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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 to follow shortly but the bridging quote was courtesy of Ernest Hemingway.**

    She was holding his hand, feeling more than a little pathetic for it, but all the same… “You’ve hardly spoken since we’ve been back. Did Mr. Bruce say anything to you about our barging in so late?”

    “Only that we woke both boys and that the nurse was up all night settling them with warm milk and stories from that treasury of fables. He called them Prose Pacifiers…you will e-mail me when you’ve seen the doctor. I mean, either way.”

    She wished it was cold, then she’d have an excuse to cuddle closer, this being the middle of summer, she had to settle for his limp hand. She nodded and tried to appear girlish, twirling her skirt a little, “Yes Matt. You’ve been biting your nails again.”

    “I just wondered what the look on father’s face will be when you tell him, if you have reason to…I mean, it is a lot so suddenly. So many…June and David and Brucie and now…how did your mother put it over the telephone?”

    “Whatever God sends.”

    “Sentimental.”

    She sighed, “You’re leaving tonight, after dinner I know. But does Mr. Bruce or Ms. Selina know?”

    Matthew shook his head, “Father’s known since I came home for this last furlough. Andy told me Selina guessed as much when she saw him taking stock of my things. He’s good at that. He knew I’d need tar paper for the suits and moth balls and he chided me about letting those white bucks Selina gave me for Christmas get so dusty and dirty. He said he just wanted to pretend I was going on a long voyage. That I’d be perfectly…that I’d be alright.

    She didn’t want to think about it, she shut her eyes and changed the subject, “Edith is heading back up to Maryland. Andy’s really getting the hang of this father thing, but he scolds her so. They seem to fuss a lot.”

    Matthew shrugged, “That’s just their way I think. They just like picking on one another. He said if he can act like everything’s normal, eventually it will be. They’ll forget about all of last year and go on. He does want to be a good guy. He’s been calling the boy Teddy, and trying to sort of figure out the ‘father thing’ as you put it. But it’s not as though I have too many pointers.”

    “You do realize she was pregnant when she married Mr. Edward? For David to have been born so soon.”

    “He knows. He said he asked Selina about the forgiveness angle…that, she’s had to forgive my father a lot of things. Me and Terry…”

    She squeezed his hand.

    He shrugged again, “Come on, let’s swim.” She watched him trot towards Franklin’s pond and reveal his belted trunks, trying to picture him bloodied or disfigured. But all she could see was bronze skin, not sculpted but physically fit enough from football. He couldn’t go under with his bandaged ear but he began to dog paddle and splashed her a little.

    She tossed her towel next to his and slid into the water. They swam about and watched a group of kids from the neighboring houses kidding around, dunking one another. She felt his arm caress her shoulder and they began to tread water. He kissed her forehead, “I’m not scared.”

    “I am.”

    They hung in one another’s embrace, silent.

    ***

    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.

    ***

    Matthew stood in the doorway of his father’s study, all kitted out in dress blues, ready and waiting. Waiting to get tuff. Pure rugged. What have you.

    Bruce was ignoring him, rather characteristically. Father’s good friend, Cardinal Connor, was chatting with Melanie, Dick, Barbara and Francine in the parlor, trying to calm his wife’s nerves. Selina sat with Bruce. They all knew this was going to be a difficult evening for him. But only she knew of the fitful lack of sleep he’d worked through all night. She was nearly afraid to sleep in the same bed he’d become so violent this past week.

    She was reading a magazine and pretending to be content but not quite bored. When his boy headed off on the twenty minute walk to the station, out into the dark of their world, she’d shut the double doors and go to him and hold him. But right now their faces were chiseled stone. Remote.

    Matthew sensed the unsettledness and gently fingered his injured ear. Francine had washed and dressed it for him but now he’d be on his own. He set his hands in his pockets before quickly removing them; an officer didn’t go about in such a hell care manner. He cleared his throat and neither figured acknowledged him. He made a face of resignation and spoke up, “Father?”

    Bruce set the newspaper next to his coffee mug, “Matthew.”

    Matthew sighed, “I told the kiddies goodbye. They probably won’t remember a thing. I hope you don’t mind, I took Brucie out on your balcony and we had a good long talk, or at least, I did. He just sort of tried to eat my fingers. It’s a bit chilly out though and I’m sure Fran would have a fit if she knew.”

    Bruce finally chanced to look up at his son, ignoring the wavering of his eyesight. Just old age, he assured himself.

    Matthew crossed the room then and extended his hand for a shake, “Thank you for your grandfather’s watch. I’ll keep it near always.”

    Bruce nodded and standing, grasped the extended hand, “I’m sure you will.” He didn’t quite trust himself to say much else. He watched Terrence go off every night; never altogether sure the young man would make it back. But this was different. This was outside of Gotham, outside much of his sphere of influence. His name didn’t amount to a damned thing outside of the Western world, or perhaps, Japan. All it did was make his son a high value target, however far back from the front lines he happened to be. The thought honestly curdled his stomach’s content and he imagined he’d be quite sick once everyone had gone to bed.

    Matthew smiled calmly and placed his other hand atop theirs before letting go and coming around the desk. Taking a deep breath he bent forward and kissed his father’s head, “I’ll see you sooner or later Old Man. I promise. Look after my girl and boy for me won’t you?”

    Bruce shut his eyes and felt as though he couldn’t reopen them until Matthew had stepped back again, placing some sort of distance between them and that horrible finality. He felt the corners of his mouth tugging and turned away.

    Matthew then moved on and waiting until Selina set her reading material aside, gathered her into a generous embrace, “I’ll miss the hell out of everyone, especially you. You’ve been like a mother to me.”

    She accepted the wetness at her eyes and kissed him on the cheek, “Just come back in one piece and we won’t hold it against you.”

    Matthew’s smile waned and he waited a beat before whispering in her ear, “Please look after my dad. Don’t let him be too hurt.”

    She nodded, “I’ll try. See you sailor.”

    The young man then wiped his own eyes and left the room without another word. He went in and sat with the others for about twenty more minutes, kissed Francine longingly goodbye and going out again retrieved his hat. Leaving through the front door he met Andy at the end of the drive.

    They were silent until the raised wooden platform came into view. Andy spoke first, “I’m damned sorry to see you go Matt.”

    “I too.”

    “Don’t forget to send a few souvenirs from your exotic travels. Or at least drop a postcard or two.”

    “Don’t worry. You’ll get your letters. Don’t forget to write yourself.”

    Andy glanced at his hand, “Who writes letters nowadays beside old fogies and you military types? I can’t remember the last time I held a pencil.”

    “Only your own every time you hit the head eh?” Matthew grinned.

    Andy laughed, “Good one, good one.” Their amusement died out and they quickly hugged, “I’ll see you when you get back chum.”

    “Same here.”

    “How long are you all holding over at Gotham Central?”

    They heard the train approaching and sweat broke out thinly over their foreheads and necks, “Till three. Then it’s on to New York and out.”

    “Terry’ll be there. He’s probably waiting for you down there as we speak.”

    Matthew watched it stop and set his foot aboard, “See you And, I’m not worried.”

    Andy watched his cousin step in fully, the doors slide shut and the glowing cabin glide away. He wished for a cigarette but didn’t dare lest an Air Raid Warden see him, “That’s too bad Matty. I sure as hell am.”

    As a few light raindrops dotted his shoulders he turned his collar up and trudged back to the house.

    ***

    Melanie heard the back door open and talked over her shoulder, cutting fruit for June’s breakfast in the morning, “Did you catch him?”

    “Catch who?”

    She gathered the pieces of cantaloupe and set them in a bowl and pulled saran wrap to place over the top, “Matt. We missed you at dinner. Mr. Bruce and Ms. Selina each offered up a toast and Mr. Bruce gave him his grandfather Solomon’s pocket watch. All very hoopla. Cardinal Connor was over too and led the prayer and all. Then coffee and conversation in the parlor.”

    She could feel him nod, “Yeah, I caught him at the train station downtown. Ran like hell over. It’s pouring buckets.”

    She expected to hear the thwuck of rubbers being removed and the thud when they hit the floor, “I imagine you must be losing a lot of fellows to the service. In the offices and the factories…I was thinking about maybe getting my hands dirty. Maybe do some Red Cross work with Fran or something. Roll bandages; fix up care packages, what have you. God knows I thought about finagling a job on one of your assembly lines, sewing up parachutes or riveting the landing gear or something. Maybe I’ll build an airplane like Rosie the Riveter…have you ever heard of her?”

    She moved to turn, “Queenie will be aghast I’m sure…”

    She stared at him, her brow wrinkled. Her face went pale and she barely avoided dropping the bowl onto the floor.

    Terrence was standing there alright but someone had taken his head and sewn it onto the Batman’s body. But she knew better than that. Try though she might, she did know better than to second-guess what she was seeing. He was standing there, perfectly still at the back door, a limp black cloth in his hand. She imagined that was the mask. She took a deep breath and frowned before remembering there was a bowl of fruit in her palm. Calmly, she raised her hand and threw it at him.

    He dodged it easily enough, hearing its dull break in the corner, and she walked forward and slapped him across the face, once with each hand, “You’re a bastard.”

    He nodded sadly, “I know.”

    “An absolute bastard. And all of this time?”

    He shook his head, red prints already showing on each cheek.

    She moved to knee him in the groin but he caught her and held her in a full-nelson, “Mel, we both know if you felt like it, you could have at least broken a bone or two by now.”

    “What would possess you…?” she gasped, “What could…?”

    She slumped in his arms and he chanced to let her go. He watched her sink to the floor before joining her, his voice meek, “I’m sorry.”

    There was wetness at her eyes but she looked furious rather than sad, “Why? Why tell me? Why now?”

    “I’ve actually been trying to tell you for weeks. But every time I got started….When I caught Matt at the station he said that he’d told Francine about me.”

    She raised her chin, somewhat annoyed, “That wasn’t his place.”

    “Well he actually told her about Bruce, I was mentioned within that context.”

    “Your father, what’s your…?” Her eyes flashed in recognition, “Oh good Lord.”

    He nodded, “I knew if I waited to spit it out, Junie would be graduating high school before you’d hear anything…so I decided to show you. To man-up and show you. It actually went a lot better than I imagined.”

    “In what sense?” she looked at the broken dinnerware and fruit pulp and juice in an oozing pile at the baseboard.

    He gave her a sue-me smile, “I could have easily crawled out of here with a few broken ribs…or you could have run out on me.”

    She sniffed and drew her legs up, nodding, “If this had been a year or so ago, then yes. But since I spoke to Selina…I’ve felt differently, I can’t describe it better than that.”

    He reached forward and grasped her fingers, grateful when she didn’t pull away. Instead she turned and threw her arms about his neck, “That night, atop the cathedral…he—you, sounded so scared that I’d leave. I couldn’t quite put two and two together.”

    He pulled her closer, “I’m sorry Mel. For not telling you before now. I just…I have to be honest with you. I have to give you everything or nothing. That’s what you did for me. That’s what my brother did.”

    She sat back on her heels, “Was it…emotional?”

    Terrence hardened his features somewhat, letting the thought that he may never see Matthew alive again sink in, “Not really. We shook hands and he said he had every intention of coming back…but just in case he didn’t, for me to look after Bruce. To help him through it if I could. I told him to hurry up, do his job and come back. I only asked that he be honorable about it.”

    She nodded before letting her eyes run over his form “It was you all along.”

    He kissed her temple, holding her tighter, “I could tell you everything. How I got started, how he got started…”

    She shook her head into his shoulder, “Not tonight Terry. Just,” she took a deep breath, “don’t say anything else. Not tonight…are you going out?”

    He looked at her, “Not if you don’t want me to.”

    She reached up and tried to peel the suit off, not enjoying its intrusion. She had the distinct impression that they were being spied upon, “I’d prefer that you didn’t.”

    She had never held much affection at all for the dark knight and now the idea that he and her beloved were one and the same rumbled her stomach. She sat back calmly and stated, “I’m going to vomit.”

    He quickly escorted her to the downstairs half-bath and held her hair for her.

    She closed her eyes, “Please take that damned thing off.”

    He quickly did as he was told, tossing it into the hall and standing before her in his skivvies.

    She caught her breath as he ran a hand towel under cool water and held it to her forehead, “I like you better in your own skin if you don’t mind my saying so.”

    He nodded, patting her face with the cloth, “I hate to tell you but, my own skin hasn’t been too comfortable for a while now.”

    She sighed, remembering the tug and fit of her costume, “I…please don’t tell me you prefer Ten to me.”

    He cupped her chin in his hand, “No way no how.”

    She nodded then and set her hand at her stomach. Eventually they drifted to bed, leaving the small mess on the floor for morning. She slept quite hard when stressed and Terrence curled against her, listening as the sounds of dawn came in through the window. The hard part wasn’t even over yet, he reminded himself. There was still the matter of explaining everything about Waynes and Batmen once and for all. He grit his teeth and stared at the ceiling.
     
  2. aiwac

    aiwac Member

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    I really liked this update. Both the internal descrptions and dialogues were perfectly on the ball, as it were.

    Great Job

    aiwac
     
  3. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    Yippie, and thanks so much for dropping by. I know this story is a bit of a doozy. I can only be grateful...and overawed.

    tNC
     
  4. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    Retreat

    **Disclaimer: I was simply awful, taking so long to update, not even putting a proper disclaimer on my last post. Shame, shame. Alas, I haven't done much better in the second department this time. Just currently reading Waugh's Vile Bodies, helped me get over a crippling bought of writer's block. It also helped the first half of this update along considerably. The talk of "rakes" was based on an argument Andre Roosevelt once had with his granddaughter about a potential suitor. The bit about gum chewing children and MGM is a reference to a lovely Gosford Park fanfic by LJC. There's also a little allusion to F. Scott Fitzgerald with the sleeve thing towards the end but I've tweaked it. I've made Andy a big fan I suppose. I know I didn't answer as many questions as I should have, but I hope I answered a few. Liberties abound. And the Queens deep affection was given for the Kennedys. May the Senator and Mrs. Shriver rest in peace.**

    **Jackson Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco**

    It hadn’t been what Rose would call an ‘enjoyable’ experience. Anything but, in fact, as she’d subtly rocked back and forth beneath his near-silent form. He was tender before and after, but during….Now she turned onto her side there and set her hand under her head, staring at the fire curling in that old tiled fireplace. Like something out of Europe. He was a quarter English so she supposed it made sense.

    The house was quite large but only sparsely furnished. Apparently, his grandfather—the original cad—had tired of hotel rooms and finally bought a house for west coast business. He filled it with his little eccentricities, a still-dependable upright turntable, lots of whiskey, and true to form, lots of women. With his son almost permanently shuttling between boarding school and summer camp, he had a lot of time for wayward distractions, and he was not one to waste time.

    His son had been the exact opposite. Quiet and studious, he’d excelled in school, married Margaret Firestone upon graduation from Princeton and immediately set to work building a Naval career and a family of his own. With much sweetness came Oliver IV, later his sister Henrietta and still later Charles Firestone Queen. The daughter was still perched between two worlds, old enough to dabble in stolen kisses and makeup, young enough to stick out her tongue and quarrel endlessly with ‘baby Chip.’ The family corresponded frequently to and fro and their affection for one another often annoyed outsiders. Ollie could be almost brutish at times but he smothered his mother and siblings in kisses and signed his letters as such. They, even more so than the Waynes, still actually wrote letters, with real ink in pots even and monogrammed calligraphy pens. Too like the Waynes they seemed to despise television.

    She pulled Ollie’s sport coat about her form and continued to stare at the ceiling as she had done for hours. Through their lovemaking that didn’t feel much like love at all and also through the nattering pain between her legs once it was over. It wasn’t too, too terrible but it was quite annoying and she wished it would dull. They were on an old rug of all places. A soft one, but it did little to comfort her shoulder blades given the hardness of the wood floor below.

    Ollie was sound asleep. His arm was still heavily bandaged after this latest operation. He was considering an elbow replacement altogether but he knew it would worry his parents.

    He’d assured her it was quite alright through two or three glasses each of Talisker and she had asked him rather forthrightly if he was going to finally seduce her. The drunkenness had snuck up on them both and he merely nodded, not the least bit embarrassed. She’d nodded in return and said that it figured. He’d said that was very sensible and proceeded to let his clothing fall button by button to the cool floor. She was a little less enthused but eventually stood naked next to the fireplace, dawdling and running her fingertips over the moldings. He spread his clothing out and sat down. She’d felt herself blush all over and said quite simply, You know this has never happened to me before.

    No one’s made love to you in San Francisco?

    No one’s made love to me ever.

    He’d shaken his head gravely and she’d kneeled in front of him and he’d lain her down. She discovered quite fast that he was not a conversational sort of fellow, but he certainly knew what he was doing, with his hands and his body. But it was over too soon and the only thing that stayed where it was was the light fixture. And the fireplace. Her maidenhood was gone for good.

    When it was done she’d shaken her head, All of that fuss over sex.

    He’d kissed her earlobe sweetly, You’ll like it eventually.

    Where she’d been flushed with curiosity and perhaps a happy sort of fear she now lay still and chill bumps rose keenly along her arms and legs. She tried to press herself against him and unguarded in his sleep he draped one of his arms over her. True to form, it would be gone when she woke up.

