The Gilded Hour Page 39

“When they are your own. Yes.”

It was an odd thought, but one she couldn’t deny. Somehow in the space of a week, Rosa and Lia had become one of them.

“Now tell me about the detective sergeant.”

Even if she wanted to lie to her aunt, Anna knew from past experience that she would fail. Instead she said, “I’m not ready to talk about him yet.”

“Ah.” Aunt Quinlan smiled. “That’s encouraging. When will you see him again?”

“On Sunday,” Anna said, knowing that her color was rising. “The Society for the Protection of Endangered Children, I think that’s what Jack said.” She realized she had used his first name, and found that almost funny. She had yet to use it to his face, even after what had happened on the ferry.

What exactly had happened on the ferry was unclear to her, except that it felt right and good and utterly alarming. Before her thoughts could be read off her face, she leaned forward and took the mail from the table and began to look through it.

Aunt Quinlan went off to bed but Anna stayed just where she was, unopened mail in her lap. It was full dark now, but in the circle of light thrown by the streetlamp just opposite she could see the rain falling, buffeted by the winds so that it almost seemed to be dancing. A man ran past the house holding a newspaper over his head.

A cab pulled up, the door opened, and Sophie’s umbrella emerged and opened all at once.

Anna listened as Sophie opened the door, hung up her things, and then came into the parlor, her color high and her face wet with rain. She fell onto the couch across from Anna, put her head back to look at the ceiling, and let out a long, whistling sigh.

“You know how slimy the cobblestones can be at the produce market,” she began. “Like ice in January.”

“Broken bones? Concussion?”

“Both, and worse,” Sophie said. “She was six months pregnant. Four children under ten at home, and a clueless father.”

“A familiar story,” Anna said. “And a sad one.”

Sophie lowered her gaze to send Anna a puzzled look. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“You always assume dire things for large families.”

“I do no such thing.”

“Anna, I can give you a dozen examples without trying.”

As sleepy as Anna had been, she came awake at this unusual tone in her cousin’s voice. For a long moment they studied each other, and then Anna put her head back and blew out a breath that made the loose hair at her temple jump.

“I am cynical, it’s my nature. You’ve decided all of a sudden that you need to change me?”

Sophie leaned forward to take a peppermint drop from a candy dish. “I don’t want to change you.”

“What do you want to change?”

“Nothing. Everything.”

“No word from Cap, I take it.”

Sophie took her time unwrapping the peppermint. She tucked it into her cheek and then spread the small square of waxed paper out over her knee, smoothing the wrinkles.

“Something else then, if it isn’t Cap. Spit it out, Sophie, would you?”

“I am worried about Cap, but I also have to tell you about Sunday.”

“This coming Sunday?”

She shook her head. “Last Sunday. When you went to see Cap, I went to Brooklyn.”

Sophie watched Anna think this through and saw when the realization hit her.

“I had to do something, Anna. And there haven’t been any repercussions.”

Anna closed her eyes. “Yet.”

She could argue, but Sophie knew that nothing she could say would ease Anna’s worries. Instead she told her about the Reason family, about Weeksville and the cab ride and the fact that no one had asked her for medical advice, not even the new mother.

“You liked it there.”

“Yes,” Sophie said. “I did like it there.” This wasn’t a conversation they had ever had, really, for the simple reason that Anna didn’t see her as a woman of color. If she were to say It was good being among people like me, Anna would not take her meaning unless Sophie provided explicit detail, and then—what? Would she be surprised? Worried? Hurt? Anna’s generosity was bred in the bone, but she lived a narrow life and was often unaware of many things in her immediate surroundings.

“You’re not moving to Brooklyn.”

“Is that an order?”

Anna opened her eyes.

Sophie saw now that her cousin was very tired, and she regretted raising this topic. “No,” she said then. “This is my home. If I’m going anywhere it’s to Switzerland.”

