Part 2. Love Never Fails

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And so things were not going well at all for Selena and Trelawney Rose. Kenneth's arrival had set almost everyone in the Harrington household on edge. The children were confused about how they should be feeling. They were all sad that not only had their plan failed to bring Miss Selena and their father together.

But now they had learned that she was going to leave to marry someone else and move to far away England. Despite the fact that she was willingly getting married, she didn't exactly seem ecstatic about it. Trelawney Rose certainly wasn't but no one was able to figure out why.

As the time grew shorter before she was set to leave, Dr. Harrington grew more distant from everyone. At home, he worked long hours in his study. Everyone learned very quickly not to bother him. At work, he was unusually reserved and sometimes completely unapproachable. His mood was noticed by his friends at the university. His old friend Sy Spencer tried to talk to him.

"Justin, I've known you for a long time, and this is the worst I've seen you since Helen died. Is something wrong at home?" he asked kindly.

"What makes you think that anything is wrong at home?" asked Justin defensively.

Oh boy, thought Sy, this can only mean one thing.

"Well, I know there's nothing wrong here, so that means that it's got to something at home. Now please don't get mad at me for asking this. But does it have anything to do with Miss Selena?"

He wished he hadn't asked. If he had punched him in the stomach, Justin couldn't have looked any worse.

"She's leaving. She's getting married and returning to England with her sister and her betrothed," he replied sadly, yet bitterly.

It's worse than I thought, said Sy to himself. He's not even trying to hide his feelings. Carefully formulating his answer, he answered, "I'm real sorry about that. I know what she has meant to you and the family. I know that things could get rough again, with the house and kids and all. Just ask and Alice and I will pitch in and help."

Justin thanked him for his thoughtfulness. He suspected that Spencer knew his true feelings for Selena and was grateful that he didn't mention it. He knew that the rest of the math department was probably talking about him and his change in mood. He was hoping that Spencer would run some interference for him so he wouldn't have to answer too many questions. It was good to know that he had friends like that.

Living up to the Justin's expectations, Sy approached the head of the math department, Dr. Corcoran, and explained.

"Well," said that head. "That explains a lot. Justin's been walking around like a ticking time bomb for the last few days."

"You know," said Sy. "I think he really loves her."

"No doubt in my mind," replied Corcoran. "When those rumors were going around a couple of months ago about the two of them engaging in a little, shall we say, imprudent behavior, he nearly blew his cork."

"I'll say," agreed Sy. "Dick Driscoll is lucky he didn't punch him in the nose."

"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about her leaving," said the head practically. "But I think it would be helpful if we quietly got the word out to the others to back off. I suspect that all it would take is one harmless remark or joke to set him off."

"Agreed."

In school the kids, particularly Max and Jennie, were no longer themselves. Laurie Langdon noticed the difference in Jennie's affect right away. Usually she was bubbling over with enthusiasm. However she seemed a dimmer copy of her usual self as she went through the motions of learning. Knowing that something must be desperately wrong for her to retreat into herself like this, she pulled the little girl aside for a talk.

"Jennie dear, what's the matter? Is Chester sick?"

"No he's fine," said Jennie, who then looked away.

"Is anyone else sick? One of your brothers, or Willa, or your Dad? Is everyone all right?" she asked.

Jennie looked down. She seemed to be struggling to how to answer. Finally, without looking up she said, "Everything is . . . Okay."

Her answer was so brief and to the point that Laurie knew that things were very bad. Jennie loved to talk and share.

"May I go play now?"

"Yes dear," replied the teacher kindly. "If there's anything you want to talk about, just remember that I'm here to listen."

Jennie looked at her oddly and said, "There's nothing that I want to talk about."

Max's behavior was even worse. Unlike Jennie, rather than backing away from everyone, he began to act out. The class was working in small groups on a project building volcanoes for their earth science class. Normally, this is the kind of activity that Max loved. It was very messy and would involve an explosion at the end. Unbeknownst to his teacher, Connie Clement, he had planned to "borrow" a stink bomb from Jay to make his volcano erupt.

The class was full of giggles and laughter as the children, most of them up to their elbows in clay, molded and shaped the hollow mountains. Suddenly there was an eruption of another sort as a group of boys began arguing in the back of the room.

"No, that's NOT the way to do it!" Max yelled at his partners.

"I can do it anyway I like," said Doug Driscoll, one of his best friends.

Before she could get back there, Connie watched as Max began to pound the volcano flat furiously. If she wasn't so concerned about his emotional state, she would have been angry. Those kids had worked long and hard to get that far with the project, but now they would have to start over. The other children sensed Max's irrational anger and looked on in silent shock. Max was a fairly easy going kid and this was totally out of character.

Calmly, Connie walked back and said gently, "Max, why did you do this?"

The boy shrugged and sat down. She looked at him. The expression on his face was miserable but he clearly was not talking. She turned to the other children and told them to start working again. As the class quietly went back to work, Max put his head down on his arms and ignored everyone around him.

Connie dashed off a quick note to Mrs. Tracy, the guidance counselor. Calling two of the girls she had them deliver it to the office.

Laurie was not surprised when she was told to come to Susan Tracy's office during lunch and recess for a meeting. She knew it was about Jennie Harrington. Connie Clement, Laurie Langdon, Susan Tracy and Tessie Griegan, who was Trelawney's teacher, sat around the table, theoretically eating, but none had much appetite. Connie and Laurie related the behavior of the younger two children, while Tessie explained what had happened in her class that morning.

"Trelawney Rose has always loved Shakespeare. Now it's not part of the official curriculum, but a couple of weeks ago, I had asked her to suggest a play that the other kids might like to read as a supplement," began the older woman.

"She was thrilled. You know that that child does like to be the center of attention, but I thought that this kind of activity would be beneficial for all the students and give her an outlet for her creativity," she continued.

Tessie's long experience in the classroom had meant that she had understood the little girl from the first. Rather than engage in a battle of wills, she had decided to engage the girl on an intellectual level. Up to this point, the approach had worked out very nicely.

"What play did she pick?" asked Connie curiously.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," answered Tessie with a rare smile. "My guess is that she was trying to get more bang for her buck. In addition to the main storyline, there is the 'Pyramus and Thisbe' play within a play. It's amazing how much that child knows about Shakespeare and mythology. I have to admit that sometimes I have trouble keeping up with her."

"Well, she hasn't been herself in days. She had chosen to play the part of Helena for herself. Georgina is Hermia and they've been having a lot of fun with their scenes together. Today she was positively listless, despite the fact that it was one of the funniest scenes in the play. I became so concerned that I contacted Susan here," she finished.

"I saw a pattern when Connie here wrote a note about Max who was also behaving completely out of character," replied Susan.

Laurie was nodding. "I wasn't surprised by the message that you wanted to see me. Jennie has been acting terribly odd, even for her."

