For Cynthia Gatewood, Jay Courtney Madison III was all a girl could hope for. He was handsome, wealthy, dynamic and, in her otherwise uneventful life, his offer of marriage and a plantation home in Florida was difficult to resist.
But why did Jay’s mother hate her so? And what secret in the plantation manager’s past did Jay so desperately want hidden from her? When Jay himself grew hostile, and Cynthia?s love turned to fear, whom was she to trust?
She was unwanted in her own home – someone had tried to kill her. Would Cynthia fall victim to THOSE SUBTLE WEEDS?
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I will never forget the first time I saw Live Oak Plantation. Far down through the dark obscuring oak trees it gleamed like a pure white mirage. I couldn’t suppress a sigh of relief. A hurtful tension dissipated into the clean air. I felt that I was truly coming home. That at long, long last here was a place in which I could settle, grow roots, and know love.
Live Oak was beautiful. A fairyland come to life. That first glimpse is still imprinted in my memory. The plantation house was symmetrical and two-storied with identical double rows of green-shuttered windows on the right and left sides of an imposing, yet oddly welcoming colonnaded entrance. The four white columns so strangely borrowed from the ancient Greeks seemed to blaze with an extra coat of lustrous white. In front all over the lawn, twisty gigantic oak trees streamed with pale flowing moss.
Somehow, for a stolen, unforgettable moment I saw the house as a tiny, detailed scene, painted on a cameo, precious and perfect. It was making a promise to me that everything Jay had told me was true. Here was my new home. Past miseries would fade and vanish in this warm, soft, southern air. Gratitude and thanksgiving washed over me. Then, still basking in their warm glow, I turned impulsively to my new husband, eager for joyous sharing.
But it was not to be. Already, after having known him only two short weeks, I knew too much. More than I wanted to know. That set and rigid clamping of his strong square jaw meant I don’t want any of your inconsequential chatter. That forceful, purposeful, two-fisted grip on the steering wheel of his beloved sports car meant I’m busy now doing something I love. And that monotonous, mindless and heedless humming meant I’m thinking, don’t bother me now.
I was not critical then and did not evaluate Jay’s behavior in negative ways. Whatever he wanted to do was fine with me. I only loved him more. I owned no will of my own. It was all Jay’s then.
So what has happened? Where has the love gone? And why am I forcing myself to make this painful review of broken hopes? Because once again I am alive and hopeful of happiness. But first I have to be sure I have the right to take it. Old guilts, old blames, old sorrows: I want no more of these fat, haunting ghosts. So I have decided to write it all down, to tell it just like it happened, and to relive those disquieting days and dark nights. Now it’s all jumbled up in my brain, confused, distorted and twisted. Jay and Frazier and me. I don’t know what to do, what to decide. But I’ll write it all down. Then I’ll be able to see clearly and in perspective. Then I’ll know what to do.
The only problem is where to start? The first time I saw Live Oak Plantation? The first time I met Jay? The first time Frazier kissed me? When I was born?
My childhood was dull and unhappy. In a school picture taken when I was ten or eleven, I was thin and scrawny, all big brown eyes in a pinched and unhappy face. A child wearing adult misery. Tight-clasped hands under hollow cheeks seem to be making an unvoiced plea, and even then there was a strong and individual chin. Thin, fine brown hair is cruelly confined in two tight pigtails. The brown eyes are eager and intelligent yet wear an oddly beaten and dejected look. These are not a child’s innocent and carefree eyes.
This child was forced too early to learn a grownup fact – her mother didn’t love her. How banal that sounds, how stupid. Yet, even now, at twenty-seven, I’m compelled to talk about that miserable little girl in the third person. She was wounded, emotionally tortured so badly it is still difficult to rightfully claim her as myself. But the gaze, through the pain and pleading, from her pictured eyes is straight and direct. Some hidden indestructible core knew that it was not her fault, that she was not entirely unlovable. That it was only through the unfortunate will of evil gods that this particular mother could not love this lonely, big-eyed child.
