Monthly Archives: June 2013

Eden 28:4

That evening, Eden stood in her mother’s kitchen doorway. She’d taken her father’s horse when he had come home, had rubbed it down, fed and watered it and turned it out into the dry but shady paddock behind the stable. As she made her way back to the house, she could smell the biscuits her mother would soon put on the supper table.

But her parents hadn’t heard her as she approached and now she watched them quietly through the open door.

Their backs were to her, her mother wrapped in her father’s arms as he kissed her neck and rocked her gently off balance so that she had to rely on his body for support. Her mother was giggling modestly. Her father was speaking low near her ear.

All her life, Eden had watched her parents in moments like this, which they did nothing to conceal from their twin daughters. She had come to realize, as she grew, that the other couples on the Double S did not behave this way. There was no doubt that everyone on the ranch shared fierce loyalties both to their own families and to the others there. But everyone knew without saying it that there was something special about Joe and Lillian Smith. They were still as in love with each other as a pair of newlyweds.

Eden took off her boots, letting them drop loudly by the door.

Her parents turned and smiled at her. “Are you hungry, darling?” her mother asked. Joe sat down at the table and Lillian stepped to the oven, reached in and brought out the biscuits.

Joe“How was Minna?” Joe asked.

“Busy, I suppose,” Eden said. “I only talked to her for a few minutes.”

Lillian poured lemonade into a glass by Eden’s plate. “I thought you spent the day over there.”

“Just the morning. I went riding.”

Joe looked up. “You took Arrow out?”

“Just down the river a little way.”

“It’s all right,” Joe said. “He’s your horse. How was he?”

“He was lively. But it was all right. I miss that.”

cowboyJoe smiled. “Come out with us tomorrow—there’s plenty more where that came from. You know we can always use your help.”

“All right,” Eden agreed.

Eden 28:3

On the morning after her arrival, Eden stepped into her sister’s yard and took the basket of clean laundry from her arms. “Let me do it,” she said. “Go sit on the porch and rest for a change.”

Minna put her hands on her hips. “You’re telling me to rest, now? You haven’t been home in two years. When you’re away I’m lucky to get a letter from you every three months. Now you’re going to ride in and rescue me?”

But Minna took the clothespins from the pocket of her apron and handed Eden half of them. Minna’s three-year old twins, Edith and Oliver, chased a cat under the porch and five-year old Nate chased his siblings in turn.

Eden and Minna hung the wet clothes together in silence for a long time.

“I’m sorry I haven’t written more,” Eden finally said. “I haven’t heard much from you either.”

“What can I tell you that you don’t already know?” Minna said. “Things here are always the same. But you’ve been all over the world. Don’t think I’m not glad to see you. But I hardly know you are anymore.”

Eden frowned. “Of course you know me, Minna. Who else knows me so well as you?”

“You tell me.”

But Eden was quiet again.

laundry“I didn’t know what to write,” she said at last. “Everything was so different from home. I didn’t know how to explain it all.”

“You might have tried harder. When you left home you promised to write every week. And then you just slipped away and left me here alone.”

“Alone?” Eden said. “You have Mama and Papa—you have Peter. You have everyone…”

“You know what I mean by alone. At least you seem to now. Maybe Sophia was all you needed, but no husband could replace my own twin sister.” She pinned the last piece of laundry to the line and picked up the empty basket. “Do you think I wouldn’t have liked to run to you for comfort sometimes in the past two years?”

“I never thought of that. I thought you didn’t need me anymore.”

“How could you think so?” Minna’s brow wrinkled. “I wrote you when the baby died. You knew—”  a catch stopped her voice.

Faraway_Ranch_Main_House“I’m sorry. I guess I thought Mama…”

But Minna didn’t look at Eden. She turned and walked back to the house.

Eden 28:2

Sophia opened the front door. It was ten o’clock and she had been either sitting for today’s examinations or studying for tomorrow’s since eight in the morning.  She longed for bed and hoped Claire had already retired to her room.

She switched on the light and took off her hat, inspecting her exhausted face in the mirror as she smoothed her hair uselessly. On the table in the hall was a pile of mail. She nearly left it for the morning, but after hanging her coat on a hook, she picked it up and found beneath two letters from her mother, a thick packet sealed with red wax and addressed in an unfamiliar hand. The packet was postmarked “Paris.”

Her heart pounded as she groped her way up the dark stairs and to her room. Claire called to her, but she paid no attention, locking her door behind her. She sat upon her bed and opened the packet. At least a dozen letters tumbled out. A loose sheet that had been folded around them lay atop the pile. She picked it up.

Eleanor - Version 2Dear Sophia,

Enclosed here, please find the letters Eden has been writing to you since you left last summer.

I confess with some embarrassment that I thought it best to prevent her correspondence with you, knowing you yourself had forbidden it, and feeling that both of you would do better to part without the lingering pain such correspondence can cause.

I acted, perhaps, outside the scope of my friendship with Eden. Perhaps it is too much to ask you to believe I meant well or to forgive me for it now. But Eden’s behavior these past months has been increasingly alarming and now that she has left France and will have nothing to do with me, I see no harm in sending you these letters. Perhaps there is something you can do to help her after all.

