The Triangulated Heart
Howard and Helene strive to bring their clandestine relationship into the open. Work and family continue to cause frustrating separations.
'I cannot come for a few days. This is a difficult time for me. I have a client preparing for an audition. Can it not wait until my daughter is free?'
'Cherie, if that were possible, yes but…. Dominique has said she can't leave. Your granddaughter will be deeply disappointed.'
'Je sais bien.' Hélène was thoughtful waiting for a spark of inspiration to come and provide an answer. Nothing!
'Look, you don't have to be here for more than two or three days. Valery is welcome to stay with us. Vlad has taken to her. You know she has a way of engaging people. I just need another adult to co-sign her contract and provide a little support. As you know she has no manager or agent…well, except you?'
Hélène sighed. A few scenarios ran through her head. A training intensive with a former student was almost complete. She had planned to spend at least three days with Howard in Albany and perhaps two in New York City with her granddaughters before coming home. For the first time Hélène seriously considered giving up her life in Canada and moving permanently to Albany. The more time passed, the more she longed to be with Howard. Her decision to maintain the long distance relationship until the end of his term as Governor seemed to stretch out endlessly. Most weeks were punctuated with personal or business issues that seemed to linger, limiting their time together.
The end of winter had signaled a period of peace and quiet after the turmoil of the passing of his wife Rose and the revelations of her hidden life. The state's needs were constant but as the warmer weather approached and legislators thoughts turned to summer break, Howard had more free time. At the back of their minds, the duo tried to plan a real vacation away.
'J suis désolé mon amour. I need at least two days before I can travel.'
Hélène felt she could fast-track her young student and perhaps spend a day with Howard before flying across the country to support her granddaughter.
'Thank-you. Let me know the time of your arrival.'
Hélène rang off, berating herself for giving in, but realizing she could not refuse Philippe, even after so many years. She had barely cradled the receiver before the phone rang again. It was Valery.
'Nan, thank you. You know Maman hates to travel. She said my brother has to attend some out of province training and of course he can't drive. He could go by train. It's just an excuse but I get it. Thank you for coming out. I never thought I would have this chance but Papa arranged it and Uncle Vlad has been so helpful. Did you know he used to have a rock band?'
Before Hélène could get a word in or answer any one of many questions, Valery was off on another tangent. It was just as well. Memories, however deep, still had the power to hurt. Hélène had no desire to relive a painful time in her life. The mention of Vlad's rock band reminded her that the performance at Woodstock was a contributing factor in the end of her relationship with Philippe.
Valery finally stopped for a breath. Hélène recognized the nervousness behind the prattle and softened her disappointment at having to travel out west. In truth, Valery was exactly where her grandmother wanted her to be. Ever since Philippe came back into her life, Hélène often spoke to Valery about using the opportunity to meet and work with him before making any attempt to audition on Broadway. Valery resisted, affirming that only New York would do.
Getting to know the man behind the name, quickly changed her mind. For his part, Philippe recognized an underdeveloped talent. The musician in him felt that he could coax more from Valery's powerful vocal cords and perfect pitch if he could get her to focus. After his return to California he managed to talk her into spending some time with him. Along with the visit came an opportunity to really audition.
The chance to start her career with a small part on stage had been her granddaughter's childhood dream. Hélène nurtured that dream, seeing in Valery the same energy, which had driven Madeleine. From early on Hélène worked with her granddaughter, hoping that she would apply herself. Because of their early work, Valery had an amazing repertoire of songs. After the death of her father, the teenager retreated. She re-emerged with an attitude and a strange anxiety that made her implacable. Meeting her cousins in New York, both raised by single parents, matched her own experience. Their long talks worked like a balm to Valery's aching heart.
During the three days with the Wells family, she seemed to connect with Philippe at a different level. The intensity of it surprised Hélène but she knew and trusted her old friend to bring out the best in her granddaughter despite the fact that there was no real biological connection. Her thoughts had taken her so far away; Hélène almost missed the moment when Valery stopped talking.
