Excerpt for Starlight's Hearts by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Starlight's Hearts

by Dorothy P. Freda

writing as

Marianne Dora Rose

© August 24, 2017 by Dorothy P. Freda

(Pseudonyms - Paula Freda and

Marianne Dora Rose)

SMASHWORDS EDITION

Exterior and Interior Bookcover photos

Licensed by Dorothy P. Freda

from Dreamstime and iStockphoto


Blue Jay and Sparrow bookcover

© 2005 Thomas Mark Freda and Dorothy P. Freda


Roman Catholic Prayers as the Priest dons his sacramental vestments - Wikipedia


All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof. This is a work of fiction; names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.


Starlight's Hearts

(Henry and Richard's Story)


by


Marianne Dora Rose


DEDICATION


With thanks to my Dear Lord Jesus and his Blessed Mother Mary whose strength, guidance, and her Holy Rosary, are my anchor in this troubled world, I dedicate this book to my husband, Domenick, whose love and loyalty over the past 48 years have kept my dreams and view of the romantic alive and vibrant.

I dedicate this book also to a very dear friend who passed away early September, 2017. Dorothy R. Brown, age 101, passed away of natural causes. She was a gentle and kind woman, a friend for many years, a fellow writer, and alert to the last day. Mid August, I received a brief letter from her. She wrote, "Here's my new story. Now it has to be made into a book. I love you, Dot." There was nothing attached to the letter, so I assumed she forgot to enclose it. But I suspect now that the blank spaces following her first name, and the absence of the nameless story she mentions, was her way of telling me that her life story in this time was soon to be over, and a new story to begin. I believe there is more to us than just this life. And I believe Jesus and Mary are with us always, guiding us and helping us to endure, no matter what life throws at us. Over the years, Dot and I had helped each other with our writing. She wrote many books, including a history of Hicksville, Long Island, New York, from World War II to the late 90s. Several of her books can be found in the Hicksville Library. I will treasure this last communication from her for the rest of my days. One day we will meet again, in God's good time.

Dorothy Paula Freda
writing as Paula Freda and Marianne Dora Rose



For your ready reference Characters in the Driscoll's and Carlson's Series:

The Driscolls - Seth and Leatrice - owners of the Bar LB and the Triple R (from my novella, Driscoll's Lady)

Tom Driscoll - Driscoll's elder son, a History Teacher at Montana Tech (from my novella Love's Timeless Secret Revealed)

Lexie Driscoll - Seth and Leatrice's daughter (from my novella, Driscoll's Daughter)

Calvin Driscoll - Seth and Leatrice's younger son and current supervisor of their two ranches (from my novella Wild Yellow Clover and Honey Wheat Sage)

Tanner and his wife Linda -Tanner - previous loyal, long-time foreman on the Driscolls' ranches in Montana (from my novella - Driscoll's Lady)

Walt - the bigamist and a ranch hand on the Driscoll's ranches (from my novella Cinderella Ice)

The Carlsons - Cybelle and Mark (from my novella The Blue Jay and the Sparrow - Roses in the Dark)

Henry and Richard - Cybelle and Mark's sons (from my novella Starlight's Hearts)

Jessica (Jessie) Carlson - younger daughter of Cybelle and Mark Carlson (from my novella Cinderella Ice)

Carol Carlson and Herbert DeLuca - Carol is Cybelle and Mark Carlson's elder daughter, Jessie's elder sister (from my novella, Silvereye's Hummingbird)

Henry Carlson - Cybelle and Mark's elder son (from my novella Starlight's Hearts)

Richard Carlson - Cybelle and Mark's younger son (from my novella Starlight's Hearts)

Harriet and Val (from my novella Henderson Sands)

John Sands -younger son of Harriet and Val Sands) from my novella The Lark and Robin Red)

Michael Sands - elder son of Harriet and Val Sands (from my novella Cinderella Ice)

Sharon Sands - Val and Harriet's daughter (from my novella Sharon and the Beast)

Geraldine and Harry Henderson - Harriet's parents, the Carlson's Housekeeper and Handyman/Gardener on the Carlsons' property overlooking the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York (from the Carlson's Series)

INTRODUCTION


Dear sweet Evie was like a breath of fresh air. Her eyes reminded him of his mother's eyes, dark and flashing, as when she'd greeted him at the door, excited, bouncing on the tips of her toes, in an attempt to welcome him with a hug. Spontaneous, that was the word that best described her. He was never sure how to respond to spontaneous. He was like his father, in that respect. Everything planned and organized.

Yes, he thought, Evie was perfect for Richard. Even her career choice would blend well with his brother's quiet, patient, see-the-goodness-in-all personality. And her spontaneity would shake his complacency and awaken his need for a keen enjoyment of life at its best. Joie_de_vivre, he thought with enthusiasm.

"Social Services is a good choice, Evie," he said. Turning to his brother, "Don't you think, bro?" he asked.

"Yes, a very good choice. Especially for Evie. I remember her in high school. Always into charitable activities — collecting clothes for storm victims, or helping out with charity benefits anyway she could."

"Yes, I recall," Henry said. "In fact, you both were on the team that decorated the school hall for my senior prom. You guys did a fabulous job!" Memories were flooding back. "And didn't you take her to your senior prom, a couple of years later?" he asked Richard.

His brother shook his head. "No. Not that I didn't ask her, but she had someone else in mind."

"Oh, well it's been a while. So who did you go with?"

"Karen, one of the basketball cheer leaders."

"I don't remember her," Henry said, honestly.

He asked Evie, "How about your senior prom? Richard and I were both gone by then."

"I never went to my senior prom, or your brother's," Evie replied.

"Why the heck not?" Henry asked.

Evie said, "In both cases, the one I wanted to ask was unavailable."

"Foolish man," he quipped. "Didn't know what he was missing."

A heavy silence followed his remark.

Somehow, the conversation had taken a somber turn. And worse, Henry thought, pausing a moment, and realizing too late, that unavailable fool was himself. Had he forgotten her crush on him? You idiot, he scolded himself. He'd hurt her feelings. He could tell by her wistful expression, her eyes glancing down at her plate, not seeing the half-eaten pie, but some unhappy memory.

