She accepted the glass from the server and sipped it gingerly. The pale golden bubbles looked harmless enough, but champagne always seemed to give her a headache. She reached down and smoothed out her skirt again. Next, she patted her hair to make sure it was still in place. She usually just pulled her unruly hair back into a long ponytail, but her sister Mona had taken pains this morning, carefully arranging it into an acceptably elegant coiffure.
Where was Alex? It was already six o'clock. The party had been going on since early afternoon. Everyone else was here. Father had taken the train up from Washington. Mona, Rush and Mark had all flown in from California, first to attend Oliver's graduation ceremony at Columbia, then the after-party hosted by Mrs. Oliphant. Will and Cuffy had driven down from Carthage. They were all staying at Mrs. Oliphant's spacious duplex apartment except Mona, who had spent the last two nights at Randy's Greenwich Village single.
Randy Melendy was a nervous wreck. She was more anxious than she'd been since that disastrous audition where she had broken her ankle, ending her ballet career at the age of sixteen. She and Alex had first met at Parsons School of Design, become reacquainted six months ago, and three months ago had begun seeing each other exclusively. This was going to be the first time she introduced Alex to her entire family. Of course, it wasn't as though she'd had the chance. This was the first time in years that they'd all been in the same country, let alone the same room.
"Hey, Randy?" Mark sat down on the sofa next to her and grabbed a canapé off the silver tray. "So where's the boyfriend? Alan? I thought he was coming to the party."
Randy took a deep breath and tried not to look flustered. "Alex. He is coming. He's just running late, I guess. He'll be here."
Mark looked skeptical. "Running late? I thought Rush said he was a painter. How much time does it take to set your brush down and put on a suit and tie?"
"I think he might have had a class today," she lied. His classes were during the week. She had no idea where he was but she certainly wasn't going to admit that to Mark.
Mark grinned. "I think he's just too chicken to run the gauntlet. Your father, your famous movie-star sister, not one but two big brothers, Will and Cuffy. Oh yeah, and Mrs. Oliphant. Who-ee."
"Mrs. Oliphant has already met him and so has Oliver," she said stiffly.
Mark was not impressed. "Oh, is that so. Besides, Oliver doesn't count since he likes everyone." He picked up another canapé. "So I hear he's a trust fund baby. Is he good-looking, too?" At Randy's blush, he teased,"You girls always fall for the pretty boys. These little cracker things look pretty good. What's on 'em?"
"You should know." She nibbled at one of the crackers. "And I think that's fois gras."
Since they had met, Mark had grown from a skinny, underfed adolescent into a handsome man. She studied her adopted brother's brown, wavy hair, hazel eyes and long eyelashes. Thanks to modern dentistry, his teeth were straight and even. Well, maybe his nose was little large for his face, and his ears did stick out a bit. Still. He'd be a good subject for a charcoal study. Too bad he'd be flying back to the West Coast in a couple of days.
Mark shrugged. "I do all right. So what did Mrs. Oliphant have to say when she met Alex?"
The shrill ringing from the telephone interrupted her reply. After the third ring, Rush called from the other room, "Randy, it's for you. Can you pick it up in there?"
"It's probably him." Mark picked up the receiver and dangled it just out of her reach. Randy grabbed his arm and wrestled it away.
But it wasn't. It was her editor, Veronica Baum.
"Randy, darling. You're a hard girl to track down these days. So when can I expect the rest of the manuscript?" Mrs. Baum didn't mince words.
"Things have been hectic. Um, soon? I still haven't finished all the rewrites you asked for." And after that she still had to complete the illustrations.
After a few more minutes of lecturing, Randy put the handset carefully back on the receiver. Fleeing the country was looking like an attractive option.
"I take it that wasn't Alex." Mark leaned back and waited.
"No." She did not feel like having this conversation.
Or this one. "My editor."
"Right. Your first sale. How's the book coming along? It's a kid's book, right?" he prompted. He studied her face. "Hey, you don't have to talk about it now. Why don't we join the rest of the group? It looks like Mrs. O. is herding us toward the dining room."
Randy peeked at the place cards and took her assigned seat between Mark and her father. Mrs. Oliphant sat at the foot of the table, with Oliver taking his place of honor at the head. Every place was filled except one.
"Madam, shall I remove the empty seat?"
