Early the next day after her manicure, Adelyn stepped out of the hotel’s revolving doors and surveyed the trollies, taxis, and horse-driven surreys. Turning toward the south, she could see Garnett walking down the broad Fifth Avenue, his coat open, flapping against the wind whenever he crossed one of the streets. His smile told Adelyn he saw her.
Her mother absently waved her silk scarf, as he got closer.
“Mama, please quit that. Goodness, we’re not back home in Tulip Junction, out on our lawn.” The brisk wind somehow magnified his masculinity; she decided he looked outstanding. His white shirt against his serious dark suit made him look every inch the captain of the financial world he hoped to be. She offered him her hand when she really wanted to embrace him.
“Garnett, you’re looking very healthy. This Yankee weather must appeal to you.”
Mary Jackson gave him a short hug and stood back to appreciate how handsome he looked. “My, my. Your daddy must be very proud of you. Adelyn is right, the Yankee environment is a tonic for you. I spoke to your daddy just yesterday, and he sends his best wishes.”
Garnett spoke directly to Mrs. Jackson, though when she looked away distractedly, his eyes drank in Adelyn. She sensed an almost animal-like covetousness in him. Neither of them trusted their eyes not to betray all that lay between them.
“Now Garnett, I know you will take good care of Adelyn while I visit with my cousin Candace. She’s my first cousin on the Love side of the family and married to that banker from the Middle West after he established himself here in New York.” She prattled on while snaking her fingers into her kid-skin gloves. “Adelyn said she had some research for a history class.”
“Don’t you worry, Mrs. Jackson. I have a friend at the World-Telegram & Sun archives, and he expects us at ten-thirty. He can help her find the editions she wants.” Garnett nodded to the hotel’s doorman to flag a taxi and within a few moments would have Mary Jackson conveyed to an address on the Upper East Side.
“We’ll be here in the lobby waitin’ on your return.” The doorman swung around in surprise to hear such country-sounding remarks. Garnett cursed his down-home inflections that took hold when he spent too much time with Adelyn’s mother. The cab whisked her away, a plume of smoke pouring out of the taxi’s exhaust on this cold day.
The floors in the old World-Telegram & Sun building creaked as Adelyn’s heels tapped along sharply behind Garnett’s friend, Mitchell Weinberg. His fuzzy red hair and piercing dark green eyes blinking behind large eyeglasses fascinated her.
“You’ll have to excuse me for rushing you like this, Miss Jackson. I’m used to running behind long-legged creatures like your friend here.” He gestured toward Garnett who walked alongside Adelyn. “Oh, here we are.”
Mitchell consulted some notes he took when Adelyn described her interest in infantry staging camps in 1918. Foot-high lettering on high signs marked the contents of shelves that stretched for several rooms. Each shelf had layers of newspapers in long sheaves separated by wooden slats. Mitchell pulled a heavy tome onto a table on wheels, and he and Garnett moved it into a large room that looked more like a barn for newspaper. There, Adelyn lost herself in reading while Garnett and Mitchell stepped outside the room and talked quietly. She had taken her notebook with her and wrote dates and figures down; she immersed herself in the pages of splendid journalistic reporting of young men returning from war. Her excitement grew as she saw the connection between their weariness and then the flu symptoms doing what the war had not, killing them, hundreds of young men, one cousin and Uncle Brady included. She heard Garnett clearing his throat, pulling her from her concentration. Mitchell and Garnett had grown quiet, waiting for her. Looking up and at her wristwatch, she saw it was one o’clock already. Adelyn closed her notebook, sure that she could have stayed there for hours and hours.
“Mitchell, please forgive me for taking so much of your time. Your work here fascinates me, researching and finding important information. Didn’t you say you had a request from a member of Congress?”
“More than once. Yes, fascinating.” He looked about the room, lost for a moment himself in the annals of history, then turned to Adelyn. “I hope you found what you needed.”
How many steps do we retrace when we seek to unlock a secret, one that we kept from ourselves, a fact there all along but somehow we ignored it? Adelyn would count this evening as the first misstep and a secret that got away from her.
She never would have guessed as they held each other’s hands and felt the electricity between them that interruptions, an unraveling, approached. Garnett lost himself in her presence; she felt loved, she felt treasured, coveted, almost a prisoner, captured. Lunch in the Central Park, the French restaurant where their fingers entwined, the food they barely tasted for love of each other, all impossibly perfect.
