<= Part 1
by Crème Brûlée
A Revelation in Several Parts
Part 7 - The Final Part
As she hung her coat on Adele's coat rack, Marjorie's attention was drawn by a damp chill pressing into her ankle. She looked down to see a kitten sniffing at her stocking. "Well, well, who have we here?"
"That's Syrus," Adele greeted Marjorie with a kiss on the cheek. "He's spirited, watch your hose or they'll be history."
Adele leaned down and scooped Syrus up. He fit snugly in her hand. She passed him to Marjorie. "Don't get too attached, he's just passing through."
"He's adorable," Marjorie pet Syrus between the ears. He had stripes, grey and white, that zig-zagged over his tiny body. She quickly gathered that he'd prefer to romp, and let him down. "Where did he come from?"
Adele had several rules pertaining to animals paramount among them: never bring animals home unless you have the time to devote to their proper care. Which explained why she kept no pets herself.
Adele let out a heavy sigh, "It's been a long, difficult day. I've made some tea, shall we sit?"
Adele took Marjorie's hand and lead her to the couch. They sat; Adele kicked off her shoes, tucked her head on Marjorie's shoulder and sighed again.
"Is everything alright?" Marjorie was concerned. Adele looked tired, more tired than usual. The customary bright smile and sparkle had been absent in her greeting.
Adele nodded. "I'm fine. It's just the world. It's people. And maybe my skin isn't as thick as it once was."
Leaning back onto the couch, Adele turned her head so that she could look at Marjorie. Which she did for a moment - it was a welcome respite from the trials of her day. "Gail Cox came in today. She brought Syrus in. Her cat Emma died last year she'd had Emma for fifteen years. When Emma's leukemia advanced, Gail asked if I'd make a house call and 'put her to rest'. It's something I'll do from time to time for clients I've known a while. It was a solemn occasion, at which I met Connie, Gail's 'roommate' of twenty-five years…" Adele paused and shook her head.
"Connie died of a stroke a week ago. In that time, her family has descended upon Gail's home, removing every object that they identified as Connie's some they didn't bother to try, they simply took. They had Connie's body shipped back to New Hampshire, where the family is from, and left without so much as a 'we're sorry for your loss'. They did, however, inform Gail that she'll have to move from the house she's lived in for twenty-five years within two weeks, because it was in Connie's name, and that she should leave whatever else might belong to Connie behind. All of this being in full contradiction to Connie's wishes which she made plain in her will; a will her family made clear they'll contest, while also making it clear that they're ready to out Gail, a shy 67 year old who I'm reasonably sure has never hurt a fly - should she 'make trouble for them'."
"That's horrid," Marjorie said. "What will Gail do?"
Adele rubbed her forehead, and then her eyes, trying to dispel the ache and fatigue, "I don't know. I called Nicole, who's going to stop by and talk with Gail - she mainly does couples counseling, but in her social work days she did a lot of grief counseling. And Charlotte's going to talk with a colleague who's an estate attorney she thinks might help, if Gail wants it. Nothing like a good lawsuit to take the edge off grief." Adele sighed. "Right now, Gail's not sure what she wants to do. She asked if I'd take Syrus - adopt him, because she won't be able to take care of him. She has no family to turn to for support, they rejected her years ago. The few friends she has are similarly retired postal workers, who she's not out to, and is hesitant to discuss any of this with."
"The poor woman, how can Connie's family be so cruel?" Marjorie was astounded.
"They think they're right. It never ceases to amaze me what people who think they're right are capable of. That, and they're probably greedy bastards who could care less what happens to some old pervert they've never liked." Adele's anger flared. "I'd like to give those people a piece of my mind. Actually, I'd like to set Ted Jefferson's watchdog Beauty on them. That might generate a little insight into what it feels like to be terrorized when you're in a vulnerable position."
Marjorie hadn't seen Adele this upset. Her jaw was tight, her eyes hard, her fists clenched. Marjorie reached over, took one of Adele's hands and stroked it to soothe her. "I'm sorry that Gail has to go through something like this. People can be so remarkably callous; I don't know why I still find it so hard to believe… Maybe if we became used to it, we wouldn't do anything about it when we were confronted by it. You've done a good thing by trying to help. Gail's very fortunate."
"I don't feel good. I feel sad, angry and useless. I used to just feel angry at this kind of ill treatment, blinding anger so maybe I've grown. Or maybe I'm just aging." Adele let out a frustrated sigh, she felt exhausted and spent. She moved closer and rested her head on Marjorie's shoulder. "I'm so glad you're here."
