Secrets

Sunday
Manor House Dining Room

Honey studied her brother as her parents talked about their upcoming trip to Rome.  Jim had been unusually quiet that evening, not even reacting when Miss Trask complained that Freckles, his black Lab puppy, had chewed her favorite slippers to bits.  Their parents, sitting at the other end of the table, didn’t seem to notice that there was anything wrong.  Honey, sensitive as always, felt sure that something was bothering him.

“How is Thunderer’s leg today, Jim?”  Matthew Wheeler looked down the long table at his adopted son.  Jim had hardly touched the delicious steak dinner in front of him.  “Jim? Jim!”

Jim jumped and looked around the table to see who was calling his name.  “I’m sorry, Dad. Did you say something?”

“Are you feeling okay tonight, Son?  I asked how Thunderer’s leg was doing this evening.  Did Doctor Kramer think it was serious?”

Jim struggled to center his thoughts.  I don’t care how Thunderer’s leg is!  My whole world is crashing down around my ears! “Uh, no.  Doc thought it would be fine with plenty of rest.  He gave Regan some antibiotics to guard against infection, but…”  Jim trailed off.

“Are you sick?  What is wrong with you tonight?”  Madeleine Wheeler dabbed her lips with her cream-colored, linen napkin.  “Is there something on your mind?  You seem distracted.”

“Yes, there is, Mother, but I would like to wait until after dinner to discuss it with all of you.  Can we meet in the library about eight?”


In the Library
After Dinner

Jim paced in front of the hearth as his parents and sister settled themselves on the comfortable couches in front of the marble fireplace. The walls were lined with floor to ceiling shelves that were filled with everything from rare first editions to mass-market paperbacks.  Jim had always felt comfortable in the library.  It was a welcoming room, in opposition to the elegance of the rest of the Manor House.

“Okay, Jim.  We’re all here now.  What is going on?”  Honey looked nervously at her brother, suddenly very afraid of what she was about to hear.

Jim turned to look at the people who had saved him, the people who had offered him a home and family when it seemed as if no one else in the world cared about him.  They were as dear to him as his own parents had been.  In fact, he went for long stretches of time forgetting that he hadn’t always lived at the Manor House.  The last thing he wanted to do was hurt them, but he felt compelled to meet Harriet Frayne, his great-grandmother that he hadn’t known existed until two days ago.

“First of all, I want you to know how much I love you all, and thank you for the opportunities you have given me.  Not only for the home and family that you’ve provided, but the little things that told me that you loved me, like the month-long grounding that you gave me when Brian, Mart, Dan and I got smashed on cheap whiskey in the clubhouse.  You cared enough to let me know that I had screwed up big time, and, for that, I thank you.”

“I thought the best punishment for that were the stalls that you guys had to muck out at five-thirty in the morning.  I’ll never forget your green faces!”  Matthew chuckled at the memory of the misery that the male Bob-Whites had felt, and the satisfied look on Regan’s face as he gave the worst stall to his nephew.

Matt looked at his son with concern.  “But that’s not what you gathered us here to tell us, is it, Son?”

Jim shook his head.  “I received a letter and package from Harriet Frayne.  She’s my great-grandmother, and she wants me to go to San Francisco to meet her.”   There was a stunned silence in the room as Jim dropped his bombshell.


Thursday
Aboard Mr. Wheelers’ Private Jet

Trixie settled back into the lush seat and sighed.  She felt as if she had been on a roller coaster of emotions ever since Jim had received the mysterious package from his great-grandmother.

“If you’re ready back there, Jim, we’re cleared for take-off.”  The deep voice of Bob, Mr. Wheeler’s pilot, came through the loudspeaker.  Jim and Trixie were leaving for San Francisco to meet Harriet Frayne.

Trixie took out her small make-up mirror and studied Jim unobtrusively in its reflection.  The handsome redhead was staring out the window, lost in his thoughts.  She heard the powerful engines roar as Bob prepared to taxi down the runway.  As they lifted off, she thought back to the scene at Crabapple Farm the night before.

The Bob-Whites had gathered at the Beldens’ home for a barbecue before Jim and Trixie headed to California. Trixie had needed to do some fast talking in order to convince her parents to allow her to go with Jim, but they understood her need to be there for him.

Jim had gathered the Bob-Whites and broke the news to them. Their reaction was typical Bob-White; lots of support and love. They decided to spend the last evening with Jim and Trixie together, as a show of solidarity.

