Glimmer of the Moon

Glimmer150The climax of Glimmer of the Moon happens at the Stephen Foster Memorial in Florida. Tonia finds bitter-sweet love along the Suwannee River and a heart’s desire…

Eagleton didn’t shout, rant, curse or insult his players as some orchestra conductors did. That wasn’t his style, Tonia thought. By merely raising a black eyebrow at mistakes, you somehow knew you were a musical idiot. And with only the slightest chance of eventual improvement – with his help of course.

Sometimes she hated him. But in calmer moments she recognized her envy and knew how fiercely she wanted to possess his degree of musical knowledge. Standley Kenneth Eagleton’s expertise put him into a separate category. Genius, or as close as she was likely to encounter. Eagleton (she always thought of him by his last name) breathed the remote air of excellence. When she was honest with herself, she admitted that his arrogance was indeed unconscious. And that this unconscious arrogance was fed, in fact, from his welling reservoir of brilliance, knowledge, and expertise. It quite simply didn’t occur to him that others hadn’t yet reached his level. Didn’t possess his dedication. He treated them as musical equals, and was upset when they proved not to be. Standley K. Eagleton made it abundantly clear he’d be satisfied with nothing less than perfection.

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CHAPTER ONE

Eagleton didn’t shout, rant, curse or insult his players as some orchestra conductors did. That wasn’t his style, Tonia thought. By merely raising a black eyebrow at mistakes, you somehow you knew you were a musical idiot. And with only the slightest chance of eventual improvement – with his help of course.

Sometimes she hated him. But in calmer moments she recognized her envy and knew how fiercely she wanted to possess his degree of musical knowledge. Standley Kenneth Eagleton’s expertise put him into a separate category. Genius, or as close as she was likely to encounter. Eagleton (she always thought of him by his last name) breathed the remote air of excellence. When she was honest with herself, she admitted that his arrogance was indeed unconscious. And that this unconscious arrogance was fed, in fact, from his welling reservoir of brilliance, knowledge, and expertise. It quite simply didn’t occur to him that others hadn’t yet reached his level. Didn’t possess his dedication. He treated them as musical equals, and was upset when they proved not to be. Standley K. Eagleton made it abundantly clear he’d be satisfied with nothing less than perfection.

Tonia took, as a main task, understanding orchestra conductor Eagleton. Realizing he was the biggest key to her learning her job as assistant concertmaster in the St. Margaret’s Symphony, she struggled to figure him out. Besides she always strived to do her best in any job she tackled.  Slowly, over the days, she’d hoarded knowledge of the complicated man like forbidden gold she’d secreted away, and his complicated expectations. Just yesterday she’d been surprised with additional knowledge that was like a page torn from a textbook.

Eagleton was in working clothes: straight, plain green trousers and a green turtleneck sweater. The clothes followed his lean shape adding to his height. Giving a pared-down gracefulness like a master athlete: a skater, a skier, a dancer. The man was in superb physical condition, she thought, knowing that according to insistent musical gossip he must be twelve or fifteen years older than she was, probably thirty-five, young for a conductor.

A rare perfect passage caught her in its beautiful spell. Their community symphony orchestra, playing over its head, was suddenly sweeping the stage in a sweet river of sound.  Tonia knew the score of Debussy’s La Mer, had slaved over every silvery magical note.

Eagleton, turned ninety degrees from her, directed the oboes and French horns. The craggy hollows around his deep-set eyes, under his cheekbones, and above his forwardly jutting chin showed clear and clean. To Tonia there was about him at this moment a shining quality as though he had subjugated himself so totally to the music, merged himself so utterly with his work that it was impossible for her to separate them. Now in an almost mystical way, this was his music while at the same time he was the music.

Eagleton turned towards the violins, his arm curved imploringly, drawing from them the sounds that would allow this moment to go on forever. As he turned away again she had a sudden sharp clear image of his face, the dark brooding eyes, the craggy angles and jet-black eyebrows. Like an after-image it stayed in her mind even when she wrenched her gaze back to the musical notes she knew by heart.

Harsh, discordant sounds came from the cellos three seconds later. The orchestra was abruptly halted, the black eyebrows springing into full use in the instructions that followed.