    **August**

    He was lame and he knew it. He was tan and golden-haired and when he disrobed next to the pool he felt the girls’ eyes on his skin from where they lay on the upstairs balcony. Francine’s was the most satisfying, Rose’s was comforting and Edith’s wasn’t meant for him at all. But it didn’t erase the bother of having to drag his robe from his other arm.

    “Henrietta thinks she loves you.”

    Andy’s brow wrinkled, “Did you remind her that we’re cousins?”

    “Yes I did. I also reminded her that you come from a very long line of rakes and that you’re engaged. She said that I was a rake too and that you weren’t married yet. I told her that even if she didn’t care about her reputation, you did. That you would never have her.”

    “That’s true.”

    “She insisted that no one really counts past third cousin. You ought to look out for her, make it very clear that she’s a no-go. She’s only fourteen but she’s used to getting her way.”

    “You needn’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of leading her on, I’ve got my hands full with Edes and Teddy.”

    Oliver sat down on a deck chair and stared at his elbow, abruptly changing subject, “…I’m going under the knife.”

    Andy looked up from his copy of Harper’s and squinted, “Pray tell, why?”

    Oliver lay back and crossed his legs at the ankles, “I don’t want to sit this one out.”

    They both knew he was talking about the war, thus, Andy hid his annoyance, “Which branch?”

    Oliver didn’t hesitate, “Navy naturally. The first Oliver served, and his father, Conrad, served on Assistant Secretary Roosevelt’s staff during the First World War, before he returned to Star City to work. We’ve been at sea since the days of clipper ships…but I want to do more while I have the chance Andy. If I may.”

    He didn’t wait for his cousin’s approval, “Rose tells me you and Georgie made the Porcellian Club. Congratulations.”

    Andy smiled—uncharacteristically bashful—and nodded, “Bruce honored me with a toast at Matty’s goodbye dinner.”

    “Have you all heard from him?”

    “He writes and telephones when he can. He says he’s somewhere in Japan so he’s relatively safe. They haven’t had any bombing or anything since he’s been wherever he is. But he says every day the embassies are still crammed with tourists trying to get the hell out of the pacific. Some people have been waiting for months…like Casablanca or something.”

    “Sounds exciting.”

    “Sounds dreadful.”

    “You sound like a defeatist.”

    Andy sighed, “You sound like something they dreamt up on the writer’s block at MGM.”

    “My grandfather preferred the theatre after Triangle Club. Movies and the men and women who wrote them were apparently nothing more than gum chewing little bastards.”

    Andy flung the magazine aside but only out of boredom rising to a challenge, “You’re talking to a bastard.”

    “So I am.”

    “You were raised by one too.”

    Ollie’s mouth curved into a thoughtful smile, “So I was.”

    Andy shrugged, “Besides, you don’t need to tell me. I’m Hasty Pudding too.”

    “I can’t quite see you in drag.”

    He gave a veiled grin of his own, “God willing you never will, provided I’ve managed to destroy all the evidence.”

    “Perhaps I can bribe some freshman to give up the goods.”

    “Then I shall club you over the head in your sleep and make off with everything…your girl too.”

    Ollie stood upright, “Then I’ll have to settle for your firstborn.”

    Andy felt his shoulders droop slightly, his amusement faltered, “My firstborn hasn’t been born. If you mean Teddy…well, then you good sir mean war.”

    Ollie saw the statement for what it was and sat back down, his voice lowered considerably, “Have you forgiven her yet?”

    Andy stood arms akimbo and shook his head, “No.”

    Ollie sounded strangely uncritical, “And yourself?”

    Andy ran both hands over his head, “You know better than that, I’m sure.”

    “When then?”

    Andy shrugged.

    “Have you even slept with her since the divorce?”

    Andy didn’t answer and Ollie blew out a long breath, “This sounds a little cracked up…like you’re, you know, punishing her.”

    Andy picked up his towel and draped it over his shoulders, “I couldn’t say that I’m not. Before, perhaps. But not now.”

    Ollie lay back on his deck chair, “When will it end Kirk?”

    “I don’t know,” he looked up, feebly for him, “I think it will be her call though. I’ve never put any hang-up to bed. I don’t imagine I know how.”

    He sat down next to Ollie’s feet, “I wear my worries and insecurities where God put them, on my sleeve. And she knows that. She knows it better than anyone. It’s perhaps one of the few things I have in common with Bruce. It’s like picking up hot iron, even if it hurts me, I’m bound to hold on to it. Perhaps longer than I ought to.”
     
  5. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Dreadfully short disclaimer to follow when I have the time.**

    [FONT=&quot]“That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best - make it all up - but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.”Ernest Hemingway[/FONT]

    ***

    He didn’t quite understand that “bigness” that he attributed to fatherhood. Though, it should be noted, he had few living examples. Ollie respected and loved his namesake, but didn’t miss the older man’s trembling insecurities for a second. The Commander was a father but he was weak. And Bruce. Bruce was strong and sought unashamedly to steer his boys’ course in life. But Bruce was not his father. His father was dead and the family wanted very little to do with him. Usually, as far as he was concerned, that was as far as it troubled him.

    He’d worried over it when he was younger, in Chicago. He’d stare at the one portrait his mother had saved of H. Paul Pierce and try to discern whether they looked alike. They had sort of similar ears, but that was it. He later found himself to be all Wayne and that suited him just fine. He strove to carry himself like a man who had been handed the world. He assumed an almost puritanical devotion to propriety. But, and he noticed with no little anxiety, he lacked the ethical fire that had driven Phillip or Thomas or Bruce or—though he hated to admit it—Terrence.

    He preferred the privacy of society, life amongst the swells, to Christmas toy drives or anything else the Foundation did. So it wasn’t too bad when Terrence had to step up and take the reins in that department. He merely retreated to Maryland and kept up his dreadful game of making Edith miserable. At night, for lack of comfort in drink or her bed, he smoked. But his malicious streak did not extend to her boy. He was beginning to warm to the little tot now that he was crawling and grasping and God forbid it, tasting too, No, no Teddy, shoe polish really wouldn’t be to your liking now would it?

    He saw to the boy’s affairs, updated his will to reflect them both and monitored the adoption proceedings through Bruce’s lawyer. In the back of his mind he silently debated the merits of the “church” schools: St. Mark’s was almost certainly out. Chip was having a very rough second form year there. In his last letter he had calmly informed his brother of being stripped of his pants, turned upside down, dunked in the toilet and of having his legs secured to the stall pipes by his belt. A sixth former in another stall soon rescued him but his misery was apparent.

    St. Paul’s seemed too…much? Solomon II had attended in the eighteen-seventies. Phillip missed his chance but sent both sons. Kick had gone. But not Andy. Perhaps Exeter? He supposed the boy should decide for himself, but if he and Edith ever fully reconciled, he imagined more children would follow and he shouldn’t like to see them dropped all over the prep school map. Maybe Milton. Or Choate. They could all attend one right after the other. But that didn’t seem very nice either.

    And should he be making plans for children whose very future wasn’t even certain? Edith had tried everything short of criminality to bed him and he was unable to bear the thought. She bought and discarded new makeup constantly. Went through an entirely new wardrobe and even tried plowing through some of his favorite books but gave up entirely. She preferred poetry anyhow and had taken to mumbling stanzas over her needlepoint projects in the evenings. She’d had a few pieces published herself but didn’t give much of a damn about developing her talents. It was precisely that sort of lack of direction that enervated him the most. Well, almost the most.

    Right that moment he imagined she couldn’t upset him more if she tried. She was standing in the guest bathroom, stark naked with her arms folded, frowning at him.

    He was clutching his bath towel about his waist with one hand and getting ready to throw her out with the other. She had slipped into his shower and was soaking wet from head to toe. She was so desperate now that she was prepared to humiliate herself thoroughly if it meant he knew she knew he knew. She was a fool. She would admit it in the middle of Gotham Square if he so chose. Anything.

    She was biting her lip. She let her arms down and watched his towel for any sort of reaction as she spoke, “Do you realize how much I hate you Kirk?”

    He was staring at the floor, concentrating very hard on the blue of the tiles. That stray bit of sock fuzz beneath his big toenail. Can’t look at her, can’t look at her…

    When we have lost control, your eyes, Clio, into which we look for recognition after we have been found out…How shall I describe you? They can be represented in granite…Homage to Clio, Auden. Sounds like you. And it feels like you.”

    He was taking deep breaths and spoke to her, “I stay near you. I take you to church. I’ll raise your son. What else could you want?”

    She was sure she sounded petulant and didn’t care, “You.”

    He grimaced and turned away sharply, “You already have me. You’ve always had me. That was the problem.”

    Her voice was smaller but no less pathetic, “I thought this was just as much your fault as mine? Or mother’s. Andy, for God’s sake…don’t you want to forgive me too?”

    He was silent and in her growing frustration she tugged at his bath towel. He held it fast but she managed to draw him nearer. Their bodies were very warm together and she drew her arms about him, tears slipping openly down his chest.

    He looked down and stared at the center of her head. The fall weather had arrived weeks ago and they found themselves chilled in the morning. Right now, her skin felt good and hot and soft. The last time he’d seen her like this was that nice week before Christmas on the road. The boardinghouse. He’d made love to her then without a bit of shame and swore they were honeymooners. With the Russian innkeeper and his wife they broke glasses after a toast to their happiness.

    “If I absolutely need to say it. If you honestly need to hear it, I love you. Even after that night in the field when you tried to push up my skirt and have me right there and I slapped you. You didn’t ask me what I wanted, you just went ahead. Well this is no different. And you had me eventually anyhow. Doesn’t that matter? Can’t you let it go? He was simply awful, awful, awful. I didn’t quite hate him yet but I was going to. And now, you’re striving to be no better than he.”

    “I am not him.”

    “How so? You won’t touch me and you don’t want me.”

    He gave a small start, “You don’t know anything.”

    Her eyes sparkled, still wet, as she saw her opening, “Prove it. Be my old degenerate prude again.”

    She stood on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear, “You’ve gone without it long enough. You shouldn’t. It’s good for you, makes a young man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

    His eyes narrowed and he felt the heat of their middles. She was still damp from the water and her skin smelled inviting. She had two new small freckles on her neck. When she set her lips on his he didn’t fight her. He just held still and shut his eyes.

    When she pushed his shoulders he sank to the floor without protest. She opened his towel and sat on top of him. She braced herself with her hands on the floor behind his shoulders. He held her waist and felt the claw tub at his feet.

    She whispered again, “If you’re going to punish me, do it correctly.”

    In their anger they left bruises. They were on her hips; he squeezed her till she cried out and left hand marks behind. His were on his chest and thighs. At the end she nibbled the old place at his neckline and said she loved him.

    He pulled her tighter, “What do we do now?”

    She showed him her right hand where her old wedding ring waited to be removed, “I shouldn’t like to be a divorcée forever. I should like to be made an honest woman again.”

    “Should you be dictating the terms?”

    She buried her face in his neck, slowly becoming aware of just how hard the floor was now that they were through, “You should ask Daddy for permission to save me from this shame.”

    “I’ve assured Bruce that I would graduate first. Besides, I’m rather enjoying collegiate life. Perhaps you should consider taking classes at Opal Junior College. Do something with that lovely mind of yours.”

    She shrugged, “I prefer to engage my mind in pleasurable pursuits. Sweating over Algebra or Bismarck is not one of them.”

    “Suit yourself,” He pinched her bottom and stood up, “Now go get make yourself decent. And have another shower—in your own bath I might add.”

    “Yes sir,” she was folding his towel and laid it across the downed toilet lid, “Will I see you later?”

    His face reddened, “I shouldn’t like to conduct an affair in your father’s house. It’s crass Edes.”

    “Mother’s apartment was just fine.”

    “We’ll see about a room at the Stanhope downtown.”

    She sighed, already bored with the idea, “Sure sir. That’s a perfectly disreputable idea.”

    As she turned to leave he caught and squeezed her hand, “A year or so more.”

    “Uh-huh, a year or so more as a whore.”

    Edith…” he began but when he turned she had gone. He took a facecloth and restarted the shower water. He got in and closed the curtain.
     
  6. klammed

    klammed the fool.

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    Was that.. wait... was that Bruce crying?! I really liked that line.

    Oh, and poor Melanie, I hadn't realised that she didn't know about Terry being Batman. Who's left now, Mary Warren?

    I must admit I was left a bit confused about the passage of time between the last post on pg 11 and the first on this one, but I suspect that's more a fault on my part than anything else. Have I mentioned yet that you've really screwed up characters? ;) You haven't even spared Matt. The complexities of each character make for a highly enjoyable read. I just keep hoping one day, preferably before the old man passes on (how old is he now anyway?), they might finally get some sort of happy ever after. Or happy for an extended period of time before fate slugs them in the face again.

    I'll just have to keep reading :)

    -klammed
     
  7. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: Pleading abject apologies, but I had a sort of promise to keep. College has lately destroyed my will to do much recreational reading or writing and my story has suffered infinitely as a result. I do promise to catch up and since I always, always for the past few years posted on New Year’s Eve and Day, I couldn’t very well let this one slip past without a word. Thank you all so much, whoever you are. And especially those I do know. Also, The Thin Man (1934) starting William Powell and Myrna Loy made a very obvious impact on this short little aside. The bit about orphans refers to this. (If it's visible, if not then I should just say Grell's run on Green Arrow, and I should also say the link is definitely NSFW, I only use it here as a reference and will always consider my story some sort of tribute-laden off-shoot of Loeb, Sale and Cooke's work. No goatees allowed.)**

    ***Flashback***

    **Jackson Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco**

    “How do you do something in five seconds that I wasn’t able to do in ten minutes?”

    She smirked and set down the iced shaker, “All in the wrist.”

    “So what will it be Miss Lance? Cocktails and aimless, meandering conversation?”

    She smiled, wrapping her arms about his neck when he came close, “Only if it’s followed by an aimless, meandering weekend in this house.”

    His face became soft but unreadable, “I’ll be honest, I can’t commit to that Pretty Bird.”

    “Oh?”

    “I came out to check up on Timmy and you came along—”

    “Uninvited,” she offered politely.

    He nodded, “You came along uninvited.”

    “And if you’ve just happened to follow the Red Dart out to these parts unknown well…”

    He nodded once more, “The weekend’s booked solid my dear, besides…there’s Ollie to think of.”

    Dinah pouted, understanding, “He’s sleeping over with Toddy and Jeanie. And Abby’s taking them all to the park tomorrow…we’ve tonight and the morning at least.”

    “At the very least, yes…say, what kind of host am I? I should have dressed you up and taken you out and sauced you up and brought you back and lain you down.”

    “Then I might have been so exhausted that I slept through New Year’s…isn’t this better?”

    He stood for a moment, holding her still, letting the silence of that great house envelope them both. He set one hand on her waist and took the other up as though they would start dancing but didn’t, “Have I ever mentioned anything about my father?”

    “Just that you loved him.”

    He nodded, “He wore a glass eye after his eighteenth birthday. Compliments of his sister’s poor shooting.”

    “Goodness, how awful.”

    “She was twenty-five and they were both mighty drunkards, even then. They had a row and challenged one another to a duel—with BB guns, thank God. She put his eye out and was so horrified that she has remained cold sober ever since…well, almost.”

    Dinah wrinkled her nose, “That’s not very funny.”

    “I’m not laughing. She has a glass of champagne on his birthday every year. Just one. She does, however, leave the pistols in their case on the mantel.”

    “When’s his birthday?”

    “New Year’s.”

    Dinah blinked and felt her breath catch slightly, “Oh…well, what now?”

    He shrugged, “I don’t much like champagne. It tickles. It’s awfully foolish stuff. I like whatever you’ve got here much better, what do you call this anyhow?” he sipped and closed his eyes and began to dance with her very slowly.

    “It’s called a Blinker.”

    “I don’t have too many cocktails, and even less with rye. Not bad though, not bad at all…did I ever tell you I hate the cinema?”

    “Only a thousand times.”

    “So why did you drag me to that g*ddamned theatre tonight?”

    “Did you enjoy it?”

    He hemmed and hawed.

    “And did you not pledge, if you ever had another son, to name him Nicholas Charles Queen?”

    “…”

    “And, if by chance it was a little girl, to call her Nora?”

    He smiled into her shoulder, “That information never leaves this room Miss Lance.”

    She finished her glass and let the feeling settle gently upon her, warming her, “Do you like living in that big, old family house with your aunt?”

    “She sticks to her rooms and I stick to mine…what? Should I toss her out? She’s a spinster and there’s also the little matter of her raising me as her own.”

    “I merely asked a question. I just wondered why you bought this place. It’s so…white and empty. And beautiful.”

    “My house is just that, a family house. It has my father’s things and his father’s things and so on. All full up. The Admiral’s sword and father’s silver whistles and keys. This house out here is just for me and the boy.”

    Dinah glanced about her, “I hate to point out that it’s empty. It’s been empty since you bought it.”

    “Only a year. What can you expect me to do in a year…? Unless you’d like to help me fill it with little Nicks and Noras.”

    She shook her head, “No, no. We’ve been over that. I love children, and I love you. But I won’t make orphans Oliver. We’ve got enough troubles in our line of work…I couldn’t.”

    He nodded and taking her hand, led her to the terrace where they gazed out over the bay. He raised his glass, toasting his namesake. Dinah sighed, saddened but not too chastened and raised her own empty one, “To Nick and Nora too.”
     
