Authors: Barbara Delinsky
But he was over a barrel. He wanted to pack up and move out, but his father had the money. John’s weekly allowance wasn’t enough to carry him long. Turning eighteen wouldn’t matter. Twenty-five was the magic number, and “modest sum” was the term Eugene used when describing what John would receive then if he didn’t join St. George Mining. Otherwise, John’s weekly allowance would continue until he graduated from college, when he would go on salary with the company. That salary would be generous. John wouldn’t have cause for complaint as long as he stayed with the business.
John would have screamed in frustration if it wouldn’t have been uncouth. In the privacy of his thoughts, though, the curses went on. He had wealthy friends, friends with potential, friends to impress. Living with his father didn’t help his image; Eugene was and always would be the miner from Maine, in the minds of those who mattered. John knew he’d have to work twice as hard to avoid that stigma and prove himself worthy of his city friends. He’d have to build on the image of self-confidence, wealth, and sophistication that he’d already established.
So he needed money. He was the proverbial beggar who couldn’t be choosy, and he despised the role with a passion. His daily life was tormented. Although he spent as much time as possible out of the house, inevitably he encountered Patricia. More than Eugene and the baby, who did little more than sleep and eat, Patricia bothered him. He despised her—despised her for snaring Eugene, for having been poor and desperate and pregnant at the time of her marriage, and for clinging to Eugene ever since. He despised her for being surprisingly nice to him. Mostly, he despised her for being so young and so pretty.
With a deliberate effort at first, he was civil to her. In time, that civility became a way of life. It was easier, he decided, to shut off his emotions and do what had to be done than to challenge his father’s power. Someday he would. He wasn’t about to stand in Eugene’s shadow for the rest of his life, any more than he was about to break off from the company with nothing more than a “modest sum.” He figured he had more due him, and he intended to collect.
First he had to graduate from high school, which he did with his share of academic honors. Eugene couldn’t appreciate that, he knew, any more than Eugene could appreciate the fact that he had been accepted at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. As far as Eugene was concerned, any school that could give John the basics in business would be fine, since he had a job waiting for him.
But John had worked his tail off—with panache, of course, and ease, in the eyes of his friends—to get into a top college for a purpose. The academic honors and acceptance at Penn were credentials to add to his name. They complemented the image of the aristocrat, the man who aimed for greatness and achieved it without noticeable effort. The Wharton School was prestigious. It was rich with contacts. It was also far from Boston.
Other than summers, when he commuted between Boston and Timiny Cove, he was rarely at home during his four years at Penn. He liked it that way. He didn’t particularly care to see Eugene or Patricia, and he certainly didn’t care to see the baby. The way they fawned over her disgusted him—though there were, he had to admit, some amusing moments. When Eugene tossed her high into the air, Patricia was furious, but no more so than Eugene was when Patricia dressed the little girl up like a doll. They were forever arguing about what was and wasn’t right for her to do. John might have felt sorry for the kid had she not been such a charmer. From the earliest, she played up to both of her parents, sensing what each wanted from her and delivering. She could make them smile, which was something that, at least when it came to Eugene, John had never been able to do.
He wasn’t jealous. One couldn’t be jealous of a child, he reasoned. He had his own life, his own future. He could afford to let them all smile. His turn would come.
So he waited. When he graduated from college, he took over the office that Eugene had designated his at the St. George Mining headquarters in Boston. Given his druthers, he’d have been working for another company in another city, but other opportunities had been scarce. Neither the contacts he’d made at Wharton nor his own Boston connections—most of them were busy finding prestigious spots of their own—produced a better offer than Eugene’s. Certain circles were tight, and he was, after all, a St. George. He might have taken an entry-level post somewhere, even managed to wangle something a little higher up the ladder, but nothing could compare with the title of vice president that awaited him in Boston.
Again, it was a matter of show. An impressive office and a title to match were valuable in and of themselves. They were part of the image he cultivated and went hand in hand with dinners at Locke Ober’s, rounds of tennis at the Cricket Club, and weekends in Newport.
He also happened to know more about the workings of St. George Mining than he did about anything else, and for the first time in his life he had clout. It wasn’t a whole lot, but it was something, and the more he used it, and used it well, the more it worked for him. People within the company were eager to please him.
Clinging to that notion and the satisfaction that it brought to his everyday life, John spent the next few years refining his interests. Although he was intimate with no one friend, he was active with many, and that included women. He was good-looking, well-to-do, and had an impressive position and enough charm to please almost any woman he met. He took advantage of that. If he’d been into carving notches on his belt, it would have been covered.
Most of the women he dated were debutantes, firmly ensconced in the social scene within which he saw himself taking part. He wasn’t wildly in love with any of them, but then, love wasn’t something he valued. He wasn’t looking for it and he didn’t need it. What he needed was to be seen at the right times and places with the right people.
As he moved into his midtwenties, though, he needed something else. The women he bedded were pretty enough and accommodating enough. They were clever enough. But they weren’t loose and exciting and aggressive. He found himself dreaming of women who were.
Women like Hillary Cox. John hated to admit it, since she was from Timiny Cove and he didn’t want to give the town credit for much of anything, but Hillary, in bed, was something else.
He met her for the first time during the summer after his junior year in college. She was fifteen to his twenty-one, and she seemed to be hanging around the places he went—sitting outside the post office when he came out, standing by the magazines while he was buying cigarettes. She was always alone, and while other local girls eyed him when they thought he wasn’t looking, she made no bones about meeting his gaze. She was different in other ways, too. Her clothes were nicer, newer, not high fashion by a long shot, but interesting. She had darker hair, fairer skin, and looked gypsyish and smart.