"So am I." Marjorie reached an arm around Adele's shoulders and held her. They sat for several moments watching Syrus bat at the curtain pull on the window across the room. "You'll tell me if there's anything you think I can do, won't you? I'm no help legally, but I'm not without skills."
Adele snuggled closer and nodded. "I'm not sure how much help Gail will accept, but if I dropped by with a well cooked meal?"
"I've been told that I prepare a fair casserole." Marjorie offered. "And I've put together food baskets for the town food drive for years."
Adele nodded. "You're a mensch."
"What's a mensch?"
"It's Yiddish it means… a real person, someone who's kind. My Bubbeh Sylvia would, occasionally, if she really liked someone, say, 'Now that one, I'm telling you, heez a reel mensch!'" Adele stroked Marjorie's arm. It felt so good to be close, to be held.
"What's a Bubbeh?"
Adele chuckled. "What we called our grandmothers."
"Oh, we called ours Gran. Is she still living, Sylvia?" Adele rarely mentioned family, and when it came up, she didn't pursue the subject she changed it. It was uncharacteristic of her, but Marjorie didn't delve out of politeness.
"No." Adele answered.
"I'm sorry, were you close?" Marjorie felt Adele shift, then move away. She leaned back on the couch again.
"When I was little, my sisters and I spent a lot of time with her."
"You have sisters?" Marjorie was surprised - Adele hadn't mentioned them.
"And a brother." She raised her eyebrows as if surprised by the revelation herself. "Sylvia was a sweet, dear lady, who tried hard to teach me about cooking. 'One day Bubeleh, you'll have to prepare this food yourself. A nice Jewish boy likes nothing better than a nice Jewish girl who knows how to cook!' She told stories while she cooked about 'the old country', a little about escaping Europe in the thirties with my Grandfather. She spent time with me - was the only one who treated me like a person, not a kid." As she spoke, Adele's tone seemed to go more and more flat.
"She sounds lovely," Marjorie said.
Adele gave a short nod, then tipped her head back on the couch so that she was looking at the ceiling. "But then I grew up, and things got a little more complicated."
Marjorie was no fan of the unpleasant - she went to extremes to suppress or sidestep negative or difficult experiences in her own life. It may have been an effective coping mechanism in some cases, but overall, it hadn't been a winning strategy. She lay a hand over Adele's, "Is this something you'd like to talk about?"
Adele turned her head and gave Marjorie a long look, her lips pursed. "You've obviously noted my reluctance to discuss my family."
After a moment Adele said, "I was fifteen when I was suspended from school for committing 'unnatural acts' with Annie Klein. I wasn't expelled, because they wanted to believe our excuse that I was helping Annie rehearse for her part in 'Romeo and Juliet'. Which was the pretext under which the kissing had started. Annie, a star pupil, and daughter of a Rabbi, didn't get suspended, despite the fact that she'd initiated the 'rehearsal'. Even though they believed my lies, my parents were mortified.
"Two years later, things at home became a little more complicated still, after my mother walked into my room to find Donna Sherman and I fumbling at one another's shirt buttons. I was carted off to a psychiatrist. Doctor Gould told me that the lack of a sufficiently strong male figure in my life had prolonged a normal, but immature stage of sexual development. His course of treatment consisted of trying to kiss and grope me throughout the two appointments I had with him."
"Oh, dear lord, no," Marjorie gasped.
Adele shook her head in disgust at the memory. "Dr. Gould was not a success - as a predator, or a doctor. My parents, however, thought he was brilliant, because, miraculously, I started dating David Weissman. David was a sweet, inept boy, who loved records and comic books and seemed utterly bewildered that a girl was paying him any attention at all. We became pretty good friends, actually. He gave me my first record - a 45, I still have it. He was much kinder to me than I was to him, I'm afraid." Adele winced. "To me, he was assurance against further visits to Dr. Gould."
Adele's usually calm and relaxed countenance was strained. She was revisiting old wounds, old insecurities that she was well and truly tired of. She didn't know how Marjorie would interpret what she had to say… but she'd begun and felt compelled to continue, to the end - to finish it. One day she'd finish with it for good, not today, but perhaps today was another part of the letting go of the sharpness, the bitterness of it.
"I didn't see David again once I graduated high school. I have no idea what's happened to him. I got a scholarship to Hunter College and didn't look back. I fell in love my junior year, with Cheryl Johnson. Young, idealistic fool that I was, I told my mother. Surely she would see that this was no adolescent infatuation and would finally understand it for what it really was love. She was my mother, and she'd always said, 'All I want is for my children to be happy.' I'd never felt so happy in all my life.
