Authors: Barbara Delinsky
He did learn, though. During that summer and the ones that followed, he learned what went into the mining operation, when to use a hammer versus a chisel, how to blast open a new pocket, how to care for each crystal unearthed. He also learned that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in the family business if it meant hanging around with the men at the mine, and he certainly didn’t want it if it meant working with his father.
His father and the miners were alike. Eugene was one of them, a local. It didn’t matter that he was the boss, that he lived in the biggest house in town, and that he had an even finer one in Boston. He could drink with the others, tell jokes with the others, spend his Saturday mornings on the bruised brown bench on the town green passing the time of day with the others. He fit into the Timiny Cove life as only a native could.
John never would. He’d been born in Boston and had spent his earliest years in a neat little house in Brookline before his father bought the Beacon Hill home. He loved the city. He found it stately and genteel, civilized in ways that Timiny Cove would never be. Of course, he viewed it through the eyes of a Wright, and a Wright was a person of status.
Eugene St. George had none of that status. He may have risen a little when he married John’s mother, but when they went places as a family, even John could see that Sybil was the one who drew the respect. Not that Eugene didn’t hold his own. He looked right and talked right. John had often wondered how he did it, coming from the backwoods and all, until he found a book of etiquette lying open in the library one day. So Eugene never embarrassed them. Neither, though, did he impress the Brahmans of Boston.
Early on, John felt the sting of being a St. George. More than once when he went to a friend’s house, the shout from the door was, “It’s that St. George boy,” in a tone of voice that made him swallow hard and hold his chin high. The name should have been regal, he thought. On a blue-blood’s tongue, it wasn’t. Even then, he knew he had an uphill battle to wage.
What mystified him, given his mother’s family, was why they had allowed the wedding. Sybil and Eugene were from different worlds. Sybil was a lady, and while Eugene did his best to be a gentleman to match, he never quite seemed polished.
“Earthiness,” his mother had once said, grinning at Eugene at the time. “Earthiness is very exciting in a man.”
But John couldn’t see it. He found nothing exciting in dirt or sweat. The Wright side of the family had nothing to do with either and lived an exciting enough life shuttling between Boston and Cape Cod. In time, his mother seemed to see that too, because she had terrible arguments with Eugene about buying a summer house and joining the club. Eugene didn’t want either. He said that they had enough going for them between Boston and Timiny Cove, and that if Sybil wanted to summer on the Cape, she could just move in with her family.
She did that for a summer or two, while John suffered in Maine with Eugene. By the time he was old enough to understand what his mother meant by the appeal of earthiness in a man, his parents had split up.
It was inevitable. The way it happened, though, was wrong. Even at fifteen John knew that. Eugene announced one day that he wanted the divorce, that he would pay Sybil to file for it, pay for her to travel to a place where the divorce could be granted without delay. If she protested, he said, he would simply move to Maine and let her come along like a good wife or be branded the offending party. In either case, he would get his divorce. Whether it was sooner or later, more or less painful, depended on her.
She was devastated. She didn’t want a divorce. It just wasn’t done. It represented failure.
The Wrights, who had never cared for Eugene, argued otherwise. In their opinion, Sybil had married beneath her class and was now simply freeing herself from a man who would be nothing but a burden in the years to come.
Such was the story they passed among their friends. John heard it more than once. Living with his mother for all but the summers, he had even greater exposure to the Wright circle than before. He wasn’t offended when people criticized Eugene. Eugene was of a lower class. The fact that John had chosen to remain in Boston with his mother was proof that he was his mother’s son, a Wright in all but name.
That was what he kept telling himself, though the mirror told him different. At sixteen, he was becoming quite a man, tall and broad, with eyes that flashed vividly when he was angry and a voice that sounded self-assured even when he wasn’t. A handsome devil he was, and he knew it, but at sixteen he looked just like his father had at that age, if the observations of old-timers lounging on the porch of the post office in Timiny Cove were correct. John’s saving grace, as far as he was concerned, was his skin, which was less ruddy, smoother than his father’s, and his hair, which was darker, finer, and more easily groomed.
