Two weeks had passed since Bobby died. When John had returned to school, the kids were suddenly more sensitive towards him. They dared not make fun of him, and they always smiled at him. The teacher would often offer him words of encouragement. The false pretense they were all putting up was so painfully obvious, even the 9-year-old had figured it out. They didn't like him because of who he was, they were only being kind to him because of his situation. The only person who really knew John and to whom he felt he could talk to at school was Linette. He would often feign sickness just so he could go to the nurse's office and see her. The teacher probably knew he was lying, but she wouldn't dare do anything that might upset what she viewed as a fragile little soul. The truth was that John missed his brother, but that was overshadowed by something more severe.

Eleanor Carter had been living in a surreal world ever since Bobby died. She would often be found just staring at the wall, silent and pensive. No one asked what she was thinking about, because they all knew. And they all knew that she refused to talk about it. This was having a negative effect on her children, who needed her comfort especially in this dark time, yet the comfort was no where to be found. Millicient Carter had grown worried about her grandchildren and their mother. Despite Jack's pleading for her to leave it alone, she decided that something must be done.

One afternoon, Gamma found her daughter-in-law sitting on a chair on the back lawn, staring out across the grass. "Eleanor," she said. There was no response from the cold figure. "Eleanor," she said, this time more persistently.

Eleanor turned her head. Her face was completely void of any emotion. "What is it that you want, Millicent?" she asked.

Gamma took a seat next to Eleanor, and gazed into her eyes. They were so tired looking. True, there had never been a time which Gamma could remember, when Eleanor had been a bright and happy soul. She had always been a typical aloof, rich woman. But now her eyes also had the quality of someone who has given up. "Eleanor, I know that you are crushed," Gamma began.

Eleanor turned her gaze back to the lawn. "I would rather not talk about it now," she said icily.

"You're going to have to talk about it sometime," Gamma said, more persistently.

"Why?" Eleanor said, turning her gaze back toward her mother-in-law.

"If you don't care about yourself, at least find it in your heart to care about your children!" Gamma pleaded.

Eleanor nodded slowly. She quietly answered, "I have. And I have failed."

"What about John and Nell? Eleanor, they've both got bright futures ahead of them," Gamma said with earnest, "Don't damage their potential by denying them their mother. They've already lost their brother. Isn't that enough?"

Eleanor gave her a cold stare. Without a word, she stood and walked back inside.



Later that evening, the family was all eating dinner together. John Sr., Millicient, Jack, Eleanor, John, and Nell all sat around the elegant table in the east dining hall. John Sr. and Jack talked about business most of the time. Gamma threw in a comment or two, but stayed mostly quiet for lack of anything prudent to say. Eleanor kept shooting Gamma cold glares, which the wizened old woman had the presence of mind not to take heart to. Nell was distant and withdrawn. She had been spending more and more time with her friends lately. She was starting to become very adverse to her imperious family. She had always hated the way they dealt with stress, and this was a perfect testimony to it. John did not fully understand the priorities of his family, but he saw no other path than to submit to them.

After dinner was over, Jack and Eleanor exchanged apprehensive glances. Jack then cleared his throat and said, "Eleanor and I have made a decision." The rest of the family sat attentively. "Well we've decided that it would be most beneficial to the business if we were able to expand. Not just to all of the nation, but to different areas of the world. After all, what goes on in the rest of the world certainly effects what goes on here." Everyone could tell that Jack was stalling an important point.

"That's a wonderful though, Jack," John Sr. said. "But what's the point?"

Jack bit his lower lip. "Eleanor and I have decided to travel to Europe and see about setting up subsidiary companies there," he said.

Nell was internally fuming. Just when she had begun to really make some friends, she was going to have to move to Europe. "Well it may be fine for the business, but I don't want to move!" she said.

"You won't be," Eleanor said. "You and John will be staying here. With your grandparents, if that's all right with them. That's what we were planning to find out."

John Sr. shrugged. "I don't see a problem with it. We can move into the house, and while I'm afraid I won't be around much during the day, I'm sure Millicient would love to watch over the children."

Gamma nodded. "Yes, it's no trouble," she said hesitantly. "But how long are you planning on staying in Europe?"

