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World's Finest Writer's Corner Midnight Sun (BB) [J]

Discussion in 'The Story Board' started by The_NewCatwoman, Mar 23, 2006.

  1. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: Murad Cigarettes featured some of my favorite early twentieth-century advertisements. Hopefully you'll enjoy these examples, here and here. As for the second section, I have every intention of seeing "Revolutionary Road" when it comes out later this year and the trailer certainly influenced this turn story-wise. For better or for worse...no inadvertent puns intended. Language advisory.**

    **Opal City, Maryland**

    Oliver IV set his hat on the stool and leaned onto the counter, “Did you order anything?”

    Andy frowned at his glass, “Just milk and two donuts…thank you for dropping by with such short notice.” He accepted a cigarette and a light from his fourth cousin, “I don’t understand why you visit the extended family. You know perfectly well they’ll never accept either of us.”

    Oliver spun once then twice on his stool and ran a hand over his light blond hair, “Lord Pierce is nice, and so is his wife, Lady Angela. You know you might find that it’s really only the older ones who still look down their noses at us, if you ever bothered to find out at all.”

    “I honestly have little to no interest in that branch of my bloodline, that’s all,” Andy studied the little white stick, “Where on earth did you find these? They’re good.”

    “Star City. Murad’s. I always take a box when I travel. They’re practically extinct these days…as are milk bars last I heard,” Oliver let his eyes roam over the two bow tied attendants in white shirts and starched white caps serving ice cream to another man reading the evening paper and a woman with a baby in a carriage down the bar.

    “One of two left on the East Coast. The other is in New York.”

    “Speaking of dying eras, why the hell did you send a telegram of all things? I thought there were prohibitively expensive,” then he spied the cuff of a cashmere sweater sticking out from Andy’s coat sleeve, “Never mind. What was all that about small favors anyhow? I thought you were still nursing a boyhood grudge against me.”

    Andy nodded, “I am. You’re a snobbish brat.”

    “So are you.”

    “I may be one or the other but I am not both,” Andy sent a sidelong glance down the bar, “It’s simple really. I need you to seduce a girl away from me.”

    Oliver gave a short, snorting laugh and a line of smoke poured out of his nose, “Whom?”

    “My roommate’s sister.”

    Oliver grunted, “Don’t tell me now, she’s homely as sin.”

    Andy shook his head sadly, “No, nothing like that. She’s actually quite the dish.”

    “So what’s the matter?”

    Andy shrugged, “I’m betrothed.”

    Oliver snorted again, “Don’t b*llsh*t me.”

    Andy lightly elbowed him, “Watch the language guy, there’s an ordinance in this town against swearing in front of women and children and the beat cops around here love petty offenses. Anyhow, it’s true.”

    “Why so glum? Who’s the lucky girl?”

    Andy looked full on down the counter and gestured at the young woman and the baby and Oliver blushed deeply, “Lord Chr*st, don’t tell me it’s yours. Well then you are betrothed.”

    Andy shook his head, “He’s not my kid, not yet. And it’s not the way it sounds.”

    “Does anyone know about this?”

    Andy gave a raspberry, “Not on my life. And don’t get excited. I’ve been in love with her since I was ten years old.”

    “That’s cute Andy. That’s downright adorable.”

    Andy frowned, “Well her mother didn’t approve and she married some older guy, a soon-to-be-stockbrokering Yallie.”

    “I don’t see why you’re making such a fuss for a girl who tied the knot behind your back. A girl you haven’t even seen in ages? It’s freezing g*ddamn it," Oliver rubbed his hands together, puffing in the cool air.

    Andy stopped, squinting at the neon sign above their heads "It
    s not even that cold yet. You’ve spent too much time in California. And I have been seeing her. At horse shows, at hunting parties when I've been home, at skating parties now that the season’s arrived. She skates with her girlfriends and I stand back with the other fellows. But I didn’t speak with her for more than ten minutes until all of this blew up."

    "Honorable."

    Andy placed one hand atop his head, "Her baby stays home with its nurse, but she's only hired through the day. Edith's husband wanted to live a 'sensible' life until he finished up with the Army and went back to New York. I imagine he probably wanted to see a medal or two for his troubles. Decorations play up well in the press."

    "They say I'm cynical. You don't like him?"

    "I loathe him. He never sees her or their baby. He's posted in Florida, took his mistress with him. He wasn't even kind enough to hide it. Now he's gotten into...trouble," Andy handed him a clutch of newspapers that had been resting on the stool next to him.

    Oliver scanned them dispassionately, "Understatement my boy. It says that the girl stepped out on him, with an MP no less. And in a jealous rage, he shot them both. The very picture of tact."

    “Edith’s father took her to file for a divorce but immediately. Certainly understandable given the circumstances. We’re driving to his house and we stopped over tonight to see you.”

    “What about her mother?”

    “Positively scandalized, which is really something considering the line of divorces Veronica Vreeland racked up. Six I think, but no attempted murder. Bunny went straight away to Monaco. She wants this whole ‘ugly matter’ settled by the time she gets back next month.”

    “Battle axe?”

    Andy shrugged, “Human. I’ve hated her, I’ll probably hate her again sometime, but she hasn’t protested my involvement. And I’m grateful for small favors.”

    “And uncle Brucie?”

    Andy was silent for a moment, squashing the cigarette in a stainless steel ashtray standing at his left, “He reads more newspapers than I do. I’m sure he knows, and if he knows he can probably guess that I couldn’t let her sit through this alone. I just don’t know what his opinion of everything is.”

    “He’d stop the wedding.”

    “There won’t be any wedding. Not yet. Not at least until I graduate. Right now I’ll just see that she’s safely sequestered with her papa.”

    “Does he like you?”

    “He’s never disliked me. Bunny’s always made the decisions where Edie’s concerned. He’s a country gentleman of the old school. The youngest brother in a family of seven. No worries, no responsibilities. Just supporting Bunny and Edie’s every whim. He wouldn’t argue against me.”

    “What will you do in the meantime?”

    “Finish at Harvard. Take my place at Wayne Corp. What else?”

    “And, if I should decide to help you, how might I get close to…”

    “Miss Dawson. Rose Dawson. Her brother’s name is George.”

    “Miss Dawson then. What’s she like?”

    “Sporty, always up for a game, any game. Intelligent but not very bookish. Opinionated without being argumentative. She’s alright. You’d like her for these purposes.”

    Oliver smiled and signaled to one of the attendants, “You have a habit of throwing your girls away to your cousins. I know that’s how Matthew and Francine were started, that he had to go through Barbara Mary Cole first. Mrs. Wayne filled me in while they were touring my grandfather’s house.”

    “You say that to mean?”

    “I just hope I don’t end up drowning in holy matrimony that’s all,” he ordered chocolate milk.

    Andy wasn’t cheered by the light joke, “I’ll invite you out next weekend. Eliot has a hockey match against Dudley.”

    “Which house are you?”

    “Eliot.”

    “Are you on the team?”

    “No. Crew and golf. House and Harvard. I dream of rowing. Either way, come out for the spectacle. See Rose and charm her.”

    “Is she fast?”

    “No.”

    “Her brother will be sore.”

    “Maybe.”

    “You don’t like George?”

    “We were at Groton together, of course I like him. I’m rooming with him aren’t I?”

    Oliver considered him for a long moment, “You can be downright cold when you want something. You know that?”

    “You too.”

    Oliver nodded, taking his glass from the man in the bow tie, “I too.”

    Andy took a deep breath, “So, would you like to meet her?”

    “The lovely Mrs. Edward? I would like nothing better.”

    ***

    Terrence loosened his tie. He was freezing, snow was falling and he stood in his shirtsleeves next to one of the cars. The lights upstairs glowed. He knew June was crawling and standing and babbling nonsensically, safe with her nanny. He loved his little girl.

    Downstairs was another matter. He glanced over the gravel drive and the grass dusted white. The smaller feminine footsteps. She’d left her suitcase in the backseat, the side door ajar.

    He reached down to retrieve his suit jacket and gave something that sounded like a frustrated whimper. If he’d gotten in just ten minutes…five minutes later…if she hadn’t been kind enough to call the office first…

    I’m going to visit Jack in Paris for awhile, get a little shopping done…

    He’d spent two weeks in the city, calling every night, checking on her, on the baby. All the while she was restless. The wind tussled his hair and whipped his collar, riding the skin of his back as he looked around. Nothing. Nothing at all for miles but the occasional dot, their neighbors on the horizon. She was going stir crazy and he knew.

    They’d argued in the drive as he pressed both hands on the trunk, dancing backward as she attempted to reverse.

    Mel, don’t do this.

    Do
    what?

    Leave like this. You want me home, I’ll come home. I’ll do anything just don’t—he’d panted and she’d cut the engine, gotten out and stared at him. With her hair flailing about, he couldn’t read her eyes. But this wasn’t just like any other time they’d left one another. A nonchalant excuse, a happy go lucky kiss and that was that. He couldn’t guess at how long she would stay away. Days, weeks, months? Now they had a home together, and she was his, however fractious.

    He thought about June. He remembered his youth and his father’s “business trips.” Years later, Warren McGinnis had confessed to staying at the downtown Hilton, that he’d just needed a break from the constant arguing. A moment without the helplessness of growing to hate someone he’d always loved.

    Terrence certainly didn’t hate Melanie and while he couldn’t quite say for certain whether or not she loved him, she trusted him and was patient with his tattered explanations as to his whereabouts over the past year and a half. Racquet club games, board meetings. Yes, all true. Bruce had sponsored his and Matthew’s admission into various blue blooded clubs and associations. The Athletic Club, Sons of the American Revolution, Society of the Cincinnati, so on and so forth. While Bruce had secured an exemption from service for him due to his being “essential” to war production, he found his free time being constantly usurped by this dinner or that fundraiser, in and out of town. Nearly every night he trudged to the brownstone in order to shed his jacket and black tie and don the cowl. It was exhausting.

    And tongues were beginning to wag, eyes wandering, wondering why he never brought the very lovely Melanie Walker to any functions. Why his adorable baby daughter didn’t make the Best & Co. Bunny Hop last Easter. Where on earth was he hiding them?

    He stuffed his hands in his pockets, feeling the cold as it sank into his shoes. But he didn’t move toward the yellow rectangle of their open door until he began to shiver.

    Melanie was in the kitchen. He noticed that she didn’t take a glass of wine when angry and was glad. He always knew his parents had argued by the tell tale sign of an upturned stem glass in the kitchen sink. She merely leaned against the counter with her arms folded, smolderingly silent.

    He crossed the kitchen and drew her to him, wrapping his arms about her waist. She didn’t speak, pouting instead at some indeterminate spot over his shoulder. He began to murmur against her neck, “You can come out to the city with me on the weekends if you want. You can finally finish decorating the brownstone. I like the pattern you were using for Junie’s room. That cool green with bunny rabbits. She’d love that. You can shop and—”

    “What do you want from me?”

    Uh oh. Wasn’t that supposed to be his line? Wasn’t she supposed to beg him to tighten up?

    He faltered, lacking a response and she set her hands on the counter behind in order to brace herself, “Junie’s not even nursing anymore. Terry, if I thought raising her with you would turn me into a virtual prisoner…I’ve actually fallen into a routine. I wake, I dress, I go riding, I wash, I have breakfast with the baby, I put her in her pram and we walk over to the library to exchange the book I read in bed the night before. We come home, have lunch, play in the nursery, read a storybook, I put her down for a nap and I wait for you to telephone. If you’re coming up, I set the menu, dress for dinner and wait. And that was alright at first, I believe that she needs a family. But I didn’t count on you plunging into society like this.”

    Terrence had undone the cuffs of his sleeves and was presently rolling them up, “You feel like a prisoner. Well I don’t enjoy any great deal of this either.”

    Melanie’s brow curled, “What does that mean?”

    Terrence brought a hand to his brow, “Bruce ‘encouraged’ me to take the name, the responsibilities it held. For June’s sake, I know. But now every night I’m trapped at some function with a squad of stuffed-shirts, every morning I’m sitting at a desk putting in appearances at a job I loathe. All I do is sign my name, sign my name, sign my name. Mr. Wayne, we need funding, Mr. Wayne we need your support. And do you think Bruce is interested in whether or not I’m miserable? I’m a regular fish out of water. Dick’s been out of the social loop so long he can’t help me. Andy’s holed up at Harvard or someplace for some reason and won’t come home, so I’m looking after his affairs too. Matt’s training and worrying about Franny. I’m alone Mel.”

    Now she outright frowned, “I wasn’t aware loneliness was a two-man club.”

    Terrence shook his head, “No, I mean I do want you to come to the city. I just didn’t imagine it was your thing. Something you wanted to do.”

    “You never asked.”

    Terrence nodded and began to rub the back of his neck, growing more and more fatigued, “Geez, the only time I’m my old self is when I’m here or at night when I…”

    Melanie straightened up, “When what?”

    Terrence shrugged, “Sleep I guess.”

    Melanie stared at him, “You’re lying. You have a tell, you always bare your teeth a little when you lie.” She looked at the tiled floor, “I can’t remember the last time I heard you laugh, express any joy at all. Except with June. I know you’re going through the motions with me. And that’s fine for now, but I can’t stay locked up on this farm.”

    Terrence sighed, “I’m not going through the motions. Hell, you’ve been terrific, all things considered. A lot of women might have been finished with me by now. Do you need to hear me say it? Do you want me to make it official or something?”

    Melanie shook her head, frustrated, “There it is. Conventionality. I don’t want to marry you Terry.”

    That stung. That really stung though he could have expected it. He stared at her slack-jawed for a moment before speaking, “Sorry I offend you so. If you remember correctly I was all set to get married.”

    Melanie shrugged, looking away, angering him with her flippancy, “Do you wish you had?”

    “No. No. I wanted just to keep her near me. We fought a lot. I—it would have been a mistake. I loved her but…I couldn’t do that to her. June was the best thing that could have happened.”

    “I suppose I don’t merit the same consideration.”

    “Why do you have to look at it that way? I…I think I belong with you somehow.”

    Melanie grimaced, “Fate.”

    “No?”

    “I suppose my parents’ divorce had quite the effect on me,” Melanie surmised, “I don’t want to be chained to your hip. I tried to explain that to Jacky months ago. I want to stay because I want to stay.”

    Terrence’s voice was flat and angry, “And you want to leave because you want to leave.”

    Melanie nodded, somewhat tender, sensing that he was hurt, “Yes.”

    Terrence shook his head, “That’s not how it works; we’re too old for this crap. Flying off, not caring about what it does to others.”

    “I’m not a ball and chain.”

    “You’re the mother of my daughter…maybe our children. Maybe that’s not deep or confining to you, but it is to me. Now, I’m not asking you to marry me if you don’t want to, but I’m asking you to try not to feel like some caged animal. If you thought about it you’d see that there’s nothing remotely wrong with any of this. I can give you anything you need. You’ll come down to the city with the baby and we’ll spend more time together.”

    Melanie made a face, “That isn’t what I wanted.”

    “Well that’s what we have. An obligation.”

    “Says who?”

    “Decency,” he was beginning to sweat, to redden.

    “I don’t agree.”

    He ran his hands over his face, “I’ve told you everything I’ve done for you and June and you sound like you can’t meet me half-way. That you don’t even want to.”

    Melanie tried to be kind, stepping over to him and placing a hand at his cheek, “I don’t know what I can or cannot do. But let me go see my brother, let me have a little time away without any sort of guilt trip. Take some time for yourself. You’re running ragged, I can see it.”

    Terrence closed his eyes, wishing he could explain, “I can’t Mel. I can’t go anywhere; I have to stay right here.” He took her hand in his, “I belong to this city, I do what it asks me to do.”

    She shook her head, pitying him, “That’s your decision.”

    He held her face in his hands and began to kiss her, “I wish I could make you see things the way they really are.”

    “You’re too idealistic.”

    “No,” he corrected as they moved back toward the cabinets, “Fatalistic.”

    And he silenced her response, kissing her neck and placing his hands behind her posterior. Lifting her, he untucked his shirt and pushed down his briefs and she let down her skinny black pants, kicking them away. And he went up, up, and they moved in silence and the wind came in through the side door, still open, and snow gathered there. Melting on their kitchen floor.
     
  2. aiwac

    aiwac Member

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    I really like this last one, esp. with the conversation between Terry and Melanie. :D
     
  3. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    June slowly circled the nursery on board her little push scooter, her father watching, perched at the edge of one of the arm chairs. The nanny could be heard downstairs preparing June’s midday meal. Terrence rubbed his hands together, dreading the coming conversation, “Was the ride into the city cold enough for you?”

    Bruce let his eyes roam over the pale green walls, the white stenciled bunny rabbits leaping through the imaginary field, “Everything seems too cold these days. They’re conserving heating oil. I’m half afraid my people will freeze to death. It’s getting very difficult to keep the factories warm by any stretch. No one has been raised in that sort of environment, not really, since my father’s day. But I’m pleased to see that you’re putting the fireplaces here to good use.”

    Selina leaned forward out of the rocking chair she occupied and tickled the small child as she went by, smiling at her laughter, “I’ve never seen such a perennially happy child. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard her cry. Have you taken her out into the snow yet?”

    Terrence grimaced, “Yes. I took her to Robinson Park yesterday. We had a lot of fun with her little baby sled. She gave her Boopey Bear a ride, pushing it around. She practically threw a fit when it was time to get back into the car and come home for her lunch and nap, but Ms. Lydia insisted we stick to the schedule. Besides, we don’t want her to get frostbite. Either way, the society snoops are getting what they want. Pictures of the Wayne brat and his daughter.”

    Bruce smirked, “You make it sound like torture.”

    Terrence didn’t share his amusement and Selina sought to fill the gap, “So we haven’t seen Ms. Walker yet. Is she out pounding the linoleum at Cashman’s?”

    Terrence was careful to keep his voice level, afraid of giving his daughter even the slightest idea that something was off, “She’s not here.”

    Bruce’s eyebrow curled and Selina sat back, “And where might she be?”

    Terrence sighed, “France. She’s off to see ‘Jacky.’ But she’ll be back next week, only she doesn’t know it.”

    “Why wouldn’t she?” Selina questioned, feigning aloofness.

    “Jack telephoned me last night. He’s half-enraged but also half-resigned. He’s assured me that he’s sending her back on a plane Tuesday evening. ‘Back where she belongs.’ He also threatened to slit my throat for all intents and purposes and wants me to know that I’m an absolute blackguard…don’t worry, I looked it up.”

    Bruce didn’t particularly feel like being amused any longer, “Is that all?”

    Terrence stood and brought his hands together behind his back. He was dressed in jeans and a charcoal colored sweater. His hair was kept neatly shorn these days and he’d even briefly flirted with the monogrammed shirts Melanie bought at Brooks Brothers. But he was ill at ease and it would only get worse, he knew.

    He leaned against the bureau and worked at keeping his voice calm again, “I don’t want her to leave me.”

    Bruce’s countenance darkened and he sighed inwardly. He had no advice in that arena. He had never been especially deft at dancing around any woman’s decision to leave, and certainly not the one who occupied the chair opposite his own.

    Selina placed her hands at her sides and too sighed. Bruce had stiffened however imperceptibly. She looked up at the young man and saw everything he was trying to hide. The worry, the strain. It was all plain as day in those lovely eyes, “You two seemed rather happy.”

    “It’s not me. She feels isolated. Caged. Something…I offered her everything I could think of. I even offered to marry her.”

    Selina shook her head, “That wasn’t the right answer kiddo.”

    “Then I don’t know what is. I’d let her go wherever she wanted…if I could be sure she’d come back.”

    “She wouldn’t leave your daughter.”

    “I can’t be too sure.”

    “Is that why her brother is sending her back?” Selina asked, “He wants her stay with June.”

    Terrence watched his daughter, now up and wrapping a jump rope around his calves, “Uh, no, not that, not entirely. He had more news for me.”

    “She’s planning a heist?” Selina smiled.

    Terrence found that he couldn’t spit it out, not quite. Not yet, “Selina, years ago, you said that your brother Mario hated Bruce. Why?”

    Selina gave a humorless laugh, “He didn’t like the nature of our relationship, or at least, what he perceived it to be. And Bruce didn’t exactly leap at the chance to prove otherwise.”

    Terrence nodded, turning her words around in his head.

    Bruce was growing agitated with so much allusion and little substance, “If you have something you want to ask, please ask it.”

    Terrence straightened up, annoyed, then plunged halfway down to the root of his concern, “If there was anything that Bruce could have done to make you stay, what was it?”

    Bruce felt his stomach flip slightly but didn’t let it show. In the eleven or so years since she’d returned they’d mutually agreed to let the subject rest. Selina knew that Bruce had taken their final parting much harder than any other, but she wasn’t quite brave enough to ask him just how much. Even now they didn’t look at one another.

    She raised her chin, running a self-conscious hand over her lavendered head, “I think one must make a distinction of great importance. That it isn’t so much what he may or may not have done, but what he was willing to do. I had the advantage of knowing what Melanie does not know: what you do at night, what keeps her waiting. I don’t know whether you’ll ever tell her, or if she’d even want to know. At the end of the day, however, it may be inconsequential since it had nothing to do with why I skipped.”

    At this Bruce harrumphed and she looked at him, that old cool stare returning for the first time in ages, “You can believe whatever you would like to.”

    Terrence put his hands up, “I really didn’t want to ask because I sure as heck didn’t want to open a can of worms here. Please, don’t start arguing, not in front of June.”

    The little girl was standing up straight, glancing at the adults in the room, seeing that they were bothered. She left the jump rope at her father’s feet and fetching her toy telephone, set it in Selina’s lap, “Caw Mama.”

    Selina smiled and the girl gave a laugh, picking up the headset and letting Selina dial the numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Selina pressed the white tab and a short, shrill ring sounded twice, “Uh oh, it’s for you.”

    June held the headset next to her ear and began to babble. Selina picked her up and held her in her lap, passing the phone back and forth and chatting with the small girl and the imaginary voice of her mother Ms. Walker, “…and tell her we miss her very much.”

    Terrence crossed the room and stood at the side of Bruce’s chair, folding his arms and lowering his head, “I’m sorry I asked. I just want to keep my family together. I’ve always been terrified of getting a divorce. We already seem halfway there and we’re not even married. It seems the more of my life I’ve opened up to her, the more and more difficult it’s become to stay tied together. And now there’s one more layer on the cake.”

    Bruce closed his eyes, prepared to hear that Terrence had revealed himself to be the Batman and that Melanie hadn’t taken it well, perhaps that explained her sudden reticence.

    “The tighter our physical knots are tied, the more frayed our old friendship becomes. Now she just has one more reason to feel as though she were bound and gagged,” he raised his chin and sniffed, “Sorry for all the rope metaphors.”

    “Will you be showing her the cave anytime soon? Have you told her about me as well?”

    Terrence shook his head, “No, she knows nothing about that. I almost wish she did. But that sort of thing’s kind of ‘point of no return’ you know? No, it’s uh…actually, we’re expecting again, you know, how Selina once put it, ‘in a family way.’”

