for the prices, even though Cellie was careful to put all the price stickers face up. No wonder the line had been moving so slowly! Cellie wished she had the nerve to tell this stranger that she would be better off if she let her customer ring up the sale, and get it over with. Cellie looked around for Jorge. She suspected he'd probably let her do it. But he was manning the Courtesy booth while the

regular girl was on her break.

 

Cellie hit a snag when it came time to ring up the large bags of sugar and flour. The cashier had evidently been told she had to personally check all price stickers, and wouldn't accept Cellie's price quotation. Cellie huffed, indignantly, "I used to be the second-after-the-head-cashier in this store. I know what I'm doing."

 

"Rules are rules, Ma'am. There were too many mistakes made in the past. I'll call the bagger. He'll haul them up for us." The girl signalled to a tall, dark-haired boy in a red, white, and blue smock, a few aisles down.

 

Cellie was leaning over her purse, checking her coupon supply, and hiding her irritation. She didn't pay any attention to the bagger at first. Then he spoke.

 

"Hey Cellie. How's life with Crazy Willie?" His tone was mild, though not quite friendly.

 

"Jack. Um," Cellie began, a little uncertainly, "How are you? When did you start working here?" She was reading him. He was under great personal restraint, but she could sense it was crumbling, as they spoke.

 

"I grabbed this piddly job as soon as I got canned from the cannery," Jack laughed. "I got into a fight with old man Carter when he said something about my Mom. She's his best worker, and there he was, carrying on about how she split a brew in the coatroom with the floorboy, damn it. I lit right into him. He didn't know whether he should fire me on the spot, or what. So he had to ask that blue-nose Roger Collins. HE said I wasn't performing my duties up to snuff, anyway. What a kicker!"

 

"I'm sorry. Why didn't you go out with your father on the lobster boat?"

 

"Bad case of Red Tide this season. He had to go out, farther than he ever has, to get an untainted catch, and he left a couple of weeks early, before either of us knew I would need the work."

 

"That's too bad, Jack. I'm truly sorry. This isn't a bad place, though, once you get going. I had to bag at first, even though I worked in stores before."

 

"It's lousy for me." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "And the chicks here look down on a bagger. They're nowhere near as hot as you anyway, even with that fat stomach."

 

Cellie turned red. She strove to be understanding. A back door. A back door. Angelique said there was always a back door to someone's emotions. Maybe she could practice the principle on Jack, and solve that problem, at least. She concentrated, but the process had slowed. Jack didn't seem to be affected. Cellie needed more time.

 

The cashier commented, "You two must be friends. You know," she said to Cellie, "I've never seen him talk to any other customer before. The cashiers, though...." She rolled her eyes, and shrugged. She completed the order, and took Cellie's money. She counted out change.

 

Cellie accepted it gratefully, for she was eager to get away from Jack, as soon as she could complete running through his emotional center. She stood behind him, making a show of counting the money she had left. She could see that her husband was still stuck in the courtesy line, behind a woman who was getting a hard time from Jorge. From what little Cellie could hear, apparently she'd charged a number of items that she wanted to return now, because she'd overreached her credit limit. Willie stood, with surprising patience, behind the troublesome customer. He looked in Cellie's direction, and beckoned her to join him. Apparently, she blocked his view of Jack, because he didn't appear anxious or upset, seeing her still standing at the end of the checkout aisle.

 

She shook her head and smiled, still playing with her wallet. Jack turned around, and noticed that she was still there. He whispered to her.

 

"Hey Cellie. Crazy Willie still throwing you a good poke now and then?" he asked. "You'd better get over to him right away, or he'll use it on that heifer ahead of him in that line. He was never the kind to wait."

 

"Shut up, Jack," Cellie whispered back. "He'll see you talking to me, and all hell will break loose."

 

"Like I give a damn. I could take him in an instant, like I did to Carter, and the lead guy who tried to break us up. Cellie, how does he do it these days, anyway? Oh, yeah. I forgot the old saying. 'Where there's a Willie, there's a way.' " He laughed bitterly. Several people were looking at him now.

 

Cellie felt paralyzed, rooted to the spot where she stood. She saw that her arms had turned redder than they'd been when she had sunburn. She could imagine what her face looked like. Still, she felt she had a lock on the reservoir of self-hatred and self-pity she'd noted in other men, including her husband and her uncle---even her father. For an instant, she wondered why so many men should be eaten up alive from the inside like that, with the women and children they hurt serving as dessert for their inner demons.

 

Jack leaned close to her. "Maybe you'd like what he did with my Mom. Remember what I told you, Cellie? Cellie with the big belly," he chanted.

 

"Jack, how could you?" Cellie asked gently. "I want to help you, don't you see--"

 

"There's only one thing that would have helped me, and you let HIM have it!"

 

Cellie blinked twice, and swallowed hard. Jack doubled over, moaning with pain. "What--why--I had my appendix out years ago. Damn, I must be getting a rupture. You and your damned flour sack--"

 

"What on earth is going on here?" Jorge Texeira stood before them, Willie standing close behind. "Cellie, your husband noticed Jack was harassing you, and he tried to bring it to my attention in as unobtrusive a fashion as possible. But I can see it's already too late. Knowlton, what's wrong with you? First your mother causes trouble, and then you."

 

"I--I hurt myself, picking up a heavy load for her. I must have bent over wrong, or something."

 

"That's bull, Knowlton. You were picking on the girl, and she's not the first you've picked on, so now you're pretending to be injured to cover up for it. I gave you another chance, and you've just about blown it, young man."

 

"I don't take crap from a Porkchop," Jack hissed, still clutching his stomach. "I'm in serious pain here."

 

Jorge chose not to respond to the ethnic slur. "Jack, you're fired," he said quietly.

 

"No!" Cellie cried.

 

"Cecily, what's the matter? He was giving you a hard time. He can't get away with it," Willie admonished.

 

"You don't understand. It was my fault, in a way. I should have gotten away from him as soon as he started in on me, but he seemed to be easing off. I just wasn't paying attention, I guess."

 

"That's no excuse, Cellie," Jorge said. "As I said before, he's had these little run-ins before. I was prepared to be tolerant, but--"

 

"No, please. Don't fire him, not right now. I'll just be extra careful not to come in here when he's on duty, the same way I watch out that I don't run into his mother."

 

"Cecily, why should you have to run around with your tail between your legs because of something he did?" Willie asked, astonished.

 

"I don't know. I just don't want even more trouble, I guess."

 

"Well.... I'll think it over," Jorge mused. "Maybe this was just the wake-up call Jack needed. But, until I make my final decision, Jack, I want you to punch out right now, and you're on suspension without pay. I'll let you know by Wednesday."

 

As she walked by Jack, who was beginning to stand up straight again, Cellie heard him whisper, "Thanks for nothing, twidget."

 

As soon as they were in their car, Willie turned to his wife, and asked, "Tell the truth, Cecily. What the Hell did he say to you?"

 

Cellie looked out the window. "I'd rather not repeat it."

 

"Cecily, Cecily.... We don't have enough to worry about, without you trying to get nicey-nice with Jack. You didn't think he'd appreciate it, did you?"

 

"Maybe." She sighed. "I suppose I should thank you for not coming on like gangbusters when you saw he was bugging me like that."

 

"You're always preaching self-control. I put it into practice, to please you. I guess I screwed up anyway." He sounded bitter.

 

"No, no, hon. But you don't get it, Will. I was working on him. Really working on him. I almost cleared a path into his gut feelings, when he made one nasty crack about your deviant habits, too many."

 

"My what? Oh, God. Not the thing about his mother, again. Jack's been out of our hair for months already, and Melinda too."

 

"Like I said, he put his foot in it for the last time. I 'zapped' him, but I knew, if I just had another minute, I could have broken through."

 

"Then I showed up with Jorge Texeira. Oh, Jesus."

 

"I don't think I'll ever get another clear shot at him again, Will. I had my chance with him, and it was very difficult, as it was. That's why I tried to save his job. He has to have something to stick with, and progress in. If he was fired on my account, you could just imagine his bitterness. I don't want that hanging over our heads, along with Nicholas and his problems. And I'd truly like to see him straighten out, like you did. If he ever does, now, it will be a miracle."

 

Willie put his arm around her. "If only I could build a time machine, Cecily. Then I'd shove him into it, send him back to 1967, and drop him off in that secret room. Because we have so much in common, I think that's the only way he'd ever be broken."

 

"I don't like to think of anyone having to be broken, like a wild bronco."

 

"I wouldn't be here with you, now, if not for that. But you're right, it's not the best way, and it's not the fair way. It's the hard way, like the atom bomb. But that's what it takes, sometimes." He started the station wagon. "Not too many opportunities around, like I had, back then," he laughed ruefully. "I think I used up the last one when I sprung Barnabas."

 

"That's not funny. I'll just have to pray that Jack finds inner peace in a less distressing manner."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie and Julia stopped at the Koffeehaus, after dropping off their perishable groceries in the Antique Shoppe's refrigerator. They had spent an amiable afternoon, shopping and talking, as they had during what Cellie had come to think of as the "Good Old Days." Cellie was excited about their upcoming trip to Boston. Julia had allowed one extra month to go by before confirming her appointment with the fertility specialist. She kept her promise to take Cellie to see her mother one last time before the baby's birth.

 

"I just wish Will could go with us. Barnabas could've tried harder to find some extra help, to take his place for a week. And I know that Will's bummed out because we didn't get up to see his sister this summer. That'll have to wait, until after the baby comes, and we're clear of Nicholas." Cellie sighed, and fiddled with the sugar spoon she used to stir her coffee.

 

Julia smiled. "Both Willie and Barnabas should be grateful to have a little peace and quiet, before the imminent, proverbial 'pitter-patter of little feet' is heard around the Shoppe, and then at the Old House."

 

"I don't know. Will likes it when I make a racket. I've come to the conclusion that it's because his life was so quiet and desolate, before I jumped into it. It must be sad, only hearing the sound of your own breathing all the time. And as for Barnabas, I remember visiting him before you decided to marry him, and I found almost the same situation. A little pitter-patter will be music to their ears."

 

"Not the crying for colic, though."

 

"I already have reservations made for the quietest baby they can come up with. When your treatments succeed---and notice, I said 'when', not 'if'---I'll order up one just like it for you." Cellie became quieter. She read her aunt, and sensed an edge of despair mixed with her calm good humor. "I don't know, Aunt Jule, am I joking around too much? I don't want to hurt your feelings."

 

"No, it's good to have a little sense of humor about it," Julia replied quietly. "It means I've got some sense of proportion, that even if it doesn't work out, I'll still have a good life ahead of me, with Barnabas. Cellie, you're not still feeling bad about that night, are you?"

 

"A bit. I don't understand all this forgiveness and forbearance, even though I've had to do a lot of it, and I've had a lot come my way."

 

"That's probably the only truly good thing that emerges, time after time, and makes it all seem worthwhile. I've found that one forgives, or one perishes, drowning in bitterness."

 

"Like Jack."

 

"Even worse. But forgiveness is the glue that keeps us working toward the common good, which we all want. Don't get me wrong, I was dreadfully upset when Barnabas told me the whole story. A part of me still is." Julia sighed. "If it were anyone else, I might have taken it better.... and yet, I know he's over it, and it wouldn't take much for me to discover whether you're really over it."

