Little doubts nagged at Farah all week as she waited for Noel to return. He had sounded sincere about getting a divorce, but she knew from previous association with him that he was putty in Judy's hands.
She wished she had a good friend to confide in. Several girls in her college classes had made friendly overtures, but she hadn't encouraged them. She was closer to Suzi than anyone, but outside of the dance studio they saw very little of each other, for Suzi's time was taken up by her job and dates with Barry.
As she thought of Suzi, an idea she had had for some time crystallizrd and she went to see her lawyer about "finding" a codicil in Jason's will leaving a sum of money to Suzi. Enough to enable her to quit her job and concentrate on her career. The estate was still in probate, but the money could come from the account Jason had set up for Farah and Suzi would never need to know.
Noel called in midweek to say he would be home on Friday. "Everything's all cleared up here," he said, "so I can relax a little when I get home."
"Good," she said. "Because next week is our spring vacation and I won't have any classes. And by the way, I'll be going out to Jason's house Friday afternoon. You can call me there when you get back." She gave him the phone number and directions for finding the house.
She drove out early Friday afternoon, stopping at the supermarket for supplies. She had given Ned the week off. He left his German shepherd, Rex, as a watchdog for her, saying she shouldn't be alone in the house at night.
It always saddened her not to find Jason there when she came out. Everything she saw or touched reminded her of him. He had provided ballast for her; he knew who she truely was, but had come to accept her completely as Farah, which made it easier for her to think of herself as Farah.
It was after nine when she heard Noel's car in the driveway, and went outside to greet him. "You look tired," she said. "Have you had dinner?"
"I had something on the plane, but I could use a drink. I'm worn out from a week of negotiating with a stubborn client."
He sipped his drink as she showed him the house. He looked it over with his architect's eye and said that whoever had been responsible for planning and building it had done a superb job. Jason, she told him, had done most of the designing and had it built to his specifications.
"He would have been a great architect," Noel said.
"He was a man of many talents. A lovely and civilized man." She looked at Noel and smiled. "I think perhaps you're that kind of man."
"Gosh, Farah, don't start thinking I'm some kind of superman. I'm just an ordinary Joe."
"Not to me."
He grinned. "You're prejudiced. Did Jason leave the house to you? If not, maybe I could buy it. For us. To live in after we're married. You are going to marry me, aren't you?"
"Ask me again when you're free." She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Now, about the house, Jason left it to me. I'm glad you like it, for I wouldn't want to give it up."
"This bathroom is positively Sybaritic."
"These were Jason's quarters. I've been thinking about doing some redecorating and moving in here myself. That sunken bath keeps calling to me."
The bathroom was truly splendid. The section of the wall behind the sunken bath had a huge pane of plate glass overlooking a walled enclosure ablaze with flowers and exotic plants. The room was large and luxuriously appointed, with a long marble counter of warm rose-beige, large mirrors, a shower stall, and floors carpeted in the same rose-beige. Wallpaper with accents of red, black and gold gave color to the room.
Noel whistled. "I'm beginning to wonder about Jason's life style. Did he entertain a lot of women?"
"Not after I came here. The Jason I knew was a very plain man, but he was raised in an atmosphere of wealth. In his private world he may have felt the need of luxury."
As they went back through the house, Farah asked, "Did you talk to Judy?"
"I didn't get a chance. We ran into some friends."
"Don't put it off too long." She hadn't meant it as a threat, but somehow it came out sounding almost like an ultimatum. She softened it by saying, "We can't really be engaged as long as you're still married."
"I'll go see her tomorrow."
Noel didn't stay long. It was already late and he needed a good night's rest, he said. "I'll see Judy in the morning, then we can have the rest of the day together."
But it was midafternoon before he came the next day, looking worried and upset.
"What is it, Noel?" Farah asked when she saw his face.
"It's Judy. I asked her to release me from my promise. I told her why. She didn't even say a word. She just started to shake and went into a kind of convulsion. We rushed her to the emergency hospital. They gave her something that brought her out of it, and after awhile we were able to take her home. She was sleeping when I left."
"What did the doctor say about her?"
"Of course it wasn't her regular doctor. We explained about her condition. He said he couldn't find anything wrong and gave her a sedative."
"That's all? It brought her out of it?"
"Well, it was the shock, I suppose. The sedative calmed her nerves."
"What if this happens every time you try to talk to her?" Farah was having a hard time keeping the impatience out of her voice.
Noel didn't seem to notice. "I think she just needs time to get used to the idea."
Privately, Farah thought it was probably a childish tantrum to get her way. Then she told herself she shouldn't be too quick to judge. "Do you think she needs counselling?" was all she said.
"Her regular doctor suggested it once but Judy wouldn't hear of it."
"Noel, in psychology class we read about a young girl in a similar situation. When her shield of illness was removed, she felt vulnerable. So much life had passed her by and she was afraid of the world. Maybe that's what it is with Judy. She may be using you as a buffer against having to go out there and cope."
"Be patient with her, Farah," he said. "And with me. As soon as Judy gets used to the idea things will be okay."
But the incident had put a damper on their happiness, and soon after dinner Noel left, saying he had promised to look in on Judy before going home. They clung together at the door, like two children afraid of the dark.
The week passed quickly. Noel came by her apartment when he could get away. Once he took her out to eat, but the rest of the time Farah cooked dinner. On Saturday he visited Judy and reported that she was still ailing so he didn't press her for an answer.