"She informed me, on the spot, that I was no longer welcome in her home. My father shared her view and my siblings were equally horrified. I went to visit Sylvia, my mother had already spoken to her by then, Sylvia said that I was selfish, ungrateful, and had shamed my parents. She asked me not to visit her until I was ready to be a good girl and treat my parents with the respect they deserved.
"I cried myself to sleep for weeks after that visit. Nothing cut so deep as that did, ever. It felt like some part of me died, leaving a hardened, dense mass lodged inside my chest." Adele touched the spot. "I guess I wasn't a lot of fun to be around, because Cheryl started seeing someone else. Rumors had started about us, and well… Jim was a nice enough guy on the student non-violent action committee that we were on, and she'd always said she liked him."
Looking at Adele, Marjorie felt her heart was on the verge of breaking, "How on earth did you cope?"
"I'd made some good friends at school - that helped. And when the school informed me that I was going to have to come up with a large sum of money if I wanted to stay that sharpened my focus a bit. I got an extra job in a vet's office. I lost myself in work. And a few relationships the beginning of a pattern, I suppose you could say. Without my parents help it took me an additional year and a half to finish my degree. In that time, I decided I wanted to be a vet and started working towards that goal. From time to time, when the loneliness and guilt became intolerable, I considered going back and telling my family that I wasn't gay that I'd marry a nice Jewish boy and have children. But I knew I couldn't. I might pull it off for a while, please them for a time, feel less like l was simply indulging some base urge, but then what? It wasn't a life I could lead for long, and I knew it. So I lived a different one my own. I'd learned that to avoid censure, honesty and dignity were luxuries that homosexuals could ill afford I proceeded accordingly. I was tremendously fortunate to meet some extraordinary people along the way, Gert, for one, my therapist for six years. I probably wouldn't be sane if it wasn't for Gert."
Marjorie raised Adele's hand and kissed it, "I'm so very glad you made it… I'm speechless."
Adele's weary reply was a half-smile and a shrug, "As bad as it was, it could have been much worse. I've met women who were committed to institutions by their parents who were given shock treatment in order to cure them. In some ways I was lucky, really."
A strand of hair had fallen in front of Adele's eyes; Marjorie reached over and swept it to the side. "That doesn't make what you went through any less awful. Or your ability to manage on your own any less remarkable."
"No, I suppose not," Adele agreed half heartedly.
They sat for a moment before Adele said, "It's been a long day, I'm done I think I'll make it official and collapse into bed."
Marjorie didn't want to leave Adele like this. She wanted to keep her close, to hold her through the upheaval that had dulled the spark in her eyes. "Do you feel like company?"
"I'd like that," Adele said, rising from the couch. She scooped up Syrus who'd been chasing his tail under the coffee table. She held him up, looking at him. "This little guy would make a nice foot warmer, but I think I'd best tuck him in his travel case for the night."
Marjorie could think of no better comfort for someone who cared as much for animals as Adele did. "Oh, I don’t know, why don't we let him stay with us for a while first. I'll tuck him in later."
Syrus nipped and sucked on one of Adele's fingers as she pet him. She smiled, "I like the sound of that."
"You two will have to say your goodbyes tonight," Adele gestured at Syrus who was curled up in Marjorie's lap.
"Is Gail settled in her new apartment?"
Adele nodded. "I think they'll do one another some good. She spoils cats almost as much as you do."
"I've told you, it isn't spoiling. It's simply treating them well."
"You let Captain Jack kick you out of a chair the other day," Adele argued. "I saw it." And she was still having trouble believing it.
"He didn't kick me out of a chair, it's his chair and he wanted to sit in it." Marjorie explained.
"I rest my case."
Marjorie gave Adele a look that fell half way between exasperation and amusement. "Any response from Connie's family?"
Adele grinned with satisfaction. "I think they're still recovering from the shock of finding themselves at the receiving end of a Marbury and Fitch legal assault. Who knew Clarence Marbury had had a dearly beloved lesbian aunt who'd help raise him and put him through law school?"
"Charlotte, apparently," Marjorie hadn't liked Charlotte, but she had to admit that Charlotte had been a great help to Adele in assisting Gail.
"Actually she didn't. She contacted Judy Miller, an associate at Marbury and Fitch someone Charlotte's worked with in the past. Judy mentioned some of the details to Clarence for advice, and in the course of a long conversation, discovered why it was that Clarence never asked her the usual questions about marriage and children and becoming an old maid. He knows she's a lesbian and doesn't care. Which was why Marbury was the only law firm to offer her a position after she'd been outed and fired from her previous job. And while I'm on the subject of outing, I came out to Jill and Stephen today."
Marjorie's stomach turned. "You what?"
"I told Jill and Stephen that I'm gay."