 

"You don't have to hypnotize me. I'm over it! You know, Aunt Jule, I put everything I had at the time on the line when I finagled around, trying to get you and Barnabas together. I didn't do that just so I could eventually be responsible for you two breaking up. You're almost a second mother to me, and as far as I'm concerned, if Barnabas wasn't around, I wouldn't have a father at all."

 

"I'm sure Barnabas would appreciate that little testimonial, but you do still have a father," Julia pointed out. "Your time is close at hand. There's always a chance that Walter will reconcile with you, eventually."

 

"I hope so. Forgiveness is a pleasant sensation for both parties, once you clear the last hurdle and just do it."

 

"Maybe we'll be lucky, and run into your father in Boston. He must be back from his European tour, by now. We'll call him. We don't have to tell your mother."

 

"Agreed. Let's order. I'm dying for a gyro and espresso." Cellie waved to one of Pavlos new "hostesses" (his dignified sobriquet for waitresses), who was standing at the counter, some distance away. As she approached, Cellie was surprised to see that it was Hallie. She hadn't seen her friend in a couple of days, and had been so busy, preparing for her trip, she simply forgot to call her. "Hallie!"

 

Cellie exclaimed, "I'm sorry I haven't called lately. You never told me you were even considering a job here. What happened at the Superette?"

 

"Oh, I still have it. I'll be working a few afternoons at each, until it's time for me to go to Orono. Then I'll have to choose one. I just wanted to try something new. And it keeps my mind off Paul." Her face darkened when she mentioned his name.

 

"How's that going?" Julia asked, gently.

 

"I just don't know, anymore, Doctor Collins. Three days was too little to build on, I guess. And yet, every time a week or two goes by without a letter, and I think I'd better give it up and find someone else, a new envelope arrives with all those wierd, official-looking cancel-marks on it. And each letter tells me, he will see me when his hitch is over, and to hold on until then."

 

"How long will that be?" Cellie asked.

 

"Eight more months, if the war isn't over by then."

 

Julia said, "I don't know how to advise you, Hallie. Expecting you not to socialize with other young men in the absence of an official engagement and on the basis of three days' acquaintance, seems to be an unfair demand. Especially when you don't really know what's going on with him."

 

"He doesn't say much about how he spends his days, or what he does when he and his buddies aren't fighting. I've heard rumors about what they do in their spare time, though." Hallie sighed. "I'll try to make myself understand---"

 

Cellie said, "Hallie, I think you should go out with other guys for a while. Don't go steady or anything, but if someone nice asks you out to a movie or something like that, go right ahead. You can decide what to do about Paul when he gets back."

 

"Oh, Cellie, how could you? Paul will be angry when he finds out, I'm sure."

 

"I doubt it. He mentioned the possibility a few months back, before you hit the senior prom with David."

 

"That's different. There was no chance I was going to really date David, after that. I just don't want to get stuck with some guy who wants to make out or get serious."

 

"Take your own car, and stay in public places. How hard is that? Hallie, you're in a different situation than me. You're not painted into a corner, not just yet. You'll still be going off to college,

and okay, you'll probably end up marrying Paul in the end, but for you, it may be too soon to make big plans. And you don't have to lie to him. Just refer back to his previous letter. Say you're going around with friends. That will be the truth."

 

"What if he gets mad, and decides never to see me again?"

 

"I just have a feeling that won't happen. Before I was sent away, you remember I was estranged from Will. I went out with a couple of boys, but Will took me back. He's taken me back since then, even though.... never mind that. But if Paul's anything like his brother, he'll understand. He expected you to understand about the 'falling trees'."

 

"I--I don't know. You're probably right, but I need time to think it over. I'll ask Paul before I do anything."

 

"That's fair enough. Are you okay, now, to take our orders, Hal?"

 

"Yes. I'll bet you want a gyro. Chicken, right?"

 

"Chicken's your dish, Hal. Beef's my choice. And espresso. A manly meal, because I need all the manly strength I can get, from now until September 25, or thereabouts."

 

"And you, Doctor Collins?"

 

"I could use a little manly strength, myself, to face those Boston traffic circles in a rented jalopy next week. I'll have the same."

 

When Hallie went to the counter, Julia turned to her niece and asked,

 

"What was that about the falling trees? I know they were using some chemicals to clear away the greenery over there."

 

"I suppose that had something to do with it. Maybe Hallie will let me tell you one day."

 

Pavlos brought the gyros and the coffee. "I came to tell you that your demo tape was a hit, Flame. The record people are anxious that you should go to New York, and audition in person. But I told them it would have to wait until the blessed event. Even so, there was still some enthusiasm. As soon as you're up to it, I will personally conduct you safely to the studio, and then back to Willie. That is, if you'd like to get a singing career going. It may not turn out to be a major career. You may even have the option of considering what level of involvement you would be interested in. Background vocals, and such."

 

"I'll have to think it over. A lot of it depends on how healthy the baby is, and what happens when it's not in my care. I don't want to run off and leave it in Will's lap all the time, so to speak. I'll see how it goes."

 

"Yes, one can never really know just how the future will turn out. One can make an educated guess, or, like a small boat splashed onto an ocean beach, one can receive a premonition tossed up from the seas of time. But it all boils down to human choice." Pavlos sighed. "Perhaps, after lunch, you'll be up to singing, Cellie."

 

After she ate, Cellie mounted the stage, carrying a tambourine, accompanied by Latilda and her "magic" guitar. Cellie announced to the lunch-time crowd, "This is my farewell performance, as a solo act. Next time you see me up here, I'll be half of a duet." She smiled, patting her middle. The crowd laughed, mildly. "This kid hears so much Sixties music already, he or she is just going to hate it. So I'd better get it out of my system now. Hit it, Tildy," she said.

 

"....It's a long, long journey,

So stay by my side,

When I walk through the storm,

You'll be my guide...."

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

 

Willie and Barnabas saw their wives off at the Collinsport train station. Willie and Cellie clung to each other for a long time. He rubbed her belly, now quite large for just starting the eighth month. (Dr. Hurley had told them she wouldn't be surprised if the baby---and there was only one---ended up weighing almost nine pounds. She had even discussed the possibility of surgery, if it came to that.) The baby, as always, moved when Willie felt for it. When Cellie told him the baby wasn't constantly in motion, Willie was thoroughly convinced the little he/she knew his touch. On this occasion, the baby gave a powerful kick. Cellie gasped a little. Willie said, "Just like you kicked that door at the Koffeehaus. That's gonna be one tough kid."

 

They both felt a little sorry for Julia, whose rather formal farewells to Barnabas didn't last nearly as long. Considering that Julia was going to a special doctor to receive medication in order to get pregnant, both Willie and Cellie thought it was odd that she and Barnabas didn't appear more affectionate. Cellie told Willie her aunt had confided that Barnabas was still uneasy about pursuing the clinic procedure.

 

So, in spite of Julia's entreaties that he, too, needed further testing than Virginia was able to provide, Barnabas had decided to remain behind, allowing his wife to receive whatever treatment she could, which didn't require his immediate presence. "If there's anything else you need to take while I'm in the vicinity, so to speak," he'd told his wife, "have them send the medication to Virginia to administer. I've agreed to this much, but I won't undergo more uncomfortable testing, or answer more embarrassing questions. Besides, there's still a chance---"

 

"They won't find out anything!" Julia had protested. "And without this treatment, there's almost no chance that anything will happen naturally."

 

"Doesn't that tell you something about this whole project?" her husband had replied, but very sadly, Julia later told her niece.

 

So, Cellie was still worried about them. Willie thought it was sweet of his wife to be so concerned when she'd had so much to deal with herself. But Cellie now had leisure to fret over the travails of others. The threat from Nicholas Blair seemed like a storm that had come near, but was now far across the horizon. And as for Jack, except for the one incident at the Superette, he seemed to be staying away, also.

 

In the meantime, it would be good for Cellie to see her mother before the baby came, and if there was an emergency, she would be near some of the best hospitals in the country. At last, Cellie and Julia were aboard the train, looking out the windows at their men. Willie waved enthusiastically. Barnabas was more reserved. They both left the platform, and got into the station wagon, in a state of amity which they had never known before.

 

Barnabas said, "I hope this trip will prove worthwhile for Julia. I've told her, again and again, it doesn't matter to me if we end up never having children, as long as we have each other."

 

Of course Willie didn't tell Barnabas what Cellie had told him, but he felt bold enough to reply, "You can keep saying that. But if this works, and you feel that little guy moving around inside of her, you'll say it was worthwhile, all right."

 

"Amazing, how wise you've grown in the past few months, Willie."

 

"As someone I know once said, I learned to appreciate kids the hard way. And everything else I have." He started the car. "I hope Cecily doesn't have any trouble down there, having the baby early. After getting this far, with all the awful things that happened, it would be a lousy shame if just taking this trip brought it on."

 

"I'm sure your fears are groundless. Things are finally looking up for everyone."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Melinda Knowlton was dangerously bored. She'd been making the rounds of the local taverns all afternoon, after she got off from work at the cannery, and, as usual, ended up at her headquarters, the Blue Whale. At least they served some decent sandwiches. She munched on a huge hard-roll with seafood salad, while considering an offer from one of her usual male companions, to drive up to Ellsworth and sample the liquor in their establishments. She sure couldn't go home, what with her kid hanging out there again. She told Jack, over and over, to go to his dad's place and hassle old Nancy for awhile. "I mean, hell, Jack, I don't even cook for you, and you're cramping my style. Again."

 

"No, Ma, I'm just watching out for you," was his usual reply. Well, it wasn't too terrible, having Jack living with her again. He was gone for hours at a stretch, working at the Superette, and bringing home some money to help out, so she didn't object too much. But he'd almost

blown it, hassling that prissy carrot-topped wife of Willie Loomis's.

 

"Cripes, that chick is big as a house already," Melinda thought, when she'd observed Cellie at the store, earlier that week. Cellie had been walking and talking with her aunt, the doctor lady. Jack was always bragging about how impressed that Doctor Collins had been when he talked up a storm about how he was going to be a hot-shot lawyer someday. Well, that little pipedream of his came crashing down when the doctor got Al and Nancy to send Jack to live in Bangor. His grades went right down the toilet, they did, and all that money he might have gotten from scholarships disappeared like so much toilet paper. And all because of that little twidget Willie ended up having to marry.

 

Anyway, Melinda overheard all about Cellie's little trip to Boston. That gave her an idea. She still thought about Willie from time to time. She was still kind of mad about how Jack had torn Willie from her, years before. She felt justified in not helping her son during the fight that had ensued. Hell, why should she have risked getting punched out by either one? As it turned out, she'd caught it good from Al when he came back from his lobster run, and then Jack was out the door with his father anyhow.

 

That Willie, he sure was something else back then. Then, just a few months ago, she'd had a golden opportunity to snap him up again, when that tender flower of his was out of the picture, nursing her morning sickness, probably. What did he see in that Beantown snob, anyway?

