John looked off in the distance, over Ada’s head, at the front door. He appeared disinterested in their conversation.
Ada shifted uneasily on the sofa. Adele sat silently opposite in the blue‑floral brocaded chair, picking lint from the sleeve of her blouse.
“John only encouraged Rodger to do the things he wanted to do.” Madeline’s face clouded. “Not what he should have done, like getting an education.”
“Oh, but he’ll have a chance to go to college on the GI bill,” Adele interjected.
Ada felt weighted, as if Madeline’s troubles were her own. In a sad way they were, for in good time Rodger would betray her, too. It was the natural way of men, being in love with worldly things and not the whole of someone.
“Well, yes, if that can hold his interest anywhere near as long as boxing, horses, and planes. He’s so much like John—always the excitement—throwing caution to the wind—living for the moment!” Madeline flung up her hands and laughed sourly.
“Just how exciting do you imagine the Longhorn Bank is, Maddie?” John turned to her, his voice drawling low and soft.
Madeline, her mouth pursed to answer, was about to speak when Adele gasped, then laughed out loud. “This kid! He kicks like a mule. Probably stubborn, too.”
“Rodger’s headstrong, so you’d better expect that from your child,” Ada teased.
“ ‘Headstrong’ is an excuse, Ada,” Madeline sniffed.
John stood up abruptly, leaving the room. Madeline watched him in silence. Adele sought Ada’s eyes and locked onto her gaze until the tension in the room broke.
Madeline sighed. Adele groaned, pushing herself from the chair to stand, as Ada straightened herself.
“I’m glad we got most of your things moved into your new house, Adele. It’s awfully small, but you’ll be so comfortable in it; wait and see.”
“Oh, I just wish I could do more than I did today. Once my folks ship over some of my things, I’ll be able to do a little of my own sewing and cooking.”
“Now, don’t fret Adele!” Madeline hurried over to pat her arm. “We’re happy to help you!”
“I’ll bring your curtains sometime tomorrow, Adele,” Ada called as she let herself out the door. She gathered the night to her, hugging the solace of the vast starry sky.
She was tired, yet the night did not offer her any comfort. Restless, she moved aimlessly through her house, moving through the shadows of early morning hours. It came as no surprise when John called her later that morning from his office.
“Maddie has taken the girls to the lake for a couple of days. I have to go to Charlottesville. Will you allow me to buy you lunch for the use of your car?”
“Oh, dear, I’m not even dressed.”
John laughed into the phone. “Well, can’t you get some clothes on and go with me?”
“Oh, yes. And I have extra gas coupons.”
“An hour, then?”
Ada stood still, listening to the pounding of her heart. She and John had never had recourse to speak of the night they had been thrown together, furious in their intent to spirit Big Red away from the town’s hatred. So much lay unspoken between them, so much understood. Yet never could they speak freely to one another! They were shadow lovers. She made herself a cup of tea and took it to her bedroom. Without hesitation, she pulled out a smart, hound’s-tooth check woolen skirt and jacket. The shriek of the wind sent chills through her. She pulled on beige, hand‑knitted cashmere sweater.
When John knocked at her door, she greeted him with, “Well, it’s a little less than an hour, isn’t it?” Amused by his perplexed frown, she hastened to add, “I bet you didn’t think I’d be ready, did you?”
He entered warily, tentatively smiling at her and cast a furtive glance around the room before clearing his throat. “I guess I was a bit anxious to see you. I really wasn’t watching the time. Say, have you heard from Rodger? I got the most astounding letter from him. I’d like to share it with you.”
Ada sighed, afraid for a moment that John might have caught her distress. But he didn’t.
“The last letter I had was the one I brought over the night Heather had such a fever. Aren’t kids something the way they recover over night?”
John chuckled. Ada snatched her raincoat, swooping up her car keys and purse. “Let’s be off! On silvered wings…”
“A good night’s rest does a woman good!”
She didn’t reply, but waited for him to pass her by the opened door. John was the same height as she, and if she turned ever so slightly, they would bump noses. They stood close enough to hear the other’s heartbeat, yet neither one dared touch the other.
As John stopped by the stair landing, facing the street, he appraised her. “You look elegant. Your outfit is very flattering.”
“Thank you. I get compliments and lunch, too?”
“I should think you deserve a lot more.”
Ada trembled inside yet forced herself to remain calm as she followed him down the stairs. She was surprised that she felt no compunction about going off with Madeline’s husband. There was no danger in it—yet.
John waited for her to be seated first before he closed the car door. Ada adjusted her skirt.
It’s odd, she thought, that we can travel beside one another in silence when there is so much to talk about. The outside whizzed past as they sped along the stretches of flat highway.
“You seem self‑absorbed today, Ada.”
“Oh, it’s the rain,” she hedged, knowing it had to do with the images left behind from Rodger’s letters. The more she tried to erase them, the bolder and clearer they became. It was an attack of loneliness that rarely hit her. Not even with John sitting beside her did the blunt ache go away.
“Ada,” John asked softly, “what is the matter?”
