This, I think, will probably be the section that gives the most offense, partly because it hits on uncomfortable real-life topics not covered in the Dark Shadows Canon, takes place away from that claustrophobic estate, introduces some new characters.
But that's why I called this whole project "Commonplace Evils"---
I wanted a comparison between real issues and the fantastic, and to demonstrate a possible connection between the two. Horror stories of almost every type ARE generally based on an exaggerated, or sublimated, version of our deepest fears, and our perceptions of their relative significance. Every real-life quandary here has a counterpart in the "vortex" of Collinsport, and every evil, while not supernaturally induced, is held, in Western religion, to give delight to a definite Demonic force, who thrives on human weaknesses, sorrows, and confusion.
Lorraine A. Balint.
Cellie avoided seeing both her husband, and Barnabas, as much as possible during her stay at the Old House, while she helped Julia care for Walter. She slept on a cot in her father's room, and rose every time either he, or the baby in her portable bassinet, made noises in their sleep. She had to call her father's office, and repeat the cover story about the "stomach flu" that would keep her father laid up for at least another week. She and Walter came up with a story to explain the visible stiffness he would experience in his chest and shoulder for a few weeks, after he returned to Boston. "It's just too embarrassing, having accidentally shot myself with my own father's antique gun," Walter said. "I'll tell them I tripped going down the stairs right after recovering from the flu."
"That's perfect, Dad," Cellie agreed, tonelessly.
"Are you feeling alright yourself, Princess? Don't you miss your husband? You don't go out with him when he comes over to see Sarah Teresa."
"No, Daddy," she sighed. "I don't think you and I will ever spend quite this much time together again, and I'd like to make the most of it."
"I'll probably be hitting the beaches at St. Thomas, after my next caseload is clear," Walter said. "With this delay, that should be around May. My invitation is still open to you and my grand-daughter. Maybe I could call Mag--Maddy when I get back to Boston, and we could all go down together. I kind of miss her."
"I thought she was going with other men."
"Last I heard, through the grapevine, she was free."
"Whatever you want, Dad," Cellie replied, dispiritedly. She left her father with the sleeping baby, and wandered downstairs. Her aunt was sitting in Barnabas's favorite chair by the fire, staring into
the flames. "Aunt Jule, I need to get out for a while. I've been trying to figure out how to get hold of that letter from Lester Arliss."
"It's been three days. How do you know he doesn't have it already?"
"Do you you think he'd waste any time, in his rush to tear up here, to check out the dirty details, if he did read it? I saw my Dad's copy. Old Uncle George was pretty thorough outlining his allegations."
Julia said, "I always pitied Sheriff Patterson, in a way. He came so close to the truth so many times, and every time, Barnabas managed to make him look quite foolish. I had times when I wanted to shout the truth to that earnest, good-natured face, especially when Barnabas kept pressuring on me to go far beyond the limits of the slightly unethical activities we were already involved in." Julia stopped abruptly, when she saw Cellie's face. "Oh, Cellie, don't cry. I know just how you feel."
"Do you, Aunt Jule? My Dad was just talking about getting back together with Madeline, for God's sake."
Julia turned toward the fire again. She thought about Maggie--- the pathetic way she still asked for Walter, and the excuses about the stomach flu with which Julia kept fending her off. The results of the latest test was due the morning she was to be released from the hospital. The whole situation was a dreadful mess. But Barnabas had a valid point about Walter's unstable emotional state when it came to his lover. He would have to be kept from her, at least for the time being. If only Julia and Virginia hadn't made such a terrible miscalculation about their patient in the first place. . .
"When is Maggie getting out of the hospital?"
"The day after tomorrow. She'll want to see your father, as soon as his 'flu' clears up. I don't know how we can avoid it."
"You won't hypnotize her again?"
"No, I can't. There are certain. . .details about her after-care, that depend on her memory of the affair. She will continue to receive counseling and other forms of therapy, if necessary. But she has to be fully aware, if only to fight off the entity which might still plague her."
"Aunt Jule, you're hiding something from me, I can tell....And yet you're going along with Barnabas's orders."
"I can't tell you more. Not right now, Cellie. He's been my first loyalty for almost seven years. I can't change the way I feel about him, or the urge to defend his interests above all others. And now that I'm finally bearing his child. . ." Julia touched her middle.
"Okay, okay, Aunt Jule," Cellie said, soothingly. "I'll change the subject. Back to getting that letter....I think I'll cultivate Lester's acquaintance a little bit more. Perhaps I can intercept the letter."
"Cellie, be very careful. You wouldn't like to end up in prison, I'm sure. And there's another thing....The last couple of times we've run into Lester, I've noticed the way he looks at you.
You're going through a bad time with Willie right now, and---"
"He let himself be brow-beaten by Barnabas, again! I couldn't bear to see that. But he barely even stood up for my point of view.
I would have appreciated it, even if I did cave in at the end."
"How do you know that yours is the right way to go, and not Barnabas's? You knew what was at stake for months."
Cellie replied sadly, "It breaks my heart, to know how Maggie has suffered in the past, and will, apparently, continue to suffer in the future. I'm certainly anxious about March. But the rest of life must go on, somehow, no matter how that comes out."
"Your daughter will someday be in the forefront of determining just how life will go on. Do you want her determination be based on what she's learned from you, or what she's learned from Nicholas and his minions? Sometimes, sacrifices must be made for the greater good."
"I know....But sometimes, compromises can be made. . ."
"When you figure out where there can be compromise in this situation, I'll be the first to support you. Until then. . ."
Celie put on her leather jacket, and headed toward the door. "I'll be back in a while, Aunt Jule. Sarah's gone to sleep, and Dad wasn't far behind." She jumped in the Beetle, and headed downtown. She looked at her watch. Ten A.M.--- the Collinsport mailtrucks had barely begun their run. She drove past the police station. Lester Arliss's car wasn't in its parking space. Then she remembered, that on Tuesdays, unless he was actively involved with a case, Lester's shift began at twelve. She wondered on what pretext she could meet him in his office.
She couldn't talk about Jack Knowlton, for legal reasons. The District Attorney had notified her that the separate trials for both her assault and Melinda's murder would not be held until April, with the murder trial coming first. He'd assured her that conviction in the first trial was almost a given, so she shouldn't worry even if Jack was acquitted in the assault trial.
But a change of venue, due to pre-trial publicity, was already being sought, and that was worrisome. There was the tiniest chance that the charges would be threatened if a suitably uninformed community within the state could not be found. "You mean, he could go free, even though he confessed several times, and everyone knows he's guilty?" Cellie wailed.
"It almost never happens, Mrs. Loomis. But toward that end, I've had my office request that newspapers in the area cut back on their coverage of the case, so that the memories of potential jurors can recede a bit."
Cellie was somewhat reassured by this, but it closed off one subject that she and Lester had in common, which wasn't too personal. She knew there was a risk in befriending Lester more than she had. But he was very repressed in many ways, typical, she thought, for someone who'd grown up in a small town, with all eyes on him. She would even have been willing to bet that, though he was approaching the age of thirty, he was still a virgin.
She sometimes wondered what would have happened, if she hadn't gotten tied up with Willie so soon after her arrival in town. She knew she wouldn't have stayed with Jack for long, and she doubted she would have been romantically interested in David.
Cellie was certain, now, that she could recall times when Lester had come up her checkout aisle at the Superette. Perhaps he gazed at her the same way Willie once had, maybe even with the same half-lustful, half-reverent expression. He was so ordinary, unlike Willie, that she simply never noticed. Of course, she was still under-age then. But she believed that a bit more tolerance would have been extended to a relationship with such an eligible, steady young member of the Collinsport mainstream, one who would have waited to push its legal limits.
She parked her car at the Collinsport Inn Coffee shop. She sat, trying to collect her thoughts. When had she started thinking this way? Why was she thinking this way? Was she so bored with her marriage, so disgusted with the way of life that relationship had opened to her, that she was willing to consider infidelity with a sweet cipher like Lester? She had felt flashes of attraction for the newly-elected Sheriff, who was also as easy to "read" as her husband (though without the added complications of an easily excitable temper, and the baggage of Willie's many traumas.)
Cellie was beginning to understand what people meant when they'd warned her she was too young to marry, and that Willie was too old, too intellectually-challenged, and too set in his ways, to hold her interest for the rest of her life. She couldn't even think of loving her husband, now that he'd shown, again, that, like her Aunt, his first loyalty was to Barnabas. But as soon as she thought of leaving Willie, the same fatigued, hopeless feeling would envelop her. Her abilities depended on him. And then, there was the baby....If she and Sarah Teresa left Willie, he would never get over it. Cellie, his "helpmeet", couldn't destroy their family. She'd find a way to get over her ennui, and her resentment at being throttled by her Uncle.
She didn't realize that she'd been clutching the part of her coat under which she could feel the outlines of her Mizpah pendant. There was a knock at the car window. She looked up. Lester Arliss was observing her, with a concerned expression on his face. She rolled down the window.
"Are you okay, Cellie?" he asked. "You're grabbing at your chest. Are you in pain?"
"No--no, Les. I have a necklace on under my clothes. It was scratching me, so I was adjusting it. How are you?"
"Fine. Really fine, now." He smiled. "Where's the baby?"
"Oh, my aunt's watching her right now, so I could have a little break. I was just going into the Coffee Shop, for late breakfast."
"Don't you work with your family at the Antique Shoppe anymore?"
"I'm going there, for a while, later, with the baby. But my aunt had the day off, and I was spending time with her. She didn't feel like going out, so she told me to go ahead. She wanted to spend some quality time alone with Sarah Teresa. She said she needed to get in as much practice as she could, before her own baby arrives."
"That's really an amazing thing, if you don't mind my saying so, that she and your uncle should be starting a family this late in life."
"Hey, it happens, sometimes by accident. At least this was a happy accident."
"It gives hope to the rest of us, I'm sure. Say, Cellie. . ." Lester turned red. "I was just on my way in to have breakfast, myself. Do you think you could join me? We could sit at the counter, so it won't look like we're having a rendezvous or something."
"Sure, Les. I have no problem with that."
They walked into the coffee shop, but not exactly together. When they sat next to each other, none of the other customers even looked at them. The waitress worked the stove and the coffee-maker at the other end of the counter, so Cellie and Lester were able to chat in relative privacy.
"You don't get out much with Willie anymore, do you?" he asked.
"That's the way it goes, when you have a child. But we still---we still have a nice time together, I guess. We try to appreciate what we have, after what happened." Cellie stared into her coffee.
"Do you, really, Cellie? You seem sad. Is there something I could do for you?"
"I'm just worried. About the trials, but I know we can't talk about that. I'm also sad about sick friends. . ."
"I heard about Maggie Evans. That poor woman, after all she's been through....I guess you didn't know we went to school together?"
"Oh, Geez, I never thought about it. But you are about the same age, come to think of it. It's just that, when I spend time with her, she seems much younger, and then, when I see her with my--my Dad. . ." Cellie's voice trailed off.
"She seems older, somehow. I understand. But it's true, we the same age, almost to the day." He smiled again. "Seriously, though, I wish her the best. We never dated or anything, but we moved with the same crowd. We were 'jocks', I guess you'd call them, with me on the football team, and Maggie on both the volleyball team, and cheerleading squad. She was just a skinny kid with a big head of hair back then, but nobody ever put more oomph into a cheer than she did. Especially when that Joe Haskell was on the field. . ."
"That's right. You would have known all those people."
"Yes, but we've lost so many, you should have seen our tenth-year reunion. The war's partly to blame for that, but in the past five years, the attrition rate has really speeded up. Maggie wasn't there, she was tied up with her art store, but I really think it would just have been too sad for her. It sure was, for me. No Joe Haskell. God knows where he is, these days. One of the Jennings boys dead, and
the other, out in Vegas, and none too well, I hear. A couple of girls moved out of town, when there was a series of attacks on young women some years back. Most of them settled where they were, and married. I guess they didn't want to bother coming back. Then, there were the war casualties, at least four that I can think of. I was sorry to hear about your brother-in-law, hurt like that when the whole damn thing was about to end, for the Americans, anyway. I was just lucky, I guess, that my number never came up."
"I know I'm glad," Cellie smiled. "This town needed you. We needed you. I don't know how Will and I could have made it through that night, if you weren't on duty."
"That's the nicest thing anyone ever said to me, I think," Lester replied, blushing again. "I'm just kind of sorry, though, you had to deal with Fred Beardsley, and not my Uncle George. I remember him saying, he used to feel kind of sorry for Willie, in spite of whatever he did. He would have given him a fair hearing."
"What was your uncle like?"
"He was a quiet guy, too gentle, in a way, for his job, but he always did his duty, as he saw fit. He'd had heart trouble for awhile, before he retired, but the early symptoms were masked, I believe, by his anxiety over the goings-on around here, like I said, six or seven years ago. When he died, so suddenly, while he was finally enjoying himself, I felt all the worse, because I knew what he'd been through."
"He wasn't married, was he?"
"He was, right after college, but his wife died in a car crash a couple of years later. She lived just long enough to become my godmother, but I don't remember her at all. Uncle George never got over her death. I don't think I even heard of him going out with anyone, after. I hope I don't end up like that, but I haven't been out at all, since before I became Sheriff. Not that I ever went out too much to begin with." Lester stroked Cellie's hand with his finger, then stopped when she looked at him.
"You'll find a wonderful woman some day real soon, Les," Cellie said. "If you can't find one in Collinsport, maybe you could try that computer dating stuff."
He brightened a little. "Hey, maybe I got a letter from a secret admirer today." Lester opened his briefcase, which he'd carried in with him. "Usually, I like to read my mail while I'm here.
Cellie snapped to attention, staring into the briefcase. She made out a large manila envelope. She thought she could see a Boston postmark over the half-dozen-or-so stamps that covered the upper right-hand corner. Lester seized that one right away. "My, this is a surprise," he said. "I don't know anyone from Boston, except for you and your folks."
"Maybe it's the world's biggest chain letter," she joked uneasily. "I got one like that once. They wanted me to make twenty copies. . ."
Lester opened the envelope carefully, and drew forth the contents. "What--?" he exclaimed, perusing the pencil-scrawled sheets. "This looks like my Uncle George's handwriting! How could someone in Boston have a letter my uncle wrote? He didn't have any Beantown penpals, either." He began to read with Cellie sitting right next to him. She felt sick. Truly sick. Violently sick.
"Les," she whispered. "I--I have to run to the ladies' room. I'm think I'm gonna toss my cookies."
He shoved the letter back into the envelope, and into the briefcase, which he snapped shut, and gave to the waitress behind the counter (another old classmate of his, he said). He rose, and took Cellie's arm, leading her quickly to the restroom. He waited patiently until she came out, patting her face with a damp paper towel. He walked her back to their seats, and the waitress handed him back his tightly-shut briefcase.
Cellie's predicament had attracted a flurry of attention from the customers. She whispered to Lester, "Just had dry heaves. Can't understand it."
He whispered back, "Cellie, you're not preg---oh, I'm so sorry, I forgot."
"That's okay. No, it was just something that came over me." She felt a hand patting her shoulder, gently. She turned around.
Anissa Sheridan was sitting beside her. "Hello, remember me?" she said. "Are you all right, now?" She wore a concerned look on her face, and her large brown eyes (rather protuberant, Cellie noticed, now that she was able to study the woman's face closely) were wide open, and surprised-looking.
"Yes, thank you for asking. Les," Cellie said, "You remember this lady? This is Anissa Sheridan. I heard she helped Pavlos the night I was attacked, and she spent some serious time in the hospital waiting room, after."
"I remember. I wondered what happened to her," Lester replied.
"Oh, I went away for a while," Anissa said, "but I followed the story in the papers, so I knew just where to go, when I came back to find out how everyone was doing. You were a deputy then, and now I see you've become the sheriff. Congratulations."
Cellie began to "read" the blonde woman, as she'd wanted to do before. She sounded sincere enough, but as Cellie probed Anissa's inner state, she ran into a maze of confusing colors and sensations. This Anissa was just another "hard read." At one time, Cellie would have let it go, but time had taught her that she'd better keep working until she got results. The more she tried to force an entry, the more Anissa seemed to block her. Maybe she just had private feelings she'd rather not have revealed, but then again. . .
Anissa turned from her, to ask the waitress for a cup of coffee. The sunlight from the window nearby played on her profile. Cellie glanced at her briefly, just once more. Something about Anissa's face caught Cellie's attention, just out of the corner of her eye, they way a light seemed to flicker up brightly when one glanced at it quickly. Cellie looked at Anissa once more, then turned back to Lester, who was once more perusing the contents of the manila envelope.
"Well, what's the skinny?" Cellie asked, nervously.
"I can't make heads or tails of it," Lester said in a puzzled tone. He took out the sheets, and examined them closely. "It appears that there are a couple of pages missing."
The waitress, who was filling Anissa's cup, said, "I sure didn't open your briefcase, Lester. Even if I wanted to, you have that crazy combination lock. You remember, I never even got the hang of the combo locks on my school locker."
"I implied nothing of the sort, Candie," Lester said. "It's just that, whoever sent this package spent a whole lot on postage, for practically nothing, it seems. Three pages, one of which just has the tail end of a paragraph. 'That someday, someone would make a more aggressive investigation....A real human need to learn the truth. . .' "
"But the rest?" Cellie panted.
"Oh, just a review of Uncle George's earliest cases, and and an interesting little story about an automobile accident Roger Collins had, over fifteen years ago. Now that's a coincidence, after what we were just talking about, before you got sick," Lester said, reading the second page. "There's a mention of Maggie's Dad. I remember him pretty well. He was a bit of a lush, but the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet, otherwise. I guess he was a witness to Roger's accident. Too bad, though, the reference is cut off in mid-sentence."
Cellie took the papers and read them. She was relieved to find only the skimpiest references to the Collins family's foibles, and the very beginning of an account of Maggie's travails. She'd seen her father's well-worn copy of this very epistle, and she knew it to be nine pages long, including the nearly-empty one with the truncated paragraph. She couldn't believe that Simons would have sent only part of the report, even by mistake. She breathed a sigh of relief, thanking God,
(if, indeed, God was the One to be thanked in this instance) that some unknown agency had reached out and eradicated the most damning portion of the late Sheriff Patterson's reminiscences.
She turned around, to see if Anissa was watching the proceedings. The blonde woman was gone, having left half a cup of coffee, and a half-dollar tip.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Lester walked Cellie back to her car. "It was nice, seeing you like this," he said. "I wish we could do this more often, but, well. . ."
Cellie hung her head. "I know, Les. You're a good friend, but if we hang out too much, people will talk. I wouldn't dream of causing a scandal for you."
"You sound more like you're more afraid of screwing up my job, than messing up your marriage. I thought you and Willie were solid."
Cellie sighed. "I--I thought so, too. But, sometimes, when people are married, complications arise. What you've always believed in can get skewered, when it comes up against a reality that existed before you even met the person."
"As I understood it, you knew all about your husband's past before you married him. At least, you must have learned enough by now."
"It's not just him, Les....I can't say any more. God, I'm tired." She sat in the Beetle. Lester crouched beside her, sheltered from view by the open door.
For the first time, Cellie had an opportunity to really study his appearance. She'd already observed that he was a few inches taller than her husband, and probably weighed about the same, but Lester looked as though he worked out. Perhaps the memory of his uncle's early fatal heart attack motivated him to stay in shape. He was going bald already, like his uncle, whose framed picture she had noticed on his desk, the night she had gone to see Willie in jail. Lester had a rather ordinary, gentle face, again, like his uncle's, but the expression in his bright blue eyes made him appear almost handsome. The smile he now wore, completed the illusion.
"Cellie, if the day comes, when you decide you can't go on living with these 'realities', as you call them, just find me, and I'll show you a different reality." Lester touched her face, and kissed her gently.
She turned her head away, before the kiss lasted any longer. "Don't, Les. If the wrong person catches us....at the very least, I'll be hurting the case against Jack Knowlton. They'll say I'm getting special treatment from the Collinsport Police, that I'm really the tramp he accused me of being---"
"I'm not really involved with testifying, or anything like that," Lester replied. "But you're right, I should try to hold myself away from anything that might jeopardize his conviction in both trials. And it would kill me, if I did anything that made you look less than a total victim of Jack's jealous vengeance." He paused, and asked, "Cellie, do you still love your husband?"
"I wish I knew." Cellie fiddled with her wedding ring. "I do love my baby. I don't want to create a situation that would separate her from her father. Those two have a very strong bond, really unusual for a father and an infant that age. Maybe it's because he got to spend so much more time with her right after she was born, but still....It's very special. I have no right to sunder it."
"I would never stand in the way of Willie's rights to his child. I know how much she means to the both of you."
"That's a sweet thing to say, Les, but remember who you're talking to. As old as I was, when my folks broke up, it was hard to get my relationship with my Dad back on track, and I couldn't even live with my Mom, with the state she was in. Imagine how much harder it would be for a baby to stay close to her own father, growing up, almost from the beginning, with a stepfather who would be spending the most time with her and her mother. I'm afraid Will would get lost in the middle of such an arrangement."
"I understand, believe me," Lester protested. "MY father remarried a couple of years after he divorced my mother. But my stepmother never interfered between us, or said anything about my Mom. My dad was firm about that, though I can't say our own relationship was, or is, that great. I did learn from his example, at any rate. I think I could stand back from the situation, and still provide all the rest of your needs, and the baby's."
Cellie shook her head. "If I was to leave Will, I think I'd stay single, finish my education, get a decent job, and take some time before I got tied down again, if only to ensure that Will remained a significant influence on Sarah Teresa's life. It's more vital than you'll ever know. There's a lot of things that I don't think I could explain to you, not at this point. Something's coming up, very soon, that is going to demand my fullest attention, and Will's. Maybe, after that, we'll all have our answers."
"Well, just remember, when you're finally free to make that decision, if you ever need a refuge. . ." Lester's voice trailed off. He stood up. "I won't pressure you," he said. "I'll be seeing you around."
As Lester walked back to his car, Cellie's mother approached the Beetle. Janice looked almost angry. "Cellie, I was on my way to pick up some early lunch for Roger and myself, when I saw Les Arliss kiss you," she said. "Honey, what on earth's the matter with you? Just for starters, if I could see you, so could other people, probably. Then there'd be gossip, and it would get back to Willie, believe me. I don't understand this. You have the most devoted husband in Collinsport,
a husband you risked death to catch and keep, and now, he's not enough for you? Sometimes, Cellie," Janice said ruefully, shaking her head, "You act more like your father than you're aware of."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Cellie wept. "There's no excuse for what I just did. I know it. All I can say is, I'm really, really confused right now."
"I think you'd be less confused if you went back to the Antique Shoppe with your husband, and settled it with him, rather than hashing it out with the Sheriff. I'm sure your father must be better by now. I don't know why you got stuck taking care of him, when you have a baby to worry about."
"He was---he was really upset about Maggie. I was the only one who could help him feel better, so he'd get well faster. But you're right, Mom. I guess I have to face Will. I'll tell him right away."
"No, no, no, Cellie. You don't have to tell him you were kissing another man, and his friend, at that. I have to give you some credit, at any rate. You DO own up to your mistakes, quite UN-like your father. Still, a total confession isn't necessary. Just go back home! Love your husband up a little. He's been like a lost puppy, without you around. He was crying when he came to the Koffeehaus last night. Pavlos and I took him to my new apartment, and he stayed until almost midnight. But when Pavlos tried to get him to tell exactly what was bothering him, all he would say was, 'It's all my fault. Cecily doesn't want me anymore, and I don't blame her'."
"I don't KNOW if I want him anymore."
"Cellie, I know I'm going to sound like a throwback to the pre-feminist days, but, if you still think you want my advice, this is it. You go back to your husband, A.S.A.P., jump in bed with him, and keep going until you do want him again. And you will. In that respect, you DO take after me. That's how I felt about your father."
"And look how he let you down, again and again."
"Still, to preserve our family, it was worth trying. At least, in this case, the fault is not on Willie's side. He'd do anything to please you."
"Not 'anything', Mom. Most things. But not some things that are really important."
"You have a child to think about. That's important. All your other idealogical differences can wait on that. Even Pavlos would say the same thing. He said it's extremely important that you two stay together in the next couple of months."
"If you must know, that's kind of what I told Lester just now. But there are other things....I'll know what I should do, as soon as Dad's better, and Maggie's out of the hospital. I know what you're going to say about that, but bear with me. It's just going to be a few more days."
"I hope you have that much time left."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Cellie spent a few hours at the Antique Shoppe, serving up her version of Portuguese sweet bread, demonstrating the proper use of a spinning wheel, and using Sarah Teresa as a prop for a display of an ornately-carved cradle. The whole afternoon, she managed to avoid saying more than a few words to Willie. Finally, before Cellie was about to pack up and head back to the Old House, her husband tugged on her arm, and pulled her toward the stairs. Cellie broke from his grasp, and picked up Sarah Teresa before she went up with him. When they got there, she refused to leave the baby alone in her nursery.
"Cecily, please. She looks like she's going to sleep, anyway." Willie firmly took the dozing infant, and put her in her crib. Then he pushed Cellie across the landing, to their bedroom. He embraced his wife forcefully, and kissed her, almost painfully. He made her sit on their bed, but she refused to lie down. "Why are you punishing me, again?" he asked, in despair. "We loved each other so much. We fooled around only a week ago, just before everything happened, and you enjoyed it. I miss you in my bed. Can't you just put the thing about your father out of your mind for an hour?"
"How can I put it out of my mind? Maybe you can forget your brother for an hour, and you can forget about what you and your 'master' made me do, for another hour. But I can't! How can I enjoy making love with you, when I know how empty life is going to be for Maggie? How can I relax when I know my Dad is going back to Madeline? I think she must have hurt him before he went to Europe, or he wouldn't have been so open to a brand-new relationship. And don't, what ever you do, tell me that it's all THEIR problem. It's my problem, too. I'm chin-deep in it!
I can't even get away from the problem! I'm trapped, and you're trapped, until March, at least!" She beat on his chest, but he held her tighter, and pushed her down on the bed.
Willie covered Cellie's mouth with his, and began to pull up her blouse. She tried all her newly-learned self-defense moves (though she'd missed a couple of classes, due to her protective care of her weakened father), but Willie put his full weight on her. She turned her face from his, and said, quietly, "Don't rape me, Will. You never forced me. . ."
He released her, and sat up. "I want you something terrible, Cecily, but you're right, I never forced you, and I want to keep it that way. But, for God's sake, tell me you will come home to me, soon, with my Sarah Teresa. I need you both. You have to learn that His way is the best way, most of the time."
Cellie still lay against the pillows, staring up at the ceiling. "I didn't spend all this time, working with you, building up your self-confidence, to have you relapse into that state where Barnabas's will, and anything Barnabas wants, is paramount."
Willie countered, "Instead, I'm supposed to fall all over myself doing everything YOUR way. You talk about equality, and sharing decisions, but you really want the power for yourself. Well, I may not like Barnabas a whole lot, but at least he's been around a lot longer than you. He knows more than you, including about me."
"So, you freely choose to listen to him."
"Then, it's hopeless for us, I guess."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Back at the Old House, Cellie came down stairs for some herbal tea, before she went to bed. She found Barnabas watching the eleven o'clock news. "Ah, the world of modern electronic media," she teased, a little bitterly. "Now, it's not enough to have your own troubles to worry about. You get a full dose of everyone else's the instant it happens."
"Life in the past was a bit more claustrophobic, I guess you'd say, but what was true then, is still true today," her uncle pontificated. "Perhaps knowing of all these current events can give you some perspective and a sense of proportion about whatever crisis you're going through. But, no matter what's going on in the world, Cellie, you still have to take care of your own business first."
"I wonder how much of this misery comes from, say, a worldwide conspiracy, and how much comes from simple human cussedness."
Barnabas replied, "In the old days, when even the most powerful individuals were separated from the masses by difficulties in travel and lack of communications, the latter may have been almost the whole truth. But these days, when unscrupulous individuals can gain the necessary access to those same normal, 'cussed' humans, it's a team effort. It's as though some outside force has broken down ordinary resistance and restaint."
"You really amaze me, Barnabas. Here, you're talking quite sensibly about unscrupulous behavior, and yet, look what you have wrought. You and my husband. You ARE two of a kind, I must say."
"I can also separate what I have done, from the mass of unethical behavior that goes on daily. Is that what you mean? You longed to participate in these adventures, and yet, you became squeamish when you were faced with one of the inevitable consequences."
"I just want my life back, and my father's."
"He will soon be gone, back to Boston, where, hopefully, he'll vanish back into the woodwork, so to speak, and not interfere with us, again." Barnabas suddenly noticed big tears rolling down his niece's face. "Cellie, please don't cry again. You'll see your father, after our ordeal....Perhaps you should return to your home. You are being cruel to your husband, and yet, he saved your father's life. Walter acknowledged as much."
Cellie stood stock still. "What transpires next, between Will and myself, is not subject to your orders, or even your recommendations."
"I would definitely recommend that you tread carefully around our new Sheriff Lester Arliss. He is one of those outsiders to our way of doing things, that we've discussed in the past. He does not fit into the delicate balance that exists between you, me, your husband, and David. Cellie, I've been in the thick of many a romantic triangle,
myself. It's not safe, and it's not healthy for your marriage."
"Well," the girl sniffed, "if I hadn't chosen to 'tread' with him this morning, I wouldn't be able to report that you have nothing left to fear from George Patterson's memoirs. Lester had the envelope with him, and we both examined the papers, and it turns out, that either Simons wasn't paying attention when he packed those things, or that some sympathetic force was at work on our behalf."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, the worst part of the report was missing. As of now, my father's copy of the report is the only complete, valid version of that document."
"How could that have happened?" Barnabas wondered.
"Well, at first, it appeared all the papers were there, Then I got really sick, and Les put the envelope back, locked up the briefcase, and let the waitress, a long-time friend of his, look after it, while he waited for me to get better."
"The waitress didn't open it?" Barnabas asked.
"I doubt she'd have done it in front of everyone in the Coffee shop, and anyway, to hear her tell it, she's no whiz with combination locks. It was still locked, alright. And guess who we saw at the Coffee Shop?"
"Not Nicholas, I trust!"
"No, Anissa Sheridan. The girl who was hanging out with Pavlos the night of our attack. The blonde."
"She didn't touch the briefcase, did she?"
"I doubt it. She kind of showed up out of nowhere, and took off when I stopped paying attention to her. I tried to 'read' her, but her inner self was covered with emotional brambles, like Sleeping Beauty's castle."
"I wonder if she's involved in these events."
"Well, there's one thing I discovered, that makes me wonder, too. I was looking at her up close, in the restaurant, and I first noticed that there was something funny about her eyes. Then the sun hit her profile, and I knew what it was. She wears contact lenses! I couldn't tell if they're real, or if they're just tinted."
"If they're tinted, that could mean she's hiding her eye color for some reason. If only there was a way to find out. Still, I don't see the point. So far, she's only performed helpful functions."
"Maybe that's her 'assignment'. Protect the baby, as best she can, while trying to get her away from me at the same time."
"As your aunt might say, it sounds like the perfect paranoid fantasy, but still, we'll have to find out more about this Anissa Sheridan."
* * * * * * * * * * *
With Walter feeling stronger, Cellie returned to Ralph Baracini's tutelage, with Hallie. After class, they always headed for a small diner for lunch. Cellie felt confident enough about her father's safety to chance an extra hour away from him. She was locking her Beetle when she noticed Hallie talking with a young nun, whose face Cellie couldn't see. The nun handed the blonde girl a pamphlet, and hurried away as Cellie approached the pair.
"What was that all about, Hal?" she asked breathlessly. "I though I was the Vatican liaison around here."
"She had to get back to her convent, I guess. After what she just told me, I'm not sure I'm hungry anymore." Hallie handed her friend the pamphlet.
Cellie read it through quickly. "It's just an ad for some new doctor in town. Thank God, another woman gynecologist in the area! Dr. Hurley is swamped as it is. Even Aunt Jule gets calls from women who want a female doctor, only to have to refer them back to Dr. Hurley."
"If that's all it was. . ." Hallie sounded sad. "But the nun told me that she heard this doctor will also do abortions, on the sly of course."
Cellie's blood turned cold, recalling the time her father tried to browbeat her into having a "safe, discreet", but illegal termination. "But that's all over, that's all over," she told herself. She turned to Hallie. "Even assuming that's true, I'm sure the police will bust the place, when they have proof. I can't imagine such an operation going over very well in this area, even if it was made legal, which, if what I've been reading is true, will probably be soon. This isn't New York City. This isn't even Bangor or Portland, where there would be the anonymity of a city to hide the doctor and her patients."
"Still, it's going to happen. I wish I could go to the police right now, but as you just said, there's no proof. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I could protest, or something. I would have protested the war, but it's coming to an end. Though, at least in that situation, the soldiers had weapons and training to protect themselves the best they could."
"War also kills kids," Cellie pointed out. "Kids who are out there already, running around. THAT may not come to an end right away."
"I know, I know. If they hold a rally for THAT, I'll be in the first row. Until then, I need something to sink my teeth into. The self-defense classes are wonderful, but they're not enough. Maybe it's because of them, I want to help defend the defenseless. Does that sound wierd to you?"
"Not at all, Hal, but remember, signing up for O.O.M.A.A. in the first place was almost too much for you. I know you've become very religious, and that you're coming out of your shell to face your future with Paul, but this may be pushing the envelope too much. You could end up protesting your whole life away, and your heart may well be broken, from frustration if not defeat."
"How will I know what my heart will bear, if I don't try, Cellie? And you're a mother now. You talk about children dying in wars. What would you have called it if Jack had killed Sarah Teresa while she was still inside of you?"
"That was different," Cellie answered shakily. "She was developed enough to live outside me by that time, with a little help, of course--"
"It would have been murder, inside or outside of you! You know about fetal development. They have all the parts before three months!"
"As it happens, I WAS presented with that option, Hallie, but I knew it wouldn't have been right for me, no matter what was going on around me. But I would have to know a lot more about another woman's situation before I could even make a guess about what would be right for her."
"If you were alone, and terribly upset by your condition, YOU wouldn't know what was right for you, either!"
"You have a point, Hallie," Cellie admitted. "Well, it seems you've found your cause. I'll support you, and maybe even find you a big soapbox to preach it from. It sure wouldn't do any harm to keep
an eye on that place, at any rate. You're closer to it than I am.