"Well," said Susan. "Georgina Jennings has solved part of the mystery. She came to me yesterday because she is very worried about Trelawney Rose. Apparently Miss Selena's 'betrothed from childhood' to quote her has shown up. He is here to bring Miss Selena and Trelawney Rose back to England where they will be married."

"I don't see why that should bother Trelawney Rose so much. She loves her home and I know that she's been homesick on occasion," said Tessie.

"Well I can see how it would upset Max and Jennie," replied Connie. "Now all that anger makes sense. Max would never be one to talk about his problems, however I can see how he would act out."

But Laurie was puzzled. "Wasn't there a period of uncertainty when word came of the original tragedy when Miss Selena's parents were killed? Originally, she was supposed to return to England then. The kids didn't seem too adversely affected then."

"Yes," said Susan, "But that was uncertainty. This is certainty. And I am sure that all the kids are confused. Everyone worked so hard to put that family together and then there was all the drama when Trelawney Rose got lost. We really don't know the whole story anyway. Perhaps they don't either."

They all looked at each other thoughtfully. None of the kids had said a word to anyone. In fact if Georgina had not come to Susan, they wouldn't even know as much as they did. Tessie asked the question that was on everyone's mind.

"Susan, why did Georgina come to you?"

"I really don't know," admitted Susan. "I suspect that she knows something more, but she isn't saying. All she would tell me is that Trelawney Rose hates this fiancé and is dead set against returning to England with him. She came to me because Trelawney Rose seems very unstable."

"Well, I would agree with that," said Tessie. "The girl is very tired and looks like she isn't eating much."

"Are you thinking of calling Miss Selena directly?" asked Laurie.

"Georgina doesn't seem to think it would do much good," explained Susan. "She said that her mother has already tried talking to Miss Selena and couldn't get anywhere."

"Well that's no surprise," said Tessie. "That woman is a world class busybody if there ever was one. It still amazes me that Georgina has turned out as well as she has."

"Maybe a call from you would be more diplomatic," suggested Connie. "Besides, she really needs to know what's going on with Max and Jennie also."

Now that she knew the whole story, or at least the important part of it, she was wondering what Max might try to destroy next.

"I can try," said Susan thoughtfully, "But my instincts are telling me that it won't do any good."

Her instincts were right. Miss Selena was more gracious about it than she had been with Mrs. Jennings, but she essentially told Susan to mind her own business. Susan shook her head as put down the phone. She knew that no one was more highly skilled in the art of evasion than Miss Selena, especially when it came to her personal business. She would send a note out to the teachers to let them know that there was nothing that they could do to help the situation. She did, however, request that they keep a close eye on the three children.

She considered calling Dr. Harrington, but immediately dismissed the thought from her mind. Remembering his outburst after Trelawney Rose was lost and then his assiduous care of Miss Selena during the traumatic events, she suspected that he would not be helpful. In fact it might even make things worse for Max if he ended up on the other end of his father's wrath.

She called the head guidance counselor at the middle school that Jay attended but was not surprised to hear that he had not come up on the radar. She recalled that a few years ago when the boy had lost his mother that he seemed to stoically accept it. Max had acted out in all sorts of ways in kindergarten, but it wasn't in Jay's nature to show his emotions. Nonetheless, she told the guidance counselor to be on the watch. An adolescent Jay might be more sensitive than the young child had been.

She didn't even bother to call the high school about Willa. She was so close to graduation that over there they were just hoping that she would pass all of her classes so they could graduate her and send her on her way. There was no love lost between her and Miss Selena anyway. In all likelihood, she had offered to help pack her bags.

And so as life at school for the children went on, it seemed that everyone was aware of the anxiety that the four children were going through except Miss Selena and Dr. Harrington. So absorbed were they in their own emotions that they just didn't seem to be able to fathom what was happening with the kids.

The Note

Meanwhile at home, the whole family had given up trying to deal with Trelawney Rose. Most of the time she was remote and withdrawn. She had shown no desire to return home to England and she seemed to have lost that mischievous vitality that had made her so charming. She ate almost nothing and hardly slept.

Concerned by this, Selena had convinced Kenneth to put off their departure by another week. She was fearful of what the girl might do if they tried to force her to leave. But she missed the fact that her recalcitrance was all about Kenneth. It was not so much that she was opposed to returning home than that she was opposed to going anywhere with him.

And although Trelawney Rose was the excuse, she was also putting things off for herself. Uncle David was displeased that the child was acting up again, but once Auntie Anna heard that Trelawney Rose was unstable she convinced him to give her the extra time. Even though Selena realized that some deeper issues were emerging with her sister, she was so caught up in her own inner conflicts that she didn't give it much thought.

To all outward appearances, Selena seemed to have accepted her fate. She would not go against the wishes of her parents. It was the very last thing that she could do for them. Besides, she understood that her family would hold her to her duty. Both Uncle David and Kenneth's father Padraic were determined, for business reasons, to uphold the contract. The marriage should have taken place years ago, but Kenneth had been the problem. Now that he had fallen in line, the expectation was that Selena would do her part.

Sensing that the delay might now be a ploy on Selena's part to avoid her duty, Uncle David issued an ultimatum. If she failed to marry her betrothed, she would surely lose custody of her sister. The matter was no longer open for discussion. When Kenneth brought over her great-grandmother's wedding dress she graciously accepted it. Uncle David had sent it as another reminder of her family responsibility.

It had last been worn by her cousin Christabel, when she had been married about six years ago. Selena remembered seeing it then and everyone had teased her that she would be the next to wear it. At that time, Trelawney Rose had been delighted at the idea and her Mum's eyes had shone with tears at the thought. Right now, Selena didn't think that she could bear to look at it.

After Kenneth left, the children (with the exception of Willa who was out) all begged her to try it on. All the children except Trelawney Rose wanted to see her wear it. She had already seen the dress anyway. Finally Selena acquiesced to their nagging. Since Kenneth was not in the house Trelawney Rose decided to stay to see her sister dressed in it after all. Selena was hopeful that she was starting to come around. But actually Trelawney Rose was just showing a natural curiosity about the dress, which she barely remembered from Christabel's wedding, when she had only been five.

Selena didn't want to walk through the yard in the dress and she didn't want the other children in the private space of her apartment, so she used Jennie's room to change. She then left the room dressed in the lovely gown and veil. The dress had been created at the turn of the century by a famous seamstress in Tintagel using only the finest materials.

The narrow waist was set with seed pearls and the full skirt covered in lace. The original bustle had been reduced and now a huge bow was set in its place. The same lace was used to cover the shoulders and fitted tightly over her arms. The veil was a simple floor-length drape of the same lace. It was a classic late nineteenth century wedding dress. It had been so well preserved that it still shone white.

