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By Joan Wolf
Time WarnerCopyright © 2003 Joan Wolf All right reserved. ISBN: 0-446-61044-5
Chapter OneI didn't really believe that my father was dead until I saw him lying in a casket. Realization struck, then grief, and for the first time since I'd received the news, I cried. My mother put her arms around me and patted my back.
"I know, Anne. I know."
"I can't believe that this is happening. I can't believe that I'm never going to see him again."
"I know, honey. I know."
It was just my mother and I, alone in the funeral parlor's Room One, alone with Daddy.
"He was the healthiest person," I said. "He ate well, he exercised, how could he have had such a massive heart attack? He was only sixty-two."
"I don't know why these things happen, but they do." My mother's voice quivered and I reached my arms back around her.
We held each other for a long moment and then we knelt in front of the casket to say a prayer. The blanket of pink and white carnations that covered the coffin read BELOVED HUSBAND AND FATHER.
I looked at the shell of my father that was lying beneath the flowers and shut my eyes. Daddy, help us to get through this.
Finally we stood up and composed ourselves. I had just put a tissue back in my bag when someone came in the back door.
"It's Uncle John," I said, bracing myself to meet the grief of my father's only brother.
The wake was jammed. My father had worked at Wellington Farm here inMidville for the last twenty years, and during that time he had personally broke every youngster that had come through that well-known thoroughbred breeding operation. Everyone in town knew him, from the lowliest stable boys to the millionaire farm owners.
The room was at its most crowded when Liam finally arrived. I saw him over the heads of others as he stepped into the doorway and looked around.
I stopped breathing.
Across the room our eyes met.
I hadn't seen him in two years, but he looked as arrogant as ever.
"It's Liam," I heard someone behind me say.
He started across the room and people automatically made room for him as he passed. My heart began to slam. Then he was standing in front of me and holding out his hand.
"Annie. What can I say to you? I'm so sorry about Pete."
He was the only person I had ever allowed to call me Annie.
I put my hand in his and he bent and kissed my cheek. I recognized the smell of him. "Thank you, Liam," I said. "It was quite a shock."
I took my hand away and at that moment my mother came up to us. "Liam. It's good to see you."
He turned his cobalt blue eyes toward her and said how sorry he was.
"Thank you, Liam. It's going to be hard getting used to living on my own."
"Annie is staying with you, isn't she?"
I said, "I took a month's leave from my job to help Mom get settled."
"How did you manage that?" he asked.
"A vet who practices in Florida during the winter is a friend of Dr. Ritchie's and she came north for the summer to work for us. Florida is dead in the summer. So, when I asked about taking an unpaid leave for a month, Dr. Ritchie agreed. The visiting vet can take my spot."
A faint line appeared between his black brows. "I always thought that when you graduated you would come back here to practice."
Just what I need, I thought. A chance to see Liam all the time.
"This job in Maryland was a great opportunity," I said. "I was lucky to get it."
His frown didn't lift, and he turned to Mom. "Please let me know if there's anything I can do for you, Nancy. And don't worry about having to get out of the house. It's yours for as long as you care to stay."
Mom gave him a grateful smile. "Thank you, Liam, but you'll need the house for the new man. I'll have somewhere else to stay in a couple of weeks. I'm thinking of moving into town."
"Don't rush things," he advised.
"I won't. I just ... well, I think it might be easier for me to be in a new place, a place that doesn't have so many memories."
He put his arm around my mother and gave her a brief hug. "Okay."
Mom said, "Thank you for the flowers. They're magnificent."
Wellington Farm had sent a stand of flowers that took up a tenth of the room.
"I'll miss him too," Liam said. "Not like you, I know, but I'll miss him."
"I know you will," Mom said softly.
Liam glanced over his shoulder. "There are people waiting to talk to you. Please remember, if you need anything at all, give me a call."
"I'll remember," my mother said.
I was talking to one of Mom's fellow teachers when a frisson of tension ran across the crowded room. I looked at the door and saw Andy Bartholomew come in. Involuntarily, I glanced toward Liam and so did everybody else in the room.
Liam totally ignored the man who was advancing into the room. Andy didn't look at anyone either as he crossed the carpet to us. He took Mom's hand in his and said how sorry he was. Then he took my hand as well.
It was a measure of the respect in which Daddy was held that Andy Bartholomew would come into a room where he must have known he would find Liam. He didn't stay and he only looked at Liam once. The bleakness on his face was chilling. Liam did not look back.
Toward the end of the evening I was standing alone when Senator Wellington came up to me. "How's the job going, Anne? Was it worth all those years in vet school? You could have become an M.D. more easily, I suspect."
I forced a smile and looked up into the face of Liam's father. Laurence Wellington was almost as tall as Liam, but where Liam was black-haired, his father's hair was grayish-blond. He was serving his second term in Washington as Virginia's U.S. Senator and had all the easy charm of the southern aristocrat. I hadn't seen any sign of his wife, so I supposed she was getting cured again at the Betty Ford Clinic.