'Keep practicing ma petite fille. I will be there in a couple of days. I am very proud of you.'
Hélène rang off hoping that the phone would not ring again. Mentally she began to reorganize her schedule, thinking first and foremost of how she could see Howard before her departure and what he might think about her trip. Her brain could not make the transition. Their time together was either a spur of the moment event or falling into place after weeks of planning. She knew that disappointment stifled her thinking. Instead of trying to sort out the internal tug of war between family and lover, she went to her piano and allowed a few known chords to put an end to any thought.
More often than not, Hélène played the music of others. Occasionally she created some melodies of her own. Her love for Howard opened many creative doors, closed after the death of her daughter, then stifled by her abusive husband. Love, she now understood, had the power of renewal. Hélène continued to run her fingers up and down the keys, holding thoughts at bay. She had one major project on the back burner. Some of the songs floated up from the depths of her soul. The tension in her body lifted.
She tried not to focus on what a continent-wide separation would mean to her and her lover. In Montreal, by the fastest route, she was less than an hour away. The thought of being so far raised insecurities. Change brought about fear. Every worry was reflected in the music. Hélène banged her hands on the keys and leaned forward, breathing heavily. She knew the reaction was overboard and unwarranted. She had to admit it was more frustration than fear. 'What do I want? Am I truly happy or just pretending?'
She closed her eyes and brought the image of her lover to mind. His big smile, the shiny eyes, the dimple in his chin where she would rest her index finger, helped to settle frayed nerves. All her life Hélène tried to mitigate risk. Living with an abusive husband made her hypersensitive in many areas of her life. Howard's love helped to heal so much of the past trauma, including all the fallout from Philippe's return to her life. She acknowledged ruefully that without his return she would not have met Howard.
Hélène was never sure if their love could continue to survive in its present form but the vision of a vague shiny future lay on the horizon. She wanted to survive to enjoy a little of that. Realistically, she understood that snatches of possibility were merely a stopgap to despair. 'Do I deserve to be happy?' In her heart, she knew that Howard would not have come into her life if she didn't deserve a second chance at love. 'I must learn to accept what is,' she concluded, ending her song with a flourish.
Hélène realized that the mention of Vlad's rock group had triggered a whole slew of feelings. How, she wondered, could just a few words trigger such a cascade of emotion. She vowed to try and reverse the trend of negative thinking. Her thoughts returned to Howard. Words of love began to flood her system. The phrases were not from someone else but from her own heart. A smile flitted across her face. In anticipation of any meeting with Howard after days apart, each of them always sweetened their togetherness by sharing a song. Howard started it as a way of renewing his fading piano skills.
'Where is our song, something just for us?' Hélène pondered the life they were living. Words flooded her head. She turned on her recorder and began to sing.
We meet in spurts of hours not days
One moment shared means more not less
Our lives are filled with twists and turns
Each time, but still we
Yet still we,
Feel all your sorrows and your joys
Try to imagine what our life is like
Thoughts of our moments live inside
Each time and still we
Magnify each time
The words felt right and seemed to represent her true feelings about the time spent with Howard. Hélène knew that she might have to re-position the words a little to fit the music. She planned to ask Ledgister to help. He was so brilliant at arranging contemporary music. Hélène felt blessed to have him as a friend. She knew he was also Howard's stepson. Diana Bennett was the only other person who knew the truth. Howard felt if the time was right he would reveal everything. The two men were also blood relatives through a series of remarkable events. At that moment, Hélène didn't care to dwell on yet another complicated family history. Her own remarkable life story, had revealed almost too much to comprehend. All she wanted to do was see her granddaughter through this first attempt at a career on stage, then take a long overdue vacation with her man.
The thought brought a smile to her face. Satisfied that she had relieved most of her frustration in the best possible way, Hélène closed the lid on the piano and went to pack a few things for her trip. She never questioned what happened to the bitter, unhappy, withdrawn woman she used to be. There was no doubt that her life was made infinitely better upon learning the true story of her deceased daughter's life, then meeting not one but two wonderful women who accepted her as their grandmother. That she had two great-grandchildren and one more on the way, made her life so much better.