Great-grandmother Trelawney (the dress came through the mother's family) had been a small delicate woman. Fortunately, Selena had the same build and easily fit into the dress. Looking at the seams, she realized that she had better not gain too much weight. It looked as though it had already been let out to the fullest extent.

But then, Christabel, though slim herself before her babies was a larger girl than she was. The dress would need to be shortened or she would likely fall on her face. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were hollow from exhaustion and she was too sad to smile. As she turned from side to side, she got the very strong feeling that she was wearing it for the wrong man.

The minute she descended the stairs she knew it was a mistake. Justin, who had stepped out of the study when he heard the children's excitement, stared and said she looked beautiful. Jennie, who had most desperately wanted to see it, ran off in tears. The boys, and Trelawney Rose for once, were speechless. Even Chester turned away whimpering and followed Jennie out.

Trelawney Rose, suddenly sounding more mature than her years said, "I'll go."

Followed by Jay and Max, she went after Jennie.

Left alone with Justin, she took a hard swallow and said, "I shouldn't have tried it on."

Sadly taking in her beauty and knowing it was for another man, Justin shook his head, "No, Jennie has to face reality. Everyone has the right to make her own choices in life."

He turned to follow the children and then added, almost unnecessarily, "We all need to face reality."

Selena stood alone in the hallway for a minute wondering if she herself had been included in those last words. Then the front door opened.

"Well, don't you look smashing!" said Willa loudly, in a mocking tone. "Does this mean that you and the 'little one' are off to the kingdom by the sea or wherever it is that you came from?"

"Yes," replied Selena through gritted teeth.

"Jolly good show!"

Willa walked past her towards the kitchen laughing. For the first time, Selena longed to "lay her out in lavender." But with all of the other upset, she didn't want to add to it. Regretfully she turned and lifting the skirt of the dress up carefully, climbed back up the stairs to return to Jennie's room. While taking off the veil she saw a note tucked into a corner of the box. Opening it, she saw her mother's familiar handwriting,

"Darling Selena, You have always been the light of our lives, our most precious gift from God. We have never wanted anything more for you than that you might share your life with the one whom you love as much as we love each other. May you always live in the joy of that love, Mummy and Papa"

The tears slipped down her cheeks as she looked at the handwriting. It was as if her mother was standing before her and speaking the words herself. In fact it seemed that both her parents were reaching out to her with words of comfort. Wherever they were, did they know? She remembered that months ago Trelawney Rose had told Jay that she believed that her parents were angels, and with Jay's mother were looking down from heaven and smiling. At the time, she had put it down as the child's whimsy.

Yet standing there as she was, wearing the dress and her mother's words of wisdom in her hand, she wondered if Trelawney Rose was not right. She had not seen or noticed the note before she went downstairs. She felt the very strong presence of her parents in the room. If there were indeed angels, then Mum and Papa were certainly among them. Suddenly, Trelawney Rose's notions did not seem as fanciful as they once had. After all, no one had ever proven that angels did not exist.

She heard Justin's footstep in the doorway. She looked up but before she could speak he said, "Jennie calmed down when Willa walked into the room and made a rude remark about the dress. She was so busy defending you that she forgot why she was crying. The kids are all digging into the cake we found in there. I hope that you weren't saving it for . . . "

But he stopped short. Seeing that she was smiling tentatively, he looked at the paper she held.

"My mother wanted me to know the same love that she did from my Papa, and she wanted me to find it . . . "

He knew what she meant. She didn't need to say another word aloud. They were already in his mind and soul. Unable to wait another minute he swept her up in his arms and kissed her with all the force of the pent up emotions in his heart. Unmindful of the open door, she reached up to grasp his shoulders and tilted her head back to receive his full mouth.

The Plot

Max had gone upstairs to ask if they could eat the rest of the cake. Chocolate was his father's favorite and he didn't want to get chewed out again for eating the last of it. He rushed back in the kitchen fairly bursting with excitement. Luckily, Willa had gone back out again.

"I saw them!" shouted Max running to the other children in the kitchen.

"Who?" Jay asked.

"Dad and Miss Selena. They were kissing."

"Where?" asked Trelawney Rose, suddenly springing to life.

"In Jennie's bedroom. The door was open and I looked in and there they were. She's still wearing her wedding dress," replied Max, now feeling very important.

"Hmm," said Trelawney Rose thoughtfully, "Now Max, just what kind of a kiss was it?"

"Huh?" Max had no idea of what that meant.

Even Jay rolled his eyes, "What does it matter anyway?"

"More than you think. Just how they were kissing tells us whether it was a friendly kiss or a lovers' kiss," she patiently explained.

Max grinned widely now. "Oh man this was the real deal. They were really going at it. That's why I had to leave. If Dad saw me he would've killed me."

"Does this mean that Dad and Miss Selena are going to get married?" asked Jennie hopefully.

The Harrington children watched as Trelawney Rose's face seemed to animate itself from the look of truculence and sullen acceptance that it had worn since Mr. Kenny's arrival. The mischief was back in her eyes and corners of her mouth turned up in the impish grin that she often had when plotting a prank. Looking at each other they became hopeful that the long desired "action" was about to begin. But her first words were disappointing.

"No, chances are that this was a momentary weakness. If I know Selena, she's feeling guilty already," replied Trelawney Rose. "Being betrothed as she is to that wretch, a kiss of that nature is tantamount to adultery."

"And if I know Dad, he's as clueless as ever," said Jay his own hopes dropping a bit.

"Gosh!" complained Max. "Just when I thought that everything was going to be fine."

They all were quiet for a few minutes and Jay said, "Max, what did you just say about everything being fine?"

"Are you deaf? I just said that when I saw Dad and Miss Selena kissing that I thought that they are the ones in love."

"They are," replied Trelawney Rose lightly. "Only this is the first time we've had any real proof. Still and all, your immediate thought was to jump to that conclusion. Jay, I can see that you have an idea brewing in your head. Ready to share?"

"It's about jumping to conclusions," explained Jay. "If we can get Mr. Kenny to jump to the same conclusion as Max here just did then maybe we can get rid of him. Maybe he'll be so mad at her that he won't want to marry Miss Selena."

"Laudable ambition, but far easier said than done," declared Trelawney Rose practically. "Kenneth is like us. He is very hard to trick. He knows what you are going to say before you say it most of the time, except . . ."

"Except for what?" Jennie asked.

"Except if you surprise him. If he has absolutely no expectation of what he is about to see or hear, then he can't discern it," she began to feel hope. "As our people go, he's a bit dim in that regard."

"So then," said Jay. "All we have to do is trick Mr. Kenny into thinking Miss Selena and Dad are in love."

