The Julius House


Chapter Five



NOW THAT I'D TAKEN ON renovating the Julius house - I just couldn't think of it as the Zinsner house - the time before the wedding flew by. I got the apartment above the garage finished first. The carpet was laid within three days after the painter finished the trim. I cleaned the furniture I'd bought, positioned it invitingly, relined the kitchen shelves, cleaned the stove, and made the bed. I'd gotten a set of china for four at WalMart, and some wedding gift pots and pans I didn't need went into the kitchen cabinets. I put towels in the bathroom, hung a shower curtain, and arranged some of the seashell soap in a soap dish. It looked pretty and inviting and clean, and I hoped I'd done Martin's friends proud.

The work on the big house went slower. Some of the workmen I wanted were busy, and the carpet took longer to come than it was supposed to, and I had a hard time picking out paint and wallpaper. I was frantic to have it finished; my townhouse and Mother's guest bedroom were overflowing with the wedding gifts and furniture I'd kept from Jane Engle's house. Martin's furniture was still in storage at a warehouse closer in to Atlanta, and I made a trip there to see what he had. In between making decisions, fretting over delays, and spending hours worrying, I had to get dressed appropriately and punctually for the remaining parties in our honor.

Now, these are all very pleasant problems to have, I know. But I did begin to get tired, and frayed, and desperate. Martin seemed unprecedentedly grim, too, though his bad mood didn't seem to have anything to do with the wedding. So I was really glad to greet the Youngbloods when they arrived from Florida. I was at the Julius house when they drove in at noon one day about a week and a half before the wedding.

Angel Youngblood emerged from the dusty old Camaro first. Her legs swung out and out and out, and then the rest of her followed. I gaped. Angel was easily as tall as her husband. Muscular and sleek as a cheetah, she had pale blond hair gathered up in a ponytail. She was wearing the loose sheeting pants that weightlifters wear when they train, and a gray tank top. She had a broad, thin-lipped mouth, a straight nose, and brilliant blue eyes in a narrow face. She wore no makeup. She looked around her carefully, her eyes gliding right over me and then coming back to note me. We looked at each other curiously. "I'm Aurora," I said finally, shaking her hand, which was an experience for both of us. "You must be Angel?"

"Yes," she said. "It's been a long drive. It's good to get out of the car." She stretched, an impressive process that showed muscles I didn't even know women had.

Her husband came to stand beside her. He looked even swarthier, his face more pock-marked, against her smooth sleekness.

"Shelby, nice to see you again," I said.

"Aurora," he nodded.

The carpet layers, who were carrying in the pad, stopped to stare at Angel.

Shelby looked at them. They hastily headed into the house. It wasn't that she was pretty. She wasn't. And her chest was almost flat. She was just very obviously strong and fit and golden tan, and her hair was such a pretty color. It was really just like seeing a wild animal walk into the yard -??beautiful and scary at the same time.

"Please come see the garage apartment," I said a little shyly. "I hope you like it." I turned to precede them up the steps. Suddenly I reconsidered. "No," I said, turning. "Here are the keys."

It was theirs, they should see it alone, without me there to make them feel that they had to admire it. I left to start overseeing the carpet layers. About an hour later they came to the house, looking about them carefully, like cats examining a new environment.

While Shelby went upstairs at my invitation to finish the tour, Angel put a broad hand on my shoulder to get my attention. I looked up at her. "It's the nicest place we've lived in years," she said unexpectedly. "Shelby told me what it was like before. Thank you for everything." "You're welcome. If you want to change anything, now is the time, with all these home repair people coming in and out."

She looked at me blankly, as if changing her environment was an alien concept.

"Where do you want us to park?"

"Since Martin and I don't have both cars here, just park in the garage. I don't know what we'll work out later after the wedding, but we'll think of something." "Okay. We've carried our suitcases up, and we're ready to start work." "Work" sounded more formal than the casual "helping you out" relationship Martin had suggested. But I certainly did need help.

"Let me tell you what I want to do here in the house, and how far I've gotten on each item," I began. To my surprise, she pulled a small ruled pad out of her pocket, and uncapped a pen clipped to it. Shelby was suddenly beside her, listening just as attentively as if I were updating them on a missile launch. Feeling nervous and awkward, I started explaining, room by room, the plans I'd made, and showed them the paint, wallpaper, and carpet samples for each room that I'd sorted into a divided accordion folder. In the section I'd accorded each room was also a list of necessary repairs or changes, and taped to the front was a list of things I had yet to do before we left on our honeymoon. This list included such things as "Start paper delivery. Order new return-address stickers. New library card. Box books in townhouse. New stove will be delivered Monday a.m., be there... ." and it went on and on. "I think we can take care of this," Shelby said after a thorough briefing. "You do?" I know I sounded idiotic, but I was stunned. It had never occurred to me they'd take the whole thing off my hands.

