Chapter 2. Changes in the Wind
Visit with a Wise Friend
It turned out that Mrs. Gilbert's niece, Mrs. Thompson, told him that her aunt would be only too happy to see them. So Justin arranged to go over the next day. Jennie wanted to go too and even cut some flowers from the garden to bring, but he didn't want her to come along. The impression that he got from Mrs. Thompson was that Mrs. Gilbert was reluctant for the children to see her, ill as she was.
The next day, he convinced Selena to begin to go out in public wearing casual clothes that she had begun wearing around the house lately. Before, she had always dressed in a skirt or dress and apron. But lately she had taken to wearing comfortable slacks everyday. She looked very attractive and much less like a housekeeper.
"I'm mighty proud of you," he said warmly. "I can think of no better way to show the world, than to take my love on a stroll through the neighborhood."
She blushed charmingly and happily took his arm. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. He enjoyed the way that she seemed to be leaning on him for strength. He had to admit that he was pleased when they ran into a couple of their neighbors and he was able to nod a greeting.
Neither asked but they smiled knowingly. No doubt, thanks to kids and good old Mrs. Jennings, word had gotten out about the drama in the last few months and the impending changes in the Harrington household. As usual, Justin missed the fact that the encounters might generate more whispers. When they entered into Mrs. Gilbert's house, the dear familiar voice called,
"Why it's my good friend Selena! And it looks like she brought Dr. Harrington with her."
They entered the living room where she was seated in a large easy chair. She held out her hands and Selena took them. The women looked at each other fondly.
"Mrs. Gilbert, I was so sorry to hear of your illness! If I had known, I would have come earlier," said Selena.
"Now Selena dear, I know that you have had many things on your mind. There is no reason for you to become bothered with an old woman like me," she answered.
"But suppose I want to be bothered. I have missed you, you know," replied Selena.
"Well I've missed you too. But it doesn't look like you have been taking very good care of yourself, dear." Despite the stroke, Mrs. Gilbert was as sharp as ever. As an older person who had essentially seen it all, she always said what she meant in no uncertain terms. And stroke or no stroke, mentally, she was still sharp as a tack.
Selena shifted a bit uncomfortably in her seat, however Justin tried to help her by saying,
"Well, there's been a lot of upset in the house, especially recently. Now that all the children are home for the summer, things are even busier. They don't seem to be able to keep out of each other's business, and the bickering has become almost constant. I will be very grateful when their different activities start up next week."
"Well that sounds lovely," she said. "So what are they all up to?"
"Trelawney Rose will be attending a theatre program with Georgina," replied Selena.
"Jay was accepted into the advanced science program at the high school," said Justin proudly. "And Max made the town Little League team."
"Yes, yes," she said, nodding. "That sounds perfect for all of them. What about little Jennie?"
"Well, we haven't really found anything for her yet," answered Selena. "She's still a little young for most of the programs."
"Well, in the monthly newsletter from St. Andrews," replied Mrs. Gilbert. "I noticed that they are having a vacation bible school this summer. She's not too young for that and it's only a half day."
"I guess that we missed that," commented Selena. "And Trelawney Rose and I missed church last Sunday."
Justin looked away because he realized that she figured out that they had not gone to church either because she wasn't going. In all fairness, Emmeline had also been a part of the collusion. She was not exactly a devout churchgoer.
"That sounds like a good idea," replied Justin quickly, and turning to Selena, "What do you think, Selena?"
"So, it is just Selena now. I guess that the rumors are true then," said Mrs. Gilbert with a warm smile.
Selena returned her smile shyly and said, "It is all rather new."
"Well, I think that it's great for the both of you," she replied approvingly. "Dr. Harrington, you need a wife and the children need a mother. Even Willa needs a mother although she'll never admit it. Selena, you need to settle down and I can't think of a better place for you. I may be old, but I'm not blind. I could always sense that there was something special between you."
Selena and Justin looked at each other as if to confirm her thoughts. Now that it was out in the open, Justin automatically picked up her hand and began to caress it. However, they had not come to talk about themselves, and Selena had no desire to talk about Willa. Sensing this because she had her finger on the pulse of the neighborhood, Mrs. Gilbert added.
"Helen was a lovely woman and such a wonderful neighbor," she said. "I am sure that Selena is exactly the kind of person that she would want to raise her children. She was so proud of all of them, including poor Willa."
Justin and Selena exchanged another, rather uncomfortable glance. It was just like Mrs. Gilbert not to let them off the hook so easily.
"Ignoring the situation will do you no good," she said firmly. "I remember her as a little girl, always laughing and running around. And the first time she came by to sell me Girl Scout cookies, she was so cute. She was so independent that she made Helen stand out on the sidewalk with the little boys when she rang the bell."
"I had forgotten that she was a Girl Scout," said Justin thoughtfully.
"Oh, yes," nodded Mrs. Gilbert. "And quite a fine one at that. Every year that she came by, there were more badges on her sash. I was sorry when she stopped coming. The girls in recent years have not nearly been so responsible."
"That is a side of Willa that I never got to see," said Selena regretfully. "Or even hear about."
Mrs. Gilbert shook her head.
"Justin, it is important that you help your family to remember that Willa was really a very good little girl, not to mention a loving daughter," she said sternly. "What a sad sight she was at the wake and the funeral. Poor girl. According to Mrs. Jennings, your mother-in-law treated her quite harshly."
"Leave it to Mrs. Jennings to know our business," he sighed.
"Don't sell her short!" she replied sharply. "She may not mind her own business, but she has more insight than you realize. Now of course, she also has one of the most abrasive personalities of anyone that I have ever met, but deep down her heart is in the right place. Perhaps someday you will realize that."
"You certainly don't pull any punches," commented Justin. "Do you?"
"Never have, never will," replied Mrs. Gilbert. "But enough about young Willa. From what I hear, she is very lucky that she has Selena here to love her as she does. I have no doubt that it would make Helen very happy to know that someone who refused to let her push her away. It takes a very special person to love another like that."
"Mrs. Gilbert," said Selena, turning a bit pink from the lovely compliment. "How are you really doing? Jay told us that you were giving up the house and moving to a nursing home."
"Oh, it's not as bad as it sounds," said the older woman. "People think that going into a nursing home means that your relatives are shipping you off because they don't care. But I don't have any relatives who live in town. I had several offers from the children who live out of town to live with them, but I decided that this would be best.
"I really can't manage alone anymore and this way I won't be a bother to anyone. I'm settled here and I don't want to start over in a new place living in someone else's house. I am hoping to find a nice family to move into this house. My husband and I had so many wonderful years here raising our children, that I would like to see it have a new life with a new family."
Selena admired the peace and contentment that she had as she was moving towards these very big changes. She was facing a situation that many people face with fear and trepidation, and yet she was calmly accepting her destiny. She wondered how she did it. If only she could come to terms with her own life in this way!
"Selena, no life is without trials and great changes," said Mrs. Gilbert as if she had read her thoughts. "When you're as old as I am, you learn that changes will happen, tragedies will happen, good things will happen. Since you can't avoid it, all you can do is learn to accept what life brings you, such as it is, and make the best of it."
