Rory applied to Seton Hill College based on her great-aunt Sophie Devanoy’s suggestion and quietly mailed the application, along with the ones for the schools Isadora chose for her. All but Seton Hill rejected her.
“Julie’s going to St. Avoline’s in Beaumont. I don’t understand why they rejected you. I’ll have to have Charles pull a few strings to get you in.” Isadora said the day the Seton Hill acceptance letter arrived with the Beaumont denial.
“St. Avoline’s doesn’t want me,” Rory replied carefully, tossing the letter into the fireplace. She watched the flames lick at the pages that asked – just as every other school had asked – for her to send her high school transcripts so that they could process her application. When the letter was nothing but ashes, she sat down in a leather armchair across from her mother and waited, studying the hunter green walls and mahogany paneling. She reread the spines of the books on the shelves behind her mother, all of them belonging to her father. Homer. Swift. Twain. Faulkner. Her love of reading came from him. Before he died, when they were children, she and her older brother Robert would sit with him while he read those classics aloud. Her mother would sit in the same room, reading her own novels and smiling at the cozy picture they made. You three look so perfect, she would say, her voice warm, approving. Looking up at her, Rory would smile as well and snuggle closer to her father. Isadora hadn’t touched the study since his death, something that Rory was grateful for. Here she felt closer to him, better able to stand up to her mother and her demands.
“I don’t understand how you can just give up on family tradition to attend some obscure college,” said Isadora, interrupting Rory’s memories. “If it wasn’t for me, you would be scraping pennies together to go to some community college. I worked too hard for you to throw it all away on some God-forsaken school in the middle of nowhere. You could have the seat on the Haverly board of directors; the seat that I took over so that you could inherit it once you finished school. Your father, God rest his soul, would have wanted to see his only daughter take his place.”
Rory sat silently, watching the fire, and refusing by her silence to give her any added ammunition. She refrained from reminding Isadora that Dad had wanted Robert to take that seat. But Robert was dead. She, Rory, was all that was left. The favored child by default.
“I know Sophia is behind this. How are you going to do anything with your life if you follow your aunt’s whims? She went there and look at her!” Isadora was pacing now. “Look at her! An old woman no man wanted after her husband died. No children, nothing to recommend her but money – and you see how far that got her. You have a responsibility, Aurora. You’re the only one left to carry on the Haverly name.”
Rory forced her fingers not to grip the arms of the chair and continued to stare at the fire while her mother wrung her hands and continued about her obligations to dead relatives and tradition. Aunt Sophie had warned her that this would happen. And the knowledge somehow helped the words hurt less.
“You’re going to come to nothing! Nothing. You know that, don’t you? How can anyone make a real life writing? Thank God your Haverly grandparents aren’t alive to see the mess you’re about to make of your life! They’re probably spinning in their graves.”
“I’m sure they’re both twirling madly. Are you finished, Mother?”
“That’s right, Aurora, just block it all out. Detach yourself from this mistake, too, and pretend that nothing is happening.” The knot in Rory’s stomach tightened. “Don’t think I’m paying for this, by the way. I’m not throwing my money away just because you’re determined to ruin your life.”
“You don’t have to. Aunt Sophie said she would help me.”
Anger flooded Isadora’s face. “You’re nothing but an ungrateful young woman. All you think about is yourself. Go to that school then. Go study and write your little novels that no one will read; just don’t put me in it as the bad guy.”
When Rory looks back at everything, she thinks that it was her need to escape that made her accept when Paul came to her and asked her to be his. “Give me a chance, Aurora. Let me take care of you. Let me show you how good I can be for you.”
Perhaps, too, it was revenge on her father and brother for leaving her. A way to show her mother that she wasn’t a failure after all. Perhaps a bit towards Julie as well, if she wanted to be honest with herself. Irrational as it seemed, she couldn’t shake the sense that there was a touch of rage dictating her acquiescence when Paul eventually slid a two-carat diamond on her finger, promised her the world, and begged her to say yes.
I’ll show you all.