By breakfast Saturday morning, Jani’s new doctor friend Alan, and her grandmother, Lydia, had grown quite comfortable with each other. They both liked Jane Austen and Dickens. Jani had loved “A Tale of Two Cities” in high school, no small thanks to Liddy. Having known Alan only for a few months, Jani was a little surprised at his reach in fiction, and she admired it. Alan had made a hit by giving Liddy a book of world poetry as a house gift.
Jani and Alan had come out from New York last night to visit Liddy on Long Island. In March. Liddy was still a lovely woman at 78. She had an easy, gentle grace, classic features, and blue-gray eyes ready to enjoy and appreciate. Her husband had been a Presbyterian minister in Westchester, and had preached down here for many summers, too. But Liddy did not proselytize. She worked in a soup kitchen several days a week, often had dinner with her friends, and read extensively, visited the city, kept up.
Last night, she had gone in to say goodnight to Jani. She’d sat on the bed for a minute.
“So. How do you like my medical find?” Jani had asked.
“I try to make a point of not interfering, as you know, love. But I’ll take a flier. I like him.”
Jani had said, “Thanks, Grammy, I’m glad.” But she’d wished she could be more clear herself about Alan.
While Mrs. Gordon, the housekeeper on weekends, was refreshing their breakfast coffees, the phone rang. For Liddy. She nodded several times into it, expressing agreement; Jani told Alan, “The caller must be psychic.”
When Liddy had said, “Fine,” and hung up, she turned to her granddaughter. “Jani, I hope that was all right. It was Rod, and he wants to come out for dinner and the night. Is that okay with you?”
Jani saw that Liddy registered her slight alarm — even excitement — quickly erased. And that Liddy then remembered Jani’s recent past with Rod.
“Liddy, you’re the hostess. It’s fine. I hope he’s on his best behavior,” she added, lightly. “What’s up with him, anyway? Where’s his wifey?”
“Oh. You hadn’t heard? He divorced Taylor. Some months ago, out on the coast. He’s back in New York, back with the home branch of that same stock brokerage. He didn’t sound outrageous. I should have told him you and Alan are here, though. And spoken to you. But he seemed so keen, and he hardly gave me a minute. He’ll be here for lunch at 1, he said. Is that all right with you two?”
Jani looked over at Alan, who nodded, then she focused back on Liddy. “It should be lively, Gram. You Lady Bountiful, you.” She squeezed her hand.
“Oh, yes, Lady Bountiful, all right. I’m leaving you piles of priceless jewelry.” Liddy was known never to keep expensive things.
Ming, Lydia’s regal calico, marched from the dining room to the back door, signaling that it was time for either Liddy or Jani to walk with her to the bay. Liddy said to Alan, “I think Jani tells Ming things she doesn’t tell me about New York. Jani ought to go.”
Exploring the ocean beach later — it was gray and bleak out — Jani told Alan, “Rod spent his summers here as a kid. He was like a cousin, a big buddy of my brother, Ryan, our senior by a year. And Liddy was good friends with his mother, even though she was younger. She had Rod when she was a bit older than most. Anyway, Rod was at Williams when his parents moved to the coast, and stopped coming here. Liddy liked him, was forgiving with him, rather, and, mostly for his mother, she had him to visit a fair amount on summer weekends. He could be one heller, Rod. Lots of very naughty stuff when he was young, then drinking and kind of womanizing in college, and after, in New York.” She did not tell Alan that Rod had proposed to her, and that she had turned him down then, though she had been quite taken with him somehow always.
“Next thing, he married this beauty from California, and his company had an opening in San Francisco. He moved out there, not far from his parents.” Jani was attractive, not a beauty; she had dark hair which she held up somehow with a clip, and her brown eyes were often mirthful.
“Did you have a thing with him, Jani?” Alan asked, tossing a flat stone out that skimmed a ways, then into the next toppling wave. He, too, was dark, his eyes deep set, and he was only a little taller than she, also nice looking.
“Sort of,” Jani said. “I was wary of his drinking, after a bit, then.”
Alan threw another flat stone. He said, droll, “Oh, great. I love a good alcoholic.” This stone skimmed nicely up, over, and past the next wave.
Jani, a staff writer for a women’s magazine, had met Alan when she began volunteering to read to kids at a midtown hospital. He was a year older, an intern.
They had just begun to sleep together. Jani, 26, was still hampered some in this by her first major relationship with an older man. The breakup with Tim still hurt some.
As they approached the house, what had to be Rod’s new Toyota stood in Liddy’s drive. It was red and sparkling clean.
Jani told Alan that Liddy’s gray-shingled summer cottage had recently been winterized; it gave out, via its large picture window, onto the bay on which Jani had spent most of her summers. When her neurotic, loved mother died during Jani’s early teens, she noted, her father had married again, and maintained their house next door. It was closed now for the season. She didn’t reveal that her father, a successful realtor in Westchester, was not big on Alan; he found Alan to be no more than okay, a bit too soft-spoken.
Alan said, “Liddy’s is a modest, and generous, cottage. Just like its owner.”
Suddenly the front door opened from inside, before they reached it. “Jani! Jani Foster! As I live and breathe,” Rod exclaimed, facetiously. Then he rushed out to give her a huge hug.
“Hi, Rod.” Jani returned his hug, but with less fanfare. There he was again, striking, and with his old familiar freckles, his grin.
“You don’t call me Roddy anymore?”
“Are you Roddy anymore?” But she cuffed him playfully.
Rod mock scoffed at her, then, shaking hands, greeted Alan. “Ah, the gentleman of the hour.”
Rod had brought Liddy a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry. Liddy, Jani, and Alan chose this before lunch. Rod built himself a Scotch and soda.
Mrs. Gordon had made New England clam chowder and cornbread for lunch. Jani had loved these since childhood.
After a bit, Jani said, indicating the bay, “Alan, we used to race sailboats out there. When my brother was at camp one month, Rod and I were teamed up. And when it was my turn to be skipper, he was so mad that I jibed once, when he thought I should have come about, that he hit me over the head with the centerboard stick. We wrestled, and the boat tipped over.”
Liddy laughed. “I was on that committee boat. You two looked as though you’d actually drowned. But Jani kept saying, ‘Find my book — “How Green Was My Valley.” It’s floating away! South!’ ”
Alan said, “I hardly dare ask . . .”
Jani told him, “Rod dove in and swam for it . . .”
“It was going down. I got to it just in the nick,” Rod finished. “And Jani had kicked me, too.”
Alan looked at Jani, paused. “Sure. I’m a little out of shape, I’m afraid; that hospital has been a war zone.”
“Then it’ll be just the thing for you,” Rod said immediately. “Liddy, you want to start us off?” Liddy shook her head. “My exercise now is like Mark Twain’s — sleepin’ and restin’.”
Jani said, “I’ll buy that this afternoon.”
To Be Continued
Kay Kidde founded the Kidde, Hoyt & Picard Literary Agency in New York City. She is a former teacher and senior editor at the New American Library and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. A poet and author of several published collections, she lives in Quiogue. Five of her short stories have appeared in The Star.