Just a short section this time. For Annie M. -- she knows why.
The wedding was over, and with it went Dick and Esther. Dick, who knew his father’s eye to be upon him, had conducted himself with the utmost decorum at the nuptials, escorting his mother down the aisle with the gravity of a butler, making pleasant small talk with various elderly relatives at the reception, and, by a supreme effort, avoiding the bar and the more slinky of the bridesmaids. His behavior was duly noted. Richard complimented his son and sent him back off to Baton Rouge with a grave handshake and some sound and immediately forgotten advice.
Esther, who had put in at least as much wedding work as Sophia and far more than Cheryl, took a well-deserved holiday before diving into the planning for the autumn Stillwater Fellowship Ball. The plantation tours had been on hold before the wedding; now she packed up all the wedding gifts and delivered them to Chris’s mother at Hazelwood, then headed up to Mississippi to spend a week at a Buddhist meditation center.
“It’s this big old Victorian house with twelve bedrooms, and it’s all been restored and modernized, but it’s still as charming as can be,” she told Cheryl. “The big parlors have been turned into meditation rooms — all the stained glass and woodwork is just so relaxing. I was thinking that we could really do something like that at Stillwater, maybe in one of the cottages. Do you know how much they charge for one week? We could ask three times that, and get it, too.”
“Oh, Pugsy would look so sweet meditating. Wouldn’t you, puppy poodles?”
Pugsy seemed in no hurry to attain nirvana, so that was as far as Cheryl’s interest in the idea went.
This would have been a perfectly blissful time for Melly, except that she found herself the confidant of both Malcolm and the returned Alys. Even this would not have been intolerable for someone who loved listening as much as Melly, but that Malcolm and Alys wanted to talk about each other.
Malcolm was particularly smitten. In his life he had progressed responsibly from Catholic high school to college seminary to major seminary, never breaking out of his “good kid” mold. In Alys, with her fast driving and her easy sarcasm and her bright beauty, he was suddenly getting his first taste of the fun, easy youth he’d never had, and it was addicting.
“I feel like I’ve been asleep for years, and now I’m waking up,” he asserted during the resumed driving lessons, as Melly wrestled with the big Morgan at the only stoplight in town. “Alys is so vibrant and funny and… and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s able to laugh at everything. Do you know how refreshing that is?”
The roof of the car was up, but the shade made little difference. In the heat of June the Louisiana humidity pressed on them in a smothering embrace. Melly, her hair escaping damply from the mass tucked up under her big hat, was thoroughly unrefreshed, nor was she laughing at the Morgan just then.
“And what happens when you want to talk about something serious with her?”
“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” he confessed. “But she’s so perceptive; she’s such an accurate judge of character. I really think she understands you better than anyone at Stillwater. You should have heard her go on about the way Aunt Esther bosses you around — I could wish other people paid half as much attention, for your sake. Don’t forget to dance on the pedals, Melly, and then you won’t keep stalling out.”
Driving had not become any dearer to Melly with the passage of months, but she was becoming familiar to the locals and was generally allowed to restart the Morgan without being hassled. She was beginning to think, however, that it might be preferable to be honked at than to hear Malcolm cataloging Alys’s perfections all the way home.
“She’s so genuine. Even when she’s laughing at someone, there’s no malice in her. Growing up in her uncle’s house, I’m surprised she’s as sweet and pleasant as she is — you haven’t read any of his books, but he’s so intellectually dishonest that he’d argue both sides of any question and call you a hypocrite for agreeing with either one.”
“That sounds like a bad way to grow up, but I don’t know if it’s better to laugh at a question than to argue it, even on the wrong side.”
“Well, we’ll bring her around. You’ll be a good influence on her — if anyone can give seriousness a good name, it’s you.”
Melly pondered this backward compliment as she piloted the Morgan down the driveway toward the carriage house. Clearly, “seriousness” was a quality Malcolm admired, and yet he had just been extolling Alys’s ability to bring him out of his own tendency to be too serious. Mockery, which was abhorrent to her, was Alys’s prime mode of humor. Not only was Melly unsure how she could change to better fit Malcolm’s ideal of the attractive feminine personality, she didn’t think that trying to become less herself for his sake was even a good idea.