In school I was neither popular nor unpopular. I was a mouse, a brown-eyed, shy, invisible mouse, softly creeping about and seeking any safe refuge. Teachers loved me; I was so good, so eager to please, eternally quiet and obedient. My family ignored me. Their attention was reserved for my vivacious, beautiful sister who was five years younger and who had snow-blonde, naturally curly hair.
Sometimes back then, when things had been worse than usual, I would imagine that my sister was dead. I would longingly dream of being the center of my parents’ loving attention. But I could never daydream for long. She was so pretty and blonde and loved – I loved her too – that I felt even more ugly and skinny. Occasionally I would visualize all my family dead and I would be adopted by kind, loving and warm parents. But this daydream frightened me. Too much was unknown and to a scrubby ten-year old it was better to suffer known evils than to seek a total unknown.
Then I would visualize my own death, seeing myself in a gleaming open coffin, hands folded, surrounded by gorgeous yellow roses. I wore a slight, forgiving smile as my weeping and sorrowful mother, father and sister knelt, broken-hearted and sorry, begging my forgiveness.
This self-pitying stage did not last long, however, for it soon occurred to me that to be in a coffin meant I would be dead. In spite of everything, I didn’t want to be dead. I wanted to live.
At school my classmates ignored me. Later, while giggling girls swung curvy new hips and tender budding breasts, I gained fresh mortification from my thin stick body and face which seemed all eyes and high cheekbones. I never dated in high school for I was the odd one. This was certainly borne out by my appearance for mother made all my clothes. I know she didn’t mean to, but she really wasn’t up on, or too interested in, the latest teen-aged fashions and fads. Besides choosing ill-fitting, inappropriate clothes, she also carefully ridiculed any of my hesitant efforts toward beauty, destroying what self-confidence might have remained.
It seems strange to me now that father did not protest. Surely the contrast between the treatment given my sister and me was shocking in its extremity. As I write this I even remember that a gold wrist watch was given to my sister for graduation from grade school while nothing, not one single present, was my reward for high school graduation. But at the time it appeared natural, because in family matters my mother ruled our roost, rather absolutely controlling all her chickens. And, I suppose too, that everyone had gotten in the habit of treating me as an unwanted stepchild, using me as a scapegoat, while I, growing up in this pattern, found no motivation or way to change it.
Yet I was not entirely without resources. For there were always books. And I was always reading. I could be a pretty princess living high above the Rhine in a tall castle with moats and an iron basket to draw up gold tribute from the travelers below. I could swing with Tarzan through the jungle or happily ride with Zane Grey’s western heroes. Or go winging through space, the first woman to visit far-off, cold Mars.
But most importantly, I graduated from high school and was sent away to Kirkland, a small girl’s college in southwestern Missouri. There a metamorphosis took place, the ugly duckling became a swan, as in my favorite fairy tale. Clerking in a dime store and baby sitting that summer before going away gave me my first money. I quickly began spending it on new clothes. Drab browns and humdrum grays and dark monotonous greens and uninteresting navy blues were rebelliously ignored for I fell gloriously in love with a burnt-orange dress that brought a missing sparkle to my eyes and a transforming smile to my face. This was a beginning.
But the fairy tales are wrong, for an ugly duckling doesn’t change into a beautiful swan overnight. The outside was changing true enough but inside herself the ugly duckling knew well enough that she was still ugly. Changing the inside was not easy and, I suppose to be philosophical, early experiences always leave a mark and continue to exert some influence.
Still it was an exhilarating experience for me, this slow transformation into a swan. My immature body began its overdue development and almost seemed as though it was trying to make up for previous deficiencies. Surreptitious comparison with other girls told me that my one hundred and eighteen pounds was well distributed over my five feet, five inches. Now the high cheekbones made my face look exotically interesting.
