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Cleo Damien hung up the last of the freshly polished bridles and stood admiring her handy work. She couldn't quite figure out if she loved the horses more than the hardware or vice-versa. One thing was certain, there was nothing like the smell of new hay and familiar horses in a new stable. At least the mornings in small town Virginia were pleasing. She stretched luxuriantly and made a haphazard attempt to brush the dust out of her dark curls.
A horse whinnied from one of the stalls. With a grin, Cleo strolled down to greet the beautiful bay, which snuggled her hand. There had to be a treat in there somewhere.
"You're a pig!" Cleo teased as she retrieved a slice of apple from her shirt pocket. "And no more until you've had a workout." The horse didn't seem to mind as long as he got his apple.
She planted a light kiss in his nose and strolled out of the stables into the brilliant sunlight of the summer morning.
Cleo shielded her eyes as she looked across the property she had just acquired. Well, it was different. Definitely not the European countryside she was accustomed to, but it was beautiful. There was a simplicity that permeated the distant woods and the meadow. Dragonflies were already busy with morning chores. Somewhere a crow bellowed a brash invitation to whoever was up and about.
"Cleo?" The call came from behind her and she turned toward the house to see Diana walking toward her. Now there was a vision. Cleo smiled. Any place was bearable as long as there was Diana.
"Here you are!"
"I didn't realize I was missing," Cleo quipped as she laced an arm around Diana's waist, pulled her close and gentlykissed her lips.
"Don't be a smart-ass," Diana grinned as she let herself be greeted by her lover. Cleo loved the way she pronounced certain words with her French accent. Swear words were particularly ... stimulating.
"You have finished in the stables then?" Diana shielded her eyes just as Cleo had as she peered off into the distance.
"Pretty much. I need to go into town. Run a few errands. Pick up some supplies," Cleo answered.
"Yes. Fritz has a list for you a mile long. Things he needs for dinner."
"So we can't forget the list then."
Diana stepped away from her. Cleo was reluctant to let her go but content to watch her spin around like a top, arms outstretched, in the early morning breeze.
"Oh, Cleo! It is so beautiful here! And think of the painting I can do! So many new subjects for my eye to see!"
"I thought I was your best subject," Cleo pouted playfully.
"You do very nicely when there is only fruit to paint," Diana explained with a delighted laugh.
"You wound me to the quick, my love," Cleo smiled with a fist over her heart.
"I am teasing you. You will always be my favorite subject. But do you not feel the excitement of being in a new place? Almost a new life?"
"Was the old one so bad?"
Diana thought a minute before she answered.
"No. It was not bad at all. But there was just so much. So much work. So much people. So much everything. I do not wish to lose you here. And you have said it yourself that you can work from any place. Did you not say this?"
"Yes. I said this." Cleo knelt and plucked a dew-drenched buttercup and presented it to Diana. "If you think you will be happy here, Diana. Then here is where we will be."
"Yes! And there will be neighbors and dances and county fairs and long evening strolls down the lane--"
"Yes. Let us hope the neighbors won't be strolling down the lane to come lynch us," Cleo muttered darkly. She immediately regretted her comment when she saw the disappointment in Diana's eyes. 'We've just come to another place, love, not another planet. You desire an ideal that I'm afraid I can't give you, but it is yours to desire nonetheless."
"What do you mean, Cleo?"
"I mean I don't want you to be hurt when people are cruel. You know how it is. Remember Boston?"
"Boston is a terrible, horrible place."
"All places have that potential," Cleo took Diana's hand and kissed it. "Just let's take our time and let people get to know us. Perhaps the social circles in Silver River will not be as ... harrowing as those in Boston. Okay?"
Diana took a deep breath and nodded.
"Good. Now what's for breakfast? I'm famished!"
Hand-in-hand the two women headed for the back entrance of the mansion and into one of their housekeeper's most eloquent breakfasts.
Nathan Everett Anzalone sighed impatiently and then flopped down on the top step of the massive front porch. His white cotton short-sleeved shirt was stiff with starch and rubbed his neck where his bowtie pushed against his throat. He irritably pulled at it with one finger and then clapped his hands together, clasping them before him while resting his elbows on his thighs as though he were about to expound on some great philosophical point.
In the next moment, he heard the smooth purr of an engine and the shiny black limousine slowly made its way around to the front of the estate. It crunched gravel in the circular driveway like a monster eating crackers.
Nathan stood up and brushed off the back of his shorts. His mother still made him wear a sweater vest, even though it was going to be another scorcher and he wasn't going to do anything but play and rough-house and get dirty. Nathan had to laugh at her reasoning. She knew he didn't play. She also knew that he didn't get dirty.
The immense front doors of the Anzalone estate opened and Harvard Davidson, the Anzalone butler, stepped out and stood immediately at attention to await the passage of Jonathan Anzalone. The master of Anzalone accepted his hat and briefcase from the butler without even a smile at the old black gentleman. None was expected. Harvard's history at Anzalone was as inevitable as Nathan's.