So much so for his ingenious plan. Or for thinking so highly of himself. He could be dense, sometimes. He glanced at Richard. Something in the way his brother gave him a nod and a quick conciliatory smile, said without words, what he, Henry, had totally glossed over. Had all at the table realized his blunder? Evie's crush on him had never faded. Oh, this did not bode well, for him or his plan. Still, there might be a way to salvage his original intention...


CHAPTER ONE


The interior of the Carlson Mansion, Cybelle's cherished haven for the past forty years, today felt constraining. Even the large elegant living room. One untoward word said to her, no matter how well-meaning, made her dark eyes flash and her petite figure vibrate with annoyance.

Everyone at the Mansion knew Cybelle well enough to keep their distance from her today. The housekeeper Geraldine and her husband Harry, the gardener, both semi-retired, and functioning more as supervisors of the cook, maid, and landscaping help, were cloistered in their living quarters. Even Mark, beloved husband and father of Cybelle's children, now grown to adulthood, had withdrawn to his office in the Mansion, with the excuse that he had some business calls to make.

Mark had worked for years for a government plant that researched worthy patented inventions. A few years ago, he had semi-retired and opened his own consulting firm that utilized the services of patent lawyers, including his elder daughter's husband, Herb. Both Carol and Herb were presently abroad managing Mark's new branch recently opened in Switzerland.

Cybelle recognized the reason for the unrest she felt this morning — her excitement and anticipation as she awaited the arrival of her two sons, Henry and Richard. Henry had graduated with a Master's Degree in Business Management. He had great respect for his father and hoped to join him in the management of the firm.

Cybelle worried about Richard. Richard had opted for a Bachelor in Humanities and graduated with excellent grades, but he had never clearly expressed his goal in life. He was the gentlest of her children, calm, kind, understanding, close to his siblings, especially Henry. As children, she had never needed to seat the two brothers apart at the table because of average sibling rivalry. No, not Henry and Richard. Richard was always giving, to the point where she worried that his self-esteem suffered. Luckily, that had not been the case, because his older brother Henry was an exemplary child, and never bullied his younger siblings. His role model was his father. And Cybelle could find no fault with that.


The calming scenery visible through the glass-paned sashes of the double-window draped in pale beige damask beckoned to her. The Hudson River Valley was especially lovely today, conforming to what was expected of the late Spring season. Cybelle headed into the wide foyer and out the door, past the front columns and around to the rear, to the garden. She kicked off her low-heeled shoes. In her present state, they, too, felt constraining. At a brisk pace, she crossed the grassy expanse that led to the four-foot high stone wall bordering the rear of the estate and overlooking the verdant hill that sloped down to the river. She relished the feel of the cool breezes carrying up to her the musty smell of the waters undulating below.

Her children growing up, had played and rough-housed here, though strictly forbidden to climb over the wall, slide and tumble down to the river's edge. As far as she knew, they had obeyed her, except for Carol and her constant companion and protector, tubby Herbert. As Carol and Herb matured to adulthood, transforming them into beautiful and handsome, so did their relationship transform, bumpy at first. They were married now, adoptive parents, and seven months pregnant. Silvereye and Hummingbird, that's how she thought of them. Moonlight gave Herb's grey eyes a silver glint. And he often joked lovingly that Carol was his hummingbird.

Jessie was another matter altogether, Cybelle sighed, impatiently. Too much like herself, during her younger years, she was the rebel in the family, from the moment she said her first word, "No!" She was not mean, not selfish in the true sense of the word, just stubborn and self-willed. In school and at home with her sister and brothers, she refused to bend, no matter the reason. Nearing her nineteenth birthday, she had pleaded, and finally insisted, to spend the summer with Leatrice, the family's best friend, who lived in Montana. Leatrice and her husband Seth owned a horse ranch and a cattle ranch. They had three children, slightly older than Jessie. Though not related to her biologically, Jessie considered the couple, her aunt and uncle, and their children her cousins, because of the long, close friendship her parents shared with them.

Jessie had recently graduated high school. "She was through with school," she insisted. No amount of Cybelle and Mark's attempts, or her siblings' efforts, to reason with her, exhorting the benefits of a full college education, had any effect. "At least attend college for a year," they entreated, hoping that she might mature in the interim, contemplate her future, set a goal for a career, or simply develop a liking for improving her mind. There was no convincing her. Finally, at wit's end, Cybelle and Mark called Leatrice and asked if Jessie could stay with them for a while, as she wanted. It might, after all, be good for her to view life from a different perspective. Ranch life at the Bar LB was more physically demanding than the pampered living Jessie was used to at her parent's mansion.

With her grown children each off on their own course, Cybelle missed the normal hustle and bustle of a home filled with four rambunctious nestlings. Thoughts of Henry and Richard returning today, planning to at least stay until each decided to live elsewhere on their own, heightened her excitement at having them home again. She checked her watch. They should be arriving any moment. They were bound to be hungry after the long drive. They'd always had good appetites. She headed back home, entering from the rear garden.

Geraldine and her helpmate, Evelyn, Evie for short, were already in the kitchen, a huge, brick floored room, with an authentic colonial hearth, and furnished with a long dark wood table and high-backed chairs with rush seats. The modern utilities were in an adjoining alcove. Evie was in the midst of setting the table.

Cybelle asked Evie, "Are we using our best china?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Only the best for the returnees," Evie quipped.

"Good girl," Cybelle praised. Evie was not actually a servant. She was a helper for Geraldine, who was getting on in years. Geraldine, or Ger, as Mark during his childhood had nicknamed her — housekeeper, cook and nanny — and her husband, Harry, the gardener, had worked for the Carlsons for many years. The old couple was more like family. Mark's parents had employed the couple and built for them their own living quarters connecting to the large colonial kitchen.

Evie was a foundling who was raised at a local orphanage nearby run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. When the time had come for her to leave the residence and forge her own future, the Mother Superior and Evie's close friend and counselor, Sister Maria Bernadette, both with whom the Carlsons were acquainted, had suggested they hire Evie. The girl had attained her high school diploma, was respectful of her elders, and good-natured. Except for a bit of a loner, she'd gotten along fairly well with the other orphans and her classmates. Unfortunately, the orphanage did not have the funds to pay for their charge's additional education. It was up to each young man and woman to work their way through college or trade school.