    Bruce looked up at his son, expecting him to crack a smile, to explain that he was kidding. But the young man was as serious as ever and, Bruce hated to admit it, showing the same somber expression he himself often wore, “Another child?”

    Terrence bit his lip, “She told Jack it was just motion sickness from the plane ride. Come Friday she was still ill. She was seen by a doctor and Jack called as soon as she went to bed. Apparently she’s wanted another baby for some time now, but she didn’t say anything to me…not that I was around much to tell.”

    Bruce frowned, “And?”

    “I wonder if she knew before she left…I’d just gotten off the phone with you and told her you’d invited us out to the manor for Christmas. That everyone was going to attend the Eucharist, except Barbara and Andy naturally. I wanted to know if she’d be up to it. She didn’t have much fun last year. Her family always celebrated the réveillon, she thinks the American style is too much of a letdown. I asked if she would be back for Christmas and she promised she would. I did speak to her a little this morning and she didn’t say a word about any baby. Just that her brother was pestering her about getting married again.”

    Selina was by now rocking June in her arms and the child was calmly wrapping the telephone cord about her Grandmere‘s finger, “Was that all?”

    Terrence replayed the conversation in his mind as well as he could:

    …We always celebrated the réveillon, doing things the American way feels so underwhelming…my stomach will grumble throughout Mass and will have nothing to go home to. Very rude you know.

    Is that a no?

    Jacky doesn’t want to see me like this. I never imagined he could be so
    small about ‘morals,’ not the way he carries on. ‘But there are no children’ he says. Then she whispered, My brother is a g*ddamned hypocrite.

    My offer of marriage still stands.

    …You’re trying so desperately hard to be good. Aren’t you afraid you’ll crack under the strain?

    Are you?

    No. Your father expects too much I think. There’s no use in trying to appeal to his sense of sympathy for anything. I damn well freeze whenever he looks at me. Fran complained of the same condition. You boys are so awestruck and we girls can’t figure out why. But I suppose in his day it was quite the opposite.


    There was nothing at all but the usual banter. He stooped down onto his haunches, “I don’t know whether I ought to be angry or disappointed.”

    Selina looked at him, “Did you want another baby?”

    “Well, I certainly wouldn’t ask her to get rid of it,” Terrence stood back up and walked to the window, watching as the heavy snow enveloped his father’s limousine, “They’ll be rationing gasoline pretty soon…it will be harder to get around. The elevated and the subway are getting more and more crowded. Soon Mel won’t be able to get away from me when she’s ready…I’m afraid she’ll pop.”

    Bruce’s eyes were closed and he appeared to want very little to do with the general upkeep of the conversation from here onward. Selina noticed and shrugged, thinking that it probably figured, “If there’s indeed another baby on the way, I suppose she’ll have to face facts. Has she ever given you any hint of how she feels about you?”

    Terrence nodded, “Plenty. But probably the most important thing that sticks out in my mind is that time over dinner when she mentioned you and Bruce.”

    Selina appeared flatteringly taken aback, “Us?”

    “Someone you’d give the world for,” with his back still turned he gave a small laugh, “that someday she hoped we could be like you two…well, I don’t think she feels that way now.”

    Selina stole a look at her old companion and found that he’d opened one eye, “You never know darling. She told me what her life had always been like. Constant trips here and there. Houses that didn’t feel like homes. Whether she liked it or not she had the whole world in front of her and suddenly everything’s been…miniaturized. It can be a hard pill to swallow.”

    “What do I do?” Terrence voice was devoid of expression.

    Selina smiled, “I’ve always distrusted anyone who ever relied solely on platitudes, but you’ve found your peace of mind. Let her find hers.”

    Terrence shook his head, laughing unkindly, “I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s not true. I’ve never been so miserable in my life.”

    “No?” Selina asked, a little skeptical, “Because of all of this?”

    “Yes. No. It’s not Mel’s fault, or June’s. I’ve got a spine, I can take it. I’ve buried everything I used to be for them. And if I can go out at night and feel like they’re here waiting for me, then I can stomach anything. But if everything’s falling apart no matter what I do…it makes me feel like this has all been a waste. I barely see them for all the work and fundraisers, and war bond rallies. And I just know that one of these days I’m going to come up those steps down there and Mel will have cleared out. Skipped as you called it. And there’s nothing I can do.”

    “You can stop pitying yourself,” Bruce suggested, eyes still shut.

    Selina cut him a hard glance, “That’s not helping.”

    Terrence turned around, scowling. He waited a beat before speaking, his voice was carefully measured, “You ought to hear Matt sometime, muttering to himself, bucking himself up. Standing at the back of the holiday parties with his hand in Francine’s, all done up in his dress blues. ‘You will be stronger if you learn to stand on your own.’ Well we’re alone and it’s for crap…maybe it’s time to try something else. By the way, his stomach’s a mess. He’s been puking in the hedges next to the garage every night for the past week and a half. He didn’t want me to tell you.”

    Terrence squared his shoulders and left the room, taking the stairs two at a time until they heard the front door slam behind him. Selina shook her head, set aside the toy phone and stood up with June in her arms, “If I didn’t know any better I would say you don’t have a kind bone in your body. He’ll probably catch the flu out there; he didn’t exactly stop to grab a jacket.”

    Bruce shut his eyes again, “What would you have me say?”

    “Not say, do. Maybe you should do for them what you did for Dick and Andy. Show them the ropes Bruce. You trained Terry to follow in your proverbial footsteps as the Batman. Perhaps you might consider formally teaching them to take on this life as a Wayne. Or don’t. It doesn’t make one wit of difference to me. But Terry’s lost so much of his self-confidence lately…he’s barely recognizable. Maybe if Melanie felt like she could depend on him…how do you feel about this new baby?”

    Bruce had reopened his eyes and was staring at his shoes, “How did I feel about the last one?”

    “Shock, annoyance, acceptance, anticipation and finally pride. The five steps of emotion when greeting one’s heretofore unheard of granddaughter, Bat-wise.”

    As if on cue, June began to wiggle and Selina released her whereupon she toddled to her grandfather’s knee. Bruce smiled patiently and picked her up, setting her upon his lap he began to recite, “‘T
    was once upon a time, when Jenny Wren was young. So daintily she danced, and so prettily she sung. Robin Redbreast lost his heart, he was a gallant bird. So he doffed his hat to Jenny Wren, requesting to be heard…”

    Selina had heard the rest some time long ago. She turned and listened to the wind howl and watched the snow drift until he’d completed the rhyme. Her voice was very quiet, “You miss John.”

    “You don’t?”

    “Yes, he was just like Dick in his own way…did you ever find out who his mother was?”

    “I guessed.”

    “Your guesses are usually worth their weight in gold.”

    “If Dick doesn’t want to discuss it, I won’t.”

    Selina waited a long beat, “There’s really not much Terry can do for Melanie is there? She has to find her own footing.”

    Bruce didn’t respond.

    “I don’t think she’d really go. She’s spent her whole life wandering. It’s probably more habit than anything.”

    “You’re the expert.”

    At that, Selina raised her chin, “You were never one for tending the home fires either buddy.”

    Bruce set the child on the floor, “I would never have…I wouldn’t have ended it. That was always your decision.”

    “Didn’t you say something when I came back about never holding me hostage? That I was free to marry whomever I wanted? That if you made me so miserable anyone could have—and would have—picked up the slack.”

    “And you stated last year, on the veranda, before witnesses no less, that it was me you wanted, despite my warnings to the contrary. And if that was the case, you ought to have stayed.”

    Selina sighed and crossed the rug, draping her arms over his shoulders and joining her hands at the back of his head, “I came back to you. And I’m not leaving anytime, not if I can help it.”

    Selina raised his chin and pecked him once on the lips, “Is that enough to make amends?”

    Bruce brought one hand to the small of her back, “I suppose it will do.”

    “We’ll be literally crawling with grandchildren soon enough.”

    Bruce noticed June’s renewed interest in the jump rope, “Andy’s not helping.”

    “That’s not his boy.”

    “That wouldn’t stop him. Either way, I’ve spoken to Westinghouse. The wine cellar and the liquor cabinets are to be locked at all times. If Andy insists on rebuilding his relationship with Edith, then he’ll be sober while he does it.”

    “You have to admit, it’s very admirable for someone his age.”

    Bruce harrumphed, “Romanticism doesn’t suit you.”

    “He loves her Bruce, and he wants to take care of her. He’s not marrying her yet, you should be grateful for that much.”

    “We’ll see how he feels in a year.”

    “At the rate the younger set is going, don’t count out little Kirk the fourth arriving just in time.”

    “You almost seem pleased about all of this.”

    “‘They have to live their own lives,’ wasn’t that you?”

    “I must have been feverish. Delusional.”

    “Well, it wouldn’t be the first time.”

    “You should stay here with June and Ms. Lydia.”

    “Oh?”

    “I’ll take the car and look for Terry.”

    “He could be any number of places.”

    “Not very likely, not in this weather. Not today.”
     
  4. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: In "Sunset Boulevard," Norma Desmond called them "the beautiful people out there in the dark." I may be paraphrasing but I should say that I'm eternally grateful for all of my readers whoever you are. I've just finished Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh within these last few days and while--to me--it is by no means perfect, it very much helped to define some of what I'd been grasping at in my own story. Guilt and grace vying to be top man. I only hope that I've conveyed some of that here in this story.**

    Terrence stood with his hands in his pockets, staring into a shop window television display, watching as the store manager lowered the grates that sealed the windows and switched on the burglar alarm, “I guess I figured you’d come looking for me eventually. Sorry about the scene, I guess.”

    Bruce leaned more heavily on his cane and using his other hand, turned the collar of his coat up and pulled the brim of his bowler down but said nothing.

    Terrence gave him a once-over glance, “You look the very picture of a robber baron.”

    Bruce looked at the display too but didn’t recognize the sitcom playing, “I suppose dinner is cancelled?”

    Terrence shook his head, “No, no. I promised dinner, you’ll get your dinner. Your eighty-ninth birthday dinner. Besides, Melanie picked out a pretty nice gift for you before she left. The box is in the downstairs hall closet if you can’t stand the suspense.”

    “Just so there is no fuss.”

    Terrence grimaced to himself, still uncomfortable, “We’ll save that for your ninetieth.” Then he turned, “You didn’t walk four blocks through the snow by yourself?”

    Bruce gestured over his shoulder to his car and current driver—James Dolly—idling at the curb, “May I offer you a ride?”

    Terrence looked at him for a moment. So that was it? No mention of what had transpired upstairs, no pressing for clues as to the current state of Matthew’s health? Then he chided himself internally, of course, Bruce would never discuss anything so personal on a street corner. He’d rather impale himself on a parking meter. The younger man nodded stoically, “Your cousin Caroline will be here at about seven. It was Matt’s idea, he figured the two of you could use a visit—you know, in the flesh. He can’t stay the night or anything, he’s on watch tonight. I’m surprised Francine’s not with you two though.”

    They waited as Mr. Dolly jumped out and opened the door. Terrence let his father go first before sliding in next and folding his hands in his lap.

    Bruce sighed, “She too is visiting—her parents. She doesn’t seem to enjoy staying at the house when Matthew’s not there.”

    Terrence looked out the window, “Yeah, Matt said that her mother’s sort of…bothered about her living there, about you and Selina and me and the ‘example’ we set. That she’ll probably breathe a lot easier when the carriage house is finished.”

    Bruce smirked but said nothing and Terrence shrugged, “Aw, I never went for that devout stuff.”

    “So I’ve noticed.”

    “Does she get along with Selina or is she still…you know, a cold fish?” he spied a newspaper folded on the seat and opened it up to the comics section.

    “They have tea in the afternoons. I think her natural worry about the pregnancy has taken precedence over any prolonged shyness.”

    Terrence nodded over Beetle Bailey and sighed, “You really didn’t know about Matt?”

    Bruce stared at the back of his driver’s head, “I know that he’s begun to carry peppermint candies in his pockets, ‘contraband,’ ostensibly for his stomach. And to take a drink after dinner. A finger or two of brandy. I haven’t decided whether I’ll address it or not. I considered emptying the decanters in the study, but the knowledge that I’m suspicious may make him nervous…I would hate to have this turn into a problem. God only knows what influences he has taken up with in the Navy.”

    Terrence set his head in his hand, smiling suddenly, “I guess we aren’t exactly shaping up to be the sons you would rather have.”

    Bruce scoffed and shook his head, “Don’t be so damned melodramatic.”

    Terrence waited a beat before opening his mouth but Bruce cut him off, raising his hand waist-high, “About Melanie. I have no help to offer. She’s…this conundrum is outside my experience,” he nodded, “Yes, Selina and I have had a lot to contend with through the years, and as I’ve noted in the past, there are definite similarities. A prying, well-intentioned brother, a contentious pair of occupations. But you have June to think of. Melanie, like Selina, may need to leave for unspecified lengths of time; in that respect they both seem partial to Europe—France and Italy respectively. For Francine, it need not be any further than Great Neck, New York. I never cared for it, you don’t and Matthew doesn’t have much time to notice the difference—again, I’ll leave him for further consideration elsewhere. However, as far as you’re concerned, there may be nothing you can do. She’s a woman and by design they tend to provide…aggravation, and delight, in alternating currents. But, perseverance and patience can be their own reward. More often than not, Selina returned to me, I don’t know why and I won’t guess. Nor shall I entertain jealousies about what she did apart from me or with whom. You’ll find that that too will get you nowhere.”

    Terrence frowned, “There’s no one else. She’s made that pretty clear, she even feels like she’s at a disadvantage because of it. I can’t say that I blame her, but just the same, she never asks me about what I do to keep myself amused while I’m in Gotham. I couldn’t possibly account for all those hours honestly…I think she takes it for granted that I fool around.”

    Terrence didn’t wait for Bruce’s response, “Apparenly Matt’s been a little nervous with Franny lately. That some night last week she told him that she understood that he was in the Navy, that he was going to war, that they would be apart. That certain ‘distractions’ might ‘pop up,’ that she ‘understood’ so long as he came back home to her. That she knew he loved her and that she didn’t want to keep driving herself crazy about it…he’s been sick ever since.”

    Bruce looked at him, the sunlight catching what wisps of hair remained around his head, “As far as infidelity is concerned, I’ve always considered that a personal matter. As far as Matthew is concerned, I don’t think anyone near him would seriously doubt that she’ll ever be far from his mind. I dare say that she’s come to anticipate this, and has moved to act accordingly.”

    “You think that’s alright?”

    Bruce shook his head, “I don’t have much of an opinion at all.”

    Terrence’s voice was thoughtful but serious, “That’s resignation. Perfect grounds for resentment.”

    “You’re well aware of her opinion about the example you, and particularly I, have set, and she married him anyhow. There’s nothing I can do for either of them except step back and maintain my sense of humor.”

    “Humor?” Terrence asked, lightly incredulous.

    Bruce smiled but didn’t further acknowledge the comment, “Have you calmed down enough to go back to the brownstone?”

    Terrence set his hands on his knees and stared at the back of the driver’s seat, “Before she left, Mel said that she guessed her parent’s divorce had more of an effect on her than she thought. I guess so too. At least Franny really trusts Matt. I
    ’m starting to think Mel’s afraid of believing in me, of putting too much on my shoulders. That I’ll crack like the King did, that I’ll just ditch her.

    “I guess what makes it even worse is that I remember the whole thing. The Queen crying, ‘he couldn’t…he wouldn’t…’ And me and my smart mouth, ‘he did.’ She’s in seclusion at some old townhouse in London that Mel and Jack keep up for her. I’ve never met her out of costume but her children go on about her a lot. There’s still some sort of reverence there, and pity too. Mel wants to take Junie to meet her sometime next year, would you object?”

    “Is she retired?”

    “Absolutely.”

    “Then I don’t object.”

    Terrence thought about mentioning what Selina had posited over sipping chocolate a few nights hence. He’d mentioned what he considered to be the silly business of Francine worrying over Bruce and Selina’s—and by a natural extension, his and Melanie’s—decision to “live in sin,” and despite their backgrounds no less. Selina hadn’t seemed surprised at all and went further to note that Oliver Queen was the only person, aside from Bruce, with whom she was willing to have theological disputes. Bruce almost never brought it up as he had been raised to consider such talk rude, though he was willing to answer questions.

    That said, she’d tolerated their respective feelings as she considered them the only two people she’d known, aside from her brother, and perhaps either of her mothers, who seemed to suffer for their guilt, and believe it was just. After a moment’s hesitation she’d added that Matthew seemed to have inherited Bruce’s penchant for “heavy shoulders.”

    Instead he kept the conversation to himself and refolded the newspaper as well as he could, a number of sales papers had fallen to the floor of the car and when he leaned forward to pick them up Bruce waved his hand. He sat back and replaced his seat belt.

    “Who else will be in attendance at this little ‘surprise’ party?”

    Terrence counted on his fingers, “Commander Queen and his wife, their three children. His oldest son will be coming down from Cambridge of all places with Andy. I don’t know if Edith Westinghouse will be with them but I suppose Andy’s walking on enough of a tightrope with you as it is, so I’ve leaned toward no. There’s a place setting for her at the table either way. Tim said that he can’t come over until Christmas, that you already knew. The Kents. Bunny Vreeland fresh from whatever rock she’s been hiding under since the scandal, and a few friends of mine incidentally so that I don’t have to feel the draft blowing from that end of the table. The Ben Tannenbaums said they couldn’t make it, but he sent you some fantastic gift that’s in what Melanie distinctly informed me was the parlor.”

    “The brownstone doesn’t resemble so much as a frat house anymore, for that Melanie ought to be commended. And she did the decorations too?”

    Terrence nodded, “And the Commish is bringing Dick. But I get the impression that he’s leery about the whole thing.”

    Bruce narrowed his eyes, “I should think four months is enough time to get one’s bearings,” but said nothing else, essentially letting Terrence know that he was rather miffed that Dick had yet to call on the manor in even the most basic fashion, “Who are these ‘friends’ that you’ve invited?”

    “Two from my old gang, if you can call it that. I haven’t had much opportunity to break the ice since the, er, unpleasantness with Dana. Max Gibson won’t be there though; she’s still holed up at some temple or something. Nelson Nash and Chelsea Cunningham-Foster and I guess her little girl that was named for Dana. Things are still weird though, at least Chelsea agreed to serve as Junie’s godmother, but she’s only Catholic by marriage and she still hasn’t had much to say to me since then. Her husband’s overseas already with the Army Airborne division.”

    “As for this Nash fellow. I seem to recall some difficulty between you two while you were in school.”

    “It smoothed out somewhat at Gotham State. He played football to earn his scholarship but he studied Music almost fanatically. He’s with the Gotham Symphony Orchestra of all things. He needs glasses to see now and for all intents and purposes dropped the cocky crap. He’s okay.”

    They felt the car slow to a stop and through the window on Terry’s side they could see household staff bringing various decorations and food into the brownstone through a path that had been cleared in the snow.

    Bruce sighed and lay his head back over the top of the seat, “I said no fuss.”

    Terrence raised his hands, “You’ll see, it’s not that bad. Now what did they used to say at moments like this? Let’s rock and roll? Let’s hit it?”

    Bruce, eyes still closed, spoke low, “They said nothing.”

    Terrence spirits fell only slightly but he smiled nonetheless, “Nothing it is then.”
     
    #204 The_NewCatwoman, Nov 10, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 22, 2009
  5. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: As stated before, my Supergirl (now an old Superwoman) leans toward the Pre-Crisis Linda Danvers mixed with Post-Crisis/DCAU history. Believe it or not, I haven't made it too complicated as that doesn't belong much in Batman lore anyhow. As for an instance at the end, I didn't care for Nabokov's Lolita and for a variety of reasons. I admit, I never even got that far into the book, but something interesting (in a sense) stuck in my craw and I intend to use it here. The little tidbit at the resort beach. There's also a touch of Helen Bebbers from Salinger's short story The Stranger in Edith this time around. And I'm sure Waugh's Brideshead Revisited has made its mark. And there was that great movie, "Bright Young Things," based on Waugh's Vile Bodies rearing it's lovely head again. That's all I suppose. And naturally, I own no part of Batman Beyond. I merely own my version of Timmverse history.**

    “Give me a couple of minutes.”

    “Just long enough for you to switch tiles around while my back is turned.”

    Dick raised his hands, “I disavow all knowledge of whatever became of your Q.”

    “What’s all this?”

    Barbara looked up and smiled, “Lindy, you made it. And don’t mind me, I’m just whipping Dickey’s butt at Scrabble. I was just about to get up to visit the fountain in the hall. Terry seems to have gone all out. Here, have a seat next to me.”

    Linda Lee Danvers shed her coat and scarf and hat and sat down, staring, surprised at Dick Grayson’s presence. She turned and whispered to Barbara, “You didn’t tell me he was so handsome.”

    Barbara shrugged, whispering back, “I got over that ages ago, he’s thin as a rail now. I’ve been stuffing him for months and he’s only gained three pounds. We should all be so lucky.”

    Dick glanced back and forth between them, “High School.”

    Barbara glanced at him over her glasses as she laid down the tiles, Z-Y-G-O-T-E and tallied up her points, “I beg your pardon?”

    “You two sit over there and chatter and look at me and I ask ‘what’ and you two say, ‘nothing.’ High School.”

    “Settle down Dickey, she’s only been here two minutes.”

    “I know a couple of school girl chums when I see them,” he smiled.

    Barbara looked up just in time to catch it, “I think we’re all a little old for that routine. Now then, why don’t you be a good lad and get Lindy and I some sparkling cider?”

    Dick sighed and stood up, affecting a character’s voice, “Yes ma’am.”

    When he’d gone Barbara leaned back in the chair and draped her arm over her forehead, “You’re just in time to see me collapse with exhaustion.”

    “Exhaustion?” Linda picked at an hors d'œuvre tray as it floated by.

    “Not letting on, for his sake.”

    Linda nodded her voice very quiet, “That you’re not in love with him anymore. I know.”

    Barbara crossed her arms, “That’s not it. Not completely. A lot of the old fondness has come back. I’ve started to remember more of it. That twinge in the morning when I see him over the breakfast table. That Pinch Me feeling. But there’s a gap there that won’t be filled. I’m worried.”

    “About what?”

    “I told you about that time after his son’s funeral, when I went out to the farm to see him before he left. I’d had so much animosity built up, and that led to shame when Johnny died. But I’m afraid some of that old anger’s still down there somewhere in the pit of my stomach. That old despair. I’d loved him and hated him and finally, nothing…it’s a damned hole that I can’t for the life of me fill. I think…if we were younger. If we could be passionate or something, then I wouldn’t feel so…awkward….He and I never even made it to bed. Not even once. I was waiting for marriage. Now he’s no longer himself, and he never will be again.”

    Linda placed an arm around Barbara’s shoulder, sighing, “I know how you feel…I went out to see Querl last week.”

    Barbara tensed slightly, “No change?”