Randy's face was burning. Mrs. Oliphant looked at her. Her face was full of concern. "Yes, Charles. I think so. We can always make room later if need be."
"Very good, Madam." He whisked away the chair and place setting. Mona and Rush shuffled their chairs closer together.
Rush cleared his throat. He stood up and raised his wine glass. "I'd like to propose a toast to our guest of honor, Oliver. Newly graduated Magna Cum Laude with his BS in Biology from Columbia, heading in the Fall to the University of Maryland for his PhD in Entomology. Not bad for a kid who got his start turning caterpillars into moths. With our help, of course," he added, ruffling Oliver's crew-cut.
"Yes, he never could have kept all of those caterpillars alive without us foraging for food," Randy agreed.
"They were voracious consumers of the garden flora. I recall more than one sleepless night spent hunting down lilac leaves for the crocopia larvae," Father reminisced.
Mona shuddered. "They wouldn't have been so dreadful if they'd stayed put in their glass jars. You never knew where or when you'd find one of their cocoons. I remember Cuffy found several hanging off the dining room ceiling."
Cuffy smiled fondly at Oliver. "Yes, and several along the baseboards in the living room. They were a lovely green color."
"There was even one on Father's typewriter once," Oliver said happily.
Father raised his glass. "To Oliver's continued success in his chosen profession."
"To Oliver!" they chorused.
The evening passed far too quickly to suit Randy. The six course dinner was followed by petite fours and strong coffee served in thin china cups in the parlor.
"You can't be leaving already!" said Mrs. Oliphant. "Why, you've hardly arrived."
"Gosh, I'm sorry about having to split, Mrs. Oliphant." Rush fiddled with his tie, loosening it just a little.
Rush really did look as though he was sorry, so that was something.
"But Marilyn will kill me if I miss my plane," Rush continued. "She's been alone with the twins for four days already, between Oliver's graduation and the time it took to get here. We didn't count on her mom getting strep throat right before the trip."
"I have to get back to the set," Mona said mournfully. "They were able to shoot around me for a few days but now Jerry says they need me." She threw her arms around Mrs. Oliphant. "You could come see us, you know."
"We still got a long drive back to the Four Story Mistake after we drop Mona and Rush at the airport. I got a neighbor kid to feed the livestock, but I don't wanna stay away too long," Willy explained.
Randy knew from talking with Cuffy that Willy wasn't just rushing back for the goats and pigs. According to her, Willy had been "secretly" courting a woman down in Carthage for the past year and a half.
Cuffy shook her head. "And after we get back, I'm going to have to make another trip up to see my sister. She's not doing well these days."
Father looked sad but resigned. "I've no choice but to get the last train back to Washington. I've a meeting to prepare for with the Secretary of the Treasury Monday morning."
Mrs. Oliphant brightened. "Oh, how is dear George?"
Father didn't bat an eye. "Secretary Humphrey is fine, but even President Eisenhower says 'when George speaks, we all listen.' Staying away isn't an option."
"I'm meeting some of the fellows from school for drinks, and then I have to finish packing," said Oliver. "I've got to paint my room, too, if I want the deposit back. But I'll come back tomorrow and have breakfast with you and Mark and Mrs. Oliphant." He wasn't planning to sleep at all, Randy could tell.
After the suitcases had been loaded into the elevator, the last good-byes had been said, and the station wagon had disappeared into traffic, Mrs. Oliphant announced she was heading upstairs to retire.
"I'm not as young as the rest of you. Breakfast is 8:00 am sharp. Good night, Mark, dear." She turned next to Randy, saying in a lowered tone, "We'll need to have a chat later. Don't keep this boy up talking until all hours, either. I'll see you in the morning." She added in her normal tone of command, "Mark, make sure she gets home at a reasonable hour. In a taxi, not on that dreadful underground conveyance."
Randy had been taking the subway on her own since she was ten years old, but decided this was not the moment to remind anyone of that fact. Randy kissed Mrs. Oliphant good-night on her cheek, then sank down on the sofa in relief after she disappeared up the staircase. After a moment's hesitation, Mark sat down, too.
"Some things never change," he said softly.