  8. klammed

    klammed the fool.

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    Happy New Year to you :) Nice quiet moment with the Queens tinged with that little taste of hope and loss we probably all feel as the year passes. That, and I'm being incredibly mushy ;) cheers
     
  9. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    Thank you for your patience and devotion. I want to catch up on all of my reading too while I'm on winter break so there's that. And I was thinking about what you said in your last lovely review about my characters being so terribly screwed up. Yes, it's true. I've been somewhat squeamish about it lately but that can only last so long. A writer has to write whether she's appalled by some of it or not.

    tNC

    P.S. Today's post is not quite so mushy. In fact, the exact opposite.
     
  10. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: A very J post. Warnings about slightly ambiguous consent and all of that. Robert Lowell IV is taking a backseat to news of William Golding's youthful indiscretions plus Gore Vidal's freshly minted Snapshots in History's Glare. I recommend the latter, not the former.**

    Rose folded her arms behind her head, “I hate champagne.”

    Ollie smiled, “That makes three of us.”

    “Who else?”

    “My grandfather, Oliver, Jr.”

    “Naturally. You idolize him. More than your father.”

    “You don’t?”

    Rose watched him rub his hands together there in the cold and squinted at the sky. The fireworks were starting, “It’s midnight.”

    Her voice was flat, “Mom and dad missed you at Christmas.”

    “St. Moritz with Arthur Clay. I didn’t see my own family so don’t sound quite so disappointed.”

    She quickly threw her arms about his shoulders and kissed his neck before murmuring beneath his ear, “I think we should see other people.”

    His eyes bulged slightly and he sank, “Hm.”

    She stared at her feet in fur lined boots at the edge of the thermal blanket, “You sound surprised.”

    He sighed, “I am.”

    “You’re too dishonest for my taste. You know it and I know it. Andy probably knew it but he didn’t tell me.”

    “What have I been dishonest about?” he couldn’t hide the anger thickening his voice, squeezing his throat.

    She curled her mouth, “Arthur Clay for one.”

    He spread his palms, “Oh.”

    She nodded and pulled her duffle coat tighter about her body. Her legs, wrapped in gray stockings, were crossed at the knees, “Where’d you meet him?”

    Ollie took a deep breath, “Freshman track meet against Exeter. The Tigers won, naturally. He was a P.E.A. senator.”

    She nodded, “Hm. How often?”

    “Whenever.”

    “His family?”

    “Not your concern.”

    “He likes jazz. Thelonius Monk. You don’t even listen to music.”

    “You’ve gone through my trash?” He quickly grasped her hand, “I do…I want you very much.”

    He turned and saw that she was crying, “I do Rosie.”

    She gulped a little, “I thought you were really different. The chocolates with that orange ribbon and that card with your name. And giving myself to you at the house. I really thought I was something to you.”

    He rolled over on top of her and set his forehead on her cheek, “You are.”

    She cried openly now and he kissed her neck, hands traveling into her coat and grasping her waist, “You are.”

    “And him? And you’re just a f*ggot, you know that?”

    His brow wrinkled and he paused above her.

    She mopped her face with the backs of her hands and cried more at the snot and tears running down and the soft coldness with him all the time glaring at her. He gently took each of her wrists and held them in one hand.

    She was shaking her head now and cursing him. He could scarcely hear here anymore but he held her hands and kissed her again and ran his hand beneath her skirt. She jumped at the feeling of his fingertips, “Don’t you dare.”

    He set the weight of his form on top of her and she could feel him responding through his trousers, “How many times have you had him Ollie? Did you think of him when you were with me?”

    He frowned and didn’t say anything.

    She let her head fall back, “You probably did too. Didn’t you? You inadequate little bastard.”

    He raised his form, “Do you want me or not?”

    She gasped, surprised and frightened, her voice was near a whisper, “…yes.”

    He took her hand then and pushed it down and around and over and his breathing quickened and hers followed and she asked what he looks like. He asked whom and she said him when he was with Arthur and not her, did he look happy. And he began to gasp somewhat and spread her coat and edged about her knickers and pushed them aside and entered her. He let her know that he wore thick, black rimmed glasses sometimes and this time she asked whom and he said Me. That he had blond hair and Arthur didn’t. That they never went all the way. He saved that for girls. She curled her leg over his hindquarters and was breathless now, agreeing that she wanted him anyway. For now. The last bit was unconvincing. She wrapped his tie in her fist and pulled it, eyes clenched shut, swearing that she would get him back for this.

    With whom?

    With anyone.


    He finished and she finished and he sounded sorry when he said it, “I do want you Rosie.”

    She lay motionless and stared at the sky, “Happy New Year.”
     
  11. klammed

    klammed the fool.

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    o.o Ouuchhh. Mind wise I mean.

    Yes, screwed up characters :D most decidedly. But don't worry, it makes them all the more human, and real for that matter.
     
  12. aiwac

    aiwac Member

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    I second klammed on the characters being screwed up. :evil:

    Good to have you back, tNC.
     
  13. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: Goodness. All I can do is apologize that it took so long and do what I clearly taken too long to do: post. As always, I am in awe at my readers. I don't deserve your faithfulness, but I certainly appreciate it. The opening stanza is Lowell, but, regrettably, I haven't the ability to post a proper citation. This post is a bit sexy. Okay, pretty sexy. The middle quote is from F.S. Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up, pg. 184. My characterization of Faraday is almost unashamedly like that of Robert Hearn in Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.**

    ***


    “Father’s letter to your father said
    stiffly and much too tersely he’d been told
    you visited my college rooms alone—
    I can still crackle that slight note in my hand.


    ***


    They did vulgar things all weekend until she felt like a bowl that had been filled to overflowing. She lay in bed with her eyes covered until late in the afternoon and he sunned and ate hard boiled eggs and wondered if he’d overdone it, or rather, her.


    He went to a corner market and bought her ginger ale and a few groceries and warmed them over the old stove in the kitchen. He barely knew how to cook except for what he’d picked up at boarding school, the basics: eggs, sausage, and potatoes, things that could be done in a pan or skillet. Not to mention carving a turkey. Nothing he thought would do him much good in the long run but he was thankful now.


    He brought them in for her on a tray and she, wearing—he pleasantly noted—the nude colored bedjacket he had presented her with, sat up. A sort of late-Christmas/awkward apology with a long ribbon that tied at the neck. She wasn’t wearing anything else and he could see that she lost weight very easily. She hadn’t eaten for a day and a half and her stomach looked somewhat hollow. Despite it, she nibbled and he had to cajole her to finish.


    “I wish I’d known you last year, you might have saved me.”


    “From what?”


    “I entertained a young lady in my room, her housemother found out and informed my housemaster, then my father was telephoned…and with no real consideration for either of us, my honorable father wrote her father who, naturally, found out too. My grades were abysmal, and I was asked to take some time off to reconsider my ‘commitment’ to my studies or life really. I rededicated myself to racing, and here I am. But, if you were to ask anyone in the know, I was ‘restless’ and wanted very much to learn the family business.”


    She sighed, “And how might I have ‘saved’ you?”


    He smirked, “You’re much too clever to go back to my room with me, and even if you had, you certainly wouldn’t have been naïve enough to tell your roommate.”


    “I came back to this room didn’t I?”


    “That’s different. This house is ours for the taking. My father won’t come near it. I guess one of grandfather’s girls took too much of a liking to him and had to be put out one night. He never discusses it but it’s rather revolting when you think about it.”


    She paused, fork in midair, “That’s disgusting. I hope…not, in
    here. Not in this bed or something.”

    “This room was empty when I found it, and the bed is brand new. But I…would you live here with me?”


    She looked down at the plate, “And what? More of the same?”


    “Would you like to meet him? Would it put your mind at ease?”


    “I saw the photograph.”


    “You mean you
    tore up the photograph.”

    “Snaggletoothed half-y*d.”


    Ollie was unmoved, “That’s entirely uncalled for, a girl of your background shouldn’t speak in such a
    common manner…you might as well know, he’s visiting next weekend…and he knows you know.”

    “What does he do besides put his hand where the
    sun don’t shine?”

    “I got him a summer job at an advertising firm cataloguing stock photos. But he’s on his own this year.”


    “Princeton?”


    “Dartmouth.”


    “Green. I’m green with envy.”


    “Why?”


    “You do…you’ve done more for him than you’ve ever done for me.”


    “Would you like to take a little job in our office? Timmy could use a stenographer. And he’s clean, I mean, he’s devoted to Aunt Abby. He wouldn’t get handsy or anything; he scolds me half the time. He says she knows all about the old bad days when he was a street tough. He even told me a sick little story about how he lost his virginity. You see, they had this thing were all the guys would—”


    “I don’t want to hear about it.”


    He shut up and she sat fully up, “You’re nervous now. You don’t know what to do with me.”


    He gave a curt nod.


    “Is it anything at all like what we did last night?”


    “I’ve never done any of that with him. Or with many girls to be honest. It’s usually a basic function, I might as well be washing my hands or…”


    She frowned, “That’s awfully low of you, what does that say about me?”


    He waved a hand, “I do…I do feel very strongly for you. You’re certainly the only girl who knows about me.”


    “Are you queer?”


    He shook his head, “I don’t think so, not completely. I don’t mind either sex; after all, what do you do with a ****…?”


    Her brow knitted, “Have you ever considered seeing a shrink?”


    “My father saw one after the business with the girl. He hates them, all they do is make you talk about things you would rather not. Besides, the gender doesn’t matter to me. It’s the person. Arthur is…he’s sharp, and he’s not half-Jewish for your information. His mother’s Greek. And his father’s English.”


    “I see.”


    He sighed, “And you…”


    She decided to cut him off before he could hurt her again, “I’m not looking for a husband. And I don’t see the point in tangling up our lives by my living here. I love you. I’ve done stupid things for you. At my age, isn’t that enough?”


    He shook his head and smirked, “Suppose you’re pregnant?”


    “I’m on the pill you dope. I wouldn’t dream of having a child by you.”


    “So, stranger things have happened, they’re not foolproof. My father would be appalled though; he wants that I should set a better example for Chip. And Henny too.”


    “A fine instructor you’d be…you might teach them all about the finer points of teab—”


    He snatched up and threw a pillow at her, offended, “
    Leave them out of this. And don’t talk as though I were trapping you for God’s sake.”

    She sounded forlorn, “Until I’ve evened the score that’s all I would be. All tied up with nowhere to go.”


    He went over to a large side table that doubled as his writing desk and took a fat cigarette up between his forefinger and thumb, lit it and inhaled, “So even it.”


    She stared at him for a moment in thought, “Mr. Clay is visiting you next weekend?”


    He nodded, “he’s visiting
    us, yes…” he caught on, “No.”

    “Are you really in a position to order me about?”


    His brow was flat, “Fine. How low do you want to go? Trash? Gutter filth?”


    “Try hell.”


    “And what might ‘hell’ imply?”


    “You said that he was our visitor…let him visit us then.”


    He crossed to the other side of the room and found a near-empty bottle of whiskey, poured a glass and downed it, “That wasn’t what I had in mind.”


    Her brow curled, “I’ve never…how did you think I’d feel about all of this?”


    “I didn’t consider it. I wasn’t trying to…Andy gave such a glowing description, I had to see you for myself…and I liked you. A lot. I just didn’t see what you had to do with him, that’s all. He’s the first fellow I’ve even thought about in a long time...well, perhaps not the first.”


    “What did you have in mind?”


    “I supposed you might cuckold me or something. Let me rack my brain for a week trying to figure out whether you’d made him…let it torment me a bit. But this,
    this my dear is a step up. I wouldn’t have guessed you had it in you.”

    “Do
    you?”

    “Have it in me?”


    “Yes.”


    He tossed the bottle into the wastepaper basket and looked at her squarely, “Will it be once or often?”


    “Once as far as I know.”


    “I’m an enormously selfish person Rosie. I expect others to share me but I don’t want to share others.”


    “That is quite selfish.”


    He raised the empty glass, “The things I do for you. And you wonder how I feel.”


    “Well, at least you have the benefit of knowing.”


    ***


    Our fathers died. Suddenly in the night they died and in the morning we knew.

    **1969**


    “Now, you sort of put your fingers where they line up with the laces, yes, now toss your wrist a little and chuck it.”


    Kicky let the ratty brown pigskin fly and it bounced awkwardly off the edge of the tire swing.


    “Close, close. Helluva lot better than this morning. I think you’ll have it by sundown squirt. But your mother wants you inside, doesn’t want you to eat lunch too late, spoil your supper.”


    The boy tackled him affectionately and jogged to the edge of the grass to pull his shoes back on, then on through the sliding glass doors.


    She waited until her son was clear out of sight before sidling up close and wrapping an arm about his waist, “I’ll have the new maid put you in Kir—in the den. I keep wanting to call it his office still. And I keep wanting to call the new girl Helga.” She drew a hand self-consciously to her chest.


    “You’re not even contagious, why are they sending you to that damned place anyhow?”


    She tentatively reached up and ran her fingers through his hair, so strange and pillowy with that lone solid black streak.


    “I’m not responding to the medication and they’re worried the TB’ll go full blown.”


    He nodded and gazed at her which gave her pause. She couldn’t figure his eyes out, where Kirk’s had been open, half-dreaming and, especially at the bookends of their marriage, affectionate, King’s were solid, dark and weary. Where Kirk had seen the world’s promise rising before him—and too, saw his place in it—King had seen and done dirty, rotten, lying things. He had been one of her husband’s best friends as well as a mentor in the Agency.


    He’d brought her what little of Kirk’s overseas effects remained intact and had stayed the night. They nursed coffee and talked of any and everything to keep sleep at bay. He pulled off in the morning and she’d watched him go, feeling a strange, desperate twinge in her uterine wall. She’d always regretted those few short sexual slip-ups before his death, the guilt and loneliness was nearly unbearable. But the feeling was ten times stronger now that she
    knew he was kaput.

    When King Faraday visited—he called it fraternal curiosity—she made excuses to be out of the house. But he took Kicky under his proverbial wing and told him wonderful lies about their service, the likes of which could rival any half-hour of
    Johnny Quest. He taught her son knots and pidgin languages, supplemented the lessons in shooting that Kick’s grandfather insisted upon, and in every way seemed to fill Kirk’s shoes so completely that…

    They succumbed. It was an old story to be sure. Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher had made it famous years before and still, they weren’t the first.


    But here in deepest, darkest Suburbia, King might bite his lip and very nearly whimper against the smooth pearl pink of her collar and her nails might rake his neck and…


    He’d abandoned the comfortable white shoe world of Cornell, strained family ties in the process and poured himself headlong into the OSS during the war. Born in Cleveland but raised and educated in the East, he was just like his young friend but war-weary and—as Kirk had noted—he possessed the b*lls to shrug the world and do as he’d ached. That fiery love of country and so much banner waving rot. But it was true.


    He lived and ate on a comparable pittance, no wife or children. No longer any pretense of advancing the family name, upper middle class at best. Just work and work and work. He’d had affairs, plenty, and neither imagined this was much more than that. But his lovemaking…


    She stopped staring at him and instead focused on where her son had gone. She was worried about him now, much more than she’d ever imagined. There was a possibility she wouldn’t get through this. And it was so odd to simply go to the doctor, to sit on a table and stand before X-rays and be told that there was a silent, ticking time bomb in her chest, a little nothing that was altogether something. She’d had her appendix out in January and the antibiotics had weakened her just enough…She’d never even told Kirk.


    It was just that simple.


    She’d never been particularly enamored of motherhood. She loved her son and fussed over him in the usual manner, but she didn’t fill her days with this or that advice about him and who had time to pour over books about something so basic? And she didn’t like the “hands-on” approach of the Waynes,
    do this—don’t do that. She’d adored Tom but thought he could be a little hardnosed and overbearing with Brucie. He’d lightened up towards the end though.

    And her own family was about as distant as distant could be. Her parents had only seen Kick about two or three times before they died. As for her sister, they chatted weekly, but she was even less the doting figure Annette was. They just weren’t particularly close and she couldn’t see her son being very welcome. But she would be damned if he lived with Philip Wayne.


    She didn’t hate the man, but she certainly could not stand him, right down to that salt and pepper mustache, those heated blue eyes. Kirk had been trying to salvage their relationship but she couldn’t see the point. He was a reluctant drunkard and a reformed womanizer, or at least, he was too old to function in that department.


    She was amazed, however, at how doggedly he clung to life. His liver should have been rotted through and through. And as far as she was concerned, syphilis or something should have withered away the rest of him by now…


    She bit her lip and chided herself, no use being nasty about it. Kirk had tried to explain it to her once, that it was a primal compulsion, a need to prove his life to himself over and over. He’d never quite been able to understand how he lived through the war and could scarcely face the idea of life afterward. That everything had become a blank slate that couldn’t compete with the shelling…or something like that.


    She’d gone so far as to ask him how he’d taken Vietnam. The things she’d heard through the years and the nightly news led her to believe it was just as much a nuthouse as France had been. Kirk was glum and patted his stomach, “I got through it. I’m not crying to anyone. And he didn’t either…he didn’t let himself be taken into any asylum or anything. So maybe that was the triumph. And they did try, after the fire. I remember…I think his fingernails were all broken once and I asked my mother about them. I was pretty little. She said ‘daddy broke them hanging on.’ And she shushed me. I don’t know what happened but I heard later the hospital wanted to commit him and mother wouldn’t allow it…”


    Kirk had shrugged then and asked for a second helping of spaghetti.


