The news was about to break around the Archer household, too. The change in Gina seemed positive enough; she made no secret of her excitement over Lewis. Mom and Pop had maybe one chance to discuss it before they had their hard-working daughter to themselves a while. They hadn’t put the change in context very much as yet, but she did seem like a new person. She had always shown a certain determination all her own, with her individual exercise program, and never much taste for opening up about whatever had troubled her in recent times. Her privacy was rightly her own, they reasoned. Concern, however, was about to creep in, in a major way.
Darcy Archer asked her daughter to sit down a minute. Point blank, she asked what was on her mind:
“So are you and Lewis talking about getting married?”
The question seemed completely out of the blue. The relationship itself seemed every bit as sudden, admittedly. The mysterious intuition of Darcy Archer had served her before. Twice she had dreamed about relatives having babies; one of those times, the cousin had laughed it off, only to receive quite a shock at the doctor’s office two weeks later. The time afterwards, Darcy had correctly guessed the baby’s gender, despite sonogram predictions to the contrary. This wasn’t a dream-driven prediction. It was a gut feeling.
“We are, Mama.” There was no point in lying. Gina was subtly impressed, just the same. She had no real idea from where the guess came.
“I see. Well, have you set a date?”
“We’ve just started talking about it. I do know we both want Daddy to do the ceremony, just like I always wanted.”
“Well. You love him?”
“I really do. He’s like no other man I ever met. He’s the most romantic thing on two legs, like the very spirit of the guys from the novels---at the end of the book, anyway. He listens to me. He’s caring and attentive. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s handsome. I feel like he understands me.”
“You feel like he loves you? And he’ll stay by you?”
“He’s got this amazing heart, Mama. I know it’s so sudden, but---I know he will.”
“Alright. Are you thinking about living with him?”
“We were saving up money to go to Colorado, so we didn’t really have any plans worked out yet. We were playing it by ear. I plan to stay here for now.”
“If you need us, you know we’ll always be here, honey.”
“I know, Mama.”
“If you’re looking for a date, you could always pick Hope’s birthday!”
“That’s a really nice idea!”
“It would be a wonderful way to commemorate the day. Something new.”
Her deceased daughter’s birthday, she reasoned, would also give the two of them a few more weeks to get to know each other, and solidify their plans. Most of all, though, it would be a romantic way to acknowledge the day. She still missed her Hope very much. Everything had changed for them when they lost her. It would be nice to signify a new beginning.
The phone rang somewhat later, and Lewis spoke excitedly and sweetly as always on the other end. He had talked with his sister, who groused about the month’s bills, and promised to put in an application with Stefan’s to help pitch in his share. Gina said she’d be happy to give him a reference.
“I have to talk to you about setting a wedding date,” Lewis said. It was rather old-fashioned, but on some level, he realized they could have a child at any time now from their sexual activity. Besides that, they had already agreed to travel together. “We were already planning to leave town, and I wanted to do something to reassure your family that I wasn’t going to just kidnap you, sorta, and dump you somewhere in another state. I knew you wanted your Dad to do the ceremony, too, so might as well do it before we move away, right?”
“Sounds good to me, sweetheart.”
“Besides---we’ve already decided to it. Why wait, I guess?”
It occurred to him a simple engagement would probably satisfy the family, but who knew when they’d be back this way? For that matter, his own parents still had no idea. It was getting time to deal.
“Oh, I agree! It will be such a romantic thing. I never really had big wedding plans…just for my brother to give me away and Dad to do the ceremony. You know, my Mom guessed we were talking about this?”
“You’re kidding? When?”
“This evening. I have no idea why. Hadn’t told them anything.”
“That’s wild! She cool with it?”
“I think so! It wouldn’t matter, anyway. My mind is set on you.” She paused.
“So what Mom suggested was, why don’t we do the ceremony on my sister Hope’s birthday? The one who died when I was little?”
“Why wait that long?”
His voice sounded worried. “But we were going to get moving soon. I already intended to be gone by now, as it is. Besides, I am running into a bit of hassle about the bills here.” His voice escalated. “Look, Gina, I know you’ve been a family girl all your life. You never did anything without them. But this is OUR life. If you are going to let other people make the decisions for us, I need to know it’s like that for you, now.”
She had never heard him this irritated. “But it’s only about three more months, honey…”
“Three months! Fine. But what are we going to do in the meanwhile? This whole thing has been our decisions up til now. It’s our life! I don’t plan on sharing control of our life with other people. Not your Mom…not mine…not anyone else!”
Gina’s Mom was standing nearby. She could hear the irritation in his voice, and see the concern on Gina’s face. Suddenly she felt very angry, herself. Who did this guy think he was, shouting at her daughter?
