As Farah closed the door after Noel, the telephone rang. Answering, she found Sondra calling from Boston.
"I have bad news," Sondra said. "Father died peacefully in his sleep this afternoon. We thought we should let you know."
"Oh, Sondra, I'm so sorry."
"It wasn't exactly unexpected, but that doesn't make it any easier," Sondra said. "I keep telling myself he's better off now. He'd been ailing so long."
"How's Aunt Margaret taking it?"
"Surprisingly well. She knows he was ready to go."
"I'll catch a plane in the morning. Can someone meet me?"
"Just let us know what flight."
"I'll call you back as soon as I know."
Farah called a travel bureau to make a reservation and arranged to pick up her ticket at the airport. After calling Sondra back, she dialed Noel at his office and told him she would probably be gone a week.
"I hate to go away right now," she said. "We need to talk. I'vee still got bruises."
"Everythings going to be all right." Noel sounded confident. "I've got my head on straight now."
Farah hoped he was right, but all the way to Boston she had an uneasy feeling that something in their relationship had altered, something that went beyond their quarrel. That's nonsense, she told herself. But the feeling persisted.
Jo and Rick met her plane, dressed in casual clothes, their young faces tan and glowing with health. They greeted her with affection.
The services for Uncle John were held on Monday. Over breakfast on Tuesday, his boyish face full of enthusiasm for his favorite sport, Rick asked Farah if she'd like to go sailing.
"I'd love it," she said. "But I warn you, I've never been on a sailboat."
Rick's expression made it plain that he considered this a major gap in her education. "You stick with me," he said, "and I'll make a real sailor out of you."
"You think you can do that in three days?"
"Three days!" Jo's face mirrored dismay. "We were hoping you'd stay the rest of the summer."
"I'd like nothing better, but I'm a working woman." Farah explained her arrangement with Grant Allen to learn estate management.
They both greeted this with obvious disappointment, especially Jo. "We were making such plans. There's a boy we want you to meet. You're not engaged or anything, are you?"
"Funny you should ask." Farah's voice took on a conspiratorial tone. "A tall, dark, handsome man has entered my life." They laughed, and before any questions could be asked, Farah turned to Rick and said, "Now what's this about going sailing?"
If they thought her evasiveness odd, neither of them commented. Farah made her calls to Noel from her bedroom, and there was no further mention of her "young man."
They spent three glorious days sailing, swimming, visiting the historic landmarks of Boston, and getting better acquainted. Farah was at ease with these young people in a way she had never been even with Suzi. She thought perhaps it was because they treated her as one of the family.
She returned to California on Friday afternoon, beautifully tanned, and drove out to the house. From there she called Noel, who said he would try to get away early and take her to dinner.
"I'm flying East Sunday morning, and I want to spend every minute until then with you," he said. "No more (what was the term you used?) 'skulking around', either."
Around six he called to say his client had demanded some last minute changes and he'd have to work half the night to get them ready.
"I can't wait to see you," Farah told him. "Why don't I come down and have dinner with you?"
"I'd like that, but you're too distracting. If I saw you I'd never be able to get my mind back on my work. I'd better have something sent in."
"How do I know you're not trying to avoid me?" She said it with a laugh, but was only half joking.
There was an ominous silence, then he said, "For that matter, why did you have to stay a whole week in Boston?"
She suppressed the instant irritation she felt. "Let's not quarrel, Noel. I meant that as a joke."
He was instantly sorry. "I'm so tired I'm getting crabby. I've missed you like the devil."
"Will you have to work tomorrow?"
"Absolutely not. I intend to spend tomorrow with you." A note of uncertainty entered his voice. "If you don't mind."
"What a thing to say."
"Well, all the time you were gone I felt ... oh, I don't know ... like maybe you were never coming back."
"Well, here I am, so your vibes were wrong." But she thought to herself, he noticed. I wish I could see him tonight. Whatever's wrong probably will clear itself up the minute we see each other.
But when he came on Saturday they greeted each other almost formally, and the stiffness didn't go entirely away. They swam, they went shopping, and in the evening they went out to dinner. They talked and laughed and exchanged endearments, but they didn't touch each other.
As they sat on the patio later, Noel said, "There is something wrong, isn't there?"
"What could be wrong?"
"You're different. Are you still angry with me?"
"Of course not." She chose her words carefully. "I just have a feeling that everything's been ... well, sort of put on hold."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know, unless it's that somehow our quarrel was never really resolved. And of course you haven't had a chance to tell Judy your decision."
"Dammit, Farah, she's just out of the hospital."
"I'm not blaming. It's just that until she's told ...."
"I'll tell her as soon as I get back from my trip."