    Perhaps his own war had affected him a lot more than Kirk was willing to admit. He’d come close that last Christmas at Sun Valley. They’d necked that night and he was as timid as a virgin all over again. But they overcame it. He wasn’t a very skilled lover but at the time she didn’t know that difference. Now….


    King lit a Camel cigarette and handed it to her before starting his own, “You sure it’s a good idea that I stay?”


    “Kicky’s spending the night with the Woodhouse twins down the street. We’ve got the night.”


    King regarded her coolly and nodded, “When you get out, we’ll take a trip somewhere. Anywhere you like. I haven’t had an honest vacation in about fifteen years.”


    “Maybe California. I’ve never been out West.”


    He smiled easy and shaded his eyes against the sun with the flat of his hand, “Will the boy come too?”


    “I don’t see why not. He adores you.”


    King made a face that she didn’t know and she shrugged, “You’re his godfather after all, I mean practically.”


    “Come on in. I think I pulled a muscle on that last throw.”


    “Not you.”


    “Yes, me…I think this is the part where you toss in some sensuous line about nursing me back to health.”


    She narrowed her eyes, intrigued, “Nope. I’m no witticist. I don’t even pretend.”


    He nodded, “What time shall I come up?”


    “I think I’ll have an awful time getting to sleep around one.”


    “This is the part where I suggest a ‘nightcap.’”


    “Don’t.”


    He gently braced her shoulders and nodded thoughtfully, “Won’t.”


    “What did you do before the war?”


    “I drove my father crazy. I quit college and took a job at a publishing house that a friend’s father promised me. I was a junior editor.”


    “Did you know a lot of girls in New York?”


    He smoked and thought, softly, “Yes.”


    “I’ve never…Kirk didn’t…he wasn’t a heavy lover.”


    King smiled, “He was no a** man, I agree.”


    “Why didn’t you ever get married?”


    “Because I could see the set up coming a mile away. Back home and Cleveland and the clubs and the heavy handshakes, joining my father’s company and sweating deals and hotels and the whole miserable crowd. But…every time I got an affair started, it was really already over.”


    “Wasn’t there ever a girl you really liked?”


    He blinked somewhat moronically, “You’d do better to ask fewer questions Annie.”


    “Mind if I tell you something?”


    He waved his hand.


    “I…when Kirk was away, there’d be years between us sometimes. And I…I knew I was attractive. I could feel the way men’s eyes latched onto me at the garden parties. Once I let myself go. And another time…”


    King nodded, “You didn’t tell him did you?”


    Anne shook her head vigorously, “You think I’m cheap.”


    “Not even. Kirk used to kill me; I couldn’t guess why he was such a saint.”


    Anne frowned, “Don’t call him that.”


    “You didn’t let me finish. But, with a dish like you waiting at home. Maybe it’s a little easier to understand.”


    She scowled, “He was cruel in his own way. He couldn’t even see it for such a long time.”


    “Oh?”


    She tossed her half-burnt cigarette down and smashed it under her shoe, “Let’s drop it.”


    “Consider it dropped.”


    “Do you always have to be so…hip?”


    “What do you mean?”


    “Don’t you ever just answer straight, no…none of that bending the conversation, getting a little chuckle out of it where there isn’t any,” she was blushing.


    He stared at her, “Don’t get hot Annie. You’re hot because of what you said. But don’t get hot with me.”


    And she could suddenly see what he meant. Seeing the end before it was even there. She turned for the house, “I’ll see you tonight.”


    “Sure.”


    Her face was hot and she felt tears coming by the time she reached the top of the stairs. She shut the door to her bedroom behind her and slowly lay on the bed.


    She’d realized right then what everything amounted to. She missed Kirk. The burning paper smell of his clothing after a cigarette. His square jaw and square everything. The way he didn’t joke and barely knew how. His honesty.


    And hadn’t she believed in him, even when he hurt her? She didn’t entertain the thought of divorcing him, claiming abandonment, thought it had amounted to as much.


    She lay in the room the rest of the evening, watching the shadows lowering across the wall and finally dusk and then the dark. Her son came in and kissed her goodbye before going down to be delivered across the street. She calmly refused dinner, claiming a headache.


    She draped her arm across her forehead and waited. And, as expected, King came in and stood at the appointed time.


    “You okay?”


    She knew he couldn’t make her out very clearly, but her eyes had long since adjusted to the lack of light. She raised her legs and he came down on top of her but her mind wouldn’t clear. All through the undressing and carrying on, her mind was still hot. Finally she shut her eyes and gave in and pretended.


    He was Kirk. And he was hers. Always.
     
  14. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

    Joined:
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    **Disclaimer: I just sat down and wrote this, goodness knows it's late but I can't go on not posting anything. The opening quote is from Ginsberg's Howl, pt. II, pg. 74 of the 50th Anniversary Edition. Robert Capa is the driving force behind the bombing raid description. And that movie is "Behold A Pale Horse." Alas, that's it. I'd rather this little bit spoke for itself.**

    “...Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!”

    ***

    Remorse. How could he describe it? Numb? Drunk?

    Two chaste months, a bi-weekly lunch at the American Embassy in Tokyo. Jonathan and Camilla Davies joined him. John was growing a mustache and a predilection toward driving through the “comfort stations” maintained at various points along the fifty mile route toward the front lines.

    Matthew wore his dress blues and sat, still as stone, in the passenger seat. John maintained his civilian status and dressed in a suit with no tie. Their eyes were cloudy and thoughtless, every day spent rising with tea and rum, falling back into bed with tea and more rum.

    John’s goal was the get his wife pregnant as soon as possible, then ship her back to Australia or the Philippines, then onward to the States, safe and sound. Both he and Matthew knew he would eventually take a concubine. The trouble was, Camilla knew it as well, but then, what was a cliché without the predictability?

    She’d nodded in resignation over dinner one evening when they were alone, “You have to admit it Matty, Franny and I, we’re sensible girls. At least we know when we’re licked.”

    He’d watched her play with her cigarette ashes and tugged at his tie, determined not to let his mind wander, “Oh, I don’t know Millie.”

    She nodded, signaling the waiter to refill Matthew’s cocktail, a Leatherneck, “Just a heads up, Johnny cabled your cousin.”

    “Andy?”

    “Do you have any other cousins?”

    “On my mother’s side,” but his cheeks immediately reddened at the understanding that they didn’t generally figure into this equation.

    She nodded, glum despite herself, “He wanted to know whether he ought to worry about us alone here while he’s in ­­­­Nagano next month…the work of a diplomat’s son is never done."

    "Us?”

    “John’s quiet but he has a temper. Just like you.”

    Matthew’s brow curled, “How do you know I’ve got a temper?”

    “Irish?”

    “Stereotype.”

    “Am I wrong?”

    He shook his head, “No.”

    “I woke up a few nights ago and he was sitting at the end of my bed. Asked me whether I thought you were a ‘good guy,’ loaded to the gills with whiskey.”

    “He’s not really much of a drinker.”

    “Neither were you once if I remember correctly.”

    Matthew stared at his glass, noting that it was vaguely shaped like an inverted umbrella, “Millie, if you want me to be absolutely vulgar about it, my b*lls are as blue as this curaçao. I wouldn’t do that to Fran…I wouldn’t do that to you. Or Johnny.”

    “I hope it’s a girl,” Camille commented dryly.

    “I beg your…?”

    Camilla shrugged, “If and when…I hope it’s a girl. And just to correct you, you wouldn’t do that to Fran or John with me. But you couldn’t possibly expect me to believe you’ve been here for a year and haven’t had your fill of the ‘local color…’ To be ‘absolutely vulgar’ about it.”

    “What did Andy say?”

    “He said, ‘the truth? He’s corruptible--I know, I got him started.’”

    Matthew sighed too tired to argue, “I knew I could always count on Kirk in a pinch…If it helps, I’ll take dinner alone. My outfit’s billeted at the ­­New Sanno, at least, what good parts are left of it.”

    She’d shaken her head, very quiet, “Matty, I’ll just say it once, if you ever want to get it over with, you know where I live.”

    He stared at her and felt his skin reddening, “Everyone knows where you live, but hardly anyone knows you live there.”

    “If he’s going to be suspicious, I’d rather just break down and give him a reason.”

    “What kind of…” his eyes, ears and mouth weren’t too dependable at that point.

    She shook her head, “If I’m going to do it, if you’re going to do it…when John sends me home I’m not going back to Boston. Perhaps Cape d’Atibes. Someplace to get away from hating all of this.”

    “Hating what?” his mind barely wondered, should I put up a fight?

    She raised his glass, “Life during wartime.”

    After three weeks of vacant hemming and hawing he knocked on her hotel door at exactly one-hundred hours. They curled together, her under the bedclothes, him on top but holding her. Neither undressed.

    In the morning they still had some measure of denial.

    The next night he slept under the covers.

    The night afterward, she slept under him and after some collective thirty-four odd months of marriage, he felt the worst kind of good. No shallow pretense. No awkward confessions. No pretending. Just plain abandonment and affection.

    It went on furiously, desperately for seven days.

    On the eighth day there was a bombing raid and she went missing. Matthew curled against the walls of the bank vault as the rudimentary boom of explosions rang in his ears. All morning, the local women sat upon sandbags, knitting, scolding little babies, waiting for the howling sirens. Doing anything else, or even thinking about it was a waste of time.

    And the wailing came often. But he had never lost anything in them. He’d found a headless woman clutching a dead child, turned over on herself in the gutter. The bomb hadn’t even detonated; the impact had done its job well enough. He’d vomited but she wasn’t his to mourn.

    But where was Millie? Where oh where oh where?

    He went to Mass as always and wondered if it was a sin to pray for the life of his mistress. Like in some old movie he’d seen once with Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn in Spain. He lit a candle for his wife, and now his two sons, for his father and stepmother, for his brothers and their families and finally, for her.

    The remorse came later and it immersed him. Please God save her, I’ll never touch her again, I’ll never think of her again. Not that way. Oh God please. Latin, then English, then more Latin. He’d been on his knees a lot lately but, admittedly, for the wrong reasons.

    A month later he received a cable. Short, blunt, to the point: I am in Chicago. I was in California. I went to the airport and stopped off at Osaka. I saw J. and he made short work of me. There was yelling and the usual accusations but no threats of divorce. As a consequence, I’m having that girl I promised you. See you soon, Godspeed, Millie. P.S. He does not know.

    He had been sick nearly every night since. And that, he guessed, was remorse. But then, what was a cliché without the predictability?


     
  15. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

    Joined:
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    **Disclaimer: I've been working on this particular piece for some three or so months, so you'd imagine I'd have my disclaimer up and ready to go. Well I don't. It's an honest shame, I'll admit that. But I will have to edit this and post it soon, hopefully very soon. Tut tut, shame on me. But I absolutely have to give credit to Gloss for her phenomenal short piece "Silk Cut," based upon Loeb and Sale's TLH/Dark Victory. Unfortunately, forum rules and decency dictate that I do not post the link to what is essentially a wonderful--but tawdry--story. It thoroughly influenced the flashback involving Bruce and Selina. And I do want to note that there are...racial overtones, blatant ones, with forewarning and apologies. And do, if you ever have the chance, check out the "March of Time" serials. More to follow...**

    Why did Papa love Queenie?

    The King smiled mischievously, making a long stroke under his chin with the straight razor, enjoying the sweet blue eyes of his daughter as she bounced on her little chair.
    Every morning she watched him shave and dress. Listened attentively as he talked of many marvelous things, of adventures, of sometimes disreputable activities, I was only twenty my little dove, and what could I do but take the Count at his word? Of course I doubled my bet. But mostly, she liked to hear him answer one simple question: Why did Papa love Queenie?

    This morning he lathered his skin, held it taut and dipped the blade in the bowl of steaming water.
    Papa did not tolerate new fangled nonsense. Papa’d spanked brother for bringing home some computer chip he’d found in the gutter, made his son open his grubby, thin little fingers, immediately wound his belt around his hand and turned the boy flank upright. The sound of leather and flesh was…unpleasant, but brother never cried. This lack of submission frustrated Papa.

    Today, however, the King was humming.
    He smiled over the steel rims of his glasses, “Your mother was beautiful my little dove and she never knew the words to popular songs when we danced, or at least she pretended not to, not even ‘Lazy Bones’ and that was her favorite. Once a girl hummed in my ear…I never called on them again.”

    Papa enjoyed his children but he did not love them.
    One could not love an accomplice. But if he had a favorite between the two…his little Dove, with her white blond hair, clearly captivated him.

    As such he could not love Queenie.
    He did not for instance enjoy the long glances she gave him whenever he spent the weekend in Paris. He could not understand that as he came into her bath and she lay in the tub, when he sat at the edge and ran his fingers through the water, when she turned bright red and swatted his hand away, that she was merely modest.

    He didn’t believe in modesty.
    Not least in the bedroom. But she was an illegitimate granddaughter of Baron Claude von...Let’s not put on airs dear, he might chide.

    They were happiest in a hotel room with the children asleep, early in the morning, reading the papers in their dressing gowns.
    They bounced ideas off one another and bragged generously but it was never love on his part. When she served him with handmade valentines he usually responded with vulgarities, but she did not like to play rough and bruised easily. By the time their daughter was three they’d ceased all pretense of intimacy, but some steely chord in her refused to consider the possibility of other women…

    The children were tutored until they went off to school, Le Rosey for Jacky and later,
    Surval Mont-Fleuri for Dovie. Afterwards Papa and Queenie led formally separate lives. They rented a great house and kept their own apartments. He began to let his weekends in Paris meander into weeks. There were plenty of actresses, chorine girls at various intervals. Through the fog of denial, she wrote to their daughter about the importance of one’s composure.

    Now the King was long gone but Queenie still wore her wedding ring.
    He was a philanderer and a backstabber and had not cared for anyone outside of what they could do for him. But he was her husband.

    --#--


    Melanie was exasperated by this.
    She sat in Selina’s bedroom at the manor, glad for company. Still…avoiding Terry. Their newest baby squirmed, sleeping in her bassinet. Virginia Katherine Wayne had been quite easy to give birth to but was quite difficult to please. Fussy and temperamental, one call to the pediatrician followed another as she went through colic, caught the chicken pox—and promptly spread it to their other child—and now showed a marked distaste for anything that wasn’t breast milk. Which meant half of Melanie’s house dresses were stained with milk, the other half, with sweat.

    But that all came with the territory and Melanie gamely accepted her lot, she let the nursemaid handle the majority of June’s daily care now that she was older.
    And either way June flocked to her father—when she could see him.

    Melanie knew she frustrated them both.
    She’d moved back out to the country despite their racking up hefty bills renovating the brownstone. But she was not one for…waiting up. Not for anyone, not really, save the children. And June was having a difficult time accepting the air raid tests at night. And citywide blackout didn’t help matters.

    Mr. Bruce resumed his habit of visiting them once a week, now taking the local train where he had once been permitted to drive.
    He’d watched patiently as Melanie shut the heavy curtains and waited with baited breath for the eerie wail. And just as expected June cried out mightily.

    Mr. Bruce had stopped her and gone up himself.
    Sitting on the edge of the little girl’s bed he’d reminded her, patiently for him, that she knew they were going to have to sit in the dark for a little while, that it was safer.

    Junie asked for her “flicker light” and Mr. Bruce ran his hand over her forehead, brushing back the strawberry blond hair he loved, “And what is a ‘flicker light?’”


    “Daddy puts it in the fireplace for me.”


    “Why is that?”


    “So the Chinapeople won’t come under my bed.
    And the Goona man. But daddy’s not here.”

    He kissed her forehead, “Well, you’ll have to be a big girl until you see your father.”
    He handed her the stuffed sock monkey on her armchair, “May I ask who this is?”

    “Mr. Reechie,” she hugged the doll, “He fights the Goona man.”


    “I see,” Mr. Bruce rubbed her hands together, “I’ll have Miss Bonnie bring up a hot water bottle for you.
    So you don’t catch cold.”

    She stood up in her bed to hug him; then plopped back down, “Grandpapa.
    Please stay; I hate the ‘sireens.’”

    He thought fleetingly of admonishing her, the old business about being stronger on one’s own.
    And he’d thought about what Selina said when she was born, about spoiling her and indulging her because she was a girl.

    He sighed, “June, what will you do during the week when I’m not here?”


    Her eyes glistened predictably, “I’ll have Mr. Reechie…and call mama.”


    His face reddened somewhat, “I’ll be downstairs with your mother.
    I won’t leave before it’s over but you’ll have to…you’ll have to be a big girl. For Kitty.”

    “Kitty’s a baby, she stays with mama.”


    “When the drill is over we’ll open the curtains and you can have the moonlight.”


    She nodded resignedly and tears slipped over her cheeks.
    Mr. Bruce resisted the urge to scowl, not at her but at the whole…he kissed her again, “Goodnight June. Miss Bonnie will be up soon.”

    When he’d returned downstairs Mr. Bruce had scolded Melanie regarding the wisdom of taking an impressionable young girl to what he called “rotten propaganda outlets,” otherwise known as the movie theatre.


