CHAPTER FIVE

Althea Crawford Lansing, an elegantly beautiful woman now in her late forties, had been a daughter of privilege. After studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, she returned home to learn that her mother had meticulously planned her future.

       Even as a child, Althea had known to keep a balance of acceptance in her family, she must follow her mother's protocol of behavior. Peace in the family meant she must obey her mother's wishes. And now her mother Catherine's wish was for her beautiful daughter to join the cream of Chicago society by uniting in marriage to Byron Weston, heir to a fortune. Within a year, Althea accepted Byron's engagement ring and quenched her secret misgivings about life with him.

       That is, until the evening she met Philip Lansing.

       Althea's friend, Lori Landon, scornfully dismissed Althea's engagement to Byron and insisted she was foolish for marrying because of family pressure.

       "Althea, you're not in love with Byron. You're just giving in to your mother again."

       "I'm fond of Byron. He'll make a good, faithful husband."

       Lori rolled her eyes. "Fond isn't enough, Althea. And where is he now? Traveling again? That's what your life will be. He'll be an absent husband and your children will have an absent father."

       When Althea didn't answer, Lori took her hand. "Look, our charity is having an event next week. Will you attend?"

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       Althea shook her head. "I'd love to, Lori, but Byron's out of the country."

       Lori laughed. "All the better. There's someone I want you to meet. I've seated you at our most prestigious table with a single, handsome and promising novelist. His name is Philip Lansing. He'll be of future use to our charity, so charm him for my sake."

       Althea smiled. "Okay, I'll attend to support the abused children you're helping, but don't expect me to fall for this... what's his name?"

       Lori beamed. "Philip....Philip Lansing."

       Althea could never have imagined how that night would change her life. She found her seat at a front row table next to Philip Lansing. From the moment he smiled at her, rose from the table and pulled out her chair, an instant spark was ignited between them. Throughout the evening as she looked into his vivid sky-colored eyes, there seemed some force in him that was irresistible.

       After the event, Philip took her elbow as they jolted their way through the crowds to the luxurious hotel lobby.

       "I must call a cab," Althea said.

       Philip tightened his grip on her elbow. "I'll drive you home."

       She hesitated for a moment, but only for a moment. When she nodded, somehow she knew that her destiny was sealed.

       Philip called the next morning. "Will you have dinner with me tonight?"

       She demurred.

       He called the next morning and the next. He was witty and charming and Althea felt as though she'd suddenly come alive, a delicious sensation she'd never before experienced.

       "So it's dinner tonight?" he asked playfully on his third try.

       Althea absently twisted her engagement ring before she answered. Just one dinner and she'd politely explain that she was engaged and could not accept another dinner invitation.

       Philip didn't wait for her response. "I'll pick you up at seven."

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       "I'll meet you at the restaurant."

       "I can't pick you up?"

       "Uh...no."

       "Well, if you insist."

       After that dinner, Althea spent sleepless nights, hardly touched her food, and thought of little except the magic Philip Lansing had brought into her life.

       Lori, always forthright, made a dare with Althea for lunch. She leaned forward after they ordered. "So, what did you think of him?"

       "Him? Who?"

       Lori laughed. "Come on, Althea, you've fallen for Philip Lansing. Admit it."

       "But I'm engaged to Byron."

       Oh, Byron," Lori shrugged. "I never thought he was the man for you. Anyway, my friend, consider this. Engagements can be broken easier than marriages. Philip called to tell me how much he enjoyed the event, but he really wanted to talk about you. Go for it, Althea."

       She could no longer deny her feelings. She met Philip for dinner every evening after he closed the bookstore. She reminded herself that she had a commitment to Byron, and she had to stop seeing Philip Lansing, but she couldn't deny that she had fallen under his spell. She'd never known this kind of intense feeling except with Byron. Each evening, her parents asked where she was going and she manufactured so many excuses, she confused herself.

       The night she acknowledged her love for Philip, they'd shared a silent dinner, both picking at their food. Without words, they had received a sudden, blinding knowledge. They could no longer play this game of pretense.

       On the drive home, Philip parked his Mustang a block from her house, lifted her left hand and touched her diamond.

       "Althea," he said, "it's no secret that I'm in love with you. And if I can read those beautiful eyes of yours, I think you care for me."

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       She lowered her eyes to lock the tears beneath her lashes. Philip tilted her chin and tightened his grip on her hand. "Look at me, Althea."