Honey had carried out large bowls of potato salad from the kitchen as Dan and Mart good-naturedly argued about whether or not the burgers were done.  Brian, Hallie, and Jim had played basketball on the terrace, while Reddy and Freckles waited patiently by the grill, hoping that the forlorn expressions on their faces would be enough for a quick treat.  Lucky lay curled up on the porch swing, ready to do battle if the dogs came too close.  Diana had brought her old hula-hoop, and taught Bobby how to use it.  He hadn’t succeeded in learning, mainly because he dissolved into giggles every time he tried.

“Attention, fellow comrades!  Gather in a circular formation!  Mart the Magnificent will contribute a joke for your listening pleasure!”  Mart jumped up onto the picnic table and had stood, waiting for his friends to join him.

“Mart, you’re stepping on the clean tablecloth with your ugly boots!  Get down!!”  Trixie glared at her almost-twin.

Mart tried in vain to gather the attention of the rowdy group.  The only person other than Trixie paying any attention to him was Diana, who had abandoned Bobby and the hula-hoop, and stood gazing adoringly at her favorite Bob-White.  Finally, Mart leaned down and whispered in Diana’s ear.  She giggled and put two fingers in her mouth, letting out a piercing whistle.  Instantly, silence descended over the patio, as everyone turned to look at the source of the noise.

“Have you heard of the new restaurant on the moon?”  Mart peered out over the assembled group.

“No!” the group shouted back to him.

“Great food, no atmosphere!”  Mart crowed the punch line to the corny joke, as groans erupted from the Bob-Whites.

As Mart clumsily stepped down to the bench of the table, Honey poked at a stain left behind by his left shoe. “Mart!  You stepped in ABC gum!  Gross!!!”

Mrs. Belden hustled over, scolding Mart as she scraped at the spot with a table knife.

Trixie watched her friends, and thought that all was right in her world, at least for the moment.  Who knew what tomorrow would bring?

“Jim?”  Trixie lightly touched his hand.  “What are you thinking right now?”

“Oh, Trix, I was just thinking about how much this has hurt my family.  You didn’t see the look on Mother’s face when she read the letter from Harriet.  Honey looked so sad, and even Dad was quiet.  How can I think about doing this when I know how much it’s going to hurt them?”

“Your family loves you, Jim, and they know that you love them. They understand how important this is to you.  Of course, they are worried, but not about your love for them.  They are concerned that you will be hurt by the answers that Harriet may have for your questions.”

Jim turned back to the window.  They were over the Midwest, and the endless fields of corn and wheat were a sunny gold beneath them.  The day was a beautiful one, with bright sunshine and large, puffy white clouds surrounding them.

Trixie left her seat and made her way to the small galley in the front of the plane.  She rummaged through the small refrigerator until she found what she was looking for.  She returned to her seat with a bottle of white wine and two crystal glasses.  Pouring the sparkling wine into the glasses, she passed one to Jim.

Jim accepted the glass and took a sip.  He turned back to the window as the jet carried him farther west.


Half Moon Bay Airport
Half Moon Bay, California

The fog was starting to roll in off the water when Bob touched the small plane down.  Trixie had switched seats with Jim and had her nose pressed to the window beside her chair, watching the beautiful landscape around her.

As they descended the small ramp from the airplane to the tarmac below, a tall man wearing a dark blue uniform approached them.  “Mr. Frayne?  Miss Belden?   My name is Joseph.  Mrs. Frayne sent me to drive you into the city.  Let me collect your bags, and you can follow me.”

Trixie and Jim followed Joseph through the small terminal to the tree-lined parking lot on the other side.  Trixie let out a gasp of surprise as Joseph stopped beside a shiny, dark-blue limousine.  Jim grinned as Joseph opened the door, and they slipped inside.  “Not a bad way to travel, huh, Trix?”

“I could definitely become accustomed to this mode of travel, Mr. Frayne.”  Trixie looked around the cream interior of the car.  The upholstery was leather, and there was a small bar, television set, and phone all within easy reach.

As she watched, the privacy screen lowered, and strains of “Oops, I Did It Again” flowed into the backseat.  Trixie giggled at the thought of proper Joseph listening to Britney Spears.  Joseph turned in his seat to talk to them.  “It’s about a forty-five minute drive into the city along some of the most spectacular coastline in the state.  Please settle back and enjoy the views.  Help yourself to anything in the mini-bar, and feel free to call your families to let them know you have arrived safely.”

As they sped down the coast, they talked quietly about the beauty of the coastline, and their impressions of Joseph. All too soon, the limo entered the city limit, and made its way to Pacific Heights.  Jim fell silent when the car entered a long, tree-lined drive, and pulled up in front of a large, white mansion with long columns surrounding the wide veranda.