"But how do you do that?" asked Justin. He was very impressed by her wisdom. Having known a great tragedy of his own and now thinking that all that was behind him, he felt a bit of concern for the future. He knew that even once they were past this set of circumstances, there would always be new challenges to face.
"There's no recipe for it," continued Mrs. Gilbert. "Every person and every situation is different. When I first lost my husband, I thought my life was over. It wasn't over, but it was changed. Then one day, I had a gang of kids building a tree house in my front yard! When I first had my stroke, I was very fearful that I might be totally incapacitated. I am grateful that I have gained back as much mobility as I have. It won't be easy to leave this old house, but I see it as moving on to a new adventure.
Justin watched Selena as the older woman talked. It was obvious that she was finding some comfort in her words. It seemed to him that this was just what she needed to hear. He was glad that he had suggested that they come over. However all too soon, Mrs. Thompson entered the room and started fussing.
"Now Aunt Matilda," she said. "You need to be careful not to overdo it. I'm sure that your friends will be happy to come back another time."
Mrs. Gilbert smiled. "If they promise to come back soon, I will let them go without complaining."
"Of course we'll be back," said Selena. "Oh, and the flowers are from Jennie. I know that she would like to visit also."
"I would be happy to see Jennie. Such a sweet little girl to want to spend some time with an old lady when she could be out playing with her friends," replied Mrs. Gilbert.
"Yes, she is," said Justin. "Most of the time. I believe that it is Selena's influence. Now we'll be on our way."
Walking back, he commented, "I'm glad that she saw the notice about the vacation bible school. I think that it will be a relief for you to have Jennie out of your hair at least for the mornings."
"I love her dearly, but she is a challenge," she answered. "Next year I plan to sign her up for Brownies and maybe some kind of dance classes. She needs to have more of her own interests. And at least she will have homework in the first grade."
"Well," he commented. "I'm going to have a summer activity too. The chair has twisted my arm to teach summer school. He was so great about helping me work with all of my distractions last semester that I felt that I needed to do something in return."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I know that this is my fault. You really do enjoy your summers off."
"Don't worry about it," he replied. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
That night, the conversation at dinner degenerated into more sniping and arguing among the three Harrington children. They had all been home together for the day. It wasn't helped by the fact that Jay had tried, pretty much undiplomatically, to pull the other two into line. Selena looked stressed and Trelawney Rose was picking at her food. Justin's efforts to control them were ineffective. Finally, Emmeline, who was reluctantly joining them to eat with her cousins, had had enough.
"Selena," she said firmly. "I really don't know how you stand it. Ever since school let out, dinners have just become more and more unpleasant. Since it's not part of your employment agreement to eat with the family, I think it would be a good idea if we ate by ourselves from now on."
All the children fell silent and Justin started to look annoyed. He was just about completely fed up with Emmeline's interference in their lives. But his annoyance turned to surprise when he heard Selena's response.
"I must admit," she said, with a sigh. "That I have grown a bit weary of it myself. I can't remember the last time I had a little pleasant dinner conversation."
"Wednesday night in San Francisco," commented Trelawney Rose.
The children all stared at her.
"Are you some kind of a traitor or something?" asked Max.
"No," she said. "Selena asked a simple question and I gave a simple answer. I'm tired of you lot myself."
The three other children stared at her. She looked around at all of them.
"If I didn't have Georgina and my theatre program, I would want to go home tomorrow," she continued. "And don't start making rude remarks about her because she is my best friend. And she's a much nicer person than any of you."
Now all six of the others at the table stared at her. Finally Selena spoke.
"Do you really feel that way?" she asked softly.
"Yes I do!" she said emphatically. "I don't just miss my Mummy and Papa. I miss my Auntie Alma and Christy and the kids. And I miss my other aunts and uncles and cousins. And I miss Elspeth most of all. And I know that she misses me!"
She stood up and looked around at all of them with tears in her eyes. Then she ran from the table. Emmeline looked at Selena sympathetically.
"I'll go," she said. "You need to talk to them."
After she left, Selena turned around to see four pairs of eyes looking at her anxiously.
"Things must change," she said simply. "It's not just that she can't live like this. I can't live like this either, and truth be told, neither can any of you. It's as if now that you don't have Willa to use for your target practice, so to speak, you are using each other. I no longer have the emotional strength to deal with it."
"I'm sorry, Miss Selena," said Max. "I don't want you to leave."
"Me neither," said Jennie, her eyes filling with tears. "What would we do without you?"
Selena stared into the distance.
"I don't know," she finally admitted. "But I can't see how you could do any worse than you presently are doing with me here."
"But don't you love Dad?" asked Max.
She smiled sadly.
"With all my heart," she replied. "But that's not enough. All those months ago, you all seemed very excited about the idea that love makes a family. But you didn't realize that being a family and maintaining that love takes work. And from the beginning, you made it clear that Willa was outside of it. Jennie, you all but kicked her out of the family.
"It's not just about saying that you love someone, it's showing it and acting it out from day to day as well. There's a lot to be said for the old adage that actions speak louder than words. That doesn't mean that there won't be disagreements, but every disagreement does not have to turn into a contest to see who can hurt the other the most."
Justin finally spoke.
"If I recall correctly," he said. "This arrangement was only made on a trial basis. We have never made it permanent. So I believe that the trial is still on."
"Yes, it is," said Selena.
"But I thought that things changed," said Jay. "You know, when we got rid of Mr. Kenny for you."
"Some things changed," she said thoughtfully. "But not everything changed for the better, I'm afraid to say. The things that truly matter, love and family, have been sorely lacking lately."
"How can we change them?" asked Max.
"One thing that none of you seem to understand is that there are things in life that are more important than yourselves or your own whim of the moment," she replied. "Until you truly realize that you will never really be happy."
"Oh," said Jennie. "But that's hard."
"Nothing in life worth having is easy," she replied. "It's better to learn that now rather than later. I have tried to teach you, but you have not been listening."
"I'm listening now," said Jay.
"Me too," said Max.
"Since Trelawney Rose wants to stay for the summer," said Selena looking around. "We will. But if things do not change then I will have no choice but to return home with her."
With that she got up.
"I believe that you are all capable of cleaning up," she said. "I must now see to my sister."
When she returned to the apartment, she found Trelawney Rose curled up against Emmeline. When she came in, her sister immediately came over and hugged her.
"Will anything change?" asked Emmeline.
"We'll see," she replied. "Trelawney Rose, we will stay until your theatre program is finished. Then we will decide what to do."
"What about Justin?" she asked. "You love him so very much."
"Justin must change as well," she said. "It's not just about us, you know."
"I'm glad that you understand that," she said. "I think that I can leave you two here alone now. I need to go home and face the family in person. I will tell Dad that the little one wants to stay with her friend and do her theatre program. It will buy you some time. But I expect that someone will stop in to see you."
"So do I," said Selena.
"I think that I would rather like that," said Trelawney Rose. "There are so many family members that I miss that I can't think of which one I'd like to see the most."
"I'm not sure either," agreed Selena. "But I do miss Sylvia. It's been an age since I've seen her."