Slowly, during the next four years, I began dating. There were blind dates arranged by other girls with their brothers or cousins at first. Then later I attracted my own dates. But I was somehow curiously surprised and disappointed. The boys, immature and childish, weren’t at all like the men of fiction I’d been reading about. Their fumbling kisses were awkward. I really disliked having anyone hold and handle me; kisses, caresses and ordinary touchings had been non-existent in our family – at least for me. Previous forced isolation had made me used to getting along on my own and spending time in solitude. I was still getting used to the new me, but mainly, I suppose, a boy or man who deeply interested me just never happened to come along.
And so, slowly, after graduation, after getting a job as a librarian, I fell back into familiar old habits. It was quick and easy to twist my brown hair tight in a bun. Somehow, without my realizing how, my wardrobe again became practical brown, black, grey, and my especially hated, navy blue. Between my work at the library and my own little apartment, I went to concerts and art shows with Frank who, although much older, was an undemanding companion. My life inevitably slipped into a set routine. Still, occasionally, I would he called by old classmates to entertain a visiting fireman or fill in for a last minute dinner guest who’d canceled. But I had to admit when I thought about it, which I tried not to do, that even these casual invitations were becoming less and less frequent.
I knew I was letting myself go, that I was not making the most of my opportunities or abilities, as one of my teachers used to scold. Yet, in some strange and weird way, behaving differently would have been disloyal. At that time I never thought deeply about my behavior or realized why I was acting so self-destructively. Only recently has Frazier, with his customary understanding for causes and events, helped me to comprehend. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Frazier comes later.
I was furtively hiding away in the library because I felt guilty. The truth is that one of my old childish daydreams had horrifyingly come to violent life. My parents, for a high school graduation present, took my sister on a European tour. It was decided that I shouldn’t take time off from the library. The Spanish airplane they were flying from Madrid crashed into a hill just outside Barcelona killing all fifty-two persons aboard. There were no bodies to bury, only burnt shreds and pieces. After the lawyers had settled all the wills and insurance policies, I quickly put every cent of the money into savings and loan accounts and tried to forget the whole thing. For a while there was much talk of how the money could be better invested and about my duty to my wealth. One young, bachelor lawyer even tried hard to sell me a gigantic song-and-dance tale of romantic love. But I knew it wasn’t me he loved, only the money. With my experience in missing it, I did know love when I saw it. After a while, when the lawyers all saw how determined I was, they let me alone.
But I could never entirely forget and eternally, in odd stray moments, old family memories would come back to haunt me. I would once again be the ugly, unwanted, big-eyed child. I did try to change. Periodically, usually on Monday mornings, I would make severe resolutions and great plans. Next Monday, I would unhesitatingly resolve, I will buy new clothes, maybe even an orange dress. Next Monday I will start a beauty course, travel, make new friends, look for a more challenging job – by then I was growing somewhat bored with the library. Deep inside I knew I had talent, I just didn’t know what it was. Then I felt helpless when each succeeding, futile Monday inevitably passed without change. Except, of course, a tighter and stronger web of inertia was drawn closer and closer about me.
I was caught in a mysterious lassitude. Everything was too much effort. I was constantly tired, exhausted. For a while I tried one-a-day multiple vitamins with iron, but they didn’t seem to help. When the hundred yellow tablets were gone, I didn’t bother buying more. Finally, at Frank’s insistence – he was my older friend from the library – I went to see an internist.
There were thorough, exhaustive, medical and laboratory tests. The doctor was a young man, very tall and professional.
“Miss Gatewood, let’s go over the results of your tests. Your heart is sound, blood pressure normal, no evidence of murmurs or other irregularities.”
In amazement I stared at him as he proceeded through a detailed list of all the problems I didn’t have, giving a brief summary of the state of every vital organ. I never knew the body was subject to such a plethora of ills; it almost frightened me.