And, of course, he had class. Physical attributes alone meant nothing. Far more important in life, he told himself, was what he did with those attributes, which was where his Wright genes took over. He believed that he had more class at sixteen than Eugene St. George would ever have. He could go anywhere, do anything, and be sure of himself, because of the exposure he’d had. He knew the right people. If some of those right people still seemed wary of him, he assured himself, it would pass with time.
His life in Boston was rewarding. He attended the most prestigious prep school, wore the nattiest clothes, played a solid game of tennis on the clay courts at his grandparents’ club, and partied to his heart’s content. Eugene bought him a car to drive to Maine and back, but John took perverse delight in using it for all else but that. The car was shiny and new, everything Timiny Cove wasn’t, and the girls loved it. Not for a minute did John feel guilty about showing it off. After all, he was one of the privileged.
The carefree carousing he did was some solace for the fact that, a week after Sybil obtained her divorce, Eugene remarried. It came as a surprise to John, whose mind was on his own sexuality, not on his father’s. It hadn’t occurred to him to associate Eugene with another woman.
Before he could respond one way or another to the marriage, he had to cope with his mother’s reaction to it. She was stunned, then appalled, then furious that she hadn’t seen what was happening. Piecing things together, she realized that Eugene had been having an affair with Patricia for more than a year. The pain of that seemed her undoing more than the divorce itself. She lost something, became less enthusiastic about everything, including John.
He was furious. He had already decided that his father wasn’t worth much, but with his remarriage, that assessment fell even lower. John was personally affronted by what his father had done. The pain his mother felt was nothing compared to his own humiliation, because word spread quickly. Within weeks, all of Boston knew that Eugene had taken a second wife, that that wife was a good deal younger than he was, and that she was noticeably pregnant. John took his share of ribbing from his friends at school, even some from their parents, and although he swallowed it all with the good humor of the aristocrat he was determined to be, inside he seethed.
Eugene must have seen it, because before he introduced John to Patricia he took him aside with a warning. “Don’t say it, John. Don’t say it if you know what’s good for you. I don’t mind if you feel loyalty to your mother. It’d be strange if you didn’t. But I won’t have you upsetting my wife. You’ll show her respect, even if you choke on it.”
“I well might,” John mumbled.
“Come again, sonny?”
He should have known better, should have known that in the long run he couldn’t win, but he’d bottled the anger inside for too long. “You knocked her up. You got her pregnant while you were still with my mother. Is that why you married her, because she’s having your kid?”
Eugene glared at him, red-faced and rigid. “I married her because I love her.”
“What about my mother? What happened to the love you were supposed to be feeling for her?”
“Things happen sometimes. Love fades.”
“If it fades, what’s it worth? Will you love this one till it fades, then dump her, too? Will she be feeling the same kind of pain that my mother is now? This one—”
“Her name,” Eugene stated through clenched teeth, “is Patricia.”
“—must be really dumb—”
“Watch it, boy!”
“You want me to respect her, when she takes a married man away from his wife? What kind of woman does that? My mother was there. She was your wife. Were you respecting
, while you were shacking up with Patricia?”
Man of passion and impulse though he was, Eugene had never resorted to violence as an outlet for anger. Somewhere in the back of his mind, John knew that, and it was confirmed by the fact that Eugene kept his fists locked tightly to his sides.
“You’re treading on shaky ground, boy.”
“What can you do to me that you haven’t already done? Yell. Go ahead. Yell all you want. I’m used to that. Face it,” he dared say, at his most rebellious, “what you are and what you’ve done don’t concern me anymore. Two more years and I’ll be eighteen. Then I won’t even have to come when you call.”
But John had underestimated his father, who said in that same dangerously slow, tight-jawed way, “Don’t be so sure. I’m your future, John. St. George Mining is your future.”
“Not if I don’t want. it.”