A drive-by once in a while wouldn't hurt."
Cellie sat on her father's bed. She and Walter were rolling the baby back and forth between them. Sarah Teresa was waving her arms and legs, and laughing, as she faced her mother, first, and then her grandfather. Finally, Cellie said, "Enough. She needs a break, or she'll spit up."
She lifted her daughter to her shoulder. Sarah Teresa pushed herself away from her mother, and amazed Cellie for the hundredth time, by the steadiness with which she held up her head, a skill she'd mastered before she was three months old. Sarah Teresa looked directly into her mother's eyes, and spat out evolving words. "Mih! Mih!" she pleaded. "Jih! Jih! Jih!"
"What, she's saying 'Mama' already?" Walter asked.
"Kind of, I guess," Cellie replied. "And 'Jih'---she was doing that even earlier. I think it's her word for 'Dada'. She misses Will a lot."
"She'll get over it, Princess. He comes over, less and less, as it is. It's different for a father, than a mother. A father usually shows as much interest in his children in direct proportion to how well he's getting along with the mother. They may tell you different, but twenty years of dealing with divorcing parents, and becoming one, myself, has taught me quite a bit."
"I guess it's true enough, in a way, we two have made our peace since you and Mom buried the hatchet. But, Dad, didn't you think about me, and Ernest, at all, while you were gone?"
"Yes, Cecily, you may not believe it, but the two of you were always on my mind. But I knew you both were siding with Janice, and of course, you were having your rebellious spell, so my perceptions were colored by my opinion about how you were running your life. But, now that you and Willie seem to be coming to a parting of the ways, and Madeline sounded receptive to my proposal for reconciliation, I can foresee harmony, and some big plans ahead for all of us."
"I don't think I'll be joining in on these big plans, Dad. I'm settled in here, no matter how it works out between Will and myself. And he will stay interested in our daughter, have no fear. I should call him, and have him come over for dinner. I hear he's been spending too much time moping around the Koffeehaus, and hanging out with Pavlos and Mom. He's not the cruising type, any more. He needs me and the baby."
"Just don't be too hasty about rushing back to him, Princess. You have other options, including love options."
"Just like you, Dad," she said, acidly.
"Are you angry at me for some reason, Cecily?" Walter asked.
"No. I'm sorry. Say, Dad," she asked, in a brighter tone, "There's something I've been meaning to ask you, but I kept forgetting--- when you were 'sick', you said a strange name, I guess it was. 'Catriona'. What put that into your head? Who was she?"
" 'Catriona'. Wow. I must have been out of it, to think about her, after all these years. She was one of our ancestors. My mother once told me, that she sometimes appeared to members of our family who were on the verge of some violent end. She must have told Julia, probably when my sister was at an age when she thought our mother was full of hot air. I think she also told Ernest. She might have thought you were too young and sensitive to hear the tale, and by the time she would have told you, she'd had her stroke and couldn't talk any more. It just never occurred to me to talk about Catriona, and Ernest, I think, was as frightened by the story, as you might have been."
"Good heavens! What happened to her?"
"She was burned as a witch, back in the early 1700's. They were kind of skittish about imposing that penalty in the Colonies, but, in the Scottish Highlands, they had few qualms about that sort of thing."
"But, what did she do, that made people think she was a witch?
I mean, she really wasn't one, WAS she?"
"Aside from following some of the rural traditions of her primitive ancestors, I'd say not. She was said to have protested her staunch Calvinism, right up to the bitter, burning end. Tracing her story was one of the first investigative jobs I ever performed, while I hung around in Scotland, after the war was over. I thought, since
I was stationed there, anyway, I might as well look up some of the illustrious Frasers. Well, what I found was more sorry than sterling. Catriona's execution was one of the most tragic episodes in our history, until what happened to you, Princess."
"How did it come about?"
"To begin at the beginning, she was the daughter of a mistress to one of the rather extensive ruling family, the Stewarts. Such arrangements were extremely common in those days, but her mother, a Fraser, always claimed there was a secret marriage. Her man was on record as having never officially married anyone else. And, in Scotland, a formal license wasn't always necessary, although the nobility usually followed conventions, for estate purposes. If a couple was known by reliable witnesses to be sleeping together on a regular basis, they could be considered married under the common law. The existence of the fair Catriona, who was said to resemble her aristocratic father in looks and height, and her mother in her coloring, was certainly sufficient to prove the connection.
"Well, the time came when Catriona sought out such a connection herself. She was about twenty when she was betrothed to an older, wealthier Fraser cousin, Angus. They were pretty fond of each other, and she went to her wedding in the family way."
Cellie smiled sadly. "So, I was just carrying out a great family tradition, of sorts."
"This isn't eighteenth-century Scotland, honey," Walter admonished. "You should thank God it's not. Anyway, her life wasn't all roses. Her Angus had a mistress, but that was pretty common, too. The important thing was, Catriona's children would inherit the lion's share of the estate, with just the leftovers going to any offspring of the other relationship. Instead of counting her blessings, and feeling fortunate she was even going to inherit anything at all, the other woman, Alvina by name, accused Catriona of witchcraft. This was too easy to do in the first place. But it was almost impossible for Catriona to defend herself, because she supposedly had a gift that could be mistaken for magic. She was alleged to be what one might, these days, call tele-kinetic. She could move objects with the power of her mind. Pretty far out, eh?"
"Not as far out as you might think, Dad," Cellie said. "This town has a pretty hairy history of mysterious events and witchcraft trials."
"Even allowing that such a thing might exist, and that it existed in her case, the plain fact is, Catriona had never been known to use this 'power' to harm anyone. In fact, she was said to be rather useful, especially when the shepherds and cowherds needed a little help, keeping the livestock in line---they'd summon her, and within a half-hour, she'd bring the herds in more efficiently than a dozen dogs. All was well, and she'd borne a son to Angus, when the hammer came down. Alvina claimed that Catriona had used her power to drop a large stone on her rival's house, killing Alvina's son instantly. Now, no record exists of the actual incident. Alvina's child could have been caught in a rockslide, or, more horribly, Alvina could have done the deed herself. At any rate, she convinced the townspeople, and, one morning, after she'd kissed her husband and helpless infant son good-bye, Catriona was dragged to the town square, and tied to a post set in the midst of a great pile of kindling."
"That is awful!" Cellie cried. And yet, in the midst of her horrified dismay, she did have another piece to her puzzle. A woman who'd been able to move objects with her mind....Now Cellie understood how the empathism of her Sisk grandmother had become augmented with the power to transfer the effects of different emotions. It suddenly occurred to her, that, if what her father said about Catriona's visitations to some of her descendants on the verge of violent death was true, perhaps she'd come to aid Cellie in her final moments with Jack, probably in concert with Sarah. All those spirits seemed to know each other, even if they hadn't lived in the same time, like Angelique and Ock-wen-uck.
Cellie wondered why her Aunt Julia hadn't made the connection. Maybe the part about the unjust accusation of witchcraft had driven the telekinetic detail from Julia's impressionable, yet dismissive, pubescent mind. Again, it was possible that Grandmother Muriel didn't explain that part very well. Perhaps, Julia was even ashamed, after all she'd learned about real witches during her association with Barnabas. At any rate, she had never reported such an appearance during her times of trouble, but then, she was protected, first, by Sarah, and afterward, by Barnabas.
"So, what happened after?" Cellie asked. "Did Alvina get her man?"
"Apparently not," Walter said. "For, as poor Catriona began to burn in earnest, between protestations of her fidelity to the Scottish Covenant, she did manage to say something which served to convince her fellow citizens of the rightness of their actions. She brought down a curse on her rival. Of course, the poor girl was in terrible pain, and even if she had been rescued somehow, it was probably too late, anyway. I guess she felt she had nothing to lose."
"What was the curse?"
"That Alvina would bear no further heirs to Angus Fraser, or anyone else. At first, naturally, Alvina chose to ignore the warning. Angus had been browbeaten into promising a legal marriage to his mistress, if she became pregnant, and bore a healthy child. About a year after Catriona's execution, Alvina gave birth to a son who died within an hour. She and Angus tried again. The second time, she
delivered a premature, stillborn daughter. The last time they gave it the old college try, Alvina miscarried. That was more than enough for Angus, who left her to join his small son by Catriona, whom he'd sent for safekeeping to Fraser cousins in Aberdeen. He never came back to his home village."
"And, what of Alvina?"
"There was little mention of her, except to say that, by the end of her association with the Frasers, she was pretty well shunned by the neighbors. She had been a kind of a drifter before she met Angus, and some said she went to France, where she supposedly had Huguenot relatives."
"How much of this stuff does Aunt Jule know?"
"Only the bare bones, I'm sure. A lot of the details, I dug up for myself. I didn't have the heart to share the worst parts with my mother, and, as I told you, Julia didn't care all that much for the old stories in those days. The fact that we had periods of estrangement between ourselves didn't help matters much. Now, she might be more interested. One of us should get around to telling her."
Cellie thought that was necessary. If the "gift" had passed to her, there was a possibility it might also appear in Julia's baby, and Ernest's.
Walter continued, "When I found the papers, before I moved from our old house, I gave them to Ernest. If you ever get down to Boston, again, you'll have to ask him to show you."
"Now that Paul Loomis is there, I'll have an excuse to go, soon. I promised Hallie I'd go with her, and I owe Will that much support, I guess."
"Don't use this as an opportunity for a second honeymoon, Princess."
"Dad, don't start, please. . ." They heard someone knocking, hard, on the oak door downstairs. Cellie carried Sarah Teresa downstairs with her, and opened the door. Maggie Evans stood in the doorway. Cellie blanched.
"Hello, Cellie. Is Walter still here? It's very important that I speak to him, right away." She was smiling, a little uncertainly. She did appear, to Cellie's inner and outer eyes, to be more colorful, and more vivid, as though she was finally lit by an unflickering flame.
"Yes. He's doing much better, or I wouldn't be here, today, with the baby. I must say, you look wonderful, yourself, after all--"
"Thanks. I do feel one-hundred percent better now. I had the best care in the world, I think. Your Aunt, and Dr. Hurley, and Pavlos....I have to see Walter right away, Cellie."
"I'll get him, and then I'll just disappear, for a while. . ." Cellie ran up to get her father. She was just anxious that this ordeal should be over, soon. "Dad, you have a visitor. Maggie Evans. Please, come down."
"Maggie? Oh yes. Why would she want to see me? I don't know her that well."
"Well, um, she heard you were sick, and she was in the neighborhood, and she just wanted to see you, I guess. Please, come down."
Walter followed Cellie down the steps. Maggie's face lit up. It was almost unbearable for Cellie to watch. It was even more unbearable to watch her father's polite, rather blank expression. "I'll set up some coffee for you two, then I'm going to take a little walk with the baby," Cellie said.
"Oh, Cecily, you don't have to leave," Walter said.
"I want to enjoy this little January thaw we're having, and I was going to visit David at the Great House anyway," Cellie replied.
"Oh, well, run along, then, honey." Walter turned to Maggie. "So, how are you these days, Maggie?"
"I'm--I'm fine, Walter. I just got out of the hospital this morning."
"Oh, that's right. I think I overheard Barnabas and Julia talking about it. What was the matter?"
Maggie began to shake, a little. "Walter, don't you remember? You took me to the hospital in the first place. You visited me just over a week ago."
"I did? Oh, that's right. I seem to recall you being sick to your stomach. Appendicitis?"
Tears filled Maggie's eyes. "That's not what happened, Walter. I---what was wrong with you, that you don't remember?"
"Why, nothing, anymore. I had a bad stomach bug, and I was quite nauseated, myself. Then, I sprained my shoulder, tripping down the stairs here. I guess I was still pretty woozy." He smiled blankly. "Why are you so concerned?"
"Because I love you, Walter. You love me, don't you?"
"I didn't know you were that fond of me. You're a nice girl, but I don't know you well enough to say whether I love you, or not. I have a girlfriend back home, anyway. Madeline. I must have told you."
"You broke up with her, months ago!"
"A silly misunderstanding. We've been making it up, over the phone. Maggie, what's the matter? I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings in any way. I'm sure I didn't mean to lead you on. Did I lead you on?" He looked genuinely puzzled.
"Walter. . .don't you remember what happened, the day you were missing? What happened, later that night? At my place?" she pleaded.
"I was missing? And what happened after---oh. We were intimate?"
"I---I guess not. Not really. I'm sorry I came over, Walter. It's just that, I thought I had something important to tell you, but---well---forget it. I'll take care of it, myself, somehow." She wept, almost noiselessly.
Walter put his hands on her shoulders. "Maggie, Maggie. I'm sorry if whatever we did hurt your feelings. But we're both adults. Things like this happen, sometimes. I hope we can be friends."
Maggie broke away from him, and ran out the door. She pitched herself, pell-mell, up the first clear path that met her sight. In a few minutes, she realized she was on the pathway that led to Widow's Hill. Good, she thought. In another minute, she came around a blind curve, to find the seemingly limitless stretches of ocean stretched out, beyond the absurdly short safety rail. She went straight to it. She leaned in such a way, as to suggest that she might be about to clamber over it. A firm hand grabbed at her shoulder. "Walter?" Maggie sobbed, as she peeked behind her.
Cellie met Maggie's frantically unhappy countenance, with a firmly
"Cellie....I thought you were at Collinwood with David. The baby?"
"Right here." Cellie pointed to the stroller, half-hidden by the bench. "We needed to get off by ourselves, as it turned out."
"It's like you were waiting for me."
"Could've been. I have a little bird who tells me where I should be when I'm needed." Cellie tried to smile, but her eyes welled up at the sight of Maggie's despair. A crushing sensation, familiar, but remote in time, grew in Cellie's chest. A feeling of exaltation, and fear, of cocoon-like security and the feeling that the ground was about to be torn from beneath her feet. A sensation of fullness, and yet, a wrenching emptiness; an promise of the future aligned, confusingly, with the weight of life's finiteness, and the breaking of every promise ever made. When had Cellie had these feelings, these anxieties? She looked toward her child, who returned her glance calmly. She turned back to Maggie.
Maggie hung her head. "Yes. How did you guess? The 'little bird', again?" she asked bitterly.
"Maggie. . .I know from your look, from what's in your heart. . ."
"Julia said you were sharp, like Pavlos. I guess that's part of it."
"I knew, because I felt all that you're feeling now, when I first found out I was pregnant, and the world was crashing down around me. Did you tell my father? I know it's his."
"No. . ." Maggie started to cry again. "He--he acted like he didn't remember anything about us. I even had to remind him we were sleeping together. . ." She crumpled against the railing. Cellie lifted her gently, and embraced her as she sobbed. "I--I never thought this would ever happen to me. . ."
"Nobody does, even if they're planning for it. It's always a surprise. Look at Julia and Barnabas," Cellie said, soothingly, though her own heart was terribly angry.
"You don't understand....Before I met Walter, I never---I never slept with anyone before....Not that I never came close, but he was the first man I ever felt comfortable enough with. Almost safe. Maybe that's a feeling you don't associate with your father, after he left your mother. . ."
"That's not exactly true. I could have been safe with him, if only I did just what he wanted, giving up Will....But when I was a little girl, he was all the world and its brother, to me. He still is, in spite of everything." In spite of what she had done to him, and now, apparently, to Maggie, through him. Damn Barnabas.
"He was certainly that, to me. But there's more. I never expected this to happen to me. I thought I was barren."
"What do you mean, barren? You're not even thirty! You never had
an operation, did you?"
"It was a result of my illness, so long ago. I had a kind of menopause for nearly two years....So neither I, or Walter, took any precautions. Now, Dr. Hurley tells me, perhaps it was because I had so much repressed anxiety, or that I was working too hard, or that I wasn't eating right, or that I was exercising too much....or a combination of all these things, working with the original problem. Julia said all the excitement I was experiencing might have helped set things back in motion--- a hormonal reaction, she said. It's been known to happen that way.
"So, now I'm pregnant, and the man who once told me he loved me, and would marry me the minute I got better, forgot all about me in a week. Cellie, what was really wrong with Walter? Did he really have one of those small strokes, that could've messed up his memory? Maybe that's also why he's not clear about where he was, that afternoon in October. Or did he hit his head when he fell down the stairs? What am I going to do now? You've been through this. I helped you get Willie back. You have to help me now, or else....Oh, God. The green lights! I can see them again. . ."
Cellie made up her mind in an instant, as she had when Barnabas threw Willie on the stairs, and Marcus C. had his convulsion, and when Barnabas had been in the pit of despair over Nicholas's insinuations. She had spoken of compromise to her aunt ....She knew, now, there was no compromise. There was only the need that arose at a moment's notice. She would cope with the consequences as they presented themselves. "Maggie, I want you to go home, right now. Go back to 'Sam's Place', get really busy. I'll bet Bernice is really backed up, even though I
know she's had a couple of temps working there, since you've been in the hospital. I will deal with my father. At the very least, you will have his financial support."
"I didn't just want Walter's money!"
"I said, 'at the very least'. I know I can do better than that. Get a move on, Maggie. Just keep busy, and try to ignore those green lights."
"I'll try. . .You know, now I'm thinking about my own father. How he would have wanted a grandchild, even under these circumstances. If only he wasn't blind, at the end. I can almost see him, sitting with a little red-headed toddler in his lap, helping the tiny hand hold a piece of charcoal, or chalk, teaching him or her to sketch, like he once taught me. . ."
As Cellie shoved the stroller, and urged Maggie up the path, she said, "That's good, Maggie. Keep thinking about that. Your Pop is probably watching over you now, from Heaven."
Cellie saw Maggie drive her white Mustang, very slowly, down Widow's Hill. As soon as the car disappeared from sight, she pushed the stroller back to the Old House. She walked in, to find her father, still sitting there, an odd, confused expression on his face. "Cecily," he asked, "Did you run into Maggie out there, by any chance?"
"Yes, Dad. We talked a little, and she went back to Ellsworth.
Why'd you ask?"
"Well, see, we--we had a disagreement of sorts, and she was upset. She ran out of here. I called the Great House, and asked for her, but she hadn't gone there, then I asked for you, and you weren't there either. I was concerned about both of you. I would have gone out to find you, but I caught such a wave of dizziness when I walked to the door. Then I realized, I wouldn't have known the first place to look
for either of you."
"I found her. That's all that's important. Are you okay to stay here, for a while longer, by yourself? I'm going to make a phone call, then I have to go see Barnabas at the Antique Shoppe. I promise, I won't be gone more than an hour. Then you and I are going to have a long talk, about Maggie, and a lot of other things."
"You're taking the baby?"
"Yes, because I want you to go upstairs, and get a good rest while I'm out."
* * * * * * * * * * *
When Cellie walked into the Antique Shoppe, she was greeted by Willie, who wore a look of hope on his face. He kissed her on the cheek. She didn't kiss him back, but she did hand him the baby, who was delighted at finding her father again. "Jih! Jih!" Sarah Teresa cooed, as she wriggled against him.
Barnabas was sitting in his open office, writing in his ledger. Cellie swept into the tiny room, and shut the door. He looked up at her. "Cellie--" he began.
"Barnabas, I don't have to tell you this at all. I could go ahead, and do what I'm going to, anyway, without giving you any warning whatsoever. I know I'm even taking the risk that you'll get right up, and try to stop me, somehow. But it doesn't matter, anymore."
"What are you saying, Cellie?" Barnabas snapped the ledger shut, and walked around the desk. They stood, eye to eye, as he put his hand against the door.
"You can try to intimidate me, but it's not going to work, Barnabas. You can only scare someone who knows nothing about you at the outset. Just remember that. You and I are equals, in many respects. I came to announce my plans, just out of mutual respect, and in fair warning."
"What brought on this burst of independence, Cellie?"
"I'm surprised Aunt Jule didn't tell you. Maggie's out of the hospital. And guess what? She high-tailed it over to the Old House, to see my Dad."
"Ah, I understand. Her plight moved you to consider reversing your father's situation."
"How much of her 'plight' do you know about, Barnabas?"
"Not much, actually. I know she attempted suicide twice, but otherwise, Julia hasn't shared any of the details. I don't like to pressure her, what with the state she's fallen into since her brother's injury." Barnabas winced. Julia had become as cold and remote to him, as Cellie was to Willie. He would try to hold her, but she would push him away, and, for several days, he hadn't been able to sleep, because he could hear her sobbing. Yet, she resisted his attempts to even sit on her bed to comfort her. And, when he finally slept, he could see the sad, reproachful face of his sister in his dreams. But Sarah never spoke to him, perhaps because it might cause her to leave the baby's body again.
"I will enlighten you shortly," Cellie said. "But you're exactly right. I'm going to give it all back. If it's possible. Even I'm not sure I can."
"Have you thought about the consequences? I thought that, after you had made all your objections, you did understand the essential truth of my point of view."
"I still do, but circumstances have changed. I'm worried as Hell about March. But I have identified a great need, and I must relieve it. I've found, in the short hour since I became aware of the situation, that I cannot live with myself, and look my child in the eye, if I was to turn my back on it. So, do your damnedest to stop me. I only wanted you to know, so you could prepare for the results. Have you done anything about what's in the mausoleum?"
"As a matter of fact, I have", Barnabas replied. "I managed to open another, smaller tomb in the cemetery, near the caretaker's old cottage. I personally scooped Jason's remains into my coffin, and, with Willie's help, deposited it in the other mausoleum. It's nearly as old as the Collins tomb, and has even fewer visitors. The coffin actually looked as if it belonged there, once we were done!
“I chose this course over, say, digging a new grave elsewhere. The casket was too large to be transported in any of our cars, and, even if we tried that, God Forbid that we should be seen on the road! And, of course, we could hardly rebury it near the cemetery, as I figured that Arliss might be more likely to discover recently-disturbed earth. Burning it seemed out of the question as well, since the flames and smoke might have attracted attention. The area around there IS more populated than it used to be, even a few years back."
"That all sounds eminently sensible. Then, you won't mind if--"
"I do mind. As I said, there might be traces. If your father talks....I destroyed his copy of Patterson's letter, but that Simons might have yet another."
"I'll convince my father to keep quiet."
"He might go after me, again."
"After what I have to tell him about Maggie, I wouldn't be surprised if he just takes her back to Boston, and lets us be."
"And what is that? What could be so wrong with Maggie, that you would take this risk?"
"She's pregnant with my father's child."
Barnabas looked shocked. "But that can't be! Walter said that I had rendered her unable to bear children!"
"I talked to Aunt Jule before I came here, and she tried to explain the original mis-diagnosis. Now that I've guessed, and Maggie's chosen to confirm it, there's little point in further secrecy. We're talking about my sister, or brother. Even you wouldn't deprive a child of its father, once you knew about it, anyway," Cellie said, remembering the seance that led to Jeremiah Collins's revelation about Josette's ill-fated pregnancy. She continued, "You didn't, for mine and Will's baby. And you won't, for Maggie's. You owe her that much."
Barnabas sighed, and let his hand drop from the door. "Very well, then. That is a moral mean even I have no right to violate, not in this instance, anyway. Do what you must, even though your own child may suffer in the end, as well as mine."
"I tell you, I will see to it that no-one suffers on this account. What would you have me do, Barnabas? If Maggie is driven to such despair as to attempt suicide again, and perhaps, succeed, will you still feel that the goal is worth the cost? Do you want to sacrifice two lives for two lives?"
"No, never again! And, especially, not Maggie's."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Maggie had arrived back at Sam's Place. Bernice was already hard at work, taking breaks from restocking shelves, to deal with customers. A temporary cashier was ringing up a sale. As Maggie walked behind the counter, the cashier, one of Maggie's art students, said, "Just out of the hospital, and you're ready to jump into the old routine, Miss Evans?"
"I'm supposed to keep busy, Tommy. Doctor's orders." Maggie smiled.
"Miss Tallberg--" (that was Bernice's last name) "--will be happy to hear that. We had some wild times during Christmas season, and Inventory is next week."
"I'm up for anything, these days." Maggie gazed on her father's self-portrait. His eyes seemed to squint directly at her, with the half-humorous, half-serious expression she remembered. When Maggie thought of her father, she never pictured him as he was in the last weeks of his life, newly-blind and bitter, in pain from being attacked by that scarred, mentally-deficient derelict he had befriended. In his daughter's mind, Sam would always be as Maggie had left him early in the evening before he'd lost his vision: cheerfully humming, as he put finishing touches on a picture of a yacht.
If only Sam was here now. He would have been a little angry, at first (mostly at Walter), but when he saw the tiny, soft face of his first grandchild, all would have been forgiven, she was sure. He probably would have pulled out a sketchpad, and started drawing a whole series of baby pictures while standing in front of the nursery window, and bragging, "This'll give Wyeth a run for his money."
If only, if only. The afternoon passed in a pleasant haze. It was amazing, how much better she felt after she talked with Cellie. Maggie was able to ignore the green eye-lights the whole ride home, and during the busy hours that followed. At last, she prepared for bed. She was wistful for Walter's presence, but it still felt better than trying to sleep in the hospital. She wondered why neither Cellie nor Walter had called yet. Maybe Walter needed a little time to adjust to the news, in his addled state. She herself had tried to call, and kept getting a message that she was dialing incorrectly. Some crazy computer glitch, she supposed. After trying once more, she dropped off to sleep almost immediately.
She heard a voice, familiar and dear to her. "Maggie, Maggie, wake up. Time for work!"
She opened her eyes, to see that she wasn't in her bedroom over the art store, or even her old, sea-scented room at her father's cottage. She was in a dingy, ill-kempt room with peeling wallpaper, and her bedsprings squealed as though in pain. "Pop, I'm up! Where are you?"
"I'm right here, where else would I be?" Her father's voice sounded angry. She could see Sam, wearing the ugly dark glasses over his blinded eyes, hunching over an old crib. A crib from which a miasma of foul odor was arising. A baby cried frantically. "Maggie, get up and change this brat's diaper!" Sam bellowed. "You know what happened the last time I tried to do it. Pinned her in the butt, and gave her an infection, damn it! Fifty bucks for antibiotics! One-third your pay from the cannery, and rent was due that week! You and I didn't eat for three days!"
"I don't work in the cannery, Pop. I own an art store!" she protested.
"Not since you had to sell it to pay the hospital and all the damn doctors," Sam answered gruffly.
"Okay, Pop, Okay," Maggie began to sob. She lifted the squalling infant to her shoulder. "There, there, little Vicky. Mommy will make you feel all comfy."
"Don't waste too much time!" Sam yelled. "Carter said, the next time you're late, you're not getting any more reprieves from Roger Collins. He said he doesn't owe us any more favors. Next job you end up getting, will be as barmaid in that scummy Blue Whale!"
"Well, at least I'll get to see you in the evenings, Pop!" Maggie retorted.
"Oh, no, Missy. You're not screwing up the deal we have with the only babysitter who'll put up with the hours and the low pay."
"Who, Cellie Loomis?"
"Cellie who? Another Loomis? As if I'd let anyone connected with that nutcase near my grandkid.
God, no. Melinda Knowlton. You know, my 'main squeeze'?" Sam began to snicker like a dirty old man.
"Melinda? No. . ."
There was a knock at the door. "And here she is, now!" Sam swung the door open, to reveal Melinda, clad in the too-tight stirrup pants and halter-top Maggie remembered from when they had been neighbors. Melinda favored Sam with a messy "soul kiss". Sam patted her rear end.
Maggie cringed, while shielding the baby. "No. . .No. You're dead! Melinda, you're dead. Stay away. . ."
"Hell, I'm not dead," Melinda smirked. "I'm with you always, Maggie, now that we're in the same boat, so to speak. Your fancy-pants lawyer boyfriend didn't come through for you, so you're stuck with me. Who else will take care of your little geek?"
"What do you mean, 'little geek'? My baby's the prettiest, sweetest--"
"Look again, Maggie," Melinda warned.
Maggie gazed down at her baby's face for the first time. The red-headed Little Vicky's eyes were pebble-like, blank, staring into space. Now that she had ceased screaming, her tiny mouth hung slackly. She was cutting teeth, two, to be exact. There was something odd about the position of her teeth, spaced across the front of her gums as though they were....fangs?
"NO! NO! NO!" Maggie screamed, dropping the limp infant back into her befouled crib.
"That's what happens," Melinda smirked, her green cat-eyes full of malicious merriment, "When you try to fool Mother Nature! Ha-ha-ha!" Sam joined in the ugly laughter.
Maggie shrieked and cried, clawing her way up from sleep. She panted heavily, as though she'd been running for miles. She turned on every light in her room, her own room above "Sam's Place," where she and Walter had been together the first time, where she was almost certain her baby was conceived. Her baby. There was going to be something terribly, horribly wrong with her baby. She started to weep. The baby was almost better off dead. No, that wasn't true. She had to call Walter, or Cellie, or Julia. Julia would know what to do. Maybe all pregnant women had bad dreams and fears like the ones she was having.
She dialed, first, the Old House, and then the Antique Shoppe. She got the same queer message about dialing improperly. When she dialed "Operator," she heard a buzzing noise. She decided to go out and use a pay phone. She looked at her clock. It was barely nine o'clock. She would go to the Lakeside Tavern, and use the phone there. The tavern would be noisy and full of people she knew, so she would feel safer.
When she got dressed, she made herself a cup of instant coffee, and grabbed a pear from a gift basket Bernice and Philip had saved for her homecoming. While she ate, she glanced at the accumulated stack of mail that her partner had collected for her. She plucked an odd, amateurishly-printed flyer from the top of the pile. The flyer advertised the opening of a doctor's office in Chartville, a full-service female gynecologist. The expectant mother read it with interest. She noticed that the office was set to open the next morning.
Maggie thought it might be worth checking out, especially if it saved her a trip to Collinsport every time she needed to see a doctor. Chartville was about five miles closer than Collinsport.
Her white Mustang disappeared around the corner, as a green Volkswagen Beetle came around the opposite corner.
* * * * * * * * *
When Cellie returned to the Old House from the Antique Shoppe (she'd left the baby with her husband), she was met by Julia. "Good," Cellie said. "I don't know how much I'll be able to do for Dad. He may need a little hypnotic help."
"Why? What did you do with his emotions when you removed them?" Julia asked.
"I have them. But I transmuted them from male-to-female-directed, to female-to-male-directed. You can see why. I keep them pretty well dammed-up, but if I should lose control, they'll spill out over my psyche. Aside from the benefit to Dad and Maggie, I'm kind of relieved to be doing this. I started getting headaches this afternoon, after Maggie left. And, then, all the extra emotions....with no place to go. . ."
"You are afraid of what's happened between yourself and Willie, and you're even more afraid of your reactions to Lester Arliss. Is that it?"
Cellie looked ashamed. "Yes. I guess I'd be a little attracted to Lester anyway, but this does make resistance that much harder."
"We can't have that, any more than we can have Maggie in further despair over her unwed motherhood. You and Willie must work out your differences, somehow. You remember how Nicholas works. 'Divide and conquer'. And all without seeming to have lifted a finger."
"And the green-eyed blonde lady?"
"It will be easier to rout that mystery with a clear field of action."
"After this, I'll give it another try with Will. I promise."
"Don't just 'try'. Just do it."
Duly chastened, Cellie, followed by her Aunt, went up to Jeremiah's Room, where Walter lay, stretched out on the covers, reading "Tom Jones." He smiled as he saw his daughter and his sister walk into the room. "I like this motel," he joked. "No sleazy paperback novels, or just the Gideon's Bible, to keep oneself occupied, if not amused. Only the classics."
Julia examined Walter's shoulder, and then, smiled back. "It's healed enough so that, whenever you want, you can vacate this motel room, and get back to Beantown. I'm sure Liz Taylor, or Zsa Zsa, must have left some messages with your secretary by now."
"Oh, Julia, you know I don't get those high-profile divorces. But that's fine with me. I don't have to work half as hard, and I make quite a respectable living, thank you."
"And then some, I'm sure. Must be kind of lonely, though, having that huge apartment, and that house in St. Thomas, and no-one to share it with."
"I'll be seeing Maddy as soon as I get back."
"I wonder why, Walter. Didn't you tell me, privately, that you caught her, in your own apartment, after work--"
"Not in front of my daughter, Julia!"
"Oh, Cellie's an old married lady by now, just like me," Julia said, soothingly. "She's heard, and seen, quite a bit for such a young woman, and yet, she bears it well." She reached into her pocket, and withdrew a jeweled pendant. "No, Walter, I meant a more permanent companion, a nice woman, whom you could love, as you once loved Janice. If not more."
"If you meant that Maggie who was here this afternoon, she seems very sweet, but she's a lot younger than I am--"
"So's Madeline," Cellie reminded him.
"Well, Princess, my set of expectations is different for Madeline. We're just in it for fun. All is forgiven, as far as that goes. As for Maggie, well, I felt a little cloudy around her. She ran off, and you know I was a little worried. She's nice, but she appears to be rather unstable."
"She's not, really," his sister said. "She's quite fond of you. And, believe it or not, you were quite fond of her. In fact, you were going to give her this." Julia held up the pendant.
"Why, that's the first piece of jewelry Father ever gave to Mother, when they first came to America." Walter turned to Cellie. "Even though it's just colored rhinestones set in brass, Mother treasured it as though it was the Hope Diamond. Maybe more, since she said it only brought her good luck. She wasn't a very superstitious woman, but she set a store by that pendant. And I was going to give it to Maggie, Julia? I don't remember."
Julia turned on the bedside lamp. The small light caused the colored stones to shimmer and glint. "You will, Walter. In a little while, you'll remember everything. Just keep looking at the jewel in the center."
Cellie felt her father's resistance. She put a little internal pressure on him, to experience his old feelings for his mother, to stare at the tiny prisms with wonder, as he must have when he was a child. Walter's face became very soft-looking, even a little slack. Finally, his gaze was transfixed on the bright center rhinestone.
At a hand signal from her aunt, Cellie looked into her father's eyes, and "saw" the "well" she'd drained just a week ago. She began to transfer the lost love, the lost longing, even the lost hatred with which the love was entwined, back. A couple of times, it seemed as though the flow was being blocked. Those damned green lights again. "Green is for Go!" Cellie snapped at them, mentally.
