As a result of Cindy's story, Farah and Michael became over-night celebrities. This brought on such an avalanche of reporters and photographers that their privacy was destroyed. They took it all in good grace, but it was wearing; and finally, in the middle of the night, they fled to the "farm," which hadn't yet been discovered by the press.
The farm was a large Colonial style mansion with rolling lawns, a stable, a paddock, and a vegetable garden. The stately house was over a hundred years old and had been added to and modernized over the years. Margaret and John had raised their family there. Now their son Jack and his family lived there.
Basking in the peace and privacy of the farm, Farah confided to Jack's wife, Sondra, that she feared all the excitement and activity might be too much for Margaret.
"Are you kidding?" Sondra said. "She's eating it up. We all are." She looked across the room to where her children were talking with Michael. "Jo and Rick have fallen in love with Michael. We all think you've chosen well."
"I think so, too. But I'm a little scared. Everything will be so strange. Michael says I must come and stay with them for awhile before the wedding so I can learn all the intricacies of court life. I'm beginning to feel like Alice in Wonderland."
"Whenever you start feeling overwhelmed, just remember one thing." Sondra's voice was solemn.
"We all sit on a throne of some kind."
Farah's expression was as solemn as Sondra's. "I'll remember that the next time I see Alexandra." Then they fell into each others' arms, giggling like two school girls.
At Alexandra's invitation, Farah and Margaret left with Michael a few days later for Zhad, to get acquainted with the family and make plans for the wedding.
Alexandra took to Margaret at once. She could hardly hide her relief at finding Farah's aunt-by-adoption so suitably genteel, a relief which led her to make an uncharacteristic gaffe.
"I'm sure you can understand why I wanted Michael to wait," she told Margaret. "It was all so sudden. We knew nothing about Farah's family."
"Naturally you would have to check her background. A young man in Michael's position is expected to make a suitable marriage." Margaret smiled sweetly at Alexandra. "Just as Farah has to be wary of fortune hunters."
Alexandra bristled. "You didn't think ...?" Her voice trailed off as she understood what Margaret was telling her. "You had Michael ... us ... investigated?"
"Of course. We must be protective of both our children."
Alexandra lost a little of her cool. "I only needed some assurance ... I thought they both should be absolutely sure ...."
"And you were perfectly right. I'm old-fashioned enough to think that marriages should last forever." Having make her point, Margaret could afford to be generous.
Farah, who had overheard this conversation, said to Margaret as soon as they were alone, "Alexandra's finally met her match. Did you really check them out?"
"As soon as you told me about Michael. I thought it was a necessary precaution, just as she did."
"Oh, you did the right thing and I appreciate your being so protective of me. But now that you know Michael, I'm sure you agree with me that there was never any need to worry. The money might have made a difference to Alexandra."
"Don't be hard on her, dear. It was just terribly tactless of her to bring up the subject at all."
"I wish I could stand up to her the way you did."
"I think you'll find if you can hold your own with her she'll respect you for it."
"I'll work on it," Farah said. But it was a long time before she mastered that art.
Boris and Maria accepted Farah warmly. She thought she could be friends with Maria, whose olive skin and liquid brown eyes indicated a Mediterranean background. Boris had the same blond hair and fair coloring as Michael, but his expression indicated a more conservative nature.
With Alexandra, they had scheduled a round of receptions, teas and dinners to introduce Farah to the people of Zhad, who appeared more than delighted by Farah's friendliness and charm and the fact that both she and Margaret spoke fluent French. The balls which climaxed their visit was attended by the social and political bigwigs of the country, a few foreign representatives, and a sprinkling of the rich and famous who always manage to be invited to any occasion of importance.
Meeting all these people gave Farah such a sense of unreality that she began wondering if it was all a dream. Try not to panic, she told herself. Jason has put me in a deep sleep and I'll wake up any minute now and be plain old Donna Harris again.
"Are you all right, Farah?" Michael's voice, penetrating her panic, sounded concerned.
Relief flooded her. "For a moment I thought I was dreaming all this. That everyone would turn into mice and I'd be sitting by the fire again like Cinderella."