Randy sighed. "I know. She means well and I love her to pieces, but she is always going to see me as a kid, and not a very competent one at that. I'm always going to be the Melendy kid who fell out of the boat into the lake in Central Park, who nearly burnt down the house because she hung her dress over a light bulb and forgot about it, who fell and broke her ankle in three places at a dance audition."
Mark looked like he was going to say something but thought better of it.
"It's fine for Rush to drop out of school and tour with a jazz band, and then join the Navy. It's fine for Mona to run off to Hollywood to be a movie-star, for Rush get his girlfriend pregnant so he has to move to California to work for Laurence Welk. It's fine for you to drop out of college to join the Army and go to Europe. You all get to have adventures and make mistakes and take risks. But Randy needs to be put into a taxi. Randy needs to move to the Upper East Side, preferably into Mrs. O.'s apartment, and meet a nice young man. Randy needs to think about her future," she finished in a rush.
Mark held his index finger up to his lips. "I'm thinking you might want to talk a bit more softly." He glanced toward the staircase leading up to the bedrooms. "Maybe we ought to go out. Go somewhere we can talk more privately."
Before she could answer him, there was a knock at the door.
"You don't really think that's Alex," Mark said mildly. "How did he get past the doorman?"
"I can't imagine who else it could be at this time of night." Randy forced herself to her feet. "He was on the guest list."
"You want me to get rid of him?" Mark stood up, inadvertently blocking her way.
Randy rolled her eyes. "No. I certainly do not. I can manage that all on my own, thank you very much." She maneuvered around him. "Just – sit, please," she said over her shoulder, switching on the hall light. She unlatched the double lock and pulled the heavy door open. It was Alex.
"Hi, Randy. Sorry I'm a little late. Hey, baby, you look great." Alex grinned. He looked great, too, in his rumpled khakis, and Italian leather jacket, a trace of stubble visible over his jawline.
"A little late? That time came and went five hours ago. This is the party's over and everyone's gone home sort of late. Where were you?" Randy said, unable to keep the irritation out of her voice.
Alex looked sheepish. "Just hanging out at Cedar Tavern. Ran into an old friend. We were talking and I... I just lost track of time. I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you, I swear."
Randy said nothing.
"Aren't you going to ask me in?" he said, trying to peer around her.
She frowned and closed the door an inch. "No. This isn't my home. Mrs. Oliphant has retired for the evening." She searched his face, looking for a hint of genuine regret. He had to understand what this meant to her. "This was important to me. You accepted my invitation and Mrs. Oliphant was expecting you for dinner. My entire family was expecting to meet you."
"So they can meet me another time. Mrs. Oliphant doesn't like me anyway," he said flippantly.
Randy forced herself to meet his gaze. "You embarrassed me, Alex. You hurt me. It's not the first time you've stood me up like this."
Alex stared back at her. "Don't try to put your bourgeois family's expectations for you on me. That's not my scene, and you know it. You want that kind of life, fine, just don't expect me to show up."
"Fine. I won't."
He nodded. "Good. I'll call you tomorrow."
As he reached for her, she forced herself to pull away. "No. Don't call me." Before she could change her mind, she turned and closed the door.
Mark stood up as she entered the room.
"Randy. Is everything okay?"
The kindness in his eyes nearly caused tears to flow in hers. "No. It's not. But I think I'd like to go home now. Can you...can you call me that cab?"
Breakfast at Mrs. Oliphant's was nothing like the meal Randy had grown up eating. Instead of the bowls of thick oatmeal smothered in raisins, accompanied by rashers of crisp-cooked bacon and mountains of scrambled eggs dished up by Cuffy, Mrs. Oliphant always served buttery, flaky croissants, whatever fruit was in season, and steaming cups of café au lait. As a concession to Oliver and Mark, she had placed a dozen hard-boiled eggs on the buffet table.
Instead of eating in the kitchen or even around the dining room table, in fair weather she allowed them to eat out on her terrace, with its stunning vista overlooking Central Park and the neighborhood surrounding the apartment. Normally, Randy found this a thrilling sight, even after so many years, but today, she wasn't looking at the view. All of her attention was focused inward, on the painful knowledge yesterday's confrontation with Alex had brought her. She was concerned that having warned her about Alex's unsuitability as her beau, Mrs. Oliphant would be unable to resist asking about his whereabouts last night. She needn't have worried. Whether Mark had informed her ahead of time or she had overheard the row, Mrs, Oliphant was silent on the subject of the ill-fated romance.
