Part 4

This is the way we go to the market
Go to the market, go to the market
This is the way we go to the market
All on a Thursday morning

Thursday, April 11

“Alicia, I’m doing my grocery shopping for the week this morning,” Helen told her sister the next day after Peter and the children had left. “Would like to come with me and Bobby, or would you rather stay home by yourself, or keep him at home? It’s up to you.”

“Would you mind if I stayed home with Bobby?  He said he would show me his see-crud hideout today.”  In her neat, tailored blouse, wool skirt, and low-heeled leather pumps, Alicia did not look as if she was prepared to explore any secret hideouts that were out-of-doors.  But she did look happy at the prospect of spending the morning alone with Bobby. 

“Well … if you’re sure you’re ready for that!”   Helen laughed.

At the supermarket, Helen guided her shopping cart to the produce aisle, and began to select the fresh fruits and vegetables for her family’s meals in the coming week.  Since her garden was not yet producing anything except lettuce, green onions, and broccoli, she chose the best carrots, cabbage, and potatoes that she could find. Next on her list was fresh fruit for snacks.  Her eyes lit up as she noticed some particularly plump purple grapes she knew her children would devour.  The grapes were on sale, and she placed a large bag of them in a safe spot in her cart.  Turning the corner to enter the row of canned vegetables, soups, and noodles, she began to pick items from the shelves automatically, since they were brands she chose every week.  Occasionally, she consulted her shopping list and a copy of the store circular, listing the weekly specials. 

The familiar, repetitive activity allowed her to daydream for a few moments, and she began to think about the art study she had given up in order to marry and care for her family and home.  I could be touring now, with exhibitions of my work.  Perhaps I might even have a gallery show by now.  I’d have a studio with just the right light, one where I could leave my work out until I have it just right; finished.  No one would come along and put their hand in the paint, or ruin my brushes by doing a paint-by-number with them.  I wouldn’t have to stop working to cook a meal or do laundry.

As she made her way through the supermarket, Helen greeted the other shoppers and employees.  “Hello, Mrs. Green.  I understand you have a new grandchild.  How is he doing?”  I love my children – it’s not that I wish I didn’t have them – it’s just that they need something every minute of the day and night.

“Thank you for saving me this nice ham, Jerry.  It will be perfect for our Easter dinner.”  Jerry Daniels, the butcher, had been a couple of years behind Helen in school, and Helen thought about how he and the other basketball players had admired her.  Back then, I was known as a stylish girl.  If I was single like Alicia now, I could have nice clothes again …fashionable, even.  If I wanted to, I could design my own clothes. 

“Good morning, Mrs. Vanderpoel.  It’s been a lovely spring so far, hasn’t it?  Yes, my sister is visiting us now.  No, we didn’t see her at Christmas time this year; she was touring Switzerland.”  I’d love to know how it feels to come and go as I please, not because it suits my husband’s and children’s schedules.  And not to have to re-do my work every day because as soon as things are neat and clean, someone uses it, gets it dirty, or makes a mess.

“Mrs. Elliott, I hope you’re feeling better.  Did you get a call about the Garden Club meeting?  It’s going to be at my house next month, you know.”  And as much as I love my flowers and the Garden Club, it’s a lot of work to host those meetings.  If I had an apartment by myself, in the city, I’d have so much less work to do… indoors and out.

By the time Helen reached the checkout line, she was feeling distinctly discontented and out-of-sorts.  She had to force herself to be pleasant to Betty, the cashier, and Jimmy, the bagboy.  As she pulled her car into the driveway, she could see Alicia and Bobby in the front yard.  Both of them were blowing bubbles.  While she watched, Bobby slowly blew a giant bubble.  As it floated away, she could see his mouth stretched in a wide O of amazement, and he turned to Alicia, jumping up and down in excitement.  Alicia held out her arms, and Bobby ran to her and gave her a hug.

Helen frowned.  Bobby hardly ever does that for me, she thought.  Of course, I don’t play outside with him that often.  Just then, Alicia looked up to see Helen, who had nearly reached the house.  An unreadable expression flashed across her face, and Helen wondered what her sister was thinking.  Alicia held Bobby’s hand until Helen had parked the car and turned off the ignition.  Then, she walked up to the car as Helen got out and closed the door.

“We’ll help you get the groceries inside, sweetie,” she offered, taking a bag of canned goods from the trunk and handing Bobby a bag of paper towels and napkins.  Helen noticed the way Alicia’s cheeks were glowing from the fresh air.  They must have been outside for awhile.  Of course, Alicia didn’t have any housework to keep her inside.   Once more, she felt a twinge of jealousy for her sister.  Stop it, Helen!  she scolded herself.  Don’t be silly.  You chose your life, and you wouldn’t give up Peter and the kids for anything.