"All?" asked Trelawney Rose. "In order to really make it work, Kenneth would have to see Selena and your father doing something very indiscreet. It would have to be enough to make him want to break the betrothal. Selena has to do what Uncle David tells her. He has to do what his father tells him as well, but I know him and he's actually pretty spineless. That's why his son has gotten away with roaming to the far corners of the earth for all these years instead of doing his duty.

"Padraic Killigrew would never force his son to marry against his wishes. It's been Uncle David that has been such a stickler over the betrothal contract, and Papa before him. However, Selena and your father would have to be thinking about being in love and not know that they were part of a scheme or plot."

In the intervening quiet, Jennie asked, "What does indiscreet mean?"

"Well Jen," replied Jay. "It's what happens when you do something that you really shouldn't, like when Max saw Dad and Miss Selena kissing."

"Why shouldn't they be doing that?" asked Jennie. "Isn't that what we've been trying to get them to do all along?"

Trelawney Rose smiled, "In a manner of speaking what they were doing was very indiscreet. Perhaps if we can get Kenneth to stumble upon them in some, shall we say, compromising position, maybe we can get rid of him once and for all."

"You really don't like him, Trelawney Rose, do you?" said Max emphatically.

"No, Max, I hate him," she replied. "Jay, do you have any ideas about how we can send old Kenneth packing?"

"Not yet," said Jay. "But give me some time."

As Jay thought, Trelawney Rose continued to turn things over in her mind. Something about the way that things were happening did not seem right. What before had only been an intuition was now beginning to solidify into a more concrete realization. Kenneth seemed to have come sailing into town right in time to prevent anything from happening between Selena and Dr. Harrington, but he hadn't picked up on any of the feelings passing between them. Sometimes he would look suspicious, but then Trelawney Rose could read the smugness in his reaction.

He seemed to think that despite Dr. Harrington's jealousy, his future with Selena was secure because of the betrothal. Knowing Selena even if she had betrayed a bit of her feelings, her sense of love and duty to their parents would foremost in her mind. And the root of her deepest sadness was their passing. Although Kenneth thought he was calling the shots, in fact he was even more "clueless" than Dr. Harrington.

She knew that was wrong. Kenneth should be so in tune with Selena's mind, even if they were not deeply in love that he would already know that she was in love with the Dr. Harrington. In fact, he should have been rushing into the house minutes ago when he and Selena started kissing to put a stop to it.

This was the nature of those betrothed to one another, especially as the time for their wedding grew closer. No marriage could be completely loveless or it would be childless. The children fated to be born of it could not enter the world any other way. No, something was very wrong here and nobody seemed to realize it but her. She realized that she needed to contact Emmeline, right away. After all, it was one of those things that her cousin Em would know.

"I need to use the phone," she muttered as she made her way down the hall.

Later she approached Jay, "Any ideas yet?"

"No, this is a really tough one," he admitted.

"Well, it just got easier, except that you will have to fix that lock on the basement door," she said cryptically and began to explain her plan.

The Trick

Selena returned downstairs with a sliver of hope in her heart. If only her mother's note hadn't been so vague. But perhaps she had been afraid that eyes other than her own would see it. She knew what was in her heart, but she didn't know if her mother meant that she might marry the man of her choice to find this deep and abiding love or marry Kenneth at the right time. Even if she were able to put off Kenneth now, sooner or later he'd be back. And just putting him off would bring her no closer to Justin. He would do nothing that would in any way dishonor her.

But Mum's note also contradicted completely all the rights of her paterfamilias to control her betrothal and marriage. In fact, the custom of betrothal was maintained in order to avoid frivolous marriages that could disrupt the social order by potentially ending in divorce, separation, or at the least a very miserable family. Sadly, there was no way to ask her mother what she meant. Working in the kitchen to start making dinner, the room began to blur as tears filled her eyes.

Trelawney Rose came in. She knew that Selena was thinking of their parents and said, "I know, I miss them too."

The child looked at her with the eyes of an old soul.

"Selena, you can't marry him. Trust me, I can prove it to you now. You can't marry him," she said seriously.

But Selena had finally had enough of her bad attitude. "Trelawney Rose, once and for all, stay out of it!"

Running from the room she replied, "I'm sorry, Selena, but I can't."

Assuming that she was returning to Georgina's, she let her go. The child was intransigent. Selena sighed. There was nothing to do but make dinner. Kenneth would be there soon. The family would be hungry. She could feel the storm clouds building and dreaded the break. Feeling desperately trapped, she could no longer think straight. It was almost as if she loved too many people whose wants and desires were all at odds with each other, not mention her own. Suddenly she heard a shout from Jay's lab in the basement.

"Miss Selena! Help!"

Rushing down the stairs at the sound of Jay's voice she could see that his hands were full and things were bubbling over. He handing her the smoking test tubes and shouted, "I'll be right back" as he ran up the stairs.

Within seconds Justin was racing down the stairs yelling, "Jay! How many times have I told you . . . "

Seeing Selena he stopped still and they both heard a click as the door locked.

"I though we couldn't do that anymore?"

The basement door lock had been broken for ages. He threw up his hands in a gesture of pure frustration, but seeing that she had her hands full he grabbed the test tubes and sniffed.

"Lots of smoke but no explosions. It looks like our little band of Cupids is at it again."

"I know this is all Trelawney Rose's fault," she apologized.

"No, I'm sure that Jay had a hand in it too. He's the only one capable of fixing that door lock. At least he had the sense to mix chemicals that wouldn't reek," Justin replied.

They looked at each other and shrugged. There was nothing to do but wait until the kids had finished whatever scheme they had cooked up now. Justin gestured towards the steps and they sat down. Too tired to care any more, Selena rested her head against his shoulder. She had finally, after months of grief and sorrow, had enough.

Justin sensed the hopelessness in her heart. Putting his arms around her he cradled her like a child, stroking her soft hair, occasionally punctuating it with a gentle kiss on her brow. He no longer cared either. All that mattered was that he might find some way of comforting her broken heart without making things worse.

Once again feeling safe in his embrace, Selena was struck again by the injustice of fate. Kenneth had never been so responsive to her or her moods. Justin just always seemed to know how to sooth her aching heart. In her exhaustion she had no idea that she was staring at the answer to her dilemma right in the face.

The Trap is Sprung

When Mr. Kenny came to the door he was greeted by Max and Jennie, who were looking slightly downcast. He could see that Selena's acquisition of her great-grandmother's wedding dress had made them realize that she was really going to marry him and leave. In fact, he realized that she had modeled it for them.

He was greatly relieved. He was sick of hanging around and he just wanted to go home, do his duty, and get it over with. He wasn't exactly sure of what he would do after that. His Dad expected him to learn to run the hotel, but he wasn't really interested. He still had no desire to settle down and even less to prepare to eventually step into the role of paterfamilias to his clan. For a man such as himself, it was really quite a dull fate.

