A spell of silence. Then, “This wasn’t my idea. You know that, right?”
“Annie, can we stop this? You’re making the whole thing worse. Can you just say something real?”
“Would you like a warm-up, miss?” The porter, with a carafe and what could only be described as extraordinary timing.
“Why, yes, sir, I would.”
The man had his eyes either averted or steadied on her mug as he poured, but she flashed him her most angelic smile, showed him the little rows of teeth only recently liberated from an expensive set of metal braces and glinting white as a root laid bare. Definitely not coffee teeth. He gave his own small smile and moved along.
Her father tried again. “Hey. Can you just say something to me?”
Again she wouldn’t grace this with an actual answer, though she did cast her eyes upon him when she took yet another bitter sip. She’d always been able to punish him, even when she was supposedly the one being punished. She could play this game forever.
Eventually the sun came up over the alkaline flats of the desert. Her father had fallen off hours ago, slumped in his rumpled suit, with his rumpled newspaper, the sleeping berth still folded shut. Her own body had a bone weariness, but her brain rocketed with caffeine, and so she slumped in her seat, too, stretched to a fray by her own warring ends.
She tried to reconcile the two, tried to tell herself this was part of the point. She looked through the crack in the curtain at the dawn. Then she looked back at her father. His skewed neck would ache for a week. He was getting off easy.
Train travel. What a bore. The Burbank aerodrome and Grand Central in Glendale both routed passenger flights to Salt Lake City these days, although she doubted anyplace in Montana had regular service. She hadn’t been there since she was a girl, but she remembered the ranch as a bona fide jerkwater and couldn’t imagine much had changed, hence its selection for this whole medieval exercise.
Still. If her parents weren’t frozen in Victorian amber, they could at least have cut her father’s back-and-forth into something not straight out of the Rutherford B. Hayes era. She’d known better than to suggest air passage herself—Mother had gone so far as to confiscate A.E.’s book, citing it as the root of all the trouble. The Fun of It. Ironic, she knew. Practical or not, she’d have crushed the idea on principle.
She held her own against the seduction of sleep right on through to Salt Lake. She watched the pink of the rising sun bathe the toes of the mountains west of the city, watched the same pink wash move up the bare slopes and into the snow at the top. Her father stirred when the train slowed.
They killed a few hours in a diner waiting for her connection north. Annelise freshened up as best she could in the ladies’ room. She would be placed in the charge of a conductor who would see her to Butte, Montana, and then east a few hours to Billings. Her father would turn right back around on the next train home.
“You could’ve flown, you know,” she said to him. The first time she’d initiated a conversation in days, and he blinked at her across his hash and eggs as though he were not only hearing but also seeing her for the first time in a year. “We could have flown here even, out of Burbank or Grand Central. We could have saved ourselves a solid day, a day neither of us can ever get back. You know that, right?”
He resumed chewing, and he looked as exhausted to her in the moment as she herself felt. She couldn’t recall ever having seen him with stubble on his face before. Now he drained his own coffee and waved for more.
“I mean, isn’t that part of it? Not to dillydally your time away? Look alive, because no man knows the day or the hour?”
“Annelise, I own stock in Douglas. My firm negotiated a property dispute for Grand Central. For that matter, I’m the one who backed your flying lessons. I do not by any means regard myself as a Luddite. Remember I told you this was not my idea?”
“Then why do you go along with her? Why don’t you put your foot down?”
He shook his head. “Because Mother is not wrong, Annie. And as difficult as this might be for you to see, she has your heart and your soul and your safety and”—he halted, tripped over his own words—“and your reputation in mind.” He went so far as to point at her across the table. “She is not wrong.”
The night’s caffeine had run out of her blood like fuel from a tank, even the remnant fumes combusted and gone. She was still in the air but totally without power, and no place in sight to put down. She tried to hold a level gaze across the table and finally went to rubbing her eyes instead. “She called me ‘damaged goods,’ Daddy. You heard her.”
Not only that. They went so far as to haul her to the family doctor to have her put in the stirrups and examined, which she dodged only by finally copping en route to what they already suspected. Her father had practically driven off the road. “Is that what you believe, too?”
He could hardly look at her then, and he could hardly look at her now. “Eighteen is a puzzling age, I’m not going to pretend otherwise. And these are puzzling times we live in, for all of us. Mother included.”
“These are wonderful times, if you can see the fun in anything. The opportunity. And if it’s occurred to Mother even once that she might not have the answer to every little thing, she’s certainly never let on.”
He stirred his coffee, stirred and stirred. “You always were headstrong. Even when you were a little thing pulling a red wagon around. Selling books you’d outgrown to the neighbors. You and Mother are too much alike, that’s half the problem. Cut right out of the same cloth.”
“Too much alike? No, sorry, I live in 1937, not 1837.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
“‘Damaged goods’ implies I’d actually stoop to accept a man who wants a piece of property to begin with. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t know the first thing about me.”
He glanced around, and she realized her voice had risen above the clatter from the kitchen, the clink and clank of plates and knives. A few of the other patrons appeared to notice.
She tried to turn the volume down. “I didn’t betray you, you know. It’s not even possible.”
“I know. I can see why you’d say so.”
“I’m not goods, and I am not damaged.”
“And I am sorry you had to hear that.”
“I mean, is a widow damaged? Is Sister Aimee damaged after divorce number two?”
“What utter hypocrisy.”
“I know. It’s just that boys don’t . . . always understand that the consequences, for girls, can be disastrous. Socially disastrous. And visible. And permanent. Boys will be boys, but girls . . . the expectations are something different. Because the consequences are different. Fair or not.”