Gabriels redemption, p.8
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.8
 

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard  
Page 8

 

  “I’m not sure what Dad has told you about her, but I’m guessing it isn’t much. ”

  “I’ve let sleeping dogs lie. When a man’s ready to talk, he’ll talk. ”

  Julia sipped her coffee in silence. She didn’t enjoy talking or thinking about her mother, who died during Julia’s senior year of high school. Sharon had been alcoholic and indifferent for most of Julia’s life. When she wasn’t indifferent, she’d been abusive.

  “Grace was like a mother to me. I was closer to her than to Sharon. ”

  “Grace was a good woman. ”

  Julia searched Diane’s expression and saw hope in her eyes, mixed with a slight anxiety.

  “I’m not worried about you becoming my stepmother. And if you and Dad get married, I’ll be there. ”

  “You’ll do more than be there, honey. You’ll be one of my bridesmaids. ” Diane wrapped her arms around Julia, hugging her tightly. Eventually, she pulled back, dabbing at her eyes with her fingers. “I always wanted a family. I wanted a husband and a home of my own. I’m forty years old and finally all my dreams are coming true. I was worried about how you’d feel. I wanted you to know that I love your dad so you’d know I’m not with him for his money. ”

  Julia gave her a puzzled look before both women began laughing. “Now I know you’re kidding. Dad doesn’t have any money. ”

  “He’s a good man, he’s got a job, and he makes me happy. A woman finds a man like that, who’s fine to boot, she holds on to him and doesn’t worry about the money. ”

  Before Julia could respond, Tom joined them. When he saw Diane’s wet eyes, he strode over to her.

  “What’s all this?” His hand went to her face, swiping the tears away with his fingers.

  “Diane was just telling me how much she loves you. ” Julia offered her father an approving expression.

  “Is that so?” His voice sounded gruff.

  “Not that you’ve asked, but you have my blessing. ”

  He looked down, his dark eyes meeting his daughter’s.

  “Is that so?” he repeated, his tone softening.

  Tom wrapped an arm around both women before pressing a kiss to the tops of their heads.

  “My girls,” he whispered.

  A short while later, Julia said good-bye to Diane and her father. She’d thought that perhaps they were living together, at least a few nights a week, and was surprised when Diane explained that they weren’t, out of respect for her mama, whom she lived with.

  Now Julia began to understand why Diane was in such a hurry to get married and have a home of her own.

  After dessert was served, Richard Clark sat on the back porch, drinking Scotch and smoking a cigar. The air was cool and quiet. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine his wife, Grace, coming out the back door and settling in the Adirondack chair next to him.

  Heaviness overtook his heart. She would never sit next to him again.

  “How are you?”

  Richard opened his eyes to see his daughter-in-law, Julia, sitting in the nearest chair. She’d tucked her slim legs up under her and was wrapped in one of Gabriel’s old cashmere cardigans.

  Richard switched his cigar to his left hand and moved the ashtray so it wouldn’t bother her.

  “I’m well, how are you?”

  “I’m okay. ”

  “Dinner was great,” he offered. “Really exceptional. ”

  “I tried to replicate some of the dishes we had in Italy. I’m glad you liked it. ” She leaned her head back against the chair, staring up at the dark sky.

  He tasted the Scotch again, sensing that something was troubling her. But not wishing to force a confidence, he was silent.

  “Richard?”

  He chuckled. “I thought we’d agreed that you’d call me Dad. ”

  “Of course, Dad. Sorry. ” She ran a fingernail down the arm of the chair, scoring the wood.

  “No need to be sorry. We’re family, Julia. And if you ever need anything, I’m here. ”

  “Thank you. ” She traced a finger across the wound she’d given the chair. “Does it bother you that we’ve changed things? Inside the house?”

  Richard hesitated before answering.

  “The bathroom needed to be renovated, and it was smart to add another on the main floor and in the master bedroom. Grace would have liked what you did with the kitchen. She begged me for granite countertops for years. ”

  Julia felt her heart clench.

  “We kept a lot of things the same. ”

  “Please don’t worry. Grace would have helped you redecorate the house gladly, if she were here. ”

  “Are you comfortable in the guest room? I was wondering if you’d changed your mind about staying there. ”

  “It’s good of you to ask, but I’m not bothered by any of these things. It troubles me that Grace is gone and she isn’t coming back. I’m afraid that feeling will never go away. ”

  Richard focused on his wedding ring, a plain gold band.

  “When I’m inside the house, sometimes, I swear I hear her voice or smell her perfume. I don’t feel her when I’m in Philadelphia. My condo has no memory of her. ” He smiled to himself. “Our separation isn’t so bad when I’m here. ”

  “Is it painful?”

  “Yes. ”

  Julia sat for a moment, as she thought about how she’d feel if she lost Gabriel. She’d be devastated.

