After hanging up with Alex, Rory moved her work into the rarely-used dining room, preferring the space offered by the eight-person table and matching hunt board to her home office buried in the attic.
Organizing her background information, she spread papers out on the table, sorting and as she ate a small pizza from the parlor down the street. She began to feel in control again, as if she were dealing with a stranger; not Richard’s little sister, her once-upon-a-time best friend.
I can do this.
She focused on Alex first. Rory’s research indicated that Alex had never seriously dated anyone since Julie’s disappearance. For all intents and purposes, he was a dedicated bachelor, though the society pages always featured him with beautiful women. Always different, but always red-haired. There was little to find on his career, the newspapers being more interested in his social life than the fact that he was rapidly becoming one of the city’s most powerful criminal lawyers. She wondered just how well he remembered her.
His relationship with Julie had sometimes baffled Rory, who could never quite understand Julie’s fascination with a man like him. Charles, like Isadora, coveted the Webster family’s political connections. But Julie? Several letters, ones Rory didn’t intend to share with Alex, contained remarks about how she loved everything about Alex but wasn’t sure she was ready for marriage.
The Alex that Rory remembered was the perfect big man on campus, strutting about with his group of equally wealthy, equally arrogant friends. He made fun of her to make them laugh. She wondered if he’d been like that because of her mother or because of herself. Maybe she’d invited his abuse by tagging along, an unwanted pest trying to please Isadora, who had piled all of her expectations for the Haverly name on Rory’s small shoulders.
“You’re the last Haverly, Rory. You have to make something of the name. You owe it to your father and brother,” Isadora would lecture her. Rory grew to hate summer vacation, when her mother would drag her to the “family estate” for three months.
“Your Grandfather Haverly bought this with hopes of creating a family tradition. Now quit complaining and pack. Tell your friends you’ll be back in August. Alexander and his family will be there this week. That girl Julie is up there as well, though why you two are friends is beyond me. Those children are a therapist’s dream thanks to their trailer-park mother and domineering stepfather.”
He wants to marry me as soon as I finish college, Julie had written at the beginning of their sophomore year. I’m supposed to forsake my education, my career, and my life to hang on his arm at his business functions and to fulfill some medieval notion of marriage for political reasons? I don’t want to rush into marriage if it means surrendering myself to the life my mother lived, Rory. I want to have a career. I want to have a brain. Why marry young? My mother did, and she had a miserable marriage and three miserable children. Not to mention one very ugly divorce. When she married Charles, it got slightly better, but all he ever does is fight with Richard, who resents everything he tries to do.
Back then, Rory, still aching from her relationship with Richard, envied the fact that Julie’s boyfriend wanted to marry her. Perhaps she shouldn’t have told Julie to live her own life. Perhaps, if she’d kept her mouth shut, Julie would be alive. She wouldn’t have been at the club that night, rebelling against everything that Charles Sarazen demanded of her. She would have been elsewhere, safe. Alive.
Perhaps Rory should have taken her own advice.
Anyway, Alexander is a darling, an absolute darling. With him, I don’t want for anything. The necklace he gave me for my birthday is the most exquisite piece of jewelry I’ve ever owned. It’s Venetian glass, straight from Italy. While it’s not that expensive compared to my other necklaces, it’s certainly the most beautiful. Just wait until you see it…
Rory paused to pull out the picture of the choker’s remains again. The wires were broken and only a few beads remained, and they were all chipped or partial. The others were gone, ground to dust, she suspected. She remembered how beautiful it had been. Three rows of delicate, hand-blown glass beads on thin wire, wrapped around Julie’s graceful neck. Regardless of her opinion of Alex, even then Rory had to admit that he had taste.
But it’s not all material gifts. He satisfies my need for affection, for closeness. Lord knows I don’t get that at home. Charles is convinced that it’s a sign of weakness to show emotion, so you know that Richard makes him crazy. He runs right over my poor brother, but Richard’s just not a fighter – otherwise, he wouldn’t have let you get away so easily. I wish we really could be sisters-in-law, but I’m philosophical about it. Best friends are just as good. Perhaps better. Now, we don’t have to deal with family feuds, huh?
Rory remembered her arguments with Richard about standing up for himself and shook her head, amazed that she’d ever dated a man who always caved in so easily and quickly. She replaced the letters in the box and avoided looking at the wedding portrait of her and Paul that hung over the fireplace.
You jumped from the frying pan into the fire, didn’t you, she mused. Isadora loves this one. What’s not to love about a corporate accountant who lives up to the Haverly aspirations?
They certainly made a lovely couple in that portrait, with her dark hair and ivory skin contrasting with his fair hair and tan. Both blue-eyed and tall, they never failed to elicit looks of admiration and remarks on the beautiful children they’d have someday. He was pressuring her for those children now, insisting that she wasn’t getting any younger.
There were days she wished she’d been in the front seat of her father’s car.
Enough. A glance at the clock told her that it was nearing eight-thirty. She had one more call to make before she could put this away for the night.