"Well," said Emmeline. "Not to burst your bubble, but I think it highly unlikely that Dad would send her. It is much more likely that he will send someone older and more stern."
Trelawney Rose sighed and went into the bedroom. Emmeline followed her to talk some more with her. Selena felt restless and decided to sit by herself in the backyard. She needed to get away from everyone and clear her head for a bit.
While she was sitting there, a familiar voice asked, "May I join you?"
Looking up, she saw Justin. There was just a touch of apprehension in his expression. She knew that he was becoming more anxious about their future, but there was not much that she could do about that. She moved over so that he could sit beside her.
He sat down a little stiffly and, avoiding the main issue, asked, "So did you enjoy our visit with Mrs. Gilbert?"
"I found our chat with her to be very comforting," she said. "It's always nice to get some perspective on life from an older person. It is good to see that one can face great adversity and still come out on the other side and find happiness. Yes, I believe that our conversation did me a bit of good."
"I wouldn't be surprised if it did," he answered. He looked at her fondly. She rested her head against his shoulder as he held out his arm. As she snuggled in, he could sense that she was more relaxed than she had been in a long time. Despite the recent confrontation, she seemed to be slowly accepting things as they were for herself.
"You know Mrs. Gilbert was right today, about facing your trials in life and making the best out of them," he said, as he began to softly stroke her hair. He had discovered that she founded it soothing.
He then said more gently, "I tried it the other way. Not facing them, that is. After Helen died, a part of me refused to accept that she was gone and that things would have to change. You know the mess that that created. And it wasn't until you came into our lives that I realized that it could all be good again."
"So you're saying that you want me to rebuild my life as you did, and that you want to be there to help," she said.
"It's what I have been trying to say for months. But I think that now you've talked to Mrs. Gilbert, you are starting to understand that sometimes you have to accept your limitations and move on with your life," he answered. "Sometimes when things change, they can't be changed back, so we have to change with them."
She looked up at him. She could see the love and kindness in his eyes. She knew that he was right. He leaned into her and sought her lips for a kiss. She wrapped her arms around him and drew him closer. She felt as if she were coming back to life, after having fallen asleep in a haze of anxiety.
Sitting in the yard with only him, it was easy to forget all of the challenges of the days to come. Everything seemed more sublime in the moonlight. Thus, for a short time, she was able to pretend that they were like any other couple in love. Once again, the intensity and immediacy of their love led them into a time a space apart from their everyday world. It was a great relief.
In true Tressidor fashion, Emmeline left the very next day. When a Tressidor decided it was time to move on, she moved on. She had the stressful journey home to face her father with all of the recent news. She would not withhold anything, knowing that he would find out everything sooner or later.
Then she planned to go on retreat in a Buddhist monastery in Japan. She needed to escape from the world for a while. No doubt she would be back and need all the strength that she could muster to help Selena with whatever new mess she had gotten herself into.
On Sunday they all went to church together. Justin had to admit that he enjoyed going to church more than he had when they first started going. He and Helen had never taken the children, but Selena had insisted almost from the outset. Deep down he knew that they needed all the help that they could get learning to love one another on a day-to-day basis.
He was slowly coming to realize that it was something that could be gained through regular church attendance and listening to the Word each week. He decided that he would speak with the children more seriously after they recited the lesson each week. Selena always did, but often he had not been giving it his own full attention. Perhaps if he showed them that it was important to him, they would see more value in it.
He could tell that people noticed that Selena was dressed more as a young woman and less as a matronly housekeeper and were whispering. And this was the first time that they had been there without Emmeline. The story of the broken betrothal had exceeded the boundaries of the university, as well as the news that Willa had had left home. He suspected that they were wondering about the chaperone issue now.
A New Routine
It didn't take long for the summer days to take on a pattern of their own. All the kids were out in the morning. Justin was reluctantly teaching summer school as a favor to the department head. After all the support he had given him throughout the very rough semester that he had just had, he knew that it was the least that he could do.
Jennie came home in the afternoons. She and Selena spent time together doing the sort of mother-daughter things that she had missed out on earlier in her life. Not only did they do work together, but they took little outings. Jennie benefited from her undivided attention and was less difficult with her brothers. Justin was pleased by the growing bond between them. It was good for both of them and helped Selena to move away from her sadness and move towards the future when the girl would be her daughter in truth.
He was determined that there be no "steps" or "halves" in his home. Trelawney's relationship with the family would always be odd, but the thought had occurred to him that she might let him adopt her as his own. She certainly felt like his daughter. It would also solidify her remaining with her sister in the States. But it was much too soon to even mention it to her or Selena.
Dinners were now full of the happy chatter of the children as they all competed to tell stories of their day's adventures. With other things to think about, there was no time for bickering. Jay was in heaven. His program, which was financed by the National Science Foundation, was aimed at the best and brightest in the country. The focus for the moment was on space travel. Jay had always had a great interest in astronomy and of course he loved to build things. The program provided him with a chance to explore these two interests simultaneously.
Max was turning into quite an excellent pitcher. He had never been much of a batter, but as a relief pitcher, that didn't matter. He was beginning to accumulate a rather impressive record of saves. Beyond that, he had finally found something that he was much better at than Jay was. He was happier as he carved a niche for himself as the family athlete. His newfound confidence was helping him to mature and grow out of some of his problematic behavior.
Trelawney was very happy with the theatre program. The many acting exercises allowed her to play roles and to become better in touch with herself. She was thriving in the creative atmosphere where her energy and inventiveness were assets. With a productive outlet for her emotions, her behavior began to stabilize at home. Everyone was just glad that she was beginning to feel happy again. Secretly Selena and Justin hoped that she would be occupied enough to stay out of mischief.
There was also a subtle change in Jennie's behavior due to her summer activity. The focus of the bible program was on Jesus and living life as He did. Since the lessons were all age appropriate, she learned about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Jesus as the healer of the sick. She began to understand why she needed to be kinder towards others, including her siblings.
She also developed friendships with children whose families had always had a close relationship with the church and valued such things. Her greater appreciation of Sunday school and willingness to absorb the lessons made both Selena and Trelawney happy. It would be nearly impossible for Selena to remain with the family unless Jennie developed a greater willingness to "share" her with her sister.
Despite the competition for "air time," all the kids were so happily engaged in what they were doing themselves that they were willing to listen to each other without envy or sibling rivalry. Dinnertime no longer turned into a battleground and both Selena and Justin were able to relax and enjoy their own meals.
Selena found herself becoming more fully involved with Mrs. Gilbert and helping her to move onto the next phase of her life. She discovered that Mrs. Gilbert was a good listener and found herself exchanging stories about their families. It helped to have someone to talk to about her parents. Since Mrs. Gilbert had lost her own parents many years ago, she could understand not only the loss, but also the feeling of being orphaned, even as an adult.
"Selena, no matter how old you get, there is a bond with your parents that you will never have with any other people. You will need to watch closely over your sister, young as she is. She has lost that anchor far too young. Despite the conflicts I know that you and she occasionally have, you must realize that she is very scared. Once you have your own children, it is going to change your relationship with her significantly. As a mother I can tell you, carrying a child for nine months develops a connection that is impossible to create with anyone else," she told her.
