Authors: Jude Deveraux
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
“Kim give you a hard time?” the waitress, Doris, asked. She and her husband and their two children were patients of his. When her husband cut his ankle with a Weedwacker, Tristan had sewn it back together. When it got infected but he refused to go to Tris, he’d made a house call and saved the man’s foot.
“Yeah,” Tris said. “She did.”
“Anything else she like to do?”
“Besides give me grief?” Tris asked. “She doesn’t usually, but today—”
“No, I mean this girl who doesn’t like Edilean. Can’t she do anything besides paint pictures? And she doesn’t always have to paint those fancy flowers of yours, does she?”
Tristan looked up at the woman, checked that the mole on her neck hadn’t changed, then tried to figure out what she was talking about.
“You think about it,” Doris said. “And don’t worry that I’ll tell. I never hear private conversations.” She winked at him, then took the coffeepot and turned away.
Tris wasn’t sure what Doris meant, but he gave her a tip that matched the ticket and left. He knew it was no use going to his office, as his father would just tell him to go rest.
Instead, he went to the gym that was temporarily set up in a building in the center of the town. It was for members only, and he had a key. No one was there and he was glad as it gave him a chance to think.
The owner of the gym, Mike Newland, had some lockers in the back where Tris had left workout clothes. It was difficult to unbutton his shirt and get his jeans off. By the time he managed to undress and dress, he was angry about what Kim had said to him. But after thirty minutes on the treadmill, he realized that she’d told him not to hurt her friend. In her long-winded way, that was all she’d said. He had no right to get angry over that.
He spent two hours alone in the gym and did what he could with only one arm. As he expended the energy, his anger began to leave him and he started smiling again.
So Jecca liked creativity, did she? Doctors weren’t known for being creative, but he thought he could manage.
He looked at his watch, half hidden under his sling. He had hours before he saw Jecca again.
When Jecca awoke it wasn’t quite daylight, and her first thought was of Tristan and how their fathers were so alike. In fact, they seemed to have a lot in common.
This is not good, she thought. She couldn’t begin her day thinking of a man, and certainly not one she’d never seen. She needed to put her mind on Kim’s ad campaign.
She needed to come up with something to unite the twelve pictures. That could be different kinds of orchids. She’d have to talk with Tristan about which ones to use. Smiling, she thought of the way the long Latin names rolled off his tongue.
That made her think of his lips on her temple.
“Forget that!” Jecca said as she threw back the covers. She’d made it twenty-six years without being obsessed with some man, and she wasn’t going to start now. She’d always been disgusted when Andrea came in cryi ^Dithng and saying her life was over because of whatever her latest boyfriend had done to her.
Jecca made her bed, dressed, and went downstairs. The house was quiet and she thought about having a bowl of cereal and setting up her camera equipment. But when she opened the refrigerator she saw a large box of blueberries. Yesterday she’d given Lucy a short list of food she wanted and it looked like she’d gone to the grocery.
Jecca took the carton of berries out and decided that it was only fair that she make breakfast, since Lucy had done it the day before.
When the women came into the kitchen they were greeted with blueberry pancakes, sausage patties, cut-up cantaloupe, and freshly squeezed orange juice.
“What a lovely surprise,” Mrs. Wingate said.
“Really great,” Lucy said. “It looks like Tristan was right to tell us to let you live here.”
“I heard he did that,” Jecca said. “Has he been here this morning?”
“If he were, he’d be at the table,” Lucy said. “The man does so love to eat. On movie night he sometimes has three pieces of pie.”
“That’s because you look like you might cry if he doesn’t take them,” Mrs. Wingate said.
“I just feel sorry for him over there all alone,” Lucy said. “You know, Jecca, Tristan is a very eligible bachelor.”
Jecca put a stack of pancakes on the table as the women took their seats. “Interesting thought, but how would I make a living here in Edilean?”
“In my family,” Mrs. Wingate said, “a woman’s husband supported her.”
“In mine too,” Lucy said, but there was a tone of bitterness in her voice. “Jecca dear, take my advice and earn your own living.”
As Jecca took her seat, she looked from one woman to the other. Lucy’s mouth was in a tight little line, while Mrs. Wingate’s eyes were downcast. Whatever has made Lucy so bitter, Jecca thought, Mrs. Wingate knows what it is.
“So what do you have planned today?” Mrs. Wingate asked, and the somber mood lifted.