The Mother Superior did not have to ask twice. The Carlsons hired Evie immediately as a live-in help. The elderly Geraldine was overjoyed. Evie would occupy the room that once belonged to her daughter Harriet, who was married, with grown children of her own, and lived with her husband in a lovely home in a nearby town.

The doorbell rang. "They're here," Evie exclaimed, running into the large foyer to open the door. She peered through the narrow floor-length windows that flanked the door. "Yes, it's them," she called back to Cybelle and Geraldine, coming up behind her.

She opened the door. Henry and Richard greeted her warmly, hugging her and then Cybelle and Geraldine, in turn. Evie's gaze was fixed on Henry. Cybelle could not help noting her enraptured gaze. A touch shocked, she thought, how strange she had never noticed before. Evie was in love with Henry. But he wasn't in love with her. She was just a childhood friend. A very dear childhood friend.

Ah, that enraptured gaze, she thought, with nostalgia. She could well identify with that look. So similar to her own those first years she had spent in the mansion as Mark's ward. And more years until he permitted himself to admit his love for her. Not until she reached her mid-twenties. Not until he gave her every chance to meet and fall in love with a younger man more her age. In the end, his defenses in shreds, he'd surrendered his heart and his loyalty to her. All these years later and four grown children, their love endured.

Evie was lovely both on the outside and within, Cybelle thought. She'd make her son a good wife, and her and Mark, a fine daughter-in-law, that is, if Henry was not in love with someone else. He never talked much about the girls he'd dated. An occasional comment about a concert he'd attended with so-and-so, or reservations he planned to make for two at some exclusive restaurant. He had never mentioned anyone special. Dark eyes narrowing, Cybelle speculated, perhaps Evie stood a chance.

Mark's footsteps hurrying into the lobby to meet his sons, had everyone turning and joining in fatherly handshakes and bear hugs.


CHAPTER TWO


Geraldine and Evie served freshly baked sliced roast beef, arugula and baby spinach salad surrounded with sautéed button mushrooms and wedges of hard-boiled eggs. A centerpiece of fresh picked carnations and rosebuds from the garden at the rear of the mansion, baskets of Italian and Rye Bread, decanters of apple and peach nectar completed the luncheon.

Cybelle breathed a sigh of contentment. This was among the settings she loved the most, her family seated around the table, Mark at the head, to her still as handsome and debonair as the day he had come into her life. The years had increased the white strands that once dabbed his brown hair only at the temples, but his love and guidance remained as intense, and had never wavered. His fear that the age difference between them might one day become that visibly apparent as to dampen her feelings for him, and tempt her to desire a younger man, had never come to fruition. She loved and admired him even more now that silver strands wove through her cocoa-brown hair. She recalled her words to him just before he'd finally allowed himself to admit his love for her and surrendered his heart to her, Mark, give in. Marry me. Give me a few years and three or four kids. I won't look so young to you.

"Mom, you're staring. Are we eating too fast?" Henry broke into her reverie.

"Oh, dear, I'm sorry. I was just basking in the moment. Having you both home with us, sitting with us at the table."

"We've come back often during holidays and vacations," Henry consoled.

"Yes, of course, but it's never the same as it was before you left for college, when you were both still part of our daily lives. It will never be like that again. And I don't really want it to be like that again. What's natural and should be, is to see you happy in your own independent lives."

Her younger son sat nearest to her. He covered her hand with his. "We understand, mom. Henry and I are adults, ready to set out and try our wings, to start our lives. But you, mother, you started on your path years ago, and we are your life."

Cybelle glanced at Mark. He smiled at her, not commenting or remarking, as he sometimes did, on her straight-from-the-shoulder frankness. He understood her feelings. He knew well how much she loved him and her children.

"I'm being maudlin." Cybelle said. "I apologize." She addressed both sons. "Tell us about yourselves. What now?"

"Well, Mom," Henry said, "I'll let Dad make the announcement that we've discussed on the phone these past few months, that is, if he hasn't changed his mind. Dad?"

All eyes turned to Mark. He chuckled. "Why would I change my mind? My eldest son making me proud to accept a full partnership in the firm."

The excited gasp came from the girl standing by the buffet and hutch, cutting pieces of apple pie and placing them on dessert dishes. "It's agreed, it's final?" Evie asked excitedly.

The foursome turned to gaze at her. Geraldine, in the process of choosing cups and saucers from the hutch, ladled Evie a shocked glance. Considered a family friend or not, Geraldine was a stickler for propriety.

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry," Evie yelped. "Please, please go on with your meal." Red-faced, she turned quickly back to her chore.

"Evie, dear, you're more family than mere paid help. In fact," Cybelle glanced at Mark for reassurance, "we intended asking you, and Geraldine and Harry to join us at the table for coffee and dessert."

Mark nodded, adding, "We've never stood on total formality with the Hendersons, and neither with you."

"Thank you," Evie acknowledged, a timid smile.

"Yes," Henry seconded. He sent her a wide grin.

Cybelle studied his expression. She gazed back at Evie, an impish gleam in her dark eyes.

"Young lady," Mark whispered to Cybelle for her ears only, "what have you got up your sleeve?"

Cybelle glanced at her plate. "Wh-what are you talking about?"

One disadvantage, among many advantages, of marrying Mark, was that he'd suffered with her through most of the ups and downs of her mid-teens, beginning with her depression and rebellion stemming from the loss of both her parents, and separation from her home and friends, not to mention her popcorn character in opposition to his reserved, disciplined, confirmed bachelor existence. Then, to top it all off, she'd gone and fallen in love with him. And for years, until she reached her mid-twenties, he'd had to fight his own feelings, and do all morally and decently possible, to disillusion her. In her case, her feelings for him proved real and unchanging, not a crush or based on a spur of the moment.

"Why would I have something up my sleeve," she whispered to her husband innocently.

"I know that look in your eyes, and that firm set to your mouth," he admonished in a soft whisper. "What are you planning?"

