TRISH AND I ARE STANDING IN THE DRESSING AREA of one of Lorgues' nicest boutiques. The attendant has just brought in the dresses we chose on our shopping trip a couple of days before. They are in three white garment bags, which she hangs on a wooden rack. She leaves with smiles, a flutter of hands and effusive assurances that she is right outside if we need any help.
Trish goes to the rack and reads the tags. "Here's yours, Aunt Anna. Try it on! I can't wait to see you in it!"
I take the bag from her outstretched hand and step behind the changing screen. I'd chosen a champagne-colored peau de soie sheath, simple, knee-length, tailored, adorned only with seed pearls at the portrait neckline. The silk is light as air against my skin. I can't see myself in the mirrors surrounding the dressing area, so I'll have to judge by Trish's reaction when she sees me whether or not I made a good choice.
Her eyes sparkle and her smile beams. "It's perfect," she breathes. "Oh, Aunt Anna, you look beautiful. Wait until Daniel sees you!"
I twirl around, laughing, before taking her dress down from the rack. "Your turn!"
She disappears behind the screen only to reappear a few moments later looking so breathtakingly grown-up, a gasp catches in my throat.
She'd chosen a simple silk dress, too, pale rose, fitted at the top, pencil skirt. She holds her hands in front of her mimicking holding a bouquet and walks slowly toward me.
I have to brush away a tear.
Trish holds up a hand in dismay. "No crying! Tears are murder on silk!"
Which makes us both burst into tears and scramble to find tissues before we spot our dresses, which in turn makes us burst into gales of laughter. We collapse on a bench and compose ourselves.
Then, our eyes turn to the third garment bag. I unzip it.
Mom's suit is inside. The same pale rose as Trish's dress, this is wool boucle, an elegant jacket and skirt, cap-sleeved silk camisole. I skim my fingers over the fabric. "She'll look beautiful in this."
Trish's expression softens, saddens. "She looks beautiful in everything."
I sit down beside her. "How are you doing? Really?"
She looks away, her breathing shallow and quick as if swallowing back a sob.
I put my arms around her shoulders. "I'm so worried about you. I know how hard this has to be. Finally, you have a real home, grandparents who love you, and now-"
She leans her head on my shoulder
. "I'm doing okay. It's Grandfather I worry about. He and Grandmother are so close. How will he cope when she's gone? When there's just me?"
Her voice catches and I sense an undertone of hesitation, of concern. As if she's afraid once Mom is gone, Dad won't want her around anymore. I know how utterly baseless that fear is, how much my father loves her, but I also realize my saying that won't change the way she feels.
I put an arm over Trish's shoulders. "Go change, honey. Let's get some dinner."
She disappears into the changing area and I remain on the bench, gazing at Mom's suit. I wanted help in making my decision.
I just got it.
As soon as I can, I will talk to my mom.
* * *
MOM DOESN'T COME DOWN FOR DINNER.
Her absence casts a pall over us all. After, Dad suggests we go into town for a movie. The kids agree and spend fifteen minutes in good-natured arguing over what to see-a Pixar animated flick or a new action-adventure featuring the Justice League. The superheroes win out. Since it's an American movie, language won't be a problem. The film will have French subtitles.
The kids disperse to get their jackets, Dad goes upstairs to tell Mom, Frey and I are alone at the table.
"You're not coming, are you?" Frey asks.
I shake my head.
"You're staying to talk to your mother."
Not a question so I feel no need to reply.
Frey sighs. But then he stands up and pulls me to my feet, too. "I love you," he says. "I stand behind your choice. But please, Anna, be careful. I don't want to see you hurt any more than you are."
I put my hands around his neck and pull his face down so I can reach his lips with my own. The kiss is full of longing, gratitude. "I love you, too," I whisper, pulling back. "I think I always have."
Then the kids are racing back down the stairs with Dad right behind them. Frey herds them to the door. No one has to ask why I'm not accompanying them. It seems to be understood. I will stay with Mom.
It's not without a certain irony-this choice of movie. My family has a real-life justice fighter in their midst and they don't know it.
Well, they don't all know it.
I start up the stairs to Mom's room.
And after tonight, there will be one more sharing the secret.