The little girl stared at the photograph that graced the cover of Life magazine. She felt the tug on her arm and knew that she was supposed to automatically follow the lady, but the eyes that she was looking into were holding her attention. There was an aura, although the girl didn't understand the word, about the woman in the picture. It was almost like she knew her. With a final tug on her arm, the girl reluctantly left the spot and followed the woman out of the bookstore.
In silence they walked to the Lincoln Town car and in silence they road home. The little girl wished she knew how to express herself to the woman in the car with her. She wanted to ask her about the picture on the magazine and why it felt important to her. But try as she might, the thoughts wouldn't become words and so she retained her solitude. The sky was darkening as the woman pulled into the long, circular driveway of the place that they were now calling home. A home the little girl didn't think she would ever get used to. They'd lived here almost five years now but she still wished for starry, moonlit nights where she'd lie in bed and listen to waves from the Pacific hit the sand. The beach sounds had lulled her to sleep almost every night of her life. It stayed warm and soothing by the ocean almost year round. Sometimes there was too much rain. But here, on the far east coast, it was interminably cold and snow lasted far longer than she would have really liked. The first couple of years the lady had taught her how to make snow angels, snow people, and how to sled. After that those activities seemed hollow. It was as if the woman was stretching to make the little girl feel needed and loved.
"Why don't you go take a bath, Evie," the lady told her. The little girl wrinkled her nose every time she heard the nickname. She never heard anyone call her by her real name anymore. Sometimes while she was sleeping she would dream that a man was talking to her. A man who was familiar to her. A man whose face she could never fully make out. He would say her name and she would wake up. For a little while she would forget what her given name had been. Then in the morning she would remember and listen for someone to call her by it. It never happened. The woman repeated her words to the young girl. She nodded and began the steps up to the second floor.
As she slowly walked along the hallway in the north wing, the girl remembered how she had gotten lost several times in the huge house during the first year. They weren't scary times even though for many five-year-olds, they would have been. She had only been filled with wonder at all the rooms she had wandered into. Rooms filled with paintings on the wall that were so big, she could never figure out how anyone could have drawn them by hand. Rooms that had lights coming from the ceilings in something the older woman had called a chandelier. Rooms with bookshelves as high as the ceiling filled with leather bound novels, classics, prose and poetry, the complete works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, Emerson, mythological works from Italy and Greece, theological studies, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and ten different sets of encyclopedias. The little girl was sure that other written treasures were in the shelves but they were way out of reach to her. Rooms that looked like they could hold hundreds of people for dinners or entertaining. There was a conservatory and each bedroom was actually a suite of rooms including a full luxury bath, a small living area, a dining area, and a dressing room. The little girl hadn't been able to count the amount of bedrooms there were in the house. The building looked more like some of the hotels she'd been in as a small child than it did a home. But that's what the older woman kept telling the young girl. It was "her" home. The woman had told her that it had been the place where her father had lived as he grew up. She often wondered that why, if it had been her father's, she had never been in it until after his death. But that was also something she couldn't form into a question.
The girl entered her suite of rooms, decorated as one would expect a stereotypical little girl's room should look, and began undressing for her bath. As she opened the bureau to take out her pajamas, she had a flash of remembrance. A shiny blue gown. A woman wearing it. But the image wasn't clear to her. She thought about the picture on the magazine. Who was that woman and why did it bother her?
Downstairs, the older woman went into the study where the day's mail lay on the walnut desk. Underneath the white envelopes with windows signifying bills to be paid, was the magazine. When she had seen it at the market, she prayed that Evie didn't see it. But when she caught her staring at it the expression on the girl's face made it clear that she had no earthly idea whom the woman was.
Closing the door securely, Jemma Chandler, picked up the magazine and sat down in the large chair. She stared at the photo in much the same way that her charge had over an hour ago. The image of the woman she spent most of her life hating blankly stared back. A woman who had stolen her only true hope of love in her lonely life. A woman whose granddaughter was now in her care. Jemma knew that even though hate was just as strong of passion as love was, didn't harbor any ill will on the woman nor did she wish her bad luck but she did hope that the woman would never follow Evie to Cambridge. Jemma didn't want to come face to face with her. After five years she was beginning to believe that she would never meet her. Now, with her picture plastered all over Life and her name in the news once again, Jemma had a bad feeling about things. Rubbing her eyes before reading, she felt an eyelash coated with mascara stab her eye. It teared out finally and she opened the cover. Page 96. She turned to it and again was jarred by the image.