No use, bluffing. He'd always seen through her excuses. "All right, Mark. But don't you see it."

"See what?"

"The way they're looking at each other."

"What way are they looking at each other?"

"Oh, honestly, Mark, sometimes you can't see the fire, for the smoke."

He would have pursued the matter further, but his younger son, drew everyone's attention with his own announcement.


CHAPTER THREE


"Dad, Mom, I don't quite know how you'll take this, but it must be said, although it may not be a complete surprise, especially to Mom," Richard announced. He glanced at Cybelle. Her expression had grown serious. Yes, his mother already had an inkling of what he was about to tell them. His father was the one he'd surprise. And Geraldine and Evie. He directed his voice toward Mark. "Dad," come December I'll be entering the Seminary."

No one spoke for a moment. Mark cleared his throat to mask the sudden tightening of his vocal chords. Finally he asked, measuring his words, "Have you thought about this ... life choice for a while, or was it a spur of the moment decision?"

"For a long time, Dad," Richard answered. "And I'm not proud to say, I've fought the calling. I wasn't sure it was genuine. I dated. Tried to fall in love. I broke a couple of hearts along the way. You and Mom raised us as practicing Catholics, and noticed from early on, that of your four children, I was the one who best enjoyed participating in Church activities. I remember Mom saying on the morning I first received Holy Communion that I practically glowed with joy. The other children showed respect and knowledge that they were receiving the Lord for the first time, but compared to me they were acting more from catechism instructions. I think I knew even then, although I was a mere child, that I had a vocation to the priesthood, the closest I can be to Christ in this life. I remember thinking, how wondrous to be granted by Christ the gift of turning a simple wafer and wine into His Body and Blood, invisible to the eye, and yet fully and truly, His body and blood. And with that done, to feed his people, and save as many souls as I was capable of. A deep thought for a child of eight, but it was there. Perhaps not as clear as it would become through the passing years. But there all the same."

He tried to read the expression on his father's face. "Dad, are you shocked? Are you upset? No doubt you contemplated my joining, if not your firm, some other business. I always excelled at Math, and for a while, I seemed headed for an engineering career. But that was only me, staving off my true vocation." He waited for his father to reply. "Dad?"

Mark hid the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. This was his son being upfront and honest, and asking his blessing on his life choice, a life choice that would demand a vow of celibacy and chastity, of poverty, and life service to the Good Lord and His people, along with loyal obedience to Christ's Church and His faith. He swallowed, clearing the knot in his throat, He felt Cybelle's gentle, encouraging hand on his arm, helping him to keep his emotions in check and form a reply.

"Richard, you are your mother's son, in kindness and in your determination. I should know," he glanced at Cybelle with affection. "Loving her and our children, I want only the best for my family. With that in mind, whatever life choice you make, I — and I know I speak for your mother as well," he said, turning to Cybelle, who nodded, dark eyes agleam with tenderness and understanding. "Yes, son, whatever life choice you make, we stand solidly behind you," Mark ended.

Richard stood up, went to his father, and threw his arms about him in gratitude.

Along with the others, Henry congratulated his younger brother. He should have guessed, he thought, warm affection flooding him. All the same, he had hoped for more for Richard. Marriage to a good woman, children. Nieces and nephews — cousins to the children he, himself, hoped to father someday together with the woman he chose to love and be loved in return, and marry. There was, he reasoned hopefully, the chance that once at the seminary, Richard might change his mind. Find the rules and regulations too stringent for a young man raised in a well-to-do family, who had never lacked for affection or material goods.

Honestly, Henry thought, a vocation to the priesthood held no appeal for him. He loved life's attractions too much. Knowledge, good clothes, good food, dating beautiful, intelligent women, as he searched for that special one for whom he'd forsake all other women. The one he'd be loyal to for the rest of his life. I'm a bit of dreamer, he thought, chuckling to himself. An idealist, I suppose. Still, life can throw a wrench into my neatly planned future, as it did to my mother when she was only sixteen. The accidental house fire that killed both her parents and removed her from everything safe and familiar to her. Like Evie, her parents had been orphans with no living relatives. On the strength of an odd premonition, Cybelle's father, in his will, had named Mark, his best friend, as her legal guardian. I'm glad, Henry thought, that as the years passed, love blossomed between the two.

Evie placed a crystal bowl of peaches and apples on the table. She's a good kid, he thought, recalling how they played together as children. She had reached her eighteenth birthday and per the orphanage's rules, was required to set out on her own. Mark, this time with Cybelle at his side, had offered Evie employment. She always rooted for me at my high school basketball games, he thought, automatically returning her warm smile.

Henry took a ripe peach and sliced it into eights, reiterating to himself, his resolve to excel in his father's firm, earn his father's respect and a partnership. And one day ... far into the future, he hoped ... carry on for him upon his full retirement.


CHAPTER FOUR


As promised, Mark and Cybelle insisted on Geraldine and Evie joining them for dessert, and coffee or tea, whichever they preferred. Henry saw this as the perfect opportunity to begin implementing his plan of bringing Richard to his senses regarding his life choice.

"Evie, how are your studies coming along?" Henry asked, as Evie served herself a slice of peach pie.

"I'm not quite decided yet," Evie replied. "But I am saving every cent possible to register at a community college. I believe I'm best suited for a social services career."

"Yes, sounds promising," Henry said.

During his college years, he hadn't thought much about Evie. When she greeted him at the door, it was no surprise to him that she had filled out and grown into a lovely young woman. That was to be expected. The last time he'd seen her was during his senior year at high school. She was average weight for her fourteen years, on the short side, somewhere around five feet, shoulder length hair a darker shade of chestnut brown pulled back into a ponytail. Three years younger than him, that made her presently about nineteen years old.

He had a clear memory of her. A freshman in his senior year in high school, and a regular attendee at his basketball games. Of all the girls interested in him, she cheered the loudest. Of course, she had a crush on him, like several of the girls in his school. He was, after all, one of the school's lead basketball players, tall and sinewy for his age. But she ought to be well over her crush for him by now.

