Artifacts of Affection (CH6)

Chapter Six

“He likes you,” Corrine said, standing before the bathroom sink, cleaning her face and teeth.

Olivia soaked in the old iron bathtub with the navy curtain drawn round it so Corrine couldn’t see her expressions. “That’s nice,” she finally said around splashing her wash cloth idly.

“That’s nice?” Corrine stamped her foot. “Nice is all you can say about it? He’s … well… he’s great for you! He’s not exactly hot, and he’s criminally ignorant of the arts and kind of single-minded about science, but you like geeks, and he’s a nice one.”

“I think you give him too little credit,” Olivia said. “He’s really smart, and I think he’s lovely. Just because he doesn’t know opera doesn’t mean he’s not well-rounded. We had a wonderful talk about architecture a couple of days ago.”

“So you do like him?” Corrine peeked in.

“I appreciate his friendship, but he’s off limits.”

Corrine huffed. “What crap, Olivia. By what standards? Who has the right to stand in the way of love and happiness?”

Olivia grabbed her towel and stood up. “Love, happiness? I’ve known him a week. As for who, the University that employs me and the corporation that employs him,” she said sharply. “They have every right to object. The appearance of misbehavior or ethical breaches is very damaging. It’ll be hard enough for me when I start publishing about this site because I’m not papered yet. If there’s even the barest whiff of a hint of a rumor of impropriety, it’ll ruin my academic reputation before it ever leaves the ground.”

Corrine’s pretty face crumpled into a pout. “I’m sorry. They’re stupid. What chance do you get at happiness when everyone you meet is off limits?”

Olivia laughed at that. “I’m not dead yet, Corrie. I don’t have time for a boyfriend. Even the most patient man in the world would get fed up with my schedule. Let me get you off to grad school, and Suse off to college, and Mom –”

“It’ll never happen if you put all of those blocks in your way,” Corrine said softly. “Mom’s never going to be able to live alone.”

Olivia shrugged and yanked her bathrobe belt tight. “I don’t mind. I’m only twenty-six. I have plenty of time.”

“You know if you don’t marry by — ”

“Corrine, would you like me to look up the actual statistics on that old wives’ tale?” Olivia said abruptly. “Where are you pulling this Victoriana from? I don’t need to marry and have babies… or even date. Besides… he’s all over the world. He’s probably got a booty-call at every airport. He may like me now, but not necessarily… long-term. I don’t do hook-ups and. I’m not a fan of international STDs.”

Olivia and Susannah walked to school without Corrine the next day, who was determined to enjoy the two days between her last final and graduation seeing her friends, relaxing, and checking on possible job offers. To that end, she was sleeping in.

“Avery’s nifty,” Susannah said. “Are you going to go out with him?”

“You too?” Olivia said, less irked now with Susannah than she had been with Corrine when the pain of self-denial was fresh. “Shall I be plagued with matchmakers like Henry II was plagued by Becket? Remember Henry’s solution.”

“You don’t have minions to murder me,” Susannah said cheerfully. “He watches you, the way guys do.”

“Speaking of being watched… Corrine said you have a problem child who won’t leave you alone.”

“She wasn’t supposed to tell you,” Susannah said irritably.

“Does he still bother you?”

“Yes,” Susannah huffed in that impatient, thirteen year old voice that implied her elders were sunk in advanced dementia. “But it’s almost over. He’ll go to Fairview, and I’ll go to Boulder High.”

“I think we should file a report – not press charges, but start a document trail,” Olivia said.

Susannah shook her head. “It’s nothing, Via, and I’m not making a big deal out of it. Corrine should have kept her mouth shut.”

Olivia tried to reason with Susannah, but she wouldn’t talk about it. When they reached the middle school, Susannah stalked off, and Olivia headed for the University.

She crossed paths with Avery halfway there, and walked the remainder of the trip together. “I planned this, you know. Susannah said you walk to school together most mornings, so I asked what time and where.”

“You’re giving my family ideas, Avery.”

“I also want to apologize for not thinking. Friends?”

Olivia smiled. “Of course. But colleagues first. Will we be ready to start when we get up there?”

“Yes. These were waiting at the front desk for me this morning, by the way.” He handed her a stack of color printouts. “From the relator. Pick which house you think works best and we’ll rent it.”

