The Silver Leash
by Beatrice Rordame Parsons
LaRue knew that, now, there was no longer any reason to remain in Fivelakes. The Amelia Museum had been established and was moving steadily on to becoming a beautiful tourist attraction. Committees had been formed, and Herb was proud that he had been selected to head one of them.
He was out of his wheelchair most of the time, nowadays, and back at his office and his drawing board.
The children were fine, each busy with a task in refurnishing Hillhigh House. LaRue knew it was time to go back to the bank, to her neat, yet silent apartment in San Francisco. She no longer thought of it as a refuge. Indeed, she was almost reluctant to take up her life away from Fivelakes. She knew she would miss everything and everyone terribly!
Herb was working on the plans for the new children’s wing at the hospital. When he showed her the plans, LaRue saw the penciled drawings, which Dr. Alan had made upon the back of an envelope, coming to life.
“I’ll have to come back and see the old house, and that new wing during my next vacation,” she said wistfully, and went to finish her packing. The little amber bottle still stood on the dressing table. She left it there, meaning to give it to Erma before she left.
As usual, Connie crept into her room and sat cross-legged in the middle of the white bedspread watching LaRue put her things into her bags. Connie’s small face was wistful.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave, Aunt LaRue. We’re going to miss you.” She looked as if she were going to cry, and LaRue tried to reassure her.
“I’ll be back next year, darling. And every year …”
“Not if you get married,” started Connie gloomily. “Maybe your husband will like San Francisco so much he won’t let you come.”
LaRue laughed. “Connie, you’re priceless. First you want me to get married and have a baby so that you can tend it. Then you don’t want me to marry, at all!”
Connie looked at her dubiously. “Well,” she said slowly, “I wouldn’t mind, if you married someone I knew.”
“I’d have to know him, too,” said LaRue playfully. “I’d have to be in love with him.”
She scarcely caught Connie’s tiny whisper. “I think you already are, Aunt LaRue!” But before she could speak, Connie said loudly. “Aunt LaRue, I don’t gossip, now do I?”
LaRue didn’t quite understand the question. But she praised the child.
“You’ve improved a very great deal, darling. I’m very glad.”
“Well,” asked Connie, a lingering doubt in her tone, “do you think it would be awful if I told you some gossip?” Then, as LaRue began to shake her head, she added brightly, “Some gossip you’d like to hear?”
LaRue wasn’t quite sure. “I wouldn’t want to hear it, Connie, if it was something that would hurt someone. That sort of gossip is cruel.”
“But it isn’t cruel,” cried Connie eagerly, bouncing up and down until her brown braids whirled. “It’s something terribly nice. About Gladys and Dr. Alan.”
LaRue hid her face in the clothes closet so that Connie could not see how it glowed at the mention of Alan’s name. But she came steadily out and met Connie’s childish gaze, though her heart was chilled.
She said definitely: “No, Connie, even if it’s very, very nice, I can’t let you tell me.” She wanted to ask if Gladys and Alan had made up, if Grandie and Herb were going ahead on the plans for the house in Maple Park. But she pressed her lips tightly, still shaking her head. “I can’t go back on what I said, Connie. It’s wrong to encourage gossip. Sometimes it’s even cruel …” It would be cruel to listen to Connie’s gossip about the future plans of Gladys and Alan. She didn’t want to think about them.
Connie got slowly down off the bed. “All right, Aunt LaRue.” She walked slowly to the door. “I still wish you didn’t have to pack.” To hide her tears, she rushed outside to play with Atlast.
The hours dragged until time for the bus. Although Herb would have driven her to the station, LaRue insisted on calling for a cab. It would be much easier, saying goodby to the family at home.
She hid the hot tears on her lashes as she walked out to the cab. The driver who had brought her to the house a few weeks before, greeted her with a smile as he put her luggage into the back of the taxi. His face was now smooth-shaven, minus the beard he’d worn to the festival.
He guided the cab skillfully along the almost completed highway, and LaRue saw that the huge machinery had moved miles into the distance. The gray artery into Fivelakes was wide and smooth.
Like a ribbon tying my heart to those I love, she thought whimsically, and knew that the days would seem long and lonely until she returned for a visit.
The old house on the knoll seemed to smile down on her as they passed it, and she saw the beginnings of its rejuvenation in fresh lumber and paint.
She stared at the giant mountains, her mind photographing every peak so that memory could not dim them. She wondered that she had ever found them cold, forbidding.