 

It really cut Melinda up when she'd been outmaneuvered by that Carolyn Hawkes, and Maggie Evans. Cripes, she remembered old Sam, Maggie's father. He never gave her a tumble, either---too hung up on the dear departed wife---but he was always a joker with her, a good guy, for an artsy-craftsy sort. Maggie was kind of a snippy kid once, too, but when that kidnapper or whatever got a hold of her, she'd become as prissy as the Collinses. (Melinda had heard Willie was mixed up in that somehow, but it only increased his allure, as far as she was concerned.) It had really hurt when that Roger Collins played along with his niece and Maggie, and made a date with her, only to stand her up. She'd thought she was too old to fall for that "going to the men's john" trick ever again.

 

Well, Willie's Mrs. was out of town, again. Melinda knew a thing or two about the husbands of pregnant women. She got the notion to turn down the ride to Ellsworth, and saunter over to that Antique Shoppe place, after hours. Maybe she could get Willie to invite her in. She'd probably have to suffer through a cup of that reeky java they were so ga-ga about at that snob hangout. Then, who knew where things would end up?

 

 "Hell, at least I don't have a big belly to clamber over," she thought. As a good will gesture, she'd even stop by the package store and bring over a bottle. She left the Blue Whale, after announcing her intentions to some close personal friends, who made bets on her success. Melinda walked down the street to the liquor store, trying to remember just what Willie was drinking the last time she'd been with him.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie missed Cellie immediately. He found himself listening for her voice. All he heard was Carolyn's, giving orders. Now that they were short-handed in the espresso-service department, things seemed to be awfully busy, even though it was already mid-August, nearly the end of tourist season. Carolyn and Barnabas had often rejoiced at the dearth of competition from other antique businesses in the area, but on a night like tonight, they wished someone would take the pressure off. Carolyn commented to Willie, "I guess this is what Cellie meant when she talked about 'Zoo Day' at the Superette." Dozens of cups of coffee were drunk, followed by the sale of several hundred dollars' worth of merchandise.

 

"A red-letter day, indeed," Barnabas announced cheerfully to his partner when she finally got to lock the front door.

 

"I just can't wait to count up the receipts, and haul myself home," Carolyn sighed, wearily. "I had a date tonight, but I'm going to call Tony, and tell him to put it off till tomorrow." She saw Barnabas gazing at the jewelry counter. "Oh, Barnabas, you're not going to take it home just because Cellie's not here? I think we can trust Willie alone with the stuff, already."

 

Barnabas smiled. "Of course I'm not going to take it home. I'll just put it in the safe here. I'm sure it will all be fine tomorrow." He hadn't told Carolyn that he'd gotten the combination changed when he heard Willie could open the safe. But, even if Willie figured out the new combination, Barnabas wasn't unduly worried. Willie was unlikely to do anything that would displease Cellie.

 

Barnabas and Carolyn were gone by eight-thirty. Willie went around the store, checking the locks and alarm system, as he always did. Then, he emptied the espresso machine. He heated the contents on the stove, and took a cup-full, with a small bowl of Cellie's potato casserole, up to their room. The night air was warm, but dry, and there was a slight breeze, so he didn't have to turn on the air conditioner. He watched T.V. for a while. It wasn't as much fun as when his wife was there. She sassed back at the T.V. when some talking head said something she disagreed with. Sometimes it was annoying, but more often Willie laughed at her commentaries.

 

He shut off the T.V. He had promised Cellie to look over his schoolbooks while she was gone. He dutifully perused them for about fifteen minutes. Then, he had a better idea of how to pass the time. He opened a tiny drawer in his night-table, and drew out a small cache of Polaroids he'd taken of his bride when they got away for a weekend soon after they were married.

 

There wasn't anything dirty about them, she'd insisted on that, but she was posing in her bikini (she'd brought it because the motel had a heated indoor pool.) She looked like a model in a magazine, Willie thought, tall and shapely, even with a little roundness already showing in her belly. He even liked the way she was now--- she was lucky not to be swollen all over, like his poor mother was, the last couple of times she was pregnant.

 

He began to doze off. He snapped awake, hearing a noise downstairs. Then he realized, he'd forgotten to lock the gate to the backyard. He hoped nobody was down there except a stray dog. He ran down the stairs, and realized someone was knocking loudly on the kitchen door. He grabbed a broom, for want of a better weapon. He wished he still had the gun he'd used on the rabid dog back in June, but it was at the Old House, along with the others that had been in the set. (The old gun which Cellie had nearly shot Barnabas with, was there, also.) Then he heard a boozy female voice. Melinda! What the hell was she doing here?

 

Willie swung the door open. Sure enough, it was Melinda Knowlton, in all her faded glory, clad in a halter top, tight jeans, and sandals. She had one of Cellie's last surviving lilies stuck behind one ear.  She was swinging a bottle of Wild Turkey around. "Talk about your stray dogs, " he thought. He said, loudly enough for the tipsy Melinda to understand, "Go on home, Melinda. You're not welcome here." He didn't want to be mean about it, not just yet.

 

"Aw, Willie, can't I come in for some of your world-famous mud? Even trade. Wild Turkey for your coffee. I'll bet you're lonely without the not-so-little woman around for the week," Melinda said slyly. She pushed into the kitchen. Willie grabbed her by the shoulders, his anger rising, and no Cellie around to help him control it.

 

Melinda began to rub against him, as she had four months earlier, before Carolyn and Maggie stole him away. She tried to work her way into his arms, but he pushed her away roughly. It was no use. He wasn't drunk, and she couldn't get him that way.

 

She tried one more tactic. She untied her halter top. That did stop him in his tracks. She threw herself at him, and tried to kiss him and grab him at the same time. He kept shoving her, trying not to hurt her. "Oh, Willie," Melinda squealed in what she thought was a snooty Boston accent, "that blown-up redhead of yours sure has you pussy-whipped!"

 

"Get the HELL out of here, you BITCH" Willie was screaming now. He took Melinda by both her arms, kicked the screen door open, and threw her onto the porch. She bounced off, onto the grass. She didn't know if she was hurt. She tried to get up, shouting obscenities at the top of her lungs, until she cried out in pain. Her ankle had gotten twisted when she fell.

 

Willie was instantly at her side, trying to get her out of the yard before someone came by. This time, Melinda whacked him away like a mosquito. "I'll be alright, damn it," she complained. "Just leave me the hell alone, and I'll leave your precious yard."

 

"You won't be needing a ride, then? I'd be happy to call Jack to come get you," Willie taunted.

 

"No way! I said, just back off. I just need to catch my breath. Go on, get in the damn house!" Willie did as he was told. He not only went inside, locking the door against Melinda, he went back upstairs, with the intention of coming down again in about five minutes to make sure she was gone. In his room, he turned on the T.V. to distract him, but he kept pacing around the room.

 

In the meantime, Melinda, cursing Willie for not even leaving the porch light on, finally heaved herself up. She re-tied her halter top. She found her bottle, which rested, unbroken, in the grass. She turned toward the gate, when she heard a noise. Maybe Willie had changed his mind. If not, she'd sure tell a fine story about the two of them anyway, once she made it back to the Blue Whale. She looked hopefully toward the porch. It was the last thing she ever saw.

 

Melinda was grabbed from behind by powerful hands which quickly locked around her neck. She grasped at them, a futile gesture, and tried to scream, but her windpipe was blocked off before she could make a sound. She was pushed to the ground, and her head was knocked up and down on the cement walk. She did tap her feet against the porch, but Willie, who was still pacing around upstairs in front of the noisy T.V., couldn't hear that. Finally, Melinda lay nearly still. She twitched

a little at increasing intervals, but she was dying. Her assailant wasn't quite finished. There was a loud crash, as the bottle was broken against the porch. The attacker "decorated" Melinda quickly, then dropped the bloody, jagged neck of the bottle right by the door.

 

Willie did hear the crash. "That damn Melinda. If she broke a window, I will kill her," he thought. He looked out the open bedroom window, but he couldn't see directly down to the porch from that angle. He ran down the stairs again. He turned on the porch light and peeked out the kitchen window, which was still intact. He walked cautiously out the door. He almost tripped on the bottle neck, which he absent-mindedly picked up, cursing Melinda for making a mess on the porch.

 

Then he saw her, lying with her head on the walkway, her foot, no longer wearing the sandal, just barely touching the porch. With fear turning his insides to water, he crept near her, praying she was still alive, and knowing she couldn't be. When he got a good look at the killer's handiwork, he scrambled up, slipping on the bloody grass, and ran to grab the porch railing, already retching. He was still clutching the bottle neck. When he'd recovered, he realized what he was holding.

 

He ran into the kitchen and got a small towel. When he was sure he'd wiped his own fingerprints from the fragment, he tossed it near the body, rolling it with his foot as close to the bloody corpse as possible. Then he went in, washed his hands, and called the police. After that, he called Barnabas and Carolyn.

 

Willie thought of changing out his blood-stained clothes, but he had no time. Four police cars, three of which carried two patrolmen each, and one which transported the sheriff and a plainclothes detective, arrived within five minutes. An ambulance followed close upon them. The noise of the sirens attracted a small crowd of passers-by. Two of the police cordoned off the area. One was taking statements from some of the onlookers on the sidewalk. Two were with the body. Another was already calling for more assistance.

 

The sheriff and the detective had Willie more or less cornered in his chair near the kitchen sink. The officer who'd been talking to the people on the sidewalk joined them. Willie tried to calmly explain about how Melinda intruded on the premises (without mentioning how she'd come on to him) and that he had no idea what went on once he went upstairs. The effort was too much for him, and he retreated into his familiar whine.

 

The three policemen looked at his bloody clothes and shoes. The patrolman who'd been outside said, "Several of the people outside said they heard a loud altercation out there about a half-hour ago, a man and woman yelling some pretty ugly stuff at each other, and a sound like someone falling hard. What do you have to say about that, Mr. Loomis?"

 

Willie shrunk into his chair, looking ashamed. His mind was frozen--- he forgot all about his rights and protecting himself. "It's true we had a bad argument. Me and Melinda never got along, and since I got married, well, I haven't seen her around. But she suddenly came over tonight 'cause she heard my wife was out of town, and she started giving me a hard time."

 

"A hard time about what, Mr. Loomis?" This from the plainclothes detective.

 

Willie said, "I can't tell you--my wife--"

 

"Mr. Loomis," said the detective, "No-one's accusing you of anything--"

 

Willie sat silently, thinking, "Not yet." He knew what was coming, and was resigned to it already.

 

"We just need a clear picture. Perhaps someone was hanging about outside the fence, listening to your argument, waiting for an opportunity to strike at Mrs. Knowlton, or yourself, or simply break in. But you must tell us everything."

 

"Look," Willie said, with all the tiny bit of asperity he could manage, "Melinda came over to see if I would--would sleep with her, because my wife is away. I won't do anything like that, and I told her so. She got pushy, and said bad things about my Cecily, and I just got real pissed off and shoved her off my porch. I'm sorry about that. I tried to help her, and she said, leave her alone, so I went upstairs to wait for her to clear off. Again, I'm sorry. I should've hung around to make sure she was okay. I heard a sound like she broke a window or something, and I came down. I found her like she is, now. I got sick, from looking at the blood. Then I called you guys."