Adele chuckled. "Yes, but don't look so overjoyed about it."
"I'm not overjoyed."
"I know, I felt a little sick myself, but I got over it. And they survived it, or at least I think they did. I've known Stephen for eight years, Jill for two. We've danced around the subject for ages, and it's reached a level of absurdity that's farcical. They know, they know that I know but I've never come out to anyone I work with or have a professional relationship with, I've made a point of it."
"But then why did you?" Marjorie couldn't understand why Adele would compromise herself this way.
"Jill was helping us in the kennel and Stephen teased me about our favorite octogenarian Mr. Block, who'd just been in and asked me to marry him, again. Despite the fact that George Block's been married fifty-two years, he does this at least twice a visit. I kidded Stephen back and told him that Mr. Block, though a well-preserved specimen of his sex, wasn't my type. And Stephen said, 'Well if you're immune to George Block's charms, there's no hope left for any man with you.' At which point Jill gave Stephen a good poke in the ribs. While he was recovering, I said, 'You and I both know that George's chances are nil, Mrs. Block, on the other hand, has definite potential.' Stephen turned to Jill and said, 'Dear God, did she just finally come out to us?' Jill elbowed him in the ribs again. We had to get him an ice pack, it's going to be a nasty bruise."
Marjorie sat quietly.
Adele knew this would challenge Marjorie's tentative sense of security. "I don't intend to start shouting it from the rooftops."
As long as Marjorie wanted to remain in her position at Richmond, she would have to conceal her feelings for Adele. She knew this would be true in just about every venue of her life the gardening club, the library… Like it or not, a principal was a public figure, Adele's position was less public, more independent in that way. If Adele chose to be more open, how long would it be before she felt constrained by Marjorie's inability and unwillingness to follow suit?
"I want to stay at Richmond." Marjorie stated. "I enjoy my work. I'm useful there…"
Adele leaned forward and placed a finger over Marjorie's lips. "I'm not asking you to decide anything. I'm glad that you want to stay at Richmond, it means a great deal to you. It's important. I want you to be happy."
"And I want you to be happy, and if that means being more open, I can understand that, truly. But I don't see how that can work for me. Surely I'd be a hindrance I can't let people know - but that's unfair to you. And I so want…"
The smile that spread across Adele's face caused the creases at the corner of her eyes to deepen and her eyes sparkled in a way that melted Marjorie's heart. "Marjorie, you've been thinking about our future!"
"Of course I have been. I don't want you to grow tired of me, because I can't… I just don't think I'd be able to live that far outside of everything I've ever known."
"Let's back up a step here. You say 'of course' like it's something I should be taking for granted. I don't. I'm not sure you're going to keep walking through my door from day to day, much less week to week. I don't bring it up, because I don't want to hear that you're done with this pleasant but complicated experiment and ready to get back to your life. And now you're telling me you're afraid I'm going to be leaving you?"
"Adele, I can barely stand the idea of lying about us, implicitly or otherwise, it makes me feel despicable. I couldn't ask you to do it, not for my sake."
"Alright then," Adele conceded. "If I feel the need to be more transparent, public we'll discuss it. But other than telling my closest colleagues, who already knew, and who I can trust to be discreet on my behalf, I don't intend to start wearing a t-shirt that says, 'Lesbian Vet'. Though it might be a clever marketing ploy if I want more clients with cats… As much as I'd like to brag to every person that I meet that a certain Marjorie Humboldt is willing to consider something like a tomorrow with me I won't. That's for you to decide. Besides, the more I keep you under wraps, the less chance some horticultural phenom or randy gym teacher is going to get her hands on you." Adele squeezed Marjorie's knee.
"Stop." Marjorie was all too easy to embarrass, she'd already turned two shades of red.
"Sorry," Adele said, not meaning it in the least. Marjorie was adorable when she blushed.
Marjorie smoothed her skirt, not sure how to phrase what it was that she wanted to say. "I would have thought, by now… We see one another quite often, we make plans… I've indicated that I don't take our relationship lightly I've told you that I love you. Have you really worried that I might go? Recently, I mean?"
"We don't talk about us. I haven't wanted to push. You do tend to disappear into your work, into your garden at first I thought you were just putting me off, well, you were, but after that - I've not known anyone who enjoys solitude as much as you seem to it's taken some getting used to. Trusting that you want to be with Captain Jack, George and your plants for an afternoon and not that you're using them as an excuse to keep me at a manageable distance."
Marjorie nodded. "Bess says I spend an unhealthy amount of time alone. She says I'm a fool to leave you to your own devices she says you're liable to run off with someone with more sense, while I'm playing with my plants. There's a reason I haven't given her your address."