However a plan was forming in his mind to get Selena pregnant as quickly as possible and then tell his father that he wanted to research some modern methods of running hotels, in the Caribbean or some other comfortable location. He thought that even David Tressidor would be agreeable if he could persuade him that it would earn them all a bit more money.

And so he asked in his jaunty way, "How did Selena look in her wedding dress?"

"Beautiful." answered Jennie.

"Where is she now?"

"I don't know," replied the little girl. "Do you want me to look for her?"

"How thoughtful of you!" he replied.

Dutifully, the little girl went off to look for Miss Selena, thinking that it would also be a good idea to find her Daddy too.

She really didn't know where they were. Jay and Trelawney Rose had taken the precaution of not telling Max or Jennie their plan. Both knew that telling them that any plan was going on at all carried too many risks. Even Jay had not been fully apprised of what Trelawney Rose was up to. All he knew was that they were locking Miss Selena and his Dad in the basement and hoping to cause some jealousy on Mr. Kenny's part. She was not willing to risk him seeing any important aspect of the scheme in their minds.

She firmly believed that if left alone for any length of time Selena and Dr. Harrington would be unable to resist the attraction. It wasn't an assumption based on love, but rather vulnerability. Selena was physically exhausted and very nearly at the end of her emotional rope and Dr. Harrington's love for her ran so deep that he wouldn't care who she was betrothed to. He would comfort her and nature would take its course.

She knew that the more of the plan that any of the Harrington children were cognizant of, the likelier the chance that Kenneth would discern it. It was very important that his information should only be partial and that she maintained control over what he actually knew. It was the only way that she could deceive him without outright lying.

The part of the plan that had Jay confused was that Trelawney Rose wanted to make sure that while Mr. Kenny was in the kitchen, Miss Selena and Dad didn't know that he was up there or nearby. He also knew that Miss Emmeline was on the way and that they were to make sure that nothing really happened until she arrived. However, Jay had no idea of what she was expecting to happen.

As he stood in the kitchen washing the chemicals from his hands, Max entered with Mr. Kenny in tow.

"Hello Jay!" called out the prospective groom, "Do you know where Selena is?"

Following Trelawney Rose's instructions, he hesitated and then lied, "No, I haven't seen her in a while."

Mr. Kenny immediately looked suspicious. He had discerned that Jay was lying, but was not intuitive enough to discern the details.

"Then where is your father?" he asked.

"I haven't seen him either. Max, do you know where Dad is?"

"No, but wherever he is, I hope he stays away. He's going to make me do my homework," said Max with a scowl.

Mr. Kenny looked around the kitchen, "It looks like she started dinner."

Jay looked around, "Yeah, it does. I wonder where she went."

Jennie came in and said, "Jay, where did Daddy go? I can't find him or Miss Selena."

"Maybe they went out," suggested Jay.

"Maybe Selena went over to Mrs. Jennings' house to borrow a cup of sugar. Oh, you're here Kenneth. Something bothering you?" Trelawney Rose said as she entered, noticing his discomfort.

"It seems, Trel, that both Selena and Dr. Harrington have disappeared."

"Will you stop calling me that? I doubt very much that they have disappeared," she answered. "Perhaps they don't want to be found."

Trelawney Rose was pleased to see Kenneth's angst. She knew that he was worried that they were off somewhere together and up to no good. Her remark was also designed to create some rather vivid images in the minds of the younger children. Max grinned and Trelawney Rose knew what he was thinking of. Jennie started to giggle.

"Well, I'm sure that we'll see them soon . . . when they want us to see them anyway," said Jay, picking up on Trelawney Rose's line of thinking.

"What's the problem?" asked Willa suspiciously coming into the kitchen. "You all have the strangest looks on your faces."

Trelawney Rose realized that fate was definitely on her side. Willa was about to put the icing on the cake.

"We can't find Daddy and Miss Selena," answered Jennie. "Do you know where they are?"

"Now why would I know . . ." Willa started and then quickly stopped.

To Trelawney Rose's delight, she began to think of her own fears that her father had fallen in love with Selena and she might be staying permanently. This was a turn of events that she was not happy about, but her thoughts would help Trelawney Rose's little scheme to work even better.

Kenneth was so busy focusing on the fears of Willa and innuendos of the other Harrington children that he didn't notice Trelawney Rose leaning on the basement door. He also missed her analysis of Willa. She knew that Selena and Dr. Harrington were just sitting on the steps talking. Immediately she thrust the thought from her mind.

Kenneth was now looking distinctly ill. He knew that Max had caught sight of Selena and Dr. Harrington earlier engaged in the "real deal" and that Max was hoping that they had fallen in love. He looked sharply at Trelawney Rose who quickly jumped up and said, "I'll get it."

Jay rolled his eyes and Jennie giggled, and as she headed for the door the bell rang. When she returned he was relieved to see Miss Emmeline with her.

"Hi Miss Emmeline!" sang out Jennie.

"Emmeline, it appears that our little Trel here is up to her tricks again," Kenneth declared. Trelawney Rose made a face at the use of his hated nickname for her.

"Oh?" Emmeline raised an eyebrow.

"Why does everyone always blame me?" Trelawney Rose pretended to look outraged as everyone looked at her.

"Do you really have to ask that question, you little brat?" asked Willa rolling her eyes.

Then Trelawney Rose sheepishly added, "Well, maybe you do have a point. But Em, this is not a prank."

"What else would you call locking Selena and Dr. Harrington in the basement?" she asked.

"What?" Kenneth and Willa said together. Trelawney Rose moved out of the way, tripping the lock as she did so that Kenneth could quickly open the door and run down.

"Selena!"

"Kenneth! I didn't know you were here!" Selena's voice was very surprised.

"Trelawney Rose!" Selena's voice came up from the basement. Simultaneously they heard Dr. Harrington holler, "Jay!"

But the girl had turned to Jay and gleefully said, "Game, set, match! Now the fun starts."

Emmeline gave her a withering look but she didn't care. Like the other children she was too busy trying to hear the loud voices coming from below.

Kenneth had seen Dr. Harrington with his arms around his bride-to-be and, primed by Max's thoughts, immediately assumed the worst. Accusations were flying thick and fast between Kenneth and Dr. Harrington until Emmeline called them up to sort things out. Selena didn't seem at all surprised to see her.

"So, it figures that you would have some role in this little drama," she said to her cousin.

Trelawney Rose looked at the women and grinned even more widely, "This is even better than I thought."

Looking at her, they chorused angrily, "Trelawney Rose!"

"What the hell is going on here?" demanded Dr. Harrington.

"That's what I want to know! What were you doing kissing my bride?" asked Kenneth.

Trelawney Rose immediately jumped in, "Not so fast, you have some explaining of your own to do."