"Six months," Jack answered.

This news shocked Gamma. "Six months?" she exclaimed. "Don't you think your children should have their parents around?" she shot Eleanor an accusatory look, to which she simply responded by looking away.

"We'll call them all the time," Jack insisted.

"It's not the same as being there," Gamma said plainly.

Jack was about to object, when his father interrupted. "Dear, I'm sure that everything will be just fine! The kids will be in school and soon it will be summer. They'll probably be too occupied with all that free time to notice anyway. Let them raise their children."

Gamma looked Eleanor straight in the eyes as she said, "That's what I'm trying to have them do. I don't think they can raise them effectively from 4,000 miles away."

"Mother," Jack said. "Please, just give it a chance. If it doesn't work out, then we'll come back. All right?"

Gamma hesitated. She didn't want to agree to such a thing, but there seemed to be no one else on her side at the time. "All right," she said. She stood up and said, "John I think we should be going. We'll need to start arranging to have our things moved from our winter home to hear." Her husband followed in agreement. She stopped. "How long until you'll be leaving?" she asked.

"Two weeks," Eleanor said.

Gamma nodded. "Two weeks," she said coolly. With that, she left the room with a wake of icy tension between her and Eleanor Carter left unsettled.



The two weeks came and went in a flash. Before he knew it, John's parents were in Europe. They called every day the first week they were gone. Then the calls began to become less and less frequent. By the second month, they were no longer calling at all. John liked having Gamma around all the time. He didn't feel so obligated to act perfectly around her. She was willing and able to take a joke now and then. Like whenever he would take her hand-crafted Faberge eggs and put them with his collection of 'weebles.' Whenever she lost them, she was practically beside herself with worry. John would always give them back to her, saying that they were simply playing the 'pets' to his weeble family. Despite herself, Gamma would always laugh. She loved being with her granddaughter and her grandson. But she was furious with Eleanor and Jack for leaving them, especially at such a critical age. They were sending a loud and clear signal that money was more important to them than their children. And the sad thing was, it just might be true. They used to care about their children getting a good education, never getting in trouble. But now it was as if, since they felt they had already failed with Bobby, even trying to raise Nell and John was futile.

Gamma had only heard from Jack and Eleanor three times the whole summer. Each time, John was eager to talk to his parents. But Nell eventually began refusing to talk to them at all. Gamma could not say that she blamed her. Finally, the end of the planned six month sojourn in Europe came just as the new school year was about to start. It was only a week until the planned return when Gamma got a call.

Elliot had informed her that Jack was on the phone, so she took the phone in the kitchen, where John and Nell were hanging around. "Hello Jack. It's wonderful to talk to you again," she said into the phone. To Nell and John she said, "It's your father." John immediately smiled, but his sister looked away.

"So, are you two going to be able to tear yourselves away from Rome?" Gamma asked with a hint of laughter in her voice. There was a moments pause, and her face fell. Her expression became stolid. "Jack, you can't do that........ because, you've got a responsibility to-.......... let me talk to Eleanor!.... No, let me talk to her now!....... Jack, you can't let her decide for you.......... Please Jack, reconsider...... But- fine, good- bye." She set the phone down on the hook and looked up at her grandchildren.

"So when are they going to be home, Gamma?" John asked eagerly.

Gamma shook her head. "They're not coming home right now, Johnny," she said. "They're going to be going to Japan to do some more expanding for the business." Nell looked off out the window, and shook her head, trying to contain her fury. "They will be coming home in two months," Gamma added, trying to sound optimistic.

"Yeah, sure," Nell said, then stormed out of the room.

John was puzzled at Nell's behavior. He was sad that his parents wouldn't be home for another two months after being gone for such a long time, too. "Gamma, why is she so mad? Mom and Dad are going to be back soon, and then they'll be staying, right?" he asked.

Gamma attempted a smile. "Of course, Johnny," she said. But in her heart a deep anger burned toward Eleanor Carter. Because she knew that Eleanor and Jack would not be returning in two months. They might never return. Eleanor had decided to live as if she had no responsibilities in the world, as if she had no more children to raise. And Gamma knew that wasn't going to change.

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