    Linda looked down, saddened, “Still floating obliviously through the Phantom Zone. I remember a little of what it was like in there, ugh…I wish there was something I could do for him, but Clark warned me years ago that it might be a ‘necessary precaution someday.’ His mental state being what it was, Querl’s imprisonment seemed inevitable I suppose, the obsessions just kept piling on until he couldn’t function. But I’d go with him in a minute if I knew that he’d recognize me. I’d just like to be near him for once, not staring at him through the projector. And he just floats around, curled into a ball.”

    Dick returned then with three crystal mugs, “Why the long faces girls? I was only gone a few minutes.”

    Linda gasped, laughing for a moment in sorrow, “Oh sorry, Dickey it’s been so long since I last saw you. You look wonderful.”

    They took their mugs and Dick sat back down, “You don’t have to flatter me, I know. I’m gangly as a scarecrow.”

    Linda reached over and took his hand, “I’m just glad to see you again. So many of us…aren’t around anymore.”

    Dick smiled weakly and looked at Barbara, “How’s the Legion? I suppose you got tired of the thirtieth century.”

    Linda shrugged, “Yes, no. It was great to be around my own kind. Bouncing Boy was always a riot. But I missed Ma and Pa Kent. I missed my adoptive mom and dad. I even missed Kansas. So I would come back about once a month and my visits became longer and longer until…poof. I stayed for good.”

    “And when Querl Dox became trapped here, that helped some, in a way,” Dick offered.

    Linda squinted, “It helped me but not him. He’s been placed in the Phantom Zone now.”

    Dick looked down between his feet, “Oh, I guess I sort of stepped in it huh?”

    Linda smiled, “He was unstable in his time as well. It wouldn’t have made a difference here or there.”

    After a moment Dick took a deep breath and exhaled, “Would you like to join our game? We’re only a few turns in.”

    Linda glanced at Barbara, who nodded, and picked up the tile bag, smiling, “Alright, but be prepared. I’ve played three-dimensional Scrabble. I’m a force to be reckoned with.”

    --#--

    The table was lively, there were toasts all around and the food was delectable. Everyone agreed that Terrence had turned out to be a wonderful host; however, being friends of the family, they kept their musings about the whereabouts of Miss Walker to themselves.

    Bruce behaved himself, retaining his charm, right through the receiving line, the rounds of Happy Birthday and cake cutting. Towards nine-thirty the children were brought down to say goodnight—Charles, Dana and June—with Caroline noticing aptly that Bruce probably preferred to go up with them rather than stay down at his party. Smiling as he greeted them individually, tickling them. June fell right in, Charles was shy but came around, envious of Henrietta’s teasing at being able to stay up with the adults for the first time. And Dana, who clutched June’s nanny’s hand with a shy thumb in her mouth, rocking side to side while he gently questioned her. Finally, they were led through the party and back upstairs.

    Sitting caddy corner to him, Caroline congratulated him, squinting through her wrinkles, her eyes still sparkling, “Your first granddaughter Brucie…it’s certainly taken you long enough. She’s beautiful…she looks just like aunt Mattie.”

    Bruce smiled gently, “I thought so too, but, depending upon who you ask, she looks like Mary McGinnis or Virginia Walker.”

    “Whom?”

    “Melanie’s mother. Expatriate, London.”

    “And the father?”

    “Pieter Walker. Dutch, English, dead.”

    “Is she a nice girl?”

    “Yes, but flighty. Terrence has proposed twice, much to her consternation and she has refused twice, much to his.”

    Caroline raised her glass of champagne, “May he succeed after all…”

    Bruce looked up at the parlor ceiling for a moment, then across the room where Matthew and a now clearly pregnant Francine chatted with Andy, Edith, Oliver IV and his sister Henrietta, “There will be plenty more where she came from.”

    Caroline nodded, “That’s the way it goes, I had one grandson, then five grandchildren, now eleven. And their children, and their children…”

    “First Terry, then Matthew, now Terry once more…”

    Again, so soon?”

    “He broke the news this afternoon, none too gently.”

    Caroline looked at him for a moment before setting her hand on his, “You worried me for such a long time Brucie. I’m glad you’ve come around, that you’ve finally found sure footing. I wish I could have been better. I shouldn’t have let you stray so far.”

    His first reaction was to stiffen but he kept his composure, remembering her visits to the manor those last few seasons before his parents’ and Paul’s deaths. Of piles of leaves burning in the fall, their cindery scent wafting over the grounds as she entertained him with games of hide and seek and tag. Of the apartment, sledding down Cabot Hill and Go Fish with mother’s housekeeper Gertrude at the kitchen table in the evening. Watching the city from the front window, relishing the twinkling of so many lights flickering below.

    Then he nodded, “You mustn’t blame yourself for anything. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

    She shook her head and smiled, “You’ve come around, that’s all that matters. Now I can sleep at night without worrying over you. I used to agonize over whether I ought to say something, whether I ought to do something. But Bertie said…well, never mind what Bertie said. You’re great, Grandy and Grammy would never know the difference.”

    Bruce simply nodded and leaned back into his chair. He scarcely remembered his grandfather but grandmother had been very kind and sweet.

    Caroline stared at an indeterminate spot in the hall from which the music and chatter flowed, “Those years took a toll on all of us. It was too much; one always seemed to be in mourning.”

    Bruce grimaced when she wiped the wetness at the corner of her eyes. So the wounds of those days hadn’t healed very well for her either. This time he set his hand on hers, “I don’t remember as much as you. My parents never brought the restlessness of that era into our house. And even if you had scolded me about anyone or anything, I wouldn’t have listened.”

    “You were always stubborn as a mule.”

    He corrected her, smiling, “Stubborn as a Wayne.”

    --#--

    Terrence stood on the back step, watching Chelsea steal a light from someone’s driver and trot back to the brownstone. Just in the door, she shivered, laughed and rubbed her shoulders, burring, “God, it’s cold. It’s only November, what on earth will we do in January?”

    Terrence shut the door behind her and tried to restart their conversation. She was being nice but distant. It wasn’t very obvious but he was in a position to know the difference, “Thanks for coming Chelse.”

    She blew out a line of smoke and took his hand, pulling him into the kitchen. There, she opened his refrigerator, still more than comfortable enough to do so and reached behind a jar of pasta sauce to retrieve the bottle of Red Stripe that she’d stashed early on, “Wanna split?”

    He was generally a teetotaler but he couldn’t say as much, not without questions, so he simply shrugged and let her take down glasses, “We’ve barely spoken since the baptism. I hardly even got a chance to thank you.”

    “The Thank You card Melanie sent was very pretty. I’ve never been much for knowing ‘just the right thing’ to buy anyone. I always fall back on gift cards. She’s good at that. I bet she knows plenty of hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve the best veal. I bet she knows French or German. I bet she even knows Japanese.”

    Terrence frowned and cast his eyes toward the floor, “I don’t mind. Pile on, I know I deserve it.”

    Chelsea sipped her lager and looked at him head on before handing him his glass, “Would you like to know what Dana’s up to?”

    He screwed his face a little, “Do I have to?”

    “You bet. She’s dating some foreign correspondent type with the Chronicle. She’s in Japan—you know she has family there—contributing to relief efforts and he’s in Seoul. I don’t hear from her as much as I used to though.”

    Terrence thought maybe he’d try that lager after all and took a hard sip that left him snorting foam and dripping much to Chelsea’s amusement. He shook his hands of excess and set the glass on the counter, taking the kitchen towel and wiping his face, “Alright. Get your gut going.”

    Chelsea regarded him with a smile then leaned against the counter, “You’ve suffered enough I guess. But I’m dying to know…”

    He looked up at her expectantly, wondering at the many directions this could be headed, “Oh yeah?”

    “How long did you know old man Wayne was your father?”

    He felt some sense of relief and exhaled, “Since early October, year before last. Dana and I were in the middle of a dry spell…do you want the long story or the short?”

    Chelsea shrugged, “Whichever suits you, I have all night.”

    Terrence ran a hand over his still too short for his liking hair, “The old man needed new kidneys, so they did a histocompatibility analysis and found that I was a damn near perfect match. They took my blood sample, we built him a great set of spares and after I got my nerve up I had a DNA test done. He’d known for ages and had taken me—and Matt in another sense—under his wing. Don’t think he’s just some crummy dreg; he stepped in after our dad died, and that was that. If this whole thing with Melanie hadn’t gone the way that it did, we never would have gone public and I’d be living a very different life right now.”

    “With Dana.”

    He shrugged, “I feel a lot differently now. I’ve got enough secrets swirling around me for the both of us. She’s better off with whoever he is. I’ve been selfish enough already, there’s no way we could have maintained an even keel forever.”

    Chelsea nodded, raising her glass before looking for a place to stub out her cigarette.

    He got her down a plain saucer and handed to her, waving her on when she looked unsure, “Just the cheap junk dinnerware I used in college. Mel’s is ten times better, and ten times more expensive.”

    “Speaking of, where is she?”

    “France. Visiting her older brother Jack. Now there’s a character.”

    Chelsea shrugged disinterested before crossing her arms, “Would you say that it was worth it? Was she worth losing Dana, after all those years together?”

    Terrence faltered for a second, pinching his brow, “June was. She’s all the justification I’ll ever need for anything. I’m used to Melanie now, but that ‘honeymoon’ period you hear about? Well, ours is over,” he glanced at his watch, already a quarter of eleven, “I remember when I first saw her, not knowing who she was. And later, when I did know. And…she’s worth it, in her own way. After all of the shock of her beauty becomes, you know, expected. She’s still a ‘good egg’ underneath. She’s not bratty or spoiled or impatient, not really. And she’s never berated me.”

    “Like Dana?”

    Terrence’s face snapped up and he blushed, “I could take it just fine, but it gets tiresome I guess. That’s no excuse, I know. But we weren’t ‘together’ when I saw Melanie, so don’t think that. She’d called it off again and when I found out everything about Bruce and my mother, the whole….I went to Melanie. Dana left me alone, so I went to Melanie.”

    Chelsea nodded, “That makes sense.”

    “When I found out she was pregnant…I wasn’t about to let her go away with our child and never be heard from again. I wasn’t going to let her end up like me.”

    Chelsea nodded again, “Maybe you’re a good egg yourself, somewhere in there.”

    Terrence finally brushed the cigarette ashes into the garbage can, “Since when do you smoke?”

    “Senior year, when daddy transferred me to Miss Collette’s. Then I gave it up in college. I only started again after Rob went overseas.”

    Her breath hitched and he chanced to ask, seeing her face redden, “How is he?”

    Chelsea reached into her handbag and pulled out the letter the Army had sent her and Terrence crossed the room, wrapping his arms around her. She held it in her other hand, reading out loud for what, perhaps, was the thousandth time, her voice breaking, “We regret to inform you that First Sergeant, Thomas Robert Foster was killed in action at—”

    “Chelse, don’t,” Terrence felt a wealth of shame fall over his body, for standing there the whole evening, not knowing or asking, for not following the news as Bruce always said he should. He began rocking from side to side and she sniffed, “It’s alright. I’m used to it now. I went up last month and had a big cry with mother, so you see I’m alright.”

    He held her away, placing a hand at her cheek, “Is there anything I can do? Is…are your brothers alright?”

    Chelsea scoffed, wiping her eyes, “Donald’s too young yet. But Ginger, I suppose, had to lam out of town, the poor devil. He was spooked about Robbie, about everything. His draft notice came, he went down to the board, they said that he was fit and had to report within three weeks. We saw him for two more days and now he’s gone. It’s causing daddy a great deal of embarrassment downtown. He’s cursing his own son left and right…I’m sorry. This is personal rubbish, I know.”

    Terrence began looking about for something, any comfort, “Do you want some coffee?”

    She ignored his question, “Who all is staying after the party let’s out?”

    He scratched behind his head, terrifically nervous, “Uh, the Queens and the Kents took rooms at the Hilton and Westin respectively. Matt’s already cut out by this time, he’s got to take his wife back to her parents, and
    he’s on watch, but he says guys come over and shoot the bull all night so he doesn’t get too tired usually. He’s got some ear infection though so I can’t see why he should have to stand out in the cold. Bruce’s cousin Caroline’ll be riding out with him and Selina to the manor, as will Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon. And Ms. Vreeland has a place here in the city.”

    “Did Nash stay long after dinner?”

    “No. Not long. I never would have figured it, but I guess he doesn’t really like parties anymore.”

    “The house will be empty then, just you and the nanny and the baby.”

    Terrence wrinkled his brow, “Bruce said I ought to get used to it. That some women need time to themselves, even if it drives us guys crazy. But, you’re apartment; I guess it’s pretty empty too huh?”

    Chelsea nodded, “Are you going to marry her?”

    The question was rather sudden in his opinion, “She doesn’t want to marry me. Not for now anyhow.”

    “And she’s left you too, hasn’t she? In her own way?”

    Terrence felt his ears burn and his eyes narrowed, “Chelsea, if you want to stay here tonight. Just ask. But I can’t…I know this’ll sound ridiculous, but I won’t be here. I’ve got business to attend to tonight. Melanie took her maid but I can see to it that you’re taken care of, and you’ll have breakfast in the morning and we can talk all you want…”

    She nodded, her voice strangely meek, “When will you be back?”

    He took a wild guess, “I don’t know, I guess four or so, or five.”

    She looked up at him, seemingly wise, “Does Melanie know about her? Whoever she is?”

    Terrence closed his eyes, unable to make any plausible defense, “No.”

    Chelsea nodded, “I know what men are like. Robbie was…you love one girl or two, but the rest…tell me, is she of particular importance?”

    Terrence took a deep breath and thought of his city, suddenly remembering his grandfather’s words, You must give to Gotham what she’s given to you. He looked away, “More than you know.”

    “Is that why Melanie’s not here?”

    Terrence shook his head, “No.”

    She set her hand at his wrist, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then.”

    He turned and followed her with his eyes as she crept up the back stair.

    ***

    It was, at moments like this, there in the dark of the train car, swaying two and fro, that he worried. There wasn’t much time. In these new days of magnetized efficiency, one only had perhaps an hour between Gotham and Opal to worry. To lay out ones fears and concerns in order, to list and rank them and to wish very much for a beer.

    He thought to remind himself that his forebears had always preferred much harder stuff. A drink as hard as their hearts and minds had to be in order to get anything done. He’d been guarding himself about sentimentality. If Edith had her way they’d simply go back to playing House in her father’s garden, as if there were no walls between them.

    He’d wished Bruce many happy returns and, bypassing everyone he’d ever known, went straight to Selina and took her hand and asked to speak to her. Under the leftover light just outside the kitchen, next to the back door, he’d asked her how to put it behind him. How to look at Edith’s poor kid and not to feel his mind teeter off. How she could stand fate rearing its ugly head.

    She’d laughed beautifully and he wrinkled his nose, wishing that she’d take it seriously and seeing for a moment whatever It had been that tied Bruce down. She’d placed her hand at his cheek, “You’re one poor kid yourself Andy. None of it will go away baby. You have to love her despite it or not at all.”

    He’d leaned against the doorjamb of the utility closet, his shadow falling over the mop and buckets and the little sink filled with the discarded cigarette butts of the day staff Melanie had hired on. He’d shrugged his shoulders and admitted it, “I’m scared. I’m terrified.”

    “Of what?” she asked, finally tender.

    “Of Edith. I’ve failed her once already. I saw it this morning and she didn’t even know it. Right over the hard boiled eggs when she was rubbing the boy’s monogrammed bib with her thumb. She asked me why I never seem to put up any sort of fight when it came to her. I mean, she wasn’t cold or anything. She was quite casual, maybe even wistful. She said that her mother was already sending waves of annoyance about us and she left it at that. But I know. She’s afraid I’ll be weak like her father was when he didn’t try to change Bunny’s mind about the divorce.”

    Selina’d sighed then, “I’ve been hearing that quite a bit lately. I’ve rarely seen you so worked up, who put such scary thoughts in your head?”

    Andy shrugged once more, his posture weakening as he mumbled something about F. Scott and Zelda. About his inner drunkard and Edith’s cynical teasing, about his returning fire.

    She asked if he’d been drinking and he raised the Boy Scout sign and crossed his heart, “But I’m worried that too will come.”

    Selina glanced back down the hall toward the front where the orchestra played, towards the Fuss of it all, and pursed her lips, “I wish that I could tell you that you’ve already been quite good and have you believe it, that Edie knows that, that she’s probably a little afraid that you’ve used up your reserves. That you’ll be too exhausted, morally, to stand up to Bunny,” then Selina grinned, “I won’t disagree with Bruce, you are very young, but you’ve got the upper hand, and you’re smart enough to use it.”

    Later, Edith left the party about an hour or two ahead of him to go home to the baby. She’d cautioned with her eyes as he helped her with her coat, “Is that a champagne fountain in the hall?”

    He’d sniffed, “I tried it already. Sparkling cider. Useless.”

    She’d playfully removed his glasses, setting her cheek against his, savoring the warmth of his person before heading out into the cold, “The cab’s waiting.”

    “I gave you forty dollars in credits. Let him keep the change.”

    Then her voice was sad in his ear, “You haven’t come to my room once, since you’ve been visiting daddy’s every weekend you’ve been a practical monk.”

    Andy frowned, knowing her as well as ever, “You want me to be a rake. I can’t be decent at all; you’ve got to feel like some sort of martyr or you’re not happy.”

    And she’d pouted, setting her forehead against his chin, “Don’t be that way pussycat, I just happen to remember when you were much more difficult is all.”

    Then she’d stood back with her hands in his, “Your tie reminds me of Venice, of lounging on that resort beach when my mother took us abroad that summer when we were twelve. That you taught me tiddlywinks and searched for my hand under the sand so mother wouldn’t see. Later, at dusk, you searched for something else. Fumbling, numbly through the grains of sand, those stubby unwashed fingers. And I gasped and trotted away. That was when I first realized that you were a degenerate.”

    He grimaced, rolling his eyes and she finally smiled, “There it was, for just a second. The old ‘you can’t put anything past me’ routine.”

    “Why do you talk this way?”

    And she’d confirmed his early suspicion, “Because I want you to make your decisions and to stick with them. To believe in forgetting the troublesome past like you used to. To not let anyone stand in your way. You never used to let uncle Bruce or my mother roll over you, but the second you had to share the spotlight with Terry and Matty, that’s when everything disintegrated. Like someone kicked a chair out from underneath you.”

    His eyebrows raised a little and his grip tightened.

    She’d nodded then, “So you see it too. I’d never seen you afraid until that very bad October and you never came clean at all, you just let me go. And uncle Brucie had to do that for you too,” then she kissed him quickly, “I’ll see you at home. I’ll wait up for you.”

    He’d partially regained his senses well enough to kiss her goodbye and delivered her to the taxi cab, standing, rubbing his hands together as it pulled away.

    Trudging back up the steps he’d stopped and gazed up at the lights of the nursery. That very bad October saw him lose his position as the last Wayne heir and he’d been fumbling ever since, trying to figure out where he fit in. Bruce would never be so unkind as to treat him differently, but he knew. They were his sons and that was a bond that wouldn’t be loosened. Andy’d sat down on the dry, cleared steps and started a cigarette. He was supposed to be a Pierce if one wanted to be honest about it, but his mother had refused to marry his father.

    Francine had stated as much after the scandal broke, to Matthew and to his face. What excuse did he have to be decent? He’d been somewhat cool to her since.

    He’d gotten up then and gone in and stayed another hour or so for Bruce and retrieved his hat and coat and Bruce stopped him and gave him credits for the train fare, asking if he intended to go out to Maryland or to Cambridge. Maryland it was and Bruce gave him an extra credit to see that he ate something, mentioning that he’d barely touched his dinner. Then Bruce grasped his forearm and saw the familiar glinting studs that read PW, “You can’t smoke outside anymore, they
    re instituting a nationwide black out starting next week.”

    Andy nodded, guessing that Bruce’s chauffer had seen him and reported as much. He’d said goodnight to each guest and gotten out.

    Now in the train car he thought of Edith, of going to her room the way she wanted—the way he wanted. But he wouldn’t have her and it was driving her up the wall. Matthew had surmised that she probably wanted to be held by him again. To erase any trace or memory of the last man who’d shared her bed. To forget that any of it had happened. But that was impossible. The little boy gazing contentedly at her in the mornings was all the proof anyone needed.

    He shook his head. He wouldn’t have her. Not until the legal ink was dry lest Edward slap her with a countersuit for adultery. Over his dead body would his name be dragged into something like that, not even for her sake. So he kept his distance in Cambridge or in sleeping on a cot in her father’s study and Jack Westinghouse quietly consulted the various servants every morning and they affirmed his goodliness and Edith was miserable.

    He felt a twinge run up his spine, frightening him for a moment. Perhaps he was punishing her too? He shook his head. No. He wouldn’t break the bonds of marriage. It was something that he’d decided years ago. He wouldn’t want some kid to pop up on him somewhere as they were wont to do, or to tug the string of any woman dishonestly. The insecurity of his background had made various inroads into his heart and he guessed he was even a little ashamed. After all. He was supposed to be a Pierce. And lo hadn’t Oliver tried repeatedly and failed?

    Maybe it was the upright Christian in him? He couldn’t guess. Either way, he was tired of thinking about it. He gathered his greatcoat tighter in the unheated car and lowered his hat over his eyes. The porter was instructed to wake him at Opal Grand Terminal. He set his chin on his chest and fell asleep but didn’t dream.
     
  6. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: I admittedly hesitated to post this as I wondered whether this piece might come across as too soft or overly-romantic, but, alas, I read Batman: Detective Comics #850 (again) and that essentially sealed the deal. I intended to actually include Bruce's lovely, sappy admission, but I alternately didn't want to distract from the current storyline, and, more importantly, I hemmed and hawed as to whether I wanted to admit Tommy Elliott into my BB-verse. I suppose time will tell as to whether he plays a more prominent role.**

    His breath hitched there on the cold slope of the roof line. He bent forward and held on tight to darkened ice slicked roof shingles, hundreds of years old. He powered the boosts in his heels and landed atop the steeple, next to the cross. She stood there in plain day clothes, hair tied back, twirling the strand of black pearls about her first finger. He suppressed his anger, trying not to let on, not to remind himself that she had flown back into town without a word and now stood perched on the roof of St. John’s Cathedral with his child enveloped in her womb. His voice became so much crumbled granite, “You’ll have to give those back. If you’d like, I’ll return them for you.”

    She slipped them into his palm without any argument and solemnly wrapped her arms about his frame, “I’ve missed you.”

    He remained rigid, “What were you trying to prove sneaking into Tabitha Maxwell’s safe unmasked…? Were you trying to create a spectacle?”

    She took a deep breath, “I needed to see you, I didn’t care how.”

    His face reddened beneath the mask, “Suppose you were caught, what about your daughter…? Or Mr. Wayne?”

    She drew back and folded her arms, “I wouldn’t have been caught. You know that. That’s why I left that calling card, just in case you had any reservations. I may be rusty but it could never be said that I’ve lost my touch. I just wondered…”

    He took a step backward, then another, “What?”

