"My father," I thought as I trudged home and wondered why he wanted to see me. I tried hard not to imagine how things might change now that he was back. "Perhaps he will not be here long," I whispered hopefully. I had gotten used to the freedom his absence had provided; spending nearly all my spare time with Gabriel and his father, Deaglan and Trista or just idling about with Isolde.
I found him in the parlor once I got back home. I wasn't sure how he would respond to Isolde or whether my father even knew about her so I made her stay in the hallway while I went in to meet him.
"Papa?" I called as I walked into the room. He was facing away and when he turned to acknowledge me I almost apologized because I did not recognize him at first and was sure he was someone else.
He looked so much younger and more vibrant than I remembered; stronger, healthier. The last time I saw him he was agitated, pale and sickly, now when I looked at him he reminded me of Philippe or what Philippe would look like in just a handful of years.
"Vivienne," he stepped towards me placing his hands on each of my shoulders and brushing my cheeks with two quick kisses. He moved back and studied me appraisingly, "My you have grown! I was expecting my little girl but you are a beautiful young woman now!"
I blushed and looked away, "Merci, Papa."
"Please, let's sit daughter," he motioned to the settee and took a seat across from me, "I have already spoken with Philippe and with Jean, now I would like to know how you have been."
I raised my eyes and was unable to speak for a moment as I met his gaze. I couldn't seem to discern exactly what it was but there was something unmistakably different about my father other than his appearance.
I shook my head, "Oh, oui, Papa. I have been very well." He looked at me expectantly. I couldn't think of anything whatsoever to say. "Have you been well, Papa?"
He frowned, "Yes, yes of course. But I asked of you, Vivienne, surely you have something more to tell me than that you have been well."
"Uh," I looked toward the doorway, "I have a dog," I reluctantly admitted.
"A dog?" he raised his brows as though this was news to him.
"Oui, Papa. Her name is Isolde and she is very well trained. She is like a sister to me and we do everything together."
My father smiled, "Well, where is she?"
"Isolde," I called.
She crept into the parlor and stationed herself at the edge of the settee beside me. I put my hand on her back and ran my fingers through her fur. I saw my father's jaw clench but his smile remained.
"I was not expecting that…she is…she's quite large."
"She is an Irish Wolfhound, Papa. She was a gift and I could not refuse her," I added defensively.
"I see. Well, as long as she is trained," he reached a hand across to introduce himself. Isolde curled her lip and I gripped her fur tightly to let her know that she needed to behave. She did not let out any sound and relaxed her snarl before taking a deep sniff then snorting in derision at my father's outstretched hand.
"She's not very friendly is she?" he said somewhat vexed.
"Oh, but she is, Papa! She just doesn't know you and needs some time to get used to you. She has never given me or anyone any trouble. I swear!"
"Hmm," he sighed, "as long as you can control her I don't see any reason why anything should change."
"Merci, Papa," I smiled.
"So is that all you have to tell me?"
I didn't dare tell him anything more though my thoughts were full of Gabriel, his father and Deaglan and how close we had all gotten and all the good times we had had. "Yes, Papa, I have just been reading and keeping to myself mostly."
"Is that so?" he gently challenged.
I lowered my eyes shamefully, "He knows," I thought to myself.
"Right, well, if there is nothing more…" he paused a long moment to see if I had anything to add, "I am expecting company in a few short days," he went on. "I want them to be as comfortable as possible while they are here. I am having your things moved to the attic this evening and will be having your room reappointed for them," he put his hands on his knees and abruptly stood up as though to signal the end of our conference.
I raised my head fretfully, "But Papa!"
He furrowed his brows at me, "What is it Vivienne?" he asked me sharply as though daring me to try and contradict his will.
I shifted nervously, "Welcome home," I curtsied and hurried from the parlor.
I wanted to run back down to Gabriel and feel his arms around me and hear his comforting words in my ear, but it was too late to venture out. Instead I ran upstairs with Isolde closely following intending to hide in my room until dinner but the servants were already packing my belongings and shuffling them off to the attic. I pivoted and as I did Jean popped his head out of his bedroom doorway.
"Ah, there you are Vivienne! Have you spoken with Papa?"
"Jean," I hurried towards him and threw my arms around his neck.
"Oh, what's wrong, Viv? Are you upset about your room?"
"Come let's talk," he led me to the edge of his bed and settled me there. He pulled the chair from his writing desk and took a seat in front of me. Jean waited patiently for me to calm down. He didn't say anything but he did take my hands and caressed them while I composed my thoughts.
"I thought Papa wanted to see me but he just wanted to tell me that he is having company and that they are taking my room! He does not care about me. He did not want to see me because he missed me. He only wanted to tell me that I must move and make way for his guests."
"Oh, that's not true, Viv. You know Papa has missed you; he's missed us all. Papa is just not a very expressive man when it comes to his feelings. You should know that by now. Besides, you should not be so upset, Vivienne, after all, how much have you truly missed Papa?"
I opened my mouth but I was unable to speak knowing there was nothing I could say that wouldn't be a lie. Jean was very perceptive and though he usually kept his thoughts to himself he always seemed to know everyone else's innermost feelings.
"You are not upset that Papa didn't miss you, are you?"
"Non," I reluctantly admitted.
"You are upset that he is home and you are afraid that he will not approve of your…friendship," he said suggestively, "with Gabriel."