When the phone rang around nine on Sunday morning, Farah answered to find Suzi on theline. "Barry and I are going ice skating this afternoon," she said. "Would you like to go? I think Greg's available."
"That sounds like fun," Farah told her. "I have a sort of date but I don't know if he'd be interested. Tell me where you'll be and if we can make it we'll join you."
She hung up feeling apalled at herself. She had referred to Noel as "a sort of date." Noel, whom she was planning to marry. He's got to get Judy straightened out, she thought. I don't want any hole-in-the-corner romance. But the fact remains that until he's free, we'll have to be discreet. One thing is certain -- I can't give him up.
She sighed and went to the window to check the weather. It was starting to drizzle and the air was cold. A good day for an indoor skating rink, she thought. I hope Noel can skate.
He arrived soon after lunch, looking cheerful, and reported that Judy was back to normal when he stopped by to see her. He had asked only that she think about releasing him from his promise and told her they would talk later. She had made no comment, but had not appeared upset.
"I'm glad to hear that." Farah thought privately she would keep her fingers crossed, and asked Noel if he knew how to ice skate.
"I used to," he said, "but I'm rusty. Why?"
"Some friends have asked us to join them this afternoon. It sounds like fun. What do you think?"
"It's okay if you promise not to be embarrassed if I fall down."
"It'll come back to you," she said. "I wonder if you could wear Jason's skates." She brought them out. They were almost a perfect fit.
Suzi and Barry were already at the rink when Farah and Noel got there, looking fresh and attractive and incredibly young. They had lately taken up figure skating, for which their dancing expertise well qualified them. Suzi's costume of sweater and short, full skirt, both in powder blue, enhanced her slender figure. Her blonde hair lay like a veil across her shoulders. Barry looked dashing in a black turtle-neck sweater.
Farah introduced Noel simply as, "My friend, Noel McKay."
"Do you skate often, Mr. McKay?" asked Suzi.
"Call me Noel," he said with a smile. "I haven't skated for a long time. I hope my clumsiness won't embarrass anybody."
"You'll be okay. Farah's a good skater."
"Farah does everything well, Mr. McKay," Barry told him.
Farah took Noel by the arm and said, "Let's get going." She was seething. Mr. McKay, indeed, she thought. They're too young to appreciate a real man. But as Noel turned out to be a good skater, the exhiliration of the sport restored her to good humor. Soon the others were calling him Noel, and Suzi told Farah privately she thought he was gorgeous and wanted to know where Farah had found him.
"I get around," Farah said with a grin, evading a direct answer. She noticed that Suzi was bubbling with excitement. "What's with you? You look positively radiant over something."
Smiling a mysterious smile, Suzi said, "I'll tell you later," and glided away to join Barry, who was practising some solo turns.
As they left the rink, Noel announced he was buying dinner for everyone. When they were seated around the table, Suzi took a letter from her pocket and turned to Farah. "I'm sure you know about this legacy from Jason. Why would he do this for me? He didn't know me very well."
"But he knew you well enough to become fond of you. Don't you remember he offered to adopt you?" Farah laughed at the memory.
"We were just kidding around. I was thunderstruck when I found out he'd left me $25,000. I don't know if I should accept it."
"Oh, Suzi, you must take it. He wouldn't have wanted you to turn it down."
Tears spilled from Suzi's eyes. "Then I'll accept it with love and gratitude. I only wish I could tell Jason how much it means to me. Now I can quit my job and go to acting school. Maybe I can even buy a car."
"Acting school is a good odea if you're really serious about an acting career," Noel said. "You have plenty of obvious assets, and Farah tells me you're quite talented."
Barry interrupted. "She has other options. Suzi and Greg and I are all being considered for the chorus line of a new musical. If it turns out to be successful there's a possibility it could lead to a run on Broadway."
"That's wonderful." Farah clapped her hands in pleasure. "I'm so happy for all of you."
"This calls for a celebration. Let's have some champagne," Noel said, and summoned a waiter.
Farah looked at him with a secret look. I wish we could tell them about us, she thought, for that's the best news of all.
She voiced this wish to Noel as they drove home. He reached for her hand and squeezed it. "I was thinking the same thing. I keep wanting to tell everyone I see. As soon as I can file for divorce we'll be free to shout it from the housetops."
The warmth and sincerity with which he said this dissolved all Farah's fears, and she told herself she had been a fool to worry. She raised his hand to her cheek and smiled at him, her face glowing in the light from the dashboard. The excitement they felt for each other became like a tangible thing, and they rode in silence, their love a warm glow between them.
The glow was insufficient to warm the house. "Why don't we have a fire?" Noel asked, and proceeded to build one while Farah made coffee. But the coffee cooled in the cups as they sat together on the sofa, until Farah broke away and said tremulously, "Please, Noel."
Releasing her, he rose and stood looking down at the fire. "Darling Farah," he said, "I'm trying to be good. If only you weren't so desirable. If only I didn't love you so much."
"I know," she said.
"It would be easier if you were cold to me. But you're not." He sighed. "I guess the only course left for me is to go home and take a cold shower."
He put on his jacket and went to the door, Farah following. He kissed her lightly and said, "Good night, my love. I think I'll forget about my promise to Judy and file for a divorce tomorrow."
Her need rose to engulf her, her need for love, her need for someone to belong to. She couldn't go on sending him away. A strangled sound escaped her.
"Farah?" There was concern in his voice.
"Noel ...." She spoke so low he could scarcely hear. From deep within her something spoke almost without her volition. "Noel, please ... don't go."