Her hair was still long and full and shiny. The color, once a deep mahogany, now had strands of silver streaking through it. Her eyes were still as green as the new leaves of spring. Her figure still athletic and well endowed. Even her fingernails were perfect. Jemma wondered if her voice still sounded as it did in all the films she had watched so long ago. The picture showed a woman, alone, seated on a wicker chair on the deck of her beach home. The wind splayed her hair back and she radiated sadness and determination. Her eyes mirrored a soul that was haunted. The hands lying in her lap displayed no jewelry. Jemma felt sympathy for the woman.
After carefully perusing the pictures that complemented the story, several of the woman alone walking on the beach, on the terrace of her Manhattan penthouse, on a sailboat in Sydney Harbor, on the grounds of her family's estate in New York state, a few older photos of her with her two husbands as well as several lovers and alleged lovers, and photos of the children she had borne, then and now, she slowly read the title of the article. The little lost girl from Sydney with nine lives who finally grew up. Jemma thought the title was appropriate enough. How many times had she read of the woman's conquering spirit only to read months later of her defeat? Even with the bitterness in her heart, Jemma also held tremendous admiration. No one else could have survived all of the hardships this one woman did and come out of it a better person. Then again, in two to three months would she be in upheaval once again? Only time would tell.
Upstairs, fresh from the cleansing bath in her porcelain tub on the four legs, Evie sat at her white dressing table and slowly combed her long, blonde hair. It was an arduous task for the ringlets seemed to form a net of unpenetrable force. It seemed to take hours for the young girl to work all of the tangles out of her wet locks. Evie knew she should be concentrating on what she would do the next day, the violin recital she had been preparing for during the last six months, but all she could think about was the picture she had seen earlier. She knew she would have to talk to Jemma about it, about her feelings, about her fear. She only hoped that Jemma would answer her questions and listen to her before dismissing it as childish.
Six weeks after her father's death, Evie found herself on a plane jetting across the United States from one coast to the other. The sister she hadn't known as well as she would have liked had told her that Cambridge was almost as old as the original colonies themselves. Founded as New Towne in the seventeenth century and home of Harvard University, MIT, and many more historical buildings, schools, and homes. The sister had told her that a woman would greet her at the airport. A woman who would be her guardian from now on. A woman who had been close to the original family who had lived at Fox Willow. Evie's family - her ancestors actually. Fox Willow was the home that her father had grown up in until his own parents perished in a tragic car accident when he was eleven. The home had been closed down ever since. But her father's will specified that Evie should have the home and live there. Her sister didn't belong there. She couldn't follow Evie. The small child had spent most of the airline trip in silence staring out of the rounded windows to the land below. She didn't understand why she was being torn away from her sister. She wanted her mother and father again. But the people had told her repeatedly that they were both in Heaven looking after her. Death was just a word to the little girl. She couldn't fathom its meaning no matter how hard she tried.
When she arrived in Boston, Jemma was there to greet her just as her sister had promised. She was a pale woman compared to all the people with their golden tans from the California sun. Her strawberry-blonde hair was swept up in a bun tightly pinned at the back of her head just above the nape of her neck. She wore silver wire rimmed glasses that sat on the end of her nose. The eyes, Evie had noticed first, were piercing stormy gray with flecks of brown in them. Evie thought they weren't very pretty and they scared her. When Jemma took her hand to lead her to the car that waited for them outside the terminal, Evie shied away from the iciness of her touch. The little girl immediately wondered if that was what Death looked like. She was afraid that Jemma had taken her mother and father from her with just a touch of her hand. It had taken several months for Evie to warm up to the woman that looked after her. She had finally decided that they were both put in a situation that neither one of them really wanted. But Jemma did try to make Evie feel at home. Jemma was the one who had begun to refer to the little girl as Evie and at first she never responded. It wasn't her name and it was hard to get used to. Jemma had given her the first toy at Fox Willow. The little girl hadn't brought any from home. The sister had said they all held too many memories for the little girl.
Copyright © 2001 Wendy J. Littrell