Karen, a thin delicate waif who looked like a frail kitten and played like an inspired sprite, leaned over and said to Tonia, “What’s gotten into Eagleton tonight? That disappearing wife of his must be causing trouble.”

“Perhaps,” Tonia whispered as Karen leaned back and Eagleton turned their way. Tonia’s heart thudded but his face seemed to soften. After a couple of quietly instructive words the orchestra played again. The passage was soft, only a whisper of sound. Again the cellos came in like screaming birds. Harsh wounded sea gulls who destroyed the soothing sounds of the sea.

Eagleton paced in long strides while the oboes retuned. La Mer, The Sea, was the French composer Debussy’s masterpiece. Tonia loved its poetic impressionistic interpretation of the varying moods of the sea. Eagleton moved in an unyielding pattern, three steps one way, wheel about, three steps the other way, wheel about. To Tonia he’d been walking forever, like a caged animal.

Karen whispered again close against her ear, “He probably has her locked in the cellar with the winter apples and potatoes.”

This time Tonia didn’t reply as they picked up the music again – from just before it went wrong.

She only remembered Karen the night before their last concert when like a muted whirlwind, excitement grew at one corner of the orchestra, blowing fiercely as the wildfire news spread.

Karen’s eyes were big blue saucers as she’d swayed in Tonia’s direction. “Eagleton’s wife just made another suicide attempt. They’re trying to keep it quiet but the trombonist was on an extension when the phone call came. He heard it all.”

“Oh, no,” Tonia had moaned, “how dreadful.” What an awful time to choose to do such a thing, ran through her mind. The concert was the very next day. How could she?

“It was all a fake the policeman said. He recommended she get mental help.” Karen was indignant. “I should think so. They’ve got her sedated now and a nurse is with her.”

“How awful for Eagleton.” Tonia had felt sick at her stomach. Everyone knowing his private business. This was life at a closeness she didn’t want. To be so unhappy one played at suicide. A most dangerous game. Play could easily become reality. Make tragedies for everyone.

What would happen now? 

            “Aunt Tonia, are we poor?”

A loud silence followed the bell-like tones. The quiet in the old-fashioned kitchen stretched on and on.

Tonia finished ladling their oatmeal and placed a dish before Star. “Poor is relative, my sweet. What some people call poor, other people call rich. And it’s possible to be rich in some things and poor in others. You and me, for instance, some could call us poor,” her voice faltered over the last words. She resolutely raised her chin. She might be only twenty-three with never an idea of being forced to earn a living for a niece and herself. But she was a Tyson. Tyson’s did their duty. Her mother’s strong sweet voice still rang in her ears.

“We’re poor,” unconsciously mimicking her mother, she repeated to her five-year old niece, “poor in worldly possessions. We don’t have much money. But we’re rich in other things: a snug house of our own, we’ve got health, enough to eat, there’s music, and don’t forget your kitty-cat, Cotton. There’s my lovely new job as assistant concertmaster. And if … when … I win the contest in Florida, we’ll be rolling on easy street.”

“Why don’t we have raisins in the oatmeal? I like it better with raisins.”

Tonia laughed and ruffled Star’s lovely hair. “We’ll have raisins tomorrow. Star’s blond hair, three shades lighter than her own, was shot through with deeper reddish streaks. Red was a legacy from a fiery redheaded grandmother who had died long before either of their births when her father was only a baby.

Star’s blue eyes were large, expressive and framed by incredibly dark thick lashes that gave her face poignancy, a deceptive look somehow of needing to be taken care of. Or maybe it was a look of innocence, of trust, of vulnerability. Whatever it was, Tonia thought, it brought people rushing to help Star, to please her. Even herself. It was hard not to spoil Star. But, thank goodness, a strain of pure stubborn independence, which she could encourage, lurked just behind those wide, baby blue eyes. Star was a happy, bright child. Good-natured, smiling, the sort who never met a stranger. She bubbled over with curiosity; every new thing was an unfolding, fascinating joy to her.