“I…I was lost in my thoughts,” she stammered, then recovered and looked at John. “Actually I was thinking of Rodger.”
John reached over and squeezed her arm reassuringly. “You’ve noticed a change in him, too? The words in his letter say he’s all right, but he’s different. I was hoping you knew something.” John smiled sheepishly at her. “You seem to have an inside track on Rodger.”
Ada looked sharply at John. “I’m only his friend. You’re his father.” She relented, brushing wrinkles from her lap. “Maybe between the two of us, we can figure him out. What does Maddie say about it?”
“Are you joking? She only reads his words.” With a boyish gesture of his hand, he combed his fingers through his wavy, brown hair. “He said he might be stateside in a month or less.”
“I doubt if he’ll come home soon. He has a funny sense
“You’re right, you know. You were always closer than I was or Big Red. What’s your secret tack, Ada?”
Ada laughed softly. She wasn’t going to answer to him, not today or not tomorrow. Never.
John drove to an office building behind the main street of Charlottesville. She stayed in the car while he went in the concrete and brick structure emblazoned with a large sign, “Hewling and Morgan, Brokers.”
Fred Hewling had been a senior at her high school when she was a junior. She remembered him well: dark hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders that fitted a football captain’s uniform perfectly, a physique that made him look like he had been chisled by an artist. But Fred had never noticed her.
She chuckled at herself. She had gotten along all right these years. She had had Sam, a good man. Rodger and John. Even Adele, although she felt slightly resentful at this addition, and then ashamed of herself.
Adele was alone over here, with her parents stationed at the English embassy. Ada felt she had a responsibility to care for Adele, to make room inside her heart and head. She didn’t feel selfish or jealous, she just needed time with Rodger to herself.
But, she suddenly wondered, when he came home, then, what would become of her and John?
“Aren’t I the one who preaches crossing the bridges when I get there?” she whispered savagely to herself, clasping her trembling hands together on her lap. Her eyes stung. She focused on an elm tree bent against the wind, the only tree around for the whole length of the block.
With an ache, Ada thought of John. He lingered in the recesses of her every thought. Could they have been different as man and wife? He looked as Rodger might look at fifty; yet Ada could sense he had been defeated, but not by Madeline. A woman could never love a man enough to bring him down to earth and make him want to stay with her. He’d always have objects and means to travel onwards: battles to engage his strength and prowess, frontiers to conquer. Blood was such a small price to pay for it all. And woman, like a spider, weaver of internal threads, build a support system to capture the man‑sense for a while. What could she do with her mate? Eat him. And she, giver of life, center of his universe, somehow would always end up alone.
The car door opened and John slid in behind the wheel, starling her with the warmth of his body. She inhaled his pungent man‑smells.
“Well, we’re all set to go. I hope you aren’t annoyed with me for making such a beautiful woman wait for so long?”
“I guess I didn’t think of the time passing at all. Where
“A quiet restaurant by the mill. A mile or so.”
“How often do you come to Charlottesville?”
“Oh, used to be quite frequently. Fred and I were neighbors growing up. Maddie and Trixy are best friends, since grade school. We used to drive over there and have dinner once in a while when all our kids were small.”
“Why didn’t you invite Fred to join us for lunch?”
“I did, but he’s booked with another client. He took a rain check.”
Ada was disappointed, not because Fred wasn’t coming to lunch but that John had actually asked him. She silently chided herself for playing games; she wanted John to herself, but she didn’t want anything improper to happen. They were, and would be, friends. The whole lot of them.
Seated, John leaned over, his eyes bright with reflected light. “It will be so good to have Rodger back home.” He sighed and smiled, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I haven’t looked forward to anything quite so much in years.”
John nodded to the owner as they came through the door of Gaspar’s Italian restaurant. The tables were so low and small that Ada’s knees touched John’s. He seemed pleased with himself. She wondered about John’s feelings for her.
“It is cozy in here, isn’t it John? I feel as if I should whisper across the table.”
“Yes, it’s amazing that this little place has been so successful. It’s never without customers for lunch, even in wartime. I suppose everyone needs to get away from reality.”
“Is that what we’re doing? Getting away from reality?”
“I guess so, Ada.”
The waiter came and took their orders, returning at once with the bottle of white wine. The crisp coolness of the wine sliding down Ada’s throat made her indulge the sheer luxury of it. She closed her eyes for a second, blanking everything out, just to enjoy the next sip thoroughly. John was staring intently at her, a smile playing about his lips.
“Just to watch you taste your wine like that brings me the utmost pleasure. I’m glad, at last, to do something for you.”
Ada lowered her eyes to the table top, searching around inside her head for a comment to turn the conversation away from herself. But she found herself liking the compliments, and acknowledging the reward, she picked her glass up for a toast.
“To us. To those of us who deserve the best.”
John hesitated, his smile stiff as he raised his glass, clinked it against hers, but did not bring it back to his lips. He blushed, and Ada relished her small victory. They were going to be open and honest, whatever the sacrifice. It was the least she could tolerate in any affair.
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