This is where she lives?  Gleeps!”  Trixie stepped from the car as Joseph opened her door, and looked up at the house.  She felt Jim stand beside her uncertainly.

“Just go up to the front door and ring the bell.  Mrs. Frayne is expecting you.”  Joseph drove away toward the back of the house, as Jim and Trixie moved together up the steps of the veranda.  Jim took a deep breath and rang the bell.  The muffled chimes could be heard somewhere deep in the house.

“Here goes!”  Jim took a deep breath and watched apprehensively as the heavy oak door swung open.  He let his breath out in a whoosh when the person answering the door proved to be an ancient maid dressed in a black maid’s uniform.

“May I help you?”  The maid looked down her nose at Jim and Trixie, no small feat considering that she stood only five feet tall.

“James Frayne and Beatrix Belden here to see Harriet Frayne.  She’s expecting us.”  Trixie was so awed by the imperiousness of the maid that she didn’t contradict Jim’s use of her hated first name.

“Yes, Mrs. Frayne is waiting for you in the morning room.  Follow me.”

Trixie arched her brow at Jim as they followed the small woman through an endless maze of corridors lined with elegant artwork and priceless antiques.

Presently, they arrived in a large, sunny room dominated by a pink, marble fireplace.  The chintz-covered furniture was arranged in a conversational setting in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the formal gardens.  Trixie felt uncomfortably out-of-place until she noticed the bouquet of dead carnations set on a small, cherry table in the corner.  Somehow, the tiny imperfection made the room seem cozy.

Sitting on a rose-colored settee was a small, diminutive woman with tightly curled, pure white hair.  Her features were fine, set in an aristocratic face that turned from the garden view as Trixie and Jim entered.  Smiling tentatively, she rose, and holding out her arms to Jim, she kissed him softly on the cheek. “Welcome to San Francisco.  I hope you had a pleasant trip.”

Jim pulled back and awkwardly extended his hand to Harriet. Trixie caught a sad expression on Harriet’s face before she carefully schooled her features into a pleasant smile. Harriet moved gracefully to a chintz chair and sat down.  She gestured to the loveseat and said, “Would you care for some tea?”  She didn’t wait for a response, but moved to pour them each a cup.  She obviously had something that she wanted to share with them.  “I’m sure that you have questions, and I think that I can answer some of them by sharing my story.”

“I was nineteen years old when I fell in love with Albert Frayne. He was a businessman who was in Boston doing business with my father.  I still remember when he came to our house.  I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He was much older than I was, and I thought he was so intelligent and distinguished.  He had a son who was my age.  I didn’t care.  His wife had died nine years previously, and he had raised his son alone.  Albert and James were very close.

“Before long, we fell in love and began meeting secretly at his hotel. One day, I found out that I was expecting a child.  I immediately told Albert.  We decided that the child was a blessing, for we knew that we loved each other, and wanted to be married. We began making plans for a small wedding, informed my parents of our plans, and then it was time for me to meet Albert’s son, James.”

Harriet’s hands began to tremble.  She paused and poured a small glass of water from the cut-glass decanter on the side-table, offering a glass to Jim and Trixie.  Jim shook his head impatiently at the offer, but Trixie accepted the water gratefully.  Harriet took a deep breath and continued her story.

“Albert and I met James in New York for dinner.  When we got to the restaurant, James was waiting.  I’ve never seen fury like that before or since.  He told Albert that he was being seduced by that ‘Boston tramp’ who had ‘pulled the wool over his eyes.’  He called his father a despicable human being who had forgotten the vows he had made to his poor mother, who had died so many years ago.  He finished by telling his father that he would never forgive him, and that he no longer considered Albert to be his father.”

“Albert and I got married three weeks later, but the damage was done.  James and Albert never spoke again. Albert was killed in an accident six months later when his horse balked at a fence, and I raised our son alone.  I sent photos and letters to James, hoping he would relent and take part in his brother’s life, but they were returned unopened.”

Harriet paused and took a sip of water.  Her hands were trembling almost uncontrollably, and Trixie found herself leaning forward, braced to catch her if she fell.  Jim sat rigidly, with his hands clenched in his lap.

“As my son grew older, he began to question why his half-brother had never acknowledged his existence.  He asked me time and again about James, but the only answer I could give him was that I had not heard from James in many years. When he was twenty years old, Jonathan went to Ten Acres to confront James.  What James told him, I don’t know, but Jonathan came back a changed man. James had poisoned him against me.  Jonathan eventually married, and had a son named Winthrop. I was no longer a part of his life either.  Winthrop grew up not far from my home in Albany, but I never heard from him until one day a package arrived in the mail.  It was from Katje, Win’s wife, who had decided the pain and suffering had continued long enough.  She wrote letters and sent mementos of my great-grandson.  That, of course, was you, Jim.  The letters continued until your father died.  When I tried to reach Katje again, the letters were returned to me.  I never knew what had happened to you until recently.”