Marjorie smiled shyly. "I have meant it, you know. I do love you. It's not something I've said lightly at all."
"Up until today, you've how shall I say? Been in a state of mind that's not conducive to lucid thinking when you've said it. And I have something of a rule about that."
"A rule?" Adele had a lot of rules, Marjorie had made a point of learning them.
"Not to take things said in that state of mind too much to heart."
"That's an odd rule," Marjorie said. "Considering that if I hadn't loved you before, it's highly unlikely you'd ever have gotten me into that state of mind."
"Perhaps you're the exception that proves the rule."
"Perhaps." You had to pick and choose when you wanted to take Adele on in an argument.
"Feel free, however, to say it in any state of mind lucid or otherwise." Adele hinted.
"That's very kind, I will."
"Now would be alright." Adele nudged Marjorie.
"Oh, I don't know, I wouldn't want you to tire of hearing it."
"So you're going to make me wait until I get you into bed? I know a sure fire way to wring it out of you there."
"Adele!" Blushing, Marjorie covered Syrus' ears.
"I think he's probably caught on by now."
"Honestly, I don't know how anyone can miss it. I'm sure that people on the street can tell just by looking at me I'm amazed when they can't. It feels like the most obvious thing in the world - that I love you, because I do. I love you and I'm in love with you. It feels strange still, that it's true, but in a wonderful way. I feel like I've made a discovery that's never been made I must have how could the world be as it is when people are capable of feeling the way I feel when I'm with you?"
Adele swallowed the lump that had risen in her throat. "I love you too. Very much."
"You're awfully pensive this evening, what are you thinking about?" Adele walked passed where Marjorie was seated on the couch; she was trying to tidy up while Marjorie caught up on some reading. Marjorie had been staring out the window the two times Adele had passed through the living room.
Marjorie set her book down. "I was just wondering about the Johnson sisters."
"And who are the Johnson sisters?" Adele asked.
"Caroline Betworth and Josephine Mooney."
"Where does the Johnson come into it?"
"Phillip Johnson, he was Josephine's brother. He lived in the house with them - forever - or at least until he died. He'd moved in when Terrence died in the late forties. Terrence was Mr. Mooney. Caroline was his widowed sister. She also moved in after Terrence died."
"Oh?" Adele raised an eyebrow.
"Mmm," Marjorie replied, still half in thought. "It was a large house… or so people said."
"Why were they called the Johnson sisters?"
"I don't really know. Johnson was the name on the mailbox. Everyone referred to them as the Johnson sisters; I grew up thinking of them as such. People sometimes made quiet, snide remarks, but mostly I don't recall them being paid a great deal of attention in that regard. They were respectable matrons. Mr. Mooney had done rather well for himself as an insurance salesman. And who's to say there was anything to the rumors? They could have been people who enjoyed one another's company that's hardly unheard of."
"What's preying on your mind?" Adele asked.
Marjorie smoothed the fabric on the armrest. "The lies. The deceitful behavior."
Adele waited quietly, watching Marjorie wrestle with this familiar challenging issue.
"Who's more at fault for the lies?" Marjorie asked. "Us, for concealing what we can't help feeling? Or society? For making it impossible for us to do otherwise?"
"You're damned if you do, damned it you don't." Adele replied. "You could be a sainted martyr and not act on your deviant impulses then you're not lying, you're just a good Christian or Jew for that matter."
"You'd be truthful to yourself, to God, maybe," Marjorie said. "But most likely still concealing your nature from everyone else. I'm not sure where the church comes down on bearing crosses in secret - it's hardly considered acceptable behavior to walk around telling people that you're a homosexual who doesn't act on your feelings in any church I've ever known."
"As I've said, living outside people's expectations isn't for the faint of heart. It's easier to go with the flow, that's why so many homosexuals do it. They marry, have kids, screw around on the side to work off the occasional itch, if they're prone to that sort of thing. Hell, I've known women who have full blown relationships right under their family's noses, and somehow that's still an easier way for them to get by."
"Have you had relationships with women like that? Married women?" Marjorie asked.
"Yes, but never the ones who've approached me at work I've drawn the line there."
"Well I'm glad to hear you've got your standards." Marjorie couldn't help her jealousy when it came to Adele's other relationships.
"You asked." Adele reminded her, feeling somewhat self-conscious of her none too discriminating behavior... Mrs. Wilma Folley, now there had been a mistake of gargantuan proportions. But it had been a good time while it had lasted.
"I suppose I did." Marjorie shook the feeling off as best she could. Adele was entitled to a past, as much as Marjorie might begrudge her one. "Have you wondered why it is that people are homosexual? I used to think that something awful must have happened to homosexuals, something horribly traumatic, to make them… us, so different.