    Melanie had responded rather plainly that she covered June’s eyes during the newsreels.


    Mr. Bruce had responded brusquely that it wasn’t what the girl saw, it was what she heard.
    He doubted aloud whether she even knew who the “chinapeople” were, but her mind was no doubt filling in the blanks.

    And what was that nonsense about the “Goona man?”


    Melanie had explained that Queenie’s method of warning June to behave herself on the boat ride back to the states was to tell her about the old tales of the “Goonie Man”, otherwise known as the African and Indian men who fed the boilers at the bottom of English steamships, wearing flour sacks with eyes cut out to protect themselves from the heat.
    Queenie had insisted that little Victorian children who misbehaved were shoveled into the furnace. Melanie had to laugh despite herself, it was so ridiculous, but those stories had kept her and Jacky in line as tots and now…

    It was a month in London before Junie didn’t cry at Queenie’s maids lighting the fireplaces.
    Even now she steered well clear of the hearth or even the smaller stoves since they were home again. And only Terry was allowed to bank the small fire in the nursery for her.

    Mr. Bruce did not think any of this was funny and protested the wisdom of scaring children into submission.
    Melanie had made no apologies or promises, always reluctant to allow Mr. Bruce any sliver of control as she was well aware of his…overwhelming influence, and sought to limit it where possible.

    He’d quickly stepped in where Brucie was concerned.
    Establishing two separate trusts for his namesake before the boy’s first birthday with one specifically intended for his education at Andover. She had noticed Matty only had one trust so far but didn’t broach the subject.

    Besides, she wasn’t at the manor to discuss children but to have a pleasant lunch.


    She brought up the question of the ring to Ms. Selina who smiled in that veiled way of hers and merely remarked, “My mother did the same thing for the same kind of man.”


    Melanie reclined onto the sofa, enjoying the heavy patter of autumn rain against the leaded glass in the windows.
    The country house and even the brownstone had been heavily modernized by her…whatever you want to call him, companion maybe? He’d replaced the boilers with electric energy saving water heaters and centralized everything to computers.

    Having grown up in large drafty old-style hotel suites, apartments and later that mansion on Harper street here in Gotham, she resented like hell those awful, plain white bordered windows and the beeping of newfangled modernity that Terry prized.
    She’d barely managed to keep him from ripping out the stoves. And had to practically threaten to maim him when he’d turned his energies toward the kitchens. Melanie did not know how to cook on an electric stove, nor did she care to learn. Vestiges of life with the King but she could do everything the other girls begged her for lessons in and was proud of it. And, that included washing dishes in what she considered the only proper fashion. Boiling them, skimming the grease after the water cooled, scrubbing them and rinsing in a basin of cold water.

    Just to annoy Terry she’d even hired a girl specifically for that purpose and dreamt up three-course meals to justify the cost, only skipping five courses as this was wartime and it wasn’t thought well of to be wasteful.
    She routinely donated the leftovers to the Red Cross every morning.

    Sensing the deliberate friction, Terry retreated to the brownstone and stayed there.


    Melanie was not happy about his double life and did not appreciate having history on both sides of it and did not know what to do with her emotions.
    So, naturally, she went to Ms. Selina but could not bring herself to mention it.

    Selina stirred her cup of sipping chocolate and nestled her blanket tighter, knowing what the matter was and keeping it to herself.
    She had had no one to seek counsel from where Bruce was concerned but did not enjoy the prospect of butting in unasked.

    However curiosity nipped at Melanie in one respect and she chanced to ask the question, “May I inquire, what made you stay with Mr. Bruce?
    Initially. If you don’t want to answer I understand.”

    Selina smiled and asked her to shut the door lest Francine happen by.
    There were two forms of advice regarding Wayne men, one set regarding those who’d donned masks and another set for those that hadn’t. And, as proper and close-minded as Francine preferred to stay, Selina chose her words very carefully. With Melanie…she could afford to be a bit more honest.

    “I’ve a past Mel, of which I’m neither proud nor ashamed.
    I can only recall a handful of times I’ve ever been…or rather, felt…guilty. I’d rather not go into either story except to say that I no longer dye my hair blond nor fence religious artifacts.”

    “You were a bottle blond?” Melanie asked amusedly.


    Selina nodded, “Yes, for years, believe it or not.
    But that ended and it’s beside the point. I did not like Bruce very much when we first met. He was kind, in his way, but he could be…he was no one to write home about, if I’d had a home to write to. People assumed dimensions to our relationship that didn’t exist; we too had our own ideas. It was just something that had every reason to fizzle out and yet never did. I’ll say it very plainly; I met him with the intention of robbing him. Not blind mind you, no one’s ever succeeded in getting his goat there, at least, not until Derek Powers came along. But I thought I’d dabble with society for awhile, take home a souvenir.”

    Melanie smiled and nodded but didn’t interrupt.


    “I’ll say this.
    There wasn’t much to like about Bruce as I knew him then. But there was something there, and it took many years to justify that feeling. But it did happen, eventually.”

    Melanie looked forlorn, “They…Mr. Bruce and his sons and Andy.
    They’re controlling. They’re nice about it, Matt’s probably the most gentle and the way Francine tells it Tim handles things with a smile. I don’t know what to think about Dick.”

    “It isn’t my place to discuss Dick except to say that when I met him, he was a little string toy to bat at and dangle.
    And he grew into quite a fantastic young man. But those two have their own history.”

    With that the room descended into silence.
    They were skirting the issue at hand and they knew it.

    ***
    …Her principal lover is a young banker, who is too sensible to be jealous…” –said of Mademoiselle Baretti of 46 Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, The Pretty Women of Paris, pg 41.

    **Flashback**


    In the beginning, he appreciated the softness of her surroundings.
    The blue printed wallpaper in her bedroom. The way she bathed every night in water scented with lavender. The way she appeared almost whenever he beckoned. The way he allowed her to indulge him.

    Yes, their actions were hidden behind a series of façades, the lonely, dare-they-say “malicious” playboy and his…he winced at the thought, kitten.
    She hadn’t exactly marveled at his taste for deviance, however much it turned out to be false, she’d stomached shocks as a young girl in the hands of lesser men. And true, the object—at least the original object—had been wealth, influence and perhaps a bauble or two from the coffers. Bruce Wayne simply was old money, without bounds or pretense, and, as far she was concerned, he had far too much to miss.

    The clubs, the horses, the cars initially made the saltiness of him bearable.
    But when he bristled at Dirk Draheim’s insinuation that Selina could be…borrowed…for a fortnight, she didn’t imagine it was love on his part. It wasn’t.

    They stood in the crispiness of early morning as he pulled on silk, grey gloves.
    A tip of his bowler and a hardening of his jaw, he was dry, “Draheim asked for you, I knew him at Andover…he likes you.”

    The car came round and they were let in by Alfred’s stony figure in a driver’s uniform.
    She shrugged out of her fur stole, already hot, already anticipating his request, “What does he want?”

    Bruce removed his hat and leaned back, shaking his head, “Nothing.
    At least not…with you.”

    “Is that what he said?”


    “That’s what I said.”


    She frowned, wanting little to do with this Draheim fellow, but wanting Bruce to imagine she was his…property?
    Less so.

    She didn’t go but she let Bruce ruminate over the possibility for a week or so.
    She rarely, at least she imagined, got under his skin and the sight was…amusing. But somewhere, in the back of her mind, she wondered if that was why he did little more than…touch or taste, at least for the first year. It was unfathomable but not uncomfortable. She guessed his true wants and desires were wasted on…whatever one might want to call that sort of girl. She’d been one herself once upon a time, but Bruce didn’t need to know that, not then anyhow.

    But when he did finally have her at his uncle’s house in New York…there was that fear, that acknowledgement of a tipping point.
    The understanding that she or he might be a little bit more than…pleasurable if leisurely pursuits.

    And he began to come to bed regularly but they talked less.
    He became easily distracted, by her stomach, her thighs…

    It became difficult in the fog of their later years and especially now, to try to figure out how much of it was…an exaggeration.
    How much of him really wanted her before the masks came off, and how much he simply wanted to…she didn’t usually care for four letter words. They describe so many basic functions or parts. Five of which could also describe them at any point those first two years.

    That time before Dickey, before they split off and she spent the season abroad.
    That time before her idea of, and even her ideals about, him were challenged.

    Back when he was just a man with a very old name and somewhat…ugly…habits.


    --#--


    It came with a whistle and a fellow in a crisp olive green cap.
    Selina took it at the door and smiled and then didn’t smile as the words sunk in:

    It was about Bruce, not from Bruce.

    DARLING, I SAW YOUR BEAU IN THE VESTIBULE AT ELEANOR FRIEZE'S STOP HE WAS
    [FONT=&quot] WELL CUT BUT THOSE KHAKIS WERE QUITE WRINKLED STOP HE GAVE HER A LONG GOODBYE JUST THOUGHT YOU’D WANT TO KNOW STOP=RONNIE

    It wasn’t the sting of it. It was the sting of it and Veronica knowing. It was petty.

    Honestly, truly. She could leave him, but at this point what was there to leave? She chided herself, fought the urge to…

    Purple.

    A dab of Chanel No. 5 at her wrists and she was off. Damn him. In that cool, brisk wind, the gravel announcing itself along the distinct curve of her arches, she leapt from rooftop to water tower to…

    Neon sign blinking and there at the edge, him. He never cared one wit for anything but this, not when she got his attention. She winked and sauntered closer. Her whiskers grazed his cheeks, there it was, there was that…blush.

    His hand at her wrist, none too gently. She lashed at him, enjoying the sensation; no…she did not have to give in. He never asked her, silently, to look the other way, he always…followed. She lit off and he was right there, grasping at her heels.

    It was barely dusk. But the purple, the orange of their twilight…the sweet mingle of sweat and anxiety and was that…what did Bruce always wear? Some cologne she could never place when the time was right. Not now. Not with him.

    In the morning she awoke. She kicked the costume under the bed. She answered the doorbell and there he was. Five weeks of no calls, no letters, nothing.

    And there he was at her door. He looked saddened, perhaps hung-over.

    The telegram was on the hall table where she’d left it. She wasn’t about to hide it but she knew he saw it, when his fingers tightened along the brim of his hat, when his knuckles whitened.

    She took him upstairs and avoided sex. Avoided talking. She undressed him and they crawled into bed. For a freshly hung-over man, he certainly did smell like clean sheets. And his hair was just damp at the brow.

    He leaned into her neckline and murmured, she didn’t catch what he said. He did not repeat himself.

    He closed his eyes, he went to sleep. She held him, she did not.

    **End of Flashback**

    The Commander was carefully noting the distance between himself and his oldest son.
    [/FONT] The boy loved him but didn’t revere him, barely seemed to notice him when it wasn’t necessary. He and his wife were two nice, respectable quiet types with three lovely children and homes in San Francisco, Seattle and Star City. He was nothing like his bohemian “brother” Roy Harper, though the term was certainly stressed. No adventures, no struggle with sobriety, no womanizing, no exorbitant demons.

    Oh, he’d had a quick brush with the law when he was nineteen, broke a caddy’s jaw on the Old Course at St. Andrew’s when the fellow questioned in a malicious whisper why he and all the other college boys wore those “f*ggoty” white shoes.
    Father’s lawyers and handlers had cleaned it all up nicely, kept it out of the Star Tribune, bought the b*stard off, sent Ollie on the Grand Tour for the rest of the summer. And wasn’t father secretly proud of his son’s first flash of masculine aggression, he too had wondered at the boy’s…gentility.

    But Oliver graduated at twenty-one and disappeared into duty, blue and white and brass buttons.
    Gold braid. Cocktail parties and precision. And frightening Margaret at first with his ferocity in bed, with his trembling at the sight of her. She thought that he often bolted off like a colt, racing himself to the finish, and the things he said...vulgarities she didn’t know he knew.

    He was coaxed and calmed eventually and then the babies came.
    And father was pleased, suggesting with an amused tone the youngest boy’s name, Charles. He left out the Nicholas and injected the Firestone for Margaret’s family, laughing at an in-joke that none of them could figure.

    And he died.
    A mess of frail blond hair on his head and a massive beard on his face. Sentimentally speaking there was a tiny toy top in his left hand. Oliver shaved father himself while they waited for the coroner. He combed his hair and dictated to Margaret—always Magpie in private—what the headstone should say: Oliver Queen, Jr.—Father, Lover, Adventurer…Scavenger.

    He went, hat in hand, to inform Roy of father’s passing and established a trust for Dinah in lieu of the palimony she’d been receiving.
    The seven of them buried him and Oliver turned to the unfortunate task of managing father’s estate.

    Margaret was well aware of his loathing for the San Francisco house; thus, they moved to Star City and kept the Queen ghosts company, tired and weary after a lifetime of rented flats and ranch styles.
    Their lists of travel destinations were vast but this place was…home, though Society once derided the expression.

    Henrietta and Charles adjusted to the privileged life rather quickly but young Ollie brooded.
    He was always restless, a little cruel sometimes, quick to quarrel or tease. He hated being pinned down. Throughout his stay at St. Mark’s, Oliver received more than a notice or two of his son’s unnecessary roughness in sport. Oliver let it be, explaining in a cryptic tone that he’d rather his son be too tough than too soft.

    Then, this past April, they’d received engraved invitations to a wedding; Kirk Wayne III was following through with his intention of marrying Edith Westinghouse the week after graduation in June, reception to follow at Hale’s Grove.


    He’d written young Ollie, gently demanding to know what his intentions were with Rose Dawson, reminding his son that she was a nice girl and seemed very sensible the one time they’d met.


    Ollie wired by way of reply, tersely for him, that Rose had no intention of joining her name with his and could he receive an advance on his allowance?


    Ollie did not explain that Rose had thrown him over after the weekend with Clay.
    They’d emerged from the house radish-reddened and she’d kissed them both on the cheek at the station before climbing onboard the mag-lev feeling every bit the worst kind of whore.

    He’d written her, maybe foolishly naïve for the first time, and reminded her that they could have children at some point, that he wouldn’t be opposed to making her a more steady—if not permanent—part of his life, even suggesting names for a daughter.
    He felt duty-bound to name a child for Aunt Agatha, but he liked Nica too for the old “Jazz Baroness.” He’d chuckled at that, knowing she didn’t approve of his burgeoning taste in music.

    Since then she’d refused his letters and telephone calls.
    He had every intention of going after her but needed his father’s financial cooperation if he was going to get across the country with travel being the way it was now. He really had no money of his own yet.

    Half-drunk day or night with no recourse he had begun making so much of a nuisance of himself at the office that even Timothy had asked him to take some time off.
    He was sure the Commander was well aware of this, however placid his correspondence appeared, and had every intention of avoiding him until he could get it all sorted out.

    But he did not go to Andy’s wedding, blaming his cousin for doing exactly what he’d asked him not to do: for sending him a girl he could not get enough of.


    He couldn’t even stand to see Clay anymore.
    He felt desperate, out of control. Lost. Then finally, pinned down.

    Very nearly panicked he decided to settle the matter like a gentleman.
    He would contact her brother George, and if need be, her father and explain that he ought to see her. If they inquired further, he would explain why, messy details be damned.

    In the meantime he sent her dresses and cologne on credit.
    Finally she telephoned. The time difference made it frightfully early but he was awake and snatched up the blanging device, “Rosie?”

    “God, Ollie.
    You’re an absolute maniac, do you realize that?”

    “Rosie,” he put his head down on his desk, relieved all over.


    “You’ve turned my parents’ house upside down.
    They think you’re half crazy for me.”

    “They’d be right.”


    “Mom asked me why I wouldn’t see you, that you were clearly in love with me.”


    “I am.
    Aren’t you?”

    “How was I supposed to tell them that you’ve ruined me for all eternity?”


    “You’re not ruined, and I didn’t tell you to sleep with him, that was your idea.
    I hadn’t even done that.”

    “Yet.”

    “Not ever.
    I told you, I don’t do that. Only with girls.”

    “How do you stand there and expect me to bring little kids into that kind of house?”


    “Then forget children, let Henny and Chip have all the children they want…I’d just like it very much if you came back,” he sputtered somewhat, “I’ll stop.
    I won’t do anything queer or have any other women or anything. I’ve tried…I can’t get through it.”

    She was quiet a long time, “Can I just ask you one thing?”


    “Yes.”


    “Why…after, after I went up with Clay, I thought you would hate me and let me go.
    Then we could just make the inevitable easier. But you came in later that night and had me too. And I’m afraid that you’re…that there’s nothing that could stop you. That you really are the sort of young man who’ll pursue whatever he wants, damn the consequences. And worse, that I’ll let you, or do it too. I never set out to be disrespectable, yet, somehow, with you I am.”

    “I don’t look down on you in any sense.
    Besides, I could never regret or feel bad about anything like that.”

    “I’m supposed to be a good girl.”


    “I would rather you be a good woman, which is what you are.
    Intelligent, imaginative, sharp and g*ddamned if you don’t play the game better than me.”

    “But that’s it Ollie.
    The only person who thinks it’s a game is you.”

    This time he was quiet, “Darling, I won’t let you blame me for the way you feel after something I told you not to do in the first place.
    But it’s over and done with. My feelings aren’t any different. There won’t be any playing house, no rent boys, no…nothing that would sully that marvelous countenance of yours.”