    She sat down and crossed her legs at the ankles, staring out over the Gotham River, “What did Selina call this? One last hurrah?”

    His features flattened but he said nothing.

    She looked down, “This is it. I won’t be seeing you again for some time.”

    He felt a twinge run through his sternum and a tangle of worrisome questions swirled about his mind. Was she leaving for good? What about June? What about him? His only physical reaction, however, was to stand up a little bit straighter, “Oh?”

    She smiled in an odd way, “I’m sure you know of the Catwoman.”

    He nodded, “Quite well.”

    “I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her since my daughter June’s birth. I suppose you know that her real name is Selina Kyle. She’s been old Mr. Wayne’s companion for far longer than anyone could remember. And I’ve been struggling with that for some months now.”

    This time he folded his arms, slightly defensive, “Why?”

    “I couldn’t figure why she’d give up all of this,” and she spread her arms to emphasize the skyline, “danger, excitement, notoriety and the like, for…that old man.”

    His brow curled, offended, but he didn’t interrupt.

    “He wasn’t always old though. I’ve seen photographs of him and of her, together and apart, when they were young. He tried hard not to let it show, but there’s something there in his face when they’re together, even now. He had so many women but he only looked happy with her. I couldn’t quite understand it. I lived out in the country for about a year, in a little house on a farm that first belonged to her and later his oldest son. I had nothing but time on my hands even with the baby. I read about the family and goodwill notwithstanding, Bruce Wayne just didn’t seem worth it. Not to me. So I asked her about it over the telephone yesterday morning. I’ve been at Angers and I couldn’t let it wait.”

    “And?”

    “Do you know why she ultimately retired?”

    The Batman shook his head, though Bruce had given him the bare minimum as far as specifics went, that aspect of her story hadn’t been one of them.

    Melanie sniffed against the icy gales, “She’ll be the first to admit the story is laced with melodramatic symbolism. A villain of their time, Hush, surmised that if he let her heart die, a portion of Bruce’s would go with it.”

    Batman’s eye lenses widened quizzically and she nodded at him, “He actually stole her heart. Cut it out of her. Your predecessor retrieved it and she was saved when he employed Doctor Midnite to perform the surgery, but it was Bruce Wayne who came to her hospital room and said whatever he needed to say. She didn’t go into details and I couldn’t bring myself to press, but it amounted to an understanding. Afterward, she was unable to continue her old lifestyle, and apparently has never missed it. And all night and all the ride home I’ve thought of my own Mr. Wayne. You remember him, years ago, Terry.”

    The Batman looked away, very nearly afraid of what she was going to say.

    “He’s tried very hard to live up to his father’s example. It confounded and disturbed me as I rather took it for granted that such an ideal went part and parcel with other less desirable traits. I don’t know what he does here nor with whom. But that part doesn’t concern you. I pictured myself in her position and found a much similar answer. You and the first Batman would save my life without question, that’s what you do. But Bruce Wayne and now, Terry, would stay for the end. To face whatever else was there in the morning. That’s something you cannot do.”

    She looked up at him, “I’ll miss what little fun we may have had together. Though I honestly can’t say that I cared for you the way she cared for him. But I do love Terry and though he may not cut any sort of figure in a black, stretchy costume, he has a life beyond all of this, and he’s willing to share it with me. That said, you may keep the pearls. I won’t need them for a long time.”

    He gaped at her for a moment or so before offering his hand. Escorting her down to the street, he gave a parting nod. She walked calmly away and around the corner and he slipped back into the shadows. Once there, he kept his face calm but closed his eyes. Reopening them, he relished the sensation. She would be there tonight waiting for him, and she would still be there in the morning. At least for a long while.

    --#--

    She found him early. The curtains were still open and the sky was gray and light and terrifically cold looking. His hand was still on the side of June’s crib. He sat up in the rocking chair with his jacket and tie on and she quietly knelt down, taking his shoes off his feet.

    He stirred and blinked at her, his face was always swollen after sleep and now there were four neat prints from his knuckles shaped into his cheek. He stared up at her, fumbling to speak but she shushed him and glanced at their little girl.

    He nodded and stood and took his shoes in one hand and guided her out and down one flight. The nanny had had the night off and would be there within a few hours, Chelsea had babysat but he didn’t mention it. He pulled her into his arms in the hall, feigning ignorance, “Where were you last night?”

    She hugged him back, burying her face in his chest, murmuring.

    He reached between them and raised her chin, “Hm?”

    She covered a yawn and repeated herself, “I went to see an old friend. I’m sorry I’ve kept you up.”

    He frowned a little, yawning himself, “I thought you were still mad about the fight we had before you left.”

    She nodded, “I was. I still don’t know what to say about anything. Jacky seems to think that I simply can’t let myself be happy. Father didn’t give a damn about us and now I can’t seem to believe it when someone does. Jacky thinks I’ve come to expect it.”

    Terrence held her face in his hands, “Do you want to stick around for me? At least for now?”

    She pulled his hands down and pressed her face into his cheek, “I want to stick around. I might need to.”

    “For good?”

    “Maybe.”

    He sighed, hugging her tighter and spinning her around once, then twice, “It’ll be a bore.”

    She nodded, “I know,” and she led him to their room. Setting him down on the bed she took and tossed his shoes away and shut the door. She draped her arms over his shoulders and straddled his lap, “I’ve got something to tell you.”

    He undid his tie, “What now?”

    She helped him with his shirt, “You won’t be upset?”

    “Tell me first and I’ll let you know.”

    She took his hand and placed it on her stomach, “What’s this?”

    His brow curled, “A belly button?”

    She gave a small laugh, “And behind it?”

    He shrugged, sweetly frustrating her.

    “The contents of one girl: Sugar, spice, everything nice. One bottle of Pellegrino, one serving of banana crepes, one stomach, two kidneys, one liver, intestines, heart, lungs, ribs, spine, a kooky brain and as of two weeks or so ago, one new baby.”

    He squinted and nodded, “I know.”

    She made a face, “Jack.”

    He nodded again before running both hands under her skirt and over her backside, “I told my father and Selina, I hope you don’t mind.”

    She looked a little let down, “The proverbial cat’s out of the bag hm?”

    He drew her eyes back toward him and gave a kind smile, “I’m pleased. I can’t wait to meet them then.”

    She took a deep breath, “You must do me one great favor though, you musn’t mention marriage again. Not for a while. I’ll stay, but not like that, not until I’m ready—if I ever am.”

    “I just wanted to do what was best for June.”

    She kissed him and pressed him backward onto the bed, “Well for now, just for now, think of yourself. Think of me. And button your lips.”
     
  7. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **References galore in one sense or another. Primarily Nightwing #93. I just pray this reads smoothly. Also, an untitled couple of stanzas by William Blake, the personal correspondence of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald again (the hotel and the suitcase, tweaked), my own experiences as of late, and finally an expertly hidden allusion to James Joyce's letters too.**

    Dick sat up in the dark and his hands roamed beneath the covers until he found her form. Her hand sneaked down and rest in his and he smiled. She sat up, “What’s all that racket?”

    Dick draped his arms over his knees, smiling, “I’d forgotten about the banging. Happy New Year Babs.”

    Barbara struggled to lift her eyelids, heavy with the aura of sleeping pills, less though than usual, “Banging? Sounds like pots falling in the kitchen.”

    “It is. And rolling pins and sauce pans. The kids. You know it’s an old tradition among some of the British to this day. Instead of fireworks they bang pots, on their doorsteps, in town sometimes. That first year, when I was a kid, before the costume or anything else, and Bruce was out for the night, Alfred wakened me and we celebrated the moment the clock struck midnight. He had champagne and I sparkling cider and we banged pots for a while. Bruce must have told the boys to bang all they want, or they took it upon themselves.”

    Barbara turned back over, “They could wake the dead down there, you know how far away we are from the kitchen?”

    “Not the servants staircase, I used it to sneak Drake’s Cakes up to my room sometimes, until the dentist found three cavities and Alfred started running an inventory.”

    Barbara smiled through the fatigue, “I used to wonder how it was for you here with Bruce disappearing always…even on your birthday.”

    Dick shrugged, “I hated it here, despite Alfred. But you helped some. And later, it felt like an hour glass turned over. Everything I’d known before, with the circus and my mom and dad were blurs. Their faces were out of focus and their voices sounded like echoes in a tunnel. And my life became here, and the costume and school and trips in the summer to see Uncle Phil, and parties and Selina sometimes and summer camps. Everyone wants to make out like Bruce was such a louse, and I suppose, in one sense he was…God knows how I couldn’t stand him for a while there, but he did the best he could with me, considering he didn’t know what the hell he was doing in the first place.” His breathing hitched slightly, “But when I had my son…I tried to be like Bruce. Not my dad. And I was scared out of my mind.”

    Barbara placed her hand at his back, finally able to show small comfort, “Do you like the boys? Do you feel sorry for them?”

    Dick shook his head, “I don’t think about it much at all. They seem content, or a version of it.”

    “Would you be? If you found that that old rumor was true,” her voice sagged somewhat.

    Dick frowned slightly, unable to formulate an answer, “I don’t want to think about it…besides, it’s not true.”

    Barbara ignored the verbal cues, “Do you wish it was?”

    Dick looked down at the covers, “If it was, maybe I’d have a little more guts.”

    Barbara turned over and folded the pillow beneath her head, “You were the gutsiest boy I knew.”

    Dick shook his head, “Not with you. I was Jimmy Stewart practically, all Gosh and no action,” he looked at her, “I guess I really broke your heart huh?”

    She stared at the headboard, her chin buried, still blinking, “Yah.”

    He sighed, “Well don’t worry baby, you broke mine too.”

    Her mouth was thick again, “You haven’t been with any woman since then have you?”

    Dick bristled and didn’t answer.

    “How do you suppose we rectify this situation?”

    He began to whistle Auld Lang Syne and lay back down, “I’m all rusty Babs, you’ll have to tell me.”

    She hesitated before scooting over and for the first time in ages, kissed his adam’s apple, and he drew her into his arms, and she kissed him full on the lips, “I wish we were younger. You had so many girls but you never had me.”

    His eyes flickered, he wanted to kid around, to hesitate, to make excuses, to go back to sleep. But that only embarrassed him. There was a time when he would have died for this…but in the old days she wouldn’t budge, and he knew better than to ask again. And later…that night began trickling back in, the swirl of confusion and he limp as a rag doll in Tarantula’s arms, then sharpness, tautikilledwekilledDonttouchme… “Don’t touch me.”

    She froze and his skin red, he raised himself up, wondering if he’d said it aloud. Her face was empty but she was kind, gentle and she brought her hands to his ribcage, pulling him into a hug, “Okay.”

    He murmured against her ear, “No. Not you. I didn’t mean you.”

    He felt her nod with pity, “Just sleep Dickey.”

    His brow knit and he raised himself again, hating being an object to feel sorry for, first Tarantula’s and now Barbara’s. His girl. The one he truly loved. She was a blurred vision there in his old room. His old books and lamp and school sweaters stitched B and his old bed. He pushed back the covers. He protested, pulling off his undershirt, “No. Don’t baby me Barbara. I should have been…tougher. Long ago. I should have been the top man.”

    She watched, holding her breath as he balled the shirt and tossed it away, followed by his pajama bottoms and briefs and finally sat kneeling in front of her. This time she frowned, “Not Sam.”

    “I forgave you that, I understood. But now I need you to forgive me for ever letting it happen in the first place.”

    “I don’t blame you for her actions,” Barbara stated plainly.

    “No, you’re just sorry. About that and all the time we wasted and my being in Bl
    üdhaven in the first place. You’re just sorry.”

    She opened her mouth to speak but he silenced her with his own. Words reverberated through his mind as he guided her backward and came to rest on her form. Top man.

    ***

    I told my love, I told my love,
    I told her all my heart;
    Trembling cold, in ghastly fears,
    Ah! she doth depart.

    Soon as she was gone from me
    A traveler came by;
    Silently, invisibly,
    O! was no deny.


    ***

    Terrence was straightforward over breakfast in their bedroom. Though they still hadn’t been to bed, having attended Vespers services with Bruce, Matthew and Francine the evening before, the banging of pots and pans at the manor still bounced between their ears, “…I’m glad I introduced you. You two went shopping yesterday?”

    Melanie nodded, spreading marmalade over her toast. In warmer weather they may have preferred to eat on the balcony overlooking the avenue, but there, in the dead of winter, they dare not tread, “Yes. And I had my suspicions, and I asked her, over sweet Bavarian nuts, ‘are you sleeping with Terry?’”

    He sat up straight and his bite of scrambled egg stuck in his throat. He leadenly reached for an empty glass and she poured orange juice for him from the carafe. Calm, frightfully calm.

    Her nose wrinkled, “She blushed and said no. That she waited for you all the night of Mr. Bruce’s party, that she wasn’t sure what she would have done when you came back. She apologized to me.”

    Terrence sat back, still worried.

    Melanie took a deep breath, “And I sympathized with her. I know that she and Dana were close. She said that they’d grown apart. That you and this Nelson were the only old friends she cared to keep. That it was just her and her little girl now. I asked about her husband and she said that he’d been killed and buried already. We’ve only been at war six months…he was a reservist and was called up immediately.”

    Terrence sighed, not sure what to ask of her and admitting as much.

    Melanie cut her eggs but didn’t lift any to her mouth, “She stayed two nights here while I was away. She thought of sleeping in our bed—it was the only one made up, but she thought it too crass. She slept in the nursery with the girls. Made a pallet on the floor…I feel as though I pity her and that’s the last thing I want to do. She’s very charming. She talked about starting off at Miss Collette’s during her senior year and having no foundation at all. So she resorted to rebellion rather than set herself apart as a target. The rest isn’t appropriate for discussion over breakfast.”

    Terrence gave a slight smile, “That’s my old number.”

    “Yours was wanton abandon. Hers was primarily self-defense. The innocuous style only a girl can really cultivate. It’s terribly unattractive, scratching and biting through schoolyard taunts, especially at that age. One has to be daring in secret and really let off steam without offending the family, after all, aren’t we beholden to daddy? And it serves us no good at all to be expelled, not in the long run.”

    Terrence blushed, amazed at his former self, and waved his hand, “I told you about the place with the monks. They were draconian. I gave it back in spades. All that was left after juvie was public school. All the time I was in Massachusetts my parents were calling it quits, at least then I could be near home…no more surprises.”

    “Yet you don’t resent Mr. Bruce or your mother,” Melanie’s face was expressionless but he understood it just the same.

    “Are you worried about Chelsea and me?”

    Melanie shook her head, “If I really had a reason to be worried, I doubt you could ask me such a thing. Besides, I asked Selina.”

    “The wise old sage.”

    Melanie nodded, “All of that time with Mr. Bruce has made her very straightforward. She was feeding the southbound birds leftover cornbread crumbs in the driveway. I missed her famous chili, she said. She flapped the dish towel and stated everything very plainly, that if I went away, I ought to understand what might happen. Either I accept that or stay near. Then she asked me to help her wrap the boys’ presents.”

    Despite the orange juice Terrence’s mouth was dry, “I’m not like that.”

    Melanie nodded slowly, “Yes you are.”

    Terrence sighed, feeling anger collect in his stomach only to sputter inwardly when she placed her hand atop his on the table cloth, “Remember a few years ago, with you and her on the outs, and we made that trip to California?” her voice was sweet with the memory, “That hotel clerk wouldn’t take us because we looked too young, too many prom dates and high school graduates slipping out on the bill or trashing rooms. We shamed him when we drove into town and bought those battered suitcases at the Salvation Army and filled them with pilfered old telephone books and rocks and you pretended to be offended and said you only thought of paying upfront but that we could take our services elsewhere. That mischievous glint as you pulled me into that closed elevator and later in the room. We didn’t know yet what had made your mother so ill that weekend, but she telephoned and gave you the message that Dana had called on you at the apartment.”

    He swept a hand over his head, already knowing the rest.

    “You took the telephone into the bathroom and I didn’t see you again for twenty minutes. I couldn’t dare begrudge you that. It’s always been a part of your character to try to smooth things over, to try to please both sides at once. You wouldn’t dream of hurting me but you couldn’t not call. Just to make sure she was alright. Even then. I guess maybe that’s left over jockeying between your mom and dad. And now you want me to be happy and Chelsea also. I know that. So just as Selina warned me last week…I just figure I’d better stay near.”

    Terrence was red in the face, “Is that why you’re back? To keep an eye on me?”

    She shook her head, “No. I’m not possessive, not to that extent anyway. But I figure I only have myself to blame if I lose you. If you believe I’m worth holding on to, shouldn’t I try to do as you asked last November and meet you halfway?”

    He nodded, getting it, and palmed her hands, softer and much smaller than his own. Nimble little devils. They’d clutched black pearls only weeks ago and grasped the skin of his suit. If he didn’t know better, he’d scarcely believe they were the same hands and she the same woman. She was determined to hold on though. He could see that. Standing up, he leaned over the table and kissed her, “Happy New Year Mel. Maybe this one will be a little more peaceable than the last.”

    She tapped the bottom of his chin with her forefinger, “I hope so too, for your sake and mine.”
     
  8. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    In Pieces

    **Disclaimer: Not much by the way of introduction. Only that the first part follows the New Year's scene in Dark Victory when Selina (unsuccessfully) tries to break things off with Bruce for the first time, and before the scene on Sea Island a few pages back (Sophia Loren's influence). As for the bisecting quote, it was the advice given by Alexander Gerschenkron to his students after he suffered cardiac arrest in the Harvard Faculty Club. Good advice in my opinion. Ah yes, and the bed. Solomon Wayne's bed can be seen here. I'm currently delving into Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, that'll explain the torrid business about the honey. And finally, the Nat King Cole song is "Don't Cry, Cry Baby."**

    **Flashback**

    They walked around in the dim whiteness of New Year’s Day. He took a chance, leaves drifting across the sidewalk, to reach over and take her hand. He should have expected as much, unresponsive. Nothing, nothing at all. He knew she hadn’t forgiven him for last night.

    That morning she’d dragged him in by the ends of his scarf, he’d nearly lost his hat in the foyer. He held the bowler in his hands, turning it around and around by the brim there in the doorway of the dining room, knowing he was wrong. She ignored him and set about gathering up the previous night’s dinner and—for his edification—sweeping it all together, plate by plate, serving dish by serving dish, and tossing everything into the trash bin in the kitchen. He felt his stomach drop slightly every time a thump sounded where the food fell. She left the champagne bottle where it was, its contents were evaporated by now.

    He felt one of the cats brush by his ankle and he reached down and ran his hand the length of its back. He distracted himself with the task of naming whichever ones he saw. There was Lulu, Jigsaw and his old favorite, Figaro. Barney and the new kitten Bigs.

    He winced as she pulled the tablecloth away and left the table bare, instructing him to sit. He guessed she didn’t believe him about last night and why he couldn’t make their date, and honestly why should she? Lies, as per usual.

    If she were one of the whirling socialites he might have grown indignant, argued back, I’m here now, what’s the difference?

    But he knew better when she took her seat across from him, hair still damp from the shower, body enveloped in a lovely embroidered bathrobe—he hadn’t seen that one before. He had some work to do if it meant convincing her that what she’d said just now on the doorstep wasn’t true, that maybe she was being a bit…hasty.

    She tossed an empty napkin ring at him and he caught it easily, “What’ll it be?”

    He held up the forgotten bag, smiling meekly, practically begging her to smile back, “Who’s to say?”

    Her expression didn’t budge but she sat up straight and sighed, “Muffins and things?”

    “Perhaps.”

    “For Alfred’s muffins I might be tempted to suffer through ten of you.”

    He opened the plain white paper sack and removed two linen napkins and four apple cinnamon muffins. They weren’t quite hot anymore but they smelled heavenly.

    She moved to get plates when he stopped her. She froze, half up, then sat back down.

    “I’ll get them, just sit. Don’t go anywhere.”

    A beat went by and he called in, “Where are your plates?”

    “In the cabinet.”

    “…which cabinet?”

    “The one next to the refrigerator.”

    A long silence followed and finally he called, “Who is this in the photograph?”

    “What photograph?”

    “On the freezer door.”

    “What of it?”

    “It’s a little boy.”

    “There are millions of ‘em.”

    “You had a brother or a nephew?”

    “I never said I had a brother or a nephew.”

    “Did you?”

    “I thought we went over this.”

    He returned with two saucers, “If I remember correctly, we decided to keep family out of this.”

    Her tone was harsh, “So what makes you think I’ve changed my mind?”

    He paused momentarily and set the saucer before her, then returned to his seat, waiting, watching.

    She pried a piece of muffin off and popped it into her mouth, closing her eyes in delight. After she cleared her mouth she spoke, “Whatever happens, give Alfred my heartfelt praise.”

    Her phrasing, whatever happens….He found he could only look at his breakfast, his appetite nearly dissipated. He cast off his black tie and glanced at his hat now resting in an unused chair, “Is there anything I can do?”

    She looked at him, knowing exactly what he meant, “I don’t think so.”

    “May I try?”

    “If it will help you sleep at night.”

    He sat back and let out a long silent sigh, “You should know that I don’t sleep at night.”

    “I know next to nothing.”

    His brow twitched, “No?”

    “I don’t honestly. I couldn’t say what makes you tick, what makes you laugh, not honestly. Not at all really. I know you and Kick and Ollie and that terrible smell of horses and sweat and your yacht and your penchant for coming home without any shoes on. But could I really say that I know anything, even now, after this lovely little while?”

    He set his fist beneath his chin, deciding to remain unimpressed, “Why don’t you just scold me then? Mother me; tuck me in with a night cap? Why don’t you shriek if it helps?”

    She didn’t go for it, “That’s routine, that’s why. The old girls bawled you out and you scoffed. And you drown them out in the arms of some other girl who’ll eventually turn and do the same thing. No thanks, I’m not interested.”

    He stared at her for a moment before smiling softly, “As Ollie might say, ‘you’ve wised up.’”

    She nodded, “Indeed.”

    He left his muffins and stood, crossed the dining room and took one of her hands, leading her into a standing position whereupon he wrapped his arms around her frame but didn’t speak.

    She held her hands on his chest, not letting him draw her in too close, “You would have let me go wouldn’t you? If I’d stood my ground?”

    He shook his head, “Not without a fight.”

    “You’re only determined when you’re already up to your neck. Don’t you realize that by then it’s too late?”

    “Is it?”

    He felt himself buoyed slightly when she couldn’t put together an answer. He eased her hands toward her sides, “Shall we go for a walk?”

    “Where to?”

    “One of the little parks I suppose. I ought to do something wholesome, I didn’t even attend services yesterday or today.”

    She didn’t seem to want to put up a fuss, “Just let me get dressed.”

    He retrieved his tie and made himself presentable before the mirror in the hall. When she came back down he couldn’t help but note the reluctance in her carriage. She took his arm and he opened the door. They stepped out into the bleached sunlight of January and he looked at her. Her body was near him, walking and nodding when he spoke, but he knew better. Her mind was elsewhere.