Some questions were hard to handle. Tonia remembered a visit and a walk with her niece when she was three. Star asked her why a cawing crow didn’t get electrocuted sitting on a thin electric wire. She’d earlier been lecturing Star about the dangers of electricity and why little girls shouldn’t unplug toasters. Tonia had had some squirmy minutes dredging up technicalities of hot wires, ground wires and that you had to be grounded for electricity to be dangerous. She’d struggled to put everything in child’s language. Finally they’d agreed: birds were different; they could touch electricity that was dangerous for little girls who mustn’t ever handle it until they were older.

“Eat your oatmeal and remember that you’re my little treasure. I never know what you’re going to come out with next. Now tell me,” Tonia was brisk, “why this sudden fascination with our financial condition? Where’d you get the idea we were poor?”

“We were eating lunch yesterday. I wanted to ask my teacher how to paint Cotton. How do you paint a white cat on white paper so you can see him? Aunt Tonia?”

“We’ll try it later, sweetie. Now tell me, did you hear someone at school say something about our being poor?”

“Yes, another teacher was talking to Miss Julia – she’s my art teacher – and she said we were poor.”

“What else?” Tonia felt a trifle awkward about questioning her niece. But on the other hand this affected them both. She must keep on top of happenings in Star’s young life.

“Something about that it wasn’t right that you would drag me out of school … just for a contest in Florida.” Star ate a bite of oatmeal. “Aunt Tonia, she said you’re getting above yourself. What’s that mean? How can you be above yourself?”

Tonia shuttered and drank her tea. “We’ll talk later,” she replied absently. She had to think about this. Who knew raising a child could be so complicated. “Now eat those last bits of your oatmeal and go get dressed for the day.”

Leaning back in her kitchen chair, gazing out across evergreen branches furry with white towards the snow-covered lawn, she surrendered herself to the perplexing problem before her.

Tonia had lost her entire family, except for Star, killed when they were driving to see her perform. Insanely wiped out by an intoxicated driver who’d hurled his pickup truck into a head-on collision, killing outright her only sister, Star’s mother, and her brilliant young brother-in-law.

Tonia’s mother and father, also fatally injured in the accident, lingered unconscious for three long days and nights never once waking while she kept a solitary vigil.  She became numb and cold in those desperate days. A deep vital part of her seemed to die.

Star was not with the family because of a mild case of chicken pox. But it took time for Tonia to accept that of her loving supportive family only her niece was left.

Tonia’s emotions were not on the surface. During some frantic, lonely, midnight hour of those unendurable three days, emotion was placed aside. She didn’t blame herself. She was too intelligent and well adjusted for that. But the senseless tragedy had to be integrated into her normally happy life. From her deep void had come the resolution that her own childhood happiness, her debt to her family, could only be repaid in kind. Her sister’s only child would become her child. Star’s happiness and well being were her first concern and priority. So Tonia made her adjustment to life, wrapping about her in the process a cocoon, an air of coolness, a remoteness that seemed entirely impenetrable. She was like a shy person who appears haughtily distant from trying to keep secret their shyness.

She didn’t speak of the past and friends and new acquaintances didn’t often ask. In odd moments there was an air of serious reserve, but now her dreams seldom become nightmares. Time might not heal the impossible. Yet with the passage of time the unbearable did become a part of the past, its cutting edges stilled.

Now alone in their small town in southern Ontario, Canada, she and Star lived in a cottage perched on the edge of a ravine. The town was a bare twelve miles across the United States frontier from Niagara Falls, New York. On a clear day Toronto, seventy miles away by highway, was visible from the Queen Elizabeth Way, commonly known as the QEW. This expressway split St. Margaret’s before curving around the southwestern edge of Lake Ontario. And onto the big city of Toronto.

Their house, an entirely unexpected legacy from Tonia’s mysterious grandfather, was south of the expressway, across a ravine from Cranmer College. This small group of houses, mostly built in the thirties, formed an isolated pocket on the western edge of town. It was enclosed by an old vineyard still producing purple Concord grapes, mostly used for wine. Their house at the far end of the ravine was much older than the others, for it was an original farm building, in a poor state of repair, when it became her only inheritance. Tonia winced as she picked up her cooling tea: her family was big on art, careless of finance matters. Everyone was living happy productive lives. There was always tomorrow. Then suddenly tomorrow was unbelievably different. The old safe world was forever gone. This was a new world. And she’d better get used to it.