She tried to summon some image that would unjam her "pipes." She thought of her baby. Walter adored his grand-daughter. And Sarah Teresa had some kind of love for her grandfather, even at such an early age. Cellie recalled the time the baby had cried so when Walter was missing, before Sarah Collins took that necessary leave of absence. Then there was that rather shocking incident, as the baby bled along with her mother, during Walter's operation. These phenomena were certainly frightening, but, in a strange way, they were also reassuring; Cellie knew she and her child were in sync. Maybe Sarah Teresa could sense was going on now. Thinking of that helped. Then, Cellie thought of her husband. Her husband, who wanted to save her father for her, and the baby, and for Maggie....Before she worked on her father, the last time, Walter had spoken of Willie with something approaching indulgence.
The last hurdle was scaled. Redirecting the emotions, gender-wise, turned out to be less complex than Cellie had feared. Love and hate, she discovered, tended to find their own pathways, once they were settled in a specific mind. As far as she was concerned, the task was complete. Julia brought Walter out of his hypnotic state.
"Walter," she began, "Do you remember Maggie?"
"Maggie. . .my Maggie. . ." he muttered dreamily. "My Maggie....and--and-- Barnabas!" He sat up instantly. "Julia, why are you keeping me here? Where's Maggie? I'll get Barnabas again, and this time, that poor fool son-in-law of mine won't stop me!"
"NO, Daddy," Cellie said firmly. "Do that, and next time, we'll wipe your mind clean for good."
"Cecily, how can you say such a thing? I almost died. I--I was shot." Walter rubbed his shoulder. "I don't get it. I was bleeding all over the place--"
"That was almost two weeks ago, Walter," Julia said. "You have to get a grip. Barnabas is no longer a threat to you. Cellie and I will make sure of that."
"Two weeks?" Walter roared. "What happened to Maggie? So help me, Julia, if she's dead, or in your snakepit--"
"Dad, calm down!" Cellie exclaimed. "Maggie is fine. She was here, earlier. Don't you remember?"
"Maggie was here?"
"She was upset, because you acted like you didn't remember even the most obvious details of your relationship," Cellie replied. "Especially the most important one."
"Oh, my God. How could you do this to me, Julia?"
"It wasn't Aunt Jule, Dad. It was ME." Cellie's face was very red. "I took your love away, the same way I took your pain. I also took your hate. I couldn't help it, it was twisted with your love like the strongest cable."
"Barnabas thought that if you didn't succeed in killing him, you'd at least get him and Will arrested. You do remember calling Simons, don't you?"
"Yes. . .Now I do. I remember everything. He sent the letter Patterson wrote. Lester got it, I presume?"
Cellie replied, "Yes, but it turned out that a lot of it was missing. Even I don't know how that happened. It was like a miracle. Maybe you don't think so. . ."
"No, Princess, I don't, but that's all right. I wanted it held back, so your heart wouldn't be broken, like mine and Maggie's." He sighed. "Where is Maggie, now?"
Cellie said, "She went right back to work at her store. I told her to keep busy until I got you straightened out." She smiled. "Dad, we have to tell you something very important. But when we do, you have to promise to take Maggie away, and not bother Barnabas again. I need his help, in the next couple of months. You have to agree, even if you don't really understand. Someday, I'll tell you, like you told me about Catriona."
"Who is Catriona?" Julia asked. "Oh, that story Mother told us. Terrible thing, even considering the time it happened."
"You don't know the half of it, Julia. Cecily will tell you. Very well, Princess, I'll think about it. Why shouldn't I bother Barnabas?"
Julia said, "Because the main reason you were angry at him turned out to have no basis in fact. Maggie is pregnant."
Walter's voice dropped to a whisper. "My Maggie....pregnant? How could that be? She said that you and Virginia told her the dead blood cells screwed her up!"
"I'm terribly sorry, Walter. We made a mistake. We were so sure Maggie was sterile, we almost forgot to take the standard pregnancy test, when she was first admitted. A nurse who was perusing her chart pointed it out. Good thing, because Maggie would have been treated with all the standard anti-psychotic drugs, and tranquilizers, with possible deleterious effects on the child."
"Does she know?"
"Yes, we told her after we'd taken several tests. You see, even we couldn't believe the results. She had all the symptoms of early menopause. Now, we believe it was stress, and dietary factors that, if they didn't actually cause the condition, certainly exacerbated it. She was coming to tell you, and I couldn't stop her. I take it she didn't."
"No....and I talked about getting back with Maddy! Oh, Christ!"
"It's okay, Daddy," Cellie reassured him. "I told her I'd take care of things with you, the way Pavlos took care of her. He does the same things I do, and he patched her up, until she can get back with you. You have to see her today, if possible. And, like we said, just don't mess with Barnabas anymore. He wants to live a normal life, and he doesn't want to hurt anyone, if he can help it. I believe he was really sorry, after I told him about Maggie. He wants Maggie to be happy. Just go to her, and marry her, and take her to St. Thomas."
"I'm a bit disgruntled that Barnabas heard about this before I did," Walter said.
"Maggie didn't want anyone to know, until she was sure she was going to recover from her suicidal tendencies," Julia replied. "Now, of course, I realize I should have told you immediately. I was just honoring her request. I am truly sorry, Walter. This whole mess could have been avoided."
"No help for that, now. I'll go call Maggie." Walter went downstairs, followed by Julia and Cellie. He dialed, and listened, with a puzzled expression. "There must be some problem with the lines," he commented. "I'll wait a few minutes, and try again." A few minutes later, the response was no better.
"Let's head over to Collinwood, and try," Cellie suggested. She didn't know why, but she was worried.
At Collinwood, the line to Maggie's store was still impaired, and a similar situation was proven to exist when Walter tried calling the Antique Shoppe. They quizzed Mrs. Johnson, who swore up and down that, not only was she able to call her daughter during the day, but that several incoming calls had come in, with no trouble whatsoever.
Cellie was frantic to go down to the Antique Shoppe to check on her family. She took Walter in the Beetle, with Julia following in her car, because if they found everything in order there, Cellie and her father were going straight on to Ellsworth.
When they arrived at the Antique Shoppe, they were relieved to see
Barnabas and Carolyn, totalling up the day's take. Cellie ran upstairs to find Willie on their bed, holding Sarah Teresa, who nursed at her bottle while her father watched T.V. Cellie was so happy to see that they were all right, she leaned over the bed, and kissed Willie ardently. He reached for her, and pulled her down next to him. "Can't stay, Hon," Cellie whispered breathlessly. "I have to take Dad to see Maggie."
"So you went ahead and fixed him, huh?" Willie asked. "I kind of thought you'd pull something like that. Sarah Teresa, here, was awful quiet for the longest time, today. It's like when she bled the same time you did, for her grandpa. I hope you know what you're doing, Cecily."
"Didn't Barnabas tell you? Maggie is going to have my father's baby. I'm going to have a sister or brother."
"No, I guess Barnabas had a lot on his mind, since you blew in here this afternoon. Still, that's really nice, Cecily. If I could have a kid, after all I went through, so should Maggie. But it would be better if Walter took Maggie away for now."
"He will, you'll see. Say, Hon, did you try calling the Old House from here while I was gone?"
"Yeah. Strangest thing. I kept getting this dopey message about redialing the number. I'm glad you came back. Will you be back again, later?" He regarded her with a wistful expression.
"Yes. We'll give it another shot." She kissed him again, and Sarah Teresa, and rushed downstairs. She saw that Carolyn had left. Walter faced his brother-in-law. Julia stood close to Barnabas.
"Barnabas, I don't want any more trouble," Walter began.
"You won't get any from me. From the beginning, I only wanted peace with my wife's family. You, and your insatiable desire to know everything--- I understand how you feel about Maggie, but let the dead past bury its dead. There's nothing to be gained if we try to destroy each other now, and everything to lose. . ." Barnabas put his arm around Julia.
"Still, Barnabas, you tried to turn a young girl against her father. I will never forget that, or what happened to Maggie years ago. I'll never understand how my sister and my daughter can live in this--this vortex. I think I heard Cecily call it that, when I was trying to sleep after my--my operation. But I'll let you be. Getting Maggie back is all that's really important. We were trying to call her, and this place, from Collinwood, and we kept getting strange recorded messages. Did you try to call us?"
"I did have some trouble with the phone, and so did Willie."
"Well, Cecily and I are going out to Ellsworth to see Maggie. I'll try to get in touch from there. Something odd is going on. Or maybe, something perfectly ordinary, for Collinsport."
"Nothing is impossible around here, Walter," Barnabas said. "I'm almost as anxious as you are about Maggie, whether you choose to believe me, or not. Since I was relieved of my former condition, I have tried mightily to make up to my former victims for all the wrongs I did them. As you know, I arranged to reunite Cellie and Willie. I've long sought a similar opportunity to assist Maggie. In marrying Julia, and bringing your daughter back here, I seem to have found the solution, inadvertantly. I am truly sorry for what I put the both of you through, again, inadvertantly."
"You know what, Barnabas?" Walter said. "I'm actually starting to believe you." He turned to Cellie. "We'd better not waste any more time, Princess."
They arrived at Sam's Place just as the tail lights of Maggie's Mustang disappeared around the corner. Walter was all for going to the police right away, but Cellie convinced him to wait a while. Ten minutes later, Maggie came back. Walter jumped out of the Beetle to embrace her. She stood, with her arms hanging down, as he held her. Cellie, watching from the Beetle, was dismayed. Just as she thought that Maggie wasn't ready to forgive Walter, and that, perhaps, she'd better get out of her car to intervene, Cellie saw Maggie's arms slowly rise to return her lover's embrace. In a minute, they were kissing right there, out on the sidewalk. Cellie closed her eyes, until she heard them approach her car.
Walter had his arm around Maggie. He said, "I guess we've made it up for now," he said. beaming. "I'm going to stay the night. I don't know if the phone's still out of whack, though. . ."
"I'll get to a pay phone, and alert the masses," Cellie offered. "I'm going back to the Antique Shoppe, tonight, anyway. Good Luck, you two. Buzz me in the morning. And, Maggie. . .I'm sorry."
"Why are you sorry, Cellie?" Maggie asked, puzzled. "Everything's fine, now, like you promised."
"Just. . .just what I said. Take care, folks." She rolled up her window, and drove away.
As they mounted the steps to Maggie's apartment, Walter said,
"Honey....I know you said you forgave me. But if you don't feel up to--to sleeping with me, right now, I'll understand. I'll sit with you until you're asleep, and sack out on the couch, if you prefer. I don't want to get you upset again. I want to do my best to take care of you and our baby. Our baby! Maggie, does it bother you that when he or she graduates from High School, I'll be just over seventy?"
"As long as you're still here, and the baby grows up bright and healthy enough to even attend High School, that's fine with me, Walter." Maggie opened her door, and they stepped inside.
"You sound a little sad, even now, Maggie. Do you have some reason to believe that the baby won't be normal?"
"No, not--not really. I had a bad dream before, though, that it wasn't. I guess it's because I just missed you so much." She wound her arms around him, again. "You can sleep with me tonight, Walter."
That's just what Walter did. He found, when he tried to make love to Maggie, they were both somewhat shy and uncomfortable around each other. At first, Walter believed it was because of the sight of all the bandages they wore. Maggie's wrists were still covered with small gauze patches, and Walter, of course, had one near his shoulder. He improvised an explanation for his wound. "When I fell down the steps, I jabbed myself on the newel post, and got a nasty scrape."
He quickly realized the bandages, and what they represented, weren't the problem. "That's okay, there'll be plenty of time for that, anyway, sweetheart," he reassured his fiancee. "You know what? I'll call that Reverend Brand tomorrow, and get the ball rolling to arrange our wedding. I have to get back to Boston by Monday night, but we'll go apply for our marriage license first thing Monday morning, maybe even get our blood drawn, if Virginia Hurley can fit us in for an office visit. Then we can wait until our wedding night, if you want."
"That's fine with me, Walter," Maggie replied in a faltering, far-off tone.
"Are you sure you're all right, Maggie? You're not getting, you know, that way, are you?" Walter asked fearfully.
"No, I'm not 'that way', " she snapped. "I'm just tired. Virginia told me I'd feel extra sleepy." She curled up against him, and sighed. "I'm sorry, my love. I'll feel better in the morning. Really."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Hallie Stokes drove by the modest brick building for, perhaps, the twentieth time since she'd received the flyer from the nun, several days before. She knew the doctor was due to open her office on this day; Hallie had deliberately missed her self-defense class with Cellie, to hang out her for a while. She was surprised that nobody seemed interested to visit, even for the free coffee and donuts many professional people offered on their first day of business. She saw a red sports-car in the driveway, so she knew that the Doctor, at least, was in.
She parked, and emerged from her own car. She shivered, and tried to shield herself from the chilly breeze. The breeze found a way to penetrate her good wool coat. She was sorry she'd come.
She sighed. Cellie had been right. She was getting in over her head, without stopping to consider all sides of the question. Sometimes, she went too far in her zeal to do what she believed was right. She had managed to alienate some of her classmates at the University, with her constant proselytizing. A couple had even called her a "Bible-thumping nut," which made her run away, to hide her childish tears. Much as Hallie loved the friends she already had, such as Cellie, Mrs. Stoddard, and Carolyn, it hurt to know that she wasn't likely to make too many friends in college. Her action today just served to separate herself even further from her peers, if they heard about it, or, God Forbid!---drove by and caught her here!
Well, she'd spent enough time here, Hallie thought. Maybe, she thought, the whole thing was a mistake--- this woman doctor was on the level, and whoever wrote the flyer was as full of quick suspicions as Hallie herself. She rose, and was about to head back to her car, when the nun who'd given her the flyer appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and took her by the arm.
"Giving up so soon?" the nun asked, pleasantly.
Hallie felt put on the spot, so she made a tactful response. "Maybe I'll come back sometime, if I hear through the grapevine that what you told me was true, and if I can get people from my church to join me. I go to college, so I'm sure some of the girls will be looking for that kind of doctor sooner or later. I don't think I'm getting anything accomplished here, really. If there's REALLY anything to worry about in the first place."
The nun insisted, "There IS. Trust me. Please stay." Her light eyes, shaded by the small modern wimple that held her veil in place, became dark with intensity.
Hallie studied the nun's face closely, for the first time. She was certainly the prettiest nun Hallie had ever seen. A wisp of pale hair fluffed out from under her short, modern veil. "You talk about my giving up too soon, but YOU only just got here!"
"We've simply missed each other, I'm sure," the nun said. "If you stick around just a bit longer, we may accomplish something after all."
"For my part, I HOPE this turns out to be a false alarm, Sister--Sister--I didn't catch your name," Hallie said, politely.
"Dymphna. Sister Mary Dymphna."
"Wow, what a coincidence! My best friend went to a special school called St. Dymphna's."
"Indeed. That IS a coincidence." Sister Dymphna led Hallie to the parking lot. They watched a white Mustang pull in. It looked just like Maggie Evans's car. Wait! That WAS her car! Maggie got out, and made her way to the front porch.
Hallie broke away from the nun, and followed Maggie up the walk. "Maggie, what are you doing here?"
Maggie, who stood very straight, and seemed to be marching, replied without looking at the blonde girl, "Going to the doctor, that's all."
"You have a doctor--a couple of doctors-- in Collinsport!" Hallie exclaimed. "Why take a chance with a new one?"
"Take a chance?" the older woman said blankly. "It's a doctor! She can perform a service I require. Why should I go all the way back to Collinsport, only to be refused the service I require?" Maggie's
blank expression was briefly replaced by a look of despair. Unconsciously, she touched her abdomen.
"Doctor Hurley and Doctor Collins wouldn't refuse to perform any service for-- oh!" Hallie gasped in sudden understanding. "Oh, my God! Maggie---I had no idea---Please, come with me. I know what that doctor does, and I know you too well. I know how crazy you are about children. You're going to be very unhappy, if you go through with this. Did you have a fight with Mr. Hoffman--" She tugged on her former tutor's arm.
Maggie turned and looked at Hallie as though she didn't know her. "Please, let me go. I have to---you don't understand." She went up the steps, and spoke through an intercom. The door opened instantly, and she disappeared inside.
Hallie returned to Sister Dymphna's side. "She's right. I don't understand," the girl wept brokenly.
"You know the lady. I take it you know her young man?" Sister asked gently.
"Yes. I know him, and his daughter, and--and everybody."
"Do you think he knows about this?"
"Something about this whole set-up tells me he doesn't," Hallie sniffled.
"Well, then your way has been revealed to you. You must contact him, before it's too late."
"I'm not sure if I have the right. Who knows, maybe he's really nasty to her, and she just wants to forget him."
"Then, call his daughter," the nun urged. "She might be able to do something."
"How do you know it's not too late already?"
"I know something about what goes on. It takes a while, to make everything look legal. The patient has to fill out some dummy paperwork, get an examination, get blood drawn. . .But you should hurry, especially if your other friend lives any distance away."
"She does. I'll get right on it. I'll call the police first--- they should get here head of anyone." Hallie turned toward her car.
"In the meantime, I'll try to find some other way in," Sister Dymphna said. She dashed away so quickly Hallie didn't hear her.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Cellie returned to the Antique Shoppe from O.O.M.A.A. She was rubbing her arm. "That Ralph!" she thought. He was harder on her than all the other students. "That's because you are going to be my Masterwork, Cecily," he'd taunted her.
"To Svengali, thanks for everything, love, Trilby," she'd replied sarcastically, before she tumbled him.
"That almost calls for a lollipop for my star pupil," he'd snapped, as she went back to the women's dressing room.
Her arm hurt so much, Cellie found it diffcult to drive. And yet, it only appeared to be bruised. "No wonder they call the place 'Ooh-Mah'," she thought. "That's what you feel like screaming at the end of a lesson!"
As she walked in, she saw her husband talking to David. Willie got up, and wandered toward the showroom. He looked like he was in shock. "Will! Is Paul--Is Paul---" Cellie stammered.
"No," he whispered. "When you hear, you're not gonna believe it, either."
"What's this all about!" Cellie nearly shouted.
David, who was rocking his God-daughter on his lap, explained.
"I got here as soon as I could. Cellie, we have to get out to Chartville, right away. Hallie called me, in a panic. Apparently, she tried to get you here, and even tried calling the Old House to talk to your Dad, but there's been this problem with the phones--- Anyway, she got through to my phone, and I ran to the Old House, couldn't find your Dad, then I hurried over here--"
"What happened in Chartville?"
"You know how Hallie's been fretting about that new doctor out there? Well, she just saw Maggie Evans going there, and when Hallie tried to talk to her, Maggie made it clear she was going for an abortion! Look, Cellie, I know whatever your Dad's been doing is none of my business, but I heard some things about Maggie's stay in the hospital, and I think she's just going over the edge. She always wanted kids! Hallie wondered if she had a fight with your Dad."
"No! I left them together, last night, and they looked happy as clams at high tide. I don't get it, either. Come on, we have to go right now." Cellie took the baby to her husband.
Willie said, "No, Cecily. Leave her with David. I'll drive. You'll plow into a tree, with the state you're in."
As they went out the door, Cellie called to David, "Get to the pay phone down the street, and try to call my Dad, at Sam's Place. If HIS phone doesn't work, call Bernice, she'll get him! Maybe Dad can meet us at the doctor's. And the police. . .it's still against the law!"
"That's another wierd thing," David mused. "Hallie had a Hell of a time calling the cops, as well! But I'll keep trying."
Over Cellie's protests, Willie chose to take the station wagon. "Stop squawking!" he yelled. "I just tuned it up, changed the oil, and gassed it up. If we have to bring Maggie home, we're gonna need the back seat!"
They didn't speak at first, but Willie did reach for his wife's hand, when they had to stop at a red light. She squeezed his hand back.
He took the older, shorter route, the one that passed by the cemetery. As they approached it, the car began to buck. Willie had to slow down. Then, it stalled out completely. The couple jumped out, to check the engine. "I'm sorry, Cecily. We should have taken the Beetle, after all. I doubt I'll get this fixed in time."
Cellie almost wept with impatience, as she helped him fiddle with this part and that. Finally, at his instruction, she started the ignition. The station wagon roared back to life. "Let me drive, now, hon," she said. "You know I can drive fast and still avoid speed traps."
"Spoke too soon," she complained, as she glimpsed flashing lights in the rear-view mirror, just before they crossed the town line. Then, she sighed with relief, when she saw Lester Arliss getting out of the police car. At the same time, she sensed a great tension in her husband. She seldom saw Lester when she was with Willie, so, up till now, she hadn't suspected that her husband was so jealous of the Sheriff. Well, she had to exploit Lester's affections, at least this one last time.
"Cellie! Willie! What's the hurry? You're doing sixty in a thirty-five mile zone!"
Cellie said, "Les, give me a ticket, quick. Give me one, for later! But you have to let us go on!"
"Is there an emergency?"
Cellie explained quickly, to her husband's consternation.
Lester looked upset. "Maggie Evans? Who ever thought she'd do
something like that? She can't be fully responsible for all her decisions, after what she's been through lately. Not to mention it's still illegal. I'll waive the ticket, and lead you to the place."
"Oh, thank you so much, Lester!" Cellie breathed. As the Sheriff walked back to his car, she said, "Better than I hoped for. Now, we have a police escort who'll let us go as fast as he's going."
"You didn't have to tell him it was Maggie. She'll be so embarrassed, and he might arrest her!" Willie said.
"Geez, hon, how else was I going to convince him? Lester won't arrest Maggie, or expose her. He likes her. They went to school together. Did you know that?"
"No, but you would find stuff like that out." He sounded irritated. "I heard you had lunch with him, when you were supposed to be staying with your Dad." He looked out the window. The scenery was a long blur as they sped past it.
"It was just a coincidence, that we ran into each other. We weren't meeting on purpose. Geez, we even sat at the counter, in front of everybody. It didn't occur to me to tell you, because it wasn't a big deal. If it bothered you, why didn't you give me Hell about it before?" she asked, her eyes clamped on the Sheriff's tail lights as she strove to keep up with him.
"I guess I never thought about it much, until I saw the way he just looked at you."
"Hey, what's all this?" Cellie tried to smile. "I did come back to you last night, didn't I?"
"Yeah." Willie brightened a little, remembering. They'd both been too tired to do anything, but he was just glad to have her next to him in bed, again. "I'm sorry, Cecily. It's been a rough week for me, too, you know. It reminded me too much of all the bad times in the past. I guess it's really gonna take some more time before me, and Barnabas, and Julia learn how to live like normal people for good."
"Well, if we can pull this off, I'd say, there goes one of the bigger obstacles, short of Nicholas, of course. God, I hope someone was able to tell my Dad, and get him over there."
When they arrived, Cellie jumped from the station wagon, and ran ahead of her husband, though Lester managed to follow her closely.
Hallie grabbed Cellie from behind. "Oh, God, Hal, don't ever do that again. I was almost ready to toss you!" she cried.
"I'm sorry, Cellie. You have to hurry."
"Have you seen my Dad?"
"Cecily!" she heard Walter shout. She wheeled around, to see him stepping out of a cab. They almost knocked each other over, as they embraced. Cellie stepped back, and gazed on her father's face.
Walter had the same haggard expression as he'd worn when he was first shot. "Cecily. . ." he groaned. "Christ! I don't get this. Maggie seemed a little distant last night, but she seemed happy enough, and I let her know how happy I was, about the baby. I think she was worried over whether it was normal. . .She said she'd had a bad dream--"
"The green lights! She must have seen them, again!"
"So did I, last night, in my dreams. I tried to wake up, but it was as though something was sitting on my chest. . ."
"A succubus! That's what they call it! It happened to ME, once, when Nicholas was around! And it kept you from waking up, in time to stop Maggie!"
"Yes, Princess. I was frantic when I finally got up and she was gone. I didn't even suspect she might have come here, though I found a flyer that must have fallen from her purse as she was running out. I tried to call the police, but the damned phones---I was just about to GO to the police, when I almost collided with Bernice coming up the porch steps, shouting at me about David's call! What could hate us so, to do these things? I realize, now, it wasn't Barnabas."
"This isn't exactly his area of expertise," Cellie said. "It's hardly mine, either, but---"
"I'm sorry about that, too, Cecily. Maybe this is my punishment, for trying to force this on YOU."
"GOD wouldn't do this! But I know who might--- Let's get in there." Cellie hooked her arm in her father's. Led by Lester, and followed by Willie, and Hallie, they approached the brick building.
Lester said, "You folks stay out here. This is my job."
Walter said, "Wait, Les. This is too easy. Like a trap. You've told me you're as superstitious as any other Collinsporter. This doctor lured Maggie here. If you just barge in, further harm may be done, to her mind if not her body. This doctor may also be a mistress at protecting herself, and covering her tracks. God knows, your poor uncle was stonewalled, often enough."
"Any other way would waste time," the Sheriff protested.
"The nun who was here said she'd try to get in---" Hallie offered.
"I don't see how--" Lester protested.
"We CAN'T have violence," Cellie insisted. "And we can't have Maggie's mind hurt any further, even by humiliation."
"Okay, you two go in first. I'll cover your backs," Lester said.
Before she mounted the first step, Cellie glimpsed a small, glittery object on the walk. She bent to pick it up. "It's a Greek Orthodox Cross, like the ones Pavlos wears."
Walter said, "I noticed that last night. Maggie said he gave it to her." Cellie slid the necklace into her jean pocket.
Cellie turned to Willie. "Go back to the station wagon, and be ready to start it up at the earliest notice."
She pressed the intercom button. "Do you have an appointment, young lady?" A receptionist's voice came out of the speaker with a tinny echo.
"No. I just came through town with my boyfriend. We have your flyer. I need help---Please, let us in. There's a cop here---"
Cellie heard a tinny sigh. "Alright, then." She heard a metallic clank, as the bolt shot back. She went in, still hooked to her father. A heavy wave of despair blew over her like a hot wind, as Cellie crossed the thresh-hold. Lester brought up the rear. They passed through a short foyer hallway, lined with two empty benches. Maggie was nowhere to be seen.
Cellie clung to her father's arm, to the reception desk, which was shielded behind a heavy-looking oak wall, with a tiny plexiglass window. Very strange set-up for an ordinary medical clinic, that was for sure, she thought.
A short, pert-looking black-haired girl looked up. Just as Cellie was about to stammer out a story that would guarantee her admittance to the "operating" room, the receptionist peered at her closely, then, at Walter, and announced, "I know who you are! You're that Loomis girl who was beat on by that Knowlton. What's going on here? What, did you get religion or something from that, and your minister told you we were doing something we shouldn't here? Well, you're wrong about us. I'm calling the police--"
"We have a police escort, as it happens," Cellie smirked, pointing at Lester, who emerged from the foyer. The receptionist blanched. "We're not here to hassle you, if what you say is true. But we have a friend who came here about an hour ago. Well, she's my friend. This man, here, is the father of her--her--- condition. She did not consult with him about her visit to this doctor, and, since she's a former mental patient, we have reason to believe she isn't entirely responsible for her decisions right now. We demand to speak to her, if it can be arranged, before she goes--- wherever one goes, in here." As she said this, Cellie noticed an elevator door in the far corner of the office. An elevator in this tiny building?
The only door into the office was undoubtedly under the control of the receptionist. Cellie peered in at the desk, and saw a control board with several buttons, for the intercom, the front door, the elevator, and, in all likelihood, the office door.
"The woman's name is Margaret Evans," Walter said. "It's imperative that I see her."
"I'm sorry," the receptionist said. "We have a rule of confidentiality."
Lester replied, "As an officer of the law, I have the right and obligation to demand that rule be breached, if it's being invoked to conceal an illegal activity."
"I TOLD you, nothing's happening here, and I believe you need a warrant to search this place, anyway."
"Listen, Miss--" Walter read her name tag "--Willert, I am an attorney. I may not have the right to forbid Miss Evans's, er, consultation, but, since she knows that I know about her pregnancy, I do have a right to at least discuss this matter with her. I promise, I won't badger her, but I must talk with her."
"I'm sorry, sir, that isn't allowed--"
Walter's face became red, and he spoke in a tone of controlled anger. "You are going to call downstairs, and see if she's still in a condition to discuss it. Because, if you don't, my good friend, the Sheriff of Collinsport, WILL call the local judge, and ask him to issue a restraining order, AND a search warrant. And then, I will call my sister, who's treated Miss Evans for her mental illness, and have her convince the same judge to declare Miss Evans incompetent, until further
notice. Do I make myself clear?"
The receptionist, unused to such expert resistance, looked defeated. "Very well, Mr.--"
"Hoffman. Walter Hoffman. Call now!"
The receptionist called. She said, "Please, Doctor Dessaureau--- I know, I know, but he's a lawyer, and he's got the Sheriff with him, ready to make a huge stink--- I'm sure you don't want to get arrested--- She's what? Oh, my God. . ." She hung up the phone. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Hoffman, but Ms. Evans is already--- she's already ---"
"NO!" Walter shouted. "My Maggie. . .my baby. . ."
Lester commanded, "You have to let me get down there, and stop this!"
"I'm awfully sorry, but I can't do that," the receptionist said. "It's too late, anyway--"
"If she just got in there, it may not be!" Cellie shouted. "I'll go down there. Maggie will need me. And, as for you---" She looked directly into the receptionist's dark eyes. Miss Willert began to squirm, and clutch at her chest. Cellie hissed, "Something inside of you contains a great deal of buried guilt."
"What are you doing to me?" Miss Willert whimpered.
"What the Hell is Cellie talking about?" Lester asked, shocked and puzzled.
"I'm helping her face her conscience! Now, let me in, Miss Willert!"
The receptionist pressed her button, and let Cellie run in. The squeaky elevator door opened before she reached it, and she jumped in. The boxy compartment fell like a stone. It landed with a thud, and the doors popped open. Cellie ran down a short, dank-smelling corridor.
To one side, she saw a kind of recovery lounge, quite empty. There was another, dimly-lit room containing a couple of gurneys. To the other side, there was a dressing room, with lockers, where, she presumed, a patient would leave her belongings. This room, too, was empty, save for one hook, which held what she recognized as Maggie's coat.
There were two "examining" rooms at the end of the hall, one closed, and one open. Cellie glanced into the open room, at the wall, without thinking. Then, she realized---white bricks. Hadn't she "read" Maggie, and sensed something about white bricks? Her father had told her, before he got on the train, over two weeks ago, after he first brought Maggie to the hospital, that she'd complained of visions of the green lights, and white bricks.
It was then, that Cellie knew for certain, that Maggie had been drawn here by the same force that almost drove her to suicide. It was like a sick joke, created specifically to take advantage of a nervous woman's confusion. But, to what purpose, and by whose agency had it come about?
Cellie ran to the closed door of the operating room. She heard voices. Two loud, upset voices. One, an authoritive female voice said, "Since you said you haven't eaten since last night, I'll give you a general, and you won't feel a--" Cellie heard a metallic clatter.
"--Wait a minute! My instruments! How could the tray tip over, just like that! I can take care of this. YOU just STAY on that table!"
At that moment, the door burst open, and Maggie, clad in a hospital gown, and clutching a gauzy paper sheet around her middle, collided with Cellie.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Maggie had arisen at the appointed hour. How considerate of the clinic to have someone on duty so late, the night before, to make arrangements, though she'd had her doubts, inquiring about the possibility of receiving such a service. Even though, when she had arrived back at her apartment, Walter and Cellie were there to greet her, so full of concern. She had to put a good face on it, to hug and kiss Walter when he expected it, talk to Cellie, who seemed to be upset about something, and then, try to respond to Walter's insistent attempt at lovemaking. Thank goodness he didn't give her a hard time, when she appeared disinterested. Then, he was asleep, and she had confidence he would sleep until she had gone.
Maggie almost didn't make it to the door of the clinic, once Hallie Stokes tried to pull her back. For a second, she almost relented. At least, she wanted to explain---the dream had come back, even while Walter, who loved her so much, wanted to help her so much, lay next to her. This time, it had been worse.
Little Vicky, who had appeared to be dead, suddenly sat up in her crib. Maggie picked her up, grateful that she was alive, even with the condition she was in, and cuddled her against her shoulder. Then, Maggie began to feel a terrible pain in her throat. There was something familiar about the pain. She held her baby away, and saw blood dripping from Vicky's tiny lips, an ugly smile on the infant's face.
Maggie had jumped up in bed. She forced herself not to scream, so as not to wake Walter up. As she lay back down, and looked at him, she knew that she would be doing the very best thing for the both of them. Having such a child would kill Walter. A mother, on the other hand, understood the occasional necessity of certain hard decisions about her child.
But she couldn't tell Hallie, either. As soon as she walked away from Hallie, Maggie felt her Greek cross, the present from Pavlos, slip from her neck. She couldn't bring herself to look down at it, never mind pick it up. She went through the whole clinic regimen without a word, filling out papers, getting a blood test from Miss Willert, who assured her she was qualified to do so. . .
She sat in the dressing room, alone, half-glad and half-dismayed that she was the first and only person here, and on Opening Day. She became more apprehensive, more on the verge of changing her mind. Then, the doctor herself came in, and beckoned to her. Maggie chose to go through with it, after all.
Finally, Maggie was led into a tiny operating room. She wanted to keep her eyes closed the whole time, even though she didn't want to be put to sleep. She had a tremendous fear of being put to sleep, that she would never wake up, after. (That fear had helped fuel her body's determination to rid itself of the sleeping pills after her suicide attempt.) But she had to open her eyes when the doctor bent over her, and asked some pertinent questions. It was only polite. So she gazed right at the female physician. She saw something that made her heart lurch.
Green eyes. . .The doctor had very green eyes. She had a pretty, kind-looking face, under her surgeon's cap, but the eyes were frighteningly vivid, like Melinda's in the earlier dream. The doctor was nice about her anxiety, at first, suggesting that Maggie allow herself to be put to sleep after all, even though she'd already received some numbing medication. Then, when she faced the wall, Maggie knew. . .the walls were of white-painted brick. She had to get out of there. The doctor insisted, then DEMANDED that she stay.
All at once, the shiny, dangerous-looking scalpels (why did the doctor need SO MANY scalpels, anyway? Maggie wondered), needles (too many of those, as well), and other equipment jumped from their tray, and smacked into the walls and dropped to the floor. The sharp ends made chips in the bricks. The tray slid off the table, and fell with a clang. The sweet-faced doctor began to CURSE as she bent to gather the implements. When her back was turned, Maggie quickly rose, and stumbled, bare-footed, through the debris, and out the door.
