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Love contemporaryMcCulloughThorn Birdsthe rugged Australian Outback, three extraordinary generations of Clearys live through joy and sadness, bitter defeat and - 76


“Don’t go getting any ideas about kicking it out to make room for yourself, Rain, because I’m warning you, I am not taking you on in that capacity.”
“I don’t want you in that capacity anymore.”promptness of his answer irritated her, but she adopted a relieved air and said, “Honestly?”
“If I did, do you think I could have borne to keep away from you so long? You were a passing fancy in that way, but I still think of you as a dear friend, and miss you as a dear friend.”
“Oh, Rain, so do I!”
“That’s good. Am I admitted as a friend, then?”
“Of course.”lay back on the coat and put his arms behind his head, smiling at her lazily. “How old are you, thirty? In those disgraceful clothes you look more like a scrubby schoolgirl. If you don’t need me in your life for any other reason, Justine, you certainly do as your personal arbiter of elegance.”laughed. “I admit when I thought you might pop up out of the woodwork I did take more interest in my appearance. If I’m thirty, though, you’re no spring chook yourself. You must be forty at least. Doesn’t seem like such a huge difference anymore, does it? You’ve lost weight. Are you all right, Rain?”
“I was never fat, only big, so sitting at a desk all the time has shrunk me, not made me expand.”down and turning onto her stomach, she put her face close to his, smiling. “Oh, Rain, it’s so good to see you! No one else gives me a run for my money.”
“Poor Justine! And you have so much of it these days, don’t you?”
“Money?” She nodded. “Odd, that the Cardinal should have left all of his to me. Well, half to me and half to Dane, but of course I was Dane’s sole legatee.” Her face twisted in spite of herself. She ducked her head away and pretended to look at one daffodil in a sea of them until she could control her voice enough to say, “You know, Rain, I’d give my eyeteeth to learn just what the Cardinal was to my family. A friend, only that? More than that, in some mysterious way. But just what, I don’t know. I wish I did.”
“No, you don’t.” He got to his feet and extended his hand.
“Come, Herzchen, I’ll buy you dinner anywhere you think there will be eyes to see that the breach between the carrot-topped Australian actress and the certain member of the German cabinet is healed. My reputation as a playboy has deteriorated since you threw me out.”
“You’ll have to watch it, my friend. They don’t call me a carrot-topped Australian actress any more—these days I’m that lush, gorgeous, titian-haired British actress, thanks to my immortal interpretation of Cleopatra. Don’t tell me you didn’t know the critics are calling me the most exotic Cleo in years?” She cocked her arms and hands into the pose of an Egyptian hieroglyph.eyes twinkled. “Exotic?” he asked doubtfully.
“Yes, exotic,” she said firmly.Vittorio was dead, so Rain didn’t go to Rome very much anymore. He came to London instead. At first Justine was so delighted she didn’t look any further than the friendship he offered, but as the months passed and he failed by word or look to mention their previous relationship, her mild indignation became something more disturbing. Not that she wanted a resumption of that other relationship, she told herself constantly; she had finished completely with that sort of thing, didn’t need or desire it anymore. Nor did she permit her mind to dwell on an image of Rain so successfully buried she remembered it only in traitorous dreams.first few months after Dane died had been dreadful, resisting the longing to go to Rain, feel him with her in body and spirit, knowing full well he would be if she let him. But she could not allow this with his face overshadowed by Dane’s. It was right to dismiss him, right to battle to obliterate every last flicker of desire for him. And as time went on and it seemed he was going to stay out of her life permanently, her body settled into unaroused torpor, and her mind disciplined itself to forget.now Rain was back it was growing much harder. She itched to ask him whether he remembered that other relationship—how could he have forgotten it? Certainly for herself she had quite finished with such things, but it would have been gratifying to learn he hadn’t; that is, provided of course such things for him spelled Justine, and only Justine.dreams. Rain didn’t have the mien of a man who was wasting away of unrequited love, mental or physical, and he never displayed the slightest wish to reopen that phase of their lives. He wanted her for a friend, enjoyed her as a friend. Excellent! It was what she wanted, too. Only… could he have forgotten? No, it wasn’t possible—but God damn him if he had!night Justine’s thought processes reached so far, her season’s role of Lady Macbeth had an interesting savagery quite alien to her usual interpretation. She didn’t sleep very well afterward, and the following morning brought a letter from her mother which filled her with vague unease.didn’t write often anymore, a symptom of the long separation which affected them both, and what letters there were were stilted, anemic. This was different, it contained a distant mutter of old age, an underlying weariness which poked up a word or two above the surface inanities like an iceberg. Justine didn’t like it. Old. Mum, old!was happening on Drogheda? Was Mum trying to conceal some serious trouble? Was Nanna ill? One of the Unks? God forbid, Mum herself? It was three years since she had seen any of them, and a lot could happen in three years, even if it wasn’t happening to Justine O’Neill. Because her own life was stagnant and dull, she ought not to assume everyone else’s was, too.night was Justine’s “off” night, with only one more performance of Macbeth to go. The daylight hours had dragged unbearably, and even the thought of dinner with Rain didn’t carry its usual anticipatory pleasure. Their friendship was useless, futile, static, she told herself as she scrambled into a dress exactly the orange he hated most. Conservative old fuddy-duddy! If Rain didn’t like her the way she was, he could lump her. Then, fluffing up the low bodice’s frills around her meager chest, she caught her own eyes in the mirror and laughed ruefully. Oh, what a tempest in a teacup! She was acting exactly like the kind of female she most despised. It was probably very simple. She was stale, she needed a rest. Thank God for the end of Lady M! But what was the matter with Mum?Rain was spending more and more time in London, and Justine marveled at the ease with which he commuted between Bonn and England. No doubt having a private plane helped, but it had to be exhausting.