This cottage was all she had in the world. Except for Star, and two violins she valued almost as highly as her niece. Expenses had swallowed their small inheritance from Tonia’s mother and father. And from Star’s mother and father, except for an insurance policy that Tonia vowed to use only for Star’s college expenses.

The kitchen, where she now drank a new cup of hot tea, was pale orange pine boards seven or eight inches wide with brown knotholes. She’d discovered these antique boards only after stripping away five layers of faded wallpaper. The windows, now bright with orange, yellow and green curtains, were filled with plants and framed by the deep rich green fir trees blowing outside in the icy wind.

It was a pleasant winter scene, coldly beautiful. One she usually found enjoyable. Today, her fragile peace disturbed, everything felt slightly off key, different. There was no sound but the wind and nothing in sight but trees and white lawn and two stray birds.

She sighed, looking at Star now dressed, busily gathering her homework, books and papers from the end of the square pine table.

Stacey was really her name, but Stacey was too formal for the bright-eyed, alert, little baby. So five years ago, soon after her birth, Stacey became Star. And Star she had remained ever since, to everyone. Star, like all children, was an unconscious mimic. But being an only child, playing alone, taking both sides of fantasy games, spending most of her time talking to adults, had further developed her ability to parrot adults. The very picture of outraged adult disapproval, Star was still mimicking the teacher, “No, not like that. Haven’t you learned anything about drawing?” Disapproval showed in the now rigid lines of her small graceful body and in the faithfully reproduced scornful words Tonia could still hear magnified in her mind, “You’re poor. And you don’t know your place.”

Why couldn’t people mind their own business? She thought with an anger that was gone before it began, for she had to laugh watching Star. Never mind she knew it wasn’t funny. Never mind that the petty world intruded itself in a way that made her feel like a snowflake in a winter wind. Never mind. Star felt secure within herself. That was the important thing. She knew that. She’d put a lot of effort into making sure that her niece did feel secure. To Star, poor was only a word, for she’d take its meaning from those closest to her. But she’d have to be extra careful so this safe and secure world of Star’s she’d worked to create wasn’t broken. The past was nearly forgotten. Together, they were forging a new future.

“What would you do today? Star, if you had a million dollars?” she asked. “What’s the first thing you’d do?”

The outraged adult entirely disappeared from Star’s mobile face leaving only pure child behind. “I’d buy you a present,” Star said with a sweet smile. “Probably a new instrument,” she added seriously as she visually gave the thought her full consideration. “And I’d buy a special fish treat for Cotton. He’s crazy about fish.”

“Well Sweetie Pie,” Tonia laughed, “if I had a million from our Lotto Canada Lottery the first thing I’d do is buy a present for you too. Tell you what, why don’t we declare today’s lunch a special occasion? Why don’t we see what we can do without wealth?

“Right this minute, however, I need to practice for a couple of hours, get my music in the violin section organized and I’ve got a new idea I want to try.” Tonia’s now customary serious look was suddenly back. She added under her breath, “Once, just once, the rehearsal will be letter perfect. Eagleton won’t have a negative word to say.”

She continued talking to Star. “You must clean up your room. Then you can play until time for lunch before you go to kindergarten this afternoon. I’m certainly glad you’re not coughing this morning. Tell you what, let’s work hard for two hours and then think of a surprise present for each other. What do you say?” she asked, knowing the answer.

Star loved their special occasions. She was a good child. Tonia, knowing she treated Star more like another adult than she should, worried sometimes and vowed to try deliberately to treat her niece more as the child she really was.

But Star knew with a child’s instinctive intuition when Tonia meant business and left her aunt to work.

Heaven knows, Tonia thought, taking her music into her practice room, I know how to worry about money. But it doesn’t get you anywhere to fret. I’m working as hard as I can on this contest, so Star and I won’t have that financial worry. So it is a long shot. Someone has to win the contest. With the desperate skill, painfully learned in the past year of sudden change and grim responsibility, she closed off nagging thoughts. She wouldn’t waste time by thinking about what couldn’t be changed.