The next thing Maggie knew, she and Cellie Loomis fell in a tangled heap, to the cold floor.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Cellie rose to her knees, and then, tried to pick Maggie up. Maggie was crying. "The eyes. . .the eyes. . ."
The girl held her tightly. "I know. It's okay. I'm here. Dad and Lester are upstairs, waiting. Maggie, did she---do it?"
"No, no," Maggie sobbed. "But it's hard for me to walk. She gave me a shot of something, like Novocaine. The doctor was after me. . ."
Cellie looked around. "I don't see anyone---" she glanced toward the elevator, which landed with the same dull thud. Miss Willert emerged, and approached the two women on the floor. "What do you want, now?" Cellie demanded. "Are you going to make me bring Maggie back?"
Miss Willert didn't answer right away. She helped Cellie lift Maggie, and they walked her to the locker room, where they quickly helped her dress. "I wouldn't dream of such a thing," the receptionist said, finally. The doctor and I have been threatened with arrest! You've just got to get out of here. Your money's already been refunded to your 'friends' upstairs."
"If they arrest you, I'll have to testify! Oh, my God," Maggie wept into her hands.
Cellie said, soothingly, "We'll take care of you, Maggie. Maybe you can testify without your identity being revealed publicly, like a rape victim."
Miss Willert looked in the procedure room. "Doctor Dessaureau? Andrea? Where are you?" She stepped back into the locker room, where Maggie was nearly ready to leave. "I can't understand it. She's gone, though I certainly didn't hear that creaky elevator going up."
"Neither did we," Cellie said. "I guess your boss made a clean getaway, and left YOU holding the bag."
"Oh, my God," Miss Willert whimpered. "I warned and warned Andrea not to jump the gun. 'Just wait until the Supreme Court's decision', I said. 'It's sure to go your way. At least, just take regular patients until then. We can do some good that way'."
"If this is what you call 'doing some good'," Cellie snapped, glaring at the receptionist's middle again. Miss Willert cringed. Then, Cellie changed her venue, and concentrated on Maggie's gulity misery.
The receptionist, apparently hoping her co-operation would inspire leniency in the Sheriff, helped Cellie get the still-limping Maggie into the elevator. As the door slid shut, Maggie whispered to Cellie, "Do you think Walter will forgive me?"
"Of course he will. Dad knows you weren't feeling well." Cellie reached into her pocket, and pulled out the chain with the cross. "Remember this?" she said, as she fastened it around Maggie's neck.
"I lost it," Maggie muttered. "I was lost, too. . ."
They arrived upstairs. Cellie and Miss Willert almost dragged Maggie out of the office. Walter stood there, waiting. As soon as they reached him, he embraced both Maggie and Cellie. Then, with some difficulty (because of his sore shoulder) he picked Maggie up. He carried her out the door, trailed by his daughter, who glanced back at Miss Willert's anxious face. There was something in the receptionist's expression that reminded Cellie of Willie's, when he was reliving
one of his bad memories. She wondered what would become of the helpful office functionary, who was being read her rights by Lester.
"Now, about your employer," he said.
"She's gone, she's gone, and left me to catch Hell!" Miss Willert sobbed.
"She couldn't have gone. I know this building, and there's only one way out of that cellar. We'd have seen her pass. And that nun Hallie said tried to sneak in--- impossible!" (Though, he wondered, where had this nun GONE, then?) Lester handcuffed the receptionist to a pillar, and took the elevator to the cellar.
He glanced into all the rooms down there. To his amazement, there was no indication that the cellar had ever been used for anything but storage. Any and all accoutrements of a medical facility were all gone, including the white-painted bricks. He rode the elevator back up. "I don't understand," he said, shaking his head. "There's nothing....nothing down there. Why was Maggie down there, if there was nothing? You and your doctor friend didn't hold her prisoner down there, did you?"
He had a sudden inspiration. Maggie's original kidnapping had never really been solved, save for the lame allegations against Willie. Perhaps he had the REAL culprits at hand! "Are you absolutely sure this is the first time you both have encountered Miss Evans? You've never met Willie Loomis, have you?" Maybe he should run out, the Sheriff thought, and grab Willie for a quick I.D. Not that Lester thought Cellie's husband had anything current to do with the two women (his concern for Maggie seemed genuine enough), but maybe he'd been involved
with them in the past, and that's how his name had been dragged into it.
"That Willie? God, no. I only know him from the papers!" Miss Willert protested. "If you're talking about Miss Evans's kidnapping years ago, well, all I can say is, check my driver's license. I was sixteen at the time, and hiding from the 'mad stalker' like all the other girls I knew!"
Lester did as she suggested, and, indeed, she was telling the truth about her age, at any rate. "What do you know of your employer, Dr. Dessaureau?"
"Not a lot, I swear! She hired me from the Delwood Agency, after making sure I shared her beliefs and could take blood tests. I worked at the Red Cross once---"
"That can be checked, as well," Lester said, unlocking the handcuffs. "All right, then, I guess I have no choice but to release you. There's no proof that anything's ever been downstairs. The charged would likely be dropped, if just based on the testimony of a woman recently released from a mental ward, and I sure wouldn't want Maggie subjected to the embarrassment. Just be careful about who you work for the next time, Miss Willert, and maybe it's time you
re-examined your beliefs."
"After the run-in I had with your friend Mrs. Loomis, you can bet on that!" the receptionist said fearfully.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Hallie helped the faltering lawyer walk Maggie to the station wagon, where Willie was still at the wheel, awaiting his wife's arrival.
Cellie ran down to catch up with her father, when she felt a gentle hand on her arm. She turned to face Hallie's friend, the nun. There was something familiar about her, the blonde bangs on her forehead, the pretty face, the clear, sea-blue eyes. . .
"Angelique?" Cellie whispered. "This has got to be a stretch, even for you."
"I've told you before, I'll do anything I can to help you defeat Nicholas."
"THIS is part of his plan, then?" Cellie sputtered.
"Well, it wasn't originally, but since then, he's acquired an assistant, who likes to work independently." She leaned toward Cellie. "My sister, Desiree."
"The one who used to be Medorah?"
"My only sister. You must be very careful, now. Nicholas has a method to his madness, but Desiree is what one calls, nowadays, a 'loose cannon'. I DID manage to interrupt her project. I wish I had the power to do more. I no longer hold any brief against Maggie Evans, and now that I have returned to a more acceptable morality, the concept of harming innocent children has become abhorrent to me. But Desiree's anger will be directed at you. Be on your guard, for there is more to her campaign against you, than Nicholas's agenda. Your father should remove Maggie from the scene. Desiree's power does not travel across great distances, and she's likely tired of playing with them, anyway."
"I'll spread the word. Dad wanted to do that all along, but Maggie wanted to hold onto 'Sam's Place'."
Angelique sighed. "Sam Evans. Another act of destruction for which I must atone. . .Well, in time, if you are successful, perhaps Maggie can return there, when the child is older, and perhaps a future artist as well." She kissed Cellie. "Go now. Be careful. I shall see you again."
Cellie jumped in the station wagon, and as it pulled away, she didn't look back.
As soon as Miss Willert had gathered her belongings from her desk, she went out the front door. Full of relief and gratitude at her reprieve, she headed to the curb, where she expected the bus to stop within a half-hour. Suddenly, she felt as though a hand pushed her right into the roadway. Her ankle snapped. She looked wildly about, but nobody was near.
Suddenly, the Doctor's red sports-car came, seemingly out of nowhere, and headed right for her. Miraculously, a blonde girl and a young nun appeared, and dragged her out of harm's way. They walked Miss Willert to the blonde girl's car, where she was offered a ride to the hospital. When the blonde and Miss Willert looked around, to ask the nun if she wanted to join them, she had seemingly vanished into thin air.
Willie sped along, secure in the knowledge that Lester, still occupied at the clinic building, would not ticket him. He took a shortcut to reach Ellsworth, where they all helped to pack as many of Maggie's belongs as they could fit into the station wagon, before they took her to the Old House.
Walter actually agreed to this, when Cellie explained that Barnabas and Julia would do a better job of protecting Maggie, than he could alone, or even at Collinwood, at least until he got Maggie on the train to Boston. What really decided him was Maggie's reaction, when he suggested bringing her back to the hospital, just for a check-up.
"No more hospitals," she said, "until I have to go to the delivery room."
"You don't mind staying at the Old House, sweetheart?" he asked.
"No, I've had to stay there before. . ." a shadow crossed her face. Then, like sunshine after a storm, she smiled. "We all stayed there a couple of times, when things got too crazy at Collinwood, years ago. Nothing bad ever happened to me THERE, at least."
Walter and Cellie looked at each other. Willie's face turned dark red. Walter said, carefully, "I'll take your word for it. Barnabas does seem to understand these things, more than I do. He was quite worried about you. No doubt, David has been filling him in, and my sister."
"It'll be hard, facing them after what I almost did."
"Everyone will understand, Maggie," Willie said. "It was terrible enough when these things were going after us, and David and the other kids. At least, David and the rest are pretty grown up already. Now, they're after our babies!"
"Well, this one will be well-protected from now on," Walter said. "If that green-eyed witch shows up in Boston, I'll have the Cardinal exorcise the entire city."
"My hero....and heroine," Maggie said, glancing at Cellie. "If it's a girl....Well, I want to call her 'Cecily' for a middle name, anyway."
"Thanks, Maggie. It's comforting to know, since I'll only have Sarah Teresa, that other people think enough of me to name their kids after me. This makes two, after Margene Sherbrooke's Marcus Cecil. What about her first name?"
Maggie's face became sad, again. "I--I wanted to name a girl 'Victoria', after my friend, Victoria Winters, who went away. . .and I really wanted to name my son 'Samuel', after my Pop, if you didn't mind, Walter--"
"Of course you can, sweetheart, as long as his middle name is 'August', for my father. Ernest already has 'Walter' for a middle name. Now, why are you sad?" he asked in a tender voice.
"It was just that, in my bad dreams, my baby girl Vicky was really deformed, and my father was in the dream, too, and he was so nasty, with Melinda--"
"Maggie!" Cellie cried. "That was part of the spell! You name that baby, and any others you have, 'Vicky' and 'Sam' and whatever else you want. This fear will pass!" She held Maggie's shoulder, and gazed at her friend, in a way that reminded Maggie of Pavlos.
Maggie's face relaxed. "You're right, Cellie. I won't be afraid any---WALTER!" she shrieked, as the building began to shake.
Walter grabbed her, and leaned against the false fireplace (manteled with real black marble), near where they had stacked several suitcases that were already filled and closed. The suitcases flew from the stack and knocked Maggie down first, and then Walter, when he bent to catch her.
Cellie and Willie had hit the floor immediately, and rolled under an oak coffee-table. At first, this was a good idea; the heavy tabletop shielded them from flying knick-knacks. Then, the table itself started bouncing up and down. The legs of the table pounded at the legs (and arms) of the couple beneath.
"Cecily," Willie shouted, "We have to crawl to the door." As he said this, they all heard the porch outside separate itself from the building, and crash to the ground.
"There's an inner door, that leads to the store downstairs," Maggie cried. "Though my bedroom, of all places . . ." She led the others, creeping slowly across the floor, while each of them held a suitcase over their heads to shield them from falling debris. As they entered the bedroom, a heavy chest slid in position in front of the door. The four "prisoners" staggered to their feet,and tried to move the chest, but had to keep ducking.
"There's just the windows, now," Walter yelled, as the floor began to creak and heave beneath their feet.
"Maggie, this place isn't built on a faultline, is it?" Cellie asked, as she edged to the nearest window. Two stories down! Her heart, already pounding, almost stopped at the thought. Her own fear grew, blotting out the fears of the others. She couldn't let that happen!
"No--no! I never even heard of any earthquakes around here!"
Cellie looked out the window. The whole street, as far as the eye could see, was still. Cars passed up and down the road, steadily and normally. People walked up and down the sidewalk, and cast nary a glance at Sam's Place. "It's an illusion!" Cellie announced. "Whatever's happening, is only happening to us, in here! I'll bet the porch is still up! Let's go!"
A paperweight flew by Cellie's head. "That's no help for us, Cecily!" Willie said. "No matter where we go, something else gives way! If we go out on the porch, it probably will fall!" He ran to her side, and opened the window. Cellie grabbed him by the belt as he stuck his head outside.
"You'll break your neck!" She screamed. "Don't you get it? It's another damn head game!" She stepped into the parlor. "ANGELIQUE!" she called. No response. The bric-a-brac still swirled around.
"DESIREE!" Destruction still surrounded her.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Safe in her beach cottage hideaway, Dr. Andrea Dessaureau stared at her compact mirror, with as much concentration as though she was reading extremely tiny print. She almost didn't hear the soft voice that began to taunt her.
"Oh, Desiree, how unoriginal. Was that all Nicholas could teach you in that dame-school-for-sorcerers he used to call his coven? Is that the best you could do after over three hundred years?"
Andrea snapped the compact shut, and wheeled the chair around.
"Angelique!" she cried. "I mean, Miranda." Her very green eyes grew sly.
Angelique, still in her nun's habit, faced her sister. "Medorah," she whispered. "After all these years....I thought I left you behind forever. I thought you would heed my warning, and my example. Do you not recall how our parents wept when I was forced to board the ship that took me away from them, forever?"
"Maybe they wept, Miranda, but I did NOT. After you were gone, and Judah was beheaded, Nicholas made quite sure our group would not be discovered again. I admit, I was a bit careless, and did a little time in the Gaol. But I remained with our dear parents, until they perished of a sweating sickness, five years later. I was not terribly sorry to see them go. I had their property, and Widow Bartram's---remember her, and the border disputes between our farms? Papa won, thanks, in no small part, to my aid, though he did not know it."
"And the minute you could sell it, and head to the Indies for further instruction in the Black Arts, you did."
Andrea smiled. "But of course. Nicholas suggested that, as well as my first marriage, to an elderly planter in Haiti, who died a resonably short time later, and left me enough to head to France, and life in the court of Louis XIV."
"It's a wonder we never ran into each other."
"Nicholas thought it would be best. He always said that the two of us, in one room, would be too much of a good--er--bad thing. Besides, I had my mission, and you had yours. The difference between us is that, while I've largely succeeded in mine, you allowed a human love and longing to de-rail yours. I don't understand why you're even here. You have little real power anymore. Was it really worth it, my sister, giving up all you had, for the love and esteem of one man, only to be
killed by another?"
"Someday, perhaps, when Barnabas enters this plane, we will be together for eternity." Angelique's ocean-colored eyes welled up. Then, she forced herself to stop. With renewed confidence, she said, "You say I have failed, and that I have no purpose in being here. I wouldn't say that. Even without my original powers, I managed to foil your plans for Maggie Evans."
"Not completely. As you've observed, I was using a mirror." Desiree opened the compact, and displayed the reflection. Angelique saw Cellie, Maggie, Walter and Willie trying to escape from Maggie's apartment. Cellie was calling upon her. Angelique tried to leave Andrea's office, but couldn't de-materialize. Andrea laughed at her.
"I have my own bone to pick with your little friend, Cecily. It has nothing to do with Nicholas," the Doctor said. "Just my own little quirk, I suppose you'd call it."
"None of our kind ever has 'just a little quirk', Medorah. If that was the case, I suppose you'd call my love for Barnabas a 'quirk'. There must have been someone you really loved and lost, just once. Perhaps if you ceased your persecution, as I did mine, you would get your love back, and the need to hurt others would evaporate."
"Too late, Miranda." Andrea's expression became pensive. Then, she heard Cellie calling her
French name, and she smiled. "Stop pleading, Miranda. Go back to your saints and angels. You're certainly dressed for that place."
At that moment, Cellie called for Nicholas. "What the--" Andrea shouted. "What made her think of--"
The door of the cottage opened. Nicholas Blair walked in. "Ah, the Du Val sisters, together at last. I understand my services were requested by the person whom I least expected to demand them." He walked to Andrea's desk, and snatched the mirror away from her. As he gazed into it, he commented, "Really, Desiree. Such childish antics. Still, I'm all for anything that causes the delightful Mrs. Loomis to invoke my presence."
"She's in despair, Nicholas," Angelique pleaded. "She knows you control Medorah--"
"No-one controls me, Miranda!" Andrea screamed.
"I'm inclined to agree," Nicholas replied. "Still, Medorah, Desiree, Andrea, Arlene, Allison--- whatever you're calling yourself these days, my dear, you must remember WHO is in charge of this operation." He handed Andrea the mirror.
She had a final vision of Maggie's furniture settling back into place, as the compact exploded in her hands. Andrea cried out in pain. "I won't be able to perform my specialty!" She wailed.
"Just as well," Nicholas sneered. "You are fortunate that your hobby didn't attract even more negative attention, as have others of its kind. You covered your tracks well enough to fool the Sheriff this time. But you can still be exposed, if you become careless again. I daresay a fire, or worse, may be in your future. You don't care for fire, do you, Medorah? I myself would have no qualms setting it, and making sure you could not escape---"
"No!" Angelique cried, bending over her sister, as if to protect her. Andrea waved her away, with a gesture of contempt for her older sister's leftover impulse.
"What do you care about these people, anyway, Nicholas?" Andrea asked. "The child you desire has been born, and is yours for the taking--"
"It's not as easy as that, Medorah. She is under protection, as your older sister will be happy to tell you, since she helped to arrange it herself."
"And so shall Sarah Teresa continue to be protected," Angelique said.
Nicholas conceded, "She will be protected until I devise a method that removes the influence of Sarah Collins, without endangering the child's life. Until then I'm afraid she does need her mother, at least. The rest are negligible, but I want Cellie and her friends to enjoy the semblence of a normal life, until I'm ready to make my move. It will give a special savor to my triumph."
"What about Ock-Wen-Uck, Nicholas?" Angelique asked.
"There is , as you know, only one way for Ock-Wen-Uck to catch me, and I am well insulated against that, as is Medorah, against certain, otherwise fatal memories."
"There was a time you let your guard down," Angelique smirked. "I believe that's another reason you just saved Maggie, as well as Cellie."
"Holy as you've become, Angelique, you still derive smug satisfaction from the memory of the time you almost brought me down. I daresay, your ultimate redemption is still a long way off! But, as you know, since then, I have, with assistance from below, have managed to overcome my former weaknesses.I was granted this mercy, on account of my general usefulness to the Master's cause. Too bad you did not ever gird yourself with such protection, Angelique. Perhaps, there would be a place for you in the world we envision."
"I want no part of such a scheme. I shall warn Cellie."
"Warn her of what? I have said nothing specific, and she knows as much as you know. But, if you must....Begone! Your odor of sanctity offends my nostrils."
"Medorah! I beg of you this one last time, please....You can redeem yourself. . ." Angelique faded from view, still reaching out to her sister.
Nicholas turned to Andrea. "From now on, Desiree, you will follow my instructions, and no more free-lancing. Or else! I don't want you opening another such abbattoir to satisfy your urge for the destruction of other women's children. Let some presumptuous mortals take up where you left off, if they so choose. I need you for more important work."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"NICHOLAS!" As suddenly as it had started, the earthquake stopped. All the small items gently dropped to the ground. The furniture settled. Walter and Willie managed to move the heavy chest, and hustled the women downstairs to the art store. To their amazement, and relief, nothing appeared out of place. They went out the front door, walked around the building, and checked the porch. It stood intact. They went up the steps, all of which seemed sturdy enough. When they entered the apartment again, they were more astonished than they'd been when the disturbance came to such a sudden halt.
The entire apartment was as tidy as it had been when they first entered it an hour earlier. Cellie led the way to the parlor, and found the suitcases in a neat stack. All the knick-knacks rested, unbroken, on the mantel, the end-tables, and an etagere.
"Cecily," Walter whispered, "Was all that damage real, or were we all hallucinating?"
"I don't think so, Dad." Cellie pulled a broken figurine from her pocket. "I grabbed this before we went downstairs. I know I didn't break it myself."
"I had my eye on her the whole time," Willie said. "I know she's telling the truth." He looked at his wife, puzzled. "I don't like that you called Nicholas, even if it did stop the wreckage."
"I hated to do that, but he can pull rank on Desiree. I had a feeling he wouldn't want me dead, at any rate. If he also saved the people with me, it didn't cost him anything."
"There's another reason he may have been willing to pay the price," Maggie said, quietly. "He was fond of me once. . ."
Cellie said, "There may also be something special about your baby. You'll still have to be on your guard, but the further you are from here, the better." She picked up a suitcase. "Are we all ready to go, or is there anything else you want to take tonight, Maggie?"
"No, I have all the clothes I need, and the most important mementoes. We can come back, and clear the rest out, gradually. I guess I'll leave most of the furniture, except for the stuff I saved from Pop's old cottage. Perhaps Bernice will want to live here, once she buys me out. I will miss this place, in spite of what just happened. I did have some happy times here." She smiled at Walter,
who held her tightly for a moment, before he released her to pick up a couple of suitcases.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Later that night, back at the Antique Shoppe, Cellie couldn't sleep, even after she and Willie celebrated their survival in an extremely vigorous manner. She grabbed her robe, and left him snoring away, as she walked across the landing to the baby's room.
She felt extremely resentful that, as usual, he was able to lose himself in their bedroom excesses, and then, drop right off like that, while she was still hyper and upset. The days when she would easily fall asleep beside him were gone forever, and not because of the baby. She knew it was because he'd allowed her to take on almost all the worrying about the future. She understood completely; she recalled those early days in their marriage, when he would have those shuddering nightmares, sometimes a couple of times a night, and she felt so proud to be able to console and relieve him.
Still, understanding no longer eased Cellie's irritation, and the sense that she was being used. Willie kept dropping off all these anxieties, the same way he kept dropping the keys all over the place, and expected her to pick them up and keep track of them. She began to wonder what it would be like, with Lester. . .
She supposed that, like so many men, he would keep most of his feelings bottled up inside, and, unlike Willie, allow them to smolder until there was almost nothing left, either negative or positive. It wasn't so long ago, she thought that was a terrible, dishonest way for a couple to live. Now, it sounded like Paradise. From there, she wondered what it would be like to make love with Lester. He probably wouldn't make the bed jump up and down on the floor, the way Willie liked to do (and had been doing just a while ago, until she warned him they would wake the baby.) Even so, Lester looked as though he could give a good accounting of himself....Cellie told herself that she had to stop thinking about the Sheriff.
She turned on the small, ceramic, letter-block-shaped nursery lamp on, and gazed at her child. As had happened with the Sherbrookes' baby, Cellie felt a great wave of guilt wash over her, knowing that, in a way, Maggie's unborn child had "stood in" for Sarah Teresa, though what real purpose the abortion would have served eluded her. Maggie had nothing to do with Nicholas's plans. He might even have welcomed another child who was descended from the telekinetic Catriona. At any rate, he would have had another denizen for his "brave new world", one who would have had excellent motivation to be loyal, being so closely related to Sarah Teresa.
Cellie thought about Catriona, and her rival, Alvina, who might have killed her own child in order to rid herself of several obstacles to one man's affections. Cellie knew that Angelique, in her efforts to win Barnabas over, had been a threat to his younger sister, and had inadvertantly helped bring about the death of Josette and Jeremiah's unborn child. (Though, to do Angelique justice, Cellie realized that she probably didn't know about Josette's pregnancy at the time. That, alone, might
have kept Barnabas from pursuing his former fiancée, since even Angelique knew how guilty he felt about killing his uncle.)
Still, causing harm to the children of others was quite a different matter than killing one's own, and to hold onto the child's father, at that. Cellie knew the story of Medea, who killed her own sons, in a jealous rage at their father, Jason of the Golden Fleece legend. She had gone unpunished for the longest time; she had, in fact, went on to marry, and cause trouble for, other kings. Cellie tried to remember what ultimately happened to that mythological sorceress, but her mind drew a blank. She would have to look it up; she had the sudden impression that the knowledge might prove useful.
She began to drift off to sleep, mumbling the names:
"Allison....Andrea....Anissa....Desiree …. Medea ....Medorah....Alvina ...." Cellie shot up in her rocking chair. Alvina was--- Alvina was---
Angelique, back in her white gown, stood by the crib, and nodded at Cellie in confirmation. "You are quicker at guessing than I," she said. "Medorah is held in check for now. But you must not summon Nicholas again. And you all must watch the baby every minute, from now on, for they will try to remove Sarah Collins. I'm sorry I could do no more."
Cellie grabbed her baby from the crib, and took her back to the other bedroom. Willie woke up. "Is Sarah Teresa sick, Cecily?" he asked.
"No," she whispered. "But this is the last good night we're going to have for a while, hon."
Walter and Maggie stayed in Collinsport long enough to apply for their marriage license. Then, Walter took his fiancée to Boston, to become re-acquainted with Ernest and Lillian, to meet with Lillian's obstetrician, and to decide if she wanted to share Walter's current apartment, or find another. To Walter's relief, she found everything to her satisfaction. They even inspected various storefronts, in the event that Maggie wanted to open a "Sam's Place II". "Thanks honey, but I think I'll take a rest, and grow our baby for a while," she told him.
Every morning, when they awoke, Walter would quiz Maggie about her dreams. "The only nightmare I have these days is about who I'm going to ask to the wedding on such short notice," she joked. "Seriously, Walter, I haven't had any of 'those' dreams since the night before--before the clinic. Thank God, and Cellie."
They came back the day the license was issued, and, with Cellie's help, convinced Reverend Brand to waive the banns, and marry them the following weekend. At first, the Reverend protested the break with tradition, but Cellie pulled him aside, privately, and explained some of the odd goings-on. He was descended from a long line of Collinsport ministers, and had the true native's sensitivity to what even HE believed must have been supernatural forces at work in the region. He agreed to perform the wedding on the date they had requested.
The wedding took place at St. James's church, the following Sunday afternoon. At first, Maggie couldn't decide whether to have Pavlos or David give her away. At first, she felt a little awkward about even inviting Pavlos, because of the resultant necessity of including Janice as a guest. Inviting Walter's former spouse was a novel, and somewhat uncomfortable idea for Maggie, something only Hollywood stars dared to do. Walter did give his approval, in the glow of gratitude and good-will engendered by his and Maggie's narrow escape from multiple disasters. When Janice called to accept the invitation in her most gracious manner, Maggie wondered why she had been so worried in the first place.
In the end, to everyone's surprise, Maggie, radiant in a silvery-rose dress, and wearing Walter's silver-rose brooch, marched up the aisle with both Pavlos and David. They took their place with Carolyn and Cellie, the only other attendants.
There was a brief reception at Collinwood, before the couple returned to Boston. They would not be going down to St. Thomas for a couple of months. Walter had a full case load awaiting him, and Maggie had to complete the paperwork to finalize the sale of her half of "Sam's Place" to Bernice Tallberg. What was more, Cellie would be coming to Boston, with her family, and the Stokes's, to visit Paul Loomis, who was settled in the hospital in Boston.
Pavlos would also be coming, without Janice, to accompany Cellie to the studio he'd told her about. She almost didn't want to go. There was an almost palpable cloud hanging over her and her husband in the week before their departure. Neither of them would leave Sarah Teresa alone for a minute, even bringing her crib back into their room at night, and yet, when pressed, they denied that the child was sick or in special need of the extra attention. Cellie and Willie had both taken on an attitude of being under seige.
Pavlos promised that the recording session would not last long, and that Cellie would spend the rest of the time tending to her friends. He even promised to sit with Sarah Teresa, if her parents needed some time alone. "Oh, no, Pavlos, she's our responsibility," Cellie insisted. "We'll be okay, until--until after March."
Pavlos gazed at her increasingly haggard face. "Little Flame", he intoned, "I assure you that the child will be safe with me. If you don't take a little time to be with your husband, you will defeat the purpose of guarding the little one in the first place."
"If you mean what I think you mean," Cellie replied, reddening, "We can live without THAT for a while. We've managed to, before. There's more to our relationship than--than THAT." She sounded disgusted.
"Before, was different," Pavlos said. "You were injured. Still, there were many things you both did for each other to make up for the defficiency. But now....I see a cloudy time ahead, if you don't shore up the intimate part. It is necessary to your ability. It is necessary, to keep Willie from falling under---influences. It is necessary, to keep you together for the child, because if your
interests become separate now, she will be lost. You two have already been estranged several times, and you have seen some of the lesser consequences."
"Okay, Pavlos. Maybe we can spend one of the days in Boston, just tootling around. I doubt that Nicholas will visit the Seven Plagues upon Beantown, just because I want to take Will to the top of the Prudential Building."
Janice drove Pavlos and her daughter's family to the train station. As she hugged Cellie, she whispered, "I know you're going to Boston to save the world one Vietnam Vet at a time, Cellie, but try to take a little time to relax and have fun with your husband. It's been a trying month for you two."
"Don't worry, Mom, Pavlos gave me the same lecture. So did Carolyn. So did Aunt Jule. Even Barnabas---" Cellie smiled. "Well, he gave me a list of restaurants he went to with Aunt Jule when they were here in September. When Will said we didn't have enough money to play around with like that, Barnabas gave us some. I don't know when I've ever heard of so much support for any married couple."
"You're both important to us, baby. Now, you get going, and I want a full report on how the world's most happily-married divorce attorney is doing."
"Oh, honey, I'm just having a little fun, myself. I must say, I never thought I'd ever sincerely wish Walter the best in a second marriage, but since I've come to know Maggie. . ." Janice's voice trailed off. "You did the best thing, making sure they got back together, Cellie. Now, if only I could send them an invitation to my own wedding---"
Pavlos came up behind Janice, wrapped his arms around her waist, and kissed her on the cheek. "The time is coming, for that decision, Janice. Now, the train is about to leave. Cellie--"
"Coming, Pavlos." As she reached for her suitcase, Cellie saw her mother and Pavlos embrace wildly, as though for the last time.
She wondered why she couldn't seem to muster that kind of emotion for Willie anymore, outside of bed (and, increasingly, even in bed. Of course, the baby's constant presence was inhibiting, but Cellie had developed a habit of easing herself from Willie's least demanding embraces.) Wasn't it just a few weeks ago when she loved to just throw her arms around her husband for no reason, or feel him grab her from behind, and lift her up from the floor, while she giggled uncontrollably?
When he saw that his wife seemed to be having trouble lifting the suitcase, Willie handed Sarah Teresa to her grandmother, and went to help her. It was then, he noticed that Cellie was crying, quietly. He wanted to hold her, but he feared her reaction. Instead, he just picked up the suitcase, and led her to the train.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As soon as she walked in the door, Cellie knew why Maggie accepted moving into Walter's apartment. The living room, alone, was huge. As Walter hugged his daughter, Cellie exclaimed, "Geez, Dad. What were you thinking about when you first picked this place? You weren't even living with you-know-who anymore when you got it."
"I guess I had a feeling, somewhere inside, that my life was about to change," he answered. "You'll love it, Princess, there's almost as much room here as at the Brookline house. There's even a bedroom, with a little dressing room adjoining, that I thought you and your family could share. Maggie's been redecorating constantly since she's been here, and doing a smashing job, I might add," Walter boasted. "Wait until she shows you what she did with the room she selected for the nursery!"
Maggie displayed the fire-engine red, sunshine-yellow, and royal-blue patterns stenciled on the walls. "I'm in favor of bright, non-traditional colors for the baby, as you'll notice. Walter says the baby's eyes will be so busy, he or she won't get any sleep, and so, neither will we." She laughed.
Cellie commented with a smile, "Oh, it doesn't matter if the walls are BEIGE. You won't be getting much sleep in any case." She recognized the antique dresser, now painted a glowing green, as well as a few other small items of furniture. "This stuff came from my Grandma Muriel's house," she said.
"Yes, Walter had it removed from storage. He gave some things to Julia, but she and Barnabas have so many antiques right in the Old House, she refused the rest, until further notice."
Maggie led Cellie to the guest room Walter had spoken about. "This is my masterpiece," Maggie said. "I took the furniture that had come from my old cottage, and some Cape-Coddy knick-knacks, and seashells, and threw them together, to make an 'Instant resort'."
"That's really neat. It does look like places we used to stay on vacation when I was a kid," Cellie said. She looked beyond, to the dressing area, which, she observed, had a room-dividing screen that could be pulled shut. She thought that would be a good place to put the baby, if she and Willie needed privacy. That is, if they could work up the nerve, and, in Cellie's case, the enthusiasm.
Pavlos declared himself satisfied with the room he was given, which boasted a view of a park from its windows. "I have lived in Boston before, and I know that park well," he said. "I will be taking a walk, to clear my head, for the tasks ahead of us, tomorrow morning."
Walter took them all out to meet the Stokeses for dinner. Elliot and Hallie were staying with a cousin. Hallie, who was afraid to face Paul Loomis alone, would be waiting for Cellie to finish at the recording studio the next morning, before they headed over to the hospital with Willie.
When they came back to the apartment, Cellie commandeered the large, fully-equipped kitchen, and gossiped with Maggie while she baked a small coffee cake for breakfast the next morning. When she went to her room, she found the room divider pulled shut. She peeked behind it, to see Sarah Teresa already changed and asleep in her crib. Willie was in bed, apparently asleep. Cellie silently changed into the turquoise peignoir, which she had forced herself to pack for the trip. She felt strange, climbing into bed with Willie, under her father's and Maggie's roof. Thank goodness he was asleep---
His arm reached up, and slid around her waist. He pulled her down to face him. "Cecily, I've been waiting to be alone with you all day." He kissed her. "I thought you were mad at me, before."
"No, hon. I wasn't. I'm just worried a lot. I hate being home, but being away from it is almost worse. Aside from having to see Paul, this trip is like a reprieve from execution. You know it's going to be over in no time, and all appeals have been exhausted."
"I know, Cecily. But we'll be okay. In the meantime, we'll keep doing what we always do to keep our minds off it." He leaned over her, and began to kiss her throat, as he slid the thin blue straps of the nightgown from her shoulder. His Mizpah pendant scraped against her chest. She flipped over, away from him.
"Will, not tonight. Not in my father's house. You always make too much noise, and the baby's too close. I can't enjoy it anyway."
"I always make too much noise? You used to scream about how good it was. Was," Willie commented bitterly. "That's okay, it's not too good for me, anymore, either. But at least I tried."
"Tried what?" his wife asked, wearily. "That's all it ever was with you, anyway. Isn't that just like a man? Using sex to settle disagreements!"