She shuffled through the four listings, and shrugged. “They’ll all work. Whichever’s closest to the site.”

“The blue one, then. What should I bring to this celebratory dinner tonight?”

“Oh, I almost forgot!” she cried. “Thanks for reminding me. Tonight is no big deal, but Mom wanted me to invite you Sunday afternoon for Corrine’s official graduation party. That’s formal. Can you manage it?”

“How formal?” he chuckled. “For the rest of the world or for you ladies?”

“For the rest of the world. Think garden party?” she said. “Jacket and tie, but Mom’s never thrown anyone out for flip-flops and grunge, either. But being post-graduation, and our neighborhood of professors, expect more tweed and khaki than batik and Birkenstocks. Sunday afternoon at four. My half-brother and his wife are coming, as well as Corrie’s godparents and assorted friends and relatives.”

“I’m delighted,” he said. “Tonight?”

“I think we’ll dress for dinner, but nothing outstanding,” she said.

Avery smiled. “The rest of the world has lost that art of dressing for supper. Dessert or wine?”

“Your choice. You’ll make Mom and Corrie happy with wine, and Suse and me happy with sweets.”

“You don’t drink?”

“Not often,” she said. “If Corrie and Suse marry, I’ll toast them. I don’t like the taste.”

“Ah. Not at your own wedding? Or commitment?”

“Like I have time.” She sighed and rolled her eyes.

“What?” Avery demanded. “I’m trying to learn if… well — ”

“No, I don’t date,” she said flatly.

He looked at her oddly. “Why?”

She wanted this subject dropped. She shrugged uncomfortably and sped up.

“Fine, don’t tell me, then. You’re being a flirt.”

“I’m not — Just… let it go.”

“Okay,” Avery said, mystified. “I probably don’t want to know, do I?”

“No, you don’t.”

They worked companionably until noon, when Avery went to get his lunch. Olivia was deep in inputting the freshman grades, and missed Mahon leaning against her door.

“The boyfriend finally took a hike,” he said, startling Olivia.

“Out, Mahon. I sent it. You’ll have to deal.”

“Like they’ll care, when they hear what you’re up to,” he smirked. “I saw you and the boyfriend. Did you fuck him to get the contract, or after?”

“Out, Mahon.” Olivia ignored him, though her face burned. She turned back to the grades, hoping her back concealed her shaking hands.

“Or both? You and Corrine get down with him?”

“I’m calling security,” Olivia said.

“Yeah, yeah. You think I care? Your report went through, and they fired me yesterday cuz it’s my third harassment violation in two years.” He rounded her desk with surprising speed and Olivia caught the stench of frat — old tobacco and pot smoke, beer, testosterone and sweat. She grabbed for the phone and scrabbled for the panic button built into every deskset. Mahon grabbed for her.

“Fuck, Livvie, we’ve known each other for fifteen years, why’d you have to be such a bitch?”

“Oi, back off,” Avery said, and Olivia saw him at the door. “Call security, Olivia.”

Mahon didn’t back off, but the assistance of a hand on his collar and another on his belt gave Olivia time to hit the panic button. Avery backed out of the limited space with David Mahon in front of him, until both men were in the hall. Avery let go of Mahon, and Mahon swung.

“Get out of this, boyfriend. This don’t concern you!” Mahon shouted. Doors opened up and down the hall as Mahon lost his diction and what remained of his temper.

Avery blocked the punch with his left forearm and caught Mahon’s wrist. Mahon had weight and strength behind him, but sobriety counted for far more. In slow motion, Olivia watched them grapple, while several of the other grad students moved through molasses towards them. After several eons, six arms held Mahon on the floor, though he continued to make loud, false comments about everyone around him, especially Olivia.

Campus security finally arrived, and as David Mahon was known rather too well to them, he was removed. A polite member of that force asked Olivia several questions that, while she answered honestly, she couldn’t remember what she said. Then they were gone, and graduate students disappeared back into their holes, to tweet and text this bit of delicious gossip.

“Are you all right?” Avery said when the hall was quiet.

“Mortified, but physically okay. He didn’t actually touch me.” She tried to stand and realized her legs would not support her. Avery caught her upper arm and lowered her back into her chair.