By the time Brian, Mart, and Trixie came home from school, Helen had managed to push her envious thoughts to the back of her mind.  She and Alicia were reminiscing over tales of their high school days, and Bobby had not yet gotten up from his nap. 

“Moms, Moms!”  Mart’s voice ended in a squeak as he barreled into the kitchen, where Helen had begun to cut up a whole chicken to fry for supper.  She dropped the pieces into a bowl of salted water, and quickly washed her hands.  Brian followed closely behind Mart, but Trixie trailed behind her brothers.

“Moms, Tom Delanoy drove by while we were waiting for the bus, and he invited us to come over and see Lady of Shannon’s new pups.  We could ride our bikes and be back in plenty of time for supper.”  Mart was almost dancing with excitement.

“Can we go, Moms?  As soon as we finish our chores?”  Trixie’s face was filled with a wistful intensity that puzzled Helen for a moment, but her eldest son distracted her by speaking up just then.

“Tom said maybe Dad would want to get a pup for us out of this litter,” Brian added.  “Irish setters are good hunting dogs.”  As always, Brian was calm and collected, but Helen could see that he too was eager to see the puppies.  Tom was a great favorite of her sons’; the young man often took the Beldens fishing and hunting, and had spent hours with Brian, explaining the workings of a car’s engine to him. 

“We’ll see about it after your chores are done,” she said, smiling at the trio.  From the corner of her eye, she saw Alicia moving in the direction of the stairs, and she had a fleeting moment of curiosity about what her sister was doing.  Brian, Mart, and Trixie tossed their books onto the hall table and sat down to a snack of milk and cookies, chattering at the tops of their voices and filling Helen in on their day at school.

“Kids!  Can you drop it down to a loud roar?”  Helen covered her ears and glancing at the clock on the wall, estimating how long it would take her to finish the supper preparations, and whether the children were likely to get back from town before Peter arrived home from the bank.  As she was about to turn back to her cookbook, she caught sight of her sister, coming from the direction of the stairs.  Alicia carried her knitting supplies, and her face wore a tentative smile for her niece and nephews.  The older children had not warmed to their aunt as Bobby had, although Helen knew Alicia had tried her hardest to make friends with them.  Suddenly, she felt guilty for even thinking of allowing Trixie to ride her bicycle to town with the boys when her sister had set aside the time to teach her some of the homemaking skills which Helen herself enjoyed, but had not been able to induce her daughter to love. 

“Hello, children, how was your day?” Alicia’s tone held what sounded like a genuine interest.

“Great!”  Mart’s blue eyes were snapping with excitement.  “I made an A-plus on my report.  Top grade in my class.”

“Well-done!”  Alicia beamed at her nephew. “What was your topic, Martin?”

“The Pueblo Indians,” Mart replied.  “Everyone had to choose a tribe to research, and I chose the Pueblo.”

“Too bad you only made an eighty in spelling,” his sister snapped with a flushed face.  Helen didn’t ask about Trixie’s grades – her daughter struggled with both writing and spelling.  She tried to encourage Trixie with her eyes, but Trixie stared down at the table after her outburst.

“Kids, don’t argue, or we won’t have time to go to the Delanoys’,” Brian reminded them.  “Let’s get those chores knocked out.”

Three chairs scraped the floor as the three children jumped up and carried their glasses to the sink.  Brian and Mart headed upstairs to change, and moments later were galloping downstairs, hurrying to get their chores done in the hen house.  Trixie wielded the feather duster vigorously about the dining room, moving quickly from her mother’s cherished shelf of china figurines to the top of the antique sideboard.

“The Delanoys?  Isn’t that the name of the nice young man who works at the movie theater?” Alicia asked.

“It’s his father, Alicia,” Helen said.  “Mr. Delanoy raises and breeds Irish setters.  His kennel has a good reputation around here.”  Raising her voice, she added, “Trixie, perhaps you’d better stay home this time.  I nearly forgot about your knitting lesson, and Aunt Alicia’s all ready for you.”

“Moms, why couldn’t I do the knitting lesson later – maybe after supper?  Please, Moms!  I’ll just die if I don’t get to see those adorable puppies.”  Trixie’s blue eyes pleaded with her mother, and Helen felt torn between proving to her sister that she was a good mother and housewife – and allowing her daughter to have the special treat that met her interests. 