"Maybe if more people did that, there'd be less disagreements!" Willie suddenly became contrite. "Cecily, just let me hug you, like we used to do. Just because we have to watch the baby, doesn't mean we can't touch each other. Don't you love me, or want me at all any more?"
She got out of the bed. "Thanks for reminding me about what we should be doing, instead of fooling around." She opened the room divider, and gently tugged the crib to the foot of the bed. The baby slept on. Cellie sat near it, staring at Sarah Teresa.
Willie sat up, and massaged her shoulders. Her muscles, which felt tight, began to relax. "Cecily, I know you're afraid, and you feel trapped right now. So do I. But you have to believe we're not going to lose her."
"I don't believe, anymore." She hid her face in her hands. "I don't believe we're going to win. I don't believe I can do anything for Paul, or even you....I loved you, so terribly much, once. I don't know where it's gone, or why it's gone."
Willie became frightened. Cellie sounded just like Barnabas did, lost in depression after his encounter with Nicholas, back in July. He tried to encourage his wife. Everything would be lost if she gave into that lack of resolve--- that is, if she behaved as HE would have. "You're tired, Cecily. I'll go tell Pavlos to cancel the whole studio trip, and you sleep till noon if you want. Paul's been in that hospital a couple of weeks, already. He and Hallie can wait a few more hours."
"No, I want to get that recording thing over with. I'll be better, I promise."
Willie laid down, and in a few minutes Cellie crawled close to him. He held her as she fell asleep, even though her hands had clenched into tense fists, as though to shield herself from him. He covered her, and, for once, stayed awake as she snored softly beside him.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Pavlos conducted Cellie to a squat, ugly building at the less-prosperous end of the business district. They were early, so they sat, drinking coffee from a diner Pavlos knew, in the parking lot, in his rented car. Cellie read the garish sign on the building. " 'Apogee Recording Corporation'. Geez, Pavlos, do you think they give Capitol or RCA or A&M anything to worry about?"
"They are not a 'major player' in the business, Cellie, but they are a necessary cog in the wheel of the entertainment industry. You've asked me to devise a game plan for a singing career that would not remove you from your family at this time, and I believe I have made the correct choice. Apogee records vocals and instrumentals for use as background music in various films and T.V. shows, as well as commercial jingles. They also have a limited division in specialty records,
you know, for ethnic and regional music. You might find this an excellent starting place, once you've had some real experience."
"Well, it should prove a distracting morning," the girl commented, in a depressed tone.
Pavlos replied, "That's one of the reasons I insisted that you come as planned, in spite of Willie's desire that you sleep the morning away."
"I really gave Will a hard time last night. If anybody deserved a rest, it was him," she said.
"I know it well, but it was something between the two of you, so I could not exactly burst in and help you. Cellie, I realize that you feel undue pressure is being put on you to stay with your husband at this time, even though you feel different stirrings. You will probably protest that it is all because you let yourself get swept into marriage when you were too young and too childishly sympathetic to someone with problems you did not fully understand at the time. That is BULL! You were never young, in that way, or someone like Willie would not have attracted you to begin with. And I have watched as you grew in understanding of his sorrows, and those of the people around him. That is not what is eating at you now."
Cellie protested, "How do you know that Will is my destiny, even after we--we get through March, somehow? I don't know if I will be able to endure spending the rest of my life---well, the next thirty or forty years of it---with a man who hides behind my skirts whenever his boss is pissed off at him, who cries on the least excuse, and gets angry whenever I do something that reminds him of the awful things that were done to him, even if I don't mean them that way. Maybe, after this time is over, we should think of breaking apart for good. There are other options, for both of us."
Pavlos became angry. "Not for Willie. Oh, he could find other women, no doubt, on the order of Melinda, or worse. Is that what you want to consign the father of your only child to, Cellie? Willie can be a good man, and a good father, but he cannot do it alone, or with that sort of woman at his side. You are his last, best hope. It may not seem right, or fair, but that is how it is."
"But what about ME? What about my feelings? What if there's someone else, that I missed, because I was so busy taking care of Will? What if I fail with Will, anyway? Then, what will I have? A memory of what could have been?"
Pavlos was stern. "I know you speak of Lester Arliss." He watched Cellie's face turn very red. "You find him attractive, because you believe he is all the things Willie is not, and because he doesn't appear to be as needy as your husband. Do not let appearances deceive you. He is full of hidden resentments and frustrated longings, which you, even with all the knowledge and wisdom you've gained, have chosen to ignore. There is an advantage to dealing with someone like your Willie, who wears his heart on his sleeve, so to speak. You may not know exactly what he will do next, but he does move in an established pattern. Lester is an unknown quantity."
"I pretty much told Lester not to expect anything from me. He's not like Jack Knowlton, for God's sake." Tears slid down Cellie's face.
"Perhaps not in the same blatant way, but he could be a catalyst....Still, if you continue doing your best with Willie, there may be nothing to worry about." Pavlos leaned over, and kissed Cellie's cheek. "Do not cry, Little flame. You still love your husband. Sometimes, though, when people live so closely together, as you and your Willie must, love hides from all the pressures and demands. The one thing that should sustain you seems to abandon you when you need it most. But for you, it's still there. Have faith. You had it before, and will again. Now, dry your tears. You must look like the future singing star we both know you are. And then, this afternoon....but we shall not speak of that, until we get there. Only happy thoughts, for now."
They entered the building. The greyish lobby was full of non-descript furniture. The receptionist, who looked like she was about sixty-five, led Pavlos and Cellie down a drab corridor, to the producer's office. To Cellie's surprise, the producer's office was as brightly and garishly neon, in both color and lighting, as the "Apogee" sign outside. "Geez," Cellie thought, "Didn't all this fluorescent junk go out with the Age of Aquarius?" Then, she looked at Pavlos, with his Indian shirt, chains, and tight, shiny pants, and wondered about his criteria for selecting this particular recording studio.
The producer rose to shake Pavlos's hand. "Constantine!" he cried joyfully.
"Aristotle!" Pavlos yelped, as he bypassed the outstretched hand, and ran around the desk to embrace the producer, who, to Cellie's amused surprise, was dressed similarly to Pavlos. They both turned to Cellie. Pavlos said, "This is my cousin, Aristole Pavlos, Flame! Aristotle, this is Cecily Hoffman Loomis, 'Cellie', we call her."
"Cellie, call me Telly," Aristotle laughed.
"Oh, Geez....I don't know. Pavlos didn't tell me about this."
"It's all on the up-and-up, Cellie," Pavlos said. "While you were laid up, for such a long while, after the baby came, all the other studios gradually lost interest in your work. Telly, here, can market your vocals to some of the most prominent members of the industry."
"I loved your demo tape, Cellie," Aristotle said. "I couldn't decide if you reminded me more of Linda Ronstadt, or Judy Collins, or even Patsy Cline. Your vocal range, even in an untrained state, is truly astonishing."
"So, what can we do for each other?" Cellie leaned across the desk.
Aristotle patted several files stacked on his desk, and picked up a cassette player from the floor beside him. "I have, as of now, several different venues available. This place is almost like a job shop, a contractor, if you will. Constantine explained that you weren't interested in a big career, that you wanted to lay in a few tracks when called upon, from time to time. Now, I don't usually play it that way, but for Constantine....Well, this only proves the old saying, 'it's not what you know, it's who you know'. I've listened to him over the years, and he's never led me astray. He's brought me other people in the past, and it's always worked out." Aristotle turned on the cassette. "Because you're a friend of Constantine, and you're kind of famous now---"
"Notorious, more like," Cellie laughed.
"I'm going to give you an opportunity to hear what kind of work I can get you."
The first song that filtered out of the tiny speaker didn't exactly involve real singing. There was a mincing, light melody featuring a weak percussion section, a trombone (Cellie hated trombones), and a saxophone (Cellie hated saxophones even more). They played under several soft female voices singing, "La-la-la", over and over again. "Sounds like the background music for a bad European film," Cellie thought. It occurred to her that she'd heard this song somewhere, before. The longer the song played, the more it sounded familiar to her. Then, she blushed, remembering. "I'm sorry, I can't do that kind of work," she said.
"Whyever not?" Aristotle demanded. "The song isn't exactly complex."
"What's the matter, Flame?" Pavlos asked gently.
"I'm so embarrassed. . ." she said. Pavlos took Cellie out into the hallway.
"Last summer," she whispered, "Will and I spent a day in Bangor, and we drove down a sidestreet where there was one of those, you know, dirty movie theaters? I never saw one before, of course, and I asked Will to take me, just that once....He wanted to tell me no, but then he said, he'd seen his share, I might as well find out what I wasn't missing. So we went in, and when it wasn't plain stupid, it was pretty awful. It certainly wasn't, um, inspiring....That 'song' was on the soundtrack. Nothing against your cousin, Pavlos, I know he has to make a living, but I don't want my voice used in a porno flick."
"Don't worry, Cellie. There are other musical outlets." Pavlos went back into the room, and explained to his cousin. Within a few minutes, he beckoned to her.
Cellie faced Aristotle. "I'm sorry," she said, "If that's the only kind of job you have available. . ."
"No, no, no, no," he replied. "But it would have been the easiest, and quickest, and you could have walked out with three hundred in your pocket, for four hours' work. Oh, well, we have a call for a few commercial jingles---" he played the cassette, again. The sample songs sounded stupid, but inoffensive.
"That's cool," Cellie said. "I can deal with that, even though I hate hot dogs and depilatories."
"As long as it doesn't come through in your singing," Aristotle commented. "Constantine had told me, though, that you'd like to cut a record someday. I can make that day come sooner than you'd think. Listen to this." He played the cassette again. Cellie recognized the strains of the song that had so consoled her, and so annoyed Margene Pettway Sherbrooke, back at St. Dymphna's home.
"You and I must make a pact,
We must bring salvation back,
Where there is love,
I'll be there. . ."
"You had the Jackson Five in here?" Cellie asked, in amazement.
"Listen carefully," Aristotle admonished. "It isn't the Jackson Five, but what we call an 'amazing simulation'." He opened a drawer, drew out a colorful L.P. cover, and handed it to Cellie.
" 'The Simu-Tones Play And Sing The Hottest Hits Of 1970'," she read. "Oh, come on," she laughed. "People actually buy this stuff?"
"By the truckload,' Aristotle assured her. "When you can't afford the real thing, and maybe, you want a cheap anthology album for party music....These imitations are even used as background music on some T.V. shows, when it costs too much to use the original artists' versions....As I told you before, you sound like at least three of the most popular singers we've duplicated. With a little
vocal coaching, we could probably coax a little Olivia Newton-John and Karen Carpenter from you, and increase your versatility."
"I don't know," Cellie sighed. "Has anyone who's done these albums ever broken out, and done their own thing?"
"I'm not really sure. . ." Aristotle said. "But, for your purposes, it would be ideal, and the pay is adequate. With some experience, you will have the potential to go on to back-up singing for the bigger companies, I suppose....and some of those people have managed to make a name for themselves. At any rate, you'd have a promise of steady work, because we do a couple of these albums a year. We're recording something right now. Starting this morning, I want you to go in, rehearse, and knock down three songs."
Cellie, with Pavlos looking over her shoulder, carefully read some papers Aristotle wanted her to sign. Her father had warned her about some of the confusing language in contracts and releases. These papers were straightforward enough. "They have to be easy," Aristotle joked, "Because, after thirty years in America, I can speak English well enough, but reading it is still tough. So I tell the legal people to keep it simple. They hate my guts for that, as you might imagine."
"My Dad is a lawyer," Cellie informed him. He blanched at that, until she joked, "Hey, legal papers have to be hard, or else all those lawyers won't have anything to do, and they'll be out on the streets, causing trouble, exposing their briefs." The two men chuckled at that.
When Cellie had finished signing the papers, Aristotle led her to the recording studio. After showing her all the equipment, he sat her in a sound-proofed room with a big picture window, placed a large set of earphones on her head, and pulled over a microphone on a stand. He placed some sheet music in her hands. After a quick run-through, Cellie sang "You're So Vain". "But it only just came out, and it's a Carly Simon thing," she protested. "I don't sound like Carly Simon!"
"It's got 'future hit' written all over it, kid, and by the time we doctor up the tapes, they won't know the difference, anyway," the recording engineer ("Call me Rocky") told her. "The album will be out in November. The people who buy this stuff have real short memories."
Aristotle had been monitoring Cellie's performance, and had an approving expression on his face. He directed her to peruse the next sheet in the pile. "Oh, sure, I can do country-western," Cellie said. "But, Geez, who writes this tripe?"
"Oh, Lord, feels like I'm....dyin'.
I guess I'm just a ten-time loser in love.
I was an assembly-line worker
For your heart, darlin',
Till you turned off the conveyor belt
That slid your sweet lovin'....to me!"
At Aristotle's direction, Cellie warbled the syrupy mess of a song with a heart-breaking conviction that would have done Tammy Wynnette proud.
Then, Cellie trilled an old tune, David's former girlfriend Maureen's downfall, "Until It's Time For You to Go." "Geez, don't they have enough versions of this floating around already?" she asked.
"Telly's into folk music, like his cousin," Rocky replied. "It's still kind of hot. They got that Denver guy, and Croce, who's up-and- coming." As he shut off some of his equipment, he said, "Anyone told you lately, that you're a real babe?"
"My husband tells me, every day," Cellie replied quietly.
"Married? A foxy little teeny-bopper like you? Damn!" Rocky said, as Cellie left the studio. She hoped that if she ever came here again, Rocky wasn't on duty.
When Cellie and Aristotle went back at the office, Rocky labeled, then stacked the tapes in a box with a label that read, "To Do Later." He suddenly felt the need to use the lavatory. As he went up the hall, he passed the cleaning woman, who hunched over her broom as she swept the hall. "Yo, Anna," he said, "Sorry about the cigarette butts you're gonna find in there. See you in about ten---" He grabbed a magazine off a chair in the hallway, and disappeared into the Men's room.
Anna muttered something under her breath, then went into the control room. She headed for the "To Do" box, and examined the tapes. She put several in her pocket, and hurried down the corridor to the supply closet. A few minutes later, she went back to the studio, and dropped the cassettes back in the box. She began to sweep again, a gleam in her very green eyes.
As Cellie and Pavlos left the Apogee Recording Company, she complained of feeling a little "unclean" when she realized just what was going to happen to her work, and disappointed that her first record would not really be her own.
"This is just a jumping-off place, Cellie," Pavlos assured her. "I'm sure Telly would like to keep you around forever, but even his papers did not make it so. He is an honest businessman, though you may not agree with some of his ventures." He looked at his watch. "Almost one o'clock already!" he exclaimed. "We were to meet Willie, Hallie, and the Professor at the Hospital at one--- but before you attend to Paul, I will see that you eat. What we do is much like surgery, Cellie. If you eat, you will be less likely to be made sick or dizzy by the horrors you encounter."
* * * * * * * * * * *
At the hospital cafeteria, Hallie sat across from Cellie, and picked at her tiny ham sandwich, as she watched her friend gobble down a substantial turkey club. "Oh, Cellie, how can you eat at a time like this?" she asked, anxiously.
After Cellie swallowed the last bite, she said, "You should try to force your sandwich down, Hal. I'm really worried about how you haven't been eating much, lately. You must have lost about fifteen pounds."
"Seventeen, since September. Cellie, I'm not starving myself over Paul. I can handle what's coming, and I probably needed to lose that puppy fat, anyway."
"Yeah, right, the same way I needed to lose my 'puppy fat' when I was sent to Saint Dymphna's," Cellie answered. "You saw how thin I was, when I first came back from there." Then, she went over to Hallie's side of the table, and held the ham sandwich to her friend's lips. "You have to eat, Hallie," she pleaded. "You can't keel over when you see Paul for the first time. I don't want to push the concept of 'staying brave for the fallen soldier' on you. You and Paul will probably put in a lot of crying time before you get things squared away. But you can't just go in there, and fall apart right off. You need your strength."
"Okay, okay, Mommy, I can hold my own sandwich, thanks," Hallie
whispered, with a trace of a smile. She ate slowly, but she finished the whole sandwich, and a small bag of potato chips Cellie bought for her from a vending machine.
Thus fortified, the two friends walked, arm-in-arm, down the corridor. Pavlos, Willie, and the Professor, who'd been sitting, talking quietly, in the lobby, rose to follow.
Cellie and Hallie halted in front of a door halfway down the hall. They heard a familiar, but hoarse voice, ordering someone out. A nurse retreated from the room. She stopped briefly, and said, "I don't think Private Loomis wants any company right now."
"Too bad," Cellie said. Hallie buried her face in her shoulder. "Miss Stokes here, and Private Loomis's brother, came all this way, to see him," she continued. "I'll go in, and find out what the problem is."
"I don't think--" the nurse protested.
"Let her go," Willie said. "It's what she does best."
Cellie walked into the small, rather stuffy hospital room. Paul was sitting in a wheelchair, facing away from the door. He was wearing a too-large blue robe. His dark hair, growing out from the Army haircut, stuck out in odd-sized spikes on his head. "I thought I said I wanted to be alone!" he growled.
"Abusing the health-care professionals around here doesn't become you, Paul," Cellie began. "Abusing the people who love you becomes you even less."
"Cellie?" Paul said, still angry. "Does this become me, then?" He turned the wheelchair around.
Cellie forced herself not to stare. The skirt of the large robe lay flat over where Paul's left knee should have been, and draped awkwardly from just below his right knee. She tried not to notice the empty footrests on the wheelchair.
"Go, ahead, gawk away," he sighed, in a defeated tone. "It's more honest than those 'tactful' glances."
"Paul. . ." Cellie was about to deliver some comforting cliche, but gave it up. Pauls' anguish was so vivid, she could almost see it, and it emerged with such force, she could almost touch it. There was more....she saw dark green all around. There was something he was hiding, even from himself, something he may have been ashamed of; certainly, something he wasn't proud of. "Paul," she said, softly, "Hallie is right outside the door, and Will, and Professor Stokes. And my other best friend, Pavlos from the Koffeehaus. Hallie must have written to you about him."
"I don't think I should see them," he said. "I didn't want to see Fran and Steve, either. But I got stuck, there, because I knew how hard it was for them to just leave the farm like that. I was sorry I did see them. Fran cried too much, and Steve almost did too. I guess I won't be much help to him on the farm, anymore."
"I don't think he was worried about that, Paul. He's as fond of you, as he would be of a younger brother. You have an older brother who wants to talk with you, and a special girl....Do you think we weren't inconvenienced by this trip? We all had to leave our jobs, and Hallie had to take time off from school. Pavlos, Will and I are staying with my Dad and his new wife. My stepmother is watching my baby. Don't you think that puts her out a little bit? What I'm trying to say is, you have to see us, today. Especially Hallie."
"Hallie. . ." Paul whispered. "Bring them in, then."
Hallie and Willie walked in first, followed by Elliot and Pavlos. Hallie approached the wheelchair with trepidation. "Hello, Paul," she said, with a smile. She bent to kiss his cheek. He turned away from her. In spite of this sign of rejection, Hallie put her hand on his shoulder, and kept it there. Paul didn't shake it off.
Willie came up to his brother, cautiously, his hand extended. "How're you doing, Paulie?" he asked in a polite tone, afraid to display more emotion and risk rejection, himself. After the trouble he'd been having with his wife, he didn't know how much more negativity he could endure.
"I can't say I'm doing too well," Paul replied, bitterly, as he shook Willie's hand. "But I'm trying to be grateful that I'm alive."
"There's more to life than just being alive, Paul," Willie said, glancing at Cellie out of the corner of his eye. He knew this was her favorite saying, and he hoped to impress her as well as his brother. "You'll learn to do different things, maybe even drive a car, again."
"Those cars cost big bucks, with all the special junk they have inside. I'm in a bit of a bind, Big Brother. I've been told I'll get some compensation from the Army, but nothing like the money I'll need for something like that. I need a decent job to get a car, and I need a decent car to get a job. It's a twist on the old Catch-22. I don't know who would hire me, the way I am now."
Cellie asked, "Are you trying out prostheses yet?"
"Yeah. Hurts like the Dickens, so far. Even the therapists say they're not practical for every purpose." Paul sighed. "Had enough of this happy visit, yet?"
Willie surprised everyone with his reply. "When it's REALLY happy, we'll leave. Not one minute before."
Paul became contrite. "I guess I'm sorry. I have a lot on my mind, not just my future, but....stuff that happened. This--" he pointed to his lap "--and other things."
Elliot said, "I believe it would help if you talked to at least one of us about these things, Paul. Both I, and Cellie's Aunt Julia, have spoken to your sister, and Julia even consulted with your psychiatrist."
"How about that, Willie?" Paul said. "We both needed a shrink! The family that goes crazy together--"
"Shut up, Paul," his brother said, sternly. "You're lucky anyone gives this much of a damn about you, getting you decent doctors. You could have been left in some military hospital, with an over-worked Army shrink who had too many other mopes on his schedule to fuss over just YOU! Instead, because some rich lady cares about what happens to you and Hallie--"
"That Mrs. Stoddard just wants me fixed up for Hallie. . ." Paul glanced at Hallie, who was crying.
"Show some appreciation, Paul," Cellie snapped, angrily.
Paul grabbed at his head. "Ow!" he wailed. "My head feels like it's gonna explode--"
"Cecily!" Willie shouted. "You're not--you're not---"
"No, I'm not!," Cellie replied indignantly. "He must have hurt his head at some point, and he's feeling it right now. The echoes in his mind aren't helping. I can do something about that." Cellie closed her eyes, and in a minute, was holding her own head, and moaning with pain.
Paul's arms fell back in his lap. He looked at his sister-in-law with amazement. "Cellie, are you okay?" he asked, concern in his voice. "I didn't mean to get you so upset. It's just something that happens to me, once in a while, since the explosion....That's wierd, though, it usually lasts longer. You don't have to worry about it."
Cellie relaxed, and crouched near his wheelchair. "Thank God you still have it in you, to care about someone else's suffering, Paul. There's hope for you."
"I don't know if there is," he said, sadly. "Some of the guys said I should just forget--- just worry about my own stuff. I wish I could! 'We're all that really counts.' That's what they said. I guess they're right. They didn't get all worked up--- they didn't have dreams with the FACES glaring at them---"
Cellie gestured to Hallie to come closer. "Paul, I know about the 'falling trees'. Is that what's making you feel so guilty?" She looked into his large brown eyes, so different from his brother's and sister's small hazel ones. They were even different from his mother's eyes, which appeared, in the pictures she'd seen, to be lighter in shade. Perhaps they were his real father's eyes. The guilt, she thought,
goes on, generation after generation, starting small, with the creation of this young man's life, and snowballing into whatever evil he must have been led into. . .
"What are 'falling trees'?" Willie asked.
"The V.C. I had to--- I had to shoot," Paul replied.
"You shouldn't feel too bad about shooting at the enemy, Paul," Willie said. "I'm sure they had no problem taking potshots at you and your buddies."
"My buddies. . ." Paul's voice took on a strange note when he said that. "No, I don't feel too bad about that, anymore. I wonder now, what was the point, but I didn't want to end up in a body bag. Still, at least you can't have dreams, inside a body bag." He wheeled himself to the window, and stared out at the street below.
"He's right," Cellie said. "There's more to the problem, than feeling bad about doing what was necessary to survive. . ." She was beginning to feel some of the same emotions she'd experienced when she was sitting in the fort house ruins at the State Park. The fear, the futility of escape, the contempt, the disgust, the sick joy in destruction....Where did that come from?
What was worse, Cellie had the sense of what she imagined forming a pearl around a sharp grain of sand must feel like, and a very cold pearl, at that. Whatever Paul had done, or been made to do, he was hardening his heart, and draining his conscience, because he believed he could not co-exist with the knowledge any other way. And because, she reflected, he felt he couldn't fit through the cookie-cutter that shaped military attitudes, including those concerning the worst wartime experiences, in any other way.
Paul complained of bad dreams, and seeing faces. Perhaps this wasn't so much a problem, as a signpost to a solution. Something was trying to break through the thickening pearl, before it came to resemble a distorted, cancerous growth.
Pavlos, who hadn't said a word the whole time, beckoned to Cellie. She rose, and followed him, and the Professor, out of the room. She cast a glance back into the room. Hallie still stood beside Paul, her hand seemingly clamped to his shoulder. Willie sat on a chair, trying to catch his brother's eye, but, for a moment, he looked straight into his wife's eyes. She believed, then, that he understood what she had been thinking, and that he did identify, to some extent, with his brother's distress.
What difference did it make, she thought, which authority figure told someone to do terrible things, perhaps backing up the demand with threats? What difference did it make, which authority figure knew what buttons to push, in order to release and manipulate the ugliest parts of every human being's nature? What difference did it make, which authority figure stood by, and condoned the resulting atrocity?
Cellie felt she needed more information, before she acted on her suspicions. She asked the Professor, "Just what did the psychiatrists here have to say about Paul?"
"At first," Elliot began, "they thought that, in addition to the very understandable trauma of losing two feet and most of one leg, he was suffering from what amounted to 'shell shock.' But, as time went on, and he articulated some of his misery, they realized they had something beyond the equally understandable trauma of being under fire, and losing some of his friends during several skirmishes."
"Well, what was his duty history? Or is that a state secret?" Cellie had a vague memory of discussing with Hallie, the possibility that Paul might eventually be sent on some high-security mission that precluded his ability to open his heart in his letters. But the last letter actually named his location, something that wouldn't have been allowed to pass without censorship, if that was so. And Paul had been crystal-clear about his feelings for Hallie.
"No," Elliot answered firmly. "As far as we were able to find out, Paul's company followed a fairly standard path, near the border, and had actively engaged the Viet Cong on at least six occasions. That sounds strange, I know, considering that the peace talks were finally making progress, but, apparently, there are isolated factions that either haven't heard, or simply disregarded that fact. There were fairly long stretches of time, when the G.I.'s were just moving from post to post, encountering snipers, here and there. At least five men from the company were lost in action along the way. They didn't knock off a significant number of the enemy, until just after they arrived at the Army post from which Paul sent his last letter. By coincidence, that last engagement produced the fewest casualties from the American side.
"Afterward, Paul saw no more action, until he stepped into that mine field. He was going on, ahead of his company, with another scout, when he inadvertantly found it. The other scout was close enough to him to risk his own life, entering the minefield, binding up Paul's wounds quickly, and dragging him out of there, safely. THAT young man will be getting a Medal of Honor."
"Well, so far, I've heard nothing that would explain Paul's present frame of mind, beyond the obvious," Cellie commented.
"Everybody reacts differently to circumstances," Elliot observed. "Perhaps Paul turned out to be more sensitive than even he suspected he could be."
"No, that's not it," Pavlos finally said. "I have been around other soldiers from this, and the earlier wars. I was a soldier for a short time, myself, before I married and came to America, just before World War Two broke out in a big way. I was a border guard, while Bulgaria, which is north of Greece, was falling under the Nazis' sway. I myself saw no action, but I met many who survived battles elsewhere. All I can say is, whatever Paul experienced goes far beyond what one might call 'ordinary' wartime activities. I have really sensed strong traces of such a terrible distress in only one other man who was not also a soldier." He gazed at Cellie.
Will, she thought. She wondered, for the hundredth time, how much Pavlos really knew about the whole story of her husband, her uncle, and her aunt. She also wondered, for the thousandth time, what Elliot made of this cryptic reference, and just how much he knew about his friends' histories. She said, evenly, "I think I know who you mean. The same methods might work in this situation. But we need the psychiatrist's input. I don't know how we're going to explain this."
"As I mentioned before, the doctor who's been seeing Paul has spoken to Julia," Elliot said. "Perhaps we can call Virginia, also, to explain the nature of your anomaly, and how it can be put to work for Paul."
"We have to get on it, A.S.A.P., then," Cellie declared. "The hard part may be convincing Paul to go through with it. But it must be done, not just for Hallie's sake. I have a feeling Paul is in danger of losing his soul."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The psychiatrist, Dr. Zandman, spent an hour on the phone with Julia and Virginia, as well as Dr. Marchand, who had also treated Maggie. Then, he put Pavlos and Cellie through an extensive question-and-answer session. "I hope you two understand, this is quite uncoventional. Paul Loomis may respond, in time, to the standard therapies, including hypnosis."
"Getting him to the point where he would accept that kind of treatment may take time," Cellie said. "Our method is far more direct, and we can make contact with his emotional center almost immediately. I've only required the assistance of hypnotism once."
The doctor replied, "I fear what may happen, if he is forced to deal with his traumas, all at once. On the one hand, he may simply become catatonic for a time. One the other hand, there is a potential for violence. Of course, he is immobilized to some extent by his injuries, but there's always a great danger, amongst military persons who develop these disorders--- they are far more likely to acquire weapons, which they are trained to use....You understand?"
"I have the feeling that day may come all the sooner, because he wasn't able to face up to whatever happened," Pavlos said. "If there is someone he should forgive, or someone who has to forgive him, or if he needs to forgive himself, the sooner the intervention, the better."
"The veterans I've been seeing lately do seem to have more on their minds than those I used to see, early in this conflict....Alright, Mr. Pavlos. I will consent to a brief demonstration of yours and Mrs. Loomis's 'specialty.' However, I warn you, I will be sitting in the whole time, and if I detect something amiss, for whatever reason, I will terminate the session, for good and all."
"We have no objection to that," Cellie said. "Above everything, we want Paul to recover, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically. If you think we are hurting him in any way, we will break the contact. Just allow us enough time to do so, gently. An abrupt cessation would likely result in more trauma."
"Fair enough," Dr. Zandman agreed. "Let's proceed."
They returned to Paul Loomis's room. Dr. Zandman was about to order Willie, Hallie, and her uncle from the room, until Pavlos said, "We have found that the presence of other loved ones is a help rather than a hindrance. Miss Stokes, here, is in love with the young man, and I know she still has hopes of marrying him, in spite of problems they've had in the past. She ought to know what she is in for. As for Willie, well....He has had many a traumatic experience himself. He may be able to provide the sympathy, after we have provided the empathy. Elliot, here, has a professional interest in our proceedings, as well as the personal one. He should be present, anyway, to support his niece, whom he regards almost as his daughter."
At this, Elliot brought in an extra chair, and sat next to Hallie, whose hand he clasped tightly. Willie sat on the bed, and gazed at his wife, as she knelt on a pillow, and took both of Paul's hands.
"What's going on?" Paul asked. "Are you setting me up, to tell me I'm a goner, after all? Is it that noise in my head? Is that why I 'see' things?Do I have an--an--aneurysm or something?" He began to shake.
"No, Paul," Dr. Zandman said. "It's just that, after consultation with several authorities on the subject, we're going to try a bit of alternative therapy. After spending so much time with you, I've come to the conclusion that your present state of mind is impeding your recovery."
"So, what are my sister-in-law and the owner of a folk-singing club supposed to do for me?" Paul sounded distrustful.
"What will transpire next, is the equivalent of calling in the clergy, if you will," the doctor said. "You have voiced your objection to religious intervention. I respect your decision, though even a very secular fellow like myself could see the possible benefits of spiritual guidance in your case. Your friends here, according to what I've heard from some highly-regarded doctors in Maine, have the capacity to render similar assistance. I should think you'd have no objection to confiding in your sister-in-law, at least. I have often heard you refer to Mrs. Loomis with a respect that astounds me, considering that it's based on such a brief personal acquaintance."
While he talked, Dr. Zandman attached blood-pressure cuffs to Pavlos's and Cellie's arms, as the Collinsport physicians had recommended. Julia had expressed special concern for Pavlos, whose blood pressure tended to get extremely high during a "session."
Dr. Zandman planned to take the two pressures intermittently during the treatment.
"According to Hallie--" Paul looked at his lap when he said her name, "Cellie can do some amazing things. Willie says she did something to fix my headache a while ago. And she knows what it's like to almost die. She knows what it's like when someone starts to do something awful, and can't stop it---" He sighed, then assumed a stony expression.
Cellie could feel his insides freeze up again, as he fought for that indifference he seemed to consider necessary for his survival. She sought a place to gain a toehold before he hardened his heart again. It was like waiting for an escalator with only one step. "What did you do that was so awful, Paul?" she asked in a soothing tone.
"I didn't say I did anything!" he protested.
"You didn't have to say it, Paul. It's written all over you," Willie observed. "I wore the same writing all over me, once, until Cecily took it away." He reached out, and stroked his wife's braid. Cellie acknowledged his tribute with a grateful smile. He continued,
"I did some pretty awful things, years ago."
"So, you got busted and went to jail, and the bin, a few times. It's not the same thing," Paul replied.
"There was more to it," Willie whispered. "I hurt a lot of people. And--" he whispered into Paulie's ear, "I killed three guys, and had to help someone cover up when he did it."
"That's--that's not what I did, honest!" Paul said. "I didn't commit a crime!"
"Depends what you mean by a crime, Paul," Cellie said. "Just because your commanding officer says it's okay, doesn't make it right."
"You don't know anything about it!" Paul yelled. "You weren't there! You don't know what we had to put up with. Bad enough we were hot and dirty and tired all the time, and watching out for snipers every minute. Bad enough, we would get to places where they didn't bother to bury the dead, and we tripped over their disgusting, filthy carcasses!
"Bad enough we knew we weren't exactly regarded as heroes, either by our own folks, or the folks we were supposed to be protecting. I ought to know, I used to protest the war. And, wherever we went, I sure tried to act decent around the locals. But you could never trust any of 'em, even the kids. We used to hear stories about our guys befriending little kids, and they would either get shot for their trouble, or
worse....There was a story going around that the V.C. would plant bombs on little kids, and set 'em loose around the Americans, because they had, like, a weakness, for cute kids, and some of those kids were mighty cute. Of course, the minute the G.I. would get too friendly, them, 'BOOM!' The kid and the soldier would be blown to Kingdom Come."
"Did you know of any, personally, who perished in this manner?" Pavlos demanded.
"No....but that doesn't mean it never happened."
"I suppose so," Pavlos sighed. "I believe the world has, in this century alone, run the gamut of all the atrocities of which the human animal is capable, including a large number of those he barely imagined in bygone times. But, Paul, just because the possibility exists, doesn't mean that one joins in. Were you so fearful of death, either from the enemy, or as a punishment for insubordination, that you were willing to put aside your morality to follow an inexcusable order?"