“To sum up,” he continued, “I can find no physical reason for your extreme fatigue symptoms.” He solemnly closed my folder, pausing for a long, tension-filled moment. Staring at my face as though trying to read my mind, he abruptly said, “Tell me, Miss Gatewood, why do you hate men?”
I simply stared at him for what seemed an eternity. Hate men? I’d never before considered the question. I was astonished at the question, wondering why would the doctor ask such an odd thing. “I don’t think I hate men,” I managed to say, while forcibly maintaining my habitual facade of composure.
“You’re twenty-seven,” he ruthlessly probed. “Why aren’t you married? Why have you had no serious men friends? What was your relationship with your father? Your mother?”
“I’ve always enjoyed the companionship of men,” I doggedly insisted, cool to the end. But oddly enough I don’t remember any more exact details of our unexpected conversation. I only knew that somehow this precise doctor had gotten inside my defenses and shaken my awareness to an unbearable degree. Through a dim haze I heard myself agree to accept psychological counseling, faintly hearing him call a colleague to arrange for an appointment the following Friday at four o’clock.
The young doctor had put me on the defensive. Frantically, as though trying to prove something, the very next morning, Saturday, I canceled my museum date with Frank. I was visiting Scrubbs, Vandervilt and Barney, an old line department store I’d always liked. I got the works, everything. My hair was cut and styled with a soft body wave. A competent makeup expert, herself beautiful, cleaned my skin while professing disbelief that I never used any makeup except lipstick. While reshaping my eyebrows, she touted a wide and expensive variety of Estee Lauder products, most of which I ended up buying. Recklessly I changed everything, refusing to think of the money. I’d saved enough so that tainted money in the savings and loan accounts wouldn’t have to be touched. I bought clothes, from the skin out. Flimsy nylon and lace undies in gorgeous pale blue, creamy beige and delicate yellow. I added shoes, dresses, sports outfits and just-for-fun clothes. Besides refusing to consider the money, I also refused to think of where I might wear some of them. If it looked good and I liked it, I bought it.
. . . . . .
The very next Monday while I was working at the library it only seemed appropriately inevitable that Jay should appear. Jay, firmly whisked me off to lunch after incredulously saying, “I don’t believe it. Your Aunt Harriet from Florida made her blue-eyed, baby boy promise to look up long-lost kin-folk in the big city – but I don’t believe you. You’re the prettiest little thing I’ve ever seen.” Jay was a dream dropped straight from heaven.
Jay Courtney Madison III, talked and joked, laughed and treated me with a warm protective courtesy, as though I was any ordinary attractive girl. I bloomed like a starved flower under his attention. Seeing the astonished gazes of Clair and Janie, I had to suppress an unaccustomed giggle. They had barely recovered from the morning’s shock of seeing me arrive for work with my new hairdo and new makeup, wearing a soft, pale-yellow pants suit.
Clair had remarked, “It’s pretty but aren’t you afraid that yellow’s going to show dirt too easily?”
Now their speculative appraisals bordered on vulgarity.
Jay Countney Madison III was something to see. Blond, big, tanned, he gave the impression of being confined in too small a space. Only the open, free, out-of-doors would be large enough to contain his handsome and bursting vitality. In our quiet library he loomed even more massive and masculine. I didn’t blame Clair and Janie; I was just as overwhelmed.
From that first moment in the library events moved too fast. I never quite caught up, and like the last skater in a four spoked pinwheel, frantic efforts availed me nothing.
Jay literally seemed to move in and take over. But I didn’t mind. It was wonderful to have someone strong making all the decisions. Waiters and telephone operators and clerks all rushed to serve him as thought they’d been whiling away a boring lifetime waiting for the privilege. I was used to grocery checkout clerks who closed the lane just before my turn. Bank and post office clerks always disappeared into secret, inner recesses to leave me standing dejected and unserved. The surly waiters I knew always loudly announced, “Only one!” whenever I’d mustered enough courage to dine alone. I couldn’t help being impressed. All this for me.