Everything faded as she opened the music, looked at the black and white notation, heard the notes in her head. She loved this beautiful music of Debussy’s interpretation of the sea in sound. Technically difficult but so hauntingly lovely she caught herself squeezing her eyes to hold back the tears, wondering how she could bear these exquisite sounds. With a wry smile she wondered how much of this beauty she’d hear at tonight’s rehearsal. Pushing aside any thought of Eagleton, she threw herself with double concentration into practice.

Time went on wings until Star excitedly called outside the door, “Hurry up Aunt Tonia.  I told my friend, Greg about our special occasion. He wants to come too. And bring presents for us.” Star giggled, “And a present for Cotton. Please, Aunt Tonia. Please. Say it’s all right. Say he can come.”

“I don’t know.” The magic spell of the music slowly faded. Suddenly she felt absurdly grateful. She had so much. Her marvelous music. And Star. Star was a child who’d let her work in long lovely blocks of time, not drive her crazy with interruptions every five minutes.

“Please Aunt Tonia,” Star begged again opening the practice room door.

“All right, already.” Tonia shrugged. If this was blackmail it was okay. “Blast that clock,” she said looking at the old clock whose loose minute hand made it unreliable each hour when gravity pulled it slightly off course. “Look in the kitchen, Sweetie, and tell me how late it is.” She should see if the clock was worth anything as an antique. Or get it fixed, but that took money. Anyway she was used to this unexpected twist in the usual mundane task of finding out what time it was.

The returning Star was met with, “Go tell your friend Greg he can come if he likes. Then come back here immediately if you want to help your Aunt Tonia with our lunch.”

“Thank you,” Star sang as she skipped around the room and out the door. Tonia smiled. Star was her little treasure.

Greg would be here in a minute, she realized telling herself she better get busy. Tonia liked Greg fine as Star’s friend. Star needed adult male influence in their fatherless home. That was why she’d rather passively allowed the friendship to grow. Not that she’d had much choice. Star and Greg had taken to each other immediately, Greg saying to Tonia, “You can’t imagine what a pleasure to be around such a bright and imaginative child. Your niece is quite advanced for her age.”

Tonia couldn’t be cold, but she was cool and cautious. She and Star were alone. Only the two of them. They must look out for each other.

Meanwhile from Star she’d heard all the details: American, from Florida with palm trees, white sandy beaches. Oranges and grapefruit you could pick right off the trees. Avocadoes.

Greg was the music master over at Cranmer College just across their ravine. Cranmer, a rather posh boarding school for high school boys, was modeled after its English ancestors complete with headmaster, great hall and all the rest. As a new teacher Greg had extra duties, night duty, extra curricular sports, and other activities. And, according to him, he needed to escape the pesky boys. Star, delighted with the notion of pesky boys, also liked fancying herself superior, although she hadn’t a clue as to why.

Tonia noticed Greg was always careful to include her in their activities. Too careful. She’d told him her music took priority, while refusing offers of movies and once of dinner and dancing. She had precious little free time. She also wanted to save baby-sitting expenses for the unavoidable times of concerts, musical engagements and rehearsals when she couldn’t bring Star along.

Greg smiling politely through her refusals, ignored them really, never took offense. Against such unremitting niceness, she couldn’t get irritated enough to tell him to stay away. As she’d done before with men who wouldn’t believe she meant what she said.

Greg was Star’s friend but, nevertheless, he was spending a lot of time with them both. Still he was good for Star and a rather pleasant and interesting person. She was getting used to having him around. Except, she reminded herself, she’d be extra careful so neither of them was misled as to the unchanging situation.

She ran into the kitchen to heat leftover stew. It may have been difficult to find the meat among the potatoes, carrots and onions, but it was nutritious food, well seasoned, good.  Tonia rather enjoyed cooking, considered it her major household skill, and made a game of using time and thought to compensate for lack of money.

Star came in while she was grating carrot for salad. “I want to help. “I’ll set the table with the yellow plates.”

Moments later she and Star gazed at the table, Tonia taking pleasure in its appearance and Star pleased with herself for helping. The pine table was old and worn, crude at first appearance if you didn’t notice the width of its twenty-four inch boards. These planks of wood told the initiated the table was made of virgin pine and the grace of its slim lines revealed a backwoods craftsman lovingly fashioning a table for his family. Tonia, after scrubbing its top, waxed and polished until the gashes and scratches of years of careless use faded into the mellow wood. She’d bought the table, dirty and neglected, because the price was right. But she’d come to have affection for the old pine table seeing its present hard-won restored beauty and sensing the years of its active life. The stories it could tell of the families who’d used it, some lovingly, some harshly.