    He drew her in closer but she didn’t respond with any warmth. Somewhere in the back of his head he asked her to hold on. Whatever it is, whatever let’s you tolerate me this way, hold on to it.

    Impulsively for him, he grasped her hand. It was a little leaden weight. Nothing, nothing at all.


    **End of Flashback***

    "You know, there was nothing. No beautiful colors. No castles. No bright lights. Nothing. So, if there are things you want to say and do, don't wait. Say them and do them. You won't get the opportunity after you're dead."

    ***

    **January 7th**

    She draped her arms over his shoulders and kissed him, once, then twice. He looked down at her showing stomach, leery of going further, “Where’d this bed come from?”

    “I asked Mr. Bruce if we could have the bed in your great-grandfather’s rooms. He called some people and they came and took it down and reassembled it here. It’s gorgeous isn’t it?”

    They lay down and Matthew looked up at the carved wooden canopy, “Yes. But where’s my bed?”

    “Down the hall.”

    “In pieces?”

    She nodded and kissed him again, “In pieces. I think this bed is wonderful, much better than the one you complimented at Oliver’s.”

    “I just said that it was huge, that it looked like something I could sleep for days in. But he winked and said that he rarely slept in it. You’re right, this is much better.”

    “I didn’t expect it to be this small though, I don’t know why.”

    “People were smaller then.”

    “The way it’s told, your great-grandfather sounds as though he was the biggest one of them all.”

    “Taller far than a tall man.”

    “Where’d you get that?”

    “I heard Selina say it to father once.”

    “I’ve noticed, anything she’s asked for, or that I’ve asked for, he does without hesitation. I’ve yet to hear him say no. You don’t suppose he’s trying to charm me into liking him.”

    “You like him enough now.”

    “Oh, he’s alright, I suppose. He still has that look somewhere inside that worries me, something unacknowledged, something like ice. Though, he’s better in person than those awful stories.”

    “I’m tired of awful stories.”

    She was quiet then and hugged him close and he curved over her stomach and his forehead met her chest. He murmured into her underarm, “Why are you sorry now?”

    She had apologized to him. She didn’t mention that Selina was the one who suggested she ought to. That the older woman had launched into a lengthy exhortation about having offended his more idealistic side. She’d scoffed, what man was any sort of romantic? Selina’d gone on about men and their taste for camaraderie, duty, honor and family and not flying in the face of it so lightly. That she’d only make herself sorry in the end. And wasn’t a month and a half an awfully long time to argue, especially if he were to ship out? Francine drew in her breath, “I didn’t want to waste our time. I won’t mention it again, I swear.”

    Matthew in turn thought of his father’s watchful eye. Of the previous week and what had become a ritual drink with the older man in the study. He’d quietly informed his father that he was being trained as a code breaker and didn’t miss the strain easing from the old man’s lined face. One less wrinkle Matthew supposed. The old man had also noticed his lack of affection toward his wife as of late. That Francine was spending an awful lot of time in Great Neck and he in town or what have you, doing God knows what.

    Matthew didn’t want to think about his Naval life here at home. He hadn’t gone much farther than flirting while in Rhode Island or now back in New Jersey. The various bawdy stories passed over the card table and bunks kept him generally entertained. And the way “Eggs” Velmer had described his latest conquest “…like being dipped in a vat of honey” had certainly raised a specter of lust he’d not confronted since his time with Babe. But most of the guys weren’t married; they wouldn’t have to feel an ounce of guilt the next morning in waking up with a Someone who drifted away with the day. Or maybe they didn’t care either way.

    He looked over at her in the dim bedside light and saw her, still in her long chemise but barefoot and smelling damp and powdered from the bath. Her rounded belly protruded some but he found himself looking past it, her body was advancing into motherhood and he couldn’t help but feel as though it were slightly inviolate.

    He didn’t have a chance to contemplate it for much longer as she pulled away to change into her nightclothes. He watched her reflection in the mirror as she sat at his desk, the chemise lowered to her waist, brushing her hair and tying it up for the night, as beautiful as he’d ever seen her.

    He tried to picture her crying, saying goodbye for good whenever he went over but the image wouldn’t stick. A song floated in, one of Andy’s, something by Nat King Cole and he sang it softly aloud, “I ought to spank you, cry baby…for even having such fears…but let me thank you, my baby…for feeling I’m worth all your tears…”

    Hearing, she looked back at him, “I won’t be spanked.” Then her brow curled when she saw that he was still lying on his stomach with his hand buried out of sight.

    He frowned but didn’t reply to her lighthearted warning.

    She made a slight face, “What time do you have to report back?”

    “Oh-six hundred.”

    She pulled some of the hair from her brush and dropped it into his wastebasket, “Don’t you need to sleep?”

    His reply was terse, completely lacking in sentiment, “I need you more than sleep.”

    “I’ll have to lie on my back.”

    “I’ll make it quick.”

    She stood and let the undergarment fall completely to the floor, followed by her underwear, “I saw a cardinal in the park today with Melanie and Junie. I can’t remember the last time I’d glimpsed one. It bounced on the tree branch and we saw it and it lit away just like that. Isn’t it a little early in the year for them?”

    Matthew pulled her down and raised himself over her, shedding his own clothing with a single-mindedness that unnerved her, “I wouldn’t know, you’d have to ask Andy, the amateur ornithologist…if he wasn’t sore at you.”

    “Over?” she guided him to a more comfortable position, one that didn’t involve him pinning some of her loosened hair under his elbow.

    “You’re crack comment in November when he said he wanted to take care of Edie until he graduated, then marry her. And you asked what the difference was, that no one would be surprised if he just held on to her.”

    She stared up at the canopy as he began to move inside of her, “I said that?”

    “Mm-hmm.”

    “I guess I’m not very nice am I? When it counts.”

    She was breaking his concentration, “Some other time Fran.”

    Her brow wrinkled and she said nothing else and he kept his word and made it quick.
     
  9. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: I've been wanting to do an aside with Oliver (Green Arrow) for quite some time. This started off going in one direction, then another, and I scratched them both and the final version pretty much wrote itself. Mostly last night while I watched a Jean Harlow mini-marathon out of the corner of my eye. I highly recommend "Dinner at Eight," "Bombshell" and "Platinum Blonde," otherwise known as a few easy lessons about marrying against type. Often unwise but aren't the parties fantastic? Either way, that's all seventy-year-old water under the bridge. I've always had a soft-spot for the Silver Age Oliver depicted in Cooke's DC: The New Frontier and this figures purely along those lines. And, well, perhaps I just don't like goatees. See them all here, Dinah and Selina (diamond necklace) are in the top panel. Bruce, Lois and Oliver make the rounds in the middle. And Rectory is a real junior boarding school in Connecticut. EDIT: The view from Oliver's room at Mena House can be seen here, I admittedly found it on Flickr and only intend to use it respectfully.**

    **Flashback**

    **Georgian Hotel, Los Angeles, California**

    “Just throw that junk on the floor Ollie…yeah, and make yourself at home.”

    The short blond haired boy shrugged out of his suspenders and sat on the bedspread, watching his father take down a selection of shirts and hold them against his frame. With each option the boy shook his head until he was satisfied whereupon he snapped his fingers.

    His father curled his brow, “Blue with a stripe?”

    Oliver hung the other shirts back up and called for his valet, “Wells, iron this please and see if you can find those silver cuffs Auntie sent me. Jesus, look at me all sweated out, and draw a bath too. And uh,” he snapped his own fingers, “Has Ollie’s supper been ordered?”

    The boy made a face, “Daaddd, you promised I could eat with you.”

    His father took down his own suspenders and began undressing in earnest, “Oh yeah, when?”

    “On the train, when we woke up after the mountains and it hurt to touch the windows.”

    Oliver took down a pair of pants, “Well thirty below will do wonders with a pane of glass…alright, if his supper’s hot, just bring it in, we’ll have to do it on the fly.”

    He felt the silence and looked up to find resignation written all over his son’s face. He stopped and stood up straight, “Alright, put whatever they sent up in the icebox and get a nice jacket ready for him too and that tie with the anchors.”

    The boy’s face erupted into a smile and he bounced a little on the bed, “Thanks dad!”

    Mr. Wells paused at the door, “Will there be anything else sir?”

    Oliver spoke with his back turned, his attention dedicated to picking out a pair of shoes, “No, thank you.”

    The door shut and they were alone again. Oliver kicked off his pants and grabbed a towel, “I was angling for a surprise.”

    The boy looked intrigued but cautious and his father crossed to the bedside table, “Your mother sent this by way of Aunt Agatha, it’s for your birthday on Saturday but I guess you can open it now.”

    Young Oliver stood up and took the prettily wrapped parcel out of his father’s hands. Sitting down he calmly tore away the paper. Souvenirs from her travels? Perhaps a roll of pounds? He sat back and lifted out the little album of sepia toned images, “Photographs.”

    His father had excused himself to the bathroom and was now brushing his teeth. He talked through the foam, “Oh, what of?”

    The boy’s voice was a little somber, “The two of you.”

    His father peeked in, swishing water then ducked back around to spit. He reemerged, rubbing his cheek to guess whether he could use a shave, “May I see?”

    The boy handed them to him one by one and Oliver frowned in concentration, “Egypt. Mena House. One of the best times I’ve ever had anywhere. About a year before you came along. That sure was a swell set, let’s see, Frank and Joan. Dot and Mike, Carol Ferris...and your mother, Helene.”

    “Uncle Bruce?”

    “Oh no, no no. Not for laughs…you may not know this but Brucie can be a bit of a crab when it comes to leisurely travel.”

    The boy took something else from the small box, “A letter.” His eyes scanned it, face unreadable, then he tossed it aside, “Mother sends her love I guess.”

    Oliver frowned somewhat as the boy flopped across the bed, “What do you mean you guess?”

    Young Oliver shrugged and his father stared down at him reprovingly, “She sends her love for me and for you.”

    “And what’s wrong with that?” Oliver felt his stomach quake slightly. Try as he might, he was no good at the scolding half of fatherhood. What he wouldn’t give to be able to shoot the looks Bruce was capable of aiming at his own sons. The very definition of straighten up or shut up.

    Oliver grasped the boy’s ankle and pulled him off the bed completely. His son turned over and looked up at him, clearly annoyed, “She said I couldn’t fancy how much she wants to see me on this, my ninth birthday, so she sends her love and snapshots, hoping they will mind the gap until June.”

    Wells returned with the shirt and hung it on the clothes stand with the cufflinks nestled in the pocket, “Young master Oliver’s dinner has been sent back down to the kitchen to be refrigerated.”

    “Very good, thanks Wells.”

    The valet excused himself to draw the bath and Oliver looked back down to find his son scooting quickly underneath the bed. He sighed, chiding himself, patience old boy. He sat on his haunches and rested one hand atop the bedclothes, “You don’t believe she loves you.”

    “What does it matter?”

    Oliver frowned, “You know, if I knew you’d behave like this perhaps I would have left you at Rectory.”

    “Why didn’t you?”

    Oliver searched vainly for the boy’s foot again, “It’s no fun being alone at school on your birthday. I ought to know. I was alone on mine. Father died and mother…withdrew. You know, I used to climb in bed with her when I was very small. Her bedroom was painted blue and there were a lot of windows and it was light and cheery. And she loved turquoise and little delicate porcelain keepers. Ring keepers, hairpin keepers. Penny keepers. And she’d recite all sorts of things and wrap her arms about me. And I missed it very much when she didn’t want to do those things anymore. All she wanted was to be with father again until she couldn’t stand it any longer. Then I had to find some other bed to climb into…”

    The boy didn’t say anything and Oliver sighed, “But I can’t—I won’t do that to you.” He got down on all fours and tried to catch sight of his son, “I would love nothing more than to have your mother back with you and I. But she’s a titled lady and divorce is a sticky, scandalous thing, even today. You’ll understand when you’re older Ollie. You’ll hear of the stories sold in the ten cent edition, right at the doors of the church practically,” his hand brushed over a small mechanical duck that had fallen out his pocket the night before.

    At being turned over the device quacked and waddled loudly but neither fellow budged, “And besides…someday you’ll have to understand something about me too boy. I’ve been alone a long time, and at my age, it’s difficult to acclimate oneself to others. You’re one thing…but a wife? I’ve the patience for a son, I ought to, I owe you that much and more. But a young woman…she’d get tired of me pretty quickly I think. In fact, I’m worried that there’s the distinct possibility that being any less than three thousand miles from me at any given time might make even your mother fall out of love.” He drew one knee up, “But, all that aside, will you please come out? I have to go in for my bath and you have to get dressed. Dinah won’t be pleased if we’re late.”

    The boy’s head appeared, “Miss Lance again?”

    Oliver grasped him by the underarms and tugged him out, “Yes, yes Miss Lance again. And Roy too, so be mannerly.”

    “Do as I say, not as I do,” the boy muttered, shaking his head.

    The older man stood up and regathered his towel, chuckling to himself, “Did I ever tell you how I stole her right out from under ‘Wildcat’ Grant’s nose?”

    The boy nodded, tucking his chin in, not wanting to go see either Roy or Miss Lance, just wanting his father to himself, “About fifty times dad.”

    Oliver suppressed a grin and merely ran his hand over the boy’s head, “You’re a good boy Ollie. You’re the last of your kind. All the others were born years and years ago and there’re not going to be any more of them. You haven’t got my rotten streak at all. God only knows how you’ve managed it.”

    The boy shrugged and pulled his shirt over his head, popping the collar button off in the process, “Oh, I suppose I just get along daddy, I get along.”

    Oliver dallied over his razor for a moment before picking it up, “Quick, quick shave.”

    “Daddy?”

    “Yes son?”

    The boy puttered over his small suitcase, “What has Miss Lance got that mother hasn’t?”

    Oliver picked up a fresh face towel and unrolled it and rolled it again, inwardly relishing the salt-sweet sensation of Dinah Laurel Lance, “There are a dozen answers to that question dear lad. And all of them will have to wait until you come of age. Either way, go find Wells; he’s got your shirt and tie. And we mustn’t be any later than we’re already sure to be.”

    **End of Flashback**
     
  10. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: Whoever you all are out there, reading this story: Thank you. I'll only say that there's a spot or two of "The Squid and the Whale," a good solid, self-questioning movie, and Salinger's Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes though I've watched or read neither recently. As I've said before, I hope it's digestible.**

    They called him some kind of wunderkind. The slum kid who’d grabbed the world by the scruff of its neck and refused to let go. He’d always laughed at such nonsense. He’d pull out an old, soft cloth, gently thumb over each lens in his glasses, replace them and blush.

    Public School 106, Brentwood Academy on scholarship, M.I.T., crew and soccer, new horizons and the like. A masters at Gotham State and then…Mary. He’d never had much luck with girls in his youth, they all thought him just the sort of boy one considered a friend. Nothing more. Oh he’d had a little mercy action now and then, the desperate stuff on couches at parties. But after the necking was done, they’d up and leave.

    And out of the blue was Mary Heller giggling at him over chicken tenders at the Kings Street diner. She was his cousin Ralph’s date that night but he was distracted with someone else and sent Warren to soften the blow. She’d barely batted an eyelash and grasped his hand, dragging him to the park.

    They’d kicked around in the cold for four hours and she prattled on about movie idols and Facebook and a million things that didn’t interest him in the least, and she was only twenty. But goodness how he couldn’t help but stare at her mouth. She had lovely dimples at the inside corners of her chin when she grimaced. Much later, he enjoyed pulling her leg just to see them.

    Now that was all finished. He was sitting up with two good friends, Ben & Jerry, scraping the bottom of the junior carton with his spoon. Strawberry Shortcake. He sniffed and glanced at the clock once more, noting that he’d have to go to bed sometime. After all, he had to go to work in the morning. But he also knew she wasn’t asleep yet.

    She never slept after their one-sided arguments, not well anyhow. She complained and waved and he sat, ignoring her. Reading magazines and newspapers, tinkering with one of the baby’s mechanical toys. She’d take her post on the other side of the table and pour a glass of wine and he’d open his obligatory pint of ice cream. She’d skip dinner which she also knew annoyed him. The boys would be placated with microwaveable meals which upset him even more.

    He guessed he ought to have known better than to plow right down into love with the first woman who’d given him more than a glance. It was always the same story, he was nice but out there was someone new, someone more. Someone arresting.

    He grit his teeth slightly and brought his hand to his brow. At least she hadn’t rubbed it in his face, doing as Jo Lawry had, dropping movie tickets and like around for her husband to find. He’d scarcely noticed but for his marathon hours advancing his career at Wayne Tech and after the merger, WaynePowers. And he’d forgiven her Terry. The baby really was beautiful, and it wasn’t her fault he didn’t know how to put down the pens and papers and notations and come home. If she’d needed to feel loved and valued and caressed he couldn’t blame her, after all, he’d never really been that good at the practical aspects of male to female relations. People slipped up from time to time, he knew that.

    He silently chose to stomach it as they’d admired the boy from the side of his crib and she’d lightly commented that she couldn’t guess where he’d gotten those eyes. He’d stowed the nagging in the back of his mind, the automatic Punnett’s square scratching onto his mental chalkboard. And when the boy’s hair grew fully in, dark and thick, he did it all over again.

    But not this new baby. Eight years had progressed smoothly without a problem; they even fell back in love. And there in the hospital, staring at the soft, silky brunette of their new boy, Warren’s whole body vibrated numbly. As though he’d been bounced off a brick wall. He’d smiled tightly while Ralph and a half-dozen other relatives clapped their hands on his shoulder, oblivious to the wetness gathering at the corners of his eyes. Mary had even caressed his cheek when he bent over to kiss her for his mother’s camera, surprised, “Warrie? Why, you’re crying.”

    Mary. Soft and sweet and gentle and so damned simple. He was too conscientious to hate her the usual way, he didn’t disparage her lack of intellectual curiosity, the way she might call across the apartment to ask him some inane question that any five year old could work out—right in the middle of his shaving no less. He’d mop the lather with the back of his hand, panting at the fear of something actually being wrong and answer yes or no or whatever. And all the while he felt it at the bottom of his stomach, the fruit of their marriage being eaten away leaving the stale brown pit.

    He distantly doted on the boys and admonished her against all the usual trappings, sugar cereals, Soder, too many cartoons and not enough books. And he could hide behind his work, the pride of his position. They understood their father was important, that he loved them very much but duty called. But walking down the street at lunch he had to fight the urge to grab every man he saw looking for those eyes or that hair, to question belligerently, Are you the one? Are you the one Mary’s had again and again and again?

    Now, finally, this evening he’d put the question to her. He was stone quiet, he didn’t want to make any scenes, the boys were shaken enough by their arguments as it was. They were in bed with their doors closed, hopefully asleep. The groceries were put up, his late dinner was eaten and he switched off the television much to her protest. This was more important than some game show or sitcom.

    Her brow had flattened and she looked the way he guessed she would. Affronted, crushed, maybe even horrified but it didn’t deter him. He asked again, “You’ve been seeing someone for a long time now, almost since the beginning. I’d like to know who he is. I think I’ll go crazy otherwise.”

    He didn’t feel like laying out an explanation. As he understood it, he didn’t need to.

    She denied the charges, hotly for her, and ran into their bedroom, crying. Tomorrow he would see their lawyer. They would be filing for a divorce.

    He scooped the last bit of ice cream from the carton and savored it, then he stood, left the spoon in the sink and went to the hall closet. Slipping on his coat he took the house phone off its hook lest the bell wake anyone come morning. He was going out to walk.

    He tipped his hat to the doorman and went away. He thought of walking for an hour or so, then he’d take his semi-usual room at the Hilton. He’d buy a fresh shirt and tie. He’d go to work and not see Mary.

    In the morning, after checking out and walking a block to stand and wait for a taxi, he saw an old woman selling boutonnieres. Peonies. He handed over a few credits but didn’t slip it into his lapel. He hailed the taxi and there in the backseat he rolled the flower between his palms.

    That night in the park when they were young, Mary bought him one for fifty cents. She’d rolled it between her palms and dabbed the place under each of his ears and kissed him.

    He laid his head back over the seat and shut his eyes, feeling heat gather in his head, nearly disbelieving. She’d really liked him hadn’t she? That night at least, he had been someone new, someone more. He’d been arresting.
     
  11. aiwac

    aiwac Member

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    Wow. I hope that some day I'll be able to write as good as you :D (like that'll ever happen :shrug:).

    I now have some good ideas for my next chapter thanks to this :anime:...

    Seriously, great job.

    aiwac
     
  12. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    I'm quite flattered to read that. I'm glad you enjoyed it as you in turn influenced me to explore Warren and Mary a little bit more than I have, some of which is in the next installment.

    tNC
     
  13. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: Buzz Killington? Ah the joy of "Family Guy." Somewhat farther down, "You ever had a man before?" was a bit reference to the 1967 movie "In Cold Blood," which in turn was an adaption of Capote's book by the same name. Terry's arrival at the (unnamed for now) reform school is based (somewhat) on the opening of "Dead Poet's Society." As for the rest, my only hope is that I'm able to convey even half of the vision I have for this story.**

    "Oh, Bruce doesn't really listen to music," Selina was shelling peas, sliding her thumbs through the little green envelopes and dropping their bounty into a bowl to be washed, "Come to think of it, Andy and Terry are the only ones around here who seem to listen to anything. Besides me, and I cut that habit long ago."

    Francine's interest was piqued, "What habit?"

    "Music. Well, popular music really. The standards get a lot of play thanks to Andy, but no rock and roll. I remember trying to teach Timmy the twist to Ritchie Vallens and Bruce, cool as a cucumber, stole the needle from the record and said 'we don't listen to that sort of music in this house.' Buzz Killington is what he is."

    Francine missed the reference but asked another question, “Who’s Ritchie Vallens?”

    “Have you ever heard of ‘La Bamba’ or ‘My Little Suzie?’”

    The younger woman shook her head and Selina smiled, “My mama loved him. Taught me all the steps when she was in the mood. We’d twist and do the mashed potato and the like. She’d been heartbroken when he died. Andy’s grandfather, Kick said the same thing about his dad and Buddy Holly. That that was all he really knew about him, the records told more of a story than the man. Now Andy’s that way about his own father.”

    Francine ran her finger over a paper cut in her palm and tried an angle, “One might imagine you were closer to Kick.”

    Selina shook her head, “Kick never let himself get close to anyone. Just Anna in a sense, or Bruce, and that had ended long before I came on the scene. They weren’t friends anymore and they both seemed saddened but…some things I don’t question. And that was their business.”

    “Would they really stop speaking over something so trivial as a stuffed bird or two?”

    Selina shook her head, “I doubt it but…there are things that are best left well alone. But I will say that I couldn’t have withstood Kicky, not really. He couldn’t love anything or anyone. He couldn’t believe in anything. I’ve tried to keep Andy from going down that road. I like to think I’ve succeeded somewhat.”

    Francine didn’t want to talk about Andy, “May I ask you a question?”

    Selina smirked, “Depends on the question.”

    “Why do you love Mr. Bruce?”

    The smirk deepened into a smile, “Melanie asked me the same thing. But I can’t give you the same answer so I’ll simply ask, why do you love Matty?”