“Beatrix, dear, of course there’s no reason we can’t put off the knitting until after supper,” Alicia interposed.   

Helen fumed inside.  Not only was Alicia trying to usurp her place with her own children, but now she was also undermining Helen’s authority.  She felt a spark of anger toward both her sister and her daughter, but forced herself to maintain a calm and reasonable attitude.  “Sweetie, that wouldn’t be fair to your aunt.  She’s set aside this time and gone to a lot of trouble to teach you.”   The inner conflict was giving her a headache.

Trixie’s face was stiff with her struggle against complaining.  “Don’t worry, Moms, I’m not going to try to get out of my knitting lesson,” she snapped.

“Trixie, I don’t like your tone,” Helen admonished with a frown.  “It’s not every day you have the chance to learn from a talented needlewoman like your aunt.  I’m sure the puppies will still be around next week.” 

“It’s all right, Helen.  The lesson can wait,” Alicia insisted.

At the same time, Trixie’s eyes flashed and she exploded, “Why am I the only one who has to give up doing something I want to do, just because –?” 

Alicia drew back as if she had been slapped.  Trixie clapped her hands over her mouth as a look of horror crossed her face.  Choking back tears, Trixie rushed past her mother and ran upstairs before Helen could collect her thoughts enough to respond.  Her bedroom door slammed shut and Helen jumped at the sound, biting her lip.  Alicia had turned away and was busying herself in the kitchen.  The clink and rattle of glass and cutlery told her Alicia was busy putting away the clean dishes from lunch.

Brian and Mart came back inside and began emptying the wastebaskets so that they could take the trash cans out to the end of the driveway.  “Where’s Trixie?” asked Mart.  “We need to get going if we’re going to get back before Dad gets home.  Bri and I are almost finished.” 

Not anxious to face Alicia’s reaction to Trixie’s outburst, Helen had busied herself in the living room, straightening a stack of gardening magazines and rearranging the pillows on the couch.  “Trixie’s supposed to have her knitting lesson, and I don’t know if she’ll be able to go today,” she was forced to admit.  Brian, as well as Mart, looked at her with open mouths for a moment before shrugging. 

“I thought she really wanted to go,” Brian said.  “We’ll try to wait for her, but there’s not much time.”

Just then, Bobby came galloping down the steps from his nap, and joined Helen and his two older brothers in the living room.  “Hey!  Where are you going?” he demanded, yanking on Brian’s shirt.

“The Delanoys have some new pups,” Brian explained.  “Tom invited us to come see them today.  We’ll be leaving in a few minutes, small fry.”

“Puppies!  I wanna go, too,” Bobby howled.  Helen flinched at the sound, and she frowned at Brian.  She didn’t feel up to coping with one of Bobby’s tantrums this afternoon, not after the scene with Trixie.

“I wanna see the puppies,” Bobby repeated.  “Take me with you, Brian… please!”

“I guess I could carry Bobby on my bike,” Brian offered.  Helen smiled at him in gratitude.  If Bobby went along, she wouldn’t have to deal with his tears and whining.  The smile froze on her face, however, as Trixie appeared at the living room doorway, carrying her knitting basket.  Trixie’s eyes were red and puffy, but her jaw had a determined thrust. 

“Where’s Aunt Alicia?” she asked.  “I’m ready for my lesson.  Maybe we can finish in time for me to go, too.”

“We need to get going,” Mart said.  “If we wait another half-hour I don’t think we’ll have time to get there and back in time.”

Helen checked her watch.  It was later than she had realized, and she said, “Boys, you had better go if you’re going to get to the village and back before Dad gets home.  Brian, please be extra careful of traffic when you’re carrying Bobby on your bike.  Go on now, and be careful.”

Trixie’s eyes widened in shock as Helen gave permission for Bobby to go with his brothers.  Her mouth opened and she seemed about to say something, but Alicia appeared just then.

“Really, Beatrix, we can skip the lesson today, or do it after supper,” she said softly, a tentative smile on her face.

“Alicia, Trixie needs to learn to …” Helen snapped.  “I’m still the mother around here.”

Trixie walked slowly to the sofa and sat down, pulling out her knitting project.  Helen watched, flinching a little as she noted the dejected slump of Trixie’s shoulders.  She avoided looking at her sister, who joined Trixie after a brief hesitation.  Alicia’s smooth coiffure contrasted with Trixie’s tumbled curls as she helped her niece position her fingers on the needles. 

This is all Alicia’s fault, Helen thought, her head throbbing again.  Why did she have to come into our home and try to change us?  She stayed at the door, watching as Brian situated Bobby on the luggage rack of his bicycle.  Bobby nodded vigorously as Brian instructed him to hold tightly to the seat and not wiggle. 