As always, Selena turned a bit pink at the reference to becoming a mother herself. Mrs. Gilbert pretended not to notice that she veiled her eyes and looked down. She was so different from other women of her age. She had clearly "saved herself for marriage," as they said in the old days. She knew that Justin, a a widower, obviously had much more experience.
She hoped that when the time came he would be patient and gentle. Despite being as outspoken as she was, this was a boundary of privacy that even she would not cross. However she could see that the love that Justin had for this young woman clearly ran deep. She knew that he would be devastated if he hurt her in any way.
As the time grew near for Mrs. Gilbert to move, she began to feel some anxiety. Now it was her turn to lean on Selena for support. Thankfully, the younger woman had incredible organizational skills and generously shared them. She and her husband had lived in the house for many years and there was a lot of stuff to be sorted through. Of course, the trunks in the attic and closets all over were filled with memories.
However she would not be able to take much with her when she moved. Things became busy as her children, nieces, and nephews started visiting and deciding what items they might want. Thus the family went through first, followed by Mrs. Gilbert, with Selena helping her, to sort through what might be given away to various charities. Then finally there were piles of trash.
At last the day came when Mrs. Gilbert, with her luggage, would make the short trip across town to the Montclaire Home. It was a place for folks who still had a good deal of mobility, but not enough to manage on their own. Justin offered his station wagon for the luggage and his sons as porters. Mrs. Gilbert would follow with Selena and the girls in the convertible. It didn't take long to settle her in. Selena was pleased by how kind and accommodating the staff was. When Mrs. Gilbert asked if they might join her for lunch she was told that family were always welcome.
"Well, good," she said. "Because these nice people are my family."
"When you're ready, I'll show you and your daughter and her family to the dining room," said the director.
Seeing Selena's face, Mrs. Gilbert patted her arm, "Don't worry dear, I often think of you as my daughter."
Selena softly smiled, thinking of her own mother, but Mrs. Gilbert once again read her mind, "I don't think she'll mind if I borrow you for a bit."
The care and kindness in the other woman's voice soothed her. It was true that they had become very close and that would make it easy for others to mistake them for mother and daughter. She looked around at the rest of the family, especially the boys who were always hungry, and suggested that they go to lunch right away.
With the natural curiosity of all children, very shortly after lunch the kids were all over the place. Jennie found a woman to talk to almost immediately and the boys were interested in some of the games that were set about for the residents. It was Trelawney Rose however, who made the biggest discovery.
"Selena," she said breathlessly, "Do you know that they have a baby grand piano in the rec room? It's a Steinway!"
"Do you play dear?" asked Mrs. Gilbert.
"Oh yes, but I've never played on a piano like that before!"
"Well then," said Mrs. Gilbert. "We'll just have to see if we can fix that!"
Once again, the spritely woman spoke up. Calling over one of the aides she asked if it was possible for Trelawney Rose to play the piano. The aide asked,
"Well, is she really going to play or just bang on it?"
"Madam, I never bang! Would you care to hear a little Mozart?" asked Trelawney Rose, highly offended.
"I'm sorry miss," apologized the aide, "but I had to ask. Sometimes people's grandchildren come in and just bang away, driving everyone crazy."
Somewhat mollified, Trelawney Rose answered, "I understand. That is no way to treat such a fine instrument."
"Come on Trelawney, play one of your favorites," urged Jay who had come over to see what the fuss was.
"She really is amazing," he said to the others.
"I wouldn't go that far, but thanks for the vote of confidence," replied Trelawney Rose.
She made her way over to the piano, sat on the bench, and lifted cover from the keys. Slowly her fingers rippled from end to end, first low to high and then back. She began quietly and then as she became more engaged with the piece began to play a little louder.
All the Harringtons had of course heard her playing at home before, but the tone of the Steinway was much richer than the old upright. It was also in much better tune. And it was on the baby grand, that Trelawney Rose's talent became more apparent. She was no ordinary pianist.
"Does she take lessons?" Mrs. Gilbert asked quietly.
"She did at home, but we haven't really had time to think about engaging a teacher here. She seems happy enough to play at home for fun," said Selena.
"You can see by the way she plays that she becomes one with the music. She has such a feeling for it," replied Mrs. Gilbert, and then urged, "You should find her a good teacher."
Selena nodded politely. There was no way to explain to Mrs. Gilbert that Trelawney Rose did not really need lessons. By now, her playing had silenced everyone in the rec room. All were looking at the delicate girl sitting perfectly upright with her hands and wrists at the perfect angle. Her fingers were fluid over the keys and one note melted into the next. The expression on her face was one of pure joy. One elderly gentleman with a cane slowly made his way over to stand beside and watch her.
His eyes followed every subtle movement on the keyboard and he seemed to keeping perfect time with her. If Trelawney Rose was aware that she had an audience she didn't show it. It was obvious that she was lost in the music. As Jay had requested, she was playing the Andantino from Mozart's piano concerto K.271.
Selena had recognized the piece immediately as her mother's favorite. Trelawney Rose often played it at home but on the fine instrument the measures came alive. Tears formed in her eyes as she could almost feel her mother's presence. She felt a hand grasp her's and realized that Mrs. Gilbert could sense her emotions.
"It was our Mum's favorite," she whispered softly.
Mrs. Gilbert gave her hand a little squeeze and nodded. Selena knew then and there that it was no accident that Jay had brought home the news of her illness and Justin had suggested that they visit her. Once again, the hand of God was present in their lives. Mrs. Gilbert was surely her own guardian angel.
So wrapped up was she in her own thoughts that she did not perceive her friend thinking same thing. Mrs. Gilbert was thinking that Selena was an angel of God's mercy sent to help her through this difficult time.
Quietly and without flourish Trelawney Rose brought the piece to close. She suddenly jumped, completely startled as the applause broke out behind her. She had not realized that so many people were listening to her and the loud noise broke into her concentration and frightened her. Quickly turning, she sought out her sister and ran to her arms.
As Selena held the child, she could feel her trembling. It was amazing how the feisty little girl who not ten minutes before had told off an aide, had changed into the shivering child in her arms. But even before the tragedy, she had startled easily. And if she had been playing from the music of the spheres, her focus would have been intense.
"There. There," she murmured. "Everyone just loved your playing. It's nothing to be afraid of."
The other adults in the room must have realized how self-conscious the girl had become and went back to their own business. The room began to hum again with the low noise of conversation. Justin walked over to where Selena and Mrs. Gilbert were trying to sooth Trelawney Rose. She had calmed down but still leaned against her sister.
"Well Selena, maybe it's time to take the kids home," then turning to Mrs. Gilbert, he said, "We'll be back soon, I promise. I'm sure that our girl here will be eager to get back on that piano."
He ruffled her hair and she gave him a little half smile. He was the only one who was able to get away with that. Selena nodded in agreement.
"Yes," she answered. "Why don't you round up the children."
Then, turning to Mrs. Gilbert she added, "Now, you have our number. If you need anything, just call."
"You can count on that," Mrs. Gilbert answered and then noticed that the man who had been watching Trelawney Rose play earlier was standing near. "Do you want something?"
