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He Wasn't Going To Like It. He Hated The Ritual of the formal family picture, but the time was right. In four short days, his only child was leaving the nest,breaking out of her chrysalis into an exciting new world. If ever there was an occasion to mark, this was it.
Starting college was a rite of passage, a beginning.
It was also an ending, one Emily Arkin had been dreading for years. Prior to kindergarten, Jill had been all hers. Then she was gone three hours a day. Then six. Then seven, then eight.
College was twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It was a springboard to adulthood and total Independence.
"How do I look?" Jill asked, joining Emily's reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Emily lost a moment's breath. She always did when Jill came upon her unexpectedly. That this striking young woman was her daughter never faded to amaze her. She had Emily's dark hair and hair skin and Doug's height, but the features came from earlier generations, and what was inside was pure Jill. She was sweet, sensitive, and smart. She was innocent, yet sophisticated, the product of growing up in a small town, in a shrinking world.
Emily didn't want the innocence lost. She didn't want the sophistication honed. She didn't want Jill hurt. Ever.
"Mom," Jill pleaded softly.
Emily made a helpless sound and reached for a tissue. "Sorry. I didn't mean to do that."
"If you cry, I will, too, and then we'll both look a mess. Dad's on the phone." She paused, cautious. "Is hegoing to be angry?',
Emily forced a bright smile. "What's to be angry about? He's already dressed for the cook-out. In ten minutes, the pictures will be done and well be on our way."The doorbell rang, in old age more a clang than a chime. "There's the photographer," she said and took Jill's face in her hands. "You look beautiful. Come."
The sun was failing in the west, gilding the edges of the broad-leafed maples that stood on the front lawn, and the peaks of the white picket fence beyond. Leaving Jill there, Emily went to the door of the small den that was Doug's home office and caught his eye.
He held up a finger and continued to talk.
Stomach jangling, as always when she couldn't gauge his mood, she waited, watching him. At fortyfour, he was even more athletic of build than he had been at twenty-two. Then, sheer physical labor had kept his body in shape. Now, daily workouts at a health club did it. His stomach was flat, his back straight, his shoulders broad. He wore his clothes well.
They were fine clothes. He shopped when he traveled, and he looked it. The pleated slacks and open-neck shirt that he wore today spoke more of Europe than of a small town in the northwest corner of Massachusetts.
Emily half-wished she had bought something new to wear for the pictures, to look more sophisticated beside Doug. But she, hated spending money on herself, when there were other bills to pay. Better a new muffler for the wagon than a silk something she would never wear again.
Doug hung up the phone. "Who rang the bell?"
She slipped a cajoling arm through his. "Larry Johnson. He's new with the Sun. A photographer. He's good, and very cheap. I asked him to take a few pictures before we leave."
"I know. You hate having pictures taken, but Jill's leaving In four days, four days, and then our lives will be changed forever."
"Maybe, if she'd been going to D.C. like Marilee. But Boston? It's barely three hours away."
"She won't be our little girl anymore."
"She hasn't been that for a long time."
"You know what I mean," Emily coaxed, but more anxiously now. "This is a milestone, Doug. Besides, she needs a picture of the three of us for her dorm room. Smile for her? Please?"
If he said no, she would send Larry home. A scowling Doug defeated the purpose. But he sighed and produced a vapid smile. Relieved, she led him out of the house.
Jill sat on the swing that hung from the largest of the front maples. With the light dappled by leaves, and a backdrop of rhododendron and white fencing, the setting was bucolic.
Emily was remembering the hours and hours Jill had spent on that swing, the pumping and soaring and spills, when a muted ring came from the house. Dougtook off before she could protest. She stared after him in dismay, then resignation. He was home, at least. He had promised to stay the week. It was a concession that didn't come without strings. Taking phone calls was one.
Refusing to be discouraged, she turned back to Jill. "I want a picture of you here," she said and when several shots had been taken, she moved in beside Jill for several of them together.
She covered Jill's hands on the chains of the swing and leaned in close. Cheeks touching, she smiled at the feel of Jill's smile, laughed to the sound of Jill's laugh. History was suddenly pleated, the years juxtaposed, and the laughter was that of childhood again. Emily loved its sound. She couldn't bear to think of the day it would be gone.
Leaving the swing, they went to the backyard and posed on an outcropping of rock by the pond. From slightly above her, Jill draped her arms over Emily's shoulder. Emily held her hands. They leaned against one another, lost their balance and laughed, then tried again, while the photographer snapped away.Together Alone. Copyright © by Barbara Delinsky. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.