"I like it a lot," I said. "It's what I always wanted to do."
"One of these days you'll have to come and work here in Midville."
Instead of responding to him, I said, "I hear Wellington's got a Derby horse this year."
"Someday Soon certainly won the Florida Derby in convincing fashion. But you know Liam?he doesn't want to jinx the colt by talking about him too much."
The senator sounded a little impatient. They had never gotten along very well. "It will be exciting if he makes it to the Derby," I said. "It would do the breeding industry in Virginia a world of good to have a Virginia-bred win the Derby. And it would be great for the farm."
"That it would be."
A voice said, "Senator, I'd like to talk to you when you get a chance."
I said, "Go ahead, Senator, I'm going to check on my mother."
I went to stand at Mom's side and the senator gave his attention to Herbie Lowther, who probably wanted to talk to him about farming subsidies or something like that.
The following morning, Daddy's funeral was even more crowded than his wake had been. Senator Wellington had insisted on having the post-funeral luncheon, so after we left the cemetery we all met at Wellington.
Wellington, or the big house as we Fosters had always called it, stood imposingly behind a stone wall and a sweeping, park-like lawn dotted with large old trees. Long side wings and tall white pillars gave the pale gold house a classic southern colonial look. Personally, I had always thought it was the prettiest house in the world.
I hadn't been inside Wellington since I had left Midville for boarding school ten years ago, but the front hall looked exactly the same: spacious and wide and furnished with a glass-fronted bookcase, a marble-topped table containing a vase of fresh flowers and two Sheraton chairs.
The food was laid out in the dining room, another lofty, spacious room with an eighteenth-century fourpedestal Hepplewhite dining table and a sideboard, which was loaded with antique silver. Porcelain jars that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette adorned the mantel. I looked into the modern kitchen to thank Mary, the Wellington cook and housekeeper who had orchestrated the lavish spread of food.
I took a plate but I couldn't eat. I didn't feel like socializing, but then I didn't want to be left alone to think, either.
I felt a hand close over my elbow. "Come along," Liam said. "We'll go out to the porch."
I dutifully followed him onto the huge front porch, the way I had followed after him for most of my early life. We set our plates on a table and sat down in two of the wicker chairs.
He said, "I thought that Nancy might want to move to Maryland to be near you."
I shook my head. "She says she wants to stay in Midville. This is where her job and all her friends are. I think she's right. If she moved to Maryland she wouldn't know anybody, and I work long hours."
"Well, if she won't move to Maryland, I think you should move back to Virginia. It isn't good for her to be alone."
"Liam, Mom is a grown-up person. She has tons of friends and she's perfectly capable of living by herself. And besides Maryland is not that far away. I can easily come down here for weekends to visit, or she can come up to see me. So stop trying to make me feel guilty because I'm not moving home."
He sighed. "I've missed you, Annie. I've missed my little sister. I guess I'm not just asking for Nancy, I'm asking for me too."
I felt pain slice through me. If only he hadn't used the words "little sister," how happy I would be. I said flatly, "Well, it isn't going to happen."
He scowled. "I never thought you'd turn into such a hard-hearted witch."
My mouth dropped open. "I can't believe you just said that! Here I am, at my father's funeral, and you call me a hard-hearted witch?"
Color stained his cheeks and his blue eyes glittered. "Christ, Annie, I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me." He inhaled deeply. "It's just?I'm really upset at losing Pete this way. He was more of a father to me than mine ever was. I should never have said that to you. I'm sorry."
Impulsively, I reached across the table and put my hand on his. The jolt of electricity was so powerful that my heart jumped. How could he not have felt it too?
I looked at him. He looked a little startled, that was all.
I snatched my hand away. "It's okay," I managed to get out. "I forgive you."
He smiled at me. Whenever Liam smiled all my insides turned to goo. He stood up. "We should go back inside. People will be looking for you."
At that moment Frank Michaelson, the owner of Pine Tree farm, came out. Next to Liam's splendid six foot three, he looked tiny. "There you are, Anne. I have to leave, but I wanted you to know that if there's anything I can do for your mother, please let me know."
"Thank you, Mr. Michaelson." I stood up to take his hand.
"Looks like you got yourself a Derby horse," he said to Liam.
"Oh God, Frank, you know how it is. A horse's route to the Derby is so treacherous that I'm afraid to even think about it," Liam replied.
"Ford's a good trainer. You have him in good hands."
"All right. I'll stop talking about it. But I wish you luck."
"Thanks," Liam said.
As Frank went down the porch steps I said to Liam, "I'd better be getting back inside."
As we passed through the door into the house, Liam put a brotherly hand on my shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Chin up, brat."
All I could manage in reply was a nod.
Excerpted from That Summer by Joan Wolf
Copyright © 2003 by Joan Wolf
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.