"I wasn't too afraid to die, after a while. It's the toss of the dice, and it was quick, for the most part. What I have right now, is worse, I think. . .I wasn't following an order that was unreasonable, let alone inexcusable. When you're in the Army, or Navy, or Marines, you have to do some things that are, um, disagreeable."
"Just how 'disagreeable', Paul?" This, from Cellie, who had found her entrance to Paul's emotional center, quite by accident. She grimly reflected that there was a certain truth to that line from Shakespeare, "He doth protest too much." Paul may have affected a cavalier attitude toward death and his "duties," but Cellie knew he was afraid then, and he was afraid now. That was an emotional terrain with which she was thoroughly familiar.
She entered what appeared to be a real path, with grass and trees on the border. The path was dappled with sunlight in places, a strangely beautiful red-pink sunlight. She could even make out sights and sounds, that must have touched off Paul's emotional resonance. She heard a rather deep female voice, making indistinct sounds, gentle at times, then, what seemed to be distressed--- shouting, then sobbing. That must have been his mother's voice, she decided.
Cellie-Paul heard childish voices, also indistinct, and thought she saw a boy and a girl in the distance, watching her. There were some smaller children around, too, but she couldn't see them as clearly as the older boy and girl. She ran up the path to catch them, but they were gone. She turned around. She was in a dark place, now. She heard an angry male voice. She knew that sound. Her father-in-law. Thank goodness, that voice went away quickly, but not before she heard the words, "No use for the other brats, as it is! I guess they're mine, but as for your little bastard there--" A loud slamming noise, and that was it.
She had to get farther up the path, to find the place that hurt Paul now. She had to pass so many spaces of alternating shadow and light, that she got lost for a while. Then she came to a meadow. She could smell manure, but she also smelled flowers. A lilac bush stood near a barn. Something soft brushed against her legs, and she heard purring. Paul must have had a pet cat. There was a gentle lowing in the distance, and kindly, easy-going voices: Steve, Fran, and elderly-sounding voices with heavy accents. Steve's parents, Cellie-Paul supposed. "Stay. . .Stay. Your Mom and your brother are welcome to stay, Fran. There's plenty to do around here. . .Don't cry. Don't cry anymore, Teresa....Paul, take care of your mother. . ."
A while later, Cellie-Paul heard the childish voices again, and saw a small boy and girl looking up at her. They weren't the same children as before, but they didn't run from her. In a moment she recognized Lew and Adele. She felt their warm hands in hers. They ran up the path, to a room which smelled of medicine. There were other people in the room, around a bed.
A hand, thin and dry as a twig in autumn, brushed her own hand. Teresa's voice, once deep, now sounded wispy. "Paul…. Paul....look, your brother is here. I told you he would come back, someday. Cellie-Paul heard Willie's voice, awkward, not knowing the right thing to say. "Hey, Paulie. Long time no see. When I saw you last, you were two feet tall."
There was another dark day. All the people who'd been around the bed, now stood around a hole in the ground. She began to weep, and felt a familiar hand on her shoulder. She saw Willie, in his new suit that he bought for this very occasion. He was messing it up now, with his own tears. There was someone nearby, a woman who tried to comfort him, but then became very impatient. "You let my brother alone," she heard herself say to the woman.
She passed out of that time. In a short while, she was in a garden, where she could only see the green tips of bulbs pushing through the earth. She recognized the garden at Collinwood, in April. She walked, hand-in-hand with Hallie, up the path. Cellie pulled back, and heard kissing sounds. Even though she'd separated herself from Paul's memory for that moment, she could feel the soft impression of lips slowly opening beneath hers. "Oh, Paul," Hallie said. "I wish we had more time together before you have to leave."
"We'll write and write and write, Hannah Lynne. I'll tell you what I'm thinking every moment, and you tell me everything on your mind."
"You won't be writing to anyone in Vermont, will you? Oh, I'm sorry. We've only just met, and here I am, getting possessive."
Paul said, reassuringly, "Just to my sister and brother-in-law. No other girls, anymore. I was never that interested in a lot of girls, anyway. I kind of LIKE you being so possessive. I never really belonged anywhere, you know? I mean, I know I have a home for life, if I stay on the farm. But my Mom and I moved around so much, before we went there. And I don't really want to be a farmer. I was thinking of becoming a teacher, and living in a larger town, or city. It's nice to think I'll have a place of my own to come home to, someday, and someone who feels at home in that place." More kissing, and Cellie, one with Paul once more, was whisked away to a "country" of blinding, harsh lights.
There were many young men around. Cellie-Paul felt crowded, and uncomfortable. There were so many places one could go to get away from the other people on the farm, if one felt the need. There was NO escape from people on the Army base, and when one finally had time off, the others wouldn't let a guy alone. "I don't like to go out for beers, and not to the joints you guys prefer," Cellie-Paul said.
"Aw, Paul, you gotta go have some real fun, before we get to 'Nam....Once you get there, maybe there's something, but you won't get a lot of time, or money, to do it, and, face it, Saigon sure as hell ain't Vegas. A man has to get some action, before he ends up getting shot at."
"Maybe the war will end soon, before we have to worry too much about getting shot at, and missing all the 'fun'."
"Hey, man, people will keep shooting right up to the second they announce that they signed a treaty, and then, probably, right after, just 'cause it'll take a while for it to sink in. I'm not waiting on a treaty, before I get my last U.S. beer and my last U.S. piece of---"
"Okay, okay, I'm going. Just don't push me into anything. I got a girl at home---"
"So do we all, buddy. That's just how it is. Come on, Paul, we only have tonight."
Cellie pulled away, and saw Paul getting drunk, and flirting with some woman. She came back to him, just in time for him to fall on his face before he could leave the bar. "Ow-ow-ow!" she complained. Then, she thought about Hallie, and, like Paul, was relieved nothing else had happened.
There was a loud noise around her, then a door dropped open before her. It was humid, and there was a soft mist all around a clearing. She could see a frill of grey-green trees in the distance. She knew where she was, and now, she broke the connection briefly.
"All right, Paul," she whispered. "We're in Viet Nam now, you and I. It's been easy enough, so far, but you are going to have to guide me, and Pavlos." She looked back, and saw that Pavlos was just a bit pink in the face, so far. The doctor was checking their blood pressures, and nodding.
"No. No, I don't want to. Don't make me, Cellie, at least, not in front of Hallie, her uncle, and my brother."
"Paul, no-one here will judge you," Pavlos said. "We have all read accounts of some of the goings-on in Viet Nam, even the worst."
"It's MY head, and if I say I won't go any farther with them in the room---"
"It's his right, Mrs. Loomis," Dr. Zandman said.
Hallie rose first, and said, with dignity, "It's okay, Paul. If my being here keeps you from getting better---"
"That's not how I meant it, Hannah Lynne," Paul pleaded, looking directly into her eyes.
Hallie's eyes filled with tears once more. "I'll go. Your health means more to me than any of the personal problems we have."
"I believe you. You won't leave the hospital just yet, will you?"
Hallie's expression became one of hope. "No. I'll stay, until Cellie and Pavlos are done. I want to hear how you're doing afterward, at least." She touched Paul's face.
"Good. Thank you. I'll co-operate better, if I know you can still root for me, under the circumstances." He stroked her hand. "I'll tell you everything, if it works out. I promise. I owe you that much."
"You don't owe me anything, Paul. . ." Hallie sighed, and let the Professor lead her out the door.
Willie said, "I'll probably know pretty much, what's going on, anyway. Cecily and me, we're really close, when it comes to that stuff. Aren't we?" he asked his wife. He held her by her shoulders, and gazed into her blue-grey eyes.
For the first time in weeks, Cellie kissed him with a little eagerness. "Yes, Will," she whispered, embracing him. "Don't go too far away."
"I'll hang around the door as much as I can," he whispered back. He knew she was using him to pick up some sympathy to mix with the empathy, but he didn't mind it when she kissed him like that. Maybe later, she would need some "replenishing." He certainly hoped so.
When the room was clear, Cellie knelt again, near Paul. "You understand, from now on, there's no turning back?" she warned.
Paul fixed his sad gaze on his sister-in-law. "I understand," he said, wearily. "I want it over with."
Cellie took his hands again, and Pavlos, who'd moved a chair right behind her, put his hands on her head. Cellie began, again,"Okay, Paul, we've just arrived. What are we doing?" She closed her eyes.
"Nothing dangerous or disgusting, not just yet," he said. "We were under a new commanding officer, Sergeant Krosky. I remember, first, just walking in the woods for hours, not doing a hell of a lot, except sweating, and batting flies away."
Cellie-Paul began to perspire, heavily, as she picked up on the remembered humidity, and a sense of mingled relief, and ennui. The boredom was almost a blessing. Perhaps nothing bad would happen, after all, she felt. After all, they were making progress with those peace talks, and---what was that noise? She looked toward the sky, at the nearest tree. She was so surprised, and the light was so vivid, that all she could do, in that instant, was to note the lacy shape of the individual leaves. Even so, she could feel herself instinctively reaching for her gun, as her D.I. had dinned into her, over and over. He'd sounded like Ralph Baracini, except the D.I. had cussed a lot.
A shiny twig suddenly hung down from among the lacy leaves, pointing right at her. She aimed her rifle at a point just above the shiny twig, and fired.
A man dropped from the tree, like a branch snapped off in a storm. Cellie looked down at him. The small, sallow-faced soldier only looked into her eyes for a second. Cellie caught an image of a stray memory that drifted through Paul's mind at that moment, of the first time Steve had taken him hunting. Paul managed to shoot a duck, but when he and his brother-in-law had come to claim it, it was still alive. "Put it out of its misery, Paul," the practical farmer had told him. "It's your shot, so you have to do it."
"No, I can't," Paul said,as he gazed on the dying duck, who regarded him with its beady eyes, glazed with suffering.
"You know you have to, Paul. Even if we pick it up, and take care of it, it's not going to get better," Steve had admonished.
Paul shot the duck dead. After that, he felt awful, and almost refused to shoot anything again. "You'll get over that," Steve said, sympathetically. "It's only a duck. Look how many cows I had to send to the slaughterhouse, or just have put down. I wasn't too crazy about it, the first time I had to do it. That's the way of the world. Kill, or be killed. You do what you have to, I guess. . ."
"You do what you have to. . ." Cellie-Paul turned around, and saw Sgt. Krosky. Cellie-Paul didn't care for the expectant look on the Sergeant's face, even though the commanding officer said nothing more. Cellie turned back, to stare at the dying V.C. soldier. SHE certainly wasn't going to finish him off. But she began to feel numb, even as she summoned the medical officer. By the time
the medic managed to clamber over some big roots and small bushes on the trail, it was too late, anyway.
"Are we going to bury him, or something?" Cellie-Paul asked the Sergeant.
"Don't be stupid, Loomis. One thing I've learned, after five years out here, if you see one V.C. around, even a DEAD one, for sure there's at least ten hiding out nearby. We have to shag it out of here, pronto. Even if we didn't have to worry about this one's buddies, I wouldn't bother. Let him rot."
"Yes, sir." Cellie could now hear Paul's voice, in the hospital room.
"That was the first I ever killed," he said. "I remember agreeing to Hallie's request that I let her know when I--I did it, and it was her idea to call them 'falling trees'. Nobody was more surprised than I was when it literally came true. I thought I would die from feeling bad about it, the way I did when I shot the duck. I was sad, and regretful for a day. Then I had to do it, again, and I started to feel nothing.
They were going to kill me, if I didn't kill them."
"We understand that, Paul," Cellie said, soothingly. She felt a warm red vibration nearby, and realized her husband was behind the door. "If I could only tell you some of the stories I've heard, from different people, who were put into that position--"
"If that's all that ever happened, there would be almost nothing to tell." Paul's head sank to his chest. "like I said, when we were traveling around, we weren't in the shooting mode all the time. We came to different villages. The villagers would try to take advantage of the situation, offering to sell us trinkets, and in the bigger towns---" He looked ashamed now.
"Offering to sell their women, or the women offering to sell themselves. Is that it? Is this what your sadness is all about?" Cellie demanded, feeling a little angry on Hallie's behalf. Good thing she wasn't around to hear this!
She felt Pavlos's hands tighten on her head, and she fancied she could hear her husband's voice. "Don't jump all over him for that, Cecily. If you didn't get worked up over what I did, then you can't judge Paul for that now. That's Hallie's job."
Her anger melted. "Okay, Will, okay, Pavlos," she thought.
"It's not all that it's about," Paul replied, "but it's part of it, I guess. I wasn't brought up that way, even though, maybe you know, and I'm sure Willie and Fran know---I'm--I'm illegitimate. I overheard my Mom telling old Mrs. Maracek. She said Willie's and Fran's Dad was real mean to her, and she just fell....I never mentioned to her that I knew, but I made a vow that I would never act like he did, or my real father, whoever he was. And I never did, in Vermont, or even when I went away, to the Army base, for basic training.
“But, when I got to Viet Nam, and I saw what was going on, I had times when I kind of forgot Hallie for a while. I had no problem, writing her about the falling trees, but--- It was only a couple of times. The guys who were in 'the know' took me to what they promised were safe places. Maybe the Americans ran them, I don't know. I admit, it was fun. The girls didn't charge much money, and I was extra careful so I wouldn't get anyone pregnant or catch diseases. I'd heard all about that stuff when I was protesting the war, before I had to go, and those were things I didn't want to have to worry about, if I managed to get out of Nam alive."
"You still love Hallie, don't you?"
"I do---I mean, I did---I don't know anymore."
Cellie had a faint, red sensation, blocked by that dark green brush. His guilt over the prostitutes wasn't what was blocking his affections. She would have to go back in. Before she did, she looked toward Dr. Zandman, who was studying Pavlos's blood pressure gauge.
"You're all making excellent progress," he said. "No readings off the scale, so far. But tread carefully."
"So, where was good old Sgt. Krosky while all this was going on?" she began.
"I think he went there, himself, but I never actually saw him," Paul said. "He really didn't like any of the 'gooks' too much, even if they were ours. Once, we went to a bar, and one of our guys was Twisting with a girl who was hanging around, and Sgt. Krosky pretended he had a rifle, and 'aimed' it at them. He had a smile on his face. Like it was just a big joke....I didn't think much about it, then. Before we knew it, we were back on the trail. We didn't have any trouble for a couple of weeks. then we ran into a pocket of V.C., who ambushed us, after we'd just received wordthat the trail was clear."
Cellie-Paul, who could sense Pavlos following her at a discreet distance, re-entered Paul's private Viet Nam. She, and her comrades, had stopped briefly on the trail. She was carrying her own pack of supplies, and a small sack she was holding for a friend who stood near
a bush. The bush was dying, as were many near it, from that Orange chemical she'd heard about. She preferred to follow these trails, as did the others, because it made it easier to scope out and avoid the Viet Cong.
At least, they didn't have to worry too much about the enemy right now. Sgt. Krosky had a report that the area was clear for a couple of miles. He decided to let his men rest for a while, but he told them to be careful, anyway.
Her friend, Don, came back to her. "Well, Loomis, that bush is so messed up, what I just did had to be an improvement!"
Cellie-Paul laughed at that. She and Don weren't close friends. Something inside of her warned against strong attachments, either to the other platoon members, or to any of the girls encountered along the way. She was re-training herself to think only of Hallie, whom she now missed more than ever. She wondered how she could explain the other girls to Hallie. She knew the other guys had no such qualms, or any such plans, to confess to their wives and girls back home. Maybe other women took that sort of thing for granted. But Hallie was different. She had only gotten to know Hallie a few days before she'd left, and now, she had only letters to go on, but it would surely be enough, from now on.
She was standing and thinking, when, in the distance, she saw a clump of dark green bushes that had somehow survived the spraying of the herbicide. The bush twitched the tiniest bit in the still air. In her head, there was a vibrating noise, like cicadas. She grabbed her gun, and signalled to her companions. It was over in about a half-hour. When the smoke cleared, there were five dead V.C., and three dead G.I.'s, including Don, staining the yellowed grass with their blood. Cellie-Paul felt a pounding in her ears, an urge to get even, that she hadn't felt before. She wasn't close to Don, but he'd had such a sense of humor, up until the last minute before the ambush. She was going to miss him more than she thought possible.
Sgt. Krosky was full of a yellow-blue rage, but he wasn't the sort to curse and carry on. Cellie-Paul almost wished he was. He had captured three Viet Cong, who stood before him now, obviously scared to death. But the Sergeant wasn't about to execute them.
"Tonight," he announced, "we'll be at a medical facility. I want to take these two over there, and call in some big shots to pump 'em for information. After that, we'll know just where we stand." He stared at the G.I. bodies. "At least, we'll be able to take these along right now"--- a duty that, otherwise, might have been foregone for safety's sake.
Krosky forced the prisoners to help carry the American body bags, but not before he made them observe how quickly the exposed Vietnamese bodies were already attracting flies.
The Sergeant kept his men on the move, not only because he was jazzed from his anger, but because of the very real danger of pausing in the area. Once, they all had to crawl through sharp, dry, dead grass. Cellie-Paul could hear the captives grunt while they crawled and dragged a couple of the body bags along. If worse came to worst, the G.I. bodies--- and their native porters--- might be used as human shields, both easily disposed of. The prisoners didn't hesitate, though, with pistols aimed at their heads. Fortunately, the band was intercepted by U.S. soldiers in Jeeps who were on their way to that same MASH unit.
The field hospital compound was like an oasis. Cellie-Paul was grateful for her first shower in almost a month, except for short stops at the cleaner-looking ponds and streams. The nurses were nice, but Cellie-Paul no longer felt horny, or even flirtatious. One of them did let her have some decent stationery to write a quick note to Hallie, though. Cellie-Paul seldom told Hallie about the falling trees, anymore. Even though she wanted to write about Don, she chose to leave that out, also. Instead, she wrote of their dreams, and about the new niece she longed to see.
The superior officers had arrived, with their translator, a Vietnamese Army Corporal, to interrogate the V.C. prisoners. Just after the helicopter left with the mail, Sgt. Krosky called his men together. The prisoners swore that the nearest enemy outpost was in a small village, eight miles away. Krosky's men had the mission of infiltrating, and eliminating the base.
One of the Viet Cong went along, as a guide, guarded by the translator. It was early in the morning, the day after the next, when they came to the outskirts of a village. Cellie heard an argument Sgt. Krosky was having with the translator, Corporal Huy, and the prisoner. "Is this the place, or ISN'T it?" Krosky demanded.
The prisoner sounded panicked. "He's pretty sure, Sergeant," Huy said. "At least, it was the H.Q., a week or two, ago. The V.C. are probably still holed up around here."
"A lot of these northernmost towns are usually chock-full of V.C. sympathizers, even without the army itself, around," Sgt. Krosky observed. Cellie-Paul could hear him muttering to his radio. "We're gonna to do a little sanitizing around here."
"Begging your pardon, Sir?" Corporal Huy said, a little panic in his own voice.
"Oh, don't look like that, Corporal," Krosky said. "We're just gonna flush out the populace, tork up their huts, that sort of thing."
"Is it really necessary, sir?" the translator asked. "Remember all the to-do about My Lai. . ."
"I have no intention of allowing that to happen, Corporal. Are you questioning my orders? I'm not questioning mine. These people need one more lesson, before those twits in Paris let the V.C. have the whole enchilada."
Cellie-Paul and the men fell out, at Krosky's orders. She began to feel panicky, herself. Yellow anger, mauve despair, orange-brown hatred, violet-blue fear, swirled in the air around her. The fear came from the villagers, some of them who had already been on the streets, doing their early-morning chores, and the rest, forced from their houses. There weren't too many able bodied young men around, all gone to the war, and most likely dead, she supposed. Cellie-Paul started counting the scanty group of old men, women, and children. They kept shuffling back and forth, children hiding behind their mothers. She got to fifty, which was about half, when someone handed her a flame thrower.
The natives offered no resistance, at first. They had the attitude of having endured such goings-on, before, probably several times, and from both sides. The Viet Cong who had been there just recently--- Krosky himself found their abandoned head-quarters--- might have simply threatened them with the same fate. Krosky, however, didn't stop at threats. He ordered Cellie-Paul to set the nearest house on fire.
Corporal Huy spoke up. "Sir---aren't you going to at least let me talk to some of these people first? It will look better on the report," he temporized.
"Waste of time," Krosky replied, evenly. "I want to get out of here A.S.A.P. I told you before, it's orders, and it's no big deal, anyway. They'll start rebuilding the minute we're out of here, just in time to welcome the next platoon of V.C. Loomis, fire that house, NOW."
Cellie-Paul looked at Huy, who had the prisoner on a kind of leash attached to his handcuffs. The translator shrugged. The prisoner appeared impassive, perhaps believing this was the worst consequence of his confession. There was nothing else to do, but follow orders. She ignited the flame-thrower, and aimed it at the house, which looked as small and defenseless as the occupants, who now stood in the street, watching. . .
The house was a mass of yellow-orange flame. Cellie-Paul's eyes stung from the brown smoke. The wood must have been a little damp. She wondered why she didn't feel bad about depriving these people of their shelter. Images of her late friend Don, and some of the other men her unit had lost along the way floated across her consciousness, but she knew that wasn't the real reason she could follow such a mean-spirited, meaningless order, and it wasn't the reason the Seargeant could even think of giving one.
She knew that, if these people were really a danger to the company, Krosky wouldn't have led his men into the center of town, just like that, even with their weapons drawn. The natives wouldn't have been outside, even going about their ordinary business, without carrying some kind of weapons, she supposed. And, if it happened that the houses were booby-trapped, perhaps with explosives, burning them down, without at least interrogating some of the citizens as to the possibility, was dangerous.
Cellie began to see the truth, through Paul's eyes. The prisoner had his own reasons for betraying these people. Perhaps they, themselves, had somehow driven the Viet Cong out, leaving himself and his late companions stranded.
The Sergeant was sick and tired of having to continue the struggle, even though he believed the war was nearly over, and it was certainly clear to him who would eventually get the spoils. Cellie had seen his irritable, resentful expression crumple briefly when he glanced at Don, the company jokester, sprawled on the ground, flies already crawling into his mortal wounds. Alongside of Krosky's dislike of the Vietnamese, Cellie knew he was intelligent enough to wonder (and have the wondering drive him a little crazy), what, beyond hanging in there to fulfill orders, and to collect his pension if he survived, was he still fighting for?
And as for Paul? Well, Cellie reasoned, who wanted to remember that he'd been roped, against his will, into serving a lost cause, in which he'd been forced to invest so much, had so much taken from him, and yet, had gained nothing? If this was the only satisfaction to be gained in the whole miserable mess, and they all might die in the next minute, then tormenting these people was on the same moral level as dallying with the cheap hookers. Perhaps these villagers were a threat, or they were not, but they were different from those who had the fire-power, they were expendable, and they were in the way.
The answer was as simple, as it was senseless.
The V.C. prisoner, Sgt. Krosky, Paul, and the others knew they could get away with it, and so, they did.
In the frozen moment Cellie had stood, considering these earth-shattering truths, matters moved fast around her. The Seargeant ordered her to torch several more houses.
"The third house," she could hear Paul say, "When the flame touched it, a woman screamed something. The translator said her child had run back inside, unnoticed by myself, or Krosky. The mother ran to the burning house. I started to run after her, but Krosky and another guy yanked me back. The next thing I knew, Krosky took out a pistol and shot at her, but she got into the house. I could hear her and the kid shriek as the whole place caved in on them. After that, the situation
deteriorated . . ."
Before she sank back in, Cellie glimpsed the doctor reading Pavlos's blood pressure, and shaking his head....Too late. She was running around the clearing, her rifle drawn, and ready to fire at the first thing that moved. An old man ran out from behind a kind of shed, swinging a hoe. Two shots. He fell, gasping and flopping like a fish. She yelled at him to stop jumping around like that. He didn't. She stepped up, and, without really thinking, fired right into his face. She stood for a second, and gazed into the hole where his eyes and nose had been.
She turned around quickly, and ran into the street. She fired at random at whoever came her way. She almost hit a couple of men from her unit. She wondered where Sgt. Krosky was. She wondered where Corporal Huy and the prisoner had gone.
Two little girls, hand-in-hand, ran up the street, their short legs kicking up dirt in their frenzied, futile attempt at flight. For a second, Cellie-Paul hesitated, then she was shoved from behind. She heard Krosky's voice shout, "Damn it, they're getting away!" Cellie-Paul pulled the trigger. One of the girls fell. Before she could
shoot the other, one of the G.I.'s dragged the survivor, who had been shocked into silence, out of sight.
Cellie could hear Pavlos whispering, "Please, Flame, we must leave this place!"
"NO!" she roared. "We HAVE to finish!" She shot a boy carrying a baby. The baby was also killed, by the bullet that passed through its brother. Cellie-Paul heard a shout, and ran behind one of the houses that was still standing.
A couple of her buddies were there, clutching three girls, including the surviving sister of the little girl Cellie-Paul shot. They were forcing her onto the ground. The girl was small, but she could have been Adele's age.
"Come on, Paul," they taunted. "Come on, Vermont Virgin. Here's
something to take your mind off the cows you left back home!"
"No," Cellie-Paul said, her senses drifting back. She knew she couldn't reason with them, or save the girls from being raped, but she thought she could get herself out of this predicament. "I was doing better shooting them. I'm not a virgin, anyway, you know that!"
"To hear those girls back in the last town complain, you might as WELL be! Come on, Paul!" They tore at the girl's flimsy clothing.
Cellie-Paul felt a surge of that sickly, brown-orange lust, but she held firm. "I SAID NO!" she shouted.
"Aw, Hell, forget about Loomis. He loves shooting 'em so much, he can 'clear the scene' after we're done."
Cellie-Paul backed out slowly, watching the whole time, lest the others turn their attention from what they were doing, and prevent her from leaving. Once away from the house, she went into the bush. She turned, and saw Pavlos. He was so red in the face, it was almost black. "Cellie, please!" he pleaded.
"Just a little longer!" she shouted.
"Mrs. Loomis," she heard Dr. Zandman say, "Mr. Pavlos's pressure is at a dangerous level, and yours isn't far behind!"
"We have to find Sgt. Krosky!" She saw a dark green bush, and dove behind it. She fell, head first, onto a body. She recognized the Viet Cong prisoner, bleeding from a pistol wound in his forehead. She saw Krosky's back. He was kneeling over a woman, while holding a knife to her throat. Cellie-Paul saw yellow-blue, and aimed her rifle.
Krosky turned, and laughed. "You're not going to shoot a commanding officer, Loomis. You know just what will happen to you, unless you work up the nerve to desert. I sure as Hell don't think you're about to do that. A sweet-faced little brat like yourself wouldn't last a day alone out here, and the V.C. would have no trouble picking you off. I don't know what your problem is, anyway. You know we were supposed to clean out this one-ox hole-in-the-ground."
"I thought we were just going to burn a few houses, and give 'em a good scare, sir. I didn't think--"
" 'You didn't think'," Krosky sneered. "Private, it's not your job to think. That's just the way things are done around here, peace talks or no peace talks. And don't even think about running and whining to the commanders, like that My Lai business. You're in just as deep as the rest of us, boy." He turned back to the woman writhing on the ground beneath him. "As long as I got her down, Loomis, want to share? You know that's all these whores are good for."
"No, sir," Cellie-Paul answered weakly. She put down her rifle, and turned as Krosky finished his business. Then, she heard the woman sob. It was the first time all day that the young soldier had taken the time to really listen to the sound of the suffering they had wrought. The woman sounded like Teresa, or Fran. Cellie-Paul turned, and saw Krosky draw his knife along the woman's throat. At first, he teased her, just making a thin cut. Tears slid down along her temples, to the ground, mixing with the thin stream of blood.
Cellie-Paul drew her pistol, and aimed it at the Sergeant's head. She heard a choking noise. Pavlos whimpered, "Flame, don't---" as she pulled the trigger. The distraction made her miss the Sergeant and hit a nearby tree, but Krosky collapsed onto the woman, who wriggled out from under him, and struggled to rise. Cellie-Paul instinctively reached out her hand, but the woman was having none of that. She ran into the woods. Cellie-Paul stared at Krosky's lifeless body. She
knew she hadn't shot the Sergeant. She sat beside him, wondering what would happen to her, now.
"Mrs. Loomis, Mrs. Loomis, you must stop. Mr. Pavlos has collapsed!" Dr. Zandman shouted.
Cellie slowly opened her eyes, trying to gently extract her consciousness from Paul's, and looked behind her. Dr. Zandman was kneeling beside Pavlos, who was just starting to get his normal color back. "I have to get the cardiologist. Nurse!" the doctor called out the door.
Cellie, Paul, and Willie (who had rushed into the room) watched, all shedding guilty tears, as the gathered physicians examined Pavlos, whom they'd lifted (with some difficulty) to Paul's bed. The cardiologist and Dr. Zandman both listened to his heart. To their amazement, Pavlos sighed, and sat up, his face its normal ruddy-olive tone once more. The cardiologist spoke to him quietly, and he nodded. He turned to the younger people, a serious look on his face.
"The learned doctors have suggested, and I have agreed, to spend the night here, being 'observed'. Cellie, before I go to my room, I want you to know, I am disappointed that you refused to heed my pleas, but I do forgive you, because you have ferreted out a truth you will need in your own travails. As soon as I am settled, I will want to see you, and Willie, if the heart doctor doesn't object. Don't worry about telling Janice, I will call her myself as soon as possible."
A gurney arrived, and Pavlos was taken to his own room in the Cardiac unit. Dr. Zandman sat in Pavlos's vacated chair, facing Cellie and Paul. Willie stood in a corner, his hands in his pockets, and avoided looking at his wife. The doctor, however, glared at her accusingly.
"Now, Mrs. Loomis, what had you discovered that was so important that you would risk your friend's life?"
Paul replied with a touch of asperity, "Don't talk to her that way! I'll tell you. I was involved in what
was probably the last 'drastic action' of the war. I want to speak to my superior officers, and a lawyer."
"Are you sure, Private Loomis? Don't make such a decision in haste. Anything you say to me will be held in the strictest confidence."
"I have to tell them. . ." Paul began to weep.
"Paul," Dr. Zandman pleaded softly, "Tell me some of it, and I'll help you decide." Five minutes later, he said, "Very well. I'll go call someone." The doctor got up, and signalled to Cellie to follow him outside. Once in the hall, he whispered to her, "I will tell Paul not to mention your role, and Mr. Pavlos's, in this. I don't trust the military enough, to guarantee that they won't be bothering either of you in the future. You both have great gifts. You should be permitted the freedom to choose the manner in which they will be used. The freedom which Paul and the others were supposedly fighting to preserve," Dr. Zandman commented bitterly. He squeezed Cellie's hand for a moment.
"Will Paul be all right after this?" she asked.
"Now that he has faced the source of the trauma, it will make the conventional therapies much easier to implement, I believe," the psychiatrist said. "He's not completely out of the woods yet, but his demeanor has improved much more rapidly than that of anybody else I've ever seen in a similar condition. The prognosis at this point is much brighter. Mrs. Loomis, I suppose you've heard this before, from your Aunt and others. But I hope that you consider a future in psychiatry, or psychology, at least. There may be much you can share with us, even if your abilities themselves are not teachable."
"I'm thinking about it, but I have my family to consider right now. That....and other issues."
"You're very young, yet. There's no hurry."
Cellie watched Dr. Zandman walk up the hall, and went back into Paul's room.
Willie, who had been waiting for his wife, felt free to approach his brother. "Paul. . ." he began, his own eyes welling up. "I thought I had it rough....I don't think I could have stood what you did.
I felt it, you know, through Cecily, until she started ignoring Pavlos. . .I kind of got mad at her for that....Sorry."
"Paul," Cellie prompted, "Who shot Krosky? We didn't."
"The translator. Corporal Huy. He was hiding where Krosky had dumped him, after shooting him and the prisoner. He played dead, while Krosky ran back to the village, and he managed to get himself up, but just then Krosky came back with the woman. He flopped back down. Huy told me, after, that he didn't feel safe enough to move again, until I showed up, and verbally challenged the Sergeant. He saw me draw the pistol, but I hesitated, so he raised himself up on his elbow, and
got a clear shot. We agreed to muddy up the facts, reported that Krosky had been killed by the vengeful prisoner, the same one who'd sold out his own people, and then Huy killed the prisoner.
"We went back into the village. There were just a couple of natives wandering around, like zombies. They'd clobbered three of our guys, one of whom died then and there. Corporal Huy called our platoon together, and ordered us to gather the dead, forty-two in all, half the village, almost, and lined 'em up in the street, for their survivors to take care of. Then we got the Hell out of there. The survivors watched us go, with resignation, I guess. The corporal said they'd probably keep their mouths shut, because they knew they had been punished for hosting a Viet Cong outpost, even though the V.C. had ditched it, days before. They didn't want any more strangers working them over."
Cellie asked about the mine field, without hinting about Hallie's letter, or her vision.
"I was just careless, I guess," Paul said. "We had just left our bodies at the next outpost, and received a mail drop. I had Hallie's latest letter, still sealed in its envelope. I was afraid to read it. She always wrote me such sweet, understanding letters, and I didn't know how I could answer her---though the other guys, even Corporal Huy, told me to try to forget about it. That's the weird part, Cellie. While I was in the thick of it, I know if I had kept killing, and started raping and mutilating, I probably wouldn't have felt so bad about the whole thing, after. I would have been one of the guys. The killing went so fast, it was almost like a regular battle. There wasn't any personal contact, you know? No touching. It almost wasn't real, and I didn't care about anything. The minute I began to think about what I was doing, and I cared enough to pull back from the next level of rotten-ness, that's when the pain inside, and the dreams began."
"You have to have that pain, for now, Paul. That's what will make you a better man, even though you did terrible things," Cellie said. "I can't make that go away, completely, but no matter what happens to you, from here on, it won't destroy you. I know now, you tried to destroy yourself once. You were thinking too much about what had happened when you stepped into that mine field."
"You may be right," Paul admitted. "You know the funny thing? The one thing I regretted most, when I realized I was still alive, was that I lost Hallie's letter, without ever having read it."
Cellie went to the visitors' waiting area, a wan smile on her face. Hallie and the Professor rose. Hallie moved her lips to speak, but mounting tension had rendered her temporarily speechless. Elliot asked, "Well? Have you and Pavlos unearthed the trauma? Where is Pavlos? We heard a bit of commotion down your end of the hall."