“This will sound crazy, but from the first day, I knew you would be with me.” His face blushed while he said this, even above a ruddy outdoors complexion. He fidgeted with his spoon instead of stirring his coffee. He repeatedly pulled her hand across the table. “I want you to be mine, alone. I want you to marry me.” Adelyn paused; his face grew dark and he scowled. “Don’t break my heart. You haven’t said anything. Why?”
Adelyn covered his face with her eyes, each glance another layer of affection. Her voice wouldn’t come because she pictured it all again. His strong arms lifting her from the sofa that day at Delia’s when she was only sixteen. His voice always in command even in mutual grief. “I’m not saying anything because you’re not leaving me much space.” She, too, fidgeted but not with a coffee spoon. Her nervous energy found its way into a flutter of her heart, and a racing of her pulse.
He motioned to the waiter and moments later they walked a narrow and desolate path that would lead them back to the hotel. He stopped near a bench and pulled off his gloves. “Here.” He handed her a ring, rubies, emeralds, and two diamonds on either side. “Christmas colors.” They both said it at the same time. That Christmas. He had to know Innis knew me by then. He had to. But she could only say, over and over, as he kissed her eyes, her mouth, her neck, “Yes, yes.”
“I had a dickens of a time to get to see your papa. I met him at Waycross, at the station. I couldn’t chance you would be home. I had to have that part of it out of the way.”
“What do you mean?” Her eyebrows arched. “Asking Daddy before me?” She wanted to feel insulted but knew he did the right thing. Garnett grabbed her arm, afraid she would leave.
“I had to ask him. What if he said no?” Garnett kissed her again and they finally made their way to the hotel.
And then it almost all fell away. They had no preparation, no clarion calls from large trumpets to signal the direction it all had to take.
“Adelyn, I hope you’re not dawdling in there.” Missus Jackson found herself once again waiting on her daughter and the last-minute adjustment of her wardrobe. She wondered how a dress without any corset, like the one Adelyn wore, could possibly take that long to put on. Ready to call out once more, and this time with authority, her daughter’s appearance in the doorway appeased Missus Jackson, Adelyn a vision in navy blue silk with jet-beaded beribboned streamers to below her knee, though the hems seemed to be climbing every year. Missus Jackson wanted to blush, yet found a way to quell the emotion. After all, the girls all wore them that way.
“At least you’re wearing dark hose.” Having made what might sound like a slight toward the wardrobe choice, she quickly covered with, “And such a good decision.” She gestured, “Turn around; let me see.”
Adelyn obliged as she pirouetted in a circle and then back again, the glint of the diamond pin catching the light. She saw her mother’s expression. “I know; I saw it in the mirror. It does look good, doesn’t it?” She began to pull on her gloves. “I want to get to the lobby before Garnett arrives.”
“I am certainly not the one detaining us, my dear.” Her mother held the door open for Adelyn. “Besides, it’s not always good to be on time.”
“I think I’ve made him wait long enough, Mama.” She glanced once more in the mirror and realized how, at home, she avoided ever looking too directly at her own image. A chill caught her shoulders, but she shook it off. Her mind moved quickly in an attempt to resolve this phenomenon of shunning mirrors at home. As though someone stands behind me, always just out of sight, and my body hides them from me.
Adelyn sensed her mother contemplated her remark about Garnett’s waiting.
They left for Delmonicos where friends of Garnett would attend with their wives or girlfriends. Mary Jackson spoke to each of the young people in turn, about careers or the girls completing college like Adelyn, and about babies to the few already married. They enjoyed a festive dinner, full of sparklers placed on a celebratory cake. Her mother’s eyes filled with tears at the Christmas engagement ring, and quietly remarked how Sarah Crawford would be proud to see her son accomplishing so much. At Garnett’s insistence, the three of them drank two bottles of wine, one of them champagne. Her mother would sleep soundly.
They dislodged themselves from the taxi onto one of the side streets downtown. Garnett took her hand and led her to a door that looked like an apartment. Two sharp knocks and a peep hole opened; a man nodded, waited for the password. “Carnival season,” Garnett mumbled.
“Where did you tell that taxi driver to take us?” Adelyn adjusted her rolled-up stockings and straightened her slinky dress. “I thought you said ‘back room’.” Garnett put his finger to his lips to signal her to whisper.