“Remember, Brian, be careful,” she called, glancing back to the living room again.  Mart stood in the arched entry, looking toward his sister.  “Trix?” he said softly.  Trixie, however, kept her head stubbornly bent down.  “Mart, are you going?  Brian’s ready to leave.”  Helen’s tumultuous thoughts added an edge to her voice.  If Alicia wasn’t here, I would have let Trixie go with the boys.  With a shrug, Mart joined his brothers outside.  Only when the boys had turned onto Glen Road did Helen close the door and turn back toward the kitchen, her mind turning toward her dinner preparation. 

As the door clicked shut, Trixie’s head jerked up.  At the sudden movement, Helen glanced at her daughter in time to catch a flash of anger in the blue eyes.  Then, with a scowl, Trixie dropped her gaze back to the knitting project.

 Suddenly ashamed, Helen scolded herself.  Why am I blaming this on Alicia?  How often have I tried to get Trixie to take an interest in her appearance; to mend, clean, and cook?  How many times have I begged her to be a little lady? She was just about to tell Trixie to leave the knitting and go after her brothers when Alicia’s voice penetrated her consciousness, pointing out a place where Trixie had dropped a stitch.  Suddenly, Trixie threw down her knitting, jumped up from the sofa, and with a strangled sob, ran upstairs.  Once more, a door slammed.  Helen sighed and followed her daughter, not looking to see what Alicia was doing with the knitting paraphernalia. 

Fifteen minutes later, Helen descended the stairs.  Trixie had cried until she had no tears left.  In part, her tears were due to anger and temper at not being able to go see the puppies; in part, they were caused by frustration at being expected to submit to activities she did not enjoy, for the sake of family peace.  She had confided that the desire to tell her aunt she didn’t want to learn to knit was almost overwhelming, but she knew her parents would be disappointed if she did such a thing.  Helen left her with the promise that she could skip supper with the family, and she would bring a plate up later.  She would make the excuse that Trixie had a headache.  Her own head throbbed relentlessly.  She had invited Alicia and had looked forward, with some trepidation, to her sister’s visit.  But ever since Alicia had arrived, she had felt stirrings of dissatisfaction – whether due to Alicia’s clothing, her looks, her activities, or her rapport with Bobby.  Now, Alicia’s presence was upsetting her relationship with Trixie.  Why did I ever think it would be a good idea to invite my sister for a visit?  I hope I can hold it together until Sunday afternoon! she thought. 

Alicia joined Helen in the kitchen as she began to peel a dozen potatoes. “What can I do, sweetie?”  she asked.

“If you’d like to start the green beans, that would help.”  Helen’s lips were compressed into a thin line.  If Alicia’s eyes were red and puffy, she ignored the fact.  Dinner may be a little late tonight, she thought, dumping the potatoes into a pan of salted water and setting it over a medium flame.  Her hands stayed busy with the task of dredging the cut-up chicken pieces in seasoned flour while she heated shortening in a deep skillet, concentrating on the procedure in order to avoid conversation.  Before placing the pieces in the hot shortening, she dredged them again in the flour.  The task occupied her hands, but it was so routine that it required minimal concentration.  Covertly, she watched as Alicia capably opened two quart jars of Helen’s home-grown beans, added a ham hock, and chopped up an onion into the pot.  Sighing, she tested the hot shortening.  In moments, a skilletful of chicken pieces sizzled and soon a delicious aroma filled the kitchen as the two sisters worked in uncomfortable silence.

Supper was late, but it was lively despite Trixie’s absence, since Bobby was bouncing with excitement over the new puppies.  Every few minutes he was struggling up or down from his chair, imitating one of the pups or their mother.  Brian and Mart were also enthusiastic about the pups. 

“Mr. Delanoy offered to save one for us, Dad,” Mart hinted.

“If it’s okay with you and Moms, that is,” Brian added.

“I don’t know, boys,” said Peter Belden.  “You know that Mr. Delanoy’s dogs are bred for show and for hunting.  They are purebred Irish Setters, and I’m afraid the price of one of those dogs is outside of our family’s budget.  I’ll talk to Mike Delanoy myself this weekend, but don’t get your hopes up.” 

Helen felt distant from the table conversation, her thoughts with Trixie upstairs.  Why do I feel so insecure, just because Alicia is here?  Anyone would think my mother and father were here, telling me I should be more like my sister.  Is that what I’m doing to Trixie? 