As they ate, Jecca told them of Kim’s ad campaign. “I haven’t yet decided what I’ll paint. The logical thing would be Tris’s orchids. I thought I might do them in the form of eighteenth-century botanical prints, as though a new species had been discovered. Those flowers under the benches are weird enough for a horror movie.”
“Paphiopedilums,” Mrs. Wingate said.
“That’s what—” She caught herself. “What I heard.”
“Like the CAY paintings,” Lucy said, referring to the eighteenth-century paintings that had been found in Edilean the year before.
“Exactly,” Jecca replied. “But then, last night’s dancing gave me the idea of something more exotic, say genies. Or Tinkerbells flitting about.” She paused. “Kim thought of some beautiful man offering the jew ceriar, takelry to an unseen woman.”
“You’ll have to get Tristan to pose for you,” Mrs. Wingate said.
“Any woman would like to have anything he offered,” Lucy said.
Jecca couldn’t help laughing. “I keep hearing about this man, but I never see him.”
Abruptly, Mrs. Wingate left the table.
“Did I say something to offend her?” Jecca asked.
“Oh no,” Lucy said. “I would imagine she went to get the books. There are six of them, and we often go through them together.”
“Books?” Jecca asked.
Before Lucy could reply, Mrs. Wingate returned with half a dozen leather-bound photo albums and put them on the table by Jecca.
“I’ve been photographing Tristan and Addy since they were children.”
“Ten percent Addy, ninety percent Dr. Tris,” Lucy said.
“That’s because he was here so often. Addy and her mother were a great pair, but Tristan’s father was usually working so . . .” She shrugged.
“So he came over here,” Jecca finished. She wiped her mouth with her napkin, then opened the top album. It was the earliest, dated 1979. The pictures were of a very cute toddler with dark hair and thick black lashes. “I heard that his niece has eyelashes like feathers,” Jecca said.
“Nell is nearly as pretty as Tristan was at that age,” Mrs. Wingate said. “She’s an extraordinarily bright young lady. I haven’t seen her in about three weeks, so she’ll be here soon. Tristan and she can’t bear to be apart for too long. Those two are real scamps together.” There was a great deal of love in Mrs. Wingate’s voice.
Jecca was turning the pages of the oldest album. Photos of Tristan had been taken in every room of the Wingate house. He was often dressed in little sailor suits or what looked to be hand-smocked playsuits.
“Did you make his clothes?” Jecca asked Mrs. Wingate.
“I may have made one or two,” she said modestly.
“Don’t let her kid you,” Lucy said as she began to clear the table. When Jecca started to get up to help, Lucy told her to stay seated. “I make everything with my machines, but Livie sews by hand.”
Mrs. Wingate smiled. “Not all of it. I put the garments together with a machine.”
Lucy gave a scoffing sound. “She has an old thing, the kind you change the needle on when it breaks.”
“When else do you change it?” Jecca asked, but not looking up from the photos. Tristan was about four now and smiling at the camera—and his grin showed his love for the photographer.
When the women were silent, she looked up and saw that they were staring at her. “What?” she asked.
“You need to see the new sewing machines in my workroom,& cmy at?#8221; Lucy said.
“I will.” Jecca looked back at the album. It was fascinating to see the man she was meeting as he grew up.
“I have to go to the shop,” Mrs. Wingate said as Jecca opened the second book.
“And I have a lot of sewing to do.”
“I’ll see you later.” Jecca kept her eyes on the pictures.
By seven years old, Tristan began to show the man he was going to grow into. Dark hair, blue eyes, a strong chin and jaw. It seemed that in every photo he was holding a frog, a kitten, or some animal. And sometimes there was an old stethoscope hanging around his neck.
There were several photos of Tristan with a tall, handsome young man who seemed to work in the garden. He was tossing a laughing Tristan about or giving him a piggyback ride. In the background was a lawn mower or a wheelbarrow. Jecca wondered who he was and if he’d been instrumental in nurturing Tristan’s love of plants.
As an artist, Jecca couldn’t help noticing that as the boy grew older, Mrs. Wingate’s photography skills began to improve. Instead of just snapshots with a busy background, she showed him bent over a book. The light from a single bulb surrounded him. “Look out Georges de la Tour,” she said.
There began to be labels.
TRISTAN AT NINE
, one said, and more changes came about. For one thing, the photos weren’t all taken on the Wingate property. Some were at a school, with Tristan hanging from monkey bars, waving as he went down a slide. Another one was of him with a toothless grin, looking out a school bus window.