“I’m serious, sweetie! I started down this road so I would be responsible for my own life. If you aren’t ready to make decisions with me on your own, baby, maybe this is too big a decision for you, and you should just---!”
The phone was dead. Lewis was livid.
On the other end, Gina howled. Her mother had hung up on her boyfriend! “Why did you do that?!? He was upset…!”
“He needs to get a grip!” snapped Darcy. “I don’t know why he thinks he can get away with treating you like that, but if you start---“
“Mama, no! He never yells at me. I could have gotten him to ---“
“If he gets in the habit of yelling at you now,” yelled Darcy to her daughter, “he’s going to treat you bad the rest of the time you’re together! You can’t let a man do you that way!”
“He was just upset because he thought I was going to let you take control of the wedding, and he’s…” Gina stopped. She felt very much like crying.
The phone rang. Darcy grabbed it for herself, to keep it away from her daughter. “I’m not having him call back and be mean to you. He needs to cool down!”
He’s not the only one, Gina thought. She felt desperate as the phone rang unheeded. No one had ever come between her and her man before!
“You know what?” snapped Gina. “Fine! I’m driving up there myself. We need to talk.”
“It’s thirty miles, hon!” said her hot-tempered mother. “And you’re upset yourself. You don’t need to get behind the wheel of a car!”
“Suit yourself, Mama,” she said, taking the keys and heading for the door. “I’ll walk the whole way, then. Starting now.”
Gina had always been the most obedient of her children, by far. In fact, Darcy couldn’t remember a time she had ever shouted at her---once, maybe when she was eleven? It was scaring her, to see her daughter acting so impetuously. What hold did this boy have over her baby?
“Is the sex that good?” she growled at Gina.
“Yes Mama,” said Gina, turning from the open door, “it’s THAT good!!! She slammed the door crying.
By now, cool as a cucumber, her father Benjamin came strolling in, his face betraying only a bit of the concern he felt. He fully expected the problem to be Dixie, as was more typical in the past, despite the fact…
“Was that Gina I heard shouting?” he asked sheepishly.
“You need to talk to your daughter,” she snarled. “She’s lost her mind over that guy.”
“I hope she’s not driving anywhere,” he remarked as he walked to the door.
“She threatened to walk all the way to her boyfriend’s house, thirty miles away,” said Darcy, fuming with her arms crossed. “And I fully expect her to really do it. I could hear it in her voice. She never, ever acts like this.”
“Well, good Lord,” he says, calmly. “Let me.”
He brought his daughter in from the porch, and asked her to tell him what was wrong.
How was she feeling? He put his arm around her shoulders as she sniffed. His demeanor reminded her very much of Lewis. They were alike in many important ways, the way they talked to people, cared, listened. She noted to herself she had cried much too much of late, as if letting out feelings corked up for months, if not longer. For one last time, she sat down, her tiny frame no burden at all, in her father’s lap, and held his neck while she released her misery, then quieted down as quickly as possible. He realized just how small she had become. It was one thing to see it gradually, but another all together to feel her sitting on his knees. Maybe if she had opened up before? It was hard sometimes, respecting the boundaries of their young daughters, letting them have their own lives. He felt a natural urge to protect them from the world, but knew the time for such things was passing away. He understood his tempestuous wife was feeling much the same. Their tiff---such a stunning rarity, he had to laugh---was easy to forgive, from a witness point of view of someone who loved them both.
Gina finally got to call Lewis back. At first, he didn’t want to answer now. He was livid. But he felt a softness towards his beautiful fiancée. It wasn’t right to punish her, when they did truly need to talk. He still felt the same about outside influences taking over their life together, when he had just made the step to live his own life. Delaying that made the pressures and doubts creep up from below, where they had failed to make any real invasion of his conscious mind, until now.
He found out quickly that Gina’s mother had been the one to disconnect the call, although this did not predispose him to see her point of view at first. Gina begged him to understand she hadn’t hung up on him, and this smoothed out the churning feelings with which he wrestled in his solitude. Still perturbed, but ready to talk, he agreed to come down, with his sister’s permission to borrow her car, and see her tonight, so they could be face-to-face. “I need you,” Gina said sadly. “Please.”
He couldn’t deny her. He told her he loved her and let her go. He felt himself grappling for control of his own destiny, wondering how the placidity he had achieved with only himself to answer for could ever return, with his love and life given equally now over to someone who lived at the center of her family’s embrace. What had he asked her to do? Why was this necessary?
For that matter, he felt bad about letting things get to him. But now, a world of worries he had ignored began to mount. They struggled with his buoyant ardor, as the seeming insanity of what he and Gina had begun to pummel his emotions. He had instinctively defended their love and its sweeping impulses with poetic inspiration and an unsinkable feeling. Suddenly, it was time to bail out the ship.