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Ammie, Come Home
By five o'clock it was almost dark, which was not surprising, since the month was November; but Ruth kept glancing uneasily toward the windows at the far end of the room. It was a warm, handsome room, furnished in the style of a past century, with furniture whose present value would have astonished the original owners. Only the big overstuffed sofas, which faced one another before the fireplace, were relatively modern. Their ivory brocade upholstery fitted the blue-and-white color scheme, which had been based upon the delicate Wedgwood plaques set in the mantel. A cheerful fire burned on the hearth, sending sparks dancing from the crystal glasses on the coffee table and turning the sherry in the cut-glass decanter the color of melted copper. Since her niece had come to stay with her, Ruth had set out glasses and wine every evening. It was a pleasant ritual, which they both enjoyed even when it was followed by nothing more elegant than hamburgers. But tonight Sara was late.
The darkening windows blossomed yellow as the streetlights went on; and Ruth rose to draw the curtains. She lingered at the window, one hand absently stroking the pale blue satin. Sara's class had been over at three thirty ... And, Ruth reminded herself sternly, Sara was twenty years old. When she agreed to board her niece while the girl attended the Foreign Service Institute at a local university, she had not guaranteed full-time baby-sitting. Sara, of course, considered herself an adult. However, to Ruth her niece still had the touching, terrifying illusion of personal invulnerability which is an unmistakable attribute of youth. And the streetsof Washington even of this ultrafashionable section were not completely safe after dark.
Even at the dying time of year, with a bleak dusk lowering, the view from Ruth's window retained some of the famous charm of Georgetown, a charm based on formal architecture and the awareness of age. Nowadays that antique grace was rather self-conscious; after decades of neglect, the eighteenth-century houses of the old town had become fashionable again, and now they had the sleek, smug look born of painstaking restoration and a lot of money.
The houses across the street had been built in the early 1800's. The dignified Georgian facades, ornamented by well-proportioned dormers and handsome fanlights, abutted directly on the street, with little or no yard area in front. Behind them were the gardens for which the town was famous, hidden from passersby and walled off from the sight of near neighbors. Now only the tops of leafless trees could be seen.
The atmosphere was somewhat marred by the line of cars, parked bumper to bumper and, for the most part, illegally. Parking was one of Georgetown's most acrimoniously debated problems, not unusual in a city which had grown like Topsy before the advent of the automobile. The vehicles that moved along the street had turned on their headlights, and Ruth peered nervously toward the corner, and the bus stop. Still no sign of Sara. Ruth muttered something mildly profane under her breath and then shook her head with a self-conscious smile. The mother-hen instinct was all the stronger for having been delayed ...Ammie, Come Home. Copyright � by Barbara Michaels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.