I looked away completely abashed.
"Do you love him, Viv?"
My lips quivered and never had I wanted to confide in anyone more than I wanted to confide in Jean at that moment. Especially after everything that had happened that day. I couldn't imagine my life without Gabriel; it was just as he said - he was a part of me, a part of me that I couldn't live without.
"Do you know what it says in the bible about love?"
I shook my head.
"Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends," he looked in my eyes and I could see the compassion he felt for me, "If you truly love Gabriel and he loves you; nothing can conquer that, Vivienne. Your love will find a way to keep you together."
It was just the thing I needed to hear. I smiled and squeezed his hands, "Thank you, Jean."
He nodded knowingly then stood up and put his chair away. He helped me to my feet, "Keeping busy is the best thing you could do right now. Why don't you run up to the attic and make sure it is arranged to your liking," he suggested. "Oh, and if there's anything new you might want, perhaps now is a good time to ask - guilt is a powerful motivator," he winked.
"Huh," I tilted my head and wondered if Papa might indeed feel a little guilty for evicting me from my room. "Well, Isolde could use a bed, and I could use a new mirror for myself."
"Now you are looking on the bright side," he joked.
We talked a minute more, my spirits greatly improved, then I took his advice and made my way up to the attic. It had been cleaned, dusted, polished and aired. As I looked around I decided it would not be quite so bad as I had imagined. Everything had been arranged as close to my old room as the new space would allow, but I quickly decided that it just wouldn't do. I made a mental plan of what I wanted to change then called to the servants to help me with the modifications.
They were just finishing up when we were all called to dinner. I quickly refreshed myself and hurried down to the dining room. I was the last to arrive and I felt everyone's eyes on me as I took my seat. I smiled at each of them and wondered why they were all watching me. Isolde took her place behind my chair and lay down.
"Vivienne," my father nodded to Isolde, "our guests will be here in a day or two. The dining room is no place for a dog."
"Oh," I glanced over my shoulder at her. "Of course Papa."
I slid back from my chair and started to lead Isolde to the kitchen but my father caught my eye and shook his head. I took her to the hallway and across into the parlor.
"I'm sorry, sweetie, but you have to wait here for me. I won't be long; I promise." I started back towards the dining room and Isolde, unused to being away from me, immediately followed.
"No, Isolde. Stay!" I spoke more harshly than I intended and it broke my heart when she gave a little whimper and turned away.
"Vivienne," I heard my mother call from the dining room, "we're all waiting for you."
Dinner ended up being an extended affair since my father had been gone so long. Cook prepared a number of his favorite dishes and my parents had a great deal to talk about. I hated leaving Isolde alone for so long but I knew I couldn't exempt myself too quickly. At one point my father asked me if I had had a chance to look over my new room.
"Oh, yes, Papa, I have and it is much more than I expected," I tried to sound enthusiastic. "It could use a thing or two to make it complete, though."
"And what would those be?" he asked.
I told him my thoughts then innocently asked, "Do you think that would be too much?"
"Hmm," he glanced at my mother and she shrugged her assent, "I will arrange what I can before our guests arrive."
"Merci, Papa," I beamed. "May I be excused? I would like to take Isolde out for a moment before bed."
"Of course," my father answered.
I bid goodnight to my mother and brothers sending a special look of gratitude towards Jean for sharing his insights with me. I curled a little something from my plate into my palm and went straight for the parlor. Isolde perked up as soon as I appeared. I soothed her and apologized for having been so sharp with her and for leaving her alone so long. After giving her the little treat I had pilfered I brought her outside for her bedtime stroll.
We walked from the front of the house towards the back. The moon was nearly full and though the side of the house was cast in shadow it was bright enough to see clearly where we were going until we rounded the corner. A moment after we took the turn Isolde darted away. I imagined she was after a rabbit or some other vermin on a nocturnal ramble but I heard a familiar chuckle and immediately knew the quarry she was after.
"Gabriel," I whispered as I carefully stepped towards the sound. I stumbled into the two of them where they were crouching down exchanging greetings.
"Ah," he caught me before I lost my balance.
"What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you."
"You shouldn't be here! What if I hadn't come out?"
"I would have gone home and worried about you all night."
He wrapped his arms around me, "I always worry about you when you are away from me, today especially, since your father came home. Is he well?"
"Yes, quite it seems."
"And you, are you well?"
"As well as I can be," I sighed.
"But things will not be the same now, will they?"
"No," I reluctantly admitted.
"Then we must make the most of every moment from now on."
I rested my head against his chest, "Yes, we must."
As he held me it reminded my body of all the passionate sensations we had created together earlier that day. I could feel him hard against me and sense the longing in his touch as he held me. I couldn't stop myself from raising my lips to his. For a brief moment I wished that he would hike my skirts and take me there in the dark.
"Non, love, not like this….I will think of something," he assured me as he breathlessly covered me with kisses.
"Yes, yes," I pleaded, "and I will try too."
Sadly we pulled apart and said goodnight, "I will try to come tomorrow and tell you everything that has happened." I called to Isolde and we made a hasty path to our room and readied ourselves for bed. I tossed and turned nearly half the night but eventually fell asleep when I began to picture Gabriel lying beside me and how comforting it was to have him there.
The last thing I remembered was mumbling "I love you," as I nuzzled my pillow and my eyes finally closed.