Janie squealed as Charlene and Thomas took their final spin, bowed and collapsed on the oversized chair to her left. Thomas rose almost as soon as they sat and took a straight backed chair next to the couch. Charlene adjusted herself in the seat as if Thomas had never been there and turned back to Janie.
Charlene’s attention left Janie conflicted. She was never comfortable in the spotlight and Charlene’s affection was the brightest light of all. Charlene kept her on a pedestal, whereas Paul felt she’d fallen off years ago. He got more arrogant each year; even Alexander no longer met Paul’s exacting standards. If only he came home more, he could show Paul what an amazing man he’s become. If only Paul would let up on him, he may, in fact, come home more.
“Oh Paul, this one is delicious.” Janie said, licking her lips and giving him a thumbs-up. His study of current wine theory prior to their trip was worthless as the wine shop owners in Arles trounced him on the subject. Pandering to Paul kept away his condescension; pandering to the others brought it on.
“What flavors are you picking out of it?” Paul asked her, sitting on the arm of the couch.
Janie sighed inside. With Paul, you were never having a discussion, you were competing against the Minotaur for dominance. Sometimes she thought to admit to Paul she had lied about her IQ. She had lied, told him her IQ was less than what it was, but she entertained telling him it was even lower. If he knew the actual numbers, she would never be allowed to utter a common sentence again.
The wind zipped around the staircase. It howled as it went up to the top floor. Brittany jumped, Alan laughed and the rest fell silent while the wind made its way back down the stairs.
“Christ!” Alan said flinging his phone. They jumped up and stared at the phone lying on the floor.
“What happened, baby?” Brittany asked, retrieving the phone and handing it back to Alan.
“This thing shocked me.” Alan said taking it back cautiously.
“Are you OK, babe?” Brittany asked examining the finger he favored. “Wow. Is that from a cigarette?”
“No! Don’t touch it.” He yanked his hand back and went to plug his phone in. “If a surge blows out my phone, I am suing the homeowner.” He spoke with a combination of anger and fear. His eyes went from Charlene to Janie to Thomas to Paul.
Janie saw Paul’s lips part to say something. She stood up between them, “Say Paul, any more of this wine. I love the strong blackberry flavor.”
During school, Janie helped Paul with his coursework at night, behind locked doors. Janie agreed not to discuss whatever topic she and Paul worked on with any kind of knowledge. Keeping quiet was something she had mastered by their graduating year – and it had nothing to do with Paul.
Janie’s father was not one of the largest benefactors at the university, but he was the loudest. He made a show of Janie doing work study to help pay her tuition. But when a departmental Dean position became available, it was no coincidence that his best friend rose from obscurity and filled it. “Uncle” Theo looked out for Janie his whole life. His wife, “Aunt” Sophia, was once a premiere print model for all the best houses. Janie, with her unspectacular visage and boyish figure, blended into the background when Sophia was around, except to Uncle Theo. He had nothing but time for Janie and she adored him for it. When he took the position at Harvard, she went to see him often. He still had all the time in the world for Janie, even in his new august position. And the first time he kissed her, she realized how powerful an aphrodisiac time could be.
The pitfalls of their affair being discovered were common enough: he would be fired, Sophia would leave him with dramatic flair and take any money they had, etc. Janie’s concerns were graver, considering the open case of her father’s missing business partner remained unsolved and became cold. So far, nobody sought an explanation for how her father was able to recover the money stolen from him by a person who had vanished…all that would change if Janie’s actions put her family under more scrutiny.
Paul latched on to Janie from the moment they met their sophomore year. With Paul being involved in everything – elections, classes, clubs – their relationship became high profile on campus; effectively masking any inkling of her and Theo. Janie and Paul married as soon as she told him of her pregnancy. Paul pinned all his hopes on Alexander. He never could understand the differences between himself and the son Janie had bore him. “Uncle” Theo became despondent and unable to continue his duties at the university. Eventually he and Sophia led separate lives. Janie and Alexander attended his funeral after the cirrhosis claimed him. She stewed in contempt for her father as he eulogized Theo. Alexander complained of being forced to a memorial for a man he had never known. Janie dismissed him and hoped no one else saw the similarities in his face. She returned to Paul and his lectures of their roles as superior minds and accepted her self-imposed prison sentence.
“Char, put the thing down!” Thomas said.
Charlene continued to try different hats on the broken statues’ severed head. “Oh hush, you. I’m just having a little fun. What do you think, Janie?”
“It’s lovely, Charlene – a masterpiece, as always.” Janie replied with a wide smile.
“Then I bestow it upon you! As well as the matching hat.” Charlene said handing her the head and placing a comical beret they had acquired at the open market on Janie. Viola!”
Janie turned her head from side to side pursing her lips as Charlene clasped her hands together and sighed. Paul came out from the kitchen area and stared down at Janie.
“You studied at the Sorbonne?” he said coldly. No one but Janie understood his inflection. As she stood up, the statue’s head fell off her lap and on to Paul’s foot. She swore it was an accident.