    Francine spread her fingers along the white tile of the countertop, each square reminded her of a horse’s tooth, “I’ve never loved any boy before him. He’s the only boy I’ve ever been able to stand anywhere near me…but I don’t believe that’s the case with you.”

    Selina’s smile softened, “No, but Bruce was…there isn’t anyone like him and there never will be.”

    Francine seemed dissatisfied with the answer, “You’ve known him a long time I guess. Was he your first?”

    Somewhere in the back of her mind Selina felt more than remembered breath like a stink bomb, a hand at her skinny wrist and a quavering voice asking, slick and oily, You ever had a man before? She ignored the hint of a memory and shook her head, “No, darling. Not at all.”

    “What made him so special?” her voice took on a now characteristic sardonic bent.

    Selina gave a short laugh, the sort one reserved for an inside joke or two, and shook her head, “That’s something I can’t explain.”

    The near silent sound of shelling resumed and Francine tried again, “But you’ve loved other men…what is it like?”

    Selina’s brow curled, “What would make you ask such a thing?”

    Francine blushed, “I…what if Matt doesn’t come back? I wonder if I should spend the rest of my life alone. It took me so long to get used to him…I can’t imagine so much as looking at anyone else.”

    Selina nodded with sympathy, “You sound your age.”

    And Francine frowned, “How else should I sound?”

    “You won’t get anywhere worrying about Matthew. You’re religious, then pray. But that’s about all you can do. I must sound very harsh.”

    Francine nodded, quiet now.

    “I’m sorry. I forget how…I’m used to the people Bruce and I knew. It’s been a long time since I’ve known someone so untouched by death. Someone who’s afraid of life ending, not life going on. Just you, you’re entirely new around here. I’m sorry but I don’t know how to soften my approach. Not really,” Selina sighed, “I wish you knew what you’d married into.”

    Francine’s brow curled, “You told me. When you suggested I apologize to Matt.”

    Selina shook her head, “That could be said for any man. Well, just about. Ninety-five percent of the time, even Matthew. But not Terry, not Dick or Tim. Not Ollie—ours not the youngest one. For me though, it was Bruce. I’m sure I’m confusing you.”

    Francine looked as much then said what was on her mind in plain words, “I told Matt that there was something like ice inside of his father. And Dick too, but that I understand…Matthew told me about his little boy. And there was something odd about Tim; he’s so nice, so jovial. But when he smiled, his eyes weren’t joining in. Mr. Bruce didn’t…he didn’t hurt them did he?”

    “No. I know what you’re thinking…no.”


    The younger woman’s eyes narrowed, curious, “So I’m not ‘one of us,’ whatever that is….Can’t I just ask Mr. Bruce whatever it is?”

    Selina stared at her for a moment before speaking carefully, “I remember when I was only a little older than you. When I too had trouble figuring him out. Now it’s easy. I remember that he was contemptible…but he was magnetic too. Ask anyone, they thought it was his looks or wealth. Then I came to realize that’s what he wanted all along. And baby, that hurts. It’s a relief in some sense to find that things are really that simple. But then comes the worry, the nag. Do I stay? Could I possibly stay? Will it make any difference? None of this will mean a damn thing to you until you know better, but you might want to ask yourself if it’s something you really what to dig apart. Perhaps you ought to listen when I say some things—some people—ought to be left to themselves.”

    “You think there’s something so terrible around here that I won’t want to stay?”

    Selina finished the peas and let Francine run cold water over them and set the bowl in the sink. She in turn braced herself on the countertop, “I have a hard time believing you will be able to stand it much once Matty goes overseas. Particularly if you go the route you’re headed. But you’ll have your son then, and it will be altogether different at your parents’ home once you become a mother. This will be your home. And if Bruce takes my advice, he’ll have Bunny Vreeland explain the business of running a household such as this. You’ll forgive me but I’m not well-versed in these things and you need to know what to do and how to do it when Bruce and I let go.”

    Francine licked her lips, the older woman was so frank, “This should have been your house. It is in a way.”

    “There’s a difference. I never wanted a society life. Not since I was very young. I prefer what Bruce and I have had. It has not been perfect by any stretch but you don’t know. Our life has not been what you might call ‘normal.’”

    Francine stood up straight, a memory of her own whispering in the back of her mind. She was a nervous, tense child. She fretted over her missing front teeth and endlessly tugged at the two long braids cascading down her neck. Now she straightened her spine, determined to make herself taller, braver, “When you said you wished I knew what I’d married into…you don’t want me to go to Mr. Bruce?”

    Selina moved to wipe her hands with the dishtowel, “I think perhaps you’d better go to your husband first.”

    ***

    Rain pattered down the length of the window. Francine slept fitfully. She woke once, afraid and looking for Matthew but only found the cool, unyielding pattern of the bedclothes. The room was warm and the fireplace glowed. She realized fuzzily that this is what it would be like if she never saw him again. Every night until the truth settled into her body. She turned onto her side and willed herself not to get up. Not to put on her robe. Not to cross through the closet into his bedroom and into his great-grandfather’s bed. Not to wrap herself in the warmth of his browned skin. She thought this must have been what it was like for everyone else in his family. To want someone and not to go to them. Not to be able to. But that’s where it ended. He’d be there in the morning, charming and sheepish and sweet over cold cereal. She couldn’t help but cry in her fear but it didn’t last and she fell back to sleep. She must get used to it; after all, this is what she guessed she’d married into.

    **Flashback**

    “It’s just a trial separation…just…just for a little while.”

    Warren glanced to the passenger side where his son sat chewing his nail, unwilling to make returning eye contact.

    The boy was muttering, those pensive blue eyes dark and focused squarely on the glove box, monosyllabic, “Matt?”

    “With your mother at the apartment.”

    “You?”

    “A college friend is letting out his parents’ old apartment to me near Slope and thirty-second. It’s not far from my job and you’d like it, it even has its own library. Pre-war—that means it was built early last century. There’s a—”

    The boy wasn’t sharing in his enthusiasm, and why should he? After all, his childhood home and family were fracturing before his very eyes, split right down the middle. Warren sighed and focused on the little yellow lines disappearing beneath the car.

    And hadn’t he intended to divorce her? But his stomach couldn’t go through with it, not when he’d met her for lunch, determined to explain. Cool, calm, even remote. But for God’s sake, hadn’t she shown up and sat glum and dejected and hurt? Her face was red and her eyes too where she’d cried and she was knotting her finger in that long turquoise beaded necklace her Flapper great-grandmother had willed to her. Her fingernail was a little chipped at the paint and she’d ordered a glass of ice, smiling beautifully and nervous. She hiccupped. She always hiccupped when she was afraid.

    He’d stared at her seeing just how young she really was and it washed over him, his remembering how it was to date a girl who sent him handmade birthday cards and read torrid novels to him while he drove on car trips. And that night in the train station when he decided to ask her to marry him. The tracks were frozen over and he was delayed two hours. He called her and guessed she’d give up and leave but there at three o’clock in the morning was his red-headed girl, curled up asleep on one of the ancient benches at Gotham’s Union Station.

    He found that he couldn’t end it. He stuffed the papers back into his coat’s inside pocket and held her hands. They weren’t trembling but she did bite her lip and she didn’t interrupt. She agreed to a trial separation, just to let down some of the anger and distrust. Standing to leave after they’d eaten, he even gave her a slow meandering kiss. She closed her eyes, savoring it and they walked the nine blocks home in peaceful silence.

    A police officer was escorting their ten-year-old son into the vestibule when they arrived. They hurried forward each grabbing him, hugging him, checking him over for wounds or broken limbs or God knows what. The officer explained: he and another boy had hoisted a glass domed gumball machine and thrown it through a shop window during a particularly wild game of Ditch. Mary had gasped, grasping Terrence’s chin and their son had begun to cry, burying his face in his mother’s stomach.

    They’d been detained for a short period and were now being released into their parents’ custody. The GCPD had bigger fish to try than a couple of kids. Warren drove his son back to the shop to apologize and paid for the pane to be replaced. Mary went to her mother’s apartment to retrieve little Matthew. All of the warmth and hope of that afternoon had dissolved into solemn disappointment.

    He’d been in three fights at school over the course of six weeks, this was the final straw. Warren’s mother suggested a reform school in Massachusetts. Just for a semester. While there he could decide whether he wanted to get his act together. His parents’ reluctantly agreed. They had their own stressors to contend with…better to see Terrence let off steam in the great outdoors. Get him out of that apartment and that stuffy city.

    They arrived and Warren lugged his son’s trunk out of the backseat. They hadn’t spoken for nearly two hours now. They met with the various instructors and attended orientation. Outside of his son’s room, Warren hugged the boy very tightly but Terrence was unresponsive.

    Warren raised the boy’s chin with a finger, “It’s just for six months. I’m counting on you to turn things around. We know you’ve got the goods, now you’ve got to prove it to yourself. We’ll e-mail often okay? And we’ll see you home for Thanksgiving. I love you Terrence.”

    Terrence nodded but couldn’t speak; the lump in his throat wouldn’t let him. Instead he merely gulped and nodded before turning to drag his trunk into the Spartan room he would be sharing with three other boys. When he turned around his father had gone.

    He sat down on the bare mattress atop one of the beds and heard the springs squeak. Turning toward the window he allowed a couple of tears to slide down his cheek, then, angrily, embarrassed even alone, he rubbed his cheeks until they were red. What good would it be going back? If what his father had said in the car was true he didn’t even have a home to return to.

    Calming himself, he lay down and crossed his legs at the ankles and stared at the ceiling.

    **End of Flashback**
     
  14. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: I should state off the bat that I'm necessarily loose with the rules, particularly where depicting the Navy is concerned. It's light but I should say it because it's true. The idea behind screens on the windows in the nursery can be seen here. There are brief references to Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One" as well as Loeb and Sale's "Catwoman: When In Rome." Martha's (now Franny's) Balenciaga coat can be seen here. That bit at the end about "L'Shea" refers to Detective Comics issues #791-793. When I think of Francine, I think of Laura from the movie “Brick,” without the femme fatale aspect. The opening quote is from a letter written home by Hamilton "Ham" Coolidge sometime before he was killed during World War I.**

    It is rather a feeling, stronger than ever, that we mortals are mere specks of dust in the wind, blown about at His pleasure…

    ***

    “Your stepmother is wrong.”

    Matthew didn’t look up from the yarn unwinding layer by layer from his outstretched hands as Francine rolled a ball, “Oh?”

    “Aren’t you going to ask, ‘about what?’”

    Matthew, annoyed at being only half dressed and press-ganged into his wife’s newfound fancy for knitting, merely shrugged, “About what?”

    Francine was watching the ball of peach colored yarn grow beneath her slender fingers, “She said that I was so untouched by death. I suppose I took it for granted that you’d told them about my brother. You’ve told them everything else.”

    Matthew looked at her, or rather past her, as he couldn’t help but note the snowflakes drifting outside the window behind her. Out there in the cold at the naval base, the boys were shooting the bull, huffing through chores and studying up, waiting to get tough and he was here holding steady. With that however, he did not miss the slight annoyance in her voice and didn’t want to antagonize her. After all, he was hoping to have the privilege of laying her down quite a few more times before she got too big. Then he stared at that stomach and couldn’t quite feel much for the boy inside. No sense of pride, not even curiosity. He could only see her navel protruding somewhat through her opaque gown. The lack of recognition worried him. He had a month and a half to get on the ball…yarn, Your wife you idiot, he chided himself and looked up after what had been an uncomfortably long pause, “I didn’t know it was something I ought to mention.”

    Francine was staring at him, her face unreadable. A beat passed and she looked as if she might break out in tears any moment but she tucked her chin in her chest and checked herself, “His name was Michael.”

    “You told me, Michael Sullivan. He went down at Alker’s Pond.”

    Francine clutched the yarn with one hand and rubbed the tip of her nose with the other, “You…you don’t listen or seem to care about half the things I say anymore. I can see it on your face; you’re thinking about the boys, it was all you went on about at dinner. And you can’t even talk about one-tenth of the things you’re learning or doing. You’ll be a practical stranger to me even before you go overseas.”

    Matthew longed to loosen one of his hands, to draw a finger up and bite down to the quick but his hands and knuckles were already bandaged in various places, better not make it too conspicuous. An officer who bites his nails, “I hate to be sentimental—”

    “You’re not,” Francine interrupted deadpan.

    Matthew sighed, “What can I say Franny, I’m not a civilian anymore, I’ve got a job to do and a mindset that I’ve got to have or I won’t be able to do it. If I may be honest…you won’t get a fair shake in this, but you’ve got to have patience….My father gave me a talk before we were married.”

    Francine slumped down in the chair and pouted, “About the birds and the bees?”

    “No, that I had to learn to harden my heart now…before it was hardened for me. To grow a shell so that I might emerge a whole man, not a broken one. Not to have my mind loosed from me. So that, when I came back to you, I could function. That I might retain my decency or a semblance or something. You see the newsreels at the movies; you’ll see the photo spreads in the national magazines. You’ll b*tch about rationing, of no gas and no flour or butter or plastics. And I’ll b*tch about blood or gasoline on the deck of whatever ship or base I end up on overseas. There will be a thousand sensations and sights I can’t begin to describe to you. Tugging the bodies out of the surf after a pitch battle. Landings. Firefights…I wouldn’t be much of a man to put that worry on your shoulders too. What happened in Seoul’s just a small part Franny. God only knows what I’m in for.”

    Francine lowered her head, setting aside the yarn and clasping her hands together until her knuckles showed white, “He fell out of the boat. They had to use a hook to drag him back onboard. Mike’s face was blue and swollen. Mother tried to block my view so I couldn’t see. That morning we’d been arguing over the prize in the cereal box. It was the first week of summer and I was older and wanted the whistle. Mother made me share….We don’t go out on the lake anymore. Mother and Daddy just sit on the beach and don’t talk, if they go at all,” she looked up, “Don’t you ever get scared?”

    His mind had been swaying along with her words about the drowning; her question caught him off guard. His head snapped up a little, “Ah—you know I do.”

    “I have dreams about you.”

    He frowned, already sorry about how it sounded, “Please…don’t tell me. I have enough of my own.”

    She stared at him, her eyes wavering, anger sinking into the bottom of her stomach like a stone. She looked like she might tell him to go to hell, but he knew she wasn’t much for cursing. She got up and left the yarn where it was and closed the closet door behind her.

    He got up to finish dressing and thought she would have gone all the way through to her room but when he opened the door to retrieve the shirt she’d pressed for him, he found her sitting between his shoes. Her face was red and wet. He walked over and stood in front of her. He sank onto his haunches but he didn’t hold her. He told himself that it was better that they each harden up a little. Things were only going to get worse. Unfortunately, a little of his old tenderness tugged at him and he placed his hand on her shoulder. She ran the pad of her thumb under one eye and sniffed, asking him a question that nearly bowled him over, “What are those white sheet things on the windows in the bedrooms and on the veranda doors?”

    He blinked a few times. Women, jeesh, he cleared his throat, “Hm? The-the shades? They’re just hand-woven shades.”

    Francine shook her head, “I can’t work them.”

    He sat down next to her and crossed his legs at the ankles, hooking his elbows around his knees, “They weren’t made to be worked, the curtains go in front of them—if you want. Father’s never replaced them with blinds as they were some of the last works commissioned by his mother. The ones in the nursery were made when he was a baby; see how they’re sea green with the sailboat made in the center?”

    “I’ve noticed them since all I see you do now is stare out the window. Your father does that…I can see some of the similarities in your habits now. What do you think about while you’re pretending to listen to me?”

    He grimaced at the nipping tone of her words, “The boys…yeah.”

    She gave a sing-song nod, not surprised.

    “And you and father and everyone. And I worry about the baby not being real to me yet.”

    Francine sighed, “Well he’s real to me, Woody gave quite a kick last night, woke me up.”

    “Does it hurt?”

    She shook her head, “No, no. He’s just a baby, just as if he kicked you, if he could.”

    Matthew looped his forefingers together, drawing his knees even closer, “I’ve been thinking about what things I’ll leave to him…”

    Francine made her face blank but had trouble keeping her gaze steady.

    “I thought about how my father lived such a long time but how brief his legacy to me as been. I’ve only had a couple of really solid years with him. And I’ll be leaving his things to the baby. The bicycle if he wants it or it can go to the Foundation, too good to junk. And all of those books, at least the ones Andy didn’t grab for himself. I won’t be able to get through them all, even if I had eighty years myself. Father’s a heavy reader, but you know that. He reads in the bathtub, in the car, even if it’s just a clipping he picked up off the seat. He said it’s a hard habit to shake, tidbits of information sticking out everywhere, all the time. Wanting to do what his body can’t do anymore…” He gulped and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.

    Francine made a face, suddenly remembering him when they were new to one another, when he’d cried at her uncle’s house. She couldn’t move then and she could barely move now, “Matty, why are you crying?”

    He shook his head, “I’m not. I just, I’m going to miss him Fran. And you. I’m going to miss everyone.”

    Francine scooted up slightly, “That didn’t occur to you before you enlisted?”

    Matthew shook his head, “It feels differently. It feels real. I missed a lot of time with Mr. McGinnis with him working so much and they being separated since I was a baby. I’ve never been part of a household, a full one, until now. When I’ve been home and you haven’t seen me, I’ve been sort of shadowing father a bit. And last summer, while I was waiting for the declaration, father and Selina and Andy did all of those things rich people do in movies. They went out to the regattas and the horse shows and dog shows. Things you’ve done too. They’ve called on old friends, what they called ‘the old set,’ and talked to me about things they’d done and seen and places they’d gone and all of that. And he’s taken me through the building and, after I asked, his mother’s apartment in town. It’s one of those giant old flats with servants’ quarters and a dummy waiter. Mr. McGinnis lived in one when he finished college and again later while they were apart the first time. The only thing I remember was that I could ride the waiter like an elevator…” he smiled at the memory, “Terry would play bellhop and say ‘ding, ding, going up!’ and he’d tug me way up and let go.”

    Francine’s eyes widened slightly, “You could have been hurt.”

    Matthew shrugged, “We were kids, we didn’t know any better. That was near at the beginning of his ‘bad stage,’ when he started ‘cutting up’ as Selina calls it. He was eleven and I was three and worshipped him. Then mom started trying to occupy my time more, this was all after he came back from that reform school place. She didn’t want his behavior to rub off on me. But it had an adverse effect of course…we’re not close anymore. Not really. That’s beside the point though,” he grumbled slightly, “I still hate wills.”

    Francine rubbed her other eye, “You’ve taken out a will?”

    Matthew nodded, “Father took me to have one drawn up after we got back from Sea Island. It was in one of my letters.”

    “I was so motion sick then; it looked as though your words were waving all over the pages. I didn’t read half of them for want of vomiting—sorry for the naked insult. They’re still in the writing desk in my room.”

    Matthew nodded, “Well, I’ve made provisions for you and we went again about a month ago. We wanted to make sure there were no questions regarding little Bruce. After he’s born, I’ll change it again; add his proper name I suppose.”

    She laid her head back, “No more. It’s morbid.”

    He nodded, “Dick likes to joke sometimes, he says ‘life’s morbid,’” he carefully draped one arm over his wife’s shoulders and pulled her toward him, “I told my father something, way the hell back. Our first summer after I brought you to the Fourth of July picnic. Before I left for Yale I liked to ask questions about my grandfather, and I asked about him and the last war. And I don’t remember exactly, but I might’ve said that I’d have to be crazy to want to get mixed up in something like that.”

    Francine smiled despite herself, “Babbit’s cuckoo.”

    “Are you sorry?”

    “About what?”

    “Me. All of our time together has been one difficulty to the next. I’m starting to worry.”

    Francine frowned, “About me?”

    He nodded and his freshly shaven chin was soft and warm against her temple. He yawned and nodded some more, “You’re my little girl right?”

    She found herself nodding with him, sleepy and wanting to let herself hang limp in his arms, to let him move her wherever he chose, however he chose, just so he was close.

    **March**

    He had more or less lied to Terrence there in the car last November. He did not nurse any sense of humor, particularly when it came to his son and daughter-in-law. And certainly not when they seemed to be having such a terrible time adjusting to the strains of war. Not that he hadn’t warned them.

    He sat in the conservatory, enjoying the pale but warm sunlight. Spring was finally emerging after such a long, hard winter and he was looking forward to the rest of the year. He was especially looking forward to April when, God willing, his namesake would make a very welcome appearance.

    He supposed that the nursery wouldn’t be used but for the length of time it took to finish renovating the carriage house. Most work had ceased in October due to a lack of ready supplies as well as half the construction team enlisting in the various armed forces. Bruce had voluntarily suspended the project but now he wondered if it would ever be done. Or if it was even necessary. Francine was making more of an effort to call the manor home, keeping track of the varied details in a little green flip notebook. The names of the groundskeepers, the old families scattered about Crest Hill and farther down throughout Bristol, even the verbal expressions common to their stock.

    His mouth quirked, he had to admit, he liked her. Though she affected a very cool exterior, she was sensitive and he had never been given any reason to doubt her feelings for his boy. He took a deep breath, and now she was heavy with his grandson. A grandson…he felt a swirl of pride run the length of his spine, settling in his stomach.

    He tried to guess at what color the child’s eyes would be. Matthew’s were brown and Francine’s were a very dark blue. Mary McGinnis had had hazel eyes, showing both brown and green depending upon the light. His own mother’s were blue as were, naturally, his father’s. Bruce had met Francine’s family twice and while he couldn’t guess what color her biological father’s eyes were, Mrs. Sullivan’s were violet. At that rate, Matthew’s brown was the favored color but he liked to imagine blue or violet had a strong chance just the same.

    He enjoyed this game of guessing. It distracted him from his seething bitterness at the war. And from his mounting fears over the strength of his son’s marriage. They loved one another to be sure, but that was hardly enough. He liked to imagine that Francine’s solid piety would rule against anything approaching a divorce, but that probably wouldn’t stop her from an informal separation if need be. Things had been difficult from the start with Matthew’s bouncing off to Rhode Island, then the back and forth between the manor and Lakehurst Naval Station.

    He dreaded things going sour between them, for their sakes, but he could hardly pretend that his own experiences didn’t come into play. Often enough, he could ignore the flashes here and there, of sitting on the stairs in Selina’s foyer that last time with his face in his hands. That curdling dread, she left me, and that long drive and turning back…and the denial. Buying the brownstown through a subsidiary of Wayne Industries and visiting every night, then every week and finally every month of that first year without her.

    Still later, he hadn’t needed Timothy to tell him her address. She was living quite comfortably in northern Florida with her ailing brother and his son’s family. When Mario had gone to hospice and her nephew had taken his wife and children back to Italy she came here. He tried to ignore the twinge in his chest. Some part of him could never really accept her as a member of that family. It was only as real to him as mere words spoken or that letter. He’d seen the photograph but she had no other mementos from her childhood to compare it to. It was so fantastic and terrible. He believed it but it never rooted in his mind as the truth. So it wasn’t.