But the tension didn't go away. Noel had brought his luggage in the expectation of spending thenight and going directly to the airport the next morning. Now he said, "I can't touch you until Judy's been told. I"ll get my things and go back home."
"Is that the way you want?"
"No, dammit, but I'm getting the message that maybe that's what You want."
"You know that's not true."
"You mean you want me to stay?"
"Do I have to draw a picture?"
He looked at her warily, then they were laughing in each other's arms. After awhile he pulled her to her feet and led her inside. He started toward the bedroom, but she drew back.
"You go ahead and I'll see to things," she said.
She straightened pillows, rinsed glasses, let Rex in, and checked doors and windows. She knew she was dawdling; most of this was unnecessary. When she had finished, Noel was already in bed. She went to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. When she emerged, Noel appeared to be fast asleep. Turning off the light, she got in beside him. "Noel?" she said. He didn't answer.
She wondered if he really was sleeping. They hadn't made love since before the night of their quarrel. If he wasn't asleep, he must have meant it when he said he couldn't touch her until he had talked to Judy. Or perhaps the combination of uncertainty, anxiety and overwork had made him temporarily impotent. In any case, she felt oddly relieved. She had anxieties and uncertainties, too.
She snuggled against his back, finding his nearness comforting. But she couldn't sleep. Finally she slipped from the bed and roamed the house, filled with a vague unrest. She slid back the glass door to the patio and went outside, Rex following. The moon was a silver splendor spreading enchantment over the night. A nightingale sang, its pure voice threading the enchantment with melancholy.
Why am I so disturbed? she asked herself. Noel is in my bed, Noel whom I love. So what's the matter with me? Why do I feel so desolate? She wondered if it could be a remnant of the loneliness she had known when she was Donna. Perhaps she would never be fully rid of that ghost. She shivered in thenight air and got up and went inside.
Back in bed, still feeling chilled, she put her arm around the sleeping Noel and pressed against him to warm herself in his body heat. Soon she began to fall asleep. She was drifting off when a strange thought popped unbidden to her mind. This is Noel, and I love him ... if he wasn't so old.
Shocked to wakefulness, she thought, Dear God, how can I possibly think Noel is old? I'm almost as old as he is. What's wrong with me? But her mind veered away from this inquiry.
Sleep was now out of the question. Putting on a robe and slippers, she went back outside. The beauty of the night caught at her throat. If I were a wolf, she thought, I'd be baying at the moon. If I were a mystic, I'd be searching the heavens for answers. Boy, do I have qwuestions that need answers. Like what's the purpose of all that's happened to me?
On that night when Jason found me, she thought, we talked of benefiting mankind through his work. I agreed to his experiment on that basis. What happened to all those fine principals? As soon as the experiment was successful we set about fabricating a network of lies to cover it up. All our principals seemed to dissolve in the excitement of a new life for both of us. Jason died before we remembered our original intention, and his knowledge perished with him. Why didn't I realize how strange that was? Jason wouldn't have failed to safeguard his records. Did he deliberately destroy the evidence? What would have been his purpose?
Oh, Jason, she thought, I'm afraid. There's something going on in me that I don't understand. I've got to understand so I can deal with it, because if I lose Noel I have nothing. He is my only link with reality, with continuity, because when I became Farah I cut myself off from my past.
But understanding eluded her, or perhaps she had closed her mind to it. It's because I'm tired, she thought. I should try to sleep now. She stood up, and noticed for the first time that it was beginning to get light. She watched the sun come up, it's rays feathering through the leaves and dappling the pool with fire. It was time to wake Noel. He had an early plane to catch.
While Noel showered and shaved, Farah made coffee and prepared breakfast. He came to the table with his dark hair still damp from the shower, looking fresh and cheerful. She felt such a rush of affection for him that she wondered what all the soul-searching of the night before had been about. It must have been a touch of moon madness, she decided.
Noel seemed convinced that their problems were over, and went away happy. After he had gone, fatigue caught up with Farah, and she went wearily back to bed. She fell asleep at once.
It was early afternoon when she woke. Going to the kitchen, she plugged in thecoffee pot. Then she showered and dressed and prepared a light lunch, which she carried to the patio.
When the doorbell rang she had just finished eating. She went through the house to the entrance, and there, standing with his back to her, was Noel. Why, no, it couldn't be Noel; he should be at his destination by now. But through the screen it certainly looked like Noel.
"Noel?" she said on a rising tone. At the sound of her voice he turned, and she caught her breath in shock. She put her hand against the door jamb to steady herself. "Noel?" she whispered again.
"I'm Kevin," he said. "Noel's my father."