"Yes," he said moving forward. Looking at Trelawney Rose directly, he asked, "May I shake your hand? It is a long time since I have heard such a talented artist."
Trelawney Rose reached out and politely shook the hand he offered. She said, "I'm not an artist. I just like to play."
But he shook his head.
"You have magic in those fingers, little girl," he said. "No one who can make that kind of music is simply playing, she is creating."
Unsure of what to say, she simply answered, "Thank you, sir. It is very nice of you to say so."
Looking at Selena he said, "Lovely manners, is she your child?"
"No, she's my sister," answered Selena.
"I could see the resemblance. I hope that you're not offended. Now that I can look more closely, I can see that you're much too young to be her mother. What is your name little girl?"
"Trelawney Rose Tressidor," she said in her sweet, musical voice.
"You must be Cornish then," he said and quoted, "And have they fixed the where and when? And shall Trelawney die? Here's twenty thousand Cornishmen, should know the reason why."
"Yes, we're from Cornwall, from a little village by the sea not far from Tintagel. How'd you know 'The Song of the Western Men'? " She asked, her interest now sparked.
"My late wife was from Cornwall, near Falmouth in the west country. A lovely lady she was and just like you she could play the piano like an angel."
"How sweet of you to say so! And what is your name, may I ask, Mr. . ."
"It's Jim," he said, "Just Jim, I stopped being Mr. Anything years ago."
"Why 'tis a pity. My Mummy and Papa told me told always address my elders as Mr. or Mrs." she said respectfully.
By now Justin had returned with the other children.
"Time to hit the road, gang," he announced.
Selena turned to Mrs. Gilbert and said, "We'll see you soon."
"You better," warned the old woman, "or you'll get that phone call. And bring the children too. Trelawney Rose can play for us again."
"If you like," the girl replied modestly. "Goodbye, Mr. Just Jim."
"Goodbye, Miss Trelawney Rose Tressidor. I will look forward to hearing you play again," he answered looking amused at the title she had given him.
Pleased by the compliments, she smiled and nodded.
On the way out to the car Max asked, "Who's Mr. Just Jim?"
"Why that nice old man whose wife was from Cornwall in England. We're Cornish you know, me and Selena," she answered.
"No, we didn't as a matter of fact," said Justin.
"But didn't you notice that my school records came from Cornwall?"
There was silence.
"I guess that means he didn't," said Jay with a chuckle.
"Well," Justin said, "If I recall, it just had the name of the village or town school. I'm afraid that I don't know enough about the geography of the UK to have placed it by duchy."
"What's a duchy?" asked Jennie.
Justin looked at Selena. "I guess you'd call it a county or maybe a small state here in the US?"
"That's about the closest you'd get," she agreed.
By now they were at the cars.
"Pick a car and pile in," said Justin. Looking at all the kids climbing into the convertible he commented, "Anything wrong with me?"
"It's not you Dad, it's the car," said Jay diplomatically. "The convertible is cool, and well, your car is just a station wagon."
"As long as it's just the car that's not cool and not me," he answered.
Jennie giggled. "Daddy you CAN'T be cool. You're a Dad!"
"Does that mean that I won't be cool when I'm a Mom?" asked Selena as she started up the car.
The kids were silent. They weren't sure of what to say to that one. Finally, Max spoke his mind with his usual complete lack of diplomacy.
"Well at the rate Dad is going, you're going to have to wait a long time to lose your coolness."
That remark generated an uncomfortable silence. Justin looked a bit stunned. Not knowing what else to do, she backed out and began to drive home. Jay noticed that Miss Selena's knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel. Since his Dad had confided in him earlier, he figured that he should say something to smooth things over.
"Max, you know Dad. Sometimes he just forgets about all this family stuff. Give the poor guy a break. He's not getting any younger you know."
"Neither am I," commented Selena, which shut them all up.
Trelawney Rose simply adored her theatre program. One of the things that she loved was being with Georgina all day long. But she also liked the theatre director Mrs. Duncan very much and the other children were so kind and lovely. Her favorite person of all however was Mike Loughlan. Mike was going to be a senior in high school in the fall and he was a terribly talented actor. He was Mrs. Duncan's assistant.
Mike's big dream was to act on the New York stage. After high school, he hoped to go to Juilliard, but he knew that his chances of acceptance were very low. More realistically, he hoped to go to the Tisch School at New York University or the Yale Drama School in New Haven. Mrs. Duncan believed that he was talented enough to get into Tisch or Yale, but paying for it was a problem.
Mike's father had moved out from his family. His Mom was hoping and praying that he would return, but he seemed to have a new girlfriend every week. Mike said that he was a swinger. His father did not see the point in going all the way to a private school on the east coast, when he could just go south to UCLA and pay almost nothing. He thought that either California or New York City was just as good, but Mike was determined not to give up on his dream.
Mostly, Trelawney Rose liked him because he was a kindred spirit. He did not mind her wild imagination and never said that she was crazy. He was good and kind to everyone, not just the people he liked. He was also a youth leader in his church. Like Georgina, he went to St. Peter's Catholic Church and knew Fr. Bob. After listening to Georgina and Mike talk about Fr. Bob, Trelawney Rose hoped to meet him some day.
She was also a little jealous. There was no Anglican church in town, so they went to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. The pastor, Pastor Paul, was a very nice man but he was not really interested in young people. There was a Sunday School for the kids, but nothing for the teenagers after confirmation. At St. Peter's, they had a youth group. Next year, because she was twelve, Georgina would get to go to her youth group. But there was no youth group at St. Andrew's.
Mike was tall and handsome. His curly red hair made him stand out on stage and he had nice green eyes. He face was covered with freckles, like so many other redheads that she had known from home. From the beginning he had worked to help her along. Most of the other kids had already completed one summer program. Georgina had completed two. She felt a little behind the others and was naturally shy. But Mike told her not to worry. They did exercises to get to know each other better. He called them "ice breakers." And before each class, they had "warm ups."
In the beginning, Trelawney Rose was afraid that the other kids would think that she was a weirdo, the way that Jay did. But she quickly discovered that these children were much nicer than him. Whenever she was given a scene to act out or a character to create, she always interpreted it a little differently from everyone else. While at home and in school everyone thought that this was odd, Mrs. Duncan praised her creativity. She told her that she had the makings of a fine actress because she thought "outside the box."
In addition to acting, they did some singing and dancing. Once again, Trelawney Rose surprised them because she was able to learn to sing songs so easily. Georgina told them all about her piano playing and Mrs. Duncan nodded vigorously and said, of course. Trelawney Rose had perfect pitch and a sweet treble voice. She said that someday she would be a soprano. But the biggest surprise of all came when Trelawney Rose danced for the first time.
She had never had a single dance lesson in her life, but she moved with natural grace. She of course had told no one, but sometimes when she had disappeared back home, she had gone off alone to the meadow to dance to the music that she could hear in her head. Now she learned steps that were new, but she had an excellent sense of rhythm and timing. Her movement was beautiful. She couldn't do any complicated movements, but she could follow along very well. One day when Selena came to pick her up, Mrs. Duncan pulled her aside.