Jim angrily burst out, “We never left!  We moved seven miles down the road!  You had the power to rescue me, and you did nothing!”


Cathedral Hill Hotel
San Francisco

Jim and Trixie stood in the window of Jim’s eighth-floor room and looked out over the city.  Jim had been quiet since leaving Harriet’s mansion, and Trixie was content to leave him alone with his thoughts.  She knew that when he was ready, he would share them with her.  She leaned back as his strong freckled arms surrounded her and let herself be lost in the moment.

Jim sighed heavily. “I don’t know what to think. My father was an innocent victim in generations of hatred, yet he did nothing to reach out to his grandmother.”

Trixie could understand the turmoil inside Jim.  His father had been larger than life to him, and now that image was being tested.  “Your father was told from the time he was born what an evil woman Harriet was. It’s hard to counter lifelong conditioning, Jim.”

“Maybe it is, Trix.” Jim sat down at the small mahogany table and leafed absent-mindedly through the room service menu. “I need some time to process this.  Do you mind if I take a nap? Maybe you could explore some of the city as long as we’re here.”

Trixie did not particularly want to head out on her own, but she understood Jim’s need to be alone. “Of course.  I’ll bring you something from Chinatown!”


Chinatown
San Francisco

Trixie wandered the streets of Chinatown aimlessly, charmed by the restaurants and more than a little repelled at the sight of dead fish hanging in the windows of the fish markets.  I’m glad that Moms buys her fish without the eyes still in them.  I don’t think that I could handle eating something that was staring back at me!  Turning away from the market window, she bumped into a short, dark man.  “Oh, excuse me!  I didn’t see you.”

The man stepped away and nodded his head, never taking his eyes off her.  Trixie continued down the street, feeling his piercing, blue eyes boring into her.  She turned suddenly and scanned the street behind her. The man was gone.  Now, Trixie, don’t go looking for a mystery here. The man was shopping for fish, and you rudely bumped into him.  Don’t turn EVERYTHING into a mystery!  Mart is right about you!

That afternoon, she visited the highlights of San Francisco.  She watched a juggler on Fisherman’s Wharf, had a hot fudge sundae at Ghiradelli Square, and bought a short satin bathrobe with a giant Chinese dragon on the back of it at a dime store in Chinatown.  She blushed, thinking of how Jim’s face would look when he saw it.

Several times that afternoon, she thought she caught a glimpse of the strange man that she had bumped into. Once, he had been leaning against a large picture of Bob Dole, dancing his way through life with the help of Viagra.  She thought she had spotted him at the Embarcadero, ducking into See’s Candy Shop as she window-shopped for shoes. I’m starting to lose it!  I’m seeing this guy everywhere!

A little before five, Trixie realized that she should head back to the hotel to meet Jim for supper. She had to walk several blocks to reach a cable car stop, as she was determined that she was not leaving San Francisco without a ride.   She started up the block to the stop, when she became aware of footsteps behind her.  She paused, listening, but heard only silence.  Uneasily, she took three steps, listening intently, and, once again, heard footsteps.  Somebody was definitely following her. A feeling of dread flooded her body.  She searched the street behind her, but saw nothing.  Turning, she walked quickly down the street to the cable car, constantly listening for the threatening footsteps behind her. She reached the area just as the car was leaving and quickly hopped aboard, hoping that the stranger following her would be left behind.  The city blocks faded behind her, as the car carried her back to Nob Hill and the safety of Jim.


At the Hotel

Trixie hurried to the courtesy phone, still looking over her shoulder for any sign of the person who had been following her.  She hastily dialed Jim’s room and surveyed the plush lobby as the phone rang.  A toddler was screaming his head off as his harried mother tried to check in at the front desk.  His father was carrying two pieces of luggage, and a young girl who was sleeping with her head on his shoulder.  Somebody missed his nap today, Trixie thought as she waited for Jim to pick up the phone.  That’s strange.  Why isn’t he answering? The phone is right next to the bed, so he should hear it even if he’s sleeping.

“Excuse me, Miss Belden?” The concierge approached Trixie.  “Mr. Frayne left word that you were to meet him in the lounge area.  Would you care to follow me?”