The peephole closed, and the door opened. Garnett entered first with Adelyn trailing behind him as he held her in a tight grip. People packed the sweaty, smoky room, sipping drinks with ice cubes out of coffee mugs. One table held at least ten men in evening formal wear who openly sipped from glasses of bubbling champagne, and the subdued lighting made it all romantic. Garnett joined a younger crowd of men in suits with young women wearing glittering dresses. Adelyn, Garnett, and his friends took turns toasting one another and soon drank their way to an alcoholic haze. The orchestra played racy, hot Dixieland jazz, then would switch to swarthy and dark slow music.
“It’s new, isn’t it? C’mon. Let’s dance this one.” Garnett pulled her to her feet and surrounded her with his body. “It’s a tango.” He breathed heavily. “I heard that Valentino danced the tango here just last week.”
Adelyn never knew a more exciting evening and began to think of reasons to leave Georgia for good. Garnett’s face scowled some form of disapproval, and she whispered in his ear to further tantalize him. “You’re not the only one who keeps up with fashion.” She followed his movements; his body signaled her left and right legs as he kept no space between them. The dance lasted long and ended with her body curved down and his almost laying on top. “And, no, I wasn’t dancing with Valentino last week.” She teased him, and he let her.
Garnett led her back to the tiny table in front of the dance floor and wiped his face with a handkerchief. “I’ll be right back.” As he left, the band went into a spirited “Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie” and the dancers crowded the floor, all the young women dancing the Charleston. Adelyn jumped to her feet and danced with them, relishing the attention of a few old, portly financial titans. At least, she thought that’s what they might be.
Garnett came back at the finish, and she settled at their table, next to him. “Don’t you know those women are mostly prostitutes? You can’t be up there, dancing with them.”
For the space of a moment, she lowered her head, surprised and chastened, but then the wild something in her took possession. “I’m in New York City. I don’t see any kin, do you, Garnett? I think we’re safe from Savannah Society News.”
She coaxed a semi-smile, and the band drew them up from their table into a slow dance. She hummed to the song, “What’ll I do when you are far away….” The words struck something deep in both of them as they danced closer, Adelyn’s imminent departure the next day, the long winter without one another.
They didn’t speak as the song ended, but hastily threw on their coats and left for Garnett’s hotel. They tacitly felt their movements more than spoke their intentions, as she lingered near the door of the lobby and he got his key from the night attendant. Long years of hotel work had taught the solitary man to look otherwise and not at Adelyn as the two young people took the lift to his floor.
She thought of the times they had been together, but this time they were engaged, and she turned the pretty ring around and around her finger, watching the diamonds sparkle and savoring the true red and green of the other stones. They made love tenderly and quietly, two people who cared for each other. They fell asleep and woke to a phone call.
“Good morning, sir. This is your three o’clock morning call.” The night attendant’s voice informed Garnett. “Okay.” He had thought to ask for a call in case this very thing had happened. Adelyn stirred and miraculously plumped up her hair to where it had been hours before.
“Don’t worry, Garnett. Mama will be fast asleep when I get back. She has these potions she takes to sleep soundly. That, and the extra bottles of wine.” Adelyn pulled the hose up and then rolled them down to her thigh.
He watched her sultry moves and listened to her sultry voice. “We should hurry, or I won’t be able to let you go.” He crossed in front of her where the light sparkled against something in her hair. Bending close he touched the diamond pin, asking, “What’s this?” Looking more closely, he saw the diamonds shaped like an arrow. “He gave you this. You wore it only a week after…,” but he didn’t finish, then, “a week after he had you.”
She felt the painful tug as he plucked the pin and strands of hair from her head. “Ouch. What on earth are you doing?” She held her hand to the place where he pulled. “Are you crazy? I have no idea in heaven what you mean.” But then her mind filled with lost memories of a time when Innis had gently pinned the diamond arrow in her hair, saying to her, “Adelyn, you’ve pierced my heart.” At sixteen she had giggled self-consciously, now all of it came flooding back.
“Four years? You expect me to remember something that happened four years ago? I was barely a woman. How dare you?” She tore at her hand and wrung her fingers till they swelled, trying to pry off the engagement ring. “I won’t do this. I won’t be a part of this.” She flung the ring at him and her coat over her shoulders.
All the while Garnett took stock of everything, experienced it all as if he floated above it as it all happened below him. “Don’t.” He pulled her to him as he realized what had just happened. “Please, don’t.”
“You go to hell.” She slammed the hotel door.
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