Chapter 12

“Just a minute, Mother,” Evangeline called over the water she was running in the sink. “I’ll be right out.” For the seventh time that day, she was fixing her makeup, mopping up after the tears that kept threatening the cool demeanor she was struggling to maintain. It had been hard enough telling her mother and Uncle Clay that she had broken up with John; she hadn’t found the moment -- or the nerve -- to tell her mother she was pregnant.

Since Dr. Hedley showed her the tiny new life growing inside her, Evangeline hadn’t been able to focus on anything else. A million scenarios had run through her mind. She would have the baby and put it up for adoption. She would never tell anyone and have an abortion. She would leave town, have the baby and return, pretending she’d adopted the child. She would leave town, have the baby and start a new life elsewhere, maybe Canada, maybe California. But she never let herself hope for what she wanted most: that John would tell her he loved her before she had to tell him she was carrying a child they’d made together. The last thing she wanted was a relationship based on obligation. And yet…each hour she felt she was falling more in love with the child to be.

That was until her mother and Uncle Clay arrived that afternoon to attend the Woman of the Year ceremony. Uncle Clay hadn’t stopped talking about her long record of achievements or pumping her about her career plans since he arrived. She knew that as far as he was concerned, she was the jewel in the Williamson family crown. And having an out-of-wedlock child by a white man would sour all the dreams so many of her oh-so-proper relatives had for her. Unlike her father, Clay had gone into the family cosmetics business, taking a job as a chemical engineer at a corporation when they sold her grandmother’s company. He’d risen through the ranks to vice president in charge of skin care development for a leading cosmetics corporation and managed to help his children and several of his nieces and nephews secure top positions at a variety of related companies. Having covered the corporate side, he looked to Evangeline to become the family’s political star.

Evangeline was taken aback by Uncle Clay’s reaction to the news of her break-up with John. “I’m surprised he let you get away, Cookie,” Clay said thoughtfully. “He really seemed to have your best interests at heart. Lt. McBain struck me as a good man. I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you.”

Of course, this comment had triggered a flood of tears. But Evangeline didn’t need a reason. It seemed every few minutes she was excusing herself to cry or pee or both. Her mother Lisa seemed to be watching her closely, but Uncle Clay was so busy running his mouth, he didn’t seem to notice much more than a little post-breakup heartache. She hoped to be able to get Lisa alone before they returned home Sunday evening. She’d given up on the idea of making the decision about the baby without her mother’s input.

Evangeline wanted to be happy – about the baby she was carrying, about the honor she was about to receive – but she realized so much of her joy was tied to being able to share it with John. She didn’t know which would be worse: seeing him tonight or spending the evening looking for him. While searching through her jewelry cabinet for something to wear that evening, she found a long, slim black velvet jewelry case. She must have blocked it out of her mind when she was gathering John’s possessions.

She couldn’t bear opening the case – inside were the pearls he’d given her several months earlier for her birthday. His father had given them to his mother and she’d given them to him to give to her. Before she’d accepted such a significant gift, she told him he had to be ready to move to a more serious stage in their relationship. He’d said little more than, “turn around”, then clasped the pearls around her neck and kissed her. Hands shaking, she slid the jewelry case into her evening bag. If she saw John tonight, she would return the pearls. If not, they were a little talisman – a piece of him she would have at hand during her so-called shining hour.

She was relieved when Kevin Buchanan had called a couple of days earlier and asked if he could escort her to the award ceremony. He was handsome and charming and still hung up enough on his ex-wife Kelly to not expect a real “date” date. “Evangeline, honey, Kevin is here,” her mother trilled.

“I’ll be right there,” she said, patting her hair and fixing a bright smile on her face before heading out to greet whatever the evening presented.

* * * * *

The Woman of the Year Award ceremony was one of the biggest events on the Llanview society calendar. A benefit to raise money for heart disease research, the evening featured dinner, dancing, an auction and a speech by the guest of honor. Despite the $300 a head ticket price, the evening always sold out. The Palace ballroom was packed with socialites, tycoons and wannabes and assorted accessory personnel – anyone with the cash and connections to cop a seat. John was surprised to find his name was still on the guest list when he called that afternoon to see if he could get in. When he arrived, he was informed that Kevin Buchanan had replaced him at the head table, but he’d be seated at Commissioner Buchanan’s table.