  The length of a human life was uncertain. One could get cancer, or die in a car accident, and in the blink of an eye a family would be torn apart.

  From somewhere, Julia heard a little voice whisper, If you had a child with Gabriel, you’d always have a part of him.

  The voice, more than the thought behind it, made her shiver.

  Noticing her reaction, Richard stood up and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.

  “Thank you,” she murmured. “Do you like living in Philadelphia?”

  “My research position isn’t quite what I expected. I’ve been thinking about retiring. ” He flicked the ashes into the ashtray. “I moved to be closer to Rachel and Scott, but I don’t see them much. They’re busy with their own lives. All my friends, including your father, are here. ”

  “Move back. ”

  “What’s that?” He turned in his chair to face her.

  “Move back to Selinsgrove. Live here. ”

  “This is your home now, with my son. ”

  “We’re only here during vacations. We can switch bedrooms immediately and you can move your things back from Philadelphia. ”

  He raised his cigar to his lips. “It’s kind of you to offer, but I made my choice. I sold the house to Gabriel over a year ago. ”

  “He’d be happier knowing you were where you belong. ”

  Richard shook his head. “I’d never go back on my word. ”

  Julia wracked her brain for a persuasive strategy.

  “It would be a mitzvah for us. And we need the blessing. ”

  Richard chuckled.

  “That’s the kind of thing I used to say to Gabriel, on occasion, when he was being stubborn. What kind of blessing do you need?”

  Julia’s expression shifted.

  “I have an unanswered prayer. ”

  When she didn’t comment further, he inhaled from his cigar and exhaled the smoke.

  “In my opinion, all prayers are answered eventually. Sometimes the answer is no. But I’ll certainly pray that you receive an answer. I can’t pretend that the thought of moving back doesn’t tempt me. But you’ve put so much time into making the house yours. You’ve furnished the downstairs, you’ve painted walls . . . ”

  “You mortgaged this house to pay Gabriel’s drug debts. ”

  Richard looked at her in surprise.

  “He told you about that, did he?”

  “Yes. ”

  “It was a long time ago. Gabriel paid us back. ”

  “All the more reason for him to open hi
s home to you now. ”

  “A father would do anything for his child. ” Richard’s expression was grave. “I didn’t care about the money. I was trying to save his life. ”

  “You did. You and Grace. ” Julia looked around the yard. “As long as the house is in the family and we can be together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it doesn’t matter who owns it. Or who lives here. ”

  She tightened the blanket around her as a whisper of a breeze blew across the porch, caressing her face. “Gabriel would never part with the orchard, though. He’s hired people to revitalize it. They’ve planted trees. ”

  “The old trees haven’t yielded a good crop in years. I’m afraid he’s a bit optimistic. ”

  Julia looked toward the woods, in the direction of the orchard. “Optimism is good for him. ”

  She turned to Richard.

  “If you lived here, you could supervise the orchard. It would relieve Gabriel to know it’s in capable hands. You’d be helping us out. ”

  Richard was quiet for what seemed like an age. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “Thank you. ”

  She squeezed his hand before leaving him to his cigar and his thoughts. As he closed his eyes, a feeling of hope washed over him.

  After her guests retired for the evening, Julia sat on the edge of her whirlpool tub testing the temperature of the water. She was looking forward to a few moments of relaxation.

  She knew she should be working on her lecture, but the tumult of the day had left her weary. She wondered if she should call her therapist back in Boston. Surely Dr. Walters would have suggestions about how to deal with anxiety, marital conflict, and Gabriel’s renewed interest in starting a family.

  It wasn’t a terrible thing to want a baby. Julia contrasted Gabriel’s tender enthusiasm with the cold indifference Tammy described in Eric. Of course, Julia knew which she preferred. She just needed to stand her ground and not let Gabriel’s passion overwhelm her and her dreams.

  If anything, her conflict with Gabriel the day before illustrated how much they had to learn as a couple. They needed to learn those lessons before bringing a child into the world.

  As she waited for the water level to rise, she felt the hairs of her neck stand on end. She turned to find Gabriel standing by the vanity. He’d unbuttoned the top three buttons of his dress shirt; a few strands of chest hair were now visible over the band of his white undershirt.

  “I’ll never tire of looking at you. ” He pressed a kiss to her neck before removing the plush towel she’d wrapped around herself.

  “I should paint you. ” He stroked her spine with his fingertips, up and down.

  “You painted me the other night, Caravaggio. We got paint all over the floor. ”

  “Ah, yes. It pained me to have to clean it up. I was hoping we could add to it. ”

  “That will have to wait for a night when we don’t have guests. ” She gave him a saucy look. “Care to join me?”

  “I prefer to watch. ”

  “Then I’ll be sure to put on a show. ” She lifted her hair from her neck with both hands, arching her back into the pose of a pinup girl.

 
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