 

The patrolman watched Willie, while the detective and the sheriff discussed matters in whispers at the other end of the kitchen. Willie could hear words like, "prior record", "motive", "end up like this."

 

He tried not to listen. He knew what the score was. He thought how funny it was, how he'd gotten off when he'd killed those other guys, and now, he was going to be put away for something he really didn't do. He thought about Cellie and the baby. He'd have to tell those cops, when the time came, that he didn't want her to see him in jail.

 

Barnabas, followed by Carolyn, rushed in through the front entrance of the store. They stepped into the kitchen just in time to see the patrolman handcuff Willie while belatedly reciting his rights. Afterward, Barnabas was allowed to speak to his hapless employee for a few minutes. "Willie, I don't want to believe you did this," he said.

 

"I didn't, I swear, Barnabas." Willie looked at the floor, at his bloody shoes. He continued, in a tearful whisper, "I think I was set up, but I don't know by who."

 

Carolyn, who was weeping quietly, said, "We'll make sure you get the best defense lawyer. I'll call Tony, he'll recommend someone."

 

"Thanks, Carolyn, but I don't think it'll do any good anyway. I guess I always knew something like this would happen someday." Willie sighed. "Barnabas, you have to make sure that you don't let Cecily come see me in jail, or ever, if you can manage it. I'll divorce her before I'm sent up. Whatever little I got in the bank, it's hers and the baby's."

 

Barnabas got angry. "Stop talking like that, Willie. You don't know yet, if you'll be, as you put it, 'sent up.' As for Cellie seeing you, I can try to keep her away, but I doubt it will be for long. You must believe you will come through this."

 

" 'Must'? Must is fine for you, Barnabas. But you're not running this show." The policeman standing by indicated it was time for Willie to go. He turned to Barnabas and Carolyn one more time. He said, "Tell Cecily I love her and I'm sorry I screwed up her life."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Early the next morning, the phone rang in Janice Hoffman's spacious apartment. Janice, who was in the kitchen, drinking her morning coffee (not made by her daughter), had to run to answer it. She got it on the fifth ring. The connection was a bit scratchy.

 

"Hello, Hello," a young male voice said. "Is this Mrs. Hoffman? Is Cellie up yet?"

 

It didn't sound like Willie. "Who is this?" Janice asked.

 

"This is David Collins, Cellie's friend from Collinsport."

 

"Oh, yes, now I remember. How are you, David?"

 

"Okay---I don't have time to talk about me. Is Cellie up yet? She didn't see the paper or turn on a TV or radio yet, did she?"

 

"I'm not sure, David. What's this all about?" Janice began to feel nervous. She looked at the Boston Herald, still folded on her coffee table.

 

"Listen. No matter what, don't let Cellie do any of those things, not until Barnabas talks to you and Julia first." There was a commotion in the background on David's end, and the sound of someone else taking the receiver.

 

"Janice, it's Barnabas." Janice recognized the deep-toned, British-accented voice. "I will tell you first, then get Julia."

 

Janice said, truly panic-stricken now, "What in God's name is going on now? Has something happened to Willie?" She tried not to cry.

 

"Yes, a terrible thing. Willie's been arrested for murder, last night. The victim was a local woman with whom he'd had trouble before."

 

"Oh my God, he didn't really do it, did he?" Even as she asked, Janice thought what a stupid question that was. Obviously, the police thought he did, and most of the time, they were right.

 

"I'd like to believe he is innocent, but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. The woman was killed right in the backyard of the antique store, after it was closed. Willie was known to have fought with her, then, he said he went indoors, leaving her alive. He said he heard a noise, and came downstairs, and found her, strangled and cut up. Unfortunately, he got quite blood-soaked himself. He called the police, who naturally thought he was responsible. There were already various reporters from all the media around, when they brought him to the police station, so it may well appear in your paper, or on your stations this morning. Now, please, get Julia and check on Cellie."

 

Janice went into the room which Cellie and Julia shared. To her dismay, she saw Cellie's bed was empty. Then she remembered, her daughter had said she'd probably take a little early-morning walk around the block, which was in a pretty safe section of town. Janice got Julia up, and both went to the phone. They sat together, when they saw Cellie walk in the front door. She held another newspaper in her hands, and her face was ashen. Julia dropped the receiver, and both of the older women ran to catch Cellie as she dropped to her knees without a sound.

 

They got her to the couch. Cellie picked up the receiver. She heard Barnabas shouting, "Is anyone there?"

 

In the meekest of voices, she answered, "It's me, Barnabas. I know everything. I couldn't sleep too well, last night, for some reason. I went out early this morning, and stopped in little store that carries out-of-state papers. I bought the first one I saw that came from Maine. The Bangor Dispatch, or something. It wasn't exactly a banner headline, but it was there on the front page. Want me to read it to you?" She began to weep, a keening wail that rose in intensity. Janice thanked God her upstairs neighbors had already left for work. Still, she hugged her daughter to her breast, trying to quiet her down.

 

Barnabas said, "Cellie, are you still there?"

 

Cellie collected herself. "Barnabas, I know he didn't do it. I mean, he could probably hit her, but all that blood? He really has this thing about blood---I guess I know why," she said in a dead-calm voice. She remembered when she and Willie went to the natural childbirth class. The instructor screened a movie showing a birth--- from a doctor's-eye view. To Cellie, it looked merely unpleasant, but Willie had to excuse himself. When they left the class, he told her, with every apology he could fit into a twenty-minute drive, that he didn't think he was up to being in the delivery room; "All that blood," he shuddered.

 

Of course, if he was mad enough at Melinda, that would be different--- or would it? The paper said it appeared she was strangled first, and her head beaten on the cement walk. (She recalled what he'd told her about the man he'd killed in Brazil. Willie may have been prepared to fight with the man, but when he took his knife, it was in self-defense. "It wasn't like I hacked him to bits.... it was over quick.") If Willie had done anything, Cellie thought, it would have stopped with the beating, before there was too much blood....

 

Cellie continued, "Barnabas, I'm coming home, right away. I have to see him. I'll bet he said not to let me see him in jail."

 

"You know him very well, Cellie. If you don't believe he did it, then I don't," Barnabas said firmly. "Just call up either the Old House or Collinwood when you know what train you're taking. Someone will relay the message, and either I or David will meet you at the station. Now, put your aunt on again, please."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Both Barnabas and David were waiting for Cellie and Julia at the train station. Janice had to straighten things out with her boss, Justin, but promised to arrive in Collinsport by the next morning at the latest, hopefully with either Ernest or Lillian. David held Cellie's hand in the car. "Hallie's at Collinwood. I guess Paul writes to her as much as possible, and she wants to be on hand for the latest developments, for when he finds out."

 

Cellie wondered if Hallie believed that Willie had killed Melinda, after what she'd told her a couple of months earlier. If she did, apparently she was keeping it to herself, out of consideration for her best friend and her own boyfriend.

 

David continued, "Your sister-in-law Fran calls at least once an hour, crying like her heart is breaking. We let Mrs. Johnson handle her."

 

Cellie smiled sadly. "A little starch from Mrs. Johnson won't go a long way with poor Fran. After I see Will, I'll call her myself."

 

Barnabas spoke from the driver's seat. "Cellie, you already know he's said he doesn't want you at the jail. I could respect his wishes, but I know you'll probably get out, yourself, later, and go alone. There will still be reporters and other hangers-on at the police station. I would rather go with you."

 

David and Julia both said the same thing. Cellie said, "Please, could you take me now?" Barnabas and the others agreed. He turned the car down a road that led to where Willie was being held.

 

As Barnabas had predicted, there was a crush of reporters, some with regular cameras, some with television equipment, ringed around the sidewalk at the police station. Barnabas parked some distance down the street, as it was clogged with the media people's vehicles. He and David, followed by Julia, surrounded Cellie as they walked down the street. Cellie broke away, and stood as straight as she possibly could with her burden. The baby wasn't moving right now, so it wasn't too difficult to hold herself up. The reporters seethed down the street when they saw her coming.

 

"Mrs. Loomis, do you think your husband did it?"

 

"Mrs. Loomis, are you aware of his past history, kidnapping that Evans

 

girl, going to the asylum?"

 

"Mrs. Loomis, do you fear for yourself or your baby?"

 

"Mrs. Loomis, what made a former honor student like yourself take up with someone like that?"

 

Barnabas and David were going to shield her, but Cellie looked a few of the reporters in the eye. She took a deep breath, and simply said, "I have no comment at this time." She thanked God she'd spent a lifetime watching Boston politicians. "Those guys could put off questions from Saint Peter, himself," she thought. Then she had an inspiration. Boston papers and news programs covered a wider area than the Maine media. She could try to manipulate the coverage of her husband's case, to some extent. "Are any of you from Boston?" she demanded.

 

A few answered in the affirmative. "If I talk to anyone, it'll be from my hometown first," she promised. She and her small entourage passed into the police station. She told Barnabas, "Let the vultures chew on that for a while."

 

Cellie stood before the desk of Sheriff Fred Beardsley. The beefy, middle-aged law enforcement official eyed the pregnant red-haired girl up and down. He remembered her from when she worked at the Superette. So this was the one whose honor Loomis thought he was defending. "Even with a bun in the oven," he thought, "she's still a looker." That Melinda would never have stood a chance against this---what was her first name again?---Cecily.

 

"Mrs. Loomis," he said, not without a note of sympathy in his voice (God, how old was she again? Eighteen? He had a daughter who was seventeen. That's how old this one was when she took up with that homely lech in the holding cell. "Disgusting," he thought.) "I'm sorry we have to meet under these circumstances. I can assure you that your husband isn't too uncomfortable, or in danger from the others being held here. He'll be moved in the morning, to a larger facility. I do

regret to inform you that he has specifically requested that you should not be allowed to see him during his stay in jail." ("And long may that be," he wished fervently. It was a wish that he'd cherished for years, since Loomis first came to town.)

 

"I'm sure he doesn't really mean it, Sheriff. I want to see him right now. I came all the way back from Boston to be with my husband," Cellie pleaded. "Please." She was on the verge of tears.

 

"Sheriff Beardsley, she won't give up, believe me. Willie will surely change his mind when he sees her, " Barnabas said reasonably.

 

The sheriff looked irritated. "Look, Mrs. Loomis. Even if he changed his mind, I'm not sure I would let you in there. I have a couple of really nasty fellows being held in there, who might say some things you wouldn't want to hear."

 

"I"ve already heard the worst thing. My husband is in jail for something I know he didn't do!"

 

"Mrs. Loomis---can I call you Cecily? Cecily, you weren't there last night. I was. Would you like to read your husband's statement? If you'd seen what I saw---I could show you the pictures--- you wouldn't believe what he said either. I go back a long way with your husband, back to the whole Maggie Evans thing. I wish you could've seen what he did then. Ask your aunt. She treated Maggie, and then Willie at that WindCliff place after HE got out of the state bin. If you were my daughter, I would tell you what a lot of sensible people have probably told you already. Forget Loomis. Divorce him ASAP, give up that little half-Loomis you're toting around, and get out of town. Find a decent guy."