“Why do you come to see me so often?” she asked out of the blue. “Every gossip columnist in Europe thinks it’s great, but I confess I sometimes wonder if you don’t simply use me as an excuse to visit London.”
“It’s true that I use you as a blind from time to time,” he admitted calmly. “As a matter of fact, you’ve been dust in certain eyes quite a lot. But it’s no hardship being with you, because I like being with you.” His dark eyes dwelled on her face thoughtfully. “You’re very quiet tonight, Herzchen. Is anything worrying you?”
“No, not really.” She toyed with her dessert and pushed it aside uneaten. “At least, only a silly little thing. Mum and I don’t write every week anymore—it’s so long since we’ve seen each other there’s nothing much to say—but today I had such a strange letter from her. Not typical at all.”heart sank; Meggie had indeed taken her time thinking about it, but instinct told him this was the commencement of her move, and that it was not in his favor. She was beginning her play to get her daughter back for Drogheda, perpetuate the dynasty.reached across the table to take Justine’s hand; she was looking, he thought, more beautiful with maturity, in spite of that ghastly dress. Tiny lines were beginning to give her ragamuffin face dignity, which it badly needed, and character, which the person behind had always owned in huge quantities. But how deep did her surface maturity go? That was the whole trouble with Justine; she didn’t even want to look.
“Herzchen, your mother is lonely,” he said, burning his boats. If this was what Meggie wanted, how could he continue to think himself right and her wrong? Justine was her daughter; she must know her far better than he.
“Yes, perhaps,” said Justine with a frown, “but I can’t help feeling there’s something more at base of it. I mean, she must have been lonely for years, so why this sudden whatever it is? I can’t put my finger on it, Rain, and maybe that’s what worries me the most.”
“She’s growing older, which I think you tend to forget. It’s very possible things are beginning to prey upon her which she found easier to contend with in the past.” His eyes looked suddenly remote, as if the brain behind was concentrating very hard on something at variance with what he was saying. “Justine, three years ago she lost her only son. Do you think that pain grows less as time passes? I think it must grow worse. He is gone, and she must surely feel by now that you are gone, too. After all, you haven’t even been home to visit her.”shut her eyes. “I will, Rain, I will! I promise I will, and soon! You’re right, of course, but then you always are. I never thought I’d come to miss Drogheda, but lately I seem to be developing quite an affection for it. As if I am a part of it after all.”looked suddenly at his watch, smiled ruefully. “I’m very much afraid tonight is one of those occasions when I’ve used you, Herzchen. I hate to ask you to find your own way home, but in less than an hour I have to meet some very important gentlemen in a top-secret place, to which I must go in my own car, driven by the triple-A-security-clearanced Fritz.”