“Steady. You’ve got enough adrenalin right now for about six people, I’d bet. Metallic taste in your mouth?”

Olivia realized there was, and nodded. He nodded back. “Yep. Shock. Take a few deep breaths and I’ll get you a cup of tea. Cures everything.”

She closed her eyes and allowed two tears of utter shame and embarrassment to escape. The ugly lies Mahon had shouted would now, for good or ill, be circulated, first amongst her fellow graduate students, then to their advisors. They’ll have to call an ethics committee, and that’ll end my career. No other grad school will take me…

“Drink this,” Avery said, and wrapped her hands around a warm mug. She opened her eyes and saw tea, and sympathy. “Dry your eyes.” He produced a clean handkerchief from his pants pocket.

“Thank you,” Olivia said. “I must call Dr. Barron immediately.”

“Done. She’s on her way. How long’s that been going on?”

“Years.”

“You never did anything about it?”

“Filed reports, first with the principal at high school, then the dean of student life, then campus HR. His high school disciplinary record didn’t follow him here, and his undergraduate housing record didn’t follow him into grad school or employment. Only in the last year have the harassment policies grown teeth.”

“Poor Olivia,” he said sympathetically, and stroked her hair.

Suddenly angry, Olivia jerked away from him. “Don’t make it worse, Mr. Godwin. My character’s tattered enough for today.”

“Of course,” he said, matching the frost in her voice. “I’ll tell Dr. Barron there’s no standing for Mr. Mahon’s accusations. Merely human sympathy and collegial affection.”

“Good. Thank you. You’ve been most kind.”

Olivia heard rapid footsteps, and recognized Dr. Barron’s odd double tapping gait, slightly syncopated. Corrine says Dr. Barron walked with a Bossa Nova beat.

“Olivia, are you all right?” she said as soon as she hit the door.

“I’m fine, Dr. Barron, but you’ll have to do damage control.”

“Mr. Godwin said Mr. Mahon was not exactly in his right mind,” Dr. Barron said.

“Beer, weed, wounded privilege…. And ammonia. Maybe meth?” Olivia replied. “He’s been… hostile towards me for almost as long as I’ve known him. More importantly, he accused me of an improper personal relationship with Mr. Godwin.”

Dr. Barron sighed. “I recall he’s done this in the past. We ignored his claims after the first one turned out to be exactly opposite.”

Olivia looked at her quizzically.

“Mr. Mahon, in his undergraduate days, accused another student of trading sexual favors for preferment in summer research work. In fact, he propositioned her and she rejected him. He was reprimanded.”

“Ah,” Olivia said.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. Gossip may flutter around for a few more days, until everybody scatters, but by fall, all will be forgotten. Unless…”

“I assure you, Doctor, there is nothing untoward between Miss Halivand and myself.”

“Then there are no worries, are there?” Dr. Barron said cheerfully. “Are you sure you’re well, Olivia?”

“I’m fine.” Olivia stood, found her legs cooperative, and nodded. “I’m going to take a brief walk, clear my head, finish these scores, then go home.”

“Fine idea. On a completely unrelated topic, Dr. Kayoto asked if you were in today. He’s trying to find your sister.”

“Corrie should be at home, or possibly in the dorms, with her friends,” Olivia said. “I’ll wander over to Murray and see if she’s to be found.”

Corrine was indeed with her friends, most of whom lived in the performing arts dorm on the south side of campus. Amid tears, laughter, promises of letters, calls and email and the improbable packing of four years’ accumulated wealth into small cars, Corrine seemed the calm eye of the storm, and her eyes were streaming.

“Via!” she shouted from the landing when Olivia walked in. “I’m up here!”

Corrine had to introduce her to several people – none of whom Olivia ever expected to see again – before Olivia could deliver the message. Corrine instantly became serious. “I’d better go.” She hugged two or three people, kissed a few cheeks on her way down, and promised others to return shortly. Once they reached the main walk, she set off at high speed for the Arts building, leaving Olivia surrounded by a hundred or more departing undergraduates. She walked rapidly away, not wanting to be in their way.

Avery had gone when she returned, though he’d left a note on her monitor. See you at seven, with chocolate wine, if I can find it. I understand. She smiled. That was the best thing she’d seen all day.