She stared at him intently because there was something that she wanted him to know. Everyone else looked at each other but no one knew where to start. Trelawney Rose was so perceptive that she had discerned Kenneth's plans for after the marriage. Selena very confused and missed the exchange. But Emmeline was sharper. Finally, she looked at Trelawney Rose with realization in her eyes.

"Is this why you called me?"

"Yes. I knew that they weren't going to let me sort it out, so I decided to bring you into it. Considering that you started this whole bloody mess in the first place by making sure that he was found, you should be the one to clean it up," answered Trelawney Rose boldly. She was so busy being mad at the adults who had refused to listen to her that she no longer cared how mad anyone got at her.

"Why don't we all sit down and talk this out," said Selena. She could see what was in her sister's mind and, aside from the fact that she didn't believe it, she couldn't quite piece it together from her chaotic thinking.

They all sat down around the table, Selena and Emmeline on either side of Trelawney Rose in case she got any further out of hand. The Harringtons really didn't know what was going on, even though the others clearly had their own suspicions. Willa had tried to leave, but Justin had grabbed her wrist and roughly jerked her down into a chair. He was very angry with her. Recognizing this, Emmeline told Trelawney Rose to start talking before he could lose his temper.

"Well, the story really starts at home. Kenneth, remember when you came to visit a few years ago and you bothered me and made me mad?" she asked.

Kenneth looked away.

Well, I went to Mummy and asked her if Selena really had to marry such a horrid person," Trelawney Rose could not resist getting another jibe in.

Selena gave her an odd look and she continued.

"Mummy told me that although she and Papa had arranged the betrothal, ultimately it would be up to her, Selena that is, to know what was in her heart and when she would be ready to wear great-grandmother's wedding dress. Only she would know," she explained. "You should know too, Kenneth, you fool. Despite the betrothal custom, they really have never forced anyone into marriage. A loveless marriage is a fruitless marriage and what is the point of that?"

Willa began to laugh at the insinuation but Justin silenced her with a look.

Turning to her sister, Trelawney Rose said, "Selena, Mummy and Papa loved you. They wanted you to follow your heart. They would never have forced you to marry him."

Tears filled Selena's eyes. "Did you know that Mum wrote me a note and put it with the dress?"

"No, but there's something else," Trelawney Rose herself was becoming emotional. "Mummy said that you would know when you had found the man you were truly destined for because you would know his mind and he would know yours. Your love would be so great that you wouldn't be able to love another. She knew that, Selena, really and truly she did! Did you know that Mummy and Papa always knew where the other was and knew what they were thinking even if they weren't in the same room?"

"I think I noticed how close they were, but I never thought much about it because they were my parents and I expected them to love each other that way," said Selena as her own mind was flooded with realization.

"The only reason Kenneth came when he did was that Emmeline finally found him and told him that he must come and claim you. Even before he knew, he was trying to keep off the radar, so to speak. He does not love you any more than you love him. That was why it took the family so bloody long to find him. Then she warned you. Emmeline, if you hadn't told them they wouldn't have known that they were about to meet again, even though they should have," Trelawney Rose continued.

"So in other words, if I hadn't told Kenneth to come, he wouldn't have known that he had to, but he should have? And the only reason Selena knew he was coming was because I told her?" Emmeline wanted to be sure that she had it right.

"Exactly," said Trelawney Rose. "But if Selena and Kenneth were truly meant for each other, he would have known that something was wrong and that he should come months ago. She would have needed him and been longing for him, which I might add, she most certainly was not. And she would have sensed his coming without you, shall we say, sticking your oar in. But without your meddling they never would have gotten together, and that is not right if they were destined to be together."

Trelawney Rose was unrepentant about her own meddling. Once again, she couldn't resist hurling a dart at Emmeline. Now that she could see that the others were beginning to understand her and follow her line of reasoning she calmed down. Dr. Harrington was simply gazing at Selena with new hope in his eyes.

The children, even Jennie, were beginning to smile. Willa folded her arms across her chest and began to sulk, but didn't say a word. Kenneth still looked confused but it was beginning to dawn on him that his betrothed might not be the woman destined to share eternity with. And he didn't seem utterly devastated by it, not by a long shot.

"Selena, I'm sorry we locked you in the basement, but I had to be sure. If Kenneth were meant to be your husband then he would have known where you were right away. It was too easy. Emmeline did, in fact she was the one who let the proverbial cat out of the bag," she said.

"And you wouldn't have been so surprised to find him in the house, you would have known that he was here. You were so close to being married but I could see that you didn't share the same closeness of mind and heart that Mummy and Papa did, and that you never would. And as your sister, I could feel your heart breaking every time you looked at the Dr. Harrington."

"So could I," said Emmeline softly. "Even all those months ago. I'm so sorry Selena. I just didn't know what it meant. I was never betrothed to anyone and I guess that I haven't met my future husband yet. But still, your life was on hold in more ways than one as long as there was a betrothal contract and no betrothed."

"Nor have I met my future wife," added Kenneth, with a flourish (and no small amount of relief). "I always accepted without question that Selena would be mine some day. I never even thought to look."

"You don't need to look," said Selena, finally unmasking for all to see, the depths of love that she felt for the man sitting beside. "You'll know."

Justin's hand closed over hers and they looked at each other as if no one else existed. Tears began to slip down Trelawney Rose's cheeks.

"I've only seen two other people look at each other like that in my life," she said quietly. "Mummy and Papa."

Selena turned to console her, but Emmeline had already taken the child in her arms. She gave her a little nod and she looked back to see a little glimmer of a smile on Justin's face.

"Do it Dad," urged Jay.

"Do what?" asked Jennie.

Not taking his eyes from Selena's face, he said, "This."

Leaning forward he tenderly brushed her hair back from her face. Holding her face in his hands he kissed her long, but not too deeply in front of the kids. Pulling back, he saw that her eyes were closed and her face, for the first time since Kenneth had come, was at peace.

With her father otherwise concerned, Willa stood up from the table and looked around. Eventually, her eyes rested on Trelawney Rose. She looked more confused and angry than ever.

"You win!" she said tersely. "For now!"

Emmeline looked at her oddly and then drew the child closer. She could see that Willa had revenge in her heart. This was not good. Her emotions were a swirling chaos of hurt, anger, and sadness. Despite the fact that Trelawney Rose had been trying so hard to help her, she had now become the target for her resentment. It became clear to her that if Trelawney Rose was to be safe, Willa must leave.

What Emmeline Thought

The next few hours were filled with joy and love for all, except for Willa and perhaps Kenneth who still didn't seem to know what to think. He had to be careful not reveal that he had also wanted nothing to do with marriage to his betrothed. He was trying to decide if he would play the jilted lover or the gallant knight who steps aside for the true love of the young maiden.

As soon as she could, Willa went banging out of the house. She felt no joy in her heart. In fact, her bitterness had only increased. Emmeline was satisfied that despite all her fears to the contrary, fate was indeed taking its intended course. Her suspicions, which she had been too timid to act on, had actually panned out.