When the driver set her bags inside the station she looked around at the green-plastic covered counter, at the Hopi Indian dolls nudging neighboring Spanish senoritas for a place on the shelves.
The man behind the counter was no longer frightening in his heavy dark beard. He was clean-shaven, and his white jacket was spotless. They chatted for a few minutes, and he told her that her bus was on time. She had only fifteen minutes to wait. He gave her a fresh glass of ice water, and she sipped it, watching the hands of the clock move slowly into place.
Where once she had wanted to turn and seat herself in the bus to go back from where she had come, now she wanted to run out of the station and fly along the highway to where a car was spinning swiftly along.
Something about the car, as it caught the sunshine, made her heart tremble a little. Was that, oh, surely that wasn’t a … caduceus on the front! She hadn’t – purposely – said goodby to Dr. Alan. She knew, now, that she had been very rude. He was coming to tell her so, coming to say goodby.
LaRue wanted to run outside to meet him, but she forced herself to sit casually at the green counter, sipping her ice water. When he came in, her heart pounded so hard that she worried lest he hear it. He did not speak, just took her arm and led her to one of the tiny tables far at the rear of the room. Then he leaned across the table and looked into her eyes. His voice came tenderly.
“Darling, why are you going away? Don’t you know you belong here in Fivelakes?”
Her pulses hammered at the word darling, but she managed to find her voice, to say quietly, “Everything I came to do is finished, Alan. I’m going back. Oh, perhaps not forever. But for a while. I really do not belong in Fivelakes.”
He took her hand, his surgeon’s fingers firm and tense. His voice was insistent. “Is there somebody back there in San Francisco?”
She knew what he meant, and shook her head. Her lips formed the faint word, “Gladys?”
A smile flashed about his mouth, making it soft, gentle. “Didn’t Connie tell you? Gladys gave me back my ring. She and Earl are getting married.”
Happiness she could not hide broke over LaRue’s features. Her smile was tremulous.
“Connie tried to tell me, Alan, but I wouldn’t let her.” She lifted her clear, gray-blue eyes to his face. “I hope you are not too badly hurt.”
He shook his dark head, and his eyes were honest. “I guess I knew almost from the beginning that Gladys and I didn’t really click. But when Grandie tried to tell me, I wouldn’t listen. He tried to make me see that she wouldn’t make a doctor’s wife.”
LaRue understood. Her lips quirked. “Nasty medicine,” she said, and then had to explain the things that Grandie had said.
They sat there, smiling into each other’s eyes, and were entirely unconscious of the huge bus which waited outside the windows. The man at the counter grinned and put up his hand when they would have loaded LaRue’s bags. He could see by their enchanted faces that any other bus – or no other bus at all – would do. The bus driver smiled, too, and the bus chugged off into the distance.
LaRue had so many things to talk about. First she had to explain that she’d been frightened. “But,” she confessed happily, “I’m not afraid of things, now. I love it here in Fivelakes.”
Alan smiled as he lifted her tenderly to her feet. “You’re going to stay in Fivelakes,” he assured her gravely. “But this isn’t the place for a proposal. First of all, I’m taking you back to the Vetterlys’. I think they all know just what I have in mind.”
He helped her into the car, got in beside her, and together they swept along the highway and into the town. The sun was blinding, but it did not make LaRue’s head ache. It draped her with a golden canopy as she listened to Alan’s eager words, as he let her out where all the family was waiting with happy faces and moist eyes.
“I have something to say to you,” he promised. “Something that can’t wait. I’ll be here this evening to take you for a ride.” He leaned down, kissed her shamelessly in front of all of them. He whispered, “Be sure and wear that yellow frock. I remember a small, yellow angel standing beside a woman’s bed, helping bring a new life to Fivelakes. You can’t escape, darling. You belong here beside me.”
LaRue’s eyes held stars as she promised to wear the yellow dress, promised to listen to what Alan had to say.
He was tall and proud and very sure of himself as he marched to his car. It was the same sureness that Amelia had known and LaRue loved him for it.
When his car had disappeared, LaRue put her arm about Erma’s shoulder and they went into LaRue’s bedroom. Happily, she put the tiny amber bottle into Erma’s hands.
“I do not need it, now,” she said breathlessly, and knew that Erma understood. She watched her carry the tiny glass symbol of her mother’s enduring love into her own room and her eyes were misty with happiness.
Alan had said that she was part of Fivelakes, that her roots went deep. She would always love the town and the people in it. It meant Alan.
LaRue had come to know that the words Amelia had said were true. Love is everlasting …