Kir is going on vacation for a few weeks so this is the last “Path” until maybe September. So I hope you allow my indulgence of going a bit long this week Be sure to click over to Kir’s swanky new Fiction-only digs to read her piece.
Missed some? You can catch up here
Gabrielle watched Justine fidget in the backseat through her rear view mirror. Poor girl acted like she had ants in her pants. Gabrielle was well aware of how vocal the General made his displeasure. The argument she overheard right after she and Steven became engaged was permanently burned in her memory. ‘Gold digger’ was one of the kinder phrases the General used to describe her. Whatever Steven said to make him accept her, or act like he accepted her, hadn’t been loud enough to hear through the walls. Gabrielle never let on she heard the argument and the General was never anything less than kind to her face. It wasn’t the best situation but at least she wasn’t guzzling Maalox after every family function anymore.
Beside her, Steven stared moodily out the window, uncharacteristically quiet both to her and to his ever present iPhone. Come to think of it, she hadn’t even seen its glowing presence tonight.
“Penny for your thoughts,” she said, reaching over to poke Steven in the arm. He jumped and glanced over at her with a wry grin.
“Sorry, hon. I’ve got a bit of mind clutter I’m trying to sort through.” Tossing a glance to the backseat he lifted an eyebrow. Gabrielle gave him a nod and returned her focus to the drive. She hadn’t been in the driver’s seat the numerous times she’d gone to Steven’s parents place but she knew the traffic could be hell and the entrance to the underground parking was tricky to find.
From the backseat she could hear Justine shift, resulting in a distinct crinkle sound.
“What’s in the bag?” Steven called over his shoulder. Gabrielle caught Justine’s startled look in the rear view before she smirked.
“I could call it a gift but you and I both know it’s really a bribe.”
Steven chuckled and they both fell silent leaving Gabrielle very curious and slightly on edge.
Overall, it had been a lovely evening. Gabrielle sank into the plush loveseat, her fingers clutching the one glass of wine she allowed herself this evening, her bare skin brushing against the fine wool material of Steven’s tailored trousers. The warmth of his body seeped through sending chills down her own spine.
Mrs. Taylor had Justine cornered by the baby grand piano, her face close to her daughter’s , their expressions mirrors of each other. Steven and the General were debating the merits of some Supreme Justice ruling, the details of which escaped Gabrielle. She was more than happy to just sit and daydream.
It was the General’s brusque, “So Justine, how is that thesis of yours going? Every time I call I get your voicemail. Are you living at the library?” that drew Gabrielle out of her happy cocoon of pleasant thoughts. She took note of Justine’s sudden ‘deer in the headlights’ appearance and shifted in her seat.
Here we go.
“Oh, it’s okay. Slow going actually.” Justine took a long swallow of her wine and pinpoints of color returned to her cheeks. “I might take longer to finish it than I thought.”
“Really? The last time we talked you said you were almost ready to defend.” The General shifted forward to the edge of her chair, his posture screaming ‘prepare for battle’. “How much more of my money are you going to need to finish this off?”
Gabrielle heard Steven clear his throat as Justine’s expression turned stony. She wasn’t clear on the details but she knew the General had used his influence and a substantial amount of money to get Justine to leave New York to attend Oxford. There was something about his objection to her choice of husband. She watched as Justine took a deep breath.
“Actually, none. I’m leaving Oxford next month to start working with a historical conservation group. And…I’m getting married in two months.” The last words tumbled out Justine’s lips in a rush. Beside her, Mrs. Taylor let a huge smile stretch her cheeks for a moment before returning to her demure, minimal expression and looking to her husband for the appropriate response. Gabrielle furtively watched the General over the rim of her glass.
He was clearly surprised but hid it quickly. “Married? Why haven’t we met the young man? Who’s his family, what does he do?”
Justine’s lips tightened. “What, no congratulations? You need to start the inquisition?”
“Is it my fault I just want the best for my daughter?” He snapped.
“The best? Need I remind you of your behavior the last time you thought you knew ‘best’?” Justine’s voice rose to a screech. “I was banished from the country! All to ‘protect’ me from a man who loved me. LOVED ME. Not my money or my connections or my family but ME!” She took a few shuddering breaths. “I won’t let you ruin my life again. I came here to share my news not to get your permission. I’m an adult. You have no say over my life anymore.”
Gabrielle swore she could hear the General’s teeth grinding. Steven’s body tensed in the seat next to her as he waited for his father to respond. Justine stood facing him off with her fists clenched at her side, alone Gabrielle noticed suddenly. Mrs. Taylor had stepped away from the conflict and was now busying herself with the glassware at the bar.
“I’m-I’m sorry Justine. I shouldn’t have jumped into that line of discussion. I just don’t want you taken advantage of.” The General extended a hand, beckoning her to sit on the chair near him. She visibly relaxed and began walking over as he continued, “I’m sure you haven’t made the mistake of getting involved with a low brow bar owner again.”
Gabrielle shivered as the temperature of the room dropped about 20 degrees.
I feel a little special this week since one of the prompts at my regular site for inspiration for “Path” chose a phrase from last week’s piece (silk prison in case you care). This week I used a few of the offerings:
WAITING FOR AN ANSWER
WHAT’S IN THE BAG