She input her final scores, copied them to Dr. Barron – who was the primary instructor, after all – and shut down her machine for the weekend. I’ll probably have to come back on Monday for a few hours, but if all goes well, I’m done for this academic year, and can concentrate on HiveCor and Avery Godwin’s project.

She crumpled the note and stuck it in her pocket. “Just in case,” she murmured.

Rebecca was still engrossed in her own work, and Susannah not yet home. Olivia barely expected Corrine – she’d be home for their celebration, but not much before. Olivia raided the garden for early lettuce and baby vegetables for the salad and cleaned them.

While she scrubbed carrots, Susannah came in for hummus and crackers. “Guess what?” she asked.

“Ms. Collier has built an intelligent robot, and plans to market it for household help?” Olivia made up the most outrageous thing she could, just to watch Susannah laugh.

“No! That’s a good one, though. I’m done with finals on Tuesday.”

“Susie, you’ve still got a week of school, not to mention detention on Monday.”

“Next week is finals. Monday’s Math and Photography, Tuesday is Bio and French. In History we’re watching Glory and we own that. Ms. Cohn said all she wanted was a one page essay on the theme. I asked her if there would be any more, and she said no. So I wrote an essay at lunch, handed it in, and she accepted it.”

“That leaves three classes,” Olivia said.

“PE we’re not doing anything. No test, no grades, nothing.”

“Okay.”

“Those are on Wednesday. Thursday is Orchestra and Literature. I’ve got a pass in Lit, since I’ve gotten 100 on all the tests this semester. That’s the deal, remember?”

“Right. And Ms. Baumgarner isn’t having a sight-reading test?”

“Nope. Besides, I’m first chair and I’ve kept it through every single challenge.”

“Friday is assembly and the party,” Olivia said. “Are you trying to get me to call you in sick on Wednesday and Thursday?”

“No. I’m trying to get you to withdraw me on Wednesday so we can go on up to Silver Bay. It’s not fair to make you wait around for me when we could get going.”

“Oh.” Olivia gave Susannah a squeeze. “That’s sweet, and Mom and I will discuss it, but it’s unnecessary.”

“It would help, right?”

“Ask Avery tonight. Remember, he’s coming for the celebration.”

“Sweet! What are you wearing?”

“Something cool,” Olivia said, and shoved her damp hair off her forehead. “Go turn on the house fan, please, Suse?”

“If you’ll let me pick out your dress and play with your hair,” Susannah wheedled.

“You have your own hair to play with.”

“Not so fun. Yours is longer.”

“Fine. Go. It’s a hellmouth in here.”

Olivia washed, hulled and sliced the strawberries, then made the crepes. Standing over the stove was worse than just being in the kitchen. When the doorbell sounded, she was glad for the respite.

Avery stood on the steps, still dressed as he had been earlier in the day. “I need your help,” he said by way of greeting.

“I’m in the middle of something,” Olivia said, and then caught sight of his face. “What is it?”

“We’ve got a problem.”

Olivia held open the door. “Come on. Start talking.”

He followed her to the kitchen, explaining. “I just got word from HiveCor legal that a citizens’ group in Silver Bay got an injunction against any work on the site until they know what kind of ruin it is.”

“Why is this a problem?” Olivia said as she mopped a little butter in the pan, and then poured the batter. “Isn’t that what I’m doing?”

“Because the injunction is so badly worded it means you can’t investigate to figure out what kind of ruin it is.” He leaned against the cabinet to her left and watched.

“Isn’t this a problem for the legal staff?” Olivia said, and turned the crepe over with a flick of her wrist.

“Wow.”

“It’s easy, once you know the trick. Don’t get distracted, Avery. Why isn’t HiveCor’s legal staff handling this?”

“They are, but we really need to get up there yesterday, if possible.”

Olivia thought for a moment while she dumped the crepe on the stack to her right. “It’s not exactly the best timing. I mean, I know I’m technically at your disposal, but I’d really like to be here Sunday morning when Corrine graduates.”

“Could we go up there tonight and come back tomorrow night?” he asked. “I’ve a plane at my disposal and it only takes about two hours by plane.”