After supper, Brian and Mart began to clear the table and wash the dishes. Alicia excused herself, saying she felt like taking a walk outside.  “I need to stretch my legs,” she said.  “I’ll just walk up and down the driveway a couple of times, and sit out on the terrace for awhile.  It’s such a nice evening.”

Helen forced herself to smile at her sister.  “It certainly is.  I’m going to sit with Peter for awhile and read today’s paper.  Maybe I’ll join you later.”  Reading the Sleepyside Sun while her husband pored over the latest issue of TIME magazine seemed to calm her frazzled mind.  After an hour, she made a round of the house, checking on her family.  Alicia was nowhere inside.  The boys had finished cleaning up the kitchen, and Mart was bathing Bobby. 

“Ho, ho, ho!  I’m Santa Claus!”  Bobby was trying to make his voice deep and jolly.  Helen opened the bathroom door and peeked inside.  Bobby’s entire head was covered with a mass of white foam, and a slightly patchy layer of foam decorated his chin.  Mart knelt at the side of the tub, washing his brother’s back.  The whole front of his shirt was wet.  She smiled at her two younger sons and moved on to see what her eldest was doing.  Always conscientious, Brian was in his room studying biology, despite the fact that Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School had no classes the next day, which was Good Friday.  Trixie’s door was closed, and when Helen took a plate of food up to her, she found her sleeping.  Helen found herself feeling angry, guilty, and helpless at the sight of her daughter’s puffy eyelids and the salt-crusted tear-streaks on her cheeks, which were visible in the moonlight.  Slowly, she descended the stairs and returned the plate to the refrigerator.  Taking a magazine with her, she returned to her husband’s study.  He was at his desk, working a crossword puzzle.

“What is it, darling?”  Peter’s voice interrupted her tumultuous thoughts.

Helen paced restlessly.  The feelings that had been building all week were bubbling to the surface now.  “I’m so angry, Peter!  Why does Alicia have to come up here and try to remake our family?  I always feel like a frump around her – she’s always perfectly coordinated.  She’s a perfect lady – always was.  She was always my mother’s favorite, and Mother tried to get me to be like her.  ‘Watch Alicia – why can’t you do what she does’, she’d always say.  Alicia has a college degree and I don’t.  She’s tall and elegant, and I’m not.  She’s a needlework expert, and I’m not – I just do what I have to do.  I always said if I ever had children, I’d never compare them the way my mother always did.  But here I’ve been trying to get Trixie to go along with Alicia’s plan to teach her to knit – as if she needed to be more like her aunt to be good enough.  I’m mad at Alicia – when I should be mad at myself.”  Helen took a deep breath and expelled it with a whoosh that blew an unruly blonde curl away from her forehead.

“Have you told Alicia how you feel?”  Peter’s voice was calm and reasonable, as always.  He’s so much like Brian – and so different from me.  I guess that’s why we get along so well.

“No – I’m afraid I might hurt her feelings.  We’ve never been very close since she went away to college.  Not that I don’t like to see her when we visit, but we just have never had any heart-to-heart talks.  She’s so lucky – no one to think about except herself.  I can’t believe she’d be able to understand how I feel about having a family.”  She pushed the errant curl away from her face and tucked it into another.

“Well, you might want to try talking to her.  You know, my parents did the same thing with Hal and me.  Hal was the oldest, and nothing I ever did was good enough to measure up.  Hal was a champion football player – and he was class valedictorian. I was always trying to compete with him, but I was always just a little too far behind.  We weren’t friends.  When he married and quit college, and then got drafted to Korea, my parents were so embarrassed.  They refused to mention his name, they would never visit him and Eleanor, and then of course, they both died before Hallie was born.  I finally talked to him at Mom’s funeral.  He told me that they always stayed on his back and lectured him about being an example for me and Andy, and a proper representative of the Belden family, the rightful heir of Crabapple Farm.  He resented us, because he felt like he would have had a lot more freedom if he hadn’t needed to consider how everything he did would reflect on them and on us.”

“I guess I can understand that.  My parents always expected Alicia to be an example for Marty and me, too.  I suppose I never thought about how she might feel about that.”  Helen stopped her pacing and sat down in an armchair, resting her elbows on her knees and propping her chin in her hands.  “Alicia’s still outside,” she told him.  “It must be getting cold out there; I hope she hasn’t gotten lost in the dark.  Mart’s bathing Bobby, and if you’ll check on them, I’ll go out and find her.  Maybe we can get to the bottom of some things.”   She walked over to her husband and kissed him.  Peter patted her back as he released her from his embrace.

“I know you’ll find the right words, darling.  Just say what’s in your heart.” 