Evie was perfect for Richard. Brought up in an orphanage run by nuns. Held in high esteem by his parents. Just starting out on her own. There was something fresh and vibrant about her, that even he found appealing, although she was definitely not his type. No, he preferred attractive girls, on the sophisticated side, college-educated, with that certain aura of savoir-faire, a polished personality.

Dear sweet Evie was like a breath of fresh air. Her eyes reminded him of his mother's eyes, dark and flashing, as when she'd greeted him at the door, excited, bouncing on the tips of her toes, in an attempt to welcome him with a hug. Spontaneous, that was the word that best described her. He was never sure how to respond to spontaneous. He was like his father, in that respect. Everything planned and organized.

Yes, he thought, Evie was perfect for Richard. Even her career choice would blend well with his brother's quiet, patient, see-the-goodness-in-all personality. And her spontaneity would shake his complacency and awaken his need for a keen enjoyment of life at its best. Joie_de_vivre, he thought with enthusiasm.

"Social Services is a good choice, Evie," he said. Turning to his brother, "Don't you think, bro?" he asked.

"Yes, a very good choice. Especially for Evie. I remember her in high school. Always into charitable activities — collecting clothes for storm victims, or helping out with charity benefits anyway she could."

"Yes, I recall," Henry said. "In fact, you both were on the team that decorated the school hall for my senior prom. You guys did a fabulous job!" Memories were flooding back. "And didn't you take her to your senior prom, a couple of years later?" he asked Richard.

His brother shook his head. "No. Not that I didn't ask her, but she had someone else in mind."

"Oh, well it's been a while. So who did you go with?"

"Karen, one of the basketball cheer leaders."

"I don't remember her," Henry said, honestly.

He asked Evie, "How about your senior prom? Richard and I were both gone by then."

"I never went to my senior prom, or your brother's, two years earlier," Evie replied.

"Why the heck not?" Henry asked.

Evie said, "In both cases, the one I wanted to ask was unavailable."

"Foolish man," he quipped. "Didn't know what he was missing."

A heavy silence followed his remark.

Somehow, the conversation had taken a somber turn. And worse, Henry thought, pausing a moment, and realizing too late, that unavailable fool was himself. Had he forgotten her crush on him? You idiot, he scolded himself. He'd hurt her feelings. He could tell by her wistful expression, her eyes glancing down at her plate, not seeing the half-eaten pie, but some unhappy memory.

So much so for his ingenious plan. Or for thinking so highly of himself. He could be dense, sometimes. He glanced at Richard. Something in the way his brother gave him a nod and a quick conciliatory smile, said without words, what he, Henry, had totally glossed over. Had all at the table realized his blunder? Evie's crush on him had never faded. Oh, this did not bode well, for him or his plan. Still, there might be a way to salvage his original intention.

"I wonder, bro," he said, "would you mind double-dating with me this weekend. Anne, that's my date, we were in the same graduating class, planned a homecoming get together tomorrow."

"Sure," Richard nodded.

"How about you, Evie?" Henry asked.

Evie glanced up. "Me?" she asked.

"Yes, why not? If we're double-dating, Richard will need a date.

She gazed at Richard, hesitating, eyes questioning.

Richard said, "Yes, why not? Might be fun?"

Evie looked at Cybelle and Mark. Even though they treated her as more family than help, she wondered if she were overstepping her place.

Cybelle read her expression correctly. "I think it's a wonderful idea. Definitely, yes."

Mark didn't comment. He watched Cybelle curiously. And she knew what he was thinking. But he added nothing contrary.

Geraldine hadn't said a word. She was old school. She just listened and watched.

"So it's agreed," Henry said. "Tomorrow we're off. The beach, lunch and dinner, a movie, a walk along the riverside. Mom, Dad, you won't see us until the wee hours of the morning," he laughed.

Cybelle nodded, with a wide smile. "Perfect," she said, glancing sideways at Mark.

"Perfect," Mark repeated, minus the smile.


CHAPTER FIVE


Henry's date drove up from her parents' home near Bear Mountain. Cybelle noted the moment Henry welcomed her into their home that in appearance she was definitely his type. Tall, burnished blonde, hazel-eyed, svelte, sophisticated, all twenty-four years of her, voice melodious and grammatically accurate, his peer, with a Bachelor in Business Management equivalent to his. Poor Evie, Cybelle thought, a small crocus in competition with a full-blown hydrangea. Well, hadn't she herself once been a crocus competing for Mark, older, reserved, debonair.

Of course, if her elder son really cared for this woman, she would never interfere, as long as Anne really cared for him in return. She'd have to wait and see.

Introductions made, Cybelle returned to the kitchen to help Evie and Geraldine with picnic baskets for the young group's trip to the beach.

Evie, are you all ready to leave with Henry and the others?" she asked.

"Pretty much," Evie answered. "I had to dig out my old bathing suit I used during my last year at the home."

Cybelle grimaced. "I gather it's conservative compared to today's beachwear."

"It's not a bikini, but not old-fashioned. It's a one-piece, black, with a short pleated skirt around the upper thighs. I haven't grown that much in the past year. I did try it on last night. Still fits."

"You might want to lose the pleated skirt," Cybelle advised her.

"I could do that. The suit's bottom is boxer styled."

Cybelle sighed. "Or maybe, best to leave the skirt piece on. Your beauty shines from within. If he can't see that, then he's blind as a bat."

"Who, ma'am?" Evie asked, frowning.

"Henry, of course." Cybelle answered. "Hey, I'm older, but not stupid. And, you're so much like I was at your age. I'm rooting for you."

"It's that obvious?" Evie asked, face reddening.

"Oh, I've suspected for a long time. Ever since that night at the basketball game, when Henry scored his eighth basket and you screamed and jumped up so high, that you nearly fell off the bleacher. Luckily. Richard was there to catch you. Mark and I were attending the game as well that night."

In a motherly tone, Cybelle added, "Keep being yourself. Spontaneous, sweet natured, kind-hearted, whether it's Henry or some other young man whose heart you capture when he recognizes how special you are. Now, let's get you ready to leave with the others. It's a beautiful day. Go join the others for a quick breakfast in the garden. And have fun!"

Evie nodded. "Thank you, ma'am," she said, wishing she had the right to hug Cybelle.