She was certain Mark knew what had happened without being told the details. Oliver, bless his heart, was oblivious to his sister's revery. He talked non-stop through the meal. He was looking forward to years of intensive study of his beloved Leipedoptera. He was excited by the prospect of moving to Maryland, since it was close to Father and only a train ride from Manhattan. And he was positive he and his roommate Brian were going to get back their entire security deposit.
"The painting is nearly done. We patched up all of the holes in the walls, even the ones we didn't make. Really, the place looks much better than when we first moved in," he concluded with evident satisfaction.
Randy picked at her strawberries and stared at the scarlet flowering geraniums, newly re-potted and brought out to enjoy the sunshine.
"It's early for pelargoniums to be blooming," Mark remarked.
Mrs. Oliphant beamed. "I winter them in the sunroom, and pinch them back to keep them full. The weather's been exceptional this spring." They continued discussing varieties of flowering houseplants. It seemed Mark knew as much about indoor plants as outdoor. Randy was just grateful the burden of conversation had been taken from her.
Finally Oliver left to finish up the apartment ceilings. Mrs. Oliphant retreated to the kitchen to discuss lunch preparations, with only Mark and Randy remaining behind.
"Did you tell Mrs. Oliphant what happened last night?" Randy said softly, though she knew the sound of traffic below would mask her words.
Mark shifted his chair a little closer. "Not exactly. I told her that he came, that you'd spoken with him, and that you seemed upset afterward." He hesitated. "I don't know what happened."
"Thank you. I don't think I could bear to hear her lecture." She sat quietly, trying to decide what, if anything, she wanted to say about Alex.
Mark stirred uneasily in his seat. "You don't owe me any kind of explanation about last night. But if you want to talk, you know I'll listen."
Randy nodded. Mark was so different from Mona and Rush, who'd always felt entitled to give their opinion on everything, whether asked for or not. Mark just—accepted things, accepted her. "Mrs. O. told me from the start that he wasn't right for me. I keep replaying the conversation in my head. It wasn't his politics or his being an artist that made her concerned, either. It was the family he grew up in. She said, 'No amount of money can compensate a child for a lack of love and attention.' I didn't believe her. I thought if I loved him it would be enough."
"Maybe for some people it would be," Mark offered.
She set her cup down on the iron end table, and walked over to the balustrade. Even on Sunday, the street below was busy, couples walking hand in hand, parents with children in tow heading for Central Park, bright yellow taxis weaving in and out of traffic. After a few moments, Mark followed and stood beside her.
She took a deep breath and turned slightly toward him. "I should have seen this coming. Alex could be so—contemptuous—of people. He hated that Father went to work for the Eisenhower administration. He thought Rush was a sell-out for taking the job as an arranger. He thought Mona should have stayed in New York and not signed the contract with the studio."
"But you don't agree."
"No. Of course not. I think they all had good reasons for making the decisions they did. Maybe their lives aren't perfect but they're all doing what they wanted. Rush is still working in the music industry, and supporting his family, too. Mona's earning a good living acting in motion pictures. Father's still an economist, even if he is working for Republicans instead of Democrats."
"But you didn't break it off with Alex because he's an idealist," Mark pointed out.
"No, I broke up with him because he's a jerk who treated me badly," Randy said wearily.
Mark walked back to his chair and sat down. "I've got to ask. What did he think about your work as an illustrator? About the book you're writing."
Randy turned around. She smiled despite herself. "What do you think? When I told him my book had been accepted, he was positively insulting. He told me that children's literature is 'a tool of capitalist oppression whose purpose is to reinforce societal values.' Maybe he's right, but does it have to be?" She skipped back to her seat and picked up her bowl of strawberries. "And, I have to admit, I was secretly disappointed when Dorothy returned to Kansas. It was gray and dismal and I bet her Aunt Em was still going to let poor Toto be destroyed."
"'Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore,'" Mark intoned in a passable falsetto.
"'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,'" Randy countered. "I loved that movie," she sighed. "Golly, if only Mona were here, she practically has the entire script memorized."
"We seem to be doing okay," Mark said dryly. "You're lucky to have grown up in the kind of family you did, but maybe it spoiled you for real life. I'm always surprised and happy when people treat me well..."