"Other than having an overbearing and relentlessly needy mother," she continued. "I don't consider my childhood to have been deeply traumatizing. And my adulthood has been relatively busy, but dull by most people's standards. I suppose it could be a birth defect, what do you think?"
From what Adele had heard of Marjorie's mother, she would have argued otherwise on the trauma point. But she guessed Marjorie wasn't really interested in entering sensitive familial territory with her question. "I used to think and wonder about it a lot. How can we not? Being told that you're a twisted abomination is bound to give the old gray cells a stir. I did a good deal of reading on sexuality - Freud, Kinsey, Ellis - that sort of thing. It was before women were writing much about sexuality, and before everyone and their sainted aunt was talking about it." Adele sat in the wingback chair near Marjorie. "Anyway, one day, I was listening to Billy Holiday and I thought 'How could the world have produced a voice, a genius, like hers? It's so unexpected so singular. Where do these people with such exquisite talent come from?' I had a quick intellectual response to the question - there's infinite variety in nature. I'd certainly studied enough and experienced enough in my work to have seen the truth to that. It's not a deeply satisfying answer to the genius of a Billy Holiday, but the next time I was thinking about homosexuality, something clicked. Sure, you can say that homosexuals are predatory deviants, like child molesters, or ill, like alcoholics if you were conditioned from birth to dislike or fear us, you probably would, as most people do - but you could just as easily liken us to flowers that bloom at night, to people with perfect pitch, or geniuses we're unusual different from the norm - or at least different from the perceived norm."
"That's certainly a more appealing way of looking at it… Though I think most people would see perfect pitch or heightened intelligence as beneficial to society - somehow I don't think Reverend Howard would share your view."
"If you're going to spend your life trying to satisfy the Reverend Howards of this world, you're not likely to live a life you can call your own. Anyway, they have a vested interest in the status quo. How many Reverends were for women voting? How many of them do you think support women working outside the 'home'? Let's not even mention abortion. Where were all of the righteous and goodly Reverends when the Jews, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, and anyone else who piqued the Nazis' interest, were being slaughtered in the camps? The last thing I need is for a bunch of hypocritical Christians telling me that I'm a sinner."
"Does Judaism view homosexuality differently?" This had never occurred to Marjorie.
"Not really. Historically, it was punishable by death. Like most religions, Jews aren't too keen on homosexuals. We queers throw a wrench in that 'go forth and out-procreate the competition' scheme that religions are so keen on. This really isn't my favorite topic of conversation ten minutes before bed, could we change the subject?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."
"Of course you didn't," Adele leaned over and patted Marjorie's hand. "There's a lot of new territory for you to consider and explore, I understand that. I'm just tired and grumpy, organizing my mess usually puts me in a sour mood. Who's Reverend Howard?"
Marjorie grimaced, "Our newest school committee member."
"Ah," Adele nodded, squeezing Marjorie's hand in sympathy.
"Captain Jack's been acting up," Marjorie said.
"How can you tell? His usual bristle more bristly?"
"He threw up on the rug in the bathroom last night right where I walk to get to the sink. It was remarkably unpleasant."
"Oh dear." Adele stifled a laugh.
"He's putting his foot down, I've not been paying him enough attention. George doesn't fuss so much, but Captain Jack is a determined creature of habit."
"Not unlike his favorite human." Adele noted.
"And my garden could also use some attention."
"Marjorie, is there something you're trying to tell me?" Adele tried not to jump to conclusions, but this was headed in a direction that was making her anxious.
"Yes, Captain Jack is acting out because I'm neglecting him and my garden's doing much the same. You should see the Wisteria! I've got to spend some time at home. Would you mind if I worked on my garden this weekend? I need a good chunk of time with it. You're welcome to stay at the house while I'm working, I wouldn't ask you to do manual labor, of course. I can't imagine it would be all that interesting for you, but if you have reading to catch up on…"
"I'd love it." Adele interrupted.
"Watching you work while I sit on my tuchus and did nothing? Absolutely."
Marjorie reached up and clipped another tendril from her sprawling wisteria. She'd about got it under control when she heard a car door close out front. She glanced over at Adele, lying across the swinging bench at the back of the yard engrossed in a novel. Marjorie's shoulders tensed as she fought the instinct to ask Adele to sit up. There was something too intimate in her prone position. Marjorie tried to shake the feeling of discomfort as she walked around the house to see who'd come. Half way up the side yard she encountered Jill, beaming from ear to ear. "She's pregnant! I just couldn't sit still, I had to come over and tell you you're impossible to get on the phone on a sunny day or any other time these days, but can you believe it? I didn't think I'd go so bananas, but I'm beside myself!"