"Miss Tressidor," she said. "You really should get little Trelawney some dance lessons. She is at an age where she could go to the same ballet school as Georgina and keep up with her class. But if she wants to progress beyond her present level, she will have to learn correct form and technique."
"Oh, yes, Miss Selena!" cried her friend. "You must let Trelawney come to dance school with me. Wouldn't you like to do that, Trelawney?"
Trelawney Rose looked down shyly, a little embarrassed by the compliments.
"That would be very lovely, Selena," she replied. "I would like to go to ballet school with Georgina."
Selena looked at her fondly.
"It would be a nice thing to do, darling," she said. "But we haven't decided that we would stay here beyond the summer theatre program. We have discussed returning to England after it, remember?"
"Oh what a shame!" said Mrs. Duncan. "We would so love to have you in our program in the fall."
Mike heard the conversation and walked over.
"You've got a lot of potential," he commented. "Especially since you've gotten over most of your shyness."
Trelawney Rose looked at Selena, who was looking at her with curiosity.
"Only on stage," she admitted. "It is easier to become a character than to be myself with other people."
"Don't say that," said Mike. "I think that you are even better in real life than you are on stage. It's a shame that you don't let more people see the real you."
When they got home, Selena insisted on having a serious talk.
"I am glad that you are more comfortable now," she said. "But you know that you can't let them see the 'real you,' as Mike said. They would never understand you."
"Georgina does," replied Trelawney Rose quietly.
"Georgina is a very special and dear friend," answered Selena. "There are not many like her in the world out here. You must be very careful not to trust others to the same degree that you trust her. But the more important question right now is, do you want to stay?"
"I don't know," she said slowly. "When I am with Georgina and at my theatre classes, I want to stay very much. But then when I come home, I am not so sure. Jay and the others are not quite so mean to me as they once were, but they are still mean to each other."
"Do they ever talk about Willa?" asked Selena.
"If I come in while they are discussing her, they always stop," she replied. "But I can see that they are hoping very much that she won't come back. Jay still wants her bedroom and Jennie is jealous because we love her."
"You know, dear," said Selena. "Sometimes it's better if you don't pay attention to others' thoughts quite so much."
"I know," sighed Trelawney Rose. "But it is very difficult. I keep hoping that they will change."
Selena shook her head.
"You will be waiting a very long time for that, love," she said. "While it is not impossible, I see no reason to think that it is probable."
"Justin changed his heart towards her," replied Trelawney Rose. "And he did it because he loves her, not just because he loves you."
"Justin is an adult and now to a large extent Willa is also," she said. "The other children are still young and immature."
"One does not have to be mature to be kind," she answered smartly. "Georgina is younger than Jay and she is much kinder. They don't try hard enough. Maybe if they went to church with more open hearts they would see the error of their ways and improve their behavior."
Selena gathered her in her arms for a tight hug.
"Little one," she said. "There are times when you speak with the wisdom of an old soul. I wish that you could be more of a child. Mum and Papa would not want their loss to end your childhood too young."
Trelawney Rose pulled away and assumed a very straight pose with her hands neatly folded in front of her.
"I ceased to be a child years ago," she said seriously.
For a long moment the two sisters looked at one another. Trelawney Rose knew that her sister was puzzled, but she could not explain it to her. And she closed her mind to her as well. It was most important that she continue to protect her.
Jay was completely unfazed by the fact that he was the youngest guy in the science program. In fact, he was kind of proud of it. In the beginning, things were a little rough. On the very first day, Dr. Spencer greeted him like they were old friends (which of course they were). That didn't sit too well with the older kids.
"Hey, Jay!" Dr. Spencer had called out. "How are you doing?"
"Just great, sir," he had replied politely. "I can't wait to get started."
"I can see that you're a chip off the old block," he answered. "Don't worry. Before you know it, you'll be up to your eyeballs in scientific inquiry."
"How do you know the prof?" asked one of the older boys.
"He's an old friend of my Dad's from the university," said Jay. "I've known him since I was a kid."
"And who is your Dad?" asked another guy as they all looked at each other.
"Dr. Justin Harrington," answered Jay proudly.
The other guys looked at each other seriously.
"Well now we know how a kid managed to get in," commented one. "There's a lot of guys that didn't make the cut. I guess that it always pays to have connections."
Jay was confused. He hadn't even told his father that he was applying. And he had also heard that the applications, in particular the essays, had been evaluated anonymously. He couldn't really see what their beef was.
But once they started their classes, he knew that he more than proved himself. He was able to hold his own in discussions about just about any topic that came up in science. And it wasn't just because he had a famous father. He had spent a lot of time doing his own reading. He didn't exactly make any friends, but at least he earned some grudging respect.
Since the program was at the high school, he finally got a chance to see the famous burning bush that he had heard so much about from Willa. Well, he didn't really get to see it. He got to see the spot where it used to be. After school ended, the administration had torn the bushes out.
There had been a lot of stuff in the papers after the wreck about the kids and their refusal to follow school rules. However, the papers didn't blame the kids. They blamed the school for not enforcing the rules. There had been a lot of letters in the paper from outraged citizens who wanted to know why the kids were drinking and smoking pot on campus while the administration ignored it. Then a lot of other stuff came out.
It turned out that there were rules about cutting classes that nobody had enforced, not to mention a dress code. Not just seniors, but younger kids as well, were roaming off campus at will. The faculty was aware of the illegal behavior going on out on the west campus, but none of them ever tried to go out and stop it, even when they were on duty. But the public uproar meant that the days of "live and let live" were over.
In addition to tearing out the foliage, the area was fenced in and it looked like a lot of the ground had been torn up. According to the kids who knew, the school would be planting grass and setting up picnic tables. The term "west campus" would be replaced by student recreation area. There would be regular faculty presence the way that there was in the cafeteria during lunch.
Teachers would also be held accountable for taking attendance in each of their classes and then submitting the names of missing students at the end of the day. These names would be checked against the names of absent students and students in the nurse's office. The school board had had a special meeting about it after the school year had ended and been shocked by how lax the enforcement of the rules had been.
The principal had been fired as well as the assistant principals in charge of discipline. The head of guidance, since he knew all about the drinking and drugs was fired, as well as the guidance counselors of the students involved, which was just about all of them. In their places, more counselors would be hired so that the student load for each would be cut in half.
In addition to health classes, there would be more assembly programs about drinking and drugs. There would also be a drug counselor hired to work specifically with kids who had problems. The school board was so concerned that they were even bringing in a special speaker to address the parents about monitoring their kids better being more aware of the house parties that the kids had.
The guys and girls in the science program were all very serious students, who never engaged in that kind of behavior. They were glad that it was finally being addressed by the administration and thought that all of the problems would now be solved. But Jay knew better.
He knew from his own experience that most parents were very good at making rules, but not nearly as good at enforcing them. He knew that the same was true of the schools. A lot of people had been fired, but he had a feeling that after a while everyone would forget about the burnouts and the tragic accident that had killed so many of them. But he knew better than to say anything. He didn't want to have to answer any questions about his sister.