 

"My husband has never been less than decent to me. And I'm keeping our child. I know all about my husband's history. I know Maggie Evans. She forgave Will years ago. And as for his being shot--- My God! I can't keep count of the scars." Cellie tried to "read" the sheriff. All she "saw" was what she knew already---the contempt, the disgust. He had to have a weak spot she could play on. Suddenly, it came to her how she could find out.

 

"So, Sheriff Beardsley, you were involved in the Maggie Evans case. I'm curious about some of the details. In what capacity were you involved?" Barnabas, David, and Julia watched her in some amazement. What was this all about?

 

"If you must know, Mrs.--Cecily, I was one of the officers who had to bring him down, as they say."

 

"What happened right after he was shot?"

 

"Why, nothing. Two of us had to guard him, though one would have done as well. He wasn't going anywhere. Why are you asking all this, anyway?" he demanded. Cellie read him now. Bright yellows, and a touch of green. Anger and a little shame. She knew she had him.

 

He'd said, "Two of us." Not "Two officers," or "Two other cops." "Us." A nice, incriminating little word.

 

"Oh, so you were one of the guards?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Then, perhaps, you might recall a conversation you had with the other guard, standing right over my husband. Something about 'finishing him off to save the state some dough'?"

 

"That's enough!" Beardsley bellowed. "God, I didn't know someone who was nearly a stiff could hear all that! Then I heard he went wacko right after, and couldn't remember anything!"

 

Cellie shrugged, and smirked at the sheriff. "He got better."

 

"Get out of here right now, young lady!"

 

Cellie looked at him with slitted eyes. "I'm not going anywhere. I want to see my husband, or else I'm going outside to tell those nice reporters that the head of Collinsport, Maine's law enforcement department is abusing the spouse of an accused person. That he once threatened to --ah--euthanize, that's it, a suspect who was already helpless on the ground."

 

David chimed in, "The Boston guys first, remember."

 

The sheriff's face was red. "So what? Now Loomis is up on murder charges. Nobody gives a tinker's damn about his welfare around here, anyway."

 

"I know you're already a cop, but being sheriff is an elected position," Cellie observed. "Don't you have other political ambitions beyond being the sheriff of a dinky town like this? Those who read

big-city papers, or watch big-city news might think twice about electing an official who based his law-enforcement decisions on a personal vendetta."

 

"You're too much! Go, see your scum husband. " Beardsley looked at the brace of Collinses that had accompanied Cellie. It certainly wouldn't be politically correct to ruffle the feathers of the town's leading citizens. "Deputy Arliss, take Mrs. Loomis to see Mr. Loomis. Let her stay as long as she wants, within reason." Hopefully, that won't be too long, he thought. He couldn't wait for Loomis's transfer in the morning.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

The Deputy, a quiet young man, took Cellie downstairs to the holding cells. He had secretly enjoyed her sparring with the sheriff, who, he thought, was both a bit of a blowhard and a political hack. He played politics, too, but he had no interest in making people more miserable than they already were. He personally had nothing against that

 

Loomis---he was the quietest prisoner Arliss had ever tended. If he was the vicious killer they said he was, he was very good at hiding it. Or maybe there really was such a thing as temporary insanity, and he was over it now.

 

There were, of course, the expected catcalls from the other inmates. "Oh, Willie, the cheerleader's here!" was probably the most tasteful and complimentary.

 

"I wasn't a damn cheerleader!" Cellie announced.

 

"Sorry, then maybe you were a go-go dancer instead?" The anonymous voice suggested, almost respectfully.

 

"Mrs. Loomis, don't talk to them," Arliss said, wearily. They came to a cell at the end of the hall, a little apart from the others. Willie sat, curled up into himself, on his bunk, against the wall.

 

"I told you guys not to let her in here," he said quietly. He looked at the wall.

 

"Will, you wouldn't believe all the work I had to do to get the sheriff to let me in here. Please, just for a few minutes." Cellie began to cry.

 

"Mr. Loomis, I can testify to that. I'm going to open the cell now." Arliss admitted Cellie, then locked the door. "When you want out, Mrs. Loomis, or if there's a problem, I'll be right up there." He pointed to a small desk they'd passed when they entered the holding cell area.

 

"Thanks awfully, Deputy Arliss. You've been way too kind."

 

"I know," he said, smiling at her in an encouraging manner. "That's why I'll never be sheriff, I guess."

 

"I'll be sure to vote for you, anyway," she replied. She turned to her husband. She sat next to him, put her arm around him. It was easy to grab his beltloop---they didn't allow prisoners to wear belts. Or chains either---his Mizpah half, and his cross were missing. They'd also taken his watch. Even his wedding ring was gone. (Cellie wondered if they would give her his jewelry; she'd have to ask that nice deputy.) And though he'd had to change and clean himself up (they'd taken his bloody clothes for evidence, as well as hair samples and stuff from under his fingernails), there was still a little dried blood in spots on his skin.

 

Cellie kissed Willie. She "saw" mauve grey, and knew he was all worn out in his spirit. He said, "Cecily, please go. I love you but if you hang around here, it's gonna to be hard for you, and the baby. You ought to have stayed in Boston. I'm gonna be convicted and sent to prison. What are you gonna do? Visit me once a week, behind a window, for the next fifty years?"

 

"Whatever I have to do for you, I'll do. I've done quite a bit already. You should have seen what I did to the sheriff. He was sweating bullets when I left him."

 

Willie sat back, and sighed. "You can't do that, Cecily. Use up your power on this, I mean. This isn't a game where you can call the shots." He did relax to the point of putting his arm around her. "You could end up in big trouble yourself. I don't know who killed Melinda, but I know whoever it is, he's still out there."

 

"Or she. Maybe it's some jealous wife who finally lost it. Anyway, the killer wouldn't be dumb enough to come around here, not right away." She sighed. "I kind of feel sorry for Jack. He was living with his mother, you know. I guess they were finally getting along. I wonder how he's taking it."

 

Willie smiled at her, the first time he'd been able to smile since the whole mess began. He kissed her . "You would feel sorry for Jack, even after all the crap he put you through. It's my fault I guess, because of what happened five years ago." He held her closer. "That Melinda, she never got over what we did."

 

Cellie snuggled against him. "She's over it now. May she rest in peace."

 

"Cecily, there's still no answer to what we can do. Carolyn and Tony got me a fancy lawyer, but I know I'm going to end up in prison. Prison! I did time there once, when I was my old self. I could handle it then. But mostly, I've been in and out of local lockups like this one. You know all that. It wasn't any picnic, but at least I didn't have to worry about big fights and guys going after guys in showers and stuff. Look at me. The way I am now, I wouldn't last a week in prison." He began to curl up again. "And you and the baby. You know, this time yesterday, I was thinking about how great it's been, when we didn't have some other problem hanging over our heads. I mean, the nice, normal things other people take for granted---planning for the kid, going to school. It seems like nothing good lasts for us. We just said good-bye to Nicholas, and now this happens."

 

Willie was crying now. Cellie hung over him like she was protecting him. She felt a pain like heartburn, but she knew she was literally sharing his pain. She rocked him a little. They both sobbed quietly. Then Cellie took his hand and put it on her abdomen. The baby moved

for its father.

 

"You're going to get past this," Cellie said it firmly, though she didn't believe it, and wept while she said it. "You're going to see the baby too, and be around for him or her. And we'll have more some day. Will, pick two names for the baby. Boy and girl names. If we don't use one now, we could use it for the next baby."

 

Willie sniffled. "I don't know. Just don't name it after me, or my Dad. His name was Harold. I guess you could call a boy, uh, Tom or something simple."

 

"Thomas Loomis. No, I don't think so. Too many S's."

 

"Okay, Jonathan. That would sound nice. But if it's a girl, we have to name her after my mom. Teresa. Teresa Loomis."

 

"Then, it's settled." She kissed him, and stroked his face. "I'll be here in the morning when they move you."

 

"Yeah, they're hauling me to the county lock-up. It'll be a long ride for you."

 

"I'll do it, don't worry. It'll serve 'em right if I give birth in the courtroom during your trial. " They kissed again. Willie patted her middle. Cellie signalled to the deputy. He came right over. "Deputy Arliss," she began. "What time do visiting hours end here? I'd like to come back later and bring Will a change of clothes, and maybe something extra to eat, from home. If it's allowed, of course."

 

"Well, we usually shut down at nine. But the sheriff will be leaving at eight tonight. I'll be on duty till eleven. Come after eight, and you can stay till I have to go, if you want. I'll just have to check what you bring."

 

"You can have some of the food I bring, if you want. Oh, there was something else I need to know. Could I get Will's jewelry released to me? I hate to think of them in some envelope, forgotten in some file cabinet. I want to be able to put them back on him myself when he's cleared of this charge, especially the wedding ring."

 

"I would have to check the regs, but I don't see any problem with that. I'll get them to you, when you come back here, later."

 

"Thanks ever so much." Cellie and Willie hung on to each other for a minute or two. "I'll see you later," she whispered. "I love you."

 

"I love you too, Cecily. Make sure someone goes with you back to the Antique Shoppe. I'd rather it was Barnabas."

 

On her way out of the police station, Cellie was as good as her word. She collared reporters from the Boston Herald, and the Boston Globe, and, in tones of injured dignity, gave them both brief interviews.

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

 

After Cellie was settled in her old room at the Old House, and was all but force-fed by her aunt (the girl was too nervous to eat much anyway) and had called her sorrowful sister-in-law, she and Barnabas set out for the Antique Shoppe. By the time they got there, all the police were gone. What evidence there was had already been collected or photographed.  It was odd that nobody was around, but as far as the local police were concerned they had their man.  In any case, there was rope, colored with a fluorescent dye, that was still tied around the back fence and could even be seen from the back porch, where they had no intention of going anyway.

 

Barnabas brought Cellie in through the front entrance, so as not to get a closer look at the bloodstains in the backyard, or near the kitchen door. He drew out his own small pistol, and kept his finger on the trigger, while they walked through the Shoppe. He led the way, turning on lights everywhere, as they checked the house and cellar. Everything seemed to be in place. Barnabas relaxed, and slipped the gun into a deep pocket in his jacket.

 

He left Cellie in the bedroom, to gather fresh clothes for Willie, as well as a few extras for herself. When he left, Cellie sat on the bed and began to cry again. It was going to be hard, being brave for her husband, but she'd done it before, and somehow, things had worked out. She looked around. She put Willie's coffee cup into the dirty bowl he'd left. Then she saw the little pile of pictures that Willie must have been looking at when Melinda showed up. He'd wanted to take a new series of pictures of the way she looked now, but she was embarrassed by her stretch marks. Now she was sorry she hadn't let him.

 

She stuffed a couple of his things into a shopping bag she brought.  She listened downstairs. Barnabas was walking around the showroom. Then she heard nothing else. He must have sat down. She came downstairs, carrying the full bag and the dirty dishware, and went straight into the kitchen to check the refrigerator.

 

She put the cup and bowl on the counter near the blood-stained sink. She peeked around the table. There were many stains on the floor between the door and the sink. She wondered how she would be able to clean it all up. Lots of bleach, she thought. But she got queasy from the smell of bleach even before she got pregnant. It might not be good for the baby, either. Maybe they could hire a special cleaning service to come in, as soon as the police said it was okay.