It was only now that she realized that the accident that took the lives of the Tressidor sisters' parents had perhaps altered the course of all their destinies. It was difficult to say since Kenneth had been avoiding his duty long before it happened. There was no way for her to really know. However the confluence events that had brought them all to this place and time were nothing less than extraordinary, and too tremendous to be coincidence.

God does not make bad things happen. Bad things happen through human fallibility and weakness. But God never abandons us. It was a drunk driver who took the lives of Selena's and Trelawney Rose's parents. But God will often set in motion a way for those affected by such enormous tragedy to go on with their lives.

God, or fate if you like, had set about redesigning their futures when Emmeline had chosen to bring Trelawney Rose to Selena rather than calling her home. Had she been called, Selena would have returned and it would have been the last she would have seen of the Harringtons.

Yet the choice that Emmeline made was not made lightly. Her choice was motivated by love and a desire to comfort her cousin as soon as she learned the dreadful news. It was a larger force that had compelled her to bring the child thousands of miles from her home and deliver the news in person. It was the fulfillment of a promise made at the birth of the child. It was one based on love and her innate goodness. Therefore, it could not be wrong.

From the first she sensed the deep connection between Selena and Justin Harrington. She knew that without his support, she would never have made it through those dark days. She clearly remembered how even though his feelings for her romantically inclined, before she had even had him make his promise, he had restrained those impulses. And Kenneth? If he had truly been fated to be her husband, she knew now that he would have known that Selena needed him then and nothing would have kept him away.

But it was Justin who was there. She realized now that his concern for Selena was motivated purely by a love beyond measure or explanation. The love they shared transcended the physical. She realized that she somehow must have known it at the time.

When all was said and done, Emmeline finally realized that the love between Selena and Justin was real. Perhaps that was why after her efforts to keep them apart failed, she had finally reached the point where she wanted to bring them together, but needed to get Kenneth here first. It was only the ill-fated betrothal that had stood in the way.

But even in this case, Trelawney Rose knew, but she did not know how she knew. Although she had a difficult time trying to figure out a way to express it, she understood that something was not right. And of course everyone believed that she was causing trouble because she disliked Kenneth so much. Therefore no one else was able to pick up on the signs that she recognized.

It was very difficult to comprehend what exactly was going on in Trelawney Rose's mind. She knew how much her sister mourned their parents and she could see in her relationship with Justin a means for her to find happiness and move on with her life. She could see that Selena had no yearning for her betrothed's presence or comfort. That in and of itself was very odd. She did not like Kenneth to begin with and the fact that he stood in the way of her sister's true love made her furious.

Grieving herself, she had no other way of expressing her very mixed up adolescent feelings other than anger. Leaving Dr. Harrington would also be a personal loss for herself. He had welcomed her into his family after she was orphaned and she couldn't bear the thought of the imminent departure. But even their connection seemed to transcend the normal. There were larger forces at work forging a stronger bond between them.

Had things moved any further in the direction of their departure, there was a strong probability that she might have taken a more desperate measure to prevent it. Ironically, in spite of all her efforts as a troublemaker, it was actually Trelawney Rose who knew what was right. Her intuitions were on target and not mere wishful thinking.

Emmeline knew that the ultimate test of their love had come when Selena and Justin were faced with separation. She had struggled between the good as defined by filial devotion and the good as defined by true love for a man who loved her in kind. With things set up as they were, there seemed to be no way to love one without hurting the other. This very deep conflict of desires, in light of her determination to always make things work out for the best for all concerned when given enough time, had quite literally torn her heart in two.

In light of all she had seen and heard, Emmeline now knew that even if she had not exacted that promise from Justin to protect her cousin, he would never have agreed to her scheme anyway. He wanted what was best for her, and her love unsullied by an affair that would have tainted both their reputations. He knew that the cost of such action could be her loss of custody of her sister.

He wanted her without the guilt that she would certainly have felt if she had subverted her parents' wishes in that manner. And he could not bear the thought that he could be the cause of her loss of her beloved sister. The depth with which he understood her heart and mind was incredible. His willingness to sacrifice his own future happiness for what would have eventually been her peace of mind was a testament to the strength of his love for her.

Emmeline had also come to realize that fanciful as Trelawney Rose was, she shared that deep Tressidor connection with the larger forces at work in the cosmos. Her developing intuitions, which none of them had realized before, were incredibly powerful. As she grew older she would not only further develop them, she would need to control them. Impulsive as she was now, she lacked the mature judgment necessary to use her intuition wisely.

Yet, her childlike faith in the cosmic world had really taught them all something. Her absolute belief in angels went beyond the Biblical. She indeed saw them as messengers of God, who for a time would inhabit humans and interact with temporal world. Just like her sister, she was beginning to see that there was good in all people if you just looked hard enough. This would no doubt become one of her guiding principals in life.

Emmeline also had come to realize that God indeed does send earthly angels, in the form of caring people, to minister to those in need. Thus, Selena showed up in Justin Harrington's office on that fateful morning over a year ago. Justin had been there when Selena needed him. She herself had cared for both sisters after the tragedy.

Even Georgina, a most unlikely angel, had willingly accepted her role in the care of a deeply wounded Trelawney Rose. For those who refuse to believe, such occurrences are described as simply the right person being in the right place at the right time. For the true believer, they are the compassionate hand of God intervening when tragedy happens.

Emmeline knew that the future for Selena would be filled with its own problems. There were great differences between her and Justin and many things about her that he was going to have to learn to live with. For the moment, the biggest challenge would be explaining how they were going to continue in such close proximity to one another, engaged to be married, with "only" five children as chaperones. But Emmeline also knew that in the longer term, this would seem like a minor stumbling block. If anyone asked, there would be a very simple answer. It was Trelawney Rose who shared Selena's bed, not Justin.

Kenneth, being Kenneth, was rather sanguine about the way that things had turned out for himself. It stood to reason that knowing now that marriage could not merely be based on a contract, but needed work and love, he might find a way to pull himself together, and actually settle down. Or, he might not. Despite the fact that he had swept in determined to play the hero and rescue his damsel in distress he really had no idea of what the kind of love was that was needed to build a successful marriage.

The loss of his bride did not seem to have broken his heart. His pride might be a bit injured, but Emmeline could see that he was already beginning to spin the tale so that he was the hero. It only further reinforced Emmeline's opinion that he was a fool. His family was likely to be very angry with him for giving up his claim so easily. It would be much easier for her to explain Selena's actions to Dad.

As for the betrothal, it was really an anachronism in the twentieth century. Before the idea that marriages based on love had taken hold, betrothals were constantly being made and broken, often since the infancy of the children involved, based on political, social, and even military alliances made by the parents. Women never had a say in whom they would marry and men had very little. Children were pawns to be moved about on the great chess set of life. Even when men made their own choices, those choices were very rarely based on love.