"Don't call me ma'am. Call me Cybelle or Cy."

Evie shifted uncomfortably.

"Okay," Cybelle added. "If you're uncomfortable with the familiarity, Mrs. Carlson will do. All right?"

Evie nodded, a quick smile teasing her lips.

Unexpectedly, Cybelle hugged her affectionately. "Go have fun!" she advised.


After a breakfast of sconces, buttered scrambled eggs with cheese and parsley, and fruit juices, in the garden, the young group piled into Henry's Ford Sedan and headed for the countryside. Anne chatted away about her homecoming and the surprise that awaited her when the butler opened the door to the foyer. "He showed me inside with a Welcome Home, Miss Anne. Mr. and Mrs. Hastings each called ahead to tell us you were arriving. They will be working late, but look forward to having breakfast with you in the morning.

How are they? I asked. They are fine, miss, he replied, his tone stiff and noncommittal.

Elton has been with the household for as long as I can remember, and for as long, he has never shown emotion. Stiff, efficient, non-intrusive. A human version of a computerized robot, programmed to be stiff, efficient and non-intrusive," she repeated with emphasis in a well-modulated, clear, crisp voice audible enough for Richard and Evie seated behind them to hear,

"What I really wanted to know," Anne explained, "was whether my parents had reconciled, or gone ahead with the divorce." She shrugged, annoyed. "I need not have waited until morning. I should have guessed when Elton mentioned that they had each called to inform the staff of my arrival. Their divorce was declared final a month ago. Neither of them had called to inform me at school. But I suppose they didn't wish to upset me so close to my Finals."

"I'm sorry to hear their divorce is final," Henry said. "I know how much you were looking forward to their reconciling." He felt truly sorry for Anne. He knew how he'd feel if Mark and Cybelle ever separated. But they were old school, not only in love with each other, but committed to one another's happiness. Uncommon nowadays. One of the reasons he'd held off proposing to any woman. He hadn't found her yet, the one whose feelings toward him promised commitment in good times and harsh. Not even Anne, whose friendship he valued most among his peers. Case in point, her reaction to her parents' divorce ... annoyance ... not heartbroken. Something not right there, he thought, turning into a narrow, less used road."

"Where are you going?" Anne asked.

"Somewhere, you and Evie have never been."

"Richard, what's your brother up to?" Anne asked.

"It's okay. I know where he's headed. I think you'll like it."

Henry drove for about a mile. Along the way they passed a weathered signpost that read Unnamed Waterfall. The paint filling the letters carved into the wood that once had been a bright yellow, was now faded and chipped.

"I may know where he's headed," Evie said, unexpectedly. "If it's where I think, it's a beautiful spot. It's the waterfall by the fallen oak log, hidden in a vale among the trees. Am I right?" she asked, her voice eager.

"Yes, that's it," Henry replied. "I'm surprised you've been there."

"The nuns took us there on a hiking trip, a few years ago. I never forgot it. The streams of water are crystal blue and emerald green. They cascade down a long stretch of rocks and boulders and form a pool at the bottom, clean and cold, a good eight feet in width and five or six at its deepest point, and you can see clear to the pebbles under your toes."

"Yes, that's it," he repeated. She had described it exactly as he remembered it, those times he and his brother, just entering their teens, had explored the surrounding countryside; times they'd been late for dinner and worried their poor mother sick, not to mention earning their father's dreaded displeasure. He was never abusive; they hardly remembered a whack across their backsides, but the memory of being grounded for a month with no television, no games, no telephone, only books to read and homework assignments to complete, was enough deterrent to keep their escapades at a minimum.

"Sounds quaint," Anne said. "Is it far yet?"

Henry gazed at her. She smiled at him, superbly attractive in her chartreuse designer tank top and shorts, her composure calm, unflappable, open to new ventures. He glanced behind him at Evie. Her smile was wide, enthusiastic. Her body, simply dressed in a short-sleeve blouse, a light shade of blue, and brown pedal pushers, thrilled with anticipation, dark eyes flashing. Her anticipation was contagious. He felt his own increase. He hardly noticed Richard watching him, a curious expression on his face.

"It's just around the bend," he said, slowing, reaching the bend as he spoke. The paved road gave way to a footpath overgrown with blotches of grass and weeds. He inched the car into the narrow opening, crushing the wild growth under the wheels. When he was well off the road, he stopped, placed the car into park, pressed the doors unlock button, and turned off the ignition. The sound of crisp, clean spring water cascading and its misty aroma wafted through the open windows.

"Everyone out," he said, opening his door and climbing out.

Evie, closest to the passenger door, scooted out, with Richard following her. Henry hurried after the two, forgetting in his excitement to go around to the passenger's side at the front, where Anne sat, and open her door. Anne watched him run after the others, as excited as a child. She was still there waiting a few minutes later as he sauntered back, shamefaced. "Oh, sorry, Anne. I got caught up in the moment."

She gave him a quick nod. "It's okay, Henry. It's understandable."


The footpath ended by the bank of a stream that flowed around and over boulders of various sizes wide enough to walk or skip over to the other side. Evie and Richard had already crossed over. Henry offered his hand to help Anne.

She waived his hand away. "It's okay. I've crossed streams like this one before, albeit it's been a while."

"Okay, but if you need to grab on, I'll go slow."

She didn't argue, but followed him across. They walked alongside the stream for a few yards, and came to the place where the earth and the boulders sloped and dipped into a small vale. The stream flowed downward, over a rocky edge and spread into a billowing cascade emptying into a pool the size of a small den.

Evie and Richard were halfway down the boulders. Richard hollered up to Anne and Henry over the water hurling down. "Be careful, the rocks are slippery."

"Yes, I remember," Henry hollered back. He turned to Anne. "Stay close to the bank's ridge. The rocks are drier there. I'll go first, test them out for you."

"Maybe not," Anne said.

"If you feel afraid, it's okay. I only planned to stay a few minutes," he offered.

"No, this is a great place. Beats a crowded beach. Go on down, I'll be along."