    “You’re laying it on thick Oliver.”


    “My father asked me what my intentions are with you.
    None of them know, they don’t have to know about any of this. If you wish, I’ll even marry you.”

    “If
    I wish?”

    “Alright.
    If your father’ll consent, we’ll get married. Episcopalian but no church, my family wouldn’t accept you unfortunately if there wasn’t a clergyman present. If you don’t want children, we won’t have children.”

    “I don’t want children.”


    “Alright,” he agreed.


    “Alright.”


    “When?” he put the stopper in the bottle before him and eyed a bottle of Vat Sixty-Nine at the desk corner.


    “How soon can you get the families together?”


    “Not my family.”


    “Not your family?”


    “They’ll be at Andy and Edie’s wedding.
    Your family is fine by me.”

    “Then how fast can you get to Hempstead?”


    “Things being the way they are?
    A week at least.”

    “Papa will send for you, get you the necessary clearance.
    He may only be a retired state senator but he still has some pull.”

    ***


    That morning she’d lain in her bed, listening to the creaking footsteps of the meager household staff and the petite mouse-like steps of her maid moving to and fro at various intervals.


    Francine wore a lavender colored bed jacket, satin and tied at her neck.
    In her lap was a social diary she was using to plot out the rest of the season. She imagined that one of these days—like Martha Wayne before her, and Ms. Selina during what she called her “fancy-pants days”—she would require the services of a social secretary.

    She wished she’d had more training in the social graces, her school had been quite intent upon turning out young ladies who would lead the way in the arts, sciences and what have you.
    As a result, she could hold a conversation with the professors and artists Ms. Selina—when Mr. Bruce acquiesced—invited to dinner, but let her try to hem a garment or balance her checkbook or set a proper place setting or anything at all practical and she was absolutely lost.

    Melanie had helped quite a bit, especially after the baby was born and the gifts and invitations had come pouring in.
    Woody, as she still preferred to call him, and now Junior too had more toys than they knew, not to mention silver teething rings, layettes and anything else they might desire. She’d never planned to have babies back to back, though the thought had haunted her a bit while she was refusing her husband. But she’d relented out of fear and a general need for comfort after that winging bit with his ear and like clockwork, nine months down the lane another Wayne boy came a’callin’.

    Melanie had called on her preferred print store in New York and they’d had the loveliest Thank You cards made up with little animals at the corners after the second shower and next thing they both knew, the older blond was suddenly indispensable.


    As they slowly bonded over the little crosses mother’s are made to bear, Francine realized that she knew next to nothing about her someday-to-be-sister-in-law, or whatever one might call the woman who’d assumed that place in her brother-in-law’s life.
    Melanie had never formally graduated, finally finishing off with another tutor around seventeen. And, while Terrence was unquestionably intelligent, he’d always maintained a certain aloofness and lack of polish when it came to his studies. Matthew had gone the other direction and poured himself into his schoolwork and too, like his wife, was usually dumbfounded at society and their customs. All three, more often than not, found themselves looking to Melanie for support or advice about what to wear, where to go or what to say. Particularly after the boys all took up membership with the various clubs, their collective favorite being the Saint Andrew’s Society. It was there that Andy and especially Matthew picked up a taste for shooting, a habit they didn’t exactly boast of before Mr. Bruce.

    Now that Matthew was gone and Edith had bounded into the fold, Francine had fancied to herself that she might serve as a sort of anchor to Andy’s girl in that same manner that Melanie had been to her.
    But it wasn’t so…easy.

    Edith had spent her years sequestered at the Ethel Walker School and later Smith College, alternating between her parents’ homes before moving permanently out to Maryland when Bunny Vreeland thought Andy was paying her a little too much attention.


    She wasn’t too much more experienced than Francine, but she had already been married and even had a sex life beforehand, however brief.
    Things Francine hadn’t dared. And Edith wasn’t about to let motherhood stop her from socializing. Melanie was most comfortable alone browsing exhibits at the Gotham Institute of Art or horseback riding and Francine taking her luncheon with the Bristol Blue Star Girls or taking all of the babies to Robinson Park, Teddy included. Edith had ridden the rails to Cambridge every weekend until the trains were pre-empted for troop movement. Then she openly sulked about the Westinghouse or, before the wedding, the Vreeland estate, bored to the gills.

    Francine couldn’t help smiling bemusedly as Edith insisted upon bringing a thermos of pre-mixed martinis when they took the children, excluding the babies, to Robinson Park on a field day.
    Edith had sworn before the mirror that night that children were giving her gray hairs already.

    Francine had written to her mother that she could not understand what Andy and Edith saw in one another.
    They were both strikingly clever, held high tastes in clothing and food and yet they seemed…removed. From one another, from their surroundings, and perhaps most important, their son.

    Francine did not notice how odd this observation might sound coming from her but it could never be said that she starved her sons of affection.
    She managed nearly every aspect of the boys’ care, aside from diaper changing, which she left to Nurse Feingold. She made Woody’s meals, breastfed Matty, bathed them, dressed them, read to them and played with them. Every morning once she worked through the jolt that accompanied not finding a letter from her husband in the stack of mail she went back to her duties with an almost adroit quality.

    Alternately, following a month long honeymoon in Florida, Andy and Edith had begun scouting for a house.
    Edith liked Phillip’s place at Roslyn Estates but could not convince Andy to open Apayana back up. It was some five hours from Gotham and her husband was already leaning towards having it restored as a museum, something Bruce could never make up his mind about. It was only through the virtually limitless resources of the Wayne Foundation that the house continued to be in any kind of inhabitable shape.

    Edith hadn’t bothered to ask about the house in Illinois.
    Andy had vowed never to return to Chicago for more than business. Kirk, Annette and Kick weren’t even buried there, having joined the family plot at their appointed times. The house was currently occupied by a childless couple who’d been renting for some thirty odd years or so. It seemed unnecessary to toss them out on a whim anyhow.

    So they stayed with Mr. Westinghouse half of the month and with Bunny the other half.
    Andy missed the manor and said as much at Sunday dinner but he understood the house would go to Matthew when he returned. Edith had reminded him of primogeniture, rightfully, the manor belonged to him.

    Andy had evenly explained that Phillip had left the manor with his wife sometime during the early nineteen-twenties and bought his own place on Crest Hill, a smaller, more modern house, the one he burnt to the ground during the war.
    Either way, Solomon was incensed at his son’s shifting allegiances and reckless behavior following his release from the Army. Andy was never sure if Phillip had been thrown out or left on his own but Solomon’s will was altered, giving the bulk of his estate to Thomas.

    Phillip never challenged this decision and only returned for a year when he, his wife and young son were left homeless by the fire. He had supported himself with his continued role in the company and by practicing law on and off; his alcoholism rarely interfered with his professional life and he had grown substantially comfortable long before the later calamities.

    Either way, Andy had no just cause to challenge Bruce regarding the manor, indeed his cousin and mentor had promised long ago that he could stay at home as long as he wished. But he had never planned to live there as a man and wouldn’t attempt to now.

    His short-term goal was to figure out where to settle down in Boston when he went to Harvard Business in the fall and where they might live once he graduated in two years. Anywhere too far outside of Gotham was out of the question, an apartment sounded reasonable but he’d grown to loathe the isolated quality of them after he’d taken a little place in Opal at Edith’s behest. He’d had to pay for it out of his own allowance which he also did not appreciate but he would not continue to seduce her at her father’s house and Edith refused to sleep with him at another hotel.

    So they were there on long weekends and more than one holiday break, and they had to contend with questions from the landlady and assumed names and the too-nosey neighbors and sending out their laundry. He was personally flat broke in no time and they were down to eating nothing but ramen noodles and deviled ham sandwiches but Edith swore it was the best nine months of her life. They’d had no one but each other.

    But that, altogether, was outside of Francine’s very limited romantic grasp. Each side looked down at the other and it was only through his very strong friendship with Matthew that Andy maintained much contact with her at all. But he did not relish that telegram from Jonathan Lamont. He answered forthrightly, did not mention it in any way, shape or form to Edith, and did feel not in the least bit happy when he saw Francine at the breakfast table Sunday mornings.

    He had only one true pride, he’d never taken Edith while she was married to that rat Edward. But that was a private victory and it had to remain as such. He considered that sort of behavior…low or common. He’d come from a dedicated line of philanderers and while he respected—and had indulged in—the privacy of whatever one wanted to do beforehand he would not be tangled up in a matrimonial farce.

    There was, however, one thing he had not counted upon when he married Edith…he’d never imagined she’d have the gall to suggest he rename Teddy for himself.

    She’d asked him over coffee one morning in their rooms at Hale’s Grove and he was even more surprised that Bunny was the one to suggest it. He quietly refused and lo how she pestered him, while he shaved, while he dressed. And finally he fetched his rubbers near the door and scratched his upper lip where the mustache was coming in and stated dryly, firmly, “No, Edes. You want a Kirk the fourth, you give birth to one. You know damned well how I feel about your ex-husband but I’ll not obliterate his name. If my mother’d had the chance to choose Kick…well, she didn’t. I won’t take the boy’s choice from him. You’re lucky I changed his name at all.”

    Now she wasn’t speaking to him. She fashioned paper airplanes and threw them at him, and scowled and bought clothing she did not wear. She had no enthusiasm for the war effort aside from cheering cousins in her extended family. Her husband was an only son and did not face compulsory service and she had no brothers.

    She saw Teddy before bedtime but otherwise left him with Nurse Feingold or with her mother or with Francine.

    She was depressed. Andy did not care, the petulant child act did very little to move him. And she hadn’t counted on having to run a dry house once Andy was in residence, a firm condition of Mr. Bruce’s continued patronage. He had been warned, sternly, after that long ago business with Charlotte that if he did not remain sober he would not be granted control of what remained of Philip’s vast estate, now currently in escrow.

    Edith had never figured Mr. Bruce for a Temperance Leaguer. Or for the sort to dangle disinheritance over someone’s head for their misdeeds, she added aloud, “God knows he’s had his own messes to contend with. If he didn’t…” she paused wearily, “You’d have the manor, not Matthew and Fran.”

    Andy lay fully dressed atop the duvet and stared at the ceiling, “I told you, I’ve no quarrel with him there. And those are his sons, what do you want? I’m just as illegitimate as they. He might have disavowed us all.”

    “You were there first.”

    “I’ve never counted on that. I’ve got the controlling stake in the company which is more than my grandfather ever got. He liked to call himself ‘the spare,’ or ‘the second banana.’ Bruce called the shots.”

    “Thomas didn’t.”

    “Well now Terry will know how it feels. He’s in media relations, which is essentially a polite way of saying, on the ledger, that he shows up and does interviews when we’ve got something particularly innovative coming down the line.”

    Edith took up the hem of her nightgown and straddled him, “What would Kirk the fourth inherit?”

    He draped his arm over his forehead, “You do realize this conversation is obscene don’t you?”

    She leaned down, a hand on either side of him, “I know, you’re old fashioned, never talk business with women.”

    He turned over on top of her, “Never talk of business anywhere, you’ve had all of that fine schooling, you ought to know that.”

    “I just want everything to be yours.”

    “You’re not satisfied? You’ve got your mother’s estate, your father’s…mine.”

    “What will Teddy get?”

    Andy sighed, “I’ve discussed all of that with Mr. Edward, Sr. Your boy will be well cared for in his old age.”

    She bit her lip, “He’s the oldest son.”

    Andy curled his brow, seeing, “I want you to understand something. I love the boy, as much as I’m able to, but it’s taken some effort on my part. But if you’re implying that I place him in line to inherit Wayne Industries or the foundation, well my dear, you’ll not want to hear the reply. Even Dick didn’t get that and Tim went to work for Oliver Queen. It’s not in the cards.”

    She stared at him blankly before undoing his tie pin, then collar and opening his buttons, “What shall I tell him?”

    “That he’s a good boy and his father loves him.”

    “Which one?”

    Andy made a face in her neck, “Why do you have to talk so much? You’ll spoil it.”

    She felt him unhooking her brassiere. Their first time, when they were young, he couldn’t get it off and she had to unclasp it for him. Now he was already kissing her stomach.

    Afterward she put in her copy of Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise” and he fell asleep by the time Gaston pocketed Lily’s garter.

    She would have agreed with Melanie had she known. The Wayne boys were controlling, they were nice as hell about it but…Andy was boss and she could not miss it for a moment.
     
  16. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

    Joined:
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    **Disclaimer: I, tNC, am a lover of namesakes...that said, here we go, short and sweet for the first major holiday:**

    “I was nine years old when I named myself for my grandfather…I just wanted to belong to him. I…just didn’t want to be Albert Tannenbaum anymore,” he struck a match and lit another cigarette, sneaking an automatic, self-conscious glance at the blackout curtains.

    Edith eased the cigarette from between his lips and took a drag and they passed it back and forth, she’d given him his first smoke but it was a long time until he made it a habit, not until that unfortunate summer with his European relatives.
    She shut her eyes and attempted to inhale in the French style…she’d given him a lot of firsts…

    He spoke up again, “I wouldn’t change my name or anything but I don’t know.
    I think ‘A. Irving Wayne’ would have dripped of scandal. But as I’ve gotten older Edes, and learnt more about him, about Kick I mean…I wonder if he would have accepted me, would have wanted me.”

    Edith shook her head, blowing a lopsided smoke ring, “You don’t have to worry about his approval.
    I assure you, he’s not worried about yours.”

    He grimaced and started another cigarette rather than take his back, “If we’re really trying to do this, maybe you should give up smoking altogether.
    I mean…If you’re hell-bent on this…maternal mission of yours.”

    “I want babies,” she shrugged, “I do.”


    “You’re not exactly the doting type.”


    “True, I don’t get a thrill out of changing diapers or what have you, I’m not like Fran for instance, who practically
    insists upon slaving over Brucie and Matty. And that father of theirs...”

    “What about him?” Andy gave her a sideways stare.


    “He doesn’t write. All she does all the time is send practical novels filled with photographs of those boys and he can’t be bothered to write more than once or twice a month, if that.
    I think…I think they’re both sort of funny.”

    “They—well
    she—thinks we’re funny too.”

    “I hope you don’t imagine I won’t love our children or something.
    I just like the fun stuff more; Teddy helped me build the pilgrim centerpieces for the Goodfellows Old Newsboys’ dinner next week. And what about the table cloths? You have to admit that was cute in a wartime sort of way.”

    Edith had stuck her son’s hands in multiple shades of paint and stamped handprints all along the cloths, then gone behind with a thin brush and fashioned turkeys.


    Andy nodded, “They’re nice.
    Why’d you volunteer for that?”

    She shrugged, “I’m bored and Melanie said she had too many functions on her schedule.
    She’s dividing some of them between Franny and I. And she practically had to throw the Wayne Foundation Halloween ball almost all alone; I figured I might help do something.” She looked over at him there on the floor in the game room; they were lying on one of Phillip’s bear rugs, “Why are we in here? I thought Mr. Bruce didn’t allow us to smoke in the manor?”

    Andy shifted, “It’s the only reasonable expectation of privacy I still have.
    Bruce never comes in here and Tim and Abby are in my old room for the next month.”

    “Where are we sleeping?”


    “At your mother’s remember?”


    He could feel her frown and heard her protest, “They gave your room away.”


    He shrugged, “I’ve never made love in this house anyhow…feel like I’d be doing it in a church or something.”


    “Well I don’t think any of your forebears let it get in their way.
    The way Ollie talks about what he and Rose do when they visit his parents…Andy?”

    “Hm?”


    “You’ll have me at mummy’s but only when she’s not home.
    And only that one time at daddy’s. Are you inhibited?”

    Andy nodded and smiled sadly, “Probably.”


    “I’m serious…I mean, it’s like what you said just now, like this house is a church.
    But it’s just a house. I mean I know you worship Mr. Bruce in a way. But you know he’s human and that he’s been…very bad sometimes. And Matt and Franny live here and they’ve got two babies that certainly didn’t appear out of thin air.”

    He inhaled very sharply, “Why don’t you just ask me what you want to ask me?”


    “I feel like you’ve got some sort of Madonna-whore complex thing, but you’re a man so this feels sort of odd.
    I mean. You had girls before we were married and I had my share of fellows and they don’t mean much to either of us now but I mean…sometimes, when we’re together, you look like…like you’re just doing something that’s expected of you, not like you really enjoy being with me. Like you think you’re required to be like Mr. Bruce or Kick or all of them were. Even like Dickey. A stud…” she sat up somewhat slowly and rested on her elbows, “But you never ravish me since we’ve been married, I mean, you’re not hungry anymore. Oh, it’s difficult to describe.”

    He folded his arms beneath his head and stared at the antique wrought-iron chandelier, one of the few remaining that still functioned using candles exclusively, “I don’t dislike sex.”


    “But you don’t really enjoy it, not as much as I do for instance.”


    “I’ve no great love for celibacy Edes.
    But I think you’ll agree that I can’t place one name in my immediate family who even for ten seconds seemed to think of doing the right thing.”

    “And what is the ‘right’ thing?”


    “Being honest with the people they supposedly loved.
    And that leaves me, dangling at the bottom of the family tree.”

    She rest her chin on his shoulder, “That’s not true.
    You’re loved.”

    He looked at her, his now fully mustachioed upper lip grazing the end of her nose as she scooted closer, “I know.”