"Of course we can't sign things for you," Angel said. "And you'll want to come see for yourself, at least once a day. I know I would. But I think we can make sure all this happens on time, and I see you've got a list of all the phone numbers we might need, taped here to the folder." I am capable of organization.

"You'd do that?" I was still having trouble grasping the idea that relief was standing right before me.

"Of course," Angel said again, surprised in turn. "That's what we're here for."

"When will Shelby start work at Pan-Am Agra?"

"Oh, not until you all are back," Shelby said. "Martin wanted us to be sure everything kept on going while you were gone, and that's what Angel and I intend to do."

"Oh... that's wonderful. Thank you," I said from the bottom of my heart.

They both looked uncomfortable and glanced at each other. "It's our job," Angel said, with a little shrug. A little shrug on Angel was a pretty large gesture.

I had to relax them before I left. "Now," I said briskly, "the carpenter building the bookshelves here in the hall is supposed to come this afternoon, but he'll get his wife to call with some excuse, about 12:30. So tell him that if he doesn't come in to finish the job, we'll hire someone else tomorrow." "Okay," Shelby nodded. "And who will we call tomorrow? Or am I bluffing?" "Bluffing. He'll come in today, but he just needs prodding. He likes to go fishing."

"So do I," Shelby said. "I feel for him. Well, go on if you have something else you need to be doing. We'll handle things here." "Thank you," I said again, and I meant it just as much.

That evening we had scheduled another session with Aubrey. I got to St. James early, but Aubrey was already there, sitting on the steps of the church. He was watching the sun go down, a little ritual he liked to observe every now and then. I plopped down by him, glad to sit and let my brain rest for a little bit. After our hellos, we slumped together companionably for a few minutes, thinking our separate thoughts, watching the splendor unfold to the west. Aubrey had a wonderful quality of restfulness, the inner relaxation of a man who is square with the world and its maker.

"Martin's not early, for once," Aubrey observed, after a while.

"No... guess he had a meeting."

"I think he usually comes early because he doesn't want to leave you alone with me."

"You think so?"

"Could be," Aubrey said neutrally.

"He knows I love him," I said.

"He knows other people love you."

I mulled that over.

"You're implying that he's extremely jealous?"

"Could be."

"Do you like Martin?"

"I admire him. He has many fine qualities, Roe. I don't think you'd pick a man who didn't. He's intelligent, strong, a leader. And he obviously loves you. But you're going to have to stand up to him on everything, every point, not let him get the upper hand. Once he has that, he won't be able to stop." "This is a surprise, Aubrey." I watched an ant toiling across the gray concrete of the sidewalk.

"I care about you. Of course, I care about everyone in this congregation, but you're a special person to me, and you know it. In these counseling sessions, I've seen how much Martin loves you and how much you love him, and I've seen that both of you believe in God and are trying to lead the good life. But Martin feels he is a law to himself, that he and God are each autonomous." We were sitting with our knees almost in our faces because the steps were so shallow. I leaned my head down on my knees, felt their hard caps and the movement of my muscles underneath, the amazing way my body worked. I was trying not to feel scared.

"You'll perform the wedding?"

"Yes. And I'm not saying anything to you I won't say to Martin. I just wanted to talk to you because I felt I was being prevented from doing it. And because I'll always be fond of you."

"Are you going to marry Emily?" I was being impertinent, but the evening and the quiet of the neighborhood around the church encouraged intimacy. "We're thinking about it. She hasn't been a widow very long, and her little girl is still trying to understand her daddy's absence." Emily's husband had been killed in a wreck the year before, and she'd moved to Lawrenceton because she had an aunt living here.

Emily Kaye was dull as dishwater, but of course I wasn't going to say that to Aubrey. At least my intended was exciting.

And here he came in his Mercedes. Martin was groomed to a T even after a long day at work, his striped shirt still crisp, his suit unwrinkled. My heart gave its familiar lurch at the sight of him, and I sighed involuntarily. "You're really in love," Aubrey said very quietly, as if to reassure himself.

"Yes."

I smiled at Martin as he got out of the car and came toward us, and he didn't look jealous or even uneasy at Aubrey and me sitting t篓潞te-篓陇-t篓潞te. But he pulled me up by my hands and gave me a kiss that lasted too long and was almost ferocious.

"I'll go unlock the office," Aubrey murmured, and rose from the steps.

"Your friends got in today," I told Martin.

"Shelby called me. What did you think of Angel?"

"I've never met anyone like her, or like Shelby, for that matter." "What do you mean?" We began walking down the south sidewalk to the parish hall where Aubrey's office was, the dusk gathering around us. I could see the desk lamp shining through Aubrey's uncurtained window. "Well," I said slowly and carefully, "they seem used to having very little, to needing very little." I was uncertain how to phrase my next thought. "They're very quick to understand your wishes and act on them, and they don't reveal anything about themselves, about what they want. Oh, gosh, that makes them sound like a maid and a butler, and they're anything but that. But do you see what I mean?"

