Canon Ch. 01byinvictus17©
Amy Madigan lay on her bed, humming the same eight notes over and over. The deep harmonies and ever more complex layers of counterpoint of Pachelbel's "Canon in D" soothed her nerves and calmed her mind, as they always did.
She began to accept the situation for what it was, and slowly began to see the positives. She had been nervous about moving so far away to a strange place where she knew no one, anyway...
And she had always liked Uncle Geoff....
She felt a gentle tap on her thigh, and opened her eyes. Her mother was standing by her bed. Amy took off her headphones and sat up, moving over a trifle.
Her mom sat down on the bed. "Pachelbel?"
Amy smiled. "You know me too well, Mom."
"Are you okay?"
She drew up her pale, lovely legs and wrapped her arms around them. "I'm okay, Mom. I'm even getting to like the idea."
Her mother, an older version of Amy herself, blinked. "Really?"
Before her mother could speak further, Amy shared her thoughts. "Stanford is a long way away," she said, "and I don't know if I'm ready for that. I'd be a little fish in a big pond, I wouldn't know anybody, and I'd be surrounded by rich snobs." She smiled. "Half the kids in my class are going to State anyway, and I'll have friends there."
She was speaking as the thoughts occurred to her. "And I've always liked Uncle Geoff."
Ellie Madigan - her given name was Elvira, which had been a source of annoyance ever since she had married - smiled and shook her head in wonder at her daughter. So young, and still so wise.
"You amaze me, Amy. You always have, but especially now." She turned her head to the doorway. "Frank!" she called.
Amy's father, a tall and slender man with a diffident air, appeared instantly. He had obviously been waiting in the hall. "Our daughter is going to survive," said his wife. Then she grinned. "Told you."
Frank looked at his daughter sadly. "Amy, I'm so sorry," he said, for the twentieth time that evening.
Amy jumped from her bed and ran to embrace him. "It's okay, Daddy," she said against his chest. "Really, it is. This is going to be a good thing. Did you hear what I said?"
He nodded, then realized she couldn't see it. "Yes," he said.
She leaned back and looked up at him, and he saw that her smile was real. "Look at it this way, Daddy," she said. "At State I'm a cinch to make the Dean's List!"
Frank couldn't help it; he laughed. Amy was a National Merit scholar and the salutatorian of her high school class - and she had hardly broken a sweat to do either.
He looked down at her - Amy was not quite five feet tall - and marveled. So pretty, and so smart - and so sweet and understanding. What had he ever done to deserve such a daughter?
He hugged her and rocked her back and forth for a moment. She let him, and hugged him back. Amy's mother rose to join them, and his arms embraced them both. "My girls," he said.
Amy and her mother giggled together and squeezed him. They were the same height, and he kissed first one dark head, then the other. "Come on," he said. "Let's go out for Italian."
His wife blinked up at him. "But-"
He shrugged. "I got a big pay cut, Ellie, but we still get to eat out now and then. And this seems like a good time." He released them from his hug. "Come on. I want some lasagna."
Amy and Ellie looked at each other, looking more like sisters at that moment than mother and daughter. "Mmmm... Lasagna," they said in chorus, in conscious imitation of Homer Simpson. Then they laughed and went to get ready.
Amy closed the door of her room and changed from her skimpy shorts into jeans. She didn't mind showing off her legs, but not when she was out with her parents. She swapped her tank top for a sports bra and a polo shirt, and slipped on some sandals. Good, she thought.
She went into her bathroom and brushed her hair - deep brown, straight, shining, and "long enough to sit on," as her mother said. She knew it was out of style, but she didn't care. She thought about tying it back, then decided to leave it loose.
Lipstick? Blusher? Naah. She looked pale, as always, but she was going out with her parents, not on a date. At that thought, her lovely mouth twisted into a wry smile.
It didn't occur to her that her clear, smooth, creamy-white skin was beautiful, just as it was. She had had exactly four zits in her young life, the last at fourteen - four years ago.
She put on her glasses, and smiled without bitterness. They were new, and very flattering - and very expensive. She was momentarily glad that she had gotten them before her dad got the bad news at work.
Then she frowned. Those damn weird eyes of hers. The right one pale blue, the left a deep brown. She thought again about getting tinted contacts so they'd match. Other people liked them, though...
Amy shrugged and decided on just a quick bit of lip gloss. Why not, she thought. Can't hurt.
Amy thought of herself as presentable, maybe a little better than plain. She had no idea she was drop-dead, stunningly, heartstoppingly beautiful, with or without her glasses.