“The lounge? That’s strange, I thought Jim wanted to …”, Trixie broke off, suddenly aware that Jim probably didn’t want a complete stranger to know his life story.  She followed the concierge into the lounge area.  The long, rectangular room was tastefully arranged with small, intimate tables.  There were crystal candle globes on the tables, which sent flickering light onto the dark red floor to ceiling drapes which covered the windows on three sides of the room.  Trixie glanced around for Jim as she moved into the room.  There was a table of Japanese businessmen sitting in front of the stone fireplace, and an intimate couple ordering a bottle of wine in the corner.  Trixie’s eyes made a sweep of the room, before coming back to rest on the couple in the corner.  That’s not a couple, that’s Jim and some blonde floozy!  Suddenly furious, Trixie stalked to the corner, slammed her purse down on the table, and demanded, “Just what is going on here?”

Smoothly, Jim stood and gave Trixie a light kiss on the lips.  “Here she is.  We were just talking about you, Trix.  This is Anita.  She’s staying in the room next to ours.”

Trixie stared at Anita through narrowed eyes.  “So, you’re staying next to us?  How exactly did you get my boyfriend to meet you for drinks?  How convenient for you that I’m not legally old enough to drink!  Did you think that you could get him alone?”

“Trixie! What is wrong with you?  There’s nothing to be jealous of here!  We happened to be coming out of our rooms at the same time, and Anita apologized because she thought that her music had been turned up too loud. We started talking and I decided to come down to wait for you, so we could go to dinner in the dining room.”

Trixie felt as though a bucket of ice water had doused her.  She dropped her head and muttered, “I’m sorry.  I’m pleased to meet you, Anita.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Trixie,” Anita giggled and held out her hand.  “Don’t worry!  If he belonged to me, my reaction would have been the same.  No hard feelings.”

Trixie clasped Anita’s hand and shook it. “No, I have a tendency to jump to conclusions, usually with both feet.  Please forgive my rudeness.  I had a rough afternoon.”  She glanced at Jim as the hostess approached, ready to tell him about the strange man that had followed her.

Jim smiled at the two women.  “Should we see if our table is ready?” He took Trixie’s arm and led her through the French doors into the dining room.


After Dinner
Trixie and Jim’s Room

“…and then I managed to jump aboard the cable car just as it was leaving, and came back here.  What do you think that was all about, Jim?  Mart would say that I’m being paranoid, but I have this feeling.”

Trixie was sprawled across the bed flat on her back, with her head on Jim’s hard, rippled abdomen.  He was lying in bed, propped up against the pillows, lightly playing with her hair.

“I don’t know, Trix. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time that you jumped to conclusions about somebody.  Probably, it was just a tourist who was lost.”

Trixie turned her head and studied Jim’s handsome face.  He looks tired.  I know that it wasn’t some tourist, but I’ll never convince him.  Besides, I don’t want him to worry. In two days, we’ll leave here and go home, and whoever was following me will be gone.

“Hey, big guy, want to see what I got you today in Chinatown?”

“What did you get me in Chinatown?”

Trixie climbed off the bed and retrieved her shopping bags from the pile she had left them in by the door.  She rummaged through them until she found the green satin bathrobe that she had bought earlier.

“Wait!  I have to wrap it first.  I’ll be right back.”  Trixie smiled at Jim as she took the bag into the bathroom with her.

Jim was watching the Giants stomp the Dodgers on TV when Trixie came out of the bathroom wearing the bathrobe, and nothing else.  She waited by the door until he turned and looked at her, giggling when he choked on the drink of water he had just taken.

She moved toward him.  “I got green…to match your eyes.”


Later That Night
Marin County

The phone rang shrilly in the quiet of the apartment.  The man set his cigarette in the ashtray beside the phone and answered.

“Report?”

“Contact made.”

“Excellent.  Proceed to stage two.”

 

 

This story is part two of Out of the Past, which was my first attempt at writing.  Many, many thanks to all who helped me when I didn’t have a CLUE where this was going!  Susansuth, April, El, Carol, Greyfort, and Mountainhawk all provided valuable editing help and brainstorming opportunities.

Special thanks to El and Susansuth for editing this story.  Any errors are mine, and mine alone. I bow to their expertise, as always, and once again, shamelessly plagiarized all suggestions!  ;-)

This story was written as a Jixemitri CWP #2 submission.  Required elements are:  ABC gum, a joke, a hula hoop, a special occasion or a holiday (the first meeting between Jim and his great-grandmother), a makeup mirror, a bouquet of dead flowers, Viagra, and the BWG banquet menu.

As always, the characters depicted do not belong to me.  They are registered trademarks of Western Publishing and Random House Publishing, and no money is being made from this story.

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