I could barely remember Aunt Harriet. She was really not my aunt at all, only a long ago, close friend of Mother’s. Aunt was solely a courtesy title, nothing else. I remembered that once, on a vaguely recalled family vacation to Miami, we had stopped by Tallahassee. There was a beautiful white house and monstrous oaks with swirling, ghostly grey Spanish moss, but no other memories. The Persian limes and ripe oranges we’d picked right off the trees had been in Miami, as well as the sandy beaches strewn with shells and slim, leaning coconut trees. Jay, I didn’t remember at all; he’d been away at military school in Virginia.
When we were together, Jay and I seldom spoke of our families or of the past. When I asked, “How is Aunt Harriet?” that first day at lunch, his face had momentarily gone harsh, his mouth narrow and obstinate. But only for a fleeting second was I aware of any overt reaction. I remember noting to myself that perhaps Aunt Harriet was ill and that I’d better ask about her later. Yet later, proper opportunities never seemed to arise. At the time of our first lunch, the subject was swiftly changed and my attention diverted. It was only much later, after the problems began, that I figured it must have been deliberate on his part. Then, Jay had immediately answered, “She’s fine. I was sorry to learn that you had lost your family several years ago. Do you miss them badly?”
“Yes, but we hadn’t been close for several years,” I stammered, forgetting Aunt Harriet in a wild inward rush of emotion. I was desperate for Jay not to know and judge me by my family. He liked me, I could tell. I was afraid that by a kind of mental osmosis he would ferret out my family’s attitude towards me. I wanted him to judge me for myself, to see only a normal and attractive woman. I wanted to forget at last that old unhappy business. It was so long ago. Surely it was time to let it all go and to make a new life for myself. Also, on the fringes of my mind, there was the young doctor’s shocking question, “Why do you hate men?” I didn’t ponder it, there wasn’t time, but hidden deep in the back of my mind I was painfully aware of that question and aware, too, of the coming Friday’s appointment for psychological counseling.
But time to think, alone, calmly, deliberately, never materialized that entire, wild, crazy week. I was always off base and at a disadvantage. It started immediately. Suddenly, after a gorgeous dinner the very first day I met Jay, he slowly, thoughtfully, removed the after-dinner brandy glass from my grasp. Clasping both my hands warmly in his and holding my eyes captive, he said in an intense, low voice, “I know it’s too early. Please don’t answer now, but will you marry me? No, don’t say anything,” as my trembling lips half parted. “I know it’s not fashionable in this scientific time. Or believable. But the first sight of you changed my heart. I fell in love the first instant I saw you. I don’t want to waste time or risk losing you. You’re like a rare and beautiful southern flower. The Pink Perfection camellia doesn’t flaunt itself, isn’t flashy or blatant or showy. It’s quietly beautiful like a sleeping princess ready to awaken. I know it’s hard to believe,” he continued, “but I love you. We’ll talk seriously later this week. Don’t think about it now. Come, let’s dance.”
Instantly he rose and holding my unresisting left arm, calmly directed me onto the dimly lit dance floor. I was glad for the lack of bright light because it helped hide my face. Inside I was a wildly seething cauldron of emotion: suspicion, pride, amazement, pleasure, wonder, disbelief. It was well Jay had asked me not to speak for I don’t know what words I could have used. Even now those contradictory emotions aren’t properly sorted or neatly arrayed in prim separate boxes.
Then I existed in a dazed misty dream, never alertly conscious but nevertheless seeing and feeling the world with pristine eyes and a new foreign awareness. As we walked onto the dance floor, my whole trembling being was blindly riveted on that unyielding warm hand holding my suddenly wonderful arm.
“It’s cool,” I murmured softly as an agonizing self-consciousness descended on me, “the air-conditioning.”
I faltered silent as Jay turned me to face him. With one quick motion he gathered me into his warm and close embrace. Magnetic currents seemed to pour over me as we moved together to slow, romantic music. Closeness was generating animal heat. My face flamed in a vehement flush as he locked me tight in an intense, almost strangling embrace. At that exact instant the music stopped playing.