Her curtain of shining hair swirling behind her, she picked up her small purse and went to the door - thinking about lasagna, not college.
Over dinner, they talked about it. "Thank you, Amy," her father said. "I felt so bad about -"
She waved a hand. "It's really okay, Dad," she said. "I'm sorry about tearing up this afternoon. I'm getting used to the idea, and the more I think about it, the more I like it."
She took a sip of wine, glad of the privilege; it was new. "Are you sure Uncle Geoff is okay with this?" she asked.
Her mother coughed discreetly. "You know Geoffrey, Amy," she said. "He wouldn't complain if he had a bullet in his leg. But he's been very lonely since Aunt Tina died. I think he's thrilled."
"He was lonely before that," said Amy's father. "Tina was sick for a long time." They all looked solemn at that. Geoff's wife had died of cancer, and it had been a long struggle.
"The only thing he asked me was if you could cook, and if you'd mind doing it," said Ellie. "He said he was so tired of TV dinners and takeout he could throw up. Geoffrey was always helpless in the kitchen."
"That'll be fun," said Amy. "I love to cook."
"And you'll be doing some housework, too," said Ellie. "Laundry, vacuuming, dusting. It'll be hard at first. I'm sure his house is a mess."
"Don't be so sure," said Frank. "Geoff was a Marine. He likes things neat."
"Uncle Geoff was in the Army?"
"Ooo, don't say that, Amy," he laughed. "Not Army. Marines. He retired as a sergeant-major. I know he brought home two Silver Stars and a Navy Cross from Viet Nam, but that's all I know. He doesn't talk about it much. I think he saw some rough stuff over there."
Amy swallowed a bite of garlic bread. "What else do I need to be careful about?"
"Well, he is seventy," said her mother. Amy's eyes grew big behind her glasses.
"Really? He didn't look that old the last time I saw him."
"Well, that was six years ago, honey. You were twelve."
Amy thought about that, and felt sad. "Has it really been that long?"
Her father nodded. "We saw him at the funeral," he said. "He's kind of kept to himself since then."
She did. She remembered a strongly built man, with broad shoulders and a craggy face; not as tall as her father, but wider, with a warm smile that was rare that weekend. Then she remembered something else.
"I had a crush on him when I was little, didn't I?"
Her parents laughed. "You sure did," said her mother. "You told me you thought he was 'the most handsomest man in the world.' You were, what, eight? You remember that?"
Amy blushed. "A little. He was nice to me."
"He was always crazy about you, honey. He never had any kids of his own."
"He's seventy now? Gee, that's old."
"Don't say that either," said her father with a small smile.
She smiled back. "I won't."
Frank looked at his daughter. Her skin was radiant, her long hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back, and he had not missed the appreciative looks from the men in the room - though Amy had. She was totally unconscious of her beauty.
"Anyway, it'll be good for both of you," he said. "He probably needs some help now -"
"He'd never admit it," put in Ellie.
"And he'll love having you around. And for you -"
"Free room and board," said Amy, nodding. "And a much nicer place to stay than a dorm."
"Safer, too." Her father smiled. "Geoff may be seventy, but I still wouldn't mess with him without three other guys and a baseball bat. Maybe not even then."
The women laughed, and Ellie said, "The main thing is, Geoffrey loves you, Amy. He always has. He's family, almost."
Amy blinked, her eyes magnified behind her convex lenses. "He's not really my uncle? I thought he was."
"You didn't know?" asked Frank. "Well, I guess not, if nobody ever told you. My dad - your granddad - died when you were three, Amy. Geoff was his best friend. Marine buddies, best men at each other's weddings, went on vacations together. He's my godfather. He babysat me when I was little. You, too."
Amy frowned. "If you're about to tell me he changed my diapers -"
They both laughed. "Geoff? Not likely," said her father. "I think diapers were the only thing he was ever scared of."
"Your aunt Tina handled that," said her mother. "Even with your dad."
"Well, okay then," said Amy with a grin. "I guess it's a go." She brushed back her hair and took another bite of lasagna, then asked, "Does he still live in that wonderful old house? I remember exploring it when I was little."
"It has a pool in the back yard now, but yes."
"A pool?" said Amy, with a speculative, distant look.
"Yes," said Ellie, "and no, I'm not giving back that ridiculous string bikini you bought. You'd give poor old Geoffrey a heart attack."
She giggled and tried to look innocent. It wasn't hard; she was.
