"Rachel, can we ... talk ... before we get on the bus?"
She looked at me suspiciously. "Owen, is this about me sitting with you? If it is, fine. I can find some other seat."
My jaw nearly bounced off the toes of my sneakers. "No! Of course not!" I drew her aside by the wall in front of the school. "It's about my aunt, the pregnant one."
I wrung clumps of my hair, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it. "She's ... pregnant."
"Yes, I know, that was me there when you and your clan were talking about it."
I sighed in a gust. "That's just it, we didn't know at the time that you or anyone else weren't supposed to know about it."
"Oh," she said, her eyes widening. "Damn, Owen. Loose lips sink ships, didn't anyone ever teach you guys that? Who else have you told?"
Taken aback, I stammered, "No one. You're the only one we told. It's just that, they're trying to keep it secret, so that the society reporters don't swarm and try to cash in on the scandal. Aunt Andersol's not married, and doesn't want to be."
"So what about her?"
Squinting at her, not understanding, I probably looked as dull as I felt intellectually. "She doesn't want anyone to know she's pregnant."
"Then don't tell anyone about it. Why are you looking like you have a rat in your shorts?"
"Because mentally, I think I do. Promise me you won't tell anyone about her, please? My family is on the warpath because you know."
She blushed, but I didn't know what emotion caused it, anger or shame or frustration. "I'm not going to tell anyone. I didn't even tell my mother. What, do they think I'm one of those gossipy drama junkies that run around here, licking their braces and bragging about all the parties they go to?"
"No, Rachel, the Five know you're not, but the adults are worried about protecting Aunt Andersol, that's all."
"Let them know that I may not be rich, but I can keep my mouth shut, okay?" She looked angry. "Can we get on the bus now, before it leaves without us?"
It's really painful to have someone you like sit beside you and refuse to make eye contact. That happened today. My friend sat beside me and looked at the windows on the opposite side of the bus. I didn't know what to say, so kept my mouth shut, even when said friend pulled out a paperback book and pretended to read. I know it was a pretense, because no pages were turned once the book was open.
It was the first time that our family being rich was brought up between us as an issue, like it divided us. I know I didn't bring it up, but I didn't know how to explain that it wasn't a matter of money, it was a matter of our family's view of the world as "Them" versus "Us."
Whoever might read this one day (if I don't set fire to it in a fit of pique when I'm seventeen) might think I'm just being a kid and trying to see life in a simplistic manner, but I don't believe that to be the case. The rest of the world, as near as I can see, is really different, and money aside, would see us as being very counter-cultural. Mom owns everything here, but her archeology is far more important than anything else. We know she loves us, but part of why we love her is that flame of passion she has for her work in acquisitions. (She has little patience with teaching, unless her students share her love of the work.) Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol have been against the rest of the world since they were born, only wanting to stay together. (Some day I'm going to figure out how to write a science fiction story about twins psychically connected -- I just haven't figured out how not to make it biographical about them, because I know they are.)
And Aunt Sully -- wow. Although she works and lives in one world, and then turns around and melts easily into our world ... she is a person who never backs down, never compromises her beliefs, never betrays a trust (all right, I can only speak for what I've seen in her life, not for every minute of it) ... but part of the everyday American world, forget it. She hates television and radio, ignores fashion trends and fads, and loves us more than anything else.
We dined that night in Mother's suite, the food brought up on trays. Aunt Andersol was nervous about the staff leaking information to the gossip columns, after the exposé of Denise the Ear (who had quit after learning she'd been banished from house duty, much to everyone's relief). Aunt didn't want to appear downstairs or out of the house in anything but concealingly bulky sweatshirts and jackets. Both she and Mother were looking like they were packing little beer-bellies, but Mother was proudly flaunting her body. Aunt Andersol wasn't.
Finally, Aunt Sully had joined us again. All the paperwork she had to do and stuff she had to oversee was done, and she was permanently here, where I had always thought she belonged since the time began when I could actually think.
"I spent the last week sleeping in a roll of blankets against the back wall of the master bedroom," she said. "I had to wait for the bank and the realtor to get their act together for the papers I had to have notarized -- why the bank didn't have a notary in their hire, I have no idea -- and you know, I thought of the first night I stayed in that house, with you on my couch in the living room ... pregnant with twins, then, too."
Mother laughed loudly. "Yes! I was, wasn't I? But much farther along. I remember being so huge I hated your little dining room table and chairs. Well, maybe I hated just about everything at that point."
"You were meaner than catshit, as I recall," mused Aunt Sully, drawing a gasp of disapproval from Grandmother. "Sorry, Claire. The last couple weeks have been horrible. All the things I won't need any more, all the kitchen stuff I've been so used to, my fruit trees ... All my art stuff is in storage for the time being, out in the big shed by the orchard. I hope it doesn't draw too much damp before I can get it inside the house. Jesse, I'm glad you're going to be on another continent before you get big. You'd have no patience with me whining about my stuff in another two months."
"Yes, her confinements were yet another reason to take vacations in Europe," Grandmother muttered.
"I've mellowed since then," my mother laughed.
"No, you haven't," her sister countered, grinning. "We've just learned how to hide better."
Is that why we are all able to get along? Because, as Aunt Sully joked, we can hide from each other?
I know we all avoid Marca when she's in a bad mood. We've holed up in our rooms, or parked ourselves by adults so that she couldn't take her temper out on us; when Kelsa and Michel are too noisy, I go downstairs to the parlor or the old ballroom to read. Oesha often slips up to Grandmother's rooms, which are devoid of television shows and family altercations.
Is that how we manage to get along? Is that why there are so many suites on the third floor? Because the family can't get along unless there is a mode of escape?
Escape was about to get easier. John and Aunt Sully were to be married as soon as possible, with just the family attending. And then the university term would end, and the family would divide, the majority jetting off to Italy.
I had a sense of an impending lack of distractions in the household; Mother was, in her own way, as touchy as Marca; Aunt Sully had always treated me with respect, as though I were an an adult just waiting for the years to affirm me. I knew I would miss my siblings while they were gone, but still, I had an urgent need to be able to talk to Aunt Sully, John, and Redell about the future of the estate, and not simply be relegated to a 'kid.'
Troubling ... if I didn't want to be treated as a mere 'kid,' I was going to have to keep my infatuation with Rachel under control, and to myself.
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