Olivia stared at him. “Now?”

“No, we can have the party and leave about ten. That gets us in at midnight, and as long as you don’t mind taking a sleeping bag, we can stay at your temporary house. We’ll talk to this group tomorrow.”

“Hi, Avery!” Susannah shouted, running down the stairs. She threw her arms around him, kissed his cheek, and bounced a little with teenage enthusiasm. “Via said to ask you, but I can be out of school Tuesday afternoon. Would that be a good thing or not?”

“Very good,” Avery said, and picked her up by the elbows. “However, I desperately need to carry you elsewhere for a moment. Where does my lady wish to be deposited?”

“Can’t I listen? Mom and Via and Corrie never keep anything from me, not even gross or sad or ugly stuff.

“Suse, behave,” Olivia said. “Go on, Avery, take her outside and deposit her in the summerhouse.”

“Put me down here,” Susannah said, her tone positively bleak. “I’ll go cut flowers for the table.”

“Use the roses first!” Olivia called as Avery set Susannah on her feet and she bounded away. “You don’t have to play with her if you don’t wish to,” she said.

“I like Susannah. Anyway, shall I call and get this plane ready, and get this guy to get his people together?”

“Sure — no choice. Let me finish these and I’ll pack a bag and dig out the sleeping bags. The study should be quiet – it’s through the hall, on the left.”

“What did Susannah mean?”

“If I call her in, she’s done on Tuesday. Which means we can leave here Wednesday if Corrine can supervise the packing tomorrow. Mom’s just about ready to go,” Olivia said. “It’s a day’s drive.”

“Will you please? If your family can be ready to leave Tuesday evening, then if all goes well tomorrow…. ”

“We’ll know more tomorrow,” Olivia said. “I’ll make sure Suse knows she’s to pack.”

“Fabulous. Now I’m off in search of wine and chocolates – ”

“We’re having crepes. No chocolates needed. I forgot I promised Corrine.”

“I’m off in search of wine and to pack my own overnight bag.”

“Call them!” Olivia said, alarmed.

“Oh, right. May I make use – ”

“The study – go!” Olivia directed and pushed him. She laughed a little to herself, then followed him to message her mother. When Rebecca was deep in her work, interrupting her physically could cause every thought to evaporate like water on a hot skillet, but electronic messages got through.

“Two passengers, to Silver Bay. Yes. Tonight. Um… sec. ” Avery lowered his phone from his face. “Do you mind being in a turbo-prop at night?”

“I’ve never been in a turbo-prop, so no.”

“It’s not like a commercial carrier – ”

“I’ll live,” Olivia said. “Take what’s available.”

“We’ll take it. Right. Ten fifteen. Perfect.”

Olivia left him dialing the phone, and went to the attic to dig through the camping gear. She remembered putting it away the previous winter after a protest, but the sleeping bags seemed to be elsewhere. The attic was as tidy as the rest of the house, but a few things were out of place. She finally found the sleeping bags unrolled and piled at the far end of the attic, under the view hatch their father had built for watching the stars during winter. She also found markers as to the observer – Susannah’s flashlight and a notebook in Susannah’s handwriting.

“Well… she can observe them away from the light pollution next week,” Olivia said. She picked up the top two bags and Susannah’s book and headed for the basement. Then she saw the note.

To her credit, Olivia didn’t intend to read it, but the block letters on the front — SOMEDAY U’LL SEE I WANT U — caught her attention.

Susannah’s obsessive young man seemed, to Olivia, far worse than Susannah had let on. He reminded Olivia of David Mahon at fifteen – creepily threatening, obsessed, willing to go to whatever extreme he must to convince the object of his affections of his intentions. Olivia took it with her and thought about confronting Susannah with it.

No, she thought, this isn’t Susie’s fault. I’ve no reason to come down on her like a ton of bricks. She took the sleeping bags to the basement and put the first in the washer while debating what to do.

Avery was still on the phone, but listening rather than talking. Olivia scanned the note, both sides. Then she emailed it to Susannah’s principal, with a note explaining that, since Susannah had no finals that affected her grades on Wednesday and Thursday, and in light of this harassment, they would be taking Susannah out of school three days early.

“You look annoyed,” he said quietly.

“You’re on the phone,” she said.