 

She looked into the fridge. There was nothing in there that needed to be removed for a couple of days. The big casserole bowl that held the potato mixture was nearly empty. Cellie looked at her watch, debating whether there was enough time to go to the Superette to pick up a pound of their potato salad, which she thought tasted a lot like her recipe, only cold. She turned toward the showroom, and called, "Barnabas, I'd like to stop at the Superette for a minute before we go to the jail." There was no reply. She went into the front of the store. Maybe he was in his office. She found him lying face down in front of the office door.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie was much more lively, and talkative, after his wife left.

 

Deputy Arliss, who'd also noticed Cellie at the Superette, and had come to like her very much in their brief acquaintance, made the time to listen patiently, as Willie enumerated her virtues. Arliss told him about what she'd said to Sheriff Beardsley. Willie said, "I feel like telling her to zip her lip, sometimes, but she's usually right. I thought there was something familiar about him. I just hope he doesn't turn around and use it against us."

 

"I wouldn't worry about it too much, Willie. Beardsley likes to sound off like a tough guy, but, really, he's basically well-meaning. Whatever he said, years ago, well, sometimes you see things when

you're a cop that make you so angry, and you can't do anything about them. Sometimes you say things that you wouldn't even think at any other time. It's no excuse, but he probably wouldn't have said that if he really thought you could hear."

 

"It's not like I didn't deserve it," Willie admitted. "What happened was bad. But Maggie knew I was sorry. And Cecily understands."

 

"She's a phenomenon. I must say, she'd make a fine lawyer. She also handled those reporters. She's going to make you a cause célèbre."

 

"What's that?"

 

"It just means she's going to try to get all those papers and news shows to believe you've been falsely accused."

 

"Do you think I'm guilty, or what?"

 

"Every suspect is considered innocent until proven guilty, in the eyes of the law, if not in anyone else's eyes. The truth is, I'm only concerning myself with your welfare because of my respect for

your wife."

 

Deputy Arliss turned to go back to his desk. Before he walked away, Willie asked, "What time is it?"

 

The deputy looked at his watch. "A few minutes after eight."

 

"It's not like Cecily to be late. Well, maybe she had to run an errand."

 

Deputy Arliss smiled. "I'm sure that's all it is. Someone that determined wouldn't let anyone stop her if she really was set on doing anything."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cecily grabbed the door knob of the office, to lower herself into a crouch near Barnabas. There was a little blood on the back of his head, just starting to congeal. It didn't appear to be a shotgun wound. Then she noticed a lump that had formed under his hair. She felt for a pulse. Barnabas was alive. Now she could make out that he was breathing.

 

She performed these functions in a daze. Her heart began to beat very slowly. She was torn between staying with Barnabas, and trying to flee. The baby began to pound at her insides, as she rose. Her chest heaved, as if a lead weight had been dropped on it. When she blinked, a blinding white light stung her eyes. HE was here. She almost tripped over Barnabas as she ran to the door. From out of nowhere, her arm was nearly wrenched from its socket as she was pulled back. She was whipped around to face---

 

"Jack," she said, weakly, as she flailed her free arm, striking his face. He grabbed that arm, too. She fought for emotional control, as she had every time she'd had to face him. With each encounter, she'd grown less resilient. Her pregnancy, once a sustaining force, had come to drain her of strength as it advanced, but she figured if she and the baby were going to die, she was going down fighting to the bitter end, anyway. For a moment she thought of Willie. She stifled a sob, stopped the tears that sprang to her eyes, and clamped her brain shut against anything that might dampen her resolve.

 

"Little Mrs. Willie," Jack scoffed. "For a smart-ass from Boston, you sure are stupid. It must be contagious among the Loomises. But then," he said, poking her stomach, "You're a Loomis by injection." Celliee watched his jabbing finger with a kind of relief. It was clear he didn't have Barnabas's gun. Barnabas must have fallen in such a way, as to both conceal the weapon, and keep it from going off.

 

"What--why are you here? How? We checked the building."

 

"I used to play in this dump when it was vacant. I know a place in the cellar. I came back when I saw your uncle's car heading in this direction. I knew the cops had cleared out already. And that lousy alarm system only goes off when you break in the door or windows in this building. I jumped the fence and got in through the shed door, out in the backyard. That moron you're married to probably forgot to lock it."

 

He dragged her into the kitchen. "Too bad you're so big. We could've had a swell time upstairs, in Willie's bed, at least until--- Anyway, this will be enough fun for me." He swung her around. She tried to duck, but it was no use, as he slapped her across the face a few times. He threw her on the floor, right into his mother's dried blood. He straddled her across the chest. He indicated his zipper. "Your choice. You could give me a nice time, or, I could pound your head on the floor. Quit kicking the table, or I'll smack Willie Junior."

 

"Pound away," she hissed. She fidgeted and strained. Her arms were pinned to her sides. His weak spot, his weak spot---if only he had one. The haze of his hatred, focused totally on her, clouded her confused efforts to work on his emotions. She'd lost her one chance, at the Superette, and it was difficult for her to work on anyone these days, without Willie in the vicinity. Cellie didn't detect the smell of liquor on Jack's breath---she had long theorized that alcohol impaired her abilities, as well as the intoxicated person's, but in Jack's case, it may no longer have been necessary, for the purpose of blocking her "reading." He just would not be distracted from what he was doing long enough for her to find a "back door" into his mind. Maybe she should give in---"No way!" she thought, disgusted.

 

A tiny voice in her mind said "Ask questions. Even if you don't get the answers. Keep asking." Barnabas had told her that once. It seemed like a hundred years ago. "Jack, Jack, why?" she demanded. "Your mother. Why your mother?"

 

He slapped her again. "Don't talk about Melinda. That bitch let her stud beat the hell out of me, so she wouldn't get her dainty self banged up. When my Dad took me away, I was still dumb enough to miss her. Then I found out she was still tearing after Willie."

 

Cellie protested, "He didn't want her anymore after that!"

 

"It doesn't matter. He screwed up my family. I got to watch my Dad beat Mom up when he decided that Willie was the injured party, and didn't want to press charges." Jack brought his face close to hers. "Then I met you. I wanted you so bad, and you didn't let me touch you. I got rid of the other guys. I just didn't figure on Crazy Willie getting into your pants ahead of me." He put his hands around her throat, and choked her just a little. Cellie lost the fix she was getting on his inner state. "You whore. Just like my Mom. Couldn't get enough of Willie. Melinda still chased him around. I wanted to talk to her yesterday. I went down to the Blue Whale, and they said she came here to make nice with your old man. I mean, she bragged about it! They made bets on it!"

 

Cellie freed one arm, and clutched at his hands around her throat. He said, "Don't make me finish you off before I get to tell you, Cellie." She withdrew. The baby moved. She hoped Jack didn't feel it. "I got to watch the whole damn show from those bushes, way out back. She even dropped her top for him. Oh, no, he was too good for that. He tossed her off the porch. When she hollered at him, he ran inside like a scared puppy. Real gentleman you got there, Cellie. Knocks a woman down and leaves her in the dirt. And that bitch, she got up and went back for more. I couldn't take it anymore. I had to stop her already. After, I got the idea to make it look like Willie did it. Boy, did he ever fall for it. He made a fine mess of himself. I thought when he puked, it would screw things up, but no. I watched from the bushes and had to keep myself from laughing."

 

He pulled back from her, and began to throttle her, tapping her head on the floor, as he had his mother. Then he changed his mind. Cellie gasped, "If you kill me and Barnabas, they'll know Will didn't kill your mother. They may guess you did it, and he'll be free. Why bother at all? Just get away."

 

"I couldn't care less about what happens to me anymore. And if Willie is freed, so what? He won't have anything to come home to. He won't even have a home. That's enough for me." Jack began to beat her up in earnest. He punched her. He raised his fist up in the air, and brought it down. Cellie managed to free her pinned arms, but she was so weak already that it was no trouble for Jack to smack them away while he kept hitting her. Jack must have chosen this method because it reminded him of when he was beaten by Willie.

 

Even though Jack talked about hitting her belly, something kept him from doing it. Maybe the baby was holding him back? But that was impossible. Cellie's own abilities hadn't emerged until puberty.

 

This was an eight-month's fetus. Jack must just be squeamish about that. Hard to believe, after what he'd already done. He probably figured it would be more torture if the baby died slowly within her. Cellie wondered if Jack would complete his work by carving herself and Barnabas up, as he had Melinda. A knife wouldn't be hard to find---the silverware drawer was right above her head.

 

Cellie was dying slowly herself. She saw a whirl of colors. She let herself think of Willie one last time. What a price to pay for one afternoon of foolishness, so long ago. She felt like she was taking the fall for him, as he had for Barnabas. Barnabas! She was losing consciousness. In the last moment before she would have gone out, she reached out for his heart, the beat of which Willie once told her had signalled him to the mausoleum, and began the journey that had brought them to this pass.

 

It felt as if her empathic reach was being buoyed, maybe by her baby, maybe by something else that could help her in no other way. "Sarah?" she thought, dazedly. "Angelique? Please....please...."

 

She heard, through the swirling darkness around her, the sound of Barnabas stirring. She wondered if Jack heard it. He did. "Damn, I thought that guy was dead," he said. Cellie hung on to consciousness tenaciously, but played dead. Jack, apparently satisfied that she was dead, or nearly so, rose to take care of Barnabas. He took a look at Cellie's abdomen, and made a sudden decision. He pulled his foot back. Cellie, looking out of the slit of her half-closed eye, threw out an

arm over her baby, and braced herself as best she could. Jack released his foot, and kicked her in the belly. Cellie moaned.

 

Jack was about to kick her again, when Barnabas literally fell upon him. They rolled around on the floor. Jack wriggled from the older man's grasp, got up, and opened the back door to escape, before Barnabas could scramble up in his dizzy state. He was fumbling for his gun, and pointed it toward the door, but Jack was gone. Barnabas decided it was just as well; he couldn't have fought off Jack if the younger man had tried to take the weapon from him. For a moment, he wished he was in his former state, with the power to catch up with, and finish off his opponent. He turned his attention to his niece, who was writhing in agony, both her arms clutched around her abdomen.

 

Jack, meanwhile, ran to the locked gate, and managed to climb over it. He almost bumped into Pavlos and his new lady friend, who had prevailed upon him to take her to see the murder site. Pavlos had been reluctant, but the lady, Anissa, her name was, made Pavlos some outrageous promises if he would grant her this one favor. For once, Pavlos was to be glad he had given in. He recognized Jack under the streetlight, and gave chase, but then Anissa called him back, saying she'd heard agonized voices in the building. Pavlos couldn't scale the gate, so he helped Anissa over. She couldn't unlock it, so she ran boldly in through the kitchen door, right past the murder scene she'd come to see. In a minute, she came back with some keys.

 

"Quick, Pavlos," she said. "There are two injured people in there."

 

Pavlos rushed in, to see Barnabas kneeling over a delirious Cellie. Barnabas recognized him. He said, "Jack pulled the phone wire in here. There's another phone in my office, but if I get up, I get horribly dizzy and fall down again." He took the keychain Anissa held. "This key is the one. Please, God, let that phone be working."