Thick-woven light brown place mats with yellow dinner plates set off the table nicely. Off to the side were pale green six-sided glass desert plates holding lettuce, carrot and raisin salad. In the table’s center, an orange-scented candle was surrounded, at a distance so it wouldn’t catch fire, by a dried arrangement of oddly shaped weeds and plants she and Star had picked last fall from the ravine. Except for a rich green, fern-like plant which had dried losing very little of its vivid color, the weeds were various shades of brown. Two varieties were bursting with seed and one trailed a white cotton affair that astonished Tonia by staying in place. Each time she saw its bulbous shape she halfway expected it to explode, scattering thin delicate fluff with millions of tiny seeds in a pouring five-foot circle.

“What’s my surprise?” Star asked, eagerly. “What’s happening for the special occasion?”

“If I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise,” Tonia said. “But I’ll give you a hint. It might have something to do with dessert.”

They scrambled to freshen up, Tonia changing into the most dignified slacks and blouse she owned with a green matching sweater. She’d have to leave directly from lunch and wanted to get to rehearsal early to give herself ample time for a final check before tonight’s workout. She didn’t want those black eyebrows raised in her direction.

Putting on careful makeup she dropped her clear red lipstick twice wondering a little at her agitation.

As she tilted her head gathering her long silky straight hair together with both hands before swiftly twisting it up and around, anchoring its deep blond coils with long gold-colored hairpins, she heard Star run to answer the doorbell. In the mirror she looked as usual. As usual, when it occurred to her, she was thankful for her regular rather heart-shaped features, which allowed this easy, entirely inexpensive, although somewhat severe hair-do. It suited her, she thought. She preferred her hair all pulled back and out of the way. But what Tonia didn’t realize was that it was only since the accident she’d worn it this way. If you asked her, she always said she also liked never having to waste time in a beauty shop, or money. Just wash it myself, she thought, every three days or so, let it dry. Brush it back and pin it up. No fuss, no trouble. Her widow’s peak, she thought, made her look more serious, was more appropriate to her new situation.

If asked she thought her mouth too big and her nose a trifle pug. She didn’t notice, and might have raised a slim scornful eyebrow if she had, that the new wistful hollows under her high cheekbones gave her an appealing fragileness. Or that her eyes, behind thick lashes, were warm baby blue, not cold blue.

When Tonia came in a moment later, Greg was in the kitchen with Star chattering while he was uncorking a half bottle of wine.

“The wine’s your present,” Greg smiled to her. “Thought I’d talk you into a half glass while I polished off the rest. It’s a teacher’s half-holiday over at Cranmer’s. A special occasion.” Greg’s voice was teasing as he grinned.

Finding Greg entirely at home in her kitchen was no surprise. The first time last fall she’d run against his total informality she’d thought him a boorish clod. Except for Star’s liking, she’d have quickly banished him from any further contact.

Now Tonia grabbed two green and gold wineglasses, only souvenir glasses but the colors were pretty and matched the rest of the table. In another moment Tonia found Star’s glass, filled it with milk, lit the orange candle and served the rest of the food. Greg asked about Tonia’s planned trip south for the music contest.

“We’re leaving in two weeks,” she told him.

“Aren’t you afraid to drive that distance alone?” Greg asked, looking at Tonia harder than she liked. “Do you think that car of yours will make it?”

“Fang’s a good car,” Star said. “Except once. Fang wouldn’t go and a truck came and got us.”

Fang, deceptively named after a huge old yellow striped tomcat now long gone to a peaceful, well-deserved demise from old age, had left the present Cotton as one of his numerous offspring. Star thought calling a cat Fang was hysterically funny. Then she insisted on Fang as a name for their old yellow Datsun, faded in light streaks when it came, late in its varied career, into their possession.

Fang will make it,” Tonia said to Greg. “It has to. The car may be old but it gets great gas mileage. Anyway I’ve saved some money if repairs are necessary. We’ll only drive in the daytime. Get up early and stop before dusk. We’ll be safe.”