“You fit perfectly,” he said in a low voice. Walking back to our table, I stumbled over the smooth, wrinkle-free carpet. Jay must have read the fear in my eyes for he moved away, becoming remote, as though dropping a stage curtain on a passionate interlude.
“Tell me,” he innocuously smiled, “which type are you, one who wakes up immediately alert and ready for breakfast or one who wakes up slow and leisurely and doesn’t care for food right away?”
Happily following his lead into bland, social conversation, I waited for my heart to stop its unnecessary pounding. It was only the unaccustomed social life and his close attention. There was really nothing here to cause me to be fearful.
Our routine was quickly established. Jay and I became a so-called item. Clair and Janie were bug-eyed, and even old Frank looked on in mild disapproval. We had lunch every day. I was the hearty type who ate breakfast but I shied away from his suggestion of breakfast meetings. Then we had dinner every evening and dancing or theater or movies and always talk: Jay always laughed and talked. He smiled his attractive grin more than anyone I’d ever seen.
Yet I remained with a sense of being vulnerable, of somehow needing to protect myself. Try as I might, I was never entirely at ease. I can’t claim premonition but on occasion I fancied a superficial coldness behind his constant smile that frightened me, a chilling regard much as though a foreign anthropologist was minutely observing the local inhabitants and taking great care to maintain a proper psychological distance. The inhabitants might be interesting, but he didn’t plan to get involved. But I may be giving myself too much credit and be remembering reservations I never had at the time. I’ve often observed that human memory is a selective and distorting process which reveals – perhaps more than a person likes – the hidden hopes, fears and desires of the individual memory. But, yes, I’m sure of it; I was sometimes afraid that week, afraid of Jay. He was so big, so boisterous, so sure of himself. Like a heavy boulder falling down a steep mountain, he seemed to roll relentlessly ahead, always on his own course. Yet other stray, miscellaneous stones in his vicinity were inescapably drawn into the downhill journey. Yes, sometimes I felt myself too closely observed and somewhere in the faint, far-off distance, I dimly heard the cold, steel click of a wild animal trap snapping closed.
But there were other voices I had to deal with: the doctor and his “Why are you afraid of men?” And my teacher’s sad scolding, “Why are you hiding your talent and ability? And my own frightened sense that this might be my very last chance. I had no illusions about my ability to drag myself out of the sticky morass of old family roles. Using only my own power, so I reasoned, I hadn’t done too well by myself. Jay would lend me his energy. And so doubts, fears, forebodings were quickly dismissed.
There wasn’t time to be properly afraid anyway. Jay was always around with his open and irrepressible laughter, his handsome, compelling face and his strong, commanding body. From that very first night Jay instituted a weakening and insidious routine that I found myself powerless to resist. He made the plans for us and I let him. I’ve sometimes wondered what course my life might have taken had I kept that Friday appointment for psychological counseling. Would it have made a difference? I like to think so. Still, the facts are that from the moment Jay asked me to marry him, I was permanently caught off balance. His physical dominance was assured on the dimly-lit dance floor and confirmed later that overwhelming night.
That deep moment of intimacy on the dance floor was not repeated or even referred to all the rest of the evening. I was treated with a consistent southern courtesy until we arrived at midnight in the dim hallway outside my small apartment.
“Thank you for a pleasant evening,” I heard myself say, awkward as usual, and too formal. My right hand futilely dived for the key.
In the powerful darkness only a single word sounded. “Wait,” he said. Bending slowly, Jay thrust two warm hands under my shining loose hair, tenderly covering my ears. He held my face captive like a piece of fragile, priceless, Meissen porcelain. Then he proceeded to take his leisurely pleasuring time about kissing me good night. Whatever else I may have felt, disappointment and boredom were not present.