Her exuberance overflowed and Jill grabbed Marjorie up into a vice-like hug.
"This is wonderful news!" Marjorie struggled to recover her breath.
"I've already started planning the baby shower. I'm nuts, I know. We're going to have it at Mom's, because it will irritate the hell out of her, but she won't be able to complain. And we'll have those little… Hello." Jill smiled, looking over Marjorie's shoulder.
Marjorie's stomach clenched and a fine sheen of sweat broke out over her body. She forced herself to keep breathing to act as naturally as she could while feeling her body slowly paralyzed by fear. "Ah… Jill, this is Adele. Adele, my sister Jill."
Adele stepped forward to shake Jill's hand.
"My daughter's pregnant!" Jill beamed, looking Adele up and down.
"Congratulations," Adele smiled, glancing at Marjorie, and hoping, from the pale color of her cheeks, that she wasn't about to faint.
"I think I may burst," Jill went on. "Oh girls, let's go celebrate! We could kidnap Simon from work and all go to Peterborough and have dinner with the kids! Oh my god, Simon! I haven't told him yet! He was in a meeting when I called, I was going to call him back."
Before she'd finished speaking, Jill was running for Marjorie's phone.
"You told her about us?" Adele asked, in surprise. It was clear Jill knew something but she thought surely Marjorie would have mentioned such an earth shattering disclosure.
Marjorie shook her head. "I've not said a thing."
"Not that I know your sister very well, but I think she may be onto us." Adele smiled.
Marjorie blushed. Then her jaw dropped. "I'm going to be someone's Great Aunt."
"Take it easy. Why don't we get out of the sun and you can sit down for a minute?"
They met up with Jill around the dining room table. "He's beside himself! You can always tell with Simon. He said, 'Isn't that something?' That's near hysterical as far as he goes. He won't submit to kidnapping, has major client meetings all day. But his heart was with us. And besides, he reminded me that Pam made me promise I wouldn't 'wig out' on her when she got pregnant. Which I find suspicious, because she asked me that in Simon's presence just two weeks ago. Do you think she planned that? Don't try to tell me she didn't. I'll show them both! I'll be as cool as a cucumber about the whole thing. Oh Marjorie! We're going to have another baby! Can you believe it?"
Jill couldn't stop beaming. Adele couldn't help smiling at her exuberance. Marjorie was feeling such a jumble of emotions she wasn't sure what expression she could have on her face. Not that Jill would notice in the extreme distraction of her elated state. "Would anyone like a drink?" she offered.
"Oh, that's a fine idea! We should raise a glass to the baby," Jill said.
"I was thinking more along the lines of tea, but come to think of it, wine might not be a bad idea."
Adele's eyebrows rose Marjorie's nerves must be shot if she was offering alcohol in the middle of the day. "Count me in."
"Make mine a brandy," Jill said. "My nerves could use it."
Marjorie glanced at Adele who nodded. A brandy wouldn't hurt right about then and Adele hoped Marjorie would follow suit she looked a wreck.
Marjorie returned from the kitchen with three generous brandies. Jill was mid-stream of baby related commentary when Marjorie placed the glasses on the table. "What shall we toast?"
"To the baby!" Jill said, and they touched glasses.
Even the first scorching swallow helped to relieve some of Marjorie's tension; she'd always been sensitive to hard liquor.
Adele raised her glass and said, "To new life."
They drank again.
"To the new grandmother," Marjorie said, raising her glass to Jill.
Jill smiled and raised her glass to Adele. "To the woman who's made my sister the happiest I've seen her in years." She turned to Marjorie, who stood frozen, and winked. "And to my sister, who wishes I was deaf dumb and blind."
Marjorie walked through the office and smiled at Rose as she picked up her messages. Who would have guessed that as soon as Rose and Jim got engaged they'd practically stop talking to one another? When they did talk, after Rose hunted Jim down in the teacher's lounge during lunch, it was in hushed vexed tones and had mostly to do with wedding arrangements.
Marjorie was getting used to working without Fred. Though they maintained a spirited correspondence, she missed him a great deal. He was settling in to life in San Francisco exploring its unique terrain and enjoying its relaxed atmosphere. He was determined to lure Marjorie there for a visit by regaling her with detailed descriptions of the cuisine and landscape. "Have I mentioned that there's a Meyer lemon tree in the yard adjacent to my apartment building?"
Bess was dating and finding it difficult to meet someone who didn't grate on her nerves. "I wish they could make up their minds do they want to date me, or their mother? I'd only dated Toby three times before he asked me to do his laundry."