“Hold. Our lawyer’s doing some research for me.”

“Susannah’s being stalked,” she said. Avery’s eyes went wide.

“Glad we’re getting her out of here, then,” he said. Then the lawyer must have come back, for he started talking and seemed to forget that she was there.

Olivia watched him for a long moment as he spoke, and wondered why she had thrilled so when he said we.

He found her half an hour later in the summerhouse. “Cooling down?” he asked.

“Yes. The only problem with having the room under the eaves is the summers. In winter, I’m happy heat rises.”

“Don’t tell me you’re packed,” he said.

“I am. And once I’m cool, I’ll go bathe, dress for dinner, put my bag by the door, and relax for the rest of the afternoon.”

“I have far too many misconceptions,” he said. “I thought no woman could travel without a camel train, and families hated each other, and you keep proving me wrong.”

“Corrine proves your first count,” she said ruefully. “That may be why I pack lightly. If there’s something I need, Corrie will have it.”

“But the latter – ”

“You haven’t seen us with Troy and Heather.”

“That’s your brother and his wife?” he said, a little wary.

“Half-brother and his wife, yes.”

“Funny. My sister’s a Heather, married to a Troy. Odd.”

“Not really,” Olivia said. “They were extremely popular names and class markers for a certain socioeconomic tranche. There are dozens of Troys, and I never had fewer than three Heathers in any class.”

“That must be it,” Avery said. “Well, I’ll leave you ladies to your ablutions and go take care of my own needs. See you later.” He squeezed her hand as he passed, and was gone.

Olivia sat still for a few more moments, enjoying the rest, and the lingering sensations in the nerves of her left hand, and wishing she had the courage to flaunt ethics committees and fraternization rules … just once.

She sat in the summer house, a reference on site legalities in hand and her hair drying when Corrine came through the back door and into the summerhouse. “I have an audition!” She crowed. “Dr. Kayoto called Moonwolf, and one of their actresses got an offer for a TV series. They were going to promote the understudy, but she’s the ingenue in the other production, so he sent them my video clips. They’re interested. Really interested. I’m the same size and coloring as the other actress, so they don’t have to redesign costumes. And it’s Jekyll — I know the part. I’ve got an audition next Monday!”

“Can you move it up?” Olivia asked. “I think we’re headed up Wednesday morning.” She told Corrine everything that had happened.

“You’ve had an insane day,” Corrine said sympathetically. “Mahon, and this, and what happens if the injunction-thingy holds? Do you just do nothing?”

“No, Avery says we need to be there because I’m an expert, and we’ll have to go to court.”

“Oh, good. I hate to sound selfish but I was scared this wouldn’t fly, and if you lost the opportunity, so would I.” Corrine combed Olivia’s hair with her fingers. “Really, I was thinking of you, too.”

“I know you were.” Olivia enjoyed the caresses for a while, and then said, “Make sure you’re packed. I won’t be here tomorrow to organize you.”

“I know. What are our limits?”

“You can have two suitcases, and not both big ones. You can mail yourself a couple boxes of things you can’t live without, but we’re not going to Mars. Okay?”

“Right. Do you want me to call Dr. Kayoto’s son and have him check on the house?”

“Please. There’s not much to steal, but it would be nice to know the place hasn’t burnt to the ground. I’ll do the post office and banking things on Monday. Do your best to get the refrigerator cleaned out.”

“I hate this,” Corrine said. “So many details. How did Renaissance royalty do this every three months?”

“They had staff,” Olivia replied.

Susannah had pulled out and ironed Olivia’s linen dress, one Corrine had made when she was learning costume technique. It was sage green, and everyone else said it went well with Olivia’s copper hair. Corrine had built it on a World War I pattern, and normally insisted Olivia wear it with gloves, heeled shoes, and a hat. The shoes lay beside Olivia’s bed, though the gloves and hat were not to be seen.

“Suse – now’s your chance, or I’m just going to french twist it and powder my nose!” Olivia called down the stairs to Susannah’s bedroom. Susannah popped out and brought her implements of construction, as Corrine called them.