       She looked at him and when he saw her tears, he drew her close. "You're the girl I've always dreamed of marrying. Let's not play this game of charades any longer. The moment you're free, I intend to get down on my knees and ask you to marry me. Of course, I must first meet your parents and..."

      Althea withdrew and vigorously shook her head. "My parents are set on this marriage to Byron. No, I must do this my way."

      "Then you do love me? You will marry me?"

       Althea responded by touching her lips to his.

       Philip kissed her tenderly "That's enough for me. You'll soon say what I long to hear."

       Althea hugged her secret, living in a constant state of anxiety. How could she break off her engagement to Byron? Even more frightening how was she to tell her parents?

       Althea prayed hard for God to show her clearly if she was doing the right thing. Her faith was hers alone. She couldn't discuss it with her agnostic parents. Once when she was a child, she'd attended Sunday School with a friend. When the teacher asked if anyone wanted to know God as a friend, Althea held up her hand. She was never the same. She hugged her faith in her Heavenly Father to herself.

       Take this feeling for Philip away if it's not right, she prayed.

       Her feelings intensified. The day before Byron was scheduled to return from Europe, Althea walked into Philip's bookstore for the first time. She watched him behind the cash register chatting with a customer. Simply looking at him caused intense joy to explode in every part of her being. When he glanced up and saw her, the look on his face told her being. When he glanced up and saw her, the look on his face told her that she could never let him go. Never!

       Signaling for his assistant to take over, Philip hurried to Althea's side and took her arm.     

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       "What a wonderful surprise. Follow me."

       In his office, he took her into his arms, "You know, Philip," she said, "Byron is returning from Europe tomorrow."

       "Good. Then you'll tell him?"

       Althea nodded.

       Philip grinned down at her, his finger tracing her lips. "And you have something to tell me?"

       She touched his faced and whispered the words he longed to hear. "I love you, Philip Lansing."

       Her soft declaration of love brought tears to Philip's eyes. "And I love you, my darling. Come here and sit beside me." With an exaggerated flourish, Philip knelt before her and took her hand. "Will you marry me?"

       Althea tousled his hair. "Yes, I will. Against all odds."

       Philip took the rest of the day off. Like teenagers they walked hand in hand along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan oblivious to the jostling summer tourists around them.

       They strolled back into the city, stopping for an early dinner at a Greek restaurant. Philip was like a small boy in his exuberance and Althea pushed her worries of tomorrow to the back of her mind.

       Throughout that night, a sharp uncertainty rendered Althea sleepless. Tomorrow she must confront Byron. Tomorrow she must tell her parents.

       As it turned out, her fears about telling Byron were unfounded. When he came to her house the next evening, he seemed different, a clouded look in his eyes.

       Thankful that her parents were out for the evening, Althea told him quietly.

       Before he could respond, she slipped off her engagement ring and returned it to him.

       To her surprise, he was relieved. He told her then that he'd met a girl in England and had been troubled about breaking off their engagement.

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       Byron left, the engagement ring in his pocket.

       The next evening, after a swift, desperate prayer heavenward, Althea approached her parents. They were reading in their luxurious den.

       When her mother saw her in the doorway, she arched her eyebrows. "You're home for the evening? Where's Byron? I thought he returned from Europe."

       Still standing in the doorway, she told them as quickly as possible. "Please try and understand. I've broken my engagement. I...I'm in love with someone else. His name is Philip Lansing and..."

       Her mother cut her off. "And I thought the gossip from my bridge partners about you and that bookseller was just that, jealous gossip. You must have taken leave of your senses."

       "No, mother. I intend to marry Philip."

       Catherine stared at her daughter. "Are you joking? You cannot, you must not marry him."

       Althea lifted her delicate chin. "I will marry him, Mother. He's the man I love."

       "Oh, please." Catherine lifted her eyes to the ceiling. "A bookseller."

       "He owns his own bookstore, Mother. And he's a promising writer."

       "A writer," Catherine mocked. "I've never heard of him."

       "You will someday."

       "You've known him less than a month. How can you do this to Byron?" her mother wailed.

       "Mother, Byron has fallen in love with a girl he met in Europe. He's as relieved as I am."

       Her mother paled. "I don't believe you. You're shaming our family, young lady."

       "Mother, I've always done exactly as you asked, but now you must let me live my own life. And I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm marrying a good man, a gracious man, a caring man."

       "How will you live on his salary?"

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       "He does very well with the bookstore, and anyway I'd marry him if he didn't have a cent. I love him, Mother." Althea crossed her arms defensively. "And he loves me. We'll marry with or without your blessing."