Cellie hung her head. "We--we went in, and we didn't stop till the job was done. But it was too much for Pavlos's blood pressure. For a minute, we all thought he had a stroke."
"Paul's memories were that intense?" Elliot looked deeply concerned.
"I'm afraid so. But Pavlos came out of it, before they took him to the Cardiac unit. He sounded like he was going to be okay. Hallie--Paul wants to see you now. Dr. Zandman said it's okay, but I'm not so sure. . ."
Hallie finally found her voice. "Why should I be kept from him, now?"
"Well, he's--he's had the doctor call some big shots from the Army, to tell them what really happened to him, and his company."
"What happened?" Hallie demanded. "Were more men hurt or killed in that minefield? Was it his fault?"
"No, to both questions. But it's pretty upsetting....I don't want him get so riled up that he starts talking wildly, and really getting himself into hot water."
"What makes you think I would get him upset?"
"He didn't read your last letter, Hal. It was destroyed in the minefield."
"Thank God for that!" Hallie looked extremely relieved.
"In a way, I guess we can thank God, Hallie. But when you hear what he has to tell you, don't go off half-cocked and saying things you both might be sorry for."
"Cellie, you know me better than that," Hallie said, sounding hurt.
"I'm sorry, Hal. I know. I just---I just strained myself. And Pavlos. That's my own fault. He wanted out at one point and I almost didn't finish in time." Cellie began to cry. "Will's really attached to Pavlos, and he was angry at me. He apologized for that, but he went straight back to my Dad's place to check on Sarah Teresa."
It was Hallie's turn to comfort Cellie. "It's going to be okay, Cellie. Willie never stays mad at you for long."
Elliot commented, "I find it highly unusual that you're in such despair, Cellie. Even in your earliest efforts at transference, when you used to get so sick, you always radiated a sense of triumph, an attitude of confidence."
"I know when the problem started, but I don't know where it all went," Cellie sobbed. "The only time I feel competent anymore is when Ralph Baracini and I are flipping each other at Karate class."
"A temporary phase, I'm sure," the Professor said, reassuringly. "You did succeed today. Perhaps you are experiencing what they call 'burn-out'. When you get back to your father's place, take the next two days to unwind, and you'll be back at the top of your form."
"I hope so. I'm going to need it all back, before long," Cellie said. "Hallie, do you still want me to go in with you and your uncle?"
"Of course I do. I promise, I won't make any demands on you, Cellie."
They went back to Paul's room. He was sitting up, much straighter than before. Hallie bent to kiss his cheek, and he didn't flinch.
"Did Cellie tell you what she found out?" he asked in a calm voice.
"No, Paul. You have to tell me, yourself. Don't worry, I won't crumble."
"Okay," he sighed.
"I'll leave the room, Hallie, dear," Elliot said. I'll be right out in the hall, if you need me. Are you staying, Cellie?"
Hallie said, "You can go on, Cellie. I know you wanted to see Pavlos."
"Yeah, in a few minutes. Paul, before, you said you wanted a lawyer on hand when those Army guys show up. Do you have one in mind? 'Cause if you don't, I can call my Dad. He probably knows the right kind. He could probably get hold of one, to come down here A.S.A.P."
"Thanks, Cellie, I'd sure appreciate it." Paul sounded calm and sensible, now. Cellie hoped he would maintain that calm during his interrogation. God knew, she was no longer in any condition to help him further.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Pavlos sat in his bed, and held Cellie's hand. "You know why I wanted to stop us, don't you, Flame? Dr. Zandman told me you were almost ready to collapse, as I did. We stood up to all of Paul's killings, and we handled his near-murder of his commanding officer very well, I thought. That was the point at which I most identified his impotent despair, with Willie's. But the next step was his distracted footfall onto that mine, and I believed that neither of us might have survived the assumption of that agony."
"I began to think about that, while I was on my way upstairs, Pavlos. I'm really sorry. Will's pissed off at me, right now, like I was deliberately out to hurt you. But it wasn't that way at all! I was so into the slaughter, I just didn't give a damn....Oh, my God, Pavlos. I was just like--like them. I was them, the same way I was--
"You WERE Barnabas, once. I know about that. I remember his demeanor last July, and have tried, with spotty success, to read him.
I have made many surmises about the character and experiences of your uncle. There was, once, a time when he didn't 'give a damn', perhaps because HE was once damned. Don't be frightened, Cellie, the secret, as much of it as I could guess, is safe with me."
"I used to think what happened to him was the worst thing that could happen, and now, I find something in the wider world that is surely worse. . ."
"What is the difference, Flame? You have, in both cases, ordinary, good-hearted men who were driven to evil action by an outside agency, with devastating consequences. Of course, the worst part is that they were made to act on the ugliest impulses that exist in every human's heart to begin with."
"It's NATURAL to do these things? Why do them at all? Does it really serve some higher purpose?"
Pavlos said, "I have read that, in some of the higher animal societies, there are times when a powerful male, or several, seem to go crazy, and kill members of their herds luckless enough, or weak enough, to fall into their clutches. Even females sometimes suffer disruptions of normal behavior that cause them to eat, suffocate, or snap the spines
of their young. It doesn't always serve the cause of cleaning out the gene pool, or solving a crisis in survival conditions. The wisest naturalist hasn't discovered the purpose of some these frenzies, these seemingly senseless, self-defeating acts of wanton destruction. One can extend this confoundment to humans, who ARE animals, even if they are very special animals. Some have attributed such activity to demonic influence. I certainly don't rule it out for anyone. After all, people
do manage to control their worst impulses, most of the time. Something extraordinary must set it off. Krosky may have slowly been going insane all along, but most of his men surely weren't."
"Oh, come on now, Pavlos," Cellie chided, "We're talking about a big war. Oh, sure, I believe in conspiracy theories, you know, One-World Governments and the like. But they're human conspiracies, based on human greed on a vast scale."
"But why should they 'catch their flies with vinegar', when honey would make thing go down better for both the rulers and their subjects?" Pavlos countered. "Who introduces the germ of thought that eventually magnifies differences to the point where neighbor turns against neighbor? It's almost as though someone pulls the switch that shuts off the invisible fence that keeps resentments and slights in their proper place."
"Like Hitler, I suppose."
"Exactly. You see how quickly the Nazi movement came to prominence with himself at the helm, and how quickly it fell apart as soon as it was clear his days of power were numbered. There were, then, many who still held the same vile beliefs, and there will probably always be. But without such a leader, they can only get so far. Hitler was not only essential to the whole machine. He WAS the machine. History is full of such characters, human dynamos posessed of some kind of inner Hell fire, if not actually 'posessed'. Though some may well have been, and some may well be, now."
"Then you believe in supernatural influences?"
"When you say 'supernatural', Cellie, never say it as though you mean 'alien'. The word is a compound of 'super', meaning enhanced qualities, and 'natural', being of the order of things in this world. The implied meaning is of something that would otherwise be perfectly understandable, under the laws that govern natural behavior and conditions, but elevated to the next level. Taken to extremes, actually."
"But some of it can still be understood on an earthly level?"
"A great deal of it, or there would be no solution to most of the trouble such phenomena cause. And the best part is, if one comes to punish crimes committed in this fashion, the punishment always fits."
"If you're lucky enough to ferret out the truth, and it does't devour you first," Cellie sighed, thinking about the next few weeks. "Worldly crimes, certainly, seldom get the punishment they deserve. I wonder what will happen to Paul, now that he's planning to talk to the authorities."
With a rueful smile, Pavlos replied, "It's been my observation that there are three types of crimes that almost never receive the penalties the perpetrators deserve. The first category, which is the
most frightening to people, includes the serial murders and those spontaneous outbursts that result in immediate mass murder.
"The next category includes the truly atrocious acts of what, in this country, one calls 'organized crime', and some of the conspiratorial misdeeds winked at by those in power.
"The last category, under which your brother-in-law falls, are war crimes. Oh, certainly, there are trials from time to time, but, in case you haven't noticed, responsibility for atrocities are very hard to pin on anybody involved. There may be scapegoats amongs the lowest echelon, but there is a justifiable reluctance to prosecute ordinary raw recruits who can claim they were merely following orders. When there happens to be a conviction, you can be sure that one has merely scratched the tip of the iceberg, as it was in the Nuremburg trials. The government has much to lose, if too much knowledge about its nastiest activities is revealed."
Cellie asked, thoughtfully, "So, you think Paul may not get into any trouble himself?"
"Oh, there's always the possibility, especially if he insists on allowing his guilt over these matters to drive him to make a great fuss---"
"SHOULDN'T he? Should this go unrecorded, or un-noticed? Should this be permitted to happen in other wars this country may engage in?"
"Cellie, under ordinary circumstances, I would be all for truth. But the truth in this situation, is that this is just one of those 'tip of the iceberg' things. I'm sure it's not the first time, since that earlier, infamous incident, that such things happened. I'm not sure much can be done to prevent them, in the future. This war is almost over for US, at any rate. If this government wishes to pursue these cases, there may be so many that there are, I'm sure, certain priorities."
"Pavlos, you've never been one to support the status quo---"
"Apply the same logic you use, when considering your husband's and uncle's situation, to Paul's. He has, I believe, been punished enough. He punished himself! Do you want Hallie punished, as well, by further separation from him?"
"No, of course not, assuming that she'll still want him, after he tells her, and he still wants her, after she tells him what was really in that last letter. You're right,Pavlos. This ugly little war has had its last pound of flesh, as far as I'm concerned, and I pray that the Army officials see it the same way." She sighed deeply, and sank into her seat.
"Cellie, what is wrong? Are you ready to have a fainting spell, and join me in this lovely Cardiac Unit?"
"No, Pavlos. I'm 'burned out'. That's what the Professor calls it. I'm so tired."
"Willie should have taken you right home, then! I wouldn't have minded. Is he--- oh, I understand. He thinks you hurt me. He's left you here, because, as happened before, he suddenly identifies you with the one who abused him the most."
"Uh-huh. We're on a downward spiral, Pavlos. In spite of what you told me this morning, he won't be there for me when I need him the most, and maybe I can't be there, for him. The best I can hope for, is that we can muddle through, for the baby's sake."
"Cellie, don't wait for Hallie and the professor." Pavlos's tone was urgent, and he started to get a little red, again. Cellie became anxious about him. "Take a taxi, right away. You must go to him, as soon as possible."
"Pavlos, calm down. Are you sensing something?"
"In a way, Flame. The same green eyes that plagued Maggie, Walter, Harold, and Adele, are now focussed on you. There is nothing you can do about them, right now, but you can diffuse their effect. It will be on your shoulders more than ever, now, because after this day, I must be very careful. The men in my family are prone to heart failure and strokes in their fifties and sixties. I am sorry."
"No, I'm sorry, Pavlos. I want you alive and kicking, after this is all over. I love you, man." Cellie hugged Pavlos. "And Will would be lost without you."
"I still believe that Willie will never be completely lost, as long as you stay with him. But I will always be available to help you, Flame. Always. Never forget that. I love you, and Willie, and the littler Flame, as much as my own children. Whom you may soon have an opportunity to meet. You see, while you were still downstairs, I called your mother. This brush with my own mortality made me realize how foolish I have been, putting off something that would bring both Janice and myself happiness and contentment. As for my religion, I will otherwise continue to follow its rites, as much as I'm permitted. If that does not work out, I and my new bride will seek a new refuge, together."
Cellie hugged Pavlos again. "I can't wait for the wedding! I'm dying to meet all my new sisters and brothers. Especially Theodore."
Pavlos smiled. "Judging by his latest letters, he has become so devout, he may object most strenuously. But, once he meets Janice, and your family, and dear Ernest's, he will surely come around. You should have another empath to turn to, if it is God's will that I be taken early. In that manner, you will know for sure that I am always with you."
"Don't worry, Pavlos. You'll make it."
"I'll make it, much faster, if I know you are safely reunited with your husband."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Hallie held Paul's hand, while he recited his story in hushed tones. She said, "You mean, this Sgt. Krosky took you to this village full of helpless old men, women, and kids, and ordered you and your buddies to kill them?"
"No, no, it wasn't exactly like that....How can I make you understand? We all thought we were just going to flush out the populace, and put the fear of God into them. . ."
"The fear of the almighty U.S. Army, you mean!"
"Okay, if that's the way you prefer to think of it....We never, I swear, EVER did anything like that before. Even now, I'm not sure why we had to. I mean, we all knew the war was slowly coming to an end. But I overheard Sgt. Krosky on the radio. It was all going to be so simple. I set the first
fires....and then, that woman went off her head, and the rest of us fell like dominoes! I got caught up in the moment!"
"Oh, Paul....How could you? You call shooting down fleeing children 'getting caught up in the moment'? You wanted to be a teacher, for God's sake!"
"Hallie--- okay, I guess I'm not going to be a teacher, anymore. I'm sorry about all the stupid dreams that aren't going to come true. Mine, and yours, and Krosky's, and Don's, and yes, even those of the Vietnamese people I and my platoon killed....All I can say is, you weren't there. There was a possibility that those villagers were dangerous, even the children. I don't know why I couldn't stop, at first, when that gun kept firing, as though it had a life of its own. But I DID, finally, when I took the time to let it all sink in. The corporal and I did bring it to a halt. Not in time to be heroes. Sometimes, there aren't any heroes."
Hallie protested, "I wasn't looking for a hero. I just wanted my sweet, innocent farm boy to come back to me, the way he was....And now, he's more firmly entombed in this corrupt, murdering, whore-master, than those old Pharoahs were, inside the damn Pyramids!"
"Hannah Lynne, PLEASE....I DO love you. I began to realize that, again, just before the skirmish that killed Don....I made up my mind then, no more hookers. I had an opportunity to rape some of those girls, but at that point they started to be human to me, again. I'm sorry I didn't have more nerve, to try to make the other guys leave 'em alone. I'm sorry I didn't have the nerve to blow Krosky off the planet when I caught him doing it, though I WOULD have, when he started cutting her. I guess, in a way, I was saved. That would have been an offense punishable by execution."
"Too bad, all the other things you did aren't--- No, I'm sorry I said that, Paul! I didn't mean it. I almost died when I heard you were hurt, and really, I'm glad you're home. I had a vision of you stepping into the minefield. You didn't seem to be paying attention to your surroundings. You disappeared. I thought it meant you were going to die."
"I was thinking about the village, and how I was ever going to tell you. I couldn't even read your letter, because whenever I read one, it was like sitting with you, and hearing your voice. And now, I'm hearing the voice, but it's telling me what I don't want to hear. Maybe it's what I deserve, but it's still not what I want to hear."
"That letter would have spoken in the same voice. I was going to tell you---Oh, never mind---" Hallie remembered Cellie's warning. Too late!
"You were going to tell me you couldn't wait any more. Is that it?" Paul sounded resigned. "That's okay, Hallie. I have no claim on you. I lost the right to make one, I guess. I love you, but if you want to go---"
"I don't know! I don't know!" Hallie wept.
Elliot, who had been sitting patiently outside the door, asked, "Hallie? Are you alright? Would you like to go?"
"I'm not sure....I have to get away for a while. . ." She exited the room hastily. She ran past her uncle. She saw Cellie emerging from the elevator, and heading her way.
"Oh, Hallie, I just wanted to pop in on Paul, and tell him that my Dad knows a lawyer with a very strong background in military offenses, and he'll be coming here around five, just in time to intercept the Army Brass."
"Cellie, you have to tell him yourself. I need fresh air."
"Hallie, Hallie, don't run away! That's just the sort of crap you used to pull, when I first met you!"
"I finally have something to run away from!"
Cellie took her friend's arm, and pulled her to the Chapel, a cool, dim room with three pews, and a stained-glass window in an abstract pattern. She made Hallie sit down. "You know, you certainly don't have to stay with Paul for the rest of your life," she began. "But, as God is my witness, I'm not going to let you leave him like this! Get a hold of yourself. I had to sweat bullets to bring Paul
around to doing the same. I hate a wasted effort."
"He killed children! He stood by, and let his friends rape little girls! He almost blew his commanding officer's head off! He destroyed the survivors' homes! He slept with prostitutes! I can't stay with him. He's not the same person I knew."
"He IS the same person. It's just that, on his travels, he picked up some baggage. Well, we both know someone with some heavy baggage."
"I doubt even Willie would have killed children."
"Who knows what he would have done, if he was under the same pressure? Thank God he wasn't. He's much weaker in character than Paul. As for the other stuff....I saw it all, Hallie, because his emotions were still so strong, it was as if it was still happening for him, over and over and over. You could almost say, I DID it all. I can't excuse it, but I can explain it. Would that satisfy you?
“Paul tried to kill himself on that mine. Does that quench your thirst for justice? There is no earthly justice for this, perhaps. But he didn't intitiate this, and he wasn't alone in doing it, and he was the first to STOP. You can't forgive him. It's God's job, I guess. Like I said, before, it's your choice whether or not to hang in there. But you have to, at least, make some kind of separate peace with Paul, so that he can start out on the road to repentence. He wants to make amends, if amends can be made. He HAS to, or the fine person he used to be will stay buried under all that FILTHY baggage."
"There are no amends. Would there have been amends if Maggie had gotten that abortion?"
"She was under an influence. Well, so was Paul. But neither of them are, anymore. They both realize certain doors are closed to them, forever. Their innocence went out the window. But, as someone once told me, innocence has to be lost, if one is to gain in knowledge."
"What good is this knowledge?"
"Good question. Maybe you can debate this with your uncle, or Pavlos, when he's sprung from the Cardiac unit. Until then, go back and talk to Paul, before the lawyer comes. Now, there's someplace I have to be." Cellie walked out of the chapel alone, and headed to Paul's room to tell him that the lawyer was coming, and that Hallie would soon return to his room. His face lit up when he heard that.
Cellie went to the lobby phone booth, to call a cab. She was about to say, "Hello," when a hand reached over her shoulder, took the receiver from her hand, and hung it up. She turned on her heel.
"Oh, Will, you came back!"
Willie wrapped his arms around her. "Yeah, I couldn't let you take a strange cab, all alone, in this town. I'm sorry I walked out like that. But you know how I am. And I had to go check on Sarah Teresa, to make sure she wasn't scaring Maggie half to death, sharing your trance."
"Some. But not much. Maggie just thought it was strange that she had to keep the baby in her sight at all times, even though Sarah was sleeping like a log. Maybe the baby's trance wasn't too deep because she doesn't know Paul, yet. Are you going to bring her to see him?"
"Yes, if Zandman gives the green light. Green lights. . ."
"Don't start worrying about that, now."
"I'm supposed to. Pavlos said so."
"I don't see any, right now. Do you?" Willie kissed the top of Cellie's head as she hid her face in his sweater.
"No, hon," she whispered.
Cellie and Willie sat in Ernest and Lillian's large apartment, which happened to be the same one Janice had vacated when she moved to Maine. "When Mom said she could sub-let the place, we jumped at the chance!" Ernest explained excitedly. "The rent will only increase by thirty dollars, when her lease runs out, and we take it over. Fortunately, now that I'm beginning to do pretty well in my firm, we can swing it, even if Lil decides to stay home for a couple of years. The only drawback is, now that you and Mom live up North, we miss you guys something awful."
"At least, you're getting along better with Dad," Cellie commented.
"Yes. Who'd have thought getting a stepmother just two years my senior would actually help bring harmony into the family?" Ernest chuckled.
"The same person who'd think getting Pavlos for a stepfather would accomplish the same miracle!" Cellie laughed.
"Well," Lillian said, "Pavlos can do a lot, I'm sure, but there's some things he can't do for me, that Maggie can, like car-pooling to our O.B. When Lamaze classes start, the other students will do a double-take when they see Ernest and his father on the floor with the two of us."
"Sounds like the ultimate father-son bonding session, to me," Cellie smirked.
"Sounds like the perfect double-date to me," Willie said seriously. He reached for his wife's hand. She pulled hers away in a manner that didn't arouse suspicion in her brother and sister-in-law. She reached for the portfolio full of yellowed papers Ernest had laid on the coffeetable.
"That's the infamous Catriona file," Ernest said. "Dad said you'd be interested. I've been typing up some of the documents when I have some spare time. Those are in there, as well as a Scots-English glossary that I used to translate some of the family papers. Thank God, most of those people had decent handwriting, at least. There's even some pictures Dad took of old Fraser portraits. There's a couple that'll really surprise you."
Cellie perused the file. She skimmed through many of the papers, until she came to an account of Catriona's "kangaroo" trial. This was written in a confusing mixture of Scots, Latin, and English. Fortunately, Ernest had eked out a translation.
". . .Thus it came to pass, in November 1713, that one Catriona, born Stewart-Fraser, wife unto Angus laird of Castle Fraser, aged twenty-one yrs., came into court on ye charges of consorting with ye Devil, and ye murder of Dennis Fraser age four, son of said Angus Fraser and Alvina Devarney, once styled Fraser, (but not wedded except by the common law, and parted from the laird shortly before his late marriage in the Calvinist kirk.)
Lady Fraser also stood accused of causing, by powers conveyed by her dark master, of causing ye fall of rocks that took not only the young boy's life, but also that of many kine and sheep grazing in ye field below, and the house of Mistress Devarney, once given her by Angus. The cause of this display of black arts was given as Lady Fraser's jealousy of her husband's former spouse in common law, and her son, and that Mistress Devarney could cause the later marriage to be annulled, and Lady Fraser's own infant son Alistair, reduced in his inheritance. . ."
"Could they have done that?" Cellie asked. "After all, Angus and Alvina probably had no legal papers, except whatever instruments by which he conveyed his kiss-off parting gifts to his ex, and his will. While Catriona's family, being so close to the King's family, must have had a raftful of strict, 'all i's dotted, all t's crossed' genuine parchments that passed muster with both the government and the kirk."
"It couldn't have been a common occurrence," Ernest replied, "but this Alvina was quite the gadfly. She had a substantial personal fortune of her own, and why she should have settled in a small Highland village, rather than in Edinburgh or Aberdeen, was a mystery. Why she should have taken up with Angus was also a mystery. Look at the pictures."
Cellie examined the photograph of an old miniature, which depicted a red-haired man who must have been so homely, that the artist apparently couldn't coax a more flattering likeness onto the tiny canvas. Yet, two women had competed for his affections, if not, also, for his fortune. "I'm not sure I'd like to know just what it was about this guy that made the girls so hot for him."
Willie looked at the picture from over her shoulder. He whispered, "Maybe it's the same as I got." He kissed her ear. Again, Cellie twitched away from him subtly.
"Hey, you crazy kids, this story is supposed to SCARE you, not get you 'in the mood'," Ernest joked, a little uneasily. There was something wrong with the way his sister and brother-in-law were interacting, as though they were putting on a little show of displaying affection for his and Lillian's sake. He glanced at his wife, who looked as though she was thinking the same thing.
"Oh, it's not me, Ern," Cellie said. "I'm serious about this. But Will doesn't need much inspiration."
"The other pictures could inspire him," Lillian said. "When Ern showed me, I almost fell over. Not a good look-out for our future Fraser heir, I must say."
Cellie pulled out the next two snapshots. One depicted a framed portrait of a little red-haired girl wearing a starchy, ruffled gown, and a lace-trimmed apron. A kind of scarf, in a clan tartan, was slung over her shoulder. She held a colorful ball in her dainty hands. "Cute kid," Cellie commented. "What's so inspiring here?"
"Compare it to the other picture," Ernest told her.
"What do you mean?" Cellie studied the modern picture, a regular photograph of a little girl, dressed in scruffy jeans, and a hand-me-down baseball cap, wearing a too-big catcher's mitt, which clasped a mud-coated baseball. "This is a picture you took of me when I was eight, and was burning up the local sandlot, and wondering why I couldn't join the Little League--" Cellie held the pictures together. "Sam Holy Hill---It's me. Okay, the painting doesn't look exactly like me, but enough to pass for sisters, I guess---It is Catriona, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's the only known surviving portrait of her," Ernest replied. "Not that there were many to begin with, but they say her husband, in his grief, burned a couple, and put the others in storage, in case his son wanted to see what his mother had looked like. They may still exist, somewhere, but they were all dispersed when the family had to sell off many of their possessions in the 1800's. This one was preserved by Catriona's grieving mother, and was discovered in a Stuart castle."
"Geez, she even liked playing ball, as I did. It's too sad. I wonder how she looked when she was an adult. I may have been a true Fraser when I was a skinny, freckled tomboy with braces, but now, I'm supposed to look like a Sisk."
Ernest studied his sister. "You do favor our Mom's mother, from what little I remember of her. Maybe it's just the general, well-bred look. Something I'm afraid I don't share. Except for the red hair, I know I'm the spitting image of Grandpa August Hoffman."
"Now, Ernest, you look well-bred enough to me," Lillian teased.
"Thanks, honey." Ernest kissed his wife, and turned to Willie. "Nothing like wifely loyalty," he commented.
"That's the truth," Willie replied blandly. He didn't look at Cellie.
Ernest said, a little uneasily, "Getting back to the subject, as far as Cellie's resemblance to this side or that. . .There was so much inbreeding amongst the nobility, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it turned out that the Frasers and Sisks, who were also from Scotland, had intermarried at least once, hundreds of years before Mom and Dad got together."
"Our Sarah Teresa will look like that some day," Willie said, wistfully, touching the picture of Cellie, and looking toward the baby carrier, where Sarah Teresa was manhandling a sturdy Teddy bear Lillian had given her.
"Meh! Meh!" Sarah shouted, as she banged the bear against the side of the carrier. Then, she glanced at her father, and smiled, a big bubble forming on her lips. She embraced the bear. "Ji-i-i-ih. . ." she gurgled.
"Definite Oedipal connection there, Cellie," Lillian joked.
"Her daddy spoils the daylights out of her," Cellie sighed.
"I only do the same things you do for her," Willie protested. "She just knows me better, because I got to spend more time with her in the beginning. I'm not out to make her love me better, my girl." He put his hands on her shoulders. Cellie tolerated it.
Ernest and Lillian were becoming visibly uncomfortable. "Look at the other picture, Cellie," her brother urged.
The last photograph was of an elaborate woodcut portrait. Cellie studied the image of the young woman, identified in fancy lettering above her head, as "Alvyna of Castle Fraser." She was depicted as having what appeared to be dark hair. But her high-cheekboned face was familiar. She resembled Angelique! This WAS Desiree-Medorah, Angelique's sister. Cellie read the trial report again, and there was, indeed, mention of this "Alvyna's eyes, as green as a summer field."
The more Cellie stared at the woodcut, the more it reminded her of someone else. That Anissa Sheridan, she thought. It was, she supposed, possible for Desiree to have changed her appearance just enough, as had Nicholas, to confuse even those who had once known her well. Cellie simply hadn't even been looking for a sisterly resemblance between Angelique and Anissa, so she hadn't noticed it until this evidence was put before her. She realized why Desiree wouldn't have kept her dark hair for this go-round.
David had told her that his step-mother, Cassandra who had been Angelique, had dark hair. If Anissa was Desiree, she would have realized that she resembled her sister when she had dark hair. David had also told Cellie that there had once been a portrait of the blonde Angelique, but it had vanished long ago. Just to be on the safe side, though, Desiree took advantage of the modern world's optical creations, and covered her green eyes with brown contacts. Maybe there was a
reason witches couldn't permanently change their real eye color.
Cellie wanted to run to the phone, and call Barnabas, with whom she was in the process of healing the rift that had developed between them when he convinced her to remove her father's love for Maggie. She wondered how much, if anything, he had been able to discover about Anissa during their estrangement. Alas, she would have to wait until they were back at Walter's place. "At least," she thought, "that'll give me something to do, to put off bedtime. . ."
She and Willie finished their coffee, and left, much to Ernest and Lillian's relief. "Those two have some kind of problem," Ernest told his wife. Lillian nodded.
Cellie brought the file with her, to show to Barnabas when she got home. When she and Willie sat in Maggie's white Mustang (which she'd lent them for the day), Cellie showed him the woodcut again, and carefully pointed out each feature that resembled Anissa Sheridan. "It HAS to be her, Will."
Willie squinted at the cross-hatched lines that formed the portrait. "I'm not really sure it looks like Anissa at all, Cecily," he said. "The way that block was cut, it sure isn't like a photograph. To me, it doesn't look like anyone I know, the way both of Barnabas's pictures look exactly like him."
"Well, until further notice, just don't get too friendly with her, if she comes around again, Will."
"The way I've been feeling since last night, it probably doesn't matter much how I act around ANY women, anymore." Willie turned away from his wife, and started the car.
They dropped the file off at her father's and Maggie's apartment, before going out for the rest of the day. Cellie and Willie walked around Boston Common, explored Faneuil Hall, went to Paul Revere's Old North Church, and even read the slate slabs in the Old Burying Ground. "I'm amazed you would consent to hike around any old cemetery just for me, hon," she said.
"I know none of these folks are going to reach out and grab me by the throat," Willie said in a harsh voice. "And anyway, I want to be able to please you somehow, even if I can't. . ." He blushed. "God, I never thought that would happen, not between you and me," he concluded, unhappily.
"Hon, it's like I told you last night. It's just a temporary setback," she said soothingly.
"Then why do you keep pushing me away? Your brother and Lil must have thought we were acting weird."
"I don't know. I'm still bothered about yesterday, I guess." Cellie stared at the frozen ground.
"Pavlos will be home by the time we get back, and the Army was only taking a statement from Paul. That lawyer said that it might be years before there's a bigger investigation, if ever, and it won't get far, anyway, with that corporal killing himself a month after Paul left, and the other guys keeping their mouths shut."
"Good thing the lawyer told Paul to tone down his confession when it came to the sergeant's death."
Willie mused, "I really wonder if he really would have gone through with it and shot the guy, for all his outrage about Krosky hurting that woman."
"I'd almost bet not", Cellie replied. "Paul was thinking too much about what he had already done." In the tangle of stiff grass blades, Cellie could see that woodside village, its hovels ablaze, its children on the run, blood on its fenceposts. She could hear the screams of the doomed. "Not that I feel sorry for the sergeant, mind," she said.
"I'll bet he would have killed Paul himself, and blamed it on either the woman or the corporal."
"You're probably right about that, Cecily. You're probably right about the other thing, too." Willie wore the same unhappy look as when Cellie had first met him. This moved her to kiss him tenderly, right there on Burying Hill.
"I just thought of something else, Will," she whispered. "This is about the time, last year, when Barnabas and Aunt Jule caught us, and sent me away. Maybe that's also what's bothering us."
"Now that you mention it, Cecily, I was thinking about that, since the time Barnabas shot your Dad. All our problems started in February last year, and they're coming up on us this year in February. Tonight, we'll just have to pretend it's still December, the last time we were really happy."
"That's a swell idea, hon," Cellie sighed, as she nestled under her husband's coat. Sarah Teresa, in her stroller, whimpered in the February chill. The unseasonably warm afternoon was turning brisk. Cellie and Willie got into the Mustang. After Cellie fed and changed the baby, they had one more stop, at the Prudential building.
"It's only about half as high as the Empire State building, and even less than half of those new Twin Towers they're building in New York. But the view is still pretty impressive, and there's probably less smog here than in New York, so you can see pretty far," Cellie explained.
"I only went up that Empire State place once, before I got caught, and ended up going to prison in New York," Willie said. "I should have paid more attention to views and stuff like that, instead of the hot little number who dragged me up there in the first place. Those were the last nice views I had for eighteen months. Not the girl, though." He made a sour face.
"Well, I'm a hot little number, and I'll MAKE you look at the view," his wife giggled.
They arrived on the floor with the viewing deck. There was a Plexiglass safely barrier stockading all four sides, but the small open space just above allowed a cold draft in. "We'll just stay a few minutes, hon," Cellie said. "Then, we have to get the baby inside a nice, warm Chinese restaurant. It's about time she had her first taste of egg-drop soup."
"You want this child to get food-poisoning, Cecily?"
"What do you mean by that, Will? Every time I've ever had that soup, it's always been hot. I never got sick from Chinese food." Cellie held up her set of binoculars to Sarah Teresa's eyes, and hoisting the baby to her shoulder for a better view.
"Oh, Cecily, you'll give her cross-eyes." Willie took his daughter, and lifted her onto his head. His wife slung the binocular strap from her shoulder, and helped support the baby, until her arms ached from holding them aloft so long. Sarah Teresa appeared interested at first, but soon was whimpering in a frightened manner.
"Will, come on, let's go," Cellie said.
"Just another minute, Cecily," he replied.
"You're always so worried about Sarah Teresa. She's scared. Can't you at least hand her to me, while you're lost in the wonder of it all? My arms are tired from holding her up."
"In a minute, Cecily." Willie's tone was insistent.
Cellie was getting a little vertigo from looking out toward the harbor, and holding her arms over her head so long. She felt dizzy, and was having a queer, green-lit vision, of her husband lifting the baby higher, and forcing her through the narrow opening above the safety shield.
"It's okay, Cecily," he said, "Nicholas will catch her. Anissa will take care of her. Then," he said, leering, "It'll be just you and me. You and me."
"Don't talk like that, Will." Willie's face began to change, like her father's had, once. "No, you're not Will. You're Angus, aren't you?" Cellie was confused. "You give me back my baby, whoever you are. I said, GIVE HER TO ME!"
"Cecily? Are you okay, my girl?" Willie knelt over her, a scared expression on his face. Sarah Teresa was crying.
"Will? You're back? Give me the baby!" Cellie demanded.
"He never left you, lady," said a man in a business suit who hovered over her from somewhere up in the sky. "Sounds like YOU were taking a little trip, though. She isn't ON something, is she?" he asked Willie.
"No! She just has acro-acro---that height fright."
"Yeah, right. She's from this city, but she's not used to this stuff, anymore." Willie put Sarah Teresa in her stroller, and, with the help of the man in the suit, got Cellie to her feet. "Come on, Cecily, time to go home now. You okay?"
"Yes, hon. Will, just when did I pass out?"
"Right after you told me to give you the baby. I took her off my head, and you slumped right over. You said something about Angus, and you thought I was going to toss our little girl off the roof!"
