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There was so much inside me resisting it, but I couldn’t help but feel happy for them, for the way they looked at each other, held hands, spoke softly and laughed, and just simply looked at each other. Had it been like this with Mother? I felt terribly guilty even wondering.

That night, I went to sleep expecting to dream of Ethan, of his eyes, his smile, his wonderful kiss, imagining us behaving just like Daddy and Lucille. I hadn’t had a single Cassie-like thought since I had heard from Ethan. She was so sure that was over, that he was unworthy of a Heaven-stone. Perhaps I was acting a bit too smug, too overconfident now, and it was annoying to her, but after I had gone to bed and lowered my head to the pillow, which I hoped would become a well of good dreams from which to draw, I was sure I heard her whisper, “Don’t be so naive. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her kneeling beside my bed, but I didn’t respond. I turned my back to her instead and dove headfirst into my fantasies.

I was running around like someone with her pants on fire from the moment I woke up. My excitement stole away my appetite, but Mrs. Dobson insisted that I eat properly. She winked at me and said, “Something tells me you’re going to need your energy.”

I tried to keep myself busy. I read a little, but my eyes kept sliding off the page, and my ears were open to any sounds that even suggested someone had arrived. We had deliveries often during the day, and because of the size of the estate, there were men constantly at work on the landscaping, the pool, and basic maintenance. Twice I ran upstairs and inspected the guest room Ethan would have, to be sure there were enough towels and washcloths. Mrs. Dobson was too competent to forget a single thing. She even had new tubes of toothpaste in the cabinet and new unwrapped bars of soap at the sink and in the shower.

I forced myself to eat the chicken salad Mrs. Dobson prepared for my lunch, and then I took a long walk just to slow down my beating heart and pounding anticipation. All sorts of questions raced through my mind. Had I changed in any way? Would he look at me and think, What was I thinking of, coming here to see her? Would all of this, the Heaven-stone estate, intimidate him and turn him away from me? When I was younger, most of the other girls and most of the boys thought we were too high on the social ladder. The girls thought I would look down on them and their homes, and the boys thought I viewed myself as some sort of princess. No matter how nonchalant I acted about our fame and fortune, they couldn’t get past it. Of course, Cassie thought that if they couldn’t, they weren’t meant to, and I should have little or nothing to do with any of them anyway. She never stopped hounding me about our responsibility to the Heaven-stone reputation. Whether I liked it or not, she forced me to think that I was better than most people.

It was one thing for Ethan to have met me and been with me at Collier, far away from the Heaven-stone estate and the Heaven-stone Department Store empire, and another for him to drive through our grand entrance and up our long driveway, with its elaborate landscaping and beautiful lanterns, his eyes surely fixed on the immensity of our house and its grandeur. I was suddenly afraid to show him my expensive birthday gift. That car would eclipse his rental. What if the shoe were on the other foot? Surely, when I met his father, I would naturally think that he would think I was not good enough for his son.

My wave after wave of elation and excitement waned. I fell into one of my characteristic depressions and flopped on the chaise at the pool, staring at the water and thinking, He’ll be in and out of here, making all sorts of excuses for a quick retreat. This is going to be a disaster. Just as I was at the bottom of this dark pit, the phone rang. I was never so happy to hear Uncle Perry’s cheerful voice.

“I can’t wait to meet this guy. I saw how anxious you were at your graduation and how disappointed you were when he didn’t show up,” he began. “Anyone who can put that sort of light in your eyes is a winner in my book.”

“I wish you were here tonight, Uncle Perry.”

“I would have come, but a good friend of mine is celebrating his fiftieth birthday. It’s very special and . . .”

“Oh, I understand.”

“And you’re going to see me tomorrow, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you try to get here early enough for me to take both of you to lunch. I know your father and Lucille have made dinner arrangements, and I thought it would be better if that was just the four of you.”

“You’re more a part of my family than she’ll ever be,” I said.

He was silent a moment. Then he said, “I appreciate what you’re saying, Sam, but don’t ever let her know you

feel that way. She’s going to be your father’s wife.”

“I know,” I said.

He laughed. “It’s good to hear you sound so nervous over a boy. I mean, a young man. What about my designs? I bet you haven’t looked at them.”

“Yes, I did. I love them. I’ll bring them along tomorrow with the list of magazines I know girls my age read.”

“Thanks, Sam. Have a great night tonight,” he said. “I love you very much and want you to be happy.”

Tears came to my eyes. I thanked him and hung up. His call was just the right medicine, however. My enthusiasm and excitement came galloping back. I was up and at it again, rushing about the house until Mrs. Dobson gently suggested that I might want to freshen up. It was nearly three!

I ran up to my room and did just that. Then I went to my window and watched our front gate. When people are nervous, they claim that they feel butterflies in their stomach. To me it felt as if I had swallowed a bag full of marbles and they were all rolling about.

When I saw the gate opening and a strange car coming through, I gasped and for a moment couldn’t move. Then I shot out and down the stairs so quickly I nearly twisted my ankle on the last steps. I heard Mrs. Dobson’s laughter but kept going, opened the front door, and rushed to the steps of our portico. Ethan pulled in behind my car and got out slowly. He was wearing a thin yellow cotton short-sleeved shirt and jeans. He wasn’t gaping at everything stupidly, but it was obvious he was quite overcome, and he turned slowly to look at it all. Finally, he noticed me standing there and laughed.

“Hi!” he cried, walking toward me.

I came down the steps slowly. I didn’t speak. He smiled, and then he just kissed me as if we were in the last scene of a romantic movie, the kiss long and warm.

“You look great,” he said. Then he laughed again. “What happened? Did you lose your voice?”

“I can’t believe you’re really here.”

He nodded, looked up at the house, and said, “Neither can I. I guess you weren’t exaggerating about any of this. It’s like a palace or something.”

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