    But that was how they’d met. She’d been inspired by him, striking back in her playful, inexperienced way. Donning that first, clumsy purple suit. She was so young, maybe twenty or twenty-one. He couldn’t argue the point, having started out at twenty-two, but he considered her a nuisance. Wasting my time….And she’d gotten in his way while trying to take surveillance at the Roman’s penthouse. He ended up protecting her, the first of countless times. And she always went back for more. The world had opened up for her and for that she had always been grateful.

    He sipped his carrot juice. It had taken them an entire lifetime to settle down together, but what could one expect from a pair of “masks.” He wondered if Terrence and Melanie were headed down that route, but he wasn’t sure it would take quite that long. His former protégé had mused openly as to whether he ought to simply come out with it already and tell her. Up and down he’d flexed during his five o’clock wind down, one-thousand sit ups left a lot of time to think. Bruce had joined him in the cave, unable to sleep and listened to his version of the pros and cons before recounting his own tale. Selina had been shocked but had taken it very well considering. She’d joked for months about the turbulence of their early courtship, seeing where the puzzle pieces fell one by one, And to think, I was simply under the impression you didn’t like me anymore. Oh, but you liked me so much, you put on a mask and followed me everywhere every night. You’re cute, but some might say you’re a stalker too.

    “But did it make you closer?” the young man had asked, frozen halfway between his knees and the floor.

    Bruce had leaned back in his old chair, “Yes, but I was lucky. She didn’t resent me for it. That hasn’t been the case for every unmasking I’ve heard of. But, I suppose it’s best to admit it sooner or later, particularly if you plan on making her an integral part of your life.”

    Terrence smirked, “I think it’s a little late for that.”

    Bruce had asked when they planned to verify the sex of the child and Terrence had given something akin to a shrug, “I don’t know, I guess it’s really up to Mel. She’s hoping for another girl.”

    “Oh?”

    “Since I gave Junie Mom
    s name she wants the privilege of naming the next baby in full. Virginia Katherine, with a K. After her mother and an old prep school friend. She also likes Cornelia Walker Wayne, but I don’t. She was very close to her grandmother though, when she was little.”

    “And if it’s a boy?”

    Terrence had grinned, “Wishful thinking?”

    Bruce only smiled slightly and Terrence paused in his repetition, “John, for her brother, but Pieter’s out of the question. And I was thinking about Warren for a middle name.”

    Bruce had taken a deep breath and nodded, “That’s very fitting,” then Terrence had finished his set in silence.

    Now, he sipped his juice again, and returned to his task. Taking up a pen he stared at the blank page. He was writing letters, or at least he planned to, but for some odd reason the words would not gravitate past his fingertips. He had written letters periodically through the decades to each of his sons in the event he died in battle, and once more after Terrence and later Matthew had come into his life. He’d written one when Selina had taken ill but it was intended to be placed in her coffin in case she didn’t rally. When she had, he’d burned it in the study fireplace. There was one for Andy, Barbara, Abigail, Todd, Jean, and now, June and even Melanie. He planned on rewriting Matthew’s letter since the boy had gone into the service, especially if he didn’t come back. And he supposed Francine ought to receive one as well. But the focus of his energies at this moment was that baby boy.

    He sat back and rubbed his cheeks slightly, trying to put words to his feelings. He hadn’t had much time to feel anticipation over June’s impending arrival; it had come and gone so suddenly. But this time…he was excited. Could he admit that? He nodded curtly to himself and taking pen to paper began to write furiously before the emotion died down.

    Dearest Young Bruce,

    I don’t know that I’ll ever know you well. I am an old man now and though I am well enough all things considered, I’ve never expected to live this long. Don’t let that shock you. I have lived a very full life, (I’m sure you’ll hear about it often enough). And it seems, a certain reward came toward its end. I’ve had the pleasure of company for the past fifteen or so years that I wouldn’t have dreamed of at any point in the past, not since I was a boy. Such as it is, I am saddened that there is a very real possibility that I won’t live to see you read this letter. That is alright too. Whatever time we may have had is more than I can ask for. Though I haven’t met you yet, you should know that I have every confidence in you. You’ve come down a very good line. A capable line. Waynes have been restless and demanding. And everything we’ve built through the centuries is available to you. I only hope you never doubt that you are worthy of it. Your father has had some difficulty in that arena and I dare say it was my fault. But he is brave and he’s determined to set his course. I admire him for that and can hardly criticize as I have done very much the same thing for most of my own life. He is my son and I love him. You are his son and I love you too.

    Always,

    Grandfather
    (His mark)

    He quickly set his pen down and folded the letter before he could make any changes. He always resolved to be honest, even painfully so, when it came to his correspondence. He wrote the boy’s full name on the front of the envelope, sealed the letter with his wax seal and set it in the mahogany box with the others, shutting the lid and fastening the lock. There, it was done.

    He stood and tucked the box under his arm and grasped his cane in the other hand. He felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He wished he could see the boy now. A buzz reverberated in his chest and he realized with only a hint of embarrassment that he was giddy. The baby would be here in a month. Only a month.

    **April**

    Late at night the tenderness caught up with him, and he choked and gasped out of another nightmare. If she was sleeping with him her hand would meander, only half awake, through his chest hair and she’d murmur, eyelids fluttering briefly. He might sigh and remember the weekend after Thanksgiving when they flew over to see Caroline. Bruce had given the older woman a lot of his grandmother’s things and now, with papery soft hands, Francine had been handed an old coat, Martha’s favorite. Balenciaga, double-breasted, collared, 1955. Caroline had preserved the pieces beautifully but she didn’t have any daughters, just two sons. Now they would be Francine’s and she was promised more. They fit well and all the way home Matthew smiled inwardly, proud when passersby were taken aback at Francine’s subtle but unmistakable charm and poise. There weren’t any other women in the terminals or stations wearing gloves, walking with their chins raised, slightly self-conscious, aloof. She wore the coat, but the two dresses were packed very carefully and hidden away. What might have been essential in his grandmother’s day was now seen as ostentatious. Stuffy. Toffish. He didn’t care either way; he just loved the look of it.

    Now she was much too big wear any of the clothing, and also too big to sleep comfortably for long. She lay on her side and often wakened, nervous, ready for it to be over already. She’d decided over the winter to have the baby at the manor. That was where Waynes was born, and so on and so on back to Anthony de Wain, their first colonial settler (well, not exactly, as this was the second house. The first had been torched during the War of 1812). Only Bruce, the Kirks, Terrence and Matthew had missed the privilege perforce. She was resolute that the pattern should be repaired now with her own son. Bruce had her obstetrician and various nurses on standby. And so, they waited.

    Matthew turned on his back and sitting up, poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the nightstand and drank it before lying back down. He was hot and scared. Worried about the birth. He’d made the mistake of reading A Farwell To Arms and now fearful prayers ran like so much tickertape through his mind. Don’t let Franny die, please God, don’t let Franny die, don’t let there be anything wrong, let the baby be okay. And he’d lie down and stare at her, Just have to get through this Wayne. You’re Wayne and she’s Wayne now he’ll be a little Wayne…just let them be okay…

    He was exhausting himself with worry and she guessed as much but whenever she was up he was asleep and vice versa. They often missed breakfast downstairs now and trays were brought up for them. And then they talked, endlessly. Their biggest fear was that she’d go into labor while he was at the base. Mrs. Sullivan was coming down in a week and she’d be there just in case Matthew was held up. April was here and soon the baby would follow. They were all nervous, they were all scared. Except for Bruce.

    He kept a straight face but Selina knew better. They supervised the assembly of the nursery furniture. His crib was stored at the foundation and June’s had gone out to the country house, so he purchased nearly everything new. Sea green and cream to match the décor. Selina squeezed his hand, “You’re like a child on Christmas morning.”

    He squeezed back, whispering, “Any day now.”

    She laughed inwardly and leaned her forehead against his shoulder, “Haven’t you ever heard a woman in labor? I’m sure you won’t sound so chipper once that gets rolling.”

    He nodded knowingly, reminding her of that emergency cesarean he and Leslie made during that despicable business with the singer L’Shea.

    Selina pursed her lips in thought, “But she was semi-unconscious, under normal circumstances the sights and sounds are…well, you’ll see.”

    Bruce’s smile stayed where it was, undeterred. Any day now.

     
  15. klammed

    klammed the fool.

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    It's my own fault for not keeping up.. so you have my many apologies for that.

    Your writing continues to amaze, and I'm not even done yet (will get back and read it when I have time). If they were ever to need some epic elseworlds novel tying in various continuities animated and comic, this would be it.
     
  16. klammed

    klammed the fool.

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    Now that I have.. hm, comments:

    -That gouchy grey looking fellow in my display actually being happy is such an endearing thought, and you pull that off very well.
    -In line with that, your capacity for detail in regards to family history, and keeping your continuity of their motivations etc. so... solid, is astounding.
    -Have I mentioned I love your prose? I don't know if it's your intention, but I've also noticed that the diction changes slightly as you pass through the eras, the most recent consisting of more action/dialogue perhaps, while past decades take on a style more... what's the word for it. Not archaic, but 'older' nonetheless. It has that feel to it, and it's very nice :anime:
     
  17. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    How does one answer such wholly flattering review? Well, one does the right thing I suppose and post more story. Thank you, truly, and I hope it isn't too much of a mess.

    tNC
     
  18. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    The Irish House

    **Disclaimer: I don't know whether or not this update is very messy. I can't imagine getting to what Matthew called the "crux" of things would be a neat, pleasant affair. But I tired of her not knowing. I should mention as a sidenote that Diana Vreeland is now a historial figure and mentioned here in what I hope is respectful fashion, no pun intended. The family lore is based quite a bit on what I've read about President and Mrs. Kennedy's respective family backgrounds, as well as generalized study on old society. Patrick Powers too was real. And Westport sounded like a great place in their time.**

    **April 17th**

    The sun was setting. The women were upstairs with Francine. He’d only seen her briefly, her face reflected in the mirror, slick with sweat, teeth clenched. She refused to moan, to cry out at all. He found the vacuum where such sounds belonged unsettling.

    She was stubborn. He admired her for it but silently willed her not to fight, not to make things more difficult than they had to be. You’ll simply tire yourself and then…things will get rough.

    His whole body was taut with worry, with fear; long lashing bolts of anxiety shivered his frame. He couldn’t hide his upsettedness. Dick used to eat when he was nervous, now he sat some twelve feet away, staring at the ceiling. Terrence was playing with an old hand puzzle, trying to collect the tiny silver balls in their holes. Andy was at Harvard. Matthew was somewhere between Lakehurst and the manor having secured emergency leave as soon as he was able. The trains were backed up, everyone knew, now that the enforced shortage of fuel kept most cars off the roads. Even electric motors were silenced as the utility providers too fell under heavily regulated usage; the power wasn’t on long enough throughout the day to get a decent charge. One might as well not even bother trying.

    He stared at the space between his shoes, helpless. He hated such futility but he knew there was nothing he could do. And so, for the past six hours they’d all waited in near silence. The telephones had been shut off, the ringing got on his nerves. The newspapers would be called when the baby arrived and not before, though he knew at least four or five reporters were pacing at the gates, waiting for any statements about the birth’s progression or news of the mother’s health.

    He’d arranged for Matthew to be intercepted at the train station and sneaked into the back of the house through the cellar. And, failing to keep that a secret, there were a number of hidden passages down at the beach leading to the cave. He knew Matthew disliked being down there for any length of time, but he doubted there would be much of an argument.

    And finally through the silence, like so much shattered glass, there was a tiny wailing. He felt the tension break over him like a wave. Bruce grasped the head of his cane and gave the younger men a small, proud smile. The room was darkening but he easily made their faces out in the ebbing light.

    Dick stood up and crossed the room, extending his hand, and Terrence stood behind him waiting his turn, “Congratulations old man.”

    Bruce grasped it and shook, his body feeling buoyed by some unknown swell of emotions. A grandson. A grandson. A grandson. The boy was born, God, the boy was here. My grandson. I have another grandson. He thought fleetingly of John, but let thought float away. That was done. Now another boy had arrived. He realized he was still holding Dick’s hand. He cleared his throat and dropped it, standing. He quickly shook Terrence’s as well and found his voice thick, “Well, shall we go up?”

    --#--

    Matthew burst through the cellar doors and through the halls. He didn’t wait for Oliver. He hadn’t expected to find him out on the platform but as the older blonde haired man had explained: his father had needed someone to navigate the cave if they couldn’t get in through the back.

    He’d found himself resentful. He should have been excited, his wife was in labor, but he was annoyed that everything seemed to boil down to the great big secret. For everyone his father knew in their regular life, he reserved someone on the other side, just in case. It was like an intrusion, something they couldn’t forget. And Commander Queen was simply another reminder.

    As they’d knocked open the rusted doors and waded through the spider webbed darkness, each tripping against the aged stone steps, passing the rows of old wines, coughing in the dust, he couldn’t escape the understanding that his father—indeed his brother now—was Batman first. Bruce Wayne or Terrence second.

    He didn’t want that for his son he decided now as he bounded up the endless number of stairs and tripped at the top, into the hall, regained his balance and threw himself into Francine’s bedroom.

    And he knew it was useless as everyone looked up at him, gently surprised. A nonsense thought. Every face in the room was connected to the charade in some sense, and they maintained it endlessly, it was their reality. Indeed his father was the Batman; Bruce Wayne was only a veil. A simple charade. A shell game.

    He shed his filthy jacket and kissed his wife and let them place his son in his arms. The boy was sleeping, alive and real and a strange weight that defied reality. He haltingly ran a finger over the boy’s forehead, noting the dark hair. He’d debated endlessly all month whether he ought to tell Francine the whole truth before he left. Just so she wouldn’t have to suffer hearing it from someone else.

    Then he spied the old man in the corner and frowned in concentration, nodded, received a nod in return and wondered why it suddenly seemed so important to him that she knew. Why all of this troubled him so deeply. Why it was new again, maybe terrifying. And he felt as though a steel rod were jammed in his spine. He was growing weary of dishonesty and half-lives. He didn’t want this hanging unresolved within his own family too. And he realized with dread that it went along with the fear and expectation. His time on this side of the water was ending soon. He knew that he was panicking.

    His son would be Bruce and Bruce alone. No masks, no costumes, no intrigue. His son would have what his father had never had a chance at. Normalcy. No life of shadows. No insecurity. No clammy aches at wanting to be what he never was.

    He pictured his body adrift in the water and he felt his head lighten. Concern grew on Francine’s face, her voice sounded distorted and fuzzy, and his brother started forward, grasping the baby before everything went black.

    Exhausted, he fainted.

    **May**

    Matthew dozed lazily, two-week furlough, heaven. His son was asleep on his chest, the teensy fingers grasping his chest hair. Francine always set the baby down with him in the mornings when he was home. His sleep wasn’t really disturbed and the baby mostly slept too until it was time for his morning feeding. Then she’d gently lift him away and Matthew would stare, fascinated, while she breast fed. He’d smile and she’d ask what and he’d just shake his head.

    He didn’t envy the kid, but he was convinced that both he and Andy were degenerates. They’d each admitted to sneakily tasting the breast milk their respective girls stored in their respective refrigerators. Andy had done so while at Hale’s Grove, Mr. Westinghouse’s estate outside Opal. Westinghouse’s valet Turner had caught him and the young man gave him a hundred dollars in credits to keep quiet about it. Matthew had had no such embarrassing turns; he’d found it revolting in quiet and spat it into the sink in peace.

    Now he lulled in the space between sleep and awakedness, somewhat saddened at all the things he would miss. Young Brucie’s sitting up and then crawling. The boy’s first steps and words. But Francine swore up and down that she’d write to and photograph for him constantly. If there was one place where technological advancement was never too far ahead, it was the system of military secrecy that served as letter writing’s last true foothold. He looked forward to her classical handwriting, the swoops and curves of any and all news concerning her and their child once he was away.

    He opened his eyes in the pale grey light coming from the windows and studied the black top of his son’s head. Such soft, feathery downiness. This would be over soon. He was going over next week. He was shipping out.

    Sleep left him completely now but he shut his eyes when a rectangle of light from the closet came over him. He felt Francine’s form slip into the bed and the warmth of her person as she leaned over him, kissed his forehead and lifted the child up. The boy fussed slightly but was quieted as she opened her nightshirt and set him to suckle. He felt a cloth bib bat him lightly in the face and her tired happy voice sounded, “I know you’re awake Matty.”

    He opened one eye, “Am I that transparent?” She didn’t know yet. No one knew apart from his father.

    “The portrait session is today, I set out that pale blue shirt and the blue striped tie. Andy’s insisted on Edith and Davey sitting too. The ink on the divorce has only been dry for a month and already they’re his.”

    Matthew scooted up and folded his arms behind his head, “Don’t start. They are his. He takes care of them.”

    “Mr. Westinghouse does, and the Edwardses too. I hear they’re beside themselves. They’re from Long Island. That end of New York fell off ages ago.”

    “Andy’s adopting him next year.”

    Francine shrugged, “He’ll have a son before he has a wife.”

    Matthew pinched her on the thigh, “G*ddamn it. I won’t ask again.”

    Francine blushed slightly, and gave a breathy snort, “Yes sir, but you don’t have to swear in front of the baby. Or me for that matter.”

    He sat up, “I don’t want to hear anymore of that horrible nonsense. And you won’t give Edith the big freeze either. Then you’d be no better than those girls at Manhattanville.”

    Francine sat back, cool and smarting at his tone, “That wasn’t my fault remember?”

    “I know, but you know how it feels and it isn’t Andy’s fault or even Edith’s fault that her ex-husband was complete jackass. Or that her mother wanted her to marry him. That’s just the way things go. This isn’t the Victorian age. I’d hate to think you were that narrow minded. I thought that went out with Diana Vreeland.”

    Francine switched their son to her other breast and looked at her toes wiggling at the end of the bed, “She is a Vreeland isn’t she?”

    Matthew lay back down and stared at the wooden canopy above, “Should it matter so much these days?”

    Francine looked at him, “You know that it does,” then she sighed, “that’s what saved your father. His name. And you and I and especially Andy.”

    Matthew pulled his pillow from behind his head and held it over his face, mumbling from beneath, “And what does that mean?”

    “Well, I mean, he’s Jewish right? By his grandmother. He looks like the spitting image of his great-grandfather, the first Kirk. I noticed it looking at the photographs in the hall. Only his hair is dark blond, not black. The glasses really finish it off. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like him most of the time, but I don’t want to pretend about anything. Least of all with you.”

    Matthew looked at her, “You’re Irish, or, at least Mr. Sullivan is. I don’t see you wincing at the name.”

    Francine wished she could lie on her side but Brucie hadn’t had his fill yet, “And I wouldn’t. I don’t disparage Andy anything. And contrary to what you think, I don’t dislike that fact that he plans to marry Edith. I just wish he’d do it already. Leaving her to flutter along with a little boy for two years seems unfair.”

    “Once he’s married he’ll be having children by her. He wants to wait. Let him wait.”

    “I just don’t see what’s holding him up.”

    “And I don’t see the rush.”

    They were each silent a long while and Francine burped their son and cleaned up a bit before getting up to deliver him back to the nursery. Matthew had hired June’s nurse back and she was there waiting. When Francine returned she disrobed and crawled into her husband’s arms, careful not to let her bust be squeezed, “Don’t be cross please.”

    He kissed the crown of her head, “I’m not….Martha Ahearne’s mother hated prejudice. Her name was Maude Barrett. Father told me that their families were very well off for Irish at that time. She met her husband on Long Island as a teenager at the onset of the First World War. Maude’s grandmother lived with the family; she had immigrated over during the Potato Famine and spoke with a very thick brogue. The family allowed her to live with them and she did their laundry and the cooking. During parties she was forbidden to leave her room. Maude found that revolting. She was never happy at home in Bronxville where the family had gotten a very cold reception. Their home was referred to as the ‘Irish House’ and they were blackballed for all intents and purposes for many years. When she married Nick Ahearne and they moved to Westport she was a lot happier. They socialized with Pat Powers and the like and enjoyed the literary crowd and ready entrance into the Longshore Country Club but she never forgot her childhood. Perhaps that’s where my father gets it.”

    Francine nodded, “The world’s come a long way I suppose.”

    “Maybe not as far as we’d like to think.”

    “Your father told you all of that?”

    Matthew nodded, “And Caroline.”

    Francine was silent for a moment before asking, “You want me to be close to Edith?”

    “You don’t have to be close if you don’t want to, kindness will do.”

    “If I asked her anything it would be about Diana Vreeland. They’re only cousins, by marriage at that, but I wonder if she knows a great deal about Reed Vreeland and Timmy and Frecky and their families and onward. I’ve read everything I could find in your grandmother’s apartment regarding fashion and those clothes. I’ve never cared much before but it’s…exhilarating to wear them.”

    Matthew pressed his fingers against his eyes for a moment before searching blindly for her hand and squeezing it in his. And she surprised him, murmuring into his neck, “I’ve been so scared lately.”

    His eyes popped open and then narrowed, still somewhat embarrassed at his fainting spell, still wondering how to tell her. She deserved to know. His father knew this was coming and even that hurt his stomach. He’d felt obligated to warn him. He’d thought of his father before Francine and it bothered him intensely.

    She interrupted his guilt trip, “I didn’t tell you everything about what Ms. Selina said in the kitchen. I was distracted when we argued. I was talking to her, wishing she’d explain whatever it is that makes your father so…strange. Ms. Selina said that I ought to ask myself whether I really want to know the whole truth. To dig it apart. I was confused and asked if she thought I shouldn’t ask Mr. Bruce. And she said maybe I ought to go to you first.”

    His eyes were very wide now and he felt himself reddening. The ease and safety of those first few moments awake were completely gone.

    His wife was still talking, “I thought about everyone here being orphans practically. She said she thought it was going to be very difficult for me to stay here once you were gone but I thought a lot and I’ve tried to make myself deal with it, while I still have time to practice. But it’s hard. I’ve been mean and emotional when I didn’t intend to. And I know that I have to simply stand it. That’s what they did,” she sighed, “I’m trying hard to fit in. But it’s absolutely horrible at night. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

    He sat up sharply, “I don’t want you to be like them.”

    She was half up but stopped and stared at him, “Ms. Selina said she wished I knew what I’d married into. What did that mean?”

    He suddenly wanted the questions to stop. He swore and wanted to drink too. He had to watch it though; it was beginning to feel like a comfort. Sex was better but that was out of the question. A line of vulgarities passed fleetingly through his mind and his groin felt hot. But Francine was unavailable, at least for now. They’d tried a few days before and hadn’t gotten far, too painful, and she was still fatigued.

    He was quiet a long time and took her hand, it had to happen, “I hope you won’t be sorry. Maybe sorry you ever laid eyes on me, or tried to help me that day at the gates of your uncle’s house.”

    She sat up and pulled her robe closed and he tried not to let her bust distract him. Nothing doing. Dead end, “G*ddamn you’re going to hate me.”

    And now she was preparing herself for whatever he was going to say. He thought he could even see the possibilities swirling through her head.