 

It was. Pavlos made the calls, then went to kneel beside Cellie. He and Barnabas, tears in their eyes, held her hands, while Anissa went outside to direct the ambulance and police to the proper location. Pavlos murmurred a prayer in Greek. Cellie wept in her delirium. "Hush, little Flame," he whispered soothingly. "The Holy Mother will help you and the little one."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

It was after nine o'clock, and Cellie hadn't arrived at the police station. Willie paced back and forth. Every now and then Deputy Arliss heard him pound the wall. Arliss was becoming deeply concerned himself. Cellie, he felt, would never stand her husband up for a trivial reason. He called down the aisle, "Willie, I'm going to find out what's going on. Hang in there." Just then, Sheriff Beardsley opened the door a crack, and gestured for Arliss to come into the front room. Arliss guessed immediately that the Sheriff's return must have something to do with Cellie.

 

Beardsley and Arliss stood close together by the sheriff's desk. "This is about the Loomis case, isn't it?" Arliss inquired, trying to keep his voice calm.

 

"I got a call at home. Apparently, the real killer showed up again at the Antique place. This time, he assaulted Barnabas Collins and damn near killed Loomis's wife. There's going to be Hell to pay around here. I had orders to guard that place until tomorrow morning. Some cost-conscious bozo from City Hall withdrew the guards, an hour before Mrs. Loomis and Mr. Collins arrived. What the Hell were they doing there, anyway?"

 

"Mrs. Loomis wanted to pick up a fresh change of clothing for her husband tonight. I would assume Mr. Collins went with her for protection." Arliss asked quietly, "Who did they say the murderer was?" Before Beardsley could answer, the phone rang.

 

Arliss waited anxiously, as the sheriff asked several two-word questions. When he hung up, he announced, "They got him. It was Jack Knowlton."

 

"My God, Sheriff. His own mother, a pregnant girl, and one of the Collinses! What happened?"

 

"He was caught speeding on the road outside Collinsport. When the patrolman asked for his license, Jack shoved the guy away, and tried to flee on foot. The patrolman shot at him, but Jack ended up tripping on some fallen branches in the dark. With a gun pointed in his face, Jack began to sing like a canary. The patrolman was a smart boy. He shut Jack up long enough to call for backup. When the other guys got there, he did the Carmen Miranda." (This was Beardsley's whimsical name for reading the rights.)  "After that, Jack confessed the whole thing, but at least our rear ends are covered, even if Mrs. Loomis isn't able to give a statement."

 

He continued, "You can have the honor of springing Loomis. I know you've been dying to, ever since he came in, Les. Run him down to Collinsport General." He sighed. "Les, you know I thought that girl was a colossal pain in the ass. But she backed the right horse. And---Christ, Les, I got a daughter around that age. If something like that ever happened to my Debbie, I don't know what I would do."

 

Deputy Arliss turned to the door to the holding cells. He couldn't look at the Sheriff. Tears were filling his eyes. Telling Willie was going to be the hardest thing he'd ever done. "Sheriff Beardsley, sir, I was supposed to go off duty at eleven. If it's permitted, I'd like to stay on at the hospital for a while, until we find out how Mrs. Loomis is doing " he said, in a husky voice.

 

Beardsley slumped at his desk. "Go ahead, Les. They'll be bringing Knowlton in any minute now, and I'll have my work cut out for me, between Jack and the press, until Hanson shows up. Tell Loomis a couple of things for me. One, it wasn't personal. I honestly thought he did it. Two, tell him there's a lot to be said for a woman who'll stand up for her man like that. Three, tell him, someone that stubborn has to come through this. There's no justice in this world at all if she doesn't make it. And that baby too."

 

Before he left the office, Arliss went directly to the file cabinet, unlocked it, and took out the small envelope containing Willie's chains, watch, and wedding ring. The sheriff said, "Go ahead, Les. We'll mess with the paperwork for that, tomorrow."

 

Beardsley watched as Arliss went through the door, and closed it. He could hear his footsteps going down to the end of the line of cells, even though the other prisoners, already disturbed by Willie, were making noise. Then he heard an anguished scream.

 

"CECILY!"

 

In the wake of the ensuing racket, when it became apparent that Willie was trying to tear up his cell, Beardsley realized that the other prisoners had fallen into dead silence.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Deputy Arliss drove Willie to the maintenance entrance of the hospital, where they were to be met by a security guard. Arliss had called ahead to arrange this, as he believed both the main entrance and the emergency entrance might be blocked with reporters who'd gotten early word about the attack. As it was, they had to fend off two reporters who had hung around the maintenance entrance just in case. Arliss had feared Willie's reaction to the interference, but, after his initial frightening outburst of grief and rage while still locked in his jail cell, he had sunk back into the attitude of defeat and apathy he'd exhibited before his wife came to visit. The security guard led the way through a maze of downstair halls and service stairways.

 

Arliss kept his hand on Willie's shoulder. This wasn't merely for reassurance; he actually had to push the unhappy husband gently, whenever they slowed down. It was as if Willie's mainspring had broken. Willie was clutching his hand over his abdomen, as if he felt pain there. That's how Arliss had found him, when he first went to his cell to break the news to him, before Willie went out of control. Arliss hoped his former prisoner wasn't about to have some kind of attack, before he had a chance to check on his wife's condition.

 

"Willie, are you okay? We'll have a doctor look at you when we're up there, if you want," Arliss said kindly. Willie shook his head "No," but said nothing else.

 

They had arrived in the waiting room reserved for the families of those who were undergoing surgery. There was a small crowd there already. Julia was there, of course, leaning over Barnabas, who sat in a wheelchair, with a cap-like bandage over his head. He had argued with the doctors for the right to sit and wait with the others, rather than go directly to his hospital room.  David and Carolyn sat together, clutching hands. Elizabeth stood behind them. Hallie was talking earnestly to Janice and Ernest, who had arrived in town just in time to receive the appalling news. And a pretty blonde woman, whom Willie didn't recognize, sat in a corner, looking toward the door.

 

This was Anissa, who, interested to see how everything turned out, had accompanied Pavlos. Now she waited for him to return from the chapel, where he'd spent most of the time since they'd arrived.

 

When they saw Willie come in, Janice and then Carolyn embraced him, followed by Julia. He hugged them back, but let his arms fall in a dispirited manner. They cleared a space on the long vinyl couch for him. Arliss stood beside Anissa, the other outsider in this group, and learned some details from her that made him anxious for Willie's future state of mind.

 

Julia spoke first. "She's already being operated on, Willie. They're going to deliver the baby first, then they'll have a clear view of any other damage, and try to repair it on the spot. There's an ambulance on standby, in case they have to take either Cellie or the baby to the bigger hospital in Bangor."

 

Willie looked at the floor. In a dead voice he asked, "How long will it take?" Then he looked at his hand, still clutched on his pain-filled middle, as though he hadn't noticed he was doing it before. Of course he would know when the operation was done, and if she survived. If she didn't, and the baby---he couldn't think about that. He covered his face with his free hand, and began to weep bitterly. Damn Jack. Damn Melinda. Damn himself. If he hadn't been such a wild one back then,

if he hadn't been such a coward last night, none of this would have happened.

 

Julia reached out and rubbed his shoulder. "I don't know, Willie. When I talked to Dr. Hurley, she said herself she'd never seen anything quite like this happen to a pregnant woman. I suppose, though, the baby should be delivered---" (she was always careful to say "delivered" and not "removed", a far more hopeless term) "--within a half-hour or so, as I recall from my obstetrical training."

 

David had wheeled Barnabas around to face Willie. Barnabas's own expression was a mask of profound sorrow and desolation. He understood the significance of Willie's posture, the hand across the same place his wife had been injured.

 

Barnabas was, as always, surprised by the ever-increasing range of Cellie's empathic reach. When, in her extremity, she reached out to his inner being with a last gasp for help, and caused him to rise, he felt, even then, she was being helped in her weakness by some other agency; Sarah, he supposed. Perhaps the same force kept Willie in contact with his wife even when they were separated.

 

"Willie, I'm sorrier than you'll ever know," he began. "We checked everything, we thought. After all, the police had left such a short time before. I didn't even know what hit me, until...."

 

"It's not your fault, Barnabas," Willie replied. "Jack and Melinda were my problem, and you and Cecily just got caught in the middle. I'd rather go back and spend the rest of my life in prison, if it

would have kept this from happening. If this is what it took for me to be freed." He whispered something. Barnabas bent his head to listen, even though it brought on a dreadful headache. He caught the words, "Like I took the fall for you."

 

Barnabas felt the same stab of guilt in regard to his employee that he'd experienced when, months earlier, Willie had pleaded with him to bring Cellie back after she'd been sent away. Willie had, unintentionally and inadvertantly, paid a high price to keep Barnabas, whom he had hated, safe, and now, in a mean twist of fate, Cellie was, also inadvertantly, paying the price of saving Willie, whom she loved. Barnabas said softly, "We've all made mistakes, Willie. But we all love her, and she loves you, so it can't all be a mistake. Some higher power is watching over her and the baby, I'm sure. Pavlos believes. Maybe you should go down to the chapel and talk to him."

 

"I'll go with him, Barnabas," David said. "I need to take a walk, anyway. Anybody else?" Janice went over to her son-in-law, and he stood up with her. Carolyn rose, and went into the hall, to wait.

 

As he passed Carolyn, David whispered, "I have to go make a few calls that I didn't get a chance to, before. To Margene, and that priest at St. Ann's, and the nuns in Connecticut---it worked for Margene's kid." He walked down the hall, toward the phones.

 

Anissa, who'd been looking at Willie sympathetically, said, "I'm just going to tell Pavlos I have to get home." She patted Willie on the shoulder and took Janice's and Julia's hands. "Pavlos will keep me posted. I hope everything turns out alright."

 

Willie was roused from his heartache enough to inquire, "Who was that girl, anyway? Someone who worked with Cecily at the Superette?"

 

Elizabeth, who'd taken a minute to talk to Anissa when she first arrived, explained, "She was out walking with Pavlos near the Antique Shoppe. They saw Jack running away, and then helped out when they found Barnabas and Cellie. Her name is Anissa Sheridan. She seems like a nice girl, to be so concerned with people she doesn't even know."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

The hospital chapel, just upstairs from the waiting room, was the size of a regular hospital room. In fact, the three pews (one of which had kneelers attached) and the makeshift "altar" were designed to be moved, in case the room was required in the event of an emergency. This being a non-denominational chapel, there were no religious symbols displayed. There was a small bookshelf in the corner, holding both the Catholic and King James bibles, a Jewish prayer book, and even a worn copy of the Koran (left by an African-American nurse with Islamic leanings.) The "altar", in reality a tray stand used by bedridden patients which was covered with a pretty tablecloth, held a vase containing flowers donated by the Ladies' Hospital Auxiliary. Carolyn thought she recognized her mother's contribution, unique flowers they grew only at Collinwood.

 

After greeting Pavlos, who knelt in the middle pew, she and David sat in the first pew. Anissa talked to him briefly, and left to call a taxi. Janice sat near Pavlos. Willie sat in the third pew, in a corner, as far from the others as he could get in the small room. He sat close to the bookshelf. Cecily would have read everything on that bookshelf if she could have, Willie thought. If only she lived to have the opportunity.