So it went, that unique and singular week. Always Jay, and admiring, wondering looks from Clair, Janie, and Frank at the suddenly dull library. They were jealous, all of them. I felt like I owned a now wonderful new world. Frank even timidly asked, “Don’t you think you’re seeing too much of this cousin, Jay? What do you really know of him? Weren’t you only a child when you last met his family?”
I shrugged off Frank’s fears; there wasn’t time to consider them now. I was having too much fun. It had been forever since I’d had such a good time. I would think about things later. And so it went until Thursday night.
Jay had been mesmerizing me all evening with tales of his plantation life, bringing me vividly alive to his devoted love for his southern homeland. I could hear long, trilling bird cries and see peaceful, primeval forests, could smell the fragrant, clean, warm air. I was beguiled, charmed and captivated.
Suddenly, still in a fantasy spell, we were walking closely arm in arm through fresh, late night air to my apartment door. I turned toward Jay to hear jolting words, “My love, I have to return home early next week.”
A drop-away feeling of failure roared over me, leaving weak knees and a wildly beating heart. I should have known, I thought with resigned anger, I should have known it couldn’t last. Now he’ll go away. Inevitably that old childhood frustration of always being the unwanted and unloved one now overwhelmed me.
So absorbed was I in my inward misery that I barely heard him continue, “Do you think you’ll have courage enough to marry me next Tuesday and come home with me?”
Wild incredulous joy burned away any disappointment. I asked no questions, made no demands, did not think ahead. I simply answered a thankful, “Yes.”
Jay wanted me, loved me. My odd unhappy childhood could now be forevermore laid to rest and allowed to exist for the rest of eternity in undisturbed peace. It was over; it was done. Now I would be Mrs. Jay Courtney Madison III. I would be one half of a happy and successful partnership. Jay had never known me any way but attractive, pleasant and normal. The old, old long ago unhappinesses could now be entirely forgotten. With his loving help I would make a triumphant new life for myself. And for him.
“My beautiful darling,” Jay whispered as he held and kissed me. Then he broke away as we made hurried plans to meet for blood tests and licenses. Soon he was sighing, “Good night, sleep tight,” and leaving.
It was only later, much later that night when I suddenly awakened in the tranquil stillness of my empty apartment that I precipitously remembered the appointment for psychological counseling. That appointment was made for today. I’ll have to cancel it, I thought defiantly. It’s probably all silly anyway; I’m certainly not tired any more. I smiled in the familiar safe darkness thinking of the mad and hurried pace at which Jay and I’d been running.
But the happy smile died away, killed by suspicious thoughts that had been lurking all week, eager to get at me. What about the money? What about the money in those savings and loan accounts? Does Jay know? He can’t know, I gladly thought, there’s no way for him to know.
But, violently objected a quick thought, how did he know about your parents being dead?
Of course he knew they were dead. It was in all the papers and besides, Mother and Aunt Harriet were close, childhood friends. Sure they were, prodded a sarcastic thought, so close you haven’t heard of her, or Jay, for years.
I won’t have it, I commanded my aberrant and suspicious thoughts. He hadn’t even hinted at mentioning my money, and besides, he had plenty of money of his own. Look at that magnificent plantation house, vast land holdings and the way he’s been throwing money away on me all week. Besides, I reasoned, I just won’t mention it. The accounts are all in my name. I’ll simply leave them that way until later.
There, are you satisfied? I abruptly demanded of those nasty, hard suspicions. Reluctantly, slowly, I could feel them wither and shrivel in the cold light of my rational arguments. It was only eons later that I wondered if fateful events would have followed different paths if I’d stubbornly persisted in my suspicions.
Probably not, for I loved Jay then with all the rampant and extravagant passion of a deprived and dependent child. And now? Do I trust him? But I’m getting ahead of myself again. That’s why I’m writing this, to decide.
Friday was a flurry of blood tests, telling people and making decisions. So much was happening it’s hard to remember particular facts. But one scene still stands out in my mind. Frank, with a special look, asked me to meet him alone that afternoon for coffee at Al’s, a nearby bar where no one from the library would be likely to see us.