She thought about Janine often sometimes wondered how things might have turned out differently, had she known... You couldn't live in the past, "what ifs" didn't get you very far, but she couldn't help, every now and again, thinking about how much she wished Janine had said something. Not for romantic reasons, but out of caring the deep caring you have for a friend who is trapped in the darkness of a secret fearing censure from even those closest to you. She knew it was a heavy burden to carry and wished Janine had had more company in that place. These thoughts were often followed by a familiarly terse voice speaking up from the back of her mind, "Oh come on Marjorie, don't be such a pill! It's life live it - or get out of the way, some of us are trying to enjoy ourselves here."
Marjorie found the significant changes in her life bewildering to contemplate; she sometimes pined for the uncomplicated simplicity of her former routine. But she didn't want to return to it, not if it meant giving up Adele. That had long since ceased to be a realistic option. Whatever challenges arose in her life as a consequence she would deal with them. She was traversing the lost landscape of her emotional adolescence it was awkward terrain for a mature woman accustomed to a degree of dignity. She couldn't ask for a more understanding partner to guide her than Adele. Adele, who also understood her need to spend time gardening, her commitment to her work and if she didn't completely, she did her best to accommodate and support her in it. In turn, Marjorie tried to do the same for Adele, who worked herself terribly hard and still had to be reminded to eat in the afternoons. There was something so basic and satisfying about caring for someone you could, after a fashion, call your own.
The pen glided up, then down, following the gentle arch of Adele's neck.
Without looking up Adele asked, "Exactly how much reading is getting done over there?"
Caught staring, Marjorie glanced back at the textbook she'd been attempting to review for the past ten minutes. It usually didn't take this long to get an overview. Adele didn't usually have her hair up. It was a different look, very appealing. After another five minutes of reviewing the forth grade science textbook, the movement of the pen drew Marjorie's attention again.
Adele shook her head, "This isn't working."
Marjorie blushed. "It isn't, is it?"
"I don't mind, I can read this article tomorrow, but you're not going to get your work done and then you'll be cross with yourself. And we'll have to go back to working separately - that was no fun at all, and it was driving my phone bill through the roof."
"I know it's just… Well, your pen keeps distracting me," Marjorie said.
"My pen?" Adele looked at the ballpoint in question, there didn’t seem to be anything distracting about it.
"Yes, you keep tickling the back of your neck with your pen it's very distracting."
Adele shrugged. "Simple problem, simple solution don't look at it."
"But you don't usually wear your hair up like that, it's very nice." Marjorie noted.
Adele could see they'd run up against a familiar obstacle two people not used to being easily distracted trying to manage an ever-present distraction having entered their lives. She'd been reading the same paragraph over for the past five minutes. "Okay, I'm going to work in another room."
Marjorie looked disappointed.
"How am I going to get anything done knowing that you're over there thinking about my neck and hair? That's practically an invitation to come sit in your lap. And don't think I haven't been contemplating it for the past five minutes. If I don't leave the room now, we'll get no more work done. As it is, I have to get a drink of cold water."
Marjorie sighed. "I suppose you're right. I'll have to behave… it shouldn't be that hard, I remember a time when I was rather good at it."
"I'm a horrible influence on your life. How much more do you have to get done tonight?"
"I need to finish this book, otherwise I'll be doing it over lunch tomorrow - if I'm going to get my recommendations in on time," Marjorie said.
"And how long will it take, if you're paying attention?"
"You work for an hour," Adele proposed. "I'm going for a short walk - in the fresh air - then I'm going to work at the dining room table, then I'm taking you to bed and show you what kind of reward you get for good behavior."
"That certainly puts a new twist on positive reinforcement, at school the teachers use gold stars." Marjorie smiled.
"Maybe it's new for you, but it's been my preferred method since adulthood."
"The secret to your popularity, no doubt."
"You better believe it." Adele raised her eyebrows a few times.
"I do, now scoot," Marjorie said. "This is almost as bad as staring at your neck and wondering what it would feel like to run my fingers over those light small hairs. Did you know your hair is curly at the nape of your neck?"
Adele stood to go. "You're a cruel woman Marjorie Humboldt."
"You wouldn't be the first to complain of my ill treatment. We'll get nowhere if we keep this up - it's the most fun I have all day, talking with you."
"Ditto. Now nose to the grindstone, you, we rendezvous in my bed in one hour."
It was an engagement Marjorie did not intend on missing… if she couldn't hasten it along. "Just a quick kiss before your walk?"
Adele laughed and gave in there'd be no more work that night - and they both knew it.
Dedication: To a vibrant spirit, that left all too soon - we miss your spark.