The Palace had that buzz and sparkle that comes when hundreds of excited, dressed up, slightly tipsy adults are packed into a grand room filled with flowers and music and free-flowing champagne. Men in dark suits scanned the sea of strapless and/or backless ballgowns. The women, like an animated flower garden, sized up each other’s outfits and escorts. John stood at the elevated entrance, looking for Evangeline, but he couldn’t find her. Half-thinking he had no business even being there, he took a flute of champagne from a passing waiter and walked out to the terrace. The sun was starting to set, the evening growing cool and all the action seemed to be inside, so he had the space to himself.

Or so he thought. He hadn’t walked a dozen steps when he came upon her, standing in a corner of the terrace against a trellis of violet wisteria. She looked up and before she had a chance to fix her face against him, their eyes met. He was so stunned by her beauty, he dropped his glass.

Evangeline flinched at the sound of the shattering glass. Instinctively, he reached for her arm and for a moment, she let his hand rest on her warm, soft skin. For several seconds, neither of them could speak. He looked at her as if was drinking her in with his eyes, swallowing the deep raspberry silk gown that made her look like some kind of a goddess. The silk was draped in a deep V and wrapped around her narrow waist, flowing over her hips and pooling in a slight train at the back. Her thick black hair had been curled, then twisted into a simple, striking up-do accented with a pair of fuchsia camellias. Her bare arms and neck were unadorned.

Then she pulled away and reached for her handbag on the bench by the wisteria. “John…” she began.

“Wait. Evangeline, please,” he said. “You’re so beautiful you startled me. I’m sorry about the glass.” She started to feel weak – he looked so handsome in his formal wear and black silk necktie – he never wore a bowtie. And she’d always wondered what he’d look like clean-shaven. She had to resist the urge to reach up and caress his smooth chin. Maybe it was her imagination, but she felt the baby throbbing in her belly, as if it knew its father was near and it was jumping to get his attention.

Everything Clay had said that afternoon about her bright political future flew out of her mind when she looked into John’s eyes: with or without him, she knew she was going to have this child. But first, she had to follow through on what she’d started.

“John, I have something for you.” She reached into her long silver clutch and pulled out the case of pearls. “These belong to you. I’m sorry I didn’t return them with the rest of your…”

He pushed the case back towards her. “No, these belong to you. I want you to have them.”

What had she been thinking? She knew he wouldn’t let this be easy. “John, these belonged to your mother. We aren’t together anymore. It would be wrong for me to keep them.”

For a moment, he looked as if he was going to cry. He swallowed hard. “I understand what you are saying, but please believe me when I say you are the only woman I ever want to see wearing these pearls. I know how badly I’ve messed things up between us and I’m sorry. I don’t expect you to forgive me, but would you keep these as a token of whatever was good between us?”

Evangeline felt as if her heart was breaking all over again. How could he do this to her now? Here? She felt herself shaking, her throat clenching with unshed tears. She looked up at the full moon rising and swallowed hard. She nodded and handed him the case, motioning to her neck.

John felt a prayer answered like a great winged bird flying from his chest. He lifted the pearls from the case and placed them tenderly around Evangeline’s neck. He carefully slid the flat bar into the gold disk clasp his father had engraved with the single initial “E” for his mother Eve. He ran his thumb over the “E” and inhaled Evangeline’s scent before stepping away from her and heading down the dark terrace.

Grateful to hear his departing footsteps, Evangeline raised her hand to the pearls and felt them cool against her skin. She stood there running her fingers along the beads like a rosary until she felt calm enough to return to the party. Now that she was sure she wanted the baby, she didn’t feel compelled to tell him about it immediately. Whether they were together or not, she knew he would do whatever she’d allow him to do to be a good father.

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