Late August, five months later:
The Madigans' SUV pulled up in front of the iron gates and stopped. Frank ran the window down and pressed a button, and after a moment, the speaker squawked, "Who goes?" Even so distorted, the voice was a deep bass.
"Frank, Ellie and Amy."
"Hey, great! Come on in!" The gates rolled back, and they went up the short drive and pulled up in front of the antebellum house - large, but not a mansion. There was a wide veranda around the entire house, but no pillars in front or cast-iron jockeys. Amy smiled.
"It's just like I remember, but smaller."
"No," said her dad. "You're bigger."
A man stood on the porch, grinning, his fists on his hips. His shoulders were wide, his hips narrow, his stomach flat, and his head entirely bald. "Is THAT Uncle Geoff?" asked Amy, amazed. "He looks forty, not seventy!"
"Fifty, anyway," said her dad.
"I was worried about having to take care of some decrepit old codger," said Amy. "But-"
He parents laughed heartily. "Geoffrey is a lot of things, but 'decrepit' isn't one of them," said her mom.
The family got out of the car, and Geoff came down the stairs and immediately, picked Amy up in a bear hug, and swung her around in a circle, making her hair flare out like a fan for an instant. She felt like a doll in his arms.
When he set her down, he said with a delighted grin, "Well, hello, punkin! You went and grew up!"
Amy laughed. "Hello, Uncle Geoff. Sorry it's been so long."
'My fault," he said shortly, his smile not faltering. "Hello, Frank." He hugged his godson and slapped his back twice, then embraced Amy's mother as well. He held her by the shoulders and looked at her. "Ellie. My God. You look wonderful. Let your hair grow, and people will take you for Amy's sister. She even has your eyes." Ellie's eyes were mismatched too, but the sides were reversed; brown on the right, blue on the left.
"We get that anyway," said Amy. Her mother blushed.
"I'll bet you do," said Geoff with a grin. "Here, let me get those bags. Come on in."
They mounted the steps, with the men carrying the first load of Amy's luggage and boxes. "Back here," said Geoff, leading them down the hall.
Amy looked around as they moved through the living room, remembering.
Playing on the bearskin rug in front of the big fireplace while her Aunt Tina sewed; sitting on her lap in the big rocker; playing checkers and Candy Land and Sorry! with Uncle Geoff on the coffee table...
They were at the end of the hall. "Geoff, this is the master bedroom."
It was her father speaking. "I know," said Geoff. "Now it's Amy's."
"I haven't slept in here since Tina passed," he said. "I've redecorated it for Amy, and our bathroom was always more of a girly thing anyway."
Amy looked around. She remembered this room with green walls; now they were a pale blue. The big brass bed that had belonged to Geoff and Tina had been replaced with a lovely queen-sized canopy.
The room was enormous, at least eighteen by twenty feet. There were white-painted bookshelves and bureaus around the walls, blue gingham curtains at the windows, a white computer desk under one of them, and a pretty white dresser near the bathroom.
One corner of the room was set up as a sitting area, with a sofa and two chairs around a table in front of her own fireplace. Amy could see that Geoff had done his best to erase the room that had been here before.
As her father and uncle put down her boxes and bags and went back to the SUV for more, Amy and her mother went into the bathroom. "Wow," said the teen. "Is all this mine?"
"That's what he said, honey. I think you owe him a hug." The bathroom was and even paler blue and white, with a huge garden tub, a large, separate shower stall, two sinks, and...
"What's this?" asked Amy, opening a frosted-glass door. Inside was a small room lined with white tile, with a high shelf-seat on one side and a low one on the other. Small chrome fixtures of some kind protruded from the walls near the ceiling.
"This is a steam room," said Ellie. "I remember Tina telling me about it."
"I hope you don't mind if I borrow that now and then," came Geoff's basso voice from the door. "I'm addicted."
"Whenever you want, Uncle Geoff," said Amy. She skipped over to him and hugged him delightedly. "Thank you so much!" she sang. "I was expecting a room, not a suite!"
"This whole house is yours, punkin," he rumbled, his eyes warm. They were a steel gray - and though they were soft now, she could imagine how they could look as hard and cold as flint when he gave orders to his troops.
She looked up at his face. It was heavily lined, but still strong and very virile. She could see why she once thought him incredibly good-looking.
The fact is, she thought, he still is....
It was a matter of a tenth of a second, but Amy saw it: Uncle Geoff's eyes flicked to her mouth, for just an instant.