Hélène was also grateful for the comfort and security of the modest bungalow in Montreal, a small practice in music arts to fill any empty days, friends on both coasts of the United States and four other children who tried their best to understand a mother who had undergone some radical changes in a short space of time. Beyond that Hélène cared little about anything else except Howard.
The Governor of the State of New York, a man wealthy beyond imagining had returned the gift of love to her broken heart, mending the torn and shattered edges with his kindness and desire, making it whole again, ready to accept this new world. Her home was an anchor but her heart and soul set sail into unknown parts when they were together.
Hélène never one day took any of it for granted. Howard's immense wealth meant little. Both were happiest sharing the modest home in Albany or the bungalow in Montreal. The only blimp on a happy future was waiting for the day when Howard would step down from his role. Only then would she agree to live together full time. Being a part of his public life was not to her liking, especially since their relationship started while he was still married to his invalid wife.
Later, when Howard called after a busy day of his own, she shared the news of yet another disruption to their infrequent get togethers, he begged her to come down to Albany first then fly out west from New York.
'Howard, I can't come to New York and not tell my granddaughter. She will know I am close by.'
'There isn't any need for subterfuge now. We are open in our relationship. Just tell her the truth. She could meet you at the airport for a chat before your flight.'
'You offer simple suggestions and solutions. I, on the other hand, always make them complicated.'
'That's why we need each other…for balance.'
'See…. you did it again!'
Howard chuckled and rang off. Hélène finished her packing. She would provide an extra hour for her student in the morning before leaving. The short stop over in Albany would be an overnight before heading out west.
Her time in the state capital was sweeter than she could imagine. Ledgister picked her up at the airport and Howard was able to get away early so as to increase their time together. They shared a lovely meal and seemed to talk endlessly.
'I do have some news of my own to share. The President called me today and asked if I would attend a meeting in Nevada on his behalf. It's a project which is dear to his heart but he is booked solid and can't get away.'
Hélène tried to look impressed but the information was so far above anything she could comprehend. She tried to think about how she would feel if The Prime Minister of Canada called to ask a favour. Her response was totally inappropriate to the honour bestowed. Howard frowned.
'I am sorry. What you are telling me seems like words out of a dream. The President called you. Just like that?'
'Did I sound too casual?'
'Howard, it's not you. I just can't even think in those circles. Too lofty for me! I am just a simple woman.'
'You know, he is just a simple man, with a big job.'
'I know. I'm sorry. It wasn't a judgment. When you say things like that so casually it reminds me of how far apart our worlds really are.'
'When I sit at your feet and rest my weary head in your lap, tears in my eyes, am I an exalted being? No, I am just a man, loving you, with all that I am.'
Hélène thought about that for a moment. She was afraid to meet Howard's eyes. He spoke a truth so profound she could not catch her breath. Her thoughts flew to her granddaughter Cathy, the daughter of a prostitute, married to Jacob who worshipped the ground under her feet. She thought of Catherine, a New York socialite, married to a man raised in a tunnel, whose magnificent features could frighten even the fiercest of men. Who am I to judge?
'Oh Howard, without you I am less and want so much to be more.'
'Never think for a moment that I want you to be any different than who you are. Remember, balance matters. C'mon, let's go to bed. As it turns out, while you are in California I won't be too far away, even if it is just for a few hours.'
Hélène acquiesced to the calm demeanor of her lover. She remained thoughtful of their conversation and quickly realized that during his personal crisis over the news of his wife's lies, she had been the stalwart. Hélène gave into even more delightful intimacy before settling down to sleep.
In the morning, she once again saw her man off to work, a happy smile on her face. Before leaving for New York City, where she would catch a flight, Hélène called and spoke with her granddaughter, getting an update on news of her great-grandchildren and the little one on the way. Cathy had already committed to another meeting but promised to get together after the trip. With a clear conscience and a heart filled with love, she left her trepidation at the door of the home in Albany and headed to New York City with Ledgister. Another adventure lay on the horizon.