 

He reached for the King James Bible; it looked shorter. He remembered his mother read something in there aloud to her children. Something about shepherds, water, and a valley. Cecily had showed him the name of the chapter once. It was spelled strangely. "Why don't they just spell it Salms, instead of with the 'P'?" he'd asked.

 

"I don't know. It's all Greek to me," she joked, then realized she had to explain the joke, too. She was very patient with him. Willie found the passage. He skimmed down till he came to the last paragraph.

 

"Yea, though I walk through

 

the Valley of the Shadow of Death,

 

I fear not, for you are beside me."

 

He wasn't afraid when Cecily was beside him. But now she might die, and the baby, and he didn't know if he had the nerve to walk through that Valley with her, and then return. What would he do without her? He couldn't think about that. Even the Deputy---he was a nice guy, that Arliss, he even told Willie to call him by his first name, Lester---told him the sheriff said someone like Cecily had to get better.

 

He drenched his mind with thoughts of their life together, from the beginning. Amazing how, in less than a year, being with Cecily had gradually blotted out thoughts of his old life, and made it seem as if this was the only life he'd ever known. He remembered how she had the courage to stand between him and Barnabas, willing to take his beating, and to take over his anger and fears, cleansing them in her heart.

 

And how she'd defended him a few months earlier, when he'd been so haunted by memories of his life before, and after he'd discovered Barnabas. She'd chosen to stay with him, even when she knew the extent of his criminal past, believing in him when he told her that part of his life was over for good. He stuck with her when she experimented with her abilities, and both almost went over the edge, helping Barnabas. They learned to stand together when threatened by forces of evil, both worldly, and otherworldly.

 

He thought about when they made love. Then he was afraid. Maybe God would get mad if he thought about that stuff in church, even if it was a put-up job like this one. Still, he did the right thing and married her, so God couldn't get all that mad about it. Willie wondered why, when he thought of God, he had the same uneasy feelings he had about Barnabas.

 

He was thinking about how, just a couple of hours ago, Cecily was with him, trying to make him feel better when he knew she was around the bend with their shared sorrow. They shared everything, even this terrible pain he now had in his gut. She talked about the baby, and he felt better for a while. Only a couple of hours ago, and now, she might be dead within the hour. If the baby died, too, he knew he would want to kill himself, no matter what she would have said against it. She always tried to get him to believe he could be as brave as she was.

 

He wept, thinking about the God who was going to take her away from him. How could He let that happen to someone who only wanted to do good things in the world, for the people she loved? Everything else had been taken away from him. Why should this be any different?

 

He didn't realize he'd been crying that loudly. Janice was with him in an instant, holding him in her arms like he was her own child, whispering comforting words through her own tears. David and Carolyn stood by him, rubbing his shoulders, and sobbing. Pavlos stood over him, like some kind of a saint in bellbottoms.

 

Among the many chains on Pavlos's neck, Willie could make out a couple of those double-winged crosses he'd seen on the Greek church in Ellsworth. Tears ran down Pavlos's face, also, but there was a kind of a glow around it. He said, "Willie, no matter what, she will never be completely apart from you. I have this feeling. Come, sit with me, and we shall talk about what is in your heart."

 

If it had been any other guy but Pavlos saying something like that, Willie would have gotten angry, even though he was so sad. But the Greek man was different. Willie rose, and went to sit with Pavlos in the front pew. Within minutes, he felt the pain in his middle begin to ease up.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

In the operating room, Dr. Hurley looked down at the wreck that was Cecily Loomis, and wondered, as she had since the girl had been brought in, how one person could deliberately inflict so much damage on another human being. Great dark bruises and contusions were the very least of it. There were a couple of broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and wrist, and untold sources of internal bleeding. For reasons only Jack knew, he hadn't actually punched her face, but the hard slaps had damaged the tendons in Cellie's jaw, swelled her eyes, and given her a copious nosebleed.

 

They began the Caesarean section. There were two other surgeons operating with Dr. Hurley. Seasoned professionals as they all were, they couldn't resist reacting to the damage they began to encounter when the incision was made. "Jesus," whispered one, "Look at that." He pointed to a swelling. "It'll be some work to avoid hitting that for the length of time we need to get the baby out." Even as he spoke, he worked on. The other surgeon said, in a regretful voice, "Dr. Hurley, I think we both know what must be done. Even though she's such a young girl, and may lose this child."

 

Dr. Hurley sighed. The baby was soon delivered. The staff pediatrician, Dr. Heard, and two nurses took it into another room and tended to it while the surgeons began their search-and-repair work.

 

The baby was rather large for a premature child, just over six pounds. Even though the skin was very red, there were bruises evident on the right arm and side. There had been damage to the ribcage, and the arm. The pediatrician hoped that was there was no further internal damage. They'd have to do X-rays. Suddenly the baby, who had cried just briefly and wriggled feebly, stopped breathing. Dr. Heard, who fought off a bleak sense of despair, did all he could to revive the nearly-lifeless infant. He requested more assistance.

 

In minutes, two more doctors joined the fray. They worked frantically, occasionally getting a response, then failing. One of them said, "Even if we get things going here, there may be tremendous brain damage." Still, they kept it up for a short while.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie felt like she was traveling in a far-away land, floating above all the travails and cares of the worrisome world she'd left behind. There were such pretty colors all around the sky she saw. If only Will and the baby could see this, she thought. Then she began to weep, as the colors became darker and darker. She approached a narrow channel that would have sucked her up if she didn't see the angel. It looked like an angel, anyway. Then it got closer. Cellie recognized the being. It was Sarah, who looked at her, as though Cellie had given her something she'd always wanted. "Come on. There's something I want you to see," she said. Cellie took her hand, and they left the colored sky-place.

 

In a second, they were in a hospital room, where a lot of people stood around a table, around a baby. Cellie knew it was her baby. "Teresa," she said. There was something wrong with Teresa. Instead of being red or pink, she was blue. She wasn't moving. Cellie began to cry. All that waiting and hoping, and Teresa was dead. Jack had won. Sarah gazed at Cellie, with a question in her eyes. Cellie felt her love, and knew what she wanted. "Please," Cellie whispered.

 

Sarah kissed her, and said, "I have to go now. I won't see you anymore, but I'll be with you always." Sarah then walked over to the table, and wove herself into the group of doctors standing there. They didn't notice at all. But there was a buzz around the table. "I can't believe it. She's alive! Look at her eyes. TRACKING, for God's sake! A miracle. A miracle." Teresa was turning a bright pink. She began to wave her arms and legs around. Cellie reached out, but something

pulled her back.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Dr. Hurley walked into the waiting room. Except for Anissa, everyone was still there. She walked straight to where Willie sat between his mother-in-law and Julia. He rose, as though he was about to be sentenced.

 

"Willie, your wife and baby both survived the surgery. There were times when we thought we'd lose them both. But Cecily is now in the recovery room, and the baby is in the part of the nursery reserved for premature infants. The prognosis for your wife is guarded--- that is, we feel she will get better eventually, but we don't know if all the repairs we made will take hold. She may need more surgery. But we're optimistic about the baby. You have a six-pound, two-ounce daughter."

 

For an instant, Willie was elated. Cecily wasn't going to die, or the baby! He said, "I have a girl. My Teresa." He asked, with pathetic eagerness, "Does she look like my Cecily?"

 

Dr. Hurley smiled pityingly. "I don't think it's possible to tell yet, Willie. She doesn't even have much hair to speak of. That's the way of it with premature babies. But she's very large for her stage of development, and after some trouble she had at the start, breathing, she's quite vigorous for a preemie. However, she was injured in the attack on her mother, and her handling will have to be left to professionals until we determine the extent of the injuries."

 

Willie was downcast again. "That means we can't hold her yet, I guess."

 

Dr. Hurley said, sympathetically, "You will be allowed to go into the nursery to see her, and you can touch her. In the meantime, we can give you some instructions on her care, and so forth. She may recover in time, so that you can bring her to visit Cecily when she's up to it." She said, in a lower tone, "There's something I must explain, about the surgery we had to perform on your wife. Please, come with me to my office. I'd also like to see Cecily's mother, and Julia, too." Janice and Julia rose. Willie became afraid again. Janice took his arm, and Julia followed, as Dr. Hurley led the way to her office.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie sat in the nursery, next to a plastic-walled bassinet. He was gazing at his daughter with mingled joy and sorrow. His child, he thought. His only child, as long as he was married to Cecily. His eyes filled with tears again, as he recalled Dr. Hurley's words.

 

"I'm so sorry, Willie. This is probably only the second or third time in twenty years I've had to perform a hysterectomy on such a young woman. Believe me, if the damage hadn't been so extensive--- but we had no choice. Her other womanly organs are intact, so your marital relations shouldn't be affected. But she will never be able to bear another child." She'd put her hand on his shoulder and looked directly into his eyes.

 

"You must pull yourself together, Willie. I've seen the evidence of the symbiotic nature of your relationship. If you act defeated by this, she will probably pine away in despair over your disappointment. You must remind her, every day if necessary, that you love her, and you understand it's nobody's fault but Jack Knowlton's that this happened. You have one child, whose survival is a miracle, plain and simple. Direct your energy towards cherishing and protecting her. Many couples have only one child, for whatever reason, and they get along fine."

 

Willie studied the thin, red-faced baby for evidence of a resemblance to her mother. So far, all he could identify were traces of resemblance to himself---Teresa's eyebrows and earlobes, for example. Cecily once said, "Why do guys always have such great earlobes, when they don't usually piece their ears? We could hook rocks to these things--" she tugged on his earlobes "--and they wouldn't even droop." Well, Teresa would one day be able to wear the clunkiest earrings with no trouble. And she had tiny dimples in her chin, like his. Cecily, at least, had gotten her wish; the baby in the bassinet was going to look like the baby in Willie's mother's treasured portrait.

 

He spoke to the baby. "Hey, Teresa," he said. It's your Daddy talking. The guy who always pats you, then you jump around, remember?" The baby looked up at her father with bright blue-grey eyes both knowing and focussed. Willie was pleased, but a little unnnerved. He reached over the opening of the bassinet, and, with gloved hands, began to stroke the baby's head. Teresa's eyes followed his movements with precision. She began to wriggle, as if in appreciation. Willie tried to tell her to keep still, on account of the tubes and bandages she had to wear.

 

There was a little soft fuzz on her head. Willie could see it, but couldn't feel it through the gloves. The sparse strands, in the subdued light, had a hollow orange-gold color. Willie was happy.

He would be able to tell Cecily that their baby was going to have red hair.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie opened her eyes for the fourth time. The first time, she was awakened by nurses in the recovery room. It was dim and quiet, and she fell asleep, again. The second time, she was in Intensive Care. She woke to the sound of machines and the voices of medical personnel. Once or twice, as though she was looking through a fish-tank full of water, she had the impression that her mother's and her husband's faces were swimming before her.

 

The third time, the nurses woke her again, before removing the breathing tube from her throat. Cellie gagged a little, and felt queasy for a while, as they'd warned. Then Dr. Hurley came in, and told her it was okay to go to sleep again. But Cellie refused to sleep until she was fully aware of her body's sensations. When she'd assured herself that she could feel all those aches and pains, she felt safe enough to doze off.