He took her hand and tucked it under his elbow, his eyes full of love. "Or that I'd turn back into a frog?"
She grinned at him and said with mock seriousness, "I wonder if I could ever really learn to love a frog."
She thought she would have enjoyed the evening very much if she hadn't been concentrating so hard on doing the right thing. This was an uncharted world, and she was very visible in it. She moved cautiously for fear of making a mistake, blessing her newly acquired gift of almost total recall which was seeing her through. People to whom she had been introduced earlier were flattered that she remembered their names. She knew how to ask questions to start them talking, so that afterward they felt they had had a meaningful conversation with her.
Michael's pride in her was obcious. "They love you," he told her. "Everyone keeps saying what a amrvel you are. I just tell 'em it's not news to me. Even my mother is impressed."
"That's one for my side."
He looked puzzled. "What does that mean?"
She smiled but didn't explain.
On a typically smoggy June morning Farah returned to California. She had come home to close out a chapter of her life.
The first thing she did was to notify her landlord she was giving up the apartment. Then she set about selling the furniture, keeping only the piano which had been Jason's gift to her. This she had moved to her house in the hills, which she planned to keep. After their wedding she and Michael would be living in a house of their own, and she would later transfer her piano there. She was glad they were not expected to live in the palace, where they would have very little privacy.
When she went to see Grant Allen to make arrangements about the handling of her future business transactions, he had already heard about her engagement and offered congratulations.
"I suppose you'll want to make some changes," he said.
"Not in management," she said. "My affairs couldn't be in better hands. Chiefly, I want to find out about community property laws both here and in Zhad. Also I would like to liquidate a few holdings and put the cash in numbered Swiss accounts in my name." She had thought he might think such arrangements strange coming from a newly engaged girl, and was relieved when he voiced his approval.
"Jason would be proud of you," he told her. "Many women fail to take such precautions and end up losing everyuthing."
"You've been a good teacher. Of course, I'll be attending future board meetings and be always available."
After telling him to let her know when he needed her signature for the papers he would be drawing up, she left.
She pondered about whether or not to get in touch with Kevin's mother, Barbara, who had come to comfort her when Kevin died. Finally, she wrote her a brief note telling her of the engagement. "The memory of Kevin will live with me always," she wrote, "and I will grieve for him. But I cannot stop living nor would he want me to. I hope you also are learning to live with your grief. I know from our brief meeting, when you were so kind, that we could have been friends."
Writing this letter had brought back all the pain she had suffered, and to escape her mood she went to the canyon house for a few days. Since she had not notified the caretaker she was coming, she rang the bell.
"Miss Farah!" Ned said in surprise when he opened the door to her. "I thought you were still in Europe with your young man."
"News certainly travels fast, doesn't it?" She looked around in approval at the clean and shining condition of the interior. "You certainly keep everything spic and span."
"I thought you might be thinking of selling."
"No, I could never sell this place. My fiance likes it, too, and I'll be needing you as long as you want to stay."
"Well, Miss Farah, I'd like to stay, but I'm planning to get married, too. I didn't know if you'd want me to bring my wife here."
"I couldn't be more pleased. The place needs a woman's touch. And congratulations. I hope you'll be very happy."
Ned went outside to his gardening, and Farah roamed through the house, touching and stroking the furniture and objects she particulary liked or that had some special meaning for her. She loved this house as Jason had loved it. Her memories were like children pulling at their mother's skirts, bringing happiness mixed with pain. Less than two years had passed since that night of despair when Jason had fished her out of the water. There had been times since when she wished he had just let her drown, but that was all over now. I've made mistakes, she thought, trying to find my way. I had to find it alone, for the most part.
In her bedroom she picked up a framed picture of Jason. "Jason," she said, "I've always regretted that you didn't live to take credit for your great discovery. If there was a purpose to any of this I've failed to find it. But thanks, anyway, for giving me another chance."
Tucking the picture in her purse, she thought again, it's time for renewal. But I hope this tree will not have to bloom in vain.