Donning a sweater and taking another one from her room, Helen stepped out onto the terrace.  The sun had set a couple of hours earlier, but the moon was nearly full, and she scanned the area, searching for her sister.   In a moment, she had spotted Alicia, huddled in a lounge chair on the far end of the terrace.  Alicia raised her head and faced her as the sound of Helen’s shoes tapping on the terrace drew nearer.  In the bright moonlight, she could see wet tracks on Alicia’s cheeks.  She tossed the sweater toward her sister, and Alicia caught it and pulled it on.  

“Helen, I’m sorry.”  Alicia’s voice shook.  She swallowed hard, and squeezed her eyes closed for a moment.  When she spoke again, her voice was steady.  “I’m ruining our visit for you and for Trixie.  I’m going to call the bus station in the morning and see if I can change my ticket to leave tomorrow.”  Pulling a handkerchief from her pocket, she wiped her nose.

“Nonsense!  You can’t travel tomorrow – it’s Good Friday.  The kids will be out of school.”  Before she could stop to think, Helen blurted out her frustrations.  “We’re happy to have you here, but why do you have to try to change Trixie?  Why are you trying to take my place with Bobby?  Isn’t your life perfect enough already?”

“My life – perfect?”  Alicia laughed, a bitter sound which ended in a choked gasp.  “Perfect?  Why would you think my life is perfect?”

Bewildered, Helen began.  “Oh, I mean you can do whatever you want, when you want to do it.  You can travel, have your hobbies, finish a project without someone coming along and messing it up before you’re done.  You can wear beautiful stylish clothes …You don’t have to consider anyone else’s needs …” her voice trailed off.

Alicia stood.  She was shaking and her hands were clenched into fists at her sides.  “You think my life is perfect because I can do what I want, without considering others?  What if I want to be married, and have wonderful children like yours?  I can never have that.  Never.” 

“What … what do you mean?”  Helen stepped back as Alicia moved closer to her.  What could her sister possibly mean?

“Don’t you know?  Didn’t Mother and Dad tell you?  I thought everyone in Sleepyside knew.”

Dumbly, Helen shook her head.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about how I got pregnant in my freshman year of college and had to drop out of school and go to a home for unwed mothers.  How I lost my scholarship and had to work my way through school by myself after I had a miscarriage – because I had shamed our parents by getting pregnant.  How my boyfriend – my ex-boyfriend – dropped me like a hot potato when I needed his help.  How I found out he had given me a disease which can’t be cured – one I might spread to a husband or any children I might have.”  After her outburst, Alicia turned away from her sister and bowed her head, hunching her shoulders and driving her hands into the pockets of her cardigan.

Alicia’s shocking words hung in the air, and echoed inside Helen’s head.  She struggled to mesh the new information with her lifelong image of her sister.

“I – I didn’t know about any of that.”  Helen finally found her voice again.  “I knew Mother and Dad were upset over something to do with you.  And they wouldn’t tell Marty and me what it was, or why you had left Swarthmore.  I didn’t even know you weren’t at Swarthmore anymore until several letters that I had sent were returned.  Later, when your letters came again, they had a different postmark and you didn’t talk about school – or about him – Brent.”  She took a gulp of air.  “When I asked Mother about it, she made some comment about how you wanted to dance, and now you had to pay the piper.  I didn’t understand what she meant at all.” 

“I was embarrassed … no, ashamed,” Alicia admitted, still facing away from Helen.  “I couldn’t come right out and tell you what had happened.  Mother and Dad told me not to come home until after the baby was born.  They didn’t want any of the neighbors to know that their daughter was – was a loose, fast girl who got in trouble with a boy.  I was ashamed, and after Brent asked me how I could be sure it was his … well, I was just desperate.”

“When – how – I mean, you were home at Christmas and everything was great – well, normal.  What happened, and why did you leave school if you had a miscarriage?”  Helen was still trying to process the information.  It was a shock to learn that her perfect older sister had been caught in such a trap.

Alicia turned back to face her, and brushed away the tears that streaked her face.  “Everything was great.  Brent and I had attended the college Christmas Ball, just at the end of finals week.  It was so wonderfully romantic, everyone was dressed to the teeth and everyone was so relieved that exams were done.  I felt like I was floating across the floor.  After the dance, we went to a party at his fraternity house, and there was plenty of booze there.  Even champagne.  I was just giddy with joy, so happy to be finished for the semester, and so happy to be with Brent.” 