Instead, he was determined to be as different from her as possible. He knew that they all thought that he was a real square, but he didn't care. He had made it into the program and wanted to get everything that he could out of it. It meant that a lot of the kids wouldn't talk to him outside of class, but he decided that for the next few weeks he could live with it. He knew that when he went back to middle school in the fall, he would have all the friends that he needed.
After a month living in her new home in San Francisco, Willa finally began to feel as if she belonged. It had not been easy. Fiona insisted that she get up at seven every morning and eat breakfast. Then she had to do her various chores around the house. The other kids in the house were very friendly. They all had jobs and, like Willa, were trying to figure out what to do with their lives.
It was like living in a big family where everyone got along and respected one another. They listened to one another's stories about their days. And they shared stories about their past lives. But they were also sensitive. As soon as they realized that Willa couldn't talk about why she was there, they didn't try to pry. Fiona assured her that they would be ready to listen when she was ready to talk.
While she was rebuilding her strength, Fiona decided that she needed to go outside and do some physical activity. It had been a long time since Willa had played any sports, so she was very out of shape. Fiona decided that she should help with the small vegetable garden in the backyard.
Willa had always liked to work in the soil. When she was a little girl, each spring, her Mom would help her plant some seeds so that she could grow a little patch of her own flowers. Later, of course, she put her horticultural skills to use by growing her own marijuana. But she had never tried to grow vegetables before.
Fiona was like Miss Selena in that she was also a gardener. Her great interest was in organic gardening, which meant that she did not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Willa was amazed by how well the garden grew without them. But it also meant that there were more weeds to pull and more care for the soil in general. Willa would never tell Fiona, but she could taste no difference whatsoever in the vegetables.
During the first week, Fiona took her to a local market where they sold fresh produce. Willa had never been a fan of fruits and vegetables, but Fiona promised that if she bought them, she would show her how to make delicious dishes. Reg and Fiona were also vegetarians. Willa loved meat, but decided to try doing without it. Fiona taught her how to make rice and beans as a substitute for a complete protein. She also told her to drink water instead of soda.
Not purchasing junk food or meat meant that she could stretch her money farther. She discovered that she preferred whole grain breads to white, especially since they were more filling. She found that between spending time outside and eating better, she was also sleeping better. During the second week, Fee told her that she looked well enough to go job hunting.
Since she didn't have a car (not that she had a license to drive even if she did have one), she was somewhat limited as to where she could look, however the public transportation was pretty decent. She didn't mind walking different places, so she decided that rather than look in the papers, she would try stopping into various places that had signs up. But it wasn't easy.
Even though she had almost graduated from high school, she was considered a high school drop out. She began to see what Jerry had meant when he said that the diploma would make a big difference. Employers would prefer to hire a high school student over a drop out because they thought that a drop out would be irresponsible. But everyone at the house kept encouraging her. They all knew how tough it was and they assured her that once she got that first job with it the experience to put on her job applications, then it would get easier.
At last she came to a shop where a woman sold vegetables and herbs that she grew in a garden in the back. She was looking for part-time summer help to work weeding, picking the vegetables and herbs, and cleaning them. Willa decided that she might as well give it a shot. After all, she did know a bit about gardening.
She liked June the minute that she met her. She was about forty and definitely a free spirit. Like Fee, she was an organic gardener and she had regular customers who came to buy her produce, including some of the local restaurants. She sold the herbs in her shop, which was also where she dried them and crushed them. When she discovered that Willa knew a little bit about organic gardening, she became excited.
"I can't pay you much," she said. "And you'll be working off the books, because I don't want to deal with the hassles of employment paperwork. It's dirty work and I haven't been able to find anyone willing to really get down into the soil and help the plants grow."
"My Mom was a gardener," replied Willa. "I kind of found out that when I work with the plants at Fiona's house I feel closer to her. It's like there's a connection. I've sort of screwed up my life, but I think that I might have found something that I'm good at."
"I need to be able to count on you for the summer," replied June. "And into the fall. I expect you to show up for work on time and not slack off."
"That's cool," said Willa. "It will be great to have some place to go everyday."
"When can you start?" she asked.
"No time like the present," she said. "It's not exactly like I have some kind of social calendar."
June smiled at her.
"I'm getting some good vibes about this," she said. "And I really do need help with an order that I have to fill for this afternoon."
Willa knew that if she worked hard, it would help to seal the deal on the job. She carefully followed June's instructions about first picking tomatoes and then carrots and radishes. They had iced tea and salad for lunch, all freshly picked and then June showed her how to package everything. When the truck drove away, June sighed in relief.
"That was a good day's work," she said. "You're certainly a fast learner and a hard worker. Can you be here tomorrow at 9 am sharp?"
"Whatever you say, boss," said Willa cheerfully.
That night at dinner, she got to share her story of good fortune with her new friends. Fiona nodded with approval.
"It sounds like the perfect job for you," she said. "And June sounds like a very nice woman."
"She's pretty cool," agreed Willa. "It's kind of neat that she likes to listen to Beatles music while we work. I have sort of missed my records from back home. But I wouldn't have a record player anyway."
"Well then it's nice that you have a place that you can go to hear your music," replied Reg. "We discourage radios and the like here just because it leads to too many conflicts over music and noise and all that."
"That makes sense," she said. "My brothers were always fighting over the radio in their room. I never played my music loud enough for the family to hear because I didn't want to deal with the hassle."
"You have brothers?" asked one of the guys. "You never told us about your family before."
"Yeah," she said easily. "I have two younger brothers and a little sister. My Mom died three and a half years ago, so we have a housekeeper who lives in the garage apartment with her little sister. She runs the house for my Dad who was pretty hopeless at it."
"Do you miss your Mom?" asked one of the girls.
"A whole lot," she replied. "She was the only one that understood me. The family and I, well, it just wasn't working out."
"Is that why you spilt?" she asked.
Willa looked down and then over at Fee.
"I'm afraid that Willa's not ready to share that yet," she said. "It's complicated."
The others looked around at each other. Finally one of the guys spoke up.
"Yeah, man," he said. "It's always complicated."
Willa was eventually able to settle into her routine of home life and work. She ended up spending more hours working for June than she had thought that she would. She had a thriving business, and with Willa to help, was able to keep her stock of fresh herbs up in the store. The time passed quickly each day because there were so many things to do.
"There's always something else to pick or another order to get ready," she explained, a couple of weeks after Willa started. "Before you came, I had to say no to some orders. But now that I can count on someone being here it help, I can sell more. The whole back to nature movement has really caught on here in the city, especially among the hippies."
"Where did you live before you came here?" asked Willa.
"I grew up in Colorado," she explained. "Around Aspen. But I have never been a big fan of the snow. I came to the bay area to study philosophy at Berkeley. I liked it so much that I never left. I started this shop a few years ago after my grandmother died and left me some money. Before that, I had been working for a wholesale grocer. I found out there that there was a small niche market for organics that no one was meeting. After I had my first harvest, I called some of those old customers. After that the customers came in by word of mouth."
"Why do you have trouble getting people to work for you?" she asked.
"There are kids who are willing to work," she explained. "But most of them are not very responsible. They showed up late or called in sick. And they always wanted more money than they were worth. You're the first young person that I've hired who really cares about the job enough to make it a priority."