Having nothing better to do until he finished his business in Timiny Cove, he approached her. She wasn’t shy. No sooner had he introduced himself—a formality, since the whole town knew who he was, but it was the proper thing, and he prided himself on doing the proper thing even in as backward a place as Timiny Cove—than she began asking questions. She wanted to know about life in the city. She imagined it was very exciting.
Because she was different, and because she was interested, he talked with her. While the others in town made him feel like an outsider, she made him feel like the worldly sort he considered himself. She was good for his ego. He wanted to think he was good for hers, but he wasn’t sure. She didn’t seem to care much whether people saw them talking. Her main interest seemed to be in learning as much as she could about the life he led.
He gave her information to dream on, and she sought him out often after that, always with curious dark eyes and questions that only a person with a destination would ask. She was going to Boston, maybe even New York, she informed him, either for college or after. She wanted to be a writer. She was going to make a name for herself.
John humored her. He doubted that she’d ever attain her lofty goals, this young girl from Timiny Cove, but the fervor in her eyes when she spoke intrigued him. When she was accepted into Radcliffe, he was impressed. That fervor could do things. He began to wonder whether it went beyond her mind.
It was a simple enough matter to find out. She was clearly smitten with him. One night, not long after, he took her for a drive down the private lane behind Eugene’s big brick house, parked the car on a rise overlooking the valley, and kissed her. She was hot, responding to him with an innocent hunger that he couldn’t resist. He took her virginity in the backseat of his Olds, then made love to her twice more before driving her home. Each time she grew bolder. He taught her wildness even as he discovered it in himself. The release he found with her was potent.
He didn’t see her often, even when she came to Boston the next year. His lifestyle didn’t allow for a steady woman; his image didn’t allow for one from Timiny Cove. But from time to time he needed the rowdy passion she offered. As an outlet for sexual aggression, she was second to none.
She also happened to be the only person with whom he could talk. Not that he said much; he was largely self-contained. But he was human. Some things had to come out. He might have been more guarded if Hillary had been from society, but she was from Timiny Cove. She already knew his family. Nothing he said about them could change her opinion of him.
So he sounded off about his father. Although Eugene pretty much let him handle the office end of the business on his own, the times they were together were more difficult than ever. John was learning the business well, noticing its strengths and weaknesses. While it was a steady, profit-making venture, he saw potential for far more. Eugene wasn’t interested. He was perfectly comfortable with the status quo and saw no need to take unnecessary risks. John argued ad infinitum about the value of growth, but Eugene couldn’t see it. He couldn’t see much of anything John’s way. He was too busy feeling pride in Pam.
John had no qualms about telling Hillary his opinion of Pam: “She’s a regular bitch.”
“Come on, John. She’s only twelve.”
“Try telling her that. She’s spoiled as sin, and no wonder, the way he dotes. You’d think there was something special about her, but if there is, I can’t see it. She isn’t a genius. And she’s not gorgeous.”
“She smiles a lot. That’s all.”
“Not at you. She’s very careful with you.”
“She knows I’m no fool. She can’t wrap me around her finger the way she does him.”
“I think you’re jealous.”
But he didn’t believe that. He’d go farther in life than either one of them. “Try again, Hillary.”
“I think it’s nice that they’re close, she and her father. I wish I had half that closeness with mine.”
“If you did, you wouldn’t be as independent as you are. That’s what I like about you. You think for yourself. You don’t cling. You have your own life, and you let me lead mine.”
“Am I supposed to be happier that way?”
“Definitely. Look at Patricia. She’s just the opposite, and she’s miserable.”
“Is she jealous of the relationship between Pam and Eugene?”
“Not quite. She’s relieved they’re close. It takes the burden off her. She has a lot on her mind.”
That was a whole other story, one that John chose not to relate to Hillary. In her own way, Patricia was bothering him even more than Pam and Eugene. From the start their relationship had been awkward. Their closeness in age, John’s antagonism toward her, and her resultant deference all led to tension. For years they walked carefully around each other.
Then John joined the business, and it was as though Patricia had suddenly found a friend. The business concerned her. She wanted to know how it was doing and where it was headed. Not only was Eugene spending more and more of his time in Timiny Cove, but when he was in Boston he had less and less patience for her questions.
John could understand why she turned to him. He knew what was going on in the company, could give her the answers she wanted, and he was available. He also came to understand that there was a power to be had in possessing and sharing information, particularly when the power had to do with Patricia and Eugene. So he indulged Patricia her questions, and the more he did, the more she asked. Increasingly, he found her waiting for him to come home, upset by something Eugene had said or done, desperate for reassurance. He gave her that, and if it meant speaking out against Eugene, he did so.
Surprisingly often, Patricia was on John’s side, particularly on the matter of expansion. She too wanted Eugene to broaden his base, but he wouldn’t listen to her either. Frustrated and upset, she argued with him, which promptly sent him running back to Maine, frustrating and upsetting her all the more.
And John was there.
It was totally spontaneous the first time, on a dark and rainy Friday night shortly after Eugene and she had argued. Eugene had swept Pam off in the car to spend the weekend in Maine, leaving Patricia behind to stew alone. Coming in from work, John had found her distraught. Gentleman that he was, when she slipped her arms around his waist and began to cry, he comforted her. Then, in the course of the comforting, something happened. His hands began to move over a body that was soft and lovely. His mouth touched hers once, then again and again. His body responded in the only way that an active twenty-eight-year-old man with a healthy appreciation of women could respond.