Ophelia Wellington Anzalone stood beside Harvard and waited for her perfunctory kiss from her departing husband. Nathan wondered at the ceremony. Every morning since he could remember, this was the procedure. Everyone in the household, with the exception of Iris, the cook, turned out to wish his father a good day at the office. Hamilton, the chauffeur, waited by the open door of the limousine. Nathan silently and quickly followed his father down the steps and slid into the cool leather of the car seats.
Factory air flowed quietly through the hidden vents to the back of the limousine. Nathan caught an eye and a wink from Hamilton in the rear view mirror.
Hamilton was a Davidson. Nathan wondered how the younger Davidson felt about seeing his father still butlering for a white family. He'd heard them fighting about it often, when they thought they were alone. Nathan had read in some of the books in the library about the Black's struggle for civil rights. But was that going on in other places? Was Hamilton content to drive and drive his life away? Nathan didn't think so. Anzalone was Harvard's life. Not Hamilton's.
Jonathan Anzalone studied his son in silence. The boy was his mother's child, without question. Ophelia's thick black hair and blue eyes. Handsome featured with a strong chin, which Jonathan attributed to his genes. The boy had the look of an aristocrat, but alas, none of the skills.
Nathan had no interests. At least, none that mattered to Jonathan. The boy didn't like sports. He didn't like girls. He was a bookworm. A weakling. How could such a powerful man have such a weak son? Jonathan sighed. He loved the boy. In his way. He was young. Maybe Nathan would come out of his shell. One of these days.
"So what are your plans for the day, Nathan?" Jonathan decided to try once again, to have a conversation with his son. Somehow, it seemed they never had anything to say to each other most of the time, so he didn't even bother trying.
"Nothing special," was Nathan's barely audible reply. He hated it when his father tried to act interested. His father always talked about Tommy Hutchinson. Tommy this. Tommy that. Although everything said about Tommy was true, that was beside the point. He was Jonathan Anzalone's son. Not Tommy.
"I understand Tommy Hutchinson's team has been invited to play against Mayeville next week," Jonathan announced.
Nathan wondered how his father knew about the game. This was the first Nathan himself had heard about it. Anyway, it wasn't Tommy's team. It was the Silver River Junior team.
"Yeah. I heard that, too," Nathan lied.
"Why don't you see if you can get on the team this time. It'll be fun for you. You might enjoy it."
Jonathan Anzalone's weak smile faded when he saw the dejected look on his son's face. Even the boy knew it was a foolish thing to say.
Without another word, Jonathan Anzalone turned his attention to the passing greenery. Oh well, he thought. He was just trying to make conversation.
Nathan caught Hamilton's eye in the rear-view mirror again. And the wink. This time, Nathan couldn't smile back.
The Damien Estate was a whirlwind of moving people, boxes and furniture. Cleo listened to the madness from her study, her retreat, as Diana took on the role of commander and chief in the organization of their home. Not that Cleo minded. She was no good at such things and had no interest in it with the exception of the placement of a few of her own personal treasures. The women's tastes were similar and Cleo was grateful for that. Thankfully, Diana had seen to it that Cleo's study was the most complete room in the entire estate and she wasn't really sure if such efficiency was just that, or Diana's plan to keep Cleo out of the way.
Diana breezed in, winded and paused to watch Cleo at the study window. Cleo looked up and with a grin, slowly shook her head.
"Spying on the neighbors already?" Diana quipped. She held two delicate bud vases in her hands. Quite a contrast to the jeans and over sized denim shirt she was wearing. Loose strands of feathery blond hair fell across her face and she attempted to blow them out of her eyes as she watched Cleo.
"Not really. But there is something interesting going on over there." She nodded in the direction of the Anzalone place. "There is a little boy who's been sitting on that porch for the better part of forty-five minutes. He's just sitting there."
Diana laughed. "Maybe he is just watching you watch him."
"Ah! But he can't see me. I mean, shouldn't little boys be out and about on a summer morning like this? Actually, he's dressed like Alfalfa in a Little Rascals episode. Who dresses their child like that anymore? And his face is so sad."
"Why don't you go over and introduce yourself? I'm sure he would like that." Diana offered with another puff at a disorderly strand.
"No. Well maybe eventually." She smiled briefly at Diana and then turned her attention back to the window. "I mean, he should be running around with a baseball or something or going fishing."
"We didn't move into a Norman Rockwell painting, darling. Perhaps he is doing what he does in his world. I'm off to the study. Fritz is in giving the moving people a hard time about the kitchen. I need to go referee. Later!" Diana was off.
Cleo murmured something under her breath and started to get to work on organizing her files, but something drew her back to the boy who sat in solitude across the manicured lawns and shrubs.
"I wonder what your story is, young man?" she said to herself and finally tore herself away to attend to her work.