"It's kind of all I have right now," admitted Willa.
"I can see that you've lost a lot," replied June. "You look a lot better than you did when you first walked in. And every once in a while I can get a little smile out of you. Maybe someday you'll trust me enough to tell me about it."
Willa looked back at her shyly. She was glad that she had found June. For the first time in a long time, she didn't feel like a burden on someone else. In fact, she felt as if she were helping someone else carry her load. And it felt good.
The days seemed to pass by quickly. The children were thriving in their activities, Justin stopped grumbling about summer school, and Selena had more time to herself. She enjoyed her visits with Mrs. Gilbert and was pleased by the way that she was settling in. Always full of life and chatter, she easily made friends with the other residents.
Jim, whom Trelawney Rose still called Mr. Just Jim, had cultivated her friendship as a way of spending a more time with the young girl. She would sometimes come and play for everyone, much to the delight of the other residents. Now that she knew that when she finished a piece, there would be applause, there were no more outbursts. She also liked talking to the old man. It made her feel closer to home.
Jennie liked to come too. She also enjoyed talking with the residents. She was quite fearless about approaching people and speaking with them. For the residents who didn't have any family to visit, it was great to have an interested listener. She had quickly become very popular. One night at dinner Max asked her why she liked hanging out with all those old people. He clearly meant to tease, but Jennie didn't care,
"I like hanging out with them because they are much more interesting than young people. They have such great stories."
"Like what?" asked Max now curious.
"Like Mrs. Darmstadt from New York City. She told me that during World War II they had air raid drills and everyone had to turn off all their lights until it was over. Her husband was a block warden and would walk up and down the block and make sure the lights were all out. So that the German planes couldn't see the city to bomb it," replied Jennie.
Jay rolled his eyes, "That's ridiculous. German planes back then couldn't reach New York City to bomb it."
"Even she knows that now," said Jennie rolling her eyes in return. "But back then, everyone thought that they could and that's all that mattered."
Justin gave Jay a look that said, "Cool it, son."
"Hey that sounds kind of neat," said Jay, changing his tone. "What else did she say about the war?"
"Well she said that they had ration books for certain kinds of food like sugar and butter. And the kids all collected scrap metal to make bombs and stuff. And everybody went to church a lot to pray because so many boys were away in the war. Sometimes they died and everyone was very sad. After big battles, they would put lists in the newspapers," she continued.
"Well," said Selena. "War is very sad. In England there were real air raids during the war and London was bombed. Many of our boys went off to fight and died. But the bombing was the scariest. It was so bad that many of the children were sent out to the countryside and even to America to keep them safe. We had rationing too, only I'm sure there was much less food over there than there was here in America."
"Well, I'm sure that you're much to young to remember that. In fact, I don't think you were even born yet," said Justin. "I bet that your family has told you lots of stories."
Trelawney Rose then said, "Mr. Just Jim fought with the Yanks in the Great War. That's how he met his wife from Cornwall. He was injured and she was a nurse in hospital outside London. He said it was love at first sight and after he met his Juliet he never wanted to marry another woman."
"That's very sweet," said Selena. "So I guess she was a war bride, then."
"Oh yes," said Trelawney. "They got married at home and had a lovely cruise back to the States."
"What's a war bride?" asked Jennie.
"During the wars, quite a few American soldiers fell in love with European women that they met when they were serving abroad. If they wanted to bring them back to America, they had to marry them so they could have citizenship and live in the US," explained Justin.
"When you and Miss Selena get married, will she have US citizenship?" asked Max.
"I never thought about it," he said, "But I guess she will."
The children all looked at Selena who just said that she hadn't thought of it either, and that it was time to clear the table and do the dishes.
"Boys' turn!" she said cheerfully.
"Oh man," said Jay. "If we have to do the dishes then why don't the girls have to mow the lawn?"
"I don't know," said Justin. "I never looked at it that way."
"I'll mow the lawn, Daddy," volunteered Jennie.
He looked at her doubtfully. "Maybe in a couple of years."
Later that evening, Justin tracked Selena down sitting outside in the yard. The night was partly cloudy, so there weren't many stars visible. It didn't seem matter much though. She seemed lost in thought.
"Tired? Long day?" he asked as he began to massage her shoulders.
"Oh, that feels lovely," she said. "Not really so bad until I had to clean up the kitchen with those boys."
"Giving you a hard time? I'll have a talk with them."
"Good luck," she said. "They were complaining that if they have to do the dishes then you should too."
Justin decided not to answer. She looked over at him and shook her head with a smile. For several minutes, they sat in companionable silence.
"Penny for your thoughts," he asked.
"You can keep your penny and give me a kiss," she said playfully.
He gave her a quick kiss, but before she could avoid his question, he said, "Now do tell."
She leaned back and looked up.
"You know on nights like tonight, it's easy to feel sad because you can't see all the stars. But then you catch a brief glimpse of one and realize that they're all still there, even if they are hidden by the clouds sometimes," she slowly, as if she was trying to express an idea for herself as well as him as to what she was feeling.
Justin was thoughtful. "And sometimes it can be so cloudy that you can't even see any of the stars."
"Yes," she said and fell silent.
"Are you beginning to see the stars again?" he asked, knowing that she would understand what he meant.
She turned to him and looked at him with her deep blue eyes. Despite the dark, he could see them glowing.
"I've come to realize that if I ever lose sight of the stars in heavens, all I have to do is look in your eyes."
Justin was deeply moved. He had been waiting weeks for this moment, when the last wall would fall down and she would accept him as the light in her darkness. Sensing his thoughts, she gave him a swift kiss and said, "And what are your thoughts?"
"I was just thinking about how someday we would be able to tell curious children about the day you showed up in my office and it was love at first sight," he said with a mischievous.
"Really? I thought that I nearly drove you mad," she answered.
"Well let's see you talked to Chester, you answered the phone and the doorbell before they rang, and you knew everyone's favorite food before they told you," he enumerated. "And pretty much you still do. Now how can you tell me that it wasn't love at first sight?"
She softly laughed.
"I love to hear you laugh. I've missed hearing you laugh. I am looking forward to many years of your laughter."
Selena smiled gently, but then looked away. They had still not heard from Uncle David about where things stood with the betrothal contract. But even after that was settled, there was still the matter of Trelawney Rose. She knew that Emmeline's discussions with him had been tense. He had somewhat understood about Kenneth, but had still not reconciled himself to her marriage to an outsider. Of course, he really didn't have to.
Selena was free to marry as she wished once the contract was annulled. However, he was not willing to grant her custody of Trelawney Rose indefinitely. Emmeline had convinced him that for the time being they needed to be together in order to keep Trelawney Rose somewhat stable. He was pleased to hear that she had a good friend and that she was enjoying her theatre program. But he was displeased with the school situation and the family tensions.
Emmeline had managed to avoid the issue of her second sight with regards to Willa and later experiencing the crash. But sooner or later, something was bound to come up again and this time they might not be able to conceal it. The month of July was slowly slipping by. Selena knew that shortly a family member would come out to evaluate the situation. It was only a matter of who and when.