“Yes,” I said with some apprehension and promised to meet him at three-thirty.
“Cynthia,” he began pleading as we slipped into the dim, red-leathered booth, “I hope you won’t take it wrong but could I have a little talk with? I feel kind of responsible for you,” he valiantly continued past his hurt pride and his innate and old-fashioned, gentlemanly conviction that the business of other people was exclusively their own affair.
I could tell he was nerving himself to this distasteful task because of his concern for me and his high, ethical concept of duty. I’d been expecting this conversation. Even though our relationship had no romantic overtones, it was only to be anticipated.
“Of course,” I said, trying for a warm accepting smile, “say anything you like.”
“I’ve been content to accept you as you are. My age, my personality being what they are,” he softly continued with a self-deprecating smile. “I’ve gown close to you these past few years. How long has it been?” he interrupted himself as though stalling for time.
But then he rushed on as though seeing his question as only a diversionary tactic – which it was – and rejecting its more comfortable path. With a sprightly rush past his normal inhibitions, he burst out, “I’m afraid for you. Dreadfully afraid you’re making a serious mistake. Everything has happened too fast. You don’t know this man, do you?” he cried, challenging me.
My eyes fell before his righteous questions and his indignant look. My own nasty suspicions of the previous dark night clamored to be discussed. But not quite sure why, I answered him. “I appreciate your concern. You’ve always been so nice to me. I do understand your concern,” I faltered.
“Do you? I wonder,” he thoughtfully interrupted. “Do you know,” he smiled with an out-of-character, downward twist to his usually soft mouth, “that you haven’t asked me why I’m afraid for you?”
“Oh,” I muttered. This conversation was getting out of hand. I’d expected Frank to show some jealousy, to have his mild nose be put a little out of joint, but I hadn’t anticipated this heavy confrontation.
“I’m afraid,” he bluntly continued, “that this man is after your money. Now I know,” he inexorably went on as I raised hurt and surprised brown eyes, “that for some hidden reasons of your own, you don’t want to talk about that money. Or even have anything to do with it. I’ve respected your wishes because I felt that in your own time, when you were psychologically ready, you would come to grips with it.”
I sat silent and stunned that mild Frank would go so far. He must be awfully upset, I thought with surprise, to say these things. He knows how I feel. Past the confused thoughts in my mind, I heard Frank continue, “But this man, this Jay, will he respect your strange reticence? Or is he,” demandingly, “marrying you to get his hands on all that money?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied finding myself giving each syllable a careful and attentive enunciation. “Jay doesn’t know about the money. I’ve never told him. And besides,” I said louder, more confidently, “he’s got plenty of money of his own, a big southern plantation home, and nine or ten thousand acres of land. He doesn’t need my money,” I finished triumphantly.
“Are you sure?” was Frank’s quiet response. “You’re an orphan. You go off to that lonely plantation house and who’s to know what might happen to you?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” I was defiant and short. After all, it was really none of his business. I didn’t want to think about his insinuations. “What could possibly happen to me in this day and age? People don’t disappear. Besides, Frank,” I pleaded, suddenly remembering that my leaving was hard for him, that he was doing this for my own good, and that I owed him the fullest possible explanation, “I’m twenty-seven years old. The fact is I may not have another chance. Jay’s wonderful to me. He loves me and I love him. You’ll see. Everything will be wonderful.”
“Well, I can’t quarrel with that.” Frank was abrupt with the attitude of a man who has already done far more than his duty. “Just be careful and remember that I’m here if you should ever need me.”
“I will, Frank, I will,” I gladly promised, happy to have this disturbing conversation come to a close. Frank and I returned to the library for my last few hours of work. But I can’t remember anything I did. The library staff was wonderful about letting me resign on terribly short notice. Or perhaps they rightly knew that I would have quit anyway.