"Anne, I won't leave you up here alone. This is a group outing and —" He was about to say that it would be the height of impoliteness to leave her standing there, but her suddenly pulling the tank top over her head, gave him a start and a jolt. He hadn't mentioned anything about skinny-dipping. "Anne, No—" The skimpy bikini top with swirls of color silenced him. He made himself look away as she removed her shorts, despite he reasoned there'd be a bikini bottom, no less skimpy, he thought, swallowing. She had a beautiful body, difficult to ignore. Not that he hadn't seen her in a bikini before. As classmates, they had dated for the past couple of years. But by mutual agreement, they had decided to keep their relationship light and temporary. They were at school to learn and prepare for their chosen careers, not a love affair.

"Where's the deepest part?" she asked, walking a few steps further along the ground past the waterfall.

It struck him what she intended. "Anne, maybe you ought to reconsider," he began.

"Where's the deepest part?" she repeated.

She was a good swimmer, he recalled. Done a few stints as a life guard on one of the beaches near her home. Not that she needed the money. Her parents were wealthy and generous. More of a whim, doing something she enjoyed that involved swimming.

Henry pointed to the center of the pool.

Before he could advise her further, she stretched her arms above her head, fingertips touching and dove into the water.

Henry prayed. His prayers were answered. A few seconds later, Anne's head and shoulders popped through the surface.

"Hey, join me," Anne shouted up to him.

His pride reacted to her challenge. He glanced at Richard and Evie. Their faces mirrored his thoughts. Inadvisable. He was a good swimmer, had jumped high boards, but those jumps involved deep pools supervised by lifeguards. Anne's jump had gone smoothly. But she was shorter than him and weighed less. One hundred twenty-five pounds to his 195. She required a lot less water depth than he did to make a safe jump from where he stood.

Inadvisable or not, Anne's challenge baited his pride. Maybe he ought to—

"Henry, please don't." A gentle voice filled with concern made him turn. Evie had climbed halfway back to the top of the waterfall with Richie following behind her. "We all know you're a good swimmer. No need to prove it. And you promised us a visit to the beach, a picnic, and dinner and a movie."

Evie had such expressive eyes. They were lovely, Henry thought. She was lovely, her concern intense and earnest. He hoped Richard saw how special she was, and what a wonderful wife she would make him, if he reconsidered his life choice and asked her to marry him. Nothing at all like Anne. He looked down at her. She had moved to the side of the pool to give him room to dive, her challenge still apparent, not in the least aware of, or worried, that he might break his neck to appease his pride.

"Anne, time's wasting. I have a lot planned for today. Come back up. Richard will help you if you need." He motioned to his brother, with a whispered, "Please." He didn't trust himself to go down to the pool and be subject to her persuasion.

"Come on, Evie," he said, as Richard headed down the boulders to the pool where Anne waited. "Let's go back to the car. There's a fine beach nearby. We can have a swim there, and have those sandwiches you made and packed in the picnic basket."

Evie nodded, smiling, heaving a sigh of relief.

Odd, he thought, how well she'd read him, and how clear her thoughts were to him. "Thank you, Evie." She'd possibly saved his life this morning. "Thank you," he repeated.

"Always, Henry," she replied. "Always."


CHAPTER SIX


Anne's mood improved once they arrived at the beach. The sand was warm, pale beige and rock free, nothing at all as the cold rock and boulder strewn grassy earth around the waterfall's pool. She was first to plunge into the foam crested blue-green waves and swim laps to and fro. At length, exhausted, she turned on her back and floated, serenely, eyes closed, opening them occasionally to check her whereabouts.

"Anne, are you angry with me?" Henry asked, swimming up to her side.

She opened her eyes and gazed at him, her expression staid. "No, why should I be angry with you?"

So she was upset with him, Henry thought. And she wasn't going to give him the satisfaction, or the chance to explain or apologize. Anne was like that. When crossed, she clammed up. Her ideology allowed that everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but she didn't have to deal with them.

No use pursuing the matter, Henry thought. When this morning's occurrence was only a memory, she might bring it up and abstractly comment on it. Anne didn't deal with potential problems; she just pushed them aside and didn't bother with them. One of these days, she might come up against a problem that refused to be pushed aside, and she would have to deal with it. Might be interesting to watch how she handled that day.

He swam back to the shore. Evie and Richard, in their swimsuits, still wet from their swim, knelt on one of the oversized cotton blankets spread over the sand, removing beverages from the cooler and wrapped sandwiches from the picnic basket.

"Hungry?" his brother asked.

"Famished," Henry replied, accepting a paper plate with a wrapped sandwich from Evie, and a cool beer from Richard.

"Thanks, Evie."

"It's mortadella and sliced provolone. Your mom said that's your favorite combo."

"Yes, it is. My dad's too."

Richard wrinkled his nose. "Italian bologna seasoned with splats of fat and bits of peppercorn."

"What about you, Evie, do you like Italian cold cuts?" Henry asked.

"Dried pepperoni sausage is not my favorite. But I have eaten Mortadella. It's not bad. Kinda like bologna, but larger and spicier, and yes, as Richard puts it," she chuckled, "splats of fat and bits of peppercorn. On special holidays, the nuns served it with other cold cuts in the holiday lunch platters. One of the home's benefactors was an Italian restaurant owner. We got to taste a medley of his Italian dishes."

"Richard doesn't care for Italian food. He does eat it at home. Growing up, we ate what was put on our plates. And Dad, descendent of a long-line of immigrant Italian colonists, was no stranger to their cuisine. If it wasn't for Geraldine with her Anglo-American and European dishes, and my mother's taste for French cuisine, we might never have known the pleasure of diversified cuisines."

"Here comes Anne," Richard said. She looks a bit tired.

"Well, it's been a hectic couple of months for her," Henry said. "What with the finals, graduation, returning to a broken home, albeit her parents will simply call it, a readjustment." Henry shook his head. "No wonder she's been tetchy," he said. "I think we should make allowances for her."

"Let's keep her smiling," Richard said.

Evie addressed Henry. "I have Ham and Cheese, Egg salad, and Tuna sandwiches. Which one should I offer her?"

"Ham and cheese, minus the ham. She guards her figure with a vengeance." Henry replied. She doesn't eat pork, nor lamb. Too fatty."