No words; just...
Well, she wondered nothing; there was nowhere to go. She felt something, though; and though she couldn't name it, whatever it was she felt, it felt good.
She smiled up at him and hugged him again, and he grinned and said, "Let me show you the kitchen. I THINK everything still works..."
The four of them laughed and went back down the hall.
Geoff - his last name was Rider - insisted on taking the four of them out to dinner before Amy's parents drove back. It was a very nice place - subdued lighting, discreet and efficient waiters, and the Madigans' menus had no prices.
As the headwater seated them, he said, "Enjoy your dinner, Sergeant-Major - you and your guests."
Geoff smiled. "Thank you, Gunny. I'm sure we will." As the waiter withdrew, he explained: "One of my troops. Good man."
"Where are the prices, Geoff?" asked Frank suspiciously.
"You let me worry about that," he said in a low but good-natured growl, with a nod of emphasis. Frank knew better than to argue.
They dined very well indeed; steaks for the men, seafood for the women. Conversation was warm and casual, old friends reconnecting.
"So when did you start with the chrome-dome look?" asked Frank.
Geoff stroked his smooth skull. "A couple of years ago," he said. "Thin was okay. White was okay. But thin AND white -" He shook his head. "This old saddlebag of a face makes me look old enough. Besides, I don't have to carry a comb now." They all laughed at that.
Amy was watching him. He reminded her of Clint Eastwood, a little; his face was just as worn and craggy, but not as thin. His hands were veined and old, but strong and steady. His smile was frequent and warm.
She liked him; he made her feel safe and comfortable. And she knew he liked her and cared about her.
For his part, Geoff was trying not to stare at his godson's daughter. He found Amy gorgeous, stunning. With skin like fresh cream, those beautiful, unsettling eyes magnified by her glasses, and that long waterfall of shining brown hair - in all his long life, he had never seen a woman so lovely.
Hard to believe that the dear, sweet, skinny little girl that he used to hum to sleep on his chest had grown up into - this young beauty, this angel, that was sitting beside him.
And who lived with him now.
He smiled. It would be nice to see her and talk to her every day, but there would be no more to it than that. She was his to shelter and protect, and he regarded that trust as sacred - and he loved her like his own. He would cut off his hand before he laid it on her.
Even her hands are perfect, he thought, watching her eat her grilled salmon....
He pulled his attention back to the conversation, laughed at a joke of Ellie's and told one of his own.
The Madigans had driven their SUV to the restaurant, and they had decided to leave from there and let Amy ride back to her new home with Geoff. As they parted in the parking lot, with much hugging and backslapping and not a few tears from the girls, Frank murmured to Geoff in a low, serious voice:
"Take care of her, Sarge. She's all I've got." He had reverted to his childhood nickname for his father's friend.
"Like my own, Soldier," said the older man, following suit. "With my life."
The two men hugged once more, and in a few moments Geoff and Amy were waving at their taillights as they drove off toward the highway.
Geoff smiled at his young charge. "Let's go home, Amy." He put his arm around her and they walked back to the front of the restaurant.
As they waited for the valet parking attendant to bring his car around, Amy said, "Not quite yet, Uncle Geoff. We need to make a run to the grocery store."
"I've seen your kitchen."
"Oh." He chuckled like distant thunder. "I guess I am heavy on frozen dinners and Pop-Tarts."
"What do you like for br- Wow! Look at that!"
Amy's attention was seized by the attendant driving up in a maroon Jaguar E-type coupe; he was sitting on the wrong side. Amy blinked, then realized that it was a British car, with right-hand drive. She admired the sensuous, almost phallic shape of the vintage machine. "I wonder whose car that -"
The attendant was handing the keys to Geoff, who grinned at her sideways as he tipped him. He opened the tiny left-side door, and Amy, giggling, slid in over the wide sill and plopped into the leather bucket seat. She looked around wide-eyed at the wood and leather interior, and at the gauges placed, oddly, in the middle of the dashboard. Geoff snaked into the driver's seat and grinned at her. "Whaddya think?" he asked.
"It's amazing," she said. "What year is it? It looks new."
Geoff laughed. "Thank you," he said. "This car is more than twice as old as you are, Amy. It's a '68." He turned the key, pressed the starter button, and the big 4.2-liter XK engine growled into life. "It's a pain," he said. "Maintenance is a nightmare, mileage is worse, I have to add lead substitute with every tank of gas, and the electrics are cranky as hell - but - well, buckle up."