In the view of the ancient and even pre-modern world, women were chattel to be owned and essentially "sold" as advantage would have it. While Kenneth, growing up the highly traditional culture that he did, had taken this perspective for granted, Justin refused to accept it. His was a modern view, supported by the love he had experienced in his first marriage. He knew that what he had found in Selena was of the same stuff, a match made in heaven, not pre-arranged by a contract made on earth.

Selena herself had been caught in the middle. With a foot in both worlds, she had never thought to question these things such as they were. She had misunderstood her parents' adherence to tradition as right action, rather than just following a cultural norm. However her mother, perhaps sensing the changing world around them or even knowing that Kenneth and Selena were compliant with tradition rather than compatible with each other, had been moved to write the note that finally set her daughter free to chart at least a part of her own destiny.

Knowing the depth of the relationship that she shared with her own husband, she wanted the same for her child. The appearance of the note might never be explained. The last time that the box with the dress had been opened, it had been for Christabel. Neither Emmeline nor Selena could recall if Meg had helped pack the dress. However, Mum could perhaps tell them, since it was she who had helped her daughter prepare for her wedding night.

Thus as she watched the celebrations happening around her, Emmeline pondered all of these things in her mind. Occasionally she would see Selena looking over at her and she would return the look with a smile. How ironic that she, who had wanted more than anything to insure her cousin's happiness, had very nearly been the one to destroy it. There was forgiveness in Selena's eyes. As always, she was motivated by a pure love. She would bear no grudges. Their own feelings of love and loyalty to one another extended too far back into their childhood.

Thus the evening passed. Kenneth left early, thankfully. The children did not protest when sent to bed shortly after he left. Subject to the stress of the last week themselves, they were worn out. Even though she had only come in for the tail end of the events, Emmeline herself was quite tired. The final climax had been draining and she was still struggling with her own sense of guilt for her part in the drama.

Selena read her mind as always, "Please don't feel bad, Em, about the role you played in these events. I know that for a while you were just as subject to the whims of fate as we were. And remember that it was you that set things in motion. In the end you helped to resolve the conflict. I suppose it is a lesson for us all that we never really know all that we think we know. Sometimes wisdom, which has a strong component of faith, is more valuable than knowledge."

She looked fondly at Justin. "Justin, despite being a scientist, it was your faith in the intangible nature of love that carried me, that carried us through."

As they looked into each other's eyes, Emmeline stood up to leave.

"It's time for me to leave you two alone. I just want you to know that I love you both, and all the children. I am very proud to be a member of this family," she said with no small emotion. "I'll get Trelawney Rose and bring her back to the apartment. Take all the time that you need."

Epilogue

After Emmeline and Trelawney Rose had gone to the apartment, finally alone and finally secure in their future, Selena curled up beside Justin on the couch. She felt the grip of his arm and his hand gently stroking her hair. Through his shirt she could feel his heart beating and his steady even breathing. After a while, his hand rested on her head and she thought that he might have fallen asleep, but when she looked up he was gazing wonderingly at her.

"It's true," he said softly.

"Yes."

The front door opened and Willa came in. Seeing them intimately seated on the couch, she uttered an oath.

"Damn!"

"Yes, Willa," said Justin antagonistically, standing up. "I am afraid that your worst nightmare has come true."

"You'll look ridiculous you know," said Willa spitefully. "She's practically young enough to be your daughter."

"You realize of course what Mom would have thought of this, had she known," he said with the intention of hurting.

"Not really, but I suppose that you are about to tell me," she hissed back, deeply wounded by what she had just witnessed.

They glared at each other and then Selena reached up and touched his arm. She could see the hatred in both their hearts and it grieved her to her very core. This was not what she wanted for those who would eventually become her family. Justin looked at her and then back at Willa. He realized that in his zeal to show his daughter that he had just triumphed over the odds, he had just hurt the woman he loved very much.

"Willa," he said more gently. "Before your mother passed away she made me promise her something."

"Really?" she drawled. Selena could see that his initial attack had closed her mind, not to mention her heart, to him.

"Yes," he continued, ignoring her tone. "She made me promise that after I was finished grieving, I would remarry. She asked me to be sure to find a woman who would raise our children to be happy and healthy adults."

"And you've found her?"

"No," replied Justin quietly. "She found me."

Willa looked at both of them. Selena could feel the ache in her heart. It was very difficult for her to see another woman in her father's arms. But it was even more difficult for her to acknowledge that this was what her mother wanted when she passed away. She didn't even try to deny her father's words. She knew her kind and gentle mother well enough to recognize their veracity without question.

Without thinking, Selena stood up and reached out her hand.

"Willa," she said softly. "Why don't we start over? Why don't we try to find a way to at least be friends?"

For a moment, Selena thought that she saw her resolve weaken. She thought that perhaps she had finally gotten through to her. But then she glanced in her father's direction. Justin was looking away, no doubt to hide his true feelings. Willa's face hardened.

"Well, Daddy dear," she said looking past Selena to Justin. "Graduation is a mere two weeks away. Then I'll be out of your hair for good."

"Willa, please . . ." he said.

"If it makes you feel any better," she said. "Even if Miss Selena had gone back to merry old England with the little weirdo, I would probably have been out of here anyway. Especially if you thought that I was going to 'do my part' to keep the house running without her."

Selena looked at her sorrowfully.

"If you think that I hate you," said Willa, now turning her attention toward her. "Think again. There are a lot of things in my life that I hate, but I can't waste my time on you. You are less than nothing to me."

With that, she stomped upstairs. The mood now broken, Justin decided to walk Selena out to the apartment. He kissed her good night before she opened the door. They looked into each other's eyes with a new understanding of their love.

She entered the apartment and noticed that someone, no doubt Trelawney Rose, had left her Bible open on the coffee table. Her heart was full as she read once again of the words of St. Paul:

"Love bears all things. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."

Selena sat down quietly and looked at the entire scripture. The message was one of unconditional love, God's love. She thought of the wounded young girl who she knew must be sobbing right now alone in her room. This young girl was destined, whether she wanted or not, to become her stepdaughter. She was now called to love this child unconditionally, as her mother had her and no doubt still did. Having known the love of her own mother, she knew what she must do.

She could only pray that by loving them both, she could return Justin and Willa to a true father-daughter relationship. Justin must see that as a father, his role model must be Our Father in heaven, for it is God, who loves each of us unconditionally. He always accepts us and always forgives. She also knew this much. Until Justin became reconciled with his daughter, she could never marry him.

His actions over the past week had proven to her beyond all doubt that he had the capacity to love and forgive that was large enough to include this poor, wayward child. Somehow, she must help him realize it.

The End

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