For some inexplicable reason I received an invitation from Matriarch Alice to attend a cookout. I have not seen her since those interminably horrible days at the hospital. Frankly, I never expected to hear from her again since I had let the team down by allowing Amazon Barbie to reign supreme. And, for some even further inexplicable reason, I have accepted the invitation.
I didn’t panic when I received the invitation. I didn’t panic after I accepted the invitation. However, on the drive to Matriarch Alice’s home on the Chesapeake Bay, I decided to panic. Between you and me, that’s a pretty stupid time to panic.
Cars are parked in the circular drive and along the street, informing me that this is not going to be an intimate gathering. Panic subsides slightly.
I see Dominic’s car, not Damien’s. Panic’s back.
One thing I am certain of is that Matriarch Alice is not beyond meddling in the life of her favored son. I hope I am not a pawn in an unhappy chess match.
A man in a tuxedo opens the door. He nods, takes the bottle of Pinot Noir I’d brought, and leads me to the patio. As we draw closer, the sound of a live band and chatter grows louder. Not your average cookout or at least not the average ones I’ve ever been to.
I step into the sunshine and glance around, not seeing anyone I recognize. A little butterfly of panic rises in my belly; it’s currently exercising, jumping jacks, I think.
Matriarch Alice separates from the group she was standing with and approaches me. Her jaw tightens and her eyebrow arches.
“Ah, Clare MacKay. What’s happened to your hair? Why must you young women try to look like boys? Especially when you have such beautiful hair?”
I guess she doesn’t like my new pixie cut. Actually no one has complemented me on it since I had it shorn. Probably not a coincidence.
“Nice to see you again, Alice.”
“You’ve let me down, but I presume that you know that.”
I refrain from shrugging. She is the type of person who would chastise me for that. “Events were taken out of my hands.”
“Pah. You’re too nice. Amazon Barbie has no such qualms. She outright lied and when I tried to persuade my son of that, he merely informed me that I would lie because I liked you better. Have you ever? I may manipulate, but I have never needed to lie.”
I smile. She is honest, probably to a fault.
“He informed me a few weeks ago that you’ve taken up with Damien.” She watches my reaction.
“I’m not sure what that means, but I like Damien. Sometimes.”
“I won’t lie. Damien reminds me of his father and has for a very long time. I’m afraid it’s colored my treatment of him. In the past few months I have tried to mend my ways, make things up to him, but he’s invariably skeptical. It’s my fault. I never acknowledged his triumphs and made so much over Nicky. But Nicky needed my attention more.”
It sounds like she’s making excuses to me for favoring one son over the other. I remember her showing me around the house last July and how so many of the photos were of Dominic with very few of Damien. Now it made sense, or as much sense as a situation like this could make.
“I asked him to come today against my better judgment, but perhaps I’m uncertain as to what that is. I would rather you were with Nicky. It’s just a matter of time before Nicky comes to the same realization. I’ve said enough. Enjoy yourself, Clare,” she says and then vanishes inside.
I accept a glass of prosecco and stand off to the side, people watching, and listening as the band’s singer performs “Come Away with Me.”
Round dining tables with white linens have been set up on the lawn. Dominic and Tansy stand near the stump where Dominic and I sat what feels like fifty-thousand years ago. They are smiling at each other and drinking beer from bottles. They clink the bottles together and kiss, obviously in a better place than they had been. I turn away and instantly see Damien. He’s watching me. When our eyes meet, he grins, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.
He’s wearing khakis and a blue button down with work boots. I guess he would only court his mother’s approval just so far.
He reaches out and snags a strand of hair. “Princess Clare, what happened to your hair?”
I grimace. “Chopped it off.”
“I let someone else do it.”
He tries to remain poker-faced. “Why?”
“Needed a drastic change.”
“Just your hair or everything?”
“My hair. My job. My life.”
I squint at him. “I don’t know what you are.”
“I could be anything.”
“You frequently are.”
“I can try to be what you need.”
“Good luck with that. I don’t know what I need.” My breath feels funny in my chest as I look at him. “Anyway, you’re the man who said you couldn’t give me anything but now.”
“Now’s a pretty damn good place to start.”
“It’s all that we have, Clare. Right now.” With that, he cups my chin and kisses me lightly. He takes the glass from my hand, sets it on the railing, and draws me close. We sway to the music, eyes fastened on each other.
end 9/24/2016 (2)