Evie quickly unwrapped two sandwiches labeled Ham and Cheese, removed the ham and substituted the two slices of cheese. She tore off the labels and rewrapped the sandwiches. "Cheese sandwich for Anne. I'll have the ham."

"You like Ham?" Henry asked.

"Yes, no problem."

Of course not, Henry thought. Evie was always so accommodating. He supposed it was the nuns' training. She put herself last. And did it with a smile.


They ate, drank their beverages, and then lounged on the two oversized beach blankets Evie had packed for the outing, waiting their turn at the volleyball net. Evie might be only 5' 2", but she ran and jumped like a trout swimming upstream, squealing whenever she managed to hit the ball, eyes flashing, her laughter real, unrestrained. Henry found himself again comparing Evie to Anne, with regard to his brother. Anne was tall like himself and Richard. She didn't have to jump. She was slender and lithe, with what he often referred to, an Audrey Hepburn neck. She played well, with the proper excitement and vociferous laughter. Attractive, seductive, beautiful, desirable, especially in that skimpy bikini. Evie, more than once, tripped on her own bare feet as she followed the inflated ball's trajectory over the net toward her and Richard. But she sprung right up and was back in the game. In the end, he couldn't deny the disturbing thought, that Evie, in her simple black swimsuit, with the pleated skirt that flapped merrily about her thighs as she hurled herself up to reach the oncoming volleyball, was lovelier and more alive than Anne at her most desirable.


CHAPTER SEVEN


After another dip in the ocean, they applied sunscreen lotion liberally to their skin. Anne asked Henry to help her with spreading the lotion on her shoulders and her back. She was a pro at sexual innuendo, tilting her head to one side, sweeping her burnished blonde hair off the curve of her neck, a wordless inducement for Henry to kiss the tempting curve.

"Is something wrong?" Anne asked.

Henry shook his head to clear it. He had not realized he'd paused applying the lotion. "Sorry, Anne, my mind seems elsewhere. He quickly dabbed some lotion on both sides of her neck, getting some of it on the ends of her hair.

"Henry, my hair!" Anne reproached.

"Oh, sorry." He handed her back the bottle. "There isn't much left. Richard has a spare. I'll ask him for some for myself."

Richard gladly shared.

"Evie, do you have your own?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm all set," adding, "Shoulders, arms and legs well protected," she laughed.

"What about your back?" he asked Evie. He gazed at his brother, hoping he interpreted the hint.

Evie replied, "I don't need help. I'm all set." She quickly stretched out at a discrete distance from Richard who followed her example, remarking, "Nothing like a short nap and a tan after a swim before the sun gets too hot."

Henry frowned. Both of them seemed to be going out of their way to avoid physical contact.

"Okay," he said. Guess I'll lie down as well." Anne followed his example.

He fully expected she'd scoot close to him. Instead, she kept her distance, lay on her stomach, turning her face toward the ocean.

"Mind undoing the clasp on my bikini top. I want my back and shoulders to tan evenly."

He did as she asked. "Thank you, Henry," she said, yawning lazily.

"All right, Anne," Henry exclaimed, in an impatient tone. "You're still mad at me for not diving into the pool from the top of the waterfall."

"You're wrong, Henry. That's not what I'm mad about."

"Well, then, what are you mad about?"

She didn't turn her head to face him. Just kept watching the foamy waves rushing to shore. In a matter of fact tone, she said, "Since early this morning, you've been comparing me to Evie. Don't bother denying it. I'm very perceptive about myself."

"There's no comparison between you and Evie."

"I know that. But somehow, I'm coming up short."

"Anne—," he started, impatiently.

"Really, Henry, this isn't the time to discuss it. Richard and Evie may be listening."

Henry glanced at the two. Their blanket was spread a good foot away from his and Anne's. Their eyes were closed and the two appeared oblivious to them. Besides which, he'd been speaking in a whisper. Anne, also. And if Evie and Richard had heard the exchange, they were the type that wouldn't interfere."

"Evie is a nice girl, kind and generous," he said. "She's perfect for Richard. She's a lot like my mother, and everything my mother would want for my brother."

Anne finally turned her head to gaze at Henry. "And for you, Henry," she added in a tone loaded with implications.

"Don't be ridiculous. You know me; Evie's not my style."

"Henry, in the time I've known you, there's one indisputable fact about you I learned. You hold your parents in high regard. Especially your mother. In your eyes, she can do no wrong. And likewise, anyone lucky to be like her."

"All right, yes, I do admire and respect my parents. And ever since I reached the age of reason, they admire and respect me as well. And I dare say they like and admire Evie as well."

"Add to that," Anne said, "I suspect your mother would be thrilled to have Evie as a daughter-in-law, whether via Richard, or you."

"Anne, my parents like you very well. What makes you think my mother has designs for Evie and myself?"

"You're smart, Henry, and resourceful, but when it comes to women, dense as rock. Evie is in love with you. Probably has been for years. And I've seen the way your mother looks at her, and at you. There's nothing better she'd like than to see you as a couple."

Anne turned on her back, keeping a hand pressed to her bikini top. She met Henry's gaze head on. "Richard has made his decision to enter the Priesthood. And from what I can tell thus far, he's not going to let any woman, no matter how compatible, interfere with what he feels is his vocation."

In all honesty, unable to refute her words, Henry paused to ponder them. In regard to women, he wasn't as dense as she thought, although she was right about Evie. It didn't take an Einstein to discern Evie's affection for him. But he still wasn't convinced that the Priesthood was the right life choice for his brother. He glanced at the pair on the adjoining beach blanket. They appeared to be napping, their bodies glistening between the sunscreen lotion and the heat of the sun.

It was hard for him to picture his tall, lean, lanky brother in a clergyman's cassock and Roman collar. As children, Richard had always referred to him as his big brother. They rarely fought. He overheard him say to a friend, once, "My brother is smart, a lot smarter than me. But he never puts me down. And he's always there for me." Richard idolized him, listened to his advice, and in return, Henry did his utmost to set a good example for him. Their Christian upbringing, their parents' undying love for each other and for their children, kept him and Richard close and rarely at odds. They had their ups and downs, but that love and respect they shared for one another kept them closeknit.


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