Alicia paused, and paced for a moment.  Finally she drew a shuddering breath.  “I drank … too much.   Brent invited me to his room, and we were kissing, and … more.  It’s all foggy, I can’t remember too much about it.  But it was nearly daylight when I got back to my dorm room.  All through Christmas break I was still up in the clouds.  I was sure I must be special to Brent, if we could have had sex.”  Alicia grimaced.  “Special – that’s what I thought.”

She paced the length of the terrace before speaking again.  “After Christmas, we kept dating, and made love a couple more times – the last time was after the Valentine’s Day dance.  Brent was so handsome, so sweet, and he seemed to love me so much.  It was almost May before I began to worry.  I was irregular sometimes, but I had never skipped two whole months.  I was tired, and my breasts were sore, like they were sometimes when I was about to start.”  She laughed again, but the laugh sounded suspiciously like a sob.  “I can’t believe I was so naïve.  But I waited and waited, and I didn’t start.  Finally, I had to accept that I might be pregnant.  When I went to the doctor, he said it was almost certain, even without a test.  Of course, I insisted on a test.  It came back positive, and I went to see Brent.”

“What did he say?”  Helen dreaded the answer, but she felt that she needed to learn about the part of Alicia’s life that had been kept secret for so long.

“He pretty much said it could have been anyone’s baby.  That I was easy.  That I was drunk and could have been with other guys besides him.  He offered to give me money to go to a – a doctor – and get rid of it.”  Alicia shuddered.  

Helen had listened to her sister’s story with growing amazement and anger.  “What a horrible cad!  How could he say such things?  What did you do?”  The questions burst from her.

“I felt trapped.  It was going to be so expensive to come home and talk to Mother and Dad.  So I waited until the end of the semester.  When I came home, I asked to speak to them privately, and told them.  They were furious. Mother basically called me a tramp, and asked me how I could have been so stupid.  Dad said I could spend the week at home, but that I’d have to find somewhere else to spend the summer.  He wasn’t having me in their home, to corrupt you and Marty.”  Alicia’s face twisted with a grimace of pain.  “They told me to give up the baby or I could never come back home again.” 

She took a deep, shuddering breath before continuing.  “I knew I’d have to find one of those homes for unwed mothers.  The baby was due the middle of November – right in the middle of the fall semester.  I’d finished the spring semester, but there was no way I’d be able to come back in the fall.  So I knew I’d have to leave school and give up my scholarship after freshman year.  Even if I gave up my baby, I’d have to find a job and support myself until I could afford to go back to school.  After the way Mother and Dad acted, I wasn’t about to ask them for help, not even if I had to beg in the streets.”

Helen tried to imagine being forced to give up one of her children, after carrying a pregnancy.  She couldn’t do it – never.   “Oh, Alicia!  How could you bear to even think of giving up your baby?”

“It’s not like I wanted to give it up!  But how was I supposed to take care of a baby, with no real job, no education, and no place to live?  I didn’t know where I would be during the summer, let alone after November.  Our parents made it clear that they weren’t going to help me.”  Alicia resumed her pacing.  “Remember how I told you I had been offered a summer job at the college?  I went back there, and saw the doctor again.  He gave me some information on unwed mothers’ homes in the area.  St. Vincent’s Home in Philadelphia agreed to take me in, and I was to earn my keep by sewing and knitting for baby layettes.  All of the girls had to work to for the home in some way, and in return they received medical care, food, and a place to live.  The home would arrange adoption if that’s what they wanted, and if they wanted to keep the baby, it would help them find an apartment and a job after the baby was born.”  She stopped pacing, and stared at Helen, her chin lifting in determination.  “I knew I wanted to go back to school, and Sister Clare, the director, said she would write a letter of recommendation for me.  After she reviewed my transcript, she even said she’d intercede for me for admission to Rosemont College.  It finally seemed like there was some hope for things to be … all right again.”

“And then what happened?”  Helen was fascinated. 

“Then I moved into St.Vincent’s with my books and some clothes, not much else.  Another girl who was in the same fix was my roommate; I’m not sure what her real name was, since a lot of the girls used false names.  I did, too.   I went to the sewing room every day and sewed or knitted for as much as four hours.  We were required to help with meal preparation and cleanup, and to keep the place clean.  Then there was fresh air time each day, when we were supposed to walk outside, get some exercise, et cetera.  Sister Clare had a class every day on some aspect of pregnancy, and each girl was supposed to attend at least four classes a week.  I was just getting adjusted when I got sick.”

“Sick?  What was wrong?” Helen asked, touching Alicia’s arm.