"And I'm surprised and disappointed when people don't," Randy finished. "Maybe, in my own way, I'm as much an idealist as Alex. Gosh, this relationship was just another in my series of crash-landings, wasn't it?"
"Except this time, your heart got broken instead of your ankle?"
"No, my heart was broken then, too," Randy confessed.
Mark looked worried. "You healed okay from that, right? I mean, your ankle's just as good as new."
Except for dancing, she almost said aloud. "Yes. It took a long time, but everything's fine," Randy reassured him. "I'll heal from this mishap, too. I'm better off without him. I know that."
Mark cleared his throat. "You deserve a heck of a lot better than what he was offering."
"I know that, too. Thank you, Mark, for listening." She'd nearly forgotten what it was like to have someone to confide in.
"You're welcome," Mark replied. He glanced down at his wrist-watch. "I hate to say this, but I'm going to have to get going. My plane leaves in two hours."
"Oh, no. I thought we were going to have the whole day together. I haven't asked you a thing about your life in California or Germany or...or... anything!"
"I've got to work a half a shift tonight at the bar, ten pm to closing. Hey, it pays the bills until I figure out what I'm doing next," he said, at her look. "Which should be soon. I've already decided I'm going to complete my degree and apply to Veterinary school, it's just a matter of where and when."
"So eventually, we'll have three doctors in the family: Father, Oliver and now you. That's wonderful, Mark." She shouldn't have been surprised; after all, Mark had grown up on a farm. He was really smart. And he was wonderful with animals. "Wait, so you might not stay in California? Why did you move there after you got out of the service? I knew you and Rush were close when you were together in school, but I was sure you'd come home to New York," she said plaintively.
Mark's face held a strange expression for an instant, but he smoothed his features before replying. "That's a long story, one I don't think I can do justice to in this short amount of time. I know I haven't been the most faithful correspondent over the years, but I promise to try to do better. May I write to you, Randy?"
Of course you may write to me, you idiot. I'm your sister, you big galoot. But the intense look he gave her stopped her from teasing. "Of course you may. I want you to. You owe me at least three dozen letters already. Better get started on the plane." Well. Maybe just a little teasing. Oh, she almost had forgotten. "I'm probably going to let my apartment in the Village go when the lease is up in July. I've nearly run through my savings, and if I take on free-lance work again, I'll never get the book finished. I've decided to move back home for the time being."
"To the Four Story Mistake. You feel okay about that? You love the city."
"I do but I think I need a change. Fresh air, long walks in the country. Gardening. I've been thinking I should paint my old room, and get a bigger bed." She had an idea for a trompe l'oiel mural for the ceiling, but first she had to finish the manuscript and the illustrations. Mrs. Baum was not going to let up on her until she did.
Mark crossed his arms over his chest. "Miranda, I don't like the idea of you up on a ladder, as accident prone as you are. You should put Oliver to work while you still can. At least let him do the ceilings."
Was he always this bossy? She decided to ignore it. "Oliver's hiking the Appalachian trail this summer and cataloging caterpillars so I'm afraid the position of painter's assistant will remain open for the indefinite future." She'd probably need to set up scaffolding, just like Michelangelo!
"If you get tired of country living, you could always come to California for a visit," Mark said casually. "Stay with Rush and his gang. Stay with Mona. I can show you around LA. You can come in the winter, get a break from the shoveling. You're a writer now. You can write anywhere there's a typewriter, right?"
"I love the snow," Randy protested. "And I always write on paper first. You can take a pen and a notebook anywhere. I could never fit a typewriter into my handbag. Besides, I enjoy the feeling of putting a pen to paper."
"Me, too. Except in my case, it's because I'm a lousy typist." He put his arms around her, gave her a quick hug, and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Listen, can you go call for the elevator, while I say good-bye to Mrs. O?"
"I can." Absently, she touched the place on her forehead where he'd kissed her.
So now she had a plan: back to the Four Story Mistake for the summer to finish her book and paint her ceiling, and perhaps pay a visit to her family in California when the weather turned cold. She had family now in three different parts of the country. She'd never been to California. She'd never ridden on a plane before, either, she realized. Why, this was starting to sound like an adventure! We're off to see the Wizard, she whispered, and started toward the door.