“You’re so dull,” Susannah said. “Corrine’s ironing her Empire dress, and then she’s going to do my rose tunic and jacket. And she’s going to floof her hair, and teach me how to floof mine, and says if I don’t make you look like a gazillion dollars so Avery knows how gorgeous you can be when you want to be, that if I don’t, she’s going to shave my head in my sleep.”

“We are not trying to impress Mr. Godwin,” Olivia said, and tried to snatch at the comb her sister wielded. “We are dressing to pay our respects to Corrine for winning a place at RADA, and to you for graduating from ninth grade.”

“And because you’ve got a position that will get you research for your doctorate, and that actually pays,” Susannah added.

“And that. But we are not playing Catch Livvie a Beau. Are we clear?”

Susannah stuck out her tongue. “You’re no fun. Fine. It has nothing to do with the kinda cute geek you’re hanging out with who likes you. It’s got nothing to do with that at all.”

“You’re not improving your situation,” Olivia said dangerously.

Susannah laughed. “You’re too serious, Livvie. Just… feel. Don’t analyze it to death.” She finished her pulling and poking and handed Olivia the hand mirror. She had dressed Olivia’s long, thick hair in a heavy, loose knot on the back of her head, every curl and wave seemingly held up against gravity. But knowing Susannah and Corrine, it would not come down easily.

“Now, Corrie said to powder you lightly, make you put on mascara and lipstick but nothing else, and then pin Gran’s brooch on at a rakish angle. Why is it called rakish? I don’t know anybody who’s all handle and ineffective, flexy strips of aluminum.”

The sun had mostly set when Avery returned, wearing a rumpled jacket and tie and carrying a paper bag that clinked.

“I got to thinking that if I provided alcohol to a minor, I’d be in some amount of trouble, so I brought fizzy lemonade and an assortment of white wines.”

“Susannah’s allowed wine at home,” Olivia said. “Though she’ll appreciate it. She’s not found her palate yet.”

Avery smiled. “Oh, good. I don’t drink.” He looked harried for a moment. “Wine tastes like vinegar to me.”

“Don’t tell Susie that,” Olivia said. “Mom and Dad considered wines to be somewhat essential to our educations.”

“Doesn’t your hotel possess an iron?” Corrine said, coming out of the back door. “Give me that jacket, Avery. I won’t have a wrinkle bomb at my party.” She held one hand out. When he hesitated, she snapped her fingers at him.

“I’m sure there’s an iron, but really, Corrine, I’m – ”

“I’m not. Give it here,” she demanded. Avery looked at Olivia, who shrugged.

“This is your business, Mr. Godwin. I claim no authority over my sister.”

“Would that you did,” he groused and handed over his jacket.

Corrine disappeared, leaving Avery and Olivia in the summer house again, though Olivia doubted they would be alone long. “We’re having dinner out here; the house is absolutely unbearable and Susie’s having regrets – very minor ones – about leaving her garden for an entire summer. Put the bottles in the ice bucket, please.” Olivia pointed at the bucket on one bench.

Avery did as directed, beside a single bottle of Soave, then took a seat opposite Olivia in the shade of the house. He appraised her quite frankly, and seemed pleased at what he saw, but said nothing. Olivia made up her mind to not be disturbed by his admiration and instead drank in the garden and the evening.

Susannah brought out all of the meal, stowed in warmer containers but for the pesto, followed by Corrine and Rebecca. “Are you doing the toasts, Via?” Susannah asked.

“The first one,” Olivia agreed, ” but not until after dinner. Soave goes better with strawberries than with pasta. Do you have yours ready?”

Susannah nodded, but looked a little self-conscious. “I wrote it down, though.”

“That’s reasonable,” Avery said. “I do that, too. Well, I rarely get to make toasts, but whenever I have to speak in public.”

Susannah shot him a grateful look. “Are you going to toast Corrie?”

“I suppose I should, as well as your hospitality,” Avery said. “I’ll do my best.”

“You needn’t,” Olivia jumped in. “We don’t force these things upon guests – ”

“He’s not a guest. He’s been here before, and that’s what you tell my friends, that the first time, they’re guests, and the second time, they’re family. By that logic, Avery’s family, right, Avery?”

Olivia bit her lips. “It’s not the same – ”

“The opening has been given, and I’m taking it,” Avery said, grinning. “Thanks, Susannah.”

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