John didn’t so much hate flying as he did the turbulence. In an effort to distract from the rise and fall of the airplane, he looked out the window to the area below, a patchwork of brown, green and gold squares, lines of muddied water river ways intertwined. A few antlike cars and homestead farms dotted the grid pattern of the roads. “I wonder why we had to come up this way in the middle of the year.” He didn’t like turbulence in his life either and that was exactly what the trip to Nebraska caused.
“Probably has something to do with closing the firm. Or maybe she missed us.” Ruth took a deep breath and looked back to the book she held.
John tried to remember the last time he saw Rebecca Seidle. Was it last Christmas? Rebecca called nearly every week but the distance between Nebraska and Florida and the cost of travel was a barrier for visits. Adjusting his work schedule during the summer months, the busiest time of the year for a handyman, wasn’t a picnic either.
Ruth reached up and pushed the call light for the stewardess. “I hope she’s got some coffee.”
When John pulled up his sleeve to check the time on his dad’s watch, he remembered the day the mortician handed him and Virgie the brown envelope of personal items that weren’t buried. That occurred in an attorney’s office too. “We can’t have that much of a flight left.”
The stewardess stopped at Ruth and smiled. “Can I help you?”
“Do you have any coffee left?”
“I’m sorry but we’re out and we’re almost to our destination. The Captain will begin announcing…”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking.” The Captain’s voice sounded tinny as if beamed from miles away instead of feet.
Head tilted to one side, the stewardess smiled. “I’m sorry. There is coffee in the terminal right up the stairs to the right and you’ll be able to purchase a cup when you deplane.”
* * * *
Just as promised, there was fresh coffee inside the airport terminal and John bought two cups. “Your mom sent a car. It’ll be here in half an hour.” He adjusted the sleeve of his jacket.
“It still seems so strange that we had to fly all the way here. What couldn’t Mom say in a phone call? You don’t sup-pose she’s ill?”
“It probably business. She’s selling the firm and maybe there’s more about Dad’s estate. Now that Virgie’s gone…you know as well as I do that your mom handled all their affairs.” He hated the use of the word once he said it. His father and Virgie had an affair for years and even using the word when speaking about them almost seemed like he let loose a terrible secret, though, in reality, everyone in Eureka Springs knew but said nothing.
What did it matter? Dad passed years ago and Virgie was gone more than two. The rumors of undesirable behavior by the pair faded soon after Virgie’s funeral as if everyone in town wanted to brush away a bad memory.
Not that the memories John had of his extended family were bad. He grew up in a home where love was prevalent even though his real mother was absent and his nanny and father kept a secret relationship. He knew his dad loved Virginia Seidle just in the way he looked at her, his eyes locked in a tender gaze. When he spoke of her, the kindness in his voice held only admiration. Those few times when John caught a glimpse of the pair when they thought they were alone, Nolan Vickers held Virgie the same way John, as an adult, held his wife Ruth. Nolan Vickers and Virgie were in love, probably always had been, even though his mother was living, though incoherent, in the asylum.
Had his mother been in the picture, Virgie and his dad would have lived more normal lives apart but people got thrown into strange situations all the time.
When his dad married his real mom, he had no idea that she’d go insane and he’d need to institutionalize her and hire a nanny. When he hired Virginia Seidle, Nolan Vickers didn’t know he’d fall in love with her or she with him. They dealt with it the best they could and, John was sure, raised him in that degree as well. John grew up feeling loved. What else mattered?
* * * *
The building that housed the firm looked almost the same as it had the last time John and Ruth visited except that a new awning stretched above and shaded the front windows. The door to the foyer still had that familiar squeak when John pulled on the metal handle. The corridor to the section of the building devoted to Rebecca’s firm had a floor so polished that John thought he’d slip around if he wore only socks. Once inside Seidle Law, Rebecca’s name stood in shiny gold letters as greeting above the receptionist’s desk.
“Mr. and Mrs. Vickers, nice to see you again. They’re waiting for you in Mrs. Seidle’s office.” She stood and walked around the desk. “I’ll show you in.”
“They?” He questioned the receptionist only to have a blank stare returned. “That’s fine. We know the way.” John gave her hand a squeeze before he followed Ruth down the hall to Rebecca’s office.
The door was closed.
Ruth knocked and opened the door before anyone answered. “Mom? We’re here.”
John wasn’t quite to the door when he heard Rebecca’s reply, “Hello, honey. Did you have a nice flight? I missed you.”
“It was fine. A little turbulence but…Audrey? Barbara? What are you doing here?”
John was equally as shocked when he entered the office and found Audrey and Barbara Vecchi already seated.
After hugging her daughter and John, Rebecca motioned to two empty chairs. “Please have a seat.”
Her professionalism almost scared John as he took the seat on the farthest end. It brought back those painful memories from when he was eighteen at his father’s passing which led to a formal meeting with an attorney. “Audrey, I didn’t know you and Barb were visiting. Have you been here long?”
“We came on a flight yesterday,” Audrey replied as if her being in Rebecca’s office, so far from Florida and at the same time as John and Ruth, was a regular occurrence.
“You flew in yesterday? Mom, what’s going on?”
With Ruth’s concern, John was even more curious than when he got the formal letter from Rebecca’s law firm summoning their presence. “Did Rebecca send you a letter too?”
Audrey didn’t reply. Instead she looked at Rebecca who sat behind her desk, hands folded together, fingers entwined.
“Audrey and I asked you three here together for a reason.”
Normally quiet Barbara Vecchi shot an uncertain stare to her mother and then sent a question to Rebecca. “What reason? You knew John and Ruth were coming and didn’t say anything?”
“Rebecca? Audrey? What is going on?” John looked at the two women. He’d known them all his life. They were Virgie’s best friends. They’d gone to college together and remained constant in each other’s lives.
Audrey lived and worked in Eureka Springs and their family gatherings were always intertwined.
Rebecca married Virgie’s brother Truman and, though she lived in Nebraska, weekly phone calls closed the distance.
It seemed so strange that neither woman mentioned the reason he and Ruth had to fly in for a formal visit and even stranger that Barbara was present and Audrey said nothing about a trip. The most bizarre? The way the two friends seemed to fumble about as if no one knew what to say next. “Okay, ladies. What in the world did you call us up here for? I’m sure it wasn’t to let us sit around and stare at each other.”
Rebecca put her hands in her lap and glanced from Audrey to the other three. “Audrey and I have something to tell you. A story.”
Audrey took a deep breath and reached to stroke Barbara’s arm before resting her hands on the arms of the chair. “We thought the best thing was to have you all together and say it just once.”
Rebecca bit her lip before she spoke. “What we did was the right thing to do. We did it for Virgie. We did it for Elizabeth and Nolan. We did it for all of you.”
“We knew the only way to protect you was to keep the secret but now we feel it’s time to tell the truth.”
To John, when Audrey spoke, it looked as if she’d rehearsed her words a thousand times. “What truth?” he asked.
And Rebecca began. “Our dear friend Virgie was always so full of love and life and she loved without reason. Follow where your heart leads…that’s what she always said.”