    He picked a piece of lint from the bedcovers, “That day at lunch when I told you my grandparents’ deaths hurt my father so much more than you could imagine, that was true. And I told you; someday you’d see why I love him. Swimming in sin. Well, I don’t quite feel that way anymore. I still love him, but it’s different now. Deeper. All of that blind admiration you disliked is gone. And I’ve had to forgive him a few things. Particularly where they’ve involved me. I’ve had to accept that my father is a ruthless man. He’s exacting, controlling and at times cruel. But he feels deeply. So much so that he’s turned his entire life into a smokescreen. Bruce Wayne has no history, no depth at all. And now that he’s old, that act is all he has left. And worst of all, he preserves it, cultivates it to this day in order to protect Terry and I.”

    Francine looked at him wearily, with perhaps a bead or two of vindication nestled between her eyebrows, but didn’t speak.

    Matthew almost wished she’d interrupt him, “He’s not stupid. I’m sure you’ve guessed that by now. You said yourself that you always feel as though he’d just finished lying to you.”

    Francine nodded silently.

    “Well. In essence he has. It’s very elaborate; even I have never seen the bottom of it. It’s one lie on top of another, endlessly. I don’t know where the bottom is; I doubt I want to at this point.”

    “A narcissist. I guessed as much.”

    “Maybe,” Matthew’s voice was flat, “I suppose there’s a certain hubris in a man who decides to live the sort of life he has, to believe that he really has the power to help others. To wipe out anything that might have led to his own happiness in order to achieve his goals. But,” Matthew gave a piteous laugh, “he failed in that respect. Despite his best intentions he has a family. He has Selina, he has children. And we are a dedicated bunch. Perhaps that’s testament to his greatness. Just being near him…it could never be doubted, even if I hated him—which I don’t—I would be in awe. He’s…words fail.”

    Francine was frowning, “I’ve yet to be convinced.”

    Matthew, aggravated at being unable to articulate his point, merely grasped her hands, “Bruce Wayne was Batman Franny. My father was the Batman.”

    Francine gave an expression of acute disbelief, forcing laughter, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when her husband’s handsome face would break into a smile. He had to. It was simply too absurd. Her cheek flinched a little when nothing happened, his eyes held hers, “You’re kidding. You have to be. You expect me to believe that that spoiled rotter could have been the Batman?”

    “Don’t curse him. I don’t want to ever hear you curse him again,” his voice was even, tense, and there it was.

    His expression left her frozen. She realized, easing backward, that at that moment she was afraid of Matthew. That same implacable emotion she had experienced and condemned outside of Mr. Bruce’s study the year before.

    She raised herself up onto her knees, felt her stomach tightening, “I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it.”

    “You will. Where he disappears to at night, what drew Selina to him.”

    She shook her head, “No.”

    “All the gaps. All of it. Dick, Tim, Barbara …”

    “No.”

    “Yes Fran. My mother. Terry. Me.”

    And she slapped him before emitting a small cry and holding her hand over her mouth, shocked.

    He was patient, his voice reserved, even wistful, “There’s more to it. There’s so much more. Mr. Kent, Mr. Queen.”

    Now she held both hands over her mouth and stared at him. Words failed.

    --#--

    He peeled the white paper strips from the band-aids, placing two of them over his palm. The little crescent wounds stung. Francine sat at the dining room table with Dick and Barbara and Matthew, watching her husband bandage his hand. She hadn’t meant to hurt, but seeing the cave…

    She didn’t acknowledge the glass of orange juice in front of her.

    Dick calmly cut into his breakfast of leftovers, duck boudin with roasted chestnut and sautéed apples. He gathered a forkful of the filling as it fell out of the casing and looked at Francine, “So what brought this on?”

    Matthew answered, “I didn’t think it was fair. If I can’t be honest before I go…”

    Francine bit her lip and felt bewildered, “And you two?”

    Barbara answered as Dick was now devoting most of his attention to the sausage, “Yes. I was Batgirl and Dickey was the original boy wonder.”

    Dick stifled a belch, “Pardon me.”

    “And Tim.”

    “Number two,” Dick answered as though he were making a remark about the weather, “Did you happen to bring the salt in?”

    Barbara grimaced at his insensitivity.

    Francine barely noticed, “Commander Queen?”

    Matthew closed the little bandage tin, “His father was the Green Arrow.”

    “Mr. Kent?”

    The table was silent before Barbara explained, “It wouldn’t be right to tell you, he’s still active.”

    “…Ms. Selina?”

    Dick smirked, “Catwoman.”

    “Terry?”

    Matthew looked apologetic, “He’s the current Batman.”

    Now Francine held her head in her hands, “I’m sorry. This is all too much,” she lay her hands flat on the table and looked at him, “Your mother?”

    Matthew sank in his chair a little; he could feel Dick and Barbara waiting for his answer. He merely shook his head, “No. Not her. She was…” he closed his eyes, “She never knew about any of that.”

    Francine was very quiet then, her cheeks a violent red.

    Matthew was a little afraid now and he sighed, “Do you hate me?”

    She shook her head, blank, blessedly blank, “No Matty. I just don’t understand. None of this could be real.”

    He realized that Barbara was pouring a glass of milk from the carafe in front of her and fuzzily took it when she held it out to him. His stomach. He lifted the glass and nodded, “It’s true. It’s all true.” He drank greedily, nervous.

    “Is there any more?”

    He picked up the linen napkin in front of him without unfolding it, dabbing at his lip, “There’s more. But that’s the crux of it, I suppose. I think the rest of it will simply make you sick.”

    She looked uneasy, “Then just…please don’t tell me. No more, not right now.” A lot more of what Selina had been saying in the kitchen began to make sense. And she found herself sorry she knew. It made no sense at all but it couldn’t be denied. She’d seen all of it.

    And now she realized that she wanted to go home. She wanted to go up and bundle her baby and drive over to Great Neck and never see this house again. But she knew she was home. That Selina had guessed everything. Hit the nail on the proverbial head. And she had to stay, if only to prove something to herself. That she could indeed take it. The whole of it.

    But nausea swelled in her stomach with nowhere to go. Then again, now she knew what she had married into.
     
  19. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

    Joined:
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    **Disclaimer: The opening quote is from Ginsberg's 50[FONT=&quot]th[/FONT] Anniversary edition of Howl, page 38. The reference to the "Coolerator..." is Chuck Berry, nearly word for word, from the song "You Never Can Tell." Sparse language. Liberties with modern events abound toward the end. EDIT: I've never thought of elderly Bruce as remotely sexy. I still don't know if that's really the case here, but Dustin Nguyen has made his appearance just a little bit more pleasing to the eye. Yay.**

    [FONT=&quot]who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle
    of beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes

    ***

    “Sometimes I miss that old first apartment,” Timothy sipped from a bottle of root beer and propped his feet on the ottoman, “it came furnished and we had a Coolerator stashed with nothing but TV dinners and ginger ale. God, being married to Abby, it was tons of fun.”

    Matthew laced his fingers together and let his eyes roam over the man’s black and red PF Flyers, wondering if father would ask him to change them before the photographer arrived, “How old were you?”

    Timothy gave a sigh of amazement, “We were barely eighteen. And she was taking a hell of a chance on me. I couldn’t go back to school, at least not here. We set up house and I took my GED and worked at Queen Shipping and sweated out night courses at the City College and just about broke my neck to make her happy. And she never let me regret it, not one day. We had it tough too in a sense, I know I’m…sort of mixed up. Sort of an oddball after everything…”

    Matthew could only guess at what he was referring to, “About being Robin?”

    Timothy grimaced, taking another swig, glancing through the study’s doorway into the parlor across the hall where the girls were fussing over their respective babies’ outfits, “Maybe you want to go rescue Franny, she looks like she’s on edge.”

    Matthew fingered his tie and sighed, “Yea, since this morning. I told her.”

    Timothy frowned, “Told her what?”

    “About father being Batman and now Terry, and Barbara and Dick and you.”

    “Cadmus? Or your mother?”

    Matthew shook his head, pressing a closed fist against his mouth, giving a muffled reply, “She might have taken ill or something. I did. When he first told me. I wouldn’t want her to get sick or anything, or worse. Or flee. Ever since I’ve known her, whenever I’ve done something to upset her, she always ran from the room. Not today though. This morning she was rooted to the spot. Then we had a bit of an argument upstairs, if you could call it that,” Matthew slouched in the armchair.

    “About you? She think you’re suiting up too?”

    Matthew shook his head, “No. I..” he got up to close the doors, “I’ve never talked to anybody about us…intimately,” and sat back down, “I just think maybe I pushed things a little when we got back upstairs. I was upset about telling her and sneaked a decanter of gin up to our rooms and she’s never had a drink a day in her life. I gave her a little because I knew she was pretty bothered and it cooled her down. But she still gave me the mother routine and asked me what for and how long.”

    She noticed him pushing something with his heel under the bed and leaning over the side, retrieved the tall, clear decanter. She removed the stopper and sniffed it, blushing, asking what it was.

    He’d sighed inwardly and pulled out an accompanying glass, Gin.

    She’d folded her hands beneath her chin, You know I never drink.

    He knew.

    He set the glass on the bed table and she asked how long this had been going on. He’d shrugged, he drank with the other officers two or three or four or however many nights a week. Some in Rhode Island too.

    Had he been hung-over?

    Three or four times in as many months.

    She’d been quiet but she clicked her tongue a little, reminding him that Andy drank through his worries. And it never helped them in the least.

    Matthew knew that too. Don’t be paranoid. Father’s paranoid. Just because I drink doesn’t mean I’m a drunk.

    She’d turned on her back and asked to taste it.

    He gave her some and she sat up, sipped and snorted, God, it’s strong.

    Yeah.

    She drained the glass and lay back down and he looked at her as her eyes became wet and glassy. She smiled easily and he enjoyed seeing her pleasant and calm again, I see it agrees with you.

    She’d shaken her head drowsily, Don’t be fooled. Tomorrow I’ll be a teetotaler again…good thing I’ve got back up milk in the fridge…poor little Brucie’ll miss me tonight.

    And today?

    He gave her a little more and she raised her legs into pyramids and laughed, Don’t get me drunk Matty.

    He promised he wouldn’t and downed a glass before turning around and lying next to her, kissing her neck.

    He stared at the rug now, “I thought too much about before we were married and I couldn’t have her. I’m no lover Tim; I know I’m probably pretty lousy. But since she got pregnant and now…she’s started just staring at the ceiling. And today she refused me. And I got sore, I got sore as hell.”

    Timothy’s face was open, nonjudgmental, “What’d you do?”

    “Nothing. Nothing at all, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t do anything. I had just been thinking of the time I stole second, just for a moment, when I was taking down her coat. It was late and I’d dropped her off at home after a Christmas party. It was embarrassing but it was kind of great too. On the porch I told her I loved her and she said she guessed she loved me too. And I had been thinking about it and it was nice.”

    He’d smiled at the memory and rolled on top of her but she put her hand down between them. He tried coaxing her again but even in her slightly dimmed state, it was futile. He’d gotten up, frustrated and left her in his unmade bed. He bathed, shaved and dressed in silence.

    All the time she lay atop the bed, almost as though she were dozing. But he hadn’t missed it, not for a second. The faint heat gathering between her legs. He’d shaken his head, wondering when it had started, when all he could think about was making her or drinking. He hadn’t even been that way as a teenager. But he was young; he’d turned twenty-three a couple of months ago, that was the way men his age behaved. For a second he wished he’d had more experience. Already everything, even Yale, felt like a distant memory, but it was all filled with his trying so hard to be good. He’d had a weekend in Washington D. C. with Lts. Donovan and Langley only two months ago and while they’d cavorted at the various hotels he’d stayed over with Sen. and Mrs. Joseph Hunt, more old friends of father. The guys assured him he’d missed a schway night, a** everywhere. Then he remembered the warning Terrence had given him about the chances of her being frigid and knocked it back with annoyance.

    Now he looked at the older man’s sneakers again, “I went downstairs, that’s all. And I’ve been in here and you found me and asked me how married life was treating me. Maybe if I’d had a few more girls, perhaps I’d know how to romance her. Or something.”

    Timothy gave a thin but not unpleasant smile, “I’ve had certain experiences in my life and I can tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

    Matthew reddened slightly, “I feel bad and all, but not the way I used to. Now I just feel as though I were trying too hard. I’m no saint and I wish Franny’d get used to the idea that she’s not one either. That’s sh***y of me isn’t it?”

    “When are you leaving? Do you know,” Timothy asked, seemingly out of the blue.

    Matthew sank a little lower, “Next week.”

    “She know?”

    “I figured one hardball a day ought to do it,” he resisted the urge to muss his hair, wet-combed and now dry, perfectly parted on one side, “I haven’t had the guts to say it yet. You ought to know my guts are lousy.”

    Timothy passed his bottle back and forth between his hands, “The Commander, you know, Oliver, went to war too. Not direct combat but that last little shock with Korea. You see, back in oh-nine Kim Jong Il succumbed to the effects of a stroke, leaving a power vacuum. Eventually, the US went in, tidied things and we’ve maintained order until now. But things got pretty hairy for a minute there, maybe like the second coming of the Cuban Missile Crisis, tangoing with China, just like now. That led to the outright ban on nuclear weapons. But we got awfully close. And Oliver, after it was all smoothed over and patched up, said in wartime, one’s mind must operate like a sieve. You let the ideas and possibilities and outcomes flow through as unhindered as possible and hold on to the good stuff, you’re remote, calm and you act. It’s mechanical and damn impersonal but he said it got the job done. Maybe that doesn’t always apply to war; maybe it might come in handy in marriage too.”

    Matthew felt his countenance sour slightly, “I’ve tried the tough route. All I made her do was cry.”

    “I didn’t mean be a jackass. Just more…confident. Just let her know you want her all the time, not just when you’re on the make.”

    Matthew’s nose wrinkled, “You ever have that problem with Abigail?”

    Tim’s face was a little blank, “Sometimes. Yeah, some things you have to be distant about. Sometimes there are things you just won’t be able to explain. Just don’t let her feel like it’s her fault. Maybe that’s all you can do, maybe you’ll get lucky like me.”

    Timothy closed his eyes and saw Abigail when they were young, dancing with the baby. The boy took lolling, toddling steps, bouncing to the music on the radio. She was twirling, wearing one of those wide, flowing skirts. She clapped her hands and laughed. She didn’t look tired at all. As though she’d never found him curled on the bathroom floor the night before. Eyes clenched shut. She’d been used to it by then and curled up behind him, holding him. Nothing they could do while it hurt. All he’d wanted to do was take a s*** without messing himself. He’d gotten better but it still hurt. Every now and then though, it was useless. When the pain subsided she’d run a bath and help him undress and sit up with him until he could come back to bed. He always had her throw out his shorts. He didn’t want the hotel laundresses to see the blood in them. After several surgeries and several years it had gotten even better but never perfect.

    And she never let him regret marrying her, not one day. He raised his head now and blinked. G*ddamn lucky. [/FONT]
     
  20. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

    Joined:
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    Poultice

    **Disclaimer: I'm most grateful to all of you, dear readers. I struggled with this update for well over a month, finally settling on a short piece based on three things, the movies "Gosford Park" and "Atonement," as well as a dream I had with elements of the first movie woven all over the place. But that's all beside the point. I cut out a lot of things but I have every intention of writing them in in future posts. Well then, the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth stanzas of Sylvia Plath's "The Applicant" are used somewhat cynically to open and close. They also provided the title. The poem can be found in the restored facsimilie of Ariel. And Edward Lamont IV was indeed a little hostage in Loeb and Lee's Batman: Hush. Rated J as always.**

    To thumb shut your eyes at the end
    And dissolve of sorrow.
    We make new stock from the salt.
    I notice you are stark naked.
    How about this suit--

    Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
    Will you marry it?
    It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
    Against fire and bombs through your roof.
    Believe me, they’ll bury you in it.


    ***
    “Franny, please calm down. I’m alright,” he pressed the gauze against the side of his head, “It only buzzed me.”

    Camilla Newbold Fisher opened her case and took out a slim cigar, “Here dear, smoke this.”

    Francine tried to cease her frightened gulps but only managed to sputter, “Oh…, can’t you see I want too?” she gulped again, “I can’t, they’re not good for the baby or something.”

    Camilla lit her one and held it up to her mouth, “Your baby’s at home. Now be a good girl and take the damned cigar.”

    Matthew took one too and examined it in his other hand, unsure if he ought to. He hadn’t smoked or wanted to since the night he’d lost his virginity a few years prior. He put it down. But that business with one of the re-loaders dropping a rifle and the resulting shot winging his ear had unnerved him. As the bullets were whizzing by he’d felt a little afraid and when his anxiety was rewarded and his hand flew to his ear, curses tumbling out, he’d realized quite clearly that he didn’t want to die.

    Not that there had ever been any doubt but…it was a sort of sudden conviction, and now his stomach was concrete. His fingers shook somewhat and he was indeed nervous, but he was also very sure. He’d come back home. There was no way in hell he was going to let the world go black on him.

    A fellow Scroll and Key, Jonathan Davies Lamont and his wife Camilla had invited him and some of the other boys out to his family’s retreat in the Adirondacks. One last hurrah as it were. Some were going back to Yale for whatever reason, but most were heading off with their designated armed forces. Lamont himself was the son of Edward Lamont IV, American ambassador to South Korea and heir to a chemical fortune back in Gotham. Matthew was also aware that the elder Lamont had been rescued by his father decades before when Killer Croc kidnapped him. The families were acquaintances but that aspect of the relationship would have to remain unacknowledged.

    He was a groomsman at the Lamont wedding a couple of days after New Year’s. A very brief but beautiful weekend in Boston with Francine. Things had been moving so fast, it was easy to realize, even humorously so, that Camilla had yet to take her husband’s name.

    Curled up on a fur top blanket in one of the spare rooms, she had mulled to Francine that it really didn’t make much of a difference these days. If they had a son he’d still be Edward Lamont VI. The atmosphere had fallen then slightly and Camilla snuggled into the old bear fur, her face reddening slightly. It went without saying that John’s older brother Eddie’s reconnaissance plane had been downed near Namyang in April. There was no word on his whereabouts or condition. He’d left no spouse or heirs. He’d seemed only to disappear off the face of the earth.

    They all knew that Matthew was going over next week and Francine had finally been told on the train ride out Thursday evening. Of course Mr. Bruce didn’t know they were coming out for shooting, but she wondered if he knew time was waning in another respect.

    Now, she sucked the cigar, easily letting the smoke flow into her lungs, calming her. She and Matthew had been on edge somewhat since he’d told her about his father’s past. He’d even begun surprising her with gifts of jewelry, something he’d never done, unless one counted the rosary. She’d accepted graciously, but even she felt a tingle run the length of her spine when she palmed her favorite, a set of three Tiffany keys he’d had commissioned for Brucie’s birth. White gold with a single diamond in each and engraved with their names, one for him, one for her and one for their baby. Her husband had gone into the city to pick them up on Tuesday, just in time to salve her shock and fear.

    Thinking of them now at the manor in one of his father’s safes, she blushed. He had tried at least two more times to bed her through the week and each time she resolutely refused. By the time they boarded the trains and arrived at the Lamont’s private station he was biting his nails and speaking in clipped angry sentences. Telling her instead of suggesting, ordering for her and referring to her as Mrs. Wayne instead of Franny. It would be funny if she didn’t feel rather bad about it. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him but, just as she’d explained to Melanie at luncheon before the portrait session, she knew women who had just given birth were at their peak of fertility. And she was afraid of getting pregnant again so soon.

    But now, unlike the previous week, she couldn’t remember any of it clearly. All she could see again and again was Johnny banging through the door with Matthew and blood running down the side of her husband’s face. The tall young man had wrapped his friend’s wound before heading out again, but not before suggesting to Matthew that he sit out the morning shoot. They’d go back out this evening, “Camilla, set him down with some brandy. We’ll all be back ‘round for lunch.” And he was gone. Manly efficiency.

    Francine took him up to their room and Camilla had John’s valet take up the brandy and a slice of cake. When everyone had gone, Francine put down the cigar and pressed her fingers to her temples.

    Matthew, slouched in an armchair, sipped the brandy and rocked it as he’d seen John do the previous evening after dinner, “It’s alright Fran. It’s good and clean. Only took a little bit off.”

    Francine ducked between her shoulders somewhat, “That bit could have been your head.”

    He nodded, “But it wasn’t.”

    She watched the glass waving through space, “May I?”

    He handed it to her, “A little please.”

    She sipped it and nodded, giving it back, “Better than gin.”

    He only looked up at her, not in the mood to smile at her behavior all week.

    “I am glad you’re not hurt.”

    “Me too.”

    She watched him begin to undo his tie and vest. After a moment of hesitation she bent and removed his boots, the red and green socks and pushed a footstool over to him, “Maybe you ought to think of hiring on a valet after the war.”

    “Only if you’ll take on a lady’s maid.”

    “Does your father dress himself?”

    “I believe so. He’s pretty self-sufficient as these things go.”

    “I wonder if the ascendency will really remain after everything.”

    “They’ll rebound. They always do.”

    She began to sniff a little, “I…you really scared me.”

    “I see.”

    She watched him, feeling her chin beginning to quiver, feeling a sort of foggy forgetfulness. It wasn’t the brandy, she’d only had a taste, but there it was nonetheless. She sat down, unable to take her eyes off of him. He was handsome and sweet and hurt and angry and she felt herself turn red all over. She reached up and undid the buttons of her blouse, pushing it back off her shoulders, followed by her chemise.

    He looked at her, face blank but eyes fixed.

    She pushed off her shoes and took down her stockings and other undergarments. When she pulled up her skirt he stood and set the glass down and crossing the room, came down on top of her and kissed her. All over. His head swam but he ignored it, drawing up her leg with one hand and pushing down the front of his trousers and shorts with the other.

    The previous evening, going down the dark of the hall, he’d seen Camilla reflected in a standing mirror, half undressed. His modesty prevailed and he hurried onward, unseen and unheard. But the image stayed with him all night and he wondered why she would dress for bed with the door wide open. It had been very late, nearly two, and he’d gotten up for a glass of water rather than ring for one of the servants. But still. By morning the memory along with Francine’s putting him off had combined to make him even more irritable than before.

    Now he wasn’t gentle at all and he knew it. He didn’t allow himself to enjoy her touch until he heard her gasping again, saw her eyes shut, her head turn sharply. He realized that the sight of her giving in excited him and he only went faster, relishing their sounds and smells.

    Maybe he’d make her pregnant again and maybe he wouldn’t. But at the back of his mind, Camilla stood near her lamp, her gown drawn halfway up. In his imagination he saw her gasping too. He saw her notice him. He saw her smile.

    ***
    But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
    In fifty, gold.
    A living doll, everywhere you look.
    It can sew, it can cook,
    It can talk, talk, talk.

    It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
    You have a hole, it’s a poultice.
    You have an eye, it’s an image.
    My boy, it’s your last resort.
    Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.
     

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