Please accept my sincere apology for interfering in this way. You have all my best wishes and highest respect,

Eleanor Stephens

Sophia turned to the letters from Eden and read them in the order they had fallen, smearing the ink on every page with her tears.

Eden 28:1

IMG_2801Eden watched the desert landscape through the dirty window of the gentlemen’s smoking car and thought about how long it had been since she had seen it last. She remembered writing Sophia happy love letters in the summer before their final year at college and marveled at how naive she had been; at how different things were now. She lit a cigarette, leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes.

She wished she had never gone to Paris, never picked up a paint brush, never done a single thing but wait upon Sophia Abington like a priest serving a goddess. She cursed herself for ever thinking she needed anything more than to sit at Sophia’s feet for the rest of her life.

The train pulled into the Tucson station before Eden was finished with her cigarette. But she threw it on the floor of the car and crushed it with her heel. She didn’t want her mother to see her smoking. She collected a bag from beneath her seat and handed a check to the porter to retrieve her trunk. Then she stepped down to the platform and into her mother’s waiting arms.

A sob took Eden by surprise as Lillian held her tight. Lillian pushed Eden an arm’s length away and looked at her crying daughter. She ran her hands through Eden’s hair and brushed the tears from her cheeks. “My baby…don’t cry, you’re home now,” Lillian told her with a smile.

“Mama…Sophia…” Eden managed to say.

Lillian gave her daughter a grave look, “Eden? What of Sophia?”

“She’s given me back her ring. She won’t answer my letters. She won’t see me. I tried—in Boston. She…” Eden shook her head.

“Is it a man? Like Gertrude?”

“No mama,” Eden said, wiping her face hard, willing the tears to stop. “It was my fault…in Paris.”

“Alright, darling,” her mother said, “you can tell me about it when we get home. Your papa is waiting with the wagon.”

Southern_Pacific_Depot_1909Eden took a trembling breath and reached down to lift her trunk as her mother took her portmanteau and they left the platform to find Joe.

Eden 27:5

The sun stole through the curtains of the room and crept across the bed. Eleanor rolled into Bette’s naked arms and sighed.

“Beth.” She savored the name on her tongue.

Bette just stroked Eleanor’s hair sleepily.

“Why have we been hiding from each other all this time?” Eleanor said.

“It’s hardly simple…For one thing I have had the distinct impression you felt I would steal Eden away from you.”

“More the fool, I,” Eleanor said pulling away a bit and propping herself on an elbow. “She’s stolen herself away from us both quite capably on her own.”

Bette watched Eleanor’s face a moment. “What is she to you?”

Eleanor rose, pulled her dressing gown from a chair beside the bed and threw it over her shoulders. She walked to the window and pulled back the curtains. With her back still to Bette, she said at last, “She’s my heir.”

Bette sat up. “Your heir?”

“I’m leaving it all to her—the entire Stephens estate.” Eleanor still did not face Bette.

“That must put a strain on your relations with her.”

Eleanor turned now and walked to the mantel where she took a cigarette from a box and lit it.

“She doesn’t know,” she confessed, glancing at Bette.

Bette sat in stunned silence.

“For the very reason that I don’t want our relations strained in that way…” Eleanor went on, the smallest trace of defensiveness in her tone.

“But why Eden?” Bette asked.

“For a start, it will allow her to be a real artist—free her from crass careerism.” Eleanor gave a small wave of her cigarette. “If it were not for my money, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write what I have written.”

Bette raised her eyebrows. “Am I a crass careerist, then?” she asked.

“You know that’s not what I meant at all,” Eleanor began, but Bette stopped her short.

“Not everyone needs an immorally vast fortune to have a satisfying life.” Bette reached to the bedside and found a cigarette of her own. “In fact, I’m not certain anyone does. You underestimate yourself.” She lit the cigarette. “You would have written what you needed to write—damn the critics, damn the censors—with or without your family’s money.”

Eleanor slumped moodily into a chair by the hearth.

“But Eden should know that you have done this. It isn’t fair not to tell her.”

“You don’t know her like I do. She would fight me like a bulldog over it.”

“Maybe not. But if you think she wouldn’t want it, why insist?”

“To whom else should I leave it? My cousins hardly need it and there isn’t anyone else.”

“Found a library,” Bette suggested.

“You’re joking, Beth. I could found a hundred libraries,” Eleanor said.

“So found a hundred libraries,” Bette countered.

“Let Eden found them. Let Sophia put a hundred girls through medical school…”

“Sophia?” Bette said.

“Damn.” Eleanor tossed her cigarette into the grate. “I forgot.”

Eleanor walked back to the bed. She sat beside Bette and pulled a hand softly across her collarbone and down to the swell of her breast.

“Last night was lovely—wasn’t it?” she asked quietly.

“It was,” Bette conceded. “But that has always been the easy part for us—for you—hasn’t it?”

“Perhaps,” Eleanor allowed. “That is no reason we shouldn’t do this again sometime, is it?”