In the fourth album, he had reached junior high school. As far as she could tell, Tristan Aldredge had not had an awkward stage. He didn’t seem to have gone through bad skin or gangly body or even a shyness with girls. From what she saw in the photos, he was a very popular young man. Every picture showed him laughing with other people, male and female. The girls looked at him as though he were an angel come to earth, and the boys seemed to consider him a friend.
There were sports photos—Tristan played both basketball and baseball—and pictures from a couple of dances.
The fifth album was high school, and Jecca saw a truly beautiful young man. It looked as though Mrs. Wingate attended most of the athletic events Tristan was in. There was a sweet picture of him with a girl with too much hair as they were dressed to go to a formal dance.
Jecca turned a page and gasped, for there was Tristan with a young Kim. She was about seven, and he was a tall, muscular, beautiful teenager. They were sitting on the grass in what she recognized as Mrs. Wingate’s back garden, and Kim was adorning him with flowers. He looked perfectly content, with no signs of impatience as though he’d rather be somewhere else.
On the next page, Tris had Kim riding on his shoulders and she was hanging on to his head. Both of them were wearing necklaces, bracelets, and headdresses made of flowers from Mrs. Wingate’s garden. Kim had a big white rose in her hair.
Jecca closed the book and went to the last one. In it, she was going to see Tristan as a man, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to.
She pushed the album aside, got up, and headed toward the stairs. She went up two steps before she turned around and ran back to the kitchen. She grabbed the album and took it into the conservatory. It seemed only fitting to look at it in Tristan’s room.
The last album showed more family photos. There was Tristan at his college graduation standing by a man who could only be his father. They were a perfectly matched pair, so much so that she knew she was seeing Tristan in his fifties.
She hesitated at turning the page. Did she want to see Tristan as he was now? But she knew that seeing a photo of someone was a lot different from seeing him in person.
Slowly, she turned the pages and watched him go from about eighteen to his current thirty-four years old. He was truly and deeply handsome. In his younger years he looked like one of the models that appeared on billboards in New York. His face and body—which she saw in the several photos of him at a beach—could sell any product to any female.
But what Jecca liked was past his outside form. There was a snapshot of Tristan in what looked to be Africa, another in South America.
They hadn’t been taken with Mrs. Wingate’s excellent camera, but with a cheap one that gave a blurred image. It looked like he’d sent them to her, as on the bottom of one he’d written,
MISS ALL OF YOU
. The second one said
THE KIDS LOVE THE TOYS!
There was a photo of several people in front of what looked to be his office in Edilean. They were drinking champagne and laughing.
TRISTAN GETS HIS OWN OFFICE AT
was written beside the picture.
One was of Tristan kissing a young woman under the mistletoe in Mrs. Wingate’s house, then another was of the two of them opening gifts.
At the end were two photos taken one after another. The first was of Tristan in the conservatory, looking at one of his orchids with an expression of concern. The next one was of him looking up at the camera, his face just breaking into a smile, his eyes full of love for the photographer.
Gently, Jecca closed the album and held it against her chest. No wonder Mrs. Wingate adored Tristan! To have a person look at you like that . . . Well, a look like that could melt a woman.
She sat there for a while, holding the photo album to her, looking at Tristan’s orchids. For a man she’d never seen in the daylight, she was certainly finding out a lot about him.
Right now all she could seem to think about was that he might be in the house next door. All she had to do was walk down the path through the woods, then . . . What? Have lunch together? Go through that awkward phase of talking about where they went to school? Did they have siblings? Where did they work?
No, she preferred meeting in the dark and exchanging deep secrets with each other, like about the married woman he was nearly in love with.
On the other hand, they had also told each other all the normal, mundane info that people exchanged when they met.
Just the visuals are lacking, she thought, smiling.
She was c1eme photstill holding the album to her chest but made herself put it down. It was time to go to
She stacked all six albums on the coffee table in the living room, then went upstairs to get her paints. Yet again she’d missed the early morning light to photograph the orchids, but maybe she could catch sundown.
At the top of the stairs she heard the familiar buzz from Lucy’s room, but today it seemed louder. When she saw that her door was open, Jecca couldn’t help looking inside.
What she saw intrigued her. Around three walls were low cabinets with several different kinds of sewing machines on them. In the middle was a huge cabinet at countertop height, shelves and drawers below. The fourth wall held a deep closet, and inside Jecca could see bolts of fabric, solids and patterns, all arranged by color. They went from white to pink to red to orange, purple, then the blues. Browns led into black and white prints.