    She rolled onto her stomach and rested her chin atop her folded hands, “You can be bad with me you know.
    You can have your proverbial cake and eat it too. We’re legal. I’d just hate to see you think of sleeping with me as a chore or something.”

    He ran his hand along her back, “I have to remind myself that you’re really mine to keep sometimes.
    It feels that I’ve chased you so long I hardly know what to do now that I have you.”

    She smiled, “You know exactly what to do.
    We used to be awfully, frightfully rough sometimes.”

    He got up and extinguished his cigarette in a standing ashtray near the door and turned the lock, “Is that a challenge Mrs. Wayne?”


    She sat up Indian-style, “I’ve got your initials in my monogram.
    Now you must have me.”

    He sat down on his knees and frowned, “And you have to have my children.”


    Her brow curled, “Don’t you want children?”


    “We have a child.”


    “Don’t you want more?
    They’ll be legitimate, I promise.”

    No kidding. I just, I don’t know if I want to keep this thing going, I mean, naming him Kirk. I don’t see the point.”

    She grasped his collar in both hands and pulled him closer, “I don’t want to talk about anything else that hasn’t happened yet…I want you here, now.
    Not nine months from now.”

    He watched her hands as she unfastened his belt, he always liked that part.
    And he didn’t talk about anything else.
     
  17. klammed

    klammed the fool.

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    Terribly sorry, I haven't been commenting, and for a fic like this, that's surely undeserved.

    Lovely, lovely chapters. Bruce with any child is adorable, least of all one of his grandchildren. Just sort of sat up at the last bit, with Andy mentioning his name change, because it really shows how far you've let their stories come over these past years. And you're continuing with that very strong sense of family legacy and history, formalised diction, very Victorian style and all truly adding to it, it's wonderful to read :)
     
  18. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    Terribly sorry I haven't been updating and responding. 'Tis the season to post updates. I can't thank you enough for your undue praise. Alas, I saw the little boy needing to belong at that point and too I've matured and am able to see that that might have been an imprudent choice on his very young part. Not a bad one, per say, just one he might think twice about carrying on. After all, he's a paradox in that even if he was legitimate, he wouldn't be a Wayne at all, as previously mentioned.

    Aye, Andy has his act, for the most part, together. Someone else...does not.

    Merry Christmas,

    tNC
     
  19. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    **Disclaimer: That sneaky business between Matthew and Francine in the closet is based on a very short sequence in my much beloved copy(ies) of Jason Lutes' Berlin. If you've never read it, please do. Bruce and Matthew's, erm, talk...is based quite loosely on the end scene of "There Will Be Blood." I can't think of anything else.**

    Matthew gaped at the little strangers in his arms and at his feet. Brucie was scooting about aboard a little ride-on fire engine. Oblivious to his father’s sudden appearance next to the towering Christmas tree. Junior, however, attempted to taste everything, his daddy’s hands, pajama buttons, even his hair. Daddy was newness and bigness. He did not know when or if daddy came or went. Junior simply enjoyed daddy’s being here now. Both were too young to care otherwise.

    But Matthew didn’t miss the closeness his own father exhibited toward his namesake.
    He kept the boy with him more often than not and every morning they went on a stroll about the grounds, with Grandpapa Bruce—as Francine had begun to identify him sometime when Junior was about three months old—weaving grand tales, recalling the stories of derring-do that symbolized the Grey Ghost.

    His eyes blinked wearily and he found the static quality of life at the manor since he went on leave to be a subtle torture of malaise.
    Time seemed to slip in and out of his grasp. He hid a flask in a pair of shoes at the back of his closet and toasted himself with cognac the previous night before attending the Eucharist.

    The trouble was, Francine didn’t complain.
    She didn’t hound him about his lackluster correspondence, she’d seen to it that the fireplace in his bedroom and the bath was tended once she hired on a temporary valet called Mr. Phelps. She was quiet and proud and blushed at being introduced as Lt. and Mrs. Wayne at the Foundation’s Christmas Ball, positively beautiful. She didn’t question the strange, desperate way he fell into bed with her now, at least not aloud. He did not know she’d catalogued the movements, recounting them to herself once he was asleep. He was much better than when he’d left and came to her at least twice a night for the first week, driving her to fall over into a certain gasping pleasure he’d been unable to invoke prior. It was like an explosion, but so brief. And he didn’t stop until he’d moved her repeatedly. A mere two or three left her exhausted and unable to do anything but lie awake, languid, glowing. And he was so quiet and driven, as though he was looking for something in the little cries that floated next to his ear.

    Before he’d gone into the Navy, relations with him had been routine, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not, but predictable.
    Now he had a way with her that she couldn’t comprehend, but in the back of her mind, as he stared down at her, she realized he’d…practiced this. She ignored the thought, remembering his promise of fidelity. And at first she made herself believe this was simply his joy at having her again.

    She tried to let it go at that.
    If anything, Matthew had not been a liar. Now she guessed she’d be expecting again in no time and she found herself looking forward to it now. Another baby to hold and remind her once he drifted back to Japan or wherever.

    Aside from lovemaking, Matthew found himself playing a role, he chatted when she wanted, listened, saw the boys, sat reading or occasionally, when privacy permitted, drinking.
    He understood that this was something he needed to watch, a terrible drive that ran through the family and that he might become the next example but did not care enough to address it in any way. Not yet.

    The issue of course was that father, undoubtedly, saw it too.
    How long until the older man would intervene? He felt a complete lack of anxiety when tight, but he didn’t enjoy the rolling wave quality of his mind. Francine had once quipped while dressing for the evening that she might stick her pinky in his ear and draw out gin.

    He’d watched her and felt aroused and wolfishly pursued a game where he was a shoeblack and her shoes needed polishing.
    She’d blushed, seeing where he was going and braced against wall, a hand at the doorjamb, replying that her shoes weren’t the sort that needed…

    He’d gotten to his knees before her and she’d reddened, then shuddered as his hands explored her posterior, raising the hem of her dress, drawing her against him.
    Vaguely, in the back of her mind she wondered if this was immoral, but Matthew had assured her that anything done between a man and wife could not be a sin as long as there was no hurt.

    In bed after dinner and with him again she’d allowed the issue of his sudden prowess to enter her mind.
    She’d once attempted to get to the fore of such boorish behavior, assuring him that she did not care if he had other women as long as she did not know. He’d balked. Now his habits had changed to such an extent that she couldn’t help but guess he’d had some little whore, at least somewhere, sometime. Perhaps when his morale had been broken by the loneliness of life apart from his family. A little nothing like that could be forgiven, she guessed. And besides…despite the confusion, it felt…good. He felt good.

    Now was Christmas morning and he watched her, glad that the sickening guilt he’d felt in Tokyo had not followed him home.
    With some forethought he’d done a saliva swab and sent the package express to Camilla in order that she might test her baby Samantha’s paternity. Peace of mind. Through his lawyer he’d discussed provisions for the child just in case as he awaited the results. He’d sighed as the kit came back unopened with a rather nasty letter from Mrs. Lamont and called her long-distance through an ancient creaking, whining telephone line. The cell phone towers had been destroyed by a particularly nasty barrage, after two attempts at rebuilding they were abandoned. There were only one-hundred old-fashioned phones in the city and he’d had to wait sixteen hours to use the one closest to him. The Twentieth-century had saved his bacon and he made her tell him the results.

    She’d evaded, the baby was John’s, his name was on the birth certificate, he was strutting around like a peacock with contraband Cuban cigars lit at all times.
    But what color were her eyes? Brown, mundane. Do the g*ddamned swab, he’d demanded, at least let him know. She was quiet and called him a dirty name and said she’d done it. The baby was John’s, as intended.

    Was she lying?
    Don’t ever lie for my sake, he’d instructed. She’d snapped at him then, I did the damned test as soon as she was born practically, she isn’t yours. You might have to accept that you mighty Wayne males don’t always set the world on fire.

    She’d hanged up on him and he guessed they’d be able to feign nonchalance satisfactorily the next time they all got together at the cabin, if there was another time.
    He created a small bank account in Boston for easy access should Samantha ever need anything and took Camilla’s word for it.

    At home he attempted to focus on his own children.
    Despite two weeks of stop-start attempts, Brucie had yet to warm to him. When the boy was hurt he went to nurse or mommy. When hungry he pestered cook and toddled off with a tasty morsel clenched in his hands. Every evening he read a book with his grandmother and grandfather in the study. Matthew thought of playing with him but knew nothing of games for the exceedingly young aside from peek-a-boo and Brucie was decidedly too old for such nonsense at this point.

    He would not be deterred though and finally found an activity that kept his son amused.
    Roll the ball. Thus he plucked the boy off the fire engine, ignored his protests and set him on the floor before handing off the baby to his wife. Taking a new large ersatz-rubber ball with the alphabet and numbers molded into its red surface from beneath the tree, he sat down and held it up, “Brucie? Play ball?”

    The boy immediately clapped, “Ya!”


    And they were like that for two hours, and Junior was carried up for his nap and when nurse came for the older son he scrambled uncoordinatedly behind his father, “Nooo
    nap.” Of course.

    Matthew waved at her, “I’ll take him.”
    And he gathered his boy in his arms, seeing how he’d grown, tall for his age and with that old fierce determination locked in those hazel eyes.

    Upstairs in the nursery he was surprised to see his son still slept in a crib, true his father was exceedingly old-fashioned and did not believe in toddler-sized beds, but still.
    The old crib with the high sides was given to Junior and the newer model was lower in height, wider and had a canopy.

    Matthew saw were the boys’ stockings had been upturned earlier that morning, spilling toys and a few chocolate coins for Brucie on the rug by the hearth.
    He thought of retrieving them before they melted.

    He set his son in the crib and held his hand, watching, waiting as he, though fitful, fell asleep.
    He felt someone’s approach and expected Francine but it was his own father.

    Bruce ran his hand over the boy’s head, “You’ve been missed.”


    Matthew nodded, “I see…when’s brunch?”


    “Eleven-thirty.”


    “Better dress then,” he attempted to take leave and wasn’t quite surprised when Bruce’s hand grasped his forearm.
    The grip was firm, almost painful; he knew what this would be about.

    “Matthew, I would hate to see you blithely toss away your…blessings.
    And they are blessings. A wife, sons. Perhaps more.”

    Matthew adjusted the collar of his robe, “God willing, I think there will be more, Franny doesn’t seem to mind.”


    Bruce grimaced, “We will be frank now, I’m not referring to Francine.
    It’s come to my attention that you’ve been less than chivalrous in both manner and marriage as of late.”

    “Petty gossip.”


    “Don’t lie.
    Did you honestly believe I’d let you go half-way around the world, in this melee, without adequate supervision?” Bruce was keeping his tone in check but the incredulousness shone through.

    Matthew’s anger ran cold and he began to mine through a list of anyone who might be considered a mutual acquaintance.
    Commander Queen was now based in the ATO but further west, old and safe behind a desk. Jonathan Kent was involved in aerial reconnaissance and photography, he’d traveled in and out of Tokyo recently but they hadn’t seen one another for more than five minutes at a Ramen joint. But Kent wasn’t demonstrably super-powered, or at least he hadn’t declared as much to the powers that be. Kent had a lot to lose if he talked too much, given the sensitivity of the intelligence field and all that that implied. They probably wouldn’t appreciate having the potential powder keg of a half-Kryptonian in their midst…perhaps Kent needed a reminder to mind his own business, such as it is.

    He shook his head, coming back at his father’s words, “I’ve had the valet Francine hired sweep through your closet.
    I hope you’ll appreciate my pouring out all seven bottles of liquor in addition to the sake as well as destroying that flask. And you’ll be ready at nine tomorrow morning to go into town.”

    Matthew’s face was deep red and his brows flat, “Why? …sir.”


    “We’ll see my personal banker; I’m withdrawing one-hundred thousand dollars to be placed in that account.”


    Matthew was staring at some indeterminate spot over his father’s shoulder, trying to let the anger run its course, “What account?”


    Now Bruce struck him across the cheek, the pain was very dull, more psychological than anything.
    But Matthew had never seen him seethe before and he began to feel afraid, truly frightened, though his father wasn’t trying to hurt him, only to stun, “This isn’t ‘twenty questions’ boy.”

    He took a deep breath and wanted to step backward but Bruce held his arm again, “You’ll run wild over my dead body Matthew. Whether you like it or not this war will end and you’ll have to return to whatever mess you make of your life here.
    Your wife is not a brood mare and you cannot, and will not, behave as I have. Ever. Do I make myself clear?”

    Bruce did not wait for a reply, he turned and left and Matthew looked down at the crib, the boy had awakened but hadn’t made a sound.
    Clever little fellow. The child’s eyes wavered and tears began to slip out. Matthew ran a hand over his face before reaching down and picking his son up, rocking him from side to side.

    With his arms wrapped about his father’s neck, Brucie began to cry aloud.
    This quite naturally woke the other baby and Francine came in, concerned. She found him, “Matt, what is this? What’s happened?”

    He let her retrieve their other son and hugged them all to his form.
    Francine attempted to soothe the children and he himself looked as though he might sob but he didn’t. He let the throb in his cheek pulse. Not too hard. Not too soft.
     
  20. The_NewCatwoman

    The_NewCatwoman Oh you've got to be kidding me

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    Black and Navy Blue

    **Disclaimer: Since the server updates dashed my hopes of posting my yearly New Year's updates I decided to take my time and really work at getting through what has been a rather unfortunate lull in this story. Not for lack of intention, just, well, school tends to obliterate my desire to write anything that doesn't have to be done and since I'm starting a bit of a heavy semester I thought I'd get some things established, to make it easier down the line that is. Also, Burroughs isn't my favorite beat poet by far, nothing against him but I too find what little exposure I've had to Naked Lunch underwhelming. Like Thelonius Monk, I tend to find the man more interesting than the creation (blasphemy of a sort, I know). Usually I tend to agree with Dorothy Parker and Truman Capote where the Beat movement as a whole was concerned but I can't pretend I don't like Ginsberg and Kerouac, because I do. And their works have inspired me time and again, as evidenced by the Howl quotation above. Either way, like Matthew, I'm rambling, I just hope this post accomplishes what I'm trying to do, that is, tie the story to its roots, I do think that I was in danger of straying a bit further than I intended. Some warning, sexual situations are all but outright described. Also direct allusions to corporal punishment and contraception follow. Mei-tan-fu as the Commander's location is an aside to the 2006 film production of Maugham's The Painted Veil.**

    Matthew lay on Francine’s breasts, shifting his weight slightly before rubbing his coarse chin, “Sorry, I need a shave. I know.”

    She pulled the duvet back over them and stared at the warm glow of the fireplace, “What is it? You used to thrive on a challenge.”


    He ran his thumb over her areola, enjoying the shiver it caused, “Did I ever honestly expect not to succeed, I got into Yale as a legacy.”


    “That three-point-eight average didn’t make itself.”


    “Well, now he’s bribing me.”


    He heard her sigh and raised his head, “And you never used to stifle your opinions.
    Now you don’t say anything. Good or bad, you’re just…here.”

    She reddened deeply and pushed him off and away before turning onto her side and folding her arms.
    He sat up on his knees, knocking the cover back and glanced up at the crucifix she’d hung over the headboard, “Franny? Honey, you can talk to me you know.”

    She turned back over slowly and he didn’t miss the little wetness at the corner of her eyes, he hated her crying, “It’s an old story.
    I warned you that time when you belittled me about my brother and the nightmares. I said you’d go away and I’d still be here and we’d…fade to gray. Or rather, I have.”

    “No you haven’t.”


    She made a face and wiped her face with the back of her hand, “I’d just like to save my breath to cool my porridge if you don’t mind.
    I’d just rather not talk about it.”

    “We’ve got to though.
    That’s what happens. Terry and Melanie don’t talk and now they’re…separated.”

    “We don’t talk, and more often than not, we’re separated too.”


    “We talk…” he lied.


    She was staring at the other side of the room now, “I didn’t get to tell you know much I loved the origami valentines you sent.
    Brucie got up on my writing desk and chewed the swan to pulp though over Labor Day weekend. He was very arrogant when I spanked him too, hit me back.”

    “Did he?”


    “So I’ve started taking Mr. Bruce’s advice and using a hairbrush.
    I hate it though it works. He looks so sorry when he’s made to understand that he’s been bad, the trouble is getting him to understand it…just like you.”

    Matthew felt the hairs on his arms and back stand on end, “I do understand it.
    Father made me.”

    His father had sat him down and explained this “Wayneness” in the study Christmas night and though he refused to express it, he was at least grateful.
    Father, without trying to sound too much like a psychoanalyst, thought he was relying upon a parody. “Drinking and womanizing take neither skill nor a terrible amount of charm,” the older man had offered while tending the fire, “there will always be women who are willing, and some even aspiring, to seduce you because of your wealth, and especially, the security that offers. But you won’t get from them what you’ve already found in Franny, and though it may sound like an old story, you’ll only lose what you did have with her. Her affection isn’t something that can be replaced by Dior…

    “We didn’t weather the Great Recession as well as past economic upheavals but we made it.
    However, we were for a time…weakened. I won’t get into the business with Derek Powers or even Paxton. But even on a bad day, I’ve made sure these…things, are well in hand now. And I have several clear cut heirs: Andy, Terry and you.”

