“Why don’t we have our tea in my room?” Julia asked after she’d greeted Eden. “No one else is home today. They’ve all gone to an orchard somewhere to pick apples.”
Eden paused slightly before nodding a small assent. She hoped the girl didn’t sense her reluctance. She would have preferred a public place, but Julia’s house was nearby and it was easier to agree with her than protest.
But once in Julia’s room, cup of tea in hand, on the edge of the narrow bed where Julia had invited her to sit, Eden wished she had protested after all.
Julia talked continuously, and she sat by Eden on the bed, in spite of the fact that two perfectly suitable chairs stood in the rather large room, flanking the cold hearth. The steam heat Julia preferred to a fire had made the room too hot for Eden’s comfort, as winter had not set in, and the days were yet mild.
Julia had removed her hat and gloves upon entering the room and had taken Eden’s and put them with her own, in a large armoire in the corner. Eden felt a bit trapped by the gesture, though how it was anything but simple hospitality she couldn’t honestly say.
“Have you heard anything from Gertrude lately?” Julia was saying now. “She’s been positively neglecting me since she left college. I don’t get one letter from her for every three I send, I think.”
Gertrude was the last person Eden wanted to talk about. But she surprised herself by answering Julia frankly. “I don’t hear from her often. I’d rather talk about something else anyway.” Eden twisted the teacup in her hands, then took a reluctant sip from it.
“Of course,” Julia nodded with a knowing smile. “I perfectly understand. I was horrified, Eden, horrified by her treatment of you—you can be certain.
What did Julia know about Gertrude’s “treatment” of her? Eden wondered anxiously. Gertrude and Julia were best friends. There was no guessing what they might have said about Eden. Eden wondered if Julia “pitied” her too.
“I think Gertrude was all wrong about you, Eden,” Julia went on, as if conversing with the train of Eden’s thought. “She didn’t really appreciate you for all that she tried to keep you to herself.”
“Keep me to herself?” Eden was really puzzled.
“Oh, you know. She wouldn’t let any of us get too close to you. I for one, would have liked to get to know you better. Now Gertrude’s moved on to other interests,” here, Julia made a mocking face “maybe I can.”
The girl sat her teacup down and reached to take Eden’s without asking. Eden had not finished the tea but it had gone cold and she hadn’t wanted it anyway. Julia put the cup beside hers on the bedside table then put her hands in her lap.
All at once, Eden felt her heart thump hard. Somehow, she knew that Julia wanted her to kiss her. But Eden didn’t want to kiss Julia. She had not wanted to come to this room with her. She had not wanted to discuss Gertrude Prescott with her. Nevertheless, there Julia sat, a little closer to Eden than was comfortable, giving Eden her trademark gaze from beneath her long eyelashes and smiling.
Eden stood up. “I’m sorry Julia, I’ve just remembered I have a dinner engagement this evening. I really ought to get home and dress.”
“You’ve just remembered a dinner engagement?” Julia asked, incredulous. “With whom?”
Eden looked at her feet, “a friend in Boston,” she said, thinking automatically of Eleanor, though they did not have plans tonight.
“Oh.” Julia rose with an audible sigh of disappointment and retrieved Eden’s hat and gloves.
“Thanks for tea,” Eden said, hastily brushing Julia’s cheek with her lips. Then she turned and walked down the stairs too quickly for the girl to follow.