He didn't answer for a moment, and I was afraid I'd offended him. "They're very independent, and very capable of making quick judgment calls, Angel even faster than Shelby maybe," Martin said finally. "But I understand you. Shelby has never been one to talk about himself, and I was sure he'd marry someone who talked nonstop, but he married Angel. She'll tell you more about herself than Shelby will, but she isn't any chatterer." "They're going to be great help with getting the house finished," I said carefully, when it became apparent Martin wasn't going to volunteer any more - like, who were these people? Where had they come from, and what had they been doing there? Why were they willing to be in Lawrenceton, doing what they were doing here? "It's a relief knowing they're there." "Great, honey. I wanted you to get some quiet time before the wedding. That house was running you ragged."

Ragged? I felt the urge to pop in the nearest women's room and stare into the mirror, suddenly terrified I'd see crow's feet and gray hair. Normally I am not morbidly self-conscious about my appearance, but the fittings for the wedding dress and the fuss over clothes in general for the past couple of months had made me very aware of how I looked.

"They took notes," I told Martin absently. "I think they'll do a great job."

"I want you to be happy," he said.

"I am," I told him, surprised. "I've never been happier in my life."

Then we were at the door to Aubrey's office, and we joined hands and went in. Our last session before the wedding, and Aubrey wasn't going to make it easy. He asked hard questions and expected honest answers. We had gone over what we expected from each other financially, emotionally, and in the matter of religion. And we had talked again about having children, with both of us unable to decide. Maybe indecision wasn't good, but it was better than holding opposing views. Right?

The counseling sessions had opened vistas of complexities I'd never imagined, the little and big adjustments and decisions of sharing life with another adult human being. It was the "working" aspect of marriage I'd somehow missed when my friends talked about their married lives. Martin, who was more experienced by reason of his previous marriage, had mentioned Cindy in the course of the sessions more than I'd ever heard him mention her before. Especially since I'd met Cindy, I listened carefully. And this evening, Aubrey asked Martin The Big Question.

"Martin, we've concentrated, naturally, on your relationship with Roe, since you're going to be married. But I wondered if you wanted to share your feelings about why your previous marriage didn't work out. Have we covered anything in these evenings together that rang any bells?"

Martin looked thoughtful. His pale brown eyes focused on the wall above Aubrey's dark head, his hands loosened the knot of his tie. "Yes," he said quietly, after a few seconds. "There were some things we never talked about, important things. Some things I liked to keep to myself. I don't like to think about the woman I love worrying about them."

My eyes widened. My mouth opened. Aubrey shook his head, very slightly. I subsided, but rebelliously. I would worry if I damn well chose to; I deserved the choice.

"But," Martin continued, "that wasn't the way the marriage could survive. Cindy ended up not trusting me about anything. She got sadder and more distant. At the time, I felt that if she had enough faith in me, everything would be okay, and I was resentful that she didn't have that faith." "But now?" Aubrey prompted.

"I wasn't being fair to her," Martin said flatly. "On the other hand, she began to do things that were calculated to gain my attention... flirt with other men, get involved with causes she had very little true feeling for ..." "And you didn't communicate these feelings to each other?" "It was like we couldn't. We'd been talking so long about things like Barrett's grades, what time we had to be at the PTA meeting, whether we should install a sprinkler system, that we couldn't talk about important things very effectively. Our minds would wander."

"And now, in your marriage to Aurora?"

"I'll try." He glanced toward me finally, apologetically. "Roe, I'll try to talk to you about the most important things. But it won't be easy." As we were leaving, Aubrey said, "I almost forgot, Roe. I was visiting a few members of the congregation who live in Peachtree Leisure Apartments yesterday. We were in that big common room in the middle, and an older lady came up to me and asked if I was the minister who was going to conduct the ceremony for your wedding."

"Who was she?"

"A Mrs. Totino. You know her? She said she'd read the engagement notice in the paper. She wanted to meet you."

"Totino," I repeated, trying to attach a face to the name. "Oh, I know! The Julius mother-in-law! I heard at the shower that she was still alive and living here, and I'd completely forgotten it."

"I never met her when I bought the house. Bubba Sewell ran back and forth with all the papers," Martin said.

"Is she in good health, Aubrey?" I asked.

"She seemed pretty frail. But she was full of vinegar and certainly all there mentally. The old gentleman I was visiting says she's the terror of the staff." I pictured a salt-and-peppery little old lady who would say amusingly tart things the staff would quote to their families over supper. "I'll go see her after the wedding," I said.

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