The Arrangement

Free The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick

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Authors: Ashley Warlick
through old books, taking careful notes. In Dijon, she’d started a potboiler mystery novel, a sketchy travelogue, and countless articles for Ladies’ Home Journal , all abandoned at some difficult point along the way. She wanted to write something important, he could see that, but it was a little like watching a kitten with a mouse, fast enough to catch it, but without the instincts to do what needed to be done next. Maybe she would get lucky and find something she wanted to say. But maybe she would lose interest and go back to knitting socks. Now, especially, without Tim to encourage her.
    He slipped the photo from the frame and slipped the frame into the bottom drawer of the étagère. There were so many portraits of the children in Edith’s house, he doubted anyone would miss it. Downstairs, he tucked the photo into the back of his book, turned to the front page, and started reading what he’d been trying to read all afternoon, the thwack and patter sounding from overhead, each line repeating, repeating once again.
    He was nearly beside himself when the women finally returned, but Mary Frances pretended not to notice. He stood from the chair he’d taken by the fireplace, his books already gathered under his arm. She asked if he was ready to go, and he rolled his eyes.
    Anne brushed past them, tugging off the fingers of her gloves. “Sean?” she called. And then, “Good travels, Dote. I’ll see you both next week.”
    Al reached out for Mary Frances’s shopping bag.
    “I have to see my father,” she said. “I have to say good-bye.”
    “Fine, Mary Frances. Whatever you need to do.”
    “Thank you.”
    Rex was back in his study with his typewriter and a cup of coffee, the closed-up room rich with man and dust and book leather. Edith was forever trying to shove the cleaning woman through there, but Rex protected his schedule. His hours at home were few. He sat with his feet propped up on the desk, his glasses slipped down his nose and his arms thrown back as though he might solve whatever problem you presented, but that was just how he relaxed.
    “Do you ever think,” he said, “if we’d not had those Sundays in Laguna? The ocean, Dote, such a magnificent balm. Without it, we’d have shot each other.”
    Mary Frances went to him and pressed her lips against his head, his great big brilliant head. Sudden tears leaped to her eyes. She did not want to leave him, ever.
    “I went to the house a few weeks ago,” she said.
    “Oh? You didn’t say.”
    “It was a secret mission.”
    “Mary Frances Kennedy.” He put his feet back to the floor and looked at her. He seemed about to say something else but took her hand instead, pressing a fold of bills into her palm.
    “For your missions,” he said. “Or whatever else arises.”
    “Daddy. You embarrass me.”
    “Then you, my dear, need a thicker skin. That there ismostly enough for a night on the town. A girl needs a night on the town, a new frock. These things don’t stop because you get too old to take money from your dad.”
    “Al’s waiting,” she said.
    “He’s been waiting since he got here, by the looks of it.”
    Mary Frances tried to laugh.
    “It’s all right, Dote.” Her father patted her hand where it rested on his shoulder. He could always read her deeper currents.
    “I don’t think it is.” She shook her head. “It’s not.”
    “We were all young once, dear. If it were so difficult to survive, we wouldn’t be here now.”
    And she knew Rex meant to sound glib and cheery, but she found herself wondering what he’d given up or turned away, what inexorable choices he’d made beyond Edith and his children. Rex was barely fifty; how far was this life from the one he once imagined?
    In the driveway, Al shook Rex’s hand, kissed Edith, opened Mary Frances’s door. In the flurry of remembrances for the holiday—Mary Frances would bring the Baltimore relish she had put up at the end of the summer, and Edith needed plenty of help

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