    Matthew had been surprised, “Me?
    But I’m pre-Law.”

    Father’s eyebrow rose, “Are you?
    Do you think you have maintained the presence of mind necessary to rededicate yourself to continuing at college once you’ve returned for good?”

    Matthew didn’t have an answer and once more father surprised him by understanding, “That’s…fine.
    For now. I once roomed with a fellow at Columbia whose father chose to bribe him through undergraduate and eventually law school so that he might at least claim a profession. If he finished at Columbia proper, he would receive a new polo pony. And once he’d finished at Harvard Law, it became a sailboat. I don’t have any interest in going that far, let us say, if you can regain control of your…impulses and get through the bar, you’ll have a position waiting for you in the Wayne Corp. legal department.”

    There was a goal dangling before him for the first time in over two years, aside from his naval duties, at least.
    He had not served with distinction, immediately disappointed and disillusioned at his father’s string-pulling.

    He set his hands at his knees now and lay down next to her, pulling the cover back up, “Damned cold…I do have something to tell you.”


    She kept her face flat but he could read the apprehension in her eyes as clear as anything, “I went out to see Dick and Barbara after New Year’s, they were packing, going to spend a few weeks with some of her Gish cousins or someone.
    But I asked Dick something because I figured he’s had more than enough experience.”

    “At?”


    “At…carving an identity.
    I asked him about maybe feeling…overwhelmed by father. And he laughed, first time I’ve ever heard it, and said it was the story of his adolescence.”

    Francine’s curiosity betrayed her but she said nothing further.


    He drummed his fingers on his chest, trying not to bite his nails, always a struggle, “I um…I’m not sure if I’ll ever be satisfied Fran.
    First being a McGinnis felt like a lie, now just being a Wayne feels like one, well, not being one, but what I’m able to do because of who we are. I have so much more potential than I’ve allowed myself to consider. Dick said I needed to build myself a new set of morals, that I was still trying to use the old ones from my old life. But they don’t fit anymore.”

    Francine had gone pale and he couldn’t guess what was on her mind.


    “Everything I’ve tried…it doesn’t do enough, doesn’t give me enough.
    Not college, not the war…”

    “Not me,” she finished for him, her voice drier than anything he’d heard in a long while.


    He sat up and was very calm, “No, no, not you.
    Or the boys. Don’t ever think that Francine. Ever.”

    She was biting her lip and he pulled her up and to him, “You won’t like what I’m about to say but I’ve thought long and hard since I’ve been home and I have to be honest with you.”


    Her chin rested on his shoulder and he guessed she was wrinkling her nose with anticipated distaste, “I think, when I come home for good, I mean I asked Dick if he wouldn’t mind…training me.”


    Her frame went rigid and she pulled back to face him, her expression unreadable, “For what?”


    His gaze didn’t waver, “I don’t know yet, I mean I’m sure in my gut that I do but that I haven’t really faced it yet, but if I went so far as to pull on my rubbers and raincoat and go down to her house that—”


    “You’re rambling.”


    “I think I’ll try to help my brother…try to do something good to keep from doing something…bad.”


    Francine stared at him, at a loss for words, cheeks flushed and he felt pure affection for her and excitement, without any hint of deviousness, for the first time since he’d been home.


    “You want to put on a mask and get shot at.”


    “I’ve been shot at, believe it or not, and not just at Johnny’s.
    Tokyo Bay’s practically under assault day and night.”

    She didn’t respond and only frowned and he felt himself growing aroused despite the occasion, after all he’d already succeeded in seducing her twice within the last twenty-four hours, the second time having been merely an hour before.
    He guessed it was something to do with not having her for the better part of two years but nevertheless he obeyed his impulse and began to position her on top before laying back.

    She placed her hands at either side of him and appeared flustered, “You have the worst timing…and since when do we do it…
    this way?”

    “Sit up straight,” he commanded gently, having learned with Camilla not to argue against his midsection’s first mind, “Don’t think about it, it’s like riding a bike.”


    She snorted, laughing without meaning to and he almost lost control of himself, fully enamored of her, “You’re beautiful like this.
    You can’t see what I see, but you are.”

    She looked a little afraid, totally unsure of what he’d been saying and what he was doing and what she was letting him do and she stopped moving.


    He gasped, “What Franny?
    Please don’t—don’t do that.”

    She pressed his shoulder down and for a moment was her old stern self, the young lady who’d found him at the gate of her uncle’s house covered in ants, “You’ve never told another girl you love her have you?”


    He was startled and fumbled, “What?”


    “Since we’re being honest Matthew, have you?”


    He tried to remember that time in the car with Babe…had he told her something so…stupid?
    He couldn’t recall it clearly but he didn’t think so, it would have been…absurd. He repeated it, aloud this time, “That would be absurd.”

    “As absurd as putting on a stretchy, stretchy costume and imagining you’re going to save this city or yourself?”


    He frowned, affronted, “I knew you wouldn’t be pleased but there’s no need to be that way.”


    She wasn’t put off, “Just answer Matthew.”


    “No, G*d damn it.”


    She stared at him for a moment or so and he felt himself reddening all over.
    Finally she leaned down and kissed him softly and whispered into his mouth, “Good.”

    He watched her as she looked down towards where they met, “We can’t keep this up or we’ll be chaffed.”


    Then she began to move again and he lay stunned for a moment or so before responding in kind.
    Afterward she lay next to him, panting softly, her hand at her stomach, “You’ve only been home a month and already you’ve started something.”

    He punched and fluffed the down pillows behind, propping them up against the headboard, “Again?”


    “Surely you’re not surprised.”


    “Not really.
    I’m glad though, for what it’s worth. I love children.”

    “You don’t have to tell me.”


    “Was Junior’s birth any better than Brucie’s?”


    “Only in that I knew a bit more of what to do this time.
    But I almost had to have a c-section, nearly two days of hard labor; they were ready to put me in an ambulance.”

    Matthew kissed her shoulder, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”


    She shook her head, “No you aren’t, you were off doing what you felt you had to do.
    You knew it would happen without you either way. Just like this time. It will be the same.”

    “I didn’t mean it that way.
    I really am…”

    She waved her hand, “I know you mean well, but don’t pretend to accommodate me where your decisions are concerned, all it does is infuriate me and it’s almost three and I’d like to sleep at some point.”

    “Father wouldn’t hesitate to have me reassigned here.”

    “But you’ll never forgive him if he does.
    Besides, with you overseas, gives me a long rest.”

    “Rest?”


    She gave an exasperating, womanly sigh, “You’re exhausting me that’s all.
    I’ve lost track of how many sexual encounters we’ve had. At least now I’ll be pregnant so I’ll have something to show for it.”

    He didn’t know whether to be amused or not so he clicked his tongue, “Is that so?”


    “Just…when you come back Matty, don’t do this thing you want to do, not for a long while.
    Let me and the babies have you for once.” Her voice was very low, “We haven’t had any time all to ourselves at any point since we met. There was all the fluff with the families and getting married and then the Navy. Let there be a nice year there, if you can.”

    He rubbed her shoulder slowly, “Okay.”


    She was too tired to worry any further, yawning openly, “What will you be called?”


    “I thought maybe Nightwing, maybe, if Dick is okay with it.”


    “Have you told Mr. Bruce?” her voice was thick with fatigue and he guessed she was barely awake to hear his answer.


    “No.”


    He was right.


    ***


    Oliver sighed in the cool January breeze, “Good, but not good enough baby.”


    Rose gently knocked on his air raid warden’s helmet, “Any uniform’s a good fit in my opinion.”


    Oliver tossed back another shot of bourbon, tired, “Don’t flatter me Rosie.”


    He watched, somewhat blurrily, as she turned around to pour another glass from the pitcher.
    She would only drink daiquiris with him; she didn’t enjoy getting tight every night as he did. And she also didn’t see him pull the bow and an arrow from the quiver tucked in the corner, “Quit waving around Rosie, I’m trying to get the apple.”

    She froze, however brief, and chanced to look over her shoulder, “Where the hell did you get those?”


    “Grandfather’s bows and arrows, knicked ‘em at Christmas.
    Father won’t miss ‘em, never goes up therenowh…has his own rooms with mummy downstairhs…”

    “Ollie, you’re soused, let’s go in,” she was pleading calmly but in the small voice.
    He’d been hearing that a lot more often lately.

    He drew the line taut again and she yelped and dove through the open double doors.
    His arrow shot into a potted plant, splitting the pottery open and spilling out black dirt across the balcony floor.

    He shook his loose head and turned to follow his wife but found that she’d closed and locked the doors behind her, “What thuh, Rosie?
    G*ddammit, open up, I’ve gotta p*ss,” he pounded like that for a few more moments before he looked down and watched a warm wetness spread across his front. He laughed stupidly, “Never mind I guess.”

    He finished her daiquiri and passed out, curled in a ball on the mat before the doors.
    Rose returned in an hour or so, afraid he’d catch cold and dragged him inside far enough to get the doors shut. She considered getting out a hammer and breaking up all the bottles in the sink behind the bar but that wouldn’t do, he’d simply buy more on credit and send the bill to the office.

    Instead she poured out the daiquiri pitcher, rinsed it, filled it with water and threw it on him.
    He coughed and sputtered awake and immediately vomited.

    They had the maid clean it all up and Rose gave her three-hundred dollars extra in credits to keep her from gossiping to the society rags.
    She helped her husband upstairs and woke his valet and had him bathed and put to bed. In the morning she called her doctor.

    For the past few months, in what could only be described as a holiday haze, she’d reconsidered her decision not to have children by Oliver.
    She’d even gone so far as to ask him what names he might like over Corn Flakes one morning and he’d immediately replied, good-natured as he was when the subject of babies came up, and suggested Agatha or Conrad. Old Queen family names, both currently out of circulation.

    He’d gone on the wagon perforce during his surgeries and was delighted that the elbow replacement had gone well, but the recovery took longer than expected and now, seventeen months later, he still had only eighty percent use of his right arm.
    Yes, far better than twenty but not enough to join the Navy. Now he drank with relish and became resigned at his lot in life as an air raid warden, nothing more.

    She’d tried to cool the sting of what he saw as inadequacy by reminding him of how manly he was in all of his other pursuits.
    She was comforted that he’d kept his promise of fidelity to her and rewarded him every night. But the night drunks had spread to morning drunks with multiple mimosas and his libido had been thus diminished.

    He hadn’t turned to her in bed by day or night for nearly a month and Rose was finding it harder and harder to hold onto her good cheer.
    Babies were a comfort in some sense, but she wasn’t naïve enough to imagine they’d never grow older, with their own minds and, if this family was any indication, addiction problems. Children needed to be sure of their place; they needed guidance, not to be benevolently shuttled to and fro as was his family’s specialty.

    If she was going to raise any child by him, and that was still in question, she wasn’t sure if she could do the proper job, at least not while he was like this.
    If she went back to her family maybe, but that didn’t feel like a good option. She didn’t believe in long-term separation and she wasn’t altogether sure Oliver would keep up an apartment for her and their children. His old-fashioned masculinity probably wouldn’t allow it.

    So she made an appointment with her gynecologist to have an IUD placed.
    That would give them a few years without too much concern and the war should be over by then—or so she hoped—and Oliver, she guessed, would have to go through some sort of drying-out program. And, as she would later explain, if he didn’t get a hold of himself, she would make their childlessness permanent.

    She hung up the phone and went back upstairs and climbed into bed with him.
    Around noon she made him his customary hangover brunch of mashed potato on ground beef hamburger sandwiches, watching him settle blearily at the table.

    “I’m really…I’m really too sorry Rosie.
    I think I might’ve…made a mess.”

    She set his plate before him and nodded, “Uh-huh.”


    “Did I…maybe, I think I remember something about an apple.”


    She frowned at him, “Yes, you thought you might shoot it off the top of my head a la William Tell, or dare I say Burroughs, but you forgot the apple and you forgot to ask me first.”


    He tapped the table with his fingernail and shut his eyes, “Lordy, I’m sorry…I mean, I
    apologize. I’m…absolutely gobsmacked.”

    She started mashing up a sweet potato for herself, “Yuh-huh.”


    “Where are they, the bows and arrows I mean, you didn’t break them did you?
    I mean, I can’t blame you if you did.”

    “I didn’t break them, I know they’re…important.
    I hid them. You can have them back when you behave yourself.”

    He smacked the tabletop, “Dammit Rosie, I might’ve killed you.”


    “You didn’t.
    And you won’t, if I have anything to say about it,” she rinsed the hand mixer, “And I’ve called Dr. Spumoni. I want you to know I’m having the ‘pebble’ as you insist on calling it, put in.”

    “Arabian traders put them in their camels—”


    “You’ve told me that already, remember?
    And that I’m not an animal who has little choice but to go along with every stud who mounts her. Well, what does that matter,” her voice lowered to a murmur, “You haven’t mounted me in weeks.”

    He saw it for what it was and picked up his sandwich but didn’t bite yet, “What are the terms darling?”


    “You’ve got till I have to have the pebble taken out again to get yourself together.
    Then, because Dr. Spumoni won’t tie my tubes until I’m at least thirty or have had a child, I’ll put another pebble in and once that’s gone I’ll have the surgery. Like that old song says, ‘It ahll de-pends on you-hoo-hoo.’”

    “You want me to dry out completely?
    You know teetotalers are pr*cks.”

    She replied smugly while fetching a carafe of cream from the refrigerator, “You’re tight always and you’re already a pr*ck.
    Those are the terms Ollie. If you have to go to one of those colonies, or AA or something you’ll do it, or they’ll be no Agatha or Conrad. And you won’t see that arching kit again until you’re sober enough to use it,” she gave a wry smile, “Remember what your aunt Aggie did to her brother? I need you drunk like I need another hole in my head.”

    He now looked at her through his fingers, not appreciating the gallows humor.
    His voice always took on a sort of high English lilt when he was cross, “You’re a riot Rose.”

    “I don’t want to worry about it any longer; you won’t see them for a while anyhow.
    How’s the sandwich? There’s another keeping warm in the oven.”

    “Medium rare?”


    “Yes dear.”


    He took a bite, “Tremendously good as always.”


    “And what will you do about your college education?
    If you’re still uneasy about going back you might try Harvard’s extension school online,” she offered, now joining him at the table.

    “Maybe, father won’t pay for Harvard though.”


    “Seriously?” she spooned a bit of butter from the keeper before them.


    “Oliver the first was a Tiger through and through.
    No male heir’s university education will be provided for, at least in the usual sense, unless they go to Princeton, all the way through the seventh son of the seventh son. Father has little by way of his own means, and the family money is mostly tied up in investments and escrow. I won’t have any of my estate in my own name until I’m thirty remember? Even the bits and pieces I’ve borrowed against have at least twenty-five percent interest slapped on to deter me. You know the offices in Star City maintain this house, not me.”

    “My father still gives me an allowance every month, I could save up a few of those and cash some bonds and put you through.”


    His brow furrowed, “I can’t allow you to do that.”


    “Alright, consider the matter closed.
    But you have to do something. This silly little charade you have of going to the office every morning and cutting out before lunch to go to the racetrack won’t last. And uncle Tim asked me to encourage you to have some idea of what you want, at least by this Sunday’s dinner. Although I think I might want to skip this week, aunt Abby’s trying out a new recipe from her Ukrainian housekeeper: Oxtail dumplings.” She made a face.

    “If uncle Tim’s tapping you to tap me, that probably means my father’s tapping him.
    All the way from Mei-tan-fu.”

    She swatted his hands, “Don’t lick your fingers, it’s barbaric.”


    “I know, I know.
    Harvard online’s not a bad I idea, what sort of courses are they?”

    “Computer sciences, what else?”


    “Maybe Chip could take my place in line and I could go be a teacher or something, at Stanford or someplace.”


    “You’d still need a degree and if you decided to be a teacher now, you’ll have to throw out most of the credits you already took at Princeton.
    And suppose Chip doesn’t want the reins?”

    “Good point.
    And the company’s been in the family’s hands since the colonial days. My father wouldn’t forgive me if we gave it up though he loathed having to take it on.”

    “Uncle Tim helped.”


    “More than you know,” he rubbed his hands together, “Let’s have that other sandwich darling.”


    “And coffee?”


    “Sure.”


    She set the pot to brew, “…Aren’t you ever scared Ollie, I mean frightened of yourself like that?
    You never sound as though you are.”

    He stared at his emptied plate, clenching and unclenching his hands, answering quietly, “More than you know.”


    She pulled down two coffee cups and saucers, “I’m not, not yet, crazy as it sounds…but I could be.”


    He sat still and thought about what it would have been like to come out of that sleep a widower.
    To wake up and find Rose on the floor with his arrow in her skull and blood all around. Eyes wide, life snuffed. He quickly stood and ran to the downstairs bath, too far away for his taste, and voided the contents of his stomach into the sink.

    Old Conrad didn’t drink.
    He kept a snuff box and a pipe but quietly supported Carrie Nation and her hatchet wielding crew as a younger man. Eventual Prohibition must have come as a great relief. His father William had been all but ruined by cocaine back when it was supposedly medicinal.

    Rose called after him and he breathlessly assured her he was alright.
    Oliver then sank to the floor next to the toilet and relished the coolness of the porcelain bowl against his exposed calf, musing to himself:

    William Burroughs, William Tell, William Queen.


     

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