She dismissed the subject. They’d manage, was the impression she meant to convey. But underneath she was worried. Not so much about Fang, the old Datsun was in decent shape and barring the unforeseen should make the long trip in reasonable style. And not so much about money. The extra bit she’d scrounged would see them through.

The contest was her constant worry. The preliminaries for the prestigious Tchaikovsky International contest to be held for the first time ever in the United States were this year at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

She’d trained like an Olympic athlete. She wanted to win the contest, needed to win, felt she must win. What would happen to her and Star if she didn’t win?

“It is a long way to go for a contest,” Greg observed quietly, “even one as important as this.”

“Yes, it is,” Tonia, said slowly, thinking how pleasant it was to talk to an adult at lunch for a change. “There is another reason I’m going, we’re going. Two, actually. There’s a little town called White Springs, Florida.”

“I know White Springs,” Greg excitedly interrupted. “It’s on the banks of the Suwannee River; it has a memorial park for Stephen Foster. I used to go there every spring to a folk festival.”

“I have an old friend there,” Tonia said slowly. “I haven’t seen her since she moved to Florida five years ago. She works in White Springs, lives in a trailer. When I learned about the Tchaikovsky contest in Gainesville, I wrote her that perhaps we could see each other while I was there. Replying immediately, she’s invited us to visit. Told me Gainesville is only forty minutes away by expressway. I’m delighted of course, and wrote her right back, taking her up on the invitation.”

“You’ll like White Springs,” Greg said, excitedly. “It’s a charming sleepy little southern town with Spanish moss on the tall oaks and friendly people. Except there’s absolutely nothing to do,” Greg laughed. “The only thing in town is the Foster Memorial, and the Suwannee River.”

“It’s like fate,” Tonia said, scarcely noticing the interruption, “or a coincidence that’s utterly unbelievably, bizarre. Last week I received a curious letter from White Springs. It was from a grandmother I believed dead in childbirth long, long ago. My father’s mother.”

“A missing relative?” Greg was intrigued, questions moved in his eyes, and speculations. Tonia turned away, reluctant to explain old family secrets. Aware, too, that Star was being too quiet. As she watched, Star’s right hand, hanging down straight at her side, give a sudden jerk.

“Star, you mustn’t feed Cotton from the table. That cat’s too fat anyway. You’ll teach him bad habits,” she said.

“I’m sorry. Aunt Tonia, he was just so hungry. I’ll be more careful.”

Greg, after a swift evaluating glance at Tonia, turned to Star and asked, “What are the rules for our special occasion?” Star, preening herself, basked in the male attention. Tonia slipped down in her chair, relaxing.

“First,” Star announced grandly, “is Cotton’s present. I hope it’s fish because he loves fish. Then I’ll give my presents and help Aunt Tonia fix the dessert, which is her surprise. Then we’ll have your presents.”

Cotton got his fish, Greg and Tonia each received watercolor prints, hand painted in art class by Star. Greg’s painting was of somewhat blue palm trees in a somewhat green sky. Tonia’s was an ultra-modern, that is to say scarcely recognizable, picture of their house. Tonia served chocolate ice cream with Star bringing a plate of homemade oatmeal cookies. Greg gave Tonia a box of a dozen scented candles in beautiful assorted colors. In spite of herself his thoughtfulness pleased her as did the candles and watching Star.

“This story book comes from a lady near where you’re going in Florida,” Greg told Star as he handed her a brightly wrapped gift.

As Star unwrapped the package he added to Tonia, “That book is written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She and her husband moved from Rochester, New York, in the 1930’s depression. They bought an orange grove in the country below Gainesville at Cross Creek.  That’s where she wrote The Yearling, the Pulitzer Prize novel in 1939 about her neighbors, the Florida crackers, that she found living in the area. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings ended living alone in the house at Cross Creek. I went to college in Gainesville, and a buddy and I met her. This is the only children’s story she ever wrote.”

Tonia stared at Greg. An air about him told her there was more to the story than he was telling. But she also knew there wasn’t time to ask now. So she didn’t, only admiring the thin book when Star showed it and assuring her they’d read it soon.

To get to rehearsal early she ruthlessly pushed Greg to go home.

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