“Let’s go find something to eat while we talk,” Anna said. “I have things to tell you too. I wish I didn’t.”

•   •   •

“OF COURSE WE have to take them to see him,” Sophie said. Her tone was matter-of-fact, no doubt or hesitation. When Anna started to get caught up in ambiguities, Sophie could be trusted to lead her out of the wilderness.

“You have reservations,” Sophie said.

Anna wrapped her hands around her teacup. “I do have some concerns. Thinking back now, would you have wanted someone to take you to see your father, at the end?”

Sophie didn’t answer that question. Instead she said, “The choice is whether we cause them pain now, or later.”

“I think knowing is better than not knowing,” Anna said.

“Well, then, we’re decided. Do we need special permission to take them to the island? Can the detective sergeant arrange it for us?”

“I mentioned the possibility to him. He said he could make arrangements. I think he’ll come too, if he can manage it,” Anna said. “Having someone there who speaks Italian is a good idea. If not Mezzanotte, then maybe Detective Sergeant Maroney might be willing.”

Sophie laughed. “You call him Mezzanotte? Why?”

Anna grimaced into her empty teacup and tried to construct an honest answer. “I suppose I’ve been trying to keep some distance.”

“And failing.”

“Oh, yes. Miserably.”

Sophie put a hand on Anna’s shoulder and squeezed but said nothing more. It was a kindness, and Anna managed a smile.


EARLY SATURDAY A note came from Jack, written on the police headquarters stationery: he had had word from the island. Carmine Russo had died the previous evening and would be buried at noon. If she wanted to attend with the little girls, he would arrange it. Detective Sergeant Maroney would call for them, take them to the burial, and then see them home. The message boy would wait for her answer.

All through that difficult day she wondered about the least important issue of all: Jack Mezzanotte sent his partner to accompany them, instead of coming himself.

Standing at the graveside with a trembling Rosa pressed against her side, Anna tried to block out the dull monotone of the chaplain reading from a funeral service in order to focus on the girls. What she could do for them. If anything could be done for them. What to say, or not say. Over the years she had developed a way to tell an adult that a mother or sister or daughter was gone. She tried to answer the questions, and she listened patiently. She was empathetic, but calm. None of that seemed possible standing by this particular grave and a coffin of cheap pine.

Rosa’s sorrow was palpable, but Lia seemed to be in a kind of waking dream. Her expression was almost blank, her eyes fever-bright, and she made no noise at all. Oscar Maroney was holding her for the simple reason that when he tried to put her down, her legs wouldn’t support her. Even Sophie, who had the gentlest and most compassionate of touches, could not get Lia’s attention. When she reached out to put her hand on Lia’s back, the girl turned her face to press it against Oscar Maroney’s shoulder.

It was Maroney who got through to Lia, on the ferry ride back to Manhattan. She sat on his lap with Rosa close beside him, and for the whole journey he told them what Anna took to be children’s stories. He changed his voice and hunched his shoulders, opened his eyes in mock surprise and whispered.

And this, she told herself, was why Jack had sent Oscar. Because he knew that Oscar had a talent for dealing with children in distress.

If only he could do that much for lady doctors in distress, too. She was embarrassed by this thought but could not deny the underlying truth: she had hoped to see Jack Mezzanotte, had wanted his support and help. Such a short amount of time she had spent with him, and already she had unrealistic expectations simply because he had flirted with her a bit. It was good that he had stayed away, she told herself. She would go home and nurse her hurt pride and wounded ego, and tomorrow she would start over again. A highly educated physician and surgeon, with work that satisfied her, and a loving family that now included two little girls.

•   •   •

SHE HAD ALMOST convinced herself of this when they got back to Waverly Place to find a letter waiting.

Savard: If you are free tomorrow I suggest we go together to talk to the people at the Society for the Protection of Endangered Children about the boys. Unless I hear from you I’ll expect to see you at the Washington Monument in Union Square at one. We can walk from there.

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