       "Not only without our blessing." Catherine's voice quavered with fury. She threw her daughter a final piercing look. "Your father and I will disinherit you should you go ahead with your plans."

       "Dad?" Althea looked at her father who turned away, but then, he'd always turned away when his wife spoke. His silence affirmed that their estrangement was final.

       Running up the stairs to her room, Althea threw her clothes into suitcases, weeping with indignations, desolation, and sorrow. This time she couldn't surrender her feelings. The wonder of her love for Philip and his love for her stripped away all pretense. She loved him from the depths of her soul. His gentleness, his tenderness, his quiet love for her set her heart on fire. Since knowing Philip, she saw clearly what her life would have been with Byron Weston. Bridge clubs, gala events, a mansion reflecting a richly woven lifestyle. And, yes, a mediocre affection without genuine love.

       She slept very little that night and the next morning, she called Philip, sobbing as she told him of her parent's reaction.

       "Be brave, sweetheart," he said. "I'll be there within the hour."

       She carried her suitcases down the winding staircase and stopped at the door of her parent's drawing room where they were breakfasting.

       "Philip is coming for me." She managed to keep her tone even. "I'm sorry you can't understand our feelings. I'll be in touch."

       "Don't bother." Her mother's tone was cold, haughty.

       Her father half rose and sat back with a sigh when Catherine shot him a scathing glance.

       "I will not take your calls until you have given up this... this bookseller," Catherine said, her voice shrill with rage.

       Althea stumbled out the door and waited for Philip. Thinking of her mother's icy dismissal, a stone lodged in her heart.

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       Philip arrived, took her suitcases and placed them in his car. He helped her into the passenger's seat and for long moments they drove in silence. He longed to take her to his home, but he knew Althea's strict code of moral values would prohibit their living together until they were married.

       "I called Lori." Althea said in a small voice. "She invited me to stay with her."

       Tearfully she recounted her conversation with her parents.

       Philip reached for her hand. "You realize, darling, that you're walking away from the luxury you've always known into my very ordinary world"

       "I do, Philip, and I go with you willingly."

       At the door of Lori's apartment, Philip drew her to him and they embraced as if they were the only two people in the world, and in a sense, at that moment, they were.

       "I'll make it up to you one day, sweetheart," Philip whispered against her lips. It was a vow he intended to keep.

       Two weeks later, they were married in a small church on North LaSalle. Lori was Althea's maid of honor. Philip's brother Charlie stood beside him as best man.

       With little money for a honeymoon, the newlyweds began their married life in the post-war bungalow Philip had inherited from his parents.

       Althea never knew such happiness. Philip brought humor, vivacity, and joy into her life, emotions she'd never dared express in her parent's cold, austere state. Her life was almost perfect. Each night Philip hurried home from the bookstore carrying a bouquet of flowers of the latest bestseller.

       She, who had never cooked a meal, or kept house, now found a profound joy in caring for their home, and learning to prepare Philip's favorite meals, though for the first months, she wept in frustration over her failed experiments. Althea confessed her lack of culinary skill to her neighbor, Carolyn, who laughingly offered to teach her the basics.

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       "For instance," she quipped, "how to turn on the oven."

       Carolyn was a capable mentor. She taught Althea how to plan meals, read cookbooks, and set an inviting table. Althea became what she never would have been as Byron's wife, a contented homemaker. Content, except for the constant ache over alienation from her parents. She comforted herself with the hope that someday her mother would accept her marriage to Philip and then, her father would follow suit.

       When Althea learned the joyous news that they were expecting a baby, she gathered courage to call home, hoping the news would trigger a positive response. Not so. She was told by Louise, her childhood nursemaid, that she'd been forbidden to put her through.

       Althea sobbed. "But Louise, how can you do this? You've been like a second mother to me."

       Althea heard a wrenching sob from her trusted nursemaid and a whisper into the mouthpiece. "I'm sorry, darling. Your mother ordered me not to take your calls. Maybe someday we can meet..."

       She heard her mother's loud command to hang up in the back-ground, the sound of the slammed receiver and the resounding hum of the telephone. Incredible as it seemed, her mother had enforced her threat and written her out of their lives. Philip filled the empty places with his amorous gift of words and fervent display of affection and love.

       Althea comforted herself with the thought that her parents would soften once they met their first grandchild. Surely now, their relationship would be restored.

       But she would never know.

       Before Jenny was born, her parents went down with a jetliner over the Atlantic.

Chapter 6  ||  Table of Contents