“You will,” Eugene bellowed, “because the day you turn your back on it will be the day I write you off. That’ll be the end of the money, sonny. And don’t”—he raised a cautioning finger—“think you’ll be supported by the Wrights in the style you like, because there’s somethin’ you don’t know about people like that. You think they live high off the hog? Well, look close. The house on the Cape has been in the family for three generations and is shabby as hell. The membership in the country club was bought for perpetuity by the Wright who was a founding member. Do you see your aunt an’ uncle buying fancy clothes? Or flyin’ to New York for the weekend? Your cousins didn’t get new cars when they turned sixteen. The fact is, sonny, that people like that have the pedigree and the history and the money, but they don’t shell out. So if you think you’re gonna turn to them to support you while you piss away your time with your nose up in the air, you’re wrong.”
Seeing that he’d regained the upper hand, he took a breath. “You need my money, John. Think about it, and you’ll know it’s true.”
John wanted to argue, but his rebelliousness wouldn’t take him that far. He wasn’t sure if he believed that the Wright side of the family was a dry well, but he did know that there was money in St. George Mining. He liked nice things, and nice things cost money. Until he knew his options, he couldn’t risk disinheritance.
So he met Patricia, and it took every bit of the social skill he’d developed in his sixteen years to be civil. The gossip hadn’t quite prepared him. Married, she was; the shining gold band on her finger confirmed that. Pregnant, she was; her protruding belly confirmed that. But John had imagined a husband stealer to be more sharp-edged. Patricia was pretty and soft, hatefully so.
She was also very, very young. Gossip had hinted at that, but John wasn’t prepared for someone far closer to his own age than to Eugene’s. She was, it turned out, twenty, to Eugene’s forty-eight, which was the most bizarre, the most hateful turn of all.
John couldn’t return to Boston fast enough, not so much to report on what he’d learned, since he was too disgusted to confess it, but because he needed to return to his own life and blot out his father and his father’s very young, very pregnant wife.
He might have succeeded had Sybil not taken suddenly ill. The diagnosis was cancer. The prognosis was guarded. She had one operation, then another, and though the Wrights came often to visit, John was the one who stayed by her side. “You look so much like your father,” she would say with a smile in fuzzy moments, just before she drifted into a drugged sleep, and although he hated the comparison, he knew he would bear it if it brought her some comfort. Nothing else seemed to. The lethargy that had set in after Eugene’s marriage was magnified tenfold. The doctors told her to fight. The Wrights told her to fight. John told her to fight. But she wouldn’t.
Seven months after the cancer was found, she died. John, at seventeen, was hit in the face with the facts of life and death. His grief was intense and complex. He felt fear, confusion, anger, and a pride that kept him from sharing his feelings with others lest they think him weak. So he guarded his emotions well, pressing them into a deep, dark portion of his mind, covering them over with the practical concerns relevant to survival. Because that was the name of the game. Not only was Sybil gone, but no invitation had come from the Wrights for John to move in with any of them. They didn’t have to respect Eugene St. George to fear him, John was dismayed to discover. They gave Eugene wide berth, which meant keeping well to themselves where the matter of John’s well-being was concerned.
John was totally disillusioned. Wasn’t blood thicker than water? he wondered. Wasn’t the fact that he was his mother’s son enough to keep him in the Wright fold? But they let him go. He had to accept that what his father had told him that night in Maine was true. When the chips were down, help wouldn’t come from the Wrights, particularly now that Sybil was gone.
Within weeks of her death, Eugene moved Patricia and their newborn daughter into the Beacon Hill townhouse to which he had never relinquished the title. If he’d been able to think charitably, John might have thanked his father for maintaining the continuity of his senior year in high school, rather than forcing him to move up to Maine. But he was beyond gratitude. He saw the move as an insult to the memory of his mother. More than that, he saw it as an enemy occupation. They were the enemy, Eugene and Patricia. Sybil had given up on life, and they were to blame. Not even the baby was without guilt. Despite Eugene’s denials, John was convinced that she was the one thing most instrumental in bringing about the marriage.