“Cloak and dagger!” she said gaily, concealing her hurt. “Now I know why those sudden taxis! I am to be entrusted to a cabby, but not the future of the Common Market, eh? Well, just to show you how little I need a taxi or your security-clearanced Fritz, I’m going to catch the tube home. It’s quite early.” His fingers lay rather limply around hers; she lifted his hand and held it against her cheek, then kissed it. “Oh, Rain, I don’t know what I’d do without you!”put the hand in his pocket, got to his feet, came round and pulled out her chair with his other hand. “I’m your friend,” he said. “That’s what friends are for, not to be done without.”once she parted from him, Justine went home in a very thoughtful mood, which turned rapidly into a depressed one. Tonight was the closest he had come to any kind of personal discussion, and the gist of it had been that he felt her mother was terribly lonely, growing old, and that she ought to go home. Visit, he had said; but she couldn’t help wondering if he had actually meant stay. Which rather indicated that whatever he felt for her in the past was well and truly of the past, and he had no wish to resurrect it.had never occurred to her before to wonder if he might regard her as a nuisance, a part of his past he would like to see buried in decent obscurity on some place like Drogheda; but maybe he did. In which case, why had he re-entered her life nine months ago? Because he felt sorry for her? Because he felt he owed her some kind of debt? Because he felt she needed some sort of push toward her mother, for Dane’s sake? He had been very fond of Dane, and who knew what they had talked about during those long visits to Rome when she hadn’t been present? Maybe Dane had asked him to keep an eye on her, and he was doing just that. Waited a decent interval to make sure she wouldn’t show him the door, then marched back into her life to fulfill some promise made to Dane. Yes, that was very likely the answer. Certainly he was no longer in love with her. Whatever attraction she had once possessed for him must have died long since; after all, she had treated him abominably. She had only herself to blame.the heels of which thought she wept miserably, succeeded in getting enough hold upon herself to tell herself not to be so stupid, twisted about and thumped her pillow in a fruitless quest after sleep, then lay defeated trying to read a script. After a few pages the words began traitorously to blur and swim together, and try as she would to use her old trick of bulldozing despair into some back corner of her mind, it ended in overwhelming her. Finally as the slovenly light of a late London dawn seeped through the windows she sat down at her desk, feeling the cold, hearing the distant growl of traffic, smelling the damp, tasting the sourness. Suddenly the idea of Drogheda seemed wonderful. Sweet pure air, a naturally broken silence. Peace.picked up one of her black felt-tipped pens and began a letter to her mother, her tears drying as she wrote.just hope you understand why I haven’t been home since Dane died [she said], but no matter what you think about that, I know you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m going to rectify my omission permanently., that’s right. I’m coming home for good, Mum. You were right—the time has come when I long for Drogheda. I’ve had my flutter, and I’ve discovered it doesn’t mean anything to me at all. What’s in it for me, trailing around a stage for the rest of my life? And what else is there here for me aside from the stage? I want something safe, permanent, enduring, so I’m coming home to Drogheda, which is all those things. No more empty dreams. Who knows? Maybe I’ll marry Boy King if he still wants me, finally do something worthwhile with my life, like having a tribe of little Northwest plainsmen. I’m tired, Mum, so tired I don’t know what I’m saying, and I wish I had the power to write what I’m feeling., I’ll struggle with it another time. Lady Macbeth is over and I hadn’t decided what to do with the coming season yet, so I won’t inconvenience anyone by deciding to bow out of acting. London is teeming with actresses. Clyde can replace me adequately in two seconds, but you can’t, can you? I’m sorry it’s taken me thirty-one years to realize that.Rain not helped me it might have taken even longer, but he’s a most perceptive bloke. He’s never met you, yet he seems to understand you better than I do. Still, they say the onlooker sees the game best. That’s certainly true of him. I’m fed up with him, always supervising my life from his Olympian heights. He seems to think he owes Dane some sort of debt or promise, and he’s forever making a nuisance of himself popping over to see me; only I’ve finally realized that I’m the nuisance. If I’m safely on Drogheda the debt or promise or whatever it was is canceled, isn’t it? He ought to be grateful for the plane trips I’ll save him, anyway.soon as I’ve got myself organized I’ll write again, tell you when to expect me. In the meantime, remember that in my strange way I do love you.signed her name without its usual flourish, more like the “Justine” which used to appear on the bottom of dutiful letters written from boarding school under the eagle eye of a censoring nun. Then she folded the sheets, put them in an airmail envelope and addressed it. On the way to the theater for the final performance of Macbeth she posted it.went straight ahead with her plans to quit England. Clyde was upset to the extent of a screaming temper tantrum which left her shaking, then overnight he turned completely about and gave in with huffy good grace. There was no difficulty at all in disposing of the lease to the mews flat for it was in a high-demand category; in fact, once the word leaked out people rang every five minutes until she took the phone off the hook. Mrs. Kelly, who had “done” for her since those far-off days when she had first come to London, plodded dolefully around amid a jungle of wood shavings and crates, bemoaning her fate and surreptitiously putting the phone back on its cradle in the hope someone would ring with the power to persuade Justine to change her mind. In the midst of the turmoil, someone with that power did ring, only not to persuade her to change her mind; Rain didn’t even know she was going. He merely asked her to act as his hostess for a dinner party he was giving at his house on Park Lane. 2014-07-19 18:44
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