"I'm so sorry,Will. I want to go home tomorrow. There's no point in staying in Boston. The green lights are here."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Walter Hoffman caught the heavy, acrid odor just outside the door of the apartment. As he entered, he wondered if the smell came from some new recipe Maggie, or Cellie, was experimenting with. After he took off his coat, he turned toward the kitchen, and saw smoke. He called, "Maggie! Cecily! Your roast, or whatever, is burning!" He ran to the stove, and the oven, and saw they were both off. He reeled around, and saw Maggie, wearing a blank expression, kneeling near the metal wastebasket, from which the smoke billowed.
Walter looked into the wastebasket. There was a portfolio of some kind in there--- was she burning his files? Why would she do that? Then he recognized the burning folder. "Maggie!" he shouted, as he threw some water into the metal can, and then, extracted the smoldering remains of his file on Catriona Stewart-Fraser.
"I'm sorry, Walter. So sorry," Maggie wept.
"Maggie, you were seeing the green eyes, again?"
"Yes....Cellie brought the papers, so she could show them to Barnabas when she got back to Collinsport. I'm sorry, Walter. Are they totally ruined?"
"Don't worry about them, Sweetheart. I'm worried about you. Are
you okay? Is the baby okay?" He knelt down, and pulled Maggie to him. He began to rub her stomach, something he found himself doing a lot lately. He didn't remember being this affectionate when Janice was expecting. It made for a nice change.
"I'm better, now. I'm sure the baby is, too. Are the papers all wrecked?"
"Well, most of them are damaged, but the important parts are intact. And to think, my accountant insists that I cut expenses, by buying cheap paper folders. Thank God I didn't listen to him that time, and bought a few leather ones for the important stuff."
"Are the papers that important? I glanced at them quickly, but then I--I--"
"Shsh, Maggie. They're not pertinent to my legal work, but I guess you'd say they have a kind of sentimental value. They're all copies of documents and pictures I made when I was in Scotland, after the war, about a tragic incident in our family history. It would take months, if not years, to reassemble all this material, if it still even exists. I don't like to talk about it, but Cecily found out about it by accident, and I told her Ernest had the file."
"What tragic incident?"
Walter debated with himself for a moment about telling his wife, but decided that the truth might help keep her safe. She'd been down this road before, at Collinwood, and before...."Well, Maggie, you've had some anxious times at your old job. It may interest you to know, my mother's family had members with similar problems. According to these papers, one of my female ancestors was convicted of practicing witchcraft, and burned at the stake."
"Oh, Walter!" Maggie cried in horrified sympathy. "I'm so sorry! She WAS innocent, wasn't she?"
"As far as I could determine, after two-hundred and thirty years." He explained the story, showed her the documents, and examined the photographs with her. "Cecily thinks this is pertinent to her situation."
"If she thinks so, and Willie thinks so, I'm sure it is." Maggie looked at the picture of the woodcut. "There's something familiar about this 'Alvyna' person, but I can't put my finger on it."
"I haven't read these papers in years. Wait a minute....Oh, my God, Maggie, this woman, who probably killed her own son, and ruined Catriona's life, had green eyes. . ."
"Oh, no, Walter. She's after us, here. . ."
"Maybe....she must also be after Cellie. . ."
"And Willie. His father and his niece had trouble, after they met green-eyed women." Maggie cringed in her husband's arms. "I thought we were safe."
"For once, I don't know what to tell you , Maggie. I'll protect you the best I can. Maybe I should get on the horn to the Cardinal, like I told you before we got married." Walter rose, and helped his wife up. "Oh, damn! I remembered," he said disgustedly. "The last time this happened, the phone got screwed up." He picked up the receiver. The dial tone sounded normal enough, but when Walter dialed, he heard no clicks to indicate that the number was being transmitted.
"We'll get out, and call for help. We can go to the church down the street. We'll have to get down the stairs. I wouldn't trust the elevator right now."
They headed for the door. Walter carried the charred files. When they opened the door, they confronted Pavlos, who was followed by Hallie and Professor Stokes. "Oh, Pavlos....Elliot. Thank God you're here. Did you take the elevator?"
"But of course," Pavlos replied. "My doctors have advised that I take it easy for a few days, and that includes not coming up five flights of stairs." Pavlos began to turn red. "In the name of the Holy Mother, what happened to you two? Are Willie and Cellie and Sarah alright?"
"Maggie was made to set a fire…." Walter began. He held out the portfolio.
Elliot, Pavlos, and Hallie examined it. Elliot said, "Julia never mentioned that she had an ancestor in this predicament."
"She was very young, when my mother told the story, and she left a lot out. Most of the true facts, I discovered for myself. By then, Julia and I weren't on the best of terms. By the time we reconciled completely, when I made her Cecily's God-mother, I had largely forgotten about the file, until I was cleaning out my old home office, when I left Janice. . ."
"I trust she knows all, now," Elliot admonished sternly. "This evil force has already reached out and harmed many, including innocent children. Julia and Barnabas must protect themselves, and their coming infant."
"She does know," Walter said. "My sister and her husband are adept at taking care of themselves. My son doesn't seem to have attracted the entity's attention. It's my daughter, and her family, that I'm really worried about, now. They've been out and about all day. God only knows what's happened to them---"
Just then, the elevator door opened. Cecily, carrying her sleeping daughter, led Willie, who was dragging the folded stroller, the baby's bag, and a shopping bag, out of the compartment. "What in Sam Holy Beacon Hill is going on out here?" Cellie demanded.
Walter pulled his daughter down the hall, and explained the situation. "Cecily," he said regretfully, "You know I would do anything to protect you and your family if I could. . ."
"I think I understand, Dad. You have to protect Maggie, and you can't, while we're here. We've drawn the Alvina spirit, or the Desiree, or Medorah, or whatever you want to call her, to Boston. We just had a bad experience ourselves, on the Prudential Tower viewing deck. That's when I told Will I wanted to go home tomorrow. I just wanted to check in with Paul, one more time, but then, we'll head straight for the train."
"I'm sorry, Princess. You know I love you, and Sarah Teresa, and even your husband has started to 'grow on me' a bit....I don't want to make you leave, especially since we've become so close, after all our differences." Walter and Cellie clung to each other.
"We'll even go to a motel outside of town, if you're afraid, Dad."
"No, no, no. We'll stick together, until it's time for you to go. Cecily, if you-- I mean, after you manage to get through this trouble, will I ever see you again?" Walter's eyes were wet.
Cellie grinned bravely through her own tears. "Of course I will, Daddy. After we lay that Devil down, I have a whole lot of make-up visiting to do. . ." They all went back into the apartment. Within minutes, to their amazement, the phone rang. For ten rings, everyone was afraid to answer it. Then Cellie took matters into her hands, and boldly lifted the receiver.
"Hello....Oh, my God! Siobhan!" (The collective sigh of RELIEF at this innocuous call was audible.) "How did you know I would be here? Oh, Linda thought she saw me near Faneuil Hall? Too bad she didn't say anything, I would have loved to see her....Yes, I'm okay, finally, and my husband and my daughter are here, visiting my Dad and my stepmother. So how are you---what? You're going into the convent? Wild Siobhan, with the Ouija Board and the Motorcycle, joining up with the nuns? Well, I think that's just....just wonderful! I know, I know what I used to say about them, but I've been through some heavy changes, and that was one of them. I'll tell you someday….
"You're divesting yourself of worldly goods so soon? Oh, that's right, you need some money, for a dowry, right?....YOU WILL? Oh, wait a minute, Siobhan, I have to check. . ." Cellie covered the mouthpiece on the receiver. "Will, my old best friend is going into the convent, and she wants to sell me her old motorcycle, real cheap--- oh, I'm sorry. I forgot, the lessons, the license, the insurance....those will be expensive."
"Go ahead, Cecily," Willie sighed. "You have a little money of your own, now, from the record company. Maybe the darn thing WILL come in handy. Just promise you'll be real careful."
Walter had just one comment. "I wonder how Siobhan got my home number? It's supposed to be unlisted. I could have sworn I told my new secretary not to give it out. Well, I'll be having some choice words with her when I get back to the office!"
Later, in bed, Willie was kissing his wife. Cellie responded, quietly, but sincerely. "I knew letting you have the bike would make you come around," her husband whispered.
"Bribery will get you everywhere," his wife smiled. "But we shouldn't be up this late, with all the rest of the packing we still have to do, and all our other problems, but I guess I needed--- we needed---"
" 'Replenishing.' That's what you called it. And this time, everything will work right. I was so worried before, when you keeled over. Are you sure you're okay, now?"
"Yes. And as for you, just take it slow. Just think about December. My love." They kissed again, and Willie pulled Cellie onto him. When he did, her body brushed against his Mizpah pendant, and turned it up against her breast. She said. "Ow! Geez, this happens all the time, these days."
Willie said, "It never used to bother you, before."
"Oh, Will, look at us. I'm a mass of scratches, and so are you. Look, there's going to be little stains on my turquoise nightgown. Let's take these things off, from now on, when we make love." She took his necklace off, and he took hers off. She laid down once more. "It feels better already."
He reached for her again. "You're right about that. . ." After, Willie began to doze off. He was thinking about what his wife had said about Anissa. He knew they had to be careful around people they didn't know well, but as far as he could tell, Anissa had given them no reason to suspect her of anything. He remembered, vaguely, the time Roger had been married to that Cassandra. She had come on, nice as pie, but even he'd noticed there was something wierd about her from the get-go. He had NO such sense about Anissa.
Willie thought back to the afternoon when she'd come to the Antique Shoppe, and he let her examine the pendant he wore. Maybe, she was trying to flirt with him, but she obviously wasn't serious about it, and she hadn't been around since.
He reached for his Mizpah, which hung from the cannonball bedpost. He remembered Anissa's lilac-colored nails swirling around and around the smooth crescent, running up and down along the serrated edge....Then, he had a strange thought. Anissa rubbed the charm--- Cellie never had complained before about either of their Mizpahs scratching her, and he'd never felt it until lately....He and Cellie had such a hard time reconciling since her father's recovery, and the humiliation of last night was still on his mind, even though what they'd just done had taken most of the sting away. The sting....Anissa touched his pendant, and it stung....Then he remembered, she had the receipt with his writing on it. . .
Willie was about to wake Cellie, and tell her that, maybe, she was right. He held the Mizpah in his hand, and it scratched him. He decided he could put off the revelation until....until....He fell asleep, holding the necklace. The last thing he saw, before he lost consciousnness, was a faint green light. . .
* * * * * * * * * * *
Cellie and Willie walked into Paul's room the next morning, holding hands, and smiling at each other for the first time in weeks. Paul said, "You two lovebirds look like I feel today."
"Cecily took a big load off your mind," Willie said. "I know how that feels."
"What she didn't take, the Army brass did. I couldn't believe it when they said it was unlikely that the matter would even come to the public's attention, unless the Vietnamese government insisted. And, apparently, they didn't. Poor Corporal Huy. I have a hard time believing he killed himself, awful as he may have felt. But I guess I'll never know who really pulled the trigger."
"Maybe someone else who didn't want to be inconvenienced by special hearings and war-crime commissions. Just so long as nobody pulls a trigger on you, Paul," Cellie said. "What will you do when you're better?"
"I don't know yet," he sighed. "Like I said, I will be eligible for disabled vet benefits, and Mrs. Stoddard's paying for the special stuff. I have to repay her, and find a mission in life, I guess. I can't compensate for what happened over there, and I don't feel like I can become a teacher, anymore. Too many children....I'll have to study for an office job, I suppose, or some trade that doesn't require standing up. Hallie said I could talk to Mrs. Stoddard about it, when I get out of here, and go home to Vermont. I was always good at figures. I could become kind of accountant, or financial counselor, helping the little guys find ways to get ahead. . ."
"You'll think of something, Paul." Cellie leaned over, and kissed his cheek.
He whispered, "I kept my promise to Dr. Zandman. I didn't say a word about you and Pavlos. You're both safe, I guess." Aloud, he said, "I wish I could have to met my new niece. But I know it's been rough for you two the last few days. Hallie told me....I found myself pretty interested in some of her stories. I guess I believe 'em now, after what you did for me. I know you want to get the baby home in a hurry. I'm just sorry that I won't get to see her." Paul had a question in his eyes. Cellie understood. He was really wondering if Cellie, and/or Willie, were keeping their baby away from him because of what he'd done to those children in the village.
"Who said you weren't going to see Sarah Teresa?" Cellie walked to the door and waved out to the hallway.
Hallie entered the room, wearing her Alice-Blue prom dress (which hung a little loosely on her slimmed-down frame), and the tiara. In her arms, she carried Sarah Teresa, also dressed in her best frilly dress. Hallie said, "You wrote in your last letter that you wanted to see me, and the baby this way." She handed Sarah to Paul.
Sarah Teresa gazed on her uncle with an expression he'd never seen on any baby anywhere, and doubted he would ever see again, even on his own babies, whe they came. It was as though there was another spirit deep inside, taking his case under consideration, and finally, rendering the judgement that he wasn't a lost cause, after all. The baby smiled that deep, knowing smile, so familiar to her parents and Hallie, so new to Paul. He gripped his niece tighter, tears running down his face. Hallie leaned her crowned head on his shoulder.
* * * * * * * * * * *
That afternoon, after Walter had left his daughter and her family at the train station, he headed for his office. He decided he wouldn't be too hard on his new secretary-paralegal; giving his number to Siobhan was hardly a firing offense. But he never had the chance to clear the air with her; when he walked through the door, he saw at once that her desk was empty of all except the typewriter and other impersonal equipment that was already there when she was hired. There was, however, a floral-scented note, folded, no envelope.
"Mr. Hoffman, I am sorry to leave without notice, but a sick relative called from Europe. He has always been a big part of my life, and may not even survive until I get there. I hope you understand. I DID like working for you. Thanks for everything.
Respectfully yours, Amelia Delagar
PART FOUR---THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL--- Lorraine A. Balint
Cellie looked at her watch as the train slid up alongside the platform of the Collinsport train station. Four o'clock. Just the sight of the elaborately gabled Victorian-era train station gave her the sensation that she'd described to her husband: their reprieves had run out. "Half-past February. Time to face the music," she thought.
Cellie (holding the baby), Willie (holding their suitcases), and Pavlos (holding his own small valise, and his chest, because his heart was pounding) stepped out of the train in the dying afternoon sunlight. Cellie looked around for Julia or Janice, either of whom was supposed to meet them at the train. Just when it looked as though they would have to call a cab, David Collins ran breathlessly across the platform to meet them.
"Where's Mom? Or Aunt Jule?" Cellie asked. She became worried at the sight of David's sad, drawn expression.
"They're at the hospital."
"Was there an accident?" Pavlos asked, clutching his chest even more tightly. "They had a car crash on their way to pick us up!"
"No, no," David replied. "Pavlos, go sit on that bench. You look like you're going to keel over, man."
"What happened, David?" Willie asked.
"Oh, God, no! She lost the baby, and I wasn't here to help her!" Cellie wailed. Sarah Teresa began to cry.
"No, Cellie---not yet, anyway. Come on, guys, I'll tell you in the car. I brought the station wagon, Willie. I guess you'll all want to go to the hospital now."
As he sped around corners, David explained. "She started feeling kind of uncomfortable just after you guys left, but she thought it would pass, and she didn't want to drag you all back right away. She knew Cellie was going to help Paul, and she didn't want to take the chance that Walter and Maggie would come back with you."
"Good thing they didn't," Willie said. "We had some trouble, even down in Boston. I'm kind of glad the Stokeses didn't come back, right away, either."
"Well, anyway, according to what I overheard, when Janice talked to Aunt Elizabeth and Carolyn, Julia had a little bleeding going on for a few days. She didn't want to worry anybody about it. She had it checked out, and she was taking it easy, staying home from Windcliff. Then, this morning, she got a call. One of her patients went off his head. The other doctors doped him up, and thought they had him pretty well subdued, but he overcame his restraints. Julia didn't want to go, but she agreed that it probably wouldn't hurt, to talk with him from a safe distance. I heard that she and Barnabas argued about it, but she said she was feeling much better at that point, and she talked him into driving her out there. Well, she got the guy calmed down, and she and Barnabas were on their way home, when she said she had pain. Barnabas almost crashed, himself, getting her to the hospital. Everybody's waiting there now, including your Mom, Cellie."
David turned into the parking lot. As soon as he turned of the ignition, Cellie handed him the baby. She got out of the station wagon, and ran ahead of the others, into the hospital lobby. She jumped into an elevator, and reached the OB-GYN floor. She looked back, toward the Maternity Wing, her home for the better part of a month. She breathed a prayer that her aunt would yet have an opportunity to call it home for a few days, just over four months hence.
As she approached the waiting room where she knew everyone must be, her step became slower and slower. She couldn't force herself to go faster. She knew the answer that lay ahead, and she didn't want to face it. She rejected the notion that this might be for the best---after herself, Barnabas was Nicholas's chief target, the target, really, of any of a variety of enemies who might someday re-appear to extract their own vengeance. It would have been horrible if Barnabas's and Julia's child was destroyed in the resulting conflict. A miscarriage, tragic as it could be, was a natural process.
NO, Cellie's mind said, it could not be so. This was her aunt's one and only chance to have a child, and Cellie, herself, was willing to strike a deal to see this pregnancy came to term. Almost willing, that is, in the event that her cause was defeated. No, she couldn't think about that, either.
She ran into her mother, talking quietly with Elizabeth and Carolyn. "Pavlos is bringing up the rear guard," Cellie told Janice. "I'm sorry he---I'm sorry I let what happened to him, happen."
"You and he did what you had to," Janice said. "As long as he came back alive...." She almost sobbed, but collected herself. This was one of the risks of being Pavlos's lover, but she made herself think of the rewards. She continued, "We left Barnabas alone, at his request. I know it seems as though the demands on you never let up, honey, but he needs you now."
Cellie saw her uncle, sitting with his head bowed, hands clasped, not so much as if he was praying, but as if they had nothing better to hang onto. She remembere how he used to carry his old, silver-headed cane, how he would turn it around in his hands, while he sat and talked. His hands looked lonely without it. She wished she had it with her, to give to him now, but it was finally being repaired by Lisa Detweiler-Savin's silversmith father, in Chartville.
Cellie went straight to Barnabas, who didn't look up. She knelt by him, and thrust her hands into his. "Are these enough of an anchor for you to hang onto?" she asked.
Barnabas's dark eyes were full of torment, but not the twisted agony she'd seen in them, last July. They held a simpler, but deeper sorrow, full of guilt and regret. It hurt Cellie just as much, to see hher uncle thus, as it had hurt to see him back then. "Cellie. . ." he whispered. "I am going to lose both of them. I know it. My child, who never had a chance to see the light, and my wife, who, until now, I never really understood was the light of my life."
"No, no," Cellie gently admonished. "Barnabas, these days, women seldom die from miscarriages, and what's more, doctors can sometimes even prevent the miscarriage itself."
"That's what Virginia said, but she didn't see how Julia was when the pain first began. How---how white her face got. She said, 'Barnabas, it feels like it's going to come right now'---" He covered his face with his hands. "It's my fault. I should have put my foot down when she insisted on going to WindCliff. The strain was too much. But she was always over-confident…."
"Is over-confident. 'Is'! It wasn't her confidence that brought this about. It could just as easily have happened when she was sitting at home, reading a book."
"It is surely my fault." Barnabas whispered in his niece's ear. "What if, perhaps, this has to do with what I once was? What if the child never sees the light of day, because it can't?"
"Barnabas, you won't know that for sure until it's--he or she's---born. And it will be born. No matter what it takes, we'll make sure of that, in spite of what lies ahead for us."
"You have faith in a future, that I no longer share. This is my fault, in so many more ways than one, Cellie. What I did to her brother, what I had you do....I guess I haven't yet learned when to stop, with my unreasonable demands on her. I still don't think about how much going along with everything costs her! When I think back to the time I first met her, and I treated her so badly....She would protest, from time to time, and I threatened her life and liberty more than once, and yet, she chose to stay with me. Did she ever tell you that she even offered herself to me, at a crucial moment when my survival was threatened?"
"No, but it sounds like something she would do for you."
"I rejected her offer, even though I was desperate. I told her, at the time, it was because my influence would destroy her medical abilities, which I still thought I might require. But we both knew, the truth was that she did not attract me at all. She wasn't pretty enough, or pliant enough to satisfy my desires, but she was useful enough, to serve my other needs. Useful! I tortured her with my attitudes. And still, even I was confounded when she hung on, through all the years, and all the other women. . .
"Even after I was cured, and should have known better, I refused to see the truth, until you came along. With a reckless enthusiasm for the belief that love conquers all, you trampeled out a clear path, that we might finally find our true destiny. But the years that went by, have conquered us in the end. If I had married Julia, years ago, we would not be having this trouble now. We would have had our child at a time when she was still young enough not to have these clouds over her head. Even if she lost one, she would have had time to try again. And now. . .there is no more time."
"Barnabas, even if that does come to pass, you will still have each other."
"I wonder about that, too, Cellie. It's certainly my fault, what happened to Walter, and what almost happened to Maggie. That was a strain Julia should never have been called on to bear. I wonder if our marriage will survive it. She said she forgave me, but she still cried about it, and her unwellness appeared to date from around that time. She didn't want me to know about the bleeding, the cramps. I wanted to take good care of her, Cellie. But it seems that I am only capable of taking care of supernatural threats to my family, not the most natural and obvious ones."
Cellie held his face in her hands. "You can be a good husband, Barnabas, but it's going to take a while to get over that self-centered trap your existence led you into. You're learning through trial and error, the way I am, the way everyone else does. What could be more natural? Aunt Jule stuck with you through some appalling experiences. I've sometimes questioned why she and I became attracted to men with such horrific problems. Some people would say, there are nice guys out there, without all this complex baggage in tow. But I finally saw how an ordinary nice guy ended up, caught up by events he couldn't control, until he had a chance to catch his breath, and look around. . .
"What I'm trying to say, Barnabas, is that your original problems may have been unique, but a lot of people carry heavy burdens. It sounds wierd, but if they're lucky, they feel as bad about them as you do. Keeps 'em out of further trouble. If they're really lucky, they find mates who are willing to share the burden, not because they're gluttons for punishment themselves, but because there's some kind of identification with the other person. A positive one, if you're really, really lucky."
"It could be true," he admitted. "All the qualities in Julia that repelled me in the beginning, began to attract me, when all that leftover boyish yearning over lovely faces and yielding wills began to dissipate. It was better, if not easier, to work with a willing mind that sometimes had divergent ideas of its own, than rely on the wispy co-operation of a slave mentality, which always grows resentful and restive, as time goes on. Maggie rebelled, early on, as did Carolyn, and so many others. Even Willie became more reliable as it slowly dawned on him that he would have a choice. Vicky chose to help me, much as you do, from fondness and common interests.
"But Julia. . .I knew why she continued to help me, aside from the threats and fears I inflicted on her. I pushed her away, while keeping her at my side. If Angelique had survived, Julia would have retreated, because, by then, we had all reached some kind of understanding. But it's almost as if it was fated that Angelique would never have me, even when I was finally willing. After I accepted her loss, I should have immediately begun to court Julia. However, I was already full of guilt for the way I behaved toward her, and I feared she would think that was my primary motive for finally turning to her."
"You were both stubborn, that's all," Cellie concluded. "It was just a matter of who could hold out the longest. Nobody ever told Aunt Jule that love wasn't worthwhile, if gained through attrition. And she always loved a challenge. Nobody ever told her that love wasn't something that could be won, like a chess match. Good thing nobody did." She smiled. "And now, having the baby is another challenge."
Barnabas began to smile, faintly. "If only we can win that challenge....Early this morning, before she was called, to WindCliff, she claimed she felt better than she had in days. She told me she felt some movement, and she placed my hand on her belly. I can't say I felt anything specific, but I could feel her pulse, and some rumblings beneath my palm that could have been the child, though it seems too soon. I wanted to stay there, for an hour or more, just feeling the motion beneath that smoothness, looking into her happy eyes, forgetting all the bitterness of the past few weeks. For a little while, I really felt like the Father and Protector. For a few minutes, we were real parents caught up in the wonder of a new life's first tentative stirrings....If I lose either Julia or the child, I feel like I will lose the reality we fought so hard to reclaim."
Cellie's gentle smile faded, and hot tears spilled from her eyes. "When they let you in to see her, Barnabas, you have to tell her these things. If she DOES lose the baby, you can still tell her, and she will understand, because she will feel the same way."
Barnabas stroked his niece's hair. "Cecily," he said, calling her by her full name for the first time since he stood before her on the porch of Julia's cottage. "Cecily....where did you learn such wisdom? Who are you, really?"
Cellie tried to smile again. She remembered the half-teasing, but utterly sincere answer Pavlos had given when she asked him the same question....Could it really be over eight months ago?
"Oh, Barnabas, you know who I am. Cecily Hoffman Loomis, born in Boston almost nineteen years ago, former honors student, married, one child ....I guess I learned from the best teachers. Everyone I've ever met is my teacher. And you are one of the most important."
"I doubt you learned any of that from me. Perhaps Pavlos....maybe even Willie. He was sometimes able to see through my illusions, and to puncture my defenses, though I seldom listened to him at the time. . ."
"Well, he wants this to work out as much as you and Aunt Jule and the rest of us do." Cellie rose from the floor. "This isn't an illusion, and it's worth defending."
Those who had been standing outside of the main waiting area filtered in. Pavlos stood before Barnabas, who rose, and took his hand, and then, embraced him, under the warning gazes of his new fiancée and his future stepdaughter.
"That's all right, Pavlos," Barnabas said. "Julia. . ." he began, his voice breaking. He cleared his throat. "Julia told me about what happened to you, yesterday, before she....I can sense that you are about to exert yourself again, on my behalf. You must take care of yourself, my friend."
"It is a reflex that I have seldom needed to control. I'm afraid I must excercise more self-discipline from now on," Pavlos sighed.
"I know our Flame has matters well in hand, and you, yourself, have survived many tragedies on your own. Perhaps, today, my best contribution to your welfare would be to visit the chapel, and pray for your wife and your little one." Pavlos turned to Janice, and drew her arm through his. They walked toward the chapel.
Willie touched Barnabas's shoulder. "I'm sorry---I'm sorry---" he began.
"I know you are, Willie. There's nothing anyone could have done. What's meant to be---"
"It's not." David, who had been standing quietly, holding Sarah Teresa, gazed into the distance. The baby was looking at him, and holding his finger. She was silent. "It's not meant to be," David insisted in an expressionless voice.
"What do you mean, David?" Willie asked. "Don't go all spooky at a time like this. We don't need false hopes."
"I don't know what I mean," David said. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I was saying."
Barnabas took the baby into his arms. Sarah Teresa appeared to recognize him, and smiled, reaching for his chin. "Biss-biss-biss," she cooed. He held her to his shoulder, and sighed.
"If only it wasn't meant to be, Sarah," he whispered to the baby, pressing her fluffy red-gold hair to his cheek.
"I think I should go, and call Walter and Maggie," Willie said. "They can tell Hallie and the Professor. If that's what you want, I mean."
"You may call them, but tell them not to rush up here, until further notice," Barnabas warned. "We heard about what almost happened in Boston. Julia would not want Maggie jeopardized again."
Just as Willie turned toward the pay phone area, Dr. Hurley walked into the waiting room. Barnabas's face blanched. He handed the baby to Cellie, and stood alone.
"We managed to get the situation under control," Virginia began. "I gave Julia the latest medications. The pregnancy is still intact, and she's finally resting comfortably. I don't like the fact that she kept some of her symptoms to herself, Barnabas. To hear her ramblings during the worst of her pain, apparently, she was afraid to disappoint you."
"Disappoint me? I never said anything to her that would give her such thoughts!" Barnabas sounded shocked. "Why, just this morning, she woke up, rather early, I thought, and insisted that she felt a palpable motion. I touched her, and it seemed as though she was right. We were very happy. Later, of course, I objected when Julia was called to WindCliff. I wanted her to rest! But I don't hold her responsible for this! Perhaps, I should have refused, outright, to take her. . ."
Virginia rubbed his arm. "Barnabas, this is nobody's fault. Her fear of your disappointment came from the nature of her symptoms. Did you notice a pattern to her discomforts?"
"I'm--I'm afraid I haven't kept track of these details as much as I should have, Virginia. We were both pretty busy, and we've had some other family problems and anxieties....I wish I had paid more attention. Willie was much more attentive to Cellie's every minor ache, than I was to my own wife's agony. But, now that I'm thinking about it, I recall that Julia seemed to move more easily in the evening, just before she went to bed, and early in the morning, as she did today. She cried a lot at night, but she claimed it was a normal hormonal phenomenon. She complained of some cramps during the day, but nothing serious."
As he recited these seemingly innocuous symptoms, Cellie could sense Barnabas's growing tension. Then, she glanced toward her husband, who just stood, shaking his head the tiniest bit, causing a disturbance in the violet-blue fog that was slowly forming around him. She began to understand. She wondered if Dr. Hurley did.
"Well, I didn't see the significance of these symptoms at first, either," Virginia said. "Then Julia said she wasn't hungry during most of the day, rather unusual in a woman who managed to pass through the early months with only the mildest morning sickness. I recalled the anorexia Cellie suffered when she lived in Connecticut during the first months of her pregnancy, which disappeared completely when she was reunited with Willie.
“She didn't have cramps or bleeding, of course, but she experienced lassitude and lack of appetite during the day, and restlessness at night. I wondered if Julia had ever mentioned this condition as part of a family tendency. She never said anything about it before, but her own mother may have been reticent about discussing these matters, and Cellie was too young to have had such an intimate discussion with her late grandmother. Also, could it be, that there's the possibility of another empath appearing in the Hoffman family?"
"I'm not sure, Virginia," Barnabas replied. "She never said anything about the childbearing history of women in her family. As for the empathism, I understood that to be a trait from Janice's mother's family."
Virginia pulled him aside. "Listen, Barnabas," she said. "Julia confided in me about your former condition."
"My--my former condition?" He looked uncertain, then remembered the old cover story. "I recovered completely. She must have told you that."
"So she did, but I insist on running some tests on you, for my own peace of mind."
"I have no problem with that," Barnabas declared.
"I might. You see, some venereal diseases may seem to disappear for years at a time, only to manifest themselves later. In the meantime, children maybe conceived, who are afflicted with the diseases, which also, sometimes, cause complications in the mothers' pregnancies. You did Julia a great disservice, years ago, when you insisted she treat you without even consulting another physician. This may well be the long-term consequence."
"There were reasons for that....I am becoming more aware, by the minute, there are aspects of my medical history that may have led to this day." He hung his head. "Virginia, if I could go back to September, and prevent this whole pregnancy in the first place, I would. I love Julia so much, that I can't bear the thought of her suffering so for my sake."
"I know," Virginia said softly. "She feels the same way about you. Well, we've relieved her suffering for now. I'm going to bring you to her. There's some things that you must understand, though. She's going to have to stay off her feet as much as possible for the rest of the pregnancy. She must be kept from stress, and someone should be within speaking distance at all times. With any luck, we can shoot for at least seven months. That would be the earliest date at which I could deliver the child by C-section, and be able to give you decent odds for its survival. With great care, we might go beyond that point."
"I will make arrangements for her convalescence. Take me to her, now."
Virginia led him out of the waiting room. Along the way, they ran into Elizabeth Stoddard, who had been in the chapel, and Roger Collins, who had just arrived from his office. Barnabas whispered a few words about Julia's future needs to Elizabeth, who nodded, and embraced him. Roger took his hands briefly. Then, Dr. Hurley led Barnabas away, and Roger was distracted by the sight of Pavlos and Janice, hand-in-hand, coming out of the chapel.
"I see Dr. Hurley's taking Barnabas to see Julia," Janice said. "What was the latest word?"
"She didn't lose the baby, but she's going to need a lot of care," Elizabeth replied. "Barnabas wants to see me later, to discuss Julia's coming to stay at Collinwood. He even mentioned hiring nurses, to help with the burden."
"I'll certainly help," Cellie said as she stepped up.
"I knew you would, dear," Elizabeth said. "You take care of almost too much, as it is. I talked to Hallie. Things for her and Paul will never be completely the same, but you seem to have eliminated the grounds for future misunderstandings between them. That, alone, is a miracle in this world."
"It's not a miracle, it's just the way things should be," Pavlos said. He let Janice's hand go, in deference to the rise of jealousy he sensed in Roger. He wanted to share his own good news, but tactfully chose to hold his silence, until a better time.
Cellie watched, and felt this interaction. She wondered if there would EVER be a better time to tell Roger. This put her in mind of another jealous soul--- Lester. She hoped she wouldn't run into him again, until after the upcoming crisis was past. Cellie leaned against her husband, and wondered when she would get to see her Aunt. She prayed it would be soon, because she felt overpoweringly tired.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Dr. Hurley and Barnabas arrived at Julia's room. "I'll try to keep things positive," Barnabas assured Virginia.
"I don't want her fatigued, but you can certainly share your concerns with her," the doctor replied. "You know Julia. She would expect nothing less." Virginia patted Barnabas on the back, as he brushed by her, into his wife's room.
Julia's face was almost as white as the pillows on which she rested. Her eyes were closed, and Barnabas, thinking she was finally asleep, hesitated to wake her. He sat by her bed, and touched her hand. Her eyes opened, and she gazed at him for a minute. "I'm sorry, Barnabas," she said at last.
"No, my love. It is I who should be sorry. It is because of what I was, and what I still am, that you are in such a grievous condition." He held her hand up to his face. She felt his tears.
"Barnabas. . .that's the first time you've called me that since the night you came to my cottage and we decided to marry."
"Julia, didn't you hear the rest of what I just said?"
"Yes, but it's not important. We knew this was a possibility from the outset. Even so, I'm not sorry we tried. I'm just sorry that I might not be able to last the course."
"That's not important to me, Julia. YOUR own survival is. I would be terribly unhappy to lose our child, but to lose you....Most of my other losses tore at my vanity, but that would tear at my heart." He lowered the bed railing, leaned over, and gently gathered her in his arms. "My love. I'm going to say that to you, every day from now on. I'm going to take better care of you. Around-the-clock nurses, and even transfer to a more advanced hospital if necessary. My first impulse was to find out if I could send you to Boston, where I understand they have a large hospital that specializes in this sort of care. I've already spoken to Elizabeth about staying at Collinwood, but I will contact Walter and Maggie. If they consent to take you in, at least you will also be marginally safer from Nicholas and Desiree---"