“Mmm…” Bette was noncommittal. But she picked up Eleanor’s hand and kissed it before rising to dress.

Eden 27:4

EleanorEleanor lit a cigarette, took it from her lips and handed it to Bette. She lit another for herself, then went to pour drinks. “I didn’t know your sister had died,” she said, her back to Bette.

“Right before I came back to Paris,” Bette said. “Louise brought me here, actually. I think she feared I would waste away back home. Maybe I would have. Maybe she saved my life.” She laid her head into the cradle of the leather wingback and closed her eyes briefly.

Eleanor handed Bette the drink and stood by the fire with her own.

Beth“You know, Eleanor,” Bette continued quietly. “After Addie was gone, I spent a lot of time thinking about you. Maybe I understood a little.”

Eleanor didn’t look at Bette. She drank slowly and smoked slowly and stared across the room at the dark windows of the French garden doors.

She could feel Bette’s eyes on her, all the same, and after some moments of silence, she finally met them. “Stay.”

Bette said nothing.

“We can pretend we are only meeting now. Forget the past,” Eleanor suggested.

“You think if we were just meeting now, I would stay?” Bette said. “Because I wouldn’t.”

Eleanor’s cigarette was nearly gone. She tossed the smoldering stub into the cold grate. “Then forgive me the past and stay,” she said.

“Eleanor,” Bette said, “I forgave you years ago. Forgiveness is not the same as trust.”

fireplace

She rose and stepped to Eleanor’s side, took both her hands and pulled her close.

“But neither is my body the same as my heart,” she said. “I’ll stay if you promise to remember that tomorrow.”

Eleanor knew she would get no better offer from Bette tonight. She took it. “I promise,” she said and Bette let her kiss her and lead her slowly up the stairs.

Eden 27:3

carriageEleanor was at Bette’s door again, wearing evening clothes and carrying a top hat under her arm. Bette opened to her knock in a gown of ivory satin embroidered with red and gold that nearly took Eleanor’s breath away as she took Bette’s arm and walked her to a waiting cab.

“Is the hotel all right?” Eleanor asked as they settled in.

“The Continental?” Bette guessed. “Of course.”

The dining room of the Hotel Continental was full of expensive women and the men who paid their bills. Bracelets clinked against champagne glasses. A general murmur of the talk of many people in many languages filled the air.

The Maitre D’ seated them in a corner by a window that looked out upon the street and across to the Tuileries.

Eleanor ordered a bottle of wine before Bette had even sat down and soon the sommelier was pouring it for them.

“Eden will come back,” Bette told Eleanor after he had left and Eleanor had finished the first glass.

“How do you know that?” Eleanor asked skeptically.

“I know because I know her work. I know it won’t let her go. She can run for a while. But she will be back.”

“She’s stubborn,” Eleanor said.

“I know.”

“She has been on the edge of something ever since I’ve known her, Bette. It’s always been a close thing—whether she would choose this life, or run back to her people. Now she’s run.” Eleanor drained her second glass and reached for the bottle.

“Drinking like this won’t get Eden back here sooner,” Bette said levelly.

Eleanor frowned, chagrined at the reminder of what had happened the night before. “I would not be repaying your kindness by forcing you to repeat the whole production, would I?”

“That’s not my concern.”

“What is your concern? Why are you here with me, now, looking so…” Eleanor stopped.

“Why are you here? Why dinner at the Continental and not leave it at the violets?” Bette returned.

“You have influence on Eden,” Eleanor said, ignoring the question. “Have you written her?”

“No. And I won’t. Don’t bother to ask me to.” Bette sipped her own wine. “She doesn’t need a letter from me. She knows how I feel.”

“What did you tell her?” Eleanor asked. “The day after you talked to her she booked her passage.”

“I certainly didn’t tell her to leave,” Bette said with a trace of defensiveness.

Eleanor sat waiting.

“I told her that I had my heart broken once, and that I worked through it. I told her I have always worked my way through my difficulties. I told her to come to the studio and I would get her painting again.”

“That’s it? ‘Difficulties’?” Eleanor leaned back and crossed her arms.

“I didn’t say who or when.  And I told her about Adelaide.” Bette grew quieter.

“Adelaide?”

“My twin sister. I told her the day Addie died was the worst day of my life.”

Eleanor put her head in her hands now, elbows on the table.

“What, Eleanor?” Bette asked with concern.

“She has a twin sister,” Eleanor told her. “Myrna. In Arizona.”

“Oh,” Bette said quietly. “So she went home. Of course.”

The food arrived and they ate in almost grave silence. But when the orchestra came in and the ballroom adjacent to the dining room began to fill, Eleanor looked at Bette.

dance“May I make it up to you for stepping on your feet last Thursday?” she asked.

They danced.

It was after eleven before they stepped into another cab. As it crossed the river, Eleanor turned to Bette in the dark. “Come in for a drink?”

A streetlamp illuminated Bette’s face for a moment before the cab passed it and the shadow fell again. “All right,” she agreed in the darkness.