“I was so tired, too tired to get up.  My throat hurt; I had a headache and a fever.  The doctor said it was strep throat and gave me a shot of penicillin.  In a couple of days I was better, but then I started having terrible burning and blistering … you know, down there.  I didn’t know what it was.  I went back to the doctor, and found out I had genital herpes.”

“Genital herpes?” Helen echoed.  “What’s that?”

“It’s pretty rare. The same germ that causes cold sores causes it.  It’s called herpes simplex type one if it’s above the waist, and type two if it’s below.  It can cause problems during a pregnancy, usually when the baby is delivered.  In my case, I must have been infected by Brent, and either didn’t have an outbreak right away, or it was so mild I didn’t notice it.  Being sick with strep throat allowed it to erupt again, and it might be what caused me to miscarry a few days later.  It was much too early for the baby to survive, even if it didn’t have devastating effects from the herpes.  But afterward, the doctor said I could infect any future partner and any future pregnancy could be affected, too.”  Alicia pulled a clean handkerchief from her other skirt pocket, dabbing at the tears which coursed silently down her cheeks.

“Oh, sweetie!  I’m so sorry!”  Helen pulled her sister into a tight hug.  “Is that why you’ve never married?  Because I know there must have been plenty of men who wanted to go out with you.”

For a moment, Alicia submitted to the embrace stiffly.  But with Helen’s last words, she returned the hug and let out a choked sob.  “You have no idea how jealous I’ve been all these years, Helly-nelly,” she said with a watery smile.  “You have a wonderful husband and four lovely children!  You are so lucky!”

“I am lucky, I know I am.  But it’s funny, because this whole week, I’ve been feeling jealous of you.  Your freedom to come and go, to do as you please, and your college degree – things I’ll never have.” 

“I had to finish my degree if I wanted to support myself without a husband.  After the way Mother and Dad reacted, I could never have swallowed my pride and lived at home again.”  Alicia stood proudly erect.  “I was going to stand on my own two feet.  Sister Clare did help me to get into Rosemont, and I finished on time.”

Helen sat down on a lounge chair, and patted the seat next to her, indicating that Alicia should sit down, too.

“I have to confess, though,” Helen began diffidently.  “It wasn’t only your freedom and your degree – I envied your height, your elegance, your lovely clothes.”

“You silly!  I’ve always envied your curls, your petite size, and your shape.  Not to mention being able to wear easy, casual clothes most of the time.  You have no idea how tiring it is to stand before a classroom in heels for six or seven hours every day.”

“Why didn’t we ever talk?” Helen wondered.  “Why did we let this come between us?  You were my idol and I couldn’t understand why you were suddenly so distant, right when I was hoping you could advise me and maybe we could be friends.”

“I guess I was so hurt by Mother and Dad’s attitude that I tried to seal myself off from other people.  Besides, I was mortified to be in that kind of a fix, especially after Brent treated me the way he did, and even more so after I found out he had given me a venereal disease.”  She reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out a dainty handkerchief, unfolding and refolding it as she continued speaking.  “It wasn’t something I could talk about.  And I did have to support myself.  I worked my way through college and there wasn’t any spare time.  After earning my undergraduate degree, I started right in on my master’s.  It wasn’t required then, but there was a lot of talk that it would be required soon.  Of course, I still had to work while I continued my education.  After you married and began having children, I wanted to visit more, but it hurt.  It really hurt to see your sweet babies and to know I could never have one.”  Alicia blew her nose in a most unladylike way, folded the damp handkerchief again, and replaced it in her pocket.

“If you couldn’t bear to be around my babies, how was it better to be around Marty’s kids?”  Helen had been nodding in understanding, but she felt confused by her sister’s last statement.

“It doesn’t really make sense, does it?  But Marty moved to Philly after college, and Helen’s not my sister, even if she shares your name.  It was physically easier to see them, and Allison came along a little later than Brian and Mart.  I started sewing for her, and it was easier the more I did.” 

The sisters had been standing or walking on the Beldens’ terrace for twenty minutes, and although the night was mild for April, the temperature was dropping.  Alicia shivered suddenly, and Helen noticed it.  “Let’s go inside,” she invited, putting an arm around her sister’s waist.  “Maybe you’ll be in time to say goodnight to Bobby.  Mart was bathing him when I came outside.”

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Author’s Notes

7326 words

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2009 by MaryN/ Dianafan.

This chapter gave me tons of trouble! I owe huge thanks to my editors, Trish, Ryl, and Ronda, as well as to the members of my online writing group!  Each provided insights and suggestions that challenged me to improve this story. Any mistakes are mine, not theirs.  You ladies are fantastic!

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