Port Laughton, and the Reich Estate. Having a valet waiting to take my car away to the garage as I drive up to the front of the house still makes me laugh. How decadent! However, this time, instead of a suited servant inside the front door, a suited Charles himself greeted me. "Sully!" he beamed, and took my hand and shook it, and then pounced on me with a bear hug. "Sully, Jesse just called! She's pregnant! I'm going to be a father! You're going to be an aunt!" I burst out in laughter and gave him a hug in return. "She only just found out today, so the doctor believes that she is only about two months along. Please forgive me for sounding so foolish! I can hardly believe that I am going to get to be a papa!" He put one manicured hand over his mouth for a second. "What room do I need to have made over into a nursery?"
I couldn't help it, I leaned back against the wall in the hallway and roared again. "Charles, try next door to your room. Do you think you could stand for your first born baby to be any farther away?"
"But that's such a tiny room!" he burbled, tears brimming in his eyes. "What if I convert the next two rooms into Baby's room?" He put his hand over his mouth again, and then mopped his eyes with a handkerchief.
"You do have the baby's name picked out, and the nanny, and the proper school and a suitable spouse, don't you?" I asked him, crossing my arms and tapping my foot.
Charles laughed. "If I could have, I would have. This is the most wonderful feeling I have ever had. Come on in, Sully, how witless of me, can we get you anything to eat or drink? Let's get you settled in your usual room, please, make yourself at home. I must tell my parents the news, however, and then I shall return to hear how you've been doing. Is that all right?"
"Of course it is, Charles," I said, still smiling, leaving all my bad news in the front hall, for possible retrieval later, and ready to look forward, contemplating a new life. I get to be Auntie! My little sister was going to have a baby! You know, life may be a step-in-shit prospect now and again, but God is good. Babies are good. Aunties are good. Charles was right. What a feeling!
Staying at the estate was such a -- hoot. My "usual" room was about twice the size of my kitchen and living room combined, with its own warm, luxurious bath. A claw-legged tub, deep and long, ohmigod, to soak in that vat for an hour each evening (or morning, or both, as I might prefer) was worth all the rest of the silliness. The dressing for dinner, the quiet flutter of servants, the utterly immaculate state of every corner of every room. The appetizer course, the soup course, the main dish, the dessert. Nothing unseemly ever said, no smudgy glasses or plates left on counters or side tables until the morning. Oh, and morning, no rudely beeping alarm clocks, no groping attempts to make coffee! I loved eating breakfast, but I hated making it. At the Reich estate, breakfast was made to one's most ardent desires, when one awoke, when one was ready, and never a question asked. Breakfasts were the best, frequently in front of a little fire in a fireplace, wrapped in layers of comfy clothes (Port Laughton, being a seaport, tended to the chilly side in the mornings), savoring each bit like a bum putting hands to an evening fire. I would smile fatuously at the servants, and they would grin and laugh at my appreciation and out-do themselves in courtesy and service. They were James and Redell, Karina and Philomena, Garth the chef, and Geoffrey, the house-boss. And some others, whose job was only to stay out of sight and clean everything.
Having come away from home on a whim, and not having 'dinner clothes' with me, I begged off the dressy evening meal, and just had a small dish of the entree in front of the fire in the study. Jesse had always encouraged me to visit, and had quietly and strictly laid down the law that if I wanted just to come to the estate for solitude, my wish was to be respected. She had known that sometimes I would need to hide from the life I'd chosen, much as I hated to admit it.
Charles rapped on the wall beside the open door to the little upstairs study and inquired, "Are you interested in company, or would you rather be alone?"
"Charles, you don't have to knock. Company is good. Dinner was delicious. My great thanks for letting me come camp out for a couple days, this is so peaceful."
"Sully, are you all right?" he asked, as he sank into one of the big chairs. "I don't wish to pry, but it is unusual for you to call and ask to stay here on such short notice. Now, I don't mean that there is any inconvenience, but you don't, ah, often accept our offer of having you visit ..."
"This time, I really needed your open invitation." I rubbed my eyes. "And your good news, to help me keep some perspective. Can I talk, as in sister to brother, or will I make you uncomfortable if I'm frank about what's happening in my life?"
"Talk, Sully. If I become uncomfortable, I shall take a pill."
That made me laugh, and remember that Charles really was a human being, not an embodiment of The Estate. "I'll be blunt; I went to a local tavern with a girlfriend of mine and found Adam there with his tart. You know, the straw that breaks the camel's back: I knew he was unfaithful, to say the least, but now I just can't pretend anymore. I couldn't go back to the house last night."
He bowed his head, shaking it, pinching the bridge of his nose with thumb and fingers. "Jesse has vilified him on many occasions for his infidelity. I'm sorry to hear that she is right. Do you think you want to divorce him?"
Do I want to divorce him?
"I'm still trying to figure out why I'm not crying or cussing up a storm. There's something in my head that's stopping me from outbursts of emotion, but I can't see clearly what that mechanism is. As I picture myself seeing Adam last evening, there is this voice in my mind saying, 'Tears are pointless. Anger is pointless.' I was angry when I saw him at first, but then -- nothing, except that I keep wanting to laugh."
"Shock can evince inappropriate emotions."
"Do we have any idea what are the appropriate emotions? Do I cry again, this time, like all the rest of the times I suspected or knew that he was being unfaithful? Do I rage again? And again? Or have I just come the end of those reactions?" Straightening up, I leaned forward a little in my chair. "He called me a snob, Charles. Because I wouldn't fight with him. What's more, he said I was always a snob."
Charles' eyebrows went up. "Adam's insecurity had a rather loud voice last night."
"What has he got to be insecure about? I've never belittled him, or made more money than he does, or wanted anyone else."
"You and Jesse were raised to be self-sufficient," he said to the ceiling, steepling his fingers. "Both of you are able to stand on your own, without any support or approval necessary from anyone else. That can be very frightening to those who fear being alone."
I shrugged. "I like support. I like approval."
"But do you need others to give you permission or to praise or condemn you before you decide what to do?"
I nearly responded, with heat, "Permission! I'll be damned if ..." and then shut my mouth around the words. He was right. I may worry about my choices, but ultimately I don't care whether people disapprove, as long as they let me alone.
"Ow, Charles, that one hit home deep."
"I have thought about this subject a great deal. May I speak as a brother to a sister?"
"Being a husband to a woman who has no need of him whatsoever is unnerving. The ah, sexual aspect is not necessarily dependent upon the spouse, as you have unfortunately been cursed to experience; yet it may be very intimidating to come to know that one's wife is quite independent emotionally and personally. You sisters have most likely not had any idea of how daunting you appear. You need not inform her, by the way, but it is nothing less than the truth that Jesse absolutely terrifies me at times; I love her so, and she needs nothing of me or anyone else."
"She walks on the top of the hill, I have to admit that."
"You both do. An attitude that is evident in every gesture and movement. You seem comfortable here when you visit; Adam was here with you once, obviously ill at ease the entire time. For you, the routines of the estate are just another part of the world to investigate and enjoy. I suspect that Adam perceived everything as pointing out how much he has not accomplished. Don't take my words to mean that I excuse his abominable behavior! Just try not to take his insults to heart."
We were quiet a while, listening to the soothing crackle of the little fire. "I believe you're right, Charles. Actually, he's the one who's the snob, and the person he looks down on the most is himself. At this point, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'd like to just walk on the estate grounds and listen to the advice of wind and birds. And think, and listen to Me before I make any decisions. I'm concerned about imposing on you, making this my retreat house."
"There's no imposition at all. You can stay as long as you like, or as often as you like. I know that I have said this before, Sully."
"Well, thank